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BY ELIHU THAYER
GE ESIS, xviii. 32. And he said, Oh, let not the Lord be angry ; and I will speak but this once. Peradventure ten shall be found there ; and he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake* THE conduct of God towards mankind from the beginning evidently proves two things. , 1. That God is fixedly and unalterably opposed to sin ; or to that temper and conduct in his creatures which are inconsistent with, and contrary to universal goodness ; and that he really delights in those, who ^are actuated by a spirit of universal justice and kindness. And indeed it is necessa^, that a being of absolute perfection should approve of those moral qualities jn creatures, by which they resemble him, and be displeased with the contrary. ( 2. God's conduct towards mankind shows that he considers himself the moral governor of the world;
52 God^s Regard to the Righteous, whose proper business it is to examine the conduct of creatures, and whose office it is to treat every one according to his deeds. A remarkable instance of this, we have in the history of Sodom and Gomorrah, of which our text is a part. These were neighbouring cities, situated upon that spot of ground which now forms the dead sea. These cities, long before this, had received signal favours from the hand of Abraham i particularly their salvation from the Assyrians,
who were leading them away captive, when Abraham who followed them, with his household servants only, destroyed the Assyrians with a great slaughter, and delivered their captives. After this, they lived in peace, and increased in wealth and numbers. The prophet mentions idleness and fulness of bread as the sources of their corruption. Both sacred and profane history has marked their character, as infamous for unnatural lusts toward each other. The very name of their city, has given a name to a crime which I shall forbear to mention. On account of this and other abominable corruptions, God determined to destroy them in the most terrible manner. He therefore made their punishment as awful as their crimes ; and has made them an example to all succeeding generations of his indignation against sin. And while God determined to show his abhorrence of the wickedness, — the peculiar vileness of Sodom and Gomorrah, by destroying them with fire from heaven, and even burning up the very earth on which they stood ; so he has here given a peculiar display of his kindness and affection for all who love and fear God. *' And the Lord said shall I s
tjod^s Regard to the Righteous. 53 hide from Abraham, the thing which I do," that is, in destroying Sodom. The love of God to Abraham is discovered in letting him know what he was about to do with Sodom. God thus gave him an opportunity to show his benevolence and concern for sinners, and doubtless designed to show him, and all the friends of God, the efficacy of importunate prayer. It is natural for friends to communicate their designs and purposes to each other ; and thus the infinite God condescends to treat a worm of the dust, who is friendly to
his Maker. " And the Lord said because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is Very grievous, I will go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, and if not I will know." ot that we are to suppose, that there was any uncertainty in the divine mind, what the character and conduct of Sodom were. In this plape, and in many others in scripture, the holy one of Israel speaks of himself after the manner of man. The angels, who appeared to Abraham, and were probably the executioners of divine wrath, upon this awful occasion, went their way towai'ds Sodom. Abraham, who possessed a heart tenderly affected both for the honour of God and the interest of his fellowmen, seems to have been alarmed at this just, but awful determination of God, lest he, in this case, should make no distinction between the righteous and wicked, but bury them in one common ruin. For the threatening was against the cities in general, without any exceptions. And Abraham doubtless believing that Lot, his nephew, was a pious man, and, as a god-
54 Qod^s Regard to the Righteous^ ly temper is always a charitable temper, he hoped tliat there were others there of the same character ; aiid therefore concluded, that should God destroy the righteous with the wicked, mankind would take occasion to blaspheme the name of God, and say, that he did not regard the righteous any more than the wicked, Abraham was, no doubt, sufficiently acquainted with human nature to conclude that such an improvement would be made of the promiscuous destruction of both these characters ; and was ready to say, as Moses said on a similar occasion, " what will become of the glory of thy great name ?" We are informed that when the angels had departed from Abraham, he drew near to God, — doubtless in prayer,
as this is the way in which sinful creatures approach him ; and said, " 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 from thee. Sliall BOt the Judge of all the eaith do right ? — And the Lord said, if I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, I will spare all the place for their sakes." But it seems, that Abraham was doubtful whether such a number could be found there ; and therefore was desirous of interceding for the city, even if the number of godly persons should be but very small. Being sensible, he was in the presence of his Maker, — the Judge of all the earth, and impressed with a solemn
God^s Refrard to the Jiighfeous, 55 sense of his majesty and glory, — and with a deep sense of his own littleness and uriworthiness, to be permitted to have such intercourse with God in prayer, he introduces his next petition with this observation, expressive both of Jiis sense Of the majesty of God, and his Own un worthiness, '" behold now I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lbrti, who am but dust and ashes ; peradventure there • shtill lack five of the fifty righteous, wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, if I fitid there forty and five, I will not destroy it. And he spake unto him yetagain and said, peradventure there shall be forty found there ; and he saidi will not destroy itfor forty'ssake. Andhe said unto him, Oh, let not the Lord be angry and Iwill speak ; peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said I will not do it, if I find thirty there. And he said, behold now I have taken upon me to speak jinito the Lord ; peradventure there shall be twenty fotirid
th^re. And he said I will not destroy it for twenty's sake. And he said, Oh, let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak but this once ; peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said I will not destroy it for ten's sake. And the Lord went his ^vay as soon as he had left communing with Abraham, and Abraham returned unto his place." I would here observe, that this whok narration gives us the idea of a personal conference, and leaves no room. to doubt, but that he, who is liere called Jehovah, was the same \\^ho afterwards in human nature said, "I and the Father are one,", artd " he that hath seen me haith seen the Father." Hence we infer, that this was an anticipation of the future ii^-
56 God's Regard to the Righteous, carnation of the Son of God' — " God was manifested in the flesh." In this conversation with Abraham, God discovered his love to him as an individual saint, and in his gracious answers to his petitions, he manifested his love and care of the righteous in general. God taught Abraham, and indeed all the succeeding friends of God, that such is his delight in the righteous, who, considered in themselves, are fallen, guilty creatures, yet because they have " a little strength," he will restrain his anger from falling upon the wicked,, rather than a few righteous persons should suffer in the calamity. For the sake of ten righteous persons, God would have spared all the wicked inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, consisting of many thousands. These words therefore contain the two following propositions, I. God has a peculiar love to, and care over the righteous. II. Such is God's love to the righteous, that the wicked are often spared, and their punishment delayed
for their sake. 1. God has a peculiar love, and care of the righteous. This implies, that there is a real difference between the characters of those who are called righteous and wicked. This moral distinction of character is the foundation of that love and regard, whioh God has ever felt and expressed towards the one, and of that displeasure, which he has felt and expressed towards the other character. Some have supposed that there is no such thing as true religion, that all the professions of love to God, for his excellency and glory,
God^s Regard to the Righteous . 57 are deceitful, and hypocritical. But our text, and indeed the whole bible, clearly hold up this difference, and the whole is false, or there is an essential distinction between the characters of men. There are persons, who really and truly love God, above every other object, and place his honour and the interest of his kingdom uppermost in their hearts. And there are others, who not only have no love to God ; but in heart are unfriendly to him. His true character is the object of their aversion. The following is the chai'acter of all the impenitent world, " The carnal mind is enmity against God, is not subject to his law neither indeed can be." This is the source of all the wickedness in the world. This like a full fountain is continually pouring itself into a multitude of streams. Sin consists in an unfriendly heart to God, the fountain of all being, and sum of excellence and perfection. But were mankind universally friendly to God, they would of consequence be friends to holiness, and enemies to sin ; and therefore would be objects of the divine approbation and delight. And in proportion to the degree of their love to God, sin would be banished out of the world. — But when Ave attend to facts — the
words and actions of men, we shall find, that in general, tliey are possessed of a very different character. Truly in many things all offend, and come short of that perfect love to God, which is his due ; yet notwithstanding the great and general wickedness of the world, there always have been, and always will be those who love God sincerely and supremely. Such persons are the objects of the divine complacency and 9
58 God''s Regard to the Righteous. care. That this is indeed true will appear from two sources of evidence. 1. From divine testimony. The precious promses made to all such characters are evidences of the love and approbation of God. The whole body of the godly in every age compose the church of God ; and every good thing, which is any where promised in Scripture to the church, as a collective body, every pious man has an interest in ; especially in all those promises of spiritual good things secured by promise, to the church. So on the other hand, in every thing of a spiritual nature, promised to any particular person, as a believer, the whole church is interested. This love and care of God for the righteous are exhibited in the titles which he gives himself, or in what he is to them. To the church in trouble he says, " Fear not for I am with thee, be not dismayed for I am thy God." When God entered in covenant with Abraham ; this was its condition, " Walk before me, and be thou perfect.'* By perfect here is not meant legal perfection ; if so, no flesh living could ever comply with its condition. But in a gospel sense, a man is said to be perfect, when he has a sincere and governing respect to all parts of duty, pointed out in the divine commands ; though the degree and intenseness of his affections,
with respect to their objects, fall short of the requirements of the law in every instance. And this kind of perfection is required of mankind, in order to their becoming parties in the covenant of grace. To such as comply with this condition of the covenant, God hath said, " I will be a God unto thee." This im-
God's Regard to the Righteous. 5^ plies, that God will defend them by his power, and make every thing in this world work for their good, and at length will receive them to glory. This is the sum of what God promised to Abraham ; and the Apostle considers the gift of Christ, and all the glorious blessings resulting to the church through him, as the fulfilment of this promise. There is no good thing promised in the bible, which is not impUed in this promise, " I will be a God to thee and to thy seed after thee."" In this promise, the church, in all ages, has had great support and comfort. In this sense God is not the God of the wicked. They have never taken hold of his gracious covenant, and have no part in its promises. 2. The love and care of God for the righteous may be inferred from the relation, in which he stands to them, which is that of a Father. A father has a peculiar affection for his children, and is never more happy, than when providing for the safety, health and happiness of his family. He lays up wealth for his children, and when he dies, makes them his heirs. God is the father of the righteous, and loves them with infinite tenderness ; and the love of the kindest earthly parent can never equal the love of God to his people. Hence God says, " Can a woman forget her sucking child?" a thing very unlikely, yet not impossible; " yet will not I forget thee." *' I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with lov ing kindness
liave I drawn thee." He has set his people " as a seal upon his arm, and as a seal upon his heart." For this reason he warned Pharaoh of the danger of detaining
60 GocPs Regard to the Righteous, and oppressing Israel in Egypt, " Israel is my son, even my first bom, and if thou wilt not let him go, that he may serve me, I will slay thy son, even thy first bom." A tender parent is very sensible of inju* ries done to his children, because he is more tenderly affected towards them than others. And such is the love of God to his people, that he says of them, " He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye." 3. God has expressed his love and care for the righteous, not only in his word, but in his conduct. Love is manifested by a constant and careful attention to the beloved object, when in danger ; and a readiness to afford assistance in seasons of difficulty ; and the strength, or degree of this love is discovered, in the tilings it will do for the good of its object. See this love and care of God, toward the righteous, displayed in the salvation of oah and his family, who were the only righteous persons on the earth, when he brought the flood upon the world of the ungodly. When God had determined to destroy the world for its wickedness, he acquainted oali with his design, and pointed out to him the way and means of escape. Thus God took peculiar care of Abraham, that no man should hurt him ; and reproved kings for his sake ; and made him great and prosperous in a strange land. See the love and care of God strikingly exhibited in the preservation and exaltation of Joseph in Egypt ; and in the deliverance of Israel from tlieir bondage in that land. But I must not pass over the tender expressions of divine love to Lot and his family. It is very evident, that Lot was the only pious man in
God^s Regard to the Righteous, 61 Sodom ; and some of his family shared in his deliverance, because of their connexion with him. How remarkably was the care of God displayed towaids righteous Lot, when he would no longer bear with the wickedness of that people ! The destruction of Sodom seems to have been committed to two angels, who after they had left the tent of Abraliam, called, in the evening on Lot, who lived in Sodom, and acquainted him with their commission, and directed him to fly with his family to the mountain, without the limits of the dreadful conflagration. Lot believed that the city would be destroyed, and therefore went out and " spake unto his sons in law ; but his words seemed unto them asone who mocked. ' ' Why have good men believed, and why do they still believe, that God will destroy the wicked? Is it because they have no benevolence ? Read over again the intercession of Abraham for Sodom, and say, whether he discovered a want of feeling for the wicked. Why then did Abraham and Lot believe, that God would destroy the wicked, ^vhile the men of Sodom, disbelieved it. The reason is, Abraliam, Lot, and all pious men have different views of the evil of sin, from the wicked. And while Lot lingered, desirous of persuading his friends to go with him, " the angels laid hold on his hand, and upon the hand of his wife, and upon the hand of his two daughters, the Lord being merciful unto him.'* The angels assured him, they could do nothing until he was gone ; that is, they could not destroy the city, while one righteous man remained in it. God's regard to one true saint was sufficient to restrain
62 God^s Regard to the Righteous. his anger from falling on tliis wicked city. When the angels had led him out of the city, and directed him to fly to the mountain, the natural apprehension of danger, from being left defenceless in the wildeniess, among wild beasts, took possession of his mind ; and he requested, that he might retire to Zoar, a little city in the confines of Sodom, which, with the cities of the plain, was to have been destroyed. Lot said, " Behold now, thy servant hath found grace in thy sight, and thou hast magnified thy mercy, which thou hast shewed unto me in saving my life, and I caimot escape to the mountain lest some evil take me, and I die ; behold now, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one. Oh let me escape thither, (is it not a little one ?) and my soul shall live." Though Lot might have rested sure that God, who had taken care to save him from the destruction of the city, would have protected him in the wilderness ; yet God, in condescension to the natural infirmities of human nature, not only grants his request, but saves the city on his account. " And he said unto him. See, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city, for the which thou hast spoken." I might multiply instancesaim ost without number, in which the love of God has been manifested to his people, all along through the Jewish dispgisation ; in the time of Christ and his apostles ; in the miraculous preservations they experienced, and their inward supports and comforts under their trials : but this is unnecessary. We have already in some degree anticipated our
God^s Begard to the Righteous. GS II. Head, which was to show, that such is the love of God to the righteous, that he often spares the wicked for their sakes. This observation is true of the
world at large. That God may accomplish his designs of mercy to his church, is the only reason, why the world is continued. God saves the world of sinners from destruction, for the sake of his people, who are scattered up and down in it. Were it not for these, God would soon destroy the earth. This may be argued, from what God has done in times past, when the world universally, ( oah and his family excepted) had become wicked. God provided for their safety, and the world was immediately destroyed. While Lot continued in Sodom, it was spared ; but as soon as he departed, the flame kindled. When he entered Zoar, this little city had a pledge of its safety. And had there been only ten such characters as Lot found in these cities, they would have been saved for their sake. How often did God spare the Jewish nation, for the sake of a pious few, who were among them ! This was particularly the case in the time of Elijah ; God had then reserved unto himself seven thousand, who had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal ; and the nation \\2ls saved for their sakes. The prophet Isaiah confirms this sentiment, that God spares the wicked for the sake of the righteous among them. In his day, that nation were extremely corrupt, and he assigns this as the reason, why they were not destroyed, like Sodom and Gomorrah. " Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto
64 God's Regard to the Righteous. Gomorrah. These brief observations may be sufficient to bring to your recollection, a truth abund antlv taught in the word of God. Some useful remarks will now close. IMPROVEME T.
1. This subject teaches us the meaning of Christ's words to his disciples, " Ye are the salt of the earth." Christians preserve the world from ruin — from greater degrees of corruption, as salt does those substances, with which it is mixed. God saves the world for their sakes ; and by their example, influence and prayers, the world enjoys many blessings. When God bestows temporal blessings on the wicked, he does it in answer to the prayers of the righteous. And when he bestows spiritual blessings, it is done in answer to prayer. When Zion travails, in prayer to God, she brings forth spiritual children. 2. This subject teaches us, that there are yet those in the world, who love and fear God. God spares the wicked, and bestows innumerable mercies upon the world. This is an evidence that there are righteous men in the world. Though we have reason to fear, that their number is comparatively small, yet doubtless, God now has a seed to seek him, and a generation to serve him, on whose account the wicked receive favours, while God is gathering in his people. 3. This subject shows us, that the wicked have no reason to conclude, that it is out of regard to them, that God bestows favours on them. God is angry with the wicked, while he bestows his favours abund-
God^s Regard to the Righteous* 65 antly upon them. The rich man in the gospel dropped into hell amidst the temporal blessings of God. It is the manner of God to bestow favours on sinners in mercy to his people. These favours are distributed among mankind generally, that his own people, who live among them, may be comfortable. Were they all removed, as they were from Sodom, you who disregard God, and your duty, might expect to receive
very different treatment. This consideration should teach you, not to judge of your state by the common mercies of divine Providence ; for in these, God lets the wicked share with the righteous, and indeed for the sake of the righteous. 4. This subject shows us that the wicked, in opposing and persecuting, in all ages, the people of God, have acted directly contrary to their own interest. ** He that is upright in his way is an abomination to the wicked." The wicked are unfriendly to the people of God. See this exemplified in Sodom. How did the vile inhabitants of this wicked city treat Lot ? They reviled him, they assaulted his house ; and would have committed the vilest abuse, had he not been defended by his heavenly guests. How directly against their interest did they conduct ! Lot was their only defence; yet how did they abuse him! This spirit of opposition, had it an unrestrained influence, would extirpate the people of God from the earth. This spirit has risen to great heights at particular periods, of the world. Rivers of blood have been shed to destroy the church of God, while the persecutors little thought, that for the sake of the 10
^6 God^s Regard to the Righteous* righteous, they were suffered to live, and enjoy the comforts of life ; and that had they obtained their wish^ it would have been their own destruction. God's love and care for the righteous may well make them thankful, watchful, and humble. Thank-
ful, because, it is by grace they are, what they are— watchful, that they do nothing to offend so kind and gracious a preserver. Humble, that they serve him with so much iitconstancy, and with no more ardency of affectipn. Think on this and be humble.
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