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that all his wrath toward the people of God, must meet a final and a fearful judgment.
When God speaks in the text of sending that proud and impious man, to chastise his people, we are not to understand that God would command him to go, or justify the motives by which he would be actuated. God does not punish as a crime, the very deed which his injunction renders duty. It is believed that nothing more is meant, than that God would so order events, that the Assyrian should hope to gratify his avarice and his pride in humbling Jerusalem. The history tells for itself, that the king had, one purpose, and the King of kings another, and that God kept his own purpose a secret from the miscreant whom he used as his rod.
Why was he not sent of God, precisely in the same sense as God hardened the heart of Pharaoh? by the concurrence of events, that should have produced a contrary resolve. The Egyptian's heart was hardened by means that should have softened it by alternate judgments and mercies, that should have rendered him one of the holiest men that has lived. So the Assyrian was sent, by an agency that should have rendered him Jerusalem's warmest friend. God had given him victory over the idols whose shrines he had assaulted, and made him rich with the spoil. He should then have honored the God of battles, and should have come to Jerusalem to worship his Benefactor. He should have been content, when he had been suffered to spoil the temples of idolatry.
But these very successes made him covet the treasures of Jerusalem, and thus had the very opposite effect which they should and would have had, upon a benevolent and holy mind. There is a parallel case in Jeremiah. The Church had forfeited the favor of God, and must go into captivity. Babylon must lead them captive, and when Israel should be humbled, must be punished for making war with the people of God. Read the twenty-fifth chapter of Jeremiah, and you will have the facts in a shape more interesting, than that in which any comment can place them.
Thus God employs wicked men in the service of his people, while they mean far otherwise, and are in fact the agents of another prince. Still God holds them accountable, restrains their wrath when it will not praise him, and finally does his whole pleasure, precisely as though the agents he employed were his trusty and devoted servants. How calculated are such facts to beget respect for the character and ways of God! How do they corroborate the doctrines of revelation, and humble the pride of man!
It is a solemn and bitter reflection, that the people of God must 2
be so frequently and severely chastised. That God should term them a hypocritical nation, and the people of his wrath, and let loose upon them the armies of idolatry, to scatter and peal them. But God will assuredly take care of his own people, and though many may perish who profess his name; still where he has begun a good work, he will not fail to employ the best means and the best agents, till the work be consummated, and the happy subjects are brought home to his kingdom.
II. There are several doctrines that these facts inculcate, which now claim our particular attention; each prominently suggested in the text. There is an important sense in which unregenerate men are the servants of the most high God. He employs them to bless his people. They mean not so. While they are doing their work, God restrains them. When their work is done, as God intended it should be, he will punish them for not doing his pleasure from right motives.
1. There is an important sense in which unregenerate men are the servants of the most high God. This general truth is seen distinctly in the service done by the Assyrian for backsliding Israel. God would send him, and would give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the
In support of the proposition, that ungodly men are the servants of the Lord, we say, He gave them being. He made all things for himself, yea even the wicked for the day of evil. If men have become alienated in their hearts, still God is their rightful Sovereign. His propriety in them is original and unalienable. If they have entered into the employ of the adversary, still God has given them no discharge from his service. His right to them as his creatures can admit of no question.
And it will not be denied that men, however offensive their character in the sight of God, are dependant on him as their Preserver and Benefactor. "In him we live, and move, and have our being." Said the Psalmist, "The eyes of all wait on thee, and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing." Thus wicked men are the property of God, and are preserved by him, two essential relationships between the master and his servants.
And he has occasionally styled them his servants. "I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the Lord, and Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant and I will bring them
against this land." His anointed, and his shepherd, are terms which God applied to Cyrus. And he commissioned the prophet to say to Israel, "The sons of strangers shall build up thy wall, and their kings shall minister unto thee-For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish." Thus the world, from its crowned heads to its meanest vassals, are constituted the servants of the Church of God.
And he assigns the ungodly their work, as the master does the servant. The law of God, in all its minute detail, is the rule of duty to every ungodly man. And he has sometimes specified the service which he required of individual sinners, still withholding from them a knowledge of his purpose. Sennacherib must scourge the backsliding Church, Nebuchadnezzar carry them to Babylon, and Cyrus restore them, and rebuild their city and their temple. Nebuchadnezzar was sent to punish the iniquity of Tyre, and was then directed to take Egypt as a prey. Thus have the enemies of God been assigned sometimes a specific task, as the master decides in what field each servant of his shall toil.
And God sits in judgment upon the service which unregenerate men do for him. I refer now, not to the last judgment, but to decisions which God passes, and punishments which he inflicts in the present life. Nor yet do I refer to judgments, which God inflicts upon the wicked generally, but to those instances when he has terribly reproved them, for not doing to his mind the very work assigned them. I shall notice here but a single case- -Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, was the Lord's sword to punish Israel, and all the nations bordering upon Israel. So eminently was he sustained as the Lord's servant, to scourge the nations, that destruction was threatened to every nation that did not submit to him. And still, in performing the very service for which he was thus made great, he so offended God as to render his overthrow as conspicuous as had been his pride, his insolence, and his oppressions.
I remark once more, in confirmation of the fact that wicked men are God's servants, that he rewards them for their labors. For the hard service which the king of Babylon performed against Tyre, in which every head was made bald, and every shoulder pealed, he was commissioned to go and take the spoil of Egypt as his reward. Indeed, so extensively was that man employed by the God of heaven, to scourge the enemies of Israel, and his own Church when they needed chastisement, that there went out in his behalf this wonderful edict: "I have given all these lands into the hands
of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and the beasts of the field have I given him also, to serve him; all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son's son, until the very time of his land come.". "The nations that bring their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, those will I let remain still in their own land, saith the Lord; and they shall till it and dwell therein." Even Israel was commanded, "Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him, and his people, and live." I will mention only one other case, out of scores that might he mentioned, where God rewarded a wicked man, for services done him. Jehu seems not to have been a man of God, but for the service he performed, in cutting off the house of Ahab, and destroying idolatry, his children, to the fourth generation, should sit upon the throne of Israel.
It is believed by many, that the promise contained in the fifth commandment, and all those which secure present prosperity to the liberal, are often fulfilled to ungodly men, who from wrong motives, have honored their parents, or been generous to the Church and people of God. Perhaps many a wealthy man in our land, who yet has no treasure laid up in heaven, has received his wealth of the Lord, in reward for deeds of kindness done his people, or exertions made to extend and bless his kingdom. With the measure they mete, it shall be measured to them again. If, without loving God, they will feed his children, and sustain his ministers, and spread his gospel, he will, without loving them, fill their barns with plenty, and cause their presses to burst out with new wine. It was perishable treasure that they loaned to him, in perishable materials he will reward them a thousand fold. But the wealth he bestows, since they gave him not their hearts, cannot be accounted a covenant blessing. It may be so abused in their hands, as to ripen them for an earlier destruction. May the mercy of a pardoning God prevent!
Thus do we argue, that wicked men are God's servants. He gave them being, is their preserver, and benefactor; has styled them his servants, has appointed them their work, sits in judgment upon the services they render him, and rewards them for their labors. I have not said they were servants in the same sense in which his people receive this appellation. Unhappily it is in a widely different sense. The one accomplishes his purposes with no such design, and is rewarded with the meat that perishes; the other receives the law at his mouth, does his will with design,
and has for his reward the meat that endureth to everlasting life. I proceed to the
2. Prominent suggestion of the text, God employs wicked men to bless his people. If God would say to his Church once, "For the nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish;" why has he not thus published to the world a permanent and established principle of his government? And if nations hold their being and their prosperity, on the condition that they subserve the interests of God's people, why do we not infer with assurance, that individuals are under the same law? Hence all the ungodly, and especially those who shall die in their sins, live to serve the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This subject is illustrated in the parable of the tares and the wheat; they must both grow together till the harvest. It is easy to see how grieved and injured would be many of the people of God, were not his enemies permitted to live. Remove the wicked husband, and the pious wife is a widow, poor, and dependant, and exposed to temptation and reproach; while her children, the seed of the covenant, are perhaps removed from her, must be uneducated, be reared without the means of grace, and in a world, cold, and inhospitable like this, might be constrained to beg their bread. Thus the promise of God would come to the ground.
In other cases, one who is not born of God may be, as it regards temporalities, the support of a Christian Church. His death might remove its faithful pastor, and the people perish for lack of vision. On the exertions of one wicked man may depend, in a variety of ways, the instruction of a vast number of the rising generation. God, then, will sustain him in life, and fill his storehouse with good things, and bless him, that he may bless others, and continue him down to the extremest old age.
It may happen that one who does not love God may be a valuable citizen or statesman. The pressure of government may be upon his shoulders, and a state or kingdom be greatly injured by his death, and ultimately the church suffer. Let both then grow together till the harvest. God has laid his plan, and will not abandon it, in which he has secured beyond the possibility of hazard, the best interests of his people.
We should have some difficulty in vindicating the ways of God, if the multitudes of the ungodly, especially those who at last perish, had no profitable employment in his world. A wise and good man would not make provision for the idle and the vagrant. He would be unwilling to foster inaction, or waste his property.