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ISHMENT, AND LIFE ETERNAL,' IN MATTHEW XXV. 46.THESE SHALL GO AWAY INTO EVERLASTING PUNISHMENT, BUT THE RIGHTEOUS INTO LIFE ETERNAL.'
MANY commentators interpret the whole passage of which this text makes a part, as being a continuation of the same prediction, contained in the twentyfourth chapter of this Gospel, which is, evidently, a prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the overthrow of the Jewish nation.
That the coming of the Son of Man,' in his power and glory, does, in many places, signify the manifestation of divine wrath upon Judah and Jerusalem, when the measure of their crimes should be full, there can be no doubt. The overwhelming desolation of the nation which persecuted and crucified Christ, seems to have been intended as a remarkable manifestation of the wrath of God against them; and at the same time, a magnificent testimony of the truth and divine origin of the christian religion. It is something which spoke to that age, something which is now witnessing to us, and something which will be testifying to all ages, that God has honored, exalted, and glorified that Jesus, whom the people of that nation, in blindness and malice, crucified and slew.
Nevertheless, the particular meaning of a mode of expression in one place, or in one connexion, is not proof positive that it means the same in all cases. Every scriptural mode of expression must be considered with reference to the circumstances and connexions in which we find it, and in view of the modifications and differences of signification, which these things point out.
Now the passage under consideration, beginning at the thirtyfirst verse of this chapter, When the Son of Man shall come in his glory,' &c., and ending with the special words of our subject, These shall go away,' &c., is confessedly one of the most sublime, and, to the true Christian, one of the most exhilarating of any in the scriptures. We cannot persuade ourselves that it is confined in its meaning to the mere destruction of Jerusalem. Our Lord, evidently to us, begins a new subject, when he begins this part of his discourse. He has already said what he had to say upon the destruction of Jerusalem, the outward desolation of the outward things, appertaining to the external state of that people; and leaving this, he goes on to speak of things appertaining to the spiritual state of the human being, and describes the judgment of the soul, with its searchings, its terrors, and its effects; and its peculiar descent with power, into the heart and conscience of every individual.
'Before him shall be gathered all nations.' We do not apprehend, that our Saviour intended, in any particular descriptions given in this passage, to mark out the exact mode, or outward form of the judgment of the soul. The truth is, that the resurrection, the last day, and the judgment to come, are described in the scriptures, under so many different modes of speech, and are exhibited under so many different forms of expression, that, if we receive these statements literally, we should make almost as many different outward forms of the judgment, as there are occasions on which that event is alluded to in the scriptures At one time, for instance, there would be immense thrones to be built, and books opened, and the record of each one's life read over; and we should be 'judged out of the books.' At another time, we should see the Son of Man, first separating the good from the wicked; afterwards telling over to each one his own particular good or evil, and then assigning his lot accordingly. Then again we should have the good caught up suddenly 'to meet the Lord in the air.' And yet again, we should simply see the mortal, putting on immortality, and the corruptible, incorruption.' And then also, we should have some of the
dead coming to judgment at one time, and some at another; one resurrection now, and another at the end of a thousand years; and so many things of this kind, in many cases inconsistent with each other, that we are compelled to believe that none of these modes of expression were designed literally to set forth any exact mode or form of the resurrection, or the judgment. They are merely different ways of announcing the same thing, without intending exactly to describe it. But they all concur to prove one truth; viz. that there is a deep, severe, and searching judgment for souls to pass through; and that every individual must endure it, each in his own person. 'We shall, every one,' in some way, 'give an account of ourselves to God.' Our own views upon this subject, we can state in few words; and we shall now endeavour to do it, with all plainness and simplicity.
In our view, then, all judgment of souls is of a spiritual, or inward nature. There is no outward mode or form to it. Judgment is something which takes place in each one's own soul; in every person's inward thoughts and feelings, under the influence of God upon the individual mind; and the outward universe has no further concern with our individual judgment, than as what is taking place in our thoughts and feelings may be manifested openly; either mediately, through our words and actions, or immediately, by the spiritual discernment of spirits, 'seeing as seen, and knowing as known.'
This inward judgment takes place in the individual person, whenever God is revealed to that soul in his true character, and when his searching presence is really perceived by the spirit of the man; as truly, though not to the same extent, in this world as in the world to come. It is then that we see our sins, glaring in the light of the Almighty's countenance, with the tremendous retribution they deserve. And then, too, on the other hand, we see holiness, shining in the same all pervading brightness; and as our states of mind are, either good or evil, godly or ungodly, so do we experience either the peace of penitence, the conscious remission of sins, and the heartfelt satisfaction of unity with God; or contrariwise, painful disquietude, anguish of mind, remorse and horror, and fear that cometh like desolation. In one or the other of these states, we have, to a greater or less degree, an experience on the one hand of that eternal life' which visits the soul that, by patient continuance in well doing, seeks for glory, and honor, and immortality;' on the other, the indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish,' which rack the heart of the contentious and disobedi
ent,' the lover and follower of unrighteousness, the soul which " striveth with its Maker.'
This spiritual judgment takes place, in a measure, and perhaps very often, in human hearts, in the present world. There are few, if any, who do not in some degree realize the coming of God to the soul; experience, therein, their individual amount of inward judgment, and receive the consequence according to their individual states of mind; experiencing happiness if at unity with God, disquietude, if at variance with him.
This spiritual judgment takes place in the fulness of its power and efficiency, when the human being passes away from all material connexions, and goes forth a simple spirit; naked, unshielded, and exposed. Then God, the Eternal Mind, pervades it searchingly throughout, makes manifest its most secret thoughts and feelings, and fills the whole man with his own presence; so that then, the wicked soul, realizing instantly, and perpetually, the direct presence of the Holy One, and being at heart inpenitent, unreconciled, and conscious of unforgiven sin, experiences dismay, anguish, and horror, which he cannot escape, because he cannot escape from God, with whom he maintaines a selfish and disquieting warfare. Whither shall I go from thy spirit, or whither shall I flee from thy presence?' On the contrary the good soul, in the same state of spiritual expansion, experiences the same constant perception and impression of the Deity; but reconciled to God, submissive to his sovereignty, and at unity with him, the divine presence and spirit shed on his heart, the anointing of the oil of gladness, a sense of rest, a peace which passeth understanding, a joy unspeakable and full of glory. In thy presence, there is fulness of joy.'
The last day,' therefore, spoken of in the scriptures, we conceive to be the last day of each individual's mortal life. Death, as the extinction of being, or even as a state of unconsciousness or inaction, is abolished, and immediate life and immortality are brought to light.' The resurrection is the instant event, by which man, as soon as he passes from the body, enters the undisguised presence of God; experiencing happiness or wretchedness, according to the habits of thought and affection which his earthly courses, 'the things done in his body,' have engrafted into his soul.
These views of the nature and effects of judgment, we have deemed it necessary to state, in order to explain our thoughts concerning the meaning of the expressions eternal life,' and 'everlasting punishment,' in Matth. xxv. 46, the passage under immediate consideration. The Greek word in both cases, it is
well known, is the same, [aivios,] and is indifferently translated, either eternal' or everlasting.'
It seems that there are no less than ten different significations attached to the term aav, in the scriptures, and about the same number, of course, to the word as, its adjective. It would be both tedious and useless to enumerate them all in the present discussion. It may be sufficient to observe, that they are words which do not necessarily imply duration at all, either temporal or eternal. They as often express the nature, or state of a thing, as they do its duration; and when expressing duration, they do not necessarily imply eternity.
They sometimes refer to ancient things; as in Romans xvi. 25. The mystery which was kept secret in past ages.' [xpovois αiaviors,]-Common Version, 'since the world began.'
They sometimes express the long continuance of a thing which the event has shown to be temporary; as in Exodus xl. 15, where, speaking of the sons of Aaron, it is said, 'Their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood;' [ To arava.] The phrase, I TOV va, in this place, is commonly understood to signify long duration; but we are inclined to think it signifies the Mosaic dispensation; in which case the everlasting priesthood promised to Aaron and his sons, was a priesthood throughout that dispensation. At all events it was not strictly eternal, for it ceased at the coming of the great High Priest.
Numbers xxv. 13, it is said of Phinehas, in relation to the priesthood, 'He shall have it and his seed after him, even the covenant of an everlasting priesthood;' [diconen legatelas alavia.] The 'covenant of an everlasting priesthood,' or 'everlasting covenant of priesthood,' in this place, most certainly does not mean a strictly eternal priesthood, but one that should endure a long time, or to the end of the then established dispensation.
Genesis xvii. 13, of the ordinance of circumcision it is written, "My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant;' [diadnen aviar.] But who will pretend, that circumcision was prescribed as an eternal witness of man's relationship to God?
The words sometimes refer to an age, a dispensation, or order of things; sometimes to the men existing in any particular age; and have many other significations of a similar kind.
But among all the texts quoted by Schleusner in his long articles upon the words aw and davies, we do not see any, in which they must necessarily signify positive eternity. Indeed, he asserts as follows; If I rightly remember, neither awr, nor daves, anywhere in the New Testament, denotes absolute eternity, or duration without beginning and end.' There are several