Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel?…
Where could I allege Scripture so wonderful to show the mystery of God's justice, lest we speak unadvisedly with our lips: "Why art Thou so wrath with the sheep of Thy pasture?" Strike once upon this rock of justice, and I dare promise a fountain will issue out from thence of fear and reverence not to provoke the Lord by sins and trespasses; for if He threaten, shall He seem as one that mocks? First, We must put the cause foremost, the cause of all the wrath that follows, and that both general: it is iniquity, and with an instance his iniquity. The subject, Achan, but not alone; the affliction, that he perished. Now let not any man make it a fallacy to deceive his own soul. Doth not the cause deserve severe arraignment? Then blaspheme not as the wicked do: "He seeketh an occasion to punish." Sin in its essence is confederate with death and punishment. Thus much for the cause in general. But what offence his iniquity did give, the sin of Achan will ask a peculiar and a larger trial. You are deceived if you think it was but larceny or greedy pilfering. But heinous was the fact of Achan, first in scandal, that an Israelite, preserved so long in the wilderness, one that fought the Lord's battles, and came always home with victory, that he should be the first that trespassed among the Canaanites, the heathen that would blaspheme the living God. Secondly, In disobedience: that Joshua, his noble general, made the head of all the tribes by God's appointment, and Moses' good liking, and Eleazar's unction, could not command to be obeyed. Thirdly, In faithless covetousness. That since manna did fall no more from heaven about their tents, the Lord did heed His people no longer, every man must catch what come to his hands, so Achan took the accursed, &c. Here is scandal to them that were without; within themselves contempt of the Lord and His servant Joshua, in his own heart an inordinate desire to grow rich and sumptuous. Now turn to the punishment of this man. Behold Achan, the son of Zerah, that man perished not alone in his iniquity. Achan that had outlived the corruption of his young years, and was grown in age able to go to warfare, to have many children, to know how to steal from God, and dissemble with Joshua, doth his hoary head go down with peace into the grave? Like the web of Penelope, all that hath been wrought in the year may be ravelled out in a night. Secondly, He that was spared among all the dangers of the wilderness is consumed in the city; he that could escape the pilgrimage of forty years is doomed to die in Canaan; he that was not devoured in the fire of Taberah is burnt in the valley of Achor. As Aristotle speaks of Homer's poetry, when he set up walls for Troy in one book, and plucked them down in another. They that walk in the night preserve the flame of their torch or candle from winds and casualties abroad, which notwithstanding they put out when they return to their home. So Achan that walked over the sea, when the bridge was under water, and lived among scorpions, and was not consumed in the sedition of Dathan, nor slain in the battles of Moab, yet the vessel is not cast away in the ocean sea, but in the haven, and his light is put out at home in the long-expected Canaan. Note this, thirdly, in Achan's person, mischief did light upon him, not in the hunger and thirst of the wilderness, not in his poverty, but having compiled much riches together, enough to purchase a good fee-simple in Canaan if the Lord had not given him his portion. Men think themselves nowadays past the law and penalties of death, when they have sinned so much that they are grown wealthy in iniquity; because, if need be, they can buy the favour of the judge. But this man, when he was furnished to live sumptuously, then he is cut off, that, as Solomon says, the remembrance of death may be bitter to that man, who thought it pleasant to live. This was St. Austin's rule when he was old and had learnt the world: "I fear no hurt from the world when it goes against me, and casts a froward look upon my fortunes, but my danger is near at hand, when it smiles and flatters me, as if all were happy." The sponges that swell with liquors are most likely to be pressed and emptied. Now recollect these three qualities of Achan, who was more likely to prosper than a soldier in the flower of his age, a joyful man at his journey's end in the land of his peace, a wealthy man in the plenty of his riches. Take it to thought, all you that have the world tied unto you with a threefold cord of health and peace and prosperity, which men dream as if it could not be broken; for it broke like tow among the sparks. I have many theorems to propound unto you, but all shall end in this doctrine, that excepting the first Adam, the root of our corrupt nature, and excepting the second Adam, who, being without spot or sin, gave Himself to the death of the Cross for the sins of all the world, these two excepted, every man dies for his own iniquity. First, I do presume that you will consent unto me that the heart of man is only evil continually, and that we may call it, as Theodorus did revile Tiberius, mud tempered with pollution. Then, it is confessed, that the wages of sin is death. Give me your credit but to one thing more. You are bound to answer to as painful and severe a death as God's vengeance shall inflict upon you. Observe these points, then. First, If the disobedience of one sinner is enough to consume many persons, Lord whither will a multitude of iniquity send one man headlong? Sufficient are our evil days wherein we have walked too much before after the vanity of our mind. Secondly, As the greatest unity of the triumphant Church above doth consist in the glory which they enjoy together in the sight of God, so our unity of the militant Church below is to suffer and die together. It is that which must combine the souls of Christians. Thirdly, Shall not this make me as careful to prevent every man's sins as mine own? Shall I not offer myself to be my brother's keeper? Like watch men that compass the city in the night, not only for the safety of their own house, but lest any mansion take fire about them. Thus is the brief sum of the second part of my text, man perished in iniquity. Secondly, That man Achan, a branch of the olive tree, even Israel which God had planted. But an evil branch is evil though the stock were a cedar of Libanus. Is it any glory for the dead branches to boast they were vine branches, and not heythorn, since they are cut off and cast away? Lastly, He fell down like the tower of Siloam, and brained all that were about him. I have but one short part to dispatch, his execution, that man perished, &c. To search much into Achan's punishment were not the way to be more learned, but more tormented. Briefly thus, Every man in the rank of a subject lives under the authority of three commanders —
1. Under the conscience of his own heart.
2. Under the laws of his king.
3. Under the commandments of God.And if we displease either God or the king, or our own conscience, vengeance meets us on every side. Conscience hath a worm in store, nay, a cockatrice to sting us; the magistrate bears a sword to divide us; but especially it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. In an evil conscience we die unto all joy and comfort; in our trespass against the laws of man we die unto men; in breaking the statutes of God we die unto heaven: surely he deserved not to die but one death that offended three. Some, perchance, will go a thought further, and pronounce a fearful sentence that this man was wiped for ever out of the book of the living. Nothing should make me mistrustful and doubt of his salvation but his too late repentance. Is this a time to leave off sin when we must leave off life and can sin no more? Do you then come to play the huxters for mercy, as if the market were cheapest at the latter end of the day?
Parallel VersesKJV: Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel? and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.