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God is the supreme judge of the world.
1. God is so by right. He is by right the supreme and absolute ruler and disposer of all things, both in the natural and moral world. The rational understanding part of the creation is indeed subject to a different sort of government from that to which irrational creatures are subject. God governs the sun, moon, and stars; he governs even the motes of dust which fly in the air. Not a hair of our heads falleth to the ground without our heavenly Father. God also governs the brute creatures; by his providence, he orders, according to his own decrees, all events concerning those creatures. And rational creatures are subject to the same sort of government; all their actions, 176176 Except as they are sinful; for the sinfulness of actions is not included in the decrees of God, who is pure act from eternity to eternity. and all events relating to them, being ordered by superior providence, according to absolute decrees; so that no event that relates to them ever happens without the disposal of God, according to his own decrees. The rule of this government is God’s wise decree, and nothing else.
But rational creatures, because they are intelligent and voluntary agents, are the subjects of another kind of government. They are so only with respect to those of their actions, in which they are causes by counsel, or with respect to their voluntary actions. The government of which I now speak is called moral government, and consists in two things, in giving laws, and in judging.
God is, with respect to this sort of government, by right the sovereign ruler of the world. He is possessed of this rightly by reason of his infinite greatness and excellency, by which he merits, and is perfectly and solely fit for, the office of supreme ruler. He that is so excellent as to be infinitely worthy of the highest respect of the creature, hath thereby a right to that respect; he deserves it by a merit of condignity; so that it is injustice to deny it to him. And he that is perfectly wise and true, and is only so regarded, hath a right in every thing to be regarded, and to have his determinations attended to and obeyed.
God hath also a right to the character of supreme ruler, by reason of the absolute dependence of every creature on him. All creatures, and rational creatures no less than others, are wholly derived from him, and every moment are wholly dependent upon him for being, and for all good: so that they are properly his possession. And as, by virtue of this, he hath a right to give his creatures whatever rules of conduct he pleases, or whatever rules are agreeable to his own wisdom; so the mind and will of the creature ought to be entirely conformed to the nature and will of the Creator, and to the rules he gives, that are expressive of it.
For the same reason, he hath a right to judge their actions and conduct, and to fulfil the sanction of his law. He who hath an absolute and independent right to give laws, hath evermore the same right to judge those to whom the laws are given. It is absolutely necessary that there should be a judge of reasonable creatures; and sanctions, or rewards and punishments, annexed to rules of conduct, are necessary to the being of laws.
A person may instruct another without sanctions, but not give laws. However, these sanctions themselves are vain, are as good as none, without a judge to determine the execution of them. As God hath a right to be judge, so hath he a right to be the supreme judge; and none hath a right to reverse his judgments, to receive appeals from him, or to say to him, Why judgest thou thus?
2. God is, in fact, the supreme judge of the world. He hath power sufficient to vindicate his own right. As he hath a right which cannot be disputed, so he hath power which cannot be controlled. He is possessed of omnipotence, wherewith to maintain his dominion over the world; and he doth maintain his dominion in the moral as well as the natural world. Men may refuse subjection to God as a lawgiver; they may shake off the yoke of his laws by rebellion; yet they cannot withdraw themselves from his judgment. Although they will not have God for their lawgiver, yet they shall have him for their judge. The strongest of creatures can do nothing to control God, or to avoid him while acting in his judicial capacity. He is able to bring them to his judgment-seat, and is also able to execute the sentence which he shall pronounce.
There was once a notable attempt made by opposition of power entirely to shake off the yoke of the moral government of God, both as lawgiver, and as judge. This attempt was made by the angels, the most mighty of creatures; but they miserably failed in it: God notwithstanding acted as their judge in casting those proud spirits out of heaven, and binding them in chains of darkness unto a further judgment, and a further execution. “God is wise in heart and mighty in strength; who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?”Job ix. 4. Wherein the enemies of God deal proudly, he is above them. He ever hath acted as judge in bestowing what rewards, and inflicting what punishments, he pleased on the children of men. And so he doth still; he is daily fulfilling the promises and threatenings of the law, in disposing of the souls of the children of men, and so he evermore will act.
God acteth as judge towards the children of men more especially,
(1.) In man’s particular judgment at death. Then the sentence is executed, and the reward bestowed in part; which is not done without a judgment. The soul, when it departs from the body, appears before God to be disposed of by him, according to his law. But by this appearing before God, to be judged at death, we need understand no more than this, that the soul is made immediately sensible of the presence of God, God manifesting himself immediately to the soul, with the glory and majesty of a judge; that the sins of the wicked, and the righteousness of the saints, are brought by God to the view of their consciences, so that they know the reason of the sentence given, and their consciences are made to testify to the justice of it; and that thus the will of God for the fulfilment of the law, in their reward or punishment, is 192 made known to them and executed. This is undoubtedly done at every man’s death.
(2.) In the great and general judgment, when all men shall together appear before the judgment-seat to be judged: and which judgment will be much more solemn, and the sanctions of the law will Jo a further degree be fulfilled.—But this brings me to another branch of the subject.
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