« PreviousContinue »
ACTS XVII. 31.
Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained;whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
The coherence of the text opened. The determining a time, and the designation of the person to judge the world, are expressed. God is king of the world by creation. The two principal parts of his sovereignty, are giving laws to rule his subjects, and to pass final judgment according to those laws. His essential attributes qualify him for the exercise of government. The Son of God united to the human nature, is wisely appointed to judge men. The quality of this office requires no less person, upon the account of its superlative dignity, and immense difficulty. It is the reward of his sufferings. The Day of Judgment is styled the great day in several respects. To define the particular time, is beyond the knowledge of any mere creature.
Saint Paul had this title of honor eminently conferred upon him, the " Apostle of the Gentiles this office he performed with persevering diligence, diffusing " the light of life to those that sat in darkness, and in the shadow of death." In this chapter, we have recorded the substance of his sermon to the Athenians; wherein his admirable zeal and prudence are remarkable, in the matter and order of his discourse, to convince and persuade them to receive the saving truth of the gospel. He first lays down the principles of natural religion, to prepare them for the more easy belief of supernatural revealed religion. The depravation of the minds of men was in no instance more prodigious, than in their villifying conceits of the Deity: they attributed his name and OF ETERNAL JUDGMENT.
honor to various idols, and ascribed to him their own figure, and, which was infinitely more unworthy and dishonorable, their own passions and vices. They adored their own vain imaginations: the idols of their hearts were erected on their altars. Venus was a goddess, because impure love reigned in their breast. Bacchus had religious rites, because sensual pleasures, as sweet as wine, intoxicated their spirits. These errors, as gross as impious, were universal; the philosophers themselves were not exempted from the contagion. The apostle therefore makes use of the clearest arguments, to give authority to the plain conspiring voice of nature, that had so long in vain recalled them from idolatry to the worship of the only true God. He therefore declares, that the divine maker of all things, the Father of Spirits, could not be represented by corporeal and corruptible things, verse 29. but was to be acknowledged and adored in a manner becoming his spiritual and infinite perfections. That he made all nations of one blood, ver. 26. though distinguished in their habitations and times, that they might seek and serve one universal creator. And though the Pagan world for many ages had lived in an unnatural oblivion of God, and he seemed unconcerned for their violation of his laws; yet it was not from the defect of justice, but the direction of his wisdom, that his patience was so long extended to them. And this he proves by the new and most express declaration of his will: "but now he commandeth all men every where to repent; because he hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance to all men, in that he raised him from the dead." In the words, the eternal counsels of God are revealed, in two great things:
1. The determining a time wherein he will righteously judge the world: he hath appointed a day.
2. The designation of the person by whom he will perform that eminent part of sovereignty; by Jesus Christ, whom he hath raised from the dead.
In order to the handling of the main point, it is requisite to premise briefly some propositions.
[1.] That God is the universal monarch of the world, and has supreme authority to govern reasonable creatures, antecedent to their election and consent. The Psalmist calls to the heathen, know ye that the Lord is God, Psal. 100. 3. that is, the most glorious being, and absolute sovereign; "For it is he that made us, and not we ourselves." He formed all things by his almighty goodness, and is king by creation.
[2.] The two principal and necessary parts of his sovereignty are, to give laws for the ruling of his subjects, and to pass final judgment upon them for their obedience or disconformity to his precepts. Mere natural agents are regulated by a wise establishment, that is the law of their creation: the sun and stars are moved according to the just points of their compass: the angels are under a law in heaven, "and obey his commandments." The human nature of Christ, though advanced to the highest capacity of a creature, yet received a law: and his whole work upon earth for our salvation, was an act of obedience to the will of God. If a prince, out of affection to his friend, will leave his own dominions, and live privately with him in a foreign country, he must be subject to the laws of that place. Indeed, it is not conceivable, that a creature should be without a law ; for this is to make it supreme andlndependent: supreme, in not being liable to a superior power to confine and order it; independent, as to its being and operations; for dependence necessarily infers subjection. There is a visible connexion between those titles; the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; Isa. 33. 22. And sometimes in scripture his sovereighty is intimated in the title of a judge: Thus in that humble expostulation of Abraham for Sodom; "Shall not the judge of all the world do right"? He addresses his request to God under that title, to soften his power, and incline his clemency to save the wicked for their sakes who were comparatively righteous, that is, innocent of their crying sins.
[3.] As his right to govern and judge the world is natural, so are his attributes, his wisdom, holiness, justice and power, that qualify and render him most worthy to exercise this government. These are finite separable qualities in angels oi men, but essential perfections to the Deity. It is more rational to conceive, that things may be congealed by the heat of fire, or turned black by whiteness, than that the least act of injustice can be done by the righteous Lord. The Apostle rejects, with extreme detestation, the blasphemous charge of unrighteousness in God's proceedings: is God unrighteous, that taketh vengeance? God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? Rom. 3. 5. 6. He may as soon renounce his nature, and cease to be God, (for as such he is necessarily judge of the world) as violate his own perfections in his judicial proceedings with us.
[4.] God being invisible in his own nature, hath most wisely ordained the last judgment of the word to be transacted by a visible person; because men are to be judged and the whole process of judgment with them will be for things done in the body. The person appointed for this great work, is Jesus Christ the Son of God, united to the human nature. The Father judgeth no man, John 5. 22. not as if he descended from the throne, and divested himself of his supremacy, but not immediately ; but hath committed all judgment to the Son. And it follows, as the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the son of man ; ver. 26. 27. that is, in the quality of mediator, for the reward of his sufferings. The quality of this office requires no less person for the discharge of it, than the Son of God.
1. Upon the account of its superlative dignity. No mere creature is capable of such a glorious commission: to pass a sovereign sentence upon angels and men, is a royalty reserved for God himself. We read, that no man in heaven or earth was able to open the sealed book of his eternal counsels, as unsearchable as deep, Rev. 5. only Jesus Christ, who was in the bosom of the father, the seat of his counsels and compassions, and was acquainted with all his glorious secrets, could unfold the order of the Divine decrees about the church. And if no creature was worthy to be admitted into God's counsel, much less to be taken into his throne: the eternal Son, "the express image of his person," is alone fit to be his authorized representative in judgment. Our Saviour declares, that the Father invested the Son with this regal power, that all men should honor the Son, John 5. 23. with the same religious reverence, and supreme adoration, as they honor the Father.
2. Upon the account of the immense difficulty, no mere creature is able to discharge it. To judge the world, includes two things: 1. To pass a righteous and irrevocable judgment upon men for all things done in this life. 2. The actual execution of the sentence And for this no less than infinite wisdom and infinite power are necessary. If a select number of angels of the highest order were deputed, yet they could not manage the judicial trial of one man: for besides the innumerable acts and omissions in one life, the secrets of the heart, from whence the guilt or goodness of moral actions is principally derived, are not open to them. He alone that discerns all things, can require an account of all.
3. The son of man is invested with this high office, as the reward of his sufferings. We must distinguish between the essential and economical power of Christ. The Son of God, considered in his divine nature, has an original power of judgment equal with the Father; but considered as Mediator, has a power of delegation. In the quality of the Son of Man, he is inferior in dignity to the Father. The Apostle declares this in that scale of subordination of the creatures to believers, and of believers to Christ, and of Christ to God; "all things are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.'1 And observing the beautiful order that arises from the superiority and dependance between things, he saith, the "head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God." Now this power by commission was conferred upon him, as the reward of his sufferings. The Apostle expressly declares it, that Christ being in the form of God, and without any usurpation truly equal to him in divine perfections and majesty, "humbled himself, and became obedient to the death of the cross.