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does not always defer the execution of the sentence:
Men have perished even in their crimes. Witness the destruction of Corah and his company, The leprosy of Gehazi. The death of Ananias and Sapphira. And what has happened to one may befal another.
But the language of the wise man agrees with the general proceedings of the Supreme Being. With much long-suffering he endures the provocations of the ungodly, and delays from day to day and from year to year the wrath which they have deserved. He is slow to anger, and punishes with reluctance. Judgment is his strange work. 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 and undeniable instances. The old world was warned an hundred and twenty years before the flood came, and took them all away. Four hundred years He suffered the Amorites to fill up the measure of their iniquities. Forty years long was he grieved with the Jews in the wilderness. If we take the hiftory of this people ages after, we hear the God of Patience in language the most exquisitely tender saying, "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim ? how shall I de"liver thee, O Israel? How shall I make thee as Ad"mah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? Mine heart is "turned within me, my repentings are kindled togeth
er." 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 ?" Let us take
some particular views of this dispensation, that we may discover the principles from which it springs, and the purposes which it is designed to answer.
We are obviously intended for a social state; but the intercourse we are required to maintain with our fellow-creatures exposes us to innumerable provoca tions and offences; and the effects of sudden and uncontrouled 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. He teaches us a divine lesson of meekness and kindness; and calls upon us to cherish that gentleness which is not easily provoked, and to repress those passions which would impel us to revenge. "Therefore "is the kingdom of heaven likened unto certain "king, which would take account of his servants. "And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought "unto him which owed him ten thousand talents: "but forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord com"manded him to be sold, and his wife and children, "and all that he had, and payment to be made. The
servant, therefore, fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay "thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved "with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him "the debt. But the same servant went out, and found "one of his fellow-servants, which owed him an hun"dred pence; and he laid hands on him, and took "him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. "And his fellow-servant fell down at his feet, and be"sought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I
"will pay thee all. And he would not; but went "and cast him into prison till he should pay the debt. "So when his fellow-servants saw what was done, they "were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord "all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had "called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, "I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst 66 me; shouldest not thou also have had compassion "on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? "And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the "tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto "him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do al"so unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.'
If the commission of sin were always immediately followed with the punishment of it, this world would not be a state of probation; obedience would not be voluntary but forced; we should walk not by faith but by sight; we should not honour God by our confidence in his perfections and in the dispensations of his Providence; he would not be "a God hiding "himself;" 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 taking into his plans such diversities and contradictions, and bending every thing he meets with, however adverse to his own purposes; in bring
ing good out of evil, and order out of confusion; in making the wrath of man to praise him. It is also worthy of our remark, that many of those 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 only CAN 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." When he had fulfilled the designs of Heaven, in punishing some and chastising others, he was laid aside. 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.
Mankind are so variously and intimately blended together, that it is scarcely possible to strike an individual only, without affecting others. Now the Judge of all the earth will not punish indiscriminately, and destroy the righteous with the wicked. He would rather spare a thousand enemies, than injure one friend. If ten righteous men had been found in Sodom, the place would have been preserved. The angel did not, yea he said he could not, do any thing till Lot was safely escaped. Why were not the messengers suffered to eradicate the tares? Because it would have been doing an injustice to THEM? No; but lest "in gath
"ering up the tares, they should also root up the wheat "with them."
But above all, the goodness of God is to be acknowledged in this dispensation. "The Lord is not slack "concerning his promise, as some men count slack.. ness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing "that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." We are to "account that the long"suffering of our Lord is salvation." We see this exemplified in Saul of Tarsus. Had he in his way to Damascus, been smitten to hell when he was struck to the ground, he had never obtained mercy, never have been a Christian, a Preacher, an Apostle. While the execution of the criminal is still suspended, a pardon may arrive; while life continues, there is a possibility of repentance. "I will give him," says God, "a longer period; other means may be more effec"tual. I will afford him a season of recollection; "he may come to himself. I will leave him; thought"fulness may succeed levity; disappointment may "break the charm which now fascinates him. He "is near the melancholy consequences of his perverse<c ness; then he will know what an evil and bitter
thing it is to forsake the Lord. At such a time he "will lose the desire of his eyes with a stroke, and "two children shall follow their mother to the grave; "then he will enter his closet, and say, And now, "Lord, what wait I for? my hope is even and only "in Thee." Here Christians, if I knew your histories, perhaps I could say to one of you, O! it was well you died not before a change in your affairs occasioned your removal to that city; for there you