The Great Account
Adapted from a Sermon by George Everard, 1866
"Behold, You have made my days as an handbreadth." Psalms 39:5
“For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.” Psalm 90:9
“Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” Psalm 144:4
“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14
The longest day has its close. The longest life is but for a moment.
Such is a true picture of the present life. It is "a handbreadth," "a shadow," "a sigh," "a mist that appears for a little time."
There are insects which are born at sunset, and before the sun rises, they are no more. There are flowers which open with the day, and before evening fade and die. So short are the hours of our existence, if judged by the light of the eternity that follows.
"Every-day life" with its comforts and its cares, its joys and its sorrows, its evil and its good — does not dwell with us long. Soon buried with us in the unavoidable grave— will be the schemes, and thoughts, and pursuits, that now engage the most of our time.
But what then? Is there nothing else to life? Will the work of our hands, the words of our lips, the thoughts of our hearts — be silent from then on?
We know that is not so because there is a great day approaching. A great accounting must then be made. The book of a man's life, closed for a time, will then be reopened. The past will have a voice given to it, so that not to comply will be impossible.
In a quiet churchyard a few solemn words were inscribed over one who was buried there: "What I was, the day of judgment will declare. Reader, what are you?"
It is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." (Rom 14:11) It is written again, "the Judge is standing at the door!" (James 5:9)
I) Behold the Judge Himself!
It is the Son of God. He it is, who is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, who searches the hearts and tests the thoughts of men.
It is the Son of man. He it is . . .
who took our nature and shared our inheritance of misery;
who dwelt on earth, and wept in Bethany;
who felt the Tempter's power, and has known by experience what our condition really is.
He it is, who alone of the children of men, lived and died unblemished and undefiled. It is fit that the Judge should be guiltless of crimes upon which He must pass sentence in others. The Son of man, though one with us in everything else, "committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth." (1 Pe 2:22)
He it is, who was once judged and wrongfully condemned. The High Priest and Pilate sentenced Him to death — but then they will change places. Christ will be Judge. At His bar, both of them will stand.
He it is, who is now the Savior. He "came into the world to save sinners." (1 Tim 1:14) He came not to judge, but to redeem. He stretches out His arm to rescue man from the deep abyss of guilt into which he has fallen. He calls lovingly to perishing ones, to come to Him for salvation. He delights to justify freely through His death and merits, all those who turn to Him. He will finally perfect in holiness, through His sanctifying Spirit, those who commit themselves to His care.
And so, sinner! behold Jesus standing at the door of your heart as a most compassionate Savior — before He comes to you as a righteous Judge. Run to Him for pardon and acceptance — before you are summoned to stand before Him as judge!
II) Behold the Judged!
Behold the vast multitude who will stand beneath the solemn shadow of the great white throne. "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)
Amid that multitude will be those now dead, lying around the churchyards, or in the crowded cemetery — those whose remains were buried on the battlefield, or who lie fathoms deep beneath the waves of the sea.
There will be those now living in various parts of the wide world — those 7.5 billion who form the population of the earth in our day.
There will be those yet unborn, who have yet their race to run, and their battle to fight.
Our criminal population will be there — murderers, thieves, defrauders, and the such — those convicted, and those who have escaped.
In the city of York, in England, there is a castle which for some time was used as a prison and from whose windows can be seen a narrow grass-plot, where for many a years the remains of those executed for various crimes were laid. Imagine what a place of dread, on the day of resurrection, will be that enclosure, when those who lie there will arise to receive their sentence before a far higher tribunal than any that as yet they have known!
Those who have kept up a spotless character among their fellow-men will be there also. Tried by any human standard, they have no reason to fear, but "the LORD sees not as man sees." (1 Sam 16:7)
George Everard relates the story of a captain who was within a few weeks of death. A friend was speaking to him of a future state. "Were you to be tried by a Court Martial as to your conduct as an officer and a gentleman — would you be afraid?"
"I would not!" he said emphatically, rising up in his bed as he spoke it. "But you are not to be tried by a Court Martial, but at the bar of Christ, and what will you answer when He asks: 'What have you done for Me?'"
"Nothing! I have never done anything for Christ" said the captain thoughtfully. The arrow had reached his conscience. He was now brought to deep conviction, and through it to find rest in Christ.
There will be the "blind guide" — the man solemnly pledged to feed the flock, yet did not know himself "the unsearchable riches of Christ," (Eph 3:8) nor unfolded them to others.
There will be the faithful under-shepherd, who himself followed the Master, and day by day, in public and in private, exalted Christ and Him alone.
There will be hearers of the Word, who vainly imagined that their duty was done, when for half-an-hour they had listened to the sermon.
There will be doers of the Word, who practiced as well as heard, and only grieved that they did it so little.
There will be those who do not believe the Gospel of salvation. It has come to them, but has not been received. Through prejudice, or presuming upon their own works, or a future repentance — they have rejected the offered blessing.
There will be those who have believed and embraced it. When speaking of the judgment, Paul does not exclude himself or other believers. Though sin is forgiven, though for them there can be no condemnation — yet for the glory of Christ and their justification before a world that has trampled upon them, they also will appear before the Judge.
Of all earth's teeming multitudes, not one will be absent!
However difficult to imagine how this can be brought about — of where it may take place — of how long "that Day" will be — yet of this you can be assured, not one solitary individual will escape its awful solemnity.
Within a man's own self, God has fixed a faithful witness to it. Why is it that within, there is that which reproaches or approves? Is there not a little judgment seat set up there — that is conscience — which bears a clear testimony to the judgment that will come in the future?
Nor in any way can the guilty one run away from the presence of his Judge. "it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment." (Heb 9:27) "For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?" (Is 14:27)
III) Behold the character of the judgment which God has appointed.
In every Court of Justice there must be a certain fixed rule or standard, by which people accused may be tried. In our own land, for example, every prisoner is acquitted or condemned according to principles which are based on and very similar to the English code of laws. It is not according to the law of the Unites States, or Russia, or any other country — it is not in accordance with any idea of justice in their own mind — or in that of the judge or jury — but by a clear definite code, known and recognized among us.
And this is how it will be at the Great Day. Today, there are many different standards by which men judge themselves, so as to quiet conscience and build up a false security for themselves. They cherish certain views of their own, with respect to moral duty, and imagine that if they come up to them, nothing more can be required. Or they judge themselves by the ordinary walk of those with whom they live. Or they compare themselves with those who seem greater transgressors than they are — and so they hope that they may not fall far short of the mark.
All such vain imaginations will vanish in a moment before the brightness of Christ’s solemn throne.
The only standard will be the Word of God. That Word contains within it the great rule of duty — supreme love to God, and true genuine love to our neighbor. It reveals also the free promise of life, and eternal salvation to everyone who believes in the name of Christ. It declares that true faith works by love, and that none truly believe in the Son of God, who are not led by the Spirit, and produce the fruits of that Spirit in their lives. Such is to be the rule by which all those will be judged to whom the message of the Gospel has come. Hear the Word of Christ: "The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day." (John 12:48)
Bear in mind not only what is to be the one standard — but that the judgment has respect to the whole course of a man's life.
A trial usually has respect to a single charge, or at most to some few isolated actions — but the final reckoning takes in all that a man has ever been or done.
Whether an outward obedience has been paid to the letter of the law,
what duties have been neglected,
what has been left undone, which ought to have been done,
what use has been made of the talents bestowed,
what use has been made . . .
of the years we have lived,
of the influence we have possessed,
of the wealth committed to us,
of the opportunities for receiving or doing good which may have been placed in our way,
what words have fallen from our lips and what thoughts and desires cherished in our hearts,
what has been the chief motive and principle by which we have been moved to act,
— nothing of all this can avoid the eye of our omniscient Judge!
Above all the solemn things of that coming Day, will be the laying bare of that which is now altogether hidden and secret. "God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil." (Ecc 12:14) "On that day”, writes the Apostle Paul to the Romans, “when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus." (Rom 2:16) And to the Corinthians, "Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart." (1 Cor 4:5)
Take an illustration of this truth from the pages of modern history.
Some twenty centuries ago, a terrible calamity befell the flourishing city of Pompeii. While busied with the tasks of the day, there erupted from the summit of a neighbouring mountain, a huge column of smoke which soon overspread the sky, and turned midday into pitch black night!
Quickly there followed a thick rain of ashes, and after this, a shower of small hot stones, together with a deadly wave of heat.
There is now no shelter or escape. Those who did not flee at first, now find it impossible to do so. Some are quickly blocked up within their homes; others are overthrown by the heaps of loose stones. Within three days the town had disappeared! It lay covered up beneath a vast mass of ashes. Above it from year to year, there accumulated fresh soil, in which grew again the vine and the olive. For seventeen hundred years the town, wrapped in its earthy shroud, remained almost undisturbed.
Now it has been largely disentombed. Though so long in darkness, it has been brought out into the light.
The Roman sentinel was discovered, still at his post near the gates of the city. The baker's oven, with its eighty-three loaves, black and charred, was discovered, and these still retaining their shape, as placed there in the days of Paul.
The remains of a house of ill-fame, with its immoral paintings and the names upon the wall of some of the gladiators who frequented it, was still standing.
Strange does it seem that, hidden beneath the ground for so long — all this should now be brought out into the light of day.
Is there not a voice that comes to us from the remains of ancient Pompeii? Does it not remind us that “nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known!" (Matt 10:26)
Does it not set before our eyes, as in a picture, the fact that our present life, with all that belongs to it, will yet have a resurrection? Do we not see here that centuries may pass by after the grave has become our resting place — and yet that all we have been and done, our names, our dwellings, and their testimony for good or for evil, may stand out as fresh as while we were alive?
And what secrets will then, for the first time, be revealed! In many a home, in many a little knot of companions, evil has been thought up and accomplished almost passing belief! Schemes of fraud have been planned and carried out; foul iniquities, deeds of darkness, have been committed in secret, which it might well make us shudder even to contemplate. The authors of these may be undetected, they may never here reap their just reward, but they are known of God, and the deeds they have done; and to the everlasting shame of the men and women who have thus acted, shall their crimes be made manifest before the universe.
Yet not only iniquities done in secret, but the innermost feelings of the heart will be laid bare. Where there has been no commission or thought of such acts as have been named — yet within the heart there may still be lurking the most deadly evils. In the sight of the Most High, how revolting must be those heart-sins which are often un-thought of and unchecked, even among those who pay an external deference to His commands, and who regularly attend a place of worship.
A determined selfishness, a secret aversion to His service, a wilful forgetfulness of all His daily benefits, a cherished dislike of spiritual religion, and a thorough attachment to the things of the earth — may exist side by side with a life upon which, it would be difficult to cast a shadow of reproach.
Would it not be wise to be willing before "that Day" to know the utmost of the evil in us, which at present may be unknown by others or even by ourselves?
Gently, tenderly, will the good Physician handle, and probe the depths of that wound — which of our own choice we reveal to Him. No needless pain will He inflict; and where pain must be given, where the conscience must be touched, He will yet add the healing medicine. It is far better for us to learn of our plague and sore in the day of grace — than to wait until a rougher hand exposes it, until the avenging law and an endless eternity brings that to light which will then be beyond a cure!
IV) Consider the two-fold outcome of the judgment.
There can be, in any case, but one or the other of two sentences.
To this day, in Scotland a third verdict is sometimes given — the prisoner is neither acquitted or condemned, but the crime is declared "not proven." Though the jury are persuaded of the guilt of the person tried — yet the evidence itself is not clear enough to warrant an infallible verdict.
This can never take place at the bar of the Most High God. There is One who saw it. The omniscient eye of the Judge Himself beheld all that has taken place!
To those who have died in their sins, the outcome must be a sentence of "eternal damnation."
No stronger language could have been used than that employed by Christ to declare this. He says "their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" in Mark (Mark 9:48) And in Matthew He uses, with reference to it, the same word "eternal" that is used as to the happiness of the righteous. "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matt 5:41) "these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matt 25:46)
Throughout the whole of Scripture there is not the least hint of a second judgment, or of a reversal of the sentence to be passed by Christ at His coming. If on that solemn day, therefore, the sentence is "eternal punishment" — how, or when, will it ever be changed?
But to those found in Christ the verdict will be everlasting life and happiness. The debt has been paid by their Surety — who then will demand it of them? Their sins and offences have already been punished when their Substitute died, the Just for the unjust — who then will require a second payment to the Holy law which had been broken? The everlasting merits and righteousness of the Son of God is theirs — who then will object to their entrance into the glory prepared for them? "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us!" (Rom 8:33-34)
The glory to be the portion of the true Christian is not yet revealed — what it will be surpasses comprehension. The rest of a felt security in the Fathers house; every holy desire fulfilled; every labor, and gift, and prayer, receiving its reward through the same grace that first prompted it; this will be much — yet there will be still more.
The death-blow will have been given to the evil that yet lives in us; the perfect likeness of the glorified Redeemer will be upon us, body and soul alike being transformed into His image. The most cherished ties will then be re-knit — Christians parted for many a long year will then see each other face to face.
The open vision of Christ will then shed eternal sunshine on His saints. Now His people see Him, but it is as through a lattice or coloured glass. It is by means of ordinances, prayer, and in the inspired Word; but then it will be in and immediate sight, "we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is!" (1 John 3:2)
What joyful hope should this raise in our hearts. The miner working in the dark mine, far below the surface of the earth, feels his arm strengthened, and his heart beat faster in anticipation of the evening hour — as he remembers that above ground there is the little home, and a dear wife and beloved children longing for His return.
So may it be with Christian people, now toiling below in this dark world, as we remember that far above this present scene there is the Father's house, and there we will see One whom for so long we have known and loved, and with whom we will then forever dwell.
Behold the fast approaching day! "Behold, I am coming soon!" (Rev 22:12) "behold, the Judge is standing at the door." (James 5:9) It is a strong expression. It reminds us how near at hand He may be.
The thief is sleeping within, dreaming of some midnight party, but the officer of justice who has tracked his steps is at the door, about to knock, and then to bring him away to prison.
The wife is mourning an absent husband, who had been working for her welfare in a foreign land, and she fears she may never again see him — when, behold! he stands by the door, and her long waiting is at end.
So for judgment or for mercy, the Bridegroom will quickly come. It is not for us to fix the times and the seasons, but there are many signs that tell of His approach. Long has He delayed beyond the expectation of His Church, but it cannot be forever. The outburst of error and immorality in our day, may well be that foretold before His appearing.
But this is certain — Christ will come, and every eye will see Him. Whether it be to us in the flesh, or after our summons by death, will be of little importance. Strive then, Christian, ever to be looking for that blessed hope. Realize, as if present now, the Advent of the Redeemer. When you wake in the morning, consider that before the sun, now giving its early light, will soon sink in the West — the day of the world's history may be over. As you retire to rest, speak to your own heart, that before another day will dawn the trumpet may sound, and the sign of the Son of man appear in Heaven.
As we gather together as an assembled congregation — remember that from the earthly sanctuary you may be called in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, to begin the celebration of the everlasting rest, or the entrance into eternal doom.