Guest Writer Thomas DeWitt Talmage
“Why do the wicked live?” (Job 31:7).
Poor Job! With tusks, horns, hoofs, and stings, it seems, all the misfortunes of life came on him at once. Bankruptcy, bereavement, scandal, and eruptive disease so irritating that he had to reinforce his ten fingernails with pieces of earthenware to be able to scratch himself. His wife took the diagnosis of his complaints and prescribed profanity. She thought he would feel better if between the paroxysms [fits] of grief and pain he would swear a little. For each boil a plaster of objurgation [rebuke].
Probably no man was ever more tempted to take the bad advice than when, at last, Job’s three exasperating friends—Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad—came in, saying, “You old sinner, serves you right. You are a hypocrite. What a sight you are! God has sent these chastisements for your wickedness.”
The disfigured invalid puts down the pieces of broken saucer with which he had been rubbing his arms, and with swollen eyelids looks at his garrulous [chatty] friends, observing sarcastically, “The most wicked people sometimes have the best health and are the most prospered.” Then, with a second volley: “Why do the wicked live?”
They build up fortunes that overshadow the earth. They confound all the life-insurance tables on the subject of longevity, dying octogenarians, perhaps nonagenarians, possibly centenarians. Ahab in the palace, Naboth in the cabinet. Unclean Herod on the throne while consecrated Paul is twisting ropes for tent-making. Manasseh, the worst of all the kings of Judah, living longer than any of them.
While the general rule is the wicked do not “live out half their days” (Psalm 55:23), there are exceptions where they live on to great age, in a paradise of beauty and luxuriance, die with a college of physicians expending its skill trying to prolong life, and have a funeral with casket under mountain of calla-lilies, the finest equipages of the city jingling and flashing into line, and the poor angleworm of the dust being carried to its hole in the ground with such unwarranted pomp that a spirit from another world might suppose the Archangel Michael himself were dead!
Go up among the finest residences of the city, and on some of the door-plates you will find the names of those mightiest for commercial and social iniquity. They are the vampires of society—they are the gorgons of the century. Some of these men have each wheel of their carriage a juggernaut wet with the blood of those sacrificed to their avarice [greed]. Some of them are like Caligula, who wished that all the people had only one neck that he might strike it off at one blow.
Oh, the slain, the slain! A long procession of usurers, libertines, infamous quacks, legal charlatans, and world-grabbing monsters. What apostleship of despoliation [plundering]! Demons incarnate. Hundreds of men concentering all their energies of body, mind, and soul in one prolonged, ever-intensifying, and unrelenting effort to scald, scarify, blast, and consume the world. I do not blame you for asking me the quivering, throbbing, burning, resounding, appalling question of my text, “Why do the wicked live?”
TO SHOW THE PATIENCE OF GOD
In the first place, they live to demonstrate beyond all controversy the long-suffering patience of God. You sometimes say, under some great affront, “I will not stand it”; but perhaps you are compelled to stand it. God, with all the batteries of omnipotence loaded with thunderbolts, stands it century after century. I have no doubt sometimes an angel comes to Him and suggests, “Now is the time to strike.”
“No,” says God; “wait a year, wait twenty years, wait a century, wait five centuries.”
What God does is not so wonderful as what He does not do. He has the reserve corps with which He could strike Mormonism, Islam, and paganism from the earth in a day. In a moment of time He could take all the fraud in New York on the west side of Broadway and hurl it into the Hudson, all the fraud on the east side of Broadway and hurl it into the East River. He understands the combination lock of every dishonest money safe, and could blow it up quicker than man could with explosives. Written all over the earth, written all over history are the words, “Divine forbearance, divine leniency, divine long-suffering.”
I wonder that God did not burn up this world 2,000 ago, scattering its ashes into outer space, its aerolites dropping into other worlds to be kept in their museums as specimens of a defunct planet. People sometimes talk of God as though He were hasty in His judgements and as though He snapped up men quickly. Oh, no! He waited 120 years for the people to get into the ark, and warned them all the time—120 years—then the Flood came.
The Anchor Line gives only a month’s announcement of the sailing of the SS Circassia, the White Star Line gives only a month’s announcement of the sailing of the HMHS Britannic, the Cunard Line gives only a month’s announcement of the sailing of the SS Oregon; but of the sailing of that ship that Noah commanded God gave 120 years’ advance warning. Patience antediluvian, patience postdiluvian, patience in times Adamic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, Pauline, Lutheran, Whitefieldian. Patience with men and nations. Patience with barbarisms and civilizations—6,000 years of patience! Overtopping attribute of God, all of whose attributes are immeasurable.
TO BRING ABOUT A DRAMATIC END
“Why do the wicked live?” That their overthrow may be the more impressive and climacteric. They must pile up their mischief until all the community will see it, until the nation will see it, until all the world will see it. The higher it goes up, the harder it will come down and the grander will be the divine vindication.
God will not allow sin to sneak out of the world. God will not allow it merely to resign and quit. This will not be a case that goes by default because no one appears against it. God will arraign it, handcuff it, try it, bring against it the verdict of all the good, and then gibbet [hang] it so high that if one-half of the gibbet [gallows] stood on Mount Washington and the other on the Himalayas, it could not be anymore conspicuous.
About fifteen years ago we had in this country a most illustrious instance of how God lets a man go on in iniquity, so that at the close of the career his overthrow may be the more impressive, full of warning and climacteric. First, an honest chairmaker, then an alderman, then a member of Congress, then a supervisor of a city, then school commissioner, then state senator, then commissioner of public works—on and up, stealing thousands of dollars here and thousands of dollars there, until the malfeasance in office overtopped anything the world had ever seen—making the new Court House in New York a monument of municipal crime, and raising the debt of the city from $36 million to $97 million. Now, he [Boss Tweed] is at the top of wealth.
Country-seat terraced, arbored, and parterred [flowered] clear to the water’s brink. Horses enough to stock a king’s equerry [official]. Grooms and postilions [substitute coachmen] in full rig. Wine cellars enough to make a whole legislature drunk. New York finances and New York politics in his vest pocket. He winked, and men in high place fell. He lifted his little finger, and ignoramuses took important office. He whispered, and in Albany and Washington they said it thundered. Wider, mightier, and more baleful his influence, until it seemed as if pandemonium were to be adjourned to this world, as if in the Satanic realm there was to be a change of administration, as if Apollyon, who had held dominion so long, should have a successful competitor.
To bring all to a climax, a wedding came in the house of that man. Diamonds as large as hickory nuts. A pin of sixty diamonds representing sheaves of wheat. Musicians in a semicircle, half-hidden by a great harp of flowers. Ships of flowers. Forty silver sets, one of them with 240 pieces. One wedding-dress that cost $5,000. A famous libertine, who owned several Long Island Sound steamboats, and not long before he was shot for his crimes, sent as a wedding present to that house a frosted silver iceberg, with representations of Arctic bears walking on icicle-handles and ascending the spoons.
Was there ever such a convocation of pictures, bronzes, of bric-à-brac, of grandeurs, social grandeurs?
The highest wave of New York splendor rolled into that house and recoiled perhaps never again to rise so high. But at that time, when all earthly and infernal observation was concentrated on that man, eternal justice—impersonated by that wonder of the American bar, Charles O’Conor [prosecutor who brought down Boss Tweed]—got on the track of the offender. First arraignment, then sentence to twelve years’ imprisonment under twelve indictments, then penitentiary on Blackwell’s Island, then a lawsuit against him for $6 million, then incarceration in Ludlow Street jail, then escape to foreign land, to be brought back under the stout grip of the constabulary, then dying of broken heart in a prison cell. God allowed him [Tweed] to go on in iniquity until all the world saw as never before that “the way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15), that dishonesty will not declare permanent dividends, and that you had better be an honest chairmaker with a day’s wages than a brilliant commissioner of public works, your pockets crammed with plunder.
What a brilliant figure in history is William the Conqueror, the intimidator of France, of Anjou, of Brittany, victor at Hastings, snatching the crown of England and setting it on his own brow, destroying homesteads that he might have a larger game forest, making a Doomsday Book by which he could keep the whole land under despotic espionage, proclaiming war in revenge for a joke uttered in regard to his obesity. Harvest fields and vineyards going down under the cavalry hoof. Nations horror-struck. But one day, at the apex of all observation, he is riding out and the horse puts his hoof on a hot cinder, throwing the king so violently against the pommel of the saddle that he dies, his son hastening to England to get the crown before the breath has left his father’s body.
The imperial corpse is drawn by a cart; but the attendants, hearing a fire alarm, leave it in the street that they might go off and see the conflagration. And just as they are going to put his body down in the church he had built, a man steps up and says, “Bishop, the man you praise is a robber. This church stands on my father’s homestead. The property on which this church is built is mine. I reclaim my right. In the name of Almighty God I forbid you to bury the king here, or to cover him with my glebe [clergyman’s land].”
“Go up,” said the ambition of William the Conqueror. “Go up by conquest, go up by throne, go up in the sight of all nations, go up by cruelties.”
But one day God said, “Come down, come down by the way of a miserable death, come down by the way of an ignominious obsequies [funeral], down in the sight of all nations, come clear down, come down forever.”
And you and I see the same thing on a smaller scale many and many a time—illustrative of the fact that God lets the wicked live that He may make their overthrow the more climacteric [extreme].
What is true in regard to sin is true in regard to its author, “Satan” (Job 1:6): Abaddon (Revelation 9:11), “the Prince of the Power of the Air” (Ephesians 2:2), “the serpent” (Genesis 3:1), “the dragon” (Revelation 12:3), the commander-in-chief of all evil.
The Persians called him Ahriman; the Hindus, Shiva. He was represented on canvas as a mythological combination of Thor, Cerberus, Pan, Vulcan, and other horrible addenda. I do not care what you call him, that monster of evil is abroad, and his one work is destruction.
John Milton almost glorified him by witchery of description, but he is the concentration of all meanness and of all despicability.
My little child, seven years of age, said to her mother one day, “Why don’t God kill the devil at once, and have done with it?”
In less terse phrase we have all asked the same question. The Bible says the devil is to be imprisoned and chained (Revelation 20:1-3). Why not heave the old miscreant [rascal] into his dungeon now? Does it not seem as if his volume of infamy [wickedness] were complete? Does it not seem as if the last fifty years would make an appropriate peroration [conclusion]?
No. God will let him go on to the top of all bad endeavor. Then when all the earth, all constellations and galaxies, and all the universe are watching, God will hurl him down with a violence and ghastliness enough to persuade 500 eternities that a rebellion against God must perish. God will not do it by piecemeal or small skirmish. He will wait until all the troops are massed. Then someday when in defiant and confident mood, at the head of his army, this Goliath of hell stalks forth, our champion, the Son of David, will strike him down, not with smooth stones from the brook, but with fragments from the Rock of Ages (Revelation 19:11-21; 20:7-10)!
But it will not be done until this giant of evil and his holy antagonist come out within full sight of the two great armies. The tragedy is only postponed to make the overthrow more impressive and climacteric. Do not fret. If God can afford to wait, you can afford to wait. God’s clock of destiny strikes only once in a 1,000 years. Do not try to measure events by the secondhand on your little timepiece. Sin and Satan go on only that their overthrow may at last be the more terrific, the more impressive, the more resounding, the more climacteric.
TO CREATE STRONGHOLDS FOR THE TAKING
“Why do the wicked live?” That they may build up fortresses for righteousness to capture. Have you not noticed that God harnesses men, bad men, and accomplishes good through them? Witness Cyrus, witness Nebuchadnezzar, witness the fact that the bastille of oppression was pried open by the bayonets of a bad man.
Recently there came to me the fact that a college had been built at the Far West for infidel purposes. There was to be no nonsense of chapel prayers, no Bible reading. All the professors were avowed infidels. The college was opened, and the work went on, but, of course, failed. Not long ago a Presbyterian minister was in a bank in that village on purposes of business, and he heard in an adjoining room the board of trustees of that college discussing what they had better do with the institution, as it did not get on successfully; and one of the trustees proposed that it be handed over to the Presbyterians, prefacing the word Presbyterians with a very unhappy expletive. The resolutions were passed, and that fortress of infidelity has become a fortress of old-fashioned, Christian orthodoxy, the only faith that will be worth a snap of your finger when you come to die or appear in the Day of Judgement. The devil built the college. Righteousness captured it.
In some city there goes up a great clubhouse—the architecture, the furniture, all the equipment a bedazzlement of wealth. That particular clubhouse is designed to make gambling and dissipation respectable.
Do not fret. That splendid building will after a while be a free library, a hospital, or a gallery of fine art. Again and again observatories have been built by infidels, and the first thing you know they go into the hand of Christians.
God said in the Bible that He would put a hook in Sennacherib’s nose and pull him down by a way he knew not (2 Kings 19:28; Isaiah 37:29). And God has a hook today in the nose of every Sennacherib of infidelity and sin, and will drag him about as He will. Marble halls deserted to sinful amusements will yet be dedicated for Christian assembly. All these castles of sin are to be captured for God as we go forth with the battle shout that Oliver Cromwell rang out at the head of his troops as he rode in on the field of Naseby: “Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered” (Psalm 68:1)!
After a great fire in London, in the ruins was nothing left but an arch with the name of the architect on it. My friends, whatever else goes down, God stays up.
TO CREATE MONUMENTS OF MERCY
“Why do the wicked live?” That some of them may be monuments of mercy. So it was with John Newton, so it was with Augustine, perhaps so it was with you. Chieftains of sin become chieftains of grace. Paul the Apostle made out of Saul the persecutor. Baxter, the flaming evangel, made out of Baxter, the blasphemer. Whole squadrons, with streamers of Emmanuel floating from the masthead, though once they were launched from the dry docks of diabolism. God lets these wicked men live that He may make jewels out of them for coronets, that He may make tongues of fire out of them for Pentecosts, that He may make warriors out of them for Armageddons, that He may make conquerors out of them for the day when they will ride at the head of the white-horse host (Revelation 19:11-21) in the grand review of the Resurrection.
TO POINT TO A DAY OF RECKONING
“Why do the wicked live?” To make it plain beyond all controversy that there is another place of adjustment. So many of the bad up, so many of the good down. It seems to me that no man can look abroad without saying—no man of common sense, Christian or non-Christian, can look abroad without saying, “There must be some place where brilliant scoundrelism will be arrested, where innocence will get out from under the heel of despotism.” Common fairness as well as eternal justice demands it.
We adjourn to the great assizes [courts], the stupendous injustices of this life. They are not righted here. There must be some place where they will be righted. God cannot afford to omit the Judgement Day or the reconstruction of conditions.
You cannot make me believe that that man stuffed with all abomination, having devoured widows’ houses (Matthew 23:14) and digested them, looking with basilisk [serpent] or tigerish eyes on his fellows, no music so sweet to him as the sound of breaking hearts, is, at death, to get out of the landau [carriage] at the front door of the sepulcher and pass right on through to the back door of the sepulcher, and find a celestial turnout waiting for him! So that he can drive tandem right up primrosed hills, one glory riding as lackey [footman] ahead, and another glory riding as postilion [coachman’s assistant] behind! While that poor woman who supported her invalid husband and her helpless children by taking in washing and ironing, often putting her hand to her side where the cancerous trouble had already begun, and dropping dead late on Saturday night while she was preparing the garments for the Sabbath Day, coming afoot to the front door of the sepulcher, shall pass through to the back door of the sepulcher and find nothing waiting, no one to welcome, no one to tell her the way to the King’s gate!
I will not believe it. Solomon was confounded in his day by what he represents as princes on foot and beggars on horseback (Ecclesiastes 10:7), but I tell you there must be a place and a time when the right foot will get into the stirrup. To demonstrate beyond all controversy that there is another place for adjustment, God lets the wicked live.
TO ALLOW SPACE FOR REPENTANCE
“Why do the wicked live?” For the same reason that He lets us live—to have time for repentance. Where would you and I have been if sin had been followed by immediate catastrophe? While the foot of Christ is fleet as that of a roebuck when He comes to save, it does seem as if He were hoppled with great languors and infinite lethargies when He comes to punish.
Oh, I celebrate God’s slowness, God’s tardiness, God’s putting off the retribution!
Do you not think, my brother, it would be a great deal better for us to exchange our impatient hypercriticism of Providence because this man, by watering of stock, makes $1 million in one day, and another man rides on in one bloated iniquity year after year—would it not be better for us to exchange that impatient hypercriticism for gratitude everlasting that God let us who were wicked live, though we deserved nothing but capsize and demolition?
Oh, I celebrate God’s slowness! The slower the railroad train comes the better, if the drawbridge is off.
How long have you, my brother, lived unforgiven? Fifteen, twenty, forty, sixty years? Lived through Great Awakenings, lived through domestic sorrow, lived through commercial calamity, lived through providential crises that startled nations; and you are living yet, strangers to God, and with no hope for a great future into which you may be precipitated.
Oh, would it not be better for us to get our nature through the grace of Christ revolutionized and transfigured? For I want you to know that God sometimes changes His gait, and instead of the deliberate tread He is the swift witness. Sometimes the enemies of God are “suddenly destroyed, and that without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1).
Make God your ally. What an offer that is! Do not fight against Him. Do not contend against your best interests. Yield this morning to the best impulse of your heart, and that is toward Christ and heaven. Do not fight the Lord that made you and offers to redeem you.
Philip of France went out with his army, with bows and arrows, to fight King Edward III of England; but as they came to the critical moment of the battle, a shower of rain came and relaxed the bowstrings so that they were of no effect, and Philip and his army were worsted.
All your weaponry against God will be as nothing when He rains on you discomfiture from the heavens. Do not fight the Lord any longer. Change allegiance. Take down the old flag of sin, run up the new flag of grace. It does not take the Lord Jesus Christ the thousandth part of a second to convert you if you will only surrender. Be willing to be saved.
The American Congress was in anxiety during the Revolutionary War while awaiting to hear news of the conflict between Washington and Cornwallis; and the anxiety became intense and almost unbearable as the days went by. When the news came at last that Cornwallis had surrendered and the war was practically over, so great was the excitement that the doorkeeper of the House of Congress dropped dead from joyful excitement.
If this long war between your soul and God should come to an end this morning by your entire surrender, the war forever over, the news would soon reach the heavens (cf Luke 15:10); and nothing but the supernatural health of your loved ones before the throne would keep them from being prostrated with overjoy at the cessation of all spiritual hostilities.
“The core and essence of the gospel is its tremendous and glorious revelation of how deadly is God’s hatred of sin, so that He cannot stand having it in the same universe as Himself, and will go to any length, will pay any price, will make any sacrifice, to master and abolish it! And He is as set on so doing in our heart, thank God, as elsewhere!”
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Manhattan Skyline (1906)
Featured for this series are photographs of old New York.
*Adapted from “Why Are Satan and Sin Permitted?” Thomas DeWitt Talmage [1832-1902], New Tabernacle Sermons Vol I (New York: George Munro, 1886). Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.