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§ 2. The Final Judgment.

The Scriptures abound in passages which set forth God as the moral ruler of men; which declare that He will judge the world in righteousness. The Bible represents Him as the judge of nations and of individuals; as the avenger of the poor and the persecuted. It abounds also in promises and in threatenings, and in illustrations of the righteous judgments of God. Nothing, therefore, is plainer than that men in this world are subject to the moral government of God. Besides this, the Bible also teaches that there is a future state of reward and punishment, in which the inequalities and anomalies here permitted shall be adjusted. According to some, this is all that the Bible teaches on the subject. What is said of the punishment of the wicked and of the reward of the righteous is to be understood in this general way. This is the doctrine of the common school of Rationalists.868868J. A. L. Wegscheider, Institutiones Theologicæ, IV. ii. 99; 5th edit. Halle, 1826, p. 614 ff. Bretschneider869869Dogmatik der evangelischen Kirche, § 172, 3d edit. Leipzig, 1828; vol. ii. p. 445. admits, however, that reason has nothing to object to the Church doctrine on this subject properly understood.


A second view of the last judgment assumes it to be a process now m progress. In the Old Testament the Messianic period is spoken of as the “last day,” “the last time,” “the end of days,” “the end of the world,” and is represented as a time of conflict and of judgment. The Jews expected that when the Messiah came, the severest judgments would fall upon the heathen, and that the chosen people would be greatly exalted and blessed. This was the day of judgment. Those who give substantially the same interpretation to the Old Testament prophecies, hold that the day of judgment covers the whole period between the first and second advents of Christ.

A third doctrine is that the world in its progress works out all possible manifestations of God, so that according to the stereotyped dictum of Schelling, Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht; the history of the world is the judgment of the world. Premillenarians use precisely the same words, although not in the same philosophical sense. With them “to judge” is to reign; and when Christ comes to establish his personal reign upon earth, the last judgment will begin, and “the judgment of God is the administration of the government of God.”870870The Last Times, by Joseph A. Seiss, D. D., Philadelphia, 1866, p. 141.

A fourth theory may be mentioned. There are certain immutable laws, either independent, as some say, of the will of God, or dependent on his voluntary constitution, which secure that the righteous shall be happy and the wicked miserable; and this is all that either reason or Scripture, properly understood, teaches of rewards and punishment.

A fifth doctrine is that the day of judgment is a protracted future dispensation, as just mentioned, to commence with the second advent of Christ, and to continue during the thousand years of his personal reign upon the earth. This theory is connected with the doctrine of the pre-millenial advent of Christ.

The Church Doctrine.

By the Church doctrine is meant that doctrine which is held by the Church universal; by Romanists and Protestants in the West, and by the Greeks in the East. That doctrine includes the following points: —

1. The final judgment is a definite future event (not a protracted process), when the eternal destiny of men and of angels shall be finally determined and publicly manifested. That this is the doctrine of the Bible, is proved by such passages as the 846following: Matthew xi. 24, “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee;” Matthew xiii. 30, “Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the taxes, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn;” verse 39, “The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels;” verse 49, “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just;” John xii. 48, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day;” Acts xviii. 31, God “hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness;” Romans ii. 5, “The day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;” and 1 Corinthians iv. 5, “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come.” It is true that the word “day” in Scripture is often used for an indefinite period; as “the day of the Lord,” is the time of the Lord. And, therefore, it does not follow from the use of this word, that the judgment is to be commenced and ended in the apace of twenty-four hours. Nevertheless, the way in which the word is used in this connection, and the circumstances with which the judgment is connected, show that a definite and limited period, and not a protracted dispensation, is intended by the term. The appearance of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the gathering of the nations, are not events which are to be protracted through years or centuries.

2. Christ is to be the judge. John v. 22, 23, “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father;” verse 27, “And hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” Peter, in Acts x. 34-43, says that God “anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power;” had “raised” Him from the dead “and shewed 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.” Paul, in his speech on Mars Hill, tells the Athenians that God “hath appointed a day, in the which He will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead.” (Acts xvii. 31.) And in 2 Corinthians v. 10, he says, “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” Our Lord says that He will say to the wicked, “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” 847(Matt. v. 28; Luke xiii. 27.) In all the graphic descriptions gives in the New Testament of the process of the final judgment, Christ is represented as acting as the judge. On this point it is to be observed: (1.) That He is set forth as acting on his own authority; and not merely as the “Bevollmächter,” or plenipotentiary of God. Everywhere in the New Testament, our responsibility is said to be to Him. We are to stand before his judgment-seat. He will say, “Depart from me, ye cursed.” It is He, who is to bring every secret thing into judgment. (2.) He is qualified thus to sit in judgment on men and angels; because He is omniscient, and infinite in justice and mercy. (3.) It is especially appropriate that the man Christ Jesus, God manifest in the flesh, should be the judge of all men. He has this authority committed to Him because He is the Son of man; because, although in the form of God, and thinking it no robbery to be equal with God, He humbled Himself to be found in fashion as a man. This is part of his exaltation, due to Him because He consented to become obedient unto death. It is meet that He who stood condemned at the bar of Pilate, should sit enthroned on the seat of universal judgment. It is a joy and ground of special confidence to all believers, that He who loved them and gave Himself for them, shall be their judge on the last day.

3. This judgment is to take place at the second coming of Christ and at the general resurrection. Therefore it is not a process now in progress; it does not take place at death; it is not a protracted period prior to the general resurrection. A few of the passages bearing on this point are the following: In the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. xiii. 37-43), already referred to, we are taught that the final separation between the righteous and the wicked is to take place at the end of the world, when the Son of Man shall send forth his angels to gather out of his kingdom all things that offend. This implies that the general resurrection, the second advent, and the last judgment, are contemporaneous events. The Bible knows nothing of three personal advents of Christ: one at the time of the incarnation; a second before the millennium; and a third to judge the world. He who came in the flesh, is to come a second time without sin unto salvation. Matthew xvi. 27, “The Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works.” Matthew xxiv. 29-35, teaches that when the sign of the Son of Man appears in the heavens, all the tribes of the earth shall mourn, and the elect shall be gathered in 848Matthew xxv. 31-46 sets forth the whole process of the judgment. When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, all nations shall be gathered before Him, and He shall separate them as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats; and then shall He say to those on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father; and to those on the left, Depart from me, ye cursed. 1 Corinthians iv. 5, “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.” When Christ comes, the general judgment is to occur. In 2 Thessalonians i. 7-10, it is taught that when the Lord Jesus Christ 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 Timothy iv. 1, it is said: The Lord Jesus Christ “shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing, and his kingdom.” In the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians, the Apostle expressly teaches that corruption cannot inherit incorruption, that our present vile bodies must be changed before they can enter the kingdom of God; and this change from the natural to the spiritual, from mortal to immortal, is to take place at the last trump; and in Philippians iii. 20, 21, he says it is to occur when Christ comes from heaven, who shall fashion our bodies like unto his own glorious body. In all these different ways it is taught that the general judgment is to take place at the second coming of Christ.

4. The persons to be judged are men and angels. In several passages already quoted it is said that Christ is to come to judge “the quick and the dead;” in others it is said, “all nations are to stand before Him;” in others, that “we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ ;” in others again it is said that “He will render to every man according to his works.” This judgment, therefore, is absolutely universal; it includes both small and great; and all the generations of men. With regard to the evil angels, it is said that God “delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.” (2 Pet. ii. 4.) Satan is said to be the God of this world. The conflict in which believers are engaged in this life, is with principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in heaven, ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις. This conflict is to continue until the Second Advent, when Satan and his angels are to be cast into the pit.

The older theologians speculated on the manner in which the 849judgment is to be arranged, so as to admit of the countless millions of human beings who shall have lived from the beginning of the world to the final consummation being so congregated as to be all gathered before the throne of the Son of Man. The common answer to that difficulty was that the throne is to be so exalted and so glorious as to be visible, as are the sun and moons from a large part of the earth’s surface at the same time. These, however, are questions about which we need give ourselves no concern; these descriptions of the judgment are designed to teach us moral truths, and not the physical phenomena by which the solemn adjudication on the destiny of men is to be attended.

5. The ground or matter of judgment is said to be the “deeds done in the body,” men are to be judged “according to their works;” “the secrets of the heart” are to be brought to light. God’s judgment will not be founded on the professions, or the relations of men, or on the appearance or reputation which they sustain among their fellows, but on their real character and on their acts, however secret and covered from the sight of men those acts may have been. God will not be mocked and cannot be deceived; the character of every man will be clearly revealed. (1.) In the sight of God. (2.) In the sight of the man himself. All self deception will be banished. Every man will see himself as he appears in the sight of God. His memory will probably prove an indelible register of all his sinful acts and thoughts and feelings. His conscience will be so enlightened as to recognize the justice of the sentence which the righteous judge shall pronounce upon him. All whom Christ condemns will be self-condemned. (3.) There will be such a revelation of the character of every man to all around him, or to all who know him, as shall render the justice of the sentence of condemnation or acquittal apparent. Beyond this the representations of Scripture do not require us to go.

Besides these general representations of Scripture that the character and conduct of men is the ground on which the final sentence is to be pronounced, there is clear intimation in the Word of God, that, so far as those who hear the Gospel are concerned, their future destiny depends on the attitude which they assume to Christ. He came to his own, and his own received Him not; but to as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God. He is God manifest in the flesh; He came into the world to save sinners; all who receive Him as their God and Saviour, are saved; all who refuse to recognize and trust 850Him, perish. They are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. When the Jews asked our Lord, What shall we do that we might work the works of God? his answer was, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom He hath sent.” In the solemn account given of the last judgment in Matthew xxv. 31-46, the inquest concerns the conduct of men towards Christ. And the Apostle says, If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be Anathema Maranatha. The special ground of condemnation, therefore, under the Gospel is unbelief; the refusal to receive Christ in the character in which He is presented for our acceptance.

6. Men are to be judged according to the light which they have severally enjoyed. 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. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” Our Lord says that it shall be more tolerable, in the day of judgment, for Tyre and Sidon, than for the men of his generation. Paul says that the heathen are inexcusable, because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God; and he lays down the principle that they who sin without law, shall be judged without law; and that they who have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.

7. At the judgment of the last day the destiny of the righteous and of the wicked shall be unalterably determined. Each class shall be assigned to its final abode. This is taught in the solemn words: “These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

How far the descriptions of the process of the last judgment, given in the Bible, are to be understood literally, it is useless to inquire. Two things are remarkable about the prophecies of Scripture, which have already been accomplished. The one is that the fulfilment has, in many cases, been very different from that which a literal interpretation led men to anticipate. The other is, that in some cases they have been fulfilled even to the most minute details. These facts should render us modest in our interpretation of those predictions which remain to be accomplished; 851satisfied that what we know not now we shall know hereafter.

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