For God will bring every deed into judgment, along with every hidden thing, whether good or evil.
After all the questionings and discussions, the doubts and perplexities, the counsels and precepts, of this treatise, the author winds up by restating the first, the most elementary, and the most important, principles of true religion. There are, he felt, in this world many things which we cannot fathom, many things which we cannot reconcile with our convictions and hopes; but there are some things concerning which we have no doubts, and these are the things which most nearly concern us personally and practically. Thoughtful men may weary and distress themselves with pondering the great problems of existence; but, after all, they, in common with the plainest and most illiterate, must come back to the essentials of the religious life.
I. THE GREAT SPRING AND CENTER OF RELIGION. This is the fear of God, reverence for the Divine character and attributes, the habit of mind which views everything in relation to him who is eternally holy, wise, just, and good. This Book of Ecclesiastes is, upon this point, at one with the whole of the Bible and with all deeply based religion. We cannot begin with man; we must find an all-sufficient foundation for the religious life in God himself, his nature, and his Law.
II. THE GREAT EXPRESSION OF RELIGION. This is obedience to the Divine commandments.' Our convictions and emotions find their scope when directed towards a holy and merciful God; our will must bend to the moral authority of the eternal Lord. Feelings and professions are in vain unless they are supported by corresponding actions. It is true that mere external compliance is valueless; acts must be the manifestation of spiritual loyalty and love. But, on the other hand, sentiment that evaporates in words, that does not issue in deeds, is disregarded in the court of heaven. Where God is honored, and his will is cheerfully performed, there the whole duty of the Christian man is fulfilled. It is the work of the mediation of the Divine Savior, of the operations of the Divine Spirit, to bring about such a religious and moral life.
III. THE GREAT TEST OF RELIGION. For this we are bidden to look forward to the future. Many things, which are significant as to the religious state of a man, are now hidden. They must be brought to light; secret deeds, alike of holiness and of iniquity, must be made manifest before the throne of judgment. Here, in this world, where men judge by appearances, the wicked sometimes get credit for goodness which does not really belong to them, and the good are often maligned and misunderstood. But, in the general judgment hereafter, the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and men shall be judged, not according to what they seem to be, but according to what they actually are. With this solemn warning the Preacher closes his book. And there is no person, in whatsoever state of life, to whom this warning does not apply. Well will it be for us if this earthly life be passed under the perpetual influence of this expectation; if the prospect of the future judgment inspire us to watchfulness, to diligence, and to prayer. - T.
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil I.
PROVE THE ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY OF A DAY OF GENERAL JUDGMENT.
1. By the Bible (Jude 1:14; Job 19:25; Psalm 9:7, 8; Psalm 50:3-6; Daniel 7:9, 10; Matthew 25:31-46; Acts 24:15, 25; 2 Peter 3:10-12; Revelation 20:11-13).
2. Conscience, influenced by the Holy Spirit, and resting on the inspired volume for theological information, points to the Day of Judgment for rewards and punishments to be distributed at the end of our probation.
3. The equality and justice of God's administration are incontestable proof of a Day of Judgment.
II. THE JUDGE, THE CIRCUMSTANCES ATTENDANT ON, AND THE IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCES OF, THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.
1. The Judge. Jesus Christ alone, as exhibited in the Bible, is adequate for the great work of judging the world in righteousness. As Son of God, He understands all the rights of the eternal throne, the requirements of law, and the demands of justice; and as Son of man, He knows the extent of our ability, the feelings of our heaths, and the state of our nature, and can, therefore, be a merciful, gracious, and just Judge in things pertaining to God and man.
2. The circumstances attendant on the Day of Judgment, and the immediate results of the decisions of the Supreme Judge.
In the argument in which we are about to engage, we shall assume the great truth of the immortality of the soul; we shall assume, at least, that man is to live after death; for if this be denied, there is little place for reasoning as to human accountableness. I shall perhaps bring this grave question most plainly before you by imagining certain cases, in which a creature would not be accountable, or in which his being held accountable by a Supreme Power would confessedly be at variance with justice. Supposing, then, that I were to tell you of one of the inferior animals, a horse or a dog, as held accountable for its actions, so that the Creator of that animal would call it to a reckoning, and reward or punish it according to its works; there would be an instant feeling in your minds that this could hardly be true. You cannot think that the animal has intelligence enough to be placed under any law; the distinctions between right and wrong have never been apprehended by it, and because of its want of intelligence and of its supposed utter inaptitude for any moral rule, it would seem to you as though to bring the horse or the dog were little better than to bring a machine into judgment. Now, take another ease; the case of an infant, or a very young child. You would declare it palpably unjust were this infant or child alleged accountable for its actions; you would instantly say, "The child is in no sense master of its actions; its reason is not strong enough, and its conscience not formed enough, for discerning between right and wrong; and certainly, if there be accountableness in any case, there cannot be in that in which moral difference has as yet no existence." You would do precisely the same with the idiot. You would say, "The lamp has been quenched or never kindled in this being, by whose shinings he might have been turned from evil and directed to good: how, then, can he justly be brought into judgment for his actions? how can he be a fit subject whether for punishment or reward?" Neither is it only infancy or idiocy which would make you put a human being beyond the range of accountableness. If it could be shown that a being was under some invincible constraint, actuated by a superior power, forced by irresistible passions, or compelled by irreversible circumstances, to a certain course of conduct, you would decide, and we think very justly, that he could not be accountable for his actions. A free agent alone can be accountable; one free, in such a measure, that he can make an election between evil and good, and is under no necessity of acting in this manner rather than in that. We must admit, also, another exception from accountableness. If a being be so placed that he has not sufficient information as to what is his duty, or that he is without adequate motive to its performance when discerned, it would seem unjust to make him responsible for his actions; as he must be free in order to be accountable, so he must have light enough for his direction, and inducement enough for his obedience. We are now to see whether any of these allowed pleas against accountableness can be urged by men in general; for if not, there will be an end of all objection against the doctrine of human responsibility, or that doctrine will stand out in thorough consistence with the attributes of such a Being as is God: Now, first, as to the free agency of man. You may all have heard of what is called the doctrine of necessity, or fatalism. We are told, that inasmuch as there is a succession of causes and effects in the universe, and every cause must produce its effect, there is no possibility of things being otherwise than as they are; we have no power over events, and none over actions; we cannot act but in one way, we can arrive at but one result; and it is ridiculous to talk of our being accountable, when we are but machines which do not regulate themselves. Now, this doctrine of necessity, if true at all, must be true universally. But I can see that the doctrine of necessity is false in matters of common life. It is not true that things are beyond our control; it is not true that they proceed just the same, whether we interfere or whether we do not. The fields do not wave with harvest, whether we till them or whether we do not; and it does make a difference, whether we put out a fire or suffer it to burn. Be, then, consistent, ye modern fatalists! Carry out your doctrine of necessity in all its extent, and do not confine it to religion and morals. But setting aside this doctrine of necessity, is there any real liberty of action — are not men the creatures of circumstances? are they not under an insuperable bias? is it not practically undeniable, that they will act in one way and not in another? Nay, not so; man is no machine, when the utmost has been allowed as to the tendencies and circumstances of his nature. Man is a being who can be swayed by motives; and a being influenced by motives cannot be a being impelled by necessity. Judge for yourselves; are you not conscious, when you do many things, that you might forbear to do them? — that if a greater inducement to the forbearing were presented than is urging you on to the doing, you would forbear? Then assuredly your actions are so far free, that you may justly be held to account. But a being may be free, and on that account responsible, yet he may be left in such ignorance, or possess so little moral power, that he can hardly discover the right, or follow it if discovered. There is an end of moral government, unless a rigid proportion be maintained between the demands of the ruler and the powers and opportunities of the subject. When St. Paul delivered those memorable words, "For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law," he quite settled the question, with all believers in revelation, as to accountableness varying with advantages, so that there shall be different standards for different circumstances. But, withal, we do not think you can find us the tribe of human beings whose circumstances can be given as sufficient to excuse them from the being accountable at all. You have never any right to look at those in whom the moral sense seems almost extinct, without looking also at others in whom that sense is in vigorous exercise. We gather from the fact of a moral sense being found where man has not thoroughly degraded and sensualized himself, that tilts moral sense is actually an element of our nature; yea, an element not destroyed, but only overlaid in the most degraded and sensualized. For no tribe has been met with in whom conscience could not be awakened; awakened, we say; it was not dead, but only slept. There is not one of you without a conscience. Let men say what they will as to the strength of various motives, the strongest, the most uniform, the most permanent motive with you all is the sense of duty. I do not say that this is the motive to which you most commonly yield, but I do say that this motive is always pressed on you through the instrumentality of conscience; so that whilst every other is transient, this is abiding. I dare affirm, that in every mind duty is secretly placed before interest or pleasure, though it is a hundred to one that practically interest or pleasure wilt carry it over duty. There is a light vouchsafed unto all — there is a voice which is audible by all — there is power in all to attempt the walking by the light, and the hearkening to the voice. And, therefore, with every admission that accountableness is not a fixed thing, but must vary in degree with the circumstances and capacities of the individual, we may contend in the general that God will only be acting with the most thorough justice if He act on the principle of the text — the principle of bringing "every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." Now, it has not been our object throughout our foregoing argument to show you that God does or will hold man accountable, but rather that there is nothing in the circumstances or capacities of man to militate against the doctrine of his accountableness; on the contrary, that those circumstances and capacities are such as to prove it quite just that he should be held accountable. And you may tell me that this leaves the question of human responsibility unsettled; for that God will call men to account is no necessary consequence on a proof that He might call them to account consistently with justice. Now, here again we are at issue with you; we think that the one is a necessary consequence on the other; for if God would be just in holding man accountable, would He not be unjust in not holding him accountable? The justice results from the capacities with which He has endowed man, and the circumstances in which He has placed him; and He would be unjust were He not to deal with him according to these capacities and circumstances; unjust because having proposed an end, His perfections demand of Him that He inquire whether or no it have been effected. But, in truth, if men require from us a rigid mathematical proof of their being responsible, we fairly own that it is not easy to give. We can show that the elements essential to accountableness are all found in man, and yet it may not be easy to draw out a demonstration that man is accountable. But why is this? Only because things on which there is the least doubt are often the hardest to prove. A man asks me to prove to him that he is responsible; I ask him to prove to me that he exists. He will tell me that he is his own evidence as to his existence; and I tell him that he is his own evidence as to his accountableness. That there should be such words in common use with reference to man, is itself convincing proof, that there are facts which correspond to them in his nature and condition. The whole structure of society is based on the fact of human responsibility, and it is this responsibility which keeps it together. You have only to establish that men are not accountable for their actions, and there is an end of all confidence, an end of all law, an end of all decency; the commonwealth is sick at its core, and the mainspring is snapped which actuates all the system. Neither are our modern philosophers prepared for this. They want to keep man responsible so far as accountableness may be necessary, as the cordage of society; and then they wish to prove him irresponsible, so far as accountableness has to do with his relation unto God. Vain effort! futile distinction! There is no accountableness, except accountableness to God. If I am responsible to man, it is only in a subordinate sense. I see where men want to draw the line of accountableness. They have no idea of not holding one another accountable, when their present interests are concerned; but they would like to be rid of the restraints which God's moral government imposes, and they manage, therefore, to fix the point of human responsibility just where, if responsible, they stand exposed to eternal destruction. This will not do. We cannot admit that principles which are either universally true or universally false, shall be partially applied, chopped and squared, as may suit man's passions or accord with his interests. We will have them everywhere or nowhere. They shall use their principles wheresoever they are applicable; they shall carry them into politics, they shall carry them into science; they shall be fatalists everywhere, they shall be responsible nowhere. And until this be done there shall be no place for argument against human accountableness, and the testimony of Scripture shall remain thoroughly consistent with all the conclusions of reason, that "God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil."
THE SUITABLENESS OF THIS PRINCIPLE TO THE MOST NATURAL NOTIONS OF OUR MINDS. We see, by experience, that all other things (so far as we are able to judge), minerals, plants, beasts, etc., are naturally endowed with such principles as are mesh fit to promote the perfection of their natures in their several kinds. And therefore it is by no means credible that mankind only, the most excellent of all the other creatures in this visible world, for the service of whom so many other things seem to be designed, should have such kind of principles interwoven in his very nature as do contain in them mere cheats and delusions.
1. This principle is most suitable to the general apprehensions of mankind concerning the nature of good and evil. And as the one of these doth in the essence of it imply comeliness and reward, so doth the other denote turpitude and punishment.
2. This principle is most suitable to those natural hopes and expectations which the generality of good men have concerning a state of future happiness. The better and the wiser any man is, the more earnest desires and hopes hath he after such a state of happiness. And if there be no such thing, not only nature, but virtue likewise must contribute to make men miserable; than which nothing can seem more unreasonable to those who believe a just and a wise Providence.
3. This principle is most suitable to those fears and expectations which the generality of wicked men are possessed with, concerning a future state of misery. Now, as there is no man whatsoever that is wholly freed from these fears of future misery after death, so there is no other creature but man that hath any fears of this kind. And if there be no real ground for this, then must it follow that lie who framed all His other works with such an excellent congruity, did yet so contrive the nature of man, the most noble amongst them, as to prove a needless torment and burden to itself.
II. THE NECESSITY OF THIS PRINCIPLE TO THE RIGHT GOVERNMENT OF MEN'S LIVES AND ACTIONS IN THIS WORLD, AND THE PRESERVING OF SOCIETY AMONGST THEM. Nothing can be more evident than that the human nature is so framed as not to be regulated and kept within due bounds without laws; and laws must be insignificant without the sanctions of rewards and punishments, whereby men may be necessitated to the observance of them. Now, the temporal rewards and punishments of this life cannot be sufficient to this end; and therefore there is a necessity that there should be another future state of happiness and misery.
1. Not all that may be expected from the civil magistrate; because there may be many good and evil actions which they cannot take notice of, and they can reward and punish only such things as come under their cognizance.
2. Not all that may be expected from common providence; for though it should be granted that, according to the most general course of things, both virtuous and vicious actions are rewarded and punished in this life; yet there may be many particular cases which this motive would not reach unto, namely, all such eases where a man's reason shall inform him that there is far greater probability of safety and advantage by committing a sin than can be reasonably expected (according to his experience of the usual course of things in the world) by doing his duty. But the thing I am speaking to will more fully appear by consideration of those horrid mischiefs of all kinds that would most naturally follow from the denial of this doctrine. If there be no such thing to be expected as happiness or misery hereafter, why, then, the only business that men are to take care of is their present well-being in this world, there being nothing to be counted either good or bad but in order to this. Those things which we conceive to be conducible to it being the only duties, and all other things that are cress to it being the only sins. And, therefore, whatever a man's appetite shall incline him to, he ought not to deny himself in it (be the thing what it will), so he can have it, or do it without probable danger. Now, let any man judge what bears and wolves and devils men would prove to one another if everything should be not only lawful, but a duty, whereby they might gratify their impetuous lusts, if they might either perjure themselves, or steal, or murder, as often as they could do it safely, and get any advantage by it. But there is one thing more, which those who profess to disbelieve this principle should do well to consider, and that is this: that there is no imaginable reason why (amongst those that know them) they should pretend to any kind of honesty or conscience, because they are wholly destitute of all such motives as may be sufficient to oblige them to anything of this nature. But, according to them, that which is called virtue and religion must be one of the most silly and useless things in the world. As for the principle of honour, which some imagine may supply the room of conscience, this relates only to external reputation, and the esteem which we have amongst others, and therefore can be of no influence to restrain men from doing any secret mischief.
III. THE NECESSITY OF THIS PRINCIPLE TO THE VINDICATION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE. It is well said by a late author, That not to conduct the course of nature in a due manner might speak some defect of wisdom in God; but not to compensate virtue and vies, besides the defect of wisdom, in not adjusting things suitably to their qualifications, but crossly coupling prosperity with vice, and misery with virtue, would argue too great a defect of goodness and of justice. And perhaps it would not be less expedient (saith he) with Epicurus, to deny all Providence, than to ascribe to it such defects. It being less unworthy of the Divine nature to neglect the universe altogether, than to administer human affairs with so much injustice and irregularity.
IV. APPLICATION. If this be so, it will concern us then to inquire —
1. Whether we do in good earnest believe this, that there shall be a future state of reward and punishment, according as men's lives and.actions have been in this world. If not, why do we profess ourselves to be Christians?
2. Do we at any time seriously consider this, and revolve upon it in our minds?
3. What impression doth the belief and consideration of this make upon our hearts and lives? Doth it stir up in us vehement desires, and carefulness of mind in preparing for that time?
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