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Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.—2 Thes. i. 5.
THE apostle speaketh from the commendation to the consolation; wherein the apostle declareth the use and fruit of these sufferings—(1.) Generally; (2.) Particularly. A notable means of evidencing the general judgment and their own particular glory.
From the general use, ἔνδειγμα τῆς δικάιας κρίσεως τοῦ θεοῦ—
Doct. That the persecutions which the godly suffer from the wicked are a plain demonstration that God shall one day judge the world, and will give to every one according to his works.
I shall first state the point, and then show how it is a demonstration, &c.
1. It concerneth us to be fully persuaded of the truth of a future judgment, wherein punishments and rewards shall be dispensed, for two reasons—(1.) It establisheth our true and proper comfort, for then our wrongs shall be righted, Phil. i. 28, and our labour of love recompensed, Heb. vi. 10. (2.) Our duty is bound upon us by the strictest tie, for this is the great awe-band upon us, Eccles. xii. 14.
2. This judgment is a righteous judgment: Acts xvii. 31, ‘He hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world in righteousness.’ Now he trieth the world in patience, conniveth at many faults; though none are punished now besides or beyond their deservings, yet all are not punished according to their deservings.
3. This judgment needeth to be evidenced to us, not only by the light of scripture, but reason. Though light of scripture be more strong and 208clear, yet the light of nature hath its use. Nature saith, It may be, Faith, It shall be; yet the former testimony must not be rejected.
[1.] Because things seen by a double light work the more strongly upon us; as upon our love and obedience: ‘How much more to thee, both in the flesh and in the Lord?’ Philem. 16. So upon our faith; when even nature teacheth us that it is reasonable to expect such a retribution, all vain cavils are refuted.
[2.] Because all have not received the light of scripture, at least not with such reverence and respect as they ought to do. To such the light of nature is a preparative inducement either to believe, or to believe more firmly.
[3.] Because in time of temptation (as the time of bitter and grievous persecution is) we need all the succour and relief which the nature of the thing will afford. Evil is present and pressing, and our great hopes are to come. Then besides the grounds of faith we must study the helps of faith. The grounds of faith are the promises of the gospel; the helps of faith are such demonstrations and evidences as the light of nature will afford in the case. Reason is allowed to be a handmaid to faith.
[4.] Among other arguments to evidence a future day of recompense, the persecutions of the godly by the wicked are ἔνδειγμα, a plain document or demonstration that such a righteous judgment there will be. That is asserted in the text.
The argument may be conceived two ways—
(1.) If God so severely chastised the relics of sin in his children, how much sorer vengeance attendeth the wicked that live in all manner of profaneness? If leviora delicta, the lighter offences of his children be thus chastised, what severity may the wicked expect for their enormous crimes? The scripture is not a stranger to such an argument; as 1 Peter iv. 17, ‘For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel of God?’ If God will manifest his just displeasure against them of his own family, for their correction and trial, surely the end of the wicked will be unspeakably terrible. If they sip at the cup of trembling, the wicked must expect to drink up the dregs thereof. Their trials are certain forerunners of a woful end, abiding the instruments thereof, when the Lord has done his work by them; for if those who are justified by Christ, and walk holily, get to heaven through so many fiery trials, those that cast off all religion and give up themselves to all wickedness, in the day of God’s reckoning with them they cannot expect to be sheltered from his everlasting wrath, when their judge shall force them into his presence. The like arguing is in Luke xxiii. 31, ‘If these things be done in a green tree, what shall be done in a dry?’ Green wood is unapt to burn, but dry sere wood will easily take fire. So Prov. xi. 31, ‘Behold the righteous shall be recompensed upon earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner?’ ‘Recompensed,’ that is, punished or chastised for their transgressions. The certainty of the punishment of the wicked is confirmed from the chastisements of the godly; for if God be so severe upon his children, what will become of enemies? So Jer. xxv. 29, ‘If I bring evil on the city that is called by my name, should ye be utterly 209unpunished? ye shall riot be unpunished.’ If God had begun so roughly with his own people, they must look as surely and sorely to suffer at last. Thus it will hold good.
(2.) This argument may be formed thus: If good men suffer here, and the ungodly have the upper hand, and have liberty and power to vex them with all manner of grievances, it showeth that there is a righteous judgment to come, wherein the godly shall obtain the reward, and the ungodly cannot avoid punishment; for no righteous governor will suffer his disobedient subjects to persecute those that most care fully obey him, if he hath power to remedy it; and therefore, though he permit it for a time, yet he will call them to an account, and then amends and satisfaction shall be made them that have suffered wrong fully. So their enduring many persecutions and tribulations was an ἔνδείγμα, a perfect document and demonstration of a judgment to come. This I take to be the argument here, for the apostle’s intent is not to humble but comfort these Thessalonians; and our great consolation is taken from the day of judgment, when our final redemption draweth nigh and is accomplished. The former consideration tendeth more to humiliation and caution, and tendeth more to the establishment of the punishment of enemies, but this to the reward of friends, when God’s faithful servants shall be restored to their due honour and glory.
Secondly, How it is a demonstration of a future judgment. That it may the more sink into your minds, I shall deduce it at large.
1. There is a God. This is the supreme primitive truth, which lieth at the bottom of all religion: Heb. xi. 6, ‘He that cometh to God must believe that he is.’ And it is evident to reason; for if there be not a first and fountain-being, how did we come to be? for nothing can make itself; or how did the world fall into this order wherein now we see it? Indeed we cannot open our eyes but some object or other is presented to our view, which loudly proclaimeth that there is an infinite eternal power which made us and all things else. It were to light a candle to the sun to prove this.
2. That this God is just; for all perfections are in the first being. To deny him to be just is to deny him to be God and the governor of the world. The perfection of his nature includeth his justice, for he is infinitely righteous, both in himself and all his dealings with the creatures: Jer. xii. 1, ‘Righteous art thou, O Lord.’ So doth the eminency of his office: Rom. iii. 5, 6, ‘If God were unrighteous, how then shall he judge the world?’ that is, he were then incapable of governing mankind.
3. That this holy just God is the governor of the world; for man being his creature, doth thereby become his subject, obliged to obey him. He is a rational free agent, placed among occasions of good and evil; and though he be bound to obey, yet might continue in his obedience or disobey God, as the woful event showed. God is called the judge of the earth, to whom reward or vengeance belongeth, Ps. xciv. 1, 2.
4. It is agreeable to the justice of his government that it should be well with them that do well, and ill with them that do evil; or that he should make a difference by rewards and punishments between 210the obedient and the wicked. Conscience and natural reason owneth this truth: Rom. i. 32, ‘They know the judgment of God, that they that do such things are worthy of death.’ It seemeth uncomely when it is otherwise: ‘As snow in summer and rain in harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool,’ Prov. xxvi. 1. When the wicked are exalted, men look on it as an uncouth thing, as a blemish whenever it is done. Well, then, God is a rewarder of good, a punisher of evil.
5. This reward and punishment is not fully administered in this world, even in the judgment of them who have no great knowledge of the nature of sin, and the punishment which is competent thereto; yea, rather the best go to the wall, and are exercised with poverty, disgrace, scorn, and all manner of troubles, when the wicked live a life of pomp and ease, and often have their will upon the godly, and oppress them at their pleasure. Hence come the complaints and expostulations of the saints, when they have stumbled at this stumbling-stone, Ps. lxxiii., Jer. xii., Hab. i. And indeed how shall we reconcile these things with the notions we have of God? Surely there is a God, and it is as sure that he takes notice of human affairs, and will judge accordingly. What is the reason then of this disproportion in his dealings between the good and the bad? No satisfactory account can be given, but that the wicked are reserved to future punishment, and the godly to future reward.
6. Since God’s justice doth not make a sufficient difference here, there is another life where he will do it; for otherwise all these absurdities would follow—
[1.] God would seem indifferent to good and evil, yea, more partial to the evil; and would seem to approve and favour the rebellious more than the righteous; but this were a blasphemy, and a diminution of God’s goodness and holiness, Ps. lxxiii. 1; so Ps. xi. 6, 7. Therefore there is a time to come when God will manifest his respects to the one above the other.
[2.] Man would seem to be left at liberty to break or keep God’s laws at his pleasure, and no harm would come of it; yea, present good and profit. But this would destroy all obedience, and God is particularly engaged to punish such as would flatter themselves with these hopes, Deut, xxx. 19, 20, Zeph. i. 12.
[3.] Obedience would be man’s loss and ruin, and so God would be the worst master: 1 Cor. xv. 19, ‘If in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable.’ The worst would be the most happy and the best the most miserable; for the children of God do not only forsake the grateful pleasures of the world, but hazard all their natural interests, and actually suffer the loss of all things by the cruelty of their persecutors. Now Christ would never proselyte us to a religion that should be our undoing, nor shall any of his people be posers by him. This is contrary to all natural light and sense of religion that is in men’s hearts, that they that venture the most for Christ should be in the worst condition. Therefore there must be another life, when God will fulfil the good he hath promised, and execute the evil threatened.
[4.] That the most eminent virtue should lie under perpetual infamy; for the people of God do not only suffer hard things, but their names 211are cast forth as evil, and their way condemned as factious singularity; and though they be instruments of public good, yet they are traduced as the troublers of Israel, and so made sacrifices to public hatred. But this is a great absurdity, therefore things must be reviewed, and that which is good restored to its public honour: 1 Peter iv. 13, 14, ‘If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye.’ When his glory shall be revealed, so shall yours; which is a great satisfaction to the godly, who prize a good name above other earthly interests.
[5.] The children of wisdom would seem sons of folly, in checking their lusts, venturing their interests, and renouncing all for their fidelity to Christ; as if they did foolishly for running into such inconveniencies, when they might spare themselves and sleep in a whole skin. Now it is a great absurdity that God’s wisest and most faithful servants should be accounted fools; that would quench and destroy all zeal for God. No; there will a time come when the wisdom of the world shall be seen to be the greatest folly, and that there are no such fools as those that employ their greatest abilities in attaining present pleasure, profit, and preferment, with the neglect of their precious souls, and those the wisest adventurers who have sold all to promote the honour of God and gain Christ, who look not upon things as they appear now to the sensual and deluded world, but as they will be found at the last day, when all things shall appear in their own colours.
[6.] That all the comfort of the saints in looking and longing for this day is but a fantastical impression or fanatical illusion, when yet these desires and affections are raised and quickened in them by God; not only as he doth warrant them by his word, but as wrought in them by his Spirit, Rom. viii. 23, and 2 Cor. v. 5. Now it is not for the honour of God that the hopes of the saints should be disappointed, and their great expectations frustrated. No; there will a time come when their affections shall be satisfied, their desires granted, and their hopes fulfilled to the utmost.
[7.] In the other life he doth it not till the general resurrection, or Christ’s coming to judgment. There is a distinction between the good and evil at death, when the spirits of just men are made perfect, Heb. xii. 23, and the spirits of the wicked are sent to prison, 1 Peter iii. 19. But that is not sufficient, for two reasons—because that is private, and does not openly vindicate the justice of God; and that it is but upon a part, the soul only.
(1.) As it is private, and executed upon the wicked, man by man. Certainly it is more for the honour of God to bring his judgment to light, as the prophet saith, Zeph. iii. 5. Here the love of God towards the good and the justice of God towards the wicked is not manifest enough, not brought out into the clearest light. Not in death neither, for the honour of the just is not opened visibly, nor the glory of heaven exposed to view until the general judgment. But then this different respect is more conspicuous when the justice of God hath a public and solemn triumph, and his enemies are branded with shame, and the faith of his elect found to praise and honour, and the one publicly condemned, and the other justified by the judge upon the throne, Acts iii. 19.
(2.) As it is upon a part, the soul only. The bodies of the holy and the wicked both are now senseless, and moulder into dust in the grave; 212and till they be raised up and joined to their souls, they can neither partake of woe or weal, pleasure or pain. The soul, though it be a principal part, is but a part; the body essentially concurreth to the constitution of the man; and it is the body that is most gratified by sin, and the body that is most pained by obedience; and therefore the body, which is the soul’s sister and co-heir, is to share with her in its eternal state, whatever it be. Therefore, that we may not be in part punished and in part rewarded, there is a time coming when God will deal with the whole man, and that in a solemn court and audience; which is a comfort to a christian when he is brought before the tribunals of men, and his body endures torture for Christ’s sake.
Use 1. To show us how differently men will reason from the same principles; for the wicked draw another conclusion hence, Cum rapiant mala fata bonos, ignoscite falso, sollicitor nullos esse putare Deos; either that there is no God, or that he hath no respect to human affairs, and that all things are governed by chance. So elsewhere you may see what contrary and distinct conclusions the carnal and spiritual make from the same premises; as David from the immutable certainty of God’s promises, Ps. cxix. 89-91. But the scoffers said, 2 Peter in. 4, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.’ Because the frame of nature had kept one constant tenor and course, they plead for the eternity of the world and the falsehood of his promises; but David was hereby confirmed in the belief of God’s constancy and faithfulness. So 1 Cor. vii. 29, with 1 Cor. xiii. 32; Jude 5, with Rom. vi. 2; 2 Sam. vii. 2, with Hag. v. 2; 1 Sam. iii. 18, with 2 Kings vi. 33. So Prov. xxvi. 9. All is as the heart is.
Use 2. To keep us from murmuring, or taking scandal at the sufferings that befall us for righteousness’ sake. Not only the promises of God, but our very persecution is an argument of our final deliverance. There will be a review of these judgments; therefore let us comfort ourselves with these hopes. A christian must not look to present things, but future; not what is done now, but how things will appear in the last judgment. Now things may appear with all pomp and glory on the world’s side, and terror to the saints; but this scene is soon with drawn, and present time is quickly past like a piece of fantastry; but then there is an inversion of things, shame is on the wicked, and honour put upon the saints, and the shame and glory are both eternal. Here we see the godly in their adversity and patience, but hereafter entering into their master’s joy. Here the children of God are derided and vilified, but there they stand at Christ’s right hand, and are approved and justified by him, and the wicked are rejected and turned into hell. This is a false and perverse judgment, but there it is a righteous judgment, as the wicked themselves shall be forced to confess, and shall wish when it is too late that they had chosen the faith, and holiness, and patience of the saints. Well, then, look not to the beginning but ending of all things. If you look to the beginning only, you are like to miscarry; but it would prevent your trouble if you did consider how these things will appear in the review.
Use 3. Of direction. When things promised in the other world seem too uncertain and far-off, and you are but coldly affected towards 213them, then consider what a change there will be, and the face of all things altered when Christ taketh the throne, and entereth into the judgment. The perverse carriage of things now is a confirmation to your faith, at least an help to your meditation. Improve the argument as it was set forth before. Few christians are so strong and firm in believing but they may find this a prop to their faith. Certainly all are so barren of thoughts, that they will find it an help to their meditations of the certainty of this judgment. Would God make laws with a sanction of penalty and reward, and never look after them more? Doth he delight in the prosperity of his servants or their afflictions? Would he raise hopes and desires which he never meant to satisfy? Would he give the wicked power to afflict and vex his people, and never call them to an account?
II. I come now to speak specially of the comfortable part of the judgment to the suffering Thessalonians, ‘That ye may be accounted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer.’
Doct. They shall be accounted worthy to enter into the kingdom of God who diligently and steadily pursue after it.
By way of explication—
First, What is meant by the kingdom of God? There is a twofold kingdom of God—the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of glory. The kingdom of grace is the gospel estate now set afoot in the world. Now for this kingdom they might be said to suffer; that is, to promote it in the world, or because they had entered into it; but rather it is taken for the kingdom of glory, spoken of Mat. xxv. 34, ‘Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you,’ &c. And they are said to suffer for it, that is, that they may enter into it.
Secondly, How counted worthy? There is a threefold worthiness—
1. Dignitas equalitatis, a condignity or worthiness of exact proportion: Luke x. 7, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire.’ This exact worthiness is justice-proof, not only from the paction and covenant, but from the intrinsic worth of the action itself. There is aequalitas rei et pacti. What I bargain for is my due. But when there is besides the bargain a proportion between the labour and the hire, we claim and challenge it not only by virtue of the bargain, but as a reward due to the work for its own sake. Now there is such a distance between God and the creature, his reward and anything that we can do and suffer, that no creature can make God his debtor: Rom. viii. 18, ‘For I reckon that the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.’ And when we have done all and suffered never so much, eternal life is a gift, and the mere fruit of his grace: Rev. ii. 10, ‘I will give thee,’ &c.
2. There is dignitas convenientiae, aptitudinis aut decentiae, a worthiness of decency or becomingness. This consists not in a perfect exact proportion, but some congruity or fitness. This is also twofold—a fitness in point of order and a fitness in point of preparation.
[1.] A fitness in point of order. So they are worthy who are conveniently qualified according to God’s order: Rom. viii. 17, ‘If sons, then heirs, joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we also may be glorified together. So 2 Tim. ii. 11, 12, ‘If we 214be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he will deny us.’ It is meet and convenient, or agreeable to Christ’s wisdom and love, that he should own his faithful servants, and since they are willing to take his cross, that they should share with him in his crown; as David, when crowned at Hebron, made his followers captains of thousands, hundreds, and fifties. So also Rev. iii. 4, ‘They that have not defiled their garments shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy.’ They observe God’s order, who maketh fidelity to Christ, in doing and suffering his will, to be the way to their glory and blessedness.
[2.] In point of preparation. We read, that as heaven is prepared for us, so we are prepared for heaven: Rom. ix. 23, ‘Vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory;’ and Col. i. 12, ‘He hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.’ It is the wisdom of God to put all things in their proper places, both in the order of nature and grace; as fishes in the sea, beasts on earth; so holy and heavenly creatures, whose hearts are weaned from the world, and whose hopes and desires are wholly carried to another and better world, and are willing to endure all things to obtain it, that they should be placed in heaven, for which he hath prepared them. And persecutions are one means which serve to fit and prepare the godly for heaven. As the hewing or squaring of stones fitted them to be set in the temple at Jerusalem, so are we squared, fitted, and made meet to be set in the heavenly temple. Things that suit are in the language of scripture called worthy: ‘Worthy of repentance,’ Mat. iii. 8, Acts xxvi. 20, Phil. i. 27, Eph. iv. 1, &c.
3. There is dignitas dignationis, the worthiness of acceptance, when God for Christ’s sake is pleased to count us worthy, and to take our carriage in good part though there be many failings. So Luke xxi. 36, ‘Watch ye, therefore, and pray, that ye may be counted worthy to stand before the Son of man.’ And so here, ‘counted worthy;’ that is, pronounced worthy by divine dignation to enjoy the kingdom of God. None deserve this, though some are admitted out of God’s benignity and faithful promises and gracious acceptance.
Thirdly, What is diligent and self-denying pursuit? I put in both terms, because we must not only do what is good, but suffer what is evil.
1. There must be diligence in doing good: Mat. vi. 33, ‘First seek the kingdom of God, and the righteousness thereof.’ This must be our top care, our first and chiefest business. It is not enough to seek after the kingdom of God, but we must seek after it in the first place; all must give way to this: Heb. iv. 11, ‘Let us labour to enter into that rest.’
2. There must be suffering evil: Heb. x. 36, ‘Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye may receive the promise,’ Before the promise be fulfilled, not only our diligence but our patience must be exercised; for God will try what we can venture upon these hopes. So James i. 12, ‘Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried he shall receive the crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him; 1 Peter v. 10, ‘After ye have suffered a while.’ The crown is promised to those 215that love him, but before it is bestowed there is trial and endurance necessary; so that besides obedience for subduing our lusts there must be patience to hazard our interests. In mortification we willingly part with our ill-being for Christ, but in self-denial with our well-being in the world.
1. These things are required as conditions of entering into life: Mark x. 38, ‘If any man will be my disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’ There is the law of christianity fixed, and after such an express rule and constitution it is too late for us to interpose our vote, and hope to bring down the law of Christ to milder terms. No; the people of God must accept of this condition, and be prepared for it.
2. When this condition is yielded unto and fulfilled, then we have an evidence that God will count us worthy to enter into his kingdom: Phil. i. 28, ‘In nothing terrified by your adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.’ Mark, he saith it is not only a hopeful intimation, but an evident token; it clearly evidenceth your right to salvation. Crosses and sufferings in their visible appearance look like displeasure and wrath from God, but in their inward nature and destination of God they are a promising evidence that you are appointed unto glory: Mat. v. 10, ‘Blessed are they that suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ They may challenge it, be assured of it.
Use. Let us seriously consider of these things.
1. The felicity here offered; it is a kingdom, and the kingdom of God. What bustling is there in the world for a little greatness and advancement! Alas! all other crowns are but petty things in comparison of the crown of life, righteousness, and glory which God hath prepared for them that love him. This is enough to counterbalance all the ignominy, contempt, and disgraceful suffering which God’s children meet with here in the world.
2. The certainty of conveyance. God will count them worthy of his kingdom: 2 Tim. iv. 8, ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.’ He will not frustrate the desires and hopes of his suffering people. As the worldling goeth on by temporal glory to eternal shame, you are sure to go by temporal trouble to eternal glory.
3. You must submit to any terms: Phil. iii. 11, ‘If by any means,’ &c. The trial of our sincerity must not be looked for in our respect to the end only, but the means. There is some difficulty about the end, to convince men of an unseen felicity, and to bring them to choose it for their treasure and happiness; but for the means of diligent obedience, patient suffering, there we stick most. We have a quick ear for offers of happiness, but we snuff at the troublesome conditions of duty and obedience and entire subjection to God. Balaam could say, Num. xxiii. 10, ‘Let me die the death of the righteous;’ but he loved the wages of unrighteousness. When the wicked are said to despise eternal happiness, it is not simply as happiness or as eternal, but the means, the way thither, as the Israelites, Ps. cvi. 24, 25.
4. Sufferings are the most distasteful part of the means: ‘For which 216ye also suffer.’ All would reign with Christ, but not suffer with him; like Zebedee’s children, sit on his right hand and his left, but not drink of his cup, nor be baptized with his baptism, Mat. xxii. 22, 23. God might have customers enough for the crown, but men like not the yoke and the cross that attend it.
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