When the sentence for a crime is not speedily executed, the hearts of men become fully set on doing evil.
I. THE DATA. There is delay in retribution. When we perceive immediate punishment follow upon flagrant sin, we are surprised and startled. We often remark that the course of the wrongdoer who avoids collision with the civil government is a course of uninterrupted prosperity. We see families advanced to honor and wealth who are lacking in moral character. We read of nations persevering for years, and even for centuries, in paths of injustice, rapacity, and violence, and yet growing in power and acquiring renown. And we cannot doubt that many evil deeds wrought in secret remain unpunished. The facts must be admitted. But they are explicable, and may be reconciled with a firm belief in the righteous retribution, the perfect moral government, of God. Stress is to be laid upon the word "speedily." It must be remembered that with God "one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day."
"Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience he stands waiting, he exactly judgeth all." Judgment deferred is not judgment abandoned. From the time of Job the facts here referred to have been a perplexity to the observer of human society. II. THE ERRONEOUS INFERENCE. "The heart of the sons of men is fully set in them [is emboldened] to do evil." The supposition is that sin may be committed with impunity, and the conclusion is that those sins which yield pleasure should be committed, since they will entail upon the sinner no evil consequences. Of course, an upright, conscientious, and godly man does not reason thus. He does what is right from a conviction of the nobility and beauty of goodness, and from a desire to act in conformity with the will of God, and to enjoy the approval of God; he abstains from evil because his conscience condemns it, because it is contrary to the universal order, because it is a grief to his Savior's heart. But the self-seeking, pleasure-loving, base mind looks only to the consequences of actions, and does what affords pleasure, and evades painful duty. It is such a man who is referred to in 'this passage, whose heart is emboldened to sin by the foolish persuasion that no penalty will follow. III. THE PRACTICAL LESSONS. 1. The sinner should reflect upon the facts of the Divine government, and upon the express statements of the revealed Word of God. He may thence learn the certainty of retribution. "The wicked shall not go unpunished;" "The way of transgressors is hard;" "The wages of sin is death." The sentence may not be executed speedily; but it is passed, and it will in God's time be carried out. 2. The godly man should rest assured that, however he may be perplexed by the mysteries of Divine providence, however he may be unable to reconcile what he sees in society with his religious convictions, nevertheless the Lord reigneth, and it shall be well with those who fear, obey, and love him. And he may well think less of the consequences of conduct, and more of those principles by which conduct is governed, of those motives by which action is inspired. Loyalty and gratitude, devotion and sympathetic admiration, may well lead to such a life as shall be its own reward. However it may faro with a man in this life, he chooses the good part who hates that which is evil and loves that which is good, whose convictions are just, and whose life is in harmony with his convictions. For such a man all things work together for good. - T.
II. THE ERRONEOUS INFERENCE. "The heart of the sons of men is fully set in them [is emboldened] to do evil." The supposition is that sin may be committed with impunity, and the conclusion is that those sins which yield pleasure should be committed, since they will entail upon the sinner no evil consequences. Of course, an upright, conscientious, and godly man does not reason thus. He does what is right from a conviction of the nobility and beauty of goodness, and from a desire to act in conformity with the will of God, and to enjoy the approval of God; he abstains from evil because his conscience condemns it, because it is contrary to the universal order, because it is a grief to his Savior's heart. But the self-seeking, pleasure-loving, base mind looks only to the consequences of actions, and does what affords pleasure, and evades painful duty. It is such a man who is referred to in 'this passage, whose heart is emboldened to sin by the foolish persuasion that no penalty will follow.
III. THE PRACTICAL LESSONS.
1. The sinner should reflect upon the facts of the Divine government, and upon the express statements of the revealed Word of God. He may thence learn the certainty of retribution. "The wicked shall not go unpunished;" "The way of transgressors is hard;" "The wages of sin is death." The sentence may not be executed speedily; but it is passed, and it will in God's time be carried out.
2. The godly man should rest assured that, however he may be perplexed by the mysteries of Divine providence, however he may be unable to reconcile what he sees in society with his religious convictions, nevertheless the Lord reigneth, and it shall be well with those who fear, obey, and love him. And he may well think less of the consequences of conduct, and more of those principles by which conduct is governed, of those motives by which action is inspired. Loyalty and gratitude, devotion and sympathetic admiration, may well lead to such a life as shall be its own reward. However it may faro with a man in this life, he chooses the good part who hates that which is evil and loves that which is good, whose convictions are just, and whose life is in harmony with his convictions. For such a man all things work together for good. - T.
I. SHOW SOME VERY DANGEROUS MISTAKES THAT ARE ABOUT THIS MATTER.
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
I. THE OPERATION OF THE PRINCIPLE.
1. It has its influence amongst merely professing Christians. It lies at the root of their indecision.
2. It has its influence upon the religiously indifferent. To them there is nothing threatening in the horizon. What may come they know not, nor are they much concerned to know. They hope to be prepared for things as they turn up upon the wheel of fortune. To them there is a powerful argument in — "All things as they were." A change may come, certainly, but there is no promise of Such change coming now. Were the penalty of transgression suspended over their heads, ready to fall upon the commission of sin, they might be restrained; but it is in the future, — how far they know not, nor do they care to inquire.
3. There is yet another class by whom the principle is embraced, and held as a part of their determined creed — the professedly infidel (2 Peter 3:3, 4). To the eye of one who cares not to analyze the past, or to indulge in serious thoughts of the future, things appear to be now as they have been, and as they must ever be; and thus present, living, undeniable facts are made to give the lie to everything predictive of a change.
II. THE EVILS OF THE PRINCIPLE.
1. It erects a false standard between right and wrong. Punished or not punished, now or in the future — or, if such a thing might be, never punished at all — such a fact could in no way affect the character of an essentially evil deed.
2. It argues a deplorable ignorance of, or dishonesty towards, other parts of the Divine administration. If God be the universal Lawgiver; if the same hand which penned the Decalogue impressed upon Nature her laws, and fixed the principles of her movements; then there is something to be apprehended from a course of sin, even though a just recompense may be long delayed. Our sky may be bright, but our sins, in the meantime, may be gathering into one big thunder-cloud on the horizon, which is destined to break upon us in one overwhelming torrent of direst woe. Even so when this life and another are taken as the periods. We may sin for a season — "sentence against an evil work" may not be "executed speedily" — but all nature joins testimony with the Bible in declaring that sin shall not go unpunished.
3. The conduct is opposed to the entire economy under which we live. Man is sinful: human nature is fallen. God designs to raise it; but in a manner consistent with His own character and the character of man. Moral agents have to be dealt with; — He therefore employs moral means. Divine patience and longsuffering are essential to probation; and thus we see that the forbearance which God exercises toward a sinner is fundamental in that gracious economy under which we live. According to the terms of the evangelical covenant, sin cannot adequately be punished at once. It would be to frustrate His own designs — to do violence to His own arrangements.
4. The conduct is abusive of the richest mercy, and the highest privileges of Heaven. We pity the blindness and impenitence of the antediluvians, who, in spite of the warnings of a righteous God, brought down the death-floods of a wakened wrath; — but ours is a more fearful portion; and a bitterer verdict awaits us if, "because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, our hearts are more fully set in us to do evil."
(J. H. Rylance.)
1. This has been the great objection of atheists in all ages against the being of a God. The story of Diagoras is well known, who, seeing a wretch forswear himself and remain unpunished, became a professed atheist.
2. Others admit the being of a God, but deny His providence in the administration of human affairs, because they see bad men unpunished in the world.
3. Bad men that own a God and a providence, seeing their crimes unpunished, fall into another error. Ii raises them to a great confidence about the nature of those actions, which, because God does not punish, they think cannot be bad. Dionysius said the gods were pleased with his sacrilege when they sent him a prosperous voyage after he had robbed their temples.
4. There is a fault incident to many otherwise good men. They are uneasy at the impunity of bad men in the world. They repine at the patience and longsuffering of God towards them. And this undoubtedly is a sin. Ought they not to acquiesce in the Divine methods and dispensations and adore the righteousness of God's ways in the world, although, perhaps, they cannot comprehend them?
5. But the great and common evil that is among men, arising from the impunity of bad men in the world, is that there are very few that from thence do not take encouragement to go on securely in their sins, not dreading that punishment which some think will never come; others look on at such a distance that the apprehension of it is not strong enough to make them turn from their evil ways.
II. EXPOUND THIS RIDDLE OF PROVIDENCE, THE IMPUNITY OF BAD MEN IN THE WORLD.
1. Public societies or bodies of men are punished in this world, though particular persons may not. By public societies I mean kingdoms, nations, and states, and churches; these being also considered as societies of Christian men, who have special rules set them for their conduct in that relation wherein they stand to each other. National judgments for national sins are immoderate droughts, excessive rains and inundations of waters, contrary seasons, and a conflict in the elements, all which cause famines and barrenness in the earth; pestilences, and other contagious and malignant distempers.
2. As for particular bad men, they are a punishment to themselves. A bad man always bears a secret punishment within him. Every ill action he does exposes him to the severe rebukes of his own conscience. Moreover, the tumult and disorder of his passions, which clash with each other, and often meet with exasperating difficulties in the pursuit of unlawful object, his restless desires, his awakening fears, and jealousies, and distrusts, and thirst of revenge, these, and a thousand things more of the like nature, disturb the peace of his soul.
3. Nor are bad men secure even against outward punishment. For wickedness and vice are not always prosperous in the world.
4. The end of Divine punishment in this world must be the correction or the destruction of the offender. But there are very good reasons why God does not always punish bad men in this world with respect to either of these.(1) With respect to the first, God does not always punish bad men in this world, because He considers men as rational creatures, and who ought therefore to be dealt with by rational methods. Present and frequent punishments would not be congruous to the nature of man. The rod and the whip are only fit for beasts, creatures void of understanding, but of quick sense, not to be argued but lashed into duty by the pungency of present pain. God does not always punish bad men in this world, because man is a free agent; but present punishment, would bring a force and a compulsion upon him inconsistent with that freedom; and his obedience to God would not be voluntary, because it were not free.(2) With respect be the second, God does not always punish bad men in this world, because He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. God does not. always punish bad men in this world that He may set mankind an example of longanimity, and meekness under injuries, and of mutual forbearance to each other. And the world needs such an example. God does not always punish bad men in this world, that they may have time to repent and grow better. God does not always punish bad men in this world because this world is a state of probation and trial, and such a state will not admit of present punishment. For in order to be proved men must be left in a manner to themselves. God does not always punish bad men in this world because they are to have their portion in it. Thus, the wicked rich man was told in hell that in his lifetime he had received his good things. God does not always punish bad men in this world because they are so intermixed with the good that the one cannot be punished but the other must participate in their punishment; God therefore spares the bad in pity and compassion to the good. God does not always punish bad men in this world that He may exercise the faith of good men. God does not always punish bad men in this world because, says Plutarch, He reserves them to be a punishment to others. Even good men may need correction. When they do so, and God will have the hands of men to intervene in it, He does not usually employ the ministry of other good men to chastise them; He employs bad men, as fittest for that work: and He makes the bad punish one another. God does not always punish bad men in this world because their sins are not yet ripe for punishment. God does not always punish bad men in this world because lie has appointed a day wherein He will pass a strict and impartial judgment upon all men, and will finally render to every one according to his works.
II. MAN'S PERVERSENESS. We would suppose that such displays of Divine forbearance would be softening and restraining to men's hearts; and some it does lead to repentance. There is a potency in kindness. The roughest natures often surrender to its power, and even the maniac's madness often yields to its softening touch. But, alas for poor human nature I the very leniency of God is often turned into licence for crime. As a vessel at sea, headed for the destined port, with sails set, canvas filled, and speeding on in one unvarying course, so the sinner, because he is not at once dashed upon the reefs, or beaten back by judgments, all the capacities of his being are bent on evil.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF RETRIBUTION. The sentence against every evil work has been passed where nothing is ever taken back. Even for the saved Christ had to suffer and die. The trampled Law will assert its dignity and avenge its insults some day. As Jehovah lives, His decrees must go into effect. For every soul, and for every sin, judgment must come. It cannot be otherwise. God is just and holy, and can in no wise clear the persevering guilty. We may question, equivocate, and disbelieve; but that will not serve to stay the chariot-wheels of an avenging God. There is mercy now, but mercy despised is certain death.
(Joseph A. Seiss, D. D.)I. Sin is deservedly called an EVIL WORK. It is "the work of the devil. It is folly, ingratitude, rebellion, treason. It degrades and defiles the soul. It robs us of the likeness, the presence, the favour of God. How deplorable are its consequences! It cannot go unpunished. There is a sentence denounced against it. God is the governor of the world. But there is no governing without laws, and laws are nothing without sanctions — from these they derive their force and their efficacy. Laws issued by a legislator, unaccompanied with threatenings, would be harmless, and, inspiring no terror, would be trifled with or considered only as advice. Thus the notion of punishment follows from the very constitution of law. Accordingly, a sentence the moab tremendous is denounced against every transgressor. Do you ask where it is recorded? Look within thee, O man, and read it there: read it in the trouble, the remorse, the forebodings of thy own conscience. Examine the history of mankind, and read it there. See it in the expulsion of the happy pair from Paradise; in the flood which destroyed the world of the ungodly; in the fire and brimstone which consumed the cities of the plain. Open the Bible, and peruse it there. There you read that the soul that sinneth, it shall die.
II. Sentence against an evil work IS NOT SPEEDILY EXECUTED. With much longsuffering God endures the provocations of the ungodly, and delays from day to day the wrath which they have deserved. Patience is one of the distinguishing glories of His character; it is often ascribed to Him in Scripture; and the exercise of it appears in numberless instances. And are not you, are not all of you examples? Can you consider the time of your provocation — the number of your offences — the aggravations of your iniquities, and not say, with wonder and admiration, "It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not"? We are obviously intended for a social state: but the intercourse we are required to maintain with our fellow-creatures exposes us to innumerable provocations and offences; and the effects of sudden and uncontrolled resentments would be fatal to ourselves and others. Hence we are commanded to be "slow to wrath": and to be "patient towards all men." And in this forbearance God places Himself before us as our example. If the commission of sin were always immediately followed with the punishment of it, this world would not be a state of probation, His "judgments" would not be "a great deep," and the whole nature and design of religion would be subverted. If the wrath of God instantly crushed every transgressor, He would be the destroyer rather than the governor of the world. To destroy is comparatively easy, and discovers little perfection: but the wisdom of God appears in reigning over the extravagance of the world; in making the wrath of man to praise Him. It is also worthy of our remark that many who deserve destruction are useful in the present state of the world; they are able to promote the arts and sciences, and are qualified to render great services to a country. Such men are links in the chain of Providence, and their destiny secures them. There are also purposes which the wicked can only accomplish. God calls the Assyrian the rod of His anger and the staff of His indignation; and says, "I will send him against an hypocritical nation; and against the people of My wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire in the streets." The ungodly, by their continuance, are useful to the righteous: they exercise their patience, call forth their zeal, and wean them from the present world.
III. THE DEPRAVITY OF MAN TURNS DIVINE CLEMENCY INTO PRESUMPTION, AND ABUSES THE PATIENCE WHICH BEARS WITH HIM TO PURPOSES THE MOST VILE.
1. Nothing is more common than this abuse. Perhaps many of you are examples of it. To decide this I ask, Would you have continued in your sinful courses to this hour, had you not been persuaded that God would bear with you? Would you now perpetrate another crime if you supposed that God would instantly destroy you for it?
2. Nothing can be more vile and base than this abuse. Clemency affords you a shelter from the storm, and you enter, and then wound your kind Benefactor, and wound Him because He had pity upon you.
3. Be assured nothing will be more fatal. Mercy is your final resource; and, when this is provoked, to what can you turn?
God's delay of executing the sentence of condemnation against ungodly men often miserably abused by themI. THERE IS A SENTENCE PASSED IN THE COURT OF HEAVEN, AND STANDING, AGAINST UNGODLY MEN, EVIL-WORKERS, HOWEVER EASY THEY BE UNDER IT FOR A TIME. To explain the nature of this sentence, consider, Every evil work is a breach of God's law; and every sinful thought, word, or action is an evil work (1 John 3:4). The grounds of it more particularly are —
1. The sin of nature, original sin imputed (Romans 5:12).
3. The sins of the tongue (Matthew 12:37). It is a channel by which the heart vents much of its inbred corruption, contempt of God, etc.
4. The sins of the life, wicked actions, whether of impiety against God, unrighteousness against men, or intemperance against ourselves (Jude 1:15).
II. THE LORD OFTEN-TIMES DOES NOT SOON COME TO THE EXECUTION OF THE SENTENCE AGAINST UNGODLY MEN, EVIL-WORKERS; BUT DELAYS IT FOR A TIME.
1. We shall take a view of the method of Providence in this matter.(1) There is a swift method the Lord sometimes takes with sinners (Malachi 3:5). Sometimes the sinner has an ill work in design, and the Lord counts his will for the deed, and prevents by a speedy execution; as in Haman's case. He hatched the mischief, but be did not see it come forth. Sometimes the sinner is in actual motion to the ill work, and execution is done on him ere he get it performed. So it fared with the rebellious Israelites, in their attempting to go into the promised land (Numbers 14:44, 45). And so it fared with Jeroboam, putting forth his hand to lay hold on the prophet (1 Kings 13:4); and with Uzziah having the censer in his hand (2 Chronicles 26:19). Sometimes the execution trysts with the very doing of the ill work, so that the sinner is taken away with the stroke in his sin. Thus fared it with Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire (Leviticus 10:1, 2); with Zimri and Cozbi cut off in the act of uncleanness (Numbers 25:8); and with Herod, who was eaten up of worms for his atheism and blasphemy (Acts 12:23). Sometimes as the ill work is done out and ended, the execution begins. So it fared with Sennacherib's blasphemous letter (2 Kings 19:14, 85). Sometimes the execution keeps pace with the ill work, and the one goes on as the other does; judgment in the several degrees following hard at the heels of the sin. So it fared with Hiel in his building of Jericho (1 Kings 16.). Sometimes execution begins with the sinner's beginning to reap the fruit of his sin when he leans upon his wall, a serpent bites him. So it fared with Ahab taking possession of Naboth's vineyard (1 Kings 21:18, 19), and with the lusters in the wilderness (Psalm 78:30, 81). Sometimes when one's sin begins to work, in its bitter fruits and effects on others, it recoils on the sinner himself. So it fared with Judas the traitor (Matthew 27:3, 4, 5).(2) There is a slow method the Lord takes oftentimes with sinners (Nehemiah 9:17). They commit their evil works; the sentence is presently passed for them: but then the execution is delayed (Psalm 50:21). The sinner may get his evil work contrived and accomplished, without any let in this way from Heaven, by any execution against him. The ill work being done without let, the sinner may also for a time pass unpunished, and as little notice may seem to be taken of it as if there were not a God to judge upon the earth (Ezekiel 9:9). Nay, sinners may prosper in an ill course. So far may they be from execution done against them, that they may thrive in the world in it (Psalm 37:35). When execution is at length begun, it may be carried on very leisurely for a time: the drops may come very few and soft before the shower (Isaiah 9:1). More than all that, the execution may be entirely put off during this life.
2. We shall account for this slow method of Providence.(1) This method is taken to bring sinners to repentance, and prevent their ruin (2 Peter 3:9); and it is becoming the perfections of a merciful God therefore to use it.(2) In the slow method God takes with sinners, He often has an eye to posterity. Though the slow method seems strange to us short-sighted creatures, it is not at all strange being viewed in the glass of the infinite perfections of the Divine nature. God is eternal, from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2). If men do not soon pursue their quarrels, death may snatch them away, and they can have no access more to do it: but however long the Lord delays pleading His quarrel, He can lose no time, for He is eternal. In God's eternal duration there are no differences of time; all is present to Him. He sees exactly the time appointed for execution against every impenitent sinner, and will not let it pass beyond that one moment (Habakkuk 2:3). He knows what He intends to do, and none can hinder (Daniel 4:37). He is infinitely blessed in Himself, and nothing the creature can do against Him can hurt Him, nor in the least disturb His repose in Himself (Job 35:6, 8). There is a necessity for both the swift and slow methods being used by Providence in the government of the world; it is so corrupt and atheistical. The swift method is necessary to show that there is a God to judge upon the earth (Psalm 58:10, 11). The slow method is necessary to show there is a judgment to come (2 Thessalonians 1:4-7). Let sinners be spared never so long, not one of all their ill works will, or can be, forgotten. The longer sinners are spared, their counts will be the greater, and all will come on at once (Luke 11:50, 51; 1 Samuel 3:12). When it comes on the impenitent sinner, God will charge both the interest and the principal sum together.
III. GOD'S DELAY OF EXECUTION IS OFTEN MISERABLY ABUSED BY SINNERS, TO THE FILLING OF THEIR HEARTS TO DO EVIL, AND SINNING MORE AND MORE.
1. I shall point out the abuse of God's patience in the delay of execution that ungodly sinners make, to the filling of their hearts to do evil.(1) They abuse it to carnal security (Psalm 10:6).(2) They abuse it to a sensual life, wherein their aim is not to keep a clean conscience, but to gratify their senses, as their circumstances in the world will permit, as the rich man did (Luke 12:19).(3) They abuse it to impudence in sin (Jeremiah 6:14, 15).(4) They abuse it to contempt of God and all that is sacred (Psalm 73:9).(5) They abuse it to sinning more diffusely, giving loose reins to their several lusts (Jeremiah 7:9, 10).(6) They abuse it to sinning more eagerly (Ephesians 4:19).(7) They abuse it to incorrigibleness and obstinacy in sin (Jeremiah 22:21).
2. How comes it to pass that sinners so abuse God's patience with them?(1) Sin reigning in the ungodly, fear of wrath is their highest motive to good, and most forcible restraint from evil: and so when that restraint is taken off by the delay of execution again and again, the heart naturally goes to its own bias, and is like the wild ass's colt snuffing up the wind at her pleasure.(2) They mistake the design of Providence. They construe it as if God approved of their ways, or had such a regard for them that He will not be so angry with them as one would make them believe; they cannot think that He is so very angry at their sin while they prosper in it by His providence.(3) There is a root of atheism in the hearts of all men naturally, and it reigns in the ungodly (Psalm 14:1).(4) The Lord often in that way carries on a holy hardening work. In which case Satan and the evil heart conspire to this abuse.
(T. Boston, D. D.)Numbers 32:23): —
I. THE APPARENT SLOWNESS OF GOD TO PUNISH SIN. "Sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily." That is how it seems to be. It seems as if sin were not the dangerous thing it is represented to be; as if it were a harmless thing, and one might commit it without any consequence being forthcoming. And this is one way in which people are ensnared to go on sinning. They are misled and deceived by appearances. They think they will have nothing to pay now for what they are doing. You all know what an alluring thing credit is to some people. There are plenty of people who buy things which they would not buy if they had to pay for them at the time. Now, just as credit in worldly affairs is to some people a snare, so in relation to sin some people think that they can sin upon credit; that they can sin and have nothing to pay at once. Then, too, there is the thought that there may be even exemption from penalty. People think that they will get off altogether. They think "there is a kind of miscarriage of justice in the moral world; there are some who escape; why may not I?"
II. THE CERTAINTY OF PENALTY. "Be sure your sin will find you out."
1. Every sin has its appropriate penalty. A man suffers according as he transgresses. Sometimes this penalty for sin is twofold in its nature. It is outward; that is to say, a man suffers in his body, in his circumstances, in his social position, in his reputation. He suffers, also, inwardly; that is, in his character, in his spirit, in the higher life of the man. Sometimes both these penalties go together, hand in hand, and visit the transgressor.
2. The penalty begins with the beginning of sin. The dropping of water wears away a stone. You see the stone crumbled and disintegrated. When did the process of wearing away begin? Did it begin with the thousandth drop? No, it began with the first drop. If, perhaps, you had looked at that stone when the first drop had fallen, you would not have detected anything, but, nevertheless, the impression was made. It began to wear away as much after the first drop had fallen upon it as after the thousandth or ten thousandth. And it is like that With the penalty for sin. As we commit the sin the penalty follows close upon its heels. The sentence is never divorced from the evil work. They go together step by step, hand-in-hand. They are twin companions. They are never broken or separated from each other.
3. The penalty increases as we go on sinning. God is inexorable in this matter. Follow out the history of those who sin by thoughtless indulgences, such as idleness, drunkenness, love of pleasure, gambling, and what do you behold? Situations are lost, self-respect is gone, social respect is withdrawn, poverty comes in at the door and at the window, too; the body gets enfeebled, begins to tremble, unequal to its work; the brain ceases to have its vitality and vigour; memory becomes a poor decrepit thing, and sometimes reason loses its balance and is overthrown. There is the man, in himself and in his surroundings, ruined.
(T. Hammond.)I. THAT MEN ARE VERY APT TO ABUSE THE LONGSUFFERING OF GOD, TO THE ENCOURAGING AND HARDENING OF THEMSELVES IN AN EVIL COURSE, THE EXPERIENCE OF THE WORLD, IN ALL AGES, DOES GIVE ABUNDANT TESTIMONY.
II. WHENCE THIS COMES TO PASS, AND UPON WHAT PRETENCE AND COLOUR OF REASON MEN ENCOURAGE THEMSELVES IN SIN, FROM THE LONGSUFFERING OF GOD. And there is no doubt but this proceeds from our ignorance and inconsiderateness and from an evil heart of unbelief, from the temptation and suggestion of the devil. All these causes do concur to the producing this monstrous effects: but that which I design to inquire into is, from what pretence of reason, grounded upon the longsuffering of God, sinners argue themselves into this confidence and presumption. I shall endeavour to show what those false conclusions are, which wicked men draw from the delay of punishment, and to discover the sophistry and fallacy of them.
1. Those conclusions which are more gross and atheistical, which bad men draw to the hardening and encouraging of themselves in sin, from the delay of punishment (which we, who believe a God, call the patience or longsuffering of God), are these three: either that there is no God; or, if there be, that there is no providence; or that there is no difference between good and evil.
2. But because those who are thus are but few, in comparison, there being not many in the world arrived to that degree of blindness and height of impiety as to disbelieve a God and a providence; and I think none have attained to that perfect conquest of conscience as to have lost all sense of good and evil; therefore I shall rather insist upon those kind of reasonings which are more ordinary among bad men, and whereby they cheat themselves into everlasting perdition; and they are such as these: —(1)Because sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed, therefore sin is not so great an evil.(2) Therefore God is not so highly offended and provoked by it.(3) God is not so severe in His own nature as He is commonly represented.(4) Therefore the punishment of sin is not so certain.(5) It is at a distance, and may be prevented time enough by a future repentance in our old age or at the hour of death.
III. IF THE LONGSUFFERING OF GOD BE THE OCCASION OF MEN'S HARDNESS AND IMPENITENCY, THEN WHY IS GOD SO PATIENT TO SINNERS, WHEN THEY ARE SO PRONE TO ABUSE HIS GOODNESS AND PATIENCE? And how is it goodness in God to forbear sinners so long, when this forbearance of His is so apt to minister to them an occasion of their further mischief and greater ruin? It should seem, according to this, that it would be much greater mercy to the greatest part of sinners not to be patient toward them at all.
1. I ask the sinner if he will stand to this: wouldest thou, in good earnest, have God to deal thus with thee, to take the very first advantage to destroy thee, or turn thee into hell, and to make thee miserable beyond all hopes of recovery?
2. It is likewise to be considered that the longsuffering of God towards sinners is not a total forbearance: it is usually so mixed with afflictions and judgments of one kind or other, upon ourselves or others, as to be a sufficient warning to us, if we would consider and lay it to heart, to "sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon us." And is not this great goodness to warn us, when He might destroy us? to leave room for a retreat, when He might put our case past remedy?
3. Nothing is further from the intention of God than to harden men by His longsuffering (2 Peter 3:9).
4. There is nothing in the longsuffering of God that is in truth any ground of encouragement to men in an evil course; the proper and natural tendency of God's goodness is to lead men to repentance, and by repentance to bring them to happiness (Romans 2:4).
5. That through the longsuffering of God sinners are hardened in their evil ways is wholly to be ascribed to their abuse of God's goodness; it is neither the end and intention, nor the proper and natural effect of the thing, but the accidental event of it through our own fault. And is this any real objection against the longsuffering of God?
6. But because this objection pincheth hardest in one point, viz. that God certainly foresees that a great many will abuse His longsuffering, to the increasing of their guilt, and the aggravating of their condemnation; and how is longsuffering any mercy and goodness to those, who He certainly foreknows will in the event be so much the more miserable for having had so much patience extended to them? Therefore, for a full answer, I desire these six things may be considered: —(1) God designs this life for the trial of our obedience, that, according as we behave ourselves, He may reward or punish us in another world.(2) There could be no trial of obedience, nor any capacity of rewards and punishments, but upon the supposition of freedom and liberty; that is, that we do not do what we do upon force and necessity, but upon free choice.(3) God, by virtue of the infinite perfection of His knowledge, does clearly and certainly foresee all future events, even those which are most contingent, such as are the arbitrary actions of free and voluntary agents.(4) The bare foreknowledge of things future hath no more influence upon them to make them to be, than the sight and knowledge of things present hath upon them to make them to be present.(5) Consequently, foreknowledge and liberty may very well consist; and, notwithstanding God's foreknowledge of what men will do, they may be as free as if He did not foreknow it.(6) God doth not deal with men according to His foreknowledge of the good or bad use of their liberty, but according to the nature and reason of things; and therefore, if He be longsuffering toward sinners, and do not cut them off upon the first provocation, but give them a space and opportunity of repentance, and use all proper means and arguments to bring them to repentance, and be ready to afford His grace to excite good resolutions in them, and to second and assist them, and they refuse and resist all this; their wilful obstinacy and impenitency is as culpable, and God's goodness and patience as much to be acknowledged as if God did not foresee the abuse of it; because His foresight and knowledge of what they would do laid no necessity upon them to do what they did.
IV. SOME INFERENCES FROM THIS WHOLE DISCOURSE UPON THIS ARGUMENT.
1. This shows the unreasonableness and perverse disingenuity of men, who take occasion to harden and encourage themselves in sin from the longsuffering of God, which, above all things in the world, should melt and soften them.
2. This may serve to convince men of the great evil and danger of thus abusing the longsuffering of God. It is a provocation of the highest nature, because it is to trample upon His dearest attributes, those which He most delights and glories in, His goodness and mercy; for the longsuffering of God is His goodness to the guilty, and His mercy to those who deserve to be miserable.
3. To persuade us to make a right use of the patience and longsuffering of God, and to comply with the merciful end and design of God therein.(1) It is the design of God's longsuffering to give us a space of repentance.(2) The longsuffering of God is a great encouragement to repentance.
(J. Tillotson, D. D.)
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