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The Judgment of the Nations

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’


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Matthew 25:31. Now when the Son of man shall come in his glory. Christ follows out the same doctrine, and what he formerly described under parables, he now explains clearly and without figures. The sum of what is said is, that believers, in order to encourage themselves to a holy and upright conduct, ought to contemplate with the eyes of faith the heavenly life, which, though it is now concealed, will at length be manifested at the last coming of Christ. For, when he declares that, when he shall come with the angels, then will he sit on the throne of his glory, he contrasts this last revelation with the disorders and agitations of earthly warfare; as if he had said, that he did not appear for the purpose of immediately setting up his kingdom, and therefore that there was need of hope and patience, lest the disciples might be discouraged by long delay. Hence we infer that this was again added, in order that the disciples, being freed from mistake about immediate and sudden happiness, might keep their minds in warfare till Christ’s second coming, and might not give way, or be discouraged, on account of his absence.

This is the reason why he says that he will then assume the title of King; for though he commenced his reign on the earth, and now sits at the right hand of the Father, so as to exercise the supreme government of heaven and earth; yet he has not yet erected before the eyes of men that throne, from which his divine majesty will be far more fully displayed than it now is at the last day; for that, of which we now obtain by faith nothing more than a taste, will then have its full effect. So then Christ now sits on his heavenly throne, as fir as it is necessary that he shall reign for restraining his enemies and protecting the Church; but then he will appear openly, to establish perfect order in heaven and earth, to crush his enemies under his feet, to assemble his believing people to partake of an everlasting and blessed life, to ascend his judgment-seat; and, in a word, there will be a visible manifestation of the reason why the kingdom was given to him by the Father. He says that he will come in his glory; because, while he dwelt in this world as a mortal man, he appeared in the despised form of a servant. And he calls it his glory, though he elsewhere ascribes it to his Father, but the meaning is the same; for he means simply the divine glory, which at that time shone in the Father only, for in himself it was concealed. 172172     “Pource qu’en Christ elle estoit cachee et ne se monstroit;” — “because in Christ it was concealed, and was not exhibited.”

32. And all nations shall be assembled before him. He employs large and splendid titles for extolling his kingdom, that the disciples may learn to expect a different kind of happiness from what they had imagined. For they were satisfied with this single consideration, that their nation was delivered from the miseries with which it was then oppressed, so that it would be manifest that God had not in vain established his covenant with Abraham and his posterity. But Christ extends much farther the benefit of the redemption brought by him, for he will be the Judge of the whole world. Again, in order to persuade believers to holiness of life, he assures them that the good and the bad will not share alike; because he will bring with him the reward which is laid up for both. In short, he declares that his kingdom will be fully established, when the righteous shall have obtained a crown of glory, and when the wicked shall have received the reward which they deserved.

As a shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats. When our Lord says that the separation of the sheep from the goats is delayed till that day, he means that the wicked are now mixed with the good and holy, so that they live together in the same flock of God. The comparison appears to be borrowed from Ezekiel 34:18, where the Lord complains of the fierceness of the goats, which attack with their horns the poor sheep, and destroy the pastures, and pollute the water; and where the Lord expressly declares that he will take vengeance. And therefore Christ’s discourse amounts to this, that believers ought not to think their condition too hard, if they are now compelled to live with the goats, and even to sustain many serious attacks and annoyances from them; secondly, that they ought to beware of being themselves infected by the contagion of their vices; and, thirdly, to inform them that in a holy and innocent life their labor is not thrown away, for the difference will one day appear.

34. Come, you blessed of my Father. We must remember Christ’s design; for he bids his disciples rest satisfied now with hope, that they may with patience and tranquillity of mind look for the enjoyment of the heavenly kingdom; and next, he bids them strive earnestly, and not become wearied in the right course. To this latter clause he refers, when he promises the inheritance of the heavens to none but those who by good works aim at the prize of the heavenly calling. But before speaking of the reward of good works, he points out, in passing, that the commencement of salvation flows from a higher source; for by calling them blessed of the Father, he reminds them, that their salvation proceeded from the undeserved favor of God. Among the Hebrews the phrase blessed of God means one who is dear to God, or beloved by God. Besides, this form of expression was not only employed by believers to extol the grace of God towards men, but those who had degenerated from true godliness still held this principle. Enter, thou blessed of God, said Laban to Abraham’s servant, (Genesis 24:31.) We see that nature suggested to them this expression, by which they ascribed to God the praise of all that they possessed. There can be no doubt, therefore, that Christ, in describing the salvation of the godly, begins with the undeserved love of God, by which those who, under the guidance of the Spirit in this life, aim at righteousness, were predestined to life.

To this also relates what he says shortly afterwards, that the kingdom, to the possession of which they will be appointed at the last day, had been prepared for them from the beginning of the world. For though it may be easy to object, that the reward was laid up with a view to their future merits, any person who will candidly examine the words must acknowledge that there is an implied commendation of the grace of God. Nay more, Christ does not simply invite believers to possess the kingdom, as if they had obtained it by their merits, but expressly says that it is bestowed on them as heirs.

Yet we must observe another object which our Lord had in view. For though the life of the godly be nothing else than a sad and wretched banishment, so that the earth scarcely bears them; though they groan under hard poverty, and reproaches, and other afflictions; yet, that they may with fortitude and cheerfulness surmount these obstacles, the Lord declares that a kingdom is elsewhere prepared for them. It is no slight persuasive to patience, when men are fully convinced that they do not run in vain; and therefore, lest our minds should be east, down by the pride of the ungodly, in which they give themselves unrestrained indulgences—lest our hope should even be weakened by our own afflictions, let us always remember the inheritance which awaits us in heaven; for it depends on no uncertain event, but was prepared for us by God before we were born,prepared, I say, for each of the elect, for the persons here addressed by Christ are the blessed of the Father.

When it is here said only that the kingdom was prepared from the beginning of the world, while it is said, in another passage, that it was prepared before the creation of heaven and of earth, (Ephesians 1:4) this involves no inconsistency. For Christ does not here fix the precise time when the inheritance of eternal life was appointed for the sons of God, but only reminds us of God’s fatherly care, with which he embraced us before we were born; and confirms the certainty of our hope by this consideration, that our life can sustain no injury from the commotions and agitations of the world.

35. For I was hungry. If Christ were now speaking of the cause of our salvation, the Papists could not be blamed for inferring that we merit eternal life by good works; but as Christ had no other design than to exhort his people to holy and upright conduct, it is improper to conclude from his words what is the value of the merits of works. With regard to the stress which they lay on the word for, as if it pointed out the cause, it is a weak argument; for we know that, when eternal life is promised to the righteous, the word for does not always denote a cause, but rather the order of procedure. 173173     “Elle ne touche pas tousjours la cause et le fondement de salut, mais plustost l’ordre et la procedure que Dieu y tient;” — “it does not always refer to the cause and foundation of salvation, but rather to the order and procedure which God observes in regard to it.” But we have another reply to offer, which is still more clear; for we do not deny that a reward is promised to good works, but maintain that it is a reward of grace, because it depends on adoption. Paul boasts (2 Timothy 4:8) that a crown of righteousness is laid up for him; but whence did he derive that confidence but because he was a member of Christ, who alone is heir of the heavenly kingdom? He openly avows that the righteous Judge will give to him that crown; but whence did he obtain that prize but because by grace he was adopted, and received that justification of which we are all destitute? We must therefore hold these two principles, first, that believers are called to the possession of the kingdom of heaven, so far as relates to good works, not because they deserved them through the righteousness of works, or because their own minds prompted them to obtain that righteousness, but because God justifies those whom he previously elected, (Romans 8:30.) Secondly, although by the guidance of the Spirit they aim at the practice of righteousness, yet as they never fulfill the law of God, no reward is due to them, but the term reward is applied to that which is bestowed by grace.

Christ does not here specify every thing that belongs to a pious and holy life, but only, by way of example, refers to some of the duties of charity, by which we give evidence that we fear God. For though the worship of God is more important than charity towards men, and though, in like manner, faith and supplication are more valuable than alms, yet Christ had good reasons for bringing forward those evidences of true righteousness which are more obvious. If a man were to take no thought about God, and were only to be beneficent towards men, such compassion would be of no avail to him for appeasing God, who had all the while been defrauded of his right. Accordingly, Christ does not make the chief part of righteousness to consist in alms, but, by means of what may be called more evident signs, shows what it is to live a holy and righteous life; as unquestionably believers not only profess with the mouth, but prove by actual performances, that they serve God.

Most improperly, therefore, do fanatics, under the pretext of this passage, withdraw from hearing the word, and from observing the Holy Supper, and from other spiritual exercises; for with equal plausibility might they set aside faith, and bearing the cross, and prayer, and chastity. But nothing was farther from the design of Christ than to confine to a portion of the second table of the Law that rule of life which is contained in the two tables. The monks and other noisy talkers had as little reason to imagine that there are only six works of mercy, because Christ does not mention any more; as if it were not obvious, even to children, that he commends, by means of a synacdoche, all the duties of charity. For to comfort mourners, to relieve those who are unjustly oppressed, to aid simple-minded men by advice, to deliver wretched persons from the jaws of wolves, are deeds of mercy not less worthy of commendation than to clothe the naked or to feed the hungry.

But while Christ, in recommending to us the exercise of charity, does not exclude those duties which belong to the worship of God, he reminds his disciples that it will be an authentic evidence of a holy life, if they practice charity, agreeably to those words of the prophet,

I choose mercy, and not sacrifice, (Hosea 6:6;)

the import of which is, that hypocrites, while they are avaricious, and cruel, and deceitful, and extortioners, and haughty, still counterfeit holiness by an imposing array of ceremonies. Hence also we infer, that if we desire to have our life approved by the Supreme Judge, we must not go astray after our own inventions, but must rather consider what it is that He chiefly requires from us. For all who shall depart from his commandments, though they toil and wear themselves out in works of their own contrivance, will hear it said to them at the last day, Who

hath required those things at your hands? (Isaiah 1:12.)

37. Then wilt the righteous answer him. Christ represents the righteous as doubting—what they know well—his willingness to form a just estimate of what is done to men. 174174     “La charit, qu’on exerce envers les hommes;” — “the charity which is exercised towards men.” But as this was not so deeply impressed on their minds as it ought to have been, he holds out to them this lively representation. 175175     “Il leur represente au vif, tout ainsi que si la chose se faisoit devant lcurs yeux;” — “he represents it to them in a lively manner, quite as if the thing were done before their eyes.” For how comes it that we are so slow and reluctant to acts of beneficence, but because that promise is not truly engraven on our hearts, that God will one day repay with usury what we bestow on the poor? The admiration which Christ here expresses is intended to instruct us to rise above the apprehension of our flesh, whenever afflicted brethren ask our confidence and aid, that the aspect of a despised man may not hinder us from treating him with kindness.

40. Verily I tell you. As Christ has just now told us, by a figure, that our senses do not yet comprehend how highly he values deeds of charity, so now he openly declares, that he will reckon as done to himself whatever we have bestowed on his people. We must be prodigiously sluggish, if compassion be not drawn from our bowels by this statement, that Christ is either neglected or honored in the person of those who need our assistance. So then, whenever we are reluctant to assist the poor, let us place before our eyes the Son of God, to whom it would be base sacrilege to refuse any thing. By these words he likewise shows, that he acknowledges those acts of kindness which have been performed gratuitously, and without any expectation of a reward. And certainly, when he enjoins us to do good to the hungry and naked, to strangers and prisoners, from whom nothing can be expected in return, we must look to him, who freely lays himself under obligation to us, and allows us to place to his account what might otherwise appear to have been lost.

So far as you have done it to one of the least of my brethren. Believers only are expressly recommended to our notice; not that he bids us altogether despise others, but because the more nearly a man approaches to God, he ought to be the more highly esteemed by us; for though there is a common tie that binds all the children of Adam, there is a still more sacred union among the children of God. So then, as those, who belong to the household of faith ought to be preferred to strangers, Christ makes special mention of them. And though his design was, to encourage those whose wealth and resources are abundant to relieve the poverty of brethren, yet it affords no ordinary consolation to the poor and distressed, that, though shame and contempt follow them in the eyes of the world, yet the Son of God holds them as dear as his own members. And certainly, by calling them brethren, he confers on them inestimable honor.




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