Page images

and the eternal law of God. Otherwise considered in itself, it were no more faulty to murder a parent, than to kill a Ay; nor to rob a traveller, than to chase a deer. But the conscience of the most profligate wretch would startle at such an assertion. The disposition and admirable order of the world in its various parts, and the vicissitude of seasons, declare to the observing mind, that a most wise, good and powerful God governs and preserves all things by his vigorous influence. And can it be that the Divine Providence, so visibly wise and good in regulating the course of nature, should be defective towards man, the most noble part of the world? And can it be extended to human asfairs, if there be no other than the present state, wherein the righteous are afflicted, and wicked prosper? Where sins of the deepest stain and the loudest cry are unpunished ; and the sublime and truly heroic virtues are unrewarded ? Nay, where vice receives the natural reward of virtue, honor and felicity; and virtue the just wages of vice, disgrace and sufferings ? It is necessary therefore that there be a future state, and a righteous distribution of rewards, according to the good and evil of mens actions here.

The heathens disguised this terrible truth, under the fictions of the infernal judges, Minos, and Rhadamanthus, and Æacus. And the furies and vultures, and fiery lake, which they thought tormented the wicked in the next * world, discover what apprehensions they had of the desert of sin, and the punishment that certainly attended it. The guilty would fain be freed from the terrors of it, and strangle conscience, that is bound over to give testimony in the day of judgment, that they may sin without scruples. But though fear be a troublesome and involuntary passion, they cannot totally extinguish the internal sense and presages of future judgment : but as the motions of courage came upon Sampson at times; so conscience awakened by sharp affictions, by sudden dangers, and the approaches of death, makes a sad deduction of past sins, and forecasts cruel things : it cites the offender before the enlightened tribunal of heaven, scourges with remorse, and makes him feel even here the strokes of hell. Though the sin be secret, and the guilty person powerful, not within the cognizance or reach of human justice, yet conscience has a rack within, and causes pain and anxiety, by fearful expectations of judgment to come.

And Divine revelation is most express in declaring this great truth. The light of faith is more clear and certain from the infallible Word of God, than the light of reason : before the flood, Enoch in the early age of the world foretold it: Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, Jude 14. 15. Solomon under the law repeats this

* Testimonium animæ naturaliter Christiana. Tert.



[ocr errors]

doctrine, that every secret thing shall be brought unto judgment, whether good or evil, Eccl. 12. And God himself speaks in the sublimest style of majesty, and swears by himself, for our former belief, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue confess to God, Isa. 45. 2. 3. the glory of his justice. From whence the Apostle infers, So then every one of us shall give an account to God for himself, Rom. 14. 10. 11. In the gospel we have distinctly described the person of the Judge, the glorious attendants of his coming, and the manner of his proceedings in that day, Mat. 13. 42. 43, and 24. 30. 31. Now the many * predictions in scripture, so visibly accomplished in the person of Jesus Christ, and by him, give infallible assurance that all his promises and threatenings are equally certain, and shall be fulfilled. As sure as our Saviour is come in his humble state, and has accomplished the prophecies of his sufferings, he will come in his glory to judge the world.

2. That the belief of eternal judgment may be powerful in our hearts and lives, it must be actuated by frequent and serious thoughts. Faith gives life and efficacy to our notions of eternal things, and consideration makes our faith effectual. As the natural life is preserved by the activity of the vital principles, the circulation of the blood, the drawing of the breath, the motion of the pulse; so the spiritual life is maintained by the exercise

The carnal affections dare not appear before reason and conscience, when awakened by the serious believing consideration of eternal judgment. The Evangelists relate, that when our Saviour was asleep in the ship, a sudden tempest arose, that was like to over-set it in the sea : but awakened by the cry of his disciples, “ Lord, save us, we perish : he presently rebuked the wind, and a calm ensued.” Thus whilst the habit of faith is asleep in the soul, there will be great danger from the concurrent violence of temptations and corruptions, but when it is awakened by lively and powerful thoughts, it does miracles in subduing the strongest lusts. It is monstrous, and beyond all belief, did not sensible experience make it evident, that notwithstanding the minds of men are convinced of the certainty of the Divine judgment, and the recompenses that immediately follow, yet their wills remain unconverted, and their affections cold and unactive in their preparations for it: that such numbers who have so much Christianity as to believe that an irrevocable doom will pass upon the wicked, and so little Christianity, that they cannot justly hope to escape from it, yet are so careless of their doty, nay joyful in their sinful courses, as if judgment were a dreadless thing. What is the cause of this prodigious security? It is the neglect of considering that “we must all appear before the

of grace.

* An vere extribuit nobis omnia quæ promisit, et de solo die judicii nos fefellit? Aug.

judgment-seat of Christ, to receive according to the things done in the body, whether good or evil.”

The next cause of this stupidity is, that they put the evil day at a remote distance : as the scorners said, “the vision is for many days :" they study to be secure, and delay their preparations, presuming to have time enough before them. Their senses and faculties are so employed abroad in the world, that they have neither leisure nor desire to think seriously of it. Their hearts are so ravished with dreams of sensuality, and engaged in terrene affairs, that they are very averse from exercising their minds upon such displeasing objects.

Vain men! how willingly do they deceive themselves? the Judge himself declares, “behold, I come quickly : his throne is like a fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire;" an emblem of his swift coming to judgment. Can they be assured of life one hour? The day of death is equivalent to the Day of Judgment : for immediately after there is a final decision of men's states forever.

I have read of an excellent preacher, that in a sermon described the last judgment in all its terrors, with such ardent expressions, and those animated with such an affecting voice, such an inflamed countenance and action, that his hearers broke forth into passionate cries, as if the Judge himself had been present to pass the final sentence upon them. In the height of their commotion, the preacher bid them stop their tears and passions, for he had one thing more to add, the most afflicting and astonishing consideration of all the rest, that within less than a quarter of an hour, the memory and regard of that which so transported them would vanish, and their affections return to carnal objects in their usual manner.

The neglect of consideration makes even the doctrine of judgment to come to be without efficacy. It is necessary therefore that the belief of this be so firmly seated in the heart as its throne, that it may command the thoughts to be very attentive to it, and may have regal power over our wills and affections, that our lives may be ordered according to its rules.

[2.] The consideration of eternal judgment will vindicate the proceedings of divine providence, and the honor of God's governing this world, from the imputation of unrighteousness. God is provoked every day, yet spares the wicked, and heaps an abundance of favors on them: his patience and goodness they profanely abuse, and become more obdurate and inflexible. They are apt to blaspheme the excellency of his nature in their hearts, Psal. 14. 1. thinking that he is ignorant or careless, impotent or unjust. They implicitly deny his providence and judgment, that he does not observe their sins, and will not require an account for them : or else they interpret his permission to be an approbation of their sins: These things hast thou done and I kept si


lence ; thou thoughtest I was such an one as thyself; Psal. 50. Thus the heathens transplanted the vices of earth to heaven, and represented their Gods to be sensual, jealous, furious as men, and accordingly expect an easy absolution for their sins. Or else the distance of judgment to come so hardens them, that they hear God's thunder with less fear, than boys do their squibs and crack

Because sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil, Eccles. 8. 2. But how desperate is the madness of sinners ? God now seems to wink at their sins, Acts 17. 30. but hath appointed a day of accounts. He suffers them to live in prosperity, but they are reserved to the day of judgment to be punished, 2 Pet. 2. 4. and possibly sooner; for sometimes they are cut off by visible vengeance, to convince the world that the supreme Judge does not bear the sword in vain. But though it is delayed for a time, yet he declares, that their sins are laid up in store with him, and sealed up among his treasures. To him belongs vengeance and recompense, Deut. 32, 34. He is a mild Judge now, and his clemency suspends their punishment; but justice will not forget it, Amos 8. 7. He threatens the secure sinner; I will reprove thee, and set thy sins in order before thine eyes, Psal. 50. 21. How will the scornful obstinate sinner change complexion, and tremble, when an army of sins ( more terrible than so many furies) shall be ranged in battle, and with fiery darts wound his naked soul? How will the stubborn Atheist, that pleases himself with vain imaginations of the eternity of the world, and the mortality of the soul, be confounded when he feels the truth of scripture threatnings to his eternal sorrow? Then all their railleries will be turned into lamentations. It is not for * want of power that God spares the wicked, but because they are always in his hands, and he can make them as miserable as they are sinful, when he pleases. It is not through the neglect of justice, but for most wise and holy reasons, as shall appear in the last day, when a decisive irreversible judgment shall be pronounced, and immediately inflicted on them before the world. When an | actor at Athens spoke with admiration of riches, as the most valuable acquisition, and of the felicity of rich men; the people were in an uproar at the immorality of the speech, and were ready to chase him from the stage : but the poet himself appeared, and desired them to stop their fury till the catastrophe,

[ocr errors]

* Cum habeat in potestate vindictam, mavult diu tenere patientiam. Cypriau de bon. Patient.

+ Ω χρυ' σε δεξιωμα καλλισον βρούτοις, &c. Cum hi novissimi versus in Tragædia Euripidis pronunciati essent, totus populus ad ejiciendum et Actorem et Carmen consurrexit uno impetu: Donec Euripides in medium prosiluit, petens ut expectarent, viderentque quem admirator auri exitum fáceret. Senec. Epist. 115.

the wretched end of that sordid miser. Thus we are apt to accuse the ways of God, when the wicked flourish; but we should stop our tumultuous thoughts, for their end will absolve Divine Providence from all undue reflections upon the account of their temporal happiness.

And the sound belief of this will rectify all mistaking apprehensions, and clear all perplexing appearances, about the sufferings of the righteous here.

Indeed, if we consider the holiest men as they are sinners, their afflictions are so far from blemishing the justice of God, that they are the signs of his mercy : for all is a favor on this side hell to those that deserve it. David, an excellent saint, acknowledgeth the righteousness of God's judgment with respect to himself. But when the saints suffer for a righteous cause, (and, as the Psalmist expresses it, For thy sake are we killed all the day long, and are counted as sheep for the slaughter, Psal. 44) there is not a visible correspondency between the Providence of God in his governing the world, and the unchangeable rules of justice, that those who do evil should suffer evil, and those who do well should be happy. As the apostle speaks to the persecuted christians; It is a righteous thing with God, to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you who are troubled rest with us, 2 Thess. 6. 7. Now there is a day coming, when the persecutors shall be punished, and the saints be rewarded for all their sufferings ; and the distribution of recompenses shall be in the presence of the world, for the glory of Divine justice. the distinction that is made between men at death, is private and particular, and not sufficient for the honor of God's government: but at the last day, all men that have lived in several successions of ages, shall appear, and justice have a solemn process and triumph before angels and men. As some excellent piece that is to be exposed to public view, is covered with a traverse, to prevent the disturbance in the working, and the discovery of the work, till brought to such perfection as will surprise with wonder those that see it; so God is pleased to cover his proceedings for a time; but in the last day, there will be such a revelation of the righteous judgment of God, Rom. 2. 7. that those who now doubt, or complain of his justice, shall admire and adore it.

[3.] The belief of this doctrine, as it vindicates Divine Providence, so it is powerful to comfort the saints under persecutions for righteousness sake; especially when innocence is wounded with slanderous darts, and calumnies are joined with cruelties, representing them as worthy of public hatred. It was one of the subtile artifices of Julian the apostate, to mingle the images of the heathen Gods with those of the emperors, that the doing reverence (as the christians were commanded) to all together, might imply a dereliction and renouncing of their religion, and their simplicity scem impiety; or if, jealous of slipping from their pro


« PreviousContinue »