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THE FINAL CONDITION OF ALL MEN. MATTHEW, xxv. 46.- And these shall go away into everlasting punishment,
but the righteous into life eternal. The final condition of all men, after the judgment, is here represented by the Judge himself. It will be happy or miserable, according to their works. As rational beings then, we should strive to avoid this everlasting punishment; and thus secure an eternity of bliss, Let us then, under a deep impression of things eternal, attend to the instruction of our Lord and Saviour on this momentous subject.
I. He teaches that all men must stand before him in judgment. He shall come in his glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations. We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil ; and render to every man according to his deeds.
II. The day of judgment will be at the end of this world. It cannot take place, until all men have existed and had their day of probation. Hence Christ 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. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” This separation is also represented in the parable of the net, to be at the end of the world. Peter, likewise, represents the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, to be at the time when the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the earth and its works shall be destroyed. John fixes the final judgment at the same period : “ And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it ; from whose face, the earth and the heavens fled away. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life ; and the dead were judged out of those things, which were written in the books, according to their works." This cannot be till the end of the world, when there shall be a general resurrection, both of the just and of the unjust.
Our Saviour's description of the final judgment begins thus : “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.” This agrees with John's seeing the Judge on a great white throne, and the dead standing before him, to be judged according to their works. It must therefore be at the end of the generations of men, and of their state of probation, that they all appcar before the judgment-seat of Christ,
III. That will be the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. In the description of the solemın process, sheep and goats are made the emblems of the two opposite characters of men. But these characters were formed in the previous state of trial. The decision is according to deeds done on earth. To the righteous, the Judge says, " Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom ;--for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink.” These and other good deeds, which he mentions, are the evidences of their faith and love. These prove that they received the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness, so as to be justified before God by faith, and be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. But while this eternal life is the gift of God through Christ, still it is according to their works; and manifests the Divine approbation as well as bounty. The righteous express their surprise at such notice of their deeds. They were not conscious of showing such kindness to Christ. How could it reach him, or be estimated so highly? The reason is, He and his
people are so united, that in kindly entertaining a saint, they in effect enter- tained Him. “ Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Thus, through the riches of Divine grace, they are made meet, and accounted worthy, to enter the everlasting kingdom of their Lord and Saviour. And then the wicked also are sentenced according to their works. “ Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire; -for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink.”. Their not doing good, proved their want of love. · And, as even their neglect of duty is sufficient to condemn them ; how striking will be their condemnation in view of all their wickedness! They reply, as if insensible of any unkindness to Christ; but it is proved from their want of love and kindness to his saints ; and, therefore, they must “ go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.”
These decisions accord with every principle of equity. “ Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right ? An earthly ruler is required to be just, ruling in the fear of God, and showing himself a praise to them that do well, and a terror to evil-doers. And is God unrighteous, to reward the just and punish the unjust? How can he otherwise manifest his righteousness ? And who but the lawless and disobedient, would desire to live under a government, where no adequate punishment is inflicted upon evil-doers ?- where no restraint is imposed ?
Lot was a just man, and was vexed with the filthy conversation of the men of Sodom. Would it be just in God to render to them the same eternal life, which he does to Lot? This would seem to be an approval of their wickedness. God would then seem to justify their iniquity, and to show them even more favour than he does his devoted servant. It might then be said, in truth, “ It is vain to serve God. The righteous have no more reward than the wicked ; yea, they that work wickedness are set up ; yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.” Then the wicked might say, “ Let us do evil, that good may come.” But a just God will never give occasion for such blasphemy. He will judge and reward men in righteousness.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins. He is in this case faithful and just, because he has promised through Christ to pardon the penitent, and because this forgiveness shows his approbation of their new character. So he is faithful and just to punish the impenitent, because " the wages of sin is death," and he has said, “ Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” Justice requires that he should render to all according to their character, and their treatment of Christ.
Let there be no difference of condition between saints and sinners in the future state, and the promises and threatenings of God would be idle, or rather impious mockery. His law would have no authority; his government would be despised; men and angels might hate him with impunity; the wicked would triumph; the righteous would have no security under such a government; and God have no honour. How suitable and necessary, then, that God should reign in righteousness, and put an everlasting difference between the just and the unjust! This is done when the wicked are made miserable, and the righteous happy.
IV. This is their endless state. So it is represented in the text. The righteous enter into life eternal : the wicked go away into everlasting punishment. The language of the Judge is as decisive in one case as in the other ; and as strongly proves the endless misery of sinners, as it does the endless felicity of saints.
The word everlasting, in its most common use, as properly signifies endless, as the word eternal. This, we know, cannot be its meaning, when applied to things. merely of time, or of this world. But in such cases, it is not used in its most proper sense ; and its limited meaning is determined by the things to which it is applied : as when we read of an everlasting priesthood, and everlasting mountains. But its meaning is never thus limited when applied to things of eternity. Then it means endless, or without end : as the everlasting God; in Jehovah is everlasting strength; he loves his people with an everlasting love; they are saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation ; and have everlasting life. Here it properly means endless. And this is its obvious meaning when applied to the future punishment of the ungodly : for it is a punishment inflicted by the everlasting God, on his immortal enemies, in an endless state of existence.
In the original language of the text, the same word is used to express the duration of the life of the righteous, and the misery of the wicked. If, therefore, there is any meaning in the language of God, the punishment of the wicked is as endless as the life of the righteous.
This one explicit declaration of the Judge would seem sufficient for our belief of endless punishment. But we have more testimony, and from the same unerring Source. In explaining the parable of the tares, Christ says, "The good seed are the children of the kingdom ; but the tares are the children of the wicked one." These represent the workers of iniquity. And do these tares ever become wheat ? No; their end is to be burned. “As, therefore, the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be 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.” What can be more evident from this language than their endless destruction ?
Christ represents Abraham as thus replying to the rich man in the place of torment : “ Son, remember that thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot ; neither can they pass to us that would come from thence." By this reply of Abraham, Christ taught that the rich man could never leave his place of torment; for he could never pass that great gulf to heaven. How could endless misery be expressed in stronger terms ?
We are taught, that those who do not mortify their lusts in this life shall be cast into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, md the fire is not quenched. What language could more forcibly represent
disbelief must tend to final ruin. Let us then inquire, very seriously, if there be any reason to disbelieve the endless punishment of the ungodly.
1. Can we disbelieve it, because it is not plainly revealed ? But that the wicked go away into everlasting punishment, is as plain as that the righteous are placed in endless felicity. Here is nothing equivocal or ambiguous. The language is very definite. What words could be better chosen than those in the text ? And to render the doctrine of endless punishment still more impressive and awakening, it is taught by prophets and apostles in various forms of discourse. But the meaning is ever plain. The truth strikes the unprejudiced mind with convincing power ; and cannot be evaded without wresting the Scriptures of God.
2. Can we disbelieve this doctrine for want of proper testimony ? We have the testimony of the Judge himself, that he will come in his glory; gather all nations before him ; judge them according to their works ; give the righteous eternal life; and sentence the wicked to eternal death. This is the testimony of the faithful and true Witness, who came to reveal eternal things.
Do you doubt whether we have the doctrine of Christ as he taught it? But he promised the Holy Ghost to his disciples, to teach them all things, and to bring all things to their remembrance, whatsoever he had said unto them. This promise he fulfilled; and so enabled them to record his words faithfully. What was spoken by the Lord, is confirmed unto us by them that heard him ; God also bearing them witness by signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will. These miracles were wrought in open day, and could not be denied. They proved the writers of the New Testament to be divinely inspired : and what they wrote was published to the world, and was open to the inspection of friends and foes. These watched each other, and would detect any alteration that should be made in the writings of the apostles. At no period, therefore, could these writings be altered without detection. We thus have the Scriptures as given by the inspiration of God. How then can we doubt such testimony ?
3. Can we suppose that this coming of Christ to gather and judge all nations has taken place, and that therefore we are not concerned in it? It is true, this coming of Christ to judge the world is connected, in his discourse, with two other instances of his coming, which are mentioned in the preceding chapter. The first is his coming, in his holy providence, to destroy Jerusalem. He began with this, because he had just foretold it; and was asked by the disciples, “ What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world ?” He gave the signs of his coming to destroy that city, and then spoke in these words : " And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven ; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn ; and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory.” But Christ did not in person come in the clouds of heaven to destroy that city and people. The Romans were the executioners of his vengeance. They besieged and desolated Jerusalem. By the judgments which they were the instruments of inflicting, Christ came in power and great glory. His wrath came on all the tribes of the land of Israel, which were then collected at that devoted city. By this destruction of his enemies, his power and glory were manifested. The kingdom of his grace was also advanced, as he foretold in these words : “ And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” The elect were not gathered to Jerusalem at that time, but the Christians there, fled to the mountains and other places, as Clirist had directed, “ By the special providence of God, after the
Romans, under Cestius Gallus, made their first advance towards Jerusalem, they suddenly withdrew again, in a most unexpected and indeed impolitic manner; at which Josephus testifies his surprise, since the city might then have been easily taken. By this means, they gave, as it were, a signal to the Christians to retire ; which, in regard to this admonition, they did, some to Pella, and others to Mount Libanus, and thereby preserved their lives.” Nor were Christians then, more than at other times, gathered into heaven. These words must therefore relate to the extensive gathering of elect sinners to Christ, by the angels of the cross, or ministers of the Gospel, as the instruments of their conversion. The ministers of Christ are called his angels. His kingdom was more widely extended in consequence of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the dispersion of Christians. This coming of Christ was fulfilled during that generation. “Verily, I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.”
The second coming of Christ, which he mentions in this connection, is of general application. “ Watch, therefore ; for ye know not at what hour your Lord doth come. Therefore, be ye also ready ; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh.” This may refer to his coming to destroy Jerusalem, but is not confined to that event. By what follows, it applies forcibly to his professed servants in every succeeding age, as an admonition to prepare for death. At death, he comes and calls them to a state of retri. bution. Death closes their state of probation, and is to them as the end of the world : for then they have no more to do with the world ; and after death is the judgment. The soul is required, and returns to God to receive his blessing or his curse, and have its destiny fixed for eternity.
Having thus spoken of his coming by death, and given warning to prepare for this momentous event, Christ was naturally led to foretell his coming to judge the world, and render to all according to their deeds. And thus he passed from the destruction of Jerusalem to the state of every man, either at death, or at the final judgment; and spoke for the instruction and warning of men in all future time. But all this was not fulfilled when he desolated Jerusalem. All men did not then die, or have their bodies changed; nor were all men then judged and rewarded according to their works. The dead were not then raised from their graves ; nor were all nations gathered before the Judge. But few, comparatively, were collected ; and these were un believing Jews and Romans. A part of these were destroyed; but without any visible process of their works being brought into judgment. The others were continued in a state of probation. The Christian church was not then gathered before the Judge ; but its members remained dispersed among the nations. The final separation was not then made between the wise and foolish virgins; nor were the faithful servants rewarded, and the slothful cast into outer darkness, as Christ represents in the parables concerning them. Christ did not then visibly come in person, so that every eye could see him, attended by all the holy angels, and sitting on a throne of glory as his judgment-seat. He did not then, in an open and public inanner, separate all nations one from another, and divide them into two classes, the righteous and the wicked, placing them in two distinct companies, on his right hand, and on his left ; and then say to the righteous, “ Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ;” and to the wicked, “ Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” These things neither did nor could take place, when, by the Roman armies, he cut off some thousands of obstinate Jews. His coming to gather all nations before him, and to judge and pronounce final sentence upon them, according as they have done good or evil, as described in