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The present impunity of the wicked reconciled
with the perfect government of God.
EccLEs. Chap. 8, Ver. 11.
“ 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.”
So great is the perverseness of the human mind, that it turns the strongest instances of God's wisdom and goodness into arguments against his very existence and providence; the means appointed for our improvement, we employ for our ruin ; the very medicines of the soul we convert into deadly poisons. Nothing, for example, can be a clearer proof, than God's delaying for a time the punishment of sinners, that he is slow to anger and of great kindness, that he is unwilling that any should perish, but that all should return, repent and live : And yet, the text informs us,
and experience confirms the truth of the information, that, even, from this, the most dangerous inferences have been drawn. These are of two kinds, and take their rise from two different classes of men, the scepticks or disputers of this world, who are disposed to doubt and cavil; and the wicked or profane who lay hold of every thing which seems to countenance them in their favourite pursuit. The former raise objections to the divine government, and consider the impunity, and, not unfrequently, the success which attends bad men, as contrary to that sense of merit and demerit which God has given us for the direction of our conduct, and as inconsistent with the administration of a wise, just, and perfect being. The latter have abused the goodness of God, have become bolder in iniquity, and have continued in sin though grace did abound. Let us, therefore, try to justify the ways
of God—to show the impropriety of those objections which are made to the plan of providence, from the delay which takes place in the punishment of vice-and to explain the folly and danger of those men whose hearts, because sentence against an evil work is not
executed, speedily, are fully set in them to do evil. This is the object of my
discourse : and certainly I will have accomplished the purpose of addressing you from this place, if I am able to rectify your mistaken opinions about the divine
government—to increase your reverence and love for the divine characterand reclaim the sinner from those paths which lead down to death.
The subject divides itself into two heads.
I. I shall show that God's sparing the wicked for a time is consistent with justice, wisdom, and goodness.
II. I shall show that the conduct of wicked men is highly absurd and unjustifiable, in taking encouragement to continue in sin, from this part of the divine providence,
1. I return to the first head, and shall begin with considering how far the justice of God is affected by this objection, or is consistent with this fact in his government.
1. It may be observed, then, that if things are stated in a proper light, and as they really are, objections against this attribute can have no place. God's government is of two kinds, natural and moral. In the former there is the
same connection between actions and their consequences, as between the cause and its effect; so that the time, the manner, and nature of the consequence are precisely determined by the action, and as necessarily result from it, as the effect results from the cause. In God's moral government, on the other hand, though reward and punishment are, likewise, connected with the actions of moral beings, yet it is only in the way of desert: and the action is the occasion, but not the cause of that pleasure or pain with which we expect certain actions to be accompanied. Does any thing happen contrary to this in the divine administration? What is the real state of the case? The wicked man is often great in power; he abounds in riches, and is successful in all his undertakings. But in this there is nothing inconsistent. These are the natural consequences of foresight, application and industry; and they do not hinder the sinner from feeling also the natural consequences of his guilt, which are shame, remorse, fear, and self-condemnation. On the other hand, the good man, who keeps all God's commandments blameless, languishes in poverty, and groans under oppression. But this is not repugnant to the justice of God's government. For riches, and honour, and power are not the necessary fruits of virtue ; they are peace of mind, and the testimony of a good conscience. In short, vice is immediately followed by its natural punishment, and virtue by its natural reward. God's natural government, then, is perfectly complete; and as far as it is concerned, we have no reason to complain.
Indeed, the greatest part of our complaints is founded on our own inconsistent ideas. Why should we envy the wicked man the pleasures of this life when he has sacrificed ease, and liberty, and conscience, to obtain them? They are certainly purchased at a dear rate. Why do we repine at his success, when he takes the natural and direct road which leads to it: when he rises early, and sits
up late : when this world engrosses all his thoughts and care ? On the other hand, we form unreasonable expectations in behalf of the good. There is a modesty natural to virtue which prevents a man from exerting his faculties to their full extent.
The good man, whose prospects lie beyond the grave, puts little value on the things of this world, and undergoes little trouble to acquire them.