Ingratitude to God, a Heinous but General Iniquity
Adapted from a Sermon by Samuel Davies
”But Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem.” 2 Chronicles 32:25
Among the many vices that are at once universally disapproved of, and at the same time universally practiced in the world there is none more base or more common than ingratitude; ingratitude towards the supreme Benefactor. Ingratitude is the sin of individuals, of families, of churches, of kingdoms, and even of all mankind. The guilt of ingratitude lies heavily upon the whole race of men, though, sadly only few of them feel and lament it.
If the plague of an ungrateful heart must cling to us while in this world of sin and imperfection, let us at least lament it; let us bear witness against it; let us condemn ourselves for it; and let us do all we can to suppress it in ourselves. I feel burdened and discouraged with myself, as guilty of it. And in this sadness of spirit, I will endeavor to expose it to you as the awful and terrible thing that it is.
None of us can flatter ourselves that we are in little or no danger of this sin, when even so good and great a man as Hezekiah did not escape the infection. In the memoirs of his life, which are outstanding for piety, zeal for reformation, victory over his enemies, glory and importance at home and abroad, this, alas! is recorded of him, "Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem."
Many had been the blessings and deliverances of this good man's life. I will only focus on two, recorded in this chapter. The Assyrians had overrun a great part of the country, and intended to lay siege to Jerusalem. Their proud king who had carried all before him, and was grown insolent with success, sent Hezekiah a blasphemous letter, to intimidate him and his people. He profanely bullies and defies Hezekiah and his God together; and Rabshakeh, his messenger, comments upon his master's letter in the same style of impiety and insolence.
But here observe the notable effectiveness of prayer! Hezekiah, Isaiah, and no doubt many other pious people among the Jews, made their prayer to the God of Israel; and, as it were, complained to him of the threatenings and profane blasphemy of the Assyrian king. Jehovah hears, and works a miraculous deliverance for them. "That night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians!" (2 Kings 19:35)
Sennacherib, with the thin remains of his army, fled home humiliated; and his two sons assassinated him at an idolatrous altar. Thus Jerusalem was freed from danger, and the country rescued from slavery and the ravages of war. And it seems that, from world history outside of the Bible, that this dreadful blow proved fatal in the fate of the Assyrian monarchy, which had oppressed the world so long; for upon this the Medes, and afterwards other nations, threw off their submission; and the empire fell to pieces. Certainly so illustrious a deliverance as this, wrought immediately by the hand of God was a sufficient reason for fervent gratitude!
Another deliverance followed after this one. Hezekiah was struck with a deadly sickness; that is, his sickness was in its own nature mortal, and would have led to his death had it not been for the miraculous intervention of Providence. Upon his prayer to God, he recovered, and fifteen years added to his life. This also was great cause of gratitude. And we find it had this effect upon him, while the sense of his deliverance was fresh upon his mind; for in his thankful song upon his recovery, we find these grateful words: "The living, the living, he thanks you, as I do this day; the father makes known to the children your faithfulness. The LORD will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the LORD.” (Isaiah 38:19-20)
But, alas! With time those grateful impressions wore off; and pride, that attitude so inappropriate to fallen man, began to rise. He began to think himself the favourite of heaven, in some degree, on account of his own personal goodness. He indulged his vanity in pretentiously exposing his treasures to the Babylonian messengers; which was the instance of selfish pride and ingratitude which here seems particularly referred to in our verse. This pride and ingratitude did not go down without evidences of God’s disapproval; for we are told, "Hezekiah did not make return according to the benefit done to him, for his heart was proud. Therefore wrath came upon him and Judah and Jerusalem."
As the crime was not unique to him so neither is the punishment. Nations and individuals have suffered in this manner from age to age; and under the guilt of it we and our country are certainly now languishing. In order to make you the more sensible of your ingratitude towards your divine Benefactor, I will give you a brief view of his mercies towards you, and expose the aggravated baseness of ingratitude under the gift of so many mercies!
Mercy has poured in upon you upon all sides, and followed you from the first beginnings of your existence; rich, various, free, repeated, uninterrupted mercy! The blessings of a body wonderfully and fearfully made, complete in all its parts! The blessings of a rational, immortal soul, preserved in the exercise of sound reason for so many years, amid all those accidents that have shattered it in others, and capable of the exalted pleasure of religion, and the everlasting enjoyment of the blessed God, the Supreme Good!
The blessing of a large and spacious world, prepared and furnished for our accommodation; illuminated with an illustrious sun, and the many stars of the sky! The earth enriched and adorned with trees, vegetables, various sorts of grain, and animals, for our support or convenience! The sea, that supports extensive trade, and a vast store of fish!
The blessing of the early care of parents and friends, to provide for us in the helpless days of infancy, and direct or restrain us in the frivolous, impulsive years of youth! The blessing of being born in the mature age of the world, when the advancements of civilization are so much perfected!
The blessing of being born, not among savages in a wilderness but in a humanized, civilized country; not on burning, sandy deserts, nor under a frozen wilderness but in a temperate climate, as favourable to the comfort and support of life as most countries on earth; not in a barren soil, scarcely able to support its inhabitants, but in a land of unusual plenty, which has never felt the severities of extended famine!
The blessing of not being effectively a race of slaves under the tyranny of an tyrannical government but free-born Canadians in a land of liberty: these birthright blessings are not the part of most of mankind.
Let me enumerate also the blessing of a good education; The blessing of health for months and years! The blessing of clothing suited to the various seasons of the year! The blessing of rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, of summer and winter, of seedtime and harvest! The agreeable variety of night and day! The refreshing rest of sleep, and the activity and enjoyment of our waking hours!
The blessing of the most endearing relationships; the blessings included in the tender names of friend, husband or wife, parent or child, brother or sister! The blessing of peace; peace in the midst of a peaceful country, which has been our happy lot for many years.
Blessings in every age of life; in infancy, in youth, in adult age, and in the decays of old age! Blessings by sea and land, and in every place where we have dwelt!
In short, blessings as many as our moments, as long continued as our lives; blessings personal and relative, public and private! For while we have the air to breathe in, the earth to walk on, or a drop of water to quench our thirst, we must recognize that we are not left without blessings from God!
From God, they all have their origin! And to him, we are primarily indebted for them. Though they often come to us by means of our fellow creatures; or seem to be the spontaneous results of natural causes, acting according to the established laws of nature. But then it was God, the Fountain of being and of all good, who gave our fellow-creatures the disposition, the ability, and the opportunity of conveying these blessings to us! And it is the great God who is the Author of those causes which spontaneously produce so many blessings for our enjoyment, and of those laws of nature, according to which they act. These are but channels, channels cut by his hand! And he is the source of all our blessings. He is the ocean of blessings. Creatures are only the hands which distribute his charity to a needy world; but his is the storehouse from which they receive their supplies. On this account, therefore, we should receive all these blessings as gifts from God, and feel ourselves indebted to him, as the supreme, original Benefactor.
Therefore let God be acknowledged the supreme, the original Benefactor of the world, and the proper Author of all our blessings! And let all his creatures, in the height of their benevolence and usefulness, acknowledge that they are but the distributors of his charity, or the instruments of conveying the gifts of his hand. Let us acknowledge the light of the sun in the sky, the breath that now fills our lungs, the plentiful harvests that are now bursting their way through the clods of earth in farmers fields, the water that bubbles up in springs, that flows in streams and rivers, or rolls at large in the ocean; let us acknowledge that all these are the gifts of his hand, who supplies with good the various ranks of being, as high as the most exalted angel, and as low as the young sparrows, and the grass of the field.
Let him stand as the acknowledged Benefactor of the universe to inflame the gratitude of everyone to him; or to starkly highlight the aggravated guilt of ingratitude of those sordid, doleful souls, who still continue unthankful.
The positive blessings I have briefly listed, have some of them been interrupted at times; but even the interruption seemed only intended to make way for some deliverance; a deliverance that reinstated us in the possession of our former blessings with a new and stronger delight in them, and taught us, or at least was adapted to teach us, some useful lessons, which we were not likely to learn, had not our enjoyment been a while suspended.
This very hour, let us think of the past, and look over a length of ten, twenty, forty, or sixty years; and what a series of deliverances come to mind! Deliverances from the many dangers of childhood, by which many have lost their limbs, and many their lives; deliverances from many threatening and fatal accidents; deliverances from awful pains, and from dangerous diseases; deliverances from the gates of death, and the mouth of the grave; and deliverances for yourselves, and for your dear families and friends!
In short, your deliverances have been endless and innumerable. You appear this day as so many monuments of delivering goodness. You have also shared in the deliverances brought about for your country and nation in former times: deliverances from the open violences and hidden plots and insurrections of enemies abroad and traitors and rebels at home: deliverances from the united efforts of both, to enslave us to civil or religious tyranny, or a mixture of both; and deliverances from drought, and the threatening appearances of epidemics, which we have been exposed to; and yet they are long enough past to be generally forgotten!
In these instances of deliverances, as well as in the former, of positive blessings, let the great God be acknowledged as the original cause, whatever creatures he is pleased to make use of as his instruments. Chance accidents are under his direction; and necessary causes are subject to his control. Diseases are his servants, his soldiers; and he sends them out, or recalls them according to his pleasure.
And now mention the human benefactor if you can, to whom you are a thousandth part so much indebted as to this divine Benefactor. What a profusion of blessings and deliverances has the Almighty made you a subject of! And, truly, what obligations of gratitude do such favours lay upon you! What ardent love, what sincere thanksgiving, what affectionate duty do they require of you! These are the cords of love with which he would draw you to obedience.
What returns has this divine Benefactor received from you for all this goodness? Sadly! the answer to this question, may convict, shock, confound, and mortify us all; for we are all, in a extraordinary degree, though some much more than others, guilty in this respect, guilty of the vilest ingratitude!
Consider this. Are there not many of you who do not return to God the gratitude even of a dog to his master? That simple animal though he should receive only crumbs and leftovers from you, will welcome you home with a thousand fond and happy motions. The very dull ox a farmer feeds, knows his owner. And so appears the ingratitude of reasonable creatures to be all the more brutal! Some of you, perhaps, do not so much as acknowledge the working of Divine Providence in these enjoyments; but, demonstrating a very foolish infidelity under the name of philosophy, you make nature the authors of all good to you, without the influence of the first Mover of all the springs of nature!
Others of you, who may be orthodox in your faith as to this point, yet are practical infidels, the most absurd and inconsistent sort in the world! That is, while you certainly acknowledge, and intellectually believe the working of Divine Providence in these things, yet you live as if there were no such thing! You live thoughtless of the divine Benefactor, and disobedient to him for days and years together. The very mercies he bestows upon you, you abuse to his dishonour, by making them occasions of sin!
Does your conscience not convict you now of that monster sin, ingratitude, the most base, unnatural and yet indulged ingratitude? How do you resent it, if one whom you have deeply helped should prove ungrateful, and even hurt you? But it is impossible any one of your fellow-creatures should be guilty of such enormous ingratitude towards you as you are guilty of towards God; because it is impossible that any one of them should be as strongly indebted to you as you are to him!
And you children of God, his peculiar favourites, whose hearts are capable of, and do actually feel some generous sensations of gratitude; what do you think of your conduct towards such a Benefactor? I speak particularly to you, because you are most likely to feel what I say. Have you rendered back to your God, according to the divine benefits done to you? Rather, are you not mortified and shocked when you think of your ingratitude, your sordid, monstrous ingratitude! Do you not abhor yourselves because you were capable of such base conduct? From you I expect such a generous response. But, as to others, they are dead in transgressions and sins, dead toward God, and therefore it is no wonder if they are dead to all sincere mourning for their ingratitude.
But if all this is not enough to make you aware of your enormous guilt in this particular thing, let me lay before you an inventory of still richer blessings! At the head of this stands Jesus Christ, the unspeakable gift of God. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." (John 3:17) The comforts of this life alone would be a very inadequate provision for creatures who are to exist forever in another world; for what are sixty or seventy years in comparison to the long duration of an immortal being! But in the un-searchable riches of Christ, are contained the most ample provisions for your immortal state. Jesus Christ is a gift such that after it, all other gifts follow; for so the apostle argues, "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)
And the purposes for which he gave this gift, make it all the more astonishing. He gave him not only to rule us by his power but to purchase us with his blood! He gave him up to death, even the death of the cross! And this is the foundation of the offer of grace, the ministry of reconciliation, that is set up in our guilty world. Various means are appointed, and various endeavors are used to save you, perishing sinners. For your salvation Jesus now intercedes from heaven, at the right hand of God. For your salvation the Holy Spirit strives with you; conscience admonishes you; Providence draws you by blessings, and drives you by chastisements; angels minister to you; Bibles are put into your hands; ministers persuade you; friends advise you; and thousands of saints pray for you. For this end, prayer, preaching, and a great variety of means of grace, are instituted.
For this end, heaven is prepared and furnished with many mansions; the pearly gates open, and show their splendours from afar to attract our eyes; and things which the eye which has seen so many things, had never seen; which the ear which has had still more extensive intelligence, had never heard; nor the heart of man which is even unbounded in its conceptions, had never conceived; are all brought to light by the gospel.
And, for this purpose, your salvation, the law of God thunders from mount Sinai, hell roars and flashes its flames, even to warn a senseless world not to plunge themselves into that place of eternal torment! In short, the kind designs of redeeming love run through the whole workings of Providence towards our guilty world. Heaven and earth, and, in the sense mentioned, hell itself, are trying to save you. The strongholds of sin and Satan, in which you are held prisoners, are attacked in kindness to you, from all sides.
What amazing displays of God’s goodness are these! And even in these dark of time, when iniquity abounds, and the love of many grows cold, Jesus is able to gain many hearts and save many souls, in the various parts of his church. Though you and thousands more should be left, and continue to neglect Him, yet such wonders will not lack admirers, such a Physician will not remain idle in our dying world. No, "Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied” and “the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand." Isaiah 53:10.
And I have good hope, that there are some among you who are the trophies of his victorious love, of his victorious love, we can say, because it is by the force of love that he gently conquers. To you this special grace is directed; with you, these means are used for your salvation; to you Jesus is offered as a Savior; and heaven and earth are striving to bring you safely in his arms.
We should not rejoice in the needs of others; but certainly it may make you the more sensible of your peculiar obligations, to reflect that your lot, in this respect, is extraordinary. It is but a very small part of mankind, who enjoy these great advantages for a happy immortality. You live under the gospel, while the most of the nations of the earth are sunk in heathen idolatry, groaning under Popish tyranny, seduced by Islamic imposture, or hardened in Jewish infidelity. And what peculiar obligations of gratitude, result from such peculiar, distinguishing favours to you?
If mere men do you some good, you feel indebted to them. But can men, can angels, can the whole created universe bestow such gifts upon you, and make such provisions for you as those which have been mentioned? Gifts of infinite value, dear to the Giver; provisions for an everlasting state; an everlasting state in as complete happiness as your nature, in its highest achievement, is capable of! These are favours worthy of God! And must he not, then, be the object of your supreme gratitude? Can anything in the world be more reasonable?
And consider how astonishing it is, how little gratitude God receives from our world after all! How little gratitude from you on whom these favours are showered down with extraordinary abundance! Do not many of you neglect the unspeakable gift of God, Jesus Christ, as well as that salvation which he bought with his blood? Do you not ungratefully neglect the means of your salvation, and resist the generous efforts that are used, from all sides, to save you! Consider the mountainous load of ingratitude that lies upon you! It is surely enough to sink the whole world into the depth of hell!
But I must now address such of you, who are still more deeply indebted to your divine Benefactor, and whose ingratitude therefore is black and horrid; I mean such of you who have not only shared in the blessings and deliverances of life, and lived under the advantages of the teaching of the Word, but have experimentally known the love of God to your souls in a manner peculiar to yourselves, and are actually entitled to all the unknown blessings prepared for those that love him. If I am so happy as to belong to your number, I am sure I am so unhappy as to share deeply with you in the guilt, the black guilt of ingratitude!
When you were dead in transgressions and sins, God made you alive, out of his great love with which he loved you! When you were rushing on towards destruction, in the enchanting paths of sin, he stopped your mad run, and turned your faces heavenward! When you were sunk into sorrows, borne down with a sense of guilt, and trembling every moment with the fears of immediate execution, he relieved you, led you to Jesus, and, as it were, lodged you safe in his arms! When dismal glooms have again gathered upon your minds, and overwhelming fears rushed again upon you like a deluge, he has relieved you again by leading you to the same almighty and ever-constant Savior! When your graces and virtues have withered in the absence of the Sun of righteousness, he has again risen upon you with healing in his wings, and revived your languishing souls. He has shed abroad his love in your hearts, which has made this barren wilderness a paradise to you.
He has, at times, granted you, as you humbly hoped, joy and peace in believing; yes, even caused you to rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory. He has met you in your rest, and allowed you to speak with him in his ordinances, with the heart of a friend. He has, as it were, unlocked his peculiar treasures to enrich you, and given you an unshaken title to the most glorious inheritance of the saints in light. He has made you his own, his own in a peculiar sense: his people, his friends, his very own children! You are indeed his favourites: you were even so, long before time began. He loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness he has drawn you! And having loved you once, he will love you always, and he will continue in his love to all eternity. “Neither death nor life, … nor things present nor things to come… will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38, 39)
His love to you is an endless ocean, that spreads over eternity, and makes it, as it were, the channel of the ocean of your happiness. In you, he intends to show to all worlds what glorious creatures he can form of the dust, and of the polluted fragments of degenerate human nature. What is all the profession of kings to their favourites, what are all the gifts of creatures, even, what are all the bounties of the divine hand itself within the compass of time, when compared to these astonishing, unparalleled, immortal, infinite, God-like favours? They all dwindle into obscurity, like the stars of night in the noonday sun!
And now I must turn your thoughts to ask what return you have made for all these favours. You know that you have repeated Hezekiah's offence a thousand times. I do not need to point out particular incidents. Your conscience accuses you, and points them out; and I will only join the cry of conscience against you. What sad ingratitude! Base, vile, unnatural, horrid, exceptional ingratitude!
From you, your God might have expected better things! From you, whom he has so peculiarly, so infinitely enriched, and whose hearts he has made capable of generous sensations. But still the shocking, horrid ingratitude! Let our hearts be affected by the thought! At the very least let them be filled with shame, confusion, and earnest denouncements of the crime. This thought ought really to break the hardest heart among us!
Let me now add a consideration, that gives an astonishing emphasis to all that has been said. All this profusion of mercy, personal and relative, temporal and spiritual is bestowed on creatures that deserve not the least mercy! Upon creatures that deserve to be stripped naked of every mercy; more than that, that deserve to be made miserable in time and eternity! Upon creatures that deserve not to breathe this vital air, to tread the ground, or drink the stream that runs through the wilderness; much less to enjoy all the blessings which the infinite merit of Jesus could purchase, or the infinite goodness of God can bestow! Upon creatures that are so far from deserving to be delivered from the calamities of life that they deserve to have them all heightened and multiplied, until they bring them to the more intolerable punishments of hell! Upon creatures that are so far from making adequate returns, that they are perpetually offending their God to his face; and every day receiving blessings from him, and every day sinning against him!
How truly astonishing! This wonder is pointed out by Jesus Christ himself, who best knows what is truly marvellous. The Most High God, says he, "is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." (Luke 6:35) Your heavenly Father “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:45)
Please take a moment to apply these thoughts to yourselves and I think they will constrain you to think, "Oh! the amazing, horrid, base, unmatched ingratitude of man! And oh! the amazing, free, rich, overflowing, infinite, unmatched goodness of God! Let these two miracles be the wonder of the whole universe!"
One prayer, and I am done:
May our divine Benefactor, among his other blessings, bestow upon us that of a thankful heart, and enable us to give sincere, fervent, and perpetual praise to his name, through Jesus Christ, his unspeakable gift!