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THE JUSTICE OF GOD IN THE DISTRIBUTION OF REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS.
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?—Gen. xviii. 25.
IN treating of the attributes of God, I have considered those which relate to the Divine understanding; viz. knowledge and wisdom. I come now to consider those which relate to the Divine will; viz. these four—the justice, the truth, the goodness, and the holiness of God. I begin with the first; namely, the justice of God.
At the 17th verse of this chapter, God, by a great and wonderful condescension of his goodness, reveals to Abraham his intention concerning the destruction of Sodom; upon this Abraham, (ver. 23.) interceded with God for the saving of the righteous persons that were there; and to this end, he pleads with God his justice and righteousness, with which he apprehended it to be inconsistent to “destroy the righteous with the wicked;” which, without a miracle, could not be avoided in a general destruction. “Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city, wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? that be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked; and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far 479from thee; shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” This negative interrogation is equivalent to a vehement affirmation, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” that is, undoubtedly he will. This we may take for a certain and undoubted principle, that, in the distribution of rewards and punishments, the Judge of the world will do righteously.
So that the argument that lies under our consideration, is the justice of God in the distribution of rewards and punishments; for the clearing of which, we will consider it,
First, In hypothesi, in regard to the particular case which is here put by Abraham in the text.
Secondly, In thesi, we will consider it in general, in the distribution of rewards and punishments.
First, We will consider it in hypothesi, in regard to the particular case which is here put by Abraham in the text; and the rather, because, if we look well into it, there is something of real difficulty in it, not easy to be cleared; for Abraham’s reasoning, if it be true, does plainly conclude, that it would have been unrighteous with God in the destruction of Sodom, not to make a difference between the righteous and the wicked, but to involve them equally in the same common destruction. “That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked; and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee; shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” as if he had said, Surely the Judge of all the earth will never do so unrighteous a thing.
And yet, notwithstanding this, we see it is very usual for the providence of God to involve good 480men in general calamities, and to make no visible difference between the righteous and the wicked. Now the difficulty is, how to reconcile these appearances of providence with this reasoning of Abraham in the text.
And for doing of this, I see but one possible way, and that is this; that Abraham does not here speak concerning the judgments of God, which befal men in the ordinary course of his providence, which many times happen promiscuously, and involve good and bad men in the same ruin; and the reason hereof is plain, because God in his ordinary providence does permit the causes, which produce these judgments, to act according to their own nature, and they either cannot or will not make any distinction; for the calamities which ordinarily happen in the world, are produced by two sorts of causes, either those which we call natural, or those which are voluntary. Natural causes, such as wind, and thunder, and storms, and the infection of the air, and the like: these, acting by a necessity of nature, without any knowledge or choice, can make no distinction between the good and bad. And the voluntary causes of calamities, as men are, they many times will make no difference between the righteous and the wicked. Nay, many times they are maliciously bent against the righteous, and the effects of their malice fall heaviest upon them. Now, we say, that things happen in the way of ordinary providence, when natural causes are permitted to act according to their nature, and voluntary causes are left to their liberty; and, therefore, in the course of ordinary providence, it is not to be expected that such a distinction should be made; it is neither possible, nor does justice require it: it 481is not possible, supposing natural causes left to act according to their nature, and voluntary causes to be left to their liberty; nor does justice require it, for every man is so much a sinner, that no evil that befals him in this world, can be said to be unjust in respect of God.
So that Abraham is not here to be understood, as speaking of such judgments as befal men in the ordinary course of God’s providence, in which, if the good and bad be involved alike, it cannot be expected to be otherwise, nor is there any injustice in it; but Abraham here speaks of miraculous and extraordinary judgments, which are immediately inflicted by God for the punishment of some crying sins, and the example of the world to deter others from the like. And such was this judgment, which God intended to bring upon Sodom, and which Abraham hath relation to in this discourse of his. In this case, it may be expected from the justice of God, that a difference should be made between the righteous and the wicked; and that for these reasons:
1. Because this is a judgment which God himself executes. It is not an event of common providence, which always follows the nature of its cause, but an act of God, as a judge. Now it is essential to a judge to make a discrimination between the good and the bad, so as to punish the one, and to spare the other; and this is as necessary to all proper acts of judgment in this world as the other: there being no other difference between them, but that one is a particular judgment, and the other the general judgment of the whole world.
2. When God goes out of the way of his ordinary providence in punishing, it may reasonably be 482expected that he should make a difference between the good and the bad; for the reason why he does not in his common providence, is because he will not break and interrupt the established order of things upon every little occasion: but when he does go besides the common course of things in punishing, the reason ceaseth, which hindered him before from making a difference; and it is reasonable enough to expect, that in the inflicting of a miraculous judgment, a miraculous difference should be made. Without making this difference, the end of these miraculous judgments would not be attained; which is remarkably to punish the crying sins of men, and by the example to deter others from the like sins: but if these judgments should fall promiscuously upon the righteous and the wicked, it would not be evident, that they were designed for the punishment of such sins, when men did see that they fell likewise upon those who were not guilty of those sins; consequently the example could not be so effectual to deter men from sin.
Upon all these accounts, you see that Abraham’s reasoning was very strong and well grounded, as to those judgments which are miraculous and extra ordinary, and immediately inflicted by God, for the punishment of great and heinous sins, which was the case he was speaking of. And accordingly we find, that, in those judgments which have been immediately and miraculously inflicted by God, he hath always made this difference between the righteous and the wicked. In the deluge which he brought upon the old world, the Spirit of God gives this reason why the judgment was so universal, because “all flesh had corrupted his way upon the 483earth;” and the reason why he saved Noah and his family was, because in this general corruption of mankind he alone was righteous; “Thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.” So likewise in that miraculous judgment of Korah and his company, when God “made a new thing, and the earth opened her mouth to swallow them up,” none perished but he and his complices; the rest had warning given them by God to “remove from the tents of those wicked men.” Thus you see, that as to the particular case in the text, Abraham’s reasoning concerning the justice of God is very firm and concluding. I proceed to the
Second thing, which was that which I principally intended to discourse upon; viz. to consider the justice of God, in general, in the distribution of rewards and punishments. And here I cannot but grant, that the best evidence of this is yet wanting. We have clear demonstrations of the power, and wisdom, and goodness of God, in this vast and admirable frame of things which we see; but we must stay till the day of judgment for a clear and full manifestation of the Divine justice; for which reason the day of judgment is in Scripture called, “the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” But in the mean time we may receive sufficient assurance of this, both from natural reason, and from Divine revelation.
1. From natural reason, which tells us, that God loves righteousness, and hates iniquity, and consequently that it must be agreeable to his nature, to countenance and encourage the one, and to discountenance the other; that is, to give some public testimony of his liking and affection to the one, and of his hatred and dislike of the other; which 484cannot otherwise be done, but by rewards and punishments.
But however the heathen reasoned about this matter, whatever premises they laid, they firmly believed the conclusion, that God is just. Plato lays down this as a certain and undoubted principle, “That God is in no wise unjust, but as righteous as is possible; and that we cannot resemble God more, than in this quality and disposition.” So likewise Seneca tells us, “That the gods are neither capable of receiving any injury, nor of doing any thing that is unjust.” Antoninus, the great emperor and philosopher, speaking doubtfully, whether good men are extinguished by death, or remain afterwards; “If it be just, (says he,) you may be sure it is so; if it be not just, you may certainly conclude the contrary; for God is just, and, being so, he will do nothing that is unjust or unreasonable.” And, indeed, the heathen philosophers looked upon this as the great sanction of ail moral precepts, that God was the witness and the avenger of the breach and violation of them, Qui secus faxit, deus ipse vindex erit; “If any man do contrary to them, God himself will punish it;” which shews, that there is a natural awe upon the minds of men of the Divine justice, which will overtake offenders either in this world or the other. But this will more clearly appear in the
2. Second place, from Scripture, or Divine revelation. And those texts which I shall produce to this purpose, may be reduced to these two heads: either such as prove the rectitude of the Divine nature, and his justice in general; or such as speak more particularly of the justice and equity of his providence in the distribution of rewards and punishments. 485I begin, first, with those which declare the rectitude of the Divine nature, and the justice of God in general; and that, either by attributing this perfection to him, or by removing the contrary, in justice and unrighteousness, at the greatest distance from him.
1. Those which attribute this perfection to God. I shall mention but a few of many: (Psal. cxxix. 4.) “The Lord is righteous.” (Dan. ix. 7.) “O Lord! righteousness belongeth unto thee.” This good men have acknowledged, when they have lain under the hand of God, (Ezra ix. 15.) “O Lord God of Israel, thou art righteous.” And this the worst of men have been forced to own, when they have been in extremity; (Exod. ix. 27.) then “Pharaoh said, The Lord is righteous.” This hath been likewise acknowledged by those who have lain under the great est temptation to doubt of it; (Jer. xii. 1.) “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?” The prophet, notwithstanding he saw the prosperous condition of wicked men, and the afflicted state of the godly, which seemed hard to be reconciled with the justice of God’s providence; yet, before he would so much as reason about it, he lays down this as a certain conclusion, “Righteous art thou, O Lord.” To this head, likewise, belong all those texts which speak of righteousness, as God’s dwelling-place, and his throne, of his delight injustice, and of the duration and eternity of it, which I need not particularly recite.
2. There are likewise other texts which remove the contrary, viz. injustice and unrighteousness, at the greatest distance from God, as being most contrary 486to his nature and perfection. (Deut. xxxii. 4.) “A God of truth, and without iniquity.” (2 Chron. xix. 7.) “There is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor accepting of persons, nor taking of gifts.” (Job viii. 3.) “Doth God pervert judgment? or doth the Almighty pervert justice?” which is a vehement negation of the thing. (Job xxxiv. 10-12.) “Far be it from God, that he should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that he should commit iniquity. For the work of a man shall he render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways. Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.” (Rom. ix. 14.) “What shall we say then? is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.”
Secondly, There are other texts which speak more particularly of the justice and righteousness of God in the distribution of rewards and punishments. It is true, indeed, the justice of God doth not constantly appear in this world in the dispensations of his providence, because this is a time of patience and forbearance to sinners, and of trial and exercise to good men; but there is a day a coming, when all things shall be set straight, and every man shall receive the just reward of his deeds, when the justice of God shall be evident to all the world, and every eye shall see it, and shall acknowledge the righteous judgment of God; and this the Scripture most clearly and expressly declares unto us; and hence it is, that the day of judgment is called “the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” The righteousness of God doth not now so clearly appear, but that there are many clouds over it; but there shall be a day of revelation, when the righteousness 487of God shall be made manifest to all the world.
The remunerative justice of God shall then appear in the rewarding the righteous; and the punitive justice of God in punishing the wicked and ungodly; “so that a man shall say, Verily there is a reward for the righteous; verily there is a God that judgeth the world.”
Now the righteousness of this vengeance of God, which God will take upon sinners, is further set forth to us in Scripture, from the equity and impartiality of it.
I. From the equity of it.
1. In that the sins of men have justly deserved the punishment, that shall come upon them; (Rom. i. 32.) “Who, knowing the judgment of God, δικαίωμα τοῦ Θεοῦ, the righteous judgment of God, “that they which commit such things are worthy of death.”
2. In that the judgment of God shall be proportioned to the degree and heinousness of men’s sins, so as the lesser or greater sins shall be punished with more or less severity. So our Saviour threatens to those who continue impenitent under the gospel, and the advantages of it, their case shall be more sad than that of Tyre and Sidon, and “it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah at the day of judgment, than for them,” (Matt. xi. 21, 22.) And (Luke xii. 47, 48.) there you have different degrees of punishment threatened, proportionable to the aggravations of the sins which men have committed; “The servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes: but he that knew it not, but did commit 488things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes;” and so proportionably of all other aggravations of sins, “for to whom much is given, of him shall much be required; and unto whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” So, likewise, God will vindicate the contempt of the gospel more severely than of the law, because the confirmation of it is clearer, and the salvation offered by it greater. (Heb. ii. 3, 4.) “If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape?” &c. And so, (Heb. x. 28, 29.) “He that despised Moses’s law, died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God?”&c.
II. The righteousness of this judgment is further set forth to us in Scripture by the impartiality of it. Hither belong all those texts, which remove from God that προσωποληψία, that “respect of persons,” which is so incident to human tribunals. Now, respect of persons is in distribution of justice, and hath regard to some external qualities or circumstances of the persons, which do not appertain to the merit of the cause, and upon account of those circumstances, to deal unequally with those, whose case is equal; as when two persons, who are equally guilty of a crime, are brought to their trial, and the one is condemned, and the other acquitted, upon the account of friendship, or relation, or some other interest; because one is poor, and the other rich; the one hath powerful friends to intercede for him, the other not; the one brings a gift or bribe, the other, not; or upon any other account, besides the pure 489merits of the cause; I say, to deal thus in the distribution of justice, is respect of persons. Other wise, in matters of mere grace and favour, respect of persons hath no place, according to that common rule of divines, προσωποληψία, locum non habet in gratuitis, sed in debitis. Now this the Scripture every where speaks of as a thing very far from God. (Deut. x. 17.) “The Lord your God is the God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh rewards.” (2 Chron. xix. 7.) “There is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts.” (Job xxxiv. 18, 19.) “Is it fit to say to a king, Thou art wicked? or to princes, Ye are ungodly? How much less to him that accepteth not the persons of princes, nor regardeth the rich more than the poor! for they are all the work of his hands.” (Rom. ii. 6.) “Who will render to every man according to his deeds: for there is no respect of persons with God.” (Acts x. 34, 35.) “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” (Eph. vi. 8.) The apostle there presseth the duties of servants to masters, from this consideration, that “whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free;” and at the 9th verse, “Ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening; knowing that your Master also is in heaven, neither is there respect of persons with him.” He maketh this likewise an argument, why men should not oppress and deal deceitfully one with another: (Col. iii. 25.) “But he that doeth wrong, shall receive for the wrong which he hath done, and there is no respect 490of persons.” And, in general, St. Peter urgeth this consideration upon all men to deter them from sin in any kind: (1 Pet. i. 17.) “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.”
And, besides that the Scripture doth remove this at the greatest distance from God, it gives us also several instances of the impartiality of the Divine justice, that it is not to be perverted and turned aside by any of those extrinsical considerations which commonly sway with men; it is not to be prevailed with and overcome by flattery and entreaties. (Matt. vii. 21, 22.) “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven,” &c. The Divine justice is not to be imposed upon by good words, and external shows, and false professions; so neither by any external relation to him: “For many shall come from the east, and from the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God, but the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into utter darkness.”
And, however men may bear up themselves now upon their worldly greatness and power, certainly there is a time coming, when the greatest persons in the world, those who overturn kingdoms, and lay waste countries, and oppress and ruin millions of mankind for the gratifying of their own lusts and ambition; I say, there is a day a coming, when even these, as much, nay, more than others, shall fear and tremble before the impartial justice of God. (Rev. vi. 15.) “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, 491and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every freeman, shall hide themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the mountains; for the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” The impartial justice of God will treat the greatest and the meanest persons alike. (Rev. xx. 12.) “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books according to their works.” All judged “according to their works.”
I should next proceed to vindicate the justice of God in the distribution of rewards and punishments, from those objections which seem to impeach it: but before I enter upon this, it will be convenient to satisfy one question, which hath occasioned great disputes in the world; and that is, how far justice, especially as to the punishment of offenders, is essential to God? And for the clearing of this matter, I shall briefly lay down these propositions:
1st, I take this for a certain and undoubted truth, that every perfection is essential to God, and cannot be imagined to be separated from the Divine nature, because this is the natural notion which men have of God, that he is a being that hath all perfection.
2dly, The actual constant exercise of those Divine perfections, the effects whereof are without himself, is not essential to God. For instance, though God be essentially powerful and good, yet it is not necessary that he should always exercise his power and goodness, but at such times, and in such a manner, as seems best to his wisdom; and this is likewise true of his wisdom and justice, because these are 492perfections, the effects whereof are terminated upon something without himself.
3dly, It is essential to God to love goodness, and hate sin, wherever he sees them. It is not necessary there should be a world, or reasonable creatures in it: but upon supposition that God makes such creatures, it is agreeable to the Divine nature, to give them good and righteous laws, to encourage them in the doing of that which is good, and to discourage them from doing that which is evil; which cannot be done, but by rewards and punishments; and therefore it is agreeable to the perfection of the Divine nature, to reward goodness, and to punish sin.
4thly, As for those rewards which the gospel promiseth, and the punishments which it threatens, there is some difference to be made between the rewarding and punishing justice of God.
1. As for that abundant reward God is pleased to promise to good men, the promise of it is founded in his goodness, and the performance of that promise in his justice; for it is justice to perform what he promises, though the promise of so great and abundant a reward was mere goodness.
2. As for the punishing justice of God, about which hath been the great question, whether that be essential to God or not, it seems very plain, that it is not necessary that God should inflict those judgments which he threatens, because he hath threatened them; for there is not the like obligation upon persons to perform their threatenings, that there is to perform their promises; because God, by his promise, becomes a debtor to those to whom he makes the promise; but when he threatens, he is the creditor, and we are debtors to his justice; and as a creditor, 493he may remit, the punishment which he hath threatened: but then, if we consider God as loving goodness and hating sin; if we look upon him as governor of the world, and concerned to preserve good order, to encourage holiness and righteousness, and to discountenance sin; under this consideration it is essential to him to punish sin at such times, and in such manner and circumstances, as seem best to his wisdom.
And I am not at all moved by that, which is urged by some learned men to the contrary, that if punishing justice were essential to God, then he must punish the sinner immediately, so soon as he hath offended, and to the utmost of his power; because whatever acts naturally, acts necessarily, and to the utmost: for I do not suppose such a justice essential to God as acts necessarily, but such a justice, which, as to the time, and manner, and circumstances of its acting, is regulated and determined by his wisdom; and there is the same reason, likewise, of his goodness.
I come now to the objections, which are taken partly from the dispensations of God in this world, and partly from the punishments of the other.
First, As to the dispensations of God in this world, there are these two things objected against the justice of the Divine providence:
I. The inequality of God’s dealings with good and bad men in this world.
II. The translation of punishments, punishing one man’s sin upon another; as, the sins of the fathers upon the children, of the prince upon the people. I begin with the
First objection, The inequality of God’s dealing with good and bad men in this world. In this life 494things happen promiscuously, “there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked;” if the wicked suffer and are afflicted, so are the righteous; if the righteous sometimes flourish, so do the wicked: and is not this unjust, that those who are so unequal as to their deserts, should be equally dealt withal? or if there be any inequality it is usually the wrong way; the wicked do, many times, prosper more in the world, and the righteous are frequently more afflicted. This was the great objection of old against the providence of God, which the heathen philosophers took so much pains to answer; nay, it did often shake the faith of holy and good men in the Old Testament: (Job xii. 6.) “The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are se cure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly;” and chap. xxi. 7-9. he expostulates the same matter again: and David says, this was a great stumbling-block to him; (Psal. lxxiii. 2, 3.) and the like we find in the prophets, (Jer. xii. 1. Hab. i. 13.) This objection I have elsewhere considered; I shall now very briefly offer two or three things, which I hope will be sufficient to break the force of it.
1. It must be granted, that it is not necessary to justice, to shew itself immediately, and to dispense rewards and punishments so soon as there are objects for them. This is not thought necessary among men, much more ought we to leave it to the wisdom of God to determine the time and circumstances of the exercising of his justice; and we are not to conclude, that the providence of God is unjust, if he do not bestow rewards, and inflict punishments, just when we think he should.
2. If God intended this life for a state of trial, wherein he would prove the obedience of men, and 495their free inclination to good or evil, it is not reasonable to expect that he should follow men with present rewards and punishments; for that would lay too great a force upon men, so that there would hardly be an opportunity of trying them; but, on the contrary, there is all the reason in the world to presume that God should exercise the graces and virtues of good men with afflictions and sufferings, and suffer bad men to take their course for a while, and walk in their own ways, without continual checks, by frequent and remarkable judgments upon them so often as they offend.
3. If there be another life after this, wherein men shall be judged “according to their works,” then this objection vanisheth; for that great day will set all things straight, which seem now to be so crooked and irregular. The deferring of rewards and punishments to the most convenient season, is so far from being a reflection upon the justice of God, that it is highly to the commendation of it. What Claudian says of Ruffinus, a very bad man, whose long impunity had tempted men to call in question the justice of God, is considerable in this case:
Abstulit hunc tandem Ruffini poena tumultum,
“The punishment which overtook him at last, did quiet those tumultuous thoughts, and absolved the gods from all blame.” When men look but a little way, and consider only the present state of things, they are ready to quarrel at the justice of them; but if they would look at the end of things, and have patience to stay till the last, to see the conclusion and winding up of things, they would then acquit God 496in their thoughts from all those imputations of in justice, which, from the inequality of present dispensations, rash and inconsiderate men are apt to charge him withal.
Second objection, From the translation of punishments, the punishing of one man’s sin upon another, as of “the fathers upon the children,” which God threatens in the second commandment, and did, in some sort, fulfil in Ahab, “in bringing the evil he had threatened him withal, in his son’s days.” (1 Kings xxi. 29.) The punishing the sin of one person upon a people, as that of Achan upon the whole congregation. (Josh. xxii. 20.) “Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel! and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.” And the sin of David upon the people, (2 Sam. xxiv.) when seventy thousand died of the plague, for David’s sin in numbering the people? Now how is this agreeable to justice? Is it not a known rule, Noxa caput sequitur? “Mischief pursues the sinner?” What can be more reasonable, Quam ut peccata suos teneant authores? “Than that men’s faults should be charged upon the authors;” and punishment fall upon the guilty?
For answer to this,
1. It is not unreasonable that one man should bear the punishment of another’s fault, if he be willing and content to bear it: Volenti non fit injuria; “There is no wrong done to those that are willing to undergo it,” though they be innocent; which was the case of our blessed Saviour suffering for us, “the just for the unjust,” as the Scripture expresseth it.
2. Where the person upon whom the punishment 497is transferred, is likewise a sinner, and obnoxious to God, there can be no injustice; because he hath deserved it upon his own account, and God may take what occasion he pleaseth to punish them that deserve to be punished.
3. In punishing the iniquity of the father upon the children, the guilty person, that is, the father, is punished in the calamity of his children; for a man’s children are himself multiplied: and therefore it is very remarkable, that in the second commandment, God promiseth to “shew mercy to thousands of generations of them that love him;” but he “visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the children,” but to “the third and fourth generation;” that is, so far as man may live to see them punished, and suffer in their punishment.
4. As to the punishment of the people for the sins of their princes and governors, and one part of a community for another, supposing all of them to be sinners, which is the true case, God may lay the punishment where he pleaseth; and there is no more injustice, than when a man is whipped on the back for the theft which his hand committed, a community being one body: besides, the prince is punished in the loss of his people, the glory of a king consisting in the multitude of his subjects.
The objection with respect to the other world, the punishment of temporal evils with eternal, is elsewhere answered.
The use we should make of this whole discourse is,
First, If God be just and righteous, let us acknowledge it in all his dispensations, even in those, the reason whereof is most hidden and obscure: Nehemiah, (ix. 33.) speaking of the great afflictions that had befallen God’s own people, yet this he 498lays down as a firm principle, “Howbeit, thou art just in all that is brought upon us.”
Secondly, This is matter of terror to wicked men. God doth now exercise his milder attributes to wards sinners, his mercy, and patience, and goodness: but if we despise these, that terrible attribute of his justice will display itself; and this the Scripture describes in a severe manner; “The Lord revengeth, and is jealous: the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and reserveth wrath for his enemies.”
Thirdly, This is matter of comfort to good men, that the righteous God governs the world, and will judge it: “The Lord reigneth, let the earth rejoice, (Psal. xcvii. 1.) and he gives the reason of it in the next verse; “Righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne.” Though he be omnipotent, we need not fear; for his power is al ways under the conduct of eternal righteousness.
Fourthly, Let us imitate this righteousness; let us endeavour to “be righteous as he is righteous;” let us give to God the love, reverence, and obedience which are due to him; and in all our dealings, what is just and due to men. This duty hath an immutable reason, founded in the nature of God.499
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