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194 MORAL AGENCY OF MAN.
existence to which we are all hastening, naturally leads to the consideration of the next point of our subject— the moral agency of man. The broad line of distinction which subsists between our species and all inferior animals, is formed not only by our reasoning and intellectual powers, but by our capacity for this moral agency. Man alone of all creatures of God upon earth, is capable of being virtuous or vicious, righteous or sinful; and therefore Man alone, of all those creatures, is the proper subject of that retributive system which constitutes the most important part of the moral government of the Deity.
In reference to this branch of our subject, it is to be observed in the first place, that the standard of righteousness is ever represented in Scripture to be simply and exclusively the will of the Supreme Being. In the view of prophets and apostles, righteousness is no creature of human philosophy, formed on a principle of worldly and social expediency, but a real conformity with the moral law of God. And that law, whether regarded in its outward form, as revealed and detailed in the Bible, or in its more extensive internal operation, as written by the finger of God on the heart, is nothing more or less than the expression of so much of the divine will, as is manifested for our guidance as moral agents. On the other hand, sin consists in disobedience to the will of God, because "sin is the trangression of the law:" I John iii, 4. And here we ought, in passing, to observe, that the more we are made acquainted with the absolute purity of the Supreme Being, the more we shall comprehend the extent and exactness of the requisitions of his law; and the more clearly shall we discern the malignity, and detect the various appearances, of moral evil.
HIS FREEDOM OF CHOICE. 195
As man is capable of righteousness or of sin, of obedience or disobedience to the revealed will of God; so, in the second place, he is free to choose between the one and the other. I shall not attempt, on the present occasion, to argue those abstruse questions of philosophical necessity and divine decrees, in the discussion of which the pride of men's reason has often betrayed them into dangerous errors—into conclusions which have been at once false in principle, and fatal in operation. That there are difficulties connected with these questions no man can reasonably deny; and these difficulties may, according to my apprehension, be safely left among "the hidden things" of God. But whatever be our opinions on the nature and extent of divine predestination, it suffices for our present purpose—and it will, I trust, be allowed by Christians of every name—that under the dispensations revealed to us in the Scriptures, and in a practical point of view, man is ever treated and dealt with by his supreme Lord and Governor as a free agent; as one who can obey or disobey; as one who can be virtuous or vicious; as one who can choose either the evil or the good. Every thing that is preceptive and hortative in Scripture; all the tender invitations, all the fervent persuasions to virtue, with which it abounds; all its terrifying menaces, and all its exhibitions of the prize of our high calling in Christ,—are obviously founded on this great principle. Cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek good, and eschew evil; pursue righteousness, and depart from iniquity,—is the voice of the whole Bible; and it is a voice addressed to man, not as a blind, and senseless instrument, but as a reasonable, a free, an unfettered, moral agent. "See," said the Lord to Israel, " I have set
196 HIS RESPONSIBILITY
before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.
I call heaven and earth to record this day against
you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore Choose Life, that both thou and thy seed may live:" Deut. xxx, 15.19.
Placed as he is in this transitory scene of existence, with good and evil, life and death, set before him, man nevertheless is not his own master. In conformity with the plain dictates of natural religion, he is ever represented in Scripture as responsible to the Supreme Being. God is our Creator. He is the essential and original source from which we derive our being, and all our possessions, physical and mental, temporal and spiritual. His, and his alone, are all that we have, and all that we are. Not only, therefore, are we subject to his sovereign disposal, but, as creatures formed for a purpose of his glory, and endowed for a time with the tenure of his property, we are stewards; and it is in precise conformity with the unalterable principles of justice, that, in a future day we shall be called upon to render unto our Lord the account of our stewardship.
Now, as virtue consists in a conformity with the will of God as it is revealed in his moral law; so it is only by a life of virtue—by the application of virtuous principles to the circumstances and occasions of life—that we can make that profitable use which the Lord requires at our hands of all his precious gifts— of our bodies and souls, of our physical and intellectual powers, of our temporal happiness, of our times and opportunities, of our spiritual callings and endowments. And, on the other hand, as sin is the infraction of that divine law which thus teaches us to be faithful in his service, so a life of sin will ever be
AND STEWARDSHIP. 197
found to consist in the continued disuse or misapplication of the gifts of our Almighty Creator. Never was this subject unfolded to mankind with so much force and clearness, as by our Saviour in his memorable parable of the talents. While we learn from that parable, that God will regulate his account of our stewardship with a perfect equity, and that every man's profiting will be tried according to that which he hath, and not according to that which he hath not; and while it affords some reason to believe, that in the world to come there will be various degrees of glory or suffering, according to the degrees of our virtue or our vice; it nevertheless plainly inculcates the lesson, that whatever may be the situation and condition of man upon earth, he must answer for the use of whatever talents he has received, at the bar of the God of all flesh. It is to the good steward alone that the gracious sentence will be addressed: "Well done thou good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." "The unprofitable servant" will be cast "into outer darkness"—there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth:" Matt. xxv, 21. 30.
Lastly, therefore it appears that since man is capable either of righteousness or of sin—since he is made free to choose between the evil and the good — and since, in all his thoughts, words, and actions, he is responsible to his Creator; he is also properly liable to the judgment of God. In this world, all men are placed in a state of trial; and here the moral government of the Deity is carried into effect only in part: in the world to come, it will be completed; and the lot of all men will be fixed, by the eternal
198 THE JUDGMENT TO COME.
Son of God, (to whom all judgment is committed) according to their works. And this judgment is uniformly described by the sacred writers as resulting in the life and happiness of the righteous—the reward of virtue; in the misery and destruction of the wicked—the punishment of sin. "We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ:" Rom. xiv, 10. God " hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained:" Acts xvii, 31. God " will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, and honour, and immortality—eternal life; but unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath; tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil,—of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good—to the Jew first and also to the Gentile:" Rom. ii, 6—10. "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this world. 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:" Matt. xiii, 40—43.
Section V. On the Eternity of Future Rewards and Punishments.—The reward of righteousness and the punishment of iniquity in the world to come, are both, by inspired writers, described as everlasting. "Eternal glory," " eternal salvation," " eternal life," —these are the terms (especially the last of them)