The Great Account!
George Everard, 1884
"It is appointed unto men once to die — but after this the judgment." Hebrews 9:27
What is after death? What is beyond that grave to which, one by one, we hasten so swiftly?
There are those who scorn and despise the plain teaching of the Word of God, and then give their own guesses as to the future.
Some teach the dark, gloomy creed of annihilation. What is after death? "Nothing," they would say. "Man finishes his course on earth — and then only lives in that which he has done here. Let men glory in the immortality of a good life, and be content to live only in the memory of mankind."
Some imagine to themselves a life beyond the grave with elements of greatness and happiness to be shared by all alike. Man passes on naturally to the goal in the future, quite independent of what he may have been and done during his sojourn on earth. But such teachers deny or ignore two great factors in the question — the will of man's Creator, and the deformity of moral evil. Leave out these and you may imagine to yourself some Elysian vision of bliss in a future state — but there is no substance or reality about it. A dying man could find no comfort in the thought of it, for it has no foundation on which to rest. Opinions like these are always changing. They are like the rising or receding tide. They are like the waxing or the waning moon.
One short sentence of the inspired Word is worth more than all human imaginings. And here is one: "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." Whatever else may follow death, one thing is sure, the account which each must render before the judgment-seat of Christ. There is no escape from this. There is no discharge in this war. No man can elude the appointment of the Most High God.
I bring THREE WITNESSES to confirm the truth of this.
First, reason gives evidence with respect to it. I have known a man growing rich on dishonest gains. He had his large mansion, and there he lived a long life in luxury and self-pleasing. He gloried in his wealth, but refused to regard the plainest calls to consider the needs of others. If ever a man did, he made a God of gold and silver. So he lived, and so, I fear, he died. Never would he hearken to a word about death or righteousness or judgment to come. Until I die I shall never forget the hardness and impenitence and determined ungodliness of that wicked man.
I have known a Christian woman suffering a lifelong martyrdom of poverty and anxiety and distressing burdens through the wickedness of a cruel husband. I have known her year after year struggling with adversity and patiently enduring all that came upon her. I have known her quietly take up her cross, commit her cares to the Lord, and hope still in Him in spite of all. And so I doubt not she will continue to do, until there come some lightening of her sorrow, or until she is taken from earth's tears and troubles.
The whole world is full of such contrasts.
The oppressor — and the oppressed;
the high-handed evildoer — and the meek and patient sufferer;
the one who brings upon others untold miseries by the sins which he commits — and the one who reaps these bitter fruits, and yet whose life is holiness and righteousness and trust in God.
Surely reason tells of a reverse. There must come retribution if we believe there is a righteous God at all. Looking at the world as it is, no sounder conclusion can we draw than this, that a day will come that will set all things right, so that men shall say, "Truly there is a reward for the righteous; truly He is a God who judges in the earth!"
Another witness I would call — conscience. It is a mighty power in the human soul. It will speak of sins long past, when every other witness is dead and gone. It will reprove the sinner for evils, that none but God has seen. And what is this which we call conscience? Whence comes it? Who made it so stern a monitor, so that its voice cannot be silenced? Is it not a little judgment-seat set up in the human breast by man's Creator? Is it not fixed there as a witness for truth and righteousness — and against all that is opposed to them? And is it not there, a part of man's moral nature, to proclaim clearly the judgment yet to come?
It is true that conscience may be dulled and deadened by long practice of sin, and by determined rejection of its warnings; but it is no less true that often it has a resurrection even now. Often sins committed half a century before, come back afresh in the hour of danger or death. Assuredly in every case it will have a resurrection in the brightness of the great white throne, and will re-echo in no slumbering note the just verdict of the Almighty against the sins of a lifetime.
And that which reason and conscience proclaim as most right and just — revelation proclaims as absolutely certain.
It comes down from the very earliest portion of Holy Scripture. We have Abraham asking the question, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" We have David declaring, "He comes to judge the earth; with righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with equity!" We have the testimony of Solomon, speaking to the young man of his life of self-pleasing, "Know that for all these things, God will bring you into judgment!" (Ecclesiastes 11:9).
Again, Solomon speaks to all of the duty of a holy and obedient fear of God, and gives this as a reason, "God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
Again Daniel foretells in glowing words the solemn day of account, when, in the presence of the Ancient of Days, "ten thousand times ten thousand stood before Him, the judgment was set, and the books were opened" (Daniel 7:10).
And when we come to the New Testament, with still greater fullness do we read of "that great day." Christ tells of the King sitting on His throne, when all nations shall be gathered before Him, and He shall separate them one from another. Paul tells us that God "has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness, by that Man whom he has ordained" (Acts 17:31).
And again, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (2 Corinthians 5:10).
From Peter, Jude, and John do we gather the same truth, until at the very close of John's Revelation we see before us the day foretold in Daniel, when before the bar of Christ, the dead, small and great, appear. The sea and death and the grave can no longer keep back their tenants. For according to their works, must they appear to hear the sentence of their Judge (Rev. 20:12, 15).
Thus full and plain is the testimony of Holy Scripture. It is repeated in many forms and by various writers. It is a distinct element in revelation, closely linked to every other truth you find there. You cannot ignore it. You cannot gainsay it. You cannot resolve it into some mere figurative description of God's righteous government. It is a revealed fact, that in due season shall have its exact fulfillment.
"He is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead." Acts 10:42
"Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead." 2 Timothy 4:1
"But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." 1 Peter 4:5
But what is that judgment? What is the meaning of that day? You are not to think of it as a day of judgment among ourselves. It is not for the purpose of trial or examination. What a man is, what a man has been and done, is perfectly known to God, and we can have no doubt that at the hour of death, if not before, a man will know for a certainty what will be his condition hereafter.
But the day of judgment is the day of manifestation. It is to be the great and final answer to all false judgments of every kind. It will bring to light whatever has been previously hidden or unknown. It will reverse all the groundless hopes and vain expectations of the ungodly. It will confirm all that has been revealed in the faithful records of the Word.
Hold fast by the idea of manifestation, and it will remove difficulties out of the way and will show the vast importance of the coming day.
It will be a manifestation of the perfect equity of God's dealings with man.
Men delight at the present day to cast contempt upon God's truth, and to lay it down that if the principles of Scripture are carried out, it must be at the cost of mercy and righteousness in God.
They imagine certain cases of human conduct, of crime, of accident, and the like — and then, making their own application of the rule of God's teaching, they prove conclusively to their own satisfaction, that such results could be nothing but the grossest injustice. But God will vindicate His own truth and the righteousness of His own laws. They will be carried out with a full view of man's inner life and of every circumstance connected with his condition on earth, and in all not one flaw will be found in the mercy, the truth, or the justice of the Most High. Not one stain will be seen on the great white throne.
Whatever be the number of those who perish in their sin, whatever the terrible outcome of ungodliness, however awful beyond all thought be that eternal damnation which men have brought upon themselves — it will then be seen as clear as day that the guilt and responsibility rest wholly with themselves. None will then speak of "the malevolence of the Deity." Why, if our Queen were to sign a death-warrant, yes, if she had to sign a thousand death-warrants in one day through the fearful prevalence of crime — who would ever for a moment impute to her anything but a desire at any cost to do her duty and to promote the moral well-being of her kingdom? And when God's ways are revealed to man more fully — it shall be owned that no shadow rests upon His glory, but that every sentence of His holy law, and every decree of punishment, however severe — is but the sterner side of His own perfect holiness and truth.
That day will be a manifestation of human character. At present a very large portion of mankind are utterly unknown to their fellow-men. As to what they really are in their own inner life and history, they are as little known as if they were living in another planet. No doubt there are some transparent characters, transparent in vice and wickedness — or in their love to God or man. But most men live and act and speak under a mask. You take up the daily paper and you see that an acquaintance of yours . . .
has committed adultery,
has murdered a wife or child, or
has committed a gross fraud.
But before this, you had seen and known the man — but never imagined he were capable of such a crime. But the truth is, that for months or years, everything on the inside has been tending to this. There have been habits and courses of conduct, strengthened day by day, which could scarcely have had any other outcome. Quite unobserved by those around, the evil has been quietly growing until it burst forth in some deed which calls down the universal reprobation of all who know him.
Or it may be the other way. There comes to light an act of more than ordinary self-sacrifice and devotion to the claims of duty. In the hour of danger, a man is found equal to a sudden call, whereby he gives his life for another; or, unseen by the world around, you hear of one whose secret and unostentatious kindness has made a poor widow's heart leap for joy. But in such cases again, the character has been forming unperceived. It is only by chance that men happen to know what such a one really is.
The great day will bring all to light. No cloak, no pretense, no smooth tongue, no religious profession — will the very least hide a man's true character.
The secret plans to defraud another, the craft of the envious, the cruelty of the selfish husband, the ill-temper of the wife that has sadly marred the life of her partner, the sin hidden by the blackness of night — or the ten thousand little seeds of kindness scattered far and wide by a thoughtful and loving hand, and the ten thousand times ten thousand moments when a patient spirit has meekly endured the crosses and ills of life, and amidst all has cried, "Your will be done" — all this will no longer be concealed, but seen and recognized by the whole universe.
Especially then will there be a revelation of the character of men in their relation to God. It is in this aspect that men are least known in this life. Something of their disposition and conduct towards their fellow-men must be perceived, while in relation to God their true spirit and feeling may be altogether hidden. Yet this is far the most important. God has far more claim upon each of us than the whole world together.
He is our Maker, our Preserver, our Benefactor, our Redeemer, our Lawgiver. We belong to Him by every tie of duty and gratitude. The first commandment, the great commandment, is that we love Him with all the heart and soul and strength. And how this relation has been fulfilled, will be fully revealed at the Lord's appearing.
It will then be nothing to the point that you have to some extent considered and fulfilled your obligations to your fellow-men. It will not atone for the neglect of the first table of the law, that in a measure you kept the second table. You cannot compound for your lack of love to God, by pleading that you have loved your neighbor. However blind men may be to the fact now, what you have been in relation to God, whether you have trusted His salvation, loved His name, yielded to His holy will, and striven to honor Him and please Him in the world — it is this which will stand in the very forefront when all things shall be made manifest.
The great practical lesson which we should gather from the thought of coming judgment, is the need of honest self-searching. We need to be thoroughly in earnest in discovering what we are and what we have been. We need to leave nothing to the chances of the future.
We are aware that an inspector is appointed on all our railways whose duty it is carefully and constantly to examine the line. He must take nothing for granted, but with the greatest circumspection he must see to the stability and good condition of bridges, tunnels, pillars, rails, points, and all else that appertains to the safety of the trains. In this way many an inconvenient jerk, many a terrific crash is avoided, and the lives of many passengers preserved.
We need to act in the same way with respect to the course of our own lives. We need to take nothing for granted. We need to examine our principles, our motives of action, the turns of life, how we act in testing-times, such as seasons of great prosperity or trial, on the commencement of new undertakings, our days of sickness and bereavement or the like.
Dear friend, put conscience in the witness-box for five minutes. Tax your memory with past days, and look at your present life as in the light of God's holy Word.
What about your life in the business world? Is everything plain, straightforward, so that you would not mind a rival in trade, or one who bears you no goodwill, looking over all your books and accounts? Is everything in the shop, in the factory, in the market-place or on Exchange, in accordance with the strictest laws of truth and equity?
I once knew a man who was the steward for a large property, and when suddenly his books were required to be sent up to London for examination, not a shilling or a sixpence was found to be wrong.
What about your home life? Do you regard it as one of the spheres in which you are bound always to glorify God? Are you doing your best to let your light shine — and are those about you the better for the life you live? Do you keep the reins tight over tongue and temper, so that neither breaks out to do mischief? Do you remember you are your "brother's keeper," yes, for all that, your children's, your spouse's, or whoever else may live with you, and then carry this out by praying for them and doing what you can for their spiritual welfare?
What about your Church life? Are you a faithful member of Christ's Church, loving His house, caring for His poor, standing by His ministers, fetching back His lost ones, and laboring by all means to forward His kingdom in the world?
What about your inner life?
Is secret prayer a reality?
Are you daily desiring to walk with God?
Are you guided by the precepts of His Word?
Is Christ Himself . . .
your Portion, and
your exceeding Great Reward?
Ever remember that Christ is your Judge, and that your only preparation to meet Him is a living union with Him by faith.