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quity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear*.”
Here then is the great master-key to the whole of this mysterious dispensation of Heaven. God, we see, has appointed a day when every deficiency in his administration shall be supplied, and every seeming disproportion and inequality shall be rectified-t.
Even in this world it appears that wickedness is punished in some measure, and to a certain degree: and we have seen that the interests of virtue itself, among other considerations, require that it should not be instantly
* Matth. xiii. 41, 42, 43.
* “ As the soul survives the dissolution of the body, (says the excellent Plutarch,) and exists after death, it is most probable that it will receive rewards and punishments in a future state; for it goes through a kind of contest during the present life, and when that is over, it will have its due recompence hereafter.” 561. A.
How nearly does this approach to the doctrine of the Gospel which had been promulgated near one hundred years before Plutarch wrote. But, thanks be to God, what this great man thought only probable, we have the happiness of knowing to be certain.
punished to the full extent of its deserts. God is perpetually showing, even in the present life, his different regard to right and wrong, by every such method as the constitution of the world which he has created admits; and therefore no sooner shall that world come to an end, and all obstacles to an equal administration of justice be taken out of the way, than he shall come to execute righteous judgment upon earth.
" He is not slack as men count slackness*," that is, negligent and remiss; he only waits for the proper season of doing all that hitherto remains undone. Human weakness indeed, by a small delay of punishing, may lose the power of doing it for ever. “ But in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength t.” Human in-,. constancy may be vehement and passionate at first; then negligent and languid. The sense of an unworthy action that does not injure us, quickly wears out of our mind; and if we take no immediate notice of it, we shall possibly take none at all. But we must not think God to be such a one as ourselves. Eternity itself will make no change in his abhorrence of wicked* 2 Pet. iii. 9. * Isaiah xxvi. 4.
ness, nor will any thing either transport him to act before his appointed time, or prevail upon him to give a respite when that time comes. The sinners of the antediluvian world, abusing the long space of one hundred and twenty years which he allowed for their repentance, perished at the end of it without mercy. The angels who fell from their first estate before this earth was created, he has reserved for torments, that shall not finally take place till it is consumed *
The same important period his infinite wisdom has marked out for the final judgment of men. And undoubtedly it may produce advantages of unspeakable moment thus to defer justice, with a design of rendering some chosen parts of duration memorable throughout the universe, by a more extensive and illustrious exercise of it. For it must needs make an inconceivably strong and lasting impression upon every order of beings that shall then be present at the solemn scene, to hear the final doom of a whole world pronounced at once; and to behold sins that had been committed thousands of years before, punished with the same attention to every circumstance as if they had been but of yesterday. * Jude vi. 2 Pet. ii. 4. .'
How far off these judgments of the Lord may be, we none of us know. But with regard to ourselves, they are near, they are even at the door. The few days we have to pass in this transient scene will determine our condition for ever, and bring us into an eternal state, compared with which the continuance of the present frame of nature, from its very beginning, will be as nothing. Then every act of the government of God will be seen in its true light; the magnified length of dis- tance between guilt and its punishment will totally disappear; and offenders will lament in vain that sentence is executed so speedily as it is against evil works. But with peculiar severity will it be executed on them, who, despising the riches of that goodness which would lead them to repentance, “ treasure up for themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God*.".
Upon the whole then let not either the sinner triumph, or the virtuous repine, at the apparent impunity or even prosperity of the wicked in the present life. To the audacious sinner we apply those most apposite and most
* Rom. ii. 5.
awful words of the son of Sirach. “ Say not, who shall control me for my works, for the Lord shall surely avenge thy pride. Say not, I have sinned, and what harm hath happened unto me; for the Lord is indeed long-suffering, but he will in no wise let thee go. Say not, his mercy is great, he will be pacified for the multitude of my sins; for both mercy and wrath come from him, and his indignation resteth upon sinners. Make therefore no tarrying to turn unto the Lord, and put not off from day to day; for suddenly shall the wrath of the Lord come forth, and in thy security shalt thou be destroyed, and perish in the day of vengeance*.” · To the religious and virtuous on the other hand we say, “ Fret not thyself because of the ungodly, neither be thou envious against the evil doers. Hold thee still in the Lord, and abide patiently upon him; but grieve not thyself at him whose way doth prosper, against the man that doeth after evil counsels. Wicked doers shall be rooted out; and they that patiently abide the Lord, those shall inherit the land " “ Be patient therefore, brethren,
* Eccles. V. 3-7.. Vol. I.