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OF THE ACTIONS FOR WHICH MEN WILL BE ACCOUNTABLE.
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 third proposition contained in these words, viz. that all the actions which men have done in this life shall then come to account, and men shall be judged for them. “That every man may receive the things done in the body;” τὰ ἴδια τοῦ σώματος, “the things proper and due to the body;” so some very good copies have it: and then the meaning will be, that every one may receive the reward due to him; the word body, by a frequent Hebraism, being pat for the person: as if he had said, the reward due to himself, according to the actions he hath done in this life, good or bad. But in most copies, it is, τὰ δια τοῦ σώματος, “the things done in, or by, the body,” as our translation renders it; that every one may receive a reward of the actions which he hath done in this life; and then this phrase doth import what it is that shall be the matter of our account at the day of judgment, viz. “The things done in the body;” that is, all the actions of this life, while we are in this world, in this state of union of the soul and body.
Whether there be any peculiar emphasis in this 70 phrase, τὰ δια τοῦ σώματος, “the things done by, or in, the body,” as if it did exclude those things which shall be done after death, in the state of separation of our souls from our bodies, from being accounted for at the resurrection in the day of judgment; I say, whether there be any such emphasis in those words, “the things done in the body,” I cannot certainly affirm; though, according to the nature and reason of the thing, it seems very probable, as the schoolmen have generally determined in this case, that meritum est viatoris, “merit and demerit are proper to this state of trial;” and that wicked men, when they are in termino, and their state is finally concluded, and the trial of their obedience is at an end, do not demerit by their sins, nor increase their punishment. For, although that hatred and enmity of God which is in the damned spirits, be a monstrous irregularity in a creature, yet it cannot well in reason be otherwise, but that a creature, which is extremely miserable, and withal desperate, and past all hopes of remedy and recovery out of that dismal state; I say, it cannot well in reason be otherwise expected, but that a creature in such a condition should rage against the Author of its torment and punishment, and do all the despite to him that he can, and wish that he were not, though it be in vain to wish so; and it seems probable that God will not bring this to a new account, because it seems so natural and necessary a consequent of a miserable and desperate state: but though all this be probable, I am far from being peremptory in it, much less am I confident that it is the meaning of this phrase here in the text; I do not love to build an opinion upon a single and doubtful phrase of Scripture. I only mention it by the by, not intending to insist 71upon it, being much of his mind who said, Non amo nimis argutam theologiam, “1 am no lover of great subtlety and nicety in divinity.”
It is sufficient to my purpose, that this phrase of “every man’s receiving the things done in the body,” does at least import thus much—that we shall be accountable, at the day of judgment, for all the actions that we have done in this life, and receive the due recompence and reward of them; which is the proposition I intend as briefly as I can to illustrate and confirm.
And, first, For the illustration of this point, I shall instance in the several heads of action, as they take their difference and variety from the principle, or matter, or object, or other circumstances of them. We must render an account to this great Judge for our inward as well as outward actions; for the acts of our minds, and every thought springing up there, especially if it be cherished and entertained by us; for all our secret designs, purposes, and intentions, as well as for the words which we speak, and the outward actions which we do; whatever we have thought and designed, spoken and declared, accomplished and done, will then be considered and examined, and we shall be judged for it. We must likewise give an account of all our civil as well as religious actions, of our behaviour toward men in all our dealing and intercourse with them, as well as of our demeanour toward God in the duties of his more immediate worship and service. The neglects and omissions of our duty in any kind will also come under consideration, as well as our commissions of evil; a strict account likewise will be exacted of all the talents which God hath entrusted us with, of all the abilities, opportunities, and advantages we ever 72had of doing service to God, and good to men; and whether we have made answerable improvements of them for the glory of God, and the benefit and advantage of men.
We must be accountable likewise for words and actions of less moment and consequence, as well as for those of greater weight and concernment; for those which were done in secret, and in the greatest darkness and privacy, as well as for those which were done in public, and in the open view and light of the world; for the good and evil which hath been done by ourselves, and in our own persons, and for what hath been done by others by our command and countenance, and from the influence of our counsel and persuasion, or example, or which we have been any ways accessary to hinder or promote; and lastly, for the manner and circumstances of our actions, as well as for the matter and substance of them; all these will be surveyed and strictly searched into, and weighed in an exact balance, that we may receive a reward or punishment proportionable to them.
Secondly, For the confirmation of this, I shall make it evident both from Scripture and reason.
I. From Scripture; which in general tells us, that “God will bring every work into judgment;” and that, in order thereto, God strictly observes and takes notice of what we do; that “his eyes are upon the ways of man, and that he seeth all his goings; that there is no darkness nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves,” (Job xxxiv. 21, 22.) That “the ways of men are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings,” (Prov. v. 21.) That “he knoweth our paths and our lying clown, and is acquainted 73with all our ways.” That “there is not a word in our tongue, but he knoweth it altogether,” and that “he understands even our thoughts afar off;” (Psal. cxxxix. 2-4.) That all the actions of men are recorded in books, which shall be produced and opened at the great day, “and the dead, both small and great, shall be judged from those things, which shall be written in those books;” (Rev. xx. 21.)
And more particularly the Scripture tells us, that those words and actions of men which seem most inconsiderable, and are most likely to be exempted, shall be accounted for, and severely scanned and weighed. (Matt. xii. 36, 37.) Says our Lord there, “I say unto you, that every idle word,” by which, if our Saviour do not mean every unprofitable, to be sure every wicked word, “that men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof in the day of judgment, For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” By which saying, our Saviour designedly confutes an opinion, too current among many, that men’s words signify little, and that no account will be taken of them at the day of judgment; that God will not be so severe as to make them matter of charge and accusation, and to punish us for them in the other world; and, therefore, to obviate this mistake, he purposely adds, “for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” And therefore men must not think, that all their lewd and filthy talk, all their rash oaths and imprecations, all their atheistical discourse and profane jests upon religion and the Holy Scriptures, all their calumnies and slanders of good men, all their officious lies to serve a present turn and occasion 76will pass for nothing at the judgment of the great day. No, the Judge himself hath expressly told us, that of all such “words men shall give an account in the day of judgment.” And St. Jude tells us, out of an ancient prophecy of Enoch, that “the Lord shall come with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly,” not only “of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed,” but likewise “of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Our most secret thoughts and actions also, as well as our open and public deeds, shall then be brought upon the stage. (Eccles. xii. 14.) “For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” (Rom. ii. 16.) “In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” And this likewise is the meaning of that proverbial speech so often used by our Saviour, “there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed; neither hid that shall not be known.” There is nothing so secret, which shall not be disclosed and made manifest in that great day of revelation, and be laid open in the face of the whole world; especially the cunning, dissimulation, and hypocrisy of men, with God and men. Men are apt to think themselves safe enough, if they can but escape the eye of men, and commit their sins secretly, and in the dark. But this is either direct atheism, or downright folly; because the eye of God is continually upon us, and “the darkness hideth not from him, but the night shineth as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to him.” And if we be always under the inspection 75of our Judge, if all that we think, and say, and do, be “open and naked to the eye of him,” προς ὅν ἡμιν ὁ λόγος, “to whom we must give an account/ what will it profit us to dissemble before men, and to conceal any of our actions from them? Nay, if we could hide them from ourselves (as we cannot our wilful and deliberate sins), yet that would be of no advantage to us, because “God is greater than our hearts, and knows all things.”
And then, likewise, we must be accountable to God for all the neglects and omissions of our duty, as well as for the positive commission of sin, and that in proportion to the advantages and opportunities we have had of doing more and greater good. So our Saviour tells us, that “unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required.” (Luke xii. 48.) Many are apt to think, that if they do but abstain from notorious and scandalous vices, if they do nobody harm, though they do not serve God so fervently and constantly as others do, though they seldom think of him and pray to him, though they have no manner of activity or concernment to do good, either to the bodies or souls of men; yet that this negative virtue will serve their turn at the day of judgment. But the matter is quite otherwise, as our Saviour hath most expressly declared. “A good tree (saith he) will bring forth good fruit.” And by the parable of the foolish virgins, who for want of oil in their lamps were shut out of the kingdom of God, he declares to us the dangerous state of those who slumber away their lives in a drowsy inactivity, and are not careful either to keep alive grace in their hearts, or to shew forth the light of good works in their conversation. And in the parable of the talents, (Matt. xxv.) he passeth a most 76severe sentence upon that slothful servant, who hid his lord’s talent in a napkin, and buried it in the earth, without making any manner of improvement of it; (ver. 30.) “Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And in the same chapter, where our Saviour represents to us the proceedings of the great day, the charge there drawn up against them, consists of sins of omission, and gross neglects to do the good which they had the ability and opportunity to do; (ver. 42, 43, &c.) “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and ye gave me no meat; thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited me not.” Not that sins of commission shall then be passed by, and left out of the account; it is taken for granted, that they shall be reckoned for in the first place: but the wisdom of our Saviour chooseth to instance in those sins, which many hope they shall not be called to account for, the omission and neglect of their duty, that he might hereby root out of the minds of men effectually that false opinion, which they are so apt to entertain concerning such sins, as if they were of a very light and venial nature.
II. This is evident likewise from reason; because all the actions of reasonable creatures, as such, are under the regulation and government of law, by which, as by a rule, every thing that we do is to be measured. And we have all the reason that can be to expect, that he who gave us this law, will look to the observance of it, and take an account of all breaches and transgressions of it, so as 77to reward those that keep it, and to punish the bold transgressors of it; and if this were not so, the law would want its proper sanction and enforcement, and had been given to no purpose.
And this law of God reacheth all our actions, in ward and outward, religions and civil, secret and open, positive and negative, with all the circumstances of commendation or aggravation that be long to them. And as this law is the rule of all human actions now, and by which we ought to live in this world; so it will be the rule by which we and all our actions shall be examined and judged in the next. The judgment of God will be of the same extent with his law.
And thus I have, as briefly as I could, illustrated and confirmed the truth of this proposition, that all the actions which men have done in this life shall come to account in the next, and they shall be judged for them.
And if so, then certainly no consideration that can be presented to the mind of man, ought in reason to be more powerful to beget in us a strict care and conscience of all our thoughts, words, and actions, than this; that, after a little while, when a few days or years are over, all that we ever did in this world, shall be .strictly examined and looked into, and be approved or condemned by the impartial judgment of God. And therefore, if we have any grain of true wisdom in us, any love to ourselves, any sense of our great and everlasting interest, that great day of account should always be before us, and present to our minds, and we should govern every action of our lives with a serious and awful regard to it. And if we be conscious to ourselves that “there is any way of wickedness in us,” that 78we have been grossly culpable in the violation of any known law of God, or in the neglect of any part of our duty, how can we without dread think of coming to so severe an account, and falling under so heavy a sentence, as will then be pronounced upon the workers of iniquity?
Indeed, if we could do any thing now, of which we were to give no account hereafter, and which would not be taken into consideration at the great day, we then might be secure and careless as to such actions; but when nothing we do is exempted from the judgment of God; when we are assured, beyond all doubt, that he will one day take cognizance of every thought, word, and action; how circumspect should we be, “what manner of persons we are in all holy conversation and godliness!” How nearly does it concern us, “to take heed to our ways, lest at any time we offend: to keep our hearts with all diligence,” and a to set a watch to the door of our lips!” that we may not think or speak any thing in the sight and hearing of our Judge, by which we may incur his censure and condemnation. This is the consideration which the wise man proposes to us, as of all other the most likely to awe men to the careful obedience and observance of God’s laws. “Fear God, and keep his commandments; for God will bring every work into judgment, and every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”
Can we be negligent of our lives and actions, when we consider that all the passages of our lives are upon record, and that there is a most exact register kept of them, written in indelible characters, with “a pen of iron., and the point of a diamond?” as the expression is, (Jer. xvii. 1.) “I remember all 79their wickedness, and their doings are before me,” says God,(Hos. vii. 2.) and, (Amos viii. 7.) “The Lord hath sworn by the excellency of Jacob, Surely I will not forget any of their works.” We sin, and forget that we have sinned; but God chargeth himself with the remembrance of all our evil doings, and they can never slip out of his mind.
Did men seriously believe these things, and were they affected with them as they ought, they could not but have a wonderful effect upon their lives, to make us more watchful over our ways, and to tread every step of our lives more warily. We could not commit iniquity with so much greediness and pleasure, and “rush into sin, as the horse rusheth into battle,” without any fear or consideration, were we verily persuaded, that every evil action that we do in this life, will be matter of charge and accusation in the day of judgment.
Therefore, when we are doing any thing, we should ask ourselves, will not this also come into judgment? When we are engaged in any wicked design, or vicious course, we should consider, with what face will this act of violence and oppression, of fraud and cozenage, of filthy lewdness and brutish intemperance, appear at the great day? How will it look when “God shall arise to judgment?” When we are careless and remiss, slight and superficial in the service of God, and the duties of his worship, we should remember that God takes notice of all this, and we must give an account to him for the manner, as well as the matter of our actions.
If the actions of our lives were transient, and the consequence of them were over so soon as they are done, and no memorial of them would remain here after; if they would die with us, and never rise up 80in judgment against us; we needed not to take such heed to them: but we do all things for eternity, and every action of this life will have a good or bad influence upon our everlasting state.
More particularly, the consideration of this should have an influence upon us, more especially, to these purposes.
1. To make us afraid of lesser sins, as well as greater, because those also, as well as these, will come into judgment; and we should not esteem any thing little, which God shall think fit to take into consideration, and to bring upon the stage at the great day.
2. The consideration of this should likewise deter us from secret sins. We are apt to think, that if we can but sin in secret, and hide what we do from the eyes of men, we are secure and safe enough: but, alas! our great danger is not from men, but God; not now, but hereafter. We are now very solicitous to conceal our wickedness, that we may avoid shame, and escape punishment from men: but God will one day produce all our secret sins, and bring them forth into the light, for all our studious concealment of them now. Now we are afraid of the eye of men, and therefore choose secrecy, that we may commit our sins privately and unseen. Vain man! the day is at hand, when all thy secret lewdness and fraud will be brought upon the public stage of the world, and be matter of public infamy to thee, and an everlasting reproach that can never be wiped off; and though thou now coverest thy transgression as Adam, and hidest thine iniquity in thy bosom, yet the time is coming, when all thy secret wickedness shall be exposed to the view of angels and men: and then, sinner, what wilt thou do, when 81thou shalt appear before this all-seeing Judge? none of thine arts of concealment will then stand thee in stead, Canst thou hide thy sins from his eye, so that he cannot search them out? or thyself from his wrath? If thou canst not, what matters it to have any secret from others, when all is known to thy Judge?
3. This should likewise dispose us to great sincerity in all our words and actions, and make us always to speak as we think, to perform what we promise and profess, and in all things to be what we would seem to be, since there is a day coming when “the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed,” and every mask of hypocrisy and dissimulation shall be plucked off, and our most close and cunning designs shall be brought into the open light. In that great day of revelation, nothing will be matter of comfort and rejoicing to us, but “the testimony of our consciences, that, in all simplicity, and godly sincerity, we have had our conversation in the world.”
4. This should make us faithfully to improve all the talents and opportunities which God affords to us; because we are but stewards, and must give an account of them. We are apt to covet great wealth, and to aspire after great places and power; but do we consider what it is that we so eagerly desire and pursue? All this will but bring upon us the burden of a greater and heavier account, if we do not improve these talents and advantages to the end for which they were given, to relieve the wants of the poor and miserable, and to serve the great ends of religion and virtue; and if we fail herein, a dreadful account will be exacted of us, and we shall wish that we had been the poorest and meanest, the most ignorant and unlearned persons in the world.82
5. This should restrain us from uncharitable censures of others. “Thou art therefore inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art, that judgest another: for thinkest thou that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” as the apostle reasons, (Rom. ii. 1.)
6. This may help to support us under the unjust censures and reproaches of men. If we be innocent, God will one day “bring forth our righteousness as the light, and our judgment as the noon-day.” “With me, (saith Paul, 1 Cor. iv. 3.) it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment. He that judgeth me is the Lord.” It is desirable to approve ourselves and our actions to men: but if we cannot, it is a great satisfaction to approve them to our own consciences, and to God, who is “greater than our hearts, and knows all things.”
Lastly, This will teach us not to measure our condition by the good opinion which others have of us; but by the law of God, which will be the standard and measure of our judgment. He will consider every thing exactly, and weigh all the circumstances of our case, and make all the allowances that equity requires. Men can but judge according to appearance: but the judgment of God will be according to truth; therefore we should above all “labour to be accepted of him in that day,”83
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