Chapter XXXIII. Of the Last Judgment
Section I.—God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged; but likewise all persons, that have lived upon earth, shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.
Section II.—The end of God's appointing this day, is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
There is a particular judgment which passes upon every individual immediately after death; for "it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement."—Heb. ix. 27. There is also a general judgment, which shall take place after the resurrection of the dead, at the last day. The present sections—1. Declare the certainty of a future judgment; 2. Affirm that the administration of this judgement is committed to Jesus Christ; 3. Point out the parties who shall appear before his tribunal; 4. The matters to be tried; and, 6. The sentence to be pronounced.
I. The certainty of a future judgment. We are told that Paul reasoned before Felix of judgment to come.—Acts xxiv. 26. He proved this truth by arguments drawn from the nature and reason of things; and such arguments are not to be overlooked by us, though our faith stands upon a more sure foundation.
1. The certainty of a future judgment appears from the dictates of conscience. Men, even when destitute of supernatural revelation, apprehend an essential difference between good and evil. When they do what is right, their conscience approves and commends their conduct; and when they do what is wrong, their conscience reproaches and condemns them. If they have committed some atrocious crime, conscience stings them with remorse; and this it does although the crime be secret, and concealed from every human eye. Whence does this arise, but from an awful foreboding of future retribution? The Apostle Paul, accordingly, shows that all mankind have a witness in themselves that there shall be a future judgment.—Rom. ii. 15.
2. Reason infers a future judgment from the state of things in this world. Here we take for granted these two fundamental principles of religion—the being of God, and his providence in the government of the world. All who acknowledge these truths must, and do, believe that God is infinitely just and righteous, infinitely wise and holy, infinitely good and merciful; and that he cannot be otherwise. From this it necessarily results that it must be well with the righteous, and ill with the wicked. But the most superficial view of the present state of things is sufficient to convince he that God does not, in this world, dispense prosperity only to the good, and adversity only to the evil: "There be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous."—Eccl. viii. 14. The promiscuous dispensations of Providence have perplexed the minds of men in every age, and tried the faith of the children of God.—Ps. lxxiii. 4-17; Jer. xii. 1, 2; Hab. i. 13. But reason rightly exercised would lead us to the conclusion that, upon the supposition of the being and providence of God, there must be a day coming when these things will be brought under review, and when a wide and visible difference shall be made between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not.
3. God has given testimony to this truth in all the extraordinary judgments which he has executed since the beginning of the world. Though much wickedness remains unpunished and undiscerned in this world, yet God sometimes executes judgment upon daring offenders, show that he judges in the earth, and to give warning to men of a judgment to come. In signal judgments, "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against the ungodliness of men;" and an intimation is given of what he will further do hereafter.—2 Pet. ii. 5, 6, iii. 5, 7.
4. That there is a judgment to come is confirmed by the most explicit testimonies of scripture. Enoch predicted the approach of this day of universal decision as a salutary admonition to that profligate age in which he lived.—Jude 14, 15. Solomon addressed this solemn warning to the voluptuous: "Know that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment."—Eccl. xi. 9. Job put his friends in mind that there is a judgment; and the Psalmist frequently represents it in very solemn language.—Job xix. 29; Ps. l. 3-6, xcviii. 9. Our Lord, during his personal ministry, frequently foretold his coming to judgment; and the testimonies to this truth in the writings of his apostles are numerous.—Matt. xxv. 31-46, Rom. xiv. 10, 12; 2 Cor. v.10.
5. This truth is confirmed by the resurrection of Christ. The Apostle Paul, having affirmed that "God will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained," adds, "whereof he hath given assurance to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead."—Acts xvii. 31. The resurrection of Christ is a specimen and pledge of a general resurrection—that grand preparative for the judgment. It is an incontestable proof of our Lord's divine mission, and is, therefore, an authentic attestation of all his claims. In the days of his humiliation, when he was accused and condemned before the tribunal of men, he plainly warned them of a future judgment, and declared that he himself would be the judge: " Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven."—Matt. xxvi. 64. Now, since God hath raised him from the dead, although be was condemned as a blasphemer for this very declaration, is not this an undeniable proof from heaven of the truth of what he then asserted?
IL The administration of the future judgement is committed to Jesus Christ: "He is ordained of God to be the judge of quick and dead."—Acts x. 42. It is, indeed, frequently said, that "God shall judge the world;" and the Psalmist declares, "None else is judge but God."—Ps. l. 6. How are these declarations to be reconciled? The words of Paul enable us to solve the difficulty. He has told us that "God will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained."—Acts xvii. 31. It thus appears that God the Father judges the world by the Son. The supreme judiciary power is in the Godhead, and the exercise of that power is committed to Christ, as mediator—John v. 22.
There is a peculiar fitness and propriety in this constitution: - 1. It is fit that this high office should be conferred upon Christ, as an honorary reward for his extreme abasement and ignominious sufferings. 2. Inasmuch as men are to be judged after the resurrection in an embodied state, it is fit they should have a visible judge. 3. It is also fit that Christ should be the supreme judge, as it must contribute greatly to the consolation of the saints that they shall be judged by him who is a partaker of their nature, who redeemed them to God by his blood, and who is their advocate with the Father. 4. It may be added, that hereby the condemnation of the wicked will be rendered more conspicuously just; for if a Mediator—a Saviour—the Friend of sinners—condemns them, they must be worthy of condemnation indeed.
III. We are next to consider the parties who shall appear before the tribunal of Christ. The Scripture says nothing of the judgment of good angels, but it clearly teaches that the apostate angels will be judged. - Jude 4; 2 Pet. ii. 4. That men universally shall stand before the judgment-seat of Christ is expressly declared.—2 Cor. v. 10. We are told that Christ "shall judge the quick and tile dead at his appearing."—2 Tim.. iv. 1. This expression, "the quick and the dead," comprehends all mankind. By the dead, are to be understood all who died before the period of Christ's coming to judgement; and by the quick, such as shall then be found alive.
IV. The matter to be tried. This is expressed in the most comprehensive terms: "God shall bring every world into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."—Eccl. xii. 14. All the works of the sons of men will be tried, and they shall receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil. Not only the actions of the life, but also the words of men shall be judged; for our Saviour has assured us that "for every idle word which men shall speak, they shall give an account in the day of judgment."—Matt. xii. 36. And not only the actions and words, but also the very thoughts of men shall be brought into judgement; for we are told "God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." - Rom. ii. 16.
V. The sentence to be pronounced will be answerable to the several states in which mankind shall be found. They shall receive their doom according to their works. - Rev. xx. 13. It is to be remarked, that the good works of the righteous will be produced in that day, not as the grounds of their acquittal, and of their being adjudged to eternal life, but as the evidences of their gracious state, as being interested in the righteousness of Christ. But the evil deeds of the wicked will be brought forward, not only as evidences of their being strangers to Christ, but also as the grounds of their condemnation. To the glorious company on his right hand the King will say: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." How different the sentence that will be passed on the guilty crowd on his left hand! To them he will say: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." The sentence shall no sooner be passed than it shall be executed. While fallen angels and wicked men shall be driven from the presence of the Judge into the pit of eternal perdition, the righteous shall be conducted into heavenly mansions, end "shad go no more out." "These shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal." The same expression being applied to the happiness of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked, we may conclude that both will be of equal duration.
Section III.—As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin, and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: so will he have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.
The day of the eternal judgment is fixed in the counsels of God; but, that we may be kept habitually watchful, the knowledge of that day is wisely concealed from us. Though a long series of ages may elapse before Christ shall come in the clouds of heaven to judge the world, let every one remember that the day of his own death is equally important to him as the day of the universal judgment; for where death leaves him, judgment will find him. Let him, therefore, "be diligent, that he may be found of God in peace, without spot and blameless." Let every reader study to improve the talents with which he is entrusted, and be solicitous to obtain the approbation of his Master in heaven. How highly will he commend all those who have been diligent and faithful in his service! He will bestow upon them that best of plaudits: "Well done, good and faithful servant;" and will introduce them into "the joy of their Lord." Well may the genuine believer "love the appearing" of Christ; for when Christ shall appear, he also shall appear with him in glory. And since Christ proclaims in his Word, "Surely I come quickly", let every Christian joyfully respond, "Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus."