« Prev Sermon CLXXXI. Of the Sentence to Be Passed at… Next »



For 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.—2 Cor. v. 10.

I PROCEED to the fourth and last proposition contained in the text; viz. That at the day of judgment, sentence shall be passed upon men according to the nature and quality of their actions done in this world, whether good or evil. The reward of happiness or misery, which men shall be sentenced to at that day, shall bear a proportion to the good or evil which they have done in this life.

In the prosecution of this argument, I shall inquire into these two things:

First, What proportion the rewards of the next world shall bear to the actions of men in this life.

Secondly, The grounds and reasons of it. And then make some application of this truth to the consciences of men.

First, What proportion the rewards of the next world shall bear to the actions of men in this life. I mean, whether the rewards of the next life shall only be proportioned to the kind and quality of our actions considered in general, as good or evil; that is, that good men shall be rewarded with everlasting glory and happiness, and wicked men with eternal 84punishment and torment: or whether the degrees of these rewards shall likewise bear a proportion to the degrees of the good or evil of our actions, so that a more eminent degree of piety and holiness shall have a proportionable share of glory and happiness; and greater and more heinous sins shall be loaded with greater and heavier punishments.

I. It is clear, and out of all controversy, that men shall be rewarded according to the quality and kind of their actions; good shall be rewarded to the good, and evil to the evil. And this is the constant tenor of the Bible. (Psal. i. 6.) “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous;” that is, doth approve it, and will reward it: “but the way of the ungodly shall perish;” which is of the same importance with the expression in the verse before, “the wicked shall not stand in the judgment.” (Isa. iii. 10, 11.) “Say ye to the righteous, it shall be well with him, for they shall eat of the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked, for it shall be ill with him, for the reward of his hands shall be given him;” which, if it be meant of the rewards and punishments of this life, is much more constantly and universally true of the other. (Matt. xvi. 27.) “The Son of man shall come in the glory of the Father, with his angels with him, and shall reward every man according to his works.” (Rev. xxii. 12.) “Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to render to every man according as his work shall be;” that is, whether good or evil. (Rom. vi. 23.) “The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life:” that is, “to those who have their fruit unto holiness,” as he had said immediately before. Hither likewise belong those innumerable texts, in which glory, and happiness, and eternal 85life, are promised to those who live “soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world;” and wickedness and disobedience are threatened with dreadful and eternal punishment. But I shall only take notice of two or three of the most remarkable of them. (Matt. xiii. 41 43.) “The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire, there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” But this is most fully represented in that particular description, which our Lord himself makes of the process of that day, (Matt. xxv. 34.) where the sentence that shall be passed on the righteous is this: “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world.” And on the wicked, (ver. 41.) “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” And, (ver. 46.) “These, (speaking of the wicked, (shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.” (John v. 28, 29.) “The hour is coming, in which all that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation.” (Rom. ii. 6-9.) Speaking of “the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who (says the apostle) shall render to every man according to his works; to them, who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality, eternal life: but to them that are contentious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation 86and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doth evil.”

II. That the rewards and recompences of the next world shall likewise bear a proportion to the degrees of good or evil which we have done in this life, though it hath been controverted, seems also to be sufficiently clear from Scripture. And to this purpose, I shall,

1. Produce such texts as will fully prove it.

2. Answer the grounds of the contrary opinion.

1. The Scripture doth plainly assert, that the rewards of the next life will bear a proportion not only to the kind and quality of our actions, but to the degree of them; that good men shall receive a reward proportionable to the degree of their holiness and obedience, of their service and sufferings for God; and that the torments of the wicked shall be greater or less, according to the degree and aggravation of their sins.

(1.) As for good men: that the reward that shall be bestowed upon them shall bear a proportion to the degree of their service and sufferings for God. This seems to be intimated in those metaphorical expressions used by the prophet Daniel: (chap. xii. 3.) “They that be wise, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.” Which is much the same with what St. Paul expressly affirms, concerning the different glory of the saints at the resurrection: (1 Cor. xv. 41.) “There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.” (Matt. v. 10, 11.) “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and 87persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you for my name’s sake: rejoice, and be exceeding glad; for great is your reward in heaven.” Which words, if they do not signify a more glorious reward to those who suffer persecution for Christ, have no emphasis or encouragement in them. For what cause of exceeding joy and gladness is it, to be persecuted and suffer for Christ, if a peculiar reward did not belong to those who suffer for him? If there do not, then those who suffer for Christ are plainly in a worse condition in this world, than other good men who escape these sufferings; and yet are in no better condition than others in the next world: and why then should any man be glad to suffer? (Matt. x. 41, 42.) “He that receiveth a prophet, in the name of a prophet, shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man, in the name of a righteous man, shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” Where you see a difference intimated between the reward of a prophet and a righteous man; namely, that a prophet shall have a greater reward than an ordinary good man. (Matt. xix. 28, 29.) Where our blessed Saviour tells us, that all that denied themselves for Christ, shall inherit everlasting life; but for his disciples, who were continually attendants upon him, and sufferers for him, that a more eminent degree of glory should be conferred on them; which is expressed by their “sitting upon twelve thrones, to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.” But most plainly in the parable of the talents, where every man’s reward is according to the improvement of his talents. “He that had gained five talents, is made ruler over five cities: and he that had gained ten talents, ruler over ten cities.” (Luke xix. 15. 1 Cor. xv. 58.) “Be ye 88steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord: forasmuch as you know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” But if our reward should not hold a proportion to the degree of our service, it would be in vain to be abundant in the work of the Lord. (2 Cor. iv. 17.) “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;” that is, our affliction contributes to our glory, and adds to the degree of it. (2 Cor. ix. 6.) The apostle useth this as an argument to persuade the Corinthians to be very liberal and bountiful to their distressed brethren, because according to the degree of their charity, would be the degree of their reward. “This, I say, he that soweth sparingly, shall reap sparingly; and he that soweth plentifully, shall reap plentifully:” than which I cannot imagine any thing can be spoken more plainly to this purpose. And the same argument he useth to the Philippians, to stir them up to charity: (Phil. iv. 17.) “Not because I desire a gift, but I desire fruit that may abound to your account;” clearly implying, that the more good we do in this world, the more abundant shall be our reward in the next.

(2.) It is likewise as plain from Scripture, that the punishment and torment of wicked men will be abated or increased proportionably to the degree and aggravation of their sins. Upon this account our Saviour threatens those who continue impenitent under the gospel, with more heavy and dreadful punish-, merits, and tells us, that in the day of judgment their condition shall be far worse than theirs of Tyre and Sidon, of Sodom and Gomorrah. (Matt. xi. 20, 21.) And (Matt. xxiv. 51.) he threatens that servant, who, because “his Lord delayed his coming,” presumed so much upon the patience of God, with 89a more severe punishment: “The lord of that servant shall cut him in sunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites;” intimating, that the punishment of hypocrites will be very severe, and, as it were, the standard of the highest punishment. And so, likewise, (Luke xii. 47, 48.) our Saviour tells us, that, according to the degree of light and knowledge which men sin against, shall be the degree of their torment. “The servant that knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself to do according to it, shall be beaten with many stripes: but he that knew it not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes.” And in general he tells us, that the punishment of sinners takes its aggravation from the advantages and opportunities which men have neglected. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” So likewise the apostle to the Hebrews tells us, that God will vindicate the contempt of the gospel more severely than of the law of Moses: (Heb. ii. 2-4.) “If the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” And, (chap. x. 28, 29.) “He that despised Moses’s law died without mercy, under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, think ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God?”

So that it seems very evident from Scripture, that the degree of happiness or misery which men shall be sentenced to in the next world, shall be correspondent to the degree of good or evil which they have done in this world; and I can hardly imagine 90any thing more clear. But it seems the schoolmen, and other divines, who have been at leisure to tie knots, and to make objections against the plainest truths, have called this also into question. And, therefore, I shall, in the

Second place, briefly examine the grounds of the contrary opinion; which, though they do but immediately strike at the degrees of glory and happiness, yet, by a parity of reason and consequence, they likewise overthrow the degrees of punishment; and they are these two:

I. They say, that the merits of Christ, by which eternal life and happiness is purchased for us, are equal to all those who have any interest in them, and are of value sufficient to purchase the highest degree of glory for them; and the meritorious cause being the same, there is no reason to imagine any difference of degrees in the effect.

Answer.—The weakness of this objection, how specious soever it may appear, will be evident to any one that considers, that eternal life and happiness doth not accrue to us by way of necessary and natural result from the merit of Christ’s obedience and sufferings, but of voluntary compact and agreement, and therefore is only available so far as it pleased God the Father and him that it should be. Now the Scripture hath declared, that “Christ is the author of eternal salvation to them that believe and obey him:” but it hath declared likewise, that, according to the degrees of our holiness and obedience, shall be the degrees of our happiness; because the happiness which Christ hath purchased for us, is not bestowed upon us but upon certain terms and conditions to be performed on our part, upon the performance whereof, and the degree of 91that performance, the degrees of our happiness do depend.

II. The other objection is from the parable of the labourers in the vineyard, (Matt. xx.) where it is said, that “they that came in at the last hour received as much as they that came in at the first, and had borne the heat and burden of the day, every one his penny.” For answer to this, it is a known rule among divines, that theologia parabolica non est argumentativa; by which they mean, that we cannot argue in divinity from every circumstance of a parable, but only from the main scope of it. Now this parable seems plainly directed against the envious Jews, who murmured because the gentiles were to partake of the blessing of the Messias, and that they who were called in the last age of the world, should share in this benefit, as well as the ancient people of God; so that, by the murmurers, the Jews are designed, who were offended that salvation should come to the gentiles. And then the scope of the parable is not that all good men shall have equal degrees of glory; but that the gentiles, which were called long after the Jews, should be saved as well as they. I proceed to the

Second thing I proposed to inquire into, viz. The grounds and reasons of this, why the rewards which shall be distributed at the day of judgment, shall bear a proportion to the good or evil which men have done in this life? And,

1. That they shall be correspondent to the nature and quality of our actions, the justice and equity of the Divine providence doth plainly require. For justice is to give to every one that which of due belongs to him: now of equity it belongs to them that do well, that it should go well with them; and 92to the evil, that it should be ill with them; that every one should “receive the fruit of his doings.” Not that we can strictly merit any thing at the hand of God. It is goodness to reward an innocent creature, and it is goodness to reward the good actions of those who have been sinners; but justice requires that good and bad men should not fare alike. Thus Abraham reasons from the justice of God; “that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: shall not the Judge of all the world do right?” And, considering the promises which the goodness of God hath made freely to good men, for their encouragement in goodness, the performance of these promises is founded in the righteousness and faithfulness of God.

2. That the rewards of the next life should bear a proportion to the degree of the good or evil done by us in this life, is clearly founded in the equity and reasonableness of the thing; it being very much for the encouragement of holiness and goodness, to be assured, that whatever we do for God now will be fully considered and rewarded hereafter; that he will take notice of the least service that we do for him, and that every degree of grace and holiness shall be crowned with an answerable degree of glory and happiness. And so, on the other hand, it tends very much to discountenance sin, and to keep men from running to the height of impiety; to consider that every sin will aggravate their misery, and that every degree of wickedness will add to the weight of their torment; and that though they be “children of wrath” already, yet, by adding “iniquity to transgression, they may cause the “wrath of God and his jealousy to smoke against them,” and bring more curses upon themselves, and 93make themselves “ten times more the children of wrath.”—

And, indeed, in the nature of the thing, it cannot be otherwise; but that the better and more holy any man is, the more capable he should be of happiness, and the more disposed for the enjoyment of God; and the more wicked any man is, the more he should exasperate his own conscience, and awaken those furies which rage in his breast. “He treasures up” more “wrath against the day of wrath,” and piles up more fuel for everlasting burnings. The torments of hell are in Scripture compared to fire; now the more fuel and greater store of combustible matter is cast into it, the more fierce and raging it must be.

I have done with the explication, and shall now apply what hath been delivered:

I. If sentence shall be passed at the great day according to the good or bad actions of men, this shews us what should be the great care of every man in this life—to attend to the nature and quality of our actions, and to observe that difference between them in our practice now, which our Judge will certainly make in the sentence which he will pass upon them at the great day. And yet, so blind and mistaken is the greatest part of the world, that they make this the least part of their care and business. Men are generally very solicitous to be rich and great, and to be in a healthful and prosperous condition, and do with all possible care seek to avoid sickness, and poverty, and meanness: but how few are concerned to be virtuous and good, and to avoid wickedness and vice! And yet these moral differences of men at the day of judgment will only be taken into consideration; other things 94will not “profit us in the day of wrath.” God in that day will not proceed with men according to their outward quality and condition in this life; their eternal estate shall not then be decided according to their wealth or poverty, their height and meanness in this world: it will not then be inquired what office a man bore, what titles of honour, what manors or lordships, he was owner of; but how he hath behaved himself in those circumstances, what use he hath made of his wealth and power, what good or evil he hath done, whether he hath glorified God, and served the great ends of his creation; whether he hath obeyed or disobeyed the truth; whether he hath lived in “ungodliness and worldly lusts,” or “soberly, and righteously, and godly, in this present world:” in a word, whether we have been righteous or wicked. This will be the great inquiry at that day; and these qualities, according as they are found with us, will determine our condition for ever.

II. The consideration of this, may comfort good men under the promiscuous dispensations of God’s providence in this world. Now all things generally happen alike, and “there is the same event to the righteous and to the wicked:” but things will not be always thus. Have but a little patience, and the justice of God’s providence, which is now under a cloud, will clear up; the day is coming, which will make a wide and vast difference between good and bad men, “between those that serve God, and those that serve him not; those that swear, and those that fear an oath;” between the lewd and the chaste, the sober and debauched, the meek of the earth and the murderers; between the proud and the humble, the just and the oppressors; between those 95that persecute, and those who are persecuted, for righteousness.

Now the difference is frequently on the wrong side; good men suffer and are afflicted, the wicked flourish and are prosperous: but “go into the sanctuary of God, and there thou shalt see their end.” Let us but look a little before us, beyond “the things which are seen, and are but temporal, unto the things which are not seen, and are eternal,” and we shall see all things straight; that the end of the wicked, who flourished in this world, is to be destroyed for ever; and that the righteous, who were so distressed and afflicted in this world, “shall enter into rest and joy: when the days of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord, these shall be comforted, and the other tormented.”

III. If the reward of the next life shall bear a proportion to the degrees of good or evil, which we have done in this world, then, on the one hand, here is matter of great comfort and encouragement to us in the ways of holiness and obedience. This is a mighty argument to good men “to grow in grace,” and to press forward toward perfection, “to be steadfast, and unmoveable, and abundant in the work of the Lord, because they know that their labour shall not be in vain in the Lord;” but that, according to the degree of our service and obedience, of our virtue and goodness, shall be the degree of our glory and happiness. We serve a good Master, who will consider every thing that we do for him; “who is not unrighteous, to forget our work and labour of love,” and will not let the least service pass un rewarded. Let us not then content ourselves with any low degree of goodness; but be continually 96aspiring after the highest perfection we are capable of. Since we have such a prize in our view, “let us run with patience,” and with all our might, “the race which is set before us.” For by the same reason that any man desires happiness, he cannot but desire the highest degrees of it that are attainable; and will consequently endeavour to make himself capable of the greatest degree of glory: and though no degree of holiness can merit everlasting life and happiness, yet greater degrees of holiness will certainly be rewarded with a larger portion of happiness. God is not bound antecedently to his promise, to give so great a reward to any man for his works, yet he hath promised to reward every man according to them.

So that there is no reason why a good man, when he is once come to this, that, by the grace and assistance of God, he can refrain from gross sins, and resist the temptations to them, and perform the great duties of religion, why he should, with Esau, sit down and say, “I have enough,” I have so much as will carry me to heaven, and I desire no more. It is a sad presage of apostacy, to stand still in religion. He that once stops, the next thing is to look back. This is the remedy which St. Peter prescribes against apostasy: (2 Pet. iii. 18.) “Take heed, lest ye fall from your own steadfastness;” and then it follows, “but grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The best remedy against apostacy, is growth in goodness. It is a rule in policy, that an ambitious man should never stay at any step of preferment, till he come at the top, because it is some security to be in motion. Our ascent to heaven is steep and narrow, and 97we are safest when we do not stand still: temptation cannot so well take its aim at us.

Let us therefore press after the highest degree of virtue and holiness, and labour to be as good as we can in this world, that in the next our happiness may be the greater; that when the day of recompence shall come, we may receive an ample reward, and God the righteous judge may set a bright and glorious crown upon our heads.

We ought likewise to consider, that if any man can be content only to be saved, and desire no more but just to get to heaven, that such a degree of holiness and virtue, as will save a man that can attain no more, will perhaps not save that man who lazily rests in the lowest degree, and desires no more. To be least in the kingdom of God, is next to being shut out of it. It is not to be expected that God should bestow heaven and happiness upon those who are so indifferent about it, as to desire heaven for no other reason, but because they would not go to hell. Men must not think to drive so near and hard a bargain, in so desirable and advantageous a purchase.

And then, on the other hand, it is matter of great terror to great sinners. “The wages of” every “sin is death,” eternal death; and every degree of hell and damnation is dreadful: but there are sins more heinous in themselves, and some that are attended with heavier aggravations in some persons; these do inflame hell, and heat that furnace seven times hotter. There are some moderate sinners in comparison; these shall have a moderate doom, and a cooler hell; but there are others who are extravagant and enormous sinners, that “drink up iniquity, as the ox drinks up water;” that “let themselves 98loose to commit all wickedness with greediness;” such as sin above the common rate of men, with full consent and upon deliberation, with great design and contrivance, in despite of the clearest convictions, of the best counsels and reproofs; these make haste to ruin and take hell by violence. Now such “mighty transgressors shall be mightily tormented;” they shall not be punished at the common rate of sinners, their consciences will breed more and sharper stings, and wilder furies to torment them, and they shall sink into a deeper misery. More particularly this concerns us Christians, who continue impenitent, and live in our sins, not withstanding the clear revelation of the gospel, and “the wrath of God revealed from heaven, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men;” not withstanding “life and immortality” so clearly “brought to light by the gospel. How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?” What condemnation will be heavy enough for those, who wilfully refuse to be saved? “This is the condemnation (says our Saviour), that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light.” All the sins which we now commit, are infinitely aggravated above the sins of thousands in the world, who never enjoyed that light, and those advantages and opportunities, which we have done. “The ignorance of these God winked at, but now” he expects, “he commands all men every where to repent; because he hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness.” What stripes do we deserve, who have “known our Master’s will, but have not prepared ourselves to do according to it?” All that light and knowledge which we have, all those counsels and instructions 99which we have read and heard out of God’s word, will inflame our account, and heighten our condemnation, and the very means of our salvation will be the saddest aggravation of our ruin. What our Saviour said of the impenitent and unbelieving Jews, holds as well concerning impenitent Christians; that “it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, for Sodom and Gomorrah, in the day of judgment, than for them. But, beloved, I hope better things of you, and things that accompany salvation.” Let us but remember, and seriously consider, that “we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, to receive the things done in the body, according to what we have done, whether good or evil;” and this will certainly have a mighty awe and influence upon our lives, and all the actions of them. Now the God of peace, &c.

« Prev Sermon CLXXXI. Of the Sentence to Be Passed at… Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection