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He did not give laws to his creatures for his own benefit; nor was it either for their injury, or for mere sport, but for their good. He knew man, he knew his capacities and wants; for he created him. And he failed not to institute such laws as evince the perfection of his judgment.
Hence David sang in strains of grateful praise, The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and the honey-comb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned, and in keeping of them there is great reward.'1 And the wisdom of God says to the children of men, 'My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments; for length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee; bind them about thy neck; write them upon the tablet of thine heart so shalt thou find favor, and good understanding in the sight of God and man.' 2 2 Again, Great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.'3
A good understanding of this subject is of indispensable importance to the moral health of the community. There are many, including even some professors of religion, who seem to imagine that the law of God is an arbitrary rule, imposing restraints and penances, which are inconsistent with their best earthly enjoyment. Of what exceeding value would it be to them to know, that the laws of God respect solely the moral and physical health and happiness of men. Then would they say in the language of the Psalmist, 'I hate and abhor lying; but thy law do I love.'
II. We will, in the second place, bring to view, in its Scripture light, the judgment of God, in relation to discipline, or to the execution of rewards and punishments on men according to their treatment of the divine law. It is to this operation of the divine government that the word judgment is most commonly applied in the Scriptures, when used in relation to the ways of God. And we expect to show that the
1 Psalm xix. 7-11. 2 Prov. iii. 1-4. 3 Psalm cxix. 165.
judgment of God, in this respect, is not the mere pronunciation of an arbitrary sentence on the human race at the end of time, but that it is an ever operative branch of the divine government, taking continual cognizance of the actions of men, deciding and executing what is right in relation to every man's deserts.
If we suppose that God permits men to sin without a retribution in the present life, and that in the future world he will execute a judgment which shall shut the door of reformation and of mercy against millions of his creatures, and doom them to wickedness and wo forever,· we thus ascribe to God a judgment which is in opposition to the spirit of his law. For we have seen that he gave his children laws in love, having no design therein but their good. Therefore the retributive judgment of God, which is according to the spirit of his law, will employ no penalty or punishment but what is consistent with a regard to the good of mankind. Punishment cannot be the end, but a means which the divine government employs to promote a benevolent and useful end."
I have said that the retributive judgment of God is not a mere pronunciation of an arbitrary sentence on the human race at the end of time, but that it is an ever operative branch of the divine government, continually taking cognizance of the actions of men, deciding and executing what is right in relation to every man's deserts. In support of this position, we have the full and lucid evidence of Scripture. See the commencement of this exercise of the divine judgment, with the commencement of God's exercise of his moral government over the moral actions of his children. To the first pair of our race, God delivered his law, which they soon transgressed. The law threatened, as its penalty in case of disobedience, an evil which is expressed, in the record, by the appellation death, to be suffered by them on the day in which they should transgress. And on the same day when they had contracted the guilt of sin, the judgment was set, the account was opened, and sentence was pronounced in accordance with the law. And there was no evil here embraced, either in the previous threatening of the law, or in the subsequent award of the judgment, that extended farther than to the time when they should ' return unto the dust.'
We will pass on to the case of that heinous sinner, that first murderer, Cain. When he had wickedly slain his brother, his
4 Gen. iii. 16--19.
Maker and Law-giver called him to judgment. The Judge said unto the criminal, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.' Thus he is pronounced guilty of the crime. And here follows the sentence: 'And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength. A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be on the earth.'5 This was not a mere prelude to a punishment. It was not the doing of an inferior court, binding over to a future judgment for the same offence. It was Cain's full and final judgment for that crime; and it caused him to cry out in the anguish of his soul, 'My punishment is greater than I can bear.'
Passing a little further on in the sacred record, we come to the judgment of the old world, which was drowned by the waters of a flood. 'And God said unto Noah, the end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence, through them; and behold, I will destroy them from the earth.'6 Accordingly the Lord brought a flood upon the face of the earth, which destroyed all flesh, except Noah and them that were with him in the ark. In this case of judgment, the crime proved is the general depravity of the inhabitants of the world; the sentence pronounced and executed, is, their destruction from the earth; and the object seems to be the putting of a stop to this prevailing wickedness, and the purification of the earth, to make it a better residence for other generations who should come.
Further on, our attention is arrested by the narrative of God's judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities of the plain. The angels of the Lord warned Lot to escape with his family from the city of Sodom, saying, ' For we will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxen great before the face of the Lord, and the Lord hath sent us to destroy it.' Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground."7 Because the desolation effected by this fire was designed to be perpetual, at least for many ages, St. Jude calls it aionion
Gen. iv. 9-12. Gen. vi. 13. Gen. xix. 13, 24, 25.
fire. He speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah as being set forth for an example to others, suffering the vengeance of aionion fire.' 98 And what Jude calls the vengeance of aionion fire, St. Peter, bringing the case forward for an example in the same manner, expresses by their being turned into ashes, and condemned to an overthrow: And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto them that after should live ungodly.' 9
Again, with regard to the retributive judgment of God, he said unto Abraham, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years. And also, that nation whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterwards shall they come out with great substance.' This judgment, according to the word of God to Abraham, was indeed executed on Egypt, where God, with a mighty hand, delivered the Hebrews from iron bondage there. And if we trace the history of the dealings of God with his chosen people, the Hebrews, subsequently to their departure out of Egypt, we shall perceive that he kept up the administration of his moral government, by the exercise of an operative judgment. He did not leave them, nor indeed this whole wide world of moral beings, without a judgment. From day to day, from week to week, and from year to year, he gave them demonstrative proof of what the Scriptures declare, that Verily he is a God that judgeth in the earth ;'11 and that The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner.' 12
In the legal covenant which God gave to the people by Moses, embracing the moral law which had been in substance communicated to all generations from the beginning, with the addition of a ceremonial institution, he announced all the evils to which they might by sin be subjected on the score of punishment, as well as all the blessings to which they might be entitled by their virtue, on the score of just and merited reward. And in this law we find it written, that if any man, or woman, or family, or tribe of Israel, should forsake the Lord God of their fathers, The Lord shall separate him unto evil out of all the
10 Gen. xv. 13.
8 Jude 7.
11 Ps. lviii. 11.
9 2 Pet. ii. 6.
12 Prov. xi. 31.
tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this book of the law. So that the generation to come of your children, that shall rise up after you, and the strangers that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sickness which the Lord hath laid upon it, . . . . even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land? What meaneth the heat of this great anger? Then men shall say, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, . . . . . . and the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book.' 13 Hence we learn that such is the amount of all the curses, all the punishments, which are written in the book of the law, that their full execution should be witnessed, by such as should behold the miseries of the transgressors in the land of their habitation. Consequently, all the judgments which related to the decision and application of legal retributions, must also have been in the earth.
With regard to the teachings and warnings of the prophets concerning the retributive judgment of God, they are all founded on the principles of the divine laws before given, through the patriarchs, and Moses. Their teachings and warnings on this subject are in unison with those of the patriarchs and of Moses, presenting the continued exercise of judgment, as a part of the ever active government of God, over his moral and accountable creatures. Solomon, in his prayer at the dedication of the temple, uttered this petition:
If any man trespass against his neighbor, and an oath be laid upon him to cause him to swear, and the oath come before thine altar in this house, then hear thou in heaven, and do, and judge thy servants, condemning the wicked, to bring his way upon his head; and justifying the righteous, to give him according to his righteousness.' 14 Hence we perceive that Solomon's praying was in accordance with his preaching. When he prayed that God would judge the righteous and the wicked, to bring upon each the just recompense of his doings, his prayer was in agreement with what he faithfully preached; as, for instance, in the passage before quoted, Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth, much more the wicked and the sinner.'
13 Deut. xxix. 18-28.
14 1 Kings viii. 31, 32.