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An angel … having the key of the bottomless pit.
1. Whereas it is said that this Angel that came down from heaven had the key of the bottomless pit, we see that our Saviour has all power given to Him in heaven, the earth, and hell itself.
2. That He had a great chain in His hand, shows us that how mighty and malicious soever Satan may be, yet for our comfort Christ has him in a chain, without whose permission he can do nothing.
3. Whereas Satan is called an old serpent, we see to whom they are like who are habituated in wickedness and crafty to do evil.
4. Whereas he is called the devil, or an accuser, we see whose brood they are who in like manner are false accusers of their brethren, slanderers, etc.
5. He is also called Satan, that is, an enemy to God’s glory and man’s good of salvation, therefore whoever by doctrine or practice impairs the one, or opposes the means of the other, they are satanical, and like him.
6. Whereas it is said that Satan was shut up, that he should deceive the nations no more, we see that his task from the beginning hath been deceiving, using fraud where he cannot prevail by force; wherefore we should beware of his deceiving in his subtle instruments, and acknowledge whose brood they are.
7. Whereas it is said that he was bound up so long that he should deceive no more, this shows that on the contrary, therefore, when we see seducers arise and abound, that then Satan in his instruments for the punishment of a nation or Church is set loose to be a lying spirit in the mouth of false prophets.
8. Whereas it is said that after the time of his binding or shutting up he is to be loosed a little season, this is greatly for the comfort of the godly, that Satan’s prevailing in his instruments is determined by God, and shall be but for a little season; therefore with patience let them possess their souls. (Wm. Guild, D. D.)
He laid hold on the dragon.--
The great enemy of humanity
I. The great enemy of humanity described. “Dragon” stands as an emblem of power. His power is seen in the vast authority which he wields.
1. Over fallen angels (Ephesians 6:11-12). He is the leader of those myriads.
2. The authority he exercises over men. He leadeth the world captive at his will. He worketh in the “children of disobedience.” He opposes God, Christ, the universe. The existence of such a being in the universe as this impresses us with--
(1) The fallibility of the holiest creature.
(2) The independent force of moral mind.
(3) The mysteriousness of the Divine government.
II. The great enemy of humanity imprisoned.
1. His imprisonment is effected by a Divine messenger.
2. His imprisonment is effected by Divine authority.
3. His imprisonment is effected by a Divine instrument.
What is the chain? Gospel truth. What is meant by imprisoning Satan? Limiting the sphere of his agency. Every man who expels him from his own heart helps to imprison him, and every man who seeks to expel him from the heart of others helps to imprison him. As liberty binds the influence of slavery, intelligence the influence of ignorance, religion the influence of infidelity, so Divine truth will bind the influence of the devil. Lesson:
1. The true sphere of heroic action. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Resist him as he is on the arena of your own soul; resist him as you find him on the arena of society in everyday life.
2. The grandeur of the Christian character. “Put on the whole armour of God,” etc. (Homilist.)
The scene of mural struggle
I. Redeemed humanity has a fearful antagonist to contend with.
1. The actual existence of such an enemy.
(1) Universal belief of humanity.
(2) The opposite classes of moral phenomena. In the world we have error, selfishness, infidelity, misery, and truth, benevolence, religion, happiness. Can these be branches from the same root?
(3) The general teaching of the Bible.
2. The personality of such an enemy. An evil principle implies an evil person.
3. The characteristics of such an enemy.
II. Heaven has vouchsafed an agency which is destined to master the adversary. Let the word “angel” here stand for every true religious teacher.
1. His authority. Every man who has the spirit and power of a teacher has the “key” or the authority to teach. He has a right to do battle with the enemy wherever he is found; whether in literature or commerce, churches or governments, theories or practices.
2. His instrumentality. “A chain.” Iron, brass, adamant? No. These cannot fetter intellect or manacle soul. Nothing can curb or restrain the influence of Satan but Christian truth. What is meant by binding Satan? It does not mean the binding of his being or faculties, but the binding of his influence. He is to be bound, in the sense of limiting his sway, by closing up human hearts against him. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Bound him a thousand years.--
Satan bound for a thousand years
I. There is in the world a mighty force of evil.
II. Mightier forces of good, although unseen, are in the background.
III. The employment of the mightier against the mighty has been matter of ancient promise (Genesis 3:5).
IV. The stronger force of good has ever been at work. This world has never been given up to the evil one.
V. Wherever the gospel has been preached there a binding of Satan has been and is being effected.
VI. Nevertheless, the passage before us leads us to expect a much greater restraint on Satan’s activity than has as yet been known.
VII. When the binding of Satan is completely effected, there must needs be a period of rest, such as neither the world nor the Church has enjoyed since “sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” Note--
1. Let our faith embrace all that is in the Word, and we shall then find nothing in the fiercest conflicts of the age to shock or disturb it.
2. Let us thank God for the restraint which we know is even now put upon Satan. He worries, but he cannot devour.
3. Let us be stimulated by the fact that, through the energy of the Spirit of God, the power of evil is being subdued within us and around us.
4. Let us, with renewed faith, energy, prayer, and hope, be found doing our part towards bringing about earth’s time of rest. (C. Clemance, D. D.)
The souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus.
Martyrdom a testimony
I. Martyrs are sometimes murdered men. All murders are not martyrdoms; all martyrdoms are murders. For a man to spend his life amidst social scorn, civil disabilities, and religious intolerance, on account of his coscientious beliefs, is a martyrdom, his life is a protracted and painful dying. But thousands have been murdered, and that by every variety of method which satanic cruelty could invent.
II. Martyrs are always witnessing men.
1. To the invincibility of the human will
2. To the force of the religious sentiment.
3. To the power of the soul over the body.
III. Martyrs are often Christian men. Those whom John saw were those who were “witnesses of Jesus, and for the Word of God”
1. They bare witness to the sustaining grace of Christ.
2. They bear witness against the lukewarmness of living Christians.
IV. Martyrs who are Christians enter heaven.
1. As an encouragement to the persecuted Christian.
2. As a warning to persecutors. (Homilist.)
Lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
It is seldom that our sermons bear on the prophecies, and especially on the unfulfilled prophecies. Several reasons bind us to this reserve. First, the study of unfulfilled prophecies has only a secondary importance, and is not essential to salvation. Further, and just because they are not essential to salvation, the unfulfilled prophecies are wrapped up in a considerable amount of obscurity. This fact proves that the study of the prophecies is not without dangers, and that is another reason which should bind a person to devote himself to it only with moderation. Those who give themselves up too exclusively to this study are easily tempted to hand over to the background the great truths of the faith, in order to devote their chief interest to speculations, curious, perhaps, and often attractive; but nearly always without benefit to practical life, and sometimes even dangerous. Nevertheless, it must not be inferred from what precedes that we absolutely condemn the study of the prophecies. Far from it. Restrained within its legitimate bounds, the study of the prophecies presents not only matter of great interest but of great blessing, and many Christians do wrong when they lay aside completely that considerable portion of the Holy Scriptures. I desire particularly to call your attention to that glorious reign of Christ which is announced in a great number of prophecies, and more particularly in the words of our text, and which is known in the Christian Church under the name of the millennium. What meaning should we give to these declarations, and in what will that reign of Christ upon earth precisely consist? Two different systems divide on this point those Christians who are occupied with the prophecies. A certain number of them take the declarations of Scripture in their literal sense; they believe that the Saviour is really to return to the earth, to found here a temporal kingdom; that He will literally sit in His body on the throne of David; that during that reign, which will continue a thousand years, the believing dead only will rise to have part in the glory of their Head; and that this kingdom of Christ will be an epoch of temporal prosperity. The other class of interpreters understand these prophecies in a figurative sense. They think that by the reign of Christ must be understood the dominion which He exercises over souls by the gospel, and that the main point in these magnificent oracles is the spiritual progress of the Church; they think that this resurrection of believing souls spoken of in our text denotes nothing more than the awakening of the spirit of faith. The Christian law having become the rule, and infidelity the exception; the gospel covering the whole earth with its sweet and holy influence; that is what the millennium would be. Of these two interpretations we do not hesitate to prefer the last.
1. Observe, first, that the spiritual or symbolical interpretation is more in agreement with the modes of style observed in general by the prophets, and in particular in the Apocalypse. This style, from one end of the book to the other, is essentially symbolical and figurative; everywhere moral ideas are concealed under a veil of material images; words are incessantly turned aside from their proper meaning to receive meanings altogether novel. In this style, quite impregnated with the symbolical, a church becomes a candlestick, a minister becomes a star.
2. Not only is that interpretation legitimate, in so far as it is in agreement with the analogy of Scripture, but it is in a manner required by the very expressions of our text. In fact, observe well that St. John speaks only of the “souls” of those who had been put to death for the testimony of Jesus; these are the souls which are to revive again and reign with Christ. Now, souls cannot rise again, in the proper sense of the word.
3. In the third place, the literal interpretation is not in harmony with the other passages of Holy Scripture which relate to the resurrection. Nowhere is the resurrection spoken of as to take place twice or at two different periods. This great event is always represented to us as to take place for all men at once, with this only difference, that the resurrection of the just will immediately precede that of the wicked. The following passages clearly establish this (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). It evidently follows from these statements that the resurrection of the dead, both of the just and of the wicked, shall be immediately followed by the judgment and eternal life.
4. In the fourth place, it is impossible to comprehend how a return to the earth could add anything to the happiness of the righteous who died in the faith, and are gathered into the rest which is reserved for the people of God. The error of the Jews consisted precisely in representing the Messiah as a temporal King; it is into a similar error that the millennarians of to-day fall.
5. And then, what becomes, in the system of literal interpretation, of the death of believers who are born during the millennium? In the actual state of things, the death of believers is a deliverance; they die in peace, because they leave a life of trials and an abode of misery to go to the Lord; but it would not be so during the period of the millennium, if the literal interpretation were true.
6. If the literal interpretation were true, there would then be three comings of Christ--one to save the world, another to judge it, and a third and intermediate one to occupy the throne of the millennium. Now Scripture constantly presents to us the last judgment as the Lord’s second coming; and nowhere is an intermediate coming admitted.
7. Finally the text is the only passage of Holy Scripture where a resurrection is spoken of to take place before the end of the world; whilst a great number of other prophecies with regard to the millennium announce clearly the progress and general triumph of the gospel. Now, which is more rational: to explain numerous and clear prophecies by one single and enigmatical passage in the Apocalypse, or rather to explain the single and obscure passage by the clear and numerous prophecies? To put such a question is to answer it. It appears then established, as far as we can be positive in such a matter, that the reign of Christ, known under the name of the millennium, is to be understood in a spiritual sense, and that the subject is the authority which He will exercise over souls by the progress of the gospel. The doctrine of the millennium, as we have presented it to you, has important consequences as regards conversion and as regards salvation. Indeed, since that glorious reign of Christ is a spiritual reign, since it will essentially consist in the submission of hearts to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it depends upon each of us as to whether the millennium should commence in our case from the present: in order to that, no more is necessary than that we submit our heart to the gospel and give ourselves to Christ. May God grant that a great number of souls may know in this church of themselves this reign of Christ, at once so powerful and so tender, so sweet and so glorious! (H. Monod.)
Scripture reveals to us, in a great many prophecies, that a time will come when the whole earth shall know God our Saviour: that is what it calls, in its figurative style, the reign of Christ. It does not follow from this, however, that all men will from the heart be converted to the gospel: the expressions of the prophecy go not so far; they speak only of the knowledge of the Lord as about to cover the whole earth; and we know that knowledge may co-exist with an unconverted heart. One of the features characteristic of that glorious period is that the gospel, by that very means through which it will have become dominant, will have penetrated to the most elevated classes and to the rulers of the nations. Governments will be inspired by the gospel, administrations will be Christian (Psalms 138:4-5). Jesus Christ shall then continue to reign in this sense, that His gospel will be seated on the throne in the person of sovereigns converted to the Christian faith. Then the religion of Christ will no longer be a mere political instrument in the hand of governments; it will no longer cover, as with a sacred mantle, the views of a profane ambition; it will be the sincere expression of the moral life of states. Among the blessed results which the gospel will necessarily produce in the world when submissive to its laws, one of those which Scripture puts in the first class, and to which it reverts most readily, is the abolishment of war and the establishment of a universal peace. Just as in consequence of the progress of civilisation and the softening of manners we no longer comprehend legal torture, just as we no longer comprehend slavery, so a time will come when men will no longer comprehend that there could ever have existed a thing so odious, so horrible, so absurd as war. At the same time that enmities will be appeased among nations, they shall also cease among individuals. Hatred, vengeance, personal violence, will come to an end; the most unyielding characters will be softened; concord, charity, sincerity will preside over all the relations existing among men; natures the most opposed to one another will learn to draw near and love one another. At the same time that the gospel having become dominant, it will produce quite naturally another blessed consequence, which at first view does not seem to depend on its influence. I mean a considerable diminution of physical and moral suffering. Without doubt there will still be trials, but every person will then make an effort to alleviate the sufferings of those who surround him. In a word, the temporal happiness of mankind will increase beyond calculation, and will realise the most characteristic descriptions of prophecy (Isaiah 65:18-19). At the same time that suffering will decrease, and always by a natural consequence of the benefits attached to the gospel, the duration of human life will be increased; it will reach the utmost limit which nature assigns it; neither vice, nor despair, nor violence, will any longer abridge the days of man (Isaiah 65:20-22). The extension of human life in duration will necessarily be accompanied by an extraordinary increase of the population. It is easy to understand how much more rapid that increase would be if wars, vice, intemperance, selfishness, poverty, and the want of confidence in God, did not come and put obstacles in the way. We may conclude that the number of men who will live on the earth during the millennium will go beyond that of the men who will have lived during all the preceding ages; so that the portion of mankind which shall be saved will be infinitely more numerous, taken altogether, than those who shall be lost; and that thus” grace will abound over sin” (Romans 5:20-21). That extraordinary increase of population is moreover a characteristic feature of the prophecies relating to the millennium (Psalms 72:16; Isaiah 60:22). Another feature of the glorious period when the gospel which has the promise of the life that now is as well as of that which is to come, shall prevail, is an unprecedented scope being given to industry and to the arts and sciences. Commerce will no more have for its spring selfishness, nor for its means fraud: consecrated to the general good of humanity, it will freely exchange the produce of all nations, and enrich them, the one by the other (Isaiah 9:17-18). However marvellous the prospects which we have unfolded may appear, all these blessings are the natural and necessary consequences of the gospel having become dominant in the earth. Let the time only come when the whole earth shall be covered with the knowledge of the Lord, and all the wonders of the millennium are not only possible, but they are in some sort unavoidable. The whole question then reduces itself to knowing if it is really possible that a time should come when all the nations of the earth will be converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Observe, in the first place, that the gospel, from that very consideration that it is the truth, ought of necessity to make progress in the world, and gain little by little upon error. In its struggle against paganism the gospel cannot be overcome: it never has been, it never will be. The conversion of the heathen world can then be only a question of time. Observe, in the second place, that, in the very nature of things, the progress of the gospel in the world proceeds of necessity with a perpetually increasing rapidity. The result of each new year is not the same as that of the preceding one; but it is double, treble, or fourfold. The conversion of the heathen world is therefore sure after a given time, and everything announces that this time need not be very considerable. Let them come then after all, and tell us that the work of missions is useless; that the evangelisation of the world is a chimera; that the sacrifices made for the conversion of the heathen are lost; that all these efforts are but a drop of water which loses itself in an ocean. We know on what to depend. We know that missions are a work, not only appointed by God, but reasonable, productive, and full of prospect; we know that the millennium is not only a brilliant ideal created by prophecy, but that it will be the natural, regular, unfailing consequence of what passes now and henceforth under our eyes. A last question might remain for examination on the subject of the millennium: we do not attach great importance to it, for it is more curious than useful. What conjectures may we form as to the period in the future when the millennium should commence? Let us remark, in the first place, that from the present state of the world, and the progress which the gospel has made since the commencement of our century, it is to be presumed that the millennium ought not to be very far distant. A century and a half ought to suffice, according to all human probabilities, to bring about the conversion of the world. It is thus that the creation of the world was accomplished in six days, or rather in six periods; the seventh day, or seventh period, is a sabbath or rest. The ceremonial purifications ordained by Moses were continued during six days, and were terminated on the seventh. In the sacrifices offered for grievous sins, the sprinkling of blood was made seven times, on the seventh sprinkling the atonement was accomplished. In the visions of the Apocalypse, the Apostle St. John sees a book sealed with seven seals, each of these seals represents a period in the future of the Church. Since then it is a character, which seems essential to the dispensations of God, that they should continue during seven periods, and never beyond the seventh, we may suppose, by analogy, that the present world is to continue during seven periods of a thousand years, the last of which would be the millennium. That supposition acquires especially a high degree of probability when we compare the present dispensation, considered in its successive phases, with the account of creation. According to a very ancient tradition, and one found already among the Jews, the six days of Genesis would be six periods of a thousand years--a supposition which is confirmed by two passages of Scripture, where it is said, in speaking particularly of the creation, “That one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” This moral creation, like the physical creation, is to be accomplished in six days, or in six thousand years. In the physical creation there is a progressive gradation from beings less perfect to beings more perfect; there is the same in the moral creation, where humanity goes on perfecting itself from age to age, and from one thousand years to another. The end of the millennium will be the signal of the events which are to mark the end of the world. “When the thousand years shall be accomplished,” the prophet has told us, “Satan will be loosed from his prison, and he will afresh seduce the inhabitants of the earth.” But that last seduction will continue but a moment, and will bring with it the final defeat of all the powers of darkness; the dead shall rise to appear in judgment, and the economy of time will give place to that of eternity. (H. Monod.)
Christ’s millennial reign
I. The witnesses of Jesus shall reign in conjunction with Himself, as their Head. As the Church is the spouse of Christ, she cheerfully acknowledges His supreme authority in everything, and reverently honours Him as her glorious head; yet she shares the felicity of His victories, and, on the full establishment of His kingdom, she will be advanced, to reign together with Him and partake of His dominion.
II. The witnesses of Jesus shall reign with Him on the earth, and exercise positive power over the nations. The kingdom of Christ is heavenly and spiritual. It is the kingdom of truth and righteousness, liberty and peace, love and joy. But, notwithstanding the peculiar nature of the reign of Jesus, the earth is clearly represented as the scene of His dominion. He was encouraged to ask of the Father, the heathen for His inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession. On the earth, He will divide the spoil with the strong; judge among the nations; rebuke many people; break in pieces the oppressor. Can it be a low or carnal thing for Christ to reign on the earth? Does it become them who are spiritual to despise that dominion as mean and carnal which God the Father promised to confer on His beloved Son, as the meet reward of His matchless humiliation and obedience? Can that be unworthy of the esteem of His spouse which is not below the dignity of Christ Himself?
III. The saints shall reign personally with Christ on the earth. The honourable privilege is not promised to His saints during their imperfect and militant state, which is the proper period of that course of humble obedience and discipline, by which they are prepared for their future exaltation. It constitutes an important part of that gracious reward which shall be conferred on the faithful soldiers of Jesus, after they overcome their spiritual adversaries and finish their good warfare. John saw them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus advanced to reign with Him as kings and priests of God. Nor shall this high privilege be exclusively confined to those who were beheaded, or in any other way put to death, for the sake of the gospel. The disciples of Jesus that lived in former ages shall share it generally; and that not merely in a figurative sense, by the revival of the cause of religion, which they promoted during their lives, but by being put in the personal possession of positive power and dominion along with their glorious Redeemer. Those who share the kingdom of Jesus must certainly reign while He reigns. Their dominion, in conjunction with Him, must be enjoyed during the proper period of His mediatorial kingdom, and not after the termination of it.
IV. The saints shall reign with Christ in an incorporeal and invisible manner. It is not said that the bodies of the slain witnesses shall be raised from the grave to sit on thrones with Christ. The resurrection of their bodies could indeed add nothing to their influence and happiness in reigning on the earth amongst imperfect creatures. The visible and bodily reign of Jesus and His immortal saints, among sinful men, would out off all occasion for living by faith, and interfere with the performance of almost every part of gospel duty. We are accordingly informed in our text that, at the first resurrection, the souls of them who were beheaded for the witnesses of Jesus shall live and reign with Him. The souls of the martyrs are represented as living, and experiencing a kind of resurrection, at the commencement of the millennium, as they shall then be exalted from a state of rest and expectation to a state of activity and dominion. Materialists and sceptics may refuse to believe what cannot be perceived by the senses, and scoff at the doctrine of a future state; but, if we confess the self-conscious existence of spirits and angels both good and bad, and allow that the angels are indefatigably employed in doing good or evil, according to their nature, why should we hesitate to admit the future activity of those holy spirits that shall live and reign with Jesus Christ?
V. The souls of the saints shall reign with various different degrees of authority, in proportion to their religious attainments and sufferings while in the body. This may be considered highly probable, on the ground of analogy. All those works of God with which we are acquainted show that He delights in order and subordination. But Jesus has not left this important matter to be determined by human conjecture or remote inference. He has promised to reward His servants according to their works. The parable of the ten servants contains a striking example of this (Luke 19:11-19).
VI. The saints of Jesus shall all reign with Him in a very glorious manner, far surpassing our present comprehension. The reign of the saints will be glorious, because all their former prayers shall be answered, their ardent desires shall be granted, and their long continued expectation exceeded. They shall obtain their dominion from Christ Himself, as a token of His high approbation, and the gracious reward of their faithful services and patient sufferings while in the body. If the tokens of personal regard with which earthly sovereigns reward their principal servants be honourable, who can sufficiently estimate the glory of that reward which the King of kings will confer when He shall say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” etc. The saints shall reign together in a state of glorious harmony and perfect love. There will be no misunderstanding, contradiction, or bitter passions, among the spirits of the just made perfect. Their love shall be pure without dissimulation: its ardour shall admit of no decrease; and their felicity shall be mutually augmented by beholding the dignity and happiness of each other. They shall enjoy the most intimate and delightful fellowship with Christ Himself. They shall see Him ruling His enemies with a rod of iron, and subduing the hearts of sinners to Himself by the word of His grace; the progressive accomplishment of His promises to the gospel church will fill them with admiration and delight; and, whilst they share His victories and dominion, they shall cordially unite, with adoring angels, in ascribing the highest glory and praise to Himself (Revelation 5:8-12; Revelation 19:1-7). The extent and efficacy of their dominion shall be glorious. None of their adversaries shall be able either to defeat or resist them. The beneficial effects of their reign shall be glorious. Righteousness, goodness, and happiness shall be as general and abundant among mankind as wickedness and misery have hitherto been. All the joyful predictions of Scripture respecting the prosperity and glory of the Church in the last days shall be accomplished. The posterity of Israel shall be converted, with the fulness of the Gentiles.
VII. The saints shall reign together with Jesus during a very long period. The Lord frequently pours contempt upon the princes of the earth by causing their great power to terminate in sudden defeat and debasement. The dominion of the saints shall not be of this transient kind. Perhaps the round number of years mentioned in the text ought to be understood in an indefinite sense, as denoting a very large space of time in a general way, the precise extent of which is not fixed. Conclusion:
1. The view of the text which is now presented ought to be examined with much candour and deliberation before it be altogether rejected.
2. The text sets before us an object of the most laudable and hopeful ambition. Compared with this dignity, all human distinctions are insignificant and vain; yet it is accessible to all the servants of Jesus, small and great.
3. This shows how reasonable and advantageous it is for men to forsake all that they have for Christ, in order to win Him and be found in Him. In forsaking all for Christ, we renounce only those things that are vain, ensnaring, and perishing, to obtain the righteousness of faith, conformity to His perfect image, and fellowship with Him in the enjoyment of His heavenly kingdom.
4. This subject furnishes a powerful incitement to faithfulness and perseverance in the service of Christ.
5. The hope of reigning with Jesus should induce His disciples to show all meekness and patience while suffering for His sake. The cross is the way to the crown. The meek shall inherit the earth. Those who suffer with Jesus shall reign with Him.
6. This subject affords strong consolation to believers in the prospect of putting off their earthly tabernacle. They know that their soul shall not sleep in a state of dark insensibility, while their body is in the dust. Death to them will be gain. (J. Gibb.)
The age of moral triumph
I. The entire overthrow of moral evil.
1. The great enemy will have lost his stand-place in the world. Error, prejudice, selfishness, evil passions, etc., will have gone. He will have no fulcrum for his lever.
2. The fall of the great enemy will be complete for a time. The more humanity progresses in intelligence, rectitude, and holiness, the more hopeless his condition becomes.
II. The universal sovereignty of Christ.
1. The only true sovereignty is spiritual.
2. A religious spiritual sovereignty over man is the great want of the race. He who rules the human mind--directs its faculties, energies, and feelings rightly--is man’s greatest benefactor. This Christ does in the highest and most perfect manner.
III. The general ascendancy of great souls.
1. They will be men who have passed through a spiritual resurrection.
2. They will be men of martyr-mould.
3. They will be men possessing exclusive ascendancy.
4. They will be men raised for ever beyond the reach of all future evil.
IV. The extensive duration of the whole.
1. This long period of holiness is a glorious set-off against all the preceding ages of depravity and sin.
2. This long period of holiness serves wonderfully to heighten our ideas of the grandeur of Christ’s work. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The blessed dead living and reigning with Christ during the thousand years
I. Here is a vision of men from earth--not of men on it. “The souls.” (So in Revelation 6:11.) That the expression refers here to men in what is called the disembodied state, scarcely admits of question. They are clear and distinct words, fitting in with other statements of God’s Word, teaching us that the souls of the blessed dead have already passed into a higher life: that there is no lapse in their blessed relationship to Jesus.
II. The blessed saints are seen in a more elevated sphere of holy service. They are “living and reigning with Christ.” They share with Him the government of the world. Here they were “kings and priests” unto God. But in the higher state of being the meaning of these names, and the glorious dignity they include, become far more manifest than when here below.
III. Their passing upward, in death, to this higher state is called the first resurrection. And most intelligibly so. “Surely,” says the Rev. F. D. Maurice, “if one takes the words as they stand, they do not describe a descent of Christ to earth, but an ascent of ‘the saints’ to reign with Him.” The thought of a real resurrection without a bodily rising from the grave ought to be no difficulty to those accustomed to scriptural phraseology. If, when a man passes from death to life, the phrase “risen with Christ,” is not inappropriate, neither can it be so when he makes the transition from earth to heaven to be “at home” with Jesus.
IV. Blessed even in this first resurrection, the saints await in hope the consummation of their bliss. The blessedness indicated here extends over the thousand years. While the Church on earth is enjoying its millennial calm, believers above are reigning in life with Jesus Christ. Knowing the blessedness of their first resurrection, they can look forward with joyful hope to their second.
V. Their glory will be consummated at the resurrection of the body. “For this, as the ultimate outlook, the apostle says, believers are waiting (Romans 8:23). The first resurrection is that to a higher state of spiritual being. The second will be to the completed state of glorified life of both body and spirit.
VI. For the wicked there is no such first resurrection. “The rest of the dead lived not again (ἀνέξησαν) till the thousand years were expired.” For the wicked, death brings nothing which can be called a resurrection at all. “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness.” After death they are not extinct. They exist. They are in Hades. But their life in the invisible realm is no “resurrection.” No such reward is theirs. They chose the paths of sin and selfishness, and they can but reap as they have sown. The statement of the text is, however, only negative. “They lived not again till,” etc. What their state is, positively, we are not told. (C. Clemance, D. D.)
The reign of the martyrs with Christ
Instead of looking forward to some future age for the thousand years, is it not more reasonable and helpful to say that we ourselves are living in them? From the time when the Catholic Church was set up in the world and its principles exhibited, all that is noble and intelligent in man, all that he recognises in himself as immortal and made for a higher life, refuses to listen to the beast and to be deceived by him, but acknowledges the Lamb as its true King. The thousand years, i.e., the long period which elapses after the setting up of the Church--and surely this interpretation is more in accord with what we get from the Bible than an arbitrary fixture of just one thousand years of 365 days each--these thousand years, up to this hour, have been marked by evidences that Christ has chained the devil, has proved Himself stronger than the devil, not merely when He resisted his temptations, but ever since. The earth has gone on acquiring new life and strength and capacity, just so far as it has recognised the Lamb for its true Lord, and thus purity has been exalted above lust, thus slavery has been abolished, hospitals have been built, the poor have been educated, prisons have been reformed, criminals have been appealed to by nobler motives than self-interest. There is enough to do yet, God knows; but what has been done has all been clone on principles which Christ laid down, and what is still to be achieved will be done on the same basis, namely, that self-sacrifice is the true life of God’s earth. And what does it all mean but that Christ has chained the dragon? Then St. John says that he saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God--the early Christian martyrs, in fact--and they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. They were killed: the world saw no more of them; but St. John says that he did. To him it was revealed what their subsequent lot was--they lived and reigned with Christ in the thousand years. They live and reign with Him now, therefore. Where? That we cannot tell. We know that they have not yet their perfect consummation and bliss. But see what we do know. Christ is reigning now. But is that reigning merely resting on His throne as a glorious spectacle to look upon? Which of us seriously supposes that reigning with Christ means sitting with a golden crown on, holding a sceptre? The reign of Christ is a more real thing--a very active thing--and the martyrs who died for His sake, because they would not worship the beast, reign even as He does. There is to me wonderful help and consolation in all which this involves. The witnesses of Christ, who cared so much for their fellow men whilst they lived on the earth, who had laboured to do it good, and seemed to have laboured in vain, who had told their fellow men who their true King was; they, after they were no more seen, reigned with Christ, i.e., they exercised a greater influence, had a greater power, than ever they had before, and became from the unseen world efficient servants of Him who had given up His life for the salvation of men. This is their high reward, exactly that reward which their Lord promised in His parable. He whose pound had gained five pounds was to be ruler over five cities. They are not offered idleness or luxurious indulgence, they are to enter into the joy of their Lord, to have the delight of knowing more and more of His purposes, and of working in conformity with them. They die and are seen no more, but any good deed which they have ever done goes forth conquering and to conquer. And, the apostle declares, this is the first resurrection, which they who have lived evil lives and followed the beast have no part in. How often we see good and faithful men, whose career is altogether useful and beneficial, cut off in the midst of their work! We think to ourselves, “How much good this man would have done if he had lived! What a loss to the Church!” So it seems to us, and so it seemed to the first Christians, for we are told “they made great lamentation over him.” But God knew better than they. He took His martyr away that he might reign with Christ. Well, was there any evidence of his so reigning? Were any victories of his ever seen any more? Many, no doubt, which we know nothing about. (W. Benham, B. D.)
This is the first resurrection.--
The first resurrection
I. Three privileges.
1. Priority of resurrection (1Co 15:20; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; Philippians 3:8-11; Luke 20:35; John 6:39-40; John 6:44; John 6:54). “I will raise him up at the last day.” Now, is there any joy or beauty in this, to the people of God in particular, unless there be a speciality in it for them? It is the lot of all to rise, and yet we have here a privilege for the elect! Surely there is a different resurrection. Besides, there is yet a passage in the Hebrews where the apostle, speaking of the trials of the godly, and their noble endurance, speaks of them as, “not accepting deliverance that they might obtain a better resurrection.” The betterness was not in the after results of resurrection, but in the resurrection itself. How, then, could it be a better resurrection, unless there be some distinction between the resurrection of the saint and the resurrection of the sinner? Pass on to the second privilege here promised to the godly.
2. The second death on them hath no power. This, too, is a literal death; none the less literal because its main terror is spiritual, for a spiritual death is as literal as a camel death. The death which shall come upon the ungodly without exception can never touch the righteous. Oh, this is the best of all. As for the first resurrection, if Christ hath granted that to His people there must be something glorious in it if we cannot perceive it. “It doth not yet appear what we shall be, but we know when He shall appear we shall be like Him.” I think the glories of the first resurrection belong to the glories which shall be revealed in us rather than the glories that are revealed to us.
3. “They shall reign with Him a thousand years.” I believe this reign of the saints with Christ is to be upon earth (Psalms 37:10-11; Revelation 5:9-10; Matthew 19:28). You find such passages as these in the Word of God, “The Lord of hosts shall reign in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before His ancients gloriously.” You find another like this in Zechariah, “My God shall come with the multitude of His saints.”
II. To the ungodly three things in simplicity.
1. Sinner, you have heard us speak of the resurrection of the righteous. To you the word “resurrection” has no music. There is no flash of joy in your spirit when you hear that the dead shall rise again. But oh, I pray thee lend me thine ear while I assure thee in God’s name that thou shalt rise. Not only shall your soul live--you have perhaps become so brutish that you forget you have a soul--but your body itself shall live. Go thou thy way, eat, drink, and be merry; but for all these the Lord shall bring thee into judgment.
2. But after the resurrection, according to the text, comes the judgment.
3. After judgment, the damnation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The first resurrection
My conviction is clear that the resurrection here spoken of is the resurrection of the saints from their graves, in the sense of the Nicene Creed, where it is confessed: “I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” The placing of it as the first in a category of two resurrections, the second of which is specifically stated to be the literal rising again of such as were not raised in the first, fixes the sense to be a literal resurrection.
1. It is a resurrection of saints only. They that have part in it are “blessed and holy.” It is true that “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). But it is immediately added, “every man in his own order.” It is not a summary thing, all at once, and the same in all cases. The resurrection of the wicked is in no respect identical with that of the saints, except that it will be a recall to some sort of corporeal life. There is a “resurrection of life,” and there is a “resurrection of damnation” (John 5:29); and it is impossible that these should be one and the same. There is a “resurrection of the just”--“a better resurrection”--a resurrection out from among the dead, for which great zeal and devotion are requisite (Luke 14:14; Hebrews 11:35; Philippians 3:10-11)--which is everywhere emphasised and distinguished from another, more general, and less desirable. As it is “the resurrection of the just,” the unjust have no share in it. As it is a resurrection from among the dead ones, it is necessarily eclectic, raising some and leaving others, and so interposing a difference as to time, which distinguishes the resurrection of some as in advance of the resurrection of the rest.
2. It is a resurrection which takes place in different stages, and not all at one and the same time. Paul tells us expressly that there is an “order” in it, which brings up some at one time, and others at other times. It starts with “Christ the first-fruits”; afterwards they that are Christ’s at His coming; then (still later) the end, “completion, or last” (1 Corinthians 15:23-24). Christ’s resurrection was also attended with the resurrection of others (Matthew 27:52-53).
3. It is a resurrection which as a whole is nowhere pictorially described. The reason is, that the subject is not capable of it.
4. The completion of this resurrection introduces a wonderful change in the earth’s history. It is the breaking through of an immortal power;--a power which sweeps away, as chaff before the wind, the whole economy of mortal and dragon rule, and thrusts to death and Hades every one found rising up or stiffening himself against it;--a power which gives to the nations new, just, and righteous laws, in the administration of immortal rulers, whose good and holy commands men must obey or die. I think of the coming in of that power--of the havoc it must needs make in the whole order of things--of the confusion it will cause in the depraved cabinets and courts and legislatures of the world--of the revolution it must work in business customs, in corporation managements--of the changes it must bring into churches, into pulpits, into pews, into worship, into schools, into the newspapers, into book-making and book-reading, into thinking and philosophy, and into all the schemes, enterprises, judgments, pursuits, and doings of men. And a good thing it will be for the nations when that day comes. There can be nothing better than God’s law. There can be nothing more just, more reasonable, more thoroughly or wisely adapted to all the well-being of man and the highest wholesomeness of human society. All the blessedness in the universe is built upon it. All that is needed for the establishment of a holy and happy order is for men to obey that law, for it to be put in living force, for it to be incarnated in the feelings, actions, and lives of men. And this is what is to be effected when “the children of the resurrection” get their crowns, and go into power, with Christ the All-Ruler at their head.
5. The completion of this resurrection promotes the subjects of it to a transcendent glory. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The first resurrection
I. When is it to be? When the Lord comes the second time. In the preceding chapter He is described as coming with the hosts of heaven for the destruction of His enemies (1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). He comes as the resurrection and the life; the abolisher of death, the spoiler of the grave, the raiser of His saints.
II. Who it is to consist of. This passage speaks only of the martyrs and the non-worshippers of the beast; but other passages show that all His saints are to be partakers of this reward. They have suffered with Him here, and they shall reign with Him here.
III. What it does for those who share it. It brings to them such things as the following:--
1. Blessedness. God only knoweth how much that word implies, as spoken by Him who cannot lie, who exaggerates nothing, and whose simplest words are His greatest.
2. Holiness. They are pre-eminently “the saints of God”; set apart for Him; consecrated and purified, both outwardly and inwardly; dwelt in by Him whose name is the “Holy Ghost”; and called to special service in virtue of their consecration. Priestly-royal service is to be theirs throughout the eternal ages.
3. Preservation from the second death. They rise to an immortality which shall never be recalled. No dying again, in any sense of the word; not a fragment of mortality about them, nothing of this vile body, and nothing of that corruption or darkness or anguish which shall be the portion of those who rise at the close of the thousand years.
4. The possession of a heavenly priesthood. They are made priests unto God and Christ--both to the Father and the Son. Priestly nearness and access; priestly power and honour and service; priestly glory and dignity;--this is their recompense.
5. The possession of the kingdom. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The first resurrection
Of these words of this first resurrection there are three expositions authorised by persons of good note in the Church. First, that this first resurrection is a resurrection from that low estate to which persecution had brought the Church. Secondly, that it is a resurrection from the death of sin, of actual and habitual sin; so it belongs to every particular penitent soul. And thirdly, because after this resurrection, it is said that we shall reign with Christ a thousand years, it hath also been taken for the state of the soul in heaven after it is parted from the body by death; and so it belongs to all them who are departed in the Lord. And then the occasion of the day, which we celebrate now, being the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus, invites me to propose a fourth sense, or rather use of the words; not indeed as an exposition of the words, but as a convenient exaltation of our devotion: which is, that this first resurrection should be the first-fruits of the dead; the first rising is the first riser, Christ Jesus: for as Christ says of Himself, that He is the resurrection, so He is the first resurrection, the root of the resurrection. He upon whom our resurrection, all our kinds of resurrections are founded. (J. Donne.)
On such the second death hath no power.--
The happiness of being saved from the second death
I. What the second death is. A second supposes a first; and that which universally we have the clearest notion of is, that death which funerals and the mourners who go about the streets convince us of. For--
1. Death, in the natural signification of the word, is a separation of the soul from the body. Plants die, and beasts and birds and fishes and insects die; and so man dies (Hebrews 9:27). And this is the first death, which all men, both good and bad, are subject to; and from which none can plead exemption, except preserved from it by the miraculous power of God; as were Enoch and Elias.
2. The second death no creature is capable of but man, no inferior creature; devils and apostate spirits are, but none below the dignity of man; for this death is the wages of sin, and contempt of mercy and the grace of God. This second death is punishment. It is true the first is so too; but by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus that punishment is softened, or rather turned into a mercy, exchanged for eternal life; but from this second death there is no possibility of any release after it is once inflicted. And that we may rightly understand the nature of it, the Holy Ghost in the chapter before us specifies what it is, for so we read (verse 14), “And death and hell”; i.e., wicked men who had been dead, and the devil and his angels,” were cast into the lake of fire.” “This is the second death.” And again, Revelation 21:8.
II. Why it is called death, and the second death.
1. The common death of mankind is a separation of the soul from the body; and there being in hell a signal separation, either of the soul, or of soul and body after the resurrection, from the love of God’s complacency and the society of saints, and from all joy and comfort, the true life of the soul, it is upon that account that this future torment is called death.
2. The unhappy sufferer in the lake of fire is always dying, and yet never dies; the anguish he lies under puts him into such agonies that one would think he is expiring every moment, and yet he lives (Mark 9:44).
3. The sufferer in this lake wishes to die, and yet doth not die. The intolerable torment forces him into vehement desires after something that may put a period to his anguish. Common death frees men from the troubles and diseases of the body, and puts an end to the pain we feel here.
4. It is called the second death, i.e., a death different from the common and natural. In this sense the word “second” is used sometimes (as Daniel 7:5). And, indeed, it is a death of another nature, attended with other circumstances and with other consequences. It is, if I may say so, a death and no death; a death joined with sense, that breaks the man, but doth not destroy him; destroys his well-being, but not his being; his felicity, but not his substance.
III. Who the happy persons are on whom this second death hath no power, and why they fall not under that dominion.
1. In this very verse, whereof the text is part, the persons to whom this privilege belongs are said to be “priests of God and of Christ,” which qualification is in other places ascribed to all the living members of Christ’s Church (Revelation 1:6).
2. As by the second death is meant hell and the lake of fire, so (Revelation 21:15) it is said, “And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire,” From whence it will naturally follow, that such as are written in the book of life are not subject to that power, and over such the second death hath no power. Now, it is certain that all Christians who are Israelites indeed, they are written in the book of life.
3. We read (Revelation 2:11), “He that overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” And who knows not that self-conquest and overcoming evil with good is the proper task and employment of all sincere Christians? And how should this death have any power over them? As they live to the Lord so they die to and in the Lord Jesus, and “blessed are the dead,” etc. (Revelation 14:13). The Lord that bought them secures them against that formidable power. The Lord that died for them, and hath abolished death, and triumphed over it, hath delivered them from that power. He is a wall of defence to them so that the power of this death cannot reach them. In a word, they are under another Prince, and therefore not subject to that power.
1. There being such a death, even the second death, surely it deserves to be feared and dreaded. It is true there is none desires or cares to feel it, and so far all men may be said to fear it. But to fear, is to use the proper means to escape the danger. It is with fearing as it is with believing: he that takes no care to secure himself and his goods doth not believe there is a consuming fire in his house, and he that doth not arm himself against an approaching inundation doth not fear it.
2. It must needs be a very great privilege to be delivered from the power of the second death; a greater mercy than to be delivered from the deluge of Noah, from the conflagration of Sodom, from David’s bear and lion, and from the most painful diseases; a mercy to be prized above being set with princes, even with the princes of God’s people; a mercy which none can prize but true believers, and the more they believe it, the more they will prize it; a mercy that will be prized another day at a very great rate, even by the sufferers in the burning lake, when it is too late. (A. Horneck, D. D.)
At one of the prayer-meetings in America a person thus spoke:--“A few days ago I was in a church in another city, and my attention was attracted by a large marble tablet at the farther end of the church from where I was sitting. It was so far from me that I could not read it; but casting my eye downward towards the bottom of the inscription, I made out one word, ‘Triumphant.’ As I looked at that tablet on the wall, I thought, ‘Well, that is all I want to know about that man.’ I knew not whether he had been pastor of the church, or one of the elders, or deacons, or trustees, or who he was; I knew not whether he was a rich or a poor man; but this one thing I had reason to believe--that he died ‘triumphant’ in Christ; and that was enough.”
They shall be priests of God and of Christ.--
I. A consciousness of the Divine. The very idea of priesthood implies the practical recognition of God. God was to be everything to the priests of His appointment. He had to do with their clothing, their diet, their means of support. He was at once the Author, Master, and Object of all their ceremonies. They prepared their sacrifices by His directions, and they offered them to Him according to His will. Deep as may have been the impression which the high priest had of God’s presence when he stood in the Holy of Holies, in the full light of the shekinah, it was not deeper than every man should have in passing through this life. But why should souls be ever conscious of God’s presence? Why?
1. Because it is reasonable. His constant presence is a fact. Shall I recognise, as I am bound to do, all the little facts that come under my daily notice, and ignore the great fact that God is in all, ever present, never absent? Shall men of science give attention to the smallest facts of nature; write treatises on an insect’s wing, or on the microscopic dust that floats in the atmosphere, and ignore the fact that God is present? If it is wise to take notice of the facts of nature, and wise it is beyond debate, how egregious and astounding the folly of ignoring the greatest of all facts--the presence of the all-creating, all-sustaining God?
2. Because it is obligatory. Who is He that is present with us? Our Maker, Sustainer, Proprietor, Author of all we have and are, and of all we hope to possess and be. To disregard the presence of such a Being is a heinous crime, a crime which in all worlds conscience condemns.
3. Because it is necessary. It is indispensable to man’s well-being. You may as well endeavour to evolve and bring into perfection the seed the husbandman has scattered over his tilled field without the sunbeam, as to talk about educating the soul without the consciousness of God. This alone can quicken and develop the spiritual faculties of man. Nor is there any moral power without it. It is only as we feel that God is with us that power comes to resist the evil and do the good, to brave peril and face death.
II. A fellowship with the Divine. Concerning the “mercy seat,” before which the high priest stood in the Holy of Holies in the presence of God, Jehovah said to Moses, “There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat,” etc. It might be asked, how can we hold fellowship with One who is invisible--how does soul hold fellowship with Saul? Human spirits are invisible to each other, yet do they not enjoy fellowship? How? By symbols and sayings, works and words. I hold fellowship with the distant and the dead through the works of their hands, either as they come directly under my eye or are reproduced in my memory. But words are the media of fellowship as well as works. Through words we pour our souls into another’s and our minds meet and mingle in fellowship. Can we not thus hold fellowship with God? Around, above, and beneath me, His works are spread. All I see in nature are the embodiment and revelation of His ideas, and these ideas He intends me to study and appropriate. His Word, too, is in my hand; above all I have that wonderful Word of His--the life of Jesus. This is the great organ by which He communicates His ideas to me. But can man receive the communication? Has he a capacity for it? He has. This is the glory of his nature. Of all the creatures on this earth man alone is able to receive the thoughts of God. Beyond all this--beyond what may be called the fellowship arising from interpretable ideas, there is an unspeakable and mystic intercourse. What devout soul in the chamber of devotion, the services of the temple, or in some lonely walk amidst the grand sceneries of nature, has not felt a softening, hallowing influence that has lifted his soul into the conscious presence of his God, caused it to exclaim with Jacob, “Surely God is in this place”?
III. A devotion to the Divine. The priests under the law were consecrated in the most solemn and impressive manner to the service of God. They were in an especial sense God’s servants.
1. To offer sacrifices for themselves. We must offer ourselves, nothing else will do. Whatever we present to God, unless we have first offered ourselves, will be worse than worthless; it will be impious. The priests were set apart--
2. To offer sacrifices for others. True priesthood involves intercession. All souls are united by many a subtle bond; “no one liveth unto himself,” and each is bound to seek the good of others. Intercession with God on behalf of others is a social instinct as well as a religious duty and high spiritual privilege. He who first consecrates himself is sure to mediate for the redemption ai ethers: mediate not merely by presenting the needs of men to God, but by presenting the claims of God to man. (Homilist.)
When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed
Notice what immediately follows this thousand years.
1. The devil is let loose. He who lets him loose is, of course, the same who bound him, and sealed him in the prison of the abyss. It seems like a great pity, after the world has rested for a thousand years, that this arch-enemy of its peace should again be let loose upon it. But there seems to be some sort of necessity for it. The statement to John was, that he must be loosed a little time (verse 3). Some interest of righteousness and moral government renders it proper that he should be allowed this last limited freedom. If for nothing else, it is not unimportant that he should have this opportunity to prove how little an imprisonment of a thousand years had served to change him, or reform his malignity.
2. He seduces Gog and Magog into rebellion. He does not send forth this time to “the kings of the earth,” for there are then no mortal kings to be led astray, but he goes direct to the people, insinuates his malice against the rule under which the King of kings has placed the nations, and seeks to persuade them into an attempt to overthrow it. To those who dwell in the outskirts and darker places of the earth, he wends his sullen way. Who Gog and Magog are we may not be able to tell. But the allusion to the “corners of the earth” as the regions whence these rebels come, sufficiently indicates that they are among the hindermost of peoples and the least advanced and cultured among the millennial nations. Satan succeeds in rendering them dissatisfied with the holy rule of God’s glorified saints, and induces them to believe that they can successfully throw it off and crush it out, as the deluded kings under the Antichrist were persuaded a thousand years before.
3. A terrible disaster ensues. A madder thing than Gog and Magog’s attempt was never undertaken upon earth. It is simply a march into the jaws of death, for no rebellion against the kings who then hold the reins of government can be tolerated. The insane war is quickly terminated. “There came down fire out of heaven and devoured them.” Not a man of them escapes.
4. Satan meets his final perdition. He was imprisoned in the abyss before; but he is now “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where also the Beast and the False Prophet [are].” (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
Satan loosed from his prison after the thousand years
During the millennial period on earth, while the departed saints are living and reigning with Christ, evil will be subdued and restrained, but by no means will it be extinct. Had it been extinct it could not have broken out again, nor would there be any need for the παρεμβολή of the saints. The new uprising of evil after the thousand years’ rest is certainly not what we should expect or desire. But doubtless there is a Divine reason for permitting it so to be, or it would not be. Let us look at this matter closely in the light of God’s Word, and maybe we shall find more to instruct us on this theme than at first sight appears probable.
I. We gather from this passage some hints as to the state of the Church on earth during the millennial period.
1. There is no reason to doubt that the millennium, owing to the effective restraint then put upon evil through the Word of truth and the power of God, will be a period of very great blessedness. Satan is the active agent in so much evil, and when he is bound a large proportion of evil will cease to exist, and a far more rapid diffusion of good will be the blessed result.
2. There is no reason whatever to suppose, from any of the teaching of Scripture, that our Lord Jesus Christ will then be present on the earth in any other way than in the power of His Spirit.
3. It is equally clear that the millennium will not be a period of unmixed good, nor will it be a time when the saints can dispense with the παρεμβολή. Compared with things as they are now, the earth will be at rest; but it will not be heaven. Evil will be subdued, but far from extinct. The possibility of an outbreak will exist still.
4. There will also still be death in the world. The deathless state enters not in till the new heavens and the new earth appear, and Paradise is regained. Not till then will there be “no more curse.”
5. The Church will still have to be prepared for war. Obviously, if the state of things on earth during the millennium were one of universal righteousness, there would be no nations to be deceived. Still less can we suppose that, after the resurrection from the dead, the glorified saints are to go about, sword in hand, to the holy war.
II. What do we gather from Scripture concerning this onset of ill after the millennium?
1. It is necessary. There is a little word in the third verse of this chapter of which we are too apt to lose sight. It is the word “must.” “After that, he must be loosed a little season.” Must! Why? We are not told.
2. It will be a fierce onset. It will be after the old kind, by “deception” (verse 8). What will be the special form of deceit he will use we are not told, and conjecture is useless.
3. It will be a restricted struggle. Satan will be bound by time even when loosed as to space. The same hand that bound retains its power even when the evil one is loosed. Not even at the worst of times is the world given over to the devil.
4. It will be for a little season. Not only restricted, but within very narrow limits. The conflict may be sharp, but it will be short.
5. It will be suicidal. Satan will overshoot the mark, and fall into his own snare.
6. The struggle will be even serviceable to the Church; for not only will it reveal more and more the majesty of God in defending His own cause, but it will end in the hurling of Satan to a lower depth than before. In chap. 12:9 we read that the devil was cast down to earth. In Revelation 20:3 he is cast into the abyss. But in Revelation 20:10 he is cast into the lake of fire. Hence--
7. The struggle will be--the last. If the reader has followed the plan of the book, he will have noted how one after another of the foes of God and man are destroyed. They were four.
(1) The dragon--Satan.
(2) The beast.
(3) The false prophet.
(4) Babylon the great.
III. What are the related truths to which this passage points us?
1. In the light of the views of the millennium and of what is to follow, two sets of apparently conflicting passages fall into place. There is one set which indicates that, as the result of the first coming of Christ, all the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord; there is another set which indicates that there will be a fierce outbreak of evil before our Lord shall come. It is no small confirmation of the correctness of an interpretation of this passage if thereby apparently conflicting statements fall in place. The binding of Satan, which was and is effected through our Lord Jesus Christ, has become more and more stringent as souls are plucked from his grasp; and we are to see a time of peace and calm when he will be even more completely bound than he is now. But after that there is to be the new onrush of evil, so that before our Lord shall come a fiercer conflict than has ever been known will be fought, ere the great struggle shall be completely at an end, and then the Lord shall come.
2. We see that there are two ways in which evil is being dealt with. That of removal, when souls are being renewed; and that of restraint, when evil beings are kept with prescribed limits. And both these ways of working are going on now, and will do during this millennial age.
3. Be it ours to take heart as we get a fresh glimpse of the Divine plan, viz., that however oft the conflict with evil and the evil one may be renewed, yet in every case the issue is that of the defeat of evil, and its banishment to a lower depth of disgrace than before. “Who hath ever hardened himself against God and prospered?”
4. Finally, what God will ultimately do with evil and the evil one, no one can positively say. (C. Clemance, D. D.)
The age of moral reaction
I. The reaction is brought about in the manner in which mankind have ever degenerated.
1. Here is deception. Hell and heaven are acting on our world through thoughts--the one through the false, and the other through the true.
2. Here is deception employed by Satan. “He hath blinded the minds of men.”
3. Here is deception employed by Satan, first upon those who are most assailable, and afterwards through them upon others.
II. The reaction is of a character the most threatening.
1. The vast number of its agents.
2. The anti-Christian aim of its agents. They made efforts to assault the most central and vital part of religion.
III. The reaction terminates in the everlasting destruction of all its agents.
1. There is in the universe a distinct local scene, where the wicked of all classes are to receive their righteous retribution.
2. The retribution which the wicked will endure in this scene will be of a most terrible description. “Fire” is the emblem of suffering (Zec 13:9; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15; 1 Peter 1:7); “brimstone” is the emblem of desolation (Job 18:15). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Compassed the camp of the saints about.--
The saints compassed by evil
1. Whereas it is said that they compassed the camp of the saints about, we see that the saints and Church of Christ is still, and ever hath been, and shall be to the end, the butt of Satan’s malice, whereof she needs not to expect either intermission or mitigation.
2. We see the extremity that she may by God’s permission be brought unto, to be compassed about on all sides without any outget, as Israel was coming out of Egypt, or that boat wherein Christ was (Matthew 8:1-34.); yet the Lord will never fail her, but her extremity will be seen to be His opportunity.
3. Whereas the Church is called the beloved city, this is a cordial to all the truly godly, that whatever their estate be here, hated of the world and persecuted, yet they are beloved of God, and shall be preserved by Him.
4. Whereas it is said that fire came down from heaven and devoured them, we see that full and final destruction at last shall be the end of all God’s enemies. (Wm. Guild, D. D.)
I saw a great white throne.
The age of retribution
I. This retributive period will dawn with overpowering splendour upon the world.
1. The character of this manifestation. A “throne” is an emblem of glory. This is a “white throne.” There is not a single stain upon it. It is a “great white throne.” Great in its occupant: He filleth all in all. Great in its influence: toward it the eyes of all intelligences are directed; to it all beings are amenable; from it all laws that determine the character and regulate the destiny of all creatures, proceed.
2. The effect of this manifestation. Before its refulgence this material universe could not stand: it melted--vanished away. It will pass away, perhaps, as the orbs of night pass away in the high noontide of the sun: they are still in being, still in their orbits, and still move on as ever; but they are lost to us by reason of a “glory that excelleth.”
II. This retributive period will witness the resurrection of the dead and the consequent destruction of Hades and the grave.
1. In the resurrection there will be a connection between man’s raised and man’s mortal body.
(1) The one rises out of the other.
(2) The one retains the same plan, or outline, as the other.
(3) The one fulfils the same functions as the other.
2. The resurrection will be co-extensive with the mortality of mankind. Not an infant too young, nor a patriarch too old. Tyrants and their slaves, sages and their pupils, ministers and their people--all will appear.
III. This retributive period will bring humanity into conscious contact with God.
1. There will be no atheism after this.
2. No deism.
3. No indifferentism.
IV. This retributive period will settle for ever the question of every man’s character and destiny.
1. The worth of a man’s character will be determined by his works.
2. A man’s works will be determined by recognised authorities. God’s moral and remedial laws are “books,” and they will now be opened--to memory, to conscience, and to the universe.
3. According to the correspondence, or non-correspondence, of man’s works with these recognised authorities will be his final destiny. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The great white throne
I. A throne. Yes, a royal seat, a seat of judgment, the seat of the great King and Judge of all.
II. A great throne. All earth’s thrones have been little, even the greatest--Nebuchadnezzar, or Alexander, or Caesar, or Napoleon; but this is “great”; greater than the greatest; none like it in magnificence.
III. A white throne. White is purity, truth, justice, calmness. Such is the throne to be--unsoiled, untainted, incorruptible; no one-sidedness nor imperfection; no bribery nor favour there. All is “white”--transparent and spotless perfection.
IV. One seated on it. It was not empty or unoccupied, nor filled by a usurper, or by one who could not wield the power required for executing its decrees. God was seated there; that very God before whose face heaven and earth flee away; that God whose presence melts the mountains, and made Sinai to shake (Psalms 102:26; Isaiah 36:4; Isaiah 2:6; Jeremiah 4:23; Jeremiah 4:26; Revelation 6:14; Revelation 16:20). How terrible to stand unready before such a Judge and such a throne! All justice, all perfection, all holiness! Who can abide His appearing? But besides the Judge and the throne, there are the millions to be judged. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The great white throne
I. When once the great white throne is erected, all distinctions of this life will have been for ever abolished. We often marvel at the contrast exhibited in the present life, between the circumstances or conditions in which mankind are placed. From the extreme of affluence to the extreme of destitution there are endless varieties of condition, yet, in certain respects, all are equal; the noble and the mean; the richest and the poorest. Surely it ought to make the wealthy set loose to their riches, and the poor think lightly of their poverty, when it is remembered how soon the small and the great will stand alike before God, to be judged according, not to their respective conditions on earth, but each according to his works.
II. The next feature which calls for notice is the opening of the books. The idea is that of a faithful register to be brought forward hereafter, to decide the everlasting portion. Thus, when we hear of the books to be opened at the judgment, and of men being judged out of those things which are written in the books, we are, in effect, reminded that the actions which we day by day commit, the very words we speak and the thoughts we indulge, contribute the materials for a final reckoning, upon the issue of which will be suspended eternal joy or eternal shame. This regard to the inevitable connection between conduct in this life and our portion in eternity, would serve alike to restrain from iniquity and impel to obedience.
III. It must not be overlooked, however, that while mention is made of books--of several volumes of account--out of which the dead will be judged, allusion is made to but one book of life, containing the names of those who would be saved. Possibly an intimation is hereby conveyed as to the comparative fewness of the saved. Yet another interpretation of the difference is, that, whereas there are many different methods by which men may go to perdition, there is but one way of life. It is not alone the heathen, who never heard of a Redeemer; nor the infidel, who professed to disbelieve the existence of God or a revelation; nor the heretic, who corrupted the truth and turned the grace of God into lasciviousness; not alone the scoffer, the profligate, the profane, who will be excluded from heaven; but the impenitent, the unbelieving, the unconverted, the ungodly--all who have refused to lay hold of the salvation which is offered in the gospel.
III. The dead, universally, are said to be judged according to their works. This accords with the representation given in other parts of the Bible. The reward is of grace; the judgment is according to things done in the body.
IV. The issue of the judgment, as described in the closing verse of the chapter. No sooner has the evangelist spoken of the judgment itself, than he tells us of the extinction, thenceforward, of death and of hell. There will be no more slumber in the grave. Up to this period the wicked will nat have entered upon the full consummation of misery. The soul is not the man. The soul, in union with the body, constitutes the nature, which Christ redeemed, and which must, hereafter, partake of punishment or reward. Hence the complete wretchedness will not overtake the wicked till the final abolition of death and the grave. “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire.” This will be the consummation of the ruin of the ungodly. From this doom there will be no appeal; from this sentence no reprieve. We can be earnest for time; who, comparatively, is earnest for eternity? The book is still open. Christ is willing to write your name there. (Bp. R. Bickersteth.)
The great white throne
I. What John saw. When the eagle-eyed seer of Patmos, being in the Spirit, looked aloft into the heavens, he saw a throne, from which I gather there is a throne of moral government over the sons of men, and that He who sits upon it presides over all the inhabitants of this world. There is a lawgiver who looks down and spies every action of man, and who does not suffer one single word or deed to be omitted from His note-book. Now we know that this moral governor is God Himself, who has an undisputed right to reign and rule. Some thrones have no right to be, and to revolt from them is patriotism; but the best lover of his race delights the most in the monarchy of heaven. In addition to this, His throne is one from the power of which none can escape. The sapphire throne of God, at this moment, is revealed in heaven, where adoring angels cast their crowns before it; and its power is felt on earth, where the works of creation praise the Lord. Even those who acknowledge not the Divine government are compelled to feel it, for He doeth as He wills, not only among the angels in heaven, but among the inhabitants of this lower world. See, then, at the very outset how this throne should awe our minds with terror. Founded in right, sustained by might, and universal in its dominion, look ye and see the throne which John of old beheld. This, however, is but the beginning of the vision. The text tells us that it was a “white throne.” Does not this indicate its immaculate purity? There is no other white throne, I fear, to be found. Why, then, is it white for purity? Is it not because the King who sits on it is pure? Hark to the thrice sacred hymn of the cherubic band and the seraphic choir, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth.” Creatures who are perfectly spotless themselves unceasingly adore the yet superior holiness of the great King. Oh fairest of all thrones I who would not be a willing subject of Thy peerless government? Moreover, the throne is pure, because the law the Judge dispenses is perfect. There is no fault in the statute-book of God. When the Lord shall come to judge the earth, there will be found no decree that bears too hardly upon any one of His creatures. “The statutes of the Lord are right”; they are true and righteous altogether. I have thought, too, that perhaps this throne is said to be a white throne to indicate that it will be eminently conspicuous. You will have noticed that a white object can be seen from a very great distance. We must see it; it shall be so striking a sight that none of us will be able to prevent its coming before us; “every eye shall see Him.” Possibly it is called a white throne because of its being such a convincing contrast to all the colours of this sinful human life. There stand the crowd, and there is the great white throne. What can make them see their blackness more thoroughly than to stand there in contrast with the perfections of the law and the Judge before whom they are standing? Perhaps that throne, all glistening, will reflect each man’s character. The next word that is used by way of adjective is “great.” It was a “great white throne.” You scarcely need me to tell you that it is called a great white throne because of the greatness of Him who sits upon it. Speak of the greatness of Solomon? He was but a petty prince. Speak of the thrones of Rome and Greece before which multitudes of beings assembled? They are nothing, mere representatives of associations of the grasshoppers of the world, who are as nothing in the sight of the Lord Jehovah. A throne filled by a mortal is but a shadow of dominion. This will be a great throne because on it will sit the great God of earth and heaven and hell, the King eternal, immortal, invisible, who shall judge the world in righteousness, and His people with equity. You will see that this will be a “great white throne” when we remember the culprits who will be brought before it; not a handful of criminals, but millions upon millions; and these not all of the lesser sort, not serfs and slaves alone whose miserable bodies rested from their oppressors in the silent grave; but the great ones of the earth shall be there; not one missing. It will be a great white throne, because of the matters that will be tried there. It will be no mere quarrel about a suit in Chancery, or an estate in jeopardy. Our souls will have to be tried there; our future, not for an age, not for one single century, but for ever and for ever. Turn not away your eyes from the magnificent spectacle till you have seen the glorious Person mentioned in the words, “And Him that sat on it.” The most fitting One in all the world will sit upon that throne. It will be God, but hearken, it will also be man. The Christ whom you despised will judge you, the Saviour whose mercy you trampled on--it is He who shall judge righteous judgment to you, and what will He say but this--“As for these Mine enemies, who would not that I should reign over them, cut them in pieces before My eyes!”
II. The inferences which flow from such a sight as this.
1. Let me search myself.
2. Having spoken a word to the Christian, I should like to say to every one of you, in remembrance of this great white throne shun hypocrisy.
3. But there are some of you who say, “I do not make any profession of religion.” Still my text has a word to you. Still I want you to judge your actions by that last great day. Oh sir, how about that night of sin? “No,” say you, “never mind it; bring it not to my remembrance.” It shall be brought to thy remembrance, and that deed of sin shall be published far wider than upon the house-tops. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The great white throne, the opened books, and the assembled dead
I. The supreme tribunal: “A great white throne.” It is a new wonder. St. John saw other thrones in more than one apocalyptic disclosure, but none like this. It is unique and transcendent. It is “great.” It represents Divine majesty. It is “white.” Its intolerable splendour is without a stain. It is not a throne of grace. To it no penitents are welcomed. None could bow before it. No elemency is published and no forgiveness dispensed. It is the supreme and final tribunal. From the decisions of this bar there is no appeal. The sentences of the King are irreversible.
II. The intolerable purity of the judge: “Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.” Descriptions may be indefinite from the lack of graphic ability in the narrator, or from the impossibility of seizing and reporting the transcendent and stupendous objects which he has to record. Not a single minute particular is given in St. John’s outline of the dread vision. All that we are told of the throne is, that it is vast, and dazzling in its whiteness. “Him that sat upon” the throne; but not a syllable is there about that sight. Of that face--its majesty, brightness, terror--St. John could utter nothing; but he has recorded what followed its unveiling. Earth and heaven, as conscious and guilty things, fled away--just as the stars retreat and disappear when the sun darts forth at break of day, or rather as tow and gossamer fly and vanish when touched by the flame. The face from which all nature shrank into instantaneous invisibility, and could discover no space to hide in, was incapable of description.
III. The universality of the dread assize: “I Saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.” Earth and heaven were permitted to vanish from the face, the splendour and purity of which they could not endure. Not so men. The guiltiest, though the heart shrink, must encounter the sight and hear the sentence. St. John “saw the earth and heaven fly”; but “the dead, small and great, stand,” stand “before the throne,” and await their doom.
IV. The impartiality of the solemn awards. The prominent truth in the vision is, He will “judge the people righteously.” “According to their works,” as good or evil, holy or unholy, the sentence will be given. Faith |n the blood of atonement, without a life of reverence, virtue, love of God, self-sacrifice, and Christ-like nobleness, is the pretence of hypocrites and traitors. “According to their works,” St. John saw “every man judged.”
V. Great and approaching changes in the seen and unseen worlds: “And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.” We cannot understand this statement without recalling the peculiarities of our present life. To the righteous now there exist the earth and the unseen heaven. After the judgment the distinction between the earth where we are and heaven where God is, will be abolished. The earth and the visible skies are to depart; the unseen heaven will alone remain. Resembling changes await the wicked. The bodies of the unrighteous are in the graves of this planet. Their souls are in Hades awaiting judgment. The scene of retribution is a future and unseen world. After judgment, the earth and the grave will be Be more. Hades--the unseen world of spirits--will be similarly abrogated. Death and Hades, and all which they represent, will merge in retribution, of which the lake of fire is the symbol. (H. Batchelor.)
The great white throne
“I saw a throne.” There is a throne now, but men do not see it. There is a real government now, but it will be a visible one then. You know the sceptic has doubts, because he cannot see. He says, “Where is God, and whom is the throne? I have never seen it.” Did you ever see the throne of England? I never did--but you know there is one; you know there is a government. I never saw the Queen, and I dare say many of you have not seen her, but you know there is a Queen. I never saw the great King, but He is here. He reigns; and by and by His throne will become visible, and faith and doubt will be lost in sight, and the believer will say, “It is He”; and the infidel will say, “It is He”; and there will be no more doubting and no more believing--it will be sight. “I saw a throne.” It is called a “great” throne. “I saw a great white throne.” Now, of all the seats in the world, I believe thrones are the filthiest. I believe the throne of England to be one of the purest in the world; but that throne has oftentimes been stained with the blood that tyrants have shed. But that is the “great white throne.” Many a time darkness has dimmed it round, for “clouds and darkness are round about him”; it has been veiled in mystery; but behind the cloud it was a white throne--a throne that never was tarnished by injustice, and that never was defiled by wrong-doing. The infidel and the doubter have often had hard thoughts of God; but when the throne is set it will be seen to be without a stain. “I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it.” It is the Man of Calvary; it is the Babe of Bethlehem--but, oh, how changed! See His eyes piercing and flashing--pictures of His penetrating wisdom. See His feet that have the glow of the furnace, that outshine the sun in its glory. And then hear His voice. It is louder than the choruses of mature. It is “as the voice of many waters.” And as He says, “Rise, ye dead.” they come forth at His bidding. Oh, when that day comes, may you find that the blessed One who sits upon the throne is your friend. A minister was one day travelling with a young spark, a sceptical fellow; and as the manner of such men is, and probably liking a little to annoy the person with whom he was travelling, he said, among other things, “Talk about the Bible being an inspired book! why, I tell you, those books of the old pagans were far better; it is not fit to be named in the same day of the week with Homer.” “Well,” said the minister, calmly, “since you seem to be so great an admirer of Homer, would you give me a specimen--some favourite passage from your beloved author?” “In a minute,” said the young man, “I will”; and very readily he pointed to what he thought a fair specimen of the sublimity and power of Homer, where he speaks in these words--“Jove frowned and darkened half the sky.” “Now, there, sir,” said he, “just think of the sublimity of that figure--the very frown of the god darkened half the face of nature.” “I grant,” said he, “you have selected with very good taste; but before you venture to pit your favourite author against the inspired Word of God, read it a little more. What do you say to this: ‘I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat upon it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.’” How much less sublime what you have repeated from Homer is than that? The young man was silent. I hope he learned never again to pit any book against the Book of God. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it.” Now, those of you that are at all acquainted with the opinions of the people that lived when the Apostle John wrote, will know that it was thought among the most impossible of things that anybody should ever be recovered that was lost in the waters. Hence, in the Odyssey you will find that when Ulysses was in peril of drowning he moaned that he had not fallen in the fight before the walls of Troy, for he speaks of himself as sinking in the waters, and so being for ever dead. And it was a great opinion that all who had not sepulchral rites could never have peace or happiness after; the body they never dreamed could rise, but even the spirit they thought was destroyed. Blessed be God, we have a better view than that. How many of the bravest of Britain’s sons and the fairest of her daughters have gone forth and have gone down with the storm for their requiem, the wreck for their coffin, and the waters for their winding-sheet. There they are. Though you do not know where they are lying, Jesus knows; and when the last trump is heard they will come forth. And not only so, but “death and hell shall give up the dead that are in them.” This is a noble personification. Death and hell are the twin giants that rule the grave and the spirit-world. What a blessed thing it is that both will be conquered! When the trumpet is blown, the dust in the charnel will begin to stir and creep and quiver, and bone will come to his bone, and the frame will be built up again. And when the trumpet is blown, it will be heard in the highest heaven, and the blessed spirits will come down, and it will be heard in the deepest pit, and the lost souls will come up, and there, by some wondrous appointment, body and soul will be remarried never to be divorced for ever. “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.” I saw them--small and great--the man of wealth and the man of rank, the prince and the man of poverty. What a mighty host will that be! You and I will be among the number. Then there is another thing. “The books were opened.” Now what are these books?
1. First of all, there will be the books of God’s requirements. Where are these books? There are many. First, God’s requirements as they are written in nature. The poor pagan has had that book, that book whose syllables are constellations and whose letters are stars. The firmament has declared the being and power of God, and the dew of heaven and the flowers of nature have shown His goodness. There is enough in nature to make a man feel after God, if haply he may find Him; and the heathen have had that.
2. Then there will also be that book of moral conscience which God puts into a man; and He has written something on the page of every heart. You may, if you like, try to be irresponsible, but there is something within that won’t let you feel like that. When Pericles once kept one of his friends waiting, when at last he got in he said, “Pericles, why was I kept waiting so long?” He said, “I was preparing the accounts for the citizens.” “Why take so much trouble?” said his friend; “why not declare yourself irresponsible?” Well, now, that is just what many silly infidels of this day say. They cannot get their accounts quite clear for the throne, but I tell you what they do--they declare that they are not responsible, that they are conquered by circumstances, and cannot help whatever they may be. Will that do? God will open the book of conscience, and He will judge you, and your own conscience will attest that God is true.
3. Well, then, there is the book of inspiration. Every sceptic in this land will be judged by this book. Your not believing it is no reason; if you do not believe it, you ought.
4. Well, the book of God’s providence will be opened, and God will be justified in that day. You know sometimes His providence seems dark, and we are sometimes inclined to grumble, and say this is wrong and that is wrong; but when that day comes, it will all be open, and we shall say, “It is all right,” and even the sinner will be obliged to bow his head and say, “It is all just.”
5. And there is another book--the book of God’s remembrance. It is a beautiful figure that represents the Divine knowledge as the book of God’s remembrance. That book will be opened, and your very secret sins will all be there.
6. Ay, and then the book of memory will be opened. There are some strange facts that now and then transpire with respect to human memory. I do not believe when a thing has once been in your mind you ever really lose it again. I cannot understand it at all, but I could tell you fact after fact about it. I remember coming home from an appointment one very dark night, and there came on a storm, and by and by the lightning flashed out, and for an infinitesimal portion of time I could see everything. There I saw the church steeple, which might be a mile off, as plainly as could be, and the whole of the landscape, in that infinitesimal portion of time. Have you never had it like that in your memory? I believe there is a key somewhere that would unlock everything you ever did, and bring it up before your mind. Now, when the books are opened, the book of memory will be opened, and there will come flashing up pictures of all sorts of things you did; and I tell you, if you do not get sin washed away by the blood of Christ, there is nothing for you but horrors--horrors for ever. (S. Coley.)
I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.--
The last judgment
When Massillon pronounced one of those discourses which have placed him in the first class of orators, he found himself surrounded by the trappings and pageants of a royal funeral. The temple was not only hung with sable, but shadowed with darkness, save the few twinkling lights of the altar. The beauty and the chivalry of the land were spread out before him. There sat Majesty, clothed in sackcloth and sunk in grief. All felt in common, and as one. A sense of the indescribable nothingness of man “at his best estate,” of the meanness of the highest human grandeur, now made plain in the spectacle of that hearsed mortal, overcame him. His eye once more closed; his action was suspended; and, in a scarcely audible whisper, he broke the long-drawn pause--“There is nothing great, but God.” I take the sublimely affecting sentence and mould it to the present theme--There is nothing solemn but judgment. The thunderstorm is solemn: when the lightnings, “as arrows, shoot abroad.” But what is it to that far-resounding crash, louder than the roar and bellow of ten thousand thunders, which shall pierce the deepest charnels, and which all the dead shall hear? The ocean-tempest is solemn: when those huge billows lift up their crests; when mighty armaments are wrecked by their fury. But what is it to that commotion of the deep, when “its proud waves” shall no more “be stayed,” its ancient barriers no more be observed, the largest channels be emptied, and the deepest abyss be dried? The earthquake is solemn: when, without a warning, cities totter, and kingdoms rend, and islands flee away. But what is it to that tremour which shall convulse our globe, dissolving every law of attraction, severing every principle of aggregation, heaving all into chaos and heaping all into ruin? Great God! must our eyes see--our ears hear--these desolations and distractions? Must we look forth upon these devouring flames? Must we stand in judgment with Thee? Penetrate us now with Thy fear; awaken the attention, which Thy trump shall not fail to command; surround our imagination with the scenery of that great and terrible day!
I. Let us consider the scenery which shall illustrate this august assize. The “throne” is the emblem of royal dignity. It is the symbol of Divine supremacy. “The Lord hath prepared His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom ruleth over all.” It is “a great white throne.” It is vast, shadowy, undefined. No rainbow of the covenant girdles it; no suppliants or penitents sue before it; no pardons are issued from it. It is a tribunal throne. “He hath prepared His throne for judgment.” It is occupied. There is One, that “sitteth upon it.” This is often characteristic and distinctive of the Father. There is no manner of similitude. Nothing at first appears to guide us in the present discrimination. There is no form. It seems essential, and not distinguished, deity. But need we be at loss? “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ.” He now “thinketh it no robbery to be equal with God,” and as God He is “Judge Himself.” “From the face” of Him who sitteth upon the throne, “the earth and the heaven flee away.” Who can think of that countenance and not associate with It pensive downcast, deepest affliction, sweetest meekness? Into what expression mast that countenance have now kindled! With what terrors must it now be clothed! Things inanimate, insensible, smitten with a strange panic and with a sudden dismay, start back; and those refulgent heavens and this fair earth shrink into ancient disorder and anarchy: they rush into primeval chaos and night. Rut net so can the sinner “flee away”; rocks--mountains--cannot cover him; there is no hiding-place for “the workers of iniquity.” It makes little difference whether it be the greater catastrophe or the inferior; the larger could not strike a deeper terror--the smaller could not induce a less. And why do heaven and earth pass away? and why is no more place found for them? They have realised their end. They were but as the scaffolding; the erection is complete. They are of no further use. They may be set aside. “The mystery of God” is “finished.” There is “the consummation.” Time, therefore, need “be no longer.”
II. We now, then, turn to the multitude that shall be summoned to this judgment. “Death delivered up the dead which were in it.” This is the power of the grave, it is the personification of death. He who burst the barriers of the tomb and made death bow before Him--He shall send forth His mandate, publish His behest; and then the vaults and the catacombs and the mummy pits and the bone-houses shall disgorge their relics. It was much for the sea to obey Him who sitteth on the throne; it was more for inexorable death--the grave--the sepulchre--to yield its victims; but “hell”--the place of departed spirits, where the disembodied soul of man is to be found, whether in happiness or in woe--hades has listened to a voice until then unknown to it. The gates of “the shadow of death” unbar, and its portals fly open. And now there come--there come--there come--clouds of spirits rolling upon clouds, in swift succession, with impetuous rush; sumless, but unmixed, but individualised; the consciousness of each distinct, the character of each defined, the memory of each unobliterated, and the sentence of each foredoomed. And hades sends back spirits to those bodies, which the sea and the grave may no more retain. “The small and the great stand before God.” All who have been among the mighty, and would not “let go their prisoners,” and who “destroyed the earth,” and all of minor state. None are so great that they can intimidate: none so little that they can escape. And thinking of that mighty throng, there is a distinctive circumstance which must not be overlooked: “every man was judged.” God can say, “All souls are Mine”; and all souls, on that day, shall pass in review before Him. Each of your “idle words,” each of your “vain thoughts,” each of your impure desires, every bias of your spirit, every movement of your heart must reappear. “Be sure your sin will find you out.”
III. Let us consider the process which must determine this judgment. When Hilkiah found the law, and read it to the people, they rent their clothes, terror-struck, that they had committed so many offences against a long-forgotten law. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” He is the God of judgment. He is the God of truth. “But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth.” But then that book, which is closed to so many, shall “be opened”--shall be opened in all its injunctions, all its penalties, all its sanctions. You will not then think that its bands are small; you will not then think that its terrors are weak. If the law, by one drop of its present fury, one flash of its present power, causes the stoutest heart and the most rebel conscience to quail, how will the stoutest heart be as tow in the fire, and the most rebel conscience be as wax before the flame, when this book shall be opened!--shall be opened in all its contents, shall be opened in all its principles, shall be opened in all its awards! But these “books” may refer to the discoveries of the gospel. And these might indeed cheer, and these ought indeed to fortify, if you have “won Christ and are found in Him.” Yet if you are unbelievers still, if you are “enemies in your minds by wicked works,” this book, the word of reconciliation, is more portentous in its aspect against you, even them the volume of the law. You will be judged “according to this gospel.” All the beseechings of mercy, all the remonstrances of authority, all the pleadings of tenderness! This book shall be opened only the more terribly to convict and to condemn. Mercy will in that day be more terrible than justice. (R. W. Hamilton, D. D.)
The last judgment
I. The majesty of the tribunal.
II. The person of this judge. Here is justice, we may say, here is retribution, in the very commencement of this judgment, the very constitution of this court--the once abased but now exalted--openly exalted--Jesus, is receiving from His Father a compensation for all His former degradation and shame.
III. The dissolution of the whole material world. What is a man advantaged if he gain the whole of such a world as this? The world would be a poor thing to make our portion, even if it were destined to last for ever, but we shall be alive ages and ages after it has perished; and if the world is our all, where then will our happiness be? where will our comfort and support be?
IV. The strange, vast assembly gathered together in it.
V. The process of this judgment.
1. Its exactness. “The books were opened.” “The books were opened”--the book of God’s law; the law of His universe, which every creature is bound by his very existence in His universe to obey. The book of His gospel--a book superadded in man’s case to the book of the law, and as binding on man when made known to him as the law itself. And then there is a hook to be opened within us, the book of memory and conscience. There are few of us who have not at intervals been surprised at the power of these two faculties within us; it is an indication of their future power when they are called forth in their full energy before our Judge.
2. The justice or equity of this judgment: “The dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books.” False accusers can do nothing against us now. Friends and flatterers can do nothing for us. They will not be listened to. The books--the true and faithful books only--will be regarded, and by their testimony will our sentence be determined.
3. The wonderful grace that will be manifested by Him in this judgment. There is another book mentioned. “Another book was opened, which is the book of life.” “He that believeth shall be saved,” it says. “Now bring forward that book of life. It is My once secret register of all that are Mine. Open it. There stands that man’s name written; I with My own hand wrote it there; and though My law condemns him, and record upon record condemns him, yet he believed in Me for salvation, and that is enough--I will never condemn him. I will not blot out his name out of that book of life, but I will confess his name, declare and proclaim it here as a name dear to Me, before My Father and before His angels.” (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The great assize
There are three great days connected with the history of our race.
1. The day the world was made.
2. The day the world was redeemed.
3. The day the world will be judged. It is to the last of these days our text invites attention. Come forth with me and view the scene. Every prophecy is fulfilled, the last hour arrived; the funeral day of the world has come. For the first and last time are found in one great assembly every angel, every saint, and every devil. The books are opened.
I. The preliminaries of the judgment.
1. The day will be ushered in with sound of trumpet and the voice of God. The debaucher will be revelling in obscenity--the prodigal rioting in prodigality and wantonness--the self-righteous wrapped up in his own carnal security--the robber on his errand of sin--the whisperer slandering his neighbour--the infidel glorying in his shame--the miser counting over his gold--the soldier in the tented field--the sailor on the briny deep--the careless sitting at ease--the hypocrite practising deceit. When the shrill blast of the archangel’s trump, waxing louder than ten thousand thunders, shall shake the earth, and the angel shall swear by Him that liveth for ever and ever that time shall be no more.
2. The Judge will appear. Every eye shall see Him, for like the sun He will appear equally near to all who shall be placed at His dread tribunal. All our previous ideas of grandeur will be infinitely surpassed by the realities of this solemn scene.
3. The dead shall be raised, and all created intelligences shall stand arraigned before the judgment-seat. People of every age and condition, rank and degree. Populous assemblies! Not one missing of past, present, or future generations.
II. Proceedings of the judgment. “And the books were opened.”
1. There will be the book of God’s omniscience. Every thought, feeling, desire, motive, and purpose of every heart are fully recorded; and every act of every life.
2. The book of conscience. The one will be found to tally exactly with the other. Oh, trifle not with your conscience, for it will wake up in the judgment and echo the truthfulness of God’s omniscience.
3. The book of life. The Divine wisdom or remembrance, whereby the Lord knoweth them that are His.
III. Its final and irreversible results.
1. The whole will be divided, and there shall be no mistake. Not one sinner shall stand in this vast congregation of the righteous.
2. Sentence will be pronounced. If we have not on the wedding garment, we must hear that awfully tremendous voice saying unto us, “Depart, ye cursed.”
3. Execution of the sentence. (J. D. Carey.)
The last judgment
I. The seat of judgment--a great white throne.
1. Its dignity. A throne is the seat of royalty (1 Kings 10:18-19; Isaiah 6:1).
2. Its purity. White is an emblem of purity. As from the majesty of this throne there can be no appeal, so with respect to the equity of it there can be no just cause of complaint.
II. The author of judgment.
1. Who is the Judge? Jehovah in the person of Christ. The Father judgeth no man (John 5:22).
2. His qualification for His work.
III. Infinite knowledge.
(1) Unspotted justice.
(2) Unlimited power.
III. The subjects of judgment. “I saw the dead, small and great,” etc.
1. The appearance will be universal.
2. The appearance will be inevitable.
IV. The rule of judgment. Conclusion:
1. Flee to the Cross of Christ.
2. Ever associate that day with feelings of the deepest solemnity. (J. G. Breay, B. A. )
The last judgment
I. The subjects of the judgment.
1. The dead, small and great.
(1) Young and old.
(2) Rich and poor.
(3) Illiterate and learned.
2. These shall stand together before God.
(1) Social distinctions are not accounted at that tribunal.
(2) Ethnic distinctions cease.
(3) Distinctions of time also are at an end. All generations mingle in one grand congregation.
3. The value of character will then appear.
(1) When conventional, accidental distinctions vanish, the real, permanent distinctions of character come out in the boldest relief.
(2) The interval of the disembodied and millennial states will afford the best opportunities for reflection upon that conduct which is now crystallised into character.
(3) If anything further is needed to force home this lesson upon the spirit, here it is in the excitements of the judgment--the prodigies--the Judge--the witnesses--the impending doom.
II. The character of the judge.
1. Christ appears not now as Mediator.
(1) Death ends probation.
(2) The shadows of the great judgment are felt here in the court of conscience. Works, words, thoughts, motives, should be ever examined here in anticipation of the more imposing court.
(3) The preparation of holiness we must have.
2. He now appears as King.
(1) He comes “in the glory of His Father”--the glory of His Divinity. The dead “stand before God.”
(2) He comes in “His own glory”--the glory of His exalted and beatified manhood. Here is the only universal Monarch. On His head are many crowns.
(3) He comes with His retinue of holy angels.
3. His resources are equal to the occasion.
(1) See the effect of His glance. The world kindles into conflagration (verse 11; 2 Peter 3:7-12).
(2) The eye of flame can discriminate as it can search.
(3) What impiety can dare that throne?
III. The standards of the judgment.
1. The book of God’s works.
(1) This volume treats of His power. The forces of Nature assert His sovereignty. How has that been respected?
(2) It treats also of His wisdom. The exquisite dovetailing of things, nice adjustments, wonderful adaptations, assert His adorableness. How has that been respected?
(3) It treats further of His goodness. What contrivances to give pleasure to His creatures! Every voice of beneficence calls for gratitude. How have we responded?
2. The book of God’s Word.
(1) In this we have His law.
(2) In this also we have His gospel.
3. The book of memory.
(1) God’s memory forgets nothing.
(2) Man’s memory will be prodigiously quickened.
4. The book of condemnation.
(1) The names of the doomed are written there. The character of the writing is legible and black.
(2) How many millions will find their names there! Is yours amongst the number?
(3) What does it mean to be written there? Exclusion from heaven.
5. “And another book was opened which is the book of life.” (J. A. Macdonald.)
The last assize
Though the Book of Revelation contains much that is mysterious, and even inexplicable, passages such as this are as instructive as magnificent. The delineation is that of transactions in which we must all bear a part in the last general assize. It was before the Redeemer that the mighty multitude of those whom the grave had surrendered were arraigned, the title of absolute divinity being justly assigned to Him who is evidently the Son of Man, seeing that the two natures coalesced indissolubly in His person. Our text then proceeds to give some account of the principles upon which judgment will be conducted, showing that an accurate register has been kept of human actions, and that men will be judged according to their works, and therefore judged in righteousness. We know not whether the principles of God’s moral government are insisted on with sufficient frequency and urgency from our pulpits, but we are sure that they produce not their due influence on the great mass of men. Here and there, indeed, you may meet with an individual whose thoughts are set on the account which he must one day render, and whose habitual endeavour it is to preserve an habitual sense of the coming of the Lord. But even individuals such as these will confess to you that their endeavours are but partially successful; that they have great cause of humiliation before God, on account of their forgetfulness of the day of trial. So that there can be no class of hearers to whom the subject of discourse presented by our text is not appropriate. We shall premise a few remarks on the necessity of a general judgment, in order to vindicate God’s moral government, and then proceed to examine the several assertions made in our text in regard to this fact. Now, in every age of the world, men have been perplexed by what seemed opposite evidences as to the superintending care of a wise and beneficent Being. On the one hand, there is no doubt that we live under a retributive government, and that cognisance is taken of our actions by an invisible but ever-present Being whose attributes render Him the determined foe of vice and the steadfast upholder of righteousness. On the other hand, there has been an irresistible demonstration, from the experience of all ages, that no accurate proportion is at present maintained between conduct and condition, but that vice has most frequently the upper hand, while righteousness is depressed and overwhelmed. There has been no reconciling of these apparent contradictions, except by supposing that human existence would not terminate with death, but that in another, though yet unknown state, vice would receive its due meed of vengeance, and righteousness of reward. Thus you see how reason concurs with revelation in directing your thoughts to a state of retribution. We next remark that the season of judgment is not to arrive until the end of all things, when the dead shall be raised. Once admit that all men are to be put upon trial, and you also admit, so far as we can see, that their final portion is not entered upon ere that trial is past; for what could be more contrary to all show of justice than the sentencing after execution? But when men would curiously inquire into the particulars of the intermediate state, we are not at all able to answer their questions. We doubt not that the justified soul is immediately assured of its acceptance with God, and consigned to the peace and repose in the blessed certainty that heaven will be its portion. We doubt as little that the soul of him who dies in his impenitence is immediately conscious that its doom is determined, and given over to anguish and remorse because allowed no hope that lost time may be redeemed and hell yet avoided. It is the whole man, the compound of spirit and flesh, which has obeyed or transgressed; it must be therefore the whole man which is put upon trial, and which receives the portion whether of promise or threatening. Thus, whatever our thoughts of the intermediate state, we know that the allotments of eternity cannot be fully dealt out unless the vision of our text shall have been first accomplished, “and the dead, small and great, stand before their God.” We pass now to the contemplation of the person of the Judge. We wish to set before you the combined wisdom and mercy of the appointment, that He who is to decide our portion for eternity, is the very Being who died as our surety. We cannot dispense with the omniscience of Deity; we see clearly enough that no finite intelligence can be adequate to that decision which will ensure the thorough justice of future retribution. But then neither can we dispense with the feelings of humanity; at least we can have no confidence in approaching His tribunal if we are sure that the difference in nature incapacitates Him from sympathy with those whose sentence He is about to pronounce, and precludes the possibility of His so making our case His own as to allow of His deciding with due allowance for our feebleness and temptations. It is thus we are assured that mercy and justice will alike have full scope in the transactions of the judgment, and that in appointing that the Mediator who died as our substitute will preside at our trial, God hath equally provided that every decision shall be impartial, and yet every man be dealt with as brother to Him who must determine our fate. It would have been an encouragement to wickedness had the Judge been mere man, and therefore liable to be deceived. It would have filled humble piety with dread had the Judge been only God, and therefore not “touched with a feeling of our infirmities.” This leads us to our concluding point, the thorough righteousness of the whole procedure of the judgment. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
It is related of Daniel Webster, the reality of whose moral endowments no one disputes, that when once asked what was the greatest thought that had ever occupied his mind, he replied, “The fact of my personal accountability to God.” Eliminate accountability, and man drops into the category of instinct and natural desire; if he is a savage, he becomes a beast; if he is civilised, he becomes virtually a criminal. Freedom and conscience imply accountability; accountability implies rendering account, and this implies a judgment; such is the logic that covers human life, few and simple in its links, but strong as adamant and inexorable as fate. It underlies and binds together the twofold kingdom of time and eternity--one chain, whether it binds things in heaven or things on the earth. It is the weakness of formulated theology that it arbitrarily transfers the most august and moving features of God’s moral government to a future world, thus placing the wide and mysterious gulf of time and death between actions and their motives. All broken law begins at once to incur judgment; the quick pang of conscience that follows sin is the first stroke of judgment; while undergoing it the soul is passing a crisis, and turns to the right or the left hand of eternal righteousness. Thus we are all the while rendering account to the laws without and within; we are all the while undergoing judgment and receiving sentence of acquittal or condemnation. Conduct is always reaching crises and entering upon its consequences. It may be cumulative in degree, and reach crises more and more marked; it may at last reach a special crisis which shall be the judgment when the soul shall turn to the right or left of eternal destiny. A profound view of judgment as a test or crisis entailing separation, shows us that it attends change; for it is through change that the moral nature is aroused to special action. It is a law that catastrophes awaken conscience. It is also a peculiarity of the action of the moral nature under great outward changes that man is disclosed to himself. Recall the most joyful event of your lives, and you will find it to have been also a period of great self-knowledge. Recall your deepest sorrow and you will still more vividly recognise it as an experience in which there was a deep, interior measurement of yourself. If change has this revealing and judging power, the change of worlds must have it in a superlative degree. It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that cometh judgment; the testing and unveiling of character and conduct. Pre-eminently, far beyond anything that has preceded, man is then judged and assigned his true place and direction. I think the central truth of the judgment can nowhere more easily be got at than in the passage before us. No other symbol than that of “books” could so vividly convey the fact that the whole life comes into judgment. Nothing is left out or forgotten; there can be no mistake. The books are the unerring transcript of the life. The simplicity of the symbol is marred by the introduction of “another book” than those recording the works. Why is there “another book which is the book of life “--and what does it mean? Mankind do not go up to the throne of God to be judged simply by their works. Parallel with humanity is the kingdom of heaven. Parallel with men’s deeds are the purposes of God. Over and above what humanity does of itself is a plan of redemption, the working out of which enters into human destiny. It may be that the other book represents that other power, and the influences that flow out of the life of Christ. It is a book of life, and He is the life of the world. Men are judged by the records of their works, but it may be that the sentence pronounced is affected by what is written in the book of life. I am aware that this complicates the thought, but we must remember that the problem of spiritual destiny is not absolutely simple. But we will leave this side issue and turn to the main thought--the books out of which men are judged. The books must be found in God, or nature, or man. The mind of God must indeed be a tablet whereon are written all the works of men, but let us not touch that ineffable mystery without warrant. Science, in the person of some of its high priests, has suggested that all the deeds of men are conserved as distinct forces in the ether that fills the spaces of heaven, and may be brought together again in true form, in some new cosmos, as light traversing space as motion is turned to heat when arrested by the earth. But we can find no link between such a fact, if it be a fact, and the moral process of judgment. We must search man himself for the elements of his great account. Take the mind: at first it is merely a set of faculties, without even self-consciousness, but contact with the world brings them into action--first observation, then memory; soon the imagination spreads its folded wings; then comes the process of comparison and combination, and thus the full process of thinking is developed--a process to which there is no end, and the capacities of which are immeasurable. When we reach the limit of our own powers, we open the pages of some great master of thought, and there find new realms that reveal corresponding powers. Take the soul: there are faculties that exist only in germ till certain periods of life arise. The child knows nothing of the love that breaks in upon the youth with its rapturous pain and yearning of insatiable desire, flooding the heights of his being, but the capacity was in the child. The soft touch of a babe’s hand unlocks new rooms in the heart of the mother. New relations, new stages of life, disclose new powers and reveal the mysteries of our being. We are all the while finding out new agencies in nature; even its component parts are not yet all discovered, while the forces developed by combination are doubtless immeasurable in number and degree. Take the memory, the faculty through which the consciousness of identity is preserved. With so important a function to fulfil, it is altogether probable that its action is absolute, that is, it never forgets. We cannot understand its action, but probably we speak accurately when we say that an impression is made upon the mind. The theory that memory is a physical act, and therefore cannot outlast death, is untenable. Matter, having no real identity, cannot uphold a sense of identity, which is the real office of memory. The impression of what we do, say, hear, see, feel, and think, is stamped upon the mind. An enduring matrix receives the impression; is it probable that it is ever lost? We think we forget, but our thought is corrected by everyday experience. The mind wearied by till forgets at night, but remembers when sleep has refreshed the body. The body forgot; the mind retained its knowledge. We forget the faces we have seen, but on the first fresh glimpse we remember them. We revisit scenes that long since had faded from memory, but the new sight uncovers the old impression. Even so slight a thing as a note of music, or a perfume, will bring up scenes long ago forgotten; a strain of music, and a face that had grown dim to memory, comes back from the dead in all its freshness. De Quincey, a profound observer upon the subject, says that when under the influence of opium, the most trifling incidents of his early life would pass again and again before his distempered vision, varying their form, but the same in substance. These incidents, which were originally somewhat painful, would swell into vast proportions of agony, and rise into the most appalling catastrophes. This was the action of a diseased nature, but it indicates what shape our lives may assume if viewed at last through the medium of a sin-diseased soul Not only does the memory retain conduct, but all impressions upon the soul remain imbedded within it. Nothing is lost that has once happened to it. We are taking into ourselves the world about us, the society in which we move, the impress of every sympathetic contact with good or evil, and we shall carry them with us for ever. We do not pass through a world for nought--it follows us because it has become a part of us. It may be said that these impressions are so numerous and conflicting that they can yield no distinct picture hereafter. But we must not limit the capacity of the soul in this respect, in the presence of greater mysteries. In some sense, it may present, as it were, a continually fresh surface. A most apt illustration waits upon our thought drawn from the palimpsests forbad in the monasteries of Italy; parchments that, centuries ago, were inscribed with the history or laws of heathen Rome, the edicts of persecuting emperors, or the annals of conquest. When the Church arose, the same parchments were used again to record the legends and prayers of the saints. Later still, they were put to further use in rehearsing the speculations of the schoolmen, or the revival of letters, yet presenting but one written surface. But modern science has learned to uncover these overlaid writings one after another, finding upon one surface the speculations of learning, the prayers of the Church, and the blasphemies of paganism. And so it may be with the tablets of the soul, written over and over again, but no writing ever effaced, they wait for the master-hand that shall uncover them to be read of all, What are these apocalyptic books but records of our works printed upon our hearts? What are the books opened but man opened to himself? is is a view of the judgment that men cannot scoff at. Its elements are provided; its forces are at work; it lies within the scope of every man’s knowledge. It is but the whole of what we already know in part. As there are powers in man that render judgment possible, so there are conditions on the other side that cooperate. One cannot be judged except there be one who judges. Man is judged by man; nothing else were fit. The deflections from perfect humanity cannot be measured except by the standard of perfect humanity. Hence it is the Son of Man, the humanity of God, who judges. When man meets Him, all is plain. His perfection is the test; He furnishes the contrast that repels, or the likeness that draws. This then is judgment: man revealed by the unveiling of his life, and tested by the Son of Man. (T. T. Munger.)
I. Its place in Christian belief.
1. It is an essential part in the creed of a Christian.
2. Its importance may be gathered from its prominence in the Scriptures. It is foretold in the Old Testament--the Psalms, Isaiah, Daniel, Malachi, all reveal it. Our Lord, in His parables, especially in those called “eschatological,” because of their reference to the “last things.” The scene in Matthew 25:1-46. is in line with the text. The day of judgment is pointed to both in the Epistles and Apocalypse.
3. Yet belief in the general judgment is difficult. The mystery is so transcendental, so vast, so seemingly unlikely, that the inability of the imagination to bring home to itself this stupendous truth is apt to lead the understanding astray and to obscure the light of faith.
II. Why there should be a general judgment? The question was debated of old, why the particular judgment of the soul in the hour of death should not suffice. It was urged that the Lord judged the penitent thief and rewarded him with Paradise on the day of his death; Nahum 1:9 was quoted; and the fact that desert appertains only to the deeds of this life. Yet one verse demolished all this (John 12:48). The reasons for the general judgment may be found in this--that the issue of our actions do not stop with the actions themselves. Not only actions, but their far-reaching effects, will form the subject-matter of that tribunal. The complete being, body and soul, must also be arraigned before judgment is complete.
III. The procedure.
1. The persons: “the dead,” the living being numerically inconsiderable when compared with the generations of mankind who had departed.
2. “Small and great” stand before God--that is, all earthly distinctions no longer are of any account; as we should say, “all sorts and conditions of men.” The only surviving difference is that of goodness or badness.
3. They stand before the throne. They are not merely spirits, but men and women in bodily form.
4. He who sits upon the throne is the Son of man.
5. “The books were opened,” etc.; that is, the secrets of all hearts are made manifest (Psalms 1:3; 1 Corinthians 4:5). “Another book,” etc., has been differently explained, as that which pours light upon what is written in “The books,” declaring what is good and what is bad in reality; or again, it is taken to be the book of Divine predestination; or again, as by St. Anselm, as “the life of Jesus,” which is to test the life of His followers, which, perhaps, is the best exposition, for the issues are decided by the lives of those judged--by their “works.”
1. Test our belief in the Second Advent of Jesus Christ: is our faith in the mystery clear and vigorous, resting upon Divine revelation and the teaching of Christ’s Church?
2. Has the mystery an effect upon our lives, knowing it is one in which we must take part? Does it impress upon us the seriousness of life, and how we shall have to answer for all our actions?
3. Are we becoming more familiar with that other “book,” the life of Christ, as written in the Gospels and made manifest in the lives of His saints? and seeking to bring our lives into more accord with it?
4. Do I live as one who really believes in the day of judgment? (Canon Hutchings, M. A.)
Standing before God
Do you not see what that means? Out of all the lower presences with which they have made themselves contented; out of all the chambers where the little easy judges sit with their compromising codes of conduct, with their ideas worked over and worked down to suit the conditions of this earthly life; out of all these partial and imperfect judgment chambers, when men die they are all carried up into the presence of the perfect righteousness, and are judged by that. All previous judgments go for nothing, unless they find their confirmations there. Men who have been the pets and favourites of society, and of the populace, and of their own self-esteem, the change that death has made to them is that they have been compelled to face another standard, and to feel its unfamiliar awfulness. Just think of it. A man who, all his life on earth since he was a child, has never once asked himself about any action, about any plan of his. Is this right? Suddenly, when he is dead, behold he finds himself in a new world, where that is the only question about everything. His old questions as to whether a thing was comfortable, or was popular, or was profitable, are all gone. The very atmosphere of this new world kills them. And upon the amazed soul, from every side, there pours this new, strange, searching question, “Is it right?” That is what it is for the dead man to “stand before God.” But, then, there is another soul which, before it passed through death, while it was in this world, had always been struggling after higher presences. Refusing to ask whether acts were popular or profitable, refusing even to care much whether they were comfortable or beautiful, it had insisted upon asking whether each act was right. It had always struggled to keep its moral vision clear. It had climbed to heights of self-sacrifice that it might get above the miasma of low standards which lay upon the earth. In every darkness about what was right, it had been true to the best light it could see. It grows into a greater and greater incapacity to live in any other presence, as it had struggled longer and longer for this highest company. Think what it must be for that soul, when for it, too, death sweeps every other chamber back and lifts the nature into the pure light of the unclouded righteousness. Now for it, too, the question, “Is it right?” rings from every side; but in that question this soul hears the echo of its own best-loved standard. That is what it is for that soul to “stand before God.” God opens His own heart to that soul, and is both judgment and love. (Bp. Phillips Brooks.)
The books were opened.
The open books
By this imagery it is clear we are meant to understand that there is a record before God of all that we do here. Words and acts of ours which may have escaped our own memory are not lost sight of by Him. In one of the Bridgewater treatises, published some fifty years ago, Babbage pointed out what is in a certain sense true, however overstrained the speculation may have been, that there exist at this moment traces of every word ever spoken upon earth. We are all familiar with the facts that sound takes time to travel and that the further it travels the fainter it becomes. We know also that the air pulsations set in motion by our words do not cease to propagate themselves when they become inaudible to our ears, but that they travel on in fainter pulsations capable of being discerned by organs more sensitive than ours. Babbage’s remark was that no limit can be assigned to this propagation; that the waves of air raised by any spoken word within some twenty hours have communicated to every atom of the atmosphere an altered motion due to the infinitesimal portion of the primitive motion conveyed to it through countless channels, which altered movement must continue to influence its path through its future existence. “Those aerial pulses, unseen by the keenest eye, unheard by the acutest ear, unperceived by human senses, are yet demonstrated to exist by human reason.” True they may be infinitely small; but modern science concerns itself much with the infinitely little. Babbage’s speculation, then, was that if a man possessed unbounded knowledge of mathematical analysis he would be able to calculate the minutest consequence of any primary impulse given to our atmosphere; or conversely from every slightest deviation from its orderly motions to detect the operation of a new cause, to trace the time of its commencement and the point of space at which it originated. Thus, he says, “the air itself may be regarded as a vast library on whose pages are for ever written all that man has ever said or even whispered. If we could imagine the soul in an after state of existence connected with a bodily organ of hearing so sensitive as to vibrate with motions of the air even of infinitesimal force, all the accumulated words pronounced from the creation of the world would fall at once upon the ear. Imagine in addition a power of directing attention entirely to any one class of vibrations; the apparent confusion would vanish, and the punished offender might hear still vibrating on his ear the very words uttered perhaps centuries before, which at once caused and registered his condemnation.” And so in like manner he contends, “the earth, air, and ocean are eternal witnesses of the acts we have done. No motion impressed by natural causes or by human agency is ever obliterated. The track of every vessel which has yet disturbed the surface of the ocean remains for ever registered in the future movements of all succeeding particles which may occupy its place. The solid substance of the globe itself, whether we regard the minutest movement of the soft clay which receives its impression from the foot of animals or the concussion produced from fallen mountains rent by earthquakes, equally retains and communicates through all its countless atoms their apportioned share of the motions so impressed. Thus while the atmosphere we breathe is the ever living witness of the sentiments we have uttered, the waters and the more solid materials of the globe bear equally enduring testimony to the acts we have committed.” Fanciful as this speculation of Babbage’s may be, I could not help being reminded of it by the invention of the phonograph, an invention which seems destined to advance to greater perfection, through which what might seem to be the most transient thing in nature, the utterances of the human voice, are permanently fixed, so that words spoken in America have been heard in our islands, and it seems likely that men of future generations will be enabled to compare the very tones of the voice of actors or orators of our day. These things are only worth mentioning just as enabling the imagination to familiarise itself with the fact that words and actions of ours, transient as they are, can write themselves in permanent record. But there are ways in which they do so which come more practically home to us than those I have mentioned, which one is tempted to dismiss as a mere scientific fancy. In the first place, our words and actions are written in the book of our own memories. In fading characters, no doubt. Yet we know that many things which we seem to have long forgotten are not really blotted out of our recollections. Some accident often brings up to our remembrance events or conversations of times long gone by, which had been absent from our minds for years. A statement made by the late Admiral Beaufort has been often quoted. He was rescued from drowning, and reanimated after he had for some time lost consciousness. He stated that in the last few moments of consciousness a host of long buried memories had suddenly started into life, and that he seemed in these few moments to peruse the history of his whole past life. But this writing of the book of your memory is a trivial thighs in comparison of what I wish next to speak of: the writing on the book of your character. I had better explain what I mean by this word character. Mr. Mill long ago asserted that you could with certainty predict any man’s actions on any occasion if you knew his character and knew the motives that were influencing him. The assertion is not true if you use the word character in its ordinary sense. A man may have deservedly got the character of being miserly, and yet you cannot be certain that he will not act generously on some particular occasion, and vice versa. The sense in which the proposition is true is, if you understand by “character” the degree of susceptibility to different motives at any particular instant. So understood, the proposition is true, but it is one of those identical propositions which convey no information. You can tell with certainty whether or act a man wilt be impelled to action by a certain motive if you know what is at the moment the amount of his susceptibility in respect of that motive. But what I want now to remark is that character (in this, which may be called the scientific sense of the word) is in a state of continual change. Not to speak of changes of disposition resulting from changes of bodily health, every one of our words and acts in some degree influences our character, which results as the integral of a number of very small influences. The amount of change at any moment is imperceptible. The friend whom we meet day by day seems to us in bodily form the same to-day as he had been yesterday; until one day perchance it strikes us how much altered he is from what we can remember him, and in any case one who has not seen him for some time is struck at once with the change, perhaps finds it difficult to recognise him. In like manner it occurs to us from time to time to Cake notice of changes in a friend’s character. We may take notice, for example, that he is less easy to deal with, more snappish in temper than he used to be. The topic does not need to be enlarged upon, what enormous alteration can be matte by the accumulated effect of minute changes, each separately, it may be, absolutely undiscernible. But what, though obviously true, much needs to be borne m mind is that none of these minute changes takes place without a cause. It changes in character take place, it is because every incautious word that falls from our lips, every thoughtless action, though our own attention may have been scarce conscious of it, is writing itself on our nature in characters far more deep and more practically important than in those traces on inanimate nature which formed the subject of Babbage’s speculation. But there is yet another larger book on which our words and actions write themselves; for they influence not only ourselves, but others. Babbage spoke of the traces spoken words leave on the physical atmosphere. There is a moral atmosphere which presses on as all, though as in the ease of the physical atmosphere we feel not the pressure, and scarce take note of its existence unless when its motions are unusually violent. I mean, as of course you understand, the public opinion of the community in which we live, which is practically the law that regulates our conduct. On the wholesomeness of this atmosphere our moral health in great measure depends. But it too responds obediently to every impulse communicated to it by those who live in it. Public opinion is in short nothing but the aggregate representation of the moral sentiments of each individual of the community; and plainly each change in the moral condition of any individual affects that of the community. In an infinitely small degree, no doubt, but I have been all along pointing out that all the great changes in nature are the results of the accumulation of movements each infinitesimally small. Yet, however small the direct effect of the action of one individual on the whole community, it might be large enough in his own immediate neighbourhood. Poisonous miasma might be enough to make a whole house uninhabitable which might have no perceptible effect when diffused through the whole atmosphere. But no comparison with the action of completely inanimate bodies gives an adequate illustration. If you insert a little leaven into a lump of dough, it would be a delusion to imagine that the amount to which the character of the mass had been altered could be estimated by comparing the weight of the newly inserted matter with the weight of the entire. Now, as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man. The same temptations which assail us beset others too; if we are sensible of higher and nobler motives, so are others. The sight of a brave and generous deed excites admiration, which soon leads to imitation; the fall of one man leads others to think lightly of a similar fall as natural and pardonable. If it be true that every sound we make sets waves of air in motion which spread in wide and wider circles, far more is a similar statement true of the moral effect of the waves we set in motion. For the mere physical effect is so attenuated as it spreads as to become in a moment or two imperceptible to our senses, but as I just pointed out, it is otherwise in the moral atmosphere. Each disturbance brings new forces into action, so that the effect resulting from a single impulse may be immensely greater than any one could have predicted as due to the original force. Thus, though what we have said or done be not recorded by pen, ink or paper, it may be written in more permanent form by its influence upon others or ourselves. If I have seemed to you over subtle in elaborating the proof of this, remember I am doing no more than insisting that that is always taking place, instances of which are perpetually striking you. We may, if we look back on our own history, be able to trace in some degree how events were linked together and how trifles helped to bring us to form important decisions. But of the greater part of this we know little. And if God could enable us to read the book of our own lives we should be astonished to find how the performance of some petty act of duty has been blessed by Him as the means of giving us strength for higher service in His cause; or how some apparently trifling opportunities neglected had checked our own spiritual life or had resulted in serious injury to others. When the books are opened God may permit us to see, as He can see, each act written by its consequences. Nothing would make us more hate and dread sin than if we could see how each act of sin may not only be written in terrible stains on our own hearts and consciences, but even on those of persons dear to us, who may have drunk in poison from our example, which cannot be neutralised even by our repentance. I have not spoken of that book which most naturally suggests itself to a reader of the text, the book of God’s omniscience, but I have shown that without going beyond what our own reason and experience tell us of we can see that our own words and actions do permanently record themselves. (G. Salmon, D. D.)
The revivals of memory a prophecy of judgment
I. A perfect memory, then, will accompany judgment. The fields of memory at some magic touch give back again all the lights and shadows which have ever swept across their surface. The children of memory rise again from their graves, and wander in without warning into the once familiar rooms which they have long ceased to visit. The canvas of memory is retouched by some artist whose skill restores the tints which had faded away. The colours of memory are like those in Egyptian halls, long concealed by sand, but fresh as if they had just come from the painter’s hand when the drifted heaps are blown away. Is there absolute oblivion? What destroys memory and effaces her work finally? Not the loss of a sense--the deaf musician still possesses the strain which the outward ear has not heard for years. Not old age--the old man’s memory is the one thing more touching than his forgetfulness. Not madness, or the fever which for a time seems to calcine the images of the mind. Memories retain in very different degrees, like the sand, like the freestone, or the marble; but all are gifted with this possibility of resurrection.
II. With a full perception of the reality of judgment accompanied with a revived memory we shall most profitably enter upon a consideration of the danger of evil thoughts. Let us suggest some simple rules of self-examination.
1. We should then, really examine ourselves, if possible every day, with this prayer--“try me, O God, and seek the ground of my heart; prove me, and examine my thoughts.” We should ask ourselves two questions every night. First, have I led any into sin this day? We sin together--can we repent together? Second, have I harboured willingly and knowingly any evil thoughts? Have I allowed the birds of evil omen to settle down upon the sacrifice, and failed to sanctify Christ as Lord in my heart? In the dreadful chronology of sin, the actual fall is often not the first, or the hundredth sin.
2. I now suggest some simple rules. When unholy thoughts come, pray quickly--“Spirit of evil! in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, depart.” “Blessed Spirit of purity! quench this sinful thought.” After falling into sin, pray--“God, be merciful to me a sinner! For the sake of Jesus Christ, lay not this sin to my charge.” Occupy yourselves with business. Go into virtuous society. Do not go about visibly brooding. Take freely to wholesome literature and innocent recreations.
III. Enough, perhaps, of details. A word of motives.
1. A great commentator on Scripture advises us, if we are tempted to unholy thoughts, to look through our window. “Gaze,” he says, “upon the serenity of the sky, and be possessed with a loathing of impurity.” But what if we have lost the faculty for such a sight? what if we are colour-blind to all the blue of heaven? Seek for a purer joy.
2. Dwell upon the reality of judgment: Without this you will be liable to strange falls. You will be like sailors who are lost because they have not calculated for the “send” of the sea. (Abp. Wm. Alexander.)
The books of judgment
It is obviously of no importance whether we assume that the terms thus employed convey only an image or an absolute and literal reality. If the language is metaphorical, it is nevertheless used to convey to us the ideas which we should naturally conceive from the actual unfolding of a vast register.
1. First, then, there is the book of God’s remembrance. Now, strictly speaking, there can be no such thing as forgetfulness in relation to God. Memory implies previous forgetfulness. To remember, is with an effort to summon up the past. But with God, who is eternal, inasmuch as time is not to Him, there can be no such distance put between one event and another. All things are uniformly and unchangeably present to Him. Neither does the multiplicity of the things recorded there cause either mistake or confusion. All things are always present to the infinite mind of the Eternal. Take the old man of fourscore years; God does not call up as by an effort that man’s boyhood and earlier manhood, but He looks upon all that he then did, or said, or thought, as though it were now going on: for no past nor future can limit Him who is incomprehensible. The history of every one of us is indelibly written on the mind of God Himself.
2. But we believe that yet another book will then be opened. Each of us carries his own history, written and engraven on the tablet of his own spirit. Conscience will then slumber no more. No counterfeit voices will then drown its accents, or confuse its utterances. No burden of the flesh shall make the vision grow dim, which shall show us to ourselves, shall blur its colours, or distort its lineaments. Imagine, as far as you can, this perfect selfknowledge for the first time breaking in upon us by the quickening power of conscience. We are not, indeed, left altogether without witness beforehand of what this will be. We have an assurance respecting it, amounting to all but the testimony as of some who have risen from the dead, to tell us what they have seen and known. What if we go hence impenitent and unforgiven? What will it be in the resurrection of the dead, in the day when “the dead, small and great,” shall “stand before God”? The light of God’s countenance shines in on that stricken soul, alas! not now to save and bless, but to witness against, and to condemn. The first glance shows all. He knows as He is known. It tallies--that witness of conscience--with God’s knowledge and revelation of him. Self-convicted, self-condemned, sinner, depart!
3. Two volumes have already been opened. A third remains. “Another book was opened, which is the book of life.” Now with the idea of life is intimately associated the presence and working of God the Holy Ghost. He is “the Lord and Giver of life.” From our baptism upwards, the Holy Ghost has been dealing with us, is dealing with us still, except we be reprobates. Nothing but our own deliberate sinfulness, the wilfulness of our own evil choices, can undo the Spirit’s blessed work in our souls. The result of this life-long process of judgment will be seen then, when the books shall be opened, and that other book--“the Book of Life.” The question then will be, What can you show of the Spirit of Christ? Upon the manifold doings of the earthly life, where is the seal of the Spirit of the Lord? What remains when the sifting is over, when all former judgments of the Spirit close in this one final judgment, after which is heaven or hell everlasting? (Bp. Morrell.)
The opening of the books
Someone has said, and the saying has often been applauded, “Give the past to oblivion, the present to duty, and trust the future to Providence.” I fear that many of us are much more ready to comply with the first of those three directions than with the other two; indeed, many of us need no persuasion to induce us to consign the past to oblivion, or, at any rate, a great portion of it. But before we turn our backs upon it, might it not be well to form some sort of definite idea of the record that it contains, lest one day we should have to renew our acquaintance with it under the most painful possible circumstances? Above all, before we consign it to oblivion, would it not be wise to endeavour to make sure that God has consigned it to oblivion also, or, at any rate, that part of it which tells against us? Judge therefore yourselves, that ye be not judged of the Lord. Unfortunately, however, this is just what most men are exceedingly reluctant to do. Too many resemble in this respect the conduct of the fraudulent bankrupt, who has a general idea that he is not solvent, but goes on from day to day counting upon the chapter of accidents, and hoping that some fortunate circumstance may sot him on his legs again; but who shrinks from going carefully through his books and facing his actual commercial position. Even so men drift on from day to day with a sort of undefined misgiving that all is not right between themselves and God, but shrink from facing the true state of the case; never put to their hearts the question, “How much owest thou unto my Lord?” or probe their consciences with an honest inquiry, “What hast thou done?” Are you prepared to face the record of your life? What! Would you shrink from putting that volume into my hands, and permitting me to read its contents in the ears of this congregation, or of your own friends? Then reflect, I beseech you, what will be your feelings when its inmost secrets are divulged in the very presence of your Judge and before an assembled world. We must realise our own individuality then, if we fail to do so now; and indeed it must be admitted that many of us do fail to realise it. Ah, it will avail us little to realise then, it may be for the first time, all that our own separate and distinct existence involves! Nay, rather, it can only enhance our terror then and deepen our despair. But it is otherwise now. And, oh, let me urge upon you the importance of rising above the shallow unrealities of a merely conventional life! Surely it were wiser that as such you should live, not indeed ignoring your relations to society, but neither, on the other hand, permitting your own individuality to be mastered by these relations. But there are other thoughts suggested to our minds by the words of our text. No doubt some other books may be opened in that last dread assize besides those which contain the record of our earthly lives. The book of Nature, which contains so much that seems perplexing and mysterious, and which is so often misread now, and still more frequently never read at all, will be opened at last in all its wonder. And when the books are opened at last, how strong, how damning will be the testimony of Nature against those who have deified her or endeavoured to content themselves with her. Wilt not His voice be heard upbraiding those who have thus abused her? “Ye fools and blind, I told you that here ye were strangers and sojourners, that ye were born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards. I told you that here moth and rust do corrupt, that the grass withereth and the flower fadeth, and that the fashion of this world passeth away. I told you that the things which are seen are temporal. Why did ye live in contradiction to my teaching, ever seeking in me what ye should have known I could not bestow? I might have been your handmaiden or your instructress, but ye insisted on making me your substitute for God, and in doing so ye abused the gift God gave you in me, and, lo! He hath done justly in taking it away. Ye chose earth instead of God, and now ye have lost both for ever.” Yet another book mill be the book of Providence, which will contain the record of God’s dealings with us, just as the book of our lives contains the record of our dealings with God. Here is one who had a pious father, whose life was a constant example of all that is beautiful and attractive in true religion. That life appealed to you, more eloquently than any sermon could; but you hardened your heart against it, and turned your back upon your father’s God. You have been the subject of a mother’s prayer. Ah I how often has she watered her pillow with her tears for you. You have often been stirred to the very depths of your nature by the appeals of that earnest servant of God whose ministry you attend, and time was When his holy eloquence so deeply impressed you that Son were almost persuaded to yield. Ah! in such cases as these, how will you face the book of God’s providence? But there is another book surely that will be opened then, though to many it is a closed book now--the book of Revelation. “The words that I speak,” exclaimed the Christ, “the same shall judge you at the last day.” Ah! we may close our Bibles now, and keep them closed; but remember the glad tidings of deliverance and salvation has gone forth, and we have heard it, and whether we receive it and benefit by it or not, we can never be as though that sound had never reached us. And closely connected with this volume of Revelation there is another which will be opened then, though men seldom think of attempting to read it now--the record of the inner revelations of God to the soul, the story of the dealings of God the Holy Ghost with the heart of man. It will be, I am persuaded, a startling surprise to not a few when this “book” is opened. How many an inward desire, how many a smothered emotion, how many a rising tear, that they never thought of attributing to anything but natural causes, will men find to have been due to the secret influence of the Spirit of God! But there is one “book” more, and for purposes of judgment it is the most important book of all; and it is spoken of here as affording the criterion by which men must stand or fall, and its name is the Book of Life. Of this mysterious volume no less can be said than that Christ Himself is its Author. No one else can write a page or a line or a name in the Book of Life. Are any of you saying to-night, Would to God my name might be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, but how is it to be done? I have no power to write it there, and I feel as though it never could be written there. I have merited death over and over again; eternal life I feel, I know, I never can merit. To such let me say, the kingdom of life, the land of the living, has been thrown open to you by Him whom St. Peter well calls the Prince of Life, and he has obtained the right to introduce you into the fellowship to inscribe your name upon that muster-roll. Put your case into the great Life-giver’s hands. Tell Him that you have discovered yourself to be a citizen of the City of Destruction. Tell Him that you feel you cannot by any effort of your own will quicken your own soul, and that therefore by faith you cast yourself upon Him as the “Resurrection and the Life,” and you shall prove in your own experience the truth of His words: “He that believeth on Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and he that liveth and believeth on Me shall never die.” “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: but he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Life a book
You are writing your own history, your own biography, the memoirs of yourself. A mysterious and invisible agency is silently tracing the records of your life. The waves in the sea write their history in the ripple marks, congealed in the sands; and so, the hidden and silent currents of our thoughts and feelings leave behind them permanent traces. What you write, God reads. Life is a history. We may classify men’s lives as we do books. We have separate series on different subjects.
1. Life may be the history of mind--its growth, culture, and education--its thoughts, perplexities, and questionings--its researches and conclusions. And, yet, till we sit at the feet of the Great Teacher, and learn of Him, we shall never find rest for our souls.
2. Life may be the history of the affections. In some lives the affections determine the character. They are the freshness, the beauty, the strength and joy of life. They may be misplaced--they may degenerate into passions. Instead of being the strength of life, they may become the source of its weakness. A life without love to Christ is a life that does not know what love is, that has never read the literature of the spiritual realm, that has never found the love that passeth knowledge.
3. Life may be the history of the flesh. It may be a life in the flesh--the minding the things of the flesh; a life written in the letter, not in the spirit; a life in sensuous characters. If we live after the flesh, we shall die.
Take another series of the books.
1. The book may contain the history of a life that has its ideal--its pattern--its standard. All its endeavours are after the higher life. He who has seen the perfect will never more be satisfied with the imperfect. He who has looked on the mark of the prize of his high calling of God in Christ Jesus, will forget the things that are behind, and reach forth unto those things that are before. But the book may contain the history of a life that has no ideal, no standard; that is, formless, shapeless, purposeless: a life that proposes to itself no end, that has no continuity, no cohesion, that is fragmentary and broken; a life, the scattered fragments of which can never answer any efficient purpose. We may look at another series.
2. In the book we may read the history of a brave life--a life that has its foundations in the everlasting principles of truth; that brings nothing but truth to the truth, and so builds up character; that offers stern resistance to all forms of evil, and does battle with all kinds of falsehood; that practises self-denial; that builds no cross for itself, and yet never fears any cross the world can build; that uses suffering as a sharp instrument for fashioning life, and bringing it into conformity to Christ. It may be a simple and quiet life of which we read the records--a life not wanting in its naturalness, its beauty, its fragrance. The true sons of God often live in obscurity; the world knoweth them not, but then--it knew Him not.
3. It may be the history of a useful life--a life essentially practical--the epitome of which may be found in the words descriptive of the life of Christ, “Who went about doing good.” When you die, it may be said that you “rest from your labours, and that your works follow you.”
4. The book may contain the history of a Christian life. It is the life of one who felt himself to be a sinner, and has looked out of himself for a Saviour--who has come with all his guilt to the Cross--whose trust is simply in the one Sacrifice for sins.
5. You may read a book that contains the history of an unreal life--a life professing to be Christian, but not a Christ-like life; a life that has “the form, but not the power,” that has “a name to live, but is dead”; a life that adjusts with the greatest care the drapery of religion, that arranges all its folds, so that they may fall gracefully around it; a life that has the lamp, but not the oil in the vessel. There is another book which you may read every day--it is the history of a life that is, alas, very common--a life of indifference to everything spiritual. It does not positively reject, but it offers indifference to the Gospel: indifference to God’s love, to Christ’s death, to the Spirit’s work, to all earnest and loving appeals. It is indifference that ruins men. There is only one more series which we can find time to glance at.
6. It is a worldly life which we are reading now. It thinks only of buying and selling and getting gain. With what sorrow we read the history of a life that is perverted and abused. But we cannot finish reading these books that are open to us without being impressed with the fact that many a life is the history of failure. There was failure at the beginning, failure in the middle, and failure at the end. The book may have this title--“The History of a Life that was a Failure.” Some of you are young; you have a fair page; there is as yet no blot, no erasure has been made; you have life before you--it is unwritten. Take care what you write, for what is once written “is written.” There can be no new edition, with its emendations and corrections. Ask God’s Spirit to teach you, to help you, to guide you by His counsel. We may learn from the subject, “The Possibilities of Life.” We may well be aroused from our apathy, and be ashamed of our indolence. Is there no end grand enough? Is there no prize sufficiently attractive? Why do we not exercise ourselves unto godliness? Do not confine all labour to the wants of the outward life. Strive for things that are worth striving for. “Work out your own salvation,” etc. The books will be opened. We are to be judged out of the book which we ourselves have written. We are now framing the indictment; we are collecting the evidence; we are preparing the materials of judgment. We shall judge ourselves, and God will judge us. (H. J. Bevis.)
The opened books
I. There is no power of man’s body, no faculty of his mind, no feature of the world he lives in, which does not become a book recording all he does.
1. Man has a relation to God. God is part of his world. God’s memory and God’s heart must become a record for or against him.
2. We stand in relation to the Book in which God has recorded His will. It challenges our belief and exacts our obedience. It lays down the principles of holiness, and enforces the guilt of transgression. Such a Book surely must be laid open at the bar of Judgment. Its mysterious passages will be read in a flood of light. Its neglected pages will flash with the fire of indignation.
3. Providence is another book in which man’s character is written. The mind of man cannot disentangle the threads that are intermingled in the web of life. But there is one Hand that can. He knows the end from the beginning.
II. Science has its own suggestions on this matter. It points us, for instance, to a slab of sandstone taken from the quarry, and bids us notice the impressions left upon it. In the dim past a reptile of monstrous shape walked along the shore of an ancient sea seeking its prey, and left these marks behind it. The next tide covered the footprints with a layer of sand, and the following tide did the same. For centuries that process was repeated; deeper and deeper sank the sandstone, still preserving the story of the reptile’s life, till a change took place. The mass of rock, long buried, was heaved up again into the sunlight. Man needed the rock for his dwelling: the crowbar opened the leaves of the stone book, and science interpreted it. Yes! and we are told that what the rock did for that reptile the universe is doing for us. The air is a vast library, on whose pages are written for ever all that we have said or even whispered. There is not a thought, or a feeling, permitted to lodge in the mind that does not mark the face. We cannot by abstaining from action cease from writing: work undone, duty unperformed, responsibility not met, have their record too. Every man is “writing memoirs of himself.” The character we trace is immortal. It cannot be folded up as a vesture and laid aside. The dead does not and cannot bury its dead. We cannot revise this book. Only once do we take a step or decline to take it; once taken it cannot be recalled. The past closes up like a crystal wall behind us, transparent but impervious. Further, the mind is a book; every faculty a volume by itself. Imagination is the divinest and most regal. Heaven comes to earth; the plainest house is turned into a palace. This world, cursed as it is by sin, seems a second Eden, and God walks up and down in it. But let the imagination pass under the domain of an impure or sinful passion: it does not cease to work, but its bearing is changed, and what a change! God is gone; the light is put out. The imagination has gone out into foul places. It has been a hewer of wood and drawer of water to Satan. At his bidding the eye sees vile visions, the tongue sings foul songs, the hand handles black deeds. What a spectacle when that book is opened! If imagination is the grander faculty, memory is the more useful. It is the mother of arts and sciences; the parent of history and experience. It is an ocean which, if it swallows up every jewel, will one day bring all to light. A great sea filling, never full, but from which will come one day a perfect resurrection. Latimer tells us that, when examined before Bishop Bonnet, he took special care of what he spoke. He heard a pen at work in the chimney behind the cloth, setting down all, and perhaps more than all, he said. Imagine how we should feel in daily life if told that some one was writing our history, that his reporters were present when we spoke, that his spies watched every movement when we went abroad, that they dogged our footsteps out of doors, sat with us at table, followed us to our profoundest meditations, watched us in an hour of prayer. This imagination is a fact. On the broad page of memory every event of daily life is written and cannot be erased. That book will also one day be opened. Think of Felix and Nero confronted by Paul, Pharaoh by Moses, Ahab by Elijah, the father by the child whom he has permitted to tread the way to ruin; the minister by the people to whom he preached smooth things; the murderer meeting again the victim for whose blood he plotted; the seducer compelled again to face the poor girl whose life he has blighted. The thought becomes more terrible when we remember that conscience is another book. Conscience is a sort of moral memory. It may be said to anticipate as well as to reflect. Nothing escapes its watchful eye. Every sin is duly marked, every corrupt imagination, every wrong principle, indulged in or professed. Every idle word, every unhallowed thought, goes to swell the score. Even if our sins were as frequent as our breathing, the account goes on day after day; pages are filled till the last awful hour has come, when the sinner beholds the magnitude of his transgressions.
III. Retribution is a fact which the preacher must declare, and which the man must ponder. But retribution is not the gospel of Christ. It is to be used for the levelling of the wall that guards the mount, that the King of Glory may enter in. There is another book in the hand of the Judge. It is the Book of Life. When His children are recorded there He gives them a new name. What beautiful names He gives! It is worth becoming a child of the family to get one. For Abram He writes Abraham, the Father of the faithful and Friend of God. For Saul of Tarsus, Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles. Jacob, the supplanter, becomes Israel, Prince with God. (J. A. Macfadyen, D. D.)
The books opened
I know not how many books there shall be, nor how ponderous, nor all their titles: but I remark, first, that there will be a book of tears. Have you ever thought, ye afflicted ones, that God is keeping a record of all your woe? There have been grains of corn found in ancient sepulchres, three thousand years old, but they have been brought out and recently planted, and have come up luxuriantly. So the sorrows of earth have in them enough vitality to produce an eternal fruitage. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
2. Again, I remark that there will be a book of unforgiven sins. The iniquities of the righteous will all have been pardoned, and so will not be mentioned. But the sins of the unpardoned will on that day be announced. Sins of the heart: the pride that would not bow to Divine authority, the foolish choice of this world to the next, the impure thought, the unholy imaginations. Sins of the tongue: tattling, base innuendoes, backbiting, profanity, hypercriticism of the conduct of others. Sins of the hands, of the eyes, of the feet, from the smallest omission to the most diabolical commission, all of which shall be recorded in the book from which the Judge shall read. Oh, when it is opened, what cowering! what shame! what hate! what woe! what despair! Drunkenness will answer for all the property wasted, for all the manly natures it imbruted.
3. Again, I remark, there will be a book of privileges. If you have lived twenty years, you have had more than one thousand Sabbaths. If you have lived more than fifty years, you have had more than two thousand Sabbaths. What will be our sensation when those one, two, or three thousand Sabbaths confront us at the judgment. From that book of privilege God will read so many strivings of the spirit, so many sicknesses when we vowed return, so many sacraments, so many death-beds, so many accidents, so many escapes, so many warnings, so many glorious invitations of a crucified Jesus.
4. Again, there will be a book of good deeds. Then we shall hear of the cup of cold water, given in the name of a disciple; the food left at the wayside cabin, the smile of approval, the word of encouragement, the good deed of which made no record, blazing out among the names of those who endowed universities, and civilised nations, and broke shackles, and disenthralled empires, and inspired generations.
5. Again, there will be a book of death. When it is opened, all the evil-doers of earth will tremble for their fate. What a long catalogue of liars, drunkards, thieves, murderers, adulterers, vagabonds, tricksters, oppressors, defrauders, infidels, blasphemers! Glory to the grace that ransomed the chief of sinners. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The book of memory
I am assured that there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind’s thousand circumstances may and will interpose a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions of the mind, but alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains for ever. Just as the stars seem to withdraw from the common light of day, whereas we all know that it is the light which is drawn over them as a veil, and that they are waiting to be revealed when the obscuring daylight shall have withdrawn. (De Quincey.)
The book of life
I. It is vital; hence here called the book of life. And if our names be written in this book of life, then the law of life is written vitally in our souls. The entire destruction of the adversary and all his powers. If I am identified with this book of life, I am brought to where the adversary, as far as I am concerned, and all his powers, are brought to nought.
II. This book is not only vital but also exemptional. It is exemptional in a threefold respect.
1. First, in exempting us from the wrath to come; such shall not be cast into the lake of fire. This globe shall be burned; but what care I for that? I have a new earth.
2. As this book of life exempts from the wrath to come, so it exempts us from the fear of man.
3. Third, it is exemptional also from delusion; cannot deceive these people.
III. But, lastly, this book of life is admissional. If I am identified thus with the gospel, if I am an able servant of the new covenant, if I overcome the fear of man, if I am delivered from delusion, and am thus called, and chosen, and faithful, then I shall be admitted into this city. “There shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth”; and we can enter there without defilement only by the perfection that is in Christ; “nor worketh abomination”; and we can enter free from abomination only by the same thing, the completeness that is in Christ; “or maketh a lie”; and we can enter there only by the truth; “but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (James Wells.)
The book of life
Tamerlane had always by him a catalogue of his best servants, and their good deserts, which he daily perused. (J. Trapp.)
The dead were Judged … according to their works.--
The Day of Judgment
It belongs to man, in which he would seem to differ essentially from the inferior animals, to make himself and his own thoughts an object of thought; not only to know what he is doing, but to be able to review his conduct and compare it with an ideal standard of expediency and right; in one word, to call himself to account. There is, therefore, an important sense in which the whole of human life is one continued Day of Judgment. Moreover, the self-judgment here referred to is understood and felt to be of an authority and sanction higher than that of man. We cannot shake off the conviction that there is a Divine, as well as human, element in conscience. It is the voice of God speaking to us through the human faculties, ordained by Him for that purpose. Who can believe that God has so made us, that we cannot help judging ourselves by the law o! right, without believing, at the same time, that He intended us to be judged, and rewarded or punished according to that law? On looking round, however, we see that this law is very far from being universally applied, or fully carried out in the present life. If there is ever to be a perfectly righteous retribution, we must look for it beyond the grave. By such natural intimations as these, almost every people, with or without the aid of revelation, have been led to entertain, with more or less distinctness and confidence, the presentiment of “a judgment to come.” Even in Homer there are unmistakable traces of a popular belief in a future state of existence, where the fate of the individual is made to turn, more or less, on his previous character, and especially on his conduct towards the gods. The same is also laid down as a practical doctrine of great moment by the best among the pagan philosophers and moralists; and sometimes, as in the apologue of Erus the Pamphylian, given in Plato’s Republic, in language bearing striking resemblance to that used four hundred years afterwards in the New Testament. A brave man, having fallen in battle, was permitted to return to the earth on the twelfth day, in order to warn the living by a revelation of what he had seen. He had seen the dead arraigned, and when the judges, to borrow the words of the apologue, “gave judgment, they commanded the just to go on the right hand, and upwards through the heaven, having fitted marks on the front of those that had been judged; but the unjust they commanded to the left, and downwards, and these likewise had behind them marks of all that they had done.” From the pagans we pass to the Jews, among whom Christianity arose. Moses, their great Lawgiver, aimed to establish what is called a theocracy, that is government of God upon earth, in which perfect righteousness was to be fulfilled. Of course, in such a state of things, as they had a present Divine judgment, there was the less occasion to appeal to a future Divine judgment. Be this, however, as it may, there can be no doubt that in the time of our Lord the great body of the Jewish people had become believers in the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments. Accordingly, the doctrine of a future state of retribution cannot be accounted a Christian doctrine in the sense of being first taught in Christianity. It has given us new evidence of the facts in the case; it has enabled us to see these facts in new lights, and under new aspects and relations: so that the old doctrine, in itself considered, has become substantially a new doctrine. This being the case, it remains for me to speak of what may properly be considered as peculiar and original in the Christian doctrine of the judgment to come. On the whole, the most natural and Christian view would seem to be, that, with every individual, as soon as this life ends the next life begins. As regards everything pertaining to the form and manner--or, so to speak, the outward appearance--of the invisible world, what most distinguishes Christianity when compared with other and false religions, is, not the fulness of the information it conveys, but its discreet and solemn reserve. One thing, however, is put beyond question--happiness to the good, misery to the bad; that is, all that can give moral effect to the revelation: not a word, not a syllable, either to stimulate or gratify an idle and impertinent curiosity. Nowhere but in Christianity will you find it distinctly laid down, as of Divine authority, that every man will be judged at last by what he has himself done, whether it be good or bad. Let us now go one step further, and ascertain, if we can, precisely what is meant when it is said that men are to be judged “according to their deeds.” If, therefore, there is one thing clearer than any other in Christian ethics, it is this--that every man is to stand or fall according to what he is in himself;--not by what he does, except in so far as it expresses what he really is. Acts of worship in a hypocrite, munificent gifts merely for the name of it, solemn make-beliefs of the would-be worshipper of God and the world at the same time, go for nothing. The question continually returns, what is man in himself? There is no occasion for the nice balancing of accounts, item by item, referred to above; neither is there any occasion for a miraculous memory to enable us to call to mind every thought we have indulged, every word we have uttered, and every action we have performed. It will be enough, if we know in what moral and spiritual state all these have left us; and to know this it will be enough, if we are made conscious of what we are. It may be said, that the guilty soul will still be in the hands of a compassionate God; and this is true. Beware, however, of making compassion in God what it often is in man--a mere tenderness, I had almost said a mere weakness. Nor is this all. We must not expect in the next world what is incompatible with its nature and purpose. We are placed here to make a beginning. Are you sure it will be so in the world to come? Why first a world of probation and then a world of retribution, if after all both are to be equally and alike probationary? Let us not run risks, where the error, if it be one, is irretrievable, and the stake infinite. (James Walker.)
On future happiness or misery
I. There exists a natural sense of equity in the mind, which dictates, that recompense in futurity will be apportioned according to our knowledge or ignorance of our duty, to our exemption from temptations, or the magnitude of our dangers;--that flagrant offences ought to be more severely punished than smaller errors; great excellences more honoured than inferior good qualities; and, in short, that the number of good or bad deeds, as well as their nature, will be estimated in our great account. And these notions respecting the Divine administration appear to be sanctioned by striking facts. In the economy of the present world, it is most clearly perceived to be a general law of the Divine Providence, that different degrees of iniquity shall produce, as their natural consequences, nearly proportionate measures of suffering. Does not the dissipated character, even after his reformation, experience the result of the waste he has made, in fortune, in health, in reputation, or in time? Is he not often deeply stung by self-reproach on account of the past, though he feels humbly assured that, through Christ, it is forgiven?
II. To these surmises of reason, let us annex the surer information of scripture. It is enjoined (Deuteronomy 25:2.) that, “if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to be beaten according to his fault by a certain number,” namely, of stripes:--in allusion to which passage our Saviour declares (Luke 12:47-48). Again, when our Lord declared to the cities of Galilee, “It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon,” etc., it is obvious that in this very phrase more tolerable, the same diversity of future allotment is implied--the same balance of disobedience and suffering (James 3:1).
III. An assent to this article of belief is beset with several dangers, against which it is of the utmost moment that a serious caution should be offered.
1. Beware, in admitting this delicate doctrine, of considering works as in themselves worth anything--as in the smallest degree establishing a right to remuneration in the sight of a pure God. What hast thou that thou didst not receive? and, after ye have done all, say, we are unprofitable servants.
2. Another danger is that of our resting satisfied with inferior degrees of obedience. “‘Tis well:--we are secure of obtaining some place in heaven;--we may with safety, therefore, now leave something undone, or not trouble ourselves about higher attainments.” But chiefly be it remembered, as the most serious truth, that though the gospel of Christ offers happiness to the penitent, no portion of that happiness can be expected by the presumptuous transgressor, let him offend but even in one point.
3. A mercenary service, in opposition to that holiness which results from the love of God, is likewise to be apprehended as a perversion of the doctrine before us. (J. Grant, M. A.)
The sea gave up the dead which were in it.--
The sea giving up its dead
I. This great doctrine, the resurrection of the body, seems yet better fitted than the kindred truth of the immortality of the soul, to make a powerful impression on the mind of man, when receiving the gospel for the first time. The heathen may have heard of the existence after death of the immaterial spirit within him; but he thinks of that principle as something impalpable and unearthly, that he has never yet seen, and that is scarce the same with himself. Talk to him of the inward man of the soul, and he listens as if you spoke of a stranger. But bring your statements home to the outward man of his body, and he feels that it is he himself who is to be happy or to be wretched in that eternity of which you tell him. Hence a living missionary, in his first religious instructions to the king of a heathen tribe in South Africa, found him indifferent and callous to all his statements of the gospel, until this truth was announced. It aroused in the barbarian chief the wildest emotions, and excited an undisguised alarm. He had been a warrior, and had lifted up his spear against multitudes slain in battle. He asked, in amazement, if these his foes should all live. And the assurance that they should arise filled him with perplexity and dismay, ouch as he could not conceal. He could not abide the thought. A long slumbering conscience had been pierced through all its coverings.
II. The sea will be found thickly peopled with the mortal remains of mankind. In the earlier ages of the world, when the relations of the various nations to each other were generally those of bitter hostility, and the ties of a common brotherhood were little felt, the sea, in consequence of their comparative ignorance of navigation, served as a barrier, parting the tribes of opposite shores, who might else have met only for mutual slaughter, ending in extermination. Now that a more peaceful spirit prevails, the sea, which once served to preserve, by dividing the nations, has, in the progress of art and discovery, become the channel of easier intercourse and the medium of uniting the nations. It is the great highway of traffic, a highway on which the builder cannot encroach, and no monarch possesses the power of closing the path or engrossing the travel. Thus continually traversed, the ocean has become, to many of its adventurous voyagers, the place of burial. But it has been also the scene of battle, as well as the highway of commerce. Upon it have been decided many of those conflicts which determined the dynasty or the race to whom for a time should be committed the empire of the world. All these have served to gorge the deep with the carcases of men. It has had, again, its shipwrecks. Though man may talk of his power to bridle the elements, and of the triumphs of art compelling all nature to do his work, yet there are scenes on the sea in which he feels his proper impotence. The sea, then, has its dead.
III. The meeting of the dead of the sea with the dead of the land.
1. There must be, then, in this resurrection from the sea, much to awaken feeling in the others of the risen dead, from this, if from no other cause: these, the dead of the sea, will be the kindred and near connections of those who died upon the land. Among those whom the waters shall in that day have restored, will be some who quitted home expecting a speedy return, and for whose coming attached kindred and friends looked long, but looked in vain. The exact mode, and scene, and hour of their death have remained until that day unknown to the rest of mankind. And can it be without feeling that these will be seen again by those who loved them, and who through weary years longed for their return, still feeding “the hope that keeps alive despair”? The dead of ocean will be the children and pupils, again, of the dead of the land. Their moral character may have been formed, and their eternal interests affected, less by their later associates on the deep than by the earlier instructions they received on shore.
2. Let it be remembered, again, that a very large proportion of those who have thus perished on the ocean will appear to have perished in the service of the landsman. Some in voyages of discovery, despatched on a mission to enlarge the bounds of human knowledge, or to discover new routes for commercial enterprise, and new marts for traffic. Thus perished the French navigator La Perouse, whose fate was to the men of the lash generation so long the occasion of anxious speculation. Still greater numbers have perished in the service of commerce. As a people we are under special obligations to the art and enterprise of the navigator. We are a nation of emigrants. The land we occupy was discovered and colonised by the aid of the mariner. The seaman has, then, been employed in our service. And as far as he was our servant doing our work, we were bound to care for his well-being; and if he perished in our service, it was surely our duty to inquire whether he perished in any degree by our fault.
3. Others of those buried in the waters have lost their lives in defence of those upon the shore. Can a nation claim the praise of common honesty or gratitude, who neglects the moral and spiritual interests of these their defenders?
4. Let us reflect, also, on the fact, that many of those who have perished on the waters will be found to have perished through the neglect of those living on shore. We allude not merely to negligence in providing the necessary helps for the navigator. May there not be other classes of neglect equally or yet more fatal? The parent who has neglected to govern and instruct his child, until that child, impatient of all restraint, rushes away to the sea as a last refuge, and there sinks, a victim to the sailor’s sufferings or the sailor’s vices, can scarce meet with composure that child in the day when the sea gives up its dead. Or if, as a community, or as churches, we shut our eyes to the miseries of the sick and friendless seaman, or to the vices and oppressions by which he is often ruined for time and eternity, shall we be clear in the day when inquisition is made for blood? No, unless the Church does her full duty, or, in other words, reaches in her efforts the measure of her full ability, for the spiritual benefit of the seaman, her neglect must be chargeable upon her.
5. Many of the dead of the sea will be found to have been victims to the sins of those upon shore. Those who have perished in unjust wars waged upon that element, will they have no quarrel of blood against the rulers that sent them forth? The statesmen, the blunders or the crimes of whose policy the waters have long concealed, must one day face those who have been slaughtered by their recklessness. And so it may be said of every other form of wickedness, of which those that sail in our ships are rendered the instruments or the victims. The keeper of the dram-shop, or the brothel, where the sailor is taught to forget God and harden himself in iniquity, will not find it a light thing, in that great day of retribution, to encounter those whom he made his prey. The literature of the shore will be called to account for its influence on the character and well-being of the seaman. The song-writer, who, perhaps, a hungry and unprincipled scribbler, penned his doggrel lines in some garret, little careful except as to the compensation he should earn, the dirty pence that were to pay for his rhymes, will one day be made to answer for the influence that went forth from him to those who shouted his verses in the night watch, on the far sea, or perchance upon some heathen shore. The infidel, who may have sat in elegant and lettered ease, preparing his attacks upon the Bible and the Saviour, thought little, probably, but of the fame and influence he should win upon the shore. But the seeds of death which he scattered may have been wafted whither he never thought to trace them. And in that day of retribution he may be made to lament his own influence on the rude seaman whom he has hardened in blasphemy and impiety, and who has sported with objections derived by him at the second hand or third hand from such writers, whilst he figured amongst his illiterate and admiring companions as the tarred Voltaire or Paine of the forecastle and the round top, the merriest and boldest scoffer of the crew. Lessons:
1. The dead shall rise, all shall rise, and together. From the land and from the sea, wherever the hand of violence or the rage of the elements have scattered human dust, shall it be reclaimed. And we rise to give account. Out of Christ, judgment will be damnation.
2. If the reappearance from the seas of the sinner who perished in his sins be a thought full of terror, is there not, on the other hand, joy in the anticipation of greeting those who have fallen asleep in Christ, but whose bones found no rest beneath the clods of the valley, and whose remains have been reserved under the waters until that day, while, over their undistinguished resting-place, old ocean with all its billows has for centuries pealed its stormy anthem?
3. This community especially owes a debt to that class of men who go down to the sea in ships, and do business in the great waters.
4. It is, again, by no means the policy of the Church to overlook so influential a class as is that of our seafaring brethren. They are in the path of our missionaries to the heathen. If converted, they might be amongst their most efficient coadjutors, as, whilst unconverted, they are among the most embarrassing hindrances the missionary must encounter.
5. While humbled in the review of her past negligence, and in the sense of present deficiencies, as to her labours for the seaman, the Church has yet cause for devout thankfulness in the much that has recently been done for the souls of those who go down to the sea in ships, and in the perceptible change that has already been wrought in the character of this long-neglected class of our fellow-citizens and fellow-immortals.
6. In that day, when earth and sea shall meet heaven in the judgment, where do you propose to stand? Among the saved, or the lost--the holy, or the sinful--at the right hand of the Judge, or at His left? (W. R. Williams, D. D.)
On the general resurrection
I. The elements into which the dead are dissolved do only receive them into safe custody. The matter out of which we are made doth never perish; the foundation remains, though it put on a thousand shapes and figures. The quantity and quality indeed of many men’s bodies is lost, by various transmutations, in the several elements through which they pass after their dissolution: yet for all this, the substance is kept entire, and wholly incapable of being destroyed.
II. These elements are, at the command of the Almighty, to give up those pledges which they receive. The fish that swallowed up Jonah, and afterwards threw him up again upon the dry land, when God by His will appointed it so to do, was not more obedient to that will than each element shall be in giving up the dead upon the authority of His command.
1. The earth, and the sea, and other quarters of the world to which they retire, are in every point known to God. Nor is He ignorant of the means which are proper to unite them, how far soever they may be scattered, or how much soever confounded.
2. Another argument why the dead should be given up at His word is, because the matter whereof they were composed lies subject to Him, and He can new-mould and repair it as He pleaseth. What work can be too hard for Him that is above all resistance whatsoever? Could He do the greater work in making us that which we were not, and shall we doubt of His ability in the less, which is refashioning us to what we were? But it may be asked, What necessity is there for such a general delivery of the dead? Cannot the sea and the land bury us, as it does other creatures, who are dissolved into those elements and perish? Why must we be reposed in them, as in a treasury; preserved for a time, in order to be taken out or given up again? At present I would only observe, that the necessity of this dispensation will appear from the consideration of God, of Christ, and of mankind.
(1) Of God, who is necessarily just; and therefore is in justice concerned in a general giving up of the dead to Him, that so the whole man may acknowledge the righteousness and equity of His government.
(2) The necessity of the rising again will appear by a consideration of Christ, who has merited lordship and dominion over us. Now the honour of that lordship would cease, except the dead were given up to be subject to His rule.
(3) The consideration of mankind evinces the necessity of this dispensation, who are subject to His laws, and qualified with natures to receive wages. These are divided into good and bad, each of which have need of a resurrection. The good, that so they may silence their false accusers and clear their innocence to the world, and experimentally find by what they reap that their labour hath not been in vain in the Lord. The bad, that they may receive a due recompense of their deeds. Further, it is to be considered, that although the personal acts of sin in the wicked are transient, and die with the committers; yet the poison and infection of those acts long continues. To conclude. You hear there is no retreat, no sanctuary for your bodies to lodge in, neither in sea, nor in land, nor fire, nor air, but they will be everywhere exposed to the all-seeing eye of God, and ready to be given up at His command. (James Roe, M. A.)
Death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.--
Death and the grave
It is of His two chief enemies that God here speaks--“death and the grave,” or “place of the dead.” This is not the first time, nor the only place, in which they are thus classed together. There is a striking series of passages, running through all Scripture, in which they are named as allies--fellow-workers in the perpetration of one great deed of darkness from the beginning. Often are death and the grave in the lips of Job. David speaks of them (Psalms 6:5). Solomon uses them in figure (Song of Solomon 8:6). Hezekiah refers to them (Isaiah 38:18). Isaiah mentions them in their connection with Messiah (Isaiah 53:9). Hosea proclaims their awful fellowship in evil (Hosea 13:14). Paul takes up the language of the old prophets (1 Corinthians 15:55). And then, as the summing up of the whole, we have these strange words of the text. This is the end of that death.power which was let loose in paradise, and which has continued exercise dominion upon earth through these two channels. The reign has been long and sad; it has been one of dissolution, and blight, and terror; but it ends at last. Death has been the sword of law for ages; but when it has done its work on earth, God takes this sword, red with the blood of millions, snaps it in pieces before the universe, and casts its fragments into the flame, in the day of the great winding-up, in token that never again shall it be needed, either on earth or throughout the universe. The grave has been the chain and the prison-house of justice; but when its purpose is served, and justice has got all its own in the heaven of the saved and the hell of the lost, God gathers up each link of the chain and flings them into the lake of fire upon the head of the great potentate of evil; He razes the dungeon to its foundation, and buries its ruins in a grave like that of Sodom, the lake of the everlasting burnings. Death and the grave were east into the lake of fire.
I. God abhors death. It is to Him even more unlovable than it is to us. He has set limits to its power; He has made it to His saints the very gate of heaven--for blessed are the dead that die in the Lord; He has proclaimed resurrection and interruption. But still, with all these abatements, He loves it not, nor is reconciled to it in one act or aspect. It is, in His eyes, even more than in ours, an enemy, a destroyer, a demon, a criminal, a robber. So thoroughly does He loathe it, that in order to make His displeasure known, He reserves it to the last for doom; He sets it apart for a great outstanding condemnation, and then casts it into the lake of fire.
II. God’s reasons for abhorring death.
1. It is the ally of sin (Romans 5:12). Partners in evil, sin and death have held dark fellowship together from the beginning, the one reflecting and augmenting the odiousness of the other; like night and storm, each in itself terrible, but more terrible as companions in havoc.
2. It is Satan’s tool. To inflict disease, but not to heal; to wound, but not to bind up; to kill, but not to make alive--these are the works of the devil which God abhors, and which the Son of God came to destroy.
3. It is the undoing of His work. God did not mean creation to crumble down or evaporate. But death has seized it. Man’s body and man’s earth are falling to pieces, undermined by some universal solvent; the beauty, and the order, and the power giving way before the invader. The sculptor does not love the hand that spoils his statue, nor the mother the fever that preys upon her darling; so God has no pleasure in that enemy that has been ruining the work of His hands.
4. It has been the source of earth’s pain and sorrow. Pain is the messenger of disease, and disease is the touch of death’s finger; and with disease and death what an amount of sorrow has poured in upon our world!
5. It has laid hands on His saints. Though He permitted Herod, and Pilate, and Nero, and the kings of the earth, to persecute His Church, He did not thereby indicate indifference to the wrong, far less sympathy with the wrong-doer. He treasures up wrath against the persecutor; He will judge and avenge the blood of His own. So will He take vengeance on the last enemy,
6. It laid hands upon His Son. Death smote the Prince of life, and the grave imprisoned Him. This was treason of the darkest kind, the wrong of wrongs, perpetrated against the highest in the universe, God’s incarnate Son. And shall not God visit for this? Shall not His soul be avenged on such a destroyer for such a crime? (H. Bonar, D. D.)
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life, was cast into the lake of fire.--
The eternity of the sorrows of the lost
Is this, then, the end of all the projects and all the acts of the boastful sinner--man? Alas I who, then, art thou, that repliest against Omnipotence? Who art thou, that thinkest God is to be mocked?
I. When the day of judgment shall come, and how long it shall last, Revelation has not disclosed. It is called the day of judgment: but in Scripture a day is not always meant to express that particular portion of time which we affix to the term; but a season. But however long or however short a period the tremendous judgment of the world will occupy, we know assuredly that at its conclusion a solemn separation will be made of those who have served God, from those who have served Him not. The place to which the latter will be consigned is described in almost every term expressive of sorrow and pain. It is called a furnace of fire, the bottomless pit, whence shall be seen ascending the smoke of the torments of the damned. Scripture warns us in the plainest terms, that it is not merely the loss of the happiness which God had offered that the condemned sinner then shall suffer, but some positive and exquisite anguish and torment. “They shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of His indignation.” “They shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” “Their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched.” “They shall go away into everlasting punishment.”
II. The leading observations which have been made against the doctrine of eternal punishments.
1. The chief one--and, indeed, what almost comprises all the rest--is that it seems hardly consistent with the justice of God to inflict eternal punishment for a temporal sin. The notion seems to arise from the want of a due consideration of what is sin. If a man considers only one or two individual acts of his own wickedness, there may appear between them, taken abstractedly, and eternal punishment, a great disproportion. But he omits to consider what the effect of those few acts is, not only on his own soul, but on the world in which he lives. But independently of the effect of sin on others, you ought not to forget, however trifling your sin may appear, what is the nature of a sinful soul in the pure sight of God! There is another consideration. Although eternal punishment is denounced against what are termed temporal sins, yet it is only on sins unrepented of. God has shown you how you may flee from the wrath to come. He has declared how you may be redeemed from the influence and the curse of sin. The degree of your punishment will certainly be proportioned to your sins, for the Judge of all the earth will do right. But its duration seems to be fixed for eternity by the immutable laws of Providence, because no revealed means remain after death for cleansing your soul from its pollution. There is yet one other consideration. When a man dies without repentance and change of heart, after a life of habitual neglect of heaven, it is but reasonable to believe that had his life been prolonged, and the power of indulging in sin remained, he would have continued a sinner as long as he continued to exist. It is said, I know, that punishments cannot be meant to be final and eternal, because they are intended to reclaim, either by their effect on the sinner himself, or as examples to others. The punishments of this world are so. But lest we should presume, and think these His only judgments, He has given us proofs sufficient that in the ordinances of His providence there are such things as final punishments. Every one knows that the whole world was once exterminated except one family, and that such extermination was for its sins. We are hereby taught that punishment is not always intended for the reformation of the sinner.
2. We will now consider those observations which are drawn against the doctrine from Scripture itself.
(1) We are reminded, then, that the words which are made use of to imply what we consider to be a never-ceasing duration are often applied in Scripture to other matters, which are known to have an end, and therefore that they mean not strictly and properly eternity, but only a long and undefined succession of ages. It is perfectly true that the words, “eternal,” “everlasting,” and “for ever,” are applied to some things which are known to have an end: but we see them also applied to those things which we know have no end; and, above all, the expressions in question concerning the duration of punishments are those which are applied to show the true and proper eternity of the Supreme Being Himself. To reconcile this apparent inconsistency, however, is not very difficult. These words, “eternal,” “everlasting,” and the like, seem always meant to indicate the longest expressible existence of the thing, or the being, to which they are applied.
(2) It is said that the doctrine of eternal punishments militates against the known mercy of God and the general spirit of the gospel, which is a scheme of salvation. It is maintained that as it is impossible for any creature to live in eternal torments, though some may persist for a longer, some for a shorter, period, all in the end must be subdued, and that a universal restoration will crown the solemn scene: that, as the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost, His coming would be defeated if the greater part were lost for ever; that when it is said He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet, and that the last enemy, which shall be destroyed, is death--the death here intended is the second death--and that when this penal fire shall have accomplished in purpose, it, too, shall be extinguished; that then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.” These are contemplations, full indeed of awfulness, but full of holy joy, and agreeing, as they do, with the hopes of frail and sinful man, are too readily, perhaps, indulged by him as founded on irrefragable truth. Whatever meaning your own opinion may affix to the Scriptural expressions concerning the duration of the sinner’s woes, remember one truth, viz., that no limit is there affixed to them; that, allowing the terms to mean only a succession of ages upon ages, yet that no period is mentioned when such succession shall end. On what is to take place after the day of judgment Scripture seems purposely silent. (G. Matthew, M.A.)
The terrible doom of the lost
It is a pathetic tale to tell, but I do not vouch for its absolute truth, that once a famous composer wrote a great anthem to be sung at a festival. He sought to picture the scenes of the final judgment, and introduced a strain of music representing the solemn lamentations of the lost. But no singer was found willing to take such a part. So the wailings and woes were omitted; and when the passage was reached, the leader simply beat the time in silence till the awful chasm was passed, and the musicians took up gloriously the strains of celestial unison lying on the other side of it, “The shout of them that triumph and the song of them who feast.” (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Society divided by Christ into two great parts
In a sermon preached by the Rev. J. H. Jowett, M.A., he pointed out the different aspects from which the world and Christ viewed society. The world draws a horizontal line of division, or rather two lines, which mark off humanity into three sections, the upper, middle, and lower classes. Christ draws a vertical line throughout the whole scale, dividing society into two parts, those on the right hand and those on the left; the sheep and the goats.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Revelation 20". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter