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nevolent thoughts and desires: and these discoveries will evidence them to have been the
genuine followers of the holy Jesus. We must even go further still in this matter: the state of every man's heart, and the motives of his actions will then be fully disclosed. The admired morality of numbers will then be demonstrated to have been only a modification of self-love ; without any real regard to the authority or glory of God. The Pharisee's prayers, fasting, and almsgiving will be shown to have resulted solely from pride and ostentation. Many will be proved to have preached the gospel from envy and strife, from avarice or ambition ; and to have professed it, as a step to emolument or distinction.-In short every mask will then be taken off; many admired characters will appear completely odious and contemptible; and “the things which have been highly esteemed among men” will appear to have been “abomination in the sight of God.” Need I say, how tremendous this must be to dissemblers of every description, who now act a plausible part, and exhibit on the stage of the world in an assumed character ?
But on the other hand, the humility, gratitude, zealous love, and holy affections of true believers will be made manifest to the universe. The pure motives of those actions, which were censured or calumniated, will be demonstrated: every accusation will be silenced, all misapprehensions removed; and it will be undeniably evident, that from the time when they made an explicit profession of the gospel, their repentance, faith, love, and habitual conduct were answerable to that profession.—We proceed therefore,
III. To advert to the consequences of these discoveries.
By them the immense difference of character between the righteous and the wicked, will be undeniably manifested. In this world, numbers find it convenient to varnish over their crimes, to palliate or excuse many parts of their conduct, and to cast others, as it were, into the back ground, where they are little observed ; while, regardless of their hearts, they have leisure to place their counterfeit virtues in a conspicuous light, and to make them appear immensely better than they really are.
:-On the contrary, the believer has many infirmities, and is engaged in a sharp conflict with “ the sin that dwelleth in him," and with the temptations of Satan. The world rigorously scrutinizes his conduct; and the Lord tries his faith and grace, as silver is tried in the furnace. He is so afraid of hypocrisy and ostentation, that he carefully conceals many things which might exalt his character, and scrupulously shuns the appearance of good before men, when he but suspects that there is not the reality of it in the sight of God. 2 Cor. xii. 6. On these and other accounts, the apparent difference betwixt true Christians, and specious hypocrites or moralists, bears no proportion to the degree in which their characters do re differ. But the discoveries of the great day will perfectly distinguish them, and all the world will “ discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God, and him that serveth him not."
When the Lord shall thus “ bring to light the hidden things of darkness," every mouth will be “stopped, and all the world will become guilty before God; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God.” Rom. iii. 19, 20. The discoveries of the great decisive day will completely elucidate this fundamental doctrine of Christianity, which is now so generally misunderstood or opposed : for the whole of men's thoughts, words, and works, will appear so contrary to the holy precepts of God, or so far short of their spiritual perfection, that all must then feel the force of David's words, “ If thou, Lord, shalt mark iniquity, O Lord, who shall stand?” As therefore “ all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” all must fall under condemnation, who are not interested in the salvation of the gospel.
But it may be asked, in what sense then will every man be judged according to his works? This shall be reserved for the subject of a separate dise
course: and it may suffice to answer at present, that all avowed unbelievers, however distinguished, will be judged and condemned for the sins they have committed ; and all professed believers will be judged according to their works, as proving, or disproving the sincerity of their profession.
The discoveries of this awful day will likewise silence all the blasphemies which are continually uttered against the justice of God in the condemnation of the wicked. It is on this account called “ the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” While men conceal or palliate by far the greatest and worst part of their conduct, they may argue plausibly against the denunciations of Scripture; but when the whole of their character and conduct shall be openly exhibited, and all the world shall know every thing respecting them which is now seen by the heart-searching Judge alone; then the justice of the tremendous sentence will be universally acknowledged; the friends of God will perceive and adore his glory in this part of his moral government; and the wicked shall be silent in darkness and despair, when bid to “ depart accursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
Far be it from us to suppose, that the merciful Saviour, who is TRUTH it. self, would use such language on this occasion, if not really applicable to the case! He does not allow us to speak deceitfully for him ; and will he utter fallacious words himself ?-Yet we cannot hear of eternal punishment, unquenchable fire, outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth, a worm that never dieth, and the place prepared for the devil and his angels, without feeling our hearts tremble, and revolt against the description.—How unspeakably dreadful then will be the accomplishment? when the Lord, to stop the sinner's mouth, by a discovery of his crimes, shall say, with stern indignation, “ these things hast thou done, and I kept silence: thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself, but I will reprove thee and set them in order before thine eyes !-Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.” Psal. 1. 21, 22. Cease then, poor sinner, to object and dispute ; and make haste to flee from the wrath to come, and to seek refuge in the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A more pleasing subject, however, is before us, while we contemplate the redeemed of the Lord, saved by his grace, washed from their sins in the Saviour's atoning blood, completely justified, absolved from every charge, and " presented faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy." Then death will be swallowed up in victory; and raptures inexpressible will commence a felicity, still to be increased, with the enlargement of their capacities, through the countless ages of eternity. But I must leave it to your own minds, brethren, to form some conception of the opposite sensations which will delight or agonize every heart, when the wicked “ shall go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal.”
“ And then shall every man have praise of God.” Then every humble believer, according to his measure of faith and grace, will be honoured with the commendation of his condescending Lord, for those services which the world condemned, and which perhaps his brethren undervalued or censured. To be accosted by the Judge of the world, in these most gracious terms, “ Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord,” will form an adequate gratification to the noblest ambition of which the rational nature is capable. Seeking for this glory, honour, and immortality, let us here be indifferent to all human applauses or contemptuous reproaches. This is the honour that cometh from God only, and is reserved for all his saints; when no more danger shall remain of their being exalted above measure, or sacrilegiously ascribing any thing to themselves : but when, on the contrary, they will cast their crowns before the throne, and return all to the bounteous Giver, in endless songs of adoring praise. Let us not faint then, on account of our trials and difficulties; for "our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, are working for us, a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
Let us also remember the caution, “ judge nothing before the time.” Our duty often requires us to form some judgment of men's characters and actions : but in all other respects, our business is with ourselves and the Lord, and not with our fellow-servants. And the more diligent we are to be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless, the less time and thought we shall have to spare, for censuring and condemning the conduct, or suspecting the motives of other men.
But do you, my friends, really believe these things ? and are you preparing to meet your Judge? I fear, the actions, conversation, and spirit of numbers awfully prove the contrary. Still, however, the Lord waits to be gracious: flee then to him as a Saviour, without longer delay, who will speedily come to be your Judge. You who profess the gospel, be advised and persuaded to examine yonrselves whether you be in the faith: look well to it that your evidences of conversion are clear and decisive ; for that day, of which we speak, will detect multitudes of self-deceivers, as well as unmask many artful hypocrites. And if you are conscious of following the Lord with an upright heart, take heed that you do not slacken your diligence, or yield
unwatchfulness: “ Let your loins be girded and your lights burning : and be yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord :" " for blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching ; verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve him.” Luke xii. 35—38. “ Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast and unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord : for as much as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
FINAL RETRIBUTION OF BELIEVERS AND UNBELIEVERS.
ROMANS, 11. 5—9.
Who will render to every man according to his deeds; to them, who, by patient con
tinuance in well-doing, seek for glory, honour, and immortality, eternal life; but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.
In meditating on the solemnities, discoveries, and consequences of that great decisive day, when the Lord shall come to be our Judge; we were obliged to pass over in a general manner, several important particulars relative to the subject : and especially we reserved for a separate discourse, the consideration of the manner in which all men will be judged according to their works, and receive according to what they have done, whether it be good or evil. The present will therefore be an appendix to the preceding discourse, as intended to illustrate its interesting truths, and to render them more perspicuous and impressive. In the passage before us, the apostle does not undertake to decide a controverted point of doctrine, to state the method of a sinner's justification; or to account for that difference of character which actually subsists among the descendants of fallen Adam. These subjects he hath fully discussed in other parts of his writings: but here he takes occasion from his subject to shew, that the opposite conduct of the righteous and the wicked will terminate in future happiness or misery. He considers some
persons more favoured by providence than others, as the Jews had every way the advantage of the Gentiles: but he intimates that they generally abused those advantages to their deeper condemnation : “ Despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance ?" The more kind, patient, and merciful the Lord is, the baser our rebellion and ingratitude must appear; the greater cause have we to repent, and the more abundant motives and encouragements. But if men presume on his lenity, supposing that he will not or cannot punish, and so encourage themselves in sin, they “ despise the riches of his goodness and mercy: and " after their hardness and impenitent heart, treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds.” The treasures which they perhaps covetously and dishonestly accumulate on earth, must be left to their survivors : but the vast accessions, which impenitent sinners daily make to their load of guilt, and the heavy wrath of God against them, are laid up for themselves, to be their future and eternal portion. For at the great day of righteous retribution, God “ will render unto every man, according to his deeds : to them who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.”—In discoursing on these words, I shall endeavour,
1. To describe more fully the two characters contrasted by the apostle, and to shew the doom reserved for each of them.
II. Compare the statement thus made with several other important Scriptures, which may serve to elucidate and confirm it.
III. Explain more precisely the rules of judgment, as delivered in the sacred oracles : and,
IV. Make some particular application of the subject.
1. Then I shall endeavour to describe more fully the two characters contrasted by the apostle, and to shew the doom reserved for each of them.
The apostle's reasoning throughout this whole epistle proves, that he was speaking of sinners under a dispensation of mercy. He therefore considers a man, thus circumstanced, proposing to himself the acquisition of glory, honour, and immortality. Such a purpose would imply a belief of the Scriptural doctrine, concerning the perfections and government of God, the immortality of the soul, and a future state of righteous retribution: with a persuasion that eternal happiness is attainable even by sinners, in the way which the Lord hath revealed. At the same time the man is convinced, that the blessing must be sought with diligence and self-denial, and that it ought to be preferred before all other objects whatever. Thus, “ while there be many that say, Who will shew us any good,”—“ seeking every man his gain from his quarter,” pursuing worldly pleasures, honours, and distinctions, or wasting their lives in sloth and dissipation; he “ seeks first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and “ labours for the meat which endureth unto everlasting life." He is now become a candidate for “ glory, honour, and 'immortality :” and nothing, inferior to an endless inheritance and unfading joys, can satisfy the vast desires of his heart. Whatever he renounces, ventures, or suffers, he resolves to seek “ a kingdom that cannot be moved." He feels the force of our Lord's questions, “ What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” He does not, however, merely seek deliverance from wrath and misery; he is also athirst for happiness in the enjoyment of God, “ and of those pleasures which are at his right hand for evermore.” He attends to religion, not that he may be seen of men, or acquire reputation ; nor is he solely intent on pacifying an uneasy conscience : but as a
reasonable creature, formed for an immortal existence; he aims, in this introductory scene, to insure felicity in the world to come. He“ believes that God is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him ;" and therefore he seeks his favour as “ the one thing needful," and endeavours to render all other objects and pursuits subservient to this grand con
It is evident that men of this stamp are very scarce ; and that most of those who are called Christians, are wholly strangers to this habitual purpose and conduct. The few who answer the description, are not confined to any single sect, but are scattered about in the visible church, as dered at” for their singularity and preciseness. Now, at whatever period of life, any man is thus brought " to seek glory, honour, and immortality,” he enters on a new state, and constitutes a new character; “ being made free from sin, he becomes the servant of God, has his fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”
These persons seek the desired good," by patient continuance in welldoing.” A sinner cannot be said to do well, until he humbles himself before God for his transgressions, mourns for them in true repentance, confesses them with self-abhorrence and a sincere purpose of forsaking them, and seeks mercy in the way which God appointed, for the glory of his own name and the honour of his violated law. A rebel can do nothing well, so long as he vindicates and persists in his rebellion, refuses mercy because the terms of it are too humiliating, and is wholly averse to submission and renewed allegiance. The prodigal son when he came to himself, and determined to return home, and humbly crave his father's forgiveness, began to do well. The proud morality, formal devotion, or ostentatious liberality of an impenitent sinner, will never meet the approbation of that God, who sent his Son into the world," not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Humble penitents, and they alone, begin to answer to the character described by the apostle.
All such persons will likewise credit the testimony of God concerning his Son, and the way of acceptance through his atonement and mediation. Whatever modern reasoners may plausibly advance concerning the innocence of error, and the small importance of doctrinal truth: the inspired writers uniformly consider unbelief as springing from an evil heart; and false doctrines, as damnable heresies, and strong delusions, which God permits as the punishment of those who hate the truth, because they love sin." How can ye believe, who receive honour one of another?' “ This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil." “ He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life ; but he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” John iii. 16–21, 36. This is a fair specimen of the Scriptural declarations on this subject ; and as Christ " is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no-man cometh to the Father but by him;" we may assuredly infer, that no one does well, according to the apostle's meaning, who believes not in the Son of God, and refuses to seek eternal life as the gift of God in him.
The Lord hath instituted in his holy word, certain ordinances, as means of grace to our souls, and that in them we may render him the glory due unto his name. The characters of whom we speak, will certainly honour the Lord and seek his blessing, by a diligent and conscientious observance of these ordinances. They will also separate from bad company, avoid temptations and occasions of sin, exercise self-denial, and renounce all pleasures or interests, which interfere with the exercise of divine love and the obedience of faith; and they will prove the sincerity of their religious profession, by observing the directions, and copying the example of the Lord Jesus, and by walking in newness of life.
Numbers, like the stony ground hearers, shew much earnestnesss in these things, and express great confidence and joy : yet they are partial in obe