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 occurence 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 49:6–20):—
“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 fool 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. 4:3). 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. 4:15).
“If ye were blind (that is, ignorant), ye should have no sin” (John 9:41).
“The times of this ignorance God winked at” (Acts 17:30).
“Man that is in honour and understandeth not, IS LIKE THE BEASTS THAT PERISH” (Psa. 49:20).
“This is the (ground of) condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3:19).
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 17:30), 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. 2:12). If from him to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48), 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 15:22). “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 12:47). “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 12:48).
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 3:18–20), 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-Noachic 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 because 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. 4:12), who, being Christ’s, are Abraham’s seed (Gal. 3:29) 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. 2:12), “strangers from the covenants of promise” (ibid), “alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them” (Eph. 4:18), 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. 3:19), 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, 3:21). 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. 7:12), 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. 11:4). 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 bearing 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 37, whole of the chapter: 49:14; 58:10; 62:12; Prov. 11:18–31; Ecclesiastes 3:17; 5:8; 11:9; 12:14; Isaiah 3:10; 26:19–21; 35:4; 66:4, 5, 14; Malachi 3:16–18; 4:1–3, 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. 24:3, 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 3:2). 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. 28:13–14; 26:2–3).
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. 25:3–4).
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. 25:8–11).
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. 25:12–13).
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. 25:15–16).
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 17:30), which alienated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18), 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. 103:15, 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 life, 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. 3:17). 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 5:22), 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 12:48).
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. 6:1, 5); 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 10:42); 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. 2:16). 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 shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
“As many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (Rom. 2:12).
“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. 3:13).
“The Father who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every man’s work” (I Pet. 1:17).
“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. 2:5, 6, 16).
“We shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ … Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10, 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. 4:5).
“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. 5:10).
“The Lord Jesus Christ shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom” (II Tim. 4:1).
“It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this (that is when the death-state ends in resurrection) the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
“Who shall give account to him that is ready to judge the quick and the dead” (I Pet. 4:5).
“That we may have boldness in the day of judgment” (I John 4:17).
“The time of the dead that they should be judged” (Rev. 11:18).
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 2:14), 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.
Over the whole period of the times of the Gentiles the number of these who respond to His call is considerable; but all who are thus called are not chosen (Matt. 22:14), because many who accept the word preached are not influenced by it to “present their bodies living sacrifices, holy and acceptable.” As in the case of the Israelites under Moses, “the word preached does not profit them, not being mixed with faith” in all who hear it (Heb. 4:2). The soil being bad, the seed produces no result of any consequence. The net of the kingdom (Matt. 13:47) submerged (by preaching) in the ocean of “peoples and multitudes, and nations, and tongues,” encloses bad fish as well as good. The propagation of the gospel results not only in rejectors, but in servants, and not only faithful servants, but unfaithful also.
Not only so, but there are different degrees of merit among those who are faithful. Some sow bountifully, others sparingly. Some bring forth fruit thirty fold, and some a hundred fold. No man can assess the degrees. None of the servants can say, “This shall be accepted much, and that little, and the other not at all.” In this matter, they are commanded to “judge not” (Matt. 7:1), and indeed they cannot do it; though, if censoriously inclined, they may attempt it, and sin. There are secrets unknown (good and evil), which require to be known most accurately, before a just judgment can be given. “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (I Sam., 16:7).
Here, then, is a great community, living and dead, every member related to the rest by the closest of ties, and yet each sustaining a problematical relation to the finality upon which they have set their hearts—the attainment of immortality, and the inheriting of God’s kingdom; each having a right to the promised blessing, so far as the judgment of the rest is concerned, and yet each so situated with reference to God, that unfaithfulness will bring his damnation, though all his comrades approve.
When and by what means is this endless variety of causes to be adjusted? When and how is there to be a settlement of the account still open between the Deity and His servants? which to a man is simply inextricable, and impossible if extricated? Has God made any provision by which this superhuman task shall be accomplished?—this balancing of good and evil in the infinite diversity of millions of “quick and dead”?—this determination of the minute shades of merit and demerit, attaching to the responsible dead and living of a hundred generations?—this rewarding, in just ratio, of unknown and forgotten deeds of constancy and mercy?—this exposure and retribution of evil thoughts, hidden malice, hard speeches, and deeds of darkness? Has He arranged for such a scrutiny of the affairs of His people, as shall result in the separation of the evil from the good, the reward of the righteous, and the punishment of the wicked among them?
The answer sometimes given to this question is true in the fact upon which it is built, but wrong in the construction of the fact. It is said that “the Lord knoweth them that are His,” and that, therefore, there is no necessity for a judgment; that “He discerneth the thoughts and intents of the heart,” and “needeth not that any should tell Him what is in man.” This is true, and marks the difference between the” judgment seat of Christ” and a human judicature which makes inquisition for the purpose of ascertaining the facts. But when this truth is made the means of displacing the necessity for the revealed purpose of judging the quick and the dead, it is applied with an illogical and pernicious result. It is illogical, because it by no means follows that the Deity’s omniscient perceptions are not to have official expression, especially when, as in this case, those perceptions affect the standing of those who are the subjects of them, and determine in the expression of them, their destiny.
In all transactions between man and the Deity, there is an invariable accommodation on the part of the latter to the necessities and finite apprehensions of the former. Why did Jehovah allow a faithless generation of Israelites to escape from Egypt under Moses, and go through the miraculous experiences of the desert, and finally pronounce condemnation on them, instead of acting on His knowledge, and summarily destroying them in a night, like the Assyrians, without warning or explanation? Because He was anxious to bring down to human apprehension the methods of His moral procedure, which He could only do by acting on human modes and processes. Why did He allow Korah, Dathan, and Abiram to lurk in the camp for a season, and trouble the congregation by attempting a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, instead of acting upon His omniscience, and weeding them out at the beginning of the journey, and so save the nation from turbulence? Because such a mode of procedure, instead of illustrating and justifying the ways of God to man, would have wrapped them in mystery, and clothed them with the appearance of caprice and injustice.
Why did He so long forbear with the Jews in their obstinacy, foreknowing their ultimate rejection of all His messengers and His own Son? Why did Jesus, who discerned “spirits,” tolerate Judas till he convicted himself by betraying his master? Why did the Spirit suffer Ananias and Sapphira to come into the presence of the apostles, and go through the formality of hearing their own condemnation, before their mendacity was punished by death? In fact, why do things happen at all as they do? Why did not the Deity frame the terrestrial economy of things on such a basis that obedience and not disobedience should have been the law? The whole history of divine procedure, in relation to human affairs, shows that divine omniscience is never allowed for a moment to forestall or displace the natural order of events, but rather sets up and enforces the law by which everything has its full and logical course, before the culminating consequence is reached.
To say that because God knows the righteous from the wicked, He will not bring them to the formality of a judgment, is to reason against every operation of the Deity on record. It is true the Deity knows; but is it not necessary that the righteous and the wicked themselves should know? How shall the righteous know themselves approved, and the wicked condemned, and the Deity be justified in the eyes of both, without the declaration of what He knows?
The conclusion is also pernicious, because it evolves the rejection of one of the doctrines which are defined as the first principles of the doctrines of the Christ. We have quoted testimony sufficient to show that the doctrine of the judgment of the living and dead by Christ is part and parcel of the gospel-proclamation about Him. We further submit, on the strength of considerations already passed in review, that logically viewed, it is a natural and necessary part of the glad tidings. It is one of the finest sources of relief which the truth affords, the knowledge that the disputes, misunderstandings, and wrongs of the present maladministration of things, are destined, in the purpose of God, to come before an infallible tribunal, at which every man shall have praise or condemnation, according to the nature of the disclosure.
It is gladdening to know that there lies between this corrupt state of things and the perfection of the kingdom of God, an ordeal which will prevent the entrance of “anything that defileth,” which, as fire, will try every man’s work, and thin down, by a process of purification, the crowd of those who do no more than say “Lord, Lord!” It is comforting to know that wrongful suffering will then be avenged, that secret faithfulness will then be openly acknowledged, that unappreciated worth will be recognised, and that evil doing, unpunished, unsuspected, and unknown, will be held up for execration, in the face of so august an assembly as that of the Elohim, presided over by the Lion of the tribe of Judah. This is part of the glad tidings concerning Jesus Christ.
In these remarks, we assume that the object and effect of the judgment is to mete out to every man who is summoned to it, according to his deeds, whether good or bad. This is apparent from the testimony quoted to prove that judgment will be executed by the Son of Man at his coming. We append further and more specific evidence on this point:—
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord … And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: DEPART FROM ME, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:22–23).
“Every idle (evil) word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36).
“The Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works” (Matt. 16:27).
“Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
“Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).
“Behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12).
“The work of a man shall He render unto him, and cause every man to find according to his ways” (Job 34:11).
“Doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it? and shall not He render to every man according to his works?” (Prov. 24:12—See also Psa. 62:12).
“I the Lord search the heart; I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:10).
Another important evidence of the conclusion to which these testimonies lead us, is to be found in the parables of Christ, in many of which he illustrates the relation between himself and his servants in connection with his departure from the earth. In all of these, he presents the fact that at his return he will “take account” of them, and deal with them according to their individual deserts. Thus, in the parable of the nobleman (Luke 19:15), “It came to pass that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, he commanded these servants to be called unto him to whom he had given the money, THAT HE MIGHT KNOW HOW MUCH EVERY MAN HAD GAINED BY TRADING.” Those servants are given as three in number, and, doubtless, represent the several classes of which the bulk of Christ’s professing servants are composed. The first gives a satisfactory account of himself, having increased five talents to ten, and receives jurisdiction over ten cities. The second has made two talents into four, and entitles himself to meritorious recognition, and the allotment of four cities. The third, who, though less privileged, might have stood equally well, had he turned his single talent into two, justifies his indolence on the plea that he dreaded a service where more was expected than was given in the first instance. This man, who stands for the unfaithful, is rejected. The decree is, “Take the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath ten talents.… Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness” (Matt. 25:28–30). Here the unprofitable servant figures in the judgment of the king’s household, at his return, as well as the approved.
In Matt. 22:1–14, we have another parable in which the same feature is introduced. A certain king issues invitations to his son’s marriage, but the parties invited make various excuses for not coming. The king then orders a general invitation to all and sundry whom his servants may find on the highways, and his servants execute the orders, and “gather as many as they found, bad and good.” The king then comes in to see the guests, and “saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment, ” whom he ordered to be “bound hand and foot, and taken away.” This shows that the judgment to be carried out by Jesus at the time of reckoning has the practical effect of “severing the wicked from amongst the just.” To the same purport is the parable of which the latter italicised words are an explanation. “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a net that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to the shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away” (Matt. 13:47, 48). Also the following: “The Son of Man is as a man taking a far journey, who left his house, and gave authority to his servants, and to every man his work, and commanded the porter to watch. Watch ye therefore … lest coming suddenly, he find you sleeping” (Mark 13:34, 36).
Further, “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning, and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return … Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching … But, and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming, and shall begin to beat the men-servants and maidens, and to eat and to drink and to be drunken, the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers” (Luke 12:35–37, 45, 46). The parable of the ten virgins enforces the same fact, viz., the unworthy portion of his servants will be publicly and officially rejected at the time the others are acknowledged.
This is in harmony with the reason of the thing, as well as with the numerous testimonies already cited from the apostolic writings. Many are called, but only few out of the many are “chosen.” When should the choice take place, but at the time represented in these parables, viz., “When the lord of those servants cometh” to develop the state of things with reference to which the choice is to be made? (Matt. 25:19). The present is not a time for dividing the wicked from the righteous. Both go to the grave, and “rest together in the dust,” and their merits and demerits would sleep for ever with them in the silence of the tomb, were it not for the awaking voice that calls the just and unjust, at the appointed time, from the oblivion of hades, to give an account before the “judgment-seat of Christ.” Now is not the time for Jesus to execute judgment. He is a priest over his own house. The great question of account is left over till he returns. “He shall judge the quick and the dead AT HIS APPEARING AND HIS KINGDOM.” He shall open the dread book of God’s remembrance, wherein are indelibly recorded the thoughts and transactions of those who shall come to judgment, and the dead shall be judged out of those things that are written in the book.
Shall the wicked be absent at such a moment? The suggestion is precluded by the testimony and by the sense of the thing. A mockery of a judgment-seat it would be if its operations were confined to the allotment of rewards to the accepted. To judge, in the executive sense, is to enforce the division of good from evil. This is the function of Jesus in relation to His servants at His coming. True, says the suggester, but it will only be the living wicked that he will reject; the dead wicked will sleep on to another period. Is it so, then, that the accident of death a day before the advent will shut off a wicked man from the jurisdiction of the Judge of the quick and dead? Is it so that Jesus will only judge the living and not the dead at his appearing? Is it so that he is not “lord both of the dead and living?” (Rom. 14:9). The answer is self-evident; life or death makes no difference in our relationship to the judgment-seat. The Son of Man has power to call from the dead at his will, and, therefore, virtually, the dead are as much amenable to his judicature as those who may happen to be in the flesh when he is revealed.
The constituted servants of Christ—by belief of the gospel and baptism—are candidates for the kingdom to be manifested at the appearing of Christ, which is to exist thereafter a thousand years; and it is meet that they should be arraigned in his presence to have it decided, as between them and him, when the time comes to enter the kingdom, which of all the number are worthy of the honour sought. This, it is declared, in the testimonies quoted, he will do. To do otherwise—to leave over the underserving of them for adjudication at a subsequent period, would both violate the fitness of things, and contravene the express declarations which we have quoted on the subject. Jesus has declared that he will confess or deny men in the presence of the angels at his coming, according to the position taken by them in his absence (Luke 9:26; Matt. 10:32, 33). Does not this necessitate their presence on the occasion? Where would be the shame of a denial if the one denied were not there to witness his own disgrace? Some will be “ashamed before him at his coming” (I John 2:28). Daniel says that at that time “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” This agrees with Paul’s statement that “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish,” shall be the lot of every soul of man that is contentious and disobedient to the truth, “in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:8, 9, 16); and with his exhortation in another place, to “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness” (I Cor. 4:5).
With the general conclusion before us, that the judgment-seat is the appointed tribunal for determining the great question of individual desert, in relation to the dispensation of God’s favour in Christ, we come to the minor but involved question of the nature and position of the dead, during the interval elapsing between their emergence from the death-state and their adjudication by the judge. The object of that adjudication is defined by Paul in the following words: “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive in body according to that we have done, WHETHER GOOD OR BAD” (II Cor. 5:10). What shall those “receive in body,” who have in the sense of those words, “done good”? and what, those who have “done bad”? Paul, in another place, answers these questions. He says God “will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well doing (he will render) eternal life. But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish … in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ” (Rom. 2:6–9, 16). The same fact he announces in more specific terms to the Galatians (6:7, 8), “Be not deceived; for God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap LIFE EVERLASTING.”
Paul does not mention the judgment in this testimony; but it is evident that it relates to the judgment, since life everlasting is not “reaped” in the present state of existence, and “corruption” befalls all alike, without reference to the “sowing.” It is evident that the results of the present life are to be dispensed at the judgment-seat. Paul, indeed, expressly declares it in the words already quoted, “that we may receive,” etc. This is reasonable, and befitting of the Deity, who is “a God of order” to the utmost exactitude in all things.
If this be so, does it not follow that prior to the judgment-seat, both classes of those subject to judgment, occupy the neutral position they hold in the present life, commingling indiscriminately, awaiting the tribunal, none knowing who is who? Is it not evident that the judgment-seat forms the great natural boundary line between probation and exaltation: the great crisis for determining the standing of the many who have been “called”; the time for that disclosure of divine secrets, which results in the severing of the wicked from among the just, and the rejection and the condemnation of the one, and the acceptance and glorification of the other? If so, it follows that up to the appearance of the dead before Christ to give an account, these questions are undecided, so far as their effect in relation to them is concerned. They are, of course, known to the divine mind, as we have already had occasion to consider, but not declared or enforced. Christ, as the judge of the quick and dead, is entrusted with that very office.
What is the conclusion from these Scriptural premises? There is only one: that the dead assembled for judgment are men and women in the flesh recovered from the grave, reproduced, and made to “STAND AGAIN” (anastasis) in the presence of their Lord and Judge, to have it determined whether they are worthy of receiving the “hidden manna” of eternal life, for which they are all candidates, or deserving of reconsignment to corruption and death, under the special solemn circumstance of rejection by him who is “altogether lovely.” Thus, those who are alive when the Lord comes, and those who emerge from the grave at that period, will be on a footing of perfect equality. They will all be gathered together into the one Great Presence, for the one great dread purpose of inquisition. Not until they hear the spoken words of the King will they know how it is to fare with them. All depends upon the “account.” This can only be accurately estimated by the Judge. A righteous man will tremble and underrate his position; on the other hand, “the wicked” may venture with coolness and effrontery before that august tribunal, to recount with complacence and confidence the list of their claims to the Messiah’s consideration:—“Have we not prophesied [preached] in thy name, and in thy name done many wonderful works?”
It is evident from three things—from the reason of the thing, from Christ’s parables, and Paul’s and Peter’s statements—that the judgment will be no dumb show, no wholesale indiscriminate division of classes, but will be an individual reckoning. “Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). It might naturally be fancied that persons before the judgment-seat would simply be paralysed and rendered powerless to utter their minds; but it must be remembered that the power is then and there present that touched Daniel, and made him stand on his feet, when he was felled to the earth by the terrors of angelic presence; and, doubtless, this power will be put forth to enable all calmly, clearly, and with deliberation to manifest themselves as they are. Enswathed by the human spirit “mesmerically” applied, this result can now be partially achieved; how much more when the power of the Highest sustains, will those who are acted upon by it, feel isolated from all perturbing influences, and be enabled to concentrate their minds upon the solemn task they have to perform.
The idea that the righteous dead will spring into being in a state of incorruption, and that the living faithful will be instantaneously transformed, in their scattered places throughout the earth, and changed into the spiritual nature before appearing in the presence of Christ (though apparently countenanced by testimonies which are superficially construed by those who read them) is an error of a serious complexion, since it practically sets aside the New Testament doctrine of the judgment (itself a first principle), and tends to destroy the sense of responsibility and circumspection induced by a recognition of the fact that we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, that we may receive in body according to that we have done, whether good or bad.
To profess a belief in the judgment while holding this view, is only to retain a form of words out of deference to New Testament phraseology while having lost that which is represented by the words. If the dead are to awake to incorruptibility or death, according to their deserts, Jesus is robbed of his honour as judge, and the judgment-seat is robbed of its utility and its terror. If the living are to be subject to immortalisation, say in their own houses, before Christ pronounces them blessed, is the judgment-seat not a mere empty form? If (worse than all) the wicked are not to be there to hear and receive their doom, it is no judgment at all, but a mere muster of the chosen; no terror at all, but a ceremony divested of every element of anxiety, since to have a part in it, according to this theory, is to be safe beyond miscarriage; no rendering to every man according to his deeds, whether good or bad; but a mere bestowal of gifts and honours upon the King’s assorted friends. Yet this is the mistaken view which many are led to entertain by a superficial reading of certain parts of the apostolic testimony. We shall consider those passages in detail.
I Thess. 4:16. The Dead in Christ SHALL RISE FIRST.—On this it is contended that the accepted will come forth from the grave first; but a reference to the context will show that the comparison implied in these words, is between the dead righteous and the living righteous, and not between the righteous dead and the wicked dead. The Thessalonians were apparently mourning the death of some of their number in a way that indicated a fear on their part that the deceased had lost something by dying. Paul assures them that this was a mistake. “We which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (or go before) them which are asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. THEN (or second) we which are alive and remain shall be caught up,” etc. Paul simply means to teach that the dead are restored to life and perfected before the living enter upon the inheritance, and that, therefore, the dead lose nothing by dying. “Wherefore,” says he, “comfort one another with these words.”
“Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection; on such the second death hath no power” (Rev. 20:6). It is argued upon this that none of the wicked can be raised at that time. The question turns upon the words “have part in the first resurrection.” What is it “to have part in the first resurrection”? The word translated “part” is meros, and this is defined by Parkhurst to mean “a piece, part, portion, fellowship, lot,” etc.; hence, to have part in the first resurrection, is to have “a piece, part, portion, fellowship, or lot,” at the coming of Christ. To merely come forth is not to have a portion in the resurrection that takes place. There will be many at the judgment-seat who will be dismissed without a “piece, part, portion, lot, or fellowship.” The King will refuse to own them. On such the second death hath power, but on those who attain to the condition of things that John witnessed and described as “the first resurrection,” viz., a living and reigning with Christ a thousand years—“the second death hath no power.” As Jesus says, “Neither can they die any more, for they are equal unto the angels.”
“They who shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world and the RESURRECTION FROM THE DEAD, neither marry nor are given in marriage,” etc. (Luke 20:35). On the strength of this, it is contended that the unworthy will not come out of the grave at the time the worthy come forth to “obtain that world.” The argument is based on a misconstruction of the verse. “The resurrection from the dead” is something more than the act of rising from the grave. “Resurrection” involves the act of rising from the dust, but comprehends more than this in many parts of the New Testament. For instance, the Sadducees asked Jesus, “IN THE RESURRECTION whose wife shall she be?” (Matt. 22:28)—that is, in the state to which the dead will rise. How would the question read if construed “whose wife shall she be in the act of rising from the grave”? Again, “In the Resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30)—that is, in the state to which the dead rise. Again, “they that have done good (shall come forth) unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of condemnation”; that is, one class come out of the grave to one resurrection-state, and the other to another resurrection-state. It is testified that Paul preached Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:18). This could not mean that Paul simply preached the act of rising from the grave. The mere act of rising from the grave is not necessarily a good thing. Lazarus and the son of the widow of Nain rose from the grave, but not to the resurrection (state) preached by Paul. They merely received a renewal of mortal life. The wicked of a certain class will rise from the grave, but the act of rising will not be to them a gladsome event, but the contrary; they would prefer to be left in the oblivion of the tomb. Everything depends upon THE STATE to which the rising from the grave is the introduction. Paul preached the resurrection-state of incorruption and immortality. To this state, the dead have to rise. The mere act of rising is not the resurrection. It is involved in it; it is a part, but as employed in the Scriptures, it requires the state after coming out of the grave to be added, before the idea expressed by the word resurrection is complete.
Another illustration of this is to be found in a passage on which the opponents of this idea rely: “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them; and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads or in their hands, and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This (what? The state of things that John witnessed—the reigning of the accepted for a thousand years)—THIS IS THE FIRST RESURRECTION” (Rev. 20:4, 5). There is no mention of the act of coming out of the grave. John merely sees certain persons who had been dead, occupying a certain position with Christ; and, describing the scene as a whole, he calls it THE FIRST RESURRECTION. Evidently the word resurrection cannot here be restricted to the act of rising from the grave. Many will have a part in this “first resurrection” who will never go into the grave at all, viz., “those who are alive and remain.” “Resurrection” here broadly covers a state and a time to which the persons seen are introduced by rising from the death-state, whether in that state they are below the sod, or walking above it in mortality. But both living and dead will have to appear before the judgment-seat, before they take the position in which John saw them, and when they appear at the judgment-seat they will have companions whom they will never see again, for to some, Christ will “say unto them in that day … I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:22, 23). Such will be “ASHAMED before him at his coming” (I John 2:28; Dan. 12:2).
A principal obstacle is found in the words, “The rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” This is made an obstacle by assuming that it applies to the unfaithful servants of Christ. This assumption is evidently a mistake, because the vision of John comprehended only the resurrection of the just, who “lived and reigned with Christ.” All that the passage really proves is, that there is to be no more resurrection of dead people after Christ has come till the end of the thousand years. It is certain that it is not intended to teach, and, as we have seen, does not teach, that there will be no resurrection of unjust at the coming of Christ. No one part of the Scriptures can violate the unequivocal testimony of other parts. To admit of the common interpretation of Rev. 20:6, would be to abandon the New Testament doctrine of judgment.
But the greatest stumbling-block with those who deny the judgment of the saints consists of Paul’s statements on the subject of resurrection in I Cor. 15: “So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.… The dead shall be raised incorruptible” (verses 42–44, 52). Restricting these words to the mere act of emergence from the ground, they naturally seem an express affirmation, that the body is incorruptible, spiritual, and immortal from the first moment of its restoration; and that, therefore, judgment is anticipated and superseded by this silent proclamation of acceptance, and that nothing lies between those thus rising incorruptible and perfected salvation, but a joyous reunion with the Lord.
The mistake consists in construing Paul’s words too narrowly, and reading them as if he were dealing with the dramatic incidents of the resurrection, instead of the state of existence to which the act of resurrection leads. Paul is not discussing the scientific aspect of the subject. He is not defining the process by which a dead man ascends from the depths of corruption to the nature of the angels; the literal details are foreign to the subject before his mind. He is dealing with the broad question propounded by the objector; first, how—as a question of possibility—are the dead raised? and second, for or to (“with” not being in the original) what body do they come?
He introduces Adam and Christ in proof of his proposition that “there is a natural body and a spiritual body.” He quotes the record of Moses with reference to Adam in proof of the existence of a natural body. “The first man, Adam, was made a living soul” (or natural body). His proof of the second lies in this: “the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.” No supposing a person, ignorant of the history of Christ, were to receive his impressions of Christ’s history from this statement—supposing he had no other source of information—would he not come to the conclusion that “the last Adam” was a spiritual body from the first moment of his existence? Would he ever conclude from it that “the last Adam” was first a helpless babe at Bethlehem, clad in the flesh-and-blood-nature of his mother; then a boy, submissive to his parents; then a carpenter, helping in the workshop to earn a livelihood for the family; then anointed with the Holy Spirit and power, going about doing good, and performing works “which none other man did,” and that, finally, he was abandoned of the power of God, and crucified through weakness, even the weakness of frail human nature? Would the uninformed and the superficial reader of Paul’s allusion to the last Adam learn from it that not only the first Adam, but the last Adam also, was a natural body for thirty-three-and-a-half years, and that he only became a life-giving spirit, by the power of God, in his resurrection?
By no means. All these facts, so familiar to us, are elliptically compressed into the words “was made.” A process with so many striking features is expressed in a way which, if there were no other information, would conceal it. If this is the case with reference to Christ—if we are at liberty to believe against the appearance of things in I Cor. 15 that Christ was first a living soul and then a quickening spirit, why need there be a greater difficulty in reference to his people, whose re-awakening in the flesh and appearance at the judgment-seat is kept out of sight, in a phrase which its use in other cases admits to the possibility of covering the whole ground?
Coincidentally and elliptically speaking, “the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we—the living—shall be changed.” Both events will occur at the advent. This is true, speaking broadly of the subject, without reference to details; but it is not, therefore, untrue that both classes will “appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, to receive in body according to what they have done, whether good or bad” (II Cor. 5:10). A general statement of truth cannot exclude the involved particulars, though it may appear to do so. The course of true wisdom is, not to set one part of the Word against another part, but to harmonise apparent conflict, by giving effect to all details, and finding a place for these in all general forms of the same truth. This course is not taken by those who, on the strength of the chapter discussed, would deny that the dead come forth to judgment with reference to their candidature for immortality. On the contrary, they put Paul here in conflict with Paul elsewhere. They erect his general and elliptical declarations on the subject of the resurrection, as barriers to his own particular statements in other places, and those of Christ and his apostles generally.
In opposition to this course, we have endeavoured to find, in I Cor. 15, a place for all these features; a place unseen by the unacquainted reader, but detectable by those having Paul’s general teaching in view. Paul is in harmony with himself. The resurrection includes all that is divinely associated with it. The upshot is incorruption, glory, power, and spirituality of nature, but these are only reached through the tribunal which will “make manifest the counsels of the heart.” Prior to this, the future is a sealed book, except in so far as it is reflected in a man’s conscience. The judgment will settle all, separating the chaff from the wheat, and determining who are the saints, in deed and in truth, and who the unprofitable servants, who have had but a name to live, and are dead.
We commend to the serious consideration of every one interested, the sobering fact that there is a day appointed when God shall judge the secrets of men by Christ Jesus, justifying the righteous and condemning the wicked. It is a fact that will encourage, strengthen, and sustain every person who, having been enlightened and joined to the brotherhood of Christ, is working with a single eye, as seeing him who is invisible; and it is a fact that, vividly realised, will correct and purify those who, in a similar position, may be suffering themselves to be diverted from the path of truth and duty by considerations of a temporal nature. The record exhibited at the judgment-seat is written now in the lives of those who will appear there. The one will be an exact reflex of the other. A faithful stewardship sustained now will be honoured then with praise, recognition, and promotion: while an opposite course will bring exposure, shame, condemnation, and death. “The wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the promotion of fools.”