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The Last Judgment
Picture in your mind the proceedings of the Supreme Court of the United States. People of every age, sex, and condition of life, willingly or unwillingly gathered together, from all parts of the country --criminals and victims, accused criminals and alleged victims all trying to make their case. The officers of the court wait at their various posts, to execute the orders that are given; and the judges themselves, in their black robes, are seated in a position of authority. They are the highest court in the land, no appeal can be made from their decision, so those who bring their cases before this court must come with anxiety and concern, and the court must hear their case in all seriousness and wisdom. Now I realize that some people would say that sometimes the Supreme Court has not been very wise, and some decisions have not been very appropriate, but one thing is certain, if we were bringing a case to that court, we would do so with great seriousness and solemnity.
But, as impressive as the Supreme Court may be, a more important court may soon be in session. RM14:10, "We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ." And v11, "As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God." And v12, "Every one of us shall give account of himself to God." This is the Last Judgment. In Great Britain, it is commonly called "The Great Assize." The reference is found as early as 1340 in Hampole's Prick of Conscience, 5514, and several other instances are given in the Oxford Dictionary. In 1758, John Wesley preached a sermon on these verses entitled "The Great Assize." His sermon is the major source for this sermon.
If most people believed in a "Great Assize" or a Last Judgment, our world and our society would be a better place. For what more forcible motive can be conceived to the practice of genuine morality than a fear of eternal judgement? If we know that we are going to stand before the judgment seat of Christ, then surely that knowledge will move us to walk in justice, mercy, and truth. In the movie, "The Green Mile," the hero, played by Tom Hanks, is the supervisor of death row in a prison. Hanks realized that one of the condemned prisoners, a huge Black man, is innocent. More than that, God has endowed this man with a healing power. As the man's execution date approaches, Hanks says to him, "I cannot stand before God, having killed one of God's miracles." His motive for doing good was his certainty that he would be judged. So it is for us. What could strengthen our hands in all that is good, and deter us from all evil, more than a strong conviction that we shall give an account of ourselves to God?
I. THE JUDGMENT
Therefore let us Consider the last Judgement. The first question we ask is:
Who is the Judge? The person by whom God will judge the world, is his only-begotten Son. The father has committed all judgment to the son because as Phil. 2:6, 7 says, though he was "in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet he emptied himself, taking upon him the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men," because, "being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath highly exalted him, and ordained him, to be the Judge both of the quick and the dead;" both of those who are alive at his coming, and of those who die before he comes.
Who is to be judged? Everyone. Picture in your mind that immense multitude of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues; of all that have sprung from the womb of Eve, since the world began. Right now, there are six billion people living on the earth. That is a ton of folks. Can you imagine what a congregation all the generations of the earth will make? Every man, every woman, every child, that has ever breathed the air of this earth will appear in that congregation at the Last Judgment.
What is the charge against them? Every person shall "give an account of their own works;" They shall give an account not only of their action, but of their words. Matt. 12:36, 37 says, "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgement." God will also bring to light every circumstance that accompanied every word or action, so that every detail of our lives is known. In that day of judgment shall be discovered every inward working of every human soul; every appetite, passion, inclination, affection, and temper.
All the good they did upon earth will be recited before men and angels and whatsoever else they did, either in word or deed, in the name, or for the sake, of the Lord Jesus. All their good desires, intentions, thoughts, will also be then remembered; even thought they are unknown or forgotten among men, for God has noted all and sees all. All their sufferings for the name of Jesus, and for the testimony of a good conscience, will be displayed to their praise by the righteous Judge.
Will their evil deeds also be remembered in that Last Judgment? Many believe they will not; and ask, "Would not this imply, that their sufferings were not at an end, even when life ended? -- seeing they would still have sorrow, and shame to endure." They quote Ezek. 18:21, 22: "If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all My statutes, and do that which is lawful and right; all his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be once mentioned unto him?" And Jeremiah 31:34: "I will forgive their iniquities, and remember their sin no more?"
However, it may be answered that for the full display of the glory of God; for the manifestation of his mercy, toward the heirs of salvation; that all the circumstances of their life must be fully revealed. Otherwise, how shall they finally realize from what a depth of sin and misery the grace of God has delivered them?
Also, it is only when the whole lives of all the children of Eve are revealed that the whole amazing depth of divine providence is revealed. Today we ask, Why God? Why the terrorist attack on America? Why this week's plane crash in New York City. In a thousand instances we ask why? In the last judgment, all is made clear. In Matt. 10: 26, Jesus said, "There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; or hid, that shall not be known." He was speaking of the Last Judgment. In that day, we shall understand how God has governed all things by the wise counsel of his will; that nothing was left to chance, but God disposed all strongly and sweetly, and wrought all into one connected chain of justice, mercy, and truth.
Thus, the last judgment will be a great thanksgiving. In the discovery of God's perfect care for his people, the righteous rejoice; they give thanks without feeling any sorrow or shame for any of those past sins that were long since washed away by the blood of the Lamb. God's people give thanks that all the transgressions that they committed are remembered no more to their condemnation. This is the plain meaning of the gospel; and this all the children of God shall find true, to their everlasting comfort.
After the righteous are judged, the King will turn to others; and they also are judged, all people according to their works. Not only their outward works will be brought into account, but all the evil words that they have ever spoken, all the evil desires that have had a place in their souls; and all the evil thoughts or designs which were ever cherished in their hearts.
The sentence of acquittal will then be pronounced upon those who belong to Christ, and they rejoice and give thanks. The dreadful sentence of condemnation is pronounced upon the others.
This sentence is eternal. The scripture says, "These shall go away into eternal punishment, and the righteous into life eternal." This last judgement is forever. It shall not end unless God comes to an end, or his mercy and truth fail. For God's people, this is the best good news that was ever spoken. The scripture says, "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father," "and shall drink of those rivers of pleasure which are at God's right hand for evermore."
The wicked, meantime, are in hell, even all the people that forget God. They will be "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." They will be "cast into the lake of fire burning with brimstone," originally "prepared for the devil and his angels;" where they will gnaw their tongues for anguish and pain. There "they have no rest, day or night, but the smoke of their torment ascendeth for ever and ever!" For "their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."
Let us say a word about the fate of the earth in that last judgment. 2 Pet. 3:12 says, "In the day of God, the heavens, being on fire, shall be dissolved." The whole order of creation is overthrown. Every molecule and every atom is torn asunder. Peter also says, "the earth also, and the works that are therein, shall be burned up" (verse 10). The oceans evaporate, the hills and mountains sink down in fiery ruin.
Some scoffers--Cicero called them "quidam minuti philosophi,",trifling, insignificant philosophers--some scoffers might say that this is a strange and unusual doctrine. Not so. The idea of the end of the earth is not peculiar to Christianity. The Vikings spoke of Ragnarok--the twilight of the gods, the decline and fall of this world, to be followed by a regeneration of the world.
Further, the Ancient Roman poet Ovid said,
Esse quoque in fatis reminiscitur, affore tempus,
Quo mare, quo tellus, correptaque regia coeli
Ardeat, et mundi moles operosa laboret.
[The following is Dryden's translation of this quotation from Ovid: --
Rememb'ring, in the fates, a time when fire
Should to the battlements of heaven aspire;
And all the blazing world above should burn,
And all the' inferior globe to cinders turn.]
The quotation is from the Metamorphoses, 1.256, where Jupiter, preparing to hurl his thunderbolts, hesitates to do so lest he should set the very atoms aflame, "for he remembers that it is amongst the decrees of the Fates that a time will come when the sea, the earth, and the palace of heaven shall catch fire and blaze, and the mass of the world, so laboriously constructed, shall be imperilled."
Today, we can imagine many ways that this final doom could come upon the earth. You may know that the current theory about the demise of the dinosaurs is that a large meteor struck the earth, and brought on an extended winter that so altered the environment that the dinosaurs all died. A comet that struck the earth would certainly do the job on us. Or the sun might explode, or there might be a dozen other ways in which the earth will meet its fate.
That is perhaps not a very happy notion, but now let us consider one other result of this last judgment, and this is a cause of thanksgiving for the people of God. This is the promise of new heavens and a new earth. The promise stands in Isaiah: "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered" (Isa. 65:17). The new shall be so awesome that no one will remember the old at all. In Revelation, we read of that time, "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (21:4). "There shall be no more curse; but they shall see his face" (21:3,4). They shall have immediate access to God and the closest possible fellowship with God. To say that they shall see the face of God is the strongest expression in the language of Scripture to denote the perfect happiness.
Let us then apply what has been said to us. The last judgment is the day that the Lord will judge the world in righteousness. Certainly, that should get our attention. That is a thought that we should carry around in our minds. Judgment day is coming. We shall all "stand at the judgement-seat of Christ." This earth is not our home. Here and now we live in this prison of flesh and blood, but it is not a life that will continue long
Here on this earth, if we go to an earthly court, we are questioned concerning one or two deeds, which we may be supposed to have committed. There in that heavenly court, we are to give an account of our lives, from the cradle to the grave. In an earthly court, some who are guilty may escape for lack of evidence; but there is no lack of evidence in that court. All is known, every jot and tittle. No other witnesses other than our own conscience need be called. Our conscience speaks all, and God knows all.
How will we escape this judgment? Will we call to the mountains to fall upon us. Even the mountains and the rocks, the earth and the heavens, melt before God. Can we prevent the sentence? How? With money? With gold and, silver? Money may make a difference in an earthly court. Money can hire the best lawyers, can do all the legal maneuvering. Money can even bribe judges or jurors. It is not going to happen in that heavenly court. Naked we came from our mother's womb and naked we go into eternity.
We hear two sentences pronounced at the Last Judgment. "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Joyful sound! But the other sentence is: "Depart, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels!" The only question for us then is how do we stand in the company of the blessed on the day of judgment and how do we avoid the company of the cursed who are bound for the everlasting fire. The question is not how long shall it be before the Lord comes, but how shall it be with me when the Lord comes. As the scripture says, "Wherefore, beloved, seeing ye look for these things," seeing ye know he will come and will not tarry, "be diligent, that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless." Why should we not? Have you ever thought of it this way--why should one person die and go to hell? God does not will that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance; by repentance, to faith in Jesus; by faith, to spotless love, to the full image of God renewed in the heart, and producing all holiness of life. Remember, the Judge of all is the Savior of all. Jesus has bought us with his own blood, that we might not perish, but have everlasting life. Come to Jesus then, test his mercy, rather than his justice; his love, rather than his power. Christ is not far from every one of us; and he is now come, not to condemn, but to save the world. He knocks at the door of our hearts. Open the door. Accept Christ. Give yourselves to him who gave himself for you. Give yourself to Christ in humble faith, in holy, active, patient love.
And this shall truly be Thanksgiving Sabbath for you. You shall rejoice with exceeding joy not only this day but on that last day at the great Assize. Amen.
John Wesley SERMON 15 (text of the 1872 edition) [Sermon 48 in the Sugden's edition] THE GREAT ASSIZE. Preached at the Assizes held before the Honorable Sir Edward Clive, Knight, one of the Judges of His Majesty's Court of Common Pleas, in St. Paul's Church, Bedford, on Friday, March 10, 1758; published at the request of William Cole, Esq., High Sheriff of the county, and others.
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Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 01/11/02