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How important and instructing then, is an examination of this subject! And how well suited as a foundation for this investigation, are these words, which we have selected from the Psalmist. “ Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy, for thou renderest to every man, according to his work.
In these words we have the two following heads of doctrine.
First-God rewards and punishes every man according to his works.
Second-Because God rewards and punishes every man according to his works, he is therefore a God of mercy.
I. God rewards and punishes every man according to his works.
1. The truth of this proposition rests not on one or two passages of scripture, but on the whole tenor of the bible. Every where, in the book of God, we learn that he gives his approbation, accompanied with specified blessings, to the righteous; while his displeasure, manifested in specified rebukes and penalties, rests upon the wicked. And this general scope of the sacred writings, which is, of itself, an abundant confirmation of the doctrine under examination, is rendered clearer and stronger, by the express passages interspersed through the whole volume of revelation. We notice a few of them. Prov. xxiv. 12, “And he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?” Jer. xvii. 10, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I try the reins, to give every man, according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings. And again xxxii. 19, “Great in counsel and mighty in work, for thine eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of men, to give every man according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings.” Mat. xii. 37, For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” And xvi. 27, 6. For the Son of man shall come, in the glory of his Father, with his angels, and then he shall reward every man, according to his works." Rom. ii. 6, “Who (that is God) shall render to every man according to his deeds." 1 Cor. iii. 8, “ And every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labour.” 2 Cor. v. 10, For “we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Gal. vi. 7, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
Col. ïïi. 24, 25, “Knowing that, of the Lord, ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong, shall receive for the wrong that he hath done, and there is no respect of persons.” Rev. ii. 23, " And I will give unto every one of you, according to his works.” And again, xxii. 12, “And behold! I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man, according as his works shall be.”
These passages are so plain that they need no comment. And they clearly prove, that every man shall receive at the hand of God a righteous retribution for all his works.”
2. When does God render to every man according to his works? The text says, thou renderest, in the present tense. Though in most of the passages, it will be seen, it is expressed in
“ He will render," &c. But we cannot fix upon the time when this shall take place, merely from the tense of the verb. When we read, thou renderest, we are not to infer that God always renders, at the present time, and at the present time only, to every man according to his works, but that this is his character, this is the established principle of his government.Neither when it is said, “He will render, ye shall receive," &c. does it certainly follow, from this mode of expression, that this retribution will only be in the future world. But the time when must be determined from God's known method of proceeding, and from the time marked out by his word.
Now we know God does not reward every man according to his works in this world. It is true, he administers his government in such a manner, as to show in many instances even in this life, his approbation of righteousness and his disapprobation of sin. But the sinner is not always the most wretched here, neither is the saint always the most happy. Compare their outward enjoyments. God has chosen his people in the furnace of afflictions. And more than one has had occasion to say, “ If in this life only, we have hope, we are of all men the most miserable.” Many of them have lived in jeopardy all their lives; so that they could say with truth, “I die daily;" and at last have suffered the most painful martyrdoms-While their only support has been “great is your reward in Heaven."
reward in Heaven.” And if God himself has directed them to look to Heaven principally for their reward, who will presume to say it is in this life only The sinner, on the other hand, frequently flourishes. power and spreadeth himself like a green bay-tree. They are not in trouble as other men, neither are they plagued as other
Their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart could wish.” And when they die," they have no bands in their death, but their strength is firm." This, before he reflected upon the retribution which awaited them, made the psalmist envious at the foolish, when he saw the prosperity of the wicked. And he began to conclude, that he had “cleansed his heart in vain, and washed his hands in innocency;" for he had been “plagued all the day long, and chastened every morning.” But when he went into the sanctuary of God, and was there taught, from his holy oracles, the principles of his government, then he saw their end.
Neither can it be conceded that the balances of retributive justice are equalized in this world, by the compunctions of conscience
6. He is in great
in the one case, and its approbation in the other. For many a scrupulous saint has suffered more in his feelings, for his inadvertent errors, or even for his unavoidable imperfections, than some hardened transgressors do for heinous crimes. Some, in consequence of weakness of nerves or through the power of temptation, are kept trembling for years upon the borders of despair, till death unexpectedly introduces them to the regions of light and joy. While the hardened sinner, having seared his conscience with a hot iron, goes on, without compunction within or affliction with out, daring Heaven and disregarding man, till by some sudden stroke, he is unexpectedly, and with little pain, hurried into the eternal world. Moreover as God has taught the saint to look for his reward, in another world, so also he has taught the sinner, if he would learn, that his reward awaits him hereafter. Christ says, (Luke xii. 5.)." I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear. Fear him which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say unto you, fear him.” Luke xvi. 22, 26, “The rich man, who had received his good things in this life, also died, and was buried, and in bell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment." Matt. xii. gives us the parable of the wheat and the tares. In explaining which our Lord says, “In the end of this world, the Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom, all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire : there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” It is generally represented in the scriptures that at the resurrection, at the second coming of Christ, at the general judgment, the wicked shall receive their sentence, and consequent punishment. Then shall there be a resurrection, both of the just and of the unjust. : Then they that have done evil shall come forth to the resurrection of damnation. Then the dead that shall be raised and stand before God, shall be judged of those things which shall be written in the books, according to their works ; and whosoever is not found written in the book of life, shall be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. Then shall he cut asunder that wicked servant, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. Then shall the judge say to them on his left hand, for all their wickedness and neglect of God, “Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
Indeed the very idea of a general judgment, decides this question without further argument. Of what use are
trial and a judgment, after the whole penalty of the law has been inflicted on the criminal? None. It is the perfection of absurdity to talk of such a judgment. This is so evident that some attempts have been made of late, to do away the idea of a general judgment altogether. Attempts that I need not now meet, for they were fairly met anul put down by an abler hand,* at the first onset.And, indeed, this new idea of no judgment is so directly opposed to many of the plainest passages of scripture, that with an enlightened public, who have their bibles before them, it hardly needs a refutation. And as the reality of a general judgment, the scriptures being true, cannot be reasonably doubted, so neither can it be doubted that men receive rewards and punishments in a future world.
* Rev. T. Merritt.
3. We come to inquire what those works are, according to which, God will reward or punish every man. This inquiry the scriptures must answer. And in examining them, we find all mankind represented as having sinned, all are concluded in unbelief; all are by nature children of wrath. Yet God is pleased to make their final condemnation or acquittal, turn upon their rejecting or receiving Christ, upon their believing or not believing the gospel. “ He that believeth shall be saved, he that believeth not shall be damned. He that believeth in the Son, hath everlasting life, he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him. This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.” From many such scriptures it is plain, that a man will be finally condemned and punished, not for having been morally diseased, but for having rejected the remedy, for disbelieving the truth of God. Thus, by rejecting Christ he renders himself responsible for all his sinfulness, and attaches to himself the guilt of all his transgressions. On the other hand, a man will be finally acquitted and rewarded, not because he has always been justified and holy, but because, by faith in Christ, the guilt of all his sins has been washed away, and he now stands justified and approved in the sight of God. Continuing and dying a believer, he will be acquitted at the final tribunal, and be rewarded with a crown of glory. All his sins will doubtless be brought into the judgment. But for these, he has an offset, however numerous and aggravated they may have been, in the faith which he has exercised in the merits of Jesus Christ. Thus we see, pardon is consistent with being judged, according to the deeds done in the body. For faith, which gains this pardon, is exercised by the soul while in the body; and is one of those works that is brought into judg
And it is that work which, by the divine appointment, operates through Christ, to the cancelling of the whole debt of sin. It does more-It gains heaven.
But that faith which procures this reward, is a fruitful principle. It produces love and good works. And according as it abounds in these, it is to be rewarded. These therefore, at the judgment, will be brought forward as the proper criteria of rewardable faith, and the extent of that reward. Hence the decision will be “Come ye blessed, inherit the kingdom-for I was hungry and ye gave me meat, thirsty and ye gave me drink, naked and ye clothed me, sick and in prison and ye ministered unto me."
Unbelief also is a fruitful principle. But its fruits are the opposite of those of faith. It is the root of numerous sins, and according as it abounds in these, it is to be punished. These therefore will be brought forward, as the proper criteria of a guilty character, and of the extent of that guilt
. Hence the sentence will be: “Depart ye cursed, into everlasting fire-for I was hungry and ye gave me no meat," &c. We see then that faith and unbelief, with their respective fruits, will be the works according to which God will render to every man.
4. What is the extent to which these works are rewardable or punishable.
By determining this, we shall know the extent of the rewards and punishments. For these are, as we have seen, according to the works. The measure of one is the measure of both. Whatever light, therefore, the scriptures afford, either upon the nature of the works, or upon the blessings promised and penalties threatened, will equally serve to determine the extent of the rewards and punishments. And it is more particularly to determine this point, that we now enter into an examination of the subject.And the question with us, at this time, is not so much, what will be the degrees of happiness and misery, as what will be their duration. À being of limited powers, all must acknowledge, is capable of only limited degrees of enjoyment and suffering.-Therefore the happiness of the righteous, and the misery of the wicked, must be limited in degree. And as men's capacities and means of improvement differ, so also we may rationally suppose, they will differ in their degrees of enjoyment and suffering, in another world. And this is agreeable to the word of revelation. For an apostle has taught us, that was one star differeth from another star in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead." And Jesus Christ declares, when upbraiding those cities, in which most of his mighty works had been done, that "it should be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, at the judgment, than for them."
In degree then the rewards and punishments will be limited, and will vary according to the character and circumstances of the subjects. But will there be this limitation and this difference, in the duration of these rewards and penalties? Let us examine.
There is not the same cause certainly, for limiting the duration, that must of necessity operate to limit the degrees of the enjoyment or suffering. Man will exist for ever. And that endless existence may be either happy or miserable. That it will be a happy one with the believer all acknowledge. And it is equally certain that the eternal life which is conferred upon the righteous, is the reward of faith and its fruits. The scriptures are too plain upon this subject to admit of doubt. Take a few passages as a specimen for many. 2 Cor. iv. 17, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding