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MATTHEW XVI. 27.
“ For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels, and then He shall
reward every man according to his works."
If from the Old Testament we turn to the New, and examine what account it gives of the principles on which the eternal happiness or misery of every human being shall be decided at the last great day of final retribution, it will, I am persuaded, be found that here also the Judge of all the earth is represented as acting towards all mankind with perfect justice, understood in the sense in which that attribute is understood by human reason, and is not represented as acting according to an eternal decree of absolute predestination, fixed before the individuals were born, or had done either good or evil unalterable by any thing in their power to perform, and uninfluenced by any foreknowledge of their character and conduct.
Of this the positive declaration of our Lord in the text, might perhaps alone be considered as decisive, for if God shall reward every man according to his works, we are not to be saved or condemned solely according to an eternal decree of unconditional election or reprobation. And this decision of our divine Lord is repeatedly stated in the Gospels, but most fully in the xxiv and xxv chapters of Matthew, where he describes the last great audit—“when he shall come in power and great glory to judge the world,” and declares, “then shall the Son of Man gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other."* But are these individuals thus distinguished, elected arbitrarily, irrespectively, because they were marked out from the beginning of the world by an unconditional and irre
• Matt. xxiv. 30, 31.
versible decree of God, unconnected with their personal character or conduct? Totally the reverse ; pursue the rest of this solemn description of the great final judgment, you hear our Lord warning his disciples to “ watch,"* and prepare for the unexpected hour in which the Son of Man should come, and declaring they should be blessed or condemned, according as their Lord should find them discharging their duty like faithful and wise servants, or abusing the long suffering of God by oppression and riot. He illustrates the distinction which shall then be made by the parable of the 6 wise and foolish virgins,"f of whom the one improved their religious light, and were admitted to the feast, the others suffered it to be extinguished, and were irrevocably shut out, for the hour of their salvation was past. He illustrates it by the parable of the “talents," I in which every servant is rewarded by his Lord's acceptance, and raised to a more exalted dignity, according to the diligence with which he had improved the talents committed to his care, while the unprofitable, because slothful, servant is cast into outer darkness ; and finally declares, “ that when the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall he sit on the throne of His glory, and before Him shall be gathered all nations, and He shall separate them, the one from the other, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shall set the one on his right hand and the other on his left : then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat ; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was sick, and in prison, and ye visited me; for inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me;" while to those on his left hand He shall say, “ depart from me ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels : for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not; for inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal.”S Does this solemn declaration of our Lord and Judge imply that the final distinction between the elect and the reprobate will be the consequence of original sin, involving all the posterity of Adam, but from which some are rescued, and to .which others are abandoned, by an eternal decree of predestination antecedent to their existence, and the effect of which cannot be avoided by any efforts in their power ? No, surely: the doom of each individual is here represented as to be decided by a just judgment, founded on the voluntary use each makes of the various talents entrusted to him by his God, on his improvement or his abuse of the means of grace allowed him, on his cultivation or neglect of virtuous self-government, humble piety, and active benevolence. In this declaration of the Son of God, there is nothing obscure or ambiguous, not the least hint of unconditional decrees, of fixed necessity, of granting or withholding invincible grace. Its purport is as clear as its authority is decisive-every human being must confess, that in fixing his eternal doom by the standard here stated, “ the Judge of all the earth doth right.”
* Matt. xxiv. 42-51.
+ Matt. xxv. 1–13.
In other passages of the Gospel our divine Lord states, perhaps even more fully, that the rules by which He will judge mankind are conformable to the ideas reason leads us to form of justice, and repugnant to the system of absolute predestination. He not only declares that the “hour is coming, in which all that are in their graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation ;"* but He also adds, that in determining the fate of every human being, his opportunities of obtaining religious knowledge; his powers of improving it, and the nature of the trials to which he was exposed, will be taken into account. “ That servant, (says He) which knew his Master's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few ; for, unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required, and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” †
earth iher passages of the rules
John v. 28, 29.
+ Luke xii. 47, 48.
Now the scheme of absolute predestination represents the reprobate as those, from whom the enlightening grace of God is withheld, and who are left unaided, to the ignorance and corruption of their nature; and yet it states their crimes are punished with rigour: the elect it describes as those who are blessed with inward illumination, which guards them from all material religious error, and as by an internal spiritual Guide which infallibly directs their ways, and it declares that their offences are certainly forgiven, and the prize of eternal happiness - secured to them. From this it appears to follow, that on the servants to whom little is given, the stripes are most heavy, and they that have received the most, on them the chastisement is least. Cạn two systems appear more essentially repugnant ?
Thus again, our Saviour upbraided “ the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done because they repented not. Woe unto thee Chorazin, woe unto thee Bethsaida, for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for you. And thou Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell, for if the mighty works which had been done in thee had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.”* Now this principle, that the want of the means of instruction and correction is a palliation of guilt, and the system of absolute predestination which denies these means, and thus makes condemnation certain, seem utterly contradictory. The voice of reason, and the Judge of man, concur in the former ; must we not then reject the latter as untenable and unscriptural ?
If from the authority of our Lord, we pass to that of the apostles, we shall find the same principle of impartial justice, as human reason conceives of that attribute, declared to be the rule of the divine conduct towards man: thus, on opening the church of Christ to the heathen world by the admission of the devout Cornelius, Peter declares ; “ of a truth I perceive that
* Matt. xi. 20.-24.
God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation, he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.”* A declaration apparently as contrary to the excluding predestination of Calvin, as it is to the excluding prejudice of the Jews.
In the same spirit, and almost in the same expressions, St. Paul explains the principles on which will proceed the “ revela, tion of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds—to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life. But unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath. Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil ; of the Jew first and also of the Gentile. But glory, honour, and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. For there is no respect of persons with God.”+
Such is the statement of this great apostle, who is yet supposed to inculcate the doctrine of absolute predestination; a statement brought forward at the very commencement of this epistle, in which he expounds the Christian scheme to the Romans; a statement which thus seems to be placed as a standard to which all his subsequent less full and unambiguous expressions are to be referred, and consistently with which they ought to be interpreted.
But it is not here alone, that this principle of God's judgment of men being directed by the most impartial justice (in the sense human reason understands such justice,) is recognised by St. Paul. That God “accepteth no man's person,” he urges on the Galatians, as justifying the boldness with which he maintained his christian liberty, on the question of admitting the Gentiles into the church, without subjecting them to the yoke of the Jewish law; to the Ephesians, as a practical principle which should teach masters mildness to their servants, “knowing that they also have a Master in heaven, and there is no respect of persons with Him:"and on the Colossians, as a stimulus to servants to do their duty towards their masters, “not with eye service, as men pleasers,
* Acts x, 34, 35.
+ Rom. ii. 6–11.
Gal. ii. 6
§ Eph. vi. 9.