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diction of the text in the eighteenth and nineteenth chapters of the second book of Kings. That prince was sent as predicted in the text, and his generals with a great army encamped under the walls of Jerusalem. There Rabshakeh, in the name of his master, insulted God, practised perfidy with the king of Israel, abused and ridiculed the people, and pretended to have a commission from God to destroy Jerusalem. Hezekiah committed the matter to the Lord, and in sackcloth appealed to him to defend his own great name, and save his people. And God, by his prophet, sent him an answer of peace. Said Jehovah of the proud monarch, who had come to wage war with his honor, “I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me.” It was a moment of awful interest. Just without the gates of the city was a victorious army, of nearly two hundred thousand men. Now it was that faith only could penetrate the dark cloud, that hung over the city and sanctuary of God.
But God had chained that impudent blasphemer to the foot of his throne, and he had now gone to the extent of his limits. When men, in abusing God's people, have enough of the fiend about them, to go on and insult God himself, then his people are safe, for the Divine honor must be vindicated, and God will do that himself, most promptly. I should be afraid of no man who would curse me,
Maker too. I have then only to stand still, and see the salvation of God.
That proud man was in the hand of a mighty Conqueror, and here was Israel's safety. “I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way which thou camest.” That night the angel of the Lord entered the Assyrian camp, and slew a hundred four-score and five thousand. When Sennacherib awoke, and saw his whole army dead corpses, he returned to his own land, and went to worship in the temple of Nisroch, his god, where two of his own sons imbued their hands in his blood. When men have blasphemed God, he can easily overtake them, and slay them. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” That impious man perished in the very temple of the god he worshipped, that Jehovah might doubly avenge the insults that had been offered him, on the idols to whom he had been compared, and the wretch who had defied his power. Thus God, while he had that blasphemer in his employ, was careful to hold him under close restraint.
We infer the same doctrine from the history of Balaam. He would have cursed Israel, because he loved the wages of unright
And he persevered in the design, while conscience, and the dumb ass speaking, reproved his madness. But God loved his people, and although Balaam's success could not have hurt them, still he would not allow his impious maledictions to contaminate the atmosphere that breathed through the camp of Israel. After all his pompous efforts, he pronounced a blessng only, and the curse lighted upon his own head. He perished by the sword, and went to his own place. He intended one thing, and God another, and he failed because God kept a bridle upon his lips.
So Haman was hanged upon the gallows he had erected for Mordecai, and the foes of Daniel were food for the beasts of prey that would not devour him. In the bloody scenes of Bethlehem, the very child escaped whom Herod would have slain, and the curse of God fell on him. If time permitted, I could swell this catalogue of facts, indefinitely, all going to show, how terrible, as well as sure, are God's restraints.
But his restraints are sometimes merciful. Saul of Tarsus is a happy case. He set out with the fury of a beast of prey, and dragged to prison and to death all that loved the Lord Jesus. At length he must needs go to Damascus, and try his zeal upon the lambs of the flock in that region. But he had now finished his career of blood, and the grace of God arrested him. It would not longer comport with the Divine purpose to permit the prowling wolf to range among the sheep-folds.
And we could give you, had we time, more recent facts, of both descriptions, where judgment and where mercy produced restraint. Ask the ministers of the gospel, who notice and record such facts, and they will tell you of many a man, who raved against God and his truth, like a mad bull in a net, up to the time when God subdued him by his grace. Or they will turn over the darker page, and tell you of the sweeps of death, among the enemies of the gospel, till all your blood would chill. In some fearful instances, a whole gang of gospel opposers, infidel, and hardened, and desperate in character, have perished, in such rapid succession, as not to leave a doubt behind, whether God did it ? or why he did it? Men have found a grave on the very day when some impious vow against God or his people was to have been executed, and have roared upon their beds, when they have learned, too late, that their sins had found them out. We might not say at their funeral, that they had gone to their own place, but verily we thought so, and trembled. We have seen them stripped of their property and their influence, at the moment when it was too evident to doubt
that the interests of the Church required that they should be brought low.
But whether the divine restraints are merciful or vindictive, they are sure. Wicked men are governed by the same voice that controls the waves of the sea. “ Hitherto shalt thou come, and no farther; and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” Till covenant love consent, the children of God cannot be hurt in their person, their interest, or their character, by the ungodly. A plan to injure them may be all ripe for execution, and is still as perfectly under the Divine control as at any previous moment. gnash their teeth, under the agonies of painful disappointment, and curse the hand that restrains them, but God will not be moved from his purpose, nor abandon one of his little ones, if he must destroy a world to protect him.
5. When their work is done, as God intended it should be, he will punish them, for not doing his pleasure from right motives. This doctrine is exhibited with the greatest distinctness in the history of Sennacherib. When the Lord had performed his whole work upon Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he would punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks. So it was threatened Babylon that she should be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. And all the other nations which were the rod of God's anger to Israel, and accomplished his decrees, perished for injuring the Church. So the nations that slew the martyrs, although they fulfilled the purpose of God, are yet to suffer, and perhaps perish, for that sin.
And all the finally impenitent will go on accomplishing the decrees of God, with a heart that meaneth not so, and when their work is done must perish because all their motives were wrong. Devils are doing the same thing, accomplishing God's design without intending it. And now the question is, How is God to be vindicated in this procedure? We have facts in the case still, by which this question can be settled.
First, “he meaneth not so.” There was no design in that proud monarch to do the divine pleasure ; else surely he would not have so blasphemed the God he would serve. It never enters into the heart of the ungodly to do, what ultimately they will accomplish. And it is a maxim with men, and why not with God, that we deserve neither credit nor reward, for the good we do without intention. Suppose there operate no very evil design in an act that works our good, if there be the absence of a design to do us a kindness, we feel under no obligation for the good that is done.
In a dark and cold night, you call for hospitality at the door of some stranger, but you are denied lodgings, and come home, and find your house on fire, and extinguish the flames, and save your house, and your family. Do you thank that man, for the kindness which his inhumanity did you? Does he, on hearing of the event, feel that you are obligated to him? Or does he have but the deeper sense of his own baseness ? It is then a plain case, that God can give his creatures no credit, if they serve him without intention.
2. A fact in the case must be noticed ; “ It is in his heart to destroy and cut of nations not a few.” Not only was there in the heart of the Assyrian, no good motive, but there was a motive positively bad ; and still he did the pleasure of God. Hence, why should he not be punished? And why should not all ungodly men be punished, though it shall at last appear, that they have accomplished the divine purposes? “ As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." One gives you poison intending to kill you, but you have some obstinate disease upon you, and the poison cures you ; is he the less a murderer? Was Mordecai indebted to Haman for his advancement, or Daniel to the princes of Babylon, or Joseph to his brethren ?
Will it be denied that all unregenerate men act from wrong motives? Then assuredly their motives are neither positively good nor bad. But a moral agent cannot be wholly indifferent with regard to God and his law. There is no such being among all the creatures of God. Our motives in every action that may be considered moral, must be positively bad or positively good. Hence if you acknowledge that unrenewed men do not act from good motives, and this must be true or they are Christians, then they act from bad motives. “ The heart of the sons of men is full of evil.”
Thus every unregenerate man is thrown upon the very ground, where stood the proud and impious Assyrian. Not that every man is accustomed to sin with that boldness, or has so thrown off restraint, as he had ; but there is in his heart, while God is rendering him serviceable to his people, the absence of a good motive, and the presence of a motive positively bad. And if we allow this, we justify God in his dealings with the Assyrian, and thus approve of the principle on which the last judgment will proceed. I close with
REMARKS. 1. The sovereignty of God, and the agency and accountability of the sinner, are associate truths. In the passage we have contemplated,
God makes a very bad man do his pleasure, and still pronounces him free, accountable and punishable, in these very deeds. Hence sovereignty, agency, and accountability, concentre in the very same act; and if compatible once, then are they kindred truths for ever; and what God has thus joined, let no man put asunder. If Sennacherib could do what God intended he should, and yet act freely, and deserve punishment, another sinner may, and every sinner does. I will give you one parallel text: I could give you many. “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” What, did God determine the deed, and still their hands wicked who did it? Just so; or the mind of God has been very unhappily expressed.
Do sinners still ask, “Why doth he yet find fault ?” We answer, not because sinners do not accomplish his purpose. He never thought of bringing a complaint against them on this ground. He will take care that his purposes be accomplished. But he has still this charge against them that they mean not so. To please God, men must not merely do what he purposes they shall, but do it with an intention to serve and honor him. He has a right to the allegiance of the heart. The meanest parent demands this, and thinks his child disobedient until he serves him with design.
2. How wrong is that notion, that if the matter of an action be correct, it is of no importance what is the motive. In the scrap of sacred history that we have contemplated, the whole result, as bearing upon the agent, turns on the motive. The Assyrian corrected the Lord's people, this was well; but he meant not so, and this was the source of his ruin. His motive was, butchery, spoil, and dominion ; this brought the curse of God upon him. He might have corrected the Lord's people, as he did; and accomplished his purpose, as he did ; and been now in heaven, if only he had meant so.
Thus is established a general principle of the divine government ; the motive is the whole that God will notice. If men will be careful on this one point, God will provide for the residue. They need have no fears that his decrees will not be done, and that exactly as he determined; but the motives with which they are done, will decide the destiny of every agent employed, from the beginning of the creation to the last day.
3. God did not create intelligent beings merely that he might de. stroy them. His ministers have been represented, as making this assertion; or advancing sentiments that must lead to this result.