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But this is a supposition most palpably absurd in itself, as well as contrary to the plainest representations of scripture. Crimes are not to be cancelled, or the ill desert of them taken away, even by personal sufferings ; and much less by the sufferings of another ; though a proper foundation may thus be laid for the gracious pardon of them. Nor can the Creator of all, become obligated as a debtor, by any merit ; though a door may thereby be opened for the honorable bestowment of undeserved favors. Accordingly, in the third chapter of Romans, the apostle having said, “ All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” he proceeds to speak of, “ Be. ing justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus ; whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins --that he might be just, and the justifier of him that beliveth.” This was done, the apostle observes, “ That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign, through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Notwithstanding, therefore, the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ for all men ; no man has any claim to an exemption from the curse of the law, until he embraces the gospel : nor then, in point of justice ; but merely on the ground of God's gracious promise.
If it should still be said, as some are ready to say, supposing the atonement of Christ be only sufficient to render the salvation of all men consistent with justice, may we not conclude from the goodness of God, that all will actually be saved ?
To this it may be answered; not unless we are wise enough certainly to know that the best purposes, upon the whole, would thus be answered. There is no more reason to conclude this, than there was before the fall of men or angels, to have concluded that no sin or misery would ever have been permit ted, by a Being of infinite goodness and powe
There was no more necessity, in point of justice, that any creature should have been suffered to fall, than there is now, that some of mankind should be left to perish in their sins. God does not do whatever he could, without any violation of justice ; but only what he judges to be wisest and best. If, therefore, it seemeth good in his sight, he will leave many of the human race to be forever sinful and miserable, notwithstanding the universal sufficiency of the atonement of Christ. " Who hath known the mind of the Lord ? or who hath been his counsellor ?" Shall a worm of the dust arrogate this knowledge ! and assume this office? “What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction ; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory?" Shall vain man, born like the wild asses colt, say unto him, Why doest thou thus ! It would certainly be wiser, more benevolent, and more glorious, to make all vessels of mercy !
The death of Christ was designed to give such a striking example of the justice of God, that, while mercy should be exercised in this way, men might stand in awe, and not sin. Our Saviour, when going to be crucified, said to the women that followed him weeping, “ Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry ?” Shall we then be so wise as to draw from it the contrary conclusion ; that, since the green tree hath been so terribly burnt, no dry tree has any thing to fear! That since the just one, when voluntarily standing in the place of sinners, was not spared; the unjust may be unjust still, with perfect bafety !
3. There is no reason to think that God will nev. er be strict to punish iniquity, because of his present forbearance; nor because of his declared readiness to forgive.
The Lord is long-suffering to us-ward, it is true; and hence sinners may be apt to flatter themselves with hopes of final impunity, though they continue impenitent. “ 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.” But to be emboldened to sin, by God's keeping si. lence, is as hazardous, as it is abusive and ungrateful. Rom. ii. 4, 5, 6, “ Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering ; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance : But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his deeds.”
As to God's declared readiness to forgive; this is only on certain conditions. “ Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions ; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” But without repentance, and faith in Christ, it is as expressly declared, there is no remission of sins. See Psal. Ixviii. 21, " God shall wound the head of his enemies, and the hairy scalp of such an one as goeth on still in his trespasses.” Heb. ii. 2, 3, “ For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward ; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation ?” And chap. X. 26, 27, “ For if we sin wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins but a certaing fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”
By way of inference and improvement ;
1. From the preceding observations on this subject, it appears, that vindictive justice is an amiable divine attribute. A God unjust would be a God unkind. It is common to call some of the divine perfections amiable, and others awful : as if those alone deserved our love, while these demanded only our fear. But rightly understood, they are all amiable ; they are all awful : amiable to saints, and awful to sinners. On the cross of Christ they were all harmoniously displayed, in their highest glory. “ Mercy and truth there met together ; righteousness and peace kissed each other.” Indeed, mercy, truth, and justice, in the Supreme Governor of the world, it is evident, are equally essential parts of universal benevolence.
2. Hence we may learn how to account for it, that punishing justice is an attribute of God which mankind do not naturally love, and are very loath to be. lieve. It must be owing to their own unrighteous
But all men profess to wish for just earthly rulers : and such a character as that of Job in the days of his power, who delivered the poor that cried, the fatherless, and him that had none to help him : who put on righteousness, and it clothed him; whose judgment was a robe and a diadem : who searched out the cause which he knew not ; and broke the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil out of his teeth Such a character, when found in remote history, is universally admired. How then does it come to pass, that so many would fain believe the Supreme Ruler over all to be of a quite opposite character ?
This inconsistency, I think, is thus to be accounted for. Every man's conscience is on the side of justice; but every man is not upright in heart. Hence though a just judge, when far enough off, will
be admired by all; yet, when too near, and consider. ed as one with whom we have to do, many want to have him a greater friend to liberty. All wish to have strict justice done, in punishing their enemies, and the enemies of those for whom they have a particular friendship : but one that will punish them, or their friends, whenever they do amiss, is a character which the most cannot bear. Hence, though a God partially righteous, like themselves, would be very agreeable, yet not one altogether just.
" He that is upright in the way,” Solomon says, “ is abomination to the wicked.” And if this be a true proverb, we need not wonder that a fallen wicked world would not have the Judge of all the earth always do right.
3. From the things which have been said, it may be seen, why the christian religion does not allow of personal
revenge, or of recompensing evil for evil. It is not because making men suffer for their crimes is a thing wrong in itself; provided it be done by proper authority, in due proportion, and for necessary good purposes.
But it is because bearing a grudge, or harboring malicious revenge, is never right. This is inconsistent with being the followers of Christ, who prayed for his murderers on his cross; and inconsistent with being the children of God, who is good unto all. It is because men are neither competent nor impartial judges, of the recompence due for supposed injuries done them. We know not the hearts of men ; nor their words and actions, very often, except by uncertain information : and in our own case, when injured or affronted, we are exceedingly liable to misjudge, through selfishness and passion. Were every man to avenge himself for wrongs received, according to his own ideas and feelings, very wild work would be made in the execution of distributive justice. Lastly, we are forbidden this, because there is no occasion for avenging ourselves with our own