by John L. Girardeau, D.D., L.L.D.
"For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." (II Corinthians 5:10)
I invite your attention, my brethren, to a subject of more than usual solemnity and awe. And I confess that I approach it not without fear, lest, on the one hand, a theme of terrific grandeur and transcendent interest should suffer from inadequacy of treatment, and lest, on the other, it should meet with a reception disproportionate to its claims, and only render more fearful a subsequent thoughtlessness and disregard. Conscious of this danger, I would earnestly invoke the influence of the Holy Spirit to impress upon every heart the truth which may be spoken.
The text brings to our notice the last act in the great drama of this world's history. Among minds fond of speculating upon the probable issues of the future, considerable discussion has taken place as to certain circumstances connected with the last judgment which can never be clearly ascertained before the event itself. The precise time of its arrival, the place of assembly, and the duration of the trial are matters which, however we may speculate about them, God has never seen fit definitely to reveal.
In regard to the time when the judgment will begin we are, happily for ourselves, in total darkness. The Scriptures assure us that the day of the Lord shall come as a thief in the night, and that when men shall solace themselves with the cry of peace and safety, then sudden destruction shall come upon them as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape. The very ignorance which shuts out the knowledge of the time is the most powerful incentive to diligent preparation. "Watch, for ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of Man cometh."
As to the locality, it has been conjectured,--with how much truth I venture not to say,--from a certain passage in the First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, in which the apostle says, we shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, that the atmosphere which environs the earth will be the scene of the last great assize. With reference to the duration of the judicial process, it has been the opinion of some that the usual phraseology in which the Scriptures advert to the day of judgment is to be received according to the interpretation of prophecy, and that from the important relation which it will sustain to the present state, the judicial process will mark a new dispensation. Most, however, understand the language of Scripture in its simplest and most obvious sense, and suppose that there will be a definite day in which the final destiny of all mankind shall, with a rapidity not impossible to almighty power and infinite knowledge, be at once and forever settled. "For He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness."
There are two independent but concurrent lines of argument which furnish a powerful rational presumption in favor of a future judgment. In the first place, there is something significant in the fact that the decisions of conscience are felt not to be ultimate, but prospective and premonitory. Conscience represents God in the human soul, and derives its authority entirely from Him. It is God's law, God's court, and God's bar in the nature of man. It is this which gives it its power to bestow peace upon the righteous and to break the carnal security of the ungodly. Were it not for the felt conviction that it refers its decisions to the sanction of a higher tribunal, men might be content to flout its feeble utterances and laugh at its vain protests amidst the furious clamor and the deafening uproar of the passions. Imbecility would render the court ridiculous. But its finger points to another court and another bar. It pronounces its decisions with references to the future. This it is which clothes it with indisputable authority. It is felt to be founded on eternal rectitude and supported by the resources of omnipotence. The pervading conviction is--and it is one which cannot be shaken from the soul--that these solemn sentences will be ratified by the doom of a higher judge, and carried into execution by an invincible arm. There thus arises out of the depths of our moral nature an awful testimony to the certainty of a future and final judgment.
Nor, in the next place, ought the fact to be overlooked that a moral government, embodying in itself as an integral element the distribution of rewards and punishments is begun but not consummated in the present life. It is clear that the providence of God, both in its natural and moral aspects, proceeds in some degree upon the principle of retribution; but it is equally clear that that principle is not employed to its legitimate extent. There does not appear to be in all cases a precise adaptation of rewards and penalties to the nature of moral actions and the conduct of moral agents. For, although it must be admitted that no suffering, however severe, is undeserved even by the most pious, still the fact cannot be disguised that some godly men are called upon to endure more frequent and protracted trials than some who are ungodly. Here lies the difficulty. And on the supposition that there will be no adequate distribution of retributive consequences in another state than the present, it would be an inexplicable anomaly. But admit the justice of God as the moral governor of mankind, and the presumption is irresistible in favor of the completion of the now existing scheme of retribution in a state beyond the grave. Of that moral government which is here begun, and enforced just enough to establish its leading principles, the consummate exhibition is laid over to another life.
The wicked and reckless transgressor of every principle of right, the man who tramples under foot every obligation to his Maker and every sacred relation to humanity, who curses God to His face, and soaks his hands in the warm and bubbling life-blood of his brother; he who revels in filth and licentiousness, and slaughters on the altar of his lusts the dearest covenants between man and man, who creeps like a viper into the bosom of virtue and fastens his poisoned fangs upon unsuspecting and helpless innocence,--yes. the monster whom the earth groans under and the heavens frown upon, upon whose head the voice of injured and outraged humanity cries bitterly for vengeance,--this man is permitted to flourish like the green bay-tree beside quiet waters, and at last it may be without a struggle or a pang to lie down in peace and die. Is this, can this be, all that the justice of a perfect being requires?
Now turn and look. Here is a man who is actuated by a constant desire to glorify his God; who, with every morning's light and evening's shade gathers around the family-altar the wife and children whom he recognizes as the gifts of his Heavenly Father; who delights to tread the courts of the Lord's house, to sing His praise and hear His word; who respects every relation which binds him to his fellow-man; who would rather be the "trampled on than the trampler," carrying a heart from whose sweet and brimful fountain are ever gushing streams of charity to all around him; who sits and watches till the breaking day by the dying bedside of his foe; who gently wipes away the orphan's tears, and by timely compassion causes the widow's heart to sing for joy,--this man is left to drag out a life of poverty and want and squalid wretchedness, and at the last to roast in the martyr's flame or to stretch himself on the bare, cold earth, and breathe out his spirit without a friend to close his dying eye. Oh, say, is there no future judgment? Is there no tribunal beyond the grave where this man will be rewarded? Yea, there is, there must be. Justice herself rises in indignant majesty at the question, and with gathering brow and portentous finger points to a flaming bar, at which, with equal balances in hand, an impartial and infallible Judge will rectify the inequalities of life and assign to every soul a proper and incontestable doom.
These powerful presumptions of reason in favor of the fact of a future judgment are so amply sustained by numerous and explicit testimonies of Scripture that I will not pause to signalize them, but pass on to remark in the next place:
Jesus Christ will be the final Judge. With respect to judicial authority it is true that the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, will be the Judge. This the Psalmist magnificently sets forth when he says, "The heavens shall declare His righteousness, for God is Judge Himself. The mighty God, even the Lord hath spoken and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof." Doubtless the terrors and splendors, the glory and the wrath of absolute and infinite Deity will be gathered around the judgment-throne, and render insufferably august and imposing the pageantry of the tremendous day. There will nothing be lacking to clothe the scene with the authority and sanction of the present Godhead. Heaven will lend its glories and hell its horrors to emphasize the proceedings of the day. Sovereign grace, heavenly mercy, spotless holiness, insulted justice, unerring truth, resistless power, and consuming wrath, will all be present and preside at the solemnities of the occasion.
But, although God in three persons will be the Judge as to original authority, we are assured that the Lord Jesus Christ, as Mediator, will be the Judge in respect to the immediate exercise and dispensation of the judicial prerogative. "God hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained." He will appear in human nature with all the marks of His sufferings on Calvary, so as to be visible to every eye that shall behold the eventful scene. And it is no doubt eminently proper that Christ, as Mediator, should be the Judge, because the judgment will constitute an integral part of the scheme of redemption, and will be the closing act in the history of its application, and the inviolable seal of men's relations to it.
The salvation of His blood-bought people will not be completed until He comes to judgment. Many, we are taught to believe, will then be alive upon earth, and will be struggling with the world, the flesh and the Devil; and in regard to none will the formal and final sentence have been pronounced which will be the signal of their complete redemption, and of their abundant entrance in their whole personality into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Until the announcement of His second coming, all His saints cast an anxious eye to the future and look forward to the glorious appearing of the great God, even our Savior Jesus Christ. Not till then will the whole church stand confessed, the church triumphant, stripped of the sweated armor of conflict, arrayed in the white robes and crowned with the amaranth of victory. Not till then will He be admired in all them that believe, and the headstone of their salvation be brought forth with shootings of grace, grace unto it! Then will that august temple which far outshines the glory of Solomon's, built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, cemented by atoning blood and composed of living stones, be finished, and the top-stone laid on amidst the rising hosannas of ransomed sinners and the thundering hallelujahs of angelic choirs. Then will the scaffolding of earthly ordinances, as no longer necessary, be removed, the veil of the upper temple be rent in twain, and the sanctities of the heavenly holy of holies, whither our forerunner had gone, become conspicuous to the ravished eyes of long expectant saints. The earthly sanctuary shall be closed, the Bible shut, the pulpit vacated, and the voice of intercession stilled. The evangelic trumpet--the melodious cheering, thrilling trump of jubilee--proclaiming deliverance to the slaves of sin and death and hell be silenced and laid aside; the Apocalyptic angel, flying mid-heaven with the everlasting Gospel, shall close his wings and cease his flight; the invitations of mercy and the calls of incarnate love shall be issued no more, and the beaming sun of the day of grace shall have set in the blackness of an everlasting night. Our Savior, as the final act of His redeeming work, shall shut the volume of grace and open that of eternal judgment.
It is also fit that Jesus should be the final Judge, because He is the Son of Man, because He possesses the nature which is to be arraigned at the bar, and having been a companion of men in the flesh, experimentally knew their temptations, though Himself without sin, and by actual observation as a man among them is acquainted with their constitution motives, and weaknesses, their circumstances, opportunities, and chances. No foreigner to the human race will fill the judgment seat before which that human race shall stand to receive irrevocable assignment to heaven or to hell. A man will be the judge. He knows the measure of their case.
It is moreover fit that Christ should be the Judge because His session on the judgment-throne and the exercise of the judicial prerogative are part of the promised reward of His humiliation during the discharge of His mediatorial work. He had in view of this reward voluntarily humbled Himself to undertake the stupendous task of man's redemption. He denuded Himself of His glory, descended the ladder of humiliation, assumed our feeble flesh, was born in a stable and cradled in a manger, was destitute of a pillow on which to lay His head when the labors of each toilsome day were done, offered up prayers with strong cryings and tears, was roughly arrested like a felon, was arraigned and condemned at an iniquitous human bar, was excommunicated from His own visible church, suffered an ignominious death as a chief malefactor between two thieves, was jeered by ministers and elders in His expiring agonies, and died without a foot of ground in which His mortal part could rest. But, in that day the shame of His humiliation shall be remembered only to heighten the glory of an unparalleled reward. The apostle portrays it grandly when he says, "Who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation and took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things on earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. For once, at least, shall angels, men and devils be assembled in one great congregation,--it shall be before yon blazing throne, on bended knee, to pay a willing or reluctant homage to the glorified Nazarene.
Still, further, it is fit that Jesus Christ should be the final Judge, that the person and claims of the dishonored Savior may be vindicated before an assembled world. Although He sacrificed glory and honor and the worship of the heavenly host, and became poor that we, through His poverty, might be made rich; although He carried the cross that sinners might wear a crown, yet was our blessed Master despised and rejected of men. He is to many a root out of dry ground, without form or comeliness, and when they see Him there is no beauty that they should desire Him. Albeit He was the living personification of virtue--a sight which Plato said if men could behold they would be beguiled from the path of vice and allured into that of right, and although He exemplified in His own conduct every holy precept which He inculcated, and stood forth the sole instance among men of unstained character and uncompromised principle--the blooming flower of humanity and the brilliant reflection of the divine glory, yet is He treated with contumely and scorn; and the sacred religion which He established at the expense of His life, the institute of human salvation, the infirmary for human sicknesses, the asylum from human woes, and the charter of human hope, is caricatured as an imposture and rejected as a fraud. Infidelity scruples not to laugh at miracles, which, as instances of mercy, conquered nature to relieve the wretchedness of men, and as instances of power wrought conviction in the devils themselves. He healed the sick of their every malady; He cured the leprosy with a touch, He strengthened the palsied with a word, He gave speech to the dumb, hearing to the deaf, and sight to the blind; He speaks and the ravings of the tempest are hushed, the shrieking wind subsides into a whisper, and the storm-tossed and foaming billows sink into sudden and surprising peace; He arrests a funeral procession by startling the corpse from its bier, and standing at the mouth of the grave, rouses with His almighty voice the mouldering flesh from the cerements of the tomb. And yet, when He stands at Pilate's bar, derided, scourged and spitted on, the very men who had been witnesses of these amazing displays of His divine power, and these unimpeachable credentials of His divine commission, press around His mangled body and lift the cruel and pitiless shout which demands the blood of His heart. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be ye horribly afraid!
And ever since, wherever His Gospel is preached and His cross uplifted, His mercy is rejected, the offers of His dying love are disdained, nor does the holy and exalted name of Jesus cease to be bandied as a plaything and a by-word in bold blasphemers' mouths.
But, brethren, the scene ere long shall change. Let us hear the testimony of Scripture to His second glorious advent to judgment. To the disciples who stood on the mount following His receding form as it vanished through the blue heavens and ascended to God's right hand, a delegation from the skies said, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus which is taken up from you into heaven shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven." (He Himself said to His earthly judges, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven.") Yes, this Jesus who was shamefully entreated and crucified, this Jesus whose claims are now despised perhaps by some in this assembly, this same Jesus shall come again. He shall come, but not to bleed. He shall come, but not to suffer shame and die. "Behold, he cometh with clouds, and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so. Amen." He comes, surrounded by dense columns of angels, and the palm-bearing host of a triumphant church. He comes, attended by the floating ensigns of salvation and the trophies of victory wrenched from Satan, Death, and Hell. He comes, heralded by the chant of armies, the thrilling call of trumpets and the shout that wakes the dead.
"Lo, He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train.
Jesus comes, and comes to reign."
Oh, how changed from the estate of His humiliation! Once the crown of thorns was wreathed around His temples; now on His brow flashes the mediatorial diadem. Once His hands were nailed to the accursed tree; now the right hand of His omnipotence grasps a thousand thunder-shafts and wields the sceptre of universal and resistless sway. Once without a home He lay in the midnight air and His head was wet with the dews and frosts of heaven; now He sits in majesty on the great white throne, canopied with clouds and girdled with embattled cherubim. Once the silent tear of anguish trickled down His pallid face; now see! before His withering frown the shrinking earth and heavens haste to flee away.
"The Lord, the Judge, before His throne
Bids the whole earth draw nigh;
The nations near the rising sun,
And near the western sky.
No more shall bold blasphemers say,
Judgment will ne'er begin;
No more abuse His long delay
To insolence and sin.
Throned on a cloud our God shall come,
Bright flames prepare His way:
Thunder and darkness, fire and storm,
Lead on the dreadful day.
Heaven from above His call shall hear,
Attending angels come;
And earth and hell shall know and fear
His justice and their doom."
Let us now consider some of the awful circumstances which will accompany and aggrandize that day of last account. But how shall we describe them? What tongue can tell, what mind conceive, the glory and the pomp, the agitation, tumult and alarm, the surprise, the joy, the woe, which shall mark that "great day for which all other days were made?" Let us approach the fearful subject with the lamp of Scripture in our hand.
We are taught that no signal will forewarn the nations of the coming of that day, and that none shall suspect it nigh until it bursts upon the world. Secretly and furtively will the grand consummation draw on. The world will be engaged, as it ever has been, at its business and its pleasures. "As the days of Noah were, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days of Noah they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark and knew not until the flood came and took them all away, so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be." None shall know that the great day is at hand. All will be busied about their several employments. The infidel will be saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep all things continue as they were from the foundation of the world." The student will be closeted with his books, poring over the pages of some favorite author, or absorbed in the attempt to unravel some intricate argument. The merchant will be posting up his accounts, or anxiously calculating the issue of some grand speculation. The farmer will be riding over his crop, or congratulating himself on the fullness of his barns and the plenty of the succeeding year. The politician will be wrapped up in the perusal of some recent intelligence, or striving after a higher pinnacle of fame. The military chieftain will be pushing his conquests with all "the pomp and circumstance of war." The bridegroom will be rejoicing over his bride, the mother over her new-born infant, and the mourner will be following the remains of a departed relative towards a last house which they shall never occupy. Senates will be convened, courts sitting, travel rushing, commerce driving, and the ocean whitened with many a sail.
In one part of the world the silence of midnight is reigning, save where it is broken by the music and the laugh of some festive throng. In another is the bustle and stir of busy noon, or the clash of contending armies on the ensanguined field. In another the shadows of evening are lengthening, the sun is setting no more to rise, and the evening star is shining with peerless radiance for the last time upon a doomed world; while in yet another, the early bird is waking the dawn, the dew yet gems the grass, and the sunrise is bursting in glory as it broke on that clear morning when Sodom was fired from heaven. All will be unconscious of approaching danger; when of a sudden, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, a thunder-burst breaks over the world and rocks the pillars of the earth. Hark, that terrific sound! The blast of the trump of God peals from the sky, is swept on the wings of mighty winds towards north, south, east, and west, penetrates ten thousand burial grounds, and startles "the dull, cold ear" of the quiet sleepers there.
"Doubling along the arch the mighty peal
To heaven resounds. Hell returns a groan;
And shuddering earth a moment reels confounded
From her fixed pathway, as the staggering ship,
Stunned by some mountain billow, reels. The isles
With heaving ocean rock: the mountains shake
Their ancient coronets: the avalanche
Thunders: silence succeeds throughout the nations.
Earth never listened to a sound like this;
It strikes the general pulse of nature still,
And breaks forever the dull sleep of death."
(from James Hillhouse's Judgment, accommodated as to tense.)
At that all-arousing summons the sceptic swallows his cavils, the student starts up from his books, the merchant forsakes his accounts, the farmer forgets his harvest and his barns, the politician wakes up from his day-dreams of preferment, the warrior relaxes his grasp upon his blade, the bridegroom hurls his fainting bride from his embrace, the mother drops from her bosom her new-born babe, the mourner neglects the last offices of humanity, Senates rise in confusion, and courts adjourn to meet no more. At that dread alarm the wheels of nature stop; the flight of time is arrested; Death, in mid-career, reins up his pale horse and drops the fatal shaft.
And now what ominous sights appear! Above the firmament is cleaving asunder, and through the awful rent beam the glories of the invisible world, while "the Lord Himself descends from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God." "And, lo, a mighty angel comes down from heaven clothed with a cloud and a rainbow on his head, and his face as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire; and standing upon the sea and upon the earth, lifts up his hand to heaven and swears by Him that liveth forever and ever that there shall be time no longer." Awful announcement! The changes and notations of this sublunary scene will cease; the sweet vicissitudes of morning and evening fail, and the seasons roll no more. The days and weeks, the months and years of an evangelical probation shall revolve no longer, and man will enter upon the measureless duration of eternity. Thenceforward naught will remain but two unchanging forms of existence--an unbroken sabbatism, or an endless funeral of the soul.
The hour is come when all that are in the graves hear the voice of the Son of God and come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation. Behold the stupendous scene! The dead are rising! From every part of this vast charnal-house the victims of death are awaking from their long sleep, and obey the summons which commands them into the presence of their judge. Magnificent mausoleums are bursting, in which lie inurned the ashes of sceptred monarchs; moss-covered sepulchres are cleaving, beneath which moulder the remains of priests and high-priests, nobles and princes, legislators and warriors, philosophers, orators, and poets; while the grass-grown mounds under which the slave and the peasant repose in death are not disobedient to the heavenly call. From dim cathedral aisles, from every crowded churchyard, from forest burying grounds, from profoundest ocean depths, the long-forgotten dead are starting into new, immortal being amidst the thrilling realities of the judgment day. The solitary traveler rises from the lonely grave which he found in a land far distant from home; while from the narrow beds in which they slept side by side in the populous cemetery whole families rise together. The father sees his children again, the husband extends to his wife the salutations of the resurrection morning, and the mother once more clasps in her arms the babe that had slumbered with her in the same grave, and mingled its dust with hers.
And now the throne is set, the Supreme Arbiter of destiny assumes His seat, the books are opened, and mankind are convened for judgment. "And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God." All who have ever lived, and all who will live to the farthest bounds of time, will be assembled before the judgment seat by angels who will act as marshals of the final day. From our first parents to the babe which shall draw the earliest breath of life on the resurrection morning and shall hear at the same moment the first endearing word from its mother's lips and the awful voice of the archangel,--all will be there. Not one of earth's unnumbered millions shall be absent from the dread assize. Patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, kings with their subjects, masters with their servants, parents with their children, ministers with their flocks, the goodly company of confessors and the noble army of martyrs,--all will be there. Pagans, Mohammedans and Christians, skeptics, infidels and atheists, all will be there. The pale-faced Caucasian, the red rover of the forest, the yellow Mongolian, and the swarthy Ethiopian,--all, all will there. Band after band, throng upon throng, nations massed upon nations, with a sound like the deep and hollow roar of a storm-lashed ocean, they will crowd to the rendezvous of being and stand before the final bar.
"In one vast conflux rolled,
Wave following wave, are men of every age,
Nation and tongue: all hear the warning blast,
And led by wondrous impulse hither come."
Nor shall devils be absent from that trial. Hell shall disgorge itself of its inhabitants; the doors of the eternal prison, grating harsh thunder, shall swing open for egress to the desperate and innumerable mob. Rising with the gloomy vapors of the bottomless pit, and clanking their everlasting chains, countless legions of lost angels shall press upward, and driven by almighty power shall be forced to join the great assembly and await the sentence of their doom.
Come with me in imagination, my hearers, as erelong you must in reality, to that scene which shall be presented before the tribunal of judgment. How unspeakably solemn! A world in one vast congregation! See, multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! Farther than the eye can reach extends a boundless sea of human beings, swayed to and fro with new and unutterable feelings. Before the august Judge are gathered all nations, and He proceeds to separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. He sets the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. All human and perishing distinctions are swept away. The mask is torn from hypocrisy, the veil stripped from secrecy, the paint and varnish expunged from the face of deceit. Missed are the strut and fret of "a little brief authority." The tiara, the mitre and the crosier, the chasuble, stole and cowl are looked for in vain. The tinseled insignia of rank and the gilded baubles of nobility, the arms of heraldry and the stars and crosses of honor are rent away from human beings, and leave them to appear as they are--"naked, unvarnished, unappendaged men." The standards, ensigns, and gonfalons of earthly parade float not in the air of the judgment morn. Beauty, wealth, and power, gifts, talents, and fame,--of what avail are they now without true and heartfelt religion? The righteous and the wicked, the followers and the foes of Christ,--these are the only distinctions which have a place in that overwhelming presence.
Each one of that immense concourse is seen. Each one is known. Each one must give account of himself to God. No one shall share responsibility with his fellows. No one shall shield himself behind the instruction, the counsel, the example of others; no one shall cover himself with the skirt of minister, parent or friend. Families are sundered; individuals are parted from individuals by a discrimination awfully searching and particular. Oh, what a sifting! Jehovah's fan is in his hand, and he winnows the chaff from the wheat: he gathers the wheat into his garner, and consigns the chaff to unquenchable fire.
Now is the day of full redemption come to those who served their Lord amidst temptations, trials, and fears, and waited and prayed and longed for His second glorious appearing. Clad in Jesus' righteousness, washed in Jesus' blood, pleading Jesus' atoning merits, they stand at His right hand and look into His smiling face. "Come," saith the King, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungered and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave Me drink:. I was a stranger and ye took Me in: naked and ye clothed Me: I was sick and in prison and ye came unto Me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it unto Me." "Enter ye into the joy of your Lord." O welcome word! O thrice happy souls! Their tribulation is past, their conflict with the world, the flesh and the Devil is ended, the narrow way has all been trod, death, their last enemy, is conquered, and not one of them remains a tenant of the grave. The last battle has been fought, the last sin has been committed, the last tear is wiped away. The world's laugh and frown are alike no more. No more the cross, the fire and the stake. No more the chain, the dungeon and the rack. Shout, ye ransomed sinners, shout! For yours are harps of gold, crowns of righteousness, the beatific vision of God, and the celestial glory that fadeth not away.
Now do all Christ's people meet each other at His right hand. The sundered ties of earth are reconstructed; and the scattered fragments of families are re-gathered into a union no more to be broken forever. What passionate embraces! What mutual congratulations! What ecstasies of joy! Glorious day when the whole blood-bought Church of the Redeemer meet for the first time in His immediate presence!
But, alas! across yonder dividing line stand the wretched children of doom. Their visages are clouded with the horrors of despair. They are torn by an irresistible hand from the companionship of the godly and the consolations of hope. O, fellow-sinners, take warning in time and forecast that day. How will ungodly parents part with those who were their children in the flesh, but who became the children of God in the spirit? How will unconverted children part with pious and sainted parents? How will they endure that final clasping of hands and those everlasting farewells? How will hardened sinners look in the face the ministers of Christ who besought them in vain to seek salvation in the blood of the Lamb, and who were driven by their refusals to weep in secret places over their pride? How will every sermon stare them in the face, and every broken Sabbath bear swift witness against them? How will the infidel, the skeptic, and the persecuting inquisitor look upon that abused and calumniated Bible that now lies open on the judgment-seat as the law by which they are judged? Resisted it, opposed it, slandered it, burnt it, they may once have done, but confront it they must now, as God's unbroken and eternal word. How will the despisers of conscience meet its testimony before the final bar? How will it rise upon them like a strong man armed, and thrust its unerring finger at them, and charge them with their forgotten but now resuscitated sins? Hidden motives that lay down in the foundations of the soul, shameful thoughts and feelings that were screened from human eye in the secret chambers of the spirit, deeds of wickedness perpetrated in the darkness of night,--lo! they are now dragged forth into light and divulged before an assembled world. When God manifests Himself and pours the insufferable glory of His holiness, justice, and law upon the trembling sinner at the bar, His heart will melt within him like wax in the devouring flame. To hypocrites and false professors of religion is fulfilled that fearful word of Christ: "Many shall say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord; and then will I profess unto them, I never knew you." Too late will they wake up to the consciousness of their fatal mistake. Standing with a lie in their right hands before the judgment seat, what infinite disappointment, chagrin and horror seize their souls when they find that "there is a way to hell even from the gates of heaven."
Ye lascivious and unclean, malicious and uncharitable, ye Sabbath-breakers and defrauders, how will ye stand before the majesty of that fiery law which once broke in flashes from the thick darkness of Sinai's mount, but now blazes in consuming brightness and terrific wrath? And O ye rejecters of Christ, how can ye confront Him who sits as your Judge with the print of the nails in His hands and feet and of the spear which cleft His heart in twain?
"Yonder sits my slighted Savior,
With the marks of dying love;
Oh, that I had sought His favor
When I felt His Spirit move!
When I felt His Spirit move!"
He offered you His Gospel; you refused it. He tendered you His hand; you thrust it from you. He shed His tears over you; you trampled them under feet and counted His most precious blood as an unholy thing. Salvation! Salvation! How unspeakably important will you then deem it? How will paleness bespread your faces and trembling make your knees to smite together? What groans of anguish will rend your hearts? What tears of blood will you weep? And are they gone? The Sabbath, the Bible, the preacher, the mercy-seat, the Gospel,--are they all clean gone forever? Yea, poor sinner, and Christ is gone, and the Spirit of grace is gone, and heaven is gone, and hope, that was wont to gild the fiercest storm with rays of light, hope that made even the thought of death, judgment and eternity tolerable, hope too is gone forever. And come is judgment, come is divine vengeance, come is the blackness of darkness and the second death. And is it come to this, that Jesus the merciful Saviour, who so loved sinners that He wept and bled for them, must now pronounce their doom? Must those lips that were wont to speak in blessing utter irrevocable curses on their souls? Alas for them! In tones of deepest thunder Jesus shall say, "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels."
The sentences of destiny are pronounced; but look, what rising light is that which sheds a lurid glare over the vast assembly, throws a ruddy tint upon the blanched countenances of the doomed, and crimsons the face of the great white throne? 'Tis the world on fire! The atmosphere ablaze wraps the earth in a winding-sheet of flame, immense volumes of smoke roll upward and dim the lights of heaven; the sun is turned into darkness, the moon into blood, and the stars are falling like untimely figs. From mountain top to mountain top the flames are leaping and playing, while a deluge of fire sweeps across the face of nature whelming cities, towns and villages in its sea-like swell and roll. Water which quenches fire is itself devoured; oceans are licked up and dried to their beds like the water in the trench around Elijah's altar in the minor judgment-day of Carmel.
Alas! will there be no wailing voices to chant a fitting death hymn for a doomed and dying world? Will no kindred planet in the solar family, as it gazes upon the dread disaster, veil its luster and clothe itself in mourning for a sister orb? Once it was a sanctuary of praise, a theatre of glory, a paradise of charms. The morning stars sang together its natal hymn, and all the sons of God shouted for joy, when, adorned by the hand of its Maker as the home of holiness, it took its co-ordinate place in the society of shining worlds, and helped to swell the doxology pealing in God's ear from the grand harmonies of the universe. But Sin entered, and Death followed after. They converted it into an Aceldama of blood and a Golgotha of bones, and at last dissolve its fair and beautiful proportions in a universal sea of flame. Pale now, and paler yet, wanes the light of the direful conflagration. Earth utters her expiring groans in rumbling detonations from her deepest caverns; and reiterated thunders of mighty explosions seem the volleying discharges of God's artillery at the funeral of a world.
A few words more and I shall strain your attention no longer to this awful, yet delightful theme. The judicial process ends; the books are closed, the Judge rises, and the Supreme Court of the world adjourns. The separate destinies of human beings are now evolved. Collected around the person of their glorious Lord, the jubilant saints begin their triumphal march to the portals of their heavenly home. Onward they sweep in majestic array, hallelujahs are bursting from every lip, and as they come in view of the shining gates, hark! they sing: "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in!" And, again, as in the ascension from Olivet of the victor of sin, death and hell, the challenge of angelic sentries is shouted from the battlements of heaven: "Who is this King of glory?" And then the response is rolled back in thunder from ten thousand times ten thousand voices: "The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle, the Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory. Lift up your heads. O ye gates, even lift them up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in!"
It is enough. They enter, they pass beneath the arches of triumph, they tread the golden streets of the New Jerusalem lined the while with dense ranks of angels who cheer the conquerors home. They seat their Saviour-King in glory on Mount Zion, and massing, massing, massing before the eternal throne they prostrate themselves in adoring worship of the Triune God and cry: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God of hosts!"
Then rising and waving their palms of victory in the morning air of an endless day, with a sound like the noise of many waters, or the voice of mighty thunderings,--hark, they chant again: "Glory and honor and power, and might and dominion, and wisdom and thanksgiving and blessing be unto Him that sits upon the throne and unto the Lamb forever!" Redemption is completed, and the pauseless chorus of everlasting praise begins.
"Jerusalem, my happy home,
Name ever dear to me;
When shall my labors have an end
In joy and peace and Thee?
O mother, dear, Jerusalem,
My soul still pants for thee;
Then shall my labors have an end
When I thy joys shall see."
Would that we could say this is all: this is the glorious destiny of an unsevered and unmutilated race! But from the left hand of the judgment-bar a funeral procession of lost human beings, in the train of devils, slowly and reluctantly wend their way to the frowning gates of hell. They defile through those gloomy portals over which despair reads the fatal legend: "They who enter here leave hope behind." The irrefragable bolts of the eternal jail are shot by penal justice behind them; and between them and a lost and irrecoverable paradise yawn the terrific jaws of an uncrossable chasm--a gulf wide, deep, and dark as starless midnight, save as the profound abyss is gilded by some mocking rays that may straggle into it from a far distant and inaccessible glory.