« AnteriorContinuar »
sions, and those animated with such an affecting voice, such an inflamed countenance and action, that his hearers broke forth into passionate cries, as if the Judge himself had been present to pass the final sentence upon them. In the height of their commotion, the preacher bid them stop their tears and passions, for he had one thing inore to add, the most afllicting and astonishing consideration of all the rest, that within less than a quarter of an hour, the memory and regard of that which so transported them would vanish, and their affections return to carnal objects in their usual manner.
The neglect of consideration makes even the doctrine of judgment to come to be without efficacy. It is necessary therefore that the belief of this be so firmly seated in the heart as its throne, that it may command the thoughts to be very attentive to it, and may have regal power over our wills and affections, that our lives may be ordered according to its rules.
2. The consideration of eternal judgment will vindicate the proceedings of divine providence, and the honour of God's governing this world, from the imputation of unrighteousness. God is provoked every day, yet spares the wicked, and heaps an abundance of favours on them. His patience and goodness they profanely abuse, and become more obdurate and inflexible. They are apt to blaspheme the excellency of his nature in their hearts, Psal. 14. 1. thinking that he is ignorant or careless, impotent or unjust. They implicitly deny his providence and judgment, that he does not observe their sins, and will not require an account for them: or else they interpret his permission to be an approbation of their sins. “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest I was such an one as thyself.” Psal. 50. Thus the heathens transplanted the vices of earth to heaven, and represented their gods to be sensual, jealous, furious as men, and accordingly expect an easy absolution for their sins. Or else the distance of judginent to come so hardens them, that they hear God's thunder with less fear, than boys do their squibs and crackers. “ Because sentence against an evil work is not speedily executed, therefore the hearts of the sons of men are fully set in them to do evil.” Eccles. 8. 2. But how desperate is the madness of sinners ?
seems to wink at their sins," Acts 17. 30. but hath appointed a day of accounts. He suffers them to live in prosperity, “ but they are reserved to the
day of judgment to be punished,” 2 Pet. 2. 4. and possibly sooner : for sometimes they are cut off by visible vengeance, to convince the world that the Supreme Judge does not “bear the sword in vain.” But though it is delayed for a time, yet he declares, that “their sins are laid up in store with him, and sealed up among his treasures. To him belongs vengeance and recompence.” Deut. 32. 34. He is a mild Judge now, and his clemency suspends their punishment; but justice will not forget it, Amos 8. 7. He threatens the secure sinner, “I will reprove thee, and set thy sins in order before thine eyes.” Psal. 50. 21. How will the scornful obstinate sinner change complexion, and tremble, when an army of sins more terrible than so many furies shall be ranged in battle, and with fiery darts wound his naked soul? How will the stubborn atheist, that pleases himself with vain imaginations of the eternity of the world, and the mortality of the soul, be confounded when he feels the truth of scripture threatenings to his eternal sorrow? then all their railleries will be turned into lamentations. It is not for * want of power that God spares the wicked, but because they are always in his hands, and he can make them as miserable as they are sinful when he pleases. It is not through the neglect of justice, but for most wise and holy reasons, as shall appear in the last day, when a decisive irreversible judgment shall be pronounced, and immediately inflicted upon them before the world. When an † actor at Athens spoke with admiration of riches, as the most valuable acquisition, and of the felicity of rich men; the people were in an uproar at the immorality of the speech, and were ready to chase him froin the stage. But the poet himself appeared, and desired them to stop their fury till they saw the catastrophe, I the wretched end of that sordid miser. Thus we are apt to accuse the ways of God when the wicked flourish; but we should stop our tumultuous thoughts, for their end will absolve divine provi
* Cum habeat in potestate vindictam, mavult diu tenere patientian. Cyprian, de bon, Palient.
+ Ω χευσε δεξίωμα κάλλισον βροτοις, &c.
$ Cum hi novissimi versus in Tragedia Euripidis pronuntiati essent, totos populus ad ejiciendum & actorum & carmen consurrexit uno impetu: donec Euripides in medium prosiluit petens ut expectarent, viderentque quem admirator auri exitum faceret. Senec. Epist. 115.
dence from all undue reflections upon the account of their temporal happiness.
And the sound belief of this will rectify all mistaking apprehensions, and clear all perplexing appearances about the sufferings of the righteous here.
Indeed if we consider the holiest men as they are sinners, their afflictions are so far from blemishing the justice of God, that they are the signs of his mercy : for all is a favour on this side hell to those that deserve it. David, an excellent saint, acknowledgeth the righteousness of God's judgment with respect to himself. But when the saints suffer for a righteous cause ; and as the psalmist expresses it, “For thy sake are we killed all the day long, and are counted as sheep for the slaughter," Psal. 44. there is not a visible correspondency between the providence of God in his governing the world, and the unchangeable rules of justice, that those who do evil should suffer evil, and those who do well should be happy. As the apostle speaks to the persecuted christians, “ It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you, and to you who are troubled rest with us.” 2 Thess. 6. 7. Now there is a day coming when the persecutors shall be punished, and the saints be rewarded for all their sufferings, and the distribution of recompences shall be in the presence of the world, for the glory of divine justice. For the distinction that is made between men at death is private and particular, and not sufficient for the honour of God's government. But at the last day all men that have lived in several successions of ages shall appear, and justice have a solemn process and triumph before angels and men. As some excellent piece that is to be exposed to public view, is covered with a traverse, to prevent the disturbance in the working, and the discovery of the work till brought to such perfection as will surprise with wonder those that see it: so God is pleased to cover his proceeding for a time; but in the last day there will be “such a revelation of the righteous judgment of God," Rom. 2. 7. that those who now doubt, or complain of his justice, shall admire and adore it.
3. The belief of this doctrine, as it vindicates divine providence, so it is powerful to comfort the saints under persecutions for righteousness sake; especially when innocence is wounded with slanderous darts, and calumnies are joined with cruelties, representing them as worthy of public hatred. It was one of the subtile artifices of Julian the apostate, to mingle the images of the heathen gods with those of the emperors, that the doing reverence (as the christians were commanded) to all together, might imply a dereliction and renouncing of their religion, and their simplicity seem impiety: or if, jealous of slipping from their profession, they refused to do it, they inight seem to deny the expressions of honour due to their emperors, and be reputed to suffer not as christian martyrs, but as rebels. But the believing consideration of God's righteous judgment will make them despise the censures and reproaches of maliciousa dversaries. “With me," saith the apostle, “ it is a very small thing that I should be judged by man's judgment; he that judgeth me is the Lord.” I Cor. 4. 5. The severest censure was of no more weight, compared with the approbation of God, than the lightest feather that flies in the air, put in the scales against the globe of the earth. * The assurance of a righteous cause, and a righteous Judge, will preserve an inward and joyful tranquillity of soul in the midst of all the storms of reproach and scandalous imputations ; like the calmness of a haven when the sea is tempestuous without. And this will fortify believers to bear with an invincible courage all the violence that is offered to them for their fidelity to God. All the wrongs and injuries they endure, shall be redressed with infinite advantage. The extremest evils to which they are exposed for Christ, are like the chariots of fire sent from God, not to consume but conduct Elias in triumph into the highest heaven. God will give them present support, inward consolations, and a future crown. There is an appointed day when oppressed innocence shall obtain the noblest victory, and disgraced godliness the most public and highest honour. “ The faith of sincere christians shall be found to praise and glory.” 1 Pet. 1.7. They may suffer under the tyranny of time, but shall reign in the kingdom of eternity. The belief of this, when firmly radicated in the heart, is so powerful as to make them “glory in the sharpest tribulations,” and joyfully triumph over satan, with his perverted malignant world. Cantando rumpitur anguis. But alas, the sin, and a great part of the
trouble of the saints, arises from their weakness of faith, and not patiently waiting for the day of the Lord. When heavy persecutions and great distresses are continued by the restless adversaries, they are apt, through impatience and instability of mind, to be full of sorrowful complaints that God delays their particular deliverance. And as sometimes the clock outruns the motion of the sun, that is the true measure of time; so their hasty desires prevent the eternal counsel of his will, that has determined the period of the miseries of his people, and of the prosperity of the wicked in the fittest time. And that he suspends his glorious coming to judge the world in righteousness, discourageth weaker christians, and makes them ready to faint “ in the day of adversity. But the Lord is not slack in performing his promise, as men count slackness.” 2 Pet. 3. 9. There is not the least reason to question his fidelity and power, or to suspect his love and remembrance of his people. And as the stars of heaven enlighten the earth, but the candles on earth, cannot enlighten the heavens : so the wisdom of God's counsel and providence should direct us patiently to expect his appointed time, but our glimmering reason cannot direct him.
4. The serious belief of future judgment is the most effectual restraint from secret sins. Men are apt to encourage themselves in evil upon the account of secrecy; it is the usual tinder of temptations. If solitude and silence, if the darkness of the night, or any disguises may conceal their wickedness from human eyes, they are bold and secure as to God. The psalmist declares what is the inward principle that actuates them, what is the language of their hearts: “ all the workers of iniquity boast themselves; they say, the Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.” Psal. 94. 5, 6. But 0 the brutish folly of men, to think, because they do not see God, that he does not see them. As if one should shut his eyes in the face of the sun, and do some foul abominable, thing, thinking himself to be unseen, because he sees no person. How vain is the impure diligence of the adulterer, the crafty diligence of the deceiver, the solicitous diligence of other sinners to hide things from the Judge of all ? “ Shall not God search it out, for he knows the very secrets of the heart ?” What a confounding discovery will be made of secret wickedness at the last day? Here obscurity is the mask of shame that conceals it from the world. Or if only children