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OF THE PERSONS WHO ARE TO BE JUDGED.
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.
I PROCEED to the second proposition contained in the words; viz. That all men are liable to this judgment, and that no man that ever lived in the world, except our blessed Saviour, the judge himself, shall be exempted from it. “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.”
I shall first endeavour to illustrate and confirm the truth of this proposition; and then apply it to ourselves.
First, For the confirmation of it. This I shall endeavour to do from express testimonies of Scripture: and then by arguments drawn from reason and Scripture together.
I. I shall endeavour to confirm the truth of this point from express testimonies of Scripture. And we find that the Scripture useth words of the greatest latitude and extent, to express this matter more emphatically tons. (Gen. xviii. 25.) God is called “the judge of the earth.”—“Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Matth. xxv. 32.) It is said, “that when Christ shall sit upon the throne of his glory, all nations shall be gathered before him,” (Acts x. 42.) He is said to be “ordained of God to 56be judge of quick and dead.” And so, likewise, (1 Pet. iv. 5.) “Who shall give an account to him, who is ready to judge the quick and the dead?” This expression is purposely used to take in all persons that have ever lived in the world; not only those that shall be already dead at the coming of Christ, but those that shall be found alive at his corning, who, though they shall not die, yet they shall undergo a sudden and equivalent change, as St. Paul tells us from particular revelation: (I Cor. xv. 51, 52.) “Behold, I shew you a mystery: we shall not all sleep;” that is, we shall not all die, and sleep in the grave; “but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump (for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed);” that is, they that are already dead shall be then raised, and their corruptible bodies changed into incorruptible; and they that shall be found alive, though they shall not die, yet their bodies shall undergo the same change with those that are raised. And this is the reason why Christ is often in Scripture called, “the Judge of quick and dead.”
But to proceed to other texts. (Acts xvii. 31.) “He hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness.” The world; that is, all men that ever lived in it. “He commands all men every where to repent, because he will judge all men.” (Rom. xiv. 10-12.) “We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ; for it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.” (Heb. ix. 27.) “It is appointed for all men 57once to die, and after this the judgment.” That is, as death shall pass upon all men, or a change equivalent to it, so after death the judgment shall pass upon the same persons: (Heb. xii. 23.) “And to God the judge of all.” (1 Pet. i. 17.) “If ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth every man, according to his works.”
And to express this the more fully, the Scripture reckons up the several ranks and conditions of men, to shew that none shall be exempted: (Rev. vi. 15-17.) where you have a representation of the day of judgment, and several sorts of men in vain endeavouring to hide themselves from it, and escape it: “And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens, and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand?” Which words are a lively representation of the universal appearance, that all persons in the world, of all ranks and conditions, must make before God at that great day. If any be exempted, they must either be secured by their power and interest, or overlooked for their meanness and inconsiderableness; but none shall either be privileged for their greatness, or neglected for their meanness. If any can pretend to be privileged, it must be those of greatest dignity and authority, the kings and great men: or of the greatest esteem, the rich men of the earth: or of the greatest strength and power, the chief captains and the mighty men: but these have no protection 58against the arrest of that judgment. Nor shall any be overlooked for their meanness. If any sort of men be contemptible and inconsiderable, it must be those who are in the lowest condition of debasement, bondmen and slaves: but every bondman, as well as every freeman, shall be brought before this tribunal. And so, likewise, (Rev. xx. 12, 13.) where all persons are distributed into two ranks small and great: “I saw the dead both small and great, standing before God, and the books were opened, and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in those books, and the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and the grave gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works.” You see the whole world is ransacked and searched, sea and land, that none may escape this judgment. For which reason it seems to be called by the apostle St. Jude, (ver. 6.) “the judgment of the great day;” for that will be a great day indeed, in which all men that ever lived in the world shall appear and receive their trial.
The sum of all is this: that all persons that ever were upon the face of the earth, none excepted, of what sex or age, of what rank or quality, of what country or nation, in what times or places soever they were born or lived; high or low, rich or poor, knowing or ignorant, good or bad, young or old, the greatest princes and potentates, as well as the meanest subjects and slaves; the deepest statesmen and politicians, the learned clerks and disputers of this world, as well as the idiots and the simple; in short all, without any distinction or exception, without any privilege or respect of persons, shall at this great day appear before this high tribunal, and 59give an account of themselves, and all their actions, and receive the proper doom and sentence respectively due to them. I proceed to the
II. Second thing I proposed; which was to confirm this yet farther by arguments drawn from reason and Scripture together. And this will appear, whether we consider the nature of man, or the nature of God. And,
1. If we consider the nature of man: we are all God’s creatures, who have received all that we have from him, and depend wholly upon him, and are entirely subject to him, to be governed by such laws as he hath prescribed to us, and to be account able to him for our observance or violation of them; all this is essentially included in the nature of a reasonable creature, and as such we all stand equally related to him. As we are creatures, we are not our own, but wholly another’s, and perfectly at the disposal of him who made us, and from whom we received all that we have: and as we are reasonable creatures, we are all equally endowed with free choice and power over our actions; by the good or bad use whereof we are capable of doing well or ill, and consequently of deserving well or ill for our doings, and of receiving rewards and punishments accordingly: we are all capable of being governed by laws, and therefore under the authority of God, as our lawgiver, and liable and accountable to him as our judge.
And all this is necessary and universal, because it is consequent upon the condition of our nature and being; and whoever pretends to be exempted from the judgment of God, he must exempt himself out of the creation of God, he must deny the God that made him, and renounce his relation to him as a 60creature; must disclaim his dependance upon him, and subjection to him; he must withdraw himself from the authority and jurisdiction of the universal King of the world, and declare that he hath nothing to do to rule over him, that he doth not stand obliged to him for his being, nor did receive from him those talents of life, and health, and reason, and other blessings which he enjoys, and consequently that he is not concerned to make any improvements of them, being accountable to none for the good or bad use of them.
Now, if any man can think thus, that he is none of God’s creatures and subjects, he may hope to decline and escape his judgments: but every man that owns God for his creator and sovereign, must yield himself to be subject to his laws, and liable to his judgment. Upon this account the apostle St. Paul concludes all the world, the gentiles as well as the Jews, to be liable to the judgment of God; because they are all equally subject to his laws. (Rom. iii. 19.) “Now we know (says he) that whatsoever things the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world, (that is, both Jews and gentiles,) may become guilty before God” In the Greek it is ὑπόδικος γένηται τῷ θεῷ, “that all the world may be subject (or liable) to the judgment of God.” Now though this be immediately spoken of the Jews, who were under a written law; yet he had told us before in what sense the gentiles also, as well as the Jews, are under the law of God: (chap. ii. 14.) “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 to themselves, shewing the work (or effect) of the law written in their 61hearts, their consciences also bearing them witness, and their thoughts in the mean while accusing, or else excusing one another.” His meaning is, that there is no person in the world, but, though he hath not the knowledge of Divine revelation, and that law of God which is written in the Scriptures; yet he hath the light of natural conscience, he hath a law which is born within him, enacted, as I may say, in his very nature, and written upon his heart, which will acquaint him with the material parts and great lines of his duty; and by virtue of this law he is obnoxious to the judgment of God, and stands accountable to him for all his breaches and violations of it. So that, from the common nature of man, and that which is essential to all men, it is evident that we are all equally liable to the judgment of God.
2. If we consider the nature of God, who is impartially just, and no accepter of persons, this likewise will furnish us with an argument for the proof of this truth, that none shall be exempted from the judgment of God. Justice requires that every one should have that which of due belongs to him: but of due it belongs to every reasonable creature, to give an account of himself, and of his actions, to the great Judge of the world: and to exempt any from this account would be partiality, and that which the Scripture calls προοσωποληψία, “respect” or “acceptation of persons,” and which the Scripture doth every where remove at the greatest distance from God. (Deut. x. 17.) “The Lord your God is Lord of lords, and God of gods; a great God, mighty and terrible, he regardeth not persons.” (2 Chron. xix. 7.) “There is no iniquity with the Lord your God, nor accepting of persons.” Job, 62(xxxiv. 18, 19.) speaking of the impartial justice of God, says, “He accepteth not the persons of princes, nor accepteth the rich more than the poor: for they are all the work of his hands.” (1 Pet. i. 17.) “If we call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth every man.”
Now, respect of persons is, in the distribution of justice, to have respect to some qualities and circumstances of persons, which do not at all appertain to the merits of the cause, and upon that account to deal unequally with those whose cases otherwise are equal. As, when two persons are equally guilty and obnoxious to the law, to bring one upon his trial and condemn him, but to exempt the other from justice; or, if he come upon his trial, to ab solve and acquit him upon some account of relation, or interest, or friendship; or, because he is rich and powerful, the other mean and poor; or upon any other account besides the pure merits of the cause. Now the impartial and inflexible justice of the Divine nature is such, that he is not to be moved and wrought upon by any consideration whatsoever, to exempt any person from appearing at his bar, and receiving his trial there, and having judgment passed upon him, according as upon trial his cause shall appear to be. “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” No person whatever, of what condition soever, shall be exempted from it.
All that now remains is to apply this to ourselves, and that in these following particulars:
I. From what has been said, we learn that this doctrine of a future judgment equally concerns every one of us, and ought in reason to have the like influence upon us, because we are all of us, without difference or exception, equally liable to the judgment 63of God; not one of us, of what age, or quality, or condition soever, shall be exempted from it Whoever thon art, how great, or rich, or powerful soever, though never so big and considerable among men, thou shalt not escape the judgment of God. It may be, thou art a prince, and bearest rule over others: but thou also art liable to the judgment of God, and therefore oughtest to remember, that “they that rule over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God,” and of that great account which they must one day give of that high charge committed to them. It may be now thou judgest others, and canst call them before thy bar, and make them tremble, having power and authority to absolve or condemn them: but remember, that for all this thou must come into judgment thyself, and give an account how thou hast judged others, and whether thou hast sat and proceeded in these inferior courts as one mindful of the high tribunal of God, and with a just sense of the judgment of the great day, when all the causes which thou hast tried here upon earth, will be reviewed and severely scanned in that higher court, from which there can be no appeal.
It may be thou art rich and powerful, and one of those great flies that can break through the cobwebs of human laws, and escape the judgment of them: but the judgment of God will take fast hold of thee, and, in despite of all thy interest and might, will take a severe revenge upon thee. As powerful as thou art, thou art but a man, and God is infinitely too strong for thee, thou canst not escape out of his hands. “Thinkest thou, O man! that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” says the apostle, looking upon it as a foolish and absurd imagination, for any man to think that he can by any means avoid the judgment of God.64
So that, so long as we are men, whatever else we are, we ought to stand in awe of the judgment of the great day; because, let our rank and condition be what it will, we are all equally obnoxious to that, and can upon no account whatsoever plead any privilege or exemption from it.
II. The consideration of this confounds all those differences and distinctions of men, which make such a noise in this world; and whatever they may signify in this world, makes them very inconsiderable as to the other. Why then should men be puffed up, and look so big upon account of any of these things, when there is a day not far off, and which will certainly, and, for aught we know, shortly overtake us, which will level men in all these respects, and set them upon even ground, before an impartial bar: where none of these things will be had in any consideration, and where the foolish pride and arrogance of men shall be confounded: and those who were wont to look down with so much scorn upon others, as so infinitely below them, shall find themselves upon an equal level with the poorest and most abject part of mankind, and shall be ready to say, with the wise man in the Wisdom of Solomon, (chap. v. 8.) “What hath pride profited us, or what hath riches with our vaunting brought us? All these things are passed away as a shadow, and as a post that hasteth by.” So that we ought to use well all those advantages which we have above others in this world: if we do not, they will be of no use and benefit to us in the other. “Riches profit not in the day of wrath.”
All these petty civil differences and discriminations of high and low, rich and poor, honourable and base, they only hold in this world, and are in vogue on this side the grave: but when we come into the 65other world, they will all cease, and signify nothing. There the powerful oppressor can do nothing to the injury of the poorest man that ever lived in this world, and as little to his own safety and security. All that power and interest which is now so considerable, and makes its way every where, and does what it pleaseth, will be of no use and significancy in the other world. The great and the mighty, when death hath once arrested them, and bound them over to the judgment of the great day, their glory and strength departs from them, and they are then but like other men. Job elegantly describes the state of men after death: (Job iii. 17-19.) “There the wicked cease from troubling: and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together, they hear not the voice of the oppressor. The small and the great are there, and the servant is free from his master.” While we are upon the stage of this world, we sustain several persons; one is a prince and a great man, another is a captain and a mighty man; and whilst this life lasts, these differences are considerable. But when we retire and go off the stage, we shall then be undressed, we shall be stripped of all our titles, and of all our glory, and go out of the world as naked as we came into it. Death and judgment level all mankind, and when we come to appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, we shall all stand upon equal terms. For God respects not the persons of the mighty in judgment, he will shew no reverence to the great ones of this world, but will deal impartially and alike with all. (Matt. xxv. 32.) You may there see how the Judge himself represents the universality and impartiality of his dealings with men in that day: “Before him shall be gathered all nations, and he 66shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” All mankind shall then be gathered into one common flock, among which there shall no other distinction be made, but of sheep and goats; the separation which shall then be made, shall not be of the high from the low, of the rich from the poor, of the honourable from the base, of the learned from the ignorant; there shall be but one distinction then made, of the good from the bad, and the righteous from the wicked; there shall no consideration be then had, but only of the moral differences of men; all civil difference will then vanish and be of no account in that day, either to exempt any man from that judgment, or to gain any favour and respect to him in the hearing or decision of his cause. This should make all men very modest and humble in this world, to consider how they shall be levelled in the next.
III. How should the consideration of this dash all our sensual mirth and jollity, and put a damp upon our spirits, when they are too light and vainly transported with the pleasures and delights of this world! If a man be to prepare himself to be tried for his life after a few days, how will he look about him! With what care and seriousness will he provide for so solemn an occasion, and neglect nothing that may stand him in stead, and help to bring him off when he shall receive his trial! The thoughts of this will spoil all his mirth, and turn the lightness of his spirit into sober sadness. Much more ought the consideration of a judgment infinitely more terrible, and in the consequence of it of far greater concernment to us, to compose our minds into a serious frame. For if we believe a future and general judgment, and that none of us can by 67any means possibly escape it, then certainly it highly concerns every one of us to be serious, and to pass the time of this life in a perpetual awe of it. So St. Peter argues from this consideration: (1 Pet. i. 17.) “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth every man, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear,” This thought should interpose itself in all our mirth, that “we must appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” And therefore Solomon admonisheth young men, in the midst of their sports and pleasures, to think of a future account; (Eccles. xi. 9.) “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.”
IV. And lastly, From hence we learn, that the business of religion does equally concern every man. For if we must all be judged, we are all concerned to prepare and provide for it: and a religious and virtuous life is the only preparation for it. How should we order our lives with a respect to this great and general assize, when every one of us shall be brought upon his trial, and stand at the bar of God to be judged by him! Many live as if they thought the business of religion below them, and not at all appertaining to them: but if the judgment of God will equally reach all persons, then I am sure it equally concerns all to mind religion, and a holy and virtuous life; for that alone will make us worthy, as our Saviour himself expresseth it, “to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”
And this is the result of Solomon’s inquiry, and 68of his long discourse upon that argument—what is the great work and business, the great interest and concernment of men in this life; which we find in the conclusion of his sermon, called the book of the preacher: (Eccl. xii. 13, 14.) “Let us (says he) hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” Religion is the great business and concernment of men in this world, because God will bring every man, and “every work into, judgment, whether it be good or evil.”69
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