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Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily he is a God that judgeth the earth."
Present punishment, too, is less frequently executed under the gospel, than under the law: and the reason is that a future state of retribution, was not so clearly and fully revealed to them, as to us. Hence, their threatenings are often filled with expressions of temporal evils, while ours only announce miseries beyond the grave. Then an adulterer was to be stoned, but now he is to be damned.
We may add, that the punishment of sin in this world is sometimes unavoidable. Thus, if nations are punished at all, they must be punished in time for they have no existence in eternity: there men exist only as individuals. And nearly the same may be said of a family. Hence, we read, "The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, but he blesseth the habitation of the just."
Yea, the present punishment of sin is in some measure natural. For how frequently do men's sufferings arise from the very sins they commit? Extravagance breeds ruin; indolence poverty; intemperance, disease. "Who hath wo? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine, they that go to seek mixed wine." Why are men so unhappy-but because they are unholy. They walk contrary to God, and God walks contrary to them. They transgress his commands, and expose themselves to his wrath; and then they are alarmed with fear. They yield to vile passions, and appetites, and then they groan by reason of bondage. They violate all the
rules which conduce to the welfare of the community, and then they are expelled from the esteem and regard of their fellow creatures. And what can hinder all this?
So that sin does not recompense, or even indemnify the sinner here. The way as well as the end of transgressors is hard. As the righteous here have some foretastes of their future happiness, so the wicked have here the beginnings of sorrows. As godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come, so sin has the curse of this world, as well as of another.
III. I see in it punishment inflicted after long delay. Behold the career of this sinner. Threescore and ten kings he had thus inhumanly mangled. Thus he repeated his crime again and again-even until seventy times! What a lengthened course of iniquity was here!-"So long and so often had I done this, that I thought God had not seen, or did not remember--but he has found me out; and I live long enough to be a miserable instance of this awful truth-that, however long punishment may be delayed, it will at last be inHicted as I have done, so God hath requited me."
The wonder is not that he was overtaken so soon-but that he was spared so long; and seemed to be allowed to triumph in his iniquity. The flourishing condition of sinners for a time, and especially for a long time unchecked by calamity, is an event which has often perplexed even pious minds. Thus, Jeremiah exclaims, "Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee; yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments. Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treach
erously?" Asaph also tells us: "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped; for I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." [See also, Habakkuk, i. 13.-Malachi iii. 15.]
But what is more to be lamented is, that hereby the unhappy creature himself is frequently deluded. He is apt to mistake forbearance for connivance; and what God does not immediately punish, he concludes that he entirely neglects; "He hath said in his heart, I shall not be moved; for I shall never be in adversity.-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 we should remember the end of Providence in such a dispensation. He frequently spares the ungodly for the sake of the godly: the extraction of the tares would injure the wheat. By forbearing the blow, he would give space for repentance: "The longsuffering of our God is salvation." He has therefore ends to answer, worthy of himself. But be convinced of this-that he never designed to cherish in you a hope of impunity. His patience is not forgiveness. "Be sure your sins will find you out. He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." He is patient, but he is faithful, and the scripture cannot be broken. He is patient; but patience has its limits, and the year of trial granted to the barren fig tree will expire, and then, if unfruitful, it shall be cut down; and cast into the fire. He is patient; but if his patience end not in your conversion, it will be glorified in your destruction. "These things hast thou done, and I kept silence: thou thoughtest
that I was altogether such a one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. Now, consider this, ye that forget God; lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver."
IV. I see in it a correspondence between sin and suffering. "What I have inflicted upon others is now inflicted upon me: and in my very punishment I read my crime as I have done, so God hath requited me?" Our Saviour has said, "With the same measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." And Eliphaz tells us, that he had particularly remarked this, even in his days. "Even as I have seen, they that plough iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same. From the nature of their suffering, men may often learn the character of their sin. God sometimes sends our troubles with a label upon them-it seems impossible to mistake their design. We are commanded to hear the rod; it says many things-and it frequently tells us the very sin for which we smart; it thunders or whispers, "This is the duty you have neglected; this is the idol you have adored: hast thou not procured this unto thyself?"
Between sin and punishment there is sometimes a comparative conformity. This is the case when we suffer things which have some resemblance to our crimes. Thus the Jews, for serving strange gods, were compelled to serve strange masters. Forty days the spies were employed in exploring the land of promise, and forty years the people are condemned to wander in the wilderness for believing their report.
Sometimes there is, also, between them a direct conformity. This is the case when we suffer in
the same way and in the same things in which we sin. Thus, it is said of the Chaldeans, "Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee." Thus, it is said of the church of Rome, "For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy." What was the subject of David's sin? The numbering of his people; in this he suffers: a pestilence carries off seventy thousand of his subjects. What was the design of wicked Haman?
Then said Zeresh his wife, and all his friends unto him, Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and to-morrow speak thou unto the king, that Mordecai may be hanged thereon; then go thou in merrily with the king unto the banquet. And the thing pleased Haman, and he caused the gallows to be made." What was his doom?— "And Harbonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Behold, also, the gallows fifty cubits high, which Haman had made for Mordecai, who had spoken good for the king, standeth in the house of Haman. Then said the king, Hang him thereon. So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai."— And, to mention no more: in the very place where Jezebel caused the dogs to lick the blood of Naboth, the dogs licked her blood.
But there is a future conformity, still more dreadful; and of which the apostle speaks when he says, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." The man who sowed thistles and expected to reap