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"But," it has been said, "we are saved by grace, and not by works; our only title to glory is the purchase made by the atonement of the Redeemer. How, then, can our glory be proportioned to our works? Are not all believers, through the merits of Christ, alike justified and adopted, and must they not therefore be alike glorified?"
My brethren, the Scripture is perfectly consistent with itself. It asserts the doctrines of grace, the only refuge of the perishing sinner. It asserts, also, the inequality of future glory. And do the blessings of God spring less from grace, because he has established a wise order in the distribution of them? We are called, justified, adopted, only through the merits of Christ; yet notwithstanding this, there are different degrees of holiness and comfort enjoyed by Christians upon earth; notwithstanding this, then, there may be different degrees of glory in the world which is to come. The objection is precisely as strong against a difference in sanctification, a fact which comes daily under our eyes, as against a difference in glorification.
"But," say the opposers of this doctrine, “as all the blessed are perfectly holy, they must all be perfectly and alike happy." The conclusion by no means follows. Are the angels alike elevated, because they are all perfectly holy? We know that there are distinctions among them. Would it not be almost blasphemy to say, that any creature was as happy as the blessed God, provided like him it could be perfectly holy? If two diamonds are of the same water and perfection, does it follow, that there may not be a difference in their weight and
"But they all derive their felicity from the same source, the beatific vision of God, and therefore their felicity must be equal." Though one of the chief constituents of hell is the deprival of the vision of God, are therefore the punishments of the accursed equal? May we not view the same sun, and receive its rays differently? When vessels of different capacity cast into the same ocean, are filled by the same mass of waters, must the quantity they receive be alike?
"But the titles given to the redeemed are the same; they are all called kings, the sons of God, the spouse, the members of Christ." And are not these names given to believers, even while they are on earth? and, notwithstanding, do we not see a great diversity among them? Are all kings equal in power? Have all sons the same inheritance? Is not the robe of the spouse more richly embroidered in some parts than in others? Have all members of the body equal honour?
These, my brethren, are the principal objections against this doctrine. Let us now proceed, in the Third and last place, to a practical improvement of it.
1. It addresses the young. There is not one of you, my young friends, who does not intend to turn unto the Lord before you leave this world. There is not one of you that has formed the mad and guilty resolution to renounce the joys of heaven, and embrace the agonies of hell. But you resolve at present to devote yourselves to the world, and hereafter to think of religion. Let us suppose, (and how many improbabilities are included in the supposition!) that these intentions are realized; that, after living many years in sin, you are not, like so many others, given
up to judicial hardness; that, after long contemning the offers of grace, and grieving the Holy Spirit, you are not abandoned by him; that, in a dying world, you are preserved in life by that God against whom you are in rebellion; that you are not surprised, as so many thousands now in hell have been surprised, before their promised and purposed return to God was accomplished: suppose all this, though I repeat, how many improbabilities are included in the supposition-yet still what irreparable losses will you have sustained, what sacrifices will you have made during your years of folly and vice! Instead of preparing for a higher glory, for a nearer approach and assimilation to God, you will have employed yourselves in plucking the jewels from that crown which might have sparkled on your brow, in diminishing the elevation to which you might have attained. Trifle no longer with things of eternal consequence; but in youth begin to aspire after high degrees of glory, honour, and immortality.
2. Let this subject solemnly address all who defer their repentance. You cry, To-morrow, and tomorrow; and thus many of you will continue to cry, till your last sickness seizes you, till you are laid on the bed of death. Even if you then preserve your reason and are sensible of your danger, what answer will you be able to give to conscience, when it shall
you, what preparations you have made for eternity, what graces you have acquired, what holy duties you have performed? Is it not to mock God, to sin now with boldness, from the hope of conversion in our last hours? Is it not to trifle and sport with his grace, to expect from it a harvest, when we have never sown? I mistake; you have sown, and you shall reap; you have sown to the flesh, and of the
flesh shall reap corruption; you have sown iniquity, you shall reap torment; you have sown sin, you shall reap death. Insult not the sanctity of God's attributes, by supposing that, after a criminal life, you will enjoy the rewards promised to holiness. Even if, by a miracle of grace, you should then be converted, (and such miracles are indeed rare, inconceivably more rare, than is ordinarily supposed,) yet still, how much glory and felicity will you have lost, by neglecting, during so many years, to lay up treasures in heaven! Defer not then, I beseech you by your everlasting interests, defer not for a moment longer your return to your God and your Re
3. This subject teaches us the unspeakable value of time, and the necessity of employing it in good works. Look at life in itself; it is but a shadow. Look at it as connected with a future world; it becomes of unutterable importance. Every thing we do gives a complexion to our eternal state. Here we receive the stamp and impression that shall endure for ever. Shall we then spend our days in idleness, in folly, in sin? Shall we not diligently improve every passing moment? Shall we not continually be scattering that seed, from which so glorious a harvest will spring? Yes; whilst we are cultivating our graces, mortifying our corruptions, instructing the ignorant, comforting the afflicted, protecting the oppressed, relieving the poor, and performing other acts of piety or benevolence, from Christian principles, we are doing that of which we shall hereafter reap the fruit; we are, in a sense, giving stability to our flying, vanishing hours, by employing them for the augmentation of our eternal happiness. But forget not, that, to produce this effect,
these actions must proceed from proper and Christian principles. If our labours are attended with pharisaical pride; if we expect to merit heaven by our good deeds; if we are animated by a self-righteous spirit; we shall at the final day reap no harvest except that of shame and disappointment. But if, unfeignedly believing in Jesus, and renouncing our own righteousness, we perform these works from love to God, and gratitude to the Redeemer, we shall obtain so rich a recompense, as to display the immensity of divine grace, and the riches of divine goodness.
4. Let this subject, then, inspire us with a high and holy ambition. "Covet earnestly the best gifts,' said the apostle; and in the spirit of his exhortation, we say to you, covet the highest places in heaven; aim to sit next to cherubim and seraphim; nay, if it were possible, strive to get in heaven the same place which John, the beloved disciple, held here on earth, to lean on the very bosom of Christ himself. By that increase of grace, which will proportionably increase glory; by continually exercising holiness, strive continually to adorn your crown, to irradiate your diadem of stars with a lustre that shall outshine the sun in its brightness; and to acquire much of that glory, the least measure of which is precious and inestimable. And with these high aims, mingle the deepest humility. Aspire to the greatest of God's blessings; but at the same time confess that you are unworthy of the least of them. Seek to shine like the seraphim in splendour and glory, and emulate them in deep prostration of soul, under a sense of your unworthiness before the holy God. Acknowledge, in the midst of your high anticipations, that it is only through the abounding grace of God, and the infinite merits of Jesus, that heaven has been opened for you, or for any of the children of men.