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PASTOR OF TIIE GOVERNMENT STREET CHURCH, MOBILE, ALA.
RETRIBUTION PROVIDED FOR IN THE LAWS OF NATURE.
". There is nothing hid that shall not be manifested."- Mark 4: 22. Compare with this, Luke 12 : 8. “ Whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light."
As might be expected in a revelation from God, the Bible contains matters that are striking ; some that are obscure and mysterious, and some that are strange, startling, and at the first glance seemingly incredible. Wbile yet reflection, patient examination, and sometimes the lapse of time itself, may serve to dissipate that obscurity, and to render plain and intelligible what once appeared incomprehensible. Nany prophetic passages, once dark and unfathomable, have been thus elucidated. Other passages also, such as the text, “There is nothing hid that shall not be manifested ;” and again, "Whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light;" and again, such as this, "For every idle word that men speak, they shall give account thereof,"-mere hyperbole though we might perhaps, on a first hearing, deem them, may yet, on a little patient examination, be found to be literally, strictly, and severely true. Such patient examination I invite you with me to give to the subject of retribution; to the position warranted by my text, that, In all we do, we are responsible ; and the consequences of our doings, without one exception, we must meet !
That man is thus responsible, as a moral agent, a great many plain and weighty considerations combine to show; as, e. g,:
1st. His structure implies it. Man, like all other created beings, is dependent for continued existence, and for the supply of his ever-recurring wants, on the God that made him. But there is a wide, a marked distinction between man and all other of earth's living occupants. Like the beasts that roam around him, man has sprung from the ground he treads on, and he is nour ished on the supplies yielded by earth in her increase. Like them, too, man is subject to infirmity, disease, suffering, and death. But, unlike the other denizens of the earth, man has a spiritual as well as a mere animal nature ; he has an intelligent mind, no less than a material body. An immaterial spirit forms the essence of the living man; exhibiting powers, capacities, and susceptibilities, which appear to be entirely wanting in the brute creation. Now, it is a universally admitted axiom among thinking men, that God has made nothing in vain ; and that all the several parts of things, the various objects in nature, are adapted the one to the other, and to the whole. E. y.: The root, the trunk, the branch, the sap-vessels, and the leaves in plants ; the gills, the fins, and the air-bladder in fishes; the structure and position of the eye, the ear, the stomach, &c., and the form and structure of the teeth in land animals, and of the wings and feathers in birds,-each and all show clearly the ends they were designed to serve, and the element or medium in which they were intended to be used. So invariable are the rules applicable in such cases, that from the skeleton, ay, from the mere fragment of a bone, scientific skill will determine with precision the position, the size, the power, and the use of the muscles, that bone was designed to sustain in the living animal,—the food on which that animal was nourished, the instincts by which it was moved, the element in which it lived, and thie habits of its daily life.
Nor are the laws established and operating in the world of ittellect and emotion, the world of spiritual life, less definite or less stable than are those stamped on physical nature.
There is, in every human breast, inherent and deep-seated, a feeling that a right and a wrong there is. To distinguish between right and wrong, in most instances, there is the capacity; and invariably there is a feeling of obligation to adhere to the right and to shun the wrong. When this inward monitor urging adberence to the right is disregarded, and inclination to the wrong is yielded to in defiance of conviction, there speedily follows a feeling of uneasiness, a self-condemnation, and in many instances a dread of coming evil, consequent on that wrong doing. Now, this capacity to judge of the right, this conviction of obligation to adhere to the right, this self-condemnation, and this uneasy, though indefinite apprehension, the result of disregarding conscience when wrong is done, are all peculiar to man; we see no indication of anything like them in the brute creation. They distinguish man above all other tennants of our globe; they prove him a moral agent.---so made, as that he acts ever under the weight of responsibility for his doings ; and they do therefore furnish a strong probability that, evidently capable of responsibility, responsible he is for his doings, and that he will be held and treated as such by his Maker. Otherwise, all these large capaci. ties and distinctive susceptibilities have been given to him in vain. The very conformation of man, his moral structure and capacities, bespeak lim responsible at all times. But further :
2d. The Divine perfections confirm this view. That there is a distinction between right and wrong is undeniable, and that adherence to right is conducive to the peace of society, and to the personal happiness of each individual, is certain. Nearly all the pains we feel and the unhappiness we experience are the result of wrong doing somewhere, either in ourselves or in others. To repress evil is to contribute to human happiness, and to do so much toward the banishinent of unhappiness. To repress evil and to promote the right, therefore, benevolence itself would prompt. Now, inasmuch as justice is nothing other than an enlarged benevolence,-in other words, justice is benevolence guided by wisdom,-justice must demand that evil be repressed and the right fostered. If, then, the punishment of evil doers, and that in exact proportion to the milignancy of the evil and the guilt of the evil doer, be the best, or if it be even an appropriate means of repressing evil, then justice and benevolence both de. mind that man be held strictly responsible for his doings, and punished according to his demerit. But God, our Maker, is a being of absolute perfection, wise, benevolent, and just. In making mın such as he is-capable of discerning between good and evil, instinctively impelled to do what seems to him right, and to avoid the contrary, and certain also to find his happiness and his entire well-being affected by his own conduct directly, and by the conduct of others almost as directly-God has, by the very perfections of his own nature, guaranteed the responsibility of man, and the punishment, in strictest justice, of all ill doing.
In this world such award is not always made. Sometimes it is, and strikingly so ; as, e. g.," when evil hunts the violent man to overthrow him." But very often such award is not here rendered; for the wicked do, not seldom, live through a long and prosperous career, and die surrounded with hovors. But the immortality of min assures us that hereafter there may be ample opportunities to clear up all difficulties, and vindicate the justice of a righteous God!
For, 31. The Bille emphatically asserts this doctrine, telling ug of retribution awaiting all!
“ God hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the worldin righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance into all men in that he hath raised him from the deal.” “We must all appear before the judgment seat
Wo of Christ, that every man may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done whether it be goodor whether it be evil.” Again, " Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also rep."
Again, “ For every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment !" and the text, “There is nothing hid that shall not be manifested.” From these and sundry other passages of Scripture, it is plain that, if words can convey the idea, then the Bible does teach that retribution actually awaits every man, and that, for all his doings, he shall be called to a strict account. “The secrets of all hearts shall be made plain.”
Further, 4th. There is and there always has been, an instinctive expectation of such retribution awaiting him, universally felt by man everywhere.
of all this, the pangs of a guilty conscienoe, which no prosperity can quell, no honors can dissipate, no earthly distinctions can thoroughly allay, furnish clear indication. Agitated by remorse for his misdeeds, even when no apprehension of punishment from the hand of man could be felt, the guilty perpetrator of evil, high though he might be in command among his fellow-men, has found his prosperity unavailing, his joys embittered, and his very life a burden! Conscious guilt has driven men to voluntary confession of their crimes, and has impelled them to solicit punishment at the hand of human justice, as though with the hope of propitiating offended IIeaven, and making some expiation, by present suffering, and so averting, or at least mitigating the Divine vengeance. Moreover,
The religious system of every nation under heaven recognizes, in some shape, the doctrine of human responsibility and a future judgment. You see it in the ancient tenets of China ; in the Budhist doctrines of Hindostan ; in the classical myths of Pluto and his infernal domains, of Charon the ferryman of the Styx, of Minos, the inflexible judge of the dead, with the fabled joys of the shadowy Elysium, and the varied horrors of Tartarus. You see it in the trial of the dead among the ancient Egyptians, in their doctrine of the judgment of souls before the god Osiris, with the scribe of judgment, the god Thoth, and the forty-two judges in the region of Amenti.* It is stamped upon every line of their long ritual of the dead, in every pictured chamber of their countless tombs, and on every sarcophagus, on every minimy, and on every papyrus roll drawn from their innumerable cemeteries. Similar tenets have been found prevalent among the aboriginal hordes of this western continent, north and south; yea, even among the barbarous tribes roaming in the heart of Africa, recognizing a future life, a judgment after death, and punishments varied and appropriate to the delinquencies that had marked the life on earth of those arraigned in judgment; all, all evincing the presence in man's breast, find him when and where you may, of a deep-seated belief, that each act of man's life will, sooner or later, meet with its
proper reward. But it is well to observe also,
* See Wilkinson's Manners and Customs of Ancient Egyptians, 20 series, vol II, pp. 2, 3, 74, 75,
5th. That many facts of every day occurrence seem to foreshadow such retribution on the evil doer.
If this life be probationary merely, then the full administration of justice can hardly be looked for at all times; and we know that many offenders do, in fact, long enjoy impunity. And yet, if God be just and all-wise, we may reasonably expect that he will so govern the world, and so shape the course of events, as that guilt shall be evidently frowned on, and uprightness and virtue favored as a general thing. And so, in fact, we find it to be. Virtue usually insures happiness and respectability. Vice is generally productive of misery; and although, now and then, daring offenders seem to escape with entire impunity, yet most generally evil doing does, sooner or later, yield a bitter return of shame, infamy, remorse and wretchedness: No caution can elude the Omniscient Eye; no skill can control the steady movements of Providence, which work to the detection and punishment of the deeply criminal. No daring can outface justice, or prevent its sure, though it may be tardy, vengeance. The guilty perpetrator of wrong may burrow in darkness, and work his secret way by cunning stealth. It avails him only for a time. Justice may seem to slumber long and profoundly ; the guilty perpetrator of secret crime may be congratulating himself on his security ; years my elapse after the commission of the evil deed ; the guilty one may migrate to far-distant lands, and settle in a strange place, under a strange climate, and in a society where he himself is a stranger; and yet the seeds of vengeance sowu by his own hand in the very act of his evil doing, years and years agone, shall all this time be germinating, and ready to shoot up to sudden and fruitful maturity, in disease that shall waste his frame and shorten his life, or in evidence of his guilt, that, like the fast multiplying threads of a spider's web, shall be accumulating around him, and closing in upon him, and bringing on exposure, infamy, ruin, and wretchedness, complete and incurable." The wicked shall not be unpunished.” God has said it, and facts occurring every day prove it true! Hide where he may, fee wither-oever he may, justice sure, though tardy, dogs his footsteps, and with the certainty of fate, falls upon himn in vengeance at a time and in a mode oft least expected. The grand lesson stamped upon every page of man's history is, God is just, and retribution is certain. For,
6th Man's intellectual structure prepares him for it! As a preparation to fill re:ponsibility there is needed, not only reason to qualify for the investigation of truthi,-judgment aided by the moral sense to decide what is wrong and what right in the several emergences of life as they arise,-to rether with conscience, that faculty which includes a sease of obligation to do right and to shu evil, -and also self condemnation or remorso