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from being true that its near approach was predicted by the apostles, that, when the notion began to prevail, they set themselves to oppose it, as we learn from the second Epistle to the Thessalonians, in which Paul beseeches them in the most solemn terms, not to be shaken in mind or troubled, as if the day of Christ were at hand, and proceeds to inform them of other events which would precede it, and consequently proved that it was still remote. It is commonly said that the design of keeping it secret, is to excite us to watch and to be always prepared. This is the improvement which we should make of the fact that there is a future judgment; but it will not seem to an accurate thinker to arise properly from the uncertainty of the time, because amidst our total ignorance of the day and the hour, we are assured, as men in past generations might have been, that it will not take place during our lives. There is a long series of prophecies which will be fulfilled before the coming of Christ, and by the details of which ages will be consumed. This may be a topic of popular declamation, but it will not bear exact inquiry. Some things in Scripture which are understood to favour the idea, relate to the destruction of Jerusalem. It may operate in this way upon the men who shall live after the prophecies are fulfilled, and who, if they rightly discern the signs of the times, may justly conclude that the end of all things is at hand. In our age, the immediate motive to vigilance and activity, is the uncertainty of the time of our death, which will be precisely the same to us in its effects as the second coming of Christ; for after death is the judgment, when the state of every man will be immutably fixed.
As we have no means of ascertaining the time of the general judgment, so it is impossible to say any thing respecting its duration. It is called a day; but the use of this term in the Scriptures is indefinite, and it marks at one time a shorter, and at another a longer period. There is no doubt that the Judge could in a moment separate the righteous from the wicked, and having then passed sentence upon them, send them immediately away to their respective abodes ; but we cannot conceive that this summary process would answer the end of the judgment, which we apprehend to be not simply the reward of the good, and the punishment of the bad, but the display of justice in particular cases. If our notion of a detailed procedure is correct, as the design of it will be to convey just ideas of the divine character to the minds of creatures, whose thoughts follow in a train, a natural day seems to us too short for the disclosure of so many secrets, the correction of so many apparent irregularities, the solution of so many perplexities, the determination of so many cases. But we speculate in ignorance, and it is wiser to rest in the general conclusion, that the business will be so conducted, as to produce in every mind a full conviction of the consummate rectitude of the divine government.
“ Tell us, when shall these things be ? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world ?"* This question of the disciples related to our Saviour's prediction of the destruction of the temple, and his answer must be considered as bearing upon that point. It is a great mistake, therefore, to bring forward the circumstances enumerated by him as signs of his second coming, because they were to precede the fall of Jerusalem; and he expressly told his disciples that the generation then existing should not pass away till all these things were fulfilled. We know of no signs but the fulfilment of prophecy. The Gospel will be preached to all nations; antichrist will fall; the Jews will be converted; the millennium will succeed, or the thousand years of his spiritual reign upon earth ; and, it should seem, will be followed by a period of impiety, when the wicked will go up on the breadth of the earth, to compass the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city.f Then the Judge will appear upon his throne; but, in the order of events, the intervals are not marked, and the whole is expressed in such figurative and general terms as to convey no definite information respecting the time. Past prophecies have been gradually, and sometimes insensibly fulfilled. We may, therefore, presume that, although those who shall live towards the end of the world, when the predictions are accomplished, may know that the end of all things is approaching, they will be as incapable as we are of calculating the time; and that, even to them, the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, suddenly, and without previous warning.
* Matt. xxiv. 3,
| Rev. xx. 9.
The place where the judgment will be held is this world; and as it is said that the saints shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, it should seem that the wicked will be left standing upon the earth. What region of it will be chosen for the last and solemn scene, it would be presumptuous to conjecture. The following passage in Joel has no relation to the subject : “Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about.”* The valley of Jehoshaphat, lying between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, is of small extent; but the scene of the last judgment will afford ample space for the countless millions who will be assembled upon it to hear their final doom. All nations shall be gathered before the Son of man. The judgment, therefore, presupposes the resurrection, of which, however, I shall not at present speak, as it will occur in another part of this course. The whole order of angles was created at once; it has received no increase, and sustained no diminution since its commencement. The human race consisted, at first, of a single pair, from whom successive generations are derived, according to the peculiar law of their nature; and as they were made subject to death in consequence of sin, they have passed along the stage of life, and after a short display, vanished from sight. It is but a small portion of mankind that is alive at any particular period. Multitudes have retired into the land of darkness and oblivion ; multitudes will yet be raised up by the creating power of God, to spend their transient day in the light of the sun, and then descend into the shades of death.
When the Son of man shall be revealed in his glory, he will call upon the earth and the sea to give up their dead, and all who ever breathed the breath of life from Adam to his last son, who, like him, returned to the dust, shall arise, and, together with those who are then alive, shall stand in their lot at the end of their days. The men of the present age will be mingled in the same crowd with the antediluvians, and with those who shall be summoned from their dwellings and their occupations by the voice of the archangel. All ranks and conditions will be confounded. Those whom birth, and office, and wealth, and talents placed at a distance from each other, will stand upon the same level; the great without their ensigns of dignity, and the poor without their marks of abasement, for then only moral distinctions will be regarded. The oppressor and the oppressed will be there, the one to obtain the redress of his wrongs, and the other to have his violence returned upon his own head. Statesmen, whose avarice or profusion impoverished nations, and whose intrigues involved them in wars; princes, who imagined that mankind were made for them; and blood-stained heroes, who acquired an illustrious name by desolating the earth, will stand before the tribunal, amidst the cries and execrations of millions whom they ruined with impunity. Jews and Gentiles, Mahometans and Christians, the learned and the unlearned, the bond and the free, the high and the low, will appear divested of all adventitious circumstances, to render an account to Him who is no respecter of persons, and whose omniscient eye will distinguish each individual in the immense throng as
Joel üi. 12.
easily as if he were alone. Not one of the righteous shall be forgotten, and not one of the wicked shall find a hiding-place from the justice of the Judge.
The Judge is Jesus Christ, as we are informed in the passages formerly quoted. As sustaining this character, he is to be considered, not simply as the second Person of the Trinity, to whom, in common with the other persons, the government of the moral and natural world belongs but as mediator. His divinity is presupposed, as we shall afterwards see; but, in the final retribution, he will act as the Father's delegate, and exercise official power. For this statement we have his own authority : “ The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son. As the Father hath life in himself, so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man."* The communication of power to him is expressly asserted; and the reason assigned, “ because he is the Son of man,” imports that it is imparted to him in his mediatorial character to reward his humiliation and sufferings, and to qualify him to accomplish all the ends of his office.
Hence he will appear not only in his own glory, but in the glory of his Father, bearing this honourable commission which will exalt him so highly in the eyes of angels and men.
There is a manifest congruity in appointing him, who was the Saviour, to be the judge of the human race. It was fit that the promises which he had made, and the threatenings which he had denounced, should be carried into effect by himself; that, from his hand, those who had submitted to his law should receive their reward, and those who had been disobedient their punishment. It was fit that he should bring to a close the dispensation which he had established by his personal interposition, and should fulfil, in his eternal state, the destinies of those for whom its benefits were intended. Besides, as the judgment is appointed for the public manifestation of the righteousness of the divine government, it was necessary that there should be a visible judge, whose proceedings all should witness, and whose voice all should hear. The proper person, therefore, is Jesus Christ, who, having assumed our nature, will appear in it unchanged in essence, although invested with glory suitable to the dignity of his person and the rank which it holds as the head of the creation of God. On Sinai the Israelites beheld the awful tokens of the divine presence; but they only heard the voice of their law-giver. When Jesus Christ comes with clouds, " every eye shall see him, and they also that pierced him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.”+
It is a man who will be revealed from heaven as the Judge of men ; but that man being also the Son of God, is possessed of all the attributes of divinity. These are necessary to the execution of his office. The decision of so many cases involving innumerable particulars, in themselves intricate and perplexed, and connected with other cases by multiplied aspects and relations, will manifestly require knowledge not inferior to omniscience. Who but God could distinguish every individual in this vast assembly? Who but God could remember, if I may be permitted to use this term, all the incidents of their lives? Who but God could form a just estimate of their actions, by a direct and unerring reference to the circumstances in which they were performed, and the motives from which they proceeded ? Who but God could bring to light the secrets of the heart, upon which the sentence will be founded in all cases, but more particularly in those where the external conduct was a superficial show; and where it is only by a disclosure of principles carefully concealed, that the persons will appear to be deserving of their doom? No created mind is capable of comprehending all the details of this multifarious transaction, or of attaining to the prerogative of God, who says, “ I search the heart and the reins." Upon the adequate knowledge of the judge will be founded the rectitude of his decisions. He cannot err in judgment; and besides, he is essentially just. As he loves righteousness, loves it as necessarily as he exists, so he is exposed to no influence which might counteract the dictates of equity. He is subject to no partialities; he feels not the disturbing effects of pity or anger; he proceeds calmly, but steadily, to his purpose; and every sentence which he pronounces, rests upon the immutable basis of law. Among the multitude of the condemned, however severe may be their punishment, and however impatiently they may bear it, there will not be one who will dare to accuse his judge of injustice. In the mind of every man a consciousness of guilt will be deeply fixed; he will be compelled to blame himself alone, and to justify the sentence which has rendered him for ever miserable. The power of Jesus Christ is infinite, as well as his knowledge and his justice. The works which will signalize the great day, are operations of omnipotence. Omnipotence only could raise the dead from their graves, bring all nations to the tribunal, however reluctant to obey the summons, cast the ungodly into the flames of hell, and open the gates of heaven, to give admission to the righteous.“ The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
* John v. 22, 26, 27,
| Rev. i. 7.
Several circumstances are mentioned in Scripture, which will attend the coming of our Saviour to judgment. 6. Behold he cometh with clouds.”+ There seems to be no reason why these words should not be literally understood, as the coming is not figurative, and the manifestation of Christ will be made to the bodily eyes. When God descended to publish the law to the Israelites, there was a thick cloud upon the mountain, from which issued peals of thunder and flashes of lightning. It may be the design of the apostle to signify, that something similar will take place on the day of the Lord. He will be surrounded with clouds, in form and magnitude, and dazzling splendour, corresponding to the grandeur of the occasion, and the majesty of the person who will come on them as his magnificent chariot. Among these clouds his throne will be erected. It is called in Scripture, a great white throne ; and, as there will be a real representation to the senses, this may be understood to signify the appearance of a seat, on which he will sit, as human judges do, when causes are tried before them. He will be elevated above the assembly, and all eyes will be raised to him, in solemn expectation of his final award.
« The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.”! Three sounds are distinctly mentioned, but I do not pretend to know what they are. There is probably an allusion to an important circumstance in the awful appearance of God upon Sinai :
“On the third day, in the morning, there were thunders, and lightnings, and a thiek cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud." “ And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice;"'S that is, Moses said, as we are informed by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, "I exceedingly fear and quake."|| Those will be terrible sounds, which will shake the hearts of the guilty with fear, and be a solemn prelude to that more terrible voice, which will consign them to everlasting woe. I may remark in
2 Thess. i. 7-9. $ Exod. xix. 16, 19.
# 1 Thess. iv. 16.
+ Rev. i. 7.
passing, that the opinion of those who affirm, that there is no such creature as an archangel, and that under this title, our Lord himself is described, is refuted by this passage, in which the Lord is plainly distinguished from the archangel; the most blundering writer meaning to say that, in the descent of Christ, his own voice will be heard, would not have changed the designation from Lord to archangel, and thus have led his readers to think of two persons, instead of one. It is certain that the judge will be attended by the heavenly host. He will come with his holy angels, perhaps in a visible form, who will not only increase the pomp and splendour of his appearance, and be spectators of a scene so interesting to the whole intelligent creation, but will have high and honourable offices to perform, both to the righteous and the wicked. “The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire.” These are the tares growing in the field of the world ; but the wheat shall be also gathered into the barn by the same ministry, and “ then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father."*
The saints being caught up into the clouds, by the ministry of the angels, to meet the Lord in the air, and the wicked being left upon the earth, the judgment will proceed. Into the details we cannot enter, because our information is very general, and some things are expressed in figurative language. It is evidently the design of the following passage to teach us, that an exact inquiry will be made, and the judgment will be conducted with a strict regard to justice. “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were open: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”+ No person can suppose that books will be literally used on this occasion. The books, therefore, seem to signify the different laws under which men have been placed, and by which justice requires that they should be tried: and the correctness of this idea may be inferred from the statement, that they will be “judged out of the books, according to their works” importing that there will be a comparison of their actions with a standard, and that the sentence will be founded upon the result.
First, Those who were not favoured with divine revelation, will be judged by the law of nature, or the law originally given to man as the rule of his conduct. Some portion of this law has been preserved among the Gentiles, partly by reason and partly by tradition ; and although the traces of it are in some instances obliterated, and in others obscured, yet so much remains as to render them accountable beings, and to be the foundation of a judicial trial. Men have not lost all sense of justice, of truth, of humanity, of the duties arising from the various relations which they bear to one another. 'The Apostle Paul refers to their knowledge of morality, in these words : “ When the Gentiles which have not the law," that is, the law in writing as the Jews had, “ do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves : Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another.”Ị How far their ignorance will exempt them from responsibility, is a question of some difficulty, which is rashly decided when ignorance is pronounced to be a complete excuse. If the ancient Gentiles become so vain in their imaginations as to worship the creature instead of the Creator, and so blind in moral distinctions as to account gross sensuality no crime, and to practise unnatural lusts without a blush, does it follow that their idolatry and abandoned profligacy were not sins ? To this
• Matt. xiii. 41, 43.
| Rev. xx, 12.
* Rom. ii. 14, 15.