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Though it is said, God will render to every man according to his deeds; yet to some, it is said, he will render eternal life, and to others, “ indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.” And our Saviour hath told us, “ These shall go away into everlasting punishment ; but the righteous into life eternal." This is the plain doctrine of scripture, abundantly inculcated: That all who are good men in this world, shall be happy for ever ; and that all who die wicked men, shall be for ever miserable : and that both the happiness of the one, and the misery of the other, will be great in degree, beyond all our present conception.
Such retributions, however, are so evidently disproportioned to the different personal characters, and merits of the righteous and the wicked, that they have often been disbelieved, or objected against, as being altogether unequal, and unjust.
But those who make this objection, and some who have attempted to answer it, seem not to think, or not to remember, that the righteous are saved by grace, through faith. It is true, there is an essential difference, in personal character, between saints and sinners, however great the imperfection of saints may be, or in whatever that imperfection may be supposed to consist : whether in the weakness of their graces, or merely in the inconstancy of their good exercises. But on no supposition, is this personal difference so infinite, as between the eternal rewards of heaven, and the endless pains of hell. On the contrary, some who are finally good men, have been greater sinners, and deserve a more intolerable punishment, their whole lives taken together, than some who die in their sins. The only foundation of all the rewards of the righteous, is the rightcousness of Christ ; in which an interest is obtained, and kept, by faith alone. This is a full solution, and the only one, I apprehend, of the forementioned specious difficulty.
5. Hence let christians, while they renounce self-righteousness, and live by faith on the Son of God, as the only primary ground of expecting the divine approbation, be careful to maintain good works. These will be profitable to the doers of them, as well as to those for whose benefit they are done. Upon the foundation laid, which is Jesus Christ, all works of real piety or charity, will be graciously recompensed at the resurrection of the just. Giving a cup of cold water, in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise fail of an eternal reward.
“ But,” let it be remembered, “He that endureth to the end,” and he only, “shall be saved.” In order to perseverance in well-doing, there is need of patience. But to animate us to lay aside .every weight, and to run with patience the race set before us, we have the example of a great cloud of witnesses; and the hope set before us is great : “ Glory, honor, immortality, eternal life.” And the race, though for the present it may seem long and tedious, will soon come to an end. “ Be patient, therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the carth, and hath much patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.”
ON THE PERFECTION OF SEPARATE SOULS IN
HEBREWS XII. 23.
And to the spirits of just men made perfect.
MELANCHOLY is the present condition of fallen man. At his best state, he is subject to many imperfections, and experiences.much vanity and vexation of spirit. But, if life be prolonged, soon do the evil days come, and the years when there is no pleasure. Soon, the strong men bow themselves, and the keepers of the house tremble. Soon, the silver cord is loosed, and the golden bowl broken. Soon, the dust returns to the earth as it was, and man goeth to his long home.
Melancholy are the visible appearances of death, in its approaches, and in its consequences. All the passages out of this world are dark and dreary. Dark also is the grave, whither we are going; and dark, by the light of nature alone, is the everlasting residence of the dead :
“ The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
* Preached at the funeral of Col. Isaac Lee ; who died December 13, 1802, in the close of the 86th year of his age.
Even holy Job calls it, “ A land of darkness, as darkness itself.” And again he says, “ Man dieth, and wasteth away ; yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?” What becomes, at present, of the lifeless body, is plainly seen : but where, or what, the unbodied spirit is, we see not; nor can reason, with all its boasted discoveries, help us to other than very uncertain information. How thankful, then, ought we to be for the light of revelation-a revelation of the world of spirits, and of the happy state of our pious friends deceased ? These mysteries, hid from former ages and generations, are now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who," as is said, 2 Tim. i. 10, “ hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light.”
The apostle is upon the same subject in our text and context. To guard his Hebrew brethren against leaning too much to Judaism, he is here representing to them the great superiority of the gospel, to their former dispensation ; both in regard to the clearness of the light it communicates, and the gentle manner of its communicating that light. The law given by Moses, was promulgated with awful tokens of divine wrath : and even the tenor of it afforded little comfort for sinners, compared with the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. See ver. 18–24, “ For ye are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of the trumpet, and the voice of words ; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more : (for they could not endure that which was commanded. And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a cart. And so terrible was thai sight, that Moses said, I exceedingly fear and quake :) But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly
Jerusalem; and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all and to the spirits of just men made perfect; and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel.”
The evident design of this whole passage is to show, that christians are brought by the gospel, to the knowledge of heaven, and to a participation with saints and angels there, in the vision and fruition of God, far beyond what good men were under the law. But from the short part of a sentence taken for our present subject, which mentions the spirits of just men made perfect, we are led to inquire,
: 1. Whose spirits these are : and,
II. Wherein their perfection consists.
As one of the elders asked John, in the Revelation, " What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they ?” so we may naturally inquire, in the first place, Whose spirits are these spoken of in the text ? and what was their former condition ?
They are said to be the spirits of just men: that is, the spirits in heaven, of men who were just while here on earth. But who in this world, since the fall of Adam, ever deserved the name of just men ? Is it not written, “ There is none righteous; no, not one ?"
I answer ; It is written, “ Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generation.” And we often read of the just, where reference is plainly had to men in the life that now is. Solomon
Solomon says, indeed, “ There is not a just man upon earth :" but he explains himself by adding, “ that doeth good and sinneth not.” It is undoubtedly true, that all have sinned ;