By Aaron Hills
The next event subsequent to the resurrection is the general judgment. This event will terminate the remedial dispensation, put an end to time, and usher in eternity, with the unchanging destiny of men and angels.
The Book that gives us our theology, teaches that God is the Judge of the moral universe. Nations, angels and men, must face His judgment. Nations are judged and punished in time. At the end of time "He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, by the man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised him from the dead" (Acts 17: 31).
The Bible everywhere teaches that God is a Judge; that He will avenge the poor and the oppressed; that He will review the conduct of all moral beings; that He will reward the righteous and punish the wicked. It is the day when the infinite righteousness of God will be revealed to the universe; and the character of every man will be manifest to himself and to others, his life reviewed, and the measure of his merited reward or punishment determined. The aggregate results of every life will then be gathered up, and the rewards or penalties will be announced, and the destinies of all will be sealed forever.
Like every other doctrine of Scripture, this one has been opposed and rejected by different classes of teachers.
1. It is practically set aside, by those who resolve it into the future state of rewards and penalties, and say that this is all the judgment day there will ever be.
2. Another view of the judgment day is that it is a process now in progress. The Jew expected that when the Messiah came, the severest judgments would be visited upon the heathen, while Israel would be greatly exalted. This would be the Day of Judgment. In like manner some now hold that the Day of Judgment covers the whole period between the first and second advents of Christ.
3. Another unscriptural view is that there are certain immutable laws, either independent of the will of God; or dependent on His voluntary constitution, which execute themselves. They inevitably secure the happiness of the good, and the misery of the bad; every day is a judgment day, and we get our heaven and hell as we go along. And this is all there is of judgment or heaven or hell.
4. There is the theory of premillennialists. With them "to judge" is to reign; the day of judgment is a protracted future dispensation to commence with the second advent of Christ, and to continue during the thousand years of His personal reign upon the earth. Seiss says: "The judgment of God is the administration of the government of God." Any of these theories seem to be trifling with the solemn utterances of the Word of God about the great Day of Judgment.
In discussing this subject we will consider:
I. The Certainty of a General Judgment. On no other subject is the mind of man more agreed. We are not more sure of the existence of God, than we are sure that we must give an account to Him for the conduct of life. It is one of the great primary truths of reason which we cannot get rid of, that we are on trial here, and that God will judge us and assign us retribution hereafter. The need of such a judgment may be proved:
1. By the justice of God. We are living here amidst mixed providences. The wicked cannot display themselves unless they are allowed some freedom to develop their characters, and gratify their unholy ambitions, and selfishness, and greed, and lust, at the expense of others. So it comes about that the good are often wronged by the wicked; the weak are the prey of the strong; the holy are victimized by the selfish, and our earthly society is full of anomalies and inequalities, which seem to be a necessary part of a system of probation for free-moral agents. It has always been so from the beginning. If Cain nursed murderous passion, innocent Abel must be the victim. If the sons of Jacob express their characters in conduct, the heart of innocent Joseph must be wrung with anguish, and he must endure for years a living death. The good are often left to struggle with poverty, and pine in affliction. The illustrious saints, "of whom the world was not worthy," were exposed to penury and want, and the violence of the ungodly. They "had trial of mockings, and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonments; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword; they went about in sheep skins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, evil entreated, wandering in deserts and mountains and caves, and the holes of the earth" (Heb. 11: 35-39). And while they were thus suffering, their proud oppressors "set their mouths against the heavens," and gave loose reins to their appetites and passions, enjoyed outward peace, and passed their days in the possession of all earthly good. There were no bands in their death; their strength was firm; they were not in trouble as other men; neither were they plagued like other men; their eyes stood out with fatness; they had more than heart could wish." It was all painful to contemplate. But all the time "justice and judgment were the habitation of God's throne." Some day, He will assert Himself, and avenge His elect. Wrongs will be righted. Retribution will come on apace, justice will be meted out. Innocence will be vindicated. Goodness will be rewarded, while the damnation of the wicked will not slumber. All this is demanded by the justice of God, and it will surely come to pass.
2. By the dictates of Conscience. We all have a divinely implanted monitor and judge in our own nature, which passes sentence upon ourselves, and anticipates the final judgment of God. "If our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God" (1 John 3: 21); but if conscience determines our conduct to be wrong, then we have shame, and a sense of guilt and a foreboding of the censure of God. It is not merely the fear of condemnation in the present life by others. The sin may be secret, - wholly unknown to men. It may be sin committed long ago. But the nearer we approach our end the more impressive are the reproaches, and the more dreadful the forebodings. It is then, especially, that the sinner reflects with horror upon his past life, and dreads the consequences of his evil doings. But why should the consciousness of an evil action make a man fear when no one knows it but himself? Why should a life spent in sin fill one with horror as it draws near its close?
There is only one explanation. The voice of conscience is prophetic of the judgment seat of a just and holy God. The foundation for a future judgment is laid in man's memory and conscience. Coleridge says: "This perchance is the dread book of judgment, in whose mysterious hieroglyphics every idle word is recorded." But if we can forget, God cannot. "The air itself is one vast library, on whose pages are forever written all that man has said, or woman whispered." (Babbage). If, therefore, there is a just God, and conscience is not a delusive faculty, there is a judgment awaiting us all, where it will be well with the righteous and ill with the wicked.
3. But it is the Scripture that reveals a general judgment before an assembled universe. Matt. 11: 24, "I say unto you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the Day of judgment, than for thee." Matt. 12: 41, 42, "The men of Nineveh shall stand up in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation and shall condemn it." " . . . Explain unto us the parable of the tares. ..." The enemy that sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the 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, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be the weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt. 13:36-43). Matt. 25:31, "When the Son of man, shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit on the throne of His glory; and before Him shall be gathered all the nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats," etc. Heb. 9: 27, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." Rev. 20: 12, 13, "And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne; and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works." Such passages and many more are sufficient to show that God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world.
II. The Solemn Attendants and Transactions of the Judgment. Here we are wholly dependent upon the Word of God for our knowledge of events. Not reason nor imagination, but revelation alone is capable of guiding us to the truth.
1. The following events immediately precede the general judgment. "The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God" (1 Thess. 4: 16). And then, "All that are in their graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth" (John 5: 28, 29). "The sea shall give up the dead which are in it; and death and hell shall deliver up the dead which are in them" (Rev. 20: 13). "Then also shall the living be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Cor. 15: 52) and pass from the mortal to an immortal state.
Furthermore, Christ "shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet; and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the heaven to the other" (Matt. 24: 31). "And before Him shall be gathered all nations"; and He shall place the righteous on His right hand, and the wicked on His left (Matt. 25: 32). "I saw the dead small and great stand before God" (Rev. 20: 12). These are the chief events that precede the judgment.
2. Christ is to be the judge. "The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father" (John 5: 22, 23) "and hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man" (v. 27). Peter, in Acts 10: 34-43, says that God, "Anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power; had 'raised' Him from the dead, and 'showed Him openly/ and 'commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify, that it is He which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead." St. Paul tells the Athenians that God "hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance to all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead" (Acts 17: 31). In 2 Cor. 5: 10, he says: "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ." In all the graphic pictures of the judgment in the New Testament, Christ is represented as being the Judge. He is perfectly qualified for this place, for He is Omniscient and Infinite. He knows what is in man; He is related to man; He has suffered for man; His nature is united to humanity. He has measured the force of every temptation, borne all our griefs and carried all our sorrows. Who is so fitted as He to be our judge?
This is part of His infinite exaltation that the universe is to stand before Him to be judged. Judas that betrayed Him, the soldiers that smote Him with clenched fists, the rulers that cursed Him in their hate, and Pilate that sentenced Him, will all be there to be judged. It is the joy of believers and their ground of confidence that He who loved them and gave Himself for them, and washed away their sins in His own precious blood, will be on the great white throne to judge them in that great day of final account.
3. The judgment is to take place at the time of the resurrection and the second coming of Christ. Therefore it is not a process now in progress; not something that occurs at death; nor is it a protracted period prior to the general resurrection, as some Premillennialists affirm. The Bible knows absolutely nothing of three more personal advents of Christ, -one at the rapture of His bride; a second to inaugurate His millennial reign; a third to judge the world. This is the fanciful fiction of men, but not the sober truth of God. He who came in the flesh, "shall appear a second time, apart from sin to them that wait for him, unto salvation" (Heb. 9: 28). They who expect any more comings are laboring under a delusion. "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then shall He render unto every man according to his deeds" (Matt. 16: 27), Matt. 25: 31-46, sets forth the coming and the whole process of the judgment. In 2 Thess. 1: 7-10, it is taught that when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, it will be for the double purpose of taking vengeance on them that know not God, and of being glorified in all them that believe. In 2 Tim. 4: 1, we are told that Jesus "shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom" St. Paul tells us in the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians that at the last trump our vile bodies will be changed like unto His glorious body, and Phil. 3: 20, 21, we are told that it will occur when Christ comes from heaven. Thus it is infallibly taught that the final judgment will take place at the second coming of Christ.
4. The persons to be judged. The moral beings to be judged are angels and men. That angels will be there is taught in 2 Pet. 2: 4, "God spared not the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment." This is repeated in Jude 6, "and angels which kept not their own principality, but left their proper habitation, He hath kept in everlasting bonds, under darkness unto the judgment of the great day!'
But at the same time will be assembled all the children of men, from Adam down to the last born of his descendants. All will be there. In that vast assembly, ranks and distinctions will be unknown. Rank and dignity and high-birth will be forgotten. Men of talents and the feebleminded will stand on a common level and have something else to think of besides their gifts. The great will be without their ensigns of honor, and the humble without their marks of abasement; moral distinctions alone will be regarded. The oppressor and the oppressed will be there; the former that his violence may be returned upon his own head; the latter that his wrongs may be redressed. The learned and the illiterate, the bond and the free, the high and the low, the rich and the poor, - will all be there touching elbows, like men crowded together in a city mob. They must all meet the inspection of the omniscient eye, and hear the decision of that voice from which there is no appeal. Not one of the righteous will there be overlooked and neglected; not one of the wicked will be able to hide from the searching gaze of his Judge.
5. The things to be judged. We are distinctly told that men are to be judged "for the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or bad"; "according to their works"; "the secrets of the heart." "For God will bring every work into judgment, with every hidden secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil'.' (Eccl. 12: 14). The judgment will not be decided by hypocritical professions or pretensions, or on the appearance or reputation which they sustain among men, but on their real character in the sight of God. "God will not be mocked, and cannot be deceived." Our actions will all pass in review, also "every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment; for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." Moreover, the thoughts must pass in review. "The thoughts of the righteous are right," while "the thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to God" (Prov. 12: 5, 15: 26). They have a moral character which cannot be ignored, and therefore they must tell on the destinies of men.
Things must be made to appear before the universe as they actually appear to God, whose moral judgment is infallible. Moral conceit will shrivel in the white light of the judgment. Self-deception will vanish. Man will at last see himself as he is. Memory, with awful fidelity, will reproduce the past with all its enormities of evil, not a sinful line missing from the picture, nor a shadow of impurity left out. In such a judgment who could stand without the help of an atoning Christ, and his guilty past is put under the blood?
6. The rule of judgment. Men are to be judged according to the light they had, and in view of which they put forth their moral acts. (1) Those who have had no Bible will be judged by the light of nature. St. Paul declared: "When Gentiles which have no law do by nature the things of the law, these, having no law, are a law unto themselves; in that they show the works of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts accusing or else excusing them; in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, by Jesus Christ" (Rom. 2: 14, 15). (2) The Jews who have Moses and the prophets will be judged by Old Testament light. It is quite sufficient, if they will faithfully use it, to lead them to Christ and salvation. Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and Daniel managed to live very reputable lives by the light of it. So also did a multitude of others. It is not the quantity of light, but the fidelity in following what one has that decides the destiny. (3) Men in Christian lands will be judged by the light of the Gospel. Jesus plainly stated the principle: "The servant that knew his Lord's will and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew it not shall be beaten with few stripes" (Luke 12: 47, 48). "And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required." How great will be the account which those will have to render who live under the Gospel dispensation. If the Gentile who sins against the light of nature is justly punishable; if he "who despised the law of Moses died without mercy, of how much sorer punishment will he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing and hath done despite unto the spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10: 29). It is an awful thing to live in impenitence and sin willfully in the blazing light that streams from Calvary!
7. The time of the judgment. When it will take place is beyond the knowledge of any finite mind. It has not been revealed and will not be. "Of that day and hour knoweth no man; no, not the angels of heaven" (Matt. 24: 36). But "the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night" (2 Pet. 3: 10). But the time of the event is certain and perfectly known to God; for He "Hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom He hath ordained" (Acts 17:31). Hence the Day of Judgment is spoken of as "the day of the Lord" "the great and terrible day."
We are told this much that it will be at the time of the Advent of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the end of the world!
8. It is certain that at death, men have a preliminary judgment, and partially enter upon their eternal destiny. The parable of Dives and Lazarus, and Jesus' words to the dying thief make this sure. St. Paul had a desire "to depart and be with Christ." "Why then," it may be asked, "should there be another general judgment?" There are several reasons, which justify such a day.
(1) We believe the chief reason is that the eternal righteousness of God may be vindicated before the entire universe. There is a perfect wail of complaint against God rising to His throne continually. People clamor against His goodness, find fault with His Providences, censure the principles of His government, criticize His laws, and condemn His rewards and penalties. They even dare to take issue with His plan of grace, by which He attempts to save men from death and hell. God has borne all this with infinite patience through long millenniums. But He has appointed a day in which the accusers and the accused shall meet face to face, and he shall be vindicated. It will be more a day of manifestation than a day of decision. The scoffing throng that have so long impeached God's goodness will have a chance to feel the awful majesty of His holiness. The wretched sinners that in malignant hate put Jesus to death, and despised His atoning blood, will have an opportunity to look upon the supernal glory of Him whom they have crucified. It will reveal the immeasurable wickedness of men to themselves; it will make the blackness of their guilt apparent to everybody else. The infinite righteousness of God's wrath against those whom He condemns will be manifest to all. "The Judge of all the earth," clothed in the habiliments of heavenly light, and seated upon "the throne of His glory" will summon before Him the multiplied millions of our race, to receive their final allotments. In the decisions of that tremendous day, His wisdom, justice, goodness and truth will shine out in overwhelming radiance, and be acknowledged by every moral creature. All holy beings shall exclaim with united voice: "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." "Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth!"
(2) When a man dies his entire moral history is not concluded. His influence lives on after him, and he must have the credit for it, whether good or bad. St. Paul's life is still a mighty influence for good in the world. Even "Abel though dead yet speaketh." The influence of Martin Luther still voices itself in Protestantism. Tom Paine and Robert Ingersoll are still at work damning souls, and will be to the end of time. John Wesley was never more active than now, and Catherine Booth lives on. The record of any soul cannot yet be made up, and hence reward or retribution cannot be complete. It is therefore fitting that there should be a general judgment at the close of the history of our race.
9. The final declaration of the Judge concerning those on His right hand that they are righteous will be seen to be true by all. Their glorified spiritual bodies will be the index and reflection of their holy spirits, - a perfect and conclusive evidence to every beholder. The declaration to those on His left hand that they are wicked will be not less manifest. Their repulsive spiritual bodies will bear mute but decisive testimony to the incorrigible sinfulness of their depraved hearts. There will be no need of witnesses, as in human courts; since every character will infallibly report itself, and be perfectly transparent to all. Memory will accurately marshal the sins of the past with all their attendant circumstances, and report all the stubborn refusals to accept pardoning mercy and sanctifying grace. When the Judge shall speak the final word, "Come, ye blessed of my Father" the universal response will be "Amen!" When He shall speak the sentence, "Depart, ye cursed," again shall come from terror-stricken and hopeless lips, "Amen! My damnation is just; I wickedly refused to accept eternal life as a gift!" The conscience of every lost soul will ratify the sentence of the Judge, and acknowledge the rectitude of the Divine decision.
10. At that judgment-bar will also appear the unholy angels, who "kept not their first estate, and who are reserved in chains and darkness, unto the judgment of the great day" Little is said concerning the subject matter of their judgment. But it doubtless relates to two things at least. First, at some time in the past, before our race was created, they willfully broke away from the bonds of love and loyalty that bound them to their Creator's throne, voluntarily renounced their allegiance to the Most High, and turned away from a life of holiness to grovel in rebellion and sin. Second, they have banded themselves together in a confederacy of hate against God, to destroy this race of man that was made in His image, and which is the peculiar object of His love. For these wanton and needless sins they will be condemned, and sent to that hell which was prepared for the Devil and his angels.
11. The Day of Judgment will be the dying-day of this sin-cursed world; the day in which its groans of dissolution will be heard, its knell sounded, and its obsequies celebrated with awful grandeur. No sooner will the sentence of the Judge be pronounced than the consuming fire of the Lord will go forth from His presence, and the earth will be wrapped in a winding sheet of flame.
The prophets have spoken it and no word of Scripture will be broken. "Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old as a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed" (Ps. 102: 25, 26). "Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look upon the earth beneath; for the heavens shall vanish away like smoke, and the earth shall wax old like a garment" (Isa. 51: 6). "Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away" (Luke 21: 33). "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief; in the which 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. 3:9-13). As Dr. Timothy Dwight, the elder said: "All the works of man; his palaces, towers and temples; his villages, towns and cities; his wonderful displays of art, his haughty piles of grandeur, and his vast labors of defense and dominion, will be lighted up in a single blaze, and vanish forever. Nor will the desolation be limited to the works of men. The earth on which they stand; the hills and the mountains, the valleys and plains; the lakes, the rivers and the ocean will all in a moment become a blazing ruin. The very elements with which they are composed will melt with fervent heat; and the world itself, so long the seat of sin and sorrow be finally destroyed."
Even scientific men tell us that stars once clearly visible in the firmament, after a brief period of unusual splendor, have disappeared; to all appearance they have been burnt up. This earth was once in a state of fusion; and there are causes now in operation which are adequate to reduce it to that state again, whenever God sees fit to put them into operation. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth are passed away" (Rev. 21: 1).
"The present order of things is but a temporary platform for the passing drama of man's probation; and when the drama is over the platform will be swept away, to give place to the glorious and abiding reality, for which it is a needful preparation" (Agar Beet, "Last Things," p. 169). See also argument XVI on Premillennialism.