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THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD.
HEBREWS, X. 31.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
SOME perhaps, when they hear these words, may
“ Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His
mercies are great ; and let me not fall into the hands of men.” Let us experience God's judgments, and not men's. Strictly speaking, indeed, every thing that befalls us is God's judgment, whether it comes upon us through the instrumentality of nature or of man. And again, on the other hand, it is very possible that nothing, whether it come from nature or from man, may seem to us to be God's judgment; we may see in it nothing beyond the instrument, and not look up to its Author. But still, undoubtedly we are more apt to see God's hand in what we call natural visitations, than in those brought on us by man; and therefore they are far more apt to do us good. And the reason of this is evident. In evils brought on us by the hand of man, the injustice, or cruelty, or dishonesty of the instrument, that is to say of the man, hinders us from looking any further; and as injustice and cruelty excite our anger, we are rather disposed to be angry with another than with ourselves; we think not of our own sin, but of our enemy's wickedness. And this is a great aggravation of his wickedness, and is indeed one of the worst parts of all injustice, that it is likely to do not a worldly injury only, but a spiritual one besides ; by exciting in the mind of him to whom it is offered such feelings as lead him away from his great business, the business of watching his own heart and conduct.
We may reasonably pray, then, to fall into the hands of the Lord, and not into the hands of men. We may pray to be visited rather with sickness, or with poverty, produced by no fault, but simply by misfortune, or with the loss of friends by death, than to meet with ill usage, with neglect, injustice, cruelty, unkindness, than to lose our friends through their fault or folly. But the reason why we may thus pray, is, that by falling into the hands of God, and by feeling that we are doing so, we shall escape falling into His hands hereafter. For now His mercies are great, but then His judgments will be intolerable.
If we have attended to the lesson read this afternoon from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we may have observed how, amidst the fullest dwelling on the mercy of Christ's sacrifice, it also contains some of the most solemn language of warning that is to be met with anywhere in Scripture. It warns us of the infinite danger of falling back, if we have begun to do well; of neglecting that great salvation offered us, if we have never begun to be in earnest at all. It declares that a worse judgment shall overtake those, who are disobedient now, than ever fell on those who broke the law of Moses. Thus there is, even in our dispensation of mercy, a place left for heavier judgment than existed even in what is called the dispensation of death.
This is, of all the revelations of Scripture, the one which men can least bear. They would fain find something of hope, something of mitigation, even in the heaviest sentences of God's anger. They would fain believe that all shall be well at the last. Most natural is it for flesh and blood so to wish; most natural that the strong wish should labour to become belief. And in this matter, where the temptation to deceive ourselves with a false belief is so great,—where the truth, however unwelcome, is yet one which bears on it so much of practical importance --where, in short, it is God's declaration on the one hand opposed by all the suggestions of our evil nature on the other, what security for our faith has God provided,—on what authority is the truth made known to us,with what plainness and fulness is it expressed? It is worth while to observe this, whilst so many are again endeavouring to revive the old arch falsehood of the enemy of our souls, and pretend that the Scriptures are not enough for us, that they are not plain enough or full enough, that their view requires to be adjusted and interpreted according to the standard of man's tradition. How is it with the great matter of which I have been speaking, our condition hereafter? Are we left to pick this out from obscure or ambiguous passages, on which the interpretations and traditions of the Church can alone throw a clear and decisive
light? Are we told to go to some writer who lived so near the Apostles' time, that he could not have mistaken their doctrine; although it be notorious that they themselves, till the Holy Spirit came upon them to lead them into all truth, did often mistake the doctrine of their Lord, even while they were continually hearing Him? Not so, my brethren. God has not willed that we should rest on that rotten staff, which His word earnestly exhorts us to cast away. The declaration of His truth is in His own Scriptures, clear and full: no man can mistake, no man can dispute its meaning. None was ever so foolish as to try to strengthen it by the testimonies of Councils or Fathers; for we have it in the words of Christ Himself, who knew with the knowledge of divinity the certainty of the things which He uttered. He said of Judas, that it were good for him if he had never been born. He said that His own sentence on the wicked at the last day should be, “ Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Can that be inconsistent with God's mercy, which is declared by Him who laid down His life for us? Are we more wise than Christ? Are we more full of love than He is, that our measure of what is true and just and good should be one that we may dare to prefer to His ?
Observe, again, that where authority is really