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both shall be revealed by fire. Now we should be obliged to have recourse to some subterfuge to make sense of the text, if we understood the apostle speaking of the fire of hell. How can the works of the righteous and the wicked-be equally manifested by the fire of hell.!
I think, a much inore simple and natural exposition may be given of the words of the text. The chief design of a day of judginent is to examine the actions of men, and to distinguish bad actions from good, and good from better. This is an idea contained in a thousand passages of scripture, and it would be useless to prove it. Now the apostle, in order to make us understand that the evidence shall be complete, represents it under the similitude of the most perfect and best known trials among men, of which that of metals by fire cer.. tainly excels in its kind. Hence it is, that the sacred writers have chosen this to explain the trials, which God makes his children go through in this world. I select only one passage out of a great number, That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that p'risheth, though it be iried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor, and glory at the appearance of Jesus · Christ, 1 Pet. i. 7. The trial of your faith is a remarkable word in the original. Good Greek authors use it for the trial of metals in the fire. Isocrates uses the term exactly as St. Peter does, we try gold in the fire. I return to the text, which I left only for the sake of explaining it the better. St. Paul here represents the day of judgment as a time of the most exact and severe trial of the actions of men, and particularly of the doctrines of ministers of the gospel. For this purpose he compares the trial with that of metals by fire. Saith he, the different doctrines of ministers
of the gospel shall then be put into a crucible that they may be fully known, as by the same process pure gold is separated and distinguished from foreign matter mixed with it: Every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day, that is, the day of judgment, shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire, that is, the day of judgment, like fire, applied to metals, shall try every man's work, of what sort it is.
The apostle pursuing the same metaphor adds, If any man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward, that is, if the doctrine, which a minister of the gospel shall have taught, and built on the foundation that is laid, if this doctrine shall abide the trial of the day of judgment, as gold abides that of fire, the preacher shall receive a reward : but if his doctrine burns, if it will not abide this trial, if it be like the foreign matter mixed with gold, and which burns when gold is tried with fire, then the preacher will lose the honor and pleasure of his work, he will have no reward for his ministerial services : but as to himself, perhaps he may be saved, however, he will be saved with difficulty, he will be saved as by fire. Why may he be saved ? Because his doctrine did not go to the subversion of the principal truths " of the christian religion. Why will he be saved with difficulty? Because his doctrine was inconsistent with the dignity of christianity. Why is the salvation of such a man uncertain ? Because it is possible, that the motives which induced him to preach such a doctrine, and to prefer it before what St. Paul compares to gold and precious stones, may have been so detestable as to deserve all the punishments denounced against such as shall have subverted the foundations of the gospel. If you doubt whether the sense we have given to this me
taphorical expression, saved as by fire, be just, we beg leave to observe in three words that it is well founded.
First, the same sense given is not forced, for nothing is more natural than to express a great difficulty by similitudes taken from difficult things, thus we say a man escaped from shipwreck, to describe a man who hath escaped from any great danger: and the same idea is expressed with equal aptness, when we say a man freed from some great danger hath escaped the fire.
Secondly, the metaphor is not only just and beautiful in itself, but it is common in profane writers. In this manner Æmilius Paulus, to shew
that he had hardly escaped the rage of the popu| lace during his first consulship, says, that he escap
ed a popular conflagration, in which he was half burnt. In like manner Cicero, speaking of the miseries of life, says, that it would be better not to be born, but that if we have the misfortune to be born, the most advantageous thing is to die soon, and to flee from the hands of fortune as from a conflagration.
Thirdly, the metaphor in the text is common in other parts of scripture, as in Amos, I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning, chap. iv. 11. The apostle, Jude adopts the same figure, and says, save others with fear pulling them out of the fire, ver. 13.
By establishing the true sense of the text on solid grounds, I think we have sufficiently refuted all erroneous opinions concerning it, and yet there are two, which for different reasons I cannot help mentioning.
The first is the opinion of those, who think, the apostle meant by the fire in the text the destruc
tion of Jerusalem. This opinion hạth an air of probability, yet I do not think it certain. The. time of the destruction of Jerusalem is often called in scripture, as well as the time of the final judgment, that day, the day of the Lord, and the calamities of the day are represented under the idea of fire, and literally speaking, fire did make sad ravages in Jerusalem and in the temple. However, there is a deal of perplexity in the paraphrase given of the text, by such as are of this opinion. This is it, exactly as we have transcribed it from a celebrated scholar. “ The fire of the destruction of Jerusalem will prove whether the doctrines of your teachers be those of the gospel, or whether they be foreign notions. He, whose doctrine will abide this, trial, shall receive a reward : but he, whose doctrine will not abide it, will lose the fruit of his ministerial labors.”
We said this opinion was probable: but we cannot say so with the least shadow of truth of the opinion of some of the church of Rome, who pre- . tend that the apostle speaks here of the fire of purgatory. · Because, suppose purgatory were taught in other passages of scripture, which we are very far from granting, great violence must be done to this text to find the doctrine here ; for on supposition the apostle speaks of purgatory, what do these words mean? The fire of purgatory shall try the doctrines of the ministers of the gospel, so that substantial doctrines, and vain doctrines shall be alike tried by this fire !
Because St. Paul says here of this fire things directly opposite to the idea, which the church of Rome forms of purgatory. They exempt saints of the first order, and in this class St. Paul certainly holds one of the most eminent places : but our VOL. v.
apostle, far from thinking himself safe from such a trial by fire as he speaks of in the text, expressly says, every man's work shall be tried, that is, the work of ministers who shall have built on the foundation gold, silver, precious stones, shall be tried, as well as that of other ministers, who shall have built on the foundation wood and stubble.
But the chief reason for our rejecting the comment of the church of Rome is the nature of the doctrine itself, in proof of which they bring the text. A heterodox doctrine, which enervates the great sacrifice, that Jesus Christ offered on the cross for the sins of mankind; a doctrine directly opposite to a great number of passages of scripture, which tell us that there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, that he that believeth is passed from death unto life, that when the righteous dieth, he is taken from the evil to come, and shall enter into peace, Rom. viii. 1. John v. 24. and Isa. lvii. 1, 2. A doctrine founded on a thousand visions and fabulous tales, more fit for times of pagan darkness than days of evangelical light; a sordid doctrine that evidently owes its being to that base interest, which it nourishes with profusion, luxury and extravagance; a barbarous doctrine, which produces in a dying man a dreadful expectation of passing from the agonies of dying to whole ages of greater agony in flames of fire.
· IV. Let us now proceed to examine with what eye we ought to consider the three sorts of preachers, of which the apostle speaks, and so apply the subject to practice. The first are such as lay under another foundation beside that which is laid. The second are those, who build on the foundation, laid by the master builder, wood, hay, and stubble.