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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 ?" Ilaving 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 ! Ilow 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 him!”
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 life 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 “yodliness 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 :" 6 wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness—and all her pathis 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, inust 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 afilicted 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 ineasure 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 sct in them to do evil.” If any of my
shall be found among those unhappy despisers, that “ behold, and wonder, and perish,” the privileges they have enjoyed, the knowledge they have sessed, the motives they have resisted, the affectionate entreaties they have slighted, the solemn providences they have disregarded, and the urgent and frequent remonstrances of conscience, which they have neglected, as well as all their sinful actions, will be spread before an assembled world, and satisfactorily show that God has employed every suitable means for their reformation; that their ruin is chargeable to themselves alone; while their own lips will loudly attest the justice of their fearful doom; and through all eternity, the remembrance of these advantages perverted, will sting like the adder, and bite like the scorpion.
Since, then, so long as the wicked live, they are enjoying the opportunity to become reconciled to God; their continuance may be greatly beneficial to others; they may, even in their greatest wickedness, be doing that which shall invigorate the piety, and brighten the crown of the saints ; they are furnishing clear illustration of the riches of God's forbearance and of his unparalleled kindness ;--and they are giving undeniable evidence of that future judgment they often deny, and yet dread; and are hourly treasuring up materials to render more abundantly conspicuous the equity of that sentence, which shall cover them with eternal confusion ; let us hush every murmur, and banish every complaint; nay, raise the song of praise, while we ponder the question, "Wherefore do the wicked live?"
With one remark, I close :-we here discern the folly of remaining unreconciled to God.
However bold and hardened in sin, however forgetful of God, and heedless of his soul's welfare, a man may be, he is, nevertheless, in the hands of God, and he will be made to subserve God's glory, and the welfare of God's true people, whether he wishes it or not. The trial of each sinner is going on every day; and continually is he becoming more fitted for the doom that awaits him : and that doom, unless he become a new creature in Christ Jesus, is everlasting wretchedness. No correctness of morals, no inoffensiveness of life, can wipe out the guilt of rebellion against God, or screen from the curse consequent on rejecting the Savior. Nothing will serve as a substitute for a contrite heart, and a living faith. We may hesitate, and object, and delay, and scoff as we please ;-such conduct will, indeed, ripen us for destruction; but it does not alter God's terms, nor relax his hold upon us. We are in his hands; and if we do not choose to submit to him, and just on his own terms too, we but pull down vengeance on our own heads : we make a bed for ourselves in hell. By every sneer, and every cavil, we are but inscribing in the archives of heaven the evidence that our condemnation is just.
We may as well hope to silence the roaring ocean with a frown,--we may as well attempt to blot out the sun, or to chain the winds, as to rush beyond the reach of the Almighty, or to change the conditions on which we hold our being. It is the message of the Gospel, it is the song of heaven, it is the glory of the church,—it is the confession of hell's deepest caverns, " There is no safety, but in Christ.” AMEN.
By WILLIAM MITCHELL, A.M.
THE FACILITY WITH WHICH SINNERS GO TO
MATTHEW, vii. 13. Enter ye in at the strait gate ; for wide is the gate
and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.
He who made the human soul, and laid down his life for its redemption, knows perfectly well what is necessary to salvation, and knows our liability to be ruined by a delusive hope. In the greatness of his compassion, with his omniscient eye upon the deceitfulness of the heart, and the many temptations of the world, he has clearly described the Christian character, and the character of every traveller in the broad way. He has exhibited the features of the carnal man and the spiritual man in the nicest shades of distinction; presenting to the vision of the one unclouded immortality, and to the vision of the other the horrors of everlasting death. The path of life is made so plain that “ the wayfaring men, though fools, need not err therein.” But notwithstanding all the light shed from heaven on the ways of wisdom, there are “ few that be saved.” Such is the blindness and desperate wickedness of men, that the multitude throng the broad way, bent on their own destruction, in despite of the entreaties and the mercies of the Lord. The very fact that Christ and the apostles have mingled their instructions to the churches with so many warnings, and enjoined the same upon their successors in the sacred office to the end of the world, implies that all men are extremely prone to slide in the downward road to perdition, and implies, too, that “ be which go in thereat." The text is a direct assertion of this truth. In this and the preceding chapter, Christ had fully taught his disciples the necessity of personal holiness—had taught them what duties to perform, what errors to avoid ; and then, setting before them in one distinct view the dangers that awaited them, and the importance of strenuous effort, he said, “ Enter ye in at the strait gate : for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat : because strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth to life, and few there be that find it. - Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shail enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils ? and in thy name done many wonderful works? and then will I profess unto them I never knew you : depart from