« PoprzedniaDalej »
quently by the Prophets. We likewise read of the certain punishment they were to incur, if they were guilty of idolatry, and departed from the worship of God; and all this we find verified in action. When they had respect to God and his worship, which they shewed during the government of Joshua and the reign of Solomon, these people lived happily and securely under their own vine and fig-tree; but as they departed, and in the degree in which they departed, from the true worship of God, they suffered. Under the government of their judges their conduct was extremely criminal and idolatrous; and accordingly they were oppressed and enslaved by the Moabites, Midianites, Philistines, &c. but when they humbled themselves before God, he constantly relieved them from these oppressions. Afterwards, when their conduct was more criminal and more idolatrous under their kings, they are more oppressed than before; their temple is destroyed, and they are sent into captivity: on their humiliation and contrition in their captivity, they are released from it, and their temple is rebuilt. After this, having first corrupted the word of God, and made it of none effect by their traditions, they then fill up the measure of their iniquity by the crucifixion of the Messiah, in consequence of which their temple is again destroyed. According to Josephus one million three hundred thousand Jews suffer exquisite misery at the siege of Jerusalem; their government is annihilated; and from that time to this they have been scattered over the face of the earth, and always lived a separate and distinct people, despised in every country where they have since resided. Moses predicted this 1500 years before it happened, and the evident acconplishment of his prophecy we see with our own
The same conduct of the Almighty is recorded, and may be observed towards individuals, in the instances of Saul, David, and Solomon, whose crimes are punished in such a manner, as proves that God will not clear the guilty; and I think there can be no reason to doubt that God does and has observed the same conduct towards all mankind. He holds the same language to every man, to every set of men, and to every nation, that he did to Cain; “ If thou doest well, shalt thou not “ be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin “ lieth at the door." Every man's conscience will enable him to interpret the truth and force of this just dealing of the Almighty: he is often forced to acknowledge the justice of the punishment he feels, and sees his crime in that punishment; for, as Seneca observes in one of his Epistles, “ Sacer “ inest in nobis spiritus, bonorum malorumque “ custos, et observator; et quemadmodum nos
• illum tractamus, ita et ille nos *.” Though, from the imperfection of history and the want of annals, we cannot trace either the exact degree of the iniquity of mankind, or the exact degree of its punishment; it is equally agreeable to reason as to Scripture to imagine that God has ever dealt thus with the human race, and that the overthrow of empires has arisen, not because empire should travel westward or eastward, northward or southward; it being extremely derogatory to our ideas of God's justice to suppose this; but because sach a degree of excessive viciousness and wickedness is engendered in a state, by a long series of prosperity, as fills up that measure of iniquity and guilt which God in mercy to the human race will never suffer to be exceeded on earth. And the reason why the goodness of God induces him to keep all human events in his own hands, or at least a check and control over them, is probably not from a motive of overruling the free agency of man, or because he has absolutely determined the fate of all men, but that he may govern the world wisely and justly, (which, if wholly left to
: * 'The Stoics thought every single person had a tutelary genius assigned him by God, as a guardian of his soul, and superintendant of his conduct; and that all virtue and happiness consisted in acting in conoert with this genius, with reference to the will of the supreme Director of the universe. Diog. Laert. lib. vii.
man, it certainly would not be,) and that he may punish and reward men according to their deserts, as far as the reasons of his providence and goodness require in this world; and therefore, whenever the scale of vice rises in a nation to a certain degree, that nation becomes necessarily the object of God's vengeance. And surely it is exceedingly happy for the world at large that it does so:. for let any one consider the excessive increase of luxury and wickedness in the Roman empire, from the middle of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar to the period of its dissolution; and if that wickedness had been suffered to increase in the same ratio from that time to this, the world would have been flooded with iniquity, and have been in many parts a perfect Pandæmonium. But God knows there is real mercy in punishment as well as in reward, (as was observed in the former proposition,) and that the one is often as actual a proof and demonstration of his goodness as the other. In fact, the lesson that all the empires that have ever been held out to the world is, that a nation is established by righteousness *, and destroyed by iniquity : and their history is a fine comment, proving the conformity between the promises and the actions of God to mankind; and that though he is abundant in goodness and mercy, he yet will never clear impenitent guilt.
* This assertion of Solomon's is supported even by Machiavel; who, in his Discourse on Livy, observes, respecting the Romans, that“ for several ages together never was the fear of “God more eminently conspicuous than in that Republic, and “ that their religion produced good laws, good laws good for“ tune, and good fortune a good end in whatever they under“ took.” And Cicero likewise observes, in his Oration in answer to the Haruspices, “ Nec numero Hispanos, nec robore « Gallos, nec calliditate Pænos, nec artibus Græcos, nec de“ nique hoc ipso hujus gentis et terræ domestico nativoque sensu “ Italos ipsos et Latinos; sed pietate ac religione, atque hac “una sapientia, quod Deorum immortalium numine omnia regi “ gubernarique perspeximus; omnes gentes nationesque super-, " avimus."
From the character God has been pleased to give of himself, of being “the Lord, the Lord God, “ merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abun“ dant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy for “ thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and “ sin,” &c. it is impossible to make any other inference, or draw any other conclusion, than that God is ever disposed to be exceedingly kind, gracious, and good to the human race, if they as free agents will allow him to be so; that is, if they will be obedient to his commands, and not thwart his good intentions towards them: for if they will deliberately and wilfully disobey his laws, it is no more to be considered as an imputation on the goodness of God to punish free agents thus wil. fully offending, than it is an imputation on a wise and good king to punish such abandoned malefactors as knowingly and wilfully infringe those