by Rev. Mr Ebenezer Erskine.
MATTH. 12:37.—Then shall he reward every man according to his works.
THE text gives us an account of the day of doom, which is the last day of assize, wherein every man shall be tried at the bar of God's justice, and every man shall then and there receive according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.
I shall not trouble myself or you with the terrors of this day, because I have no time, but will proceed.
It is most certain the day of judgment will come, and that it will be dreadful to all the wicked. But seeing these things must be, what sort of persons ought we to be in all manner of conversation, always looking for the coming of Christ, at whose coming the sun shall be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, the stars shall fall from heaven, the powers of heaven shall be shaken, the elements shall melt with fervent heat. Who can hear all this, and not be wonderfully dismayed? O who dares eat, drink, or sleep, or take a minute's rest? Be sure, that day shall come. "O awake, ye drunkards! and weep, all ye drinkers of wine! because of the new wine! for it shall be pulled from your mouth. Gird yourselves and lament, ye priests! howl, ye ministers of the altar! Alas! the sore terrible day of the Lord is at hand."
DOCT. "This is a gospel truth, that Christ, who came into the world in the form of a servant, will one day come as a judge, attended with his holy angels.
And if this be so, then, first, for an use of exhortation.
1st, Let us all be warned, and, while we have time, provide for that day; yet, the weather is fair, we may frame an ark to save us from the flood; yet are the angels at the gate of Sodom, and yet is Jonah in the streets of Nineveh; yet the prophet laments, crying, "O Judah! how shall I entreat thee?" Yea, the Apostle prays, nay, we pray you in Christ's stead, that you be reconciled unto God. But here a question will arise, How will Christ appear?
I answer,—He who, as a man, once appeared to be judged, will then appear to judge all mankind. Consider this, ye that are going to the bar, what a dreadful sight will this be to the faithless Jews, stubborn Gentiles, and wicked Christians, when every eye shall see him, and they also that pierced him? This is the man, shall they say, that was crucified for us, and again crucified by us. Why, alas! every sin is a cross, and every oath is a spear; and when that day is come, you must behold the Man, whom thus you do crucify by your daily sin; sure this will be a fearful sight. Where is the bloody swearer, that can tear his wounds, heart, and blood? At that day, all these words will appear, the heart be visible, and the body and the blood be sensible of good and evil: then shall the fearful voice proceed from his throne, Where is the blood thou spilled? Here is the woful and terrible judgment, when thou that art the murderer shall see the slain Man be thy judge. What favours canst thou think to expect at his hand, whom thou hast so vilely and treacherously used by thy daily sins? Be sure, the Son of man will come, as it is written, "but woe unto that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed; it had been better for that man he had never been born," Matth. 26:24.
As Christ shall appear in the form of a man, so this Man shall appear in a glorious form. O sinner, look about you, the Judge is coming: a fire devours before him, and behind him a flame burns: on every side the people tremble, and all faces shall gather blackness. Here is a change indeed! He that was at the bar now sits on the throne, and that for ever and ever. Then, Christ stood as a lamb before Pilate: now, Pilate stands as a malefactor before Christ. He that was made the footstool of his enemies, must now judge, till he has made his enemies his footstool. Where shall they run? and how shall they seek the clefts of the rocks and hollow places? The glory of his majesty will kindle a flame, while the heavens and the earth shall flee away from the presence of the powerful Judge.
But if here be the Judge, where is the guard? Behold him coming from above with great power and glory! Would you know his habit? He is indeed clothed with majesty? Would you know his attendants? They are an host of holy angels; nay, yet a much longer train, even the souls of the saints descending from their imperial seats, and attending the Lamb with great glory. Never was there any judge lord of such a circuit: His footstool is in the clouds, his feet are in the rainbow; his judges are saints, his officers angels and archangels. The trumpet proclaims a silence, whilst a just sentence cometh from his mouth upon all the world. Thus you see the assize begun. "I beheld till the throne was cast down (saith the prophet), and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garments were white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was like the fiery flame, and the wheels as burning fire," Daniel 7:9.
This is the Judge, whose coming is so fearful, and ushered in by a fiery cloud, and apparelled in snowy white, carried in his circuit on burning wheels, and attended with thousands of thousands. O, ye Jews, behold the Man whom before ye crucified as a malefactor! behold him on his throne, whom ye said his disciples had stolen away by night out of his grave! Matth. 28:13. Behold him in his majesty, him upon whom you would not look in his humility! This is he at whose appearance the kindreds of the earth shall mourn. Such a shout of fury follows the sight of his majesty, that the vaults shall echo, the hills resound, the earth shall shake, the heavens shall pass away, and be turned to confusion. Then shall the wicked mourn, then shall they weep and wail, yet their tears shall not serve their turn; their sins past betray them, and their shame condemns them, and their torments to come confound them: Thus shall the wicked bewail their miserable, hapless, unfortunate birth, and cursed end. O fearful Judge! terrible as an army with banners! The kings of the earth shall be astonished, and every eye shall see this Judge, and tremble at his sight. Lo, but conceive the guilty prisoner come to his trial. Will not the red robes of this Judge make his heart bleed, for his blood shed? Thus have I shewed you how Christ will appear in a glorious manner.
1. Think now, O sinner, what shall be thy reward, when thou shalt meet this Judge. The adulterer for a while may flatter beauty, the swearers grace their words with oaths, the drunkards kiss their cups, and thank their bodily healths, till they drink their souls to ruin; but let them remember, "for all these things God will bring them into judgment." A sad comfort in the end. How shall the adulterer satisfy lust, when he lies on a bed of flames? The swearer shall have enough of wounds and blood, when the devil shall torture his body and rack his soul in hell. The drunkard shall have plenty of his cups, when scalding lead shall be poured down his throat, and his breath draw flames of fire instead of air. As is thy sin, so is thy punishment; this Judge will give just measure in the balance of his indignation and wrath.
For comfort to all that are the Judge's favourites, now is the day (if ye are God's servants) that Satan shall be trodden under your feet, and you, with your Master Christ, shall be carried into the holy of holies. You may remember how all the men of God, in their greatest anguish here below, have fetched comfort from the eyes of faith. It was at this mountain Job rejoiced, being cast on the dunghill, that his Redeemer lived, and that he should see him at the last day stand on the earth. So likewise the evangelist John longed and cried, "Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly," Rev. 22:20. "Now, little children, abide in him, that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed at his coming. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life." 1 John 2:28, 29. But I proceed.
The persons to be judged are a world of men, good and bad, elect and reprobate.
(1.) There is a summons, and this every man must hear, and this shall be the voice of the last trumpet. "Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment." O what a fearful and terrible voice will this be to all the wicked? How will they tremble at his voice, which makes the earth to tremble? Even at this voice the graves of the dead shall be opened, and every soul re-united to its own body; the dark pit of hell shall be shaken, when the dreadful soul shall leave its place of terror, and once more re-enter into its stinking carrion, to receive a greater condemnation. John 5:28, 29. The voice of Christ is a powerful and strong voice; "The dead shall hear his voice, and they shall come forth, they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation."
Thus much for the summons, you hear it given, and every man must appear. Death must now give back all that he hath taken from the world. What a ghastly and shocking sight shall this be, to see all the graves open, and to see dead men arise out of their graves, and the scattered flying on the wings of the wind, till they meet together in one body, Ezek. 37:6, "The dry bones shall live." Behold, the power of God Almighty, out of the grave and the dust of the earth, from these chambers of death and darkness, shall raise the bodies of the buried, Rev. 20:12, 13. "I saw the dead (saith St. John), small and great, stand before God; and the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead that were in them: and they were judged every man according to his works." He that said to corruption, Thou art my father; and to the worm, Thou art my sister and mother, said also "I know that my Redeemer liveth, and mine eyes shall behold him." O good God! how wonderful is thy power! Joel 3:11, 12, "Assemble yourselves, and come all ye heathen to the valley of Jehosaphat, for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about."
Thus have you an account of the dead being raised; they are all brought together, and now must we put them asunder; the sheep shall be put on the right hand, and the goats on the left hand. And now see the parties thus summoned, raised, gathered, and set apart. Is not here a world of men to be judged all in one day? All tongues, all nations and people of the earth, shall appear in one day. We shall then behold each son of Adam, and Adam shall then see all his posterity. Consider this, ye that are high and low, rich and poor, one with another, "for with God there is no respect of persons." Hark, O beggar, petitions are out of date, yet thou needest not fear, for thou shalt have justice done thee this day. All causes shall be heard, and thou, though ever so poor, and even despised in the world, must with the rest receive thy sentence. Hark, O farmer! now are the lives and leases together finished; this day is the new harvest of the judge, who gathers in his wheat, and burns up his chaff with fire unquenchable; no bribes, no prayers, no tears; but as thou hast done, so thou art sentenced, Hark, O landlord! where is thy purchase to thee and thy heirs for ever? This day makes an end of all; and unhappy were thy soul, if thou hadst not better land than a barren rock, to cover and shelter thee from the presence of the Judge. Hark, O Captain, how vain is the hope of man to be saved by the multitude of an host. Thou hast commanded all the armies of the earth and hell, yet canst thou not resist the power of heaven. Hark, the trumpet sounds, and the alarm summons thee; thou must appear. All must appear, the beggar, the farmer, the captain, the prince, and the greatest potentates of the world; nay, all shall receive their reward according to their deserts.
(2.) This is for terror to the wicked: every man must appear. O that every man would but think of it! Would you know the man that shall at this day be blessed? It is he that thinks on this day, and prepares for it. O then, I beseech you, meditate every day, that you and every man must one day appear before the Judge of the quick and dead, and receive according to your works.
And now, having brought the prisoners to their trial, I must tell you how this trial must be,—for your works. Faith justifies, but it is by works we are judged. Mistake me not, he shall be judged according to his works, as being the best witness of his inward righteousness. But, the better to acquaint you with this trial, we come to consider,—
1. How all men's works shall be manifested to us.
2. How all men's works shall be examined by God.
1. Of the manifestation of every man's works, Rev. 20:12. "I saw the dead, small and great (saith St. John) stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of these things which were written in the books, according to their works." Remember this, O forgetful sinner, thou mayest commit sin after sin, and multiply your sins; but be sure God keeps a just account, and none of your sins, though ever so secret, shall be forgot. There is a book of God's memory; it is called a book of remembrance, Mal. 3:16, "A book of remembrance was written before God, for them that feared the Lord, and called upon his name." This is that which manifests all secrets; this is that which reveals all doings, whether good or evil. In these records are found at large Abel's sacrifice and Cain's murder, Absalom's rebellion and David's devotion, the Jews' cruelty and the prophets' innocency. Nothing shall be hid when this book is opened, for all may run and read it. "God will bring every man into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil," Eccles. 12:14. Wail, ye wicked, and tremble in astonishment. Now your closet sins must be disclosed, and your private faults laid open.
Imprimis. For adultery, envy, blasphemy, drunkenness, oaths, violence, murder, Sabbath-breaking, lying, and every other sin, from the beginning to the end, from your birth to your death, the total sum is eternal death and damnation. But there is another book, that shall give a more fearful evidence than the former, and the secretary in the soul of man. No man can commit a sin, but the soul that is privy to the fact will write it in this book. What a woeful case will thy poor heart then be in! What a strong terror of trembling must it then stand possessed with, when this book shall be opened, and thy sins revealed? This book is now perhaps shut up and sealed; but in the day of judgment it shall be opened, and what will be the evidence that will be brought in? There is a private session to be held in the breast of every sinner; the memory is the record, truth is the law, damnation is the judgment, hell is the prison, devils are the jailors, and conscience both the witness and the judge to pass sentence upon thee. What hopes can he have at the general assize, whose conscience hath condemned him before he appears? Consider this, O thou impenitent sinner!
But yet there is another book we read of, and that is the book of life, wherein are written all the names of God's elect, from the beginning of the world unto the end thereof. This is the precious book of heaven, wherein if we be registrated, not all the powers of darkness, death, or devils, can blot us out again. Therefore, to make some useful applications,
1st. Consider now, O sinner, what books one day must be set before thee. The time will come when every word of thy mouth, every glance of thy eye, every moment of thy time, every sermon thou hast heard, every thing thou hast left undone, all shall be seen, and laid open before men, angels, and devils; thou shalt then and there be horribly and everlastingly ashamed. Never go about then to commit sin, though ever so secretly, though at midnight, and all the doors locked about thee, yet at this great day it shall be brought to light.
2dly. As you intend the good of your souls, amend your lives, call yourselves to an account, while it is called to-day; search and examine all your thoughts, words, and deeds, prostrate yourselves before God, with broken and bleeding affections; pray that your name may be written in the book of life; and if you do so, God is not unrighteous to forget your labour of love, and all your good works; for at that great day the book shall be opened, our works manifested, and, as we have done, so we must be rewarded; for then shall he reward every man according to his works. But a little to recal ourselves.
The prisoners are tried, the verdict brought in, the indictments are found, and the Judge now sits upon life and death, even ready with sparkling eyes to pronounce the sentence, The Lord grant, that, when this day comes, the sentence may be for us, and we be saved, to our everlasting comfort. O now hold up your heads, all ye saints of the most high God, for this shall be a blessed day for you: for then shall ye hear the sweet heavenly voice of Christ, saying, "Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you." I cannot express what joy it will be to the righteous, when they shall hear Christ say, Come, ye blessed soul, who hath been bathed in repenting tears. Here is a sentence able to revive the dead, much more the afflicted. Are you sorrowing for your sins, leave it awhile, and meditate with me on this ensuing melody. Hark! yonder is the choir of angels sounding to the Judge, while he is pronouncing thy sentence. Now is the day of your coronation; now shall ye be made perfectly happy, and that for ever. Come, saith Christ, you that have suffered for me, now you shall have your reward; you shall have your souls filled to the brim with joy, such as is unspeakable, and full of glory.
But I must return to the left hand, and shew another crew, prepared for another sentence. And O what a terrible sentence will that be, which will make all ears glow and tingle. "His lips (saith the prophet) are full of indignation, and his tongue like a consuming fire," Isa. 30:27. What fire is so hot as that fiery sentence, Matth. 25:41, "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
1. They must depart. This seems nothing to the wicked. Now they are content to be gone; they have much more delight in sin than in God's service. But whither must they go? "From me." If from me, then from all my mercies, my glory, and my salvation? But whither, O Lord, shall the cursed go, that depart from thee? Into what haven shall they arrive? What master shall they serve? It is thought a great punishment to be banished from our native soils? What then is it to be banished from the almighty God? But whither must they go? Into everlasting fire. O what bed is this! no feathers but fire, no friends but furies, no ease but fetters, no daylight but darkness, no clocks to pass away the time, but endless eternity, fire eternal, always burning, and never dying. O who can endure everlasting flame! it shall not be quenched night or day; the smoke thereof shall go up for ever and ever. The wicked shall be crowded together, like bricks in a fiery furnace. But for whom was this fire prepared? For the devil and his angels. These must be your companions. The last sentence is now pronounced. What: Go (who?) ye cursed, into everlasting fire, to crews of devils. O take heed, that you live in the fear of God, lest that, leaving his service, he give you this reward, "Depart from me ye cursed," &c.
2. Consider, then, what fearful trembling will seize on your souls, that have their sentence for eternal flames: O which way will they turn? How will they escape the Almighty's wrath? To go backward is impossible, to go forward is intolerable. Whose help will they crave? God is their Judge, heaven their foe; the saints deride them, angels hate them. Good Lord, what a world of miseries hath seized on miserable souls. Their executioners are devils, the dungeon hell; the earth stands open, and the furnace burning, ready to receive you. O how will these poor souls quake and tremble! Every part of their body will bear a part in their doleful ditty; eyes weeping, hands wringing, breasts beating, hearts aching, with voices crying. Now, O man of the earth, what shall thy wealth avail thee; one drop of water, to cool thy tongue in the flames, is worth more than all the pleasures of the world.
Thus you have heard the sentence of the just and wicked; and the Judge is risen from his glorious seat. The saints guard him along, and the sentenced prisoners are delivered to the jailors; shrieks of horror shall be heard. What woes and lamentations shall be uttered, when devils and reprobates, and all the damned crew of hell, shall be driven into hell, never to return. Down they go howling, shrieking, and gnashing their teeth: The world leaves them, the earth forsakes them, hell entertains them; there they must live, and yet not live nor die; but dying live, and living die.
O miserable must these be, if the drowning of the world, the swallowing up of Korah, and the burning of Sodom with brimstone, were attended with such terror and hideous outcries; how infinitely, to all possibility of conceit, and trembling of that red fiery day; in a word, what wailing, weeping, roaring, and yelling, filling both heaven, earth, and hell! O most miserable wretches, Matth. 22:12. "Take them away, and cast them into utter darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." A darkness indeed! They must for ever be debarred from the light of heaven. Sunshine never peeps within these walls, nothing is there but smoke and darkness; and such is the portion of sinners, and the reward of the wicked.
From The Whole Works Of Ebenezer Erskine (eBook)