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The Reward of the God-fearing
I. Questions of a Future Life. It is an interesting and curious problem to explain the absence or dimness of the belief in a future life among the Jews for so many centuries, especially when we consider the great place which the doctrines of the immortalities of the soul and of reward and punishment after death held in the religion of Egypt. A long life, a prosperous life was all that they looked for. In the earlier stages of Jewish thought the Messianic hope, the glorious future was for the nation, not for the individual. Sceptics it is true were not wanting. The author of the book of Job attacked the doctrine as untrue, the author of Ecclesiastes as unsatisfying. But it was the sharp lesson of fact which at last undermined its dominion over the thought of men. The religious Jew living under the insane tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes; the kindred but undevout dynasty of the Hasmoneans; the half alien and wholly unpatriotic rule of the Herods, could no longer hold to this belief. The good things of this life were too obviously not with Jehovah's worshippers. And side by side with the waning of earthly hopes came a deepening of religious consciousness. The pious Israelite, feeling his fate to be in the hand of God, and sure that God would not forsake him, begins to expect that he, and all the godly, will have a share in the future of the nation.
II. Belief in the Early Return of Christ. The belief in an early return of the Lord carried the Church through the first century of her existence; and even before men had time to say 'The Lord delayeth His coming,' the visions of enthusiastic faith had set into dogma. The Christian knew that Christ would come to judgment at last (though he himself should pass to his rest long ere the coming), and that they who have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. There was no doubt about the reward of the elect; no scruples about the fate of the reprobate.
III. Present Day Position. We can no longer dream that old dream, that virtue and piety bring material prosperity. God has told us that He maketh His sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and sendeth His rain upon the just and the unjust. But there is implanted in the heart of man a clear unreasoning certainty unreasoning because it is earlier than reason and of a higher authority that it is better somehow to do right than wrong, irrespective of pains or pleasures resulting. It is this that saved pro-Christian societies, this that in great measure saves society today from anarchy and dissolution; the instinctive belief that the reward of goodness lies there, in the right act itself, and in the character which makes the right act natural. And for the believer the universal law is expressed in terms of a higher and more intimate knowledge of the Divine. For him the motive and the reward of life are found alike in the clear and passionate consciousness of the abiding Presence of God.
J. Peile, Church Family Newspaper, 1907, p. 604
References. CXXVIII. 5. W. M. Statham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xviii. p. 360. CXXVIII. International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 469. CXXIX. Ibid. vol. ii. p. 461.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 128". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent