The Universal Judgment - The Trial
Adapted from a Sermon by Samuel Davies
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, (31) because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Act 17:30-31 ESV
… the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly… (10) …the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 2 Peter 3:7-10 ESV
Last week a solemn scene was opened before us. The scene of the great trial. We saw the Judge enter as if on the clouds; the subjects of the trial were awakened from all the corners of the earth and gathered before the court into a vast assembly. And then, the solemn and inevitable separation of all people took place, some to the right hand and some to the left hand of the Judge.
Everything was ready for the judicial process. And now the trial begins!
Taking Scripture as our guide, we will look into four images it presents of this extraordinary trial:
1. of the judicial process itself;
2. of the decisive sentence;
3. of its execution,
4. and of the conflagration of the world!
1. We begin, in the first place, with the judicial process itself.
Now "God judges the secrets of men by Jesus Christ." Romans 2:16. All the works of people will then be tried! "For," says Paul, "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil." (2 Cor 5:10) John in his vision “saw the dead … judged according to what they had done." (Rev 20:12, 13) These works refer first to the actions of the person, but they also include the inward attitude, and thoughts of the soul, and the words of the lips; for all these will be brought into judgment.
Solomon writes, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil." (Ecc. 12:14) And though we are too prone to think that we are not accountable for our words, he who is to be our Judge has told us that "people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words," as well as your actions, "you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Mat 12:36, 37)
What astonishing things will this trial of every hidden thing discover! What noble dispositions which were never perceived by mortal eyes! What generous purposes crushed before they could see the light of day for lack of power to execute them! What pious and noble actions concealed under the veil of modesty, or misunderstood by ignorance and prejudice! What affectionate aspirations, what devout exercises of heart, which were visible only to the eyes of God, are now brought to full light, and receive the approbation of the Supreme Judge before the assembled universe!
But on the other hand: what works of shame and darkness are then revealed! What hidden things of dishonesty! What dire secrets of treachery, hypocrisy, deceit, and various forms of wickedness artfully and industriously concealed from human sight! What horrid exploits of sin now burst to light in all their hellish colors, to the confusion of the guilty, and the astonishment and horror of the universe!
Surely the history of mankind must then appear like the chronicles of hell, or the biography of devils! Then the mask of deceit will be torn off! Clouded characters will clear up, and men as well as things will appear in their true light. Their hearts will be, as it were, turned outwards, and all their secrets exposed to full view!
The purpose of this judicial inquiry will not be to inform the omniscient Judge—but to convince all creation of the justice of his proceedings. And this purpose makes it necessary that all these things should be laid open to their sight, that they may see the grounds upon which he passes sentence.
Does not the prospect of such a 'revealing' fill some of you with horror? For many of your actions, and especially of your thoughts—will not stand the light. How would it confound you, if all your secret thoughts were now all published, even in the small circle of your friends? How then, can you bear to have them all fully exposed before God, angels, and the universe! Will it not confound you with shame, and make you objects of everlasting contempt to all of creation!
These are the facts to be tried.
But by what rule shall they be tried?
From the goodness and justice of God—we may conclude that men will be judged by some rule known to them, or which at least it was in their power to know.
Now the light of reason, the law of conscience, is a universal rule, and universally known—or at least knowable by all men, heathen and Moslems, as well as Jews and Christians. And therefore, all mankind will be judged by this rule. Indeed "when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them." (Rom 2:14, 15)
By this rule their consciences now acquit or condemn them, because they know that by this rule they will then be judged. The conscience seems to be a kind of inner monitor of human nature. As the heathen were invincibly ignorant of every rule but the conscience—they will be judged by this only. But as to those parts of the world that enjoyed, or might enjoy the advantages of Scriptural revelation, whether by tradition in the world before the law was given, or in the writings of Moses and the prophets with the Jews, or in the clearer dispensation of the gospel with the Christian world—they shall be judged by this revealed law.
And by how much the more perfect the rule—by so much the stricter will their account be. That which would be an excusable defect in a person who lived in total darkness, may be an aggravated crime in us who enjoy so much more light. This is evident from the repeated declarations of Scripture. "For all who have sinned without the law, (that is, without the written law,) will also perish without the law; and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (Rom 2:12, 16)
"If I had not come and spoken to them," says the blessed Jesus, "they would not have been guilty of sin." That is, their sin would not have been so aggravated; or they would not have had the particular sin of unbelief in rejecting the Messiah; “but now they have no excuse for their sin.” (John 15:22) That is, now when they have had such abundant warning, they are utterly inexcusable!
"This," says Jesus, "is the judgment;" that is, this is the cause of the most aggravated condemnation; "the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil." (John 3:19)
"That servant who knew his master's will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating!" (notice how ignorance is no sufficient excuse,) "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more." (Luke 12:47, 48)
Along these maxims of eternal righteousness, the Judge will proceed in pronouncing the judgment on the world; and it was upon these principles he declared, in the days of his flesh, that it should be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah—than for those places that enjoyed the advantages of his ministry, and abused them! (Matthew 11:21-24) Whether upon these principles sinners among us have not reason to expect they will obtain a more horrid sentence among the millions of sinners in that day, I leave you to judge, and to tremble at the thought!
There is another illustration of this proceeding, which we often meet with in the word of God, in reference to the forms of proceedings in human courts. In courts of law, law-books are referred to, opened, and read for the direction of the judges, and sentence is passed according to them. In reference to this custom, Daniel, in a vision, saw, “As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.” (Dan 7:9-10)
And John had the same picture shown to him: “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” (Rev 20:11-12)
Should we look into this important comparison, we may say—then will the book of the law of nature be opened; and mankind will be tried according to its precepts, and doomed according to its sentence. This is a plain and vast volume, opened and legible now to all who can read their own hearts; to all who have eyes to look around at the works of God, which show his glory and their duty; and who have ears to hear the lectures which the sun and moon, and all the works of creation and providence, read to them night and day.
Then, too, will be opened the book of scripture revelation, in all its parts, both the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ; and according to it—will those be judged who lived under one or other of these dispensations. Then it will appear that that neglected, old-fashioned book called the Bible is not a romance, or a system of insignificant truths—but the standard of life and death to all who had access to it.
Then will also be opened the book of God's remembrance. In that book, are recorded all the thoughts, words, actions, both good and bad, of all people—and now the immense account will be publicly read before the assembled universe.
Then, likewise, as a counterpart to this, will the book of conscience be opened; conscience which, though unnoticed, writes our whole history as with an iron pen and the point of a diamond!
Then, also, we are expressly told, will be opened the book of life, in which are contained all the names of all the heirs of heaven. (Rev 20:12) This seems to be a reference to those registers which are kept in cities or corporations, of the names of all the citizens or members who have a right to all the privileges of the society. Which is a picture of the perfect knowledge which the omniscient God has, and always had from eternity, of those on whom he purposed to bestow eternal life; and whom he has from eternity, as it were, registered as members of the general assembly and church of the first-born, who are written in heaven, or as citizens of that blessed city. These, having been all prepared, by his grace, in time—will then be admitted into the New Jerusalem on that day of the Lord.
In addition, the pictures which the Scripture gives us of the proceedings of that day leads us to conceive of witnesses being produced to prove the facts.
The omniscient Judge Himself, will be a witness against the guilty. "Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts." (Mal. 3:5) And he will, no doubt, be a witness for his people, and attest their sincere piety, their saving interest in Christ, and those good dispositions or actions which were known only to him.
Angels, also, who ministered to the heirs of salvation, and no doubt inspected the affairs of mankind, will be witnesses.
Devils too, who once tempted, will now become accusers.
Conscience within will also be a witness! It will acquit the righteous of many unjust accusations, and attest the sincerity of their hearts and their many good actions. But it will be the most terrible witness against the ungodly! Scripture states that they will be witnesses against themselves, (Joshua 24:22,) and this will make them self-tormentors! Conscience will echo to the voice of the Judge, and cry, "Guilty, guilty,” to all his accusations!
And who can make the wicked happy—when they torment themselves? Who can acquit them—when they are self-condemned? Conscience, whose voice is now so often suppressed—will then have free reign—and it will be heard. Whom conscience condemns—the righteous Judge will also condemn; God knows many more grounds for condemning us than we do, and therefore how much more will he condemn us.
In short, so full will be the evidence against the sinner, that the Scripture which is full of striking imagery to awaken human nature, gives life to inanimate objects on this occasion, and pictures them as 'speaking'. Stones and dust will witness against the ungodly. The dust under the feet of their ministers shall witness against them! (Matt 10:14) "The stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond!" (Hab 2:11) "Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire." (James 5:3) Indeed, "The heavens will reveal his iniquity, and the earth will rise up against him!" (Job 20:27) Heaven and earth were called to witness, that life and death were set before them, (Deut 30:19,) and now they will give in their evidence that they chose death!
In this way God and all his creatures, heaven, earth, and hell—rise up against them, accuse and condemn them!
And will not the wicked accuse and witness against one another? Undoubtedly, they will. They who lived or spoke together on earth, and were spectators of each other's conduct—will then turn mutual witnesses against each other. What a truly astonishing thought! That friend should inform and witness against friend! That parents should inform and witness against children, and children against parents! That ministers should inform and witness against their people, and people against their ministers!
Consider what a confounding testimony against each other must those give—who are now sinning together!
And so, the way is prepared for the passing sentence. The case was always clear to the omniscient Judge—but now it is so fully discussed and attested by so many evidences, that it is quite plain to the universe of creatures—who can judge only by such evidence; and for whose conviction the formality of a judicial process was appointed.
How long a time this grand court will sit, we cannot say, nor has God thought fit to inform us; but when we consider how particular the trial will be, and the innumerable multitude to be tried—it seems reasonable to suppose that it will be a long session.
Creatures, unlike God, are not able to see all things at once, and therefore, since the trial, as we observed, is intended to convince them of the fairness of the divine proceedings, it is proper the proceedings should be detailed and unhurried, that they may have time to observe them.
2. We are now come to the grand crisis, upon which the eternal states of all mankind turn! I mean the passing the great decisive and final sentence, our second heading.
Heaven and earth are all silence and attention, while the Judge, with smiles in his face, and a voice sweeter than heavenly music, turns to the glorious company on his right hand, and pours all the joys of heaven into their souls, in that transporting sentence, of which he has graciously left us a copy: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world!" (Matt 25:34)
Every word is full of emphasis, full of heaven, and agrees exactly with the desires of those to whom it is addressed. They desired, and longed, and languished to be near their Lord; and now their Lord invites them, "Come near to me, and dwell with me forever!" There was nothing they desired as much as the blessing of God, nothing they feared so much as his curse—and now their fears are entirely removed, and their desires fully accomplished, for the supreme Judge pronounces them 'blessed by his Father'. They were all poor in spirit, most of them poor in this world, and all deeply aware of their unworthiness. How agreeably then are they surprised, to hear themselves invited to a kingdom, invited to inherit a kingdom, as princes of royal blood, born to thrones and crowns! How they will be lost in wonder, joy, and praise—to find that the great God entertained thoughts of love towards them, before they had a being, or the world in which they dwelt was made, and that he was preparing a kingdom for them—while they were nothing, unknown even in idea, except to himself?
Consider this, do any of us expect this sentence will be passed on us? I think the very thought would overwhelm us! I think our feeble frames would be unable to bear up under the ecstatic hope of such a weight of blessedness. If this is our sentence in that day, it does not matter what we suffer during our short stay on earth. That sentence of eternal blessedness will compensate for everything, and erase the sufferings of ten thousand years.
But listen! Another sentence is uttered from the mouth of the angry Judge, like vengeful thunder! Nature gives a deep tremendous groan; the heavens lower and gather blackness, the earth trembles, and guilty millions sink with horror at the sound! And see, he whose words are works, whose mere creative will produces worlds out of nothing; he who could consign ten thousand worlds into nothing at a frown; he whose thunder crushed the insurrection of rebel angels in heaven, and hurled them headlong down, down, down, to the dungeon of hell; see, he turns to the guilty crowd on his left hand; his angry expression reveals the righteous indignation that glows in his heart. His expression manifests that he is unstoppable, and that there is now no room for prayers and tears.
Now, the sweet, mild, time for mediation is past—and nothing appears but the majesty and terror of the judge! On his face is a frown of horror and darkness, and vindictive lightnings flash from his eyes. And now, (who can bear the sound!) he speaks, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels!" Hear the cutting emphasis of every word!
Depart from me—from me, the Author of all good, the Fountain of all good, the Fountain of all happiness. Depart, with all my heavy, all-consuming curse upon you!
Depart into fire, into eternal fire—prepared, supplied with fuel, and blown up into a rage!
Prepared for the devil and his angels, once your companions in sin—and now the companions and executioners of your punishment!
Now the grand period has arrived in which the final, everlasting states of mankind are unchangeably fixed! From this all-important day—their happiness or misery runs on in one uniform, uninterrupted vane! There is no change, no gradation—but from glory to glory—in the scale of heavenly perfection; or from gulf to gulf—in hell. This is the day in which all the schemes of Providence, carried on for thousands of years, end.
Time was—but it is no more! Now all people enter a duration not to be measured by the revolutions of the sun, nor by days, and months, and years. Now eternity dawns—a 'day' that will never see an 'evening'. And this terribly illustrious morning, is solemnized with the execution of the sentence. No sooner is it passed than immediately the wicked "will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life!" (Matt 25:46)
3. And now, the third heading, the execution of the sentence.
See the astonished, thunder-struck multitude on the left hand, with sullen horror, and grief, and despair in their looks, twisting with agony, crying and wringing their hands, and glancing a wishful eye towards that heaven which they lost! See them, dragged away by devils to the place of execution! See, hell expand her voracious jaws, and swallow them up! And now an 'eternal farewell' to earth and all its enjoyments! Farewell to the cheerful light of the sun! Farewell to all 'hope', that sweet relief from affliction!
Heaven frowns upon them from above, the horrors of hell spread far and wide around them, and conscience, that never-dying worm within, preys upon their hearts.
Conscience! Abused, mistreated power, which now sleeps in the heart of so many people! What severe, ample revenge will you then take on those who now dare to abuse you!
Think of the awful reflections which memory will then suggest! The remembrance of mercies abused! The remembrance of a Savior despised! Remembrance of means and opportunities of salvation neglected and lost! This remembrance will sting the heart like a scorpion!
But consider Eternity! Eternity! With what horror will your name circulate through the vaults of hell!
Eternity in misery! No end to pain!
No hope of an end!
This Eternity itself is the hell of hell!
This Eternity is the parent of despair! Despair is the most awful ingredient of misery, the most tormenting passion which devils feel.
But let us look on a more delightful and wonderful scene! See the bright and triumphant army marching up to their eternal home, lead by the Captain of their salvation, where they will ever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:17,) as happy as their nature in its most elevated state is capable of being made!
With what shouts of joy and triumph do they go up! With what sublime hallelujahs do they crown their Deliverer! With what wonder and joy, with what pleasing horror, like one who has narrowly escaped some tremendous precipice—do they look back upon what they once were!
Once they were vile, guilty, depraved, condemned sinners!
Afterward they were imperfect, broken-hearted, sighing, weeping saints!
But now they are innocent, holy, happy, glorious immortals!
Now with what pleasure and delight do they look forward through the long, long prospect of immortality, and call it their own! The duration not only of their existence—but of their happiness and glory! Shall any of us share in this immeasurably valuable privilege! How wonderfully overwhelming is the thought!
What miracles of power and grace, are these! But words fail to describe the splendors of heaven. The language we speak was made for describing lower things. "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him!" (1 Cor 2:9)
And now when the inhabitants of our world, for whose sake it was formed, are all taken away, and it is left a wide extended desert; what next—but that it also meet its fate? It is fit that so guilty a planet, which had been the stage of sin for so many thousands of years, and which even supported the cross on which its Maker died—should be made a monument of God’s displeasure, and either be laid in ruins, or refined by fire.
"The heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed!" (2 Pet 3:7,10)
4. We come to our last heading, the conflagration of the world.
Look! the universal blaze begins! Now stars rush from their orbits! Comets flare! The earth trembles with convulsions! All the lofty peaks of mountains thunder, and smoke, and flame and quake like Sinai, when God descended to it to publish his law! Rocks melt and run down in torrents of flame! Rivers, lakes, and oceans boil and evaporate! Sheets of fire and pillars of smoke, and unbearable thunders and lightnings burst, and bellow, and blaze, and shake the heavens from pole to pole! The whole globe melts into a shoreless ocean of liquid fire!
And where now—will we find the places where cities stood, where armies fought, where mountains stretched their ridges, and rose high to the clouds? They are all lost, and have left no trace behind them where they once stood! Where are you, Canada? Sunk with the rest—as a drop into the burning ocean! Where now are your houses, your lands, and those earthly possessions you were once so fond of? They are nowhere to be found!
How sorry a portion for an immortal soul—is such a dying world as this!
And so, we have looked into the solemnities of the last day which our world will see. The view has indeed been but very faint and obscure—and such will be all our views and descriptions of it—until our eyes and our ears teach us better!
Yes, to be sure, these very ears that now hear my voice—will hear the all-alarming sound of the last trumpet, the decisive sentence from the mouth of the universal Judge, and the horrid crash of shattering worlds! These very eyes with which you now see one another—will yet see the descending Judge, the assembled multitudes, and all the majestic phenomena of that day! And we will not see them as indifferent spectators! No—we are all concerned in this great final transaction. We must all appear before the judgment-seat, and receive our sentence according to the deeds done in the body.
"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed!" (Acts 17:30-31) And if so:
Why are we not preparing more diligently?
Why does the prospect not affect us more?
Why are the righteous not moved to unspeakable joy?
Why are the sinners not afraid?
Why are the hypocrites not filled with fearfulness? (Is 33:14)
Can any one of you be careless from this moment on—until you are ready for that tremendous day? Repentance is the main preparation for this dreadful day; and the apostle mentions the final judgment as a powerful motive to repentance.
What will criminals think of repentance—when they see the Judge ascend his throne? Come, sinners, look forward and see . . .
· the flaming tribunal erected,
· your crimes exposed,
· your doom pronounced,
· and your hell begun!
See the whole world demolished, and ravaged by a flaming inferno for your sins! With these objects before you, as an ambassador of Christ, in his name, I call you to repent! And God, the great God, whom heaven and earth obey, commands you to repent!
Whatever are your characters, whether rich or poor, old or young, white or black, wherever you sit or stand, this command reaches you: "God…commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed!"
You are this day firmly bound to this duty by his authority. And dare you disobey Him—with the prospect of all the dreadful proceedings of judgment before you—and indeed so very close to you? I can only hope that you have now been brought into such a situation, that the often-repeated, but up until now neglected, call to repentance will be taken seriously and obeyed.
Repent you must—either on earth or in hell. You must either spend your time—or your eternity, in repentance. It is absolutely unavoidable. Putting it off now, does not remove the need—but will only make it the more bitter and severe in the future.
Which then do you choose?
The tolerable, hopeful, healing repentance of the present life?
Or the intolerable, unprofitable, despairing repentance of hell?
Will you choose to spend time—or eternity in this mournful exercise? Please make the choice which God, which reason, which self-interest, which common sense recommend to you! Repent now at the command of God, because he "commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed!"