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ON THE NECESSITY OF HOLINESS HERE, IN ORDER TO HAPPINESS HEREAFTER.
ROMANS II. 6, 7.
Who will render to every man according to his deeds; To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honor, and immortality, eternal life.
GOD's people of old were admonished,
Jer. vi. 16, " Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." Nor is this a needless admonition still, notwithstanding the much clear light, on moral and religious subjects, which hath since that time come into the world. Still, on almost every article of faith, and branch of duty, very different opinions are entertained, among the learned, as well as the illiterate. And indeed, at first view, the way which leadeth unto life seems to be differently marked out to us, even in the holy scriptures themselves. Sometimes one is told, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. A man is justified by faith, without the deeds of the law. To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." In other
places it is said, "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city." But how are these different representations to be reconciled? We are not surely to understand that there are two ways of salvation, for fallen men, revealed from heaven. We are not to imagine that those who believe the gospel shall be saved, though they neglect good works, and live in sin and that those who turn from their transgressions, and do that which is lawful and right, shall be justified by the deeds of the law. So that every one may have his choice, either to be saved by Christ without personal holiness; or to work out his own salvation, without being indebted to Christ, and to free grace. There is but one gate, and one way, to life eternal: and, "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way." Neither the unrightcous, nor the self-righteous, shall inherit the kingdom of God. Personal holiness, and relying alone, for justification, on the imputed righteousness of Christ, are both made necessary, in the grace of God which bringeth salvation. That there must be some faith, and some works, in order to a man's being saved, all denominations of christians will admit. But, rightly to divide the word of truth on these subjects, so as to give to faith, the things that are faith's, and to works, what belongs to works, requires some study and care.
By the words now before us, we are led to consider the province and necessity of good works, relative to the salvation of men. The apostle is here speaking of the righteous retributions which will be made to every man, in the judgment of the great day. He is addressing himself to the Jew, who excluded
the Gentile from salvation because of his unrighteousness; and yet expected to be saved himself, though equally unrighteous, because of his covenant relation to God. See the context, ver. 1-9, " Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them who commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them who do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance ? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation 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, seck for glory, and honor, and immortality, eternal life: But unto them that are contentious, and obey not 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."
In attending to the words chosen to be particularly insisted upon, it is proposed to consider;
I. How we are to understand that God, in the day of judgment, will render to every man according to
II. What is implied in the character here given, of them to whom he will render eternal life.
III. How universally, and how far, this character is necessary, in order to the rewards of heaven, up. on the gospel plan. And,
IV. Why it is necessary.
I. We will briefly consider how it is meant, that God, in the day of judgment, will render to every man according to his deeds.
By the deeds of men we are to understand, not merely the works of their hands, but also their words, and thoughts, and dispositions; or whatever constitutes their personal characters. It is not to be supposed, however, that God will render to every one just what he has personally merited, and no more. Certainly he will not render to the righteous all the evil they have deserved; and he will render good to them undoubtedly, far beyond their personal desert. But it is to be understood,
1. That every good man will receive the rewards of heaven; and that every wicked man will be condemned to the pains of hell.
This is agreeable to the frequent representations of scripture. See John v. 28, 29, "The hour is coming in the 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.”
2. We are to understand that God will render to all the impenitent workers of iniquity, according to strict justice. That he will condemn them respectively, to those several degrees of punishment which they haye merited; all circumstances being fully considered.
To this purpose it is said, a few verses after our text; "For there is no respect of persons with God: 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; in the day that God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." And to this purpose our Saviour told the
impenitent sinners of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, that it would be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for them.
3. It is to be understood that there will be differences made among the righteous, in proportion to their works of faith, and labors of love; in proportion to the trials and difficulties through which they have passed; in proportion to their different personal characters upon the whole.
When they that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake; among them that shall be raised to everlasting life, there will be a difference in the lustre with which they shall shine; as between the firmament and the stars, and as one star differeth from another star in glory. We proceed to consider,
II. The character given in our text, of those to whom God will render eternal life.
They are described, you observe, by the objects of their pursuit, and by their manner of seeking. In both these, the children of God are manifest; as differing from the unregenerate.
We will begin with attending to the objects of their pursuit or the things which they seek. In all the works of rational beings, some end is sought : and this, accordingly as it is important or unimportant, worthy or unworthy, very much stamps the characters of persons and of actions. Whatever pains a man may take, whatever sagacity he may discover in the prosecution of his designs, or whatever good he may accidentally do; yet, if his motives are evil, or mean and low, he is not much to be commended. Men may be very industrious in their lawful callings; and may be very useful members of society by their labors; but if the only inducement they have is to get the world, that they may consume