« PreviousContinue »
lated to strike and impress our minds. The circumstance, for instance, of books being opened before the Judge, as containing a register of every man's actions, and of the dead being judged from what had been written in those books, is plainly a metaphorical allusion to what is practised among men; designed merely to convey the strongest impression of God's strict and accurate observation of the minutest particulars of men's behaviour on earth. It is sufficient for us to be satisfied, that whatever tremendous grandeur may attend the judgement of the Last Day, it will be conducted in such a manner, as shall be suitable to the perfections of the Almighty.--Resting on such facts as are plainly and explicitly revealed on this subject, let us consider,
In the first place, the Person who is to act as a judge, even the eternal Son of God. We must all,' says the text, ' appear before the judgement-seat of Christ.' This is repeated in many passages of the New Testament. The day of judgement is termed the day of the Son of Man.' “ The Father,' we are told, ‘judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgement to the Son.' (John v. 22.]– This constitution of Providence is, in many respects, wise, fit, and gracious. It was highly proper that He who once, in the cause of God and mankind, stood as a criminal before impious judges on earth, should be thus signally vindicated and honoured, by appearing in the illustrious character of the Judge of all the earth. It was fit that the character of Judge and Sovereign should be made known, as added to the other characters he bore, of Priest and Prophet, in order to give weight and authority to all his precepts, from the awful consideration that on our obedience to him depends our everlasting fate.-But the most striking and important circumstance in this appointment of Providence, is the assurance which it affords us, of the perfect equity of this final judgement. For here we behold a Judge who is taken, as we may say, from among ourselves. He dwelt among us on earth, and did not disdain to call us brethren. He knows experimentally what human passions and buman frailties are; and what the Apostle to the Hebrews says of him as a Priest, may be as fully applied to him as a Judge: "We have not a Judge who cannot be touched with the feelings of our infirmities; but One who was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.' The infinite majesty of the Supreme Being is an object at all times overwhelming to the mind. In the situation of a Judge partis cularly, it might fill us with dismay. But in the Person of our blessed Redeemer, that majesty is placed in a milder light. The attribute of mercy comes forward in so conspicuous a manner, as to allay the dread we would otherwise entertain, To the obstinate and hardened sinner, the judgement of our Saviour may indeed justly occasion terror. Well may they be afraid of appearing before the judgement-seat of Christ, who have scorned and despised him and his religion. But to the pious and the humble, no consideration can carry more comfort than that they are to appear in judgement before him, who so loved the human race as to die for them; and from whom, therefore, may be expected every favourable allowance which their case will admit. From the contemplation of the Judge,
· In the second place, turn our thoughts towards the persons who are to be judged. These, we are again and again informed, shall be all mankind; both the quick and the dead ; those who shall then be found upon the earth; and all the past generations who have finished their course, and been long ago gathered unto their fathers. "We must all,” says the text,
appear before the judgement-seat of Christ.'-No privilege shall exempt the great, no obscurity shelter the low, from the judgement of God. All the frivolous distinctions which fashion and vanity had introduced among men, shall at that day be annihilated. No longer shall we then appear under the personated characters of high and low, of rich and poor. Under the simple characters of men and subjects of God, we shall be brought forth to be judged according to our works. In the one great distinction of good and bad, of righteous or wicked, all other distinctions shall then be eternally lost.--Let the foresight of this humble the pride of the ostentatious and the great. Thou, who now carriest thy head so high, shalt, upon the same footing with thy lowest dependent, stand before the tribunal of the Almighty. Thou, who now oppressest thy weak brother with impunity, shalt then tremble for thine own safety as much, perhaps more, than he ; for there is no respect of persons with God.'-The last day is justly styled the day of the revelation of the secrets of all hearts.' Stripped of all disguise, the character of every man shall be unveiled to public view. Then shall the false friend be detected, the concealed slanderer be exposed, the secret adulterer, the treacherous enemy, the hypocritical pretender, be all brought to light.-What a check should the thought of this discovery give to the arts of dissi. mulation and falsehood? What avails it thee, O wise man of the world! to pass for a short time with fair colours before the eye of men, if by the eye of God thou art already discovered, and shalt, at last, be discovered to the view of all mankind ? If now thou art so solicitous to conceal thy real character from the world, and canst not bear that the designs and intrigues which have passed through thy mind, in the course of but one day, should all be made known, dost thou not tremble at the thought of the whole machinations of thy life being brought forth and proclaimed, before assembled men and angels ?-At this great day, too, when secret vice is made known in order to be punished, secret virtue shall be disclosed and rewarded. The humble good man, who passed unnoticed through the obscurity of private life; whose days, if not marked by any splendid deeds, were ennobled by virtuous actions; shall then be singled out from the crowd, and brought forward as the friend of God and Heaven.-The anguish of the wicked, upon the discovery and comparison of the life of such a person with their own, is thus beautifully described by one of the Apocryphal writers : « This was he whom we had sometimes in derision, and a proverb of reproach. We fools accounted his life madness, and his end to be without honour. Now he is numbered among the children of God, and his lot is among the saints. But we wearied ourselves in the way of destruction. What hath pride profited us? Or what good hath riches with our vaunting brought us? All those things are passed away like a shadow, and as a post that hasted by. But the righteous live for evermore. Their reward also is with the Lord; and the care of them with the Most High.'-(Wisdom of Solomon, vi. 3—15.] From this view of the persons who are to appear before the judgement-seat of Christ, let us, ·
In the third place, go on to the consideration of the things for which they are to be judged. These, we are told in the text, are all the things done in the body, whether they be good or bad.' This is the constant tenour of the Scripture, that men are to be judged according to their actions. It is not said, that men are to be finally judged according to their principles or belief, but according to their works.':. This does not lead to any conclusion, that principles or belief are not essential in forming a character. Without good principles it cannot be expected there can be any regular tenour of good actions. But actions are the test of principles. Whatever we may pretend as to our belief, it is the strain of our actions that must show, whether our principles have been good or bad; and supposing them ever so good, whether we have allowed them to exert a proper influence on our conduct. The constant doctrine of the Gospel is, by their fruits ye shall know them.'
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, but he that doeth the will of my Father, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.' (Matthew vii. 21.] Of all the actions we have done, it is represented that, in the day of judgement, strict examination shall be taken. Not our public conduct only, and what we reckon the momentous parts of our life, but the indulgence of our private pleasures, the amusements of our secret thoughts and idle hours, shall be brought into account. According to that emblematical representation given in the Gospel, which I before mentioned as an expressive figure, there is an invisible pen always writing over our heads, and making an exact register of all the transactions of our life.--How careful and circumspect ought this to render us over every part of our behaviour! If any of our actions were of a transient and fugitive nature; if they were to die with us, and to be forgotten as soon as they are gone, there might be some excuse for a loose and inconsiderate conduct. But we know the case to be widely different; and that what we are doing now, we do for eternity. None of our actions perish and are forgotten. They will all accompany us to the tribunal of God. They will there testify, either for or against us; and, however much we might wish to disclaim some of them, they may be considered as lifting up their voices and saying, "We are thine, for thou hast done us; we are thy works, and we will follow thee !'
It will now be said, if so severe a scrutiny must be undergone for all we have done and thought, who shall be able to stand before God in judgement ?-How far from innocence shall the best of us be found at that day?-The thought is undoubtedly alarming. But let us not despond; we are asesured, · There is forgiveness with God that he may be feared. He is not extreme to mark iniquity ; for he knows our frame, and remembers, we are dust.' Powerful is the atonement of our blessed Redeemer to procure pardon for the greatest sinner who has been penitent. We have all reason to believe, that amidst numberless infirmities which attend humanity, what the great Judge will chiefly regard, is the habitual prevailing turn of our heart and life; how far we have been actuated by a sincere desire to do our duty. This we know for certain, that all the measures of this judgement shall be conducted with the most perfect equity. God will not exact from any man what he had never given him. He will judge him according to the degree of light that was afforded him, according to the means of knowledge and improvement that were put into his hands. Hence many a virtuous heathen shall be preferred before many mere professors of Christian faith. They shall come from the east and the west, the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God; when the children of the kingdom are cast out.' (Luke xii. 29. Matt. viii. 11.) For as the Apostle to the Romans hath taught us, they who sinned without the law,' that is, without the knowledge of the written law, shall perish,' shall be judged, ' without the law: for when the Gentiles which have not the law, do, by nature, the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves. [Romans ii. 12. 14.] In the account given by our Lord of the procedure of the last judgement, in the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, particular stress is laid upon works of beneficence and mercy; on the hungry being fed, the naked being clothed, and the sick being visited by the righteous. But though, in that parable, no virtues of any other kind are particularized, we are certainly not to infer any exclusion of other parts of duty: piety, justice, temperance, and purity are requisite to the character of the man who, at the Last Day, will be accepted with God. The scope of the parable was to impress that covetous and selfish nation of the Jews, to whom the parable was addressed, with a deep sense of the importance of those virtues in which they were remarkably deficient, and which are in themselves so essential-compassion and humanity to their brethren.-It now only remains,