Below is the second part of the article is "The Agency of God in the Infliction of Evil: and Why He Does It." which appeared in August and September 1837 issues of The Reformed Presbyterian. Note well the author's clear grasp of God's dealing with nations. And might we ask whether many Christians are not functional Deists, when we seem to believe that the only Divine retribution there is to expect is in the world to come?
We have now presented our readers with sufficient illustrations of the Agency of God in the infliction of evil; and some of the means by which he inflicts it. We proceed next to inquire why God inflicts evil upon individuals or nations.
The answer to the inquiry is,—Sin. Sin, is the sole cause of every kind of suffering: individuals and nations despise the authority of God, therefore he afflicts them, We establish this view of the subject by referring to two, of many cases recorded in scripture which shew that sin is the cause of suffering. "So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? Or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee! Or, that there be three days pestilence in thy land? Now advise, and see what answer I shall -return to him that sent me. And David said unto Gad let us fall into the hand of the Lord. So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel, from the morning even till the time appointed: and there died of the people, from Dan even to Beer-Sheba, seventy thousand men." 2 Sam. xxiv. 13, 15. "And I also have given you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and want of bread in all your places: yet have ye not returned unto mo saith the Lord, and also I have withholden the rain from you, when there were yet three months to the harvest, and I caused it to rain upon one city, and caused it not to rain upon another city; one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered. So two or three cities wandered unto one city, to drink water; but they were not satisfied; yet ye have not returned unto me , saith the Lord. I have smitten you with blasting and mildew; when your gardens and your vineyards, your fig-trees, and your olive-trees increased, the palmer-worm devoured them: yet have ye not returned unto me , saith the Lord " Amos , iv. 6, 9.
Thus we learn from scripture, not only that the evils w e have been considering come from God, but also that sin is the procuring cause.—The curse comes not causeless. Men commit sin, therefore the judgments of God are abroad in the earth.
As it respects the infliction of evil because of sin, there are two distinct ends which God accomplishes,—the one is chastisement, the other is punishment. In the righteous providence of the Ruler of the universe, He punishes impenitent, sinful individuals and nations : while in mercy H e chastises such as are not given over to impenitence and judicial wrath. The Lord Jesus Christ, to who m as Mediator, is committed the dispensation of universal providence, never suffers his ow n people to continue to live at ease in sin. He invariably afflicts them to preserve them from this, and make them sensible of its evil character,—the abominable thing which He hates. "If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments: then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him nor suffer my faithfulness to fail." Ps. lxxxix. 31, 33. The evils, that in providence are sent upon wicked men come in the form of punishment; are part of the judicial wrath of God: and precursors of that ever-during indignation which shall finally overtake impenitent transgressors. The Almighty does not always inflict punishment upon wicked men in this world; sometimes he suffers them to go on in their sins, till the measure of their iniquity be filled up: and in the state of future retribution their sins meet deserved punishment. " Depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." The providence of God as it respects nations is different: national sins are always visited with national sufferings in this world. Nations shall have no distinct national existence in the future state of retribution; therefore, the evils to be inflicted upon them, are inflicted in this world. The part which individuals have taken, whether rulers or people, in the sins of a nation, shall like their other sins, if unrepented of, bring upon them the indignation of God. But, besides the accountability of individuals, the nation as a community or a whole, is accountable for its national doings. A nation is a moral person; performs moral acts, and is therefore under moral responsibility to the Governor of the Universe. The revealed will of God is addressed to nations and rulers, as well as to individuals: and transgressions of God's will, where it is known, shall as certainly bring his judgments upon nations, as upon individuals. That legislators, rulers and judges are not bound to be regulated in their official actings by the law of God, is a principle that involves treason against his government; and is subversive of his authority over mankind.—It is essentially infidel, and in every respect worthy of the modern philosophical scepticism, from which it springs!—a principle that threatens destruction to the very form, as well as power, of true religion.
Nations being moral persons, are capable of contracting guilt;—contracting guilt, they become liable to punishment; —and their national existence being restricted to the present life, their national sins can only in this life, meet with national punishment. "Come near ye nations, to hear, and hearken ye people. For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies." Is. xxxiv. 1, 2. "Put them in fear, O Lord, that the nations ma y know themselves to be but men." Ps. ix. 20.
The evils which God brings upon nations, are sometimes of a corrective kind: national calamities are sent upon them, that they may learn righteousness; and give "glory to the God of heaven." In other cases, the evils which God inflicts upon nations are properly judgments: they continue to rebel against him, though warned and admonished, and finally he destroys them, so that they may not have a name or place among the nations of the world. Where are now the Chaldean and Assyrian empires? They with many others have long since perished. And, so perish shall every nation that persists in rebellion against God. The instructions of Divine revelation, and the calls of Providence shall not always be despised with impunity: the day of retribution shall overtake every impenitent nation as well as individual. "For behold the Lord cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity." Is. xxvi. 21.
History, whether sacred or common is filled with records of the judgments of God; it tells of nations' guilt, but tells also of their punishments: there is an existing connection between, the one and the other, and blind indeed must we be if we do not recognize it. "The Lord's voice crieth unto the city, and the man of wisdom shall see thy name: hear ye the rod and who hath appointed it." Mic. vi. 9.
We thus learn, that when God in his providence afflicts a nation it is a characteristic of wisdom to make a practical use of it. "Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it." When national calamity becomes our own lot, there is neither wisdom nor safety, in trying to hide from ourselves or others the cause of God's controversy with us. In the present crisis it is our duty to speak unreservedly. The commercial distress which presses so heavily upon the United States, demands frankness of manner and faithfulness of application. If the country is in a state of suffering, it is because there are reasons for it; the curse comes not causeless, nor do troubles spring from the ground. Faithfulness to God and a regard to the best interests of our country, both urge us to inquire why he afflicts us. That Go d has a controversy with this nation, no seriously minded person will, we presume, deny? although there may be a diversity of opinion as to the particular sin or sins which may be the cause of the controversy. The present calamity is not a solitary judgment; it is one of a series, which have followed each other in rapid and alarming succession. In 1832, the disease of Cholera swept over the land, with all the characteristics of a national judgment; but, this was endured in common with other nations. And, in proportion as it had produced alarm during its continuance, it appears to have been followed by hardness of heart and national impenitency. "I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: yet have ye not returned unto me saith the Lord." Amos , iv. 10. In the close of 1835, the commercial metropolis of the United States suffered immense loss by fire; a whole section of the city was reduced to ruins; nor could the closest enquiry explain its origin. In no other spot of equal dimensions in the empire could so much valuable property have been destroyed by the devouring element. And it is presumed, we do not overstep the bounds of sober interpretation of providence, when we call the conflagration of New-York a national judgment. As a commercial nation the United States was thus smitten on the head: and we may add in the faithful accusation of scripture reproof "yet have ye not returned unto me saith the Lord."