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heathen, who could only read the will of God by the dim moonlight of natural reason, how much more vigorous and active will conscience be in its accusing office against all who live under the bright beams of gospel light. Their consciences will be swift witnesses, and will ring sad peals in their ears another day. They “shall know that there hath been a prophet among them.” Ezek. 2:5. This single witness is instead of a thousand other witnesses for God.
4. The examples of all who believe and obey the gospel, are so many witnesses for God against the despisers and neglecters of the great salvation. Every mourning, trembling soul among you is a witness against all the dead-hearted, unbelieving, disobedient ones that sit with them under the same ordinances. Hence it is said, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world ?" 1 Cor. 6:2. They shall be assessors with Christ in the great day, and condemn the world by their examples, as Noah did the old world. Thus, “ John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not : but the publicans and the harlots believed him ; and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.” Matt. 21 : 32. As if he had said, What shift do you make to quiet your consciences and stifle your convictions, when you see publicans, the worst of men, and harlots, the worst of women, repenting, believing, and hungering after Christ; their examples shall be your judges. These are God's witnesses.
II. Next let us consider what is the OBJECT MATTER unto which they give their testimony, and that will be found twofold, according to the twofold effect the gospel has upon them who hear it: of both which the apostle gives this account, “To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life.” 2 Cor. 2 : 16. Accordingly a double record is made.
1. Of the obedience and faith of some, which record
will be produced to their joy and comfort in the day of the Lord; “when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.” 2 Thess. 1:10. Ministers are instruments of espousing souls to Christ, and witnesses to those espousals between him and them. 2 Cor. 11:2. Both these offices are exceedingly grateful and pleasant to every faithful minister.
2. A record is made, and witness taken of all the refusals, disobedience, and slightings of Christ by others. Thus Moses will be the accuser of the Jews. “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.” John 5:45. This is the saddest part of a minister's work; the forethoughts of it are more afflictive than all our labors and sufferings. There is a threefold record made in this case.
(1.) Of the time men have enjoyed under the means of salvation, how many years they have sat barren and coldhearted under the labors of God's faithful ministers. “Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none.” Luke 13: 7. “Behold,” the same term of notification with that in the text, applied to the time of God's patience towards them. And again, “From the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, even unto this day, that is the three and twentieth year, the word of the Lord hath come unto me, and I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking ; but ye have not hearkened.” Jer. 25:3. O consider, all the years and days you have spent under the gospel are upon your doomsday-book.
(2.) Records are also made of all the instruments God has employed for the conversion and salvation of your souls. So many ministers, whether fixed or transient, as have spent their labors upon you, are upon the book of your account. “The Lord hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising early and sending them; but ye have not hearkened
nor inclined your ear to hear.” Jer. 25:4. They have wasted their health, dropped their compassionate tears, and burnt down one after another like candles, to direct you to Christ and salvation, but all in vain.
(3.) Every call, persuasion, and argument used by them to espouse you to Christ, is likewise upon the book of account. “Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all my counsel, and would none of my reproof.” Prov. 1:24, 25. These calls and counsels are of too great value with God, though of none with you, to be lost and left out of your account.
III. We shall inquire into THE GROUNDS AND REASONS of these judicial procedures of God: why he will have every man's obedience and disobedience registered and witnessed for or against him, under gospel administrations ; and there are two weighty reasons thereof.
1. That wherever the end of the gospel is attained in the conversion of a soul, that soul, and all who were instrumentally employed about the salvation of it, may have the proper reward and comfort in the great day. “As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.” 2 Cor. 1:14. This will be matter of joy unspeakable, both to you that shall receive, and to them that shall give such a comfortable testimony for you. O the joyful congratulations of that day between laborious, faithful ministers, and their believing, obedient hearers. “Lord, this was the blessed instrument of my happy illumination and conversion ; though I might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers; for by the blessing of thy Spirit on this man's ministry, my soul was begotten to Christ.” And, on the other side, “Lord, these are the souls for whom I travailed, as in birth, until Christ was formed in them.” It is a glorious thing to say, as the prophet, “Here am I, and the
children God hath given me.” Nay, those who were but collaterally useful to help on the work of God begun by others, must not lose their reward in that day. “And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal, that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together." John 4:36.
2. Records are now made, and witness taken, that thereby the judicial sentence of Jesus Christ in the last day may be made clear to all the world ; that every mouth may be stopped, and no plea left in the mouth of any condemned sinner. For Christ in that day cometh “to convince all that are ungodly,” Jude 15; to convince by demonstration, that all that are Christless now may be found speechless then. Matt. 22:12. Hence it is said, “The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment.” Psalm 1:5. And no wonder, when so many full testimonies and unexceptionable witnesses shall come point blank against them : the ministers that preached, the word they preached, their own consciences, and the example of all believers will be produced against them.
INFERENCE 1. The undoubted certainty of a day of judgment is hence evinced. To what purpose else are records made, and witness taken, but with respect to an audit-day? This is a truth sealed on the conscience of the very heathen; their consciences bear witness. Rom. 2:15. But in vain are all these records made, unless there be a day to produce and plead them; and of that day the prophet Daniel speaks, “ The judgment was set, and the books were opened.” Daniel 7:10. And again, “I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened ; and another book was opened, which is the book of life ; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the book, according to their works.” Rev 20:12.
Believe it, friends, these are no cunningly devised fables, but awful and infallible truths. If the gospel now produces saving effects, it will then be a time of refreshing to our souls, Acts 3:19; but to all who reject it, it will be a day of terror, wrath, and amazement. It will be the day in which the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thess. 1:7, 8.
2. What a motive is here to ministerial diligence and faithfulness. It is an awful work that is under our hands; the effects of the gospel which we preach will be the savor of life or death to them that hear us. If the Lord prosper it in our hands, we shall be witnesses for you ; it will be an addition to our glory in heaven. “They that be wise, shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.” Dan. 12:3. But if we are ignorant, lazy, or men-pleasers, our people will come in as swift witnesses against us, and their blood will be required at our hands; it will be an intolerable aggravation to our misery in hell, to have any that sat under our ministry thus upbraiding us: “O cruel man, thou sawest my soul in danger, and never didst deal faithfully and plainly with me; the time and breath that was spent in idle and worldly discourse, might have been instrumental to save me from this place of torment." Let ministers consider themselves as witnesses for God, and their people as witnesses for or against them; and under that consideration, let them so study, preach, and pray, that they may with Paul take God to record that they are free from the blood of all men: no men on earth have more motives to diligence and faithfulness than we have.
3. What an argument is this to banish formality from all who hear us. Every Sabbath, every sermon, is recorded in heaven for or against your souls : in what way soever you attend to the word, all that you hear is set down in the