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OF THE CERTAINTY OF A FUTURE JUDGMENT.
For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.—2 Cor. v. 10.
THE apostle, in the beginning of this chapter, expresseth his earnest desire, if God saw it fit, to quit “this earthly tabernacle, for a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, to be absent from the body, and present with the Lord.” But, however God should dispose of him, he tells us that he made it his constant endeavour so to behave himself, that both in this present state, whilst he continued in the body, and when he should quit it, and appear before God, he might be approved and accepted of him. And that which made him so careful was, because there was a day certainly corning, wherein every man must give an account of himself to the great Judge of the world, and receive the just recompence of his actions done in this life: (ver. 9, 10.) “Wherefore we labour, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”
Which words are so plain and powerful, so easy to be understood, and of such a mighty force and 25influence, if thoroughly believed, that the very repeating of them is sufficient to awaken men to a serious care of their lives and actions, and a powerful consideration to persuade them to do every thing with respect to that solemn account they must one day make to God of all the actions done in this life.
But, that the truth contained in them may make the greater impression upon us, I shall distinctly consider the words, and handle, as briefly as I can, the several propositions contained in them.
The general and principal proposition contained in these words is, the certainty of a future judgment.
But, besides this principal proposition, which comprehends the general meaning and intention of these words, there are four other more particular propositions contained in them.
First, That the administration of this judgment will be committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, for which reason the tribunal before which we must appear, is called the judgment-seat of Christ. “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.”
Secondly, That all men are liable to this judgment; no person, of what condition soever, shall be exempted from it. “We must all appear.”
Thirdly, That all the actions which men have done in this life shall then come to account, and they shall be judged for them. “That every one may receive the things done in the body.”
Fourthly, That sentence will then be passed according to the quality of men’s actions, whether good or bad: “every one shall receive according to that he hath done, whether it be good or evil.”
But I shall at present only speak to the principal proposition contained in the words concerning the 26certainty of a future and general judgment; viz. that at the end of the world there shall be a general and public assize, when all persons that have lived in this world (except only the Judge himself, our blessed Saviour, who is “the man ordained by God to judge the world”) shall come upon their trial, and all the actions which they have done shall come under a strict examination; and according as men have demeaned themselves in this world towards God and man, they shall receive sentence, and rewards shall be distributed to them, according to the nature and quality of their actions. And though all these particulars be not expressed in the text, yet they are virtually contained in the general expressions of it, and fully and clearly delivered in other texts of Scripture.
The truth and certainty of a future and general judgment, I shall endeavour to confirm from these three heads of arguments:
I. From the acknowledgments of natural light.
II. From the notions which men generally have of God and his providence.
III. From express and clear revelation of Holy Scripture.
I. From the acknowledgments of natural light. And I might shew the general consent of mankind in this matter by all sorts of human testimonies, and from all kinds of writers in all ages: but this would be almost endless, and not so proper for a plain and practical discourse upon this subject. And, there fore, passing by testimonies, I shall mainly insist upon this that the consciences of men do secretly acknowledge a difference between good and evil. Hence it is that men find great peace and quiet and satisfaction of mind in the doing of good and virtuous 27actions, and have secret and comfortable hopes, that this kind of actions will some time or other be considered and rewarded; and they are apt to maintain these hopes, and to support themselves with them, even when they despair to meet with any reward of their good and honest actions in this world.
And, on the other hand, men find a secret fear and horror, and are inwardly ashamed and confounded in their own minds, when they are about a wicked enterprise, and engaged in an ill design; their consciences check them and terrify them, and their own minds bode ill to them, as if mischief and vengeance would overtake them one time or other, and this when no eye sees them, and what they are a-doing does not fall under the cognizance of any human court or tribunal, nor is liable to any censure or punishment from any human authority; yet, for all that, they have many stings and lashes from their own minds, feel many checks and rebukes from their own consciences, when they do any thing which they ought not to do, though no man can charge them with it, or call them to an account for it.
Now these hopes and fears do argue, if not the firm belief and persuasion of a future judgment, yet great suspicions and misgivings of it in bad men; and in good men, secret and comfortable apprehensions concerning it. From whence else can it be, that good men, though they find that virtue is discountenanced, and goodness many times suffers, and is persecuted in this world, and that the best actions and designs are often unsuccessful; whence, I say, is it that good men, notwithstanding this, bear up and persist in their course, but because 28they have this inward apprehension and persuasion, that there will be a time when virtue and goodness will be considered and rewarded, though not in this world? And whence is it that bad men, though they prosper in their impiety, are yet guilty, and fearful, and timorous, but because they stand in awe of a Being, greater, and more righteous, and more powerful than themselves; but because they have some secret apprehensions of an invisible Judge, and inward presage of a future vengeance, which sooner or later will overtake them; and because they believe there will be a time when all the wickedness they have done shall be accounted for? Insomuch, that when they have done what they can, they cannot shake off these fears, nor quit themselves of these apprehensions of Divine justice, threatening and pursuing them for their evil deeds.
All which are plain acknowledgments of a natural apprehension and persuasion born with us, and riveted in our minds, concerning a future judgment.
II. This will farther appear from the natural notion which men have of a God and his providence. This is essential to the notion of a God—that he is good, and holy, and just; and, consequently, that he loves goodness and hates iniquity; and there fore it must be agreeable to his nature to countenance the one, and to discountenance the other, in such a manner as becomes the wise Sovereign and Governor of the world. Now this cannot be solemnly and openly done, but by a public distribution of rewards and punishments; and this we see is not done in this world. The dispensations of God’s providence in this world, toward good and bad men, are many times very promiscuous, and very cross, and contrary to what might be expected 29from the wise and just Sovereign of the world, from one whom we believe to love righteousness, and to hate iniquity. For virtuous and holy men are often ill treated in this world, grievously harassed and afflicted, and that for righteousness sake: and bad men many times flourish and are prosperous, “they are not in trouble like other men, neither are they plagued like other men.” And this is a very great objection against the providence of God, if there were no other consideration had of virtue and vice, no other kind of retribution made to good and bad men, but what we see in this world. And, there fore, the justice of the Divine Providence seems to require that there should be a day of recompence, and a solemn and public distribution of rewards and punishments to the righteous and to the wicked. For this is plainly a state of trial and probation, of patience and forbearance to sinners, and of exercise to good men; and being a state of trial, it is not so proper a season for the distribution of public justice. But since the justice of God doth not appear in this world, it seems very reasonable to believe that there will be a time when it will be made manifest, and every eye shall see it; that God will one day fully vindicate his righteousness, and acquit the honour of his justice, and that there shall be a general assize held, when all men shall have a fair and open trial, and “God will render to every man according to his works.”
Now the justice of God’s providence is, in a great measure, hid and covered, but there will come ἡμέρᾳ ἀποκαλύψεως, (as the apostle calls the day of judgment, Rom. ii. 5.) “A day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God;” when “he will bring forth his righteousness as the light, and his 30judgment as the noon-day,” and “every mouth shall be stopped,” and every conscience and heart of man acknowledge “the righteous judgment of God.”
And in the mean time God contents himself to give some particular and remarkable instances of his rewarding and punishing justice in this world, which may be to us an earnest of a future and general judgment; he is pleased sometimes, in the dispensations of his providence, clearly to separate and distinguish “the precious from the vile,” remarkably to deliver good men, and to “snare the wicked in the works of their own hands.” Some times he gives good men some foretastes of heaven, some earnest of their future happiness in this life: and, on the other hand, he many times gives sinners some præjudicia divini judicii, some intimations of a future judgment, and shadows of that utter darkness, where they are to dwell for ever; he drops down, now and then, a little of hell into the conscience of a sinner. That fire which is kindled in some men’s consciences in this life, that unspeakable anguish, and those inexplicable horrors, which some sinners have felt in this world, may serve to give us notice of the extreme severity of the Divine justice towards impenitent sinners: that miraculous deluge that swept away the old world; those stupendous and terrible showers of fire and brimstone, which consumed Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about; that dreadful earthquake which swallowed up Corah and his company, and let them down, as it were, quick into hell, may serve for pledges and earnests to us of the dismal punishments and torments of the next world.
But, notwithstanding all these particular and remarkable instances of the Divine justice, yet, considering 31how unequal and promiscuous the greatest part of God’s providences are in this world, it is highly requisite, that there should be a general judgment, for a more clear and full manifestation of the justice and equity of the Divine Providence.
III. But this will most evidently appear from the clear and express revelation of the Holy Scripture. I will not cite texts out of the Old Testament to this purpose, because these things were but obscurely revealed to the Jews in comparison; “Life and immortality being brought to light by the gospel.” Yet St. Jude tells us, that there was an early revelation of this to the old world: (ver. 14, 15.) “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly.” But whether this refer to the flood, or the final judgment of the world, is not so clear and certain; how ever, this is most plainly revealed by our blessed Lord and Saviour in the New Testament. The process of this great day, with several of the particular circumstances of it, are fully described by our Saviour, (Matt. xxv.) and in the vision of St. John, (Rev. xx. 11-13.) And the apostles of our Lord and Saviour do most frequently declare and inculcate it. (Acts xvii. 30, 31.) “But now commandeth all men every where to repent: 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.” (Rom. ii. 5-9.) Where, speaking of the day of judgment, he calls it, “The day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every 32man according to his deeds: to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, honour, and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.” (1 Pet. i. 17.) “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work.” (2 Pet. iii. 10.) “But the day of the Lord will come, in which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise,” &c.
Thus you see the truth and certainty of a future judgment confirmed, from the acknowledgments of men’s natural hopes and fears, from the natural notions which men have concerning God and his providence, and from plain revelation of Scripture.
All that I shall do farther at present, shall be to make some reflections upon what hath been delivered, concerning the certainty of a future general judgment. And,
I. If there be such a day certainly a-coming, it may justly be matter of wonder and astonishment to us, to see the general impiety and stupidity of men, how wicked they are, and how careless of their lives and actions, and how insensible of that “great and terrible day of the Lord,” which is coming upon all flesh, and, for any thing we know to the contrary, may be very near us, and even at the door. How securely do the greatest part of men pass away their time, some in worldly business, others in worldly pleasures and vanity, and a great many in wickedness and vice! Surely such men have no apprehensions of a future judgment: surely they do not believe that there will be any memorial of their actions in another world, and that they shall be called to a 33strict and severe account for all the actions of this life: they do not think that there is a just and powerful Being above them, who now observes every thing that they do, and will one day judge them for it; that there is a pen always writing, and making a faithful record of all the passages of their lives; and that these volumes shall one day be produced and opened, “and men shall be judged out of the things that are written in them;” and all our thoughts, words, and actions, shall pass under a most severe trial and examination!
Or, if men do believe these things, they stifle and suppress this belief, and “detain this great truth of God in unrighteousness;” they do not attend to it, and consider it, that it may have its due awe and influence upon their lives. For it is not imaginable, that if men were possessed with a firm belief and persuasion of this “great and terrible day of the Lord,” they should be so careless and secure, as we see they are, and have so little regard to what they do; that they should pass whole days, and weeks, and years, in the gross neglect of God and religion, and of their immortal souls; that they should “spend their days in vanity, and their years in pleasure:” that they should live in a continued course of impiety and profaneness, of lewdness, and intemperance, in the cursed habits of swearing and cursing: which are now grown so common among us, that a man cannot walk in the street without having his ears grated with this hellish noise; and that they should go on in these courses, without any great regret and disturbance, as if no danger attended them, as if justice were asleep, and all their actions would be buried with them, and never rise up against them.
What can we resolve this into, but either into 34habitual or actual atheism and infidelity? either men do not at all believe a judgment to come; or else they do not actually consider it, and attend to the natural and proper consequences of such a belief: one of these two is necessary. It seems very hard to charge the generality of wicked men with habitual atheism and unbelief, but that the Spirit of God in Scripture so often does it. (Psal. xiv. 1.) “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” How doth that appear? It follows, “They are corrupt, and have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” And, (Psal. xxxvi. 1.) “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, there is no fear of God before his eyes.” David speaks as if the wicked practices of men did convince him, that they had no belief and apprehension of a God.
Nay, even after those clear discoveries which the gospel hath made of a future judgment, our Saviour seems to foretel a general infidelity among men, at least as to this particular article of a future judgment: (Luke xviii. 8.) “Nevertheless when the Son of man shall come, shall he find faith upon the earth?” and St. Peter tells us, (2 Pet. iii. 3, 4.) that “there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming?” that is, deriding the belief and expectation which the Christians had of a future judgment.
But, to be sure, if the generality of men be not already sunk thus low, as to disbelieve these things, yet this at least is evident from the lives of men, that they are strangely inconsiderate, and guilty of the most gross and stupid inadvertency that can befal reasonable creatures. For I dare appeal to any man of understanding and serious consideration, whether a greater folly and madness can be imagined, than 35for men to profess in good earnest to believe, that there is a day shortly coming, wherein they shall appear before the impartial tribunal of the great Judge of the world, and all the actions of their lives shall be ransacked and laid open, and that there is not any thing that ever they did, that shall escape a severe censure; yea, and farther to be persuaded, that as it shall upon that trial appear, that they have demeaned themselves in this world, they shall be sentenced to an eternal and unchangeable state of happiness or misery in the other world; and yet after all this conviction, to live at such a mad and careless rate, as no man in reason can live, but he that is undoubtedly certain of the contrary of all this, and verily persuaded in his heart, that not one syllable of what the gospel says concerning these matters is true? This is so incredible a stupidity and folly, that did not frequent and undeniable experience make us sure of the truth of it, out of mere charity and respect to human nature, it were not to be believed. “Consider this all ye that forget God, and put far from you the evil day; consider and shew yourselves men, O ye transgressors!” who profess to believe a future judgment, and yet run the hazard of it, as if ye had no fear and suspicion of any such thing.
II. Having considered, not without wonder and astonishment, what manner of persons the generality of men are, notwithstanding all the assurance we have of a future judgment, let us in the next place consider, “seeing these things shall be, what manner of persons we ought to be, in all holy conversation and godliness, waiting for and hastening unto the coming of the day of God,” as the apostle argues, (2 Pet. iii. 11, 12.) How should the serious belief of this 36great principle of religion work upon us, that “we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or evil?” St. Paul tells us, that the consideration of it had a mighty awe and influence upon him, to be careful of himself, and to be concerned for others: to be careful of himself, in the verse before the text, “Wherefore we labour that whether present or absent we may be accepted of him: for we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” And to be concerned for others, that they may prevent the terrors of that day, in the verse immediately after the text, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”—“Knowing the terror of the Lord;” it were no difficult matter to make such a dreadful representation of this “great and terrible day of the Lord,” as would affright the stoutest sinner, and make every joint of him to tremble: but it is much more desirable that men should be wrought upon by reason, and convinced and persuaded by a calm and sober consideration of things; because that is likely to have a better and more lasting effect than present terror and amazement; and therefore I shall content myself with the naked representation of the thing in the plain and powerful expressions of the Holy Scriptures. Imagine then thou sawest “the Son of man coming in great power, and great glory, and all his holy angels with him;” that thou heardest the great trumpet sound, and a mighty voice piercing the heavens and the earth, saying, “Arise ye dead, and come to judgment.” Suppose thou sawest the thrones set, and “the great Judge sitting upon the throne of his glory,” and “all nations gathered before him,” and “all the 37dead both small and great standing before God, the books opened, and the dead judged out of the things written in these books;” and the several sentences pronounced from the mouth of Christ himself, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world;” and, “depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Would not this be a dreadful and amazing sight! Why, the gospel plainly declares that all this shall be, and thou professest to believe it. Why then dost thou not live as if thou didst believe these things? Why should not that which will certainly be, have to all reasonable purposes the same effect upon thee, as if it were already and actually present? Why do men suffer themselves to be diverted from the attentive consideration of so important a matter, by the impertinent trifles of this world? Why do we not make wise and speedy preparation for that day, which will certainly come? But we are uncertain when it will come, “for it will come as a thief in the night, and as a snare upon all them that dwell upon the face of the whole earth,” Why dost thou stifle thy conscience, and drown the loud crys of it, with the din and noise of worldly business; why dost thou? at any time check and suppress the thoughts of a future judgment, and “put far from thee the evil day?” And not rather suffer the terrors of it to haunt and pursue thee, till they have made thee weary of thy wicked life, till they have reclaimed thee to thy duty, and effectually persuaded thee to break off thy sins by repentance; and to resolve upon such a holy and virtuous course of life, that thou mayest be able not only with peace and comfort, 38but with joy and triumph to entertain the thoughts of that day?
Reason thus with thyself: If this day be so dreadful at a distance, that I can hardly now bear the thoughts of it, how insupportable will the thing itself be, when it comes to be present? And it will come nevertheless, nor the later, for my not thinking of it; is it not reasonable, instead of putting away the thoughts of it, to endeavour by all possible means to prevent the terrors of it?
We especially, who profess ourselves Christians, and live in the clear light of the gospel, ought to consider, that we cannot plead ignorance for our excuse, as the heathen world might. We read and hear the gospel every day, “wherein the wrath of God is clearly revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;” so that, if we continue impenitent, we have no cloak, no excuse for ourselves: woe unto us above all others! “It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, for Sodom and Gomorrah, in the day of judgment, than for us.” “The times of ignorance, (saith St. Paul, speaking of the heathen world,) the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now he commands 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 unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” Thus much concerning the general proposition the certainty of a future judgment.39
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