« PreviousContinue »
the apostle John beheld in vision this great and glorious and solemn scene. “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life: And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books according to their works.” These declarations are too explicit to need any comment; they literally speak the language of the text, and confirm the representation it gives of the gen. eral judgment: which is also agreeable to the nature and apprehensions of mankind as well as the character of the Deity and the present dispensations of divine providence.
It is, in the first place, perfectly consonant to the nature of men as moral agents. They are endued with perception, reason, memory, conscience, and all the powers and faculties which are requisite to moral agency. And being moral agents, they are proper subjects of law and moral government. The Supreme Being therefore, will treat them but according to their nature, to call them to an account for all the deeds done in the body, and give them a just recompense of reward. Hence every man carries in the very frame and constitution of his nature, an irresistible ev, idence of a future judgment.
Accordingly, this is agreeable to the natural apprehensions of mankind. As they are sensible they lie open and naked to the view of the omniscient God, so they naturally expect he will call them to an account for all the inward motions and exercises of their hearts, as well as outward actions of their lives. The man who embrues his hand in the blood of his fellowcreature, though concealed from every other eye but the omniscient, has a secret fearful apprehension of the righteous judgment of God. And, though he is
neither accused nor suspected of his crime, yet his own conscience binds him over to the judgment of the great day. This is the secret voice of nature, which has discovered itself on many occasions. The barba. rians, when they saw the viper on Paul's hand, “Said among themselves, no doubt this man is a murderer, whom though he hatḥ escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.”: The mariners in the ship with Jonah, when they found themselves in danger of perishing by a mighty tempest, “Said, come let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is come
And when Joseph's brethren were thrust into prison, and subjected to great and unexpected misfortunes, they immediately recollect their cruel and unnatural treatment of their brother, as the procuring cause of their present calamities. “They said one to another, we are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear: Therefore is this distress come upon us." All men thus feel the natural connexion between moral evil and physical, between sinning and suffering, between guilt and punishment. Hence every man's conscience presages a future day of retribution, when he must give an account of himself to God, as the supreme and final Judge.
And this is further confirmed by the rectitude of the divine character and government. Since the Au. thor of Nature is infinitely holy, just and good, he must necessarily conduct agreeably to these divine attributes in the government of moral beings, and dispense rewards and punishments according to their respective characters. The present state of things, how, ever, clearly evinces that the day of retribution is yet to come. Here, as Solomon observes, all things come alike to all, there is one event to the righteous and the
wicked, and no man knoweth either love or hatred, by the present dispensations of divine providence to. wards him But as things cannot always continue so under the administrations of a Being of perfect rectitude; so the present state of the world is a clear demonstration of a future general judgment, when the Supreme Being will review the conduct of all his intelligent creatures, and reward the righteous and pun. ish the wicked according to their works.
II. Our Lord speaks of one distinction in the char: acters of men, which will absorb all other distinctions, and divide the whole world into two classes at the last day. "Before him shall be gathered all nations: And he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right band, Come, ye blessed of my Father, &c. -For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, &c.—For I was an hungered and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: Nak. ed, and ye clothed me not: sick and in prison, and ye visited me not." In
many respects the righteous and the wicked resemble each other. They are often alike as to their natural powers and abilities. In this view, Absalom, Joab and Ahitophel resembled Moses, David and Solomon. There is also a resemblance in their natural tempers and dispositions. Absalom and the young man in the gospel, were perhaps in this respect, as ami
able as Moses, or the beloved disciple who leaned on Jesus' breast. These, and many other circumstances which arise from birth, rank, fortune, religious denominations, &c. are common both to the righteous and the wicked, and will not characterise mankind at the last day. But there is a difference in the hearts of men, which forms a capital distinction in their characters and will finally place some on the right, and some on the left hand of their Judge. And this is the distinction, which our Lord here mentions and describes. He represents the righteous as possessed of that divine love and charity, by which they sought the. glory of God and the good of their fellow creatures in all their actions. But he represents the wicked as actuated by a low, mean, mercenary, contracted disposition, which confined all their views and pursuits to their own good, Both these dispositions are described by the apostle Paul. His description of charity or divine love is in these words. “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." So says our Lord in the text: But the description continues. “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself upseemly, seeketh not her own, &c. Whereas the contrary disposition, the apostle says, makes men lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accus. ers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure, more than lovers of God.” Heat and cold, light and darkness cannot be more diametrically opposite, in their nature and effects, than these two dispositions are. And since all mankind are governed by one or the other of these two principles of action, so there is an essential distinction in their characters, which justly denominates them all either righteous or wicked. Accordingly we find the scripture every where takes notice of this capital distinction in the characters of men, and marks it by such discriminating epithets as these the godly and the ungodly—the holy and the unholythe just and the unjust-saints and sinners—the friends of God and the enemies of God—the children of light and the children of darkness—the children of God and the children of the devil.
As this distinction is of great importance, and closely connected with the subject before us, we shall consider it a little more particularly:
The Supreme Being, in the course of providence, hath acknowledged and paid a visible regard to this distinction between the righteous and the wicked. In describing the character of Noah, he represents him as essentially different from the rest of mankind at that day. “God looked upon the earth, and behold it was corrupt: For all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth: And the Lord said unto Noah, come thou, and all thy house into the ark: For thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation.” Here God distinguished the righteous from the wicked, and, to exhibit a public and visible regard to this distinction, he saved the righteous and destroyed the wicked