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Jerusalem ; and to an innumerable comparty of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all and to the spirits of just men made perfect; and to Jesus the mediator of the new cove. nant, and to the blood of sprinkling which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel.”
The evident design of this whole passage is to show, that christians are brought by the gospel, to the knowledge of heaven, and to a participation with saints and angels there, in the vision and fruition of God, far beyond what good men were under the law. But from the short part of a sentence taken for our present subject, which mentions the spirits of just men made perfect, we are led to inquire,
1. Whose spirits these are : and,
II. Wherein their perfection consists.
As one of the elders asked John, in the Revelation, “ What are these which are arrayed in white robes ? and whence came they ?” so we may naturally inquire, in the first place, Whose spirits are these spoken of in the text ? and what was their former condition !
They are said to be the spirits of just men : that is, the spirits in heaven, of men who were just while here on earth. But who in this world, since the fall of Adam, ever deserved the name of just men ? Is it not written, “ There is none righteous; no, not one ?"
I answer ; It is written, “ Noah was a just man, and perfect in his generation.” And we often read of the just, where reference is plainly had to men in the life that now is. Solomon says, indeed, “ There is not a just man upon earth :" but he explains himself by adding, “ that doeth good and sinneth not.” It is undoubtedly true, that all have sinned ;
and that the best of men daily sin, as long as they continue here below. Nevertheless, there have been many who are called of God himself, just men : men whom he justified while living, and glorified when dead. Who these are, or what is necessary to con. stitute any of mankind such, is a question, therefore, of the last importance. Until this is well answered and understood, it cannot be known when we have reason to entertain a comfortable hope respecting our own future state, or concerning the present state of our departed friends.
It is easy to show, in general, that by just men, we are to understand no other than men of true piety and virtue. Thus this phrase is constantly used in the holy scriptures. See Psal. vii. 9, “Let the wickness of the wicked come to an end ; but establish the just.” Prov. ii. 33, “ The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked : but he blesseth the habitation of the just.” And Matt. xiii. 49, “ So shall it be in the end of the world ; the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the just.” In both the Old Testament and the New, all men are thus divided into two classes; the just and the wicked : whence it is obvious that by the former are meant, none but good men, or real saints : none but such as are approved, or justified, in the sight of God.
To prevent mistakes, however, it may be needful to give the character of these, in a few particulars. Here then,
1. Let is be osberved, that those whom the Bible means by just men, are certainly men of justice in their social intercourse ; or in their treatment of their fellow men, in word and deed. To this purpose are the words of David, in the fifteenth Psalm : “ Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle ? who shall dwell in thy holy hill ? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness. He that backbiteth
not with his'tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbor." And the following words of the apostle James ; “ If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue,-that man's religion is vain.” A just man is no slanderer or reviler; nor one that will go beyond or defraud another, in any matter. He is a man of truth and punctuality in his dealings, and of integrity and faithfulness in whatever business he undertakes, or station he sustains. He is one that makes conscience of observing the rule of our Saviour,“ Whatsoever ye would that men should
ye even so to them.” And that of the apostle,
“ Render to all their dues : tribute, to whom tribute is due ; custom, to whom custom; fear, to whom fear; honor, to whom honor.”
do unto you,
2. A just man will be as careful to render to God, his due, as to men the things which are their's. He will no more neglect the duties of religion, than be negligent in the discharge of social duties. However honest men may be in their dealings; however punctual in paying their debts, and equitable in all respects in the treatment of their neighbors; yet, if they never inquire, nor concern themselves, what they shall render to the Lord for all His benefits; if they restrain prayer, pay no attention to the word of God, and are men of no religion, they are not just men in the sense of scripture ; nor can they with any propriety, be so called. To rob God, is certainly as unjust, as to wrong our fellow-men.
3. A just man is upright in heart, as well as one that walks uprightly. “ He is not a Jew,” says the apostle, “ who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh : but he is a Jew that is one inwardly ; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” A man may be very virtuous, and very religious, external
ly, from sinister views, or merely from selfish motives. But should we bestow all our goods to feed the poor, and give our body to be burned, without any ultimate regard to the glory of God, or the good of our neighbor, in the day of final retribution, it would profit us nothing.
In a word, as to their personal character, just men have the root, and all the branches, of moral recti. tude. The tree is good, and the fruit good. “ If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature : old things are passed away ; behold, all things are become new."
In this sense, Noah and Job were perfect; and so is every good man. As an infant may be a perfect man in miniature, though extremely imperfect in stature and strength; so those called the just in scripture, are perfect, as having all the parts of the new man, which is created after God in righteousness and true holiness.
4. Yet just men are not so called, so accepted of God, or so looked upon by themselves, merely because of their personal goodness. It is said in Habakkuk, and it is several times repeated in the NewTestament, “ The just shall live by faith.” And the apostle says, Rom. iv. 5, “ To him that work. eth not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” That
any of mankind are self-righteous, is because they are, at heart, altogether unrighteous. That any hope, or wish, to be accepted of God as righteous persons, on the ground of their own goodness, is because they are totally selfish, and have no impartiality. The moment one becomes upright, in the lowest degrce, he condemns himself; and fees for refuge to free grace, reigning through the righteousness of Christ, as his only support from utter despair. Nor does he ever after build his hope of being justified, on any other foundation.
Having seen what are the essential characteristics of just men on earth;
II. We are to consider the perfection of the spirits of such, when translated to heaven. Here,
1. They are made perfect in holiness.
He who is entered into that rest, hath ceased from sin. Ho longer is he subject to carnal appetites, unruly passions, or any moral imperfections. From these, the best of men in this world are far from being wholly free. Paul found a law in his members, warring against the law of his mind : and to his christian brethren, the Galatians, he says,
"The flesh lusteth against the spirit,-so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” But from the flesh—from the law of sin--from the remainder of depraved nature, believers are perfectly delivered when the body dies.
Nor is this all the moral perfection of pious souls departed. Holiness is not a mere negative; consisting in freedom from sin only. This is one thing implied in it; but it implies, moreover, all good principles, and all the fruits of active righteousness. These are all comprehended radically, in universal benevolence of disposition. “The end of the commandment is charity.” In this the spirits of just men in heaven, are perfect. They are perfectly dis. posed to render honor to whom it is due ; to take complacency in the holiness, and to rejoice in the happiness of all around them, and above them, whether the Creator of all, or their fellow-creatures.
2. Compared with us, and with themselves while here below, they are perfect in knowledge. 1 Cor. xü. 12, “ For now we see through a glass clarkly; but then face to face: now I know in part ; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
3. The saints above are made perfect in happi