Righteous are you, O LORD, when I plead with you: yet let me talk with you of your judgments: Why does the way of the wicked prosper?…
I. WICKED MEN, HOW PROSPEROUS SOEVER THEIR OUTWARD CONDITION IN THIS LIFE, ARE NOT IN REALITY SO HAPPY AS WE ARE APT TO IMAGINE. The reason why those wicked men that prosper in the world are reckoned happy is, because the generality of men entertain a wrong notion of happiness. They fancy it consists in having abundance of riches. Whatever real satisfaction or comfort riches can afford, we are bound by the frame of our nature to seek after that satisfaction. But in reality do we not often see health of body, tranquillity of mind, dwelling in a cottage, whilst bodily pains and restless anxieties fly daily about the palaces of kings? Which shows that happiness is something distinct from riches, something which riches alone can never give us.
II. Supposing the wicked men are more happy, and meet with less trouble than other men, let us inquire UPON WHAT ACCOUNTS GOD ALMIGHTY MAY PERMIT THIS, CONSISTENTLY WITH THE CHARACTER OF A WISE, JUST, AND GOOD GOVERNOR OF THE WORLD. Besides the moral enjoyment which springs from virtue only, there are other delights accruing to us from the possession of riches, honour, and secular power. Of these, many wicked men have a greater portion than the virtuous.
1. And the reason is, because some good men are weak in their judgments, and imprudent or indolent in managing their secular affairs; which exposes them to many inconveniences, and hinders their rising in the world. Now, if we ask why the Almighty permits this to the disadvantage of good men, it is the same as if we should ask why He made men free agents. The disadvantages virtuous men labour under at present, will doubtless be recompensed, one day or other, by the just and merciful Governor of the world. In the meantime, the solid pleasure they enjoy as the immediate consequence of their goodness, is surely preferable to any external advantages the wicked may procure themselves by their superior cunning and sagacity.
2. Another reason why God may permit wicked men to prosper in the world seems to be the natural effect of His overflowing goodness. He would give them more time for repentance.
3. Perhaps another reason why the Supreme Being withholds some temporal benefits from good men, which the wicked possess, may be, because He foresees they will prove hurtful to them. Alteration of circumstances often creates a change of manners. And there are some tempers which, I believe, would keep steady to virtue in a scene of adversity, and yet run into open and extreme degrees of vice in a scene of prosperity.
II. THE OBJECTION IN THE TEXT SHOULD NOT IN REASON MAKE US ENTERTAIN ANY DISHONOURABLE THOUGHT OF THE DIVINE DISPENSATIONS, BUT RATHER TEACH US TO INFER THE REASONABLENESS AND NECESSITY OF A FUTURE STATE. To know the justness of any scheme, it is necessary to be acquainted with all its parts, and all their mutual relations. How, then, can we determine every particular in the scheme of Providence, of which we must confess ourselves utterly ignorant? Should a man take upon him to condemn a well wrought tragedy by only reading one of its scenes, without considering how it was interwoven with the main plot and contrivance of the work, would he not be justly blamed for his partiality! And is not he more inexcusably partial, who censures the beautiful drama of the Divine government, without knowing the secret contrivance by which it is carried on? I shall only add one observation more to justify Providence against the objection in the text, which is, that we are frequently mistaken who are really good, and who otherwise; and, consequently, are very incompetent judges when men are equitably dealt by.
Parallel VersesKJV: Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?