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the present instance was any other than a temporal punishment, nor that even this punishment was made heavier, though it was certainly made more conspicuous, than that which his former sins had demanded. “ There are,” says Jeremy Taylor, “ There are many secret and undeserved mercies,” _" of which men can give no account till they come to give God thanks at their publication, and of this sort is that mercy which God reserves for the souls of many millions of men and women concerning whom we have no hopes, if we account concerning them by the usual proportions of revelations and Christian commandments, and yet we are taught to hope some strange good things concerning them by the analogy and general rules of the Divine mercy.” “ He that usually imposes less, and is loth to inflict any, and very often forgives it all, is hugely distant from exacting an eternal punishment when the most that He threatened and gave notice of was but a temporal. The effect of this consideration I would have to be this, that we may publicly worship this mercy of God which is kept in secret, and that we be not too forward in sentencing all heathens and prevaricating Jews to the eternal pains of hell, but to hope that they have a portion in the secrets of the Divine mercy, where also, unless many of us have some little portions deposited, our condition will be very uncertain and sometimes most miserable.”
But be this as it may, there is no reason to believe that Pharaoh was the more severely punished, either in this world or the world to come, for what he did under judicial hardness. The ruin which he met with was what his previous crimes had called for. The sufferings which befell his subjects, their own sins had justly merited ; and all which God describes Himself as doing was to suspend awhile the appointed vengeance; to endure some little space the vessel of wrath fitted for destruction, that the blow when it came might be more exemplary to others, and might be more certainly ascer tained as the infliction of Almighty displeasure.
Nor is this all, for thirdly, the hardening of the heart, (which is a very common expression in Scripture) to those who recollect the opinion of the ancient Hebrews as to the seat of the reasoning faculties, is familiarly known to signify, not only an increase of obstinacy and impious resolution to resist the power of God, and the dictates of religion and mercy, but a confusion, moreover, of the natural understanding ; a blindness to our visible interest, a mad contempt of consequences, and that perverse and furious folly, which, like the hunted boar, presses with the greater violence on the
spear that pierces him.
It was not the wickedness of Pharaoh alone which could have prevented his perceiving, as his counsellors are expressly said to have perceived, that “ Egypt was destroyed”* by his repeated prevarication with Moses. His natural reason, had he
* Exodus x. 7.
retained the use of it, must have sufficiently instructed him in the prudence of yielding in time, nor can we ascribe his perseverance to any other cause than that which the heathen themselves have recognised as a part of the ordinary system of providence, that quos vult perdere prius dementat," that God makes those men mad whom He designs to bring to ruin.
There is, it should be recollected, and in the nature of things there must be, a period, how late soever, when the patience of the Almighty is at an end, and that grace is withdrawn which, had they made a timely use of it, would have opened the gates of mercy to the worst and most grievous offenders. But when the day of grace is over, it is of little consequence to the criminal, though to those who are to profit by his example it may be a ' matter of the greatest importance, and of exceeding wisdom and mercy, by what process of judicial infatuation or of providential circumstances the criminal is restrained from escaping the determined ruin. “ The king of Egypt,” the righteous God might say, “ hath long and grievously offended me. Like others, he had once his day of grace, in which my Spirit was not withheld, and in which he might have found the gates of repentance and acceptance open. But my Spirit shall not always strive with man; and that I have endured this wicked man so long is not in tenderness to him, but as a part of his punishment, and that his punishment might be more public and terrible. To
this end I have raised him up to a throne of which he is unworthy; to this end I have deprived him not only of the grace which he despised, but of that natural reason which even on worldly grounds, might have taught him to avoid the destined punishment. Let others learn from him that not only holiness but wisdom is mine to give or to withhold; and that he who seeks not after the one, may be made in the end to mourn the deprivation of the other. Thus have I hardened his heart by confusing his understanding; by withdrawing the only check which remained on his furious and unruly passions; and by leaving him to the consequences of those counsels which he originally preferred to the light of natural religion and the whispers of natural mercy."
From the case of Pharaoh, however, thus stated and explained, some very important practical corollaries may be derived for the instruction of believers.
We may learn, in the first place, from this memorable history, of how little positive advantage are those objects which the world most covets, such as wealth, and length of days, and elevated station, when we behold them, in the present instance, assigned to a wicked person in no strain of benediction, in no feeling of indulgence, but as tokens of anger and a part of his intended punishment. It was a knowledge of this truth which prevented David from murmuring at the prosperity of the ungodly, seeing, that by lifting them up
above the sons of men, the Almighty did, in fact, nothing else than set them in slippery places; that their rank and power served only to render them more conspicuously miserable, and was the scaffold on which they mounted that the world might behold their execution. So certain is it that the gifts of the Almighty are good or evil according to the persons on whom they are bestowed; and so carefully ought we to govern our lives, lest “our tables be made a snare to us, and that which should have been to our welfare, become a trap."
It is, secondly, a very awful consideration which arises from the present and many similar passages of Scripture, that men, while they yet live, may have so far exceeded the patience and long-suffering of God, as that His Spirit continues to strive with them no more, but that they are abandoned to their impenitent hearts, and, even in this world, are already sentenced. Such, as we have seen, appears to have been the case with Pharaoh; such, we certainly know, was the condition of those Jews over whom our Saviour lamented that “the things which belonged to their peace were thenceforth hidden from their eyes,” and of whom Isaiah had formerly testified, that “ the Lord would make their hearts gross, and their ears dull of hearing ;" such those were for whom, inasmuch as they had sinned the “ sin unto death,” St. John forbids us to pray; such those of whom St. Paul declares that
* Psalm lxix. 22.