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self against him and hath prospered.”_" God hath spoken once,” says David, “ twice have I heard this, that power belongeth unto God.” And hence it is said by Solomon, “ Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.”
In no case are men able to inflict that punishment which is the full wages of sin. As our Saviour observes, they can at furthest only kill the body; after that there is no more that they can do : but God, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell.
Having endeavored' to explain how it is to be understood, that vengeance is the Lord's ; let us consider, as was proposed,
II. The reasons we have to believe that he will repay. That is, will punish impenitent evil workers, with strict justice. And,
1. We have reason to believe this, from what he hath said.
Many declarations to this purpose in his word, all who have read their Bibles may easily recollect. See, as a specimen, Deut. xxxii. 39, 40, 41, “ I, even I, am he, and there is no God with me : I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift my hand to heaven, and say, I live forever. If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.” Isa. xxviii. 17, “ Judgment also will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet ; and the hail shall sweep away the refuges of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding places.” Isa. lix. 18, “ According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies; to the islands he will repay recompence.”
Ezek. xxii. 14, “ Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the day that I shall deal with thee? I the Lord have spoken it, and will do it.” And 2 Thes. i. 7, 8, 9,—The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know pot God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ : who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.”
2. That God will repay sinners with righteous punishment, we have reason to believe from what he hath done. By the judgments which he hath already cxecuted, it is put beyond all reasonable doubt, that iniquity shall not go unpunished. Thus the apostle Jude argues : having spoken of certain ungodly men that had crept into the churches, who turned the grace of God into laciviousness, he says; “ I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the
people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains, under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them, in like manner giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” That is, their destruction is left upon sacred record, as a warning to all others, and as an emblem of the final punishment of sinners in the fire which shall never be quenched. The destruction of the old world, of the Egyptian host, of Babylon, and of Jerusalem, may be considered as similar exampics. And so may the destruction which has come upon innumerable other cities and nations, as well as upon individual sinners, in fulfilment of divine threatenings.
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.
“ 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. Ixxiii, 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. That their sins have been so punished in their surety, that it 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.