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2 COR. V. 10.
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.
DOUBT not, but, at the reading of these words, some may be struck with terror, and some affected with prejudice: some, to think how dreadful, others, how common a truth, I am now about to treat of.
Common doctrines are like common mercies; the most useful, and yet the most slighted. What more necessary, than the common air and light ? and, yet, because God hath made no distinction in his distribution of these, but a beggar may breathe as pure air and see as clear light as a prince; therefore are they despised, and accounted rather a debt of nature than an effect of mercy : that alone is esteemed great, and bears a value, which but a few enjoy.
Now, though this be a most absurd judgment, which we pass upon God's mercies; yet are we altogether as absurd and irrational, in judging of his truths. Singular notions, which but a few understand, and have not overmuch of sense and perhaps but too much of error in them, are cried up by men of itching ears and unstable minds, as the admired truths of the age. That is grown despicable, which every body knows.
And, as for those stale and old-fashioned truths, of Death and Judgment, Heaven and Hell, professors, now-a-days, learnt them once in their catechisms, and perhaps never thought of them since. These are such things, which, while we reason with them of, they already know, yea and, I believe, some, with Felix, may tremble at them too.
And, so, what from those, who despise them, because common; and those, who hate them, because dreadful; it is the hardest matter in the world, for such doctrines as these, to sink either into men's affections or attentions.
But, whoever you are that read this, I beseech you, think with yourselves, what affections it would move, should you now hear the sound of the last trump; should you feel the dead, that lie here buried, begin to stir and heave under you ; should you see here a tomb-stone removed and there a grave thrown open, here a head and there an arm, here one limb and there another, thrust out of the earth; the throng and multitude of some already risen, some just rising, and all hastening to judgment : would not such a spectacle as this, fright you into more serious thoughts, than perhaps the most of you have, even when you are in God's presence ? “ What security have I for my soul ? what interest in my Saviour ? what account can I give unto my Judge? Oh! what sentence shall I hear, by and by, pronounced upon me?” Thus, would you all, with amazed and trembling hearts, expect the issue of that great and terrible day of the Lord, which now you put far away from you; and, it may be, much farther in your own thoughts, than God hath done in his decrees. Well, Sirs, stir up the same affections now: you will not be much deceived, if you think you hear and see these things present before you this hour: there are but a few years, that make a difference between what is and what shall be: and, when they are struck off, death, and judgment, and eternity, are really present with you; as really present, as the things you behold with your eyes.
Could we but keep that sound always in our ears, which St. Jerome witnesseth, was always loud in his, Surgite, mortui, &c. Arise, ye dead, and come away to judgment: the Judge is set, the books are opening, doom is passing: how would this nip all our carnal jollity and childish pride; and make us careful to improve that time, to employ those talents, to regulate those thoughts, those discourses, those actions, for which we must, shortly, give so narrow an account to a most strict and impartial Judge?
This apprehension, the Apostle tells us, was it, that made him both so earnest in pressing the exereise of holiness upon others, and so laborious in the practice of it himself. Touching others, he tells us, v. 11. Knowing these terrors of the Lord, we persuade men : touching himself, v. 9. We labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of God: so to please him
by holiness and obedience, that, whether in our voyage or in our haven, whether in this world or in the next, we may be loved by him, and accepted.
And, why all this care and circumspection ? why should this be the end of all his actions, and the only thing in the world he resolves to mind? There is good reason for it: shortly we must be judged by him; and, therefore, it is but needful to study now to please him: We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, to receive according to what we have done, whether it be good or bad.
In handling this most awful and tremendous point of religion, I shall not answer those nice and uncertain questions; Where is the Place ! or, When shall be the Time of this Great Judgment ? Neither of these hath God clearly revealed in his word.
As for the Place, the Jews think, that this great and last assize shall be held in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, near Jerusalem ; according as they expound Joel iii. 2: others, on the whole surface of the earth: others, in the air, from 1 Thess, iv. 17. where the Apostle speaks of our being taken up to meet Christ in the air. And this, indeed, I judge to be the most probable: both because it is most capacious to contain so great a multitude, as all nations, and languages, all families, and persons, that ever lived in the world, amount unto; and, also, because, in the Resurrection, men's bodies shall become incorruptible and spiritual : 1 Cor. xv. from v. 42. to v. 45, that is, they shall be endowed with refined and spiritual qualities, of impassibility and agility, whereby, possibly, they may move more freely, in the air, than now they do upon the earth. But these are only conjec
And, concerning the Uncertainty of the same, Christ hath told us, Of that day and hour (and it is as true, of that month and year) knoweth no man; no, not the angels of heaven, but the Father only: Matth. xxiv. 36. Nay, our Saviour tells them, Mark xii. 32. that he himself knew it not; nor men, nor angels, no, nor the Son: that is, as the Son of Man he knew it not; but, as he is the Son of God, so all things are known unto him; being one in essence, and equal in knowledge, with the Father.
Omitting, therefore, these uncertainties; there is a Twofold VOL. IV.