Yet you say, The way of the LORD is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?…
Let us suppose an attentive observer to take a general view of the situation in which mankind is placed. The first thing that would strike him would probably be the variety of conveniences and comforts distributed around him, which are neither earned by his own merit nor produced by his own care. This would lead him to a second observation, that many, and the most essential, of these conveniences and comforts are bestowed promiscuously, and without exception, on the whole race of mankind: the sun rises on the evil and on the good, and the rain descends on the just and on the unjust. What other conclusion could he draw from these two observations than that the Power above us is friendly to mankind? From this pleasing prospect the observer might turn his attention to the evils and miseries which attend on human life. What are we to infer from hence? Is it that God is a capricious Being, or that He has pleasure in the misery, as well as in the happiness, of His creatures? To solve this question, we may observe a remarkable difference between the two cases: the benefits, which are common to all mankind, are numerous and important, and are enjoyed, without intermission, every day and every hour. On the contrary, the evils common to all mankind, if any there be, are much fewer than is usually supposed, and only occur on particular emergencies. How far even death, which is the only universal lot, is really in itself an evil, distinct from the pain which is supposed to attend it, has never yet been ascertained; and the pains of death are by no means common to the whole human race: many die instantaneously without any pain, and many in lingering diseases without a pang or a groan. It is not certain, therefore, that there is any one evil existing which affects, necessarily and inevitably, the whole race of mankind. I might add, in this place, that the evils complained of serve to answer many wise purposes of discipline and probation. Hitherto we have considered those benefits and those evils which arise from God's own appointment, without any merit or demerit of our own. Let us next consider those which are the consequences of our own conduct. In this view the first thing that would strike an attentive observer would probably be that many vicious actions are attended with regular and constant effects, and carry a sort of punishment along with them. It would next be observed, that there are virtues also which bring their own benefits along with them: temperance and regularity lead to health and long life; industry and diligence to affluence and plenty; good faith and sincerity promote esteem and regard; and patience, equanimity, and command of temper lay the foundation for happiness, and form a constituent part of it. Yet still an observer might take notice, that the good effects of virtue are not in any degree so certain or constant as the ill effects of vice. This fact is remarkable, and deserves to be seriously considered. It seems to prove, that the distribution of good and evil, of happiness and misery, which arises from our own actions, our own virtues and vices, is regulated by a different and even opposite law, from that distribution of happiness and misery which comes immediately and gratuitously, from the hand of God. In the latter, the benefits and favours which we receive from God are more numerous, as we have seen, are more extensive, more constant, and more certain than the evils which we suffer. In the former, where our own actions, our virtues and vices are concerned, the evils and punishments of vice are more numerous, more constant, and more certain than the benefits or rewards of virtue. Shall we say, then, in this case, that God is inconsistent, or that He is less a friend to virtue than an enemy to vice? Not so, says the text.
1. In the first place, you will readily allow it to be highly conducive to our piety and devotion that the dispensations of Almighty God Himself, which are unconnected with any human virtues or vices, should be, as becomes him, everywhere distinguished by marks of kindness, beneficence, and bounty.
2. In the next place, it is highly conducive to our religious and moral improvement, that virtue should not, in this life, be attended with its distinct and immediate reward. The magnificent idea held forth by Christianity, of the value in which virtue ought to be held, would be totally done away; it would be to appreciate that which is beyond all price; to demand prematurely a momentary reward here, for that which, in the sight of God, and through faith in the merits of Christ, no earthly enjoyment and immortal happiness alone can repay.
3. In the last place, it is highly conducive to our moral improvement that vice, on the contrary, should in many cases be attended with immediate punishment. It is evident that this is not an instance of God's severity, but rather of His clemency and mercy. It restrains the sinner, in kindness, before it is too late, from "treasuring up wrath," etc. It tends to check no one virtue which we have, and is the school in which we are best taught the virtues which we have not.
(W. Pearce, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel; Is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal?