« PreviousContinue »
society as will be found needful for the general diffusion of the truth, and the conversion of the world to holiness : and consequently, that all the proud, and ambitious, and blasphemous, who took part in those preparatory measures, were suffered to live, notwithstanding their wickedness, for the sake of the beneficial results, which, in spite of their different intentions, will have been made to arise from their doings.
Cyrus knew not God;—but he was suffered to live and prosper, for the sake of the good he would accomplish to God's people Israel. The Romans knew not God, but they were suffered to prevail, and prepare the way for the spread of the Gospel. So it may be now with many who know not God: they may be continued to aid in supporting the institutions of the Gospel, where they live; which, though they themselves reject it, may prepare their children for a place in heaven. Or they may live, that, by the influence which they indirectly exert, and with intentions just the reverse, they may aid in fulfilling God's purposes of mercy to bring in the latter day glory. Just as Joseph's brethren, in the very steps they maliciously took to prevent his anticipated elevation, were only smoothing the way for its more speedy ac complishment.
The wicked live, then, I would remark,
3. THAT THEY MAY CONTRIBUTE TO MATURE THE PIETY, ELEVATE THE CHARACTER, AND HEIGHTEN THE FUTURE FELICITY OF THE SAINTS.
This world is a scene of trial to all its inhabitants : the ungodly in Gospel lands are under trial to deterinine whether they will embrace the Gospel and be saved ; and every act affects their final destiny, just so far as it tends to prepare them to accept or to reject salvation. The righteous are also under trial, to decide what advances they will make in holiness.
If the Christian bad no difficulties, no opposition to contend with in his course through life, he could not possibly make such advances in holiness as now he may. Trial strengthens all the powers of the regenerate nature. It invigorates faith. When Abraham's faith had been subjected to the trial of offering up his beloved Isaac, it was not only shown to be genuine, by his cheerful obedience, but it was strengthened by the discipline which that obedience included. He would, thenceforth, have a firmer saith in God's power, and in his faithfulness to his promises than ever before. Thus it was, that “ his faith wrought with his works, and by works (i. e. by acting under the influence of faith) was his faith made perfect,” or established.
Job was a patient man, before his severe afflictions; but those trials at once discovered the greatness of his patience, his submission to the will of God, and strengthened these dispositions in his soul. The Prophets, who lived in times of prevailing wickedness, and whose blood was shed in the service of God; the Apostles, and the martyrs of the primitive Church, who suffered persecution, famine, nakedness, the loss of all things, and laid down their lives for the testimony of Jesus ; in so doing not only evinced the reality of their faith, but they were strengthening it by every trial. The act of relying habitually on the word of truth, amid discouragements on every handsubmitting to self-denial, and loss, and pain, and ignominy, for the sake of Christ, could not fail to nourish a more vigorous faith, a deeper humility, a more heavenly temper, than if they had met with fewer difficulties, if they had lived in less perilous times. And even where no bloody persecution rages,--and no open opposition is urged against the Gospel or its professors, just so far as the wicked prosper, does the very spectacle of their triumph call forth in the righteous a firmer faith in God's word, where alone is found the true solution to all the difficulties involved in this state of things. And just so far as the influence of the wicked is felt in any community or in any family circle, against true religion in all the fulness of its demands, in all the heavenliness of its spirit, it calls into more active operation, not only the faith of Christians, but also their forbearance, patience, and meekness. The more ensnaring are the allurements of the world, the firmer will be the purpose, the more determined the resolution required of Christians to resist them. And since every true Christian will resist them (however few they may be among the number of graceless professors, whose love waxes cold, when iniquity abounds), it follows that the existence of the wicked becomes incidentally advantageous to the righteous, whom they despise. The very contempt they exhibit towards Christians, the enticements they employ to ensnare them, the calumnies they propagate against them, the opposition they make to the accomplishment of their plans of benevolence, all become means to render them more firm in faith, and more uniformly humble, self-denying, and circumspect. Every disappointment, and every instance of opposition they meet with is contributing to render true Christians more holy, more spiritual, more like Jesus Christ: and of consequence, because inward holiness is the spring of true enjoyment, it is contributing to heighten their felicity. Hence the Scriptures call upon Christians to rejoice in trials ; —" that the trial of their faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, may be found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ :” which manifestly implies, that the Christian, when he has passed honorably through trials, will obtain a higher felicity as the consequence. So that, if the wicked are the means of presenting such trials, they are thereby unintentionally toiling to heighten the present, and more especially the future felicity of God's people, in preparing them to reap a richer reward on high. This thought our Lord himself presents in that memorable passage, “ blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for my sake :-rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in beaven."
Were the wicked early cut off in their career of wickedness, were the ebullitions of their hatred against God's truth and against God's people uniformly restrained, the saints would not be subjected to this salutary discipline; they would fail of that great and peculiar reward in heaven, which, in this way alone, they can obtain. If, then, at any time, my Christian friends, you behold the wicked prospering in their wickedness, setting their mouth against the very heavens, and with desponding heart you begin to inquire, “Wherefore do the wicked live ?"-remember, that if faithful to your Lord, to his cause, and to your souls, they are only toiling to render you more holy, and prepare for you a brighter crown on high.
4. Another reason why the wicked may be suffered to live is,
THAT THEREBY AN AFFECTING EXHIBITION IS PRESENTED OF THE LOVELINESS OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER.
The forbearance of God is hereby strikingly discovered. God is immutable; he is now as irreconcileably opposed to sin as he was when he first promulgated his holy law, and pronounced its awful sanction: as he was, when for their sin, he hurled the arch-apostate and his rebel angels down to the gulf of perdition. Towards them, so far as we are informed, no forbearance was exercised, but vengeance followed close on the act of transgression. And had God inflicted like speedy punishment on the transgressors of our race, it would have been strictly just; all heaven would have approved it well : but then the long-suffering of God would not have been brought to light.
It is not because sin is less intrinsically evil now than at any past period; not because sin is not as truly hateful in men as in angels, as truly deserving God's wrath in us as in them; but because God is “ willing to show the riches of his forbearance” towards men, that the wicked are suffered to live. It is not because God does not see and abhor the wickedness of the wicked, that they are suffered to proceed to such lengths in iniquity as are sometimes witnessed; not because God has not a tender regard for his afflicted people, that the wicked are permitted sometimes to rage against them, and cause their bosoms to labor with grief;—not because God has not a lively feeling for the honor of his name, that men are sometimes heard to blaspheme that holy name, rail at his adorable perfections, and even deny his existence, while no sudden vengeance stops their breath ;—but it is, because God will give undeniable evidence of his amazing long-suffering. What then, if God “ endure with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction ?" Having taken occasion, from their wickedness to magnify the riches of his forbearance in time, eternity will be long enough to exhibit his justice in their punishment.
Not only, however, is the long-suffering of God illustrated by the continuance of the wicked on earth, his goodness is equally shown in the unmerited and unrequited beneficence he expends upon them.
God not only bears with the wicked, for months, and years, in long succession-forbears to inflict merited punishment; but he loads them with the choice bounties of his providence. God is truly “kind to the unthankful and to the evil : he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust!" How affecting the lesson here presented to us, when the Omnipotent God, whose frown would make the wicked pine and wither in unutterable anguish—the Omniscient, whom no secret thought of evil can escape-not only bears with the wicked, amid all their bold rebellion, and withdraws not the bounties of his providence from their persons and their possessions, but pours temporal favors--all that can render life desirable, into the lap of the wicked, as commonly as into the lap of the saints! How powerful the motive hereby urged upon us in the example of God's rich beneficence towards his enemies, that we, by loving our enemies,
and doing good without expecting an equivalent in return, evince ourselves to be the children of so benignant a Father in heaven!
And when the question arises in our minds, “ Wherefore do the wicked live?”' let us answer it by the lovely spectacle which, from their continuance here, God takes occasion to exhibit in this guilty world, in which the enemies of God, the bold transgressors of his holy law, are not only patiently borne with, but daily loaded with the unrequited bounties of his hand—as though he were determined to subdue their opposition, and melt their obduracy by his unspeakable goodness :-truly, “the wrath of man shall praise kìm!”
5. The end to be answered by the continuance of the wicked, is found in THE EVIDENCE THEREBY FURNISHED OF A FUTURE STATE OF RETRIBUTION.
This lise might still be a state of probation, even were the first actual transgression followed by instant death ; or, were a certain amount of iniquity (far less than is now commonly perpetrated) the utmost that should be tolerated without bringing down certain destruction. But such manifest and uniform infliction of punishment on transgressors could scarcely fail to give birth to the opinion, that this life is the whole period of human existence. It would certainly leave far less evidence corroborative of the doctrine of future rewards and punishments, than the present arrangements of God's providence furnish. It is, indeed, true, that “godliness is profitable unto all things:" and, generally speaking, each one who tries it for himself will find, that “in keeping God's commandments there is great reward :" “ wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness—and all her paths are peace." True religion brings in its train more genuine happiness than can be attained without it. Yet it is equally true, that every where, riches, honor, and influence are to a greater extent found in the hands of those who, if judged by Scripture rules, must be pronounced wicked, than in the possession of the pious. It is an undeniable fact, that the wicked, yea, the notoriously wicked, are often known to enjoy great and uniform prosperity till their death : "they are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued like other men : they set their mouth against the heavens; their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart can wish ;'-while not unfrequently it is found, that "many are the afflictions of the righteous; and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them.” There have been times, when in the bitterness of their spirit, the afflicted righteous have been tempted to exclaim, “is there knowledge in the Most High ?"__" verily we have cleansed our heart in vain, and washed our hands in innocency!"--and this state of things has ever been regarded by reflecting men, whether Heathen or Christians, as furnishing satisfactory ground, in view of the justice of God, to argue a future state of retribution. From the course of providence in this world, we can derive no conclusive evidence, " that the Judge of all the earth will do right;" and hence we feel a livelier interest, and a firmer confidence in the information furnished us in the Scriptures, of a day which God hath appointed, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, and render to every man according to his works.” When, therefore, perplexed by the apparent confusion around us, we feel the inquiry
rising, “Wherefore do the wicked live?”' let us meet it with the thankful acknowledgment of the evidence we thence derive, that a day is approaching, when every difficulty will be removed by an impartial judgment.
Lastly, 'The wicked live TO FURNISH MORE DECISIVE EVIDENCE OF THE JUSTICE OF GOD IN THE DISPOSAL HE WILL FINALLY MAKE OF THEM,
The events of every day are doing something towards trying and proving us; calling into exercise some of our moral feelings, and giving distinctness and prominence to the several features of our moral nature. As trial exercises, and thus invigorates the right feelings of the good, so it exhibits and confirms the wrong feelings of the wicked: while the truly good are advancing every day in goodness; the evil are progressing every day in, wickedness. The longer the righteous live, and the more they advance in holiness, the more abundant is the evidence they will furnish, of the reasonableness of that distinction to which God will graciously advance them. In like manner, the longer the wicked live, the more they will grow in wickedness, and consequently the more manifest will be the reasons why God consigns them to eternal darkness.
No doubt, there will be evidence to show satisfactorily, that every one receives a righteous award. But with those who have lived long, and have fully developed the wickedness of their hearts in the actions of their lives, the reasons of their doom will be more palpably obvious. If Pharaoh had not lived so long, he could not have acted so wickedly, and would not have been so conspicuous a monument of God's righteous vengeance. Now, God does give us to understand, in his holy word, that when men have long disregarded the admonitions of conscience, and the strivings of his Spirit, and all the means of amendment, and thus show that they are intent on their own destruction, he withdraws his Spirit, and leaves them to their own hearts' lusts, that they may press on rapidly in wickedness, and prepare themselves for more signal punishment. Thus for their great wickedness the Amorites were forsaken of God, till they should fill up the measure of their iniquities. God's forbearance had been tried to the utmost ; the very land groaned under their wickedness; and signal vengeance fell upon them. Our blessed Redeemer said to the Jews, when they plainly showed that they were determined to resist all the evidence of his mission from God, “fill ye up the measure of your fathers :" which they did by crucifying the Lord of life, and persecuting his disciples; so that upon that generation was visited, in fearful judgment, all the blood of the prophets before shed.
In like manner, when under the light of the Gospel, men live and die in unbelief, the longer their lives have continued under these advantages, the more undeniably plain will their wickedness appear, in that they have passed through their whole probation, growing only worse instead of better; in that all the bounties of God's providence were abused with an unthankful heart; all the gracious invitations of the Gospel rejected, the movements of the Spirit resisted, and the very forbearance of God perverted into a motive to sin the more stoutly against him, just as we are in his word forewarned that it would be, “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.” If any of my hearers