The Great Account
George Everard, 1866
The longest day has its close. The longest life is but for a moment.
"Behold, You have made my days as an handbreadth."
"We spend our years as a tale that is told."
"Man is like vanity and a breath; his days are as a shadow that passes away."
"What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away."
Such is a true picture of the present life. It is "a handbreadth," "a shadow," "a tale that is told," "a passing vapor."
There are insects which are born at sunset, and before the sun arises, they are no more. There are flowers which open with the day, and before evening fade and die. So short an hour of existence is ours, if judged by the light of the eternity that follows.
"Every-day life" with its comforts and its cares, its joys and its sorrows, its evil and its good — does not long abide with us. Soon buried with us in the habitation appointed for all living — will be the schemes, and thoughts, and pursuits, that now engage the most of our time.
But what then? Has life no further issues? Shall the work of our hands, the words of our lips, the thoughts of our hearts — be heard of no more? Not so. There is a great day approaching. A reckoning must then be made. The book of a man's life, closed for a season, will then be reopened. The past shall have a voice given to it, so that not to hearken will be impossible.
In a quiet churchyard a few solemn words were inscribed over one who lay there: "What I was, the day of judgment will declare. Reader, what are you?"
It is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God." It is written again, "Behold the Judge stands at the door!"
Behold the Judge Himself!
It is the Son of God. He it is, who is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, who searches the hearts and tries the thoughts of men.
It is the Son of man. He it is . . .
who took our nature and shared our heritage of woe;
who dwelt on earth, and wept in Bethany;
who felt the Tempter's power, and has known by experience what our condition really is.
He it is, who alone of the children of men, lived and died unblemished and undefiled. It is fit that the Judge should be guiltless of crimes upon which He must pass sentence in others. The Son of man, though one with us in all beside, "did no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth."
He it is, who was once judged and wrongfully condemned. The High Priest and Pilate sentenced Him to death — but then they shall change places. Christ shall be Judge. At His bar, both of them shall stand.
He it is, who is now the Savior. "He came into the world to save sinners." He came not to judge, but to redeem. He stretches forth His arm to rescue man from the deep abyss of guilt into which he has fallen. He calls lovingly to perishing ones, to come to Him for salvation. He delights freely to justify through His death and merits, all those who turn to Him. He will finally perfect in holiness, through His sanctifying Spirit, those who commit themselves to His care.
Oh, sinner! behold Jesus standing at the door of your heart as a most compassionate Savior — before He comes to you as a righteous Judge. Flee to His mercy-seat for pardon and acceptance — before you are summoned to stand before His judgment seat!
Behold the Judged!
Behold the vast multitude who shall stand beneath the solemn shadow of the great white throne. "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad."
Amid that multitude shall be those now dead, lying around the village church, or in the crowded cemetery — those whose remains were buried on the battlefield, or who lie fathoms deep beneath the waves of the sea.
There shall be those now living in various parts of the wide world — those twelve hundred million, who are said to form at this time the population of the earth.
There shall be those yet unborn, who have yet their race to run, and their battle to fight.
Our Criminal population shall be there — murderers, thieves, defrauders, and such like — those convicted, and those who have escaped.
From a window in York Castle may be seen a narrow grass-plot, where for many a year have been laid the remains of those executed for various crimes. What a place of dread, on the resurrection morn, will be that enclosure, when those who lie there will arise to receive their sentence before a far higher tribunal than any that as yet they have known!
Those who have borne a character without a stain among their fellow-men will be there also. Tried by any human standard, they need not fear, but "God sees not as man sees."
A captain was within a few weeks of death. A friend was speaking to him of a future state. "Were you to be tried by a Court Martial as to your conduct as an officer and a gentleman — would you be afraid?"
"I would not!" said he emphatically, rising up in his bed as he spoke it. "But you are not to be tried by a Court Martial, but at the bar of Christ, and what shall you answer when He asks: 'What have you done for Me?'"
"Nothing! I have never done anything for Christ" said the captain thoughtfully. The arrow had reached his conscience. He was now brought to deep conviction, and through it to find rest in Christ.
There will be the "blind guide" — the man solemnly pledged to feed the flock, yet who knew not himself "the unsearchable riches of Christ," nor unfolded them to others.
There will be the faithful under-shepherd, who himself followed the Master, and day by day, in public and in private, exalted Christ and Him alone.
There will be hearers of the Word, who vainly imagined that their duty was done, when for half-an-hour they had hearkened to the sermon.
There will be doers of the Word, who practiced as well as heard, and only grieved that they did it so little.
There will be those who believe not the Gospel of salvation. It has come to them, but has not been received. Through prejudice, or presuming upon their own endeavors, or a future repentance — they have put away from them the offered blessing.
There will be those who have believed and embraced it. When speaking of the judgment, Paul excludes not himself or other believers. Though sin be forgiven, though for them there can be no condemnation — yet for the glory of Christ and their justification before a world that has trampled upon them, shall they appear before the Judge.
Of all earth's teeming myriads, NOT ONE SHALL BE ABSENT!
However difficult to form a conception of the manner in which it can be brought about — of the locality in which it may take place — of the lengthened period of "that Day" — yet of this be assured, not one solitary individual shall escape its awful solemnity.
Within a man's own breast, has God fixed a faithful witness to it. Why is it that within, there is that which chides or approves? Is there not a little judgment seat set up there — I mean conscience — which bears a clear testimony to the judgment to be administered hereafter?
Nor in any way can the guilty one flee from the presence of his Judge.
A young man, with marvelous rapidity, takes away the life of a respectable citizen, and carries off his gold watch. Before the crime has been brought home to him, he takes his passage for America, and sets sail upon the broad Atlantic. But a clue is found. A very small matter leads to just suspicion of the murderer. The officers of justice are upon his track, and in a swift steamer first reach the shore where he expects to land. There he is apprehended, and brought back for trial, and afterwards meets with the punishment he so justly merited.
God has likewise His swift messengers. On a distant shore, if not here, shall they arrest the sinner, and take him before the bar of Justice.
"It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment."
"For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?"
Behold the Character of the Judgment Which God Has Appointed.
In every Court of Justice there must be a certain fixed rule or standard, by which people accused may be tried. In our own land, for example, every prisoner is acquitted or condemned according to the English code of laws. It is not according to the law of France, or Russia, or any other country — it is not in accordance with any idea of justice in their own mind — or in that of the judge or jury — but by a clear definite code, known and recognized among us.
So likewise will it be at the Great Day. Various are the standards by which men judge themselves now, so as to quiet conscience and build up themselves in a false security. They cherish certain views of their own, with respect to moral duty, and imagine that if they fairly come up to them, nothing more can be required. Or they judge themselves by the ordinary walk of those with whom they dwell. Or they compare themselves with those who seem greater transgressors than they are — and so they hope that they may not fall far short of the mark.
All such vain imaginations will vanish in a moment before the brightness of Chris't solemn throne.
The only standard will be the Word of God. That word contains within it the great rule of duty — supreme love to God, and true genuine love to our neighbor. It reveals also the free promise of life, and eternal salvation to every one who believes in the name of Christ. It declares that true faith works by love, and that none truly believe in the Son of God, who are not led by the Spirit, and bring not forth the fruits of that Spirit in their lives. Such is to be the rule by which all those will be judged to whom the message of the Gospel has come. Hear the Word of Christ: "He who rejects Me and receives not My words, has one who judges him — the word that I have spoken the same shall judge him at the last day."
Bear in mind not only what is to be the one standard — but that the judgment has respect to the whole course of a man's life.
A trial usually has respect to a single charge, or at most to some few isolated actions — but the final reckoning takes in all that a man has ever been or done.
Whether an outward obedience has been paid to the letter of the law,
what duties have been neglected,
what has been left undone, which ought to have been done,
what has been the employment of the talents bestowed,
what use has been made . . .
of the years we have lived,
of the influence we have possessed,
of the wealth committed to us,
of the opportunities for receiving or doing good which may have been placed in our way,
what words have fallen from our lips and what thoughts and desires cherished in our hearts,
what has been the chief motive and principle by which we have been actuated
— nothing of all this can avoid the eye of our omniscient Judge!
Above all things solemn in the coming Day, will be the laying bare of that which is now altogether hidden and secret. "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil." "In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel." "Judge nothing before the time until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the heart."
Take an illustration of this truth from the pages of modern history.
Some eighteen centuries ago, a terrible calamity befell the flourishing city of Pompeii. While busied with the excitement of an election, there issued from the summit of a neighboring mountain, a huge column of smoke which soon overspread the sky, and turned midday into pitchy night!
Quickly there followed a thick rain of ashes, and after this, a shower of small hot stones, together with heavier masses of earth. After a short interval, is heard the sound of an approaching torrent. Down Mount Vesuvius' side flow rivers of dense black lava, which soon reach the town and crept into every hole and corner.
There is now no shelter or escape. Those who did not flee at first, now find the attempt to be in vain. Some are fast blocked up within their homes; others are entangled by the lava; others are overthrown by the heaps of loose stones. Within three days the town had disappeared! It lay covered up beneath a vast mass of ashes and of lava. Above it from year to year, there accumulated fresh soil, in which grew again the vine and the olive. For seventeen hundred years the town, wrapped in its earthy shroud, remained almost undisturbed.
Now in part, it has been disentombed. Though so long in darkness, it has been brought out into the light.
The Roman sentinel was discovered, still at his post near the gates of the city. The baker's oven, with its eighty-three loaves, black and charred, was discovered, and these still retaining their shape, as placed there in the days of Paul. There was found also the skeleton of a prisoner in chains, and the supposed cause of his punishment in the bones of a little infant in a stone jar close by.
The remains of a house of ill-fame, with its obscene paintings and the names upon the wall of some of the gladiators who frequented it, was still standing.
Strange does it seem that, hidden beneath the ground for so long a period — all this should now be brought forth into the light of day.
Is there not a voice that comes to us from the remains of ancient Pompeii? Does it not remind us that "The time is coming when everything that is covered up will be revealed, and all that is secret will be made known to all!"
Does it not set before our eyes, as in a picture, the fact that our present life, with all that belongs to it, shall yet have a resurrection? Do we not see here that centuries may pass by after the grave has become our resting place — and yet that all we have been and done, our names, our dwellings, and their testimony for good or for evil, may stand out as fresh as while we were alive?
Oh what secrets will then, for the first time, be disclosed! In many a home, in many a little knot of companions, evil has been concocted and accomplished almost passing belief! Schemes of fraud have been planned and carried out; foul iniquities, deeds of darkness, have been committed in secret, which it might well make us shudder even to contemplate. The authors of these may be undetected, they may never here reap their just reward, but they are known of God, and the deeds they have done; and to the everlasting shame of the men and women who have thus acted, shall their crimes be made manifest before the universe.
Yet not only iniquities done in secret, but the innermost feelings of the heart shall be laid bare. Where there has been no commission or thought of such acts as have been named — yet within the heart there may still be lurking the most deadly evils. In the sight of the Most High, how revolting must be those heart-sins which are often unthought of and unchecked, even among those who pay an external deference to His commands, and are found continually as worshipers in His sanctuary.
A determined selfishness, a secret aversion to His service, a willful forgetfulness of all His daily benefits, a cherished dislike of spiritual religion, and a thorough cleaving to the things of earth — may exist side by side with a life upon which, it would be difficult to cast a shadow of reproach.
Is it not our wisdom to be willing before "that Day" to know the utmost of the evil in us, at present it may be, unknown by others or even by ourselves?
Gently, tenderly, will the good Physician handle, and probe the depths of that wound — which of our own choice we reveal to Him. No needless pain will He inflict; and where pain must be given, where the conscience must be touched, He will yet add the healing balm. Far better is it in our day of grace, thus to learn our plague and sore — than to delay until a rougher hand exposes it, until the avenging law and an endless eternity make that manifest which will then be beyond a cure!
Behold the two-fold issue of the judgment.
There can be, in any case, but one or other of two sentences.
In Scotland a third verdict is sometimes given — the prisoner is neither acquitted or condemned, but the crime is declared "not proven." Though the jury are persuaded of the guilt of the person tried — yet the evidence itself is scarcely clear enough to warrant an infallible verdict. This can never take place at the bar of the Most High God. There is the One who saw it. The omniscient eye of the Judge Himself beheld all that has taken place!
To those who have died in their sins, the outcome must be a sentence of "eternal damnation."
No language could have been used stronger than that employed by Christ to declare this. He speaks of "the worm that dies not, and the fire that is not quenched." He employs, with reference to it, the same word "eternal" that is employed as to the happiness of the righteous. "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels." "These shall go away into eternal punishment — but the righteous into eternal life."
Throughout the whole of Scripture there is not the least intimation of a second judgment, or of a reversal of the sentence to be passed by Christ at His coming. If on that solemn day, therefore, the sentence is "eternal punishment" — how, or when, shall it ever be changed?
But to those found in Christ the verdict shall be everlasting life and felicity. The debt has been paid by their Surety — who then shall demand it of them? Their sins and offences have already been punished when their Substitute died, the Just for the unjust — who then shall require a second reparation to the Holy law which had been broken? The everlasting merits and righteousness of the Son of God is theirs — who then shall object to their entrance upon the glory prepared for them? "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us!" Romans 8:33-34
The glory to be the portion of the true Christian is not yet manifest — what it shall be surpasses comprehension. The rest of a felt security in the Fathers house; every holy desire fulfilled; every labor, and gift, and prayer, receiving its recompense through the same grace that first prompted it; this shall be much — yet still more shall there be.
The death-blow will have been given to the evil that yet abides in us; the perfect likeness of the glorified Redeemer will be upon us, body and soul alike being transformed into His image. The tenderest ties will then be re-knit — Christians parted for many a long year will then see each other face to face.
The open vision of Christ will then shed eternal sunshine upon His saints. Now His people see Him, but it is as through the lattice or the colored glass. It is by means of ordinances, prayer, and in the inspired Word; but then it will be in and immediate sight, "We know that when he appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as he is!" 1 John 3:2
What joyful hope should this raise in our hearts. The miner working in the dark mine, far below the surface of the earth, feels his arm strengthened for toil, and his heart throb quicker in anticipation of the evening hour — as he remembers that above ground there is the little cottage, and a dear wife and beloved children longing for His return.
So may it be with Christian people, now toiling below in this dark world, as we remember that far above this present scene there is the Father's house, and there we shall see One whom long we have known and loved, and with whom we shall then forever dwell.
It was a touching word of one who lately had become blind. When assured that he never would regain his sight he answered, "Then the next person I shall see will be my Savior!"
Behold the speedy approach of "that day!""Surely I am coming quickly!" "Behold, the Judge stands at the door." It is a strong expression. It reminds us how near at hand He may be.
The thief is sleeping within, dreaming of some midnight revel, but the officer of justice who has tracked his steps is at the door, about to knock, and then to convey him away to prison.
The wife is mourning an absent husband, who in a foreign land has been toiling for her welfare, and she fears lest she may never again see him — when, behold! he stands by the door, and her long waiting is at end.
So for judgment or for mercy, the Bridegroom will quickly comes It is not for us to fix the times and the seasons, but many are the signs that tell of His approach. Long has He tarried beyond the expectation of His Church, but it cannot be forever. In great likelihood the outburst of error and infidelity in our day, may be that foretold before His appearing.
But this is certain — Christ will come, and every eye shall see Him. Whether it be to us in the flesh, or after our summons by death, will be of little importance. Strive then, Christian, ever to be looking for that blessed hope. Realize, as if present now, the Advent of the Redeemer. Arising in the morning, consider that before the glorious sun, now shedding its early beams, shall sink in the West — the day of the world's history may be over. As you retire to rest, speak to your own heart, that before another day shall dawn the trumpet may sound, and the sign of the Son of man appear in Heaven.
As the Sabbath-bell calls you forth to meet with the assembled congregation — remember that from the earthly sanctuary you may be called to commence the Jubilee of the everlasting Sabbath.