If you forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he has done you good.
I. THE REASONABLENESS OF EXPECTING THAT ABUSED MERCIES MUST LEAD TO MORE AGGRAVATED PUNISHMENT. We see this clearly in the history of Israel. Their career as a nation was marked by perfidy and ingratitude; at almost every step of their progress we find them in rebellion against the Most High — "forsaking the Lord, and serving strange gods." And how did God deal with them when they thus acted? Is it not the case that He scourged them, and caused them to suffer punishment? Look at the plagues that befel them in the desert; look at the slaughters which God permitted them to experience in warfare with their enemies. And who can survey the subsequent history of the Jews, and not read a fulfilment of the threatening contained in our text? And what we are desirous you should gather from the foregoing observations is mainly this, that no experience of good at the hands of the Almighty affords warrant to expect that future disobedience will not be visited with righteous severity. "If ye forsake the Lord and serve strange gods, then He will turn and do you hurt and consume you, after that He hath done you good."
II. THE JUSTICE OF THE DEALING WHICH IS REFERRED TO IN THE THREATENING BEFORE US. NOW it will be admitted that every reason was given Israel to expect the continuance of the Divine favour and protection. We think it easily to be perceived that one main purpose of the Almighty in the calling of Israel as a nation was to maintain upon earth, through means of that race, the pure knowledge of Himself; to afford a witness to the unity of Jehovah, and against idolatry; to secure glory to Himself by the exhibition, on the part of this people, of a consistent obedience. Surely, then, if this purpose was, through the nation's profligacy and disobedience, altogether thwarted, if all the resources which God gave them of national strength were abused and corrupted, indeed it were strange not to perceive that their conduct in this respect released every presumed obligation "to do them good," and in short vindicates to the letter the justice of the warning, "If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then He will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that He hath done you good." And now, to take a more comprehensive range, from looking at the case of the Jewish people let us turn to that of mankind in general. Does it appear that God can be just in the apportionment of unmitigated wrath to mankind, notwithstanding all the manifestations of His determination to do them good? There are two grand exhibitions to be met with of God's merciful intention towards mankind at large, to do them good. The first of these is furnished by creation, and the second by redemption. Our object of inquiry is simply this: whether the display of God's love in creating or redeeming mankind offers any reason to conclude that, in harmony with His justice, He cannot "turn and do them hurt, and consume them." To begin with creation: no man can doubt that his creation is the proof of a purpose on God's part to "do him good." Beyond all question this purpose was man's happiness, but then his happiness was to consist in assimilation to the Godhead; and if upon man devolve the guilt of having voluntarily destroyed and renounced that similitude, where is the inconsistency of the dealing, should God "turn and do him hurt, and consume him"? The nobler the faculties wherewith he was endowed the brighter the evidence of God's purpose to "do him good," the stronger then seem to me the reasons wherefore wrath should be executed upon those by whom the faculties are abused and the evidence slighted. We turn, lastly, to the manifestation of God's goodness as displayed in redemption. There have been those who have argued — redemption is the evidence of a love so surpassing, they can never believe God will sentence to destruction those whom He has redeemed at such cost. "The method of our atonement involves an expenditure of such wisdom and mercy, that how can we conceive of the Almighty as permitting its objects finally to perish?" Mast to reason thus is equally, as in the former instances we have adduced, to overlook one main purpose of God in the scheme of human redemption. Is it not strange that men who have been made the objects of a sacrifice so costly should regard it so lightly and requite it so coldly? We may wonder that redeemed sinners should perish, but is it not more wonderful that redeemed sinners should refuse to be saved? Again, let us revert to the purpose of God in redemption. Indeed it was to bless the whole earth; it was to ransom humanity from the bondage of evil, and to exalt it to transcendent felicity. But after all, throughout every dealing of God with His intelligent creatures, we may discover the purpose to treat them as responsible beings, free to reject the overtures of His mercy. Now, redemption is offered upon certain terms; man is required to repent and to believe in order to be saved. It is no part of redemption to offer him an entrance into heaven irrespective of a moral fitness, to render him meet for heaven's enjoyments; and in the acquisition of this moral fitness man is required to co-operate with the Divine Spirit. He can refuse to profit by what God hath done for him, and thus prove himself a despiser of the love which is so unsearchably great. He can resolutely withstand the design of the Almighty in redemption, namely, that he should glorify God, both in his body and soul; and, I ask, if it be possible for Him to act thus, is there not justice in the sentence which awards him to suffer in spite of all the declared willingness of God to do him good?
(Bp. R. Bickersteth.)
Parallel VersesKJV: If ye forsake the LORD, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good.