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appears before God here in the form of devotion: And to put him in mind he must ere long stand before God in another manner than now be does, and to set his thoughts at work to compare one with the other in these particulars:
1. The sinner now appears with some degree of willingness in the presence of God, then it is under a terrible constraint. A wicked man may be willing to come to public ordinances for many carnal ends, as to comply with his superiors, to follow the custom of the family where he dwells, to gain reputation among men, to satisfy the cries of an awakened conscience; for his conscience, perhaps, will not be easy without the performance of some duties; and so he makes use of divine worship, and his public appearances before God, as a kind of opiate, to stupify an uneasy conscience, and therefore he has some inclination and willingness to come before God here on earth: but at death, and at the general resurrection, he must appear whether he will or no; Heb. ix. 27. It is appointed for all men once to die, and after death the judgment; Rom. xiv. 10. and 2 Cor. v. 10. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. The angels shall gather the elect from the four quarters of the world, and bring them near to the judge with pleasure; but sinners shall be dragged toward that awful tribunal, and be forced to abide the trial.
While the believer, who walks in lively faith, says, When shall I come into that world of spirits, and appear there before God? the sinner wishes that day may never come: O that I might live for ever on earth! that I might for ever converse with men, and never see the face of that God who hates me, and whom I have never loved. O that death might make an utter end of me! O that the grave would cover me for ever, that I might rise no more." And when that dreadful day comes, then, "Fall on us, rocks; then, mountains press us down, and conceal us for ever from the wrath of God and the Lamb; as in Rev. vi. 15, 16. that outcry is represented. But they must stand and see the terror; they are constrained to hear the glorious and dreadful sentence, Dost thou believe this, O my soul! and canst thou be content to live unprepared for the solemnities of this day?
2. Here sinners appear like the saints of God in disguise; but there as sinners, openly guilty, and exposed to light: Here not separated from the saints in the place of worship, there sufficiently distinguished and divided from all who love God, and that worship him in spirit: For when a sinful soul goes out of the body to appear before God, every angel in heaven knows him; he is naked without a covering of disguise, as well as without the covering of a justifying righteousnses; and upon this account
he appears all guiliy, not only befere the searching eye of God, and the terror of his anger, but also before the blessed spirits who are near the throne. Here those who are in the same assembly, know not whether we are the children of God, or the children of the devil; but in the world of spirits, all the children of Satan are as much distinguished from the children of God as an angel of light is from a spirit of darkness.
This flesh is a disguise to the soul, a thick cloud to cover a thousand hypocrisies; but at the great day the naked soul must be known; All nations shall be gathered before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats; Mat. xxv. 32. Jesus shall separate the one from the other; and what will the sinner say at that day?" I have on earth appeared before God among the saints, but now I must for ever dwell with my companions in iniquity, with my partners in everlasting burnings; I am so like to the spirits of hell, now I am undressed, and divested of all disguise, that I see myself justly divided for ever from the saints, and a fit companion for none but devils." O who can tell the torment that is contained in such a self-condemning rsflection as this?
3. Sinners appear now, and take no notice of God as Creator, or Christ as Mediator and Saviour; but at the appearance in judgment it will be impossible to stand before God, and not take notice of him. He appears there as a God of terrible and incensed majesty, and they must see him; and Jesus Christ sits there, and must be seen, not as the Saviour to secure them, but the judge ready to condemn them to everlasting punishment; Rev. i. 7. assures of this day, and speaks of it as already come: Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. I shall behold him, says the wretched Balaam, but not nigh; Num. xviv. 17. not as my God, near me, but as my enemy, afar from me. "Now God speaks with the voice of mercy in the church, and I turn a deaf ear to him, may the sinner say, but then it is the language of justice and vengeance: O that my ears and my eyes were sealed up for ever: for his looks, his words, his actions, smite my soul through with a thousand tor
It is impossible for the wicked to turn their eyes from God in that day, whereas now for a whole hour or two, in his worship, their hearts are not once fixed upon him. A God of holiness will be seen on his seat of judgment; and the sinner who will not see, shall see, and be confounded at the sight. Think of this, O my soul! and when thou findest thy thoughts wandering from God in the next duty of worship, take this awful hint to recal them again.
4. Now the sinner appears before God as on a throne of grace; there on a throne of justice: now in a state of trial: there for a final sentence. He comes now to hear the general language of God to men; there to hear his own particular judg ment from the same God; now the sinner stands in the church, in a general assembly: and he stands within the reach of a general promise: He that believes shall be saved; he that confesses, and forsakes his sin shall find mercy: But then the book of all the promises is for ever shut, and it is declared by the Judge, that not one of them belongs to him: He hath refused all the offers of grace, and the day of grace is gone for ever.
Now he stands, and hears the general threatening of the word: The soul that sinneth shall die; the wages of sin is death: he that believeth not shall be damned; he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption: Yet he may escape all these threatenings. But in the great and last day he hears his own name, as it were, read together with each of these threatenings, and united to them all: "Thou art the impenitent sinner, and thou must die for ever? thou hast not believed in Christ: and thou art the person who shall be for ever damned."
Now he appears before God, and though he is, as to his state; at a distance from him, yet he may be converted and brought near; he hears these blessed words; Mat. xi. 28. Come all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Is. xlv. 22. Look unto me, ye that are at the ends of the earth, and in immediate danger of hell, and be ye saved. But there the only word is, depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire; for I have not one word of promise, of encouragement, or of comfort for you.
Because he appears now in a state of trial, it is with some hope of obtaining pardon; but there he stands only waiting for the sentence of death, and therefore with everlasting despair: He appears there guilty in open light, and his condemnation is certain and unchangeable.
Believe this, sinner, now in this life; the wrath of God lies heavy upon you; John iii. 36. but this wrath may be removed; the condemnation that is now upon you from the law, may be reversed: the gospel is ready to take it off, if you receive this gospel: But there, before the judgment seat, every soul who is found in his sins, falls under an eternal curse, and without repeal that condemnation shall never be removed; for immediate execution follows upon the sentence. Now the sinner appears before God, and hears such words of compassion as these are: "I delight not in the death of a sinner, I would have him turn and live; I propose the method of reconciliation and life;" But then the Lord sits upon a throne of judgment, and he shall laugh at the calamity of the wicked, and the obstinate sinner's
distress; for pity and compassion are for ever hid from his eyes. Now, who is there among us able to bear the sight of a provoked God, who is infinite in power, terrible in majesty, and has abandoned all compassion.
5. The sinner now appears often before God; there but once, and is for ever driven from his presence: Here, if you meet with no comfort from God in one ordinance, you may find it in the next; but then you shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of his power; 2 Thess. i. 9. How will you long for such seasons again, when you are for ever shut out from them?"O that I had but one Lord'sday more to spend in the service of God! how would I labour and wrestle with God in prayer, that I might become a new creature!" But in hell the days are all alike, they are all dark and stormy; there is not one day of sunshine, not one sabbath, not one hour of rest. "How did I mock God on earth, must the sinner say, when I appeared before him! and after I had mocked him once, I trifled again and again; but now I find he is a God who will not be mocked; I see he is a terrible majesty, and I am driven for ever from all his grace and compassion, and shall see his face no more."
Use. All the use I shall make of this head, is only to urge upon your minds a practical belief, and a lively sense of this appearance before God at judgment. Must we all stand before the judgment seat of Christ? Do we think we are ready? What answer do our own consciences give, when we make that enquiry? Am I prepared to appear before God the Judge? Have I but little hope, and yet can I satisfy myself to lie down at night, and arise in the morning, and have this hope not increased? Have I so little expectation of my appearing well there, and yet rest contented under it?
Do I worship now with that sincerity and devotion, as those who must hereafter come to be judged? Could we, dare we, indulge ourselves in the neglect of any duty, or commission of any sin, or careless performance of the religious services we owe to God, at the rate we now do, had this great appearance before God at judgment been often upon our thoughts? Alas! these things vanish from our minds, many times, together with the breath and air that forms the words: Business, or cares, or the diversions of this life, turn away the soul from God and judgment, We dwell in flesh, we see not God, and we are ready, foolishly, to imagine that we shall never see him: We thrust this hour at such a distance, as though it would never come; we put it afar off as an evil day.
But let us stand still here, and consider a little: This evening we are come to appear before God in worship; we see our
selves here, and see each other; we are sure it is a reality, and not a dream; yet seven years ago, this evening was at so vast a distance from us, that we scarce knew how to realize it to our thoughts, and make it, as it were, present: but now all that long distance is vanished, and this evening is come; those days are all passed, and this hour is upon us.. Thus it is in the case of death and judgment. Seven years hence, it is most likely, some one or more of us, and perhaps every one of us, shall appear before the bar of God our Judge; that appointed hour will come however it seem afar off now; and then it will be as real an appearance as this present hour is, but a much more solemn one: we shall see and feel ourselves there, and know it is not a dream, but an awful reality.
Consider further, that it can be but a few seven years more, before every one of us must certainly appear at the judgment-seat of God; and as long as these years seem now, yet they will quickly fly away, and the last hour will be upon us.Think how many of your acquaintance, in seven years past, have made their appearance before God, have past their final trial, and received their everlasting sentence: And each of us may say, Why should not I be the next? What is there in my nature, or in my circumstances that can secure me against the summons of death and judgment?" It may be but a few days before we are called; and is every one of us here ready? This is a question of infinite importance, and let us not give rest to our souls, till we can answer it to our satisfaction.
O how should we live! how should we act! how should we speak! how should we worship! if this were always upon our hearts? O that we could but realize these awful things to our minds, and make them more familiar to our thoughts daily Could sinners then be one day contented without converting grace, and without a justifying righteousness? Could they any longer refuse the mercy of the gospel, and Jesus the Saviour? Could they be, satisfied to appear all guilty before God, and no friend there to speak for them? no intercessor to plead for them? none to undertake their cause? Could they go on to sin with a negligent mind, if they thought the judgment-door just opening upon them, and Jesus Christ at hand? Could it be possible we should have such cold and lazy desires after a Saviour and his salvation, if we thought our everlasting happiness or misery depended upon the next day, the next hour, or the next moment? For we know not how soon the summons may come, and state us before his tribunal.
II. The second part of my discourse leads me to consider the blessed difference that there shall be between a christian's appearing before God in heaven, and his appearance here in divine