SERMON VIII.* The Long-suffering of God.
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.
NOthing is more evident, than that the world lies in wicked∣ness, and that iniquity every where abounds; and yet nothing is more certain, than that God will not acquit the guilty, and let sin go unpu∣nished. All Men, excepting those who have offer'd notorious violence to the light of their own Minds, and have put the candle of the Lord, which is in them, under a bushel, do believe, that there is a God in the World, to Page 194 whose holy Nature and Will sin is perfectly contrary, who loves righteous∣ness and hates iniquity, that his eyes are upon the ways of man, and he seeth all his goings, that there is no darkness nor sha∣dow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves. All Men, except those whose Consciences are seared, as it were with a hot Iron, are convinc'd of the difference of good and evil, and that it is not all one whether men serve God or serve him not, do well, or live wickedly. Every Man from his in∣ward Sense and Experience is satisfi∣ed of his own Liberty, and that God lays upon Men no necessity of sinning, but that when ever we do amiss, it is our own act, and we chuse to do so; and so far is he from giving the least countenance to sin, that he hath gi∣ven all imaginable discouragement to it, by the most severe and terrible threatnings, such as one would think sufficient to deter Men for ever from it, and to drive it out of the World; and to make his Threatnings the more awful and effectual, his Providence hath not been wanting to give re∣markable Instances of his Justice and Severity upon notorious Offenders, e∣ven Page 195 in this life: and yet for all this, Men do and will sin; nay, they are zealously set and bent upon it.
Now here is the wonder; what it is that gives sinners such heart, and makes them so resolute and undaunt∣ed in so dangerous a course. Solomon gives us this account of it, because the Punishments and Judgments of God follow the sins of Men so slowly, and are long before they overtake the sinner, Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil.
The scope of the wise Man's dis∣course is this, That by reason of God's forbearance and long-suffering to∣ward sinners in this life, 'tis not so easie to discern the difference between them and other Men; this life is the day of God's Patience, but the next will be a day of retribution and re∣compence. Now because God doth defer and moderate the punishment of sinners in this World, and reserve the weight of his Judgments to the next, because through the long-suffer∣ing of God many great sinners live and dye without any remarkable te∣stimony Page 196 of God's wrath and displea∣sure against them, therefore the hearts of the children of men are fully set in them to do evil.
If we render the Text word for word from the Original, it runs thus, Because nothing is done as a recompence to an evil work, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are full in them to do evil; that is, because Men are not opposed and contradicted in their evil ways, because Divine Justice doth not pre∣sently check and controul sinners, be∣cause sentence is not immediately past up∣on them, and judgment executed, there∣fore the heart of the sons of men is full in them to do evil, that is, therefore Men grow bold and presumptuous in sin; for the Hebrew word which we ren∣der, is fully set in them, we find Esth. 7.5. where Ahashuerus says concern∣ing Haman, Who is he? and where is he, that durst presume in his heart to do so? Whose heart was full to do so, Fervet in iis cor filiorum hominum; so some render it, the hearts of men boil with wickedness, are so full of it, that it works over. Men are resolute in an e∣vil course, their hearts are strengthened and hardened in them to do evil, so o∣thers Page 197 translate the words. The Trans∣lation of the LXX is very emphati∣cal, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, the heart of the sons of men is fully perswaded and assured to do evil. All these Transla∣tions agree in the main scope and sense, viz. That sinners are very apt to presume upon the long-suffering of God, and to abuse it, to the hardning and encouraging of themselves in their evil ways. In the handling of this, I shall
First, Briefly shew that it is so.
Secondly, Whence this comes to pass, and upon what pretences and colours of reason, Men encourage themselves in sin, from the Patience of God.
Thirdly, I shall endeavour to answer an Objection about this matter.
First, That Men are very apt to a∣buse the long-suffering of God, to the encouraging and hardning of them∣selves in an evil course, the experience of the World in all Ages does give a∣bundant testimony. Thus it was with the old World, when the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while he was preparing an Ark, for the space of a hundred and twenty years, 1 Pet. 3.20. For the wickedness of Man, which Page 198 was great upon the Earth, a general deluge was threatned, but God was patient, and delayed his Judgment a great while; hereupon they grew se∣cure in their impenitency, and went on in their course, as if they had no apprehension of danger, no fear of the Judgment threatned. So our Saviour tells us, Matth. 24.38, 39. As in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah en∣tred into the Ark, and knew not until the flood came and took them all away. And so it was with Sodom, Luke 17.28. And likewise also as it was in the days of Lot, they eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built. And so our Saviour tells us it will be in the end of the World; Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is re∣vealed. So likewise the Apostle St. Paul, Rom. 2.4, 5. Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the good∣ness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up to thy self wrath against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. The good∣ness Page 199 and long-suffering of God, which ought in all reason to lead Men to re∣pentance, is to many an occasion of greater hardness and impenitency. So also St. Peter foretels, 2 Pet. 3.3. that in the last days there should come scoffers, who should walk after their own hearts lusts, saying, Where is the promise of his coming? And we see in daily ex∣perience, that the greatest part of sinners grow more obstinate and con∣firmed in their wicked ways, upon account of God's Patience, and be∣cause he delays the punishment due to them for their sins. Let us consider in the
Second place, whence this comes to pass, and upon what pretence and co∣lour of Reason, Men encourage them∣selves in sin, from the long-suffering of God. And there is no doubt but this proceeds from our ignorance and inconsiderateness, and from an evil heart of unbelief, from the temptation and suggestion of the Devil, one of whose great arts it is, to make Men question the threatnings of God, and to insinuate, as he did to our first Pa∣rents, either that he hath not denoun∣ced such threatnings, or that he will Page 200 not execute them so severely. All these Causes do concur to the produ∣cing this monstrous Effect; but that which I design to enquire into, is, from what pretence of Reason, ground∣ed upon the long-suffering of God, sin∣ners argue themselves into this confi∣dence and presumption. For when the wise Man saith, that because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedi∣ly, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil, he does not intend to insinuate, that God's long-suffering fills the hearts of Men with wicked designs and resolutions, and does by a proper and direct effi∣cacy, harden sinners in their course; but that wicked Men upon some ac∣count or other, do take occasion from the long-suffering of God, to harden themselves in sin; they draw false conclusions from it to impose upon themselves, as if it were really a ground of encouragement; they think they see something in the forbearance of God and his delay of punishment, which makes them hope for impuni∣ty in an evil course, notwithstand∣ing the threatnings of God.
Page 201And therefore I shall endeavour to shew, what those false conclusions are, which wicked Men draw from the delay of punishment, and to dis∣cover the sophistry and fallacy of them; and I shall rank them under two Heads; those which are more gross and atheistical, and those which are not so gross, but yet more com∣mon and frequent.
I. Those conclusions which are more gross and atheistical, which bad Men draw to the hardening and en∣courageing of themselves in sin, from the delay of punishment (which we who believe a God, call the patience or long-suffering of God) are these three; either that there is no God; or if there be, that there is no Provi∣dence; or that there is no difference between Good and Evil.
I shall speak more briefly of these, because I hope there are but few in the World of such irregular and besotted understandings, as to make such Infe∣rences as these from the delay of pu∣nishment.
1st. From hence some would fain conclude, that there is no God. That some are so absurd as to reason in this Page 202 manner, the Scripture tells us, Psal. 14.1. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God: they are corrupt, and have done abominable works. Now the Argument that these Men frame to themselves, is this; God doth not take a speedy course with sinners, and revenge himself immediately upon the workers of Iniquity, therefore there is no God; for if there were, he would shew himself, and not bear the affronts of sinners, when it is so easie for him to vindicate himself by a swift and speedy Vengeance. Thus the Poet represents the Atheist argu∣ing, Nullos esse deos, inane coelum, affir∣mat Selius, probatque, quod se factum, dum negat hoc, videt beatum.
And here it is worthy our notice, at what a contradictious rate these Men reason. First they would have no God, lest he should be just and punish them as they deserve; and then in another mood, they would have him to be nothing but Justice and Page 203 Severity, lest there should be a God; as if no other Notion could be framed of the Divine Nature, but of a •a•h Fury, and impetuous Revenge, and an impotent Passion, which when it is offended and provoked, cannot con∣tain it self, and forbear punishment for a moment. Justice is not such a Perfection as doth necessarily exclude Wisdom, and Goodness, and Patience; it doth in no wise contradict the Perfe∣ction of the Divine Nature, to bear with sinners in expectation of their repentance and amendment; or if God foresees their final impenitency, to respit their punishment to the most fit and convenient season. God may suffer long, and yet be resolved, if sinners persist in the abuse of his Goodness and Patience, to execute Vengeance upon them in due time. It is a pitiful ground of Atheism, that because God is so much better than wicked Men deserve, they will not allow him to be at all.
2dly, Others infer from the delay of punishment, that there is no Pro∣vidence that administers the Affairs of the World, and regards the good and bad Actions of Men. For tho' the Be∣ing Page 204 of God be acknowledged, yet if he do not regard what is done here below, nor concern himself in humane Affairs, sinners are as safe and free to do what they please, as if there were no God; and upon this ground, the Scripture tells us, many encourage themselves in their wickedness; Psal. 64.5. They encourage themselves in an evil matter, they commune of laying snares privately; for they say, Who shall see them? And more expresly, Psal. 94.4, 5, 6, 7. How long shall the workers of iniquity boast themselves? They break in pieces thy People, O Lord, and afflict thine heritage, and slay the widow and the stranger, and murder the fatherless; and yet they say, The Lord shall not see, nei∣ther shall the God of Jacob regard it. And if this were so, well might they encourage themselves. If it were true which Epicurus saith,
But let us see how they infer this from the long-suffering of God, that he neglects the Affairs of the World, and hath no consideration of the Acti∣ons of Men, because they see the un∣godly to prosper in the World, equal∣ly with others that are strictly devout and virtuous, yea, many times to be in a more prosperous and flourishing condition; they are not in trouble like other men, neither are they plagued like other men. So that if there be a God, it seems (say they) that he connives at the Crimes of Men, and looks on upon them that deal treacherously, and holds his peace, whilst the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than himself; as the Prophet expresseth it, Hab. 1.13.
For answer to this, I shall only give this reasonable and credible Account of the long-suffering of God, and the impunity of wicked Men in this Life, which not only the Scripture gives us, but the Heathen were able to give from the light of Nature, and is agree∣able to the common Sense of Mankind; namely, That this Life is a state of pro∣bation Page 206 and tryal, wherein God suffers men to walk in their own ways without any visible check and restraint, and does not usually inflict present and re∣markable punishments upon them for their evil deeds; because this being a state of tryal of the dispositions and manners of Men, is rather the proper season of Patience, than of punish∣ments and rewards; and therefore it is very reasonable to suppose, that God reserves sinners for a solemn and publick Tryal, at the great Assises of the World, when he will openly vin∣dicate the honour of his Justice, upon the despisers of his Patience and long-suffering, when he will make his judg∣ment to break forth as the light, and his righteousness as the noon day. In the mean time the providence of God, when he sees it fit, gives some re∣markable Instances of his Justice up∣on great and notorious Offenders in this life, as a pledge and earnest of a future Judgment; and these some∣times more general, as in the destru∣ction of the old World, by an univer∣sal Deluge, when he saw the wickedness of men to be great upon the earth. And such was that terrible Vengeance Page 207 which was poured down upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Cities about them; which, as St. Jude tells us, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire, that is, of a perpetual destruction by Fire.
3dly, Another gross and Atheistical Inference, which Men are apt to make from the delay of punishment, is, that there is no such difference of good and evil as is pretended; because they do not see the good and bad Actions of Men differenced in their rewards, be∣cause Divine Justice doth not present∣ly manifest it self, and every transgres∣sion and disobedience doth not immedi∣ately receive a just recompence of re∣ward, therefore they cannot believe, that the difference between good and evil is so great and evident.
For answer to this. Not to insist upon the difference which the Provi∣dence of God sometimes makes be∣tween them in this life, I appeal to the Consciences of Men, whether they do not secretly and inwardly acknow∣ledge a clear difference between good and evil. Are not the worst of Men apt to conceive better hopes of success, when they are about a just and ho∣nest Page 208 undertaking, than when they are ingaged in a wicked design? Do not bad Men feel a secret shame and horror, when no Eye sees them, and the wickedness they are about to com∣mit doth not fall under the cognisance and censure of any human Court or Tribunal? Have they not many checks and rebukes in their own Spirits, much disturbance and confusion of Mind, when they are enterprising a wicked thing? And does not this plainly argue, that they are guilty to themselves, that they are about some∣thing which they ought not to do?
'Tis very true that most Men are more sensible of the Evil of an Action, when they feel the ill effects and con∣sequences of it, and suffer the punish∣ment that is due to it: but yet the sense of good and evil is so deeply im∣prest upon humane Nature, that I think no Man, remaining a Man, can quite deface and blot out the difference of good and evil. So that if Men will but attend to the natural dictates and suggestions of their own Minds, they cannot possibly infer from the delay of punishment, that there is no diffe∣rence of good and evil.
Page 209But because those who argue thus are but few in comparison, there be∣ing not many in the World arrived to that degree of blindness and height of impiety, as to disbelieve a God and a Providence, and I think none have attained to that perfect conquest of Conscience, as to have lost all sense of good and evil; therefore I shall rather insist
II. Upon those kind of Reasonings which are more ordinary and common among bad Men, and whereby they cheat themselves into everlasting Per∣dition; and they are such as these.
1. Because sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed, therefore Sin is not so great an Evil.
2. Therefore God is not so highly offended and provoked by it. Or,
3. God is not so severe in his own Nature, as he is commonly represent∣ed.
4. Therefore the punishment of sin is not so certain.
5. Or however it is at a distance, and may be prevented time enough, by a future Repentance, in our old Age, or at the hour of Death; by some such false reasonings as these, Page 210 which Men think may probably be collected from the Patience and long-suffering of God, they harden and en∣courage themselves in an evil course.
1. Because the punishment of sin is deferr'd, therefore they conclude it is not so great an Evil; they do not feel the ill Effects of it at present, all things go well and prosperously with them, no less than with those who are so strict and conscientious; and therefore they hope there is no such great Evil in Sin, as melancholy Peo∣ple are apt to fancy to themselves. For answer to this,
(1.) Consider seriously what Sin is; and then thou wilt see reason e∣nough to call it a great Evil. To sin against God, is to contemn the great∣est Authority in the World, to con∣tradict the greatest Holiness and Pu∣rity, to abuse the greatest Goodness, and to provoke Almighty Justice to take Vengeance upon thee, and to make thee as miserable as thou art capable of being. To sin against God, is to be disobedient to thy Soveraign, and unthankful to thy best Benefa∣ctor, and to act contrary to the great∣est Obligations, against thy best Rea∣son Page 211 and truest Interest; to disoblige thy kindest Friend, and to gratifie thy worst and bitterest Enemy; it is to disorder thy self, to create perpetu∣al disquiet to thy own Mind, and to do the greatest mischief possible to thy self; to deprive thy self of the greatest Happiness, and to draw down upon thy self extream and eternal Mi∣sery. And what do we call a great Evil, if this be not, which contains in it all the kinds, and all the aggra∣vations of Evil that can be, and hath all the circumstances of ugliness and deformity in it that can be imagined?
(2.) What ever Sin be in it self, yet from hence we can in no wise conclude, that it is not a great Evil, because the punishment of it is deferr'd for a while; from hence indeed it follows, that God is very good in deferring the pu∣nishment which is due to thee for thy sins, but by no means that Sin is not very Evil. The Reprieve of a Tray∣tor does indeed argue the goodness and clemency of the Prince, but doth not at all abate of the heinousness of the Crime for which he is sentenced. The great Evil of Sin is evident, be∣cause the holy and just God hath for∣bidden Page 212 it, and declared his hatred and detestation of it, and threatned it with most severe and direful punish∣ments; but that God respites the pu∣nishment which is due to sin, and does not immediately take Vengeance upon Sinners, but affords them a space, and means, and opportunity of repen∣tance, this doth not at all lessen the Evil of Sin, but is rather an aggrava∣tion of it; that we should offend and provoke that God, who is so patient and long-suffering towards us, so ve∣ry loth to bring those Evils upon us, which we are so rash and forward to pull down upon our selves.
2. If God doth not immediately punish sin upon the commission of it, and instantly let flye at the Sinner, this they would construe to be a sign that he is not so highly offended and provok'd by it; if he were, he would manifest his displeasure against it, by the sudden and violent effusions of his Wrath. For answer to this, I desire these two things may be considered.
(1.) That God himself in his word every where plainly declares to us his great displeasure against sin; Psal. 5.4, 5. Thou art not a God that hast plea∣sure Page 213 in wickedness, neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight; thou hatest all the workers of iniquity. Thou art not a God that hast pleasure in wickedness. The words are a 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, and less is spoken than is meant and intended, viz. That God is so far from taking pleasure in the sins of Men, that he is highly displea∣sed at them, and bears an implacable hatred against them.
And do not the terrible threatnings of God against sin declare him to be highly offended at it? when he says, That he will come in flaming fire, to render vengeance to all them that know not God, and that obey not the Gospel of his Son, and that they shall be punisht with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. Can we think that all the threatnings of God's Word, and all those direful curses which are written in his book, shall return empty, without doing any execution? Thou that now flatterest thy self with vain and groundless hopes, that none of these Evils shall come upon thee, when thou comest to stand before the great Judge of the World, and to behold the kil∣ling frowns of his Countenance, and Page 214 to hear those bitter words of eternal displeasure from the Mouth of God himself, Depart ye cursed into everlast∣ing fire, prepared for the Devil and his Angels, thou wilt then believe, that God is heartily angry and offended with thee for thy sins. We shall find in that day, that the threatnings of God's Word, which we now hear so secure∣ly, and without terror, had a full sig∣nification, or rather, that no words could convey to us the terror of them. What the Scripture says of the hap∣piness and glory of the next life, is true also of the misery and punish∣ments of the other World, that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entred into the heart of man, those terrible things, which God hath reserved for the workers of iniquity.
But above all, the direful Suffer∣ings of the Son of God, when sin was but imputed to him, are a demonstra∣tion of God's implacable hatred of sin; for that rather than sin should go unpunish'd, God was pleased to sub∣ject his own Son to the sufferings due to it; this plainly shews, that he ha∣ted sin as much as he loved his own Son.
Page 215But (2dly) God may conceive a very great displeasure against sin, and be highly incensed and provoked by it, and yet suspend the Effects of his displeasure, and defer the punishment of it for a great while; and to ima∣gine otherwise, argues a gross mistake of the Nature of God, arising from our not considering the Attributes and Perfections of God in conjunction and consistency with one another. When we consider one Attribute of God sing∣ly, and separate it from the rest, and frame such wide and large apprehen∣sions of it, as to exclude his other Perfe∣ctions, we have a false Notion of God; and the reason of this mistake is, be∣cause among Men, an eminent degree of any one Excellency, doth common∣ly shut out others; because in our nar∣row and finite Nature, many Per∣fections cannot stand together; but 'tis quite otherwise in the Divine Na∣ture. In Infinite Perfection, all Per∣fections do meet and consist together, one Perfection doth not hinder and ex∣clude another, and therefore in our con∣ceptions of God, we are to take great heed, that we do not raise any one At∣tribute or Perfection of God upon the ruine of the rest.
Page 216So that it is a false imagination of God, when we so attribute Justice or Anger to him, as to exclude his Patience and long-suffering; for God is not impo∣tent in his Anger, as we are; every thing that provokes him, doth not pre∣sently put him out of patience, so that he cannot contain his Wrath, and for∣bear immediately to revenge himself upon Sinners. In this sense God says of himself, Isa. 27.4. Fury is not in me. There is nothing of a rash and un∣governed Passion in the wise and just God. Every sin indeed kindles his anger, and provokes his displeasure a∣gainst us, and by our repeated and con∣tinued Offences, we still add Fuel to his Wrath; but it doth not of necessity instantly break forth like a consuming fire, and a devouring flame. The holy and righteous Nature of God makes him necessarily offended and displea∣sed with the sins of Men; but as to the manifestation of his Wrath, and the effects of his Anger, his Wisdom and Goodness do regulate and de∣termine the proper time and circum∣stances of Punishment.
Page 2173. From the Patience of God and the delay of punishment, Men are apt to conclude, that God is not so severe in his Nature as he is common∣ly represented. 'Tis true he hath de∣clared his displeasure against sin, and threaten'd it with dreadful punish∣ments, which he may do, in great wisdom, to keep the World in awe and order; but great things are like∣wise spoken of his Mercy, and of the wonderful delight he takes in the ex∣ercise of his Mercy; so that notwith∣standing all the threatnings which are denounced against sin, it is to be ho∣ped, that when Sentence comes to be past, and Judgment to be executed, God will remember mercy in the midst of judgment, and that mercy will triumph over judgment; and that as now his Patience stays his hand, and turns away his wrath, so at the last, the milder Attributes of his Goodness and Mercy will interpose and moderate the rigor and severity of his Justice; and of this, his great Patience and long-suffering towards Sinners for the present, seems to be some kind of pledge and earnest; he that is so slow to anger, and so loth to execute pu∣nishment, Page 218 may probably be prevail'd upon by his own Pity and Goodness to remit it at the last, and this is the more credible, because it is granted on all hands, that no person is obliged to execute his threatnings, as he is to make good his promises; he that promiseth passeth a right to another, but he that threatneth keeps the right and power of doing what he pleaseth in his own hands.
I shall speak a little more fully to this, because it is almost incredible, how much Men bear up themselves upon vain and groundless hopes of the boundless Mercy of God, and bless themselves in their hearts, saying, They shall have peace, tho' they walk in the ima∣gination of their hearts, to add drunken∣ness to thirst, that is, tho' they still per∣sist in their Vices, and add one degree of sin to another.
Now for answer to this;
(1.) Let it be granted, that a bare threatning does not necessarily infer the certainty of the event, and that the thing threatned shall infallibly come to pass; no person is obliged to perform his threatnings, as he is his promises; the threatnings of God de∣clare Page 219 what sin deserves, and what the sinner may justly expect if he conti∣nue impenitent and incorrigible. But then we are to take notice, that re∣pentance is the only condition that is implyed in the threatnings of God, and will effectually hinder the execu∣tion of them, Jer. 18.7, 8, 9, 10. At what instant I speak (says God) con∣cerning a nation, and concerning a king∣dome, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; If that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and con∣cerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, and obey not my voice, then will I repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit them. Now if when God hath promised to do good to a People, sin will hinder the blessing promised, and bring down Judgments upon them, much more when it is particularly threatned.
But as to the case of final impe∣nitency and unbelief, God, that he might strengthen his threatnings, hath added a sign of immutability to them, having confirmed them with an Oath, Page 220I have sworn (saith the Lord) that they shall not enter into my rest; which tho' it was spoken to the unbelieving Jews, the Apostle to the Hebrews ap∣plys it to final unbelief and impeni∣tency under the Gospel, of which the infidelity of the Israelites was a Type and Figure. Now tho' God may re∣mit of his threatnings; yet his Oath is a plain declaration that he will not; because it signifies the firm and immu∣table determination of his Will, and thereby puts an end to all doubts and con∣troversies concerning the fulfilling of his threatnings.
(2.) It is certainly much the wisest and safest way, to believe the threat∣nings of God in the strictness and ri∣gour of them, unless there be some ta∣cite condition evidently implyed in them; because if we do not believe them, and the thing prove otherwise, the consequence of our mistake is fatal and dreadful. 'Tis true indeed, that God by his threatnings did intend to keep sinners in awe, and to deter them from sin; but if he had any where revealed, that he would not be rigo∣rous in the execution of these threat∣nings, such a revelation would quite Page 221 take off the edge and terror of them, and contradict the end and design of them; for threatnings signifie very little, but upon this supposition, that in all probability they will be execu∣ted; and if this be true, it is the great∣est madness and folly in the World to run the hazard of it.
(3.) As for those large declarati∣ons which the Scripture makes of the boundless Mercy of God to Sinners, we are to limit them, as the Scripture hath done, to the time and season of mercy, which is this life, and while we are in the way. This is the day of mercy and salvation, and when this life is ended, the opportunities of Grace and Mercy are past, and the day of recompence and vengeance will begin. Now God tries us, and offers Mercy to us; but if we obstinately refuse it, Judgment will take hold of us.
And then we must limit the Mercy of God to the conditions upon which he offers it, which are repentance for sins past, and sincere obedience for the future: but if Men continue ob∣stinate and impenitent, and encourage themselves in sin from the Mercy and Patience of God, this is not a case Page 222 that admits of Mercy; but, on the contrary, his Justice will triumph in the ruin and destruction of those, who instead of embracing the offers of his Mercy, do despise and abuse them. He will laugh at their calamity, and mock when their fear comes; when their fear comes as desolation, and their de∣struction as a whirl-wind; when distress and anguish cometh upon them; then they may call upon him, but he will not answer; they may seek him early, but they shall not find him. If we despise the riches of God's goodness, and long-suffer∣ing, and forbearance, he knows how to handle us, and will do it to pur∣pose; with the froward he will shew him∣self froward, and will be in a more espe∣cial manner severe towards those, who take encouragement from his Mercy, to disbelieve and despise his threatnings. And this God hath as plainly told us, as words can express any thing, Deut. 29.19, 20. And if it come to pass, that when he heareth the words of this curse, he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, tho' I walk in the imagination of my heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of Page 223 the Lord, and his jealousie shall smoke a∣gainst that man, and all the curses that are written in this book, shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. What ever right and power God hath reserved to himself about the execution of his threatnings, he hath plainly declared, that of all others, those who encourage them∣selves in a sinful course from the hopes of God's Mercy, notwithstanding his threatnings, shall find no favour and mercy at his hand; whatever he may remit of his threatnings to others, he will certainly not spare those, who be∣lieve so largely concerning the Mercy of God, not with a mind to submit to the terms of it, but to presume so much the more upon it.
(4.) God hath not been wanting to shew some remarkable Instances of his severity towards Sinners in this World. As he is pleased sometimes to give good Men some fore-tastes of Heaven, and earnests of their future happiness; so likewise by some pre∣sent stroke to let Sinners feel what they are to expect hereafter; some sparks of Hell do now and then fall upon the Consciences of Sinners. Page 224 That fear which is sometimes kindled in Men's Consciences in this life, that horrible anguish and those unspeaka∣ble terrors which some Sinners have had experience of in this World, may serve to forewarn us of the wrath which is to come, and to convince us of the reality of those expressions of the Tor∣ments of Hell, by the worm that dies not, and the fire that is not quenched. That miraculous Deluge which swallowed up the old World, that Hell which was rained down from Heaven, in those terrible showers of Fire and Brimstone, to consume Sodom and Gomorrah; the Earth opening her mouth upon Corah and his seditious company; to let them down, as it were, quick into Hell; these and ma∣ny other remarkable Judgments of God in several Ages upon particular Persons, and upon Cities and Nations, may satisfie us in some measure of the severity of God against sin, and be as it were Pledges to assure Sinners of the insupportable Misery and Tor∣ments of the next Life.
(5.) The Argument is much strong∣er the other way, that because the punishment of Sinners is delayed so Page 225 long, therefore it will be much heavi∣er and severer when it comes; that the wrath of God is growing all this while, and as we fill up the measure of our sins, he fills the vials of his wrath; Rom. 2.5. And according to thy hard and im∣penitent heart, treasurest up to thy self wrath, against the day of wrath, and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. God now keeps in his dis-pleasure; but all the while we go on in an impenitent course, the wrath of God is continually increasing, and will at last be manifested by the righ∣teous Judgment of God upon Sinners. God now exerciseth and displayeth his milder Attributes, his Goodness, and Mercy, and Patience; but these will not always hold out, there is a dread∣ful day a coming, wherein (as the Apostle speaks) God will shew his wrath, and make his power known, af∣ter he hath endured with much long-suf∣fering the vessels of wrath fitted for de∣struction. All this long time of God's patience and forbearance his wrath is kindling, and he is whetting his glitter∣ing sword, and making sharp his arrows; and this long preparation doth por∣tend a much more dreadful Execution; Page 226 so that we should reason thus from the long-suffering of God; God bears with us, and spares us at present, and keeps in his anger; therefore if we go on to provoke him, time will come when he will not spare, but his an∣ger will flame forth, and his jealousie smoak against us. This is but reasona∣ble to expect, that they who in this World forsake their own mercies, the mercy of God in the next should for∣sake them.
4. Another false conclusion which Men draw from the delay of punish∣ment is, that because it is delayed, therefore it is not so certain; the Sin∣ner escapes for the present, and tho' he have some misgivings and fearful apprehensions of the future, yet he hopes his fears may be greater than his danger.
'Tis true indeed, we are not so cer∣tain of the misery of wicked Men in another World, as if it were present, and we lay groaning under the weight of it; such a certainty as this, would not only leave no place for doubting, but even for that which we properly and strictly call Faith; for faith is the evidence of things not seen. But sure Page 227 we have other Faculties besides Sense to judge of things by; we may be sufficiently certain of many things which are neither present nor sensi∣ble, of many things past and future, upon good ground and testimony; we are sure that we were born, and yet we have no remembrance of it; we are certain that we shall dye, tho' we never had the experience of it. Things may be certain in their causes, as well as in their pre∣sent existence; if the causes be certain. The truth of God, who hath declared these things to us, is an abundant ground of assurance to us, tho' they be at a great distance. The certainty of things is not shaken by our wa∣vering belief concerning them.
Besides, the very light of Nature, and the common Reason of Man∣kind, hath always made a contrary inference from the long-suffering of God and the delay of present punish∣ment. Tho' Men are apt to think, that because Judgment is deferr'd, therefore it is not certain; yet the very light of Nature hath taught Men to reason otherwise; that because God is so patient to Sinners in this Page 228 life, therefore there will a time come when they shall be punisht; that be∣cause this life is a time of tryal and forbearance, therefore there shall be another state after this life, which shall be a season of recompences. And by this argument chiefly it was that the wisest of the Heathen satisfied themselves concerning another state after this life, and answer'd the trou∣blesome Objection against the Provi∣dence of God, from the unequal ad∣ministration of things in this World, so visible in the afflictions and suffer∣ings of good Men, and the prosperi∣ty of the wicked; viz. That there would be another state that would adjust all these matters, and set them streight, when good and bad Men should receive the full recompence of their deeds.
The 5th and last false conclusion, which Men draw from the long-suf∣fering of God and the delay of Pu∣nishment is this, that it is however probably at some distance, and there∣fore they may sin yet a while long∣er, and all this danger may be pre∣vented time enough, by a future re∣pentance in our old Age, or at the Page 229 hour of death; and they are confirm∣ed very much in this hope, because they see Men much worse than them∣selves, great Criminals and Malefa∣ctors, upon two or three days warn∣ing, to perform this work of repen∣tance very substantially, and to dye with great comfort and assurance of their Salvation. This is the most com∣mon delusion of all the rest, and hath been, I am afraid, the ruin of more Souls than all the other which I have mentioned; they may have slain their thousands; but this its ten thousands.
For answer to this, be pleased se∣riously to lay to heart these following considerations, most of which I shall speak but briefly to, because I have, upon other occasions, spoken largely to them.
(1.) If there be a future Judgment, then it is certain, at how great a di∣stance soever it may be. That which shall be a thousand Years hence will certainly be; and 'tis but very small comfort and encouragement, consider∣ing the vast disproportion between Time and Eternity, to think, that af∣ter twenty or forty Years shall be past and gone, then must I enter upon e∣ternal Page 230 Misery; then will those into∣lerable Torments begin which shall never have an end.
(2.) But it is not certain that it is at such a distance; when we put from us the evil day, it is many times nearer to us than we are aware, and when we think the Judgment of God is at a great distance, the Judge may be near even at the door. Our times are not in our own hands, but we are perfectly at the disposal of ano∣ther, who when he pleaseth can put a period to them, and cause our Breath to cease from our Nostrils, and we shall not be; There is no man hath pow∣er over the Spirit, to retain the Spirit, neither hath he power in the day of death, saith the wise Man a little before the Text. Thou dreamest perhaps of ma∣ny Years continuance in this World, and perhaps in the height of this vain imagination, the decree is sealed, and the commandment come forth to summon thee out of this World, and thou art just dropping into that misery which thou fanciest to be at such a distance; whilst thou art vainly promising thy self the ease of many years, God may say to thee, Thou fool, this night shall Page 231 thy soul be required of thee, and then where are all thy hopes?
(3.) Supposing the evil Day were at a considerable distance, yet Men run an infinite hazard in venturing all the hopes of their Salvation upon a future repentance; for what knowest thou, O Man! but thou mayst be sur∣prized by a sudden stroke which may give thee no warning, leave thee no space of repentance? a violent Disease may seize upon thee, which may dis∣order thy Understanding, and so weak∣en all thy Faculties, as to render thee unfit for all reasonable operations. At the best, how unfit are we for the most serious work of our lives, when we are hardly fit to do any thing? Old Age is a very unseasonable time for repen∣tance, when we are full of weakness and infirmity, and our Minds are crooked and bowed down by Vice, as our Bodies are by Age, and as hard to be recovered to their first streightness; much more is it an improper time for this work, when Sickness and old Age meet together. There are two things in which Men, in other things wise e∣nough, do usually miscarry; in put∣ting off the making of their Wills, and Page 232 their Repentance, till it be too late. Men had need then be of sound Un∣derstanding and perfect Memory, when they set about matters of so great consequence in respect of their temporal and eternal concernments; especially when Men have the happi∣ness of all Eternity to take care of and provide for, they had need have their understandings about them, and all the advantages of leisure and conside∣ration, to make a sober reflection upon their past lives, and make up their Ac∣counts with God, and to set all things right between him and them; and 'tis well if after all a repentance wil∣fully deferr'd so long, so short and imperfect, so confused and hudled up, will at last be accepted as a tolerable atonement for the crimes and miscar∣riages of a long life.
(4.) Suppose thou wert sure to re∣pent before thou leavest the World, and to do this work throughly, which no Man can promise to himself that deliberately delays it, yet this can be no reasonable encouragement to go on in an evil course, because we do but hereby aggravate our own trou∣ble, and treasure up so much more Page 233 sorrow and affliction to our selves a∣gainst the day of repentance, and con∣sequently sin on, in hopes of being hereafter so much the more troubled and grieved for what we have done; as if a Man should go on to break the Laws, in hopes of a more severe and exemplary Punishment; sure this can be no encouragement or ground of hope to any reasonable and conside∣rate Man.
Lastly, As to the encouragement which Men take from the sudden re∣pentance of great Criminals and Ma∣lefactors, and their dying with so much comfort and assurance; if this be well considered, there is little com∣fort to be fetched from such Exam∣ples. For,
1st, Tho' a sincere repentance in such circumstances be possible, yet it is almost impossible for the Par∣ty himself concerned, much more for others, upon any good ground, to judge when it is sincere. God who knows the hearts of Men, and whe∣ther, if they had lived longer, they would in the future course of their lives have justified and made good their repentance and good resoluti∣ons, Page 234 only knows the sincerity of it.
But, 2dly, no certain judgment is to be made from the comfort and confidence of the Party concerned; for the business is not what com∣fort and confidence Men have, but what ground they have for it; and whereas Men are apt piously to sup∣pose, that so extraordinary a comfort and assurance is wrought in them by the Spirit of God, nothing is more uncertain; because we sometimes see those who give no such testimony of their repentance, to dye with every whit as much courage, and comfort, and confident perswasion of their Sal∣vation, as those that do. But this certainly is not from the Spirit of God; a natural Obstinacy and Cou∣rage may carry Men a great way; and false and mistaken Principles may fill Men for the present with as much comfort and confidence, as well ground∣ed hopes. In the Church of Rome, great numbers of those who have led very wicked lives, after a formal Con∣fession and Absolution, and some good words of encouragement from the Priest, dye as full of peace and com∣fort, Page 235 to all appearance, as the best of Men.
Indeed it is very natural to Men, who find themselves in a desperate condition, to be strangely elevated and raised, upon any hopes given of escaping so great a danger as they apprehend themselves to be in; espe∣cially if these hopes be given them by a grave Man, of whose Piety and Judgment they have a venerable o∣pinion. When Men have the Sen∣tence of death in themselves, as all wicked livers must have, they are naturally apt to be overjoy'd at the unexpected news of a Pardon.
To speak my mind freely in this matter, I have no great opinion of that extraordinary comfort and con∣fidence which some have, upon a sud∣den repentance for great and flagrant crimes, because I cannot discern any sufficient ground for it. I think great humility and dejection of mind, and a doubtful apprehension of their condi∣tion, next almost to despair of it, would much better become them; because their case is really so very doubtful in it self. There is great rea∣son for the repentance of such per∣sons, Page 236 and it becomes them well; but I see very little reason for their great comfort and confidence, nor does it become their circumstances and con∣dition. Let them excercise as deep a repentance as is possible, and bring forth all the fruits meet for it that are possible in so short a time; let them humble themselves before God, and pray incessantly to him day and night for mercy; make all the reparation they can for the injuries they have done, by confession and acknowledg∣ment, and by making satisfaction to the parties injured, if it be in their power, by giving Alms to the Poor, by warning others, and endeavouring to reclaim them to a better mind and course of life; and for the rest hum∣bly commit themselves to the mercy of God in Jesus Christ; let them imi∣tate, as near as they can, the behavi∣our of the penitent Thief, the only Example the Scripture hath left us of a late repentance that proved ef∣fectual, who gave the greatest testi∣mony that could be of a penitent sor∣row for his sins, and of his Faith in the Saviour of the World, by a gene∣rous and couragious owning of him in Page 237 the midst of his disgrace and suffer∣ing, when even his own Disciples had denyed and forsaken him; but we do not find in him any signs of extraordinary comfort, much less of confidence; but he humbly commend∣ed himself to the mercy and good∣ness of his Saviour, saying, Lord re∣member me, when thou comest into thy Kingdom.