"For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the Man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead." –Acts 17:31
"Because of His alliance with man's nature; because of His sense of man's infirmities; because of all He did and suffered for man's sake as the Son of man, the Son is that Person of the Trinity who is the most fit as well as most worthy to be man's Judge." –Burgon.
"He will take His seat upon a throne infinitely exceeding that of earthly or even of celestial princes, clothed with His Father's glory and His own--surrounded with a numberless host of shining attendants. In the meantime, O my Divine Master, may my loins be girded about, and my lamp burning, and my ears be watchful for the blessed signal of Your arrival." –Doddridge, 1702.
It is the well-known climax of the most sublime of Litanies, "In the Day of Judgment, good Lord deliver us!" Happy are they who have obeyed the summons of the great Prophet--"Men will flee to caves in the Rocks and to holes in the ground from dread of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty, when he rises to shake the earth"--and who can thus appropriate the strong confidence embodied in the dying testimony of the chief of apostles--"I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day." "Where are you?" was the shuddering question which rang amid the blighted bowers of Eden, when "the voice of the Lord God was heard walking in the garden in the cool of the day." In a far different sense will that question yet come to be uttered. Alas! in the case of thousands on thousands, the only reply will take the shape of an invocation to rocks and mountains to become barricades in the futile attempt to evade Omniscience.
But on the other hand, the response of earth's first
apostate will have a new and glorious meaning in the lips of each member of
the ingathered Church, who, washed in the blood and clothed in the
righteousness of Jesus, has fled to Him for safety--"I heard Your voice and
I was afraid because I was naked, and I hid myself!" Hid myself in Christ;
hid myself in the Rock of Ages! Even now may we be enabled, with some good
measure of triumphant assurance, to take up the often-repeated words, and
sing them in anticipation of that Great Day with its glorious shelter and
It will be observed that the verse selected to head this chapter, and which we may take to guide our thoughts in considering the lofty theme, connects the present Rock-cleft with one already dwelt upon. There is a connection stated between the Resurrection of Christ, and His appearance as judge of all mankind. After announcing that the world is to be judged in righteousness by the Man of God's ordaining, Paul in his address to his Athenian auditory, is represented as adding, "Whereof He has given assurance unto all men in that He has raised Him from the dead." Jesus, in the course of His public ministry, had announced two great truths to His hearers, both wearing the stamp of strangeness and improbability. The one, that He Himself was to die, and by His own inherent power to rise again; that after being laid in the grave, He was to come forth on the third day alive from the sepulcher. And in order to fix this astounding fact in their memories, He associated it with the remarkable analogy or prefiguration in the history of one of their own prophets--"As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Or yet again, investing their honored Temple with a typical significancy, "Destroy this body, and in three days I will raise it up." This was the one well-near incredible fact.
The other was still more marvelous– that is, that at some indefinite period of the future, in the exercise of the same power by which He was to quicken His own body, all the millions that ever trod this world were to be awakened from the sleep of death, and cited at His righteous judgement. Everlasting awards were to be apportioned. Those who had done good were to come forth to "the resurrection of life," and those who had done evil to "the resurrection of damnation."
Now the first of these two marvels had been accomplished. The Resurrection of the Redeemer we found to be a historical fact, certified and accredited by "many infallible proofs." And by the fulfillment of the one prodigy, God has set His seal to the indubitable certainty of the other. As surely as the crucified and buried Jesus of Nazareth came forth triumphant from His tomb on the appointed third day, so surely will the slumbering myriads of mankind--the dust of ages and centuries--awake at His summons to judgment. "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear shall live."
We may make one other preliminary remark suggested by these words of the apostle. They vividly impress upon us the CERTAINTY of that day and that tremendous scene. Other events and transactions in the world are uncertain; their occurrence is contingent on circumstances. In that unwritten roll of our varied futures, there is no one event of which we can feel infallibly sure, except our death. But this Day of judgment is as great an historical verity of the future, as the Resurrection of Christ is of the past. Even the period is not left unfixed and indeterminate. Utterly beyond the presumptuous guesses of human soothsayers, (for "of that day and that hour knows no man,") yet it is known to God. "He has appointed a day." The day is written in the Book of His decrees; and every hour is bringing you and I nearer its solemnities. "Surely," says the now reigning King, as He makes the last inspired communication to His Church, "Surely I come quickly."
What will be the EVENTS of that day?
Let us note, first, THE BELIEVER'S CONFIDENCE AND SECURITY as he contemplates the Person of the enthroned Judge. God is to judge the world in righteousness "by that MAN whom He has ordained." It is "the Son of Man" who is then to come in His glory. He is to come, indeed, in unutterable majesty as the Supreme Jehovah--the co-equal and co-eternal of the Father. But He is to come also in His own glory, as the Mediator of His Church--the effulgence of His Godhead is to be tempered with the tenderness of His humanity. As my Kinsman, my Avenger, the Brother in my nature, the Lord who died for me, who is now pleading for me, He is to stand on that latter day on the earth; to vindicate my cause, to wipe off every aspersion on my character, to ratify my pardon and acceptance before an assembled world, and joyfully to proclaim, in the presence of His Father, as He points to the trophies of redeeming grace and love around Him, "Behold I and the children which You have given Me!"
Observe next, THE SPHERE OR EXTENT OF HIS JUDICIAL PROCEDURE. On that appointed day He is to "judge the WORLD." All that have ever lived are to be gathered within the area of that supreme, tribunal; "Before Him shall be gathered all nations." "All that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God." Not one shall be missing! From earth's teeming mounds--from ocean's hidden caverns. The pauper from his shroud of dust--the king from his gilded monument. Consecrated and unconsecrated ground alike will yield what they have long held in custody. "Every eye shall see Him;" every knee shall bow before Him; either in the reverence of adoring love and joy, or in the unutterable anguish of despair. How solemnly does the Apostle bring home to each of us, alike the universality and personality of that vast assize--"So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God."
Next, let us note THE ONE ATTRIBUTE WHICH WILL THEN BE CONSPICUOUSLY DISPLAYED. He is to "judge the world in righteousness." It is to be a throne of uncompromising equity. It is said of the Divine Conqueror of the Apocalypse, who, on His white horse, now heads the armies of heaven, that in "Righteousness He does judge and make war." We never can speak too much or too often of the Reign, or of the Throne of Grace. We never can proclaim too urgently the glad welcome which awaits every stricken penitent. We delight to picture that Throne with its rainbow canopy, and the inscription which surmounts it, "Faithful and just to forgive sins." But the day will come, when the rainbow-tints shall melt and merge into the color of pure white (the type of pure untainted justice)--"I saw," says John, "a great white throne." Righteousness, we have again and again seen, has been the foundation on which the whole work of the Atonement was raised, and Righteousness will form its closing act, the top-stone of the completed Temple.
Nor are we left in ignorance as to the PRINCIPLE which will regulate that righteous judgement. "He will judge every man according as his work shall be." "And the dead were judged every man according to their works." The silence of the hushed assembly will be broken by this statement, coming from lips from which there is no appeal--"Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy."
Let it not be supposed that these sentences and awards in any degree encroach on the grand central Gospel truth of salvation by grace--salvation without the deeds or works of the law. Every glorified and happy saint that day will be justified by faith, and by faith alone. If he be accepted, it is "accepted in the Beloved;" if righteous, it is because he stands clothed in the surety-righteousness of his Redeemer; if saved and sheltered, it is because he is sheltered in the "Clefts of the Rock."
But good works, as the RESULT and FRUIT of faith, will, in the case of all Christ's people, be required, not as the grounds of acquittal, but as the EVIDENCES of the reality of their union with Him. In the case of the impenitent, their recompense will be in accordance with life antecedents; so that their future condition will only be the continuance and perpetuation of present character. In their case, evil deeds will form the ground of condemnation, "Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap." "The fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone." Our Lord's saying will have, in the case of all such, a dreadful but truthful fulfillment, "Wherever the carcase is, there shall the vultures" (of retribution, the vultures of their own sins) "be gathered together." The master lusts, tyrant passions of the present, will form their future tormentors.
Let none forget or overlook the moral aspect of that majestic assize, as the great SIFTING-DAY OF CHARACTER--the Day when the Books of Conscience, and Memory, and Privilege, are to be opened; when life--all life--every page, and chapter, and line in the biography--will be resuscitated and enlivened; when hypocrisy, with its subterfuges, will be exposed; the thousand masks and disguises torn from the faces they have successfully screened, as they confront Him "whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and His feet like unto fine brass as if they burned in a furnace." In the present economy, unerring judging is impossible. The righteous and the wicked are found together promiscuously. The good and the bad fishes are in one net. The tares and the wheat are in the same field. The sheep and goats browse on the same pasture. Vessels, some to honor and some to dishonor, are found in the same family, the same community, the same church.
But not so in that Day. He, who judges "in righteousness," will separate the one from the other. When the angels with sickle in hand, of whom we have spoken, receive the mandate, "Thrust you in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe," the myriads mown down by these celestial Reapers are to be bound in distinct and separate bundles; some for the heavenly garner; others to be "cast out." The great gulf of separation is fixed forever. "Watch, therefore, and pray always, that you may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man."
Reader, are you prepared for this hour of solemn judgement? Are you able to look forward to it with joyful hope and expectancy as the day of your complete and final glorification; when the Lord, the Righteous judge, will confess your name "before His Father and before His holy angels," and welcome you "to inherit the kingdom?" It is "the day of the REVEALING of the sons of God." It will then be found that God's people were in this world often hidden--unknown; often their goodness and graces and virtues unacknowledged, misrepresented, or scorned; their failures or inconsistencies unduly magnified and exaggerated; their light hidden under a bushel, or prematurely quenched by persecution and death. But "THEN shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father!" That second coming was to the early Christians their cherished harbor of refuge in the midst of environing storms--"And to wait for His Son from heaven." "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and the patient waiting for Christ." "Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord draws near."
Moreover, it is well worth noting, that in the inspired epistles, it is not the day of death which is spoken of or LOOKED FORWARD TO BY THE CHURCH WITH JUBILANT EXPECTATION, but THE DAY OF CHRIST'S APPEARING. It is that day which gives the sacred writers their strongest motives and incentives, not only for the urging of watchfulness, but for the cherishing of hope, faith, and joy. Need we wonder at this? Death is no pleasing theme--though the Christian's last enemy, it is an enemy still--'the King of Terrors.' But the second Advent of the divine Savior--is identified with final triumph over death; when "this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal immortality; and the saying shall be brought to pass as it is written, 'Death is swallowed up in victory.'" Not only so, but that "vile body" (itself a part of the redemption-purchase) will come forth from the dishonors of the grave, fashioned like the glorious body of its glorified Redeemer.
In the experience also of God's people this "blessed hope" has calmed, and cheered, and elevated many a pilgrim in his passage through the dark valley. It is said of a distinguished judge of the English bench that, on sending for Archbishop Usher as he felt death approaching, he declared to that pastor, that amid all the collected stores of human learning and erudition he had in his rare library, there was but one sentence on which he could rest with comfort, and that sentence was from holy Scripture--"The grace of God, which brings salvation, has appeared unto all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ."
How many anguished, BEREAVED mourners, also, have had their grief calmed and their tears dried, by this same sublime antidote of the great Apostle, as he points them on to the second coming of their Lord, and associates that coming with the restoration of their beloved dead! "I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, them also who sleep in Jesus, will God bring with Him." At that blessed season when "the tabernacle of God shall be with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people; and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God"--amid these revived friendships and indissoluble reunions, "God"--the God on the throne--the Brother-man--"shall wipe away all tears from their eyes."
Nor is the anticipated joy of that Day altogether a personal and selfish one. No small element of it is the believer's joy at the GLORY which will then encircle the brow of his adorable Lord. It will be the PUBLIC ENTHRONEMENT OF JESUS of Nazareth. He will come "to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired of those who believe." All the humiliations of His first coming--the manger--the carpenter's home--the unsheltered head--the nights of wakeful anguish--the scorn, and taunt, and jeer--the piercing thorns--the bitter cross--the ignominious sepulcher--all, all now exchanged for the shout of welcome--"Lo! this is our God, we have waited for Him."
How often, among His own people on earth, is He dishonored--wounded in the house of His friends--the unsullied glory of the Master tarnished with the blemishes and inconsistencies of the disciples. But not so on that Day. Even these marred, blotted, imperfect images and reflections, shall then, at least, become perfect copies and transcripts of their glorious divine Original--"We know that when He shall appear we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." "I saw," says John, "the Holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband."
Let us only remark, in closing, that the best preparation for His second coming to judge, is to rest, with firm believing trust and confidence, in His first coming to save. "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and to those who look for Him shall He appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation." Seek to be now forming the character you would wish to have completed and perfected, when the Advent shall take place--"Let every man that has this hope in him purify himself ever as He is pure."
Whatever your earthly duties be, do them nobly, purely, faithfully--keeping, amid the rough wear and tear of a work-day world, a conscience void of offence. Not like some of the enthusiasts of the Pauline age, who, in the erroneous anticipation and interpretation of that Advent, deserted their posts of duty, and surrendered themselves to an existence of dreamy contemplation--but rather, in the midst of your laborious callings, glorify in these the Lord who redeemed you--prosecuting your prescribed path, whatever it be. Only remembering thus to pursue, with the loins girded and the lamps burning, and being like those who are waiting for the coming of the Lord.
With such a glorious inheritance reserved for God's children, what are earth's pomps and vanities? How do its riches, and honors, and ambitions pale into utter nothingness before the approaching blaze of that advent throne! "Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments." Blessed is he, who, in whatever calling he is called, therein abides with God. Thus remaining expectant in this glorious Rock-cleft, we can mark the rainbow-arch which spans the sky of the future, connecting the cross with the crown; and say, in lowly believing confidence, with one of the Church's noblest watchers, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me AT THAT DAY!"