THE WICKED ARE NOT TO BE ENVIED.
Let not thine heart envy sinners. — Prov. 23:17.
Yonder goes a crowd of people. Men and boys with here and there a coarse woman, are eagerly pressing on, In the middle of the crowd goes a cart. In it is a man, with his arms tied behind him. A few months ago he was going at large like other men. But he killed a good man that he might get his money. He was soon suspected. He fled, but was caught and brought back. In a few months he was tried. The evidence against him was full and clear. He was found guilty. He was sentenced to be hanged. He is now about to die a painful and shameful death. In a few minutes the awful scene will be closed on earth, and his soul will return to God, to be judged by him, who makes no mistakes, and always judges righteously. No man envies this poor wretch in his present condition. Even the most wicked say, 'Let me not come to such an end. I would not be in that man's place for all this world.' But all sinners are not in so awful a condition. Indeed, many of them are very prosperous. They have much that pleases them and pleases the carnal heart. They are full of life and mirth. These are they whom fools envy. Men praise them, court them, and natter them. Many wish they could have as large a share of temporal good.
Let us inquire —
I. What is it in sinners that we are apt to envy? This is a grave question. Let us weigh it well.
1. Many sinners have much money. So little does God think of riches that he often gives much of them to his enemies. True, money is a good thing; if we use it aright, and do not set our hearts on it. But riches are not necessary to any man. Many of the best and greatest men the world ever saw have lived and died poor. Still human nature is so weak and so corrupt that but few men can look at others rolling in wealth without envying them. They seem to have such an easy time. They are not bowed down with poverty. Their eyes stand out with fatness. They have more than heart could wish. They are proud, and their eyes are lofty. Men call them happy and envy them.
2. Sometimes the wicked seem to have a great deal of pleasure. They are not in trouble as other men ; neither are they plagued like other men. They laugh and shout when others sigh and mourn. Their joys seem to be sparkling. They boast a great deal of their pleasures. Take their word for it, and no people are so happy. They have a fine time. They praise each other. They do not willingly indulge any fears about the future. They say "To-morrow shall be as this day, and more abundant." They avoid all thoughts about dying. Nothing but decency leads them to the house of mourning. Their laughter is loud and is mad. They call themselves men of pleasure. One of their number in the last century was called "The Happy Rake." Those who have not health, or money, or time thus to live in ease, are very apt to envy these lovers of pleasure.
3. Some sinners seem to get many of the honours of this life. Men praise them. Perhaps they have learned the tricks of securing public favour. They know what springs to touch and what wires to pull. A little flattery here and a little bribery there bring them the offices they seek. The higher they rise, the higher they seek to rise. Men call them great or wise. Fools gape at them in wonder. They seek the honour that cometh from man, and they have their reward. To them the praise of man is sweeter than the praise of God. If they can have things their way, they care not for others. Silly people stand off and ad mire and envy.
4. Others envy the wicked for their apparent freedom from restraint. The law of God does not bind them any further than suits themselves. They follow their desires and their vile affections. In morals they are hardly a law to themselves. They say and do what is right in their own eyes. Speak to them about God, and they say, "Who is the Lord that I should obey him? My tongue is my own, my mind is my own, I will do as I please." To a carnal mind, this looks as if it was a fine way of getting through the world, and the foolish envy these lawless ones.
5. Sometimes sinners seem to be, and for a long time are, free from afflictions, which so much distress the righteous. A good man often has more trouble with his wicked heart alone, than the sinner has with all his affairs. All the concern which the pious have about the Church never troubles the wicked. Often God seems to give double trials to his people, and few or none to his foes. These things and many more like them often stir up in men a desire to be like the wicked. But after all —
II. There is no good ground for preferring the state of sinners. There is really no Divine blessing permanently resting on the wicked, as there is on the righteous. "A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked." "Whereas evil shall slay the wicked, and the righteous shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him : lo, this is the man that made not God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened him self in his wickedness," Psal. xxxvii. 16; lii. 6, 7. "Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, than great riches and trouble therewith," Prov. xv. 16. O yes, it is God's blessing that maketh rich, or happy, or truly honourable.
There is also a sad amount of alloy mixed up with all that sinners have. Much as they have, they wish for more. Then there is always some painful draw back. If the king honours Haman, still there is an old Mordecai that will not cringe and truckle to a tyrant. If Ahab has much, still there is a Naboth who has too much conscience to part with his portion in Israel. If Joseph's brethren sell him to Egypt, the famine compels them to go after him for bread. If Herod will live in shameful sin, there is a John the Baptist to tell him of his baseness. Then the passions of sinners are at war with each other and with mankind. The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth; the wicked watcheth the righteous and seeketh to slay him, Psal. xxxvii. 12, 32. One vile passion in the heart is enough to make any man unhappy.
The devices of the wicked will ruin them. They are spreading snares all the time for the feet of others; but they are all the time sinking down in the pit that they made: in the net which they hid is their own foot taken. Pharaoh was at the head of the greatest empire in the world. He thought he saw how every thing should be done. But the end of him is that he perishes in the Red Sea.
Nor are the wicked without conscience. The "Happy Rake," seeing a dog pass through his room, wished that he was that dog. To the guilty, the shaking of a leaf may be a terror. "A dreadful sound is in his ears," Job xv. 20. The Emperor Caligula confessed to the Roman Senate that he suffered the pains of death every day. If a man would have health, he must be on good terms with his stomach; if he would have domestic quiet, he must be on good terms with his wife; if he would not lead the life of a wretch, he must be on good terms with his conscience.
Moreover, all nature is armed against the wicked. The stars fought against Sisera. Against sinners "the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it," Habakkuk ii. 11. The plagues of Egypt are sometimes renewed in our day on many a wicked man, though seldom at once on a whole people.
Then all those seeming advantages of the wicked cannot last long, "For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. For yet a little while and the wicked shall not be; yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be," Ps. xxxvii. 2, 10, 35, 36. Sometimes it looks as if a man would ruin his neighborhood, his country, or the world. But God says, "Thus far shalt thou go and no farther."
However long the wicked may live, and however high they may rise, their course must end in everlasting darkness. The case of that poor man on his way to the gallows for murder is sad indeed ; but it is no more sad than that of a poor sinner on his way to perdition. All that believe not in Jesus Christ shall lie down in sorrow. Nor can any sinner tell until he enters eternity whether his doom shall be more or less dreadful than that of the vilest criminal. The greatest sinners in many cases are those who frequent the house of God, but love not the Saviour.
1. Instead, therefore, of envying sinners, let us pity them, pray for them, and labour for their conversion. In this work let us be fearless and faithful. It is a shame and a sin that we should not warn men of their great danger. A little faithfulness might save many a man who is now ready to sink into ruin. There is a great lack of true, heavenly zeal.
2. Let the righteous show that they are pleased with the choice which they have made. God has given them to drink of the water of life. Let them not try to quench their thirst with the dirty puddles of earth. He has given them bread from heaven. Let them not beg the world for a slice from its loaf. The great practical error of Christians is that their souls do not always follow hard after God. If we would make more of our religion, our religion would do more for us. Psal. Ixxxi. 13 — 16. Heaven is no hive for drones, for laggards. O! let us stir ourselves up to take hold upon God.
Sermon 10, from Short Sermons For The People, London, 1872