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right hand of God, signifies on this account that he is exalted to authority and dominion. “ Hereafter," he said to the Jewish council, “shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power.'
The psalmist refers to the power of the Messiah in his state of exaltation in these words: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.”+ It was exhibited to Daniel in the night visions, when " he saw, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him : his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.”! Our Saviour announced it to his disciples after his resurrection : “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth ;''S and Paul speaks thus of it in his epistle to the Philippians: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name that 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."'ll There is a distinction to be observed between his essential and his mediatorial kingdom. The former he always possessed, and since it belonged to him as God the Creator of all things, he could not lay it aside even during his humiliation. The latter he received when he ascended; for although he had a right to it, when he rose from the dead, and therefore told his disciples, that it was already given to him, it was upon his entrance into heaven, that he sat down upon his throne. His mediatorial kingdom comprehends power to establish, and govern, and defend, and bestow eternal salvation upon his church, and power to render all other things subservient to its interests. He ought to be considered not only as the King of Zion, but as the Lord of the Universe. Hence, when we say that the world is under the government of God, we should reflect, that properly it is not the Father of whom we speak, except in this sense, that he always acts in concurrence with the Son; but that the declaration of our Saviour, that “the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son,”I is true of the whole administration of affairs. Our Redeemer holds the sceptre, and sways it over angels and men. He hath put all things under his feet.
There is one other idea connected with his sitting at the right hand of God, which it may be proper to mention, as it is suggested by the following contrast beļween him and the priests of the law : “ Every priest standeth daily ministering, and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool."** The posture of the legal priests imported that they were constantly engaged in the service of the altar, and, consequently, had not aecomplished the design of their office, by the perfect reconciliation of the people to God. The high-priest never sat down in the most holy place, but having stood for some time before the mercy-seat, he retired to offer new sacrifices, and again to go the round of the sacred offices. But Jesus Christ, when he entered into heaven, sat down at the right hand of God, and is “ a priest upon his throne.” His posture signifies that his work is finished. His one oblation has satisfied the demands of justice, and his Father has testified his approbation of it
, by conferring upon him honour and authority. present exaltation of Jesus Christ is a source of great consolation to
• Matt. xxvi. 64 | Phil. ü. 9-11.
$ Matt. xxviii. 18.
† Ps. cx. 1.
# Dan. vii. 13, 14.
his followers. It was not solely for his personal glory that he ascended, but also for the good of his people, in promoting which he employs all the interest and power which he possesses. His intercession ensures the acceptance of their duties, not as the condition of salvation, but as testimonies of iheir love to God, and their filial subjection to him. His government is calculated to tranquillize and comfort their minds amidst the vicissitudes of life.
As they are assured that nothing can happen to themselves without his appointment, and that every word will be overruled for their final welfare, so they may look upon all the dangers in the world as under the control of his power, and the direction of his wisdom, as constituting parts of his plan, working for ends worthy of him, and subservient to the establishment of his kingdom. Affairs may not proceed in a train agreeable to our views and expectations ; but it will repress every murmur and every wish for a different order, to reflect that he presides over them, who is the patron of truth and righteousness, and the faithful guardian of those who love him: “ The Lord reigneth ; let the earth rejoice : let the multitude of isles be glad thereof."'*
The security of the church depends upon the exercise of the power with which Christ was invested at his ascension. . The gates of hell shall not prevail against it, because it is defended by his omnipotent arm. It has been deemed a proof of Cæsar's greatness of mind, although, in truth, it proved nothing but his presumption and impiety, that he said to the sailors in a storm, “ Fear not, this ship carries Cæsar ;” as if the elements would have done homage to that ambitious spirit. The wind and waves did indeed respect him on that occasion, but only as they have since respected, and will always re pect, the meanest and most worthless of mankind, whose hour is not come The ocean will not swallow up those who are doomed to perish by the sword. But the church may assume the attitude and the language of confidence and defiance when she is menaced by the powers of earth and hell, because He is her protector, who can render their councils and efforts abortive, and scatter them with his breath: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble: Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof."'+
To him who is exalted above principalities and powers, profound reverence and prompt obedience are due. This is the command of the church: “He is thy Lord, and worship thou him.” We are under law to Jesus Christ; and as our consciences should recognise his authority, and bow to it, so it will render our obedience the homage of the heart, devoutly to remember, that his right to demand it is founded on the deep humiliation and exquisite sufferings to which he submitted for our salvation. Although we have not seen his glory with our eyes, as the beloved disciple did in the isle of Patmos, yet, being admitted to contemplate it through the medium of revelation, which gives such descriptions of it as are fitted to excite mingled emotions of reverence and confidence, let us, like him, fall at his feet, and say with another saint, “ Truly, we are thy servants; we are thy servants, thou hast loosed our bonds : we will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.”I
• Ps. xcvii. 1.
+ Ps. xlvi. 1, 2.
Ps. cxvi. 16, 17.
CHRIST'S STATE OF EXALTATION,
The General Judgment, a Doctrine of Revelation-The Time and Duration of it—The Place
of Judgment—The Parties—Christ the Judge: his Fitness for the Office-Circumstances of his appearing-Standards of Judgment—The Sentences, and their Execution.
“Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."'* These were the words of the two angels who appeared on Mount Olivet to the disciples, while they were wistfully looking after their Lord, who had ascended in their sight, and was now concealed by a cloud. He will come again at the appointed time; and it will be the purpose of his coming to close the administration which he is at present carrying on at the right hand of his father, by the public distribution of rewards and punishments. To this consummating act of his royal authority, I shall, in this lecture, direct your attention.
In treating this subject, it is usual to bring forward arguments suggested by reason, in support of the declarations of Scripture respecting the future judgment of the human race. Were we to deny that justice is essential to the Supreme Governor of the universe, we should divest him of all moral excellence, and leave only those physical attributes which distinguish him from men, as almighty power, perpetual duration, and immensity of essence. We should transform him, whom even the heathens called Optimus Maximus, into the Arimanes of the Persians, a being of malignant dispositions, the author of darkness and confusion, and every evil work. But we find that, at present, justice is only partially exercised, and the common course of things is conducted without any marked regard to the character and actions of men. Those whom we call good, because their actions are conformable to moral distinctions, are often left to struggle with poverty, and to pine in affliction ; while bold transgressors, men who set their mouths against the heavens, and give loose Teins to their appetites and passions, not seldom enjoy outward peace, and pass their days amidst affluence, and a succession of delights. The exceptions serve the more clearly to illustrate the imperfection of the present system; to show us more distinctly what, in our apprehension, might be, and ought to be: and call more loudly for a different order of things. Human laws, which, in so far as they are just, may be considered as making a part of the moral administration of the universe, because they are sanctioned by Heaven, supply this defect in part, but only in part. Besides that, in general, they afford no reward to the obedient, but simple protection, there are innumerable cases of delinquency which they cannot reach, in consequence of the limited knowledge and power of those who execute them, and of other causes which obstruct the exercise of authority. Many crimes are secret, unknown to all but the guilty ; and, of public crimes, the authors are not always discovered, or they escape from justice by flight, or they set it at defiance ; or, what is Worst of all, they find means to prevent it by bribery and perjury. What then is the result of this view of the state of human affairs ? ' shall we conclude, in opposition to the clear dictates of reason, and the consent of all nations,
that there is no God? Or shall we say, with some impious philosophers, that he is regardless of the actions of men ; and that, instead of a wise and righteous Providence, blind fortune presides? Or rather, compelled by the best sentiments of our minds, which recognise a Deity, and invest him with every moral perfection, shall we not rest in this obvious inference, that, since justice is not at present fully displayed, another dispensation will follow, under which there will be an exact retribution ; that a time will come when the wrongs of the injured shall be redressed, when the proud transgressors shall stoop to a superior power, when every work shall be brought into judgment, and every secret thing shall be revealed ?
To this reasoning no person of candour will object, so far as it goes to prove a future retribution. If there is a just God, it must ultimately be well with the righteous, and ill with the wicked. Accordingly, a recompense in another state was expected by those who did not enjoy the benefit of Divine revelation, and the expectation was founded partly upon traditional authority, and partly also upon argument. They believed, that, when the souls of men left their bodies, they appeared before certain judges appointed to take cognizance of human actions, Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Æacus, who, after an impartial investigation, pronounced sentence upon them, and consigned them to the fields of bliss, or to the region of torment But the judgment which the Gentiles anticipated at the close of their mortal course, was individual and private, like the sentence which Christians believe will be pronounced upon every man immediately after his death ; and this is all that the reasoning proves. Divines, therefore, are chargeable with inaccuracy, when they employ it in support of the doctrine now under consideration, since it serves only to establish the fact, that men will be recompensed, not tnat they will be recompensed by a procedure carried on in the presence of assembled generations. Having convinced ourselves that God will render to every man according to his works, we can advance no farther by the light of reason than the heathens did, who held that men appeared individually before the infernal judges, or at most along with those who happened to arrive in the other world at the same time, and, that they were dismissed, without any farther solemnity, each to his proper place.
It is to revelation alone that we are indebted for the knowledge of a general judgment, in which the proceedings will take place in the sight of angels and men; the righteous and the wicked will be arranged in separate classes, and all will be witnesses of the Divine justice in the reward of the good, and the punishment of the bad. I shall content myself with a few passages in which it is announced. “He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men in that he hath raised him from the dead.' “ We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”+ “ When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats."'I
It may be thought that the ends of justice are answered when individuals are treated according to their desert, and as this is done immediately after death, that no further procedure is necessary. Justice, as it respects private persons, consists in regulating their conduct by its dictates, in their transactions with friends, neighbours, and mankind in general; and if they uniformly preserve inviolate the rights of others, all its demands are fulfilled. But the
justice of a governor belongs to the public, who claim not only that it should impartially execute the laws, but that it should be exercised in such a manner az is most conducive to the general interests. The rewards to which meritorious individuals are entitled ought not to be conferred, and the punishment which transgressors have incurred ought not to be inflicted, in silence and secrecy, but both should be openly dispensed for the honour of the governor's character, and the advantage which will redound to the community from the salutary influence of example. As God is the governor of the world, it is not sufficient that he is just, unless he also appear to be just. The retribution which takes place after death is unknown. We see men of different characters die; but we cannot trace the flight of their souls into the invisible world, nor hear the sentence pronounced from the tribunal before which they appear; and our conjectures upon the subject may often be very far from the truth. Hence a general judgment, at which all the descendants of Adam will be present, seems necessary to the display of the justice of God, to such a manifestation of it as 'will vindicate his government from all the charges which impiety has brought against it, satisfy all doubts, and leave a conviction in the minds of all intelligent creatures, that he is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works. It is expedient that at the winding up of the scheme, all its parts should be seen to be worthy of Him by whom it was arranged and conducted. In this way, those who have witnessed, with many disquieting thoughts, the irregularity and disorder in the present system, will have ocular evidence that there never was the slightest deviation from the principles of equity, and that the cause of perplexity, was the delay of their full operation. They will see the good and the bad no longer mingled together, and apparently treated alike, but separated into two classes, the one on the right hand of the Judge, and the other on his left, and distinguished as much at least by their respective sentences, as by the places which they occupy. We perceive, then, the reason that the judgment passed upon each individual at the termination of his life, will be solemnly ratified at the end of the world. There may be another reason for the public exercise of justice in the final allotment of the human race. It may be intended to be a spectacle to the universe; it may be an act of the divine administration, which will extend its influence to all the provinces of his empire. We are sure that angels will witness it; and if there are other orders of rational creatures, it may be a solemn lesson to them, by which they will be confirmed in fidelity to their Creator, and filled with more profound veneration of his infinite excellences.
The time of the general judgment is a secret which God has reserved to himself. “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven."* An opinion seems to have been entertained by some persons in the primitive church, that the awful event was not distant; but only the lying lips of such a man as Gibbon could dare to say " that its near approach had been predicted by the apostles; the tradition of it was preserved by their earliest disciples; and those who understood in their literal sense the discourses of Christ himself, were obliged to expect the second and glorious coming of the Son of man in the clouds, before that generation was totally extinguished, which had beheld his humble condition upon earth.”+ The prophecy of our Saviour to which he refers, evidently relates to the destruction of Jerusalem, and is interspersed with several circumstances which clearly prove, that, although the style is bold and highly figurative, it is a local calamity which is announced, a desolation beyond the limits of which it was possible to escape, an event which would be followed by other events in a long succession ; in a word, that the prophecy does not foretell the end of the world.
It is so far
• Matt. xxiv. 36.
+ Gibbon's Decline and Fall, chap. XV.