THE DIFFERENT PORTIONS OF THE RIGHTEOUS AND WICKED
Ecc_2:26. God giveth to a man that is good in his sight, wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail.
IN relation to earthly things, men run into two opposite extremes: some seeking their happiness altogether in the enjoyment of them; and others denying themselves the proper and legitimate use of them, in order that they may amass wealth for some future possessor. But both of these classes are unwise: the former, in that they look for that in the creature which is not to be found in it; and the latter, in that, without any adequate reason, they deprive themselves of comforts which God has designed them to enjoy. A temperate use of the good things of this life is no where forbidden: on the contrary, “there is,” as Solomon informs us, “nothing better for a man. than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour.” Doubtless this concession must be taken with certain restrictions; for we are not to spend all our substance on ourselves, but to be doing good with it to others: nor are we to suppose that our life consists in the abundance of the things that we possess, but to be seeking our happiness in God. That which alone will impart solid happiness, is religion: for to the good man God giveth what shall render him truly blessed; namely, “wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail.”
From these words I shall take occasion to shew you,
The different portions of the righteous and the wicked—
The world may be divided into two denominations; the righteous, and the wicked.
“To the righteous, God gives wisdom, and knowledge, and joy”—
[As to carnal wisdom, I am not sure that the wicked have not in general the advantage; as it is said, “The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light [Note: Luk_16:18.].” But the godly have a discernment of earthly things, or, as my text expresses it, a “wisdom and knowledge” in relation to them, which no ungodly man has ever attained. The godly see the true use of worldly things; and how they may be rendered conducive to the honour of God, and the good of the soul. As instruments for advancing the welfare of mankind, they may be desired and employed to good effect: and in this mode of using them God will confer real and abiding “joy.” Even the portion of them which is consumed upon ourselves will be relished with a richer zest; for “God has given us all things richly to enjoy:” but the thought of honouring God with them, and benefiting mankind, will give to them a kind of sanctified enjoyment, of such as was received from the harvest of which the first-fruits had been duly consecrated to the Lord [Note: Luk_11:41.]. The good man does not merely enjoy the things themselves: he enjoys God in them; and, in so doing, has the “testimony of his own conscience that he pleases God.” Nor is he unconscious that he is laying up treasure in heaven, even “bags which wax not old, and a treasure which never faileth [Note: Luk_12:33-34, 1Ti_6:19.].”]
“To the sinner,” on the other hand, “he giveth travail”—
[A man who neglects his God, can find no happiness in earthly things: in his pursuit of them, he is filled with care, which robs him of all real comfort [Note: See ver. 22, 23.]: in his enjoyment of them, they prove empty and cloying, “his very laughter being only as the crackling of thorns under a pot:” and, his mind being alienated from God, he has no source of peace from religion. Truly “the way of transgressors is hard [Note: Pro_13:15.];” or rather I must say, as the Scripture does, “Destruction and misery are in their ways [Note: Rom_3:16-17.].” Remarkable is that declaration of Zophar, “In the midst of their sufficiency they are in straits [Note: Job_20:22.].” And if this be their state in the midst of life and health, what must it be in a time of sickness and death? Most true is that declaration of Solomon: “What profit hath he that hath laboured for the wind? All his days he eateth in darkness, and he hath much sorrow and wrath with his sickness [Note: Ecc_5:16-17.].”
Thus, whilst the blessing of the Lord is upon the righteous, seeing that, whatever he bestow, “he addeth no sorrow with it [Note: Pro_10:22.];” he mixes gall and wormwood with the sinner’s cup, and “infuses a curse into his choicest blessings,”]
Let us now notice,
The hand of God, as displayed in them—
It is said in relation to both the righteous and the wicked, that “God giveth to them” their respective portions: both the one and the other are “from the hand of God [Note: ver. 24.].” In them we see,
The true nature of his moral government—
[Even now is there far more of equity in the dispensations of God than a superficial observer would imagine. Doubtless there is a great difference in the states of different men; but the rich and great have troubles of which the poor and destitute have very little conception. The very state of mind fostered by their distinctions is by no means favourable to their happiness; and the habits of the poor so inure them to privations, that they feel much less trouble from them than one would imagine. But let piety enter into any soul; and we hesitate not to declare, that though he were a Lazarus at the Rich Man’s gate, he were happier far than the man of opulence by whose crumbs he was fed. Peace of mind, arising from a sense of reconciliation with God, and a hope of final acceptance with him, is sufficient to weigh down all that an ungodly man ever did. or could, possess. And “the poorest man, if rich in faith and an heir of God’s kingdom,” is more to be envied than the greatest monarch upon earth, who possesses not real piety.
But with equity, goodness also is observable in all the dispensations of Providence. That God is good to the great and opulent, will be readily acknowledged: but he is so to the sinner, whom he leaves to experience the most painful disappointments. If a mother embitter to her child the breast on which he would fondly live, it is that he may learn to affect a more substantial diet: and if God, after all the labour which men put forth to render the creature a source of comfort, cause it to become to them only as “a broken cistern that can hold no water,” it is only that they may the more readily turn to him, and seek him, as “the fountain of living waters.”]
The certain issue of his future judgment—
[Is there, even in this world, “a difference put between him who serveth God, and him who serveth him not?” Much more shall that be found in the day which is especially set apart for the display of God’s righteous judgments. The Prophet Isaiah, as God’s herald, received this awful commission: “Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. But woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his deeds shall be given him [Note: Isa_3:10-11.].” And this do we also proclaim. For the righteous is reserved a state of unutterable joy; but for the wicked, a state of utter exclusion from the realms of bliss, “in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone,” “where is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” If the present inequalities of his dispensations lead us to expect this, much more does that previous distribution of good and evil which is even now accorded to men in correspondence with their moral habits. What is at this moment felt in the minds of the different characters, may well teach us what to expect in the day of judgment; even a separation of the righteous and the wicked; the one to everlasting fire; and the other to everlasting life, and blessedness, and glory.]
Let me now, from this subject, Recommend,
Religion in general—
[It is this which makes the chief difference between different men. The prince on his throne, and the beggar on the dunghill, are but little apart in comparison of “the good” and “the sinner.” Piety sets men asunder, as far as light from darkness, heaven from hell. Let those then amongst you, who would he happy either here or hereafter, give yourselves up to God, and approve yourselves to him. Only be “good in his sight,” and happiness will be yours, both in time and in eternity.]
A due improvement of all that you possess—
[To squander it away in self-indulgence, or to hoard it for some future possessor, will be alike foolish and vain. Neither of these modes of employing wealth can ever make you happy. The serving of God, and the benefiting of your fellow-creatures, will, on the contrary, bring peace and joy into the soul: for “the work of righteousness is peace, and the effect of righteousness is quietness and assurance for ever.” Not that any liberality of yours can ever form a ground of hope before God in a way of merit: all that you have is the Lord’s and it is only of his own that you give him: but if you are seeking righteousness and salvation by Christ alone, then will your works be accepted for Christ’s sake: and whatever you dispose of for the advancement of his glory, he will acknowledge it as “lent to him, and he will pay you again.” The talents that are improved for him, shall receive, in due proportion, a recompence at his hands.]