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. 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).
2. The sins of the heart (Psalm 24:4; Matthew 5:28, 29).
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.