How Unspeakably Solemn
On account of the recent focus on injustice today, I have been meditating often on the final judgment. Scripture teaches that there will be a last day when the infinitely just and holy God will exercise perfect justice--showing a full manifestation of His mercy to those for whom Christ has satisfied divine justice (Eph. 2:7) and pouring out His wrath on unbelieving men and angels (Matt. 7:21–23; 25:41; 1 Cor. 6:3). On that day, the triune God will make every wrong right and will vindicate those who, though righteous in Christ, suffered at the hands of evil men. The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes the essence of the final judgment, when it states,
"God has appointed a day, wherein He will judge the world in righteousness by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgement is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged, but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil" (WCF 33.1).
Our reflection on the final judgment is meant to lead us as sinners to see our need for Christ and the redemption He accomplished in His first coming into the world. It is faith in Christ that differentiates between those who will stand in the judgment and those who will not. As Herman Bavinck helpfully put it,
"The main issue in the final judgment is that of faith or unbelief. For faith in Christ is the work of God par excellence (John 6:29; 1 John 3:23). Those who believe do not come into judgment (John 5:24); those who do not believe are already condemned and remain under God’s wrath (John 3:18, 36)."
Nothing will quiet the mind and heart of the believer when meditating on that day, other than being assured of all that Christ has already accomplished by His sinless life, atoning death, and resurrection from the dead. Nevertheless, it is of great benefit for us to think about the sobering reality of the final judgment--both for our own pursuit of holiness and for a motivation to carry the gospel to the nations (2 Cor. 5:10–11).
Perhaps no one has painted in such vivid detail the picture of the last day than the nineteenth century Presbyterian minister, John L. Girardeau. In his sermon, ""The Last Judgment," Girardeau envisioned all people, from all nations, throughout all time summoned before the divine tribunal on the Last Day:
"How unspeakably solemn! A world in one vast congregation! See, multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! Farther than the eye can reach extends a boundless sea of human beings, swayed to and fro with new and unutterable feelings. Before the august Judge are gathered all nations, and He proceeds to separate them one from another as a shepherd divided his sheep from the goats. He sets the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. All human and perishing distinctions are swept away. The mask is torn from hypocrisy, the veil stripped from secrecy, the paint and varnish expunged from the face of deceit. Missed are the strut and fret of 'a little brief authority.' The tiara, the mitre and the crosier, the chasuble, stole and cowl are looked for in vain. The tinseled insignia of rank and the gilded baubles of nobility, the arms of heraldry and the stars and crosses of honor are rent away from human beings, and leave them to appear as they are--'naked, unvarnished, unappendaged men.' The standards, ensigns, and gonfalons of earthly parade float not in the air of the judgment morn. Beauty, wealth, and power, gifts, talents, and fame,--of what avail are they now without true and heartfelt religion? The righteous and the wicked, the followers and the foes of Christ,--these are the only distinctions which have a place in that overwhelming presence. Each one of that immense concourse is seen. Each one is known. Each one must give account of himself to God. No one shall share responsibility with his fellows. No one shall shield himself behind the instruction, the counsel, the example of others; no one shall cover himself with the skirt of minister, parent or friend. Families are sundered; individuals are parted from individuals by a discrimination awfully searching and particular. Oh, what a sifting! Jehovah's fan is in his hand, and he winnows the chaff from the wheat: He gathers the wheat into His garner, and consigns the chaff to unquenchable fire.
Now is the day of full redemption come to those who served their Lord amidst temptations, trials, and fears, and waited and prayed and longed for His second glorious appearing. Clad in Jesus' righteousness, washed in Jesus' blood, pleading Jesus' atoning merits, they stand at His right hand and look into His smiling face. 'Come,' says the King, 'Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungered and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger and ye took Me in: naked and ye clothed Me: I was sick and in prison and ye came unto Me. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.' 'Enter ye into the joy of your Lord.' O welcome word! O thrice happy souls! Their tribulation is past, their conflict with the world, the flesh and the Devil is ended, the narrow way has all been trod, death, their last enemy, is conquered, and not one of them remains a tenant of the grave. The last battle has been fought, the last sin has been committed, the last tear is wiped away. The world's laugh and frown are alike no more. No more the cross, the fire and the stake. No more the chain, the dungeon and the rack. Shout, ye ransomed sinners, shout! For yours are harps of gold, crowns of righteousness, the beatific vision of God, and the celestial glory that faded not away."
A few more laughs, a few more tears, a few more sighs and we will all find ourselves in that one great assembly, standing shoulder to shoulder in the collective mass of humanity before the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and the Judge of all the earth. "How unspeakably solemn" indeed.