Judgment To Come; The Dispensation of Divine Awards To Responsible Classes At The Return of Christ
AN EXAMINATION of the Bible will show that Christendom is astray on nothing more than on the subject of judgment to come. The common idea of "judgment to come," is that at a certain time popularly known as the "last day," God will bring every human being to individual account--that heaven will be emptied, and hell emptied, of their countless myriads of souls, which will be reunited to their former bodies (resurrected to receive them) and added to earth's living population and brought to judgment.
There is no exception to this rule in orthodox minds. It does not seem to strike them as a strange thing that there should be a judgment day for anyone, if every case is settled at the occurrence of death. Neither does it appear to them any difficulty that the manifestly irresponsible classes of mankind should be brought to judgment. "Heathens," pagans, barbarians of the lowest type, human brutes of all sorts, idiots, infants -- everyone -- absolutely every human soul that has ever had a being, in what condition soever it may have existed--according to current theology, will be resuscitated, and brought to account.
That there are difficulties--great and insuperable in the way of such an idea, can be attested by the agonising efforts of many a thoughtful mind. That the idea itself is thoroughly unscriptural we propose now to show.
We have in reality done so in previous lectures. But the matter is deserving of a closer and more systematic consideration. We have quoted statements that declare the non-resurrection of those who, being unenlightened, are non-responsible. Further evidence is found in David's description of the position occupied by the class in question (Psalm xlix, 6-20):--
"They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches, none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him (for the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever); that he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the feel and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations . . . nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their sayings. LIKE SHEEP THEY ARE LAID IN THE GRAVE; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning. (You that fear my name... shall tread down the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet--Mal. iv, 3). And their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave; for he shall receive me. Be not thou afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased; for when he dieth he shall carry nothing away --his glory shall not descend after him. Though while he lived, he blessed his soul: and men will praise thee when thou doest well to thyself, he shall go to the generation of his fathers; THEY SHALL NEVER SEE LIGHT. Man that is in honour and understandeth not, IS LIKE THE BEASTS THAT PERISH."
This is reasonable. It would be unreasonable to bring the brutish of mankind to individual account. Judgment has its basis in responsibility, and responsibility is a question of circumstances and capacity. Human beings in a state of barbarism may have the latent capacity to be responsible; but this does not make them responsible for the simple reason that the capacity is latent. The actual condition of mind which gives the ground of responsibility does not exist. This is the case with children. They possess reason and moral capacity in the germ, but because these qualities are not developed, by universal law they are held not responsible in human matters. Is God less just than man?
Human responsibility to the Deity primarily arises from human capacity to discern good and evil, and power to act upon discernment. Beasts are not accountable either to man or God, because they are destitute of the power to discriminate or choose. They act under the power of blind impulse. Idiots are in the same category of irresponsible agents in the degree of their incapacity, and many men not considered idiots are little better as regards their power of acting from rational choice.
The nature and extent of human amenability to a future account can only be apprehended in view of the relations subsisting between God and man, as disclosed in the history presented to us in the Scriptures. Apart from this, all is speculation, theory, and uncertainty. Philosophy is at fault, because it disregards the record. Accept the record, and all is simple and intelligible. The progenitor of the race was made amenable to consequences placed within the jurisdiction of his will in a certain matter. Disobedience occurred and the law came into force: Adam and all his posterity came under the power of the law of sin and death, which was destined in their generations to sweep them away like the grass of the earth. Had God intended no further dealings with the race, responsibility would have ended here. The grave-penalty would have closed the account; and human life, if indeed it had continued on the face of the earth in the absence of divine interposition, would have been the unredeemed tale of sorrow, which it is in the experience of all who are "without God and without hope in the world," unburdened, it may be, with the responsibilities but unalleviated by the hopes and affections with which the day-spring from on high hath visited us, and lightened this place of darkness.
But, in His great mercy, Jehovah conceived intentions of benevolence which He is working out in His own wise way. He did not--in haste and blunder, as our short-sighted philosophers insist His goodness ought to have prompted Him to do--at once and summarily, and without condition, reprieve the sentenced culprit. This would have been to violate those deep-laid principles of law which guide all the Deity's operations, "in nature" and in "grace," and preserve the conditions of harmony throughout the universe. It would have been to perform a work not of mercy, but of destruction, confusion, and anarchy. The method of benevolence conceived in the divine mind was intended to work beneficence toward man conformably with the law that had constituted him a death-stricken sinner, a law which involves "glory to God in the highest" as well as "goodwill toward men."
This intention necessitated those successive dispensations of His will which the world has witnessed in times past, and which have-rescued both human existence and human responsibility from the bottomless profound to which the law of Eden consigned them. The enunciation of His purpose in promise and prediction, and the declaration of His law in precept and statute, reopened relations between God and man, and revived the moral responsibility which otherwise would have perished. It is, however, a divine principle that this result is limited to those who come within the actual sphere of operations.
"Where no law is, there is no transgression" (Rom. iv, 15).
"If ye were blind (that is, ignorant), ye should have no sin" (John ix, 41).
"The times of this ignorance God winked at" (Acts xvii, 30).
"Man that is in honour and understandeth not, IS LIKE THE BEASTS THAT PERISH" (Psa. xlix, 20).
"This is the (ground of) condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light" (John iii, 19).
Hence, in the absence of light--that is, when men are in a state of ignorance--they are not amenable to condemnation; God "winks at" their doings (Acts xvii, 30), just as He winks at the actions of the brutes of the field. Barbarous nations are in this condition. They are without light and without law, and Paul's declaration on the subject is in harmony with the general principles enunciated in the Scriptures quoted:-- "As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law" (Rom. ii, 12). If from him to whom much is given, much is required (Luke xii 48), it follows that from him to whom nothing is given, nothing shall be required, and from him to whom little is given, little is required in all the area over which the judgment operates.
This principle of absolute equity in the matter of responsibility is exemplified in the words of Jesus:-- "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin" (John xv, 22). "That servant which knew his lord's will and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes" (Luke xii, 47). "He that REJECTETH me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John xii, 48).
The operation of these principles is illustrated in the history of human experience. From Adam to Noah, there was but a little light. The promise of a seed, by the side of the woman, to crush out the serpent principle of disobedience and its results, was almost the only star that shone in the darkness of that time. Prophetic glimpses of the coming interference in its ultimate shape, such as those vouchsafed to Enoch (Jude 14), and the precepts of Noah, the preacher of righteousness, through whom the Anointing Spirit promulgated the divine principles to those who were disobedient (I Peter iii, 18-20), added a little to the light of these times, but, apparently, not more than was sufficient to confer a title of resurrection on those who laid hold on it by faith. So far as we have any information, few became responsible to a resurrection to condemnation in pre-Noahic times. Human wickedness, culminating in universal corruption, was visited with the almost total destruction of the species by a flood, which may be regarded as having been a winding-up of all judicial questions arising out of the preceding period, so far as condemnation is concerned, and, therefore, as precluding from resurrection to judgment those who were the subjects of it.
On this point, however, positive ground cannot be taken. Since resurrection unto life will take place in several cases belonging to that dispensation, it is not improbable that resurrection to condemnation may also take place among those who were obnoxiously related to that which gave the others their title, including the class specified in Enoch's prophecy--" the ungodly," who were guilty of "ungodly deeds" and "hard speeches" against Jehovah, and who must, therefore, have possessed the amount of knowledge necessary to constitute a basis of responsibility. This must remain an open question, not because the principle upon which judgment will be administered is obscure, but bemuse we have not a sufficient amount of information as to the facts of the time in question to enable us accurately to apply the principle.
The principle itself, that responsibility Godward, is only created by contact with divine law in a tangible and authorised form, holds good in every form of human relation to the Almighty. Noah's immediate family were within the pale of the divine cognition, and responsibility in reference to another life may arise out of that; but their descendants wandered far out of the way of righteousness and understanding, sinking below moral responsibility, degenerating to the level of the beast, and establishing those "times of ignorance" throughout the world which we have Paul's authority for saying were "winked at."
In the call of Abraham, the member of an idolatrous family, but who possessed the latent disposition to be faithful, God arrested the tendency to repeat the universal corruption of antediluvian times. The germ of a more direct responsibility was planted among men by his election, and by the bestowal of promises upon him which had ultimate reference to the whole of the race. Abraham individually, while constituted a man of privilege, was also constituted a man of responsibility. Abram, the idolater, was his own--his own to live, like the insect of the moment--his own to die and disappear like the vapour. Abraham, the called of God, was no longer his own, but bought with the price of God's promise. He entered upon a higher relation of being. He was exalted to a higher destiny, and had imposed upon him Godward obligations, unknown to his former condition. Success or failure in the ordering of his life, was of much greater moment than before. Faith and obedience would constitute him the heir of the world, and the subject of resurrection to immortality: unbelief would make him obnoxious to a severer and farther-reaching displeasure than fell upon Adam.
In this respect, the children of Abraham by faith, that is, those who walk in the steps of the faith which Abraham had being yet uncircumcised (Rom. iv, 12), who, being Christ's, are Abraham's seed (Gal. iii, 29) through believing the gospel, and being baptised into Christ, are like their father. By nature children of wrath, even as others, they were in the days of their ignorance "without God and without hope in the world" (Eph. ii, 12), "strangers from the covenants of promise" (ibid.), "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them" (Eph. iv, 18), living without law, and destined, as the result of that condition, to perish without law in Adam; inheriting death without resurrection--death without remedy; having neither the, privileges nor the responsibilities of a divine relationship.
When called from darkness to light, by the preaching of the gospel, whether they submit to that gospel or refuse submission, they are "not their own." They neither live nor die to themselves as formerly. They have passed into a special relationship to Deity, in which their lives, good or evil, come under divine supervision, and form the basis of a future accountability, unknown in their state of darkness, at which God winked.
The law of faith established by the promises made to Abraham, constituted a centre, around which responsibilities of this description developed themselves. All who acquired Abraham's faith came under Abraham's responsibilities. Doubtless, many entered this position in the course of the Mosaic ages. The law was added because of transgression (Gal. iii, 19), and the purpose of its addition is indicated in its being styled a schoolmaster. Its mission was to teach the first lessons of Jehovah's supremacy and holiness. It was not designed as a system through which men might acquire deliverance from Adamic bondage. Its purpose was purely preliminary and provisional, having reference to that result in its ultimate bearings, but not intended directly to develop it.
Paul's comment on it is as follows: "If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law" (Gal, iii, 21). It was impossible life could come by a law which required moral infallibility on the part of human nature. For this reason, the law, though "holy, and just, and good ". (Rom. vii, 12), was "weak through the flesh," and though "ordained to life," Paul found it (from this cause) "to be unto death" (verse 10). The consequence was, that "all the world stood guilty before God "; and in that moral relation to the Deity, they were precluded from boasting, that is to say, precluded from attaining to eternal life on a principle which would have left it open to them to think, and to say, that their life was their own by right as against the Deity. Prospectively considered, this was a mighty triumph of divine wisdom; for had immortal existence been attainable by self-acquired title, room would have been left for the admission of an element in the relations of God and man which would have disturbed the perfect harmony that will exist where God is absolutely supreme, both in law and benevolence, and man is in the position of a love-saved brand from the burning.
The law of righteousness by faith is the principle on which men are saved--that is, saving righteousness is recognised or imputed by God where He is honoured by faith being exercised in what He has promised. This law came into operation with Abraham. Actually, it had its origin in Eden, for we read of Abel that by faith (the substance of things hoped for), he offered an acceptable sacrifice (Heb. xi, 4). The prediction of the woman's serpent-destroying seed formed a pivot on which faith could work even then, and doubtless was the subject-matter of the faith which saved Abel, Enoch, and Noah; but the full and official initiation of the law of faith, as the rule of salvation, occurred in the history of Abraham. This law was the basis of resurrectional responsibility.
The Mosaic law was national. Its rewards and penalties were confined to the conditions of mortal life. It took no cognisance of, and made no provision for, life beyond the natural term of human existence. In its ceremonial forms and observances, it symbolised the truth in relation to Christ and his mission, but in its proximate beating upon the nation, it subserved no spiritual purpose beyond the continual enforcement of the schoolmaster lesson of Jehovah's supremacy and greatness. In this, however, it established the greatest of first principles, and laid a foundation on which the Abrahamic law of faith could have its perfect work.
Out of the law, as a national code, it does not appear any resurrectional responsibility arose. Yet, concurrently with its jurisdiction, it is evident that a dispensation of God's mind, having reference to resurrection, was in force. Undoubtedly this was subordinate, and occupied the place of an undercurrent; but, its existence is unquestionable, else how are "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets," to appear in the Kingdom of God? If it be recognised that God's purpose from the beginning had reference to the mission of the Christ as "The Resurrection and the Life," there will be no difficulty in apprehending this conclusion. Obscurely it may be, but really it must be, that resurrectional responsibility was contemplated in all Jehovah did through His servants, from righteous Abel to faithful Paul. Jesus has shown us that the very designation assumed by the Deity in converse with Moses at the bush, though apparently used for the simple purpose of historical identification, expresses the doctrine of resurrection in relation at any rate to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God called Himself the God of men that were dead; therefore, reasoned Jesus--and that convincingly, for the Sadducees were put to silence--He intends to raise them from the dead.
If so great a conclusion can warrantably be deduced from so apparently slim a foundation, what may we not legitimately infer from the promise of a country to them they never possessed, and the assurance of the universal blessing of mankind in connection with them, which has never yet been realised! -What but the conclusion affirmed by Paul that they "died in faith, not having received the promises," and, therefore, that they must rise from the dead to realise them? With this general argument in view, it is easy to recognise resurrectional responsibility in many expressions which a forced method of explanation alone can apply to the judgment of the present limited experience (Psalm xxxvii, whole of the chapter: xlix, 14; lviii, 10; lxii, 12; Prov. xi, 18-31; Ecclesiastes iii, 17; v, 8; xi, 9; xii, 14; Isaiah iii, 10; xxvi, 19-21; xxxv, 4; lxvi, 4, 5, 14; Malachi iii, 16-18; iv, 1-3, etc.).
Jewish responsibility was greater than that of the cast-off descendants of the rejected groundling of Eden, because their relation to Deity was special, direct, and privileged. The responsibility originating in natural constitution, was supplemented by the obligations imposed by divine election, and arising out of the national contract entered into at Sinai, to be obedient to all that the Deity required (Ex. xxiv, 3, 7). This is recognised in the words of Jehovah by Amos, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; THEREFORE I will punish you for all your iniquities" (Amos iii, 2). The national sufferings of the Jews, in dispersion and privation, are evidently (both on. the face of the testimony, and on a consideration of the moral bearing of the case) a full discharge of the responsibility arising from national election.
A responsibility lying in degree between that of the Jews and the outlying Gentiles, attached itself to those nations that were in contact with the Jewish people. This is evident on many pages of the prophets. Take, for instance, the words addressed to the king of Tyre:--
"Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God;... thou wast upon the holy mountain of God. Thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire... Because that Tyrus hath said against Jerusalem, Aha, she is broken that was the gates of the people; she is turned unto me; I shall be replenished now she is laid waste. Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up" (Ezek. xxviii, 13-14: xxvi, 2-3).
Take, also, similar words addressed to Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia :--
To AMMON: "Because thou hast said, AHA, against my sanctuary when it was profaned, and against the land of Israel when it was desolate, and against the house of Judah when they went into captivity, Behold therefore, I will deliver thee to the men of the east for a possession," etc. (Ezek. xxv, 3-4).
To MOAB: "Because that Moab and Seir do say, Behold, the house of Judah is like unto all the heathen, therefore I will execute judgments upon Moab" (Ezek. xxv, 8-11).
To EDOM: "Because that Edom hath dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and hath greatly offended and revenged himself upon them, therefore, thus said the Lord God, I will stretch out mine hand upon Edom," etc. (Ezek. xxv, 12-13).
To PHILISTIA: "Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with a despiteful heart, to destroy it for the old hatred, THEREFORE thus saith the Lord God, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines," etc. (Ezek. xxv, 15-16).
In these cases, it does not appear that God intends to mete out individual judgment by resurrection from the dead. It requires a high state of privilege before such can with justice be done. The majority of mankind, particularly in the rude and barbarous times that required the schoolmaster lessons of the Mosaic law, were in circumstances of pure misfortune. Born under condemnation in Adam, and left to the poor resources of the natural mind, which in all its history has never originated anything noble apart from the ideas set in motion by "revelation," they were as unable to elevate themselves above the level on which they stood as any tribe of animals. How just and merciful it was then, of the Deity to "wink at .... the times of this ignorance" (Acts xvii, 30), which alienated from the life of God (Eph. iv, 18), and allow flesh, under such circumstances, to pass away like the flower of the field, that the place thereof might know it no more (Psa. ciii, 15, 16).
On the supposition that every human being is an immortal soul, such a line of action would, of course, be excluded, and the circumstances of the early "dispensations" would be altogether inexplicable. An immortal soul, in the times of antiquity, would be worth as much as one now; and if it be wise and kind to save immortal souls now, there would seem a strange absence of wisdom and beneficence in the arrangement, which in these early ages, put salvation beyond their reach, and made their doom to hell-fire inevitable by the lack of those means of knowledge which are in our day accessible.
If, to get out of this difficulty, it be suggested that man, in such a plight, will in mercy be permitted to enter heaven, we are instantly compelled to question the value of our own privileges, nay, to doubt and deny the wisdom of the gospel, which, on such a theory, is not only necessary to salvation but a positive hindrance to it; since by its responsibilities, it imperils a salvation which, in its absence, would be certain. We should also be compelled to deny the testimony of Scripture, that man having no understanding is like the beasts that perish, and that life and immortality have been brought to light by Christ through the Gospel.
But we are not now dealing with the monster fiction of Christendom. We leave the immortality of the soul out of the account, and deal with the question of judgment in the light of the fact that mankind is perishing under the law of sin and death, and, in Adam, has no more to do with a future state than the decaying vegetation which, year by year, chokes the forests, and passes away with the winter. The endeavour is to realise, in the light of reason and Scripture testimony, the varying shades of responsibility created by the dealings of the Almighty with a race already exiled from life and favour under the law of Eden.
We have seen that resurrectional responsibility was limited to those who were related to the word of the God of Israel. The promises and precepts conferred privilege and imposed responsibility having reference to resurrection. They formed a basis for that awakening from the dust to everlasting fife, and shame and everlasting contempt, foretold to Daniel, and implied in many parts of the writings of Job, David, and Solomon. The extent to which they operate, it is neither possible nor important for us to determine. The law of resurrectional responsibility operates much more vividly upon our own times, and it is the relation of this law to ourselves that we are more especially concerned to elucidate.
It was left for him who proclaimed himself the "Resurrection and the Life" to define clearly the relation of judgment to the great scheme of which he was the pivot and the means. He appears before us as the solution of the great difficulty which must have haunted the minds of the faithful men of ancient times, in reference to the declaration that "God shall judge the righteous and the wicked" (Eccles. iii, 17). He exhibits in himself the method by which the arbitration of the unapproachable and immeasurable Deity is to be brought to bear upon mortal and finite man. The "Word made flesh" proclaims himself the instrument and vehicle of divine judgment. He tells us that "the Father hath committed ALL JUDGMENT unto the Son" (John v, 22), and that as no man can come to the Father but by him, so no one will be judged by the Father but in the light of the word which operates through him (John xii, 48).
It is highly important that this fact should be distinctly recognised, because it is part of the truth concerning Jesus, which forms a prominent feature in the proclamation of the gospel. This is evident from these testimonies: 1st, that in which Paul comprehends the doctrine of eternal (aionian) judgment among first principles (Heb. vi, 1,v); 2nd, the declaration of Peter: "He commanded us to PREACH UNTO THE PEOPLE and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be THE JUDGE OF QUICK AND DEAD" (Acts x, 42); 3rd, the statement of Paul that there is a "day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my (Paul's) gospel" (Rom. ii, 16). These general evidences are strengthened by the following testimonies, which we submit in detail on account of the importance of clear and Scriptural views on the subject :--
"He that rejecteth me and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him; the word that I have spoken, the same shalt judge him in the last day" (John xii, 48).
"As many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law" (Rom. ii, 12).
"Every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire, and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (I Cor. iii, 13).
"The Father who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every man's work" (I Pet. i, 17).
"The day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds . . . in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ" (Rom. ii, 5, 6, 16).
"We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ... Every one of us shall give account of himself to God" (Rom. xiv, 10, 12).
"Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts" (I Cor. iv, 5).
"We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether good or bad" (II Cor. v, 10).
"The Lord Jesus Christ shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom" (II Tim. iv, 1).
"It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this (that is when the death-state ends in resurrection) the judgment" (Heb. ix, 27).
"Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead" (I Pet. iv, 5).
"That we may have boldness in the day of judgment" (I John iv, 17). "The time of the dead that they should be judged" (Rev. xi, 18).
The proposition that judgment is one of the prerogatives and functions of the Messiah, thus stands upon a very broad Scriptural foundation, not merely as a fact, but as a constituent of the truth as it is in Jesus. The bearing of the fact is apparent in connection with the mission of the Messiah, as related to our particular dispensation. This is briefly defined by Paul to be to "purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus ii, 14), and by James, "to take out of the Gentiles a people for His name." The mode of accomplishing this work is the preaching of the Gospel. An invitation has gone out to the ends of the earth, for people of any "kindred, nation, people, or tongue" to become servants of the Messiah, and heirs of the kingdom which God has promised to them that love Him.