"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." Revelation 20:11-13

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 its place.

(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 advancing sun,

"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 forefathers.

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 life."

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 and angels!

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 trembled!

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 prosperity.

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."