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Life of Jesus Christ in Its Historical Connexion and Historical Developement.
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§ 259. Christ teaches that Faith must prove itself by Works. (Matt. xxv., 31-46.)

At the close of the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew there is given a representation of the final judgment. There has been, and may be, much debate as to both the form and the substance of this representation. In regard to the latter it may be asked, “What judgment is alluded to, and who are to be judged?” One reply is, that the judgment of unbelievers alone is meant;691691   Advocated particularly by Keil (Opuscula) and Olshausen (Commentar.). because, according to Christ’s own words (John, iii., 18), believers are freed from judgment; and because the objects of the judgment are designated by the term ἔθνη, גּוֹיםa term applied exclusively to that portion of mankind which does not belong to the kingdom of God.

It is true, the Scriptures teach (Rom., ii., 12, seq.) that even among these nations there are degrees of moral character which will certainly be recognized by the just judge; but the distinctions drawn by the judge in the passage before us are not of this character. Further, the theory alluded to will not explain why sympathy and assistance rendered to believers are made the sole standard, and all other moral tests thrown out. All that it can offer is one or the other of the following suppositions: either that this sympathy is a general love for mankind, and its manifestation to proclaimers of the Gospel merely an accidental feature; or that it springs from a direct interest in the cause of Christ and the Gospel itself. But the first supposition would make the ascription of special value to these acts inconsistent with the standard set up by Christ himself; for the acts are (according to the hypothesis) outward and accidental. The second does, indeed, afford a ground for preference in the motive, viz., love of Christ’s cause; but, then, it does away the theory itself, for the developement of such a sentiment in the minds of those who entertain it would inevitably make them Christians.

This theory, therefore, is untenable on either side. It is further refuted by the fact that, in the passage, Christ bestows upon those to whom he awards his praise the very titles which belong exclusively to believers: as the “righteous;” the “blessed of the Father, for whom the kingdom was prepared from the foundation of the world.” We conclude, therefore, that the judgment will include the trial and sifting of professors of the faith themselves. As before that final decision the faith of the Gospel will have been. spread among all nations, so all nations are represented as brought to the bar; but, among these, genuine believers will be separated from those whose fidelity has not been proved by their lives. Indeed, we have already treated of several parables which presuppose such a final sifting of believers; nor is it at all inconsistent with the conscious assurance of the faithful that they are free from judgment through the redemption of Christ.

It is every where taught by him that brotherly love is a peculiar fruit of faith, the very test of its genuineness; and we cannot wonder, therefore, to find it made so prominent in this passage. The pious are represented in it as following the impulses of a true brotherly love, founded upon love to Christ, and as manifesting this love in kind acts to their brethren without respect to persons. Yet they attach no merit to their works, and are amazed to find the LORD value them so highly as to consider them done unto himself. But those whose faith is lifeless and loveless, and who rely upon their outward confessions of the Lord for their acceptance, are amazed, on the other hand, at their rejection. Never conscious of the intimate connexion between faith and love, or of genuine Christian feelings referring every thing to Christ, and seeing him in all things, they cannot understand why he interprets their lack of love for the brethren into lack of love for himself. The mere fact that faith is not expressly mentioned in connexion with the judgment does not affect our view; it is taken for granted that all have already professed the faith, and the genuine believers are to be separated from the spurious.

On the whole, then, we are not to look upon this representation as a victure of the final judgment. Its aim is to set forth, most vividly and impressively, the great and fundamental truth, that no faith but that which proves itself by works can secure a title to the kingdom of Heaven. We cannot fail to see in the “throne,” the “right hand,” the “left hand,” &c., a figurative drapery, attending and setting off the one fundamental thought. Moreover, it was not Christ’s usage to speak of himself directly under the title of “King.” The form of the description, then, we suppose to have been parabolical; and its character in this respect was probably still more obvious when Christ delivered it.


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