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3. That God will take vengeance on the workers of iniquity, is agreeable to the natural apprehensions of mankind, both bad and good. When the ship which carried Jonah was like to be broken with a tempest, and the mariners saw themselves ready to perish, notwithstanding all their efforts and prayers, they said; "Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is come upon us." When the men of Melita saw a viper come out of the fire which they had kindled, and light upon Paul's hand, they said among themselves; "No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live." When Herod heard of the fame of Jesus, on account of his astonishing miracles, he said, "It is John, whom I beheaded: he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him." Others had different conjectures; but this was Herod's confident opinion: and it was probably suggested to him by his conscience, which made him apprehensive of the awful justice of God. Such apprehensions are natural to men. Those who are conscious of great crimes, cannot but entertain fearful forebodings that God will not suffer them to escape his righteous judgment. And those who have suffered great injuries, expect justice from heaven, if they can obtain no redress on earth. Solomon says, "I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there, and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there. I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked." Abraham, likewise, was confident that the Judge of all the earth would do right. And from this strong expectation, it has often been matter of wonder to good men, that notorious transgressors should be spared, and suffered to enjoy prosperity, so long as they sometimes are. See Job xxi. 7, "Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are, mighty in power?" And Psal. lxxiii. 12, and
16, 17, Behold, these are the ungodly who prosper in the world; they increase in riches.-When I thought to know this it was too painful for me, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end." Yea, so natural and universal is the certain expectation of equitable rewards and punishments, if there be a just God, that wicked men have called in question the being of such a God, because at present all things come so much alike to all.
Such are the strong grounds we have to be fully persuaded, that the holy Governor of the world will render a terrible recompence to sinners, for their ungodly and unrighteous deeds. I proposed to show,
III. That any hopes or fears of the contrary, are altogether groundless.
The grounds on which some flatter themselves that God will not be strict to punish any sinners, are, the universal goodness of his nature; the plenteous redemption there is with him, through the propitiation of his Son; his declared readiness to forgive, and the long delay of his threatened vengeance. These, therefore, it will be proper here particularly to consider; and to show that there is no reason to apprehend, from either of them, that those who die in their sins will not be punished according to strict and perfect justice.
1. There is no reason to think this, because of the infinite, universal goodness of God.
It is true, we read, "The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works:" and that "God is love." But then, this is so far from giving any reason, to believe he will never punish, let men be ever so bad, that it affords the strongest ground for confidence that he certainly will. One who is good to all, when he sees any suffer wrong, if he have rightful authority and sufficient strength, will
avenge him who is oppressed, and smite the oppressor. Justice is essential to universal goodness. A good man and a just, are synonymous appellations in scripture; and the former character obviously implies the latter. Universal benevolence will dispose one to do justly, in every relation he sustains, or capacity in which he is called to act. A good ruler, certainly, is one that beareth not the sword in vain: one who is a terror to evil doers, that he may be. a protector of them that do well. But if he that ruleth over men, in the character of a civil magistrate, must be just; how much more desirable and necessary is this, in Him who ruleth over all? As far as is requisite for supporting government, and securing the greatest public good, and the rights of every individual, vindictive justice is evidently an essential branch of universal goodness. And that these good ends do not require the punishment of all sin according to its full demerit, or something equivalent to it, in the extensive administration of God, we have certainly no reason to be positive. Any conclusion that the Judge of the universe will never punish crimes, or not strictly and fully, because he is infinitely good; can be grounded only on the stupid supposition that we know as well as he, what is wisest and best.
2. There is no reason to think that God will not now, in any case, punish the sins of men, according to strict justice, because of the atonement which has been made for them by the death of his Son.
Some have supposed, that Christ hath so purchased salvation for sinners of the human race, that God is obliged in justice to save them all. have been so punished in their would be unjust to punish them in their own persons and that eternal life has been so merited for them, that they can claim it as a just debt.
That their sins surety, that it
But this is a supposition most palpably absurd in itself, as well as contrary to the plainest representations of scripture. Crimes are not to be cancelled, or the ill desert of them taken away, even by personal sufferings; and much less by the sufferings of another; though a proper foundation may thus be laid for the gracious pardon of them. Nor can the Creator of all, become obligated as a debtor, by any merit; though a door may thereby be opened for the honorable bestowment of undeserved favors. Accordingly, in the third chapter of Romans, the apostle having said, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," he proceeds to speak of," Being justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins -that he might be just, and the justifier of him that beliveth." This was done, the apostle observes, "That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord." Notwithstanding, therefore, the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ for all men; no man has any claim to an exemption from the curse of the law, until he embraces the gospel: nor then, in point of justice; but merely on the ground of God's gracious promise.
If it should still be said, as some are ready to say, supposing the atonement of Christ be only sufficient to render the salvation of all men consistent with justice, may we not conclude from the goodness of God, that all will actually be saved?
To this it may be answered; not unless we are wise enough certainly to know that the best purposes, upon the whole, would thus be answered. There is no more reason to conclude this, than there was before the fall of men or angels, to have concluded that no sin or misery would ever have been permitted, by a Being of infinite goodness and power.
There was no more necessity, in point of justice, that any creature should have been suffered to fall, than there is now, that some of mankind should be left to perish in their sins. God does not do whatever he could, without any violation of justice; but only what he judges to be wisest and best. If, therefore, it seemeth good in his sight, he will leave many of the human race to be forever sinful and miserable, notwithstanding the universal sufficiency of the atonement of Christ. "Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?" Shall a worm of the dust arrogate this knowledge! and assume this office? "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory?" Shall vain man, born like the wild asses colt, say unto him, Why doest thou thus! It would certainly be wiser, more benevolent, and more glorious, to make all vessels of mercy!
The death of Christ was designed to give such a striking example of the justice of God, that, while mercy should be exercised in this way, men might stand in awe, and not sin. Our Saviour, when going to be crucified, said to the women that followed him weeping, "Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" Shall we then be so wise as to draw from it the contrary conclusion; that, since the green tree hath been so terribly burnt, no dry tree has any thing to fear! That since the just one, when voluntarily standing in the place of sinners, was not spared, the unjust may be unjust still, with perfect safety!