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V. What the Scriptures teach respecting a judgment and future retributions, implies that this life is a season of probation for eternity. It is written, " 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 ; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.”. Again, “ Because he hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness.” “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.” In these passages we are taught that God has appointed a day of judgment: that Christ will be the judge : that all men shall appear before his judgment seat ; that every one will be judged according to the things done in his body; and that he will receive retribution according to bis deeds, whether they be good or bad. That day is yet to come. We have not yet witnessed it ; but all are to have a part in its transactions. We are now forming characters in which we must appear before our Judge, and receive our respective sentences in accordance with them. We are now on trial as the accountable subjects of God's moral government. Life and death are set before us. The narrow way which leads to life and the broad way which leads to destruction are the only alternatives as to our moral course. We are pursuing either the former or the latter ; and according to the choice in which we persevere, will be the sentence pronounced upon us by our final Judge. To the righteous the Divine Judge will say, " Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." They shall dwell in mansions which Christ has prepared for them. They will stand before the throne of God and serve him in bis temple. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more, neither'shall the sun light on them nor any hurt ; for the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of water ; and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes. But to the wicked the Judge will say, “ Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." " These shall go away into everlasting punishment." God will render them indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish. They will be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched. They will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. The smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever. Such are the retributions which the Word of God affirms await the righteous and the wicked respectively. Are these retributions experienced in this life? From their nature and duration it is evident they cannot be. The righteous cannot here dwell in heavenly mansions. It is not their condition here neither to hunger nor thirst or to have all tears wiped from their eyes. They cannot here enjoy eternal life, nor shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.
Nor of the wicked is it true, that in this life they go away into everlasting punishment; that they are cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched, nor that the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever.
But if these retributions are not experienced in this life, they will be in eternity. They will be experienced after the judgment day. Previously to that day, that is, in this life, mankind are preparing for them. According to the moral charac-' ter which we severally form, each of us will enter into eternal life or into eternal punishment.
Some inferences which naturally flow from this doctrine claim attention.
1 Since this life is a season of probation for eternity, the present dispensations of Providence are not judicial retributions. The order of events which the Scriptures describe respecting men as accountable creatures, is, that they first occupy the time given them for their probationary agency; then they are called to judgment before the Divine tribunal; and finally they receive their appropriate reward or punishment. That God's providential dealings with men in this life are not judicial retributions, is evident from the fact that the righteous and the wicked enjoy many blessings in common. God makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” He opens his liberal hand and dispenses a profusion of blessings in which both classes equally participate. The Psalmist in seeing the condition of some of his wicked cotemporaries, was envious at their prosperity, that they were not in trouble as other men, and had blessings more than heart could wish. In the wicked cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida mighty works were done; and the guilty inhabitants of Capernaum were in point of religious privileges exalted to heaven, while they deserved to be thrust down to hell. Such manifestations of divine goodness to the wicked are not deserved retributions. The wicked deserve not the least of the divine favors. Since the moral conduct of men, while they remain impenitent, is sinful and void of holiness, it is inconsistent to regard the blessings which they enjoy as constituting a reward.
But in what light ought we to view the temporal evils which the wicked suffer? It may be said that these evils, wholly or in part, are the result of moral laws, and are incidental to the present condition of mankind. Still, they are referrable to the providential government of God, and are apportioned according to his pleasure. They are denominated punishments. When individuals are visited with distressing dispensations it is scriptural to say, that God punishes them. "Wherefore," says the prophet, “ does a living man complain for the punishment of his sins ?” But punishment is not necessarily judicial. It is sometimes disciplinary or corrective. It may be designed as chastisement and restraint, or as a motive to repentance. When God afflicts the wicked they ought to humble themselves under his mighty hand, and he profited by the rod of correction. When God says, “Why will ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more :" it is implied, that they pervert the proper end of present judgments, while they ought to be led by them to repentance. Also the afflictions which God brings upon the righteous are of the nature of parental discipline. It is written, "Blessed is the man whom thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law.” The exhortation which speaketh unto the Christian is, “My son despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked by him ; for whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth."
All God's dispensations toward men in this life, whether for the present joyous or grievous, are adapted to them as being in a state of probation and not of retribution. They are of the character not of judicial retribution, but of parental discipline. Reward and punishment in the judicial sense, succeed the judgment and belong to the things which are unseen and eternal.
2. Since this life is a season of probation for eternity, the long suffering of God is manifest in his dealings with the wicked. If, as some suppose, this life were a season of retribution in such a sense that men receive the full measure of their deserts here, Divine long-suffering would be excluded. Long-suffering implies endurance of provocation while punishment for the offence is suspended. But God assures us in his Word that he is a long-suffering God, and that he endures with much longsuffering his sinful creatures on earth. And since men are in a state of probation and do not receive judicial retribution for their conduct in this life, it is manifest that he exercises longsuffering in a great degree in his dispensations toward them. The apostle, referring to the apparent delay of God in the consummation of temporal things, ascribes it to his long-suffering : and he exhorts his brethren" to account that the long-suffering our Lord is salvation." It affords sinners opportunity for repentance and securing by faith an interest in Christ. . All the time that he waits to be gracious unto sinners-every day and week and year, by which he protracts the season of their probation, is the time of his long-suffering. He not only endures their transgressions and their rejection of his mercy, without punishing them as they deserve; but he bestows upon them
innumerable blessings, grants them precious privileges, sets before them the strongest inducements to repent, strives with them by his Spirit, and with paternal tenderness says to them, " How shall I give thee up, Ephraim ? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah ? How shall I set thee as Zebiom? Mine heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together." Or as their Saviour he compassionates them, as when he beheld the city and wept over it, and exclaimed, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not." Let the impenitent be assured, that the continuance of their season of probation, their privileges, the invitations of the gospel, and all the expressions f the Divine goodness and mercy which they receive, are to be ascribed to the long-suffering of God. But let them beware lest they abuse it to their remediless injury. It may not, it will not, if they continue practically to despise it, prove their salvation ; because the apostle says, " What if God, willing to show bis wrath and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels, of wrath fitted for destruction.” Fearful it is to despise the riches of God's goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering.
3. Since this life is a season of probation for eternity, every person is continually rendering himself either a vessel of mercy or a vessel of wrath. The faithful and devoted christian derives benefit from the means of grace. By divine sanctification through the truth and ordinances of the gospel, he is changed into the image of Christ. When he passes through scenes of affliction and conflict, his graces are improved. He has occasion to glory in tribulation ; knowing that tribulation worketh patience ; and patience experience ; and experience hope and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost which is given unto him. By his work of faith and labor of love ; by his effectual and fervent prayers ; by his persevering zeal; self-denial for Christ's sake, and holy conversation, he is forming a character of growing meetness for the inheritence of the saints in light. His path is as the shining light that sbineth more and more unto the perfect day.
But the sinner, as long as he continues to cherish the love of sin and refuses to repent, adds iniquity to iniquity. As God deigns to bestow upon him the blessings of his providence and to grant him the means of grace, his obligations are ever increasing, and by violating them his sins are daily growing in number and aggravation. He is continually resisting divino light, practically despising the invitations of the gospel, and neglecting the great salvation. Accordingly, he abuses the season of bis probation and all his religious privileges by
treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Either this character, or that of the believer, every person is forming. The season of probation is to men of different characters, as the fertile soil and the genial climate are to the good tree and the corrupt one ; causing the good tree to strike deeper and stronger its roots, to spread wider its branches, and to bear an increasing abundance of good fruit ; while the same effect is produced in the corrupt tree, except that its fruit is evil. The only remedy for the sínper is to become a new creature in Christ.
4. Since this life is a season of probation for eternity, time is of immense value. If it could be occupied for.no more important end than to gain earthly good, to get worldiy riches and honors, even to secure the possession of a throne, a crown, an empire, it would not be sacrilege to waste it. But is a season of probation for eternity, it is sacred. Like the interests of the soul which depend on the right use of it, it is invaluable. It cannot be abused or was'ed, except with loss or damage which will be felt through all eternity. A right use of it will be proportionally happy in its consequences. The Christian by occupying it in obeying the gospel, obtains salvatiou and eternal life. By faithful continance in well-doing he secures glory, honor, and a blessed immortality. He lays up a treisure in heaven. The more faithfully, he improves his time, the greater will be the value of his heavenly treasure, the richer his reward ; because every one will receive according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. But the Christian is liable to make an unprofitable or perverted use of time ; and when he does, he suffers loss-loss which can never be repaired. His reward will be in eternity less than it otherwise would have been. To every Cristian, therefore, every por; tion of his probationary season, whether rightly employed or perverted, is of inestimable consequence. But to the impenitent sinner time is no less valuable. The conseqnences of his past abnse of it involve evil from which nothing can deliver him but the blood of Christ. His destiny in respect to two worlds, both eternal, is to be decided ; it is in the remaining part only, of the season of his probation in which he is to make the decision. He who can estimate the importance of being saved from eternal woe, and of inheriting eternal life, can ap: preciate that remaining in time. Yet it may be only a day, an hour, a moment.