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DISCOURSE II.

U PON

EZEKIEL XVIII. 30.

Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions ;

so iniquity shall not be your ruin. THE

great design of this chapter is to answer an objection which the Jews were wont to make against the righteousness of God's procedure with them, viz. that he punished them, not only for their own, but for their fathers' sins. Which objection, though it did not at all impeach the righteousness of God, it being no injustice in him to inflict temporal evils upon the children for their fathers' sins; yet that they might urge it no more as a pretence of God's unrighteous dealing with them, God assures them by his prophet, that from thenceforth he would remit that right he had to make them smart for their fathers' iniquities, and inflict no other punishment upon them, than was due for their own personal faults; that if they did well, they should fare well, notwithstanding the sins of their parents; and that if they did wickedly, they should surely smart for it, how well soever their parents behaved themselves. Nay, says he, your fathers' merit or demerit shall henceforth be so far from excusing you from, or exposing you to punishment, that you shall not suffer for your own past wickedness, if you repent of it; nor yet escape for your past righteousness, if ye revolt from it. This is the sum of the whole chapter to the twenty-fourth verse. And yet, says he, The house of Israel says, The way of the Lord is not equal. O house of Israel; are not my ways equal ? are not your ways unequal ? Can any method of rewarding and punishing be more equal than this I propose ? or can any accusation be more unjust than this of yours against me? But know, it is not your unjust reproaches shall make me desist from this my most righteous procedure. Therefore, says he, verse the 30th, I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways: How much soever you reproach and calumniate me, I will strictly insist upon this method of rewarding and punishing you according as you repent of, or persevere in

your

iniquities: and to let you see that I will be as ready to reward you upon the former, as to punish you upon the latter, do but for once make a trial of me; Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; and you shall surely find that your past iniquity shall not be your ruin. The sense of which words resolves into two propositions :

I. That the iniquity of any people or nation tends directly to their ruin.

II. That true repentance and amendment is the certain way to prevent the ruin which iniquity tends to.

I begin with the first, that the iniquity of any people or nation tends directly to their ruin: so it shall not_intimating, that if they did not repent, their iniquity would certainly end in their ruin. And of the truth of this, the constant experience of all ages is a sufficient testimony: for if you consult either sacred or profane history, you will find, that iniquity, like the worm at the root of Jonah's gourd, hath many times blasted the most flourishing kingdoms, pulled

down their banks, and laid them open to such inundations of misery, as have finally overwhelmed and destroyed them. And those that have made the strictest inquiries into human affairs have constantly observed, that the rise and fall of nations hath been more owing to their virtue and vice, than any other cause, and that upon these two hinges, generally, the fates of empires turn; that the foundations of their rise were laid in virtuous, brave, and generous actions; and that by wickedness and corruption of manners, they were undermined, and sunk into a final ruin. But the truth of this will yet more fully appear by considering how many ways vice doth contribute to the ruin and destruction of a kingdom; all which I shall reduce to these eight heads :

1. It doth it by depriving kingdoms and nations of the favour and protection of God.

2. By inflicting positive plagues and punishments

upon them.

3. By corrupting and infatuating their counsels. 4. By melting and emasculating their courage. 5. By breaking and disturbing their order. 6. By dissolving their unity and concord. 7. By consuming their wealth and substance. 8. By debasing their esteem and reputation.

1. Wickedness directly tends to the ruin of kingdoms and nations, as it deprives them of the divine favour and protection. For if we acknowledge God to be the Almighty Lord and Sovereign of the world, we cannot but confess, that the strength and establishment of kingdoms is founded in his favour and protection ; that his goodness, wisdom, and power are the pillars upon which those vast and mighty structures lean; and consequently, that if he withdraw from them those necessary supports, they cannot stand, but must inevitably sink under their own weight into irreparable ruins. For nothing can subsist without God, and much less kingdoms and nations, which have so many principles of corruption lurking within their own bowels, and in which there are compounded so many boisterous passions, repugnant humours, inconsistent designs, and contesting interests; all which, like the contrary qualities of our bodies, do by their mutual jarring with one another, continually tend to the dissolution of the whole. So that, did not the wise and almighty providence of God continually superintend these contrary principles, and by its skilful mingling them with one another preserve them in a just and due temper, those great and unwieldy bodies in which they do reside would be every moment in danger of being diseased, corrupted, and destroyed by them. But now the sins of nations do mightily contribute to the depriving them of this benefit of God's providence and protection. For how can any kingdom or nation expect that God will continue to protect them in their rebellions against himself? that he who is so implacable an enemy of wickedness, and so zealous an asserter of his own honour and authority, will employ his power to patronise them in the one, and take their part against the other. And if he withdraw his upholding providence from a nation, he needs do no more: for now it must sink of its own accord; and like a falling house, when its prop is removed, its weight will bear it down, and quickly crush it into ruins.

2. Wickedness tends to the ruin of kingdoms and nations, not only by engaging God to withdraw his protection from, but also to inflict positive plagues and punishments upon them. For God being the supreme Sovereign of the world, and especially of this world of men, who are so extremely prone to contemn and violate the laws of his government; it is necessary, that since our hopes and fears are the master-springs of all our motions, he should take especial care, as on the one hand to allure us to our duty by the hope of a reward; so on the other to awe us into it by the fear of punishment: and if he should not, there would be no confining such extravagant creatures as we are within any rule or compass.

Now as for particular offenders, the great scene of God's rewarding and punishing them is the future state, where every man must answer for himself, and receive the just retributions of his own actions. But as for sinful and virtuous nations, they are capable only of being rewarded and punished in this life; there being no such thing as particular nations and kingdoms in the life to come; where heaven and hell are the two nations into which the spirits of men are distributed : so that if wicked nations were not punished here as such, they could never be punished at all. And if there were no such punishments set up, like banks and shores, to break the insolence, and check the overflowing wickedness of sinners, the whole world would soon become a sink and deluge of iniquity : and therefore, though here God many times spares particular offenders, there being a future state in which he can reckon with them, and call them to a strict account for all their affronts and provocations; yet it is very rare, if ever, that he suffers wicked nations to go unpunished here;

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