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IV. The promises, invitations, and warnings, to induce men to accede to the terms of the gospel, imply that this life is a season of probation for eternity. The promises and their conditions are comprised in the following examples: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved." “ He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” “ Repent ye therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” These conditions and promises imply that mankind are sinners, that they have forfeited eternal life, and are justly condemned. Compliance with these conditions is required of men in this life. The promises can be fulfilled only in eternity. The enjoyment of eternal life implies eternal duration. Every person, therefore, to whom the gospel is made known, is in a state of trial in respect to its terms. It is to be decided whether he will accede to them or not; and whether he shall receive remission of sins and eternal life or not. The probation is in this life, and it is for eternity.
The invitations of the gospel imply the same. “ Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” This invitation is tendered to those living in this world. The salvation which men need, and which is offered them in the gospel, is deliverance from the curse of the law, which is eternal punishment. Another invi. tation is, Incline your ear and come unto me; hear and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” This also is addressed to men in the present life, while the blessing offered is everlasting. The sum of the invitations of the gospel is, Come now with believing hearts to Christ and accept salvation and eternal life : behold now is the accepted time: behold now is the day of salvation.
The same doctrine is implied in the warnings of Scripture. In the following language addressed to those who had rejected divine mercy, God presents solemn warning to others : “ Because I have called and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand and no man regarded: but ye have set at naught my counsel and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity ; I will mock when your fear cometh. When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish come upon you ; then shall they call upon me, but I will not an. swer ; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me.” Is not this a warning to all not to slight the calls, and not to reject the offers of God's mercy, lest remediless woe come upon them? Our Saviour says, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” Again, “ He that believeth not the Son shall not see life: but the wrath of God abideth on him.” He thus warns sinners of the loss which they will sustain, and the fearful judgment which will come upon them in eternity, if they persist in unbelief. Not to see life, is to be excluded from heaven; to be damned, is to be doomed to hell. V. What the Scriptures teach respecting a judgment and future retributions, implies that this life is a season of probation for eternity. It is written, When the Son of man shall come in his glory and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory; and before him shall be gathered all nations ; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” Again, “Because he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness.' · 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.” In these passages we are taught, that God has appointed a day of judgment : that Christ will be the judge: that all men shall appear before his judgment-seat : that every one will be judged according to the things done in his body: and that he will receive retribution according to his deeds whether they be good or bad. That day is yet to come. We have not yet witnessed it; but all are to have a part in its transactions. We are now forming characters in which we must appear before our Judge, and receive our respective sentences in accordance with them. We are now on trial as the accountable subjects of God's moral government. Life and death are set before us. The narrow way which leads to life and the broad way which leads to destruction are the only alternatives as to our moral course. We are pursuing either the former or the latter; and according to the choice in which we persevere, will be the sentence pronounced upon us by our final Judge. To the righteous the Divine Judge will say, “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” They shall dwell in mansions which Christ has prepared for them. They will stand before the throne of God and serve him in his temple. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither shall the sun light on them nor any hurt; for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. But to the wicked the Judge will say, " Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.". “ These shall go away into everlasting punishment.” God will render them indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish. They will be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched. They will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power. The smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever. Such are the retributions which the Word of God affirms await the righteous and the wicked respectively. Are these retributions experienced in this life? From their nature and duration it is evident they cannot be. The righteous cannot here
dwell in heavenly mansions. It is not their condition here neither to hunger nor thirst or to have all tears wiped from their eyes. They cannot here enjoy eternal life, nor shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Nor of the wicked is it true, that in this life they go away into everlasting punishment; that they are cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched, nor that the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever.
But if these retributions are not experienced in this life, they will be in eternity. They will be experienced after the judgment. day. Previously to that day, that is, in this life, mankind are preparing for them. According to the moral character which we severally form, each of us will enter into eternal life or into eternal punishment.
Some inferences which naturally flow from this doctrine claim attention.
1. Since this life is a season of probation for eternity, the present dispensations of Providence are not judicial retributions. The order of events which the Scriptures describe respecting men as accountable creatures, is, that they first occupy the time given them for their probationary agency; then they are called to judgment before the Divine tribunal; and finally they receive their appropriate reward or punishment. That God's provi. dential dealings with men in this life are not judicial retributions, is evident from the fact that the righteous and the wicked enjoy many blessings in common. God "makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” He opens his liberal hand and dispenses a profusion of blessings in which both classes equally participate. The Psalmist in seeing the condition of some of his wicked cotemporaries, was envious at their prosperity, that they were not in trouble as other men, and had blessings more than heart could wish. In the wicked cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida mighty works were done; and the guilty inhabitants of Capernaum were in point of religious privileges exalted to heaven, while they deserved to be thrust down to hell. Such manifestations of divine goodness to the wicked are not deserved retributions. The wicked deserve not the least of the Divine favors. Since the moral conduct of men, while they remain impenitent, is sinful and void of holiness, it is inconsistent to regard the blessings which they enjoy as constituting a reward. . But in what light ought we to view the temporal evils which the wicked suffer ? It may be said that these evils, wholly or in part, are the result of moral laws, and are incidental to the present condition of mankind. Still, they are referable to the providential government of God, and are apportioned according to his pleasure. They are denominated punishments. When individuals are visited
with distressing dispensations it is scriptural to say, that God punishes them. “Wherefore,” says the prophet, “ does a living man complain for the punishment of his sins ?" But punishment is not necessarily judicial. It is sometimes disciplinary or corrective. It may be designed as chastisement and restraint, or as a motive to repentance.
When God afflicts the wicked they ought to humble themselves under his mighty hand, and be profited by the rod of correction. When God says, “Why will stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more ;" it is implied, that they pervert the proper end of present judgments, while they ought to be led by them to repentance. Also the afflictions which God brings upon the righteous are of the nature of parental discipline. It is written, “ Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law." The exhortation which speaketh unto the Christian is, - My son despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked by him; for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.”
All God's dispensations toward men in this life, whether for the present joyous or grievous, are adapted to them as being in a state of probation and not of retribution. They are of the character not of judicial retribution, but of parental discipline. Reward and punishment, in the judicial sense, succeed the judgment and belong to the things which are unseen and eternal.
2. Since this life is a season of probation for eternity, the longsuffering of God is manifest in his dealings with the wicked. If, as some suppose, this life were a season of retribution in such a sense that men receive the full measure of their deserts here, Di. vine long-suffering would be excluded. Long-suffering implies endurance of provocation, while punishment for the offence is suspended. But God assures us in his Word that he is a longsuffering God, and that he endures with much long-suffering his sinful creatures on earth. And since men are in a state of probation and do not receive judicial retribution for their conduct in this life, it is manifest that he exercises long-suffering in a great degree in his dispensations toward them. The apostle, referring to the apparent delay of God in the consummation of temporal things, ascribes it to his long-suffering: and be exhorts his brethren “ to account that the long-suffering our Lord is salvation.” It atfords sinners opportunity for repentance and securing by faith an interest in Christ. All the time that he waits to be gracious unto sinners—every day and week and year, by which he protracts the season of their probation, is the time of his long-suffering. He not only endues their transgressions and their rejection of his mercy, without punishing them as they deserve; but he bestows upon them innumerable blessings, grants them precious privileges, sets before them the strongest inducements to repent, strives with them by his Spirit, and with paternal tenderness says to them, " How shall I give thee up, Ephraim ? how shall I deliver thee, Israel ? How shall I make thee as Admah ? How shall I set thee as Zeboim ? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together." Or as their Saviour he compassionates them, as when he beheld the city and wept over it, and exclaimed, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not.” Let the impenitent be assured, that the continuance of their season of probation, their privileges, the invitations of the gospel, and all the expressions of the Divine goodness and mercy which they receive, are to be ascribed to the longsuffering of God. But let them beware lest they abuse it to their remediless injury. It may not, it will not, if they continue practically to despise it, prove their salvation ; because the apostle says, “What if God, willing to show his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.” Fearful it is to despise the riches of God's goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering.
3. Since this life is a season of probation for eternity, every person is continually rendering himself either a vessel of mercy, or a vessel of wrath. The faithful and devoted Christian derives benefit from the means of grace. By Divine santification through the truth and ordinances of the gospel, he is changed into the image of Christ. When he passes through scenes of affliction and conflict, his graces are improved. He has occasion to glory in tribulation; knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and tience experience ; and experience hope ; and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him. By his work of faith and labor of love; by his effectual and fervent prayers ; by his persevering zeal ; sell-denial for Christ's sake, and holy conversation, he is forming a character of growing meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light. His path is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
But the sinner, as long as he continues to cherish the love of sin and refuses to repent, adds iniquity to iniquity. As God deigns to bestow upon him the blessings of his providence and to grant him the means of grace, his obligations are ever increasing, and by violating them his sins are daily growing in number and aggravation. He is continually resisting divine light, practically despising the invitations of the gospel, and neglecting the great salvation. Accordingly, he abuses the season of his probation and all his religious privileges, by treasuring up wrath against the