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MATTHEW v. 25, 26. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst
thou art in the way with him ; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
Our Lord, in the preceding verses, enjoins it upon the man who had injured his christian brother, to go and be reconciled to him immediately, before he presumed to go to the altar of God, and there offer his gift. From this controversy between man and man, he makes a natural transition to the controversy between man and God, and directs the sinner to agree with his offended Maker quickly, while in the way of reconciliation with him, lest he should lose the precious opportunity of obtaining his favor, and fall under his just and everlasting displeasure. The text, without any further comment, obviously contains this serious and interesting truth :
That sinners must perish for ever, unless they become reconciled to God, their adversary, while he is in the way of reconciliation with them.
I. I shall show, what is implied in God's being an adversary to sinners. VOL. XI. No. 6.
II. Show what is implied in God's being in the way of reconciliation with them. And,
III. Show that if they refuse to be reconciled to him, while he is in the way with them, they must perish for ever.
I. What is implied in God's being an adversary to sinners.
Adversary, signifies one who is an opposer, an antagonist, an enemy. In this sense it is used in the text, to denote that God is at variance with sinners, has a controversy with them, and is alienated in his heart from them. This, however, does not mean, that he feels any such thing as malevolence towards them; for he is good unto all, and his tender mercies are over all his works; God feels truly benevolent to the evil and unthankful, to the disobedient and most incorrigible sinners. But his being an adversary to them implies, that he is really displeased with them. His benevolence hates their selfishness; his holiness hates their sinsulness. He is of purer eyes than to behold sin, without the utmost abhorrence and detestation. His infinite love to holiness creates an infinite aversion to unholiness. He is angry with the wicked every day, and his wrath continually abides upon them, when they lie down, and when they rise; when they go out, and when they come in; when they tread his courts, and when they neglect to attend them; and all the while they live to themselves, instead of living to him. He knows, that every imagination of the thoughts of their heart is evil, only evil, and that continually. He knows that all their affections are alienated from him, and all their actions are so many transgressions of his holy law. It is, therefore, morally impossible for him not to be displeased with them, while their hearts and lives are thus full of evil. And now his holy displeasure at sinners necessarily makes him their adversary, and sets him against them. How often does he say to the sinner, “ I am against thee ?" He says this no less than twelve times in the prophets. This is an awful declaration! It implies not only that the heart of God is against sinners, but that all his perfections are against them. His benevolence, his goodness, his justice, and his omnipotence, are all arrayed against them. “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no God with me; I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand; I lift my hand to heaven and say, I live for ever. If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment, I will render vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me.” Such a holy, just, and omnipotent adversary is God to sinners; who not only hates them, but, if they continue impenitent, will assuredly punish them as long as he and they exist.
II. He is in the way of reconciliation with them; which implies,
1. That he proposes terms upon which he is willing to be reconciled to them. And the terms he proposes are extremely gracious and condescending. He requires nothing more on their part, in order to a reconciliation, than that they should love him, whom they have hated without a cause, and return to him, from whom they have unreasonably revolted, in the way he has appointed. He has appointed his Son to be a Mediator between him and them. And as Mediator, he has suffered and died in their room, and made complete atonement for their sins; so that God can, through the medium of his Son, become reconciled to them, as soon as they renounce their enmity, “ accept the punishment of their iniquity," and cordially embrace the divine Redeemer. It was great condescension and grace in God to take the first step towards a reconciliation, by removing an insurmountable obstacle in the way of it, by giving the Son of his love, to suffer and die on the cross, to open the door of mercy; and it is great grace in God, after this, to propose a reconciliation upon the terms of the gospel. But he does graciously tender to sinners, pardon and salvation upon the terms of love, repentance, and faith. He says to them, “ I love them that love me; and they that seek me early shall find me.” “Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord.” “ Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.” “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price. Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God for he will abundantly pardon.” Here God proposes to be reconciled to sinners, and invites them to accept his gracious proposals. He treats them more kindly than they treat one another. They insist, that the offender ought first to propose terms of reconciliation to the offended, and not the offended to the offender. But God makes the first advance towards a reconciliation with sinners, and proposes the most reasonable terms; which demonstrates, that he is more ready t) be reconciled to them, than they are to him. He is in the way of reconciliation with them, while they are fleeing from him.
2. God not only proposes terms of reconciliation to sinners, but waits upon them to accept his gracious proposals. They ought to agree with their adversary quickly, while he is in the way of reconciliation with them; but being averse to a reconciliation, they are extremely prone to refuse and neglect to comply with his gracious proposals. Instead of returning to God, they love to wander from him; and instead of accepting his terms of mercy, they obstinately reject them, for which they deserve to be denied any further invitations. But God still waits to be gracious to them, and exercises great patience and forbearance towards them. He had rather they would accept than reject his offers; he had rather save, than destroy them. This he solemnly declares in his word, " As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel ?” “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim ? how shall I deliver thee, Israel ? how shall I make thee as Admah ? how shall 1 set thee as Zeboim ? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God and not man.” Agreeably to these merciful declarations, God has exercised astonishing patience towards sinners in every age of the world; nor has his forbearance yet failed. He is this day waiting upon thousands and millions of delaying sinners, who have, for many years, refused to hear and accept the terms of salvation. So long as God thus continues to propose terms of mercy to sinners, and waits upon them to accept his terms, he is certainly in the way of reconciliation with them. His long patience and forbearance towards them, are plain and infallible tokens of his sincere desire to be reconciled to them. His conduct perfectly harmonizes with his declarations.
3. God not only proposes terms of reconciliation to sinners, and waits upon them to accept the terms he proposes, but he uses a variety of means to induce them to become reconciled to him. He has appointed and authorized an order of men to carry on a treaty of reconciliation with mankind, and directed them to exhibit the most solemn and weighty motives before the minds of his revolted subjects, to acquaint themselves with him and be at peace. Hence, says the apostle, “All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation, to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though
God did beseech you by us; we pray you, in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.” When a prince not only proposes terms of reconciliation to his rebellious subjects, but also sends one ambassador after another, to beseech and persuade them, by the most powerful motives, to become reconciled to him, he gives the most convincing evidence that he sincerely desires to bring about a mutual reconciliation, that he may forgive and save them from deserved punishment.
But besides his speaking to sinners by his ambassadors, who employ the words of reconciliation, God speaks to them by his providence, which has a voice which they are constrained to hear, and a meaning, which they are constrained to understand and feel. This is a method which he employs after all other means of reconciliation have failed. - Therefore, thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, I will melt them, and try them; for how shall I do for the daughter of my people?" And again he says, “I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face; in their affliction they will seek me early.” Invitations of mercy and scenes of prosperity often harden the hearts of sinners, but afflictions have a more powerful tendency to melt and soften their hearts. These melted and softened the heart of the obdurate Manasseh. God often melts, and softens, and purifies the hardest hearts in the furnace of affliction, whilst he is in the way of reconciliation with sinners. In a word, he leaves no proper methods unemployed to bring them to a cordial reconciliation upon the terms of the gospel. I now proceed to show,
III. That those who refuse to become reconciled to God, while he is in the way with them, must for ever perish. This will clearly appear, if we consider,
1. That the day of grace and reconciliation will close with the close of life. Life is the only accepted time and day of salvation. It is only in this world that God is in the way of reconciliation with sinners. He will wait no longer than this life lasts, to be gracious to them. As soon as they cease to live, they will cease to be prisoners of hope. Christ exhorts the sinner in the text to agree with his adversary quickly, lest his delay should prove fatal. In the parable of the ten virgins, he taught delaying sinners, that the door of mercy will, ere long, be shut against them. In the parable of the talents, he taught slothful, delaying sinners, that the close of life will put a final period to all opportunities of doing and getting good. And in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, he taught both saints and sinners, that death will close their probationary state, cause a final separation between them, and fix them in an unalterable condition. If this be true, the