THE FINAL JUDGEMENT.
THE partial processes of God’s judgements are not only constantly occurring, but are often distinctly manifested. Hence many expressions of Scripture, in which his judgements are spoken of, have no certain reference, and others, no reference at all, to the final judgement of all men. But, in numerous other places, such a judgement is made known. We are taught the appointment of a time when there will be a public, general judgement of all the righteous, and the wicked.
I. A SPECIAL TIME APPOINTED FOR IT.
It is expressly declared that “He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness.” Acts 17:31. The numerous designations of the day of the coming of Christ, and of his judgement of men, were pointed out in the preceding chapter. Among those peculiar to the judgement are “the day of judgement,” (2 Pet. 2:9); “the great day,” (Jude 6); “the great day of their wrath,” (Rev. 6:17); “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God,” (Rom. 2:5); and “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.” Rom 2:16.
The duration of the time thus appointed cannot be determined. The indefinite meaning of the word “day” forbids any statement of even its probable length. It has been argued that, from the vast numbers to be judged, and the many events connected with the life of every man, it will comprise a long period of time. But the rapidity with which, in some conditions, the mind will run over the course of a long life, in a moment of time, shows that a period of even exceeding brevity may suffice for a full revelation and judgement of all persons and events. The indefiniteness of the word should, however, caution us against the assumption that the day must be of only a few hours duration.
II. THE JUDGEMENT WILL BE PUBLIC AND GENERAL.
This has been denied by some who think that the judgement of each man occurs at death. These hold that to confine the judgement to that at death only, is not contrary to the real meaning of Scripture, which they suppose is not to be found in the literal language used, but in such an interpretation as will accord with the fact that the destiny of each man is fixed, and that consciously to himself, at death. They think that the indefiniteness of the word “day” permits a continuous process of judgement extending over the whole period connected with the deaths of men.
The chief basis of this theory is that the certainty attained at the death of each man, as to his position towards God, makes unnecessary any further judgement, because his case has thus been already judged. But we have very little knowledge of the amount of that certainty, especially in the case of the wicked. The righteous man, because of his presence with Christ, doubtless knows that his salvation is secure; but who can tell what alternate hopes and fears may constitute a part of the torture of the wicked in the intermediate state? But, even if he is also certain of his fate, there may be weighty reasons for a public manifestation of his position. Even “the angels, when they sinned,” whose condition in this respect is certainly equally ascertained, are said to be “reserved unto judgement,” as well as unjust men whom the Lord keeps “under punishment unto the day of judgement.” 2 Pet. 2:4, 9. It may be that the day of judgement is appointed, in order that the full sentence, as to the reward or punishment of each man, may be uttered, when he stands clothed in the resurrection body, in which these are to be suffered, or enjoyed during all the future. Other purposes will be subsequently suggested in connection with the vindication of God, and the manifestation of the causes and circumstances of his action, which, independently of any relation of the judgement to any individual man, make a public judgement day not unsuitable. The certainty of that publicity will appear from the person of the Judge. But, in addition to all other considerations, the Scriptures use language about the judgement day, and its events, which cannot be justly interpreted otherwise than as teaching it to be public in the sight of all, and general to all, not particular to each man. The declarations of its universally sudden appearance, of the angels and the glory which shall attend the descending Judge, of the convulsions of nature, of the burning up of the world, of such a gathering of all nations as permits a separation before all into two distinct classes, and the fact that some will rise up in special condemnation of others; these, and other statements, are utterly inconsistent with only a particular judgement of each at death. Especially is it impossible to reconcile the statement, that the resurrection of men will precede the final judgement, with any theory which makes this occur at death. All of this is independent of the further reply which may be urged, that no indefiniteness of the word “day” would permit the idea that a time, appointed within the life of mankind, should extend throughout the whole period of that life. It ought at least, to be a somewhat limited portion of the time which contains it.
III. THE PERSON OF THE JUDGE.
God alone is competent to perform this office of Judge in the great day. He alone has the right to Judge. He alone has the necessary qualifications. Chief among these is that perfect rectitude of character by which only can justice be exercised with due regard to the law and those under it, according to strict principles of equity. Equally important, however, is that complete knowledge of the law which leaves unknown neither its requirements, nor its penalties, nor its rewards, nor its possible relaxations. He also has that omniscience by which all things are known to him, even the innermost secrets of men; not their actions only, but their inward thoughts and hidden motives, even their natures and the possibilities of those natures. This, which is essential to due judgement, can be found only in him who searcheth the reins and hearts, and can make due application of the law, in all its aspects, to the whole conduct and character of those to be judged; and his the infinite power to execute that law, as well in the bestowment of its rewards, as in the infliction of its punishments.
Hence the Scriptures speak of God as “the judge of all,” (Heb. 12:23); and of his judgement according to truth and righteousness, which cannot be escaped, Rom. 2:2, 3, 5. In the Apocalyptic vision, John “saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne” when the books were opened for judgement. Rev. 20:12, 13.
But this judgement is not by God, as God. Jesus told the Jews that “neither doth the Father judge any man, but he hath given all judgement unto the Son.” John 5:22. The cause of this is that the Son is not only divine, but human, and that his relation to humanity endows him with peculiar qualifications for this office, which, like those for the salvation of man, could not be possessed by one only divine. Christ, therefore, taught his disciples that the judge would be the “Son of Man,” (Matt. 16:27, 28; 25:31-34), and declared to the Jews, that the Father “gave him [his Son] authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man.” John 5:27. Indeed, it would seem that the judgement is to be exercised peculiarly by Christ as man; for it is at least especially announced of him in his nature. Peter preached to Cornelius, concerning Jesus of Nazereth, “that this is he which is ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead.” Acts 10:42. Paul wrote of “the day when God shall judge the secrets of men according to my gospel by Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 2:16); and encouraged the Corinthians by declaring that “we must all be made manifest before the judgement seat of Christ,” (2 Cor. 5:10) and, on Mars’ Hill, announced that God had “appointed a day in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he hath ordained.” Acts 17:31.
We cannot hope to understand all the reasons for this appointment of Christ, as Son of Man, to the judgement of all. They are connected, in part, with the position of King and Lord, to which he has been assigned for the complete triumph of his kingdom, and the manifestation of God’s power and grace. They are also doubtless associated with the relation which, as man, he occupies to mankind, and especially to the church of “first-born ones.” But it is certain that, by the connection of the office of judge with Christ as man, is removed every obstacle in the way of a public, visible judgement. Since it is the Son of God who is the Son of Man, all that makes it necessary that God be the judge is found in him. But as man, the judge is no longer the invisible God, who can only be seen in the works of his Creation, and Providence; but God in Christ, the Godman, in his visible material form, who, therefore, can be manifested before the eyes of all, in a judgement which is, not simply general, as inclusive of all, but public, as openly manifested before all. It appears, therefore, that the person of the judge adds another reason to those heretofore mentioned why any judgement which occurs at death will be supplemented by, and consummated in, the final judgement of the last day.
IV. THE PURPOSES OF THIS PUBLIC JUDGEMENT.
Still further proof of the same fact will appear from some, at least, of the purposes of this public judgement.
1. In the purpose fulfilled by the revelation of it to men in this life. The conviction of such a judgement to come produces a decided influence for good upon the conduct of men in this life. Doubtless is it on this account that it is taught so plainly, and so frequently, and in so many ways, that none should fail to be impressed with the certainty of its occurrence. This would, indeed, in no small degree, be accomplished by the knowledge of a private and individual judgement at the hour of death. But it is manifest that this effect is greatly enhanced by the terrors and solemnities with which the Bible clothes the scenes of that day. That its publicity is in itself fearful is evident from the extent with which even those shrink from a revelation of their sins, who as believers in Jesus, confidently hope for a favourable sentence from God. The question so frequently asked whether the sins, as well as the good works, of God’s people will then be revealed, is the fruit of this apprehension.
It is probable, however, that the influence of the expectation of this judgement is unimportant, as compared with the purposes connected with it actual occurrence. These are to be found in the manifestations of God, and Christ, and of men in that great day.
2. The purposes that appear in connection with the day itself.
(1.) As to God.
(a.) It will furnish a worthy arena for the display of the attributes of God. A continuous purpose of God, in connection with his intelligent creatures, has been to make known to them the glory of his character. This is assigned as a reason even of his spiritual quickening of his people together with Christ. Eph. 2:4-7. Now, no mention can be made of any one of his attributes, which he has thus far revealed, which will not, at the judgement day, be signally displayed. This will be especially true of his vindicatory justice, the perfection of which has been, in some degree, dimmed, while, because of his forbearance and grace, he has delayed the due punishment of sin. Hence, this day is called “the great day of their wrath,” (Rev. 6:17), and “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God.” Rom. 2:5. Yet, how signally will then, also, appear the wisdom of his purpose, the truth and faithfulness of his promises, his power to accomplish his will, his universal benevolence, his sacrificing love, his unbounded mercy, his delivering power, his conquering grace, and, not to attempt to enumerate further, everything that can be imagined as constituting that holiness which, in one word, embraces all moral perfection.
(b.) The wisdom and equity of God, in his providential and gracious dealings with men, will then, also, be apparent. These often give rise to perplexity, even in those who most firmly believe in God as one who does all things justly, and well. In this life men are called to exercise faith in God in all these matters. That faith will be vindicated by the manifestations at that time both of his character and acts. The inequalities of this life, and the prosperity of the wicked, and the adversity of the righteous, will then be not only equalized, but all will clearly see the wisdom, justice, and goodness of God, in giving them a place here in his providential government. It is more than probable that, in the full exhibition of all his purposes in Creation and Grace, that insoluble problem of this life, — the presence of sin in a world created, and governed by an Almighty, and Holy God, — will become a manifestation of unspeakable glory in God. Then, too, will appear, even more plainly than now, the righteousness of his choice of some to salvation, and condemnation of others for sin; and, also, the full responsibility of men for every sin, even when their circumstances and previous action have rendered certain things which they will do. Then, too, will be seen such sufficiency, in each man, of the light possessed, if he had walked therein, and of his power for good, if he had exercised it, as makes him guilty in the sight of God, and worthy of the punishment which he will inflict.
(2.) As to Christ.
But it is not simply the revelation of God; but of God in Christ.
(a) In that wonderful combination by which the created spirit, and even created matter of human nature were, through the making flesh of the divine word, (John 1:14), enabled to do that work which neither man nor God could separately do. Where, but on the throne of judgement, could this personage be seen by any except those who are made partakers of his glory? How fit is his appearance to fill with anguish those who have rejected him, and with exultation and praise all those who have trusted him. He appears not only as Judge, but as King and Lord, whose dominion as Lord is now shown to be universal, and whose kingship, in the hearts of his people, he now rewards by welcoming them to entrance into his joy, and participation in his glory.
(b) The glory of Christ’s work will also then appear.
In its displays of the divine attributes; of truth, in the fulfillment in him of the threatened curse of sin for all those saved by him; of inexorable justice, which requires that honouring of the law, not only in obedience, but also in penalty, exacted even from the Son of God, from him that is the fellow of Jehovah; and of love and mercy, which demand to be exercised even at the cost of the most fearful sacrifice. Pre-eminently will the glory of that work be seen in the harmony displayed in the exercise of these attributes; of justice in a way of mercy and love; of each of these in a way of justice, and all of them in a way of holiness and truth. The judgement day will clearly exhibit these perfections, and their harmony, to all the intelligences of God.
The glory of that work will also be seen in the manifested conquest of Satan. For the accomplishment of the purpose of God, he has long been permitted to exercise power and malignity. It will, at the judgement day, appear that it was always done by the sufferance of God, who chose not to conquer, and punish him and his angels, except through the Son of Man. The fact that this victory over Satan has not been one of divine power, but has been wrought out by the Son of God in his human nature, renders his defeat more signal and humiliating to him. It is a complete avengement of the temptation of the first Adam.
The delivering power from sin shown in the work of Christ will also exhibit its glory in a peculiar manner.
We can imagine an angel willing to undertake the conquest of Satan at the command of God. But, here was the work which no angel would have attempted, nor even had any hope of accomplishing. There were many problems, in connection with it, which could not be solved. How is the penalty which has been incurred to be endured, or to be escaped? How is the righteousness demanded, to be fulfilled, now that man has become a sinner? How can sin be eradicated, and an unholy nature be restored to its purity and original righteousness? How is another to secure these things in men? And, if not secured in them, how can the sin of a sinner, both in action and condition, be hidden from God? How can God be just and yet justify the ungodly?
Christ has solved all these problems, and more than done all the work which was needed. The sinner, united by faith to Christ, has now an assured safety, an unfailing righteousness, a more than sufficient satisfaction, a covert utterly impenetrable by the wrath or justice of God; and he will stand before the judgement seat of Christ, in the presence of men and angels, to manifest his Saviour’s power in eradicating sin, by the good works wrought out by that Saviour’s disciple in mortal flesh, even under the higher law of Christian duty.
(3.) As to man.
With respect to man especially, the purposes of the judgement day make it fit that it should be general, and public.
(a.) Because then will be revealed the character and acts of men.
It is set forth as a day when “each one of us shall give account of himself to God,” (Rom. 14:12), which account shall comprise “every idle word that men shall speak.” Matt. 12:36. This is to be at that time “when God shall judge the secrets of men.” Rom. 2:16. The object of this trial is not to ascertain what men have done, but to make manifest to those who are judged, as well as to all others, the things which are already known to God. To this end, even the sins unknown to the offenders, and good deeds, forgotten by the righteous, will be brought to light. Matt 25:31-46. We are told that the Lord “will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall each man have his praise from God.” 1 Cor. 4:5.
(b.) Because then will judgement be made as to each individual.
For this cause is it that “we must all be made manifest before the judgement seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:12. The very name of the day shows the object of its appointment, and the nature of the transactions in this direction, which will then occur. The descriptions of the judgement day, however figurative they may be supposed to be, mark this as an undoubted teaching of God’s word. The wicked are condemned, because both of character and conduct. How this may be, can easily be understood. But the righteous are accepted, and rewarded, upon the same grounds. The reason of this is not so apparent. It doubtless is based upon the meritorious work of Christ, through which, by faith, they have been justified by God even in this life. But the references to their own personal acts show, also, a personal justification in that great day. This is the justification by works, seen in them even while on earth. It is the manifestation of the life-giving principle imparted to them on earth in regeneration, and exhibited by them during the processes of sanctification. The good works are the fruits of that vital union with Christ, by which “the life also of Jesus” is “manifested in our body.” 2 Cor. 4:10; (cf. Gal. 2:20, and Rom. 8:1-4).
In the judgement, unto which men will thus be brought in the last day, there will be account taken of the light and knowledge which they have possessed. The heathen will be judged by a different law from that which will be applied to those who have had the light of revelation. Paul plainly teaches that the former have a law under which they live, (Rom. 2:14, 15), in want of conformity to, and violation of which they are “worthy of death,” (Rom. 1:32); and that they are judged only by the law which they have. Rom. 2:12. Christ taught the same truth, generally, as applied to all the various degrees of knowledge, when he spoke of the servants, to be beaten with few or many stripes, according to their knowledge of their Lord’s will. Luke 12:47, 48. He also taught it especially in comparing the degrees of guilt and condemnation of those who enjoy the knowledge of the gospel and those who lived before its proclamation. Matt. 12:41, 42; Luke 11:29-32; (cf. John 12:47, 48).
(c.) That the judgement is public and general is seen in what is said of the public bestowment of rewards and punishments.
The language here may perhaps be figurative, but must mean something, and can mean no less than the publicity of the awards Christ will give. No private judgement at death would account for the statements that all are to be gathered before Christ, and are to be separated by him into those on the right hand and those on the left, (Matt. 25:32, 33); nor for the declaration that, “in the end of this world, the Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that cause stumbling, and them that do iniquity,” Matt 13:41; nor for that further teaching in v. 49, that “the angels shall come forth and sever the wicked from among the righteous.”
V. THE PLACE OF THE FINAL JUDGEMENT.
It is evident, from what we have already seen, that the judgement scenes will occupy some place in the universe of God. Christ is to appear as the Son of Man, and, therefore, clothed in the body of his human nature, although that body will then have been glorified. The bodies of men, both righteous and the wicked, will have been previously raised, so that they shall be judged in the body for the deeds done in the body. The bodies, then, both of the Lord and of all men, will not only occupy space, but will so occupy it as to be mutually recognized as being in space.
The place may also be believed to be in some connection with our present earth. It is fit that this, which has been the scene of all the events which will culminate in the judgement day, shall also be the place of that final trial. It is natural to suppose that, as the first coming of the Lord was to this earth, to bear sin for the redemption of man, so his second coming in triumph, without sin unto salvation, will be to that part of the universe which has been thus signally distinguished as the theatre of God’s most gracious work. The statements of Scripture are indeed meagre, but they say nothing which may not be interpreted in perfect consistency with this opinion. Yet, after all, the conclusion that the trial will be in connection with this earth, is so much a matter of inference only, as not to forbid that it may be at some other point in the universe. All that we are definitely told is that “we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord,” (1 Thess. 4:17), and that “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” 2 Pet. 3:10. But, while this does not deny, it does not necessarily teach, the destruction of the whole universe. The catastrophe may be limited to this earth and its atmosphere, and yet all the phenomena mentioned may occur. We also know that combustion of matter is not its destruction, but only a change in its form. This accords with the prediction of a new heavens and a new earth, (2 Pet. 3:13), and with those expressions which refer to it as a “restoration of all things” (Acts 3:21), and teach “that creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” Rom. 8:21. But, whether the earth alone is to be purified by fire, or, as seems not so probable, the whole universe; or whether the judgement scene is to be connected with earth, or with some other point in the present, or in the renewed universe, it seems certain that it must be in some place. The place which is most probable is in connection with the point of space now occupied by this earth, and either in the atmosphere above it, during or after the configuration, or on the earth itself before it shall be burned.