|« Prev||Sermon CLIII. Righteous art thou, O Lord, and…||Next »|
Righteous art thou, O Lord, and upright are thy judgments.—Ver. 137.
THIS psalm is spent in commendation of the word of God. The man of God sometimes commends it for its efficacy, sometimes for its sureness and certainty, and at other times for its sweetness. In this octonary or portion, the word of God is commended for its righteousness. David was sore troubled for the wickedness of his enemies, yea, tempted greatly to impatience and distrust, by looking upon their prosperous estate; for if you consult with the context, you shall find this was spoken in a time of defection, when rivers of tears ran down his eyes because men kept not the law of God. When carnal men pass their time in joy and the godly in tears, it is good then to meditate of God’s righteousness. So does David. When they were making void God’s law, he was in deep sorrow and tears. It is good so to do, that we may humble ourselves under his mighty hand, and compose our soul to patience and a quiet submission, and with hope to wait upon God in the midst of wrongs and injuries. Simo Caltu telleth us that the emperor Mauritius used these words when he saw all his children slain before his face, and himself ready to be slain after them by Phocas. The historian tells us, ἐπὶ πάντων ἐπεκαλεῖτο, δίκαιος εἶ κύριε καὶ εὐθεῖς αἱ κρίσεις σου—that he did in the presence of all meekly submit to this great and heavy calamity, crying out, ‘Righteous art thou, Lord, and upright are thy judgments.’
In the words the man of God reasons ab efficiente ad effectum, a legislatore ad leges—from the property of God to the laws that he hath given us. God being essentially righteous and perfectly righteous, yea, righteousness itself, nothing contrary to justice can proceed from him; no iniquity from equity itself, nor injustice from justice itself. God’s law, all his dispensations that proceed from him, are as himself is. Therefore in the text you have two things:—
1. What God is: Thou art righteous, O Lord.
2. What his word and works are: Upright are thy judgments.
The word misphatim, judgments, implies both—both the rule and his providential dispensations according to that rule. In God’s word there is a judicial sentence concerning our thoughts, words, and works; therefore his law is called judgments. It is the judgment of the great God concerning the actions of men, and then the effect thereof when his sentence takes place.
The points are three:—
1. That God is a righteous God.
2. That this righteous and holy God hath given a rule of equity and justice to his creature.
3. That all the dispensations that proceed from him according to that rule are all exactly righteous.
First, That God is a righteous God.
Here I shall show—
1. What is the righteousness of God.
2. Prove that God is righteous.
First, What it is. Amongst men there is a general and a particular justice. The general justice is that whereby we carry ourselves conformable to the rule of religion, 1 Peter ii. 24, called there living unto righteousness; and the particular justice is that whereby we give every man his due: so it is taken, Titus ii. 12, ‘That we should live soberly, righteously, and godlily.’ Godliness is that grace which inclines us to give God his portion, and sobriety is that grace which helps us to govern ourselves, and righteousness that grace whereby we give our neighbour his due.
1. Justice is sometimes put for the whole rectitude and perfection of the divine nature; when God acts becoming such a pure, holy, and infinite being; and so God cannot do anything that is against the perfection of his nature; he cannot deny himself, 2 Tim. ii. 13. He will not give his glory to another, Isa. xlii. 8. He cannot be indifferent to good and evil; he will not damn and punish an innocent creature; there is a condescency in all his actions to the perfection of his nature.
2. There is a particular justice with respect to his dealings with the creature, especially man. And before I come to open that, I must tell you that God must be considered under a twofold relation—(1.) As absolute Lord; (2.) As governor and judge of the world.
[1.] As absolute Lord; and so his justice is nothing but the absolute and free motion of his own will concerning the estate of all creatures. In this respect God is wholly arbitrary, and hath no other rule but his own will; he doth not will things because they are just, but therefore they are just because God wills them. For—
(1.) He hath a right of making and framing anything as he willeth in any manner as it pleaseth him, as a potter hath power over his clay to form what vessel he pleaseth, either of honour or dishonour, Rom. ix. 21; and Jer. xviii. 6, ‘As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel.’ He hath not only might and power, but full right to dispose of the creature according to his own pleasure. As he sustaineth the person of a Lord, he doth what is agreeable to his free and sovereign will. As the good man of the house pleaded, Mat. xx. 15, ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?’ so God as absolute lord and sovereign may do as he pleaseth. Nothing before it had a being had a right to dispose of itself. Neither did God make it what it was by the necessity of nature, nor by the command, counsel, or will of any superior, or the direction of any coadjutor; neither is there any to whom he should render an account of his work, but merely produceth things by the act of his own will, as absolute and sovereign Lord of all his own actions: ‘He works all things according to the counsel of his own will,’ Eph. i. 11; and Rev. iv. 11, ‘Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.’ As his wisdom saw fit, so he hath placed creatures in several ranks of being. The fish cannot complain that it was made without feet or hands, nor the ass that it was made for burden, that it is not fierce and mettlesome as the horse, which was made for battle. And we men, whatever was given us by creation, it was not a matter of right, but the mere effect of God’s good-will and pleasure. He might have made us stocks and stones, and not living creatures; and among living creatures plants only, with the life of vegetation and growth. Or if he had given us a sensitive life, he might have placed us in the lowest rank; he might have made us toads and vipers, or horse and mule, without understanding, and not men. And among men, all the blessings and privileges to which we were born might have been withheld without any injustice.
(2.) He hath a right of using and disposing of them so made according to his own pleasure, to appoint them to be high or low, miserable and afflicted, or prosperous and happy, as it shall be for his glory: Rom. xi. 36, ‘All things are of him, and from him, and to him, to whom be glory.’ As God made the creatures for himself, so he governs them ultimately, terminatively for himself. There is no cause of murmuring and repining when he will use us as he pleaseth for his own glory, Isa. xlv. 9, 10. We cannot say, Why doest thou thus? It is enough to silence all tempests in our souls, God did it: Ps. xxxix. 9, ‘I was dumb, I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.’ Now this is true in the dispensations of grace as well as in the blessings of this life. To some God gives grace, to others not; some are elected to mercy, others left to perish in their own sins; one is taken, and another left, Mat. xxiv. 40, 41. There were two thieves upon the cross together with Christ; God saves the one, passes by the other. He may do with his own as he pleaseth. He being sovereign is obliged by no debt of law, or the command of any superior power; and therefore ‘hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth,’ Rom. ix. 18. Election is an act of sovereignty and dominion. God might have left all in misery, as he left the fallen angels; none of them that sinned are recovered out of their misery; and are we of a more noble consideration than the angels, than those spirits? One of them could have done God more service than many men could do; therefore, as he left all those angels in their sinful condition, so it is a mercy that, when he might have destroyed all mankind, he would save any. God could have given Judas a soft heart as well as Peter, but he does not. He will be master of his own gifts. Only this clears his justice: none are denied grace, but those that deserve it should be so; none by God are compelled to sin, none are punished without sin; but in all his gifts, and in what he doth as supreme Lord, his will is his reason.
[2.] God may be considered as governor and judge, and so he gave a law to the creatures; and his governing justice consists in giving all their due according to his law. This is to be distinguished from the former; for God, that is arbitrary in his gifts, is not arbitrary in his judgments. Observe that he is arbitrary in his gifts; he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, but in his judgments he proceedeth with men according to their works, according to a law or outward rule. Of this governing justice the scripture often speaks: Deut. xxxii. 4, ‘He is a righteous God, and all his ways are judgment.’ So Ps. vii. 9, ‘He will judge the world in righteousness, and will minister judgment to the people.’ Now this governing justice of God is twofold—either legislative or judicial.
(1.) God’s legislative justice. This determines man’s duty, and binds him to the performance thereof, and also decrees and sets down the rewards and punishments that shall be due upon man’s obedience or disobedience. God made man rational, or a voluntary agent, capable of good and evil, with desires of the good and fears of the evil; and therefore God, as universal king, that he might rule him according to his nature, hath made for him a law that revealeth good and evil, with promises to move him by desire and hope of the good, and with threatenings to drive him by a necessary fear of the evil. So Deut. xxx. 15, ‘See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.’ It is true of the law of Moses, and it is true of the gospel of Christ Jesus; he deals with us this way (that I may not make a distinction between the law and the gospel). What is the law of the gospel? Mark xvi. 16, ‘He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.’ Now this law is the rule of man’s duty and God’s dealings with all those that have received it.
(2.) There is his judicial justice, called also distributive; and this is that whereby he renders unto men according to their works, whether they do good or evil, without any respect to persons: 1 Peter i. 17, ‘Without respect of persons, he judgeth according to every man’s work.’ The persons that may be respected in judgment is some external thing, that hath no affinity with the cause in hand. Now when God comes to judge of the breach of his law, or the keeping of his law, he hath no respect of persons, high or low, rich or poor, professing or not professing Christianity; he deals with them as they have walked according to his law. His judicial or distributive justice is declared at large by the apostle, Rom. ii. 5-9. There God’s executing judgment according to his law is described, and you find it twofold—remunerative or vindictive.
(1st.) His remunerative or rewarding justice. It is just with God to reward our obedience, and to give men what his promise hath made due to them. It is true we cannot expect reward from God in strict righteousness, or by the exact laws of commutative justice and strict righteousness in this fallen estate, as if there were an inward condignity of our works to that which God gives. Oh no! that is disclaimed by the saints: Ps. ciii. 3, ‘Who forgiveth all thine iniquities;’ Ps. cxliii. 2, ‘Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.’ From any exuberancy of merit we cannot expect a reward from God; but we may and ought to encourage ourselves from his righteousness, even that it is not an unrighteous thing with God to give us heaven and happiness when we have served him faithfully, and patiently continued in well-doing. You know the apostle distinguished that there is a reward according to debt, and a reward according to grace, Rom. iv. 4. Though it be righteous with God to give the reward, yet he gives it not out of debt, or for any condignity of worth; but he gives it out of grace. And so all the comforts we have from obedience are said to come from the righteousness of God; even the pardon of sin, which is one of the freest acts of God, and wherein he discovers most of his mercy: 1 John i. 9, ‘He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.’ It is not, faithful and gracious, but just. And so for the eternal reward in 2 Thes. i. 6, 7, δίκαιον, ‘It is a just or righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you.’ Ay! you think it is just with God to punish evil; but is it a righteous thing that he should reward our obedience? Bead on: ‘And to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven,’ &c. God in righteousness is bound by his own promise to give this reward: Heb. vi. 10, ‘God is not unrighteous, to forget your work and labour of love.’ How is God’s righteousness engaged? Partly by Christ, Christ having given satisfaction equivalent to the offence and wrong to his majesty, and having interposed an everlasting merit, it is just with God to forgive the sin, as it is just for the creditor to forgive the debt when he hath received satisfaction from the surety. And it is just because God is bound by his own promise; he hath promised a crown of life to them at the end of their trial, James i. 12; and it is part of his justice to make good his word; by promise God hath made himself a debtor. So 2 Tim. iv. 8, ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge will give me at that day.’ Bernard glosseth sweetly upon that place, Paulus expectat coronam justitiae, justitiae Dei, non suae; justum est ut reddat quod debet, debet autem quod pollicitus est. It is just with God to pay what he oweth, and God oweth what he hath promised; and so it is a crown of righteousness which God the righteous Judge will give us at that day. Once more, it is just with God not to forget your labour of love, because it agrees with his general justice, or the rectitude of his nature; it falls in with his law. As God is a holy, perfect being, he cannot be indifferent to good and evil; it concerns him to see, ut bonis bene sit; et malis, male; that it be well with them that do well, and ill with them that do ill. But how upon terms it should go well with them, that must be interpreted according to either covenant; either according to the exactness of the law, and so no flesh can be justified in his sight, or according to the moderation of the gospel, where the soul sincerely frames itself to do the will of God: and it is not an unrighteous thing with God to give you according to your labour of love, and zeal for his glory.
(2dly.) There is his vindictive justice on all sinners. God punisheth none but sinners, and only for sin, and that ever according to the measure of the sin; as it is more or less, so they have more or less punishment: Rom. ii. 9, ‘Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile.’ God will render vengeance to the Gentiles, that had the light of nature to teach them God, to show them the invisible things of his godhead and power; but chiefly upon those that have been bred up in his ordinances, and mostly upon them that have rejected the terms of grace offered them in the gospel; for so it is said, 2 Thes. i. 8, ‘He will render vengeance upon all them that obey not the gospel;’ and John iii. 18, 19, ‘He that believeth not is condemned already.’ The law is passed upon him; but ‘this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.’ Their sin is inexcusable that will not lay hold upon the offers of grace. They have no cause to murmur, or impute their damnation to God’s secret purpose; in their own consciences they may read the justness of their condemnation. Well, then, this is God’s justice; it is that property by which God acts agreeable to his nature as sovereign lord; and agreeable to his covenant as governor and judge of the world, either his covenant of works or grace.
Secondly, To prove that God is just. I shall prove it by four things:—
1. From the perfection of the divine nature. The perfection of the divine will is such that he necessarily loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity. As the perfection of God’s understanding includes all intellectual virtues, so the perfection of his will all moral virtues. There can be no virtuous act of the will, either in men or angels, that doth not agree to God in a far more excellent manner and measure; and therefore if there be such a quality as justice and righteousness in angels and men, if holy angels and just men made perfect, certainly there is a just God. This rectitude in men and angels is accidental, and separable from their being. Angels may be angels, yet not just, as appears in the devils; but in God it is essential; as his essence is necessarily, so his integrity must needs be so. In short, God must be just and holy, because he necessarily loves himself, and hates every thing that is contrary to himself: Ps. xi. 7, ‘The righteous God loveth righteousness, and his countenance beholdeth the upright.’ If they be just, he loves their justice, because he loves himself; if unjust, he hates their injustice, because they are contrary to himself.
2. He could not else govern the world, or judge men according to their offences. Next his nature, God’s office shows him just, that infers his justice as he is governor and judge of the world; so we shall see, Gen. xviii. 15, ‘The judge of all the earth, shall not he do right?’ It must needs be so that the judge of the earth will do right: Rom. v. 6, ‘Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? God forbid; for then how shall God judge the world?’ It is impossible to imagine that he can be the supreme judge who is not just. Among men appeals are allowed, because men are fallible, and apt to pervert equity and judgment; and this is their relief that they can appeal higher. But now, Eccles. v. 8, ‘If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice, marvel not at the matter; for he that is higher than the highest regardeth, and there be higher than they.’ God is the great arbiter of all affairs in the world, where all appeals rest, can go no higher than the will of God; therefore he must needs be just.
3. This was God’s great end in giving Jesus Christ, that he might be known to be a just God; therefore he stood so punctually upon satisfaction, that the sinner must die or the surety. No surety so fit to keep up the honour of his law and honour of his justice in the consciences of men as the Son of God, Rom. iii. 24-26. God had a mind to be gracious to the creature, but without any disparagement to his justice. Now how should this be? All the wise men in the world that had any sense of the nature and being of God busied themselves in this inquiry, How God could be merciful to the creature, and yet just; but all their devices were vain and frivolous, until God himself found out a ransom and remedy for us, as it is in Job xxxiii. 24. Here was the difficulty; God would preserve the notions which the creature had of his being and justice inviolable; he would be known as one that would stand to his law which he had made for the government of the world. Now, there was no way to keep up the credit of it but these two—strict execution or sufficient satisfaction. The execution would have destroyed all the inferior world, the reasonable creatures at least; and the love and wisdom and mercy of God would not permit that the world should be destroyed so soon as it was made, and man left remediless in everlasting misery. Well, then, strict execution would not do it; therefore satisfaction must be the remedy; and such satisfaction as might be sufficient to procure the ends of the law, to keep up the honour of God’s justice in the consciences of men. Now this was done by Jesus Christ, whom God had set forth to declare his righteousness, that he might exercise his mercy without prejudice to his justice. If this ransom had not been found, we should either have slighted God, and not stood in awe of him, or else we had been for ever left under the curse, and under doubtfulness and scruple, wherewith we should have appeased him; but the Lord found out such a means to our hands, that he might declare he was a righteous God.
4. I prove it from the divine nature infused into us. As many as are made partakers of God’s grace are more just than others, they hate sin and sinners; so we read, Eph. iv. 24, ‘That the new man was created after God in righteousness and true holiness.’ After God, that is, after the image and pattern of God. Now, if the new creature be made after such a pattern, then certainly God was righteous. We find by experience, the more god-like and virtuous any are the more just they are, more apt to give every one his due, to live without wrong to any, and the more their hearts’ are set against that which is base and unworthy. Therefore certainly God is righteous, for he hath put such a quality as the copy of his nature into the hearts of men.
Object. If God be so just, why then does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those that desire to be faithful with God so afflicted and calamitous? This is a wind that hath shaken the tallest cedars in Lebanon. The choicest saints of God have been exceedingly hurried and tossed to and fro in their thoughts by this objection against the righteousness of God: Jer. xii. 1, ‘Righteous art thou, O Lord; yet let me plead with thee.’ He holds fast this principle, but yet, Lord, saith he, I am not satisfied; ‘Let me talk to thee of thy judgments,’ that I may be better informed; ‘why doth the way of the wicked prosper?’ So David: Ps. lxxiii. 1, ‘Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart;’ but yet the wicked thrive and prosper, and there is no bands in their death. So Hab. i. 13, ‘Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil,’ &c. Lord, saith he, I know thou art a holy God; but why can thy providence then look upon them in the world that deal treacherously and perversely? The clearest-sighted saints may be so bemisted many times that they are not able to reconcile God’s dispensations with his nature and attributes, and so quarrel with and reproach and impeach his providence. Yea, the heathens, that knew little of sin and righteousness, were troubled at the afflictions of the good and the flourishing of the wicked, and questioned the being of a God upon this account; and therefore there are two heathens which have written two worthy treatises to vindicate the providence of God. Seneca hath written one treatise, Cur male bonis, et bene malis, to show why the good may be afflicted, though there be a God; and Plutarch hath written another treatise, De sera numinis vindicta, why the wicked may be spared, and suffered to flourish in the world, though there be a God to take notice of human affairs. These heathens had a sense of this difficulty, for it is an obvious objection.
I answer—In general God’s dispensations are just, though we see not the reason of them. The saints hold their principle: Lord, I confess thou art righteous, Jer. xii. 1; Hab. i. 13. The justice of God must be acknowledged in all his dealings with us and others, though it appear not to our reason, which indeed cannot discern well; and therefore is unmeet to judge of such high matters as these are: Ps. xxxvi. 6, ‘Thy righteousness is like the great mountains, thy judgments are a great deep.’ The judgments of God are such a deep as we cannot easily fathom the bottom of; and therefore, though we do not see the justice of it, we must believe it, and prefer faith above sense. The Lord may deal otherwise in many things with us than we can express, and see the reason of his doing; and yet he is always just and holy in his proceedings, and it is the duty of his people to believe it: Ps. xcvii. 2, ‘Clouds and darkness are round about him, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.’ Augustine’s words are a good comment upon that passage. The judgments of God, saith he, are sometimes secret, but always just, saepe occulta, nunquam injusta. We know not what to make of it; clouds and darkness are round about it. Ay! but though they are unsearchable and secret, they are managed with great judgment and rectitude.
But more particularly to come to speak to the things mentioned in the objection. As to the flourishing of the wicked, four things to that:—
1. God’s word doth sufficiently declare his displeasure against them, though his providence doth not. There is sententia lata, sed dilata: Eccles. viii. 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.’ Mark, there is a sentence pronounced against evil men, but the Lord doth not put the sentence in execution. The sentence is, passed against them, both sententia legis, the sentence of the law; and so it is said he is condemned already, John iii. 18. Nay, there is sententia judicis, the sentence which the judge passeth upon a sinner; for he ratifieth the sentence of the law; what is bound upon earth is bound in heaven. Well, the warrant for execution is signed, yet the execution is suspended for just and wise reasons. Sin is not less odious to God because wicked men do not presently feel the punishment of it. There are many righteous ends why execution should be delayed, partly with respect to the Mediator, into whose hands the government of the world is put: Exod. xxxiii. 2, 3, ‘I will send an angel before thee; I will not go up with thee, lest I consume thee by the way,’ compared with Exod. xxiii. 20-23, ‘Behold I send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared: beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions, for my name is in him. But if indeed thou obey his voice, and do all that I speak, then I will be an enemy to thy enemies, and an adversary to thy adversaries; for my angel shall go before thee;’ that was Christ, whom they tempted in the wilderness: 1 Cor. x. 9, ‘Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted him, and were destroyed of serpents.’ Partly that the elect might not be cut off in their unregenerate condition, that the wheat may not be plucked up with the tares, which they might be; if sentence should be speedily executed against every evil-doer, there would be no room left for conversion. Therefore God is not slack, as men count slackness; but only waits, that all those that belong to the purpose of his grace might come to repentance, 2 Peter iii. 9. He is long suffering to us-ward, to those that were such as the apostle was, that belonged to the purposes of God’s grace. And it is delayed too, that his wrath may be glorified in the confusion of the reprobate: Rom. ix. 22, ‘He endureth with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction;’ that he may show the glory of his power against them, they are hardened and strengthened in their wickedness by their prosperity. When all the favours of God have been abused, and the riches of his goodness set at naught, they have nothing to say for themselves. And sentence is delayed, that the little good they do in the world may not be hindered. God knows how to use all his creatures; even the wicked have a ministry and service under his providence. The Lord would not destroy their enemies all at once, lest the beasts of the field should increase upon them, Deut. vii. 22. They serve as a hedge of thorns to a garden of roses for his people. A dead rotten post may support a living tree. It may be God will bring some that belong to his grace out of their loins. Hierome saith, Many times an evil shrub may bear sweet fruit. And God hath righteous ends too, that his people may be humbled, and that their perverse humours may be broken; for so saith the Lord: Isa. x. 12, ‘When the Lord hath performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria.’ When he hath sufficiently humbled and purged his people, then he will do it. And whenever this temptation comes, when you see sentence delayed, go to the sanctuary, as David did: Ps. lxxiii. 17, ‘Then you will understand their end.’ There you will see sentence is not speedily executed, but it is surely executed. As a chimney long foul will be fired at length: Ps. lv. 19, ‘Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God,’ when they are high and prosperous: ‘but God will hear and afflict them, even he that abideth of old;’ he whose essence and providence hath been always the same, he will in due time execute his righteous judgment; and the longer he stays, the more heavy; the longer he is about drawing of his bow, the deeper will his arrows pierce; they are but ‘treasuring up wrath to themselves against the day of wrath,’ Rom. ii. 5. As in Jehoiadah’s chest, the longer it was ere it was opened, the more treasure there was in the chest; so they are treasuring up wrath, &c. The fire that hath been long kindling burns the more grievous at last.
2. There are other punishments besides outward afflictions. In visible judgments are most fearful, blindness of mind, hardness of heart, terrors of conscience. Tertullian ad Marg.—Cogitemus ipsum magis mundum carcerem esse, exisse eos de carcere, quam in carcerem introisse intelligemus. Majores tenebras habet mundus, quae hominum corda excaecant: graviores catenas induit mundus, quae animas hominum obstringunt, 2 Cor. iv. 4. Nihil infelicius felicitate peccantium. No such misery as to be condemned to this kind of happiness, no blindness like a blind understanding, no chains like an obstinate will, no torments like terrors of conscience, under which a man lives for his further punishment, that he may be his own tormentor. Cain had rather die a thousand deaths than be let loose as a vagabond here upon earth, and be delivered over to the hell of his own conscience. Those that are under torments of conscience will call upon the mountains and rocks to cover them.
3. The third consideration is this, providence must not be viewed by halves, but in its whole frame and connection. Do but wait a little, and you shall see God will show himself a righteous God. When we view the dealings of God by pieces, we are apt to break out into those complaints: Ps. lxxiii. 11, 12, ‘Doth the Lord see? how doth God know? is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold, these are the ungodly who prosper in the world, they increase in riches,’ &c. Ay t but stay a while, and you will see, ‘There is a God that judgeth in the earth,’ Ps. lviii. 11. I remember the poet Claudian, who had a little tincture of Christianity, though a heathen, as appears by his words, when he saw drones and unworthy men greater than the worthy, and vex the pious, laetos diu florere nocentes vexarique pios, doubted num inesset rector, &c., whether there were any governor of the world, any judge that took notice of things here below, et incerto florent mortalia casu, and thought all things were delivered over to blind chance; but, saith he at length, abstulit hunc tandem Ruffini poena—absolvit Deos, tolluntur in altum, ut lapsu graviore ruant. The gods were absolved, for they are lifted up on high, that their fall may be the greater. Men give another judgment of the work of God when it is brought to perfection than what they do when they see the beginning of it. Alas! at first, when we see the beginnings of God, we are apt to say, There is no profit to serve the Lord. Ay! but at length, Verily there is a reward for the righteous. And therefore let us not be rash and hasty, until God hath put his last hand to his work. They are impatient spectators that will not tarry till the last scene of the tragedy, till the Lord brings forth his last work. Our hastiness and impatience will betray us into many foul thoughts of God and his providence.
4. That the solemn triumph of God’s justice will be at the last day. If God should punish no sin here, no man would believe a God; if he should punish all here, no man would be afraid of a future judgment. Now is the day of his patience, and all taste the effects of his common goodness: Acts xvii. 31, ‘He hath appointed a day wherein he will judge the world;’ that is the great day of assizes for all the world, when the great judge shall appear in his royalty. Now God only keeps a petty sessions; now and then he seizeth upon the hairy scalp of a sinner; but the general assizes is then. In the day of trial it is not fit we should live by sense, but by faith; but hereafter in the day of recompenses all shall be open and clear: Rom. ii. 5, ‘Thou treasurest up wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of Christ.’ There is a day that will reveal the justice and righteousness of God, a black day to the wicked it will be, and to God’s people a day of redemption. Now his justice is manifested on a few here, then on all. Now God’s children have their sentence of absolution from sin in private, in foro conscientiae, their justification and assurance of eternal life; and wicked men have their woful doom in the stings and horrors of their own conscience, they are self-condemned, Titus iii. 11; but then sentence will pass publicly. The equity of God’s dealings is not now so fully seen, but then the causes will be opened; when the secrets of all hearts shall be manifested, then we shall see how justly God accepted one to salvation, and rejected another to damnation. God’s justice is seen by the present government of the world, but not so clearly. Here justice is mixed with mercy to the godly in their afflictions, and mercy is mixed with justice to the wicked in their temporal blessings; but when the Lord shall stir up all his wrath, then we shall see clearly God is a just God, and will keep punctually to the law he hath made for the government of the world.
|« Prev||Sermon CLIII. Righteous art thou, O Lord, and…||Next »|