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at the least, may they not be exempt from many of those flagrant sins that call for immediate and exemplary punishment? If so, would you have these innocent, and perhaps excellent persons, involved in the ruin of the great delinquent, on whom they entirely depend? Would you have the righteous Governor of the universe make no distinction in the infliction of his punishments? Should we not rather adopt the pathetic language of Abraham, when he is pleading with the Almighty for Sodom and Gomorrah? "Wiltthou slay the righteous with the wicked? That be far from thee. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right*?" You see then that there may be the best and most substantial reasons for delaying the punishment of the wicked, both with respect to nations and individuals; and that when we are rashly calling out for immediate vengeance, the Judge of all the earth is full of tenderness and pity, and sees the best reasons for respiting even the most notorious offenders.
But besides this, there are other reasons for God's forbearance towards sinners. They
* Gen. xviii. 25.
are are sometimes, as the prophet expresses it, the rod of his anger*. He makes use of them as instruments to chastise each other, or to correct the faults of those who are much better than themselves. And it frequently happens that their punishment is only delayed till they have completely finished the work for which they were raised up, and that then they are made to justify the dispensations of the Almighty by the awful spectacle of a conspicuous and terrifying fall.
To instance only the case of one notorious offender. That miscreant Judas Iscariot, long before he betrayed his Master, gave proofs of a most depraved and corrupt disposition. He was intrusted with the little stock that belonged in common to our Lord and the apostles; he kept the bag, and he robbed it. This flagrant breach of trust certainly deserved the severest punishment; and no doubt the disciples secretly murmured in their hearts, and condemned their divine Master for too great lenity towards so vile a wretch. But they knew not what he knew, that he was reserved for an important, though nefarious
•* Isaiah, x. 5.
•purpose, and was to be the instrument of betraying the Saviour of the world into the hands of his murderers; a deed for which his former crimes shewed him to be perfectly well qualified. WIfen this work of darkness was done, his doom was sealed, his punishment instantly followed; and, what increased its bitterness, it was inflicted with his own hand.
There is still another very important consideration, which may frequently occasion a delay in punishing even grievous offenders; and that is, the goodness and long-suffering of God, who is not willing that any should perish, but that all should have time for rer- pentance.
Pie who looks into the hearts of men., may see various reasons for sparing those whom we would consign to immediate destruction. He may discern some good qualities in them which are unknown to us, some good dispositions and good principles, which have entirely escaped our observation. He may perceive that they have been betrayed into the crimes they have committed, more by unfortunate circumstances, by error of judgment, by mistaken zeal, by wrong education, by the solicitation and
the influence of worthless companions, than by an incurable and inveterate depravity of heart. He may see, that amidst a multitude of vile weeds, there are still some seeds of virtue remaining in their breasts, which, if duly cherished and fostered, and cultivated with care and tenderness, may produce most valuable fruits of righteousness. "He is unwilling therefore to break the bruised reed, or to quench the smoking flax*." He is unwil^ ling to destroy what may still possibly be restored; he is unwilling to extinguish, by severity, the faintest sparks of latent goodness. He sees, in short, that if they have time for reflection, if they have space for repentance, they will repent, and he graciously gives them a respite for that purpose-f.
* Matth. xii. 20.
*T " Those offenders whom the Deity knows to be absolutely incurable, he destroys; but to those in whom he discovers some good dispositions, and a probability of reformation, he gives time for amendment. Thus by immediate punishment he corrects a few, but by sometimes delaying it he recovers and reforms many." Plut. v. 2. p. 551. C. D.
To this may be added another fine observation of the same author; " that God is sometimes slow in punishing the wicked, in order to teach us mortals a lesson
And shall we repine or murmur at this forbearance, this indulgence of God towards sinners? Are not we ourselves all of us sinners, miserable sinners: and do we think that God treats us with too much indulgence? Is there any one here present who would be content that God should immediately, and without mercy, inflict on him the utmost punishment which his sins justly deserve? What, alas! would become of the very best of us, if this was the case; and who could abide these judgments of the Lord? And how then can we refuse to others that mercy of which we stand so much in need ourselves?
It is evident, and we see it every day, that men who once were profligate have in time become eminently virtuous: and what pity would it have been if extreme or untimely severity had either suddenly cut them off, or hardened them in their wickedness! Great
of moderation; to repress that vehemence and precipitation with which we are sometimes impelled to avenge ourselves on those that offend us in the first heat of our passion immediately and immoderately? and to induce us to imitate that mildness, patience, and forbearance, which He is often so merciful as to exercise towards those that have incurred his displeasure." P. 550. F.
Vol,. I. A A minds.