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God will righteously judge the world by Jesus Christ. The righteousness of
God's judicial proceedings will appear by considering the equity of the law, the rule of judgment. The law of nature considered in its precepts and penalties. The precepts are such as become the Creator to give, and the reasonable creature to receive. An answer to the objection, that the law being pure and perfect, and man in a frail state, it seems hard to require perfect obedience from bim, and condemn him for failings. The law of faith considered. Our inoocence being lost, repentance is allowed. Sincere obedience is accepted, where perfection is wasting. Unfeigned faith in the Redeemer is the condition of our justification and glorification, The not complying with the gospel-terms of salvation, proceeds from the perverse wills of men.
I will now proceed to illustrate and prove the main point, which is this:
That God will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ.
The Mediator, who shall be Judge in the union of both natures, considered as the Son of God, is essentially holy and righteous ; and considered as the Son of Man, was "holy, harmless, , undefiled, and separate from sinners.” In him all virtues shined in their absolute purity: and who is so worthy and qualified to reward holiness and punish wickedness as “the holy One of God?” It is said of him, “ Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity, therefore thy God hath anointed thee with oil of gladness above thy fellows,” Heb. 1. 9. consecrated him to the regal office, and enriched his human nature with endowments suitable to it. It was prophesied of him, “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity." Isa. 11. 2, 3, 4. Human judgments are often unrighteous, froni vicious respects and affections that pervert the will, or fair appearances that deceive the understanding : by gifts or guile, innocence is cast, and guilt acquitted; but the Judge of the world is inflexible to partiality, and all things are entirely open to his sight.” In the act of judgment he is represented
sitting on a white throne,” Rev. 20. 11. the emblem of unspotted holiness.
The righteousness of God's judicial proceedings will appear, by considering three things.
I. The equity of his law, the rule of the great and final judge ment,
II. The evidence of the facts and matter, which shall be produced as the reason of judgment.
III. The impartiality of the sentence.
1. The equity of the law which shall be the rule of the last judgment. This will appear by considering i. the law of nature, and the law of faith, in their precepts and ii. the penalties annexed to enforce the observation of them.
i. The law of nature, which is the rule of man's duty, will be the rule of judgment: for “without the law there is no transgression;" and consequently a person is unaccountable for his actions. This law is composed of such rules as are most becoming the wise and gracious Creator to give, and the reasonable creature to receive and obey: for they entirely agree and concentre in his glory, and the good of his subjects. The apostle adorns the law with the most excellent elegy; “it is holy, just, and good.” Rom. 7. 12. Holy, as it enjoins all acts of piety to God: the adoration of his majesty resulting from his inexpressible divine perfections, the imitation of his purity, a reliance on his goodness, a resignation to his most wise providence, and a dutiful obedience to his will. Such a sense of our dependance and subjection to God, is the proper character of the reasonable creature, as dignified above inanimate and mere sensitive beings. “ The law is just," as it directs us how to demean ourselves in our various relations. Justice is the cement of societies, without which they disband and fall into confusion. And the sum of the law is virtually comprised in one rule, “ To do to others as we would they should do to us," than which nothing is more equal. It is good to man that keeps it, commanding nothing but what is influential upon his well-being here and for ever. It does not infringe his true freedom, but allows him unstained delights, and enjoins what is proper to advance and secure his dignity, felicity and perfection. It forbids every thing that defiles and debases him, and causes a degeneration from his native excellency. If we prescind in our thoughts the sacred authority of the Lawgiver, all the precepts of the law for their moral goodness deserve our esteem and choice, and entire observation. The sanctified mind approves them universally. “I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right,” saith holy David, Psal. 119. 128. Nay, in the wicked there is an intellectual assent to the goodness of the law, though the corrupt will doth not embrace it: there are some inclinations and wishes to obey it, but controlled by vicious desires. It is said of the convinced sinner, “Thou knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent." Rom. 2. 18.
It may be objected, that the law being pure, and man in a frail state, surrounded with innumerable temptations, to require perfect obedience from him, and condemn him for his failings, seems hard. The law lays a restraint upon all the senses, and forbids all fleshly lusts : this may be easy to separate souls, but for men to live in the body, as if they were out of it, to be always vigilant against the insinuations or attacks of sin, is impossible. Thus the carnal mind is apt with some colour, to traduce the righteousness of God's government. But it will be clearly vindicated, by considering;
(1.) The law supposes man in a state of integrity, furnished with sufficient power to comply with every precept, though free to fall from his duty and happiness. To command absolute impossibilities, is tyrannical, and utterly inconsistent with the nature of the blessed God.
(2.) The first man wilfully transgressed the law, and lost his holiness : and nature being poisoned in the fountain, is corrupt in all the descendants from him. Mankind was justly degraded in rebellious Adam, and is destitute of spiritual strength to perform all that the law requires.
(3.) This disability is vicious and culpable, and can be no pretence against the rights of the Lawgiver. A natural disability from the want of requisite faculties is a just excuse. It is no fault that a man cannot stop the sun, as Joshua did; nor calm a tempest, as our Saviour did by his word. But the disability that arises from a depraved disposition, renders a person more guilty. And this is the present case. The will of man is disobedient and perverse, and as soon as it can exercise election, chooses evil; and by custom in sin becomes more hardened and obstinate. And from hence the prophet charges the contumacious Jews ; “Behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken.” Jer. 6. 10. Were they incapable of hearing the divine commands ? No; “but the word of the Lord was to them a reproach, they had no delight in it.” And our Saviour upbraids the pharisees, “ How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that comes from God only ?" John 5. 44. They were in high reputation for their holiness, which made it impossible for them in a humble penitent manner to submit to our Saviour. In short, the primary end of the law was the happiness of man in the performance of his duty; and his first sin, and consequent impotence to fulfil it, was by his own fault. As the obliquity of a line cannot be ascribed to the straight rule, but to the error of the hand that draws it. And from hence it is clear, that if God should with a terrible exactness require of men unsinning obedience upon the pain of damnation, he could not be taxed with unrighteousness.
2. But God has been pleased to mitigate and allay the severity of the law by the gospel ; so that although the least breach of it makes a person an offender and obnoxious to judgment, yet the law of faith propounds such merciful conditions to the guilty, that upon the performance of them, they may plead their pardon sealed with the blood of their Redeemer, and shall be saved and crowned in the day of judgment. We are commanded “so to speak and do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” Jam. 2. 12. Thus the gospel is styled, in that it frees the conscience, though not from the obedience, yet from the terrors and condemnation of the law; for there was not the least signification of mercy by it. But in the gospel, “the grace of God most illustriously appears.
(1.) In that when our innocence was lost, there may be a renovation of the sinner by repentance, to which the plenary pardon of sin is assured : “Wash ye, make ye clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes : cease to do evil, and learn to do well, saith the Lord : and though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as show; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white like wool.” Isa, 1, 16, 17, 18. God will not pardon those who forgive and flatter themselves in their sins; “but those who confess and forsake them, shall find mercy.”
(2.) Sincerity of obedience is accepted where perfection is wanting. When a person with consent of heart and serious endeavours strives to obey the holy will of God, without the exception of any known duty, or the indulgence of any sin, “God will spare him, as a father spares his son that serves him.” Mal. 3. 17. It is not so much the matter as the allowance that makes sin deadly. Where there is guile in the heart, it will be severely imputed. It is not according to some particular acts of sin, but the tenor of the life, that the state of men will be decided.
(3.) Unfeigned faith in the Lord Jesus, that is such a belief of the truth and goodness of his promises, as induces us “to receive him as our Prince and Saviour," as purifies the conseience, the heart and life, will free us from hell, and entitle us to heaven, according to the covenant of grace. In short, the final resolution of a man's trial and case will be this ; either he has performed the gracious conditions of the gospel, and he shall “ be saved ;” or rejected them, and he shall “ be damned.”
If it be objected, that the terms of evangelical justification, though in themselves comparatively easy, yet are of impossible performance to men in their natural sinful state. The answer is clear :
That although the natural man be dead in sin," without spiritual strength to resolve and perform his duty, and holy heat of desires to it; and nothing is alive in him but his corrupt passions, that are like worms generated in a carcass ; yet by the grace that is offered in the gospel, he may be enabled to perform the conditions of it: for in this the gospel excels the law, the law discovers sin, but affords no degrees of supernatural power to subdue it, and directs to no means for the expiation of its guilt. As “the fire in the bush” discovered the thorns without consuming them. But the sanctifying Spirit, the true spring of “life and power," 2 Tim. 1.7. is the concomitant of the gospel, as St. Peter declares, “With the preaching of the gospel the Holy Ghost was sent down from heaven.” 1 Pet. 1. 12. And the Spirit by illuminating, preventing, and exciting grace assists men to repent and believe ; and is promised in rich and liberal supplies to all that humbly and ardently pray for it. This our