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men, who have done neither good nor evil to eternal flames. God is free, therefore he may create men on purpose that they may sin, and that he may display his wrath in their punishment.
II. Here let us stop, and let us keep to the subject in hand, by observing that those emblems of wrath and vengeance, under which God is represented to us, have one part that cannot be attributed to him, because it is not compatible with the eminence of his perfections, and another, that must be applied to him because it is.
1. It is a consequence of the frailty or of the depravity of men, that their anger inclines them to hate those whom they ought to love, and in whose happiness they ought to interest themselves, as far as they can without violating the laws of equity. Such a hatred cannot be attributed to God; he loves all his intelligent creatures, and when we are told that the Lord hateth a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, Prov. vi. 17. when he is represented as refusing some real blessings to mankind, as hardening their hearts, Exod. iv. 21. as sending them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie, 2 Thess. ii. 11. All these descriptions mean that he dislikes sin, and all those who commit it; that it is not always consistent with the eminence of his perfections to work miracles for their conversion; and that it is not fit to reform by a physical power, which would destroy the nature of vice and virtue, mien who refuse to be reformed by a moral power, which is suited to intelligent beings.
2. It is a consequence of human frailty or depravity, that men's wrath makes them taste a barbarous pleasure in tormenting those who are the objects of it, and in feasting as it were on their miseries. This is incompatible with the eminence of the perfections of God. When he saith to impenitent sinners, “ I will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh,” Prov. i. 26. when he saith, “Ah, I will ease me of mine adversaries,” Isa. i. 24. when Moses saith to the Jews, “ It shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you, and to bring you to nought,” Deut. xxviii. 63. all the meaning of passages of this kind is, that the wisdom of God approveth the judginents which his justice inflicts; that the punishments of sinners cannot affect his happiness; and that when he hath not been glorified in their conversion, he will be glorified in their destruction.
3. It is a consequence of the frailty or of the depravity of men, that their anger disorders their bodies, and impairs their minds. See, the eyes sparkle, the mouth foams, the animal spirits are in a flame; these obscure the faculties of the mind, and prevent the weighing of those reasons that plead for the guilty offender ; anger pre-judgeth him, and in spite of
many powerful pleas in his favor, his ruin is resolved. All these are incompatible with the eminence of the perfections of God. God is a spirit, John iv. 24. he is not subject to revolutions of sense; reasons of punishing a sinner never divert his attention from motives of pardoning the man, or of moderating his pain. When, therefore, God is represented as shaking the earth, and moving the foundations of the hills, because he is wroth ; when we read, that, there went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth, Psal. xviii. 7. 8. when he, who is called the word of God, is described as treading the wine-press of the fierceness of the wrath of almighty God, Rev. xix. 13. 15. we understand no more than that God knoweth how to proportion the punishment to the sin, and that
he will inflict the most rigorous penalties on the most atrocious crimes.
4. It is a consequence of the frailty and depravity of men that their anger makes them usurp a right which belongs to God. An individual who avengeth himself, assumes the place of that God who hath said, vengeance is mine, Rom. xii. 19. at least, he assumes the place of the magistrate, to whom God hath committed the sword for the preventing of these disorders, which would subvert society, if each were judge in his own cause. This is incompatible with the eminence of the divine perfections. God useth his own right when he punisheth sin, agreeably to the doctrine of St. Paul, Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath ; for it is written, vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. What is this rorath, to which we are required to give place? It is the anger of God. Avenge not yourselves, but give place unto wrath ; that is, be not hasty in revenging injuries, your self-love may magnify them, and the punishment which you inflict may exceed the offence; leave vengeance to God, who knoweth how to weigh the injuries you have received in an impartial scale, and to inflict such punishments on the guilty as their crimes deserve.
5. It is a consequence of the frailty and depravity of men, that time doth not abate their resentment, and that the only reason which prevents the rendering of evil for evil, is a want of opportunity; as soon as an opportunity offers they eagerly embrace it. This is incompatible with the eminence of the perfections of God; he hath at all times the means of punishing the guilty. When we are told, therefore, that he sets our iniquities before him, our secret sins in the light of his countenance, Psal. xc. 8. wben, having reprieved the Israelites at the re
quest of Moses, he told him, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them, Exod. xxxii. 34. only understand, that time never removes an idea from his mind; and that if a sinner do not improve the time, which is granted to him for his repentance, he will be punished when that period expires.
6. In fine, it is a consequence of the frailty and depravity of men, that their anger puts them upon considering and punishing a pardonable frailty as an atrocious crime. This is incompatible with the eminence of the divine perfections. If we imagine God acts so, in any cases, it is because we have false notions of sins, and think that a pardonable frailty which is an atrocious crime. Sometimes an action, that appears tolerable to us, is an atrocious crime, on account of the motive from which it
proceeds. Such was that of Hezekiah; he shewed his treasures to the Babylonian ambassadors, and although this may seem very pardonable, yet it was an atrocious crime, which appears by the following passage: Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto bim : for his heart was lifted up; therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem,” 2 Chron. xxxii. 25. An action, that may appear to us very tolerable, is sometimes a heinous crime, on account of the singularity of the favor which preceded it. Such was the conduct of Lot's wife: she looked back towards Sodom, which, although it may seem very pardonable, was yet a heinous crime, because she disobeyed the express command of her benefactor, who had just delivered her from the destruction of Sodom l; and therefore she was instantly petrified. An action, that may seem very tolerable to us, is sometimes a very atrocious crime, on account of the little temptation which the offender had to commit it. Such was the action of that man who gathered sticks upon the Sabbath-day, Numb. xv. 32. and although this may seem very tolerable to us, yet it was a heinous offence, because it was very easy to abstain from it, and therefore he was stoned. An action, that may seem very pardonable to us, may be a heinous crime, on account of the dignity of the offender. Such was that of Nadab and Abihu; they offered strange fire to the Lord, and although it may appear very pardonable to us, yet it was an atrocious crime, for Nadab and Abihu were ministers of holy things, Levit. x. 1, 2. and they ought to have given examples of exact and scrupulous obedience, accordingly they were consumed with fire from heaven.
Thus we have gone through our first article, and have endeavored to give you distinct ideas of that which the scripture calls in God, wrath, anger, consuming fire.
Moreover, in explaining the meaning of the proposition in the text, we have collected several passages, and alledged several examples, which prove the truth under our consideration. The explication of this proposition, our God is a consuming fire, proves its truth in the sense in which we have explained it. We leave the enlargement of this article to your meditation, then, and proceed to the next.
III. We are to conciliate what the scripture saith of the goodness of God with what it saith of his anger or vengeance: the gospel of last Lord's day with the gospel of this day : and, as the two subjects never appear more irreconcilable than when, having used all our endeavors to terrify people who defer their conversion till a dying-illness, we actually take pains to comfort those who have deferred it till that time, we will endeavor to harmonize the