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THE CHARACTER OF THOSE WHO SHALL BE CONDEMNED BY CHRIST AT HIS COMING.
The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with his mighty an gels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thess. i. 7, 8.
1. IT being absolutely certain that our Lord will come again, and when he comes, will be revealed in all the glory of his majesty, and in all the terror of his justice; not properly in the character of a Saviour, but in that of a Judge, to examine into the conduct of all mankind, and pass a final sentence upon them according to their works;-it surely concerns all men to lay these things to heart, and to prepare for his appearing. And it equally concerns us not to defer this business, not only because what is always reasonable and fit to be done, cannot be done too soon; but because a delay may be of the most dangerous consequence, for at "such an hour as we think not, the Son of man cometh," to call us hence by death, as well as to judge the world in righteousness, and if, when he cometh, he find us unprepared, we are undone for ever.
2. And yet (dreadful to say) almost all mankind live from day to day in entire forgetfulness or total neglect of this matter! While every thing else, however trifling and impertinent, is studiously and eagerly prosecuted, this is almost universally disregarded. The toy of business is diligently attended, the phantom of honour unweariedly pursued, the enchantments of pleasure assiduously courted, the dream of amusement solicitously sought; in short, the things of time and sense, though transitory in their duration, uncertain in their stay, unsatisfactory in their nature, and even perplex.
ing in their enjoyment; these engage the attention, and engross the affections of high and low, young and old, rich and poor.—In the meantime, our immortal interests, the favour of our God, and the eternal advantages and pleasures of religion, are generally buried in oblivion, and neglected. Unreasonable is this conduct indeed; but too certainly may it be laid to the charge of the generality of mankind, whose whole behaviour clearly demonstrates that they are more intent upon providing for their momentary abode on earth, than their everlasting existence in heaven; and on securing the favour and applause of their fellow-worms, than the good-will and approbation of their final Judge! But in this respect, let not us follow the multitude to do evil, to offend our God, and throw away our own souls! Nay rather, let us take care to be those persons whom the Lord will acquit and reward at his coming, that we may make our appearances at his bar with joy and not with grief.
3. But who are those persons? and what character do they bear? To know this we have only to inquire whom the Lord Jesus will condemn at his coming, for the character of these is exactly the reverse of that of the former. Now this is described in the words of our text, and that very fully and clearly, although at the same time with great brevity. The apostle tells us, that Christ, when he is revealed, will "take vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." Having then already considered the certainty and manner of our Lord's second coming, I proceed, as was proposed,
Secondly, to inquire into the character of those who shall be condemned at his coming to misery and perdition. The apostle informs us,
1st. They know not God. And,
They know not God.
1. There is hardly any subject within the whole compass of religion, concerning which people in general are so grossly mistaken as the knowledge of God. All men profess to know God, though, alas! the generality, by unholy tempers and wicked works, contradict that profession, and prove themselves to be entire strangers to him. If a man have but heard or read a little about the Author of his being, if he do but believe his existence and perfections, he forthwith concludes that he knows God, and is very much offended if you
presume to call his knowledge of him in question! though at the same time, this pretended acquaintance with his Maker has no happy influence upon his spirit and behaviour, but they are just the same, which one might suppose they would be, if he were a mere Atheist in the world.
2. Though he professes to be persuaded of the infinite glory and ineffable majesty of the eternal JEHOVAH, yet he does not inwardly reverence and humbly adore him; but is light and trifling, stupid and insensible, perhaps, eveu in his immediate presence, and during the solemnity of his divine worship. Though he declares his assent to the immaculate holiness and inflexible justice of the righteous Governor and final Judge of the world, yet he is not abased under a sense of his sinfulness and guilt, nor does he abhor himself as in dust and ashes; but he is proud and impenitent, presuming upon the goodness of his heart, if his life have not been altogether blameless, and laying his own righteousness as the foundation of his acceptance with God. Though (he thinks) he has no doubt at all of the boundless mercy and incomprehensible love of God in Christ; yet he does not cheerfully trust him with humble confidence, and joyfully praise him with grateful acknowledgments; the pure flame of divine love does not glow upon the altar of his heart, nor does he devote his body and soul as a living sacrifice to God by Jesus Christ. But, on the contrary, he desponds and repines under dark and afflictive dispensations of Providence, while he ungratefully admits the vain world, Jehovah's rival, to share, yea, engross his affections; and most treacherously harbours sin and Satan, the Lord's enemies, in the inmost recesses of his soul.
3. So little is he benefited by the knowledge of God. But, in truth, what he possesses is not the knowledge of God, for if it were, it would infallibly produce the effects ascribed to this principle in the word of God. It would beget in him deep humility before God, entire confidence towards him, fervent love to him, and universal obedience; in short, holiness and happiness, a pledge and foretaste of eternal life. So we learn from the sacred Scriptures. "I have heard of thee (says Job) by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee; wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." "They that know thy name (says the Psalmist) will put their trust in thee." "He that loveth not (adds St. John) knowèth not God, for God is love. And hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." From hence it appears, where these effects are not, the true
knowledge of God is not: An empty shadow, vain resemblance, or fleeting idea of it, there may be, but that no more deserves to be called the knowledge of God, than the shadow, picture, or idea of a man, deserves to be called a man; and it can no more enliven, comfort, or purify our souls, than a painted fire can refine metals from their dross, or revive and warm our bodies; or, than the motion of a candle can illuminate a dark room.
4. No: the knowledge of God is an endowment far superior to what the generality imagine; more noble in its origin, excellent in its nature, and happy in its consequences. It is born from above; it is the fruit of the Spirit of God, shining within us, and enlightening our minds. For though all the divine perfections, especially his wisdom, power, and love, beam forth with effulgent glory in all his works, particularly in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; yet, the eyes of our understanding being blinded, we still remain destitute of the true and saving knowledge of God, till "he who commanded light to shine out of darkness, shine into our heart, (as the Apostle expresses it) to give the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face (or person) of Christ Jesus." Then, and not before, can we testify with St. John, "We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding to know the True One, and we are in the True One, by his Son Jesus Christ. This is the True God and eternal life."
5. And as the knowledge of God is descended from heaven, so is its excellent nature equal to its divine original. It is such an impression of God upon the soul, and such a clear, full, and affecting discovery of him, as transforms us, more or less, into his divine likeness. It is the beholding (as St. Paul says) with unveiled face, the glory of the Lord, in such a manner that we "are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord!" It is, through the teaching of his word and Spirit, such an acquaintance with God, in his Being and Attributes, together with those relations in which he is pleased to stand towards us, as produces a correspondent temper of mind and conduct of life in us towards God.
6. To be a little more particular: 1st, The knowledge of God never fails to humble us before him. For it implies such a view of his nature and perfections, his self-existence, independence, sovereignty, and eternity; his omniscience, omnipotence, justice, and purity; his greatness and goodness; as manifests in the clearest light our own ignorance and weakness, guilt and misery, and lays us in the very dust in his presence, "Wo is me, for I am undone, (said Isaiah) for I am a man of unclean lips, for mine eyes
have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts." "Behold, I am vile, (said Job on a like occasion,) what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth." We never see superior excellence but we are abased by the comparison: We never reflect on the perfection and happiness of an holy angel or glorified saint; nay, we never come into the company of an eminently holy man, though he is still encompassed with infirmity, but we are more or less humbled. How much more, then, must we be humbled at the sight and in the presence of that Being, who is the one source of perfection and happiness to all his creatures, and in comparison of whom the whole circle of created excellence is no more than a drop to the immense ocean! And though we only see him through a glass darkly, while in this world, and therefore cannot feel such a depth of self-abasement, as those heavenly beings feel who see him as he is, and who, covering their faces with their wings, fall prostrate in his presence, and rest not day nor night, crying, "Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts! the whole earth is full of thy glory!" yet in proportion to the degree of our acquaintance with him, we shall be ashamed and humbled before him; especially considering our sins against him, and the corruption and depravity of our whole nature, which renders us utterly unfit for converse with him, and deserving of his eternal displeasure. Surely a sense of this, at least, must lay us at his feet, and make us own with the prophet, "It is of the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not."
"I loathe myself when him I see,
Am lost and swallow'd up in thee,
My humbled soul, when thou art near,
How shall I in thy sight appear,
7. Another never-failing fruit of the knowledge of God, is confi dence in him. "They that know thy name (says the Psalmist) will put their trust in thee. The reason of this is evident. They that know him, know him to be infinite in wisdom, and power, and goodness. They know him to be so wise as to be perfectly acquainted with all their wants, so powerful as to be well able to supply those wants, and so gracious, that he will withhold nothing good