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THE DIVINE JUSTICE VINDICATED.
JEREMIAH, CHAP. XLIX. VER. 2 & 3.
“Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will cause an alarm of war to be heard in Rabbah of the Ammonites; and it shall be a desolate heap, and her daughters shall be burned with fire: then shall Israel be heir unto them that were his heirs, saith the Lord. Howl, O Heshbon, for Ai is spoiled: cry, ye daughters of Rabbah, gird ye with sackcloth ; lament, and run to and fro by the hedges; for their king shall go into captivity, and his priests and his princes together."
Here is a vivid but melancholy picture of the lamentable desolations of war. The language employed by the prophet, is in the highest degree sublime. It is predicted of Rabbah, the chief city of the Ammonites, that “ she shall be a desolate heap;" that “ her daughters,” by which are signified the inferior towns, “shall be burned with fire.” Nothing can be expressed in stronger terms, than the utter ruin to ensue. And we frequently find, in those wars of extermination carried on by the
Israelites, against the heathen nations to whom they were opposed, that they were commanded by God to spare nothing alive, but to “slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.” This fact has been made a subject of cavil, and a ground for impugning the truth of Holy Writ; such a command being supposed incompatible with divine mercy, and if so, never could have been proclaimed. Let us examine the force of this objection, and see what answer can be given to it.
It is certain God's benevolence cannot be impeached, without at once questioning the perfection of his character and the integrity of his attributes. Who will dare assail the one or the other? Only the madman who “ casteth firebrands, arrows and death, and saith, am I not in sport ?" If the Deity could command either an unjust or unmerciful act, he is no longer the Christians' God. That God is “ good and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy to all them that call upon him.” Hear the Psalmist further, who has eloquently and fully vindicated his Almighty Master from the charge of injustice or cruelty, “the Lord will not always chide, neither will He keep His anger for ever. He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy towards them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us. Like as a father pitieth his
children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him. For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust. As for man, his days are as grass, as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it and it is the place thereof shall know it no more; but the mercy of the Lord, is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him, and His righteousness unto children's children; to such as keep His covenant and to those that remember His commandments to do them.”
Could anything short of inspiration have furnished so exquisite a description of divine benignity? This is the word of truth,—of one inspired to proclaim it. Can we think it possible that such a God could be unmerciful, that cruelty could tarnish his perfections ? Where is the soul that can harbour a sentiment so unworthy of Him? He sends the thunder and the lightning among us, the hurricane, the earthquake and the inundation, famine, pestilence and the sword, disease in varieties almost infinite, death in as many forms, sufferings without number, privations without end; still He sends them all in mercy; they are the messengers of His goodness, however stern; they are the heralds of His loving-kindness, however terrible; they are the agents of His justice, however appalling !--and why are they so ? Because He has but one purpose in such visitations, and that purpose is to reclaim the world, not to condemn it. He desires “ not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his
wickedness and live." By such desire his dispensations towards His erring creatures, are invariably governed. Being the sum of all good, from Him no evil can ensue; being the great source of love, for “ love is of God,” from Him no unkindness can proceed; being the fountain of all justice, for “justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne,” by Him no injustice can be dispensed. Think what man may, God cannot deviate from His perfections. What says He of Himself? “ I am the Lord, I change not." How should He change, who is “ the same yesterday and to-day and for ever ?”
But to come at once to the objection, that the command to exterminate whole cities and spare nothing alive, is incompatible with divine mercy.
In looking at the historical events recorded in scripture, occurring as most of them did, in periods extremely remote, it will be necessary to bear in mind the spiritual condition of the world at large, in those periods. Wickedness prevailed to a prodigious extent. Before the delivery of the Law, and immediately subsequent, when God's visitations, in the manner described by the prophet, were frequently signalized, nothing could well exceed the general corruption. Idolatry overspread the earth. The chosen seed of Abraham were the only exceptions, save here and there, where, in some few remarkable instances, holy persons, by their own natural intelligence, emancipated themselves from the fetters of an enslaving superstition, and advancing
steadily to the light of truth, which God directed to their hearts, in proportion as they desired to be enlightened, became bright luminaries in her path, to guide, to cheer, and to gladden. Job was one illustrious example.
During the struggles, however, of the Israelites with the Pagan nations, who opposed their progress through the Wilderness, and afterwards continued to contest their possession of the promised land, the abominations of idolatry every where prevailed, and the wickedness on earth was scarcely less general than before the Flood, when God was provoked to destroy the whole human race, save one family, which he preserved alive to replenish the earth. Nothing can well exceed the extent to which depravity was carried; and as a proof of this, I need only mention that ten righteous men would have been sufficient for the salvation of Sodom, but even that small number was not found within her walls. She became a desolation, because of the iniquity of her citizens. And, assuredly, if there were no righteous persons in her, which is the only inference to be drawn from the sacred narrative, it cannot be truly said, that in her overthrow, God confounded the innocent with the guilty
How many of the heathen cities were, like Sodom, full of every thing morally vile and revolting. When God therefore commanded them to be destroyed, did He do more than inflict upon them a just judicial penalty ? Did He