The Reasonableness and Credibility of This Great Principle of Religion
Ecclesiastes 12:14
For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

I. THE SUITABLENESS OF THIS PRINCIPLE TO THE MOST NATURAL NOTIONS OF OUR MINDS. We see, by experience, that all other things (so far as we are able to judge), minerals, plants, beasts, etc., are naturally endowed with such principles as are mesh fit to promote the perfection of their natures in their several kinds. And therefore it is by no means credible that mankind only, the most excellent of all the other creatures in this visible world, for the service of whom so many other things seem to be designed, should have such kind of principles interwoven in his very nature as do contain in them mere cheats and delusions.

1. This principle is most suitable to the general apprehensions of mankind concerning the nature of good and evil. And as the one of these doth in the essence of it imply comeliness and reward, so doth the other denote turpitude and punishment.

2. This principle is most suitable to those natural hopes and expectations which the generality of good men have concerning a state of future happiness. The better and the wiser any man is, the more earnest desires and hopes hath he after such a state of happiness. And if there be no such thing, not only nature, but virtue likewise must contribute to make men miserable; than which nothing can seem more unreasonable to those who believe a just and a wise Providence.

3. This principle is most suitable to those fears and expectations which the generality of wicked men are possessed with, concerning a future state of misery. Now, as there is no man whatsoever that is wholly freed from these fears of future misery after death, so there is no other creature but man that hath any fears of this kind. And if there be no real ground for this, then must it follow that lie who framed all His other works with such an excellent congruity, did yet so contrive the nature of man, the most noble amongst them, as to prove a needless torment and burden to itself.

II. THE NECESSITY OF THIS PRINCIPLE TO THE RIGHT GOVERNMENT OF MEN'S LIVES AND ACTIONS IN THIS WORLD, AND THE PRESERVING OF SOCIETY AMONGST THEM. Nothing can be more evident than that the human nature is so framed as not to be regulated and kept within due bounds without laws; and laws must be insignificant without the sanctions of rewards and punishments, whereby men may be necessitated to the observance of them. Now, the temporal rewards and punishments of this life cannot be sufficient to this end; and therefore there is a necessity that there should be another future state of happiness and misery.

1. Not all that may be expected from the civil magistrate; because there may be many good and evil actions which they cannot take notice of, and they can reward and punish only such things as come under their cognizance.

2. Not all that may be expected from common providence; for though it should be granted that, according to the most general course of things, both virtuous and vicious actions are rewarded and punished in this life; yet there may be many particular cases which this motive would not reach unto, namely, all such eases where a man's reason shall inform him that there is far greater probability of safety and advantage by committing a sin than can be reasonably expected (according to his experience of the usual course of things in the world) by doing his duty. But the thing I am speaking to will more fully appear by consideration of those horrid mischiefs of all kinds that would most naturally follow from the denial of this doctrine. If there be no such thing to be expected as happiness or misery hereafter, why, then, the only business that men are to take care of is their present well-being in this world, there being nothing to be counted either good or bad but in order to this. Those things which we conceive to be conducible to it being the only duties, and all other things that are cress to it being the only sins. And, therefore, whatever a man's appetite shall incline him to, he ought not to deny himself in it (be the thing what it will), so he can have it, or do it without probable danger. Now, let any man judge what bears and wolves and devils men would prove to one another if everything should be not only lawful, but a duty, whereby they might gratify their impetuous lusts, if they might either perjure themselves, or steal, or murder, as often as they could do it safely, and get any advantage by it. But there is one thing more, which those who profess to disbelieve this principle should do well to consider, and that is this: that there is no imaginable reason why (amongst those that know them) they should pretend to any kind of honesty or conscience, because they are wholly destitute of all such motives as may be sufficient to oblige them to anything of this nature. But, according to them, that which is called virtue and religion must be one of the most silly and useless things in the world. As for the principle of honour, which some imagine may supply the room of conscience, this relates only to external reputation, and the esteem which we have amongst others, and therefore can be of no influence to restrain men from doing any secret mischief.

III. THE NECESSITY OF THIS PRINCIPLE TO THE VINDICATION OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE. It is well said by a late author, That not to conduct the course of nature in a due manner might speak some defect of wisdom in God; but not to compensate virtue and vies, besides the defect of wisdom, in not adjusting things suitably to their qualifications, but crossly coupling prosperity with vice, and misery with virtue, would argue too great a defect of goodness and of justice. And perhaps it would not be less expedient (saith he) with Epicurus, to deny all Providence, than to ascribe to it such defects. It being less unworthy of the Divine nature to neglect the universe altogether, than to administer human affairs with so much injustice and irregularity.

IV. APPLICATION. If this be so, it will concern us then to inquire —

1. Whether we do in good earnest believe this, that there shall be a future state of reward and punishment, according as men's lives and.actions have been in this world. If not, why do we profess ourselves to be Christians?

2. Do we at any time seriously consider this, and revolve upon it in our minds?

3. What impression doth the belief and consideration of this make upon our hearts and lives? Doth it stir up in us vehement desires, and carefulness of mind in preparing for that time?

(Bp. Wilkins.).

Parallel Verses
KJV: For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.

WEB: For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden thing, whether it is good, or whether it is evil.

The Great Day of Judgment
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