THE GREAT DAY OF JUDGMENT
"And I saw a great white throne, and I saw the One who
was sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from His presence, but they found
no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before
God's throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the
dead were judged according to the things written in the books, according to
what they had done. The sea gave up the dead in it, and death and the grave
gave up the dead in them. They were all judged according to their deeds."
In the previous chapter we had our attention again
specially called to the theme of the Advent—the approaching
consummation of all, "Behold, I COME as a thief." It was the herald-cry,
"Prepare the way of the Lord." "The Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come."
The chariot wheels to a waiting, weary Church had long "tarried;" but they
are now at hand. The warning voice need no more be sounded. The Day—that
dreadful Day, "the Great Day of the Almighty;" the Day waited for by all
time, has come at last, the Day of Judgment—the Assize of God. Remembering
that we, each one of us, will be among the myriads who will throng
the area of that Great tribunal, let us with profound reverence and godly
fear unfold, in brief outline, the contents of these sublime and solemn
verses. We have successively set before us—the Throne, the Judge, the
Flight, the Gathering, the Books, and the Final Judgment.
(1.) THE THRONE—"And I saw a great white throne,
and I saw the One who was sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his
presence, but they found no place to hide."
Other thrones had been spoken of in the preceding part of
the Apocalypse; but these have vanished. The glories of all the old empires
have passed as a dream when one awakens. All other crowns have crumbled into
decay. Kings of the earth, and great men, and rich men—colossal powers,
political and ecclesiastical, "sitting on many waters"—have been driven like
chaff before the whirlwind. "The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked and
the scepter of the rulers." In the immediately preceding context, the
throne, too, of the chief apostate Satan, the arch-usurper and
arch-deceiver, who had so long held earthly kingdoms and scepters under his
vassalage, had fallen—his iron crown had been torn forever from his brow;
his doom consummated by being cast into the lake of fire.
High above this wreck of powers, human and
Satanic, rises conspicuous before the Seer of Patmos the Throne of all
Thrones. It is designated "a Great white throne"—a throne of pure
alabaster, corresponding with the "garment white as snow," spoken of in the
Book of Daniel, in which was attired the Ancient of Days. The color
indicates the spotless purity and justice of Him who is seated
thereon, as the sole, unchallenged arbiter of the eternal destinies of
mankind. No other imagery could so solemnly testify to the unsullied
rectitude and righteousness which will characterize the awards of that Day.
As a commentator justly notes, there is here not even the emblem which is
employed in the fourth chapter of this book, where there is seen surrounding
the same Throne and the same Judge an encircling rainbow of emerald, the
well-known symbol of covenant-grace. The reign of grace is now
over, these rainbow-tints have melted away in the inaccessible light.
Grace has descended the steps of the tribunal, and Justice has taken
(2.) It is this JUDGE who next claims our
thoughts. "And I saw a great white throne, and I saw the One who was
sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from His presence, but they found no
place to hide."
In one respect it is the joint throne of Father and Son,
"the throne," as it is spoken of in the immediately preceding context, "of
God and of the Lamb." But in the truest sense it is the crowned Mediator—He
who has been throughout looked and longed for as 'The coming One,' who
assumes by mediatorial right and prerogative the office of Supreme Judge.
Other scriptures leave us in no doubtfulness as to this. The Divine Redeemer
Himself, in the most unequivocal language, asserts and claims these judicial
functions, "The Father has committed all judgment to the Son. . . .
He has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son
of man." "When the Son of man shall come in His glory, and all the holy
angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory, and before
Him shall be gathered all nations." "It is He," says Peter, "who was
ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead." "For," says
Paul, "we must all appear before the Judgment-seat of Christ." Yet,
again, in addressing his Athenian audience on the heights of Mars Hill, "For
He has appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in
righteousness, by that Man whom He has ordained."
From the expression employed in the words which follow
the verses we are now considering, "from whose face"—we may almost infer,
that it is not God Almighty in His spiritual essence and divine glory who is
to occupy in invisible majesty that majestic tribunal; but rather one
wearing the face and form of glorified Humanity. The present passage
is antithetical to the magnificent introduction in the first chapter,
"Behold, He comes with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also
that pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him."
The now undisputed Judge of all, is the same Being who is there represented
with a countenance like the sun shining in his strength. The
Angel-intercessor before the golden altar, of a former vision, receiving the
all-prayers, is now exalted in His absolute sovereignty to be the dispenser
of both punishment and reward. What greater attestation could be given to
the supreme divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ than this? "The heavens shall
declare His righteousness: for GOD is Judge Himself!"
None but One invested with the Divine attributes could
have the necessary qualifications for the gigantic task. Omniscience
to take in at a glance all the crowded incidents in the histories of these
countless millions; to sift with unerring and impartial scrutiny 'the
secrets of men.' Omnipotence to secure that none evade His summons—or
succeed, behind rock or mountain of earth or in cavern of ocean, to screen
themselves from His searching, discriminating eye! Yes! "The hour is coming,
in the which all who are in their graves shall hear His Voice, and
shall come forth: those who have done good unto the resurrection of life;
and those who have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation."
(3.) Next, we have to note the FLIGHT of the earth
and heaven at this great Epiphany. "And I saw a great white throne, and I
saw the one who was sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from His
presence, but they found no place to hide."
We may perhaps best leave the interpretation of these
words to their own indefinite grandeur. Some commentators, in order that
they may tally with their own prophetic theory, have regarded them as
nothing more than highly-wrought poetic drapery, intended to indicate
figuratively, the stupendous nature of the transaction described; just as
physical convulsions in other parts of this Book are taken to symbolize
great moral crises and catastrophes. Or if there be a fleeing away of
material luminaries, that it is not intended to mean any actual convulsion
or displacement of the existing system; but only what we are spectators of
every morning, as the moon and stars dim their pale lusters before the
"The Lord will come, the earth shall quake;
The mountains to their center shake,
And withering from the vault of night,
The stars withdraw their feeble light."
Had the words stood alone in the Apocalypse, such an
interpretation might have been entertained or accepted. But in the light of
other passages of Scripture we are driven to conclude, that they refer to
a literal destruction and wreck of the present economy, "a dissolution
of the present cosmos"—preliminary to renovation and renewal. The parallel
words of Peter's unfigurative Epistle, are too strong and decided to warrant
any more modified interpretation, "The heavens shall pass away with a great
noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the
works that are therein shall be burned up."
(4.) We have the GATHERING, "I saw the dead, both
great and small, standing before God's throne." What an assembly! All who
have ever trod the earth, from the first to the last member of the human
race. No conventional human distinctions can plead exemption. Rich
and poor—young and old—learned and unlearned—peasant and wealthy—king and
beggar. It matters not where or when they have lived; whether
when the world was young, or in its colossal manhood and maturity, or in its
years of decrepitude and decay; whether their home was amid the burning
deserts of the tropics or amid polar snows—the icebergs of eternal winter;
whether amid the hum of busy cities, or the stillness of mountain solitudes.
It matters not what their name, or rank, or color of skin, or age, or
pedigree. Tyrants who have made the world to tremble; Nimrods in the race
for fame, and riches, and conquest; cottagers unknown beyond their village
home; the aged pilgrim of fourscore years; the little child laid in
its early grave.
The SEA is represented in the following verse as
surrendering its dead—giving up what for ages it has held in custody—the
myriad of sleepers in its still silent caverns, those who have gone down
amid the howling of the tempest with the costly freight. Or amid the tug of
grappling weapons and the roar of battle—or the wasted invalid who had
fallen into the last long sleep far away from the graves of his
Death and Hades, too, are in the same verse, by a bold
personification, represented as twin demons surrendering their
captive prisoners with reluctant grasp, whether from storied urn and marble
mausoleum, or from the heaps of the battlefield, or the winding-sheet of
Alpine snows, or the churchyard's unepitaphed mounds—all will be
there in that teeming mass of immortality! Vain will be the attempt to
escape or evade the scrutiny. A previous figure of this same Book has
represented the sinner calling on the rocks and mountains to fall upon him,
that he may be hidden and covered from the face of the Judge. But
their adamant ears are deaf to pity; loyal to their great Creator, they
refuse to forsake their old moorings—they leave the suppliant to wail out
the unsuccoured cry, "Where shall I go from Your Spirit, or where shall I
flee from Your presence!"
(5.) We have next the OPENING OF THE BOOKS, "And
the Books were opened; and another Book was opened which is the Book of
The imagery is borrowed from human tribunals, where a
written or printed indictment is produced. These 'books' or rolls, or
registers, described here, embody this written indictment. They contain all
the charges that can be laid against the sinner. They have engrossed and
catalogued in their infallible pages, all the deeds which have been
committed by every single individual of that mighty assembled aggregate.
How scrupulously minute and detailed each such biography will be!
details in the life-story that have long ago passed into oblivion, but which
now, like the undeveloped photograph, jump into life on exposure to the
sunlight! Sins of thought that never embodied themselves in deed.
The unchaste look, the envious glance, the muffled resentment, the
harbored malice, the uncharitable wish, of which none but the eye of the
Unseen and the All-seeing took cognizance!
How will the guilty footsteps be retraced on the sands,
which the tidal wave of oblivion was thought to have effaced forever! How
will the tale be engraved as with an iron pen on these enduring tablets, as
to the means by which many dragged themselves or dragged others
downwards to ruin! Volumes of recorded sin which were thought long ago to
have perished in the flames, or their leaves to have moldered and been
moth-eaten, they discover have all been treasured up in the library of God!
and one by one is brought down—every line and every entry read before men
The blasphemous oath uttered in a moment of fiery
passion—read out! The successful lie which screened a deed of
dishonesty or fraud—read out! The stab at their neighbor's good name and
reputation to exalt their own—read out! The deed of darkness and villainy,
of which they thought the stars alone were the unconscious witnesses—read
out! In that hour there will come forth the writing of a man's hand, as of
old at Belshazzar's feast, on the wall of the king's palace. Nothing is now
hidden that shall not then be known! The Divine saying will then be invested
with new and dreadful emphasis and meaning, "All things are naked and opened
unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do!"
But "another book is opened, which is the Book of Life."
In that Book the names of the saved are written. It would be
presumptuous to speak confidently or dogmatically with regard to the precise
nature of this volume and its relation to the others just adverted to. It is
supposed by some to be the register, not only of the names of God's
spiritual Israel, but to contain an enumeration of the services rendered
by them to their heavenly Master; and thus, while the entries of previous
books will regulate and adjust the retributive sentences to be pronounced on
the ungodly, the Book of Life will regulate the graduating scale of
rewards in the case of the righteous.
(6.) This, at all events, is the next point spoken of,
THE FINAL JUDGMENT, embracing the case alike of sinner and saint, "And
the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books,
according to their works." That throne and judgment will be an impartial and
just tribunal. The sentences of the Great Judge will not be arbitrary;
each one will be scrupulously and exactly weighed and meted out. To this
principle of retribution we have recently been led to advert in connection
with another Memory of Patmos. It was announced in unmistakable words by the
Great Apostle, "For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the
just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what
they have done. He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what
is good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers.
But He will pour out His anger and wrath on those who live for themselves,
who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds." And yet 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."
While the thought of just and equitable retribution
ought, to the sinner, to be a solemn and appalling one, should it not form
also, in the case of every true believer, a quickening motive and incentive,
that the allotments of eternity will be the counterpart of the deeds and
doings of time; his everlasting recompense will be in accordance with
the measure of fidelity which has regulated the discharge of his earthly
trust. In the last chapter of Revelation, where the Divine Redeemer again
strikes the key-note of the book, and reveals Himself as the quickly 'Coming
one' where He is speaking, too, specially, if not exclusively, to His own
people, He affirms this same truth, "Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is
with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done."
Reader, what is it that fires men's ambition in this
world?—the boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, the lust of
conquest, the triumphs and trophies of intellect, the love of
fame, the thirst for riches. But what are these, all combined?
Baseless nothings, compared to the honor and privilege of him who has
his name written in the Book of Life, and who, by reason of that very
eternal inheritance, is giving all diligence to make his calling and
election sure; adding to his faith virtue, and knowledge, and temperance,
and patience, and every Christian grace. Everything else perishes with the
present world! But the wealth of holy character—that alone is enduring. It
alone knows no bankruptcy: it alone owns no decay.
Space forbids farther to dwell on these sublime and
dreadful picturings of the great terminating act in the terrestrial
drama!—the close of the present dispensation. Some philosophers of our own
time may throw doubt on the question of future retribution as one
which they have ventured to call "insoluble to human creatures." And yet it
is strange to find modern skepticism thus lagging behind even the old
philosophy of heathen nations. They at least had groped their way,
through the darkness, to their own solution of the problem, and admitted no
such insolubility. The dreams of Pagan mythology recognized alike the gloom
of Tartarus and the bliss of Elysium. Even the philosophers of Athens, who
scouted and scorned Paul's doctrine of the "resurrection of the dead,"
offered no denial to his assertion that "God would judge the world in
righteousness." And when the same apostle subsequently brought the same
great theme before a profligate Roman, "the judgment to come," Felix
In every human bosom, be it Christian or Pagan, savage or
civilized, there is a consciousness of right and wrong, a recognition
of moral responsibility. The coming tribunal of a last Judgment has its
harbinger and preliminary in the miniature court of conscience here.
The solemn adjudications of the Great Day come floating up the ages. So that
despite of all infidel creeds and the rejection of the authority and
inspiration of the written Word, conscience brings many a man, in his
more earnest and sober moments, to subscribe the saying of Solomon, "God
shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be
good or whether it be evil."
Add to this, and apart also from the unfoldings of
revealed truth, we have the strongest presumptive expectation of a future
retributive economy, from the fact of the present unequal distribution
of happiness and misery, and its probable, or rather its certain
rectification and adjustment hereafter. Who is not cognizant, every day, of
instances of vice pampered and caressed, and on the other hand, of
goodness and beneficence and virtue trampled on and overlooked? We see,
in one case, a creature of God, who has belied His image—some miserable and
depraved victim of selfishness, and baseness, and lust, scattering nothing
but baneful influences around him, "earthly, sensual, devilish," yet, with
the cup of material plenty filled to the brim; the world smiling on
him; wealth unimpaired; an apparently enviable and envied child of
While on the other hand, we see, it may be in the
adjoining house or street, some lofty, pure, generous, unselfish spirit; but
on whom the arrows of misfortune, one after another, have been
emptied from God's quiver. Is it the widow in her agony, bereft of husband
and children, health and means; hurried by successive bereavement into
pitiless and broken-hearted poverty, and weeping over the helpless orphans
she has to cast unbefriended on the world? Oh! forbid the thought, that a
kind, and just, and righteous God would allow such inequalities, were there
no Judgment Day coming when these discrepancies would be rectified, these
inequalities adjusted; when the villain who walked now unchallenged in his
villainies, would at last be visited with his long-delayed penalty; and when
the pining flower of goodness and virtue, that had nothing now but harsh
tempests and withered scattered blossoms, would be allowed to waft its
fragrance in a more genial climate! Abraham's philosophy has an echo
and response in every bosom and in every age, "Shall not the Judge of all
the earth do right?
But though we thus conceive that this question of a
coming retribution is congenial to both reason and conscience, and on the
principles of eternal rectitude, we have a more sure word of prophecy to
which we do well to take heed. "The word that I speak unto you," says
Christ, "the same shall judge every man at the last day." God's Word leaves
us without excuse. Not in all questions certainly, but in this, at least, it
fully endorses the judgments of reason. They both set their seal to
the one immutable and equitable principle which is to regulate the decisions
of that Day, "He who is unjust let him be unjust still; and he who is filthy
let him be filthy still; and he who is righteous let him be righteous still;
and he who is holy, let him be holy still!" What more need be added, but to
urge preparation for that magnificent gathering, "Multitudes, multitudes in
the valley of decision!"—each standing in his lot at the end of the days—his
weal or woe for eternity unchangeably fixed!
We would not, if we could, enter on the undefined
awfulness of the words embraced in this same passage, 'The second death,'
and 'the lake of fire.' It is enough that they describe the unutterable
anguish of a spirit born for immortality and for union with the divine,
having, by its own recklessness and guilt, lost its glorious center, and
left in self-abandonment to drift away—an outcast from bliss!
"The second death!" It tells of the extinction of
true life and gladdening hope—no memories but the poor memory, it may be, of
having gained the world, but at the priceless uncomputed sacrifice of
losing the soul! A solitary, isolated being, with the blank of
despair around him, above him, beneath him, within him: the spectral forms
of his own sins, the sole companions of that infinite of darkness; and the
crushing, withering reflection ever present, that he was himself alone
responsible for the undoing of his eternity!
But we shall not enlarge. With these dreadful words, and
this dreadful vision, the terrors of the Book close. The curtain once
more falls amid these thunderings, and lightnings, and tempests—when it
rises again, it is to unfold the gladdening pictures of the two last
chapters; a glorious burst of heavenly sunlight after the thick darkness!
The seer of Patmos has concluded his record of the
Church's conflicts, and trials, and persecutions; and the befitting
punishment to be inflicted on her enemies. Nothing now remains, but that to
which the whole preceding figures tended—the revelation of the new heavens
and the new earth, the dwelling-place of the Redeemed! The storms are all
past, every wave is stilled, the haven is in sight! "Then shall the
righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." At the
close of this chapter, we seem to be in the position of Christian and
Hopeful in the Pilgrim's Progress; "They had the city itself in view, and
they thought they heard all the bells therein to ring, to welcome them
thereunto." When we resume these "Memories," it will be to "enter within the
gate into the city."