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Article VII. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
THIS is the great and awful doctrine, which makes all the preceding ones so important to us: that "God hath appointed a day, in the which he
will judge the world in righteousness by that man, whom he hath ordained:" a truth, the belief of which, it infinitely concerns every one of us to settle well in our souls, and be duly affected by it.
The reason of our minds, and even the feelings of our hearts, give us very strong grounds to be persuaded of a future judgment, had we no further evidence. We are, all of us, by nature, capable of perceiving what is just and right for us to do, and what is otherwise; we are all capable of acting according to this preception; we all see it is fit we should; and fit we should suffer for it, if we do not. When we behave according to our duty, there springs up a delightful peace and serenity within our breasts: when we knowingly transgress it, we not only disapprove and accuse ourselves, whether we will or not, but experience a foreboding expectation of just recompenee. "For wickedness, condemned by her own witness, "is very timorous: and being pressed with con"science, always forecasteth grievous things." Nor do these horrors relate only, or chiefly, to what we have deserved to suffer in this world: but
(1) Aets xvii. 31.
(2) Wisd. xvii. 11.
when our share in it draws to an end, and death approaches, then our fears grow stronger than ever, concerning somewhat, which is yet to come." And thus are all men "a law unto themselves; "and show the work of the law written in their "hearts, their conscience also bearing witness."+
That some persons are able to overwhelm these apprehensions under business and pursuits, to drown them in debauchery and intemperance, to divert them by pleasures and amusements, to set up little cavils against them, and even affect to ridicule them, is no objection in the least to their being just and well-grounded. The feeling is plainly natural: every one of these methods to get rid of it, is plainly a force upon nature. Often it returns with double terror for having been unjustly driven away; and seldom, or never, can the most thoughtless, or most hardened person, lose entirely those fears, which are seated in the very bottom of our souls; and which, if we could lose, we should only be the more surely miserable; for still the foundation of them would remain unshaken.
Still it would be true, that there is a God, who made us, and is at all times intimately present with us; who, therefore, with unspeakably more case perceives all that passes in our hearts, than we do one another's outward actions; who, being perfect in knowledge, dintinguishes, in every case, what is good from what is evil; and, being perfect in holiness, approves the one, and abhors the other. Even we are thus affected in some degree; and his infinite purity must, therefore, be infinitely more So. Now, what he hates, he can punish as he pleases; and reward what he loves; for all power
(3) Επειδαν τις εγγυς η τε οιεσθαι τελευτησεν, εισηεχεται αυτο φυβέλα και φροντις περι ὧν εν τω προσθεν εκ ειστεί.
Plat. de Rep. lib. 1.
(4) Rom. ii. 15.
is in his hands; all natutre depends on the word of his mouth; and he is the "same yesterday, to-day, "and for ever."5
Think, then, will the righteous and holy King of the whole earth, when he hath planted his laws in our hearts-when he hath made us for the very purpose of obeying them-when he hath filled us with so deep a sense of what will follow, if we disobey them-suffer us, after this, to despise and dishonour him, to injure his creatures, abuse ourselves, and disappoint the great design of forming us; and yet take no notice? Doth he govern the world, to the very least parts of it, with so much wisdom and care, in every other respect; and will he be so unwise and negligent, as to overlook the one thing, that deserves his attention above all; and make no distinction" between "him that serveth God, and him that serveth "him not ?”6 It cannot be; and the conscience of every one of you, at this moment, tells you it cannot.
If, then, such a distinction will be made, when and where will it be made? Here, in this world, it plainly is not done, to a degree that the Almighty Governor of it can possibly think suffi cient. Perpetually we see "just men, to whom "it happeneth according to the work of the "wicked; and wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous."7Amidst all this disorder, there are, indeed, evident marks of a Providence; but of a Providence that gives only specimens and earnests of its justice at present; reserving the full vindication and display of itself for that future state, in which our souls, being naturally immortal, are evidently-destined to exist; and where all men shall receive, ac
(5) Heb. xiii. 8.
(6) Mal. iii. 18.
(7) Eccl. viii. 14.
cording to their works. This is the great end that God had in his view, when he created us; and it is the principal point that we should have in our own view, through the whole of our lives.
More or less of mankind, even in their darkest ignorance, have always had some persuasion of a future recompence, which, however, mixed with errors, yet, being thus universal and lasting, must have been grounded in nature and truth. And the wiser and better any persons were, amongst the Heathens, the stronger and more rational belief they had of this doctrine; which, yet, was not owing merely to their wishes and their hopes; for the worst of sinners, that were the farthest from desiring a just reward hereafter, feared it, whether they would or not. Thus, we find it recorded of a very wicked Heathen, that when Paul reasoned of righteousness_and temperance, and judgment to come, "trembled."8
But still, while the evidence of this great Article; consisted wholly in mere human reasonings, about a matter that was out of sight, bad persons, though they could not help, at some times, believing enough to fright them, yet made a shift at others, to disbelieve enough to make them tolerably easy in doing wrong; and good persons, though they might have hope sufficient to influence them in common cases, yet often had not sufficient to support them under harder duties, and heavier afflictions than ordinary. Even the obscurer confirmations of this doctrine, in the Old Testament, therefore, were a great benefit to those who partook of them; and as they had no right to any such assurances of it, they had no cause to complain that they were not clearer. But we have infinite cause to be thankful, who are fa
(8) Acts xxiv. 5.
voured in the Gospel with the fullest and strongest attestation to this most interesting of all our concerns. Christians, unless they renounce their Christianity, cannot disbelieve a future judgment. The only difficulty is, to be influenced by our belief, as we ought. And in that, also, the Scripture hath given us the best help, which is possible to be given, by its affecting accounts of the several particulars that relate to this awful transaction ; the persons on whom, the persons by whom, the time when, the things for which, and the manner in which, the final sentence of happiness or misery is to be pronounced. These points, therefore, I shall now endeavour to place before you distinctly. And,
1. The persons on whom, are, the quick; that is, the living, and the dead. All that have died before, in every age of the world, shall be restored to life; and all that remain alive, shall be joined with them to receive their doom; nor shall any exception be made. For we are expressly assured, that "the dead, small and great, shall "stand before God." The very highest, there fore, shall not escape by their power, the richest by their wealth, the wisest by their abilities, or artfulness; nor, on the other hand, shall the meanest wretch be looked on as too inconsiderable for God's notice; or the most ignorant be exempted from answering for the care which he hath taken to get the knowledge that he might; and to use the knowledge that he had of his duty. Whatever our station be, we are bound alike to behave in it as well as we can; and how far we have done so, and how far we have failed of it, is the one inquiry that our Judge will make. Other dis tinctions, how considerable soever they appear in our eyes, to him are as nothing. All creatures
(9) Rev. xx. 12.