Jesus Christ's Moral Government in the World Christian Civilization:
The Supremacy of God's Moral Law
God’s moral law principles (summarized by the Ten Commandments, reaffirmed by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount, and expressed throughout the Bible) are built into the Constitution of the United States. This Biblical law applies to all nations; it is universal. Furthermore, since God’s perfect character is immutable (unchanging and indeed, unchangeable), His moral law is immutable as well. Therefore, his moral law principles (written down in the Bible) apply not only to all nations, but they have applied (and still do apply) to all nations at all times.
The notion of human supremacy (i.e., autonomy) over against God’s supremacy (His Divine sovereignty) goes against what God says in His Word; in other words, it is contrary to His principles. Such human autonomy was contrary to the thinking of Governor Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757), as well–because such a view ran contrary to the worldview presented in the Bible that he loved so much.
That is the main issue at stake in a discussion about the applicability of God’s law to modern society–indeed, about the world’s obligation to follow the law of its ultimate World Ruler, Jesus Christ, Who currently reigns in Heaven at the right hand of God the Father. (The subject of Christ’s sovereign rule is the topic of the following sermon by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who was Governor Belcher’s friend and relative by virtue of the marriage of Belcher’s sister into the Stoddard family of Edwards’ mother.)
What is needed today, in
the 21st century, is for the people of the United States, and of the
world, to acknowledge Christ’s sovereign rule, and to voluntarily assume their
obligation to follow God’s law by adopting that law as (each nation’s) “law of
the land” (that is to say, the true international law). Such adoption of God’s
law would greatly advance the Christian civilization that is Christ’s kingdom.
Governor Belcher’s support of Edwards’ Christian worldview is well substantiated, as their numerous letters to each other reveal. Indicative of their close friendship (Governor Jonathan addressed Jonathan Edwards as his “Namesake”) was Edwards’ original proposal for the dedication to Brainerd’s Diary: When Edwards edited David Brainerd’s now-famous diary for publication in 1749, he wanted to dedicate the work to Governor Belcher. Indicative of his unselfish and modest character, the governor humbly declined the honor, and suggested instead that Brainerd’s diary be dedicated to the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge (Brainerd was one of their missionaries), in order that the propagation of the Gospel might be further advanced.
In his letter to Edwards (dated February 5, 1748), Governor Belcher provides insight into his own personal philosophy and expresses his desire to help promote the kingdom of God:
“My Worthy Namesake,
“I yesterday received by the hands of Mr. John Brainard your very kind favour of the 14th December which claims the early thanks I now send you. You have Sir obliged me in the most sensible manner by the extraordinary account you give me of that eminent servant of Christ the late Reverend Dr. D. Brainard, whose Journal of his labours and travels among the Indians of these and the neighbouring parts I met with lately in this town and read it with my intervals of joy and grief. I am perfectly satisfied from that and from the account you give me that he was through divine grace a great proficient in the school of Christ a true disciple of blessed Jesus and of this I was confirmed by my late excellent namesake and friend the deceased Mr. [Jonathan] Dickinson of Elizabeth Town. I am much pleased with the design you have in hand, as I am satisfied it will greatly serve the kingdom of our blessed Saviour. I take a grateful notice of the mark of the respect you intended me on this occasion, but as the Society in Scotland had the great honour of such a missionary I really think a most respectful dedication of the account of his life must with the greatest propriety be addressed to that honourable body and it may perhaps answer the good purpose of promoting the knowledge of Christ among our poor neighbours who are perishing for lack of vision. I therefore ask to be excused and shall esteem it honour enough to be a subscriber to the publication and shall be glad to know your undertaker in this matter. You will Sir be sure of me as a friend and father to the missionary this way and of all my weight and encouragement for spreading the everlasting Gospel of God our Saviour in all parts and places where God shall honour me with any power or influence. I am a true mourner in the death of Mr. Brainard who though young in life was old in grace and ripe for glory and went to his grave as a shock of corn cometh in his season, and I doubt not is now reaping the rewards of one that was a good steward of the manifold graces of God. Although it is our duty to regard the sovereign pleasure of the great Head of the church in the removal of such as laboured so faithfully in his vineyard, yet we are not [to] murmur but to fall down and adore. And Aaron held his peace. Besides we know God lives and has the residue of the Spirit. He holdest the stars in his right hand and can give us more Brainards and more Dickinsons. We must then lift up our hearts and hands to the great Lord of the harvest. Amen and Amen. As to myself Sir it is impossible to express the warm sentiments of my grateful heart for the mercies without number with which I have been loaden by the God which hath fed me all my life long to this day and my reflection upon his goodness covers me with shame and blushing for I know my utter unworthiness and that I am less than the least of all his mercies. I would therefore abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes. You are sensible my good friend that governours and rulers stand in a glaring light and their conduct is narrowly watched by friends and enemies and the one often undeservedly applaud them while the others perhaps too justly censure them. Yet in this I am not anxious but to approve myself to the Searcher of hearts from whose mouth I must hear pronounced at the great and general audit those joyful words, Enter thou & c. or that terrible sentence Depart from me & c. Mat. 25:21 & 41. Join with me then in thankfulness to God for all the blessings and talents he has entrusted me with and that I may employ them to his honour and glory to the good of the people over whom he has placed me and so to the comfort of my own soul. I say that I may be always remembering: he that ruleth over [men] must be just, ruling in the fear of God. As to my private life from the 8th of last month I am posting to 67. My days are swifter than a weavers shuttle. They will soon be extinct and the grave be ready for me. The lesson then is to give all diligence to make my calling and election sure. I think, Sir, the last time I had the pleasure and blessing of hearing you preach was at an evening lecture in Dr. Sewell’s meeting house (Boston) from Rom. 9:22 when you chiefly insisted on those words: Vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and among other things you said God has made nothing in vain; no, we should finally be vessels of wrath or vessels of mercy and although I have since that time passed by sea and land near 7,000 miles yet the sound of that sermon has often alarmed me. May God of his boundless grace in Jesus Christ make known on me the riches of his glory as a vessel of mercy.
“I humbly pray God to preserve your health and valuable life that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man and may you for your encouragement constantly hear your Lord and Master saying to you: My grace is sufficient for thee–my strength is made perfect in weakness. So shall you be enabled to pull down the strongholds of sin and Satan and by turning many to righteousness shine as the stars for ever and ever. This is and shall be the prayer of —
“Your faithful Friend & Servant
“My kind respects wait on your pious and worthy consort and my best respects [to] the Honourable Col. Stoddard and his lady
“Burlington (New Jersey)
February 5, 1747/8
Mr. Edwards (by Mr. Brainard)”
Furthermore, Jonathan Belcher (then governor of New Jersey) helped his friend Jonathan Edwards whenever he could. When vengeful men tried to turn Edwards out of his Stockbridge mission, Governor Belcher greatly opposed them, and Edwards was allowed to stay in his ministry, as the following letter reveals. On October 18, 1753, Jonathan Edwards (then at Stockbridge, Massachusetts) wrote to Mr. Gillespie of Scotland, trying to comfort him after Gillespie’s unjust dismissal from his ministry. Among Edwards’ comments was the following statement:
“‘As to my own circumstances, I still meet with trouble, and expect no other, as long as I live in this world. Some men of influence have much opposed my continuing a missionary at Stockbridge, and have taken occasion abundantly to reproach me, and endeavour my removal. But I desire to bless God, he seems in some respects to set me out of their reach. He raises me up friends, who are exerting themselves to counteract the designs of my opposers; particularly the Commissioners for Indian affairs in Boston; with whom innumerable artifices have been used, to disaffect them toward me; but altogether in vain. Governour Belcher, also, has seen cause much to exert himself, in my behalf, on occasion of the opposition made to me.’” (Quoted in: Sereno Edwards Dwight, Memoir of the Life of President Edwards, Volume 1 of The Works of President Edwards: With a Memoir of His Life (New York: G. & C. & H. Carvill, 1830), pp. 536-537.)
With that friendship and
close comradery for the cause of Christ in mind, one should read the following
Edwards sermon as a reflection of the views of both Jonathan Edwards and
[Excerpted from: Jonathan Edwards, “The Final Judgment: Or the World Judged Righteously by Jesus Christ,” in The Works of President Edwards. In Four Volumes. A Reprint of the Worcester Edition. Vol. 4 (New York: Leavitt and Company, 1851), pp. 203-210, 213-215, 217, 219-220.]
God is the Supreme Judge of the world.
1. God is so by right. He is by right the supreme and absolute ruler and disposer of all things, both in the natural and moral world. The rational, understanding part of the creation is indeed subject to a different sort of government from that to which irrational creatures are subject. God governs the sun, moon and stars; he governs even the motes of dust which fly in the air. Not a hair of our heads falleth to the ground without our heavenly Father. God also governs the brute creatures; by his providence, he orders, according to his own decrees, all events concerning those creatures. And rational creatures are subject to the same sort of government; all their actions, and all events relating to them, being ordered by superior providence, according to absolute decrees; so that no event that relates to them ever happens without the disposal of God, according to his own decrees. The rule of this government is God’s wise decree, and nothing else.
But rational creatures, because they are intelligent and voluntary agents, are the subjects of another kind of government. They are so only with respect to those of their actions, in which they are causes by counsel, or with respect to their voluntary actions. The government of which I now speak is called moral government, and consists in two things, in giving laws, and in judging.
God is, with respect to this sort of government, by right the sovereign ruler of the world. He is possessed of this right by reason of his infinite greatness and excellency, by which he merits, and is perfectly and solely fit for, the office of supreme ruler. He that is so excellent as to be infinitely worthy of the highest respect of the creature, hath thereby a right to that respect; he deserves it by a merit of condignity; so that it is injustice to deny it to him. And he that is perfectly wise and true, and is only so regarded, hath a right in every thing to be regarded, and to have his determinations attended to and obeyed.
God hath also a right to the character of supreme ruler, by reason of the absolute dependence of every creature on him. All creatures, and rational creatures no less than others, are wholly derived from him, and every moment are wholly dependent upon him for being, and for all good: so that they are properly his possession. And as, by virtue of this, he hath a right to give his creatures whatever rules of conduct he pleases, or whatever rules are agreeable to his own wisdom; so the mind and will of the creature ought to be entirely conformed to the nature and will of the Creator, and to the rules he gives, that are expressive of it.
For the same reason, he hath a right to judge their actions and conduct, and to fulfil the sanction of his law. He who hath an absolute and independent right to give laws, hath evermore the same right to judge those to whom the laws are given. It is absolutely necessary that there should be a judge of reasonable creatures; and sanctions, or rewards and punishments, annexed to rules of conduct, are necessary to the being of laws. A person may instruct another without sanctions, but not give laws. However, these sanctions themselves are vain, are as good as none, without a judge to determine the execution of them. As God hath a right to be judge, so he hath a right to be the supreme judge; and none hath a right to reverse his judgment, to receive appeals from him, or to say to him, Why judgest thou thus?
2. God is, in fact, the supreme judge of the world. He hath power sufficient to vindicate his own right. As he hath a right which cannot be disputed, so he hath power which cannot be controlled. He is possessed of omnipotence, wherewith to maintain his dominion over the world; and he doth maintain his dominion in the moral as well as the natural world. Men may refuse subjection to God as a lawgiver; they may shake off the yoke of his laws by rebellion; yet they cannot withdraw themselves from his judgment. Although they will not have God for their lawgiver, yet they shall have him for their judge. The strongest of creatures can do nothing to control God, or to avoid him while acting in his judicial capacity. He is able to bring them to his judgment-seat, and is also able to execute the sentence which he shall pronounce.
There was once a notable attempt made by opposition of power entirely to shake off the yoke of the moral government of God, both as lawgiver, and as judge. This attempt was made by the angels, the most mighty of creatures; but they miserably failed in it: God notwithstanding acted as their judge in casting those proud spirits out of heaven, and binding them in chains of darkness unto a further judgment, and a further execution. “God is wise in heart and mighty in strength; who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered?” Job ix. 4. Wherein the enemies of God deal proudly, he is above them. He ever hath acted as judge in bestowing what rewards, and inflicting what punishments, he pleased on the children of men. And so he doth still; he is daily fulfilling the promises and threatenings of the law, in disposing of the souls of the children of men, and so he evermore will act.
That there is a time coming when God will, in the most public and solemn manner, judge the whole world of mankind.
The doctrine of a general judgment is not sufficiently discoverable by the light of nature. Indeed some of the heathens had some obscure notions concerning a future judgment. But the light of nature, or mere unassisted reason, was not sufficient to instruct the world of fallen men in this doctrine. It is one of the peculiar doctrines of revelation, a doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There were indeed some hints of it in the Old Testament, as in Psal. xcvi. 13: “The Lord cometh to judge the world with righteousness, and his people with his truth.” And Eccl. xii. 14, “For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” And in some other such like passages. But this doctrine is with abundantly the greatest clearness revealed in the New Testament: there we have it frequently and particularly declared and described with its circumstances.
However, although it be a doctrine of revelation, and be brought to light by the gospel, the brightest and most glorious revelation that God hath given to the world; yet it is a doctrine which is entirely agreeable to reason, and of which reason gives great confirmation. That there will be a time before the dissolution of the world, when the inhabitants of it shall stand before God, and give an account of their conduct; and that God will in a public manner, by a general and just judgment, set all things to rights respecting their moral behaviour, is a doctrine entirely agreeable to reason; which I shall now endeavor to make appear. But I would premise, that what we would inquire into, is not whether all mankind shall be judged by God; for that is a thing that the light of nature clearly teaches, and we have already spoken something of it: but whether it be rational to think that there will be a public judgment of all mankind together. This I think will appear very rational from the following considerations.
1. Such a judgment will be a more glorious display of God’s majesty and dominion; it will be more glorious, because it will be more open, public, and solemn. Although God now actually exercises the most sovereign dominion over the earth; although he reigns and doth all things according to his own will, ordering all events as seemeth to himself good; and although he is actually judge in the earth, continually disposing of men’s souls according to their works; yet he rules after a more hidden and secret manner, insomuch that it is common among the proud sons of men to refuse acknowledging his dominion. Wicked men question the very existence of a God, who taketh care of the world, who ordereth the affairs of it, and judgeth in it; and therefore they cast off the fear of him. Many of the kings and great men of the earth do not suitably acknowledge the God who is above them, but seem to look upon themselves as supreme, and therefore tyrannize over mankind, as if they were in no wise accountable for their conduct. There have been, and now are, many atheistical persons, who acknowledge not God’s moral dominion over mankind; and therefore they throw off the yoke of his laws and government. And how great a part of the world is there now, and has there always been, that has not acknowledged that the government of the world belongs to the God of Israel, or to the God of Christians; but has paid homage to other imaginary deities, as though they were their sovereign lords and supreme judges! Over how great a part of the world hath Satan usurped the dominion, and set up himself for God in opposition to the true God!
Now, how agreeable to reason is it, that God, in the winding up of things, when the present state of mankind shall come to a conclusion, should, in the most open and public manner, manifest his dominion over the inhabitants of the earth, by bringing them all, high and low, rich and poor, kings and subjects, together before him to be judged with respect to all that they ever did in the world! That he should thus openly discover his dominion in this world, where his authority hath been so much questioned, denied, and proudly opposed! That those very persons, who have thus denied and opposed the authority of God, should be themselves, with the rest of the world, brought before the tribunal of God! That however God be not now visibly present upon earth, disposing and judging in that visible manner that earthly kings do; yet at the conclusion of the world he should make his dominion visible to all, and with respect to all mankind, so that every eye shall see him, and even they who have denied him shall find, that God is supreme Lord of them, and of the whole world!
2. The end of judgment will be more fully answered by a public and general, than only by a particular and private, judgment. The end for which there is any judgment at all is to display and glorify the righteousness of God; which end is more fully accomplished by calling men to an account, bringing their actions to the trial, and determining their state according to them, the whole world, both angels and men, being present to behold, than if the same things should be done in a more private way. At the day of judgment there will be the most glorious display of the justice of God that ever was made. Then God will appear to be entirely righteous towards every one; the justice of all his moral government will on that day be at once discovered. Then all objections will be removed; the conscience of every man shall be satisfied; the blasphemies of the ungodly will be forever put to silence, and argument will be given for the saints and angels to praise God for ever: Rev. xix. 1, 2, “And after these things I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia: Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God: for true and righteous are his judgments.”
3. It is very agreeable to reason, that the irregularities which are so open and manifest in the world, should, when the world comes to an end, be publicly rectified by the supreme governor. The infinitely wise God, who made this world to be a habitation for men, and placed mankind to dwell here, and hath appointed man his end and work, must take care of the order and good government of the world, which he hath thus made. He is not regardless how things proceed here on earth: it would be a reproach to his wisdom, and to the perfect rectitude of his nature, to suppose so. This world is a world of confusion; it hath been filled with irregularity and confusion ever since the fall; and the irregularities of it are not only private, relating to the actions of particular persons; but states, kingdoms, nations, churches, cities, and all societies of men in all ages, have been full of public irregularities. The affairs of the world, so far as they are in the hands of men, are carried on in a most irregular and confused manner.
Though justice sometimes takes place, yet how often do injustice, cruelty, and oppression prevail! How often are the righteous condemned, and the wicked acquitted and rewarded! How common is it for the virtuous and pious to be depressed [downtrodden], and the wicked to be advanced! How many thousands of the best men have suffered intolerable cruelties, merely for their virtue and piety, and in this world have had no help, or refuge to fly to! The world is very much ruled by the pride, covetousness, and passions of men. Solomon takes much notice of such like irregularities in the present state (in his book of Ecclesiastes), whereby he shows the vanity of the world.
Now, how reasonable is it to suppose, that God, when he shall come and put an end to the present state of mankind, will in an open, public manner, the whole world being present, rectify all these disorders? And that he will bring all things to a trial by a general judgment, in order that those who have been oppressed may be delivered; that the righteous cause may be pleaded and vindicated, and wickedness, which has been approved, honored, and rewarded, may receive its due disgrace and punishment; that the proceedings of kings and earthly judges may be inquired into by him, whose eyes are as a flame of fire; and that the public actions of men may be publicly examined and recompensed according to their desert! How agreeable is it to divine wisdom thus to order things, and how worthy of the supreme governor of the world!
4. By a public and general judgment, God more fully accomplishes the reward he designs for the godly, and the punishment he designs for the wicked. One part of the reward which God intends for his saints, is the honor which he intends to bestow upon them. He will honor them in the most public and open manner, before the angels, before all mankind, and before them that hated them. And it is most suitable that it should be so: it is suitable that those holy, humble souls, that have been hated by wicked men, have been cruelly treated and put to shame by them, and who have been haughtily domineered over, should be openly acquitted, commended and crowned, before all the world.
So one part of the punishment of the ungodly will be the open shame and disgrace which they shall suffer. Although many of them have proudly lifted up their heads in this world, have had a very high thought of themselves, and have obtained outward honor among men; yet God will put them to open shame, by showing all their wickedness and moral filthiness before the whole assembly of angels and men; by manifesting his abhorrence of them, in placing them upon his left hand, among devils and foul spirits; and by turning them away into the most loathsome, as well as most dreadful, pit of hell, to dwell there forever. Which ends may be much more fully accomplished in a general, than in a particular judgment.
The world will be judged by Jesus Christ.
The person by whom God will judge the world, is Jesus Christ, God-man, the second person in the Trinity, that same person of whom we read in our Bibles, who was born of the Virgin Mary, lived in Galilee and Judea, and was at last crucified without the gates of Jerusalem, will come to judge the world both in his divine and human nature, in the same human body that was crucified, and rose again, and ascended up into heaven: Acts i. 11, “This same Jesus that is taken up from you into heaven, shall come in like manner, as ye have seen him go into heaven.” It will be his human nature which will then be seen by the bodily eyes of men. However, his divine nature, which is united to the human, will then also be present: and it will be by the wisdom of that divine nature that Christ will see and judge.
Here naturally arises an inquiry, Why is Christ appointed to judge the world rather than the Father or the Holy Ghost? We cannot pretend to know all the reasons of the divine dispensations. God is not obliged to give us an account of them. But so much may we learn by divine revelation, as to discover marvellous wisdom in what he determines and orders with respect to this matter. We learn,
1. That God seeth fit, that he who is in the human nature, should be the judge of those who are of the human nature: John v. 27, “And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.” Seeing there is one of the persons of the Trinity united to the human nature, God chooses in all his transactions with mankind, to transact by him. He did so of old, in his discoveries of himself to the patriarchs, in giving the law, in leading the children of Israel through the wilderness, and in the manifestations he made of himself in the tabernacle and temple; when, although Christ was not actually incarnate, yet he was so in design, it was ordained and agreed in the covenant of redemption, that he should become incarnate. And since the incarnation of Christ, God governs both the church and the world by Christ. So he will also at the end judge the world by him. All men shall be judged by God, and yet at the same time by one invested with their own nature.
God seeth fit, that those who have bodies, as all mankind will have at the day of judgment, should see their judge with their bodily eyes, and hear him with their bodily ears. If one of the other persons of the Trinity had been appointed to be the judge, there must have been some extraordinary outward appearance made on purpose to be a token of the divine presence, as it was of old, before Christ was incarnate. But now there is no necessity of that: now one of the persons of the Trinity is actually incarnate, so that God by him may appear to bodily eyes without any miraculous visionary appearance.
2. Christ hath this honor of being the judge of the world given him, as a suitable reward for his sufferings. This is a part of Christ’s exaltation. The exaltation of Christ is given him in reward for his humiliation and sufferings. This was stipulated in the covenant of redemption; and we are expressly told, it was given him in reward for his sufferings, Phil. ii. 8-12: “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
God seeth meet, that he who appeared in such a low estate amongst mankind, without form or comeliness, having his divine glory veiled, should appear amongst men a second time, in his own proper majesty and glory, without a veil; to the end that those who saw him here at the first, as a poor, frail man, not having where to lay his head, subject to much hardship and affliction, may see him the second time in power and great glory, invested with the glory and dignity of the absolute Lord of heaven and earth; and that he who once tabernacled with men, and was despised and rejected of them, may have the honor of arraigning all men before his throne, and judging them with respect to their eternal state! John v. 22-24.
God seeth meet that he who was once arraigned before the judgment-seat of men, and was there most vilely treated, being mocked, spit upon, and condemned, and who was at last crucified, should be rewarded, by having those very persons brought to his tribunal, that they may see him in glory, and be confounded; and that he may have the disposal of them for all eternity; as Christ said to the high priest while arraigned before him, Matt. xxvi. 64, “Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.”
3. It is needful that Christ should be the judge of the world, in order that he may finish the work of redemption. It is the will of God, that he who is the redeemer of the world should be a complete redeemer; and that therefore he should have the whole work of redemption left in his hands. Now, the redemption of fallen man consists not merely in the impetration of redemption, by obeying the divine law, and making atonement for sinners, or in preparing the way for their salvation, but it consists in a great measure, and is actually fulfilled, in converting sinners to the knowledge and love of the truth, in carrying them in the way of grace and true holiness through life, and in finally raising their bodies to life, in glorifying them, in pronouncing the blessed sentence upon them, in crowning them with honor and glory in the sight of men and angels, and in completing and perfecting their reward. Now, it is necessary that Christ should do this, in order to his finishing the work which he hath begun. Raising the saints from the dead, judging them, and fulfilling the sentence, is part of their salvation; and therefore it was necessary that Christ should be appointed judge of the world, in order that he might finish his work. (John vi. 39, 40, chap. v. 25-31.) The redemption of the bodies of the saints is part of the work of redemption; the resurrection to life is called a redemption of their bodies, Rom. viii. 23.
It is the will of God, that Christ himself should have the fulfilling of that for which he died, and for which he suffered so much. Now the end for which he suffered and died was the complete salvation of his people; and this shall be obtained at the last judgment, and not before. Therefore it was necessary that Christ be appointed judge, in order that he himself might fully accomplish the end for which he had both suffered and died. When Christ had finished his appointed sufferings, God did, as it were, put the purchased inheritance into his hands, to be kept for believers, and be bestowed upon them at the day of judgment.
4. It was proper that he who is appointed king of the church should rule till he should have put all his enemies under his feet; in order to which, he must be the judge of his enemies, as well as of his people. One of the offices of Christ, as redeemer, is that of a king; he is appointed king of the church, and head over all things to the church; and in order that his kingdom be complete, and the design of his reign be accomplished, he must conquer all his enemies, and then he will deliver up the kingdom to the Father: 1 Cor. xv. 24, 25, “Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule, and all authority and power. For he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet.” Now, when Christ shall have brought his enemies, who had denied, opposed, and rebelled against him, to his judgment-seat, and shall have passed and executed sentence upon them, this will be a final complete victory over them, a victory which shall put an end to the war. And it is proper that he who at present reigns, and is carrying on the war against those who are of the opposite kingdom, should have the honor of obtaining the victory, and finishing the war.
5. It is for the abundant comfort of the saints that Christ is appointed to be their judge. The covenant of grace, with all its circumstances, and all those events to which it hath relation, is every way so contrived of God, as to give strong consolation to believers: for God designed the gospel for a glorious manifestation of his grace to them; and therefore every thing in it is so ordered, as to manifest the most grace and mercy.
Now, it is for the abundant consolation of the saints, that their own Redeemer is appointed to be their judge, that the same person who spilled his blood for them hath the determination of their state left with him; so that they need not doubt but that they shall have what he was at so much cost to procure.
What matter of joy to them will it be at the last day, to lift up their eyes, and behold the person in whom they have trusted for salvation, to whom they have fled for refuge, upon whom they have built as their foundation for eternity, and whose voice they have often heard, inviting them to himself for protection and safety, coming to judge them.
6. That Christ is appointed to be the judge of the world, will be for the more abundant conviction of the ungodly. It will be for their conviction, that they are judged and condemned by that very person whom they have rejected, by whom they might have been saved, who shed his blood to give them an opportunity to be saved, who was wont to offer his righteousness to them, when they were in their state of trial, and who many a time called and invited them to come to him, that they might be saved. How justly will they be condemned by him whose salvation they have rejected, whose blood they have despised, whose many calls they have refused, and whom they have pierced by their sins!
How much will it be for their conviction, when they shall hear the sentence of condemnation pronounced, to reflect with themselves, How often hath this same person, who now passes sentence of condemnation upon me, called me, in his word, and by his messengers, to accept of him, and to give myself to him! How often hath he knocked at the door of my heart! and had it not been for my own folly and obstinacy, how might I have had him for my Saviour, who is now my incensed Judge!
The good works of the saints will also be brought forth as evidences of their sincerity, and of their interest in the righteousness of Christ. As to their evil works, they will not be brought against them on that day; for the guilt of them will not be upon them, they being clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The Judge himself will have taken the guilt of their sins upon him; therefore their sins will not stand against them in the book of God’s remembrance. The account of them will appear to have been cancelled before that time. The account that will be found in God’s book will not be of debt, but of credit. God cancels their debts, and sets down their good works, and is pleased, as it were, to make himself a debtor for them, by his own gracious act.
(2.) The book of Scripture will be opened, and the works of men will be tried by that touchstone. Their works will be compared with the word of God. That which God gave men for the rule of their action while in this life, shall then be made the rule of their judgment. God hath told us beforehand, what will be the rule of judgment. We are told in the Scriptures upon what terms we shall be justified, and upon what terms we shall be condemned. That which God hath given us to be our rule in our lives, he will make his own rule in judgment.
The rule of judgment will be twofold. The primary rule of judgment will be the law. The law ever hath stood, and ever will stand in force, as a rule of judgment, for those to whom the law was given: Matt. v. 18, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” The law will so far be made the rule of judgment, that not one person at that day shall by any means be justified or condemned, in a way inconsistent with that which is established by the law. As to the wicked, the law will be so far the rule of judgment respecting them, that the sentence denounced against them will be the sentence of the law. The righteous will be so far judged by the law, that although their sentence will not be the sentence of the law, yet it will by no means be such a sentence as shall be inconsistent with the law, but such as it allows: for it will be by the righteousness of the law that they shall be justified.
It will be inquired concerning every one, both righteous and wicked, whether the law stands against him, or whether he hath a fulfillment of the law to show. As to the righteous, they will have fulfillment to show; they will have it to plead, that the judge himself hath fulfilled the law for them; that he hath both satisfied for their sins, and fulfilled the righteousness of the law for them: Rom. x. 4, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.” But as to the wicked, when it shall be found, by the book of God’s remembrance, that they have broken the law, and have no fulfilment of it to plead, the sentence of the law shall be pronounced upon them.
All will be done in righteousness.
Christ will give to every man his due, according to a most righteous rule. Those who shall be condemned, will be most justly condemned; will be condemned to that punishment which they shall most justly deserve; and the justice of God in condemning them will be made most evident. Now the justice of God in punishing wicked men, and especially in the degree of their punishment, is often blasphemously called in question. But it will be made clear and apparent to all; their own consciences will tell them that the sentence is just, and all cavils will be put to silence.
So those that shall be justified, shall be most justly adjudged to eternal life. Although they also were great sinners, and deserved eternal death; yet it will not be against justice or the law to justify them; they will be in Christ. But the acquitting of them will be but giving the reward merited by Christ’s righteousness: Rom. iii. 26, “That God may be just, and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus.”
Christ will judge the world in righteousness, particularly as he will give to every one a due proportion either of reward or punishment, according to the various characters of those who shall be judged. The punishment shall be duly proportioned to the number and aggravations of the sins of the wicked; and the rewards of the righteous shall be duly proportioned to the number of their holy acts and affections, and also to the degree of virtue implied in them.
I would observe further,
1. That Christ cannot fail of being just in judging, through mistake. He cannot take some to be sincere and godly, who are not so, nor others to be hypocrites, who are really sincere. His eyes are as a flame of fire, and he searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of the children of men. He can never err in determining what is justice in particular cases, as human judges often do. Nor can he be blinded by prejudices, as human judges are very liable to be: Deut. x. 17, “He regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward.” It is impossible he should be deceived by the excuses, and false colors, and pleas of the wicked, as human judges very commonly are. It is equally impossible that he should err, in assigning to every one his proper proportion of reward or punishment, according to his wickedness or good works. His knowledge being infinite, will effectually guard him against all these, and other such errors.
2. He cannot fail of judging righteously through an unrighteous disposition; for he is infinitely just and holy in his nature: Deut: xxxii. 4, “He is the rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth, and without iniquity, just and right is he.” It is not possible that an infinitely powerful, self-sufficient being should be under any temptation to injustice. Nor is it possible that an infinitely wise being, who knoweth all things, should not choose justice. For he who perfectly knows all things, perfectly knows how much more amiable justice is than injustice; and therefore must choose it.
The uses to which this doctrine is applicable.
1. The first use proper to be made of this doctrine is of instruction. Hence many of the mysteries of Divine Providence may be unfolded. There are many things in the dealings of God towards the children of men, which appear very mysterious, if we view them without having an eye to this last judgment, which yet, if we consider this judgment, have no difficulty in them. As,
1. That God suffers the wicked to live and prosper in the world. The infinitely holy and wise Creator and Governor of the world must necessarily hate wickedness; yet we see many wicked men spreading themselves as a green bay-tree; they live with impunity; things seem to go well with them, and the world smiles upon them. Many who have not been fit to live, who have held God and religion in the greatest contempt, who have been open enemies to all that is good, who by their wickedness have been the pests of mankind; many cruel tyrants, whose barbarities have been such as would even fill one with horror to hear or read of them; yet have lived in great wealth and outward glory, have reigned over great and mighty kingdoms and empires, and have been honored as a sort of earthly gods.
Now, it is very mysterious, that the holy and righteous Governor of the world, whose eye beholds all the children of men, should suffer it so to be, unless we look forward to the day of judgment; and then the mystery is unexcelled. For although God for the present keeps silence, and seems to let them alone; yet then he will give suitable manifestations of his displeasure against their wickedness; they shall then receive condign punishment. The saints under the Old Testament were much stumbled at these dispensations of Providence, as you may see in Job. ch. xxi., and Psal. lxxiii., and Jer. ch. xi. The difficulty to them was so great, because then a future state and a day of judgment were not revealed with that clearness with which they are now.
2. God sometimes suffers some of the best of men to be in great affliction, poverty, and persecution. The wicked rule, while they are subject; the wicked are the head, and they are the tail; the wicked domineer, while they serve, and are oppressed, yea are trampled under their feet, as the mire of the streets. These things are very common, yet they seem to imply great confusion. When the wicked are exalted to power and authority, and the godly are oppressed by them, things are quite out of joint: Prov. xx. 26, “A righteous man falling down before the wicked, is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring.” Sometimes one wicked man makes many hundreds, yea thousands, of precious saints a sacrifice to his lust and cruelty, or to his enmity against virtue and the truth, and puts them to death for no other reason but that for which they are especially to be esteemed and commended.
Now, if we look no further than the present state, these things appear strange and unaccountable. But we ought not to confine our views within such narrow limits. When God shall have put an end to the present state, these things shall all be brought to rights. Though God suffers things to be so for the present, yet they shall not proceed in this course always; comparatively speaking, the present state of things is but for a moment. When all shall be settled and fixed by a divine judgment, the righteous shall be exalted, honored, and rewarded, and the wicked shall be depressed and put under their feet. However the wicked now prevail against the righteous, yet the righteous shall at last have the ascendant, shall come off conquerors, and shall see the just vengeance of God executed upon those who now hate and persecute them.
3. It is another mystery of Providence, that God suffers so much public injustice to take place in the world. There are not only private wrongs, which in this state pass unsettled, but many public wrongs, wrongs done by men acting in a public character, and wrongs which affect nations, kingdoms, and other public bodies of men. Many suffer by men in public offices, from whom there is no refuge, from whose decisions there is no appeal. Now it seems a mystery that these things are tolerated, when he that is rightfully the Supreme Judge and Governor of the world is perfectly just; but at the final judgment all these wrongs shall be adjusted, as well as those of a more private nature.
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