From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead
Thus much of the highest degree of ChristŐs exaltation in His kingdom. Now follows the last point to be believed concerning Christ, in these words: From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And they contain a proof or a particular declaration of the former article. For as on earth those that are set at the right hand of kings do execute justice in courts or assizes for the maintenance of the state and peace of the kingdom; so Christ Jesus sitting at the right hand of His Father, that is, being made sovereign Lord of all things both in heaven and earth, is to hold a court of assize, in which He shall come to judge both the quick and the dead.
Now in handling the last judgment, we are to consider these points:
I. Whether there shall be a judgment or not?
II. The time of it.
III. The signs thereof.
IV. The manner of it.
V. The use which is to be made thereof.
Of these in order:
For the first point, whether there shall be a judgment or not; the question is needful; for as St Peter saith (2 Pet. 3:3), There shall come in the last days mockers, which shall walk after their lusts and say, Where is the promise of His coming? Which days are now. The answer to this question is set down in this article, in which we profess that the coming of Christ to the last judgment is a point of religion specially to be held and avouched. The reasons to prove it are principally two:
1. First, the testimony of God Himself in the books of the Old and New Testament, which afford unto us plentiful proofs touching the last judgment, so as he which will but slightly read the same shall not need to doubt thereof.
2. The second reason is taken from the justice and goodness of God, the property whereof is to punish wicked and ungodly men, and to honour and reward the godly. But in this world the godly man is most of all in misery (for judgment beginneth at GodŐs house), and the ungodly have their hearts ease. Wicked Dives had the world at will, but poor Lazarus is hunger-bitten, full of sores and miserable every way. This being so, it remaineth that after this life, there must needs be a judgment and a second coming of Christ, when the godly must receive fullness of joy and glory, and the ungodly fullness of woe and misery. This second reason may stop the mouths of all gainsayers in the world whatsoever.
But it may be objected that the whole world stands either of believers or unbelievers, and that there is no last judgment for either of these; for the believer, as Christ saith (John 5:24), hath everlasting life and shall not come into judgment; and the unbeliever (John 3:18) is condemned already, and therefore needeth no further judgment. Answer: Where it is said, he that believeth shall not come into judgment, it must be understood of the judgment of condemnation, and not of the judgment of absolution; and he that believes not, is condemned already in effect and substance three ways:
(1) in the counsel of God, who did foresee and appoint his condemnation as it is a punishment of sin and execution of His justice.
(2) In the Word of God, where he hath his condemnation set down.
(3) He is condemned in his own conscience; for every ungodly manŐs conscience is a judge unto himself, which doth every hour condemn him, and is a forerunner of the last judgment. And notwithstanding all this, there may remain a second judgment, which is a manifestation and finishing of that which was begun in the world; and therefore the meaning of that place is this: he that believeth not is already judged in part, but so as the full manifestation thereof shall be at the second coming of Christ.
The second circumstance is the time of His judgment; in handling whereof, first let us see what is the judgment of men; secondly, what is the truth.
1. For the first, two opinions touching this time take place:
(1) The first is that the second coming of Christ shall be about six thousand years from the beginning of the world, and for the electsŐ sake some of these days may be shortened; and now since the beginning of the world, are passed five thousand and almost six hundred years, so as there remains but some four hundred. The grounds of this opinion are these:
(i) First, the testimony of Elias: Two thousand years before the law; two thousand years under the law; and two thousand years under Christ. And for the electsŐ sake some of these years shall be shortened. Answer: This was not the sentence of Elias the prophet, but of another Elias which was a Jew, no prophet. And whereas he saith, two thousand years before the law and two thousand years under the law; he faileth. For from the giving of the Law to the coming of Christ was about one thousand and five hundred years; and from the Law to the Creation, about two thousand. Now if Elias cannot set down a just number for the time past, which a mean man may do, what shall we think that he can do for the time to come? And if he deceives us in that which is more easy to find, how shall we trust him in things that be harder?
(ii) The second reason is this: How long God was in creating the world, so long He shall be in governing the same. But He was six days in creating the world, and in the seventh He resteth, and so proportionally He shall be six thousand years in governing the world; every day answering to a thousand years, as Peter saith (2 Pet. 3:8), A thousand years are but as one day with God, and then shall the end be. Answer: This reason likewise hath no ground in GodŐs Word. As for that place of Peter, the meaning is that innumerable years are but as a short time with God, and we may as well say two thousand or ten thousand years are but as one day with God. For Peter meant not to speak anything distinctly of a thousand years, but of a long time (a certain number put for an uncertain).
(iii) Thirdly, it is alleged that within six thousand years from the creation of the world, shall appear in the heavens strange conjunctions and positions of the stars, which signify nothing else but the subversion of the state of the world; nay, some have noted that the end thereof should have been in the year of our Lord, a thousand five hundred eighty eight; their writings are manifest; but we find by experience that this opinion is false and frivolous, and their grounds be as frivolous. For no man can gather by the ordinary change in the heavens, the extraordinary change of the whole world.
(2) The second opinion is that the end of the world shall be three years and a half after the revealing of Antichrist. And it is gathered out of places in Daniel and the Revelation, abused. Where a time, times and half a time signify not three years and a half, but a short time. And therefore to take the words properly, is far from the meaning of the Holy Ghost. For mark, if the end shall be three years and a half after the revealing of Antichrist, then may any man know aforehand the particular month wherein the end of the world should be, which is not possible.
2. Now the truth which may be avouched against all, is this: that no man can know, or set down, or conjecture the day, the week, the month, the year, or the age wherein the second coming of Christ and the last judgment shall be. For Christ Himself saith (Matt. 24:36), Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no not the angels in heaven, but God only. Nay, Christ Himself, as He is man, knew it not. And when the disciples asked Christ at His ascension, whether He would restore the kingdom unto Israel, He answered (Acts 1:7), It is not for you to know the times and seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power. And Paul saith (1 Thess. 5:1,2), Of the times and seasons, brethren, you have not need that I write unto you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord shall come even as a thief in the night. Now we know that a man that keepeth his house, cannot conjecture or imagine when a thief will come; and therefore no man can set down the particular time or age when Christ shall come to judgment. This must we hold steadfastly, and if we read the contrary in the writings of men, we are not to believe their sayings, but account of them as the devices of men, which have no ground in GodŐs Word.
To come to the third point, namely, the signs of the last judgment, they are of two sorts: some go before the coming of Christ and some are joined with it.
1. The signs that go before are in number seven, recorded distinctly by the Holy Ghost:
(1) The first is the preaching of the gospel through the whole world. So our Saviour Christ saith (Matt. 24:14), This gospel of the kingdom must be preached through the whole world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come. Which place must thus be understood: not that the gospel must be preached to the whole world at any one time; for that (as I take it) was never yet seen neither shall be, but that it shall be published distinctly and successively at several times; and thus understanding the words of Christ, if we consider the time since the apostlesŐ days we shall find this to be true, that the gospel hath been preached to all the world, and therefore the first signs of ChristŐs coming is already past and accomplished.
(2) The second sign of His coming is the revealing of Antichrist, as Paul saith (2 Thess. 2:3), The day of Christ shall not come before there be a departure first, and that man of sin be disclosed, even the son of perdition, which is Antichrist. Concerning this sign, in the year of our Lord 602, Gregory, the first pope of Rome, avouched this solemnly as a manifest truth, that whosoever did take to himself the name of Universal Bishop, the same was Antichrist. Now five years after, Boniface succeeding him, was by Phocas the emperor instituted the Universal Bishop, pastor of the Catholic church, in the year of our Lord 607; and of all popes he was the first known Antichrist, and since him all his successors have taken unto them the same title of Universal and Catholic Bishop, whereby it doth plainly appear that at Rome hath been and is the Antichrist. And this sign is also past.
(3) The third, is a general departing of most men from the faith. For it is said in the place before named (2 Thess. 2:3), Let no man deceive you: for the day of Christ shall not come except there be a departing first. General departure hath been in former ages. When Arius spread his heresy, it took such place that the whole world almost became an Arian. And during the space of nine hundred years from the time of Boniface, the popish heresy spread itself over the whole earth, and the faithful servants of God were but as an handful of wheat in a mountain of chaff, which can scarce be discerned. This sign is in part already past, nevertheless it shall continue to the end, because men shall continually depart from the faith. And the nearer the end of the world is, the more Satan rageth and seeketh to bring men into his kingdom. Therefore it standeth us in hand to labour for the knowledge of true religion, and having learned it, most heartily to love the same.
(4) The fourth sign is a general corruption in manners. This point the apostle sets down at large, saying (2 Tim. 3:1-4), Toward the latter days shall come perilous times, wherein men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, boasters, proud, cursed speakers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy and without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, intemperate, fierce, despisers of them which are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God etc. This general corruption in the manners of men is noted by our Saviour Christ, when He saith (Luke 18:8), When He cometh, he shall scarce find faith upon the earth. This sign hath been in former ages, and is no doubt at this day in the world. For it is hard to find a man that walketh justly, soberly and faithfully, doing the duties of his calling to God and man.
(5) The fifth sign of Christ His coming standeth in terrible and grievous calamities. For ChristŐs disciples asking Him a sign of His coming and of the end of the world, He saith (Matt. 24:6,7), There shall be wars and rumours of wars, nation shall rise against nation and realm against realm; and there shall be pestilence and famine, and earthquakes in divers places, and men shall be at their wits end. These have been in former ages. In the first three hundred years after Christ were ten more fearful persecutions; and since in Europe the church of God hath been wonderfully persecuted by the Antichrist of Rome in the hundred years last past.
(6) The sixth sign is an exceeding deadness of heart, so as neither judgment from heaven nor the preaching of the Word shall move the hearts of men. So Christ saith (Luke 17:26,29), It shall be in the coming of the Son of man, as it was in the days of Noah and in the days of Sodom. They knew nothing till the flood came and fire from heaven destroyed them all. This sign undoubtedly is manifest in these our days, howsoever it hath been also in former times. For where are any almost that are moved with GodŐs judgment, or touched at the preaching of the Word? Nay, rather men harden their hearts and become secure and careless. The small fruit that the Word of God bringeth forth in the lives of men, shews this to be most true.
(7) The seventh and last sign set down by the apostle Paul (Rom. 11:25), is that there shall be a calling of the Jews before the Lord come to judgment. But of the time when this calling shall be, of the manner how, or the number of them that shall be called, there is no mention made in the Word of God. Now it is likely that this sign is yet to come.
2. These are the signs that go before the coming of Christ, all which are almost past, and therefore the end cannot be far off. Now follows the sign that is joined with the coming of Christ, called the sign of the Son of man (Matt. 24:30). What this sign is, we find not in the Scriptures. Some think it to be the sign of the cross, but this is frivolous. Some, the glory and majesty of Christ, which shall be made manifest in His appearance; which seems to be otherwise by the very words of Christ (Matt. 24:30), Then (saith He) shall appear the sign of the Son of man etc., and then they shall see Him come in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory; where He distinguisheth the one from the other. But I rather conjecture it to be the burning of heaven and earth with fire at the very instant of ChristŐs coming mentioned in Peter (2 Pet. 3:10). We must not here dispute whence this fire shall come, or how it shall be kindled, for that the Word of God hath concealed; and where God hath no mouth to speak, there we must have no ear to hear.
The uses to be made hereof are these:
Use 1. When St Peter had set down the change that shall be at the coming of Christ, and that heaven and earth must be purged with fire, he makes this use thereof (2 Pet. 3:11): Seeing all things must be dissolved, what manner of men ought we to be in holy conversation and godliness? And the reason is good. For if heaven and earth must be changed and purged at ChristŐs coming, then much more ought we to be changed, and put off the old man of sin, and to become new creatures created after the image of God in righteousness and true holiness. If the brute creatures must be renewed by fire, then much more are we to labour that the heat of GodŐs Spirit may burn up sin and corruption in us, and so change us that we may be ready for Him against His coming; else heaven and earth itself shall stand in judgment against us to our condemnation.
Use 2. Secondly, the consideration of this, that the world shall be consumed with fire, teacheth us moderation and sobriety in the use of GodŐs creatures, as in costly building, gorgeous attire and such like. What madness is this to bestow all that we have on such things as at the day of judgment shall be consumed with fire? For look whatsoever abuse shall come to GodŐs creaturs by our folly, the same shall then be abolished.
Use 3. Thirdly, we must consider that the cause why heaven and earth must be consumed with fire, is manŐs sin, by means whereof they are made subject to vanity and corruption. Here then we have just occasion to acknowledge the greatness and wretchedness of our sins. If any of us had but seen the JewsŐ leprosy, it would have made us to wonder; for the contagion thereof did infect not only the whole man, but his garments also that were about him (Lev. 13:2,47; 14:54), and sometimes the walls of his house; but howsoever we cannot see the leprosy among us, yet we may see a worse. For the leprosy of our sins doth not only infect our garments, and the things about us with our bodies; but even the high heavens and the earth are stained with the contagion thereof, and are made subject to vanity and corruption. Yes, by sin in us, the most glorious creatures in them, as the sun, moon and stars, are become subject to vanity. Oh then, how wretched is the heart of man, that makes no bones of sin, which is the most noisome thing in all the world, the stink whereof hath infected both heaven and earth? If we could consider this, we would not be so slack in humbling ourselves for the same as we are. We cannot abide to look on a poor lazar full of blains and sores; but if we would see our sins in their right colours, they would make us seem unto ourselves ten thousand times more ugly than any lazar-man can be; the contagion thereof is so great and noisome that the very heavens which are many thousand miles distant from us, are infected therewith. Yet here we are to know that this fire shall not consume the substance of heaven and earth, but only change the quality, and abolish the corruption which our sins have brought upon them.
The fourth point to be considered is the manner of the last judgment, in which we may observe two things:
1. The first is expressed in this article: From thence He shall come to judge. He, that is, Christ Jesus, the second Person in Trinity. For the Father hath committed all judgment unto Him (John 5:22). It is indeed an action common to all the three Persons in Trinity, but yet the execution thereof appertains to the Son. The Father indeed doth judge the world, but yet by the Son. But some may object that (Matt. 19:28) the apostles shall sit on twelve thrones, and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. And St Paul saith (1 Cor. 6:2), The saints shall judge the world. How then is this true, that Christ is the only judge of the world? Answer: The authority of judgment and giving sentence at the last day is proper to Christ alone, and doth not belong either to the apostles or to the saints; and they shall judge at the last day only as witness and approvers of ChristŐs judgment. At the great day of assize, beside the judge, the justices on the bench are also in a manner judges, not that they give sentence, but because by their presence, they approve and witness the equity of the sentence of the judge. So the definitive sentence doth belong to Christ; and the apostles and saints do nothing but approve, and being present assent to His righteous sentence.
2. The whole proceeding of the last judgment may be reduced to seven points or heads:
(1) The first is the coming of the judge in the clouds. Here at the first, may be demanded why Christ holds the last judgment rather on earth than in heaven? Answer: He doth it for two causes:
(i) One, the creature to be judged hath sinned here upon earth; and He proceeds after the manner of earthly judges, who hold their session and assizes there where trespasses are commonly committed.
(ii) The second, because the devil and his angels are to be judged, and it is a part of their punishment to be cast out of heaven. For no unclean thing may come into this heavenly Jerusalem, and therefore they now remain in the lower parts of the world, and there must be judged.
Furthermore, the second coming of Christ is sudden, as the coming of a thief in the night (Luke 21:35). He will come when the world thinketh not of Him, as the snare doth on the bird. The consideration whereof must teach us the same duties which our Saviour Christ taught the men of His time:
(i) First He teacheth them what they must not do; for He knowing all things, knew also the disposition of manŐs heart and therefore saith (Luke 21:34), Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be oppressed with surfeiting and drunkenness and the cares of this life, lest that day come on you unawares. For these sins benumb the heart and steal away all grace. This exhortation in these our days is most needful. For menŐs hearts are like the smithyŐs stithy; the more they are beaten with the hammer of GodŐs Word, the harder they are.
(ii) Secondly, He teacheth them what they must do (Luke 21:36): Watch therefore (saith He) and pray continually; that ye may be counted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and that we may stand before the Son of man. But you will say, How may we be found worthy to stand before Christ at that day? Answer: Do but this one thing: for your lives past be humbled before God, and come unto Him by true, hearty and unfeigned repentance; be changed and become new creatures; pray earnestly for the pardon of your sins in Christ, and pray continually that God will turn your hearts from your old sins every day more and more; and then come the last judgment when it will, ye shall be found worthy to stand before Christ at His coming. The repentant sinner is he that shall find favour in the sight of God at that day. The consideration hereof may move us to change our lives. Those which were never yet humbled for their sins, let them now begin; and those which have already begun, let them go forward and continue. But the devil will cry in the hearts of some men that this exhortation is as yet needless; for the day of judgment is not near, because all the signs are not yet passed. Answer: Suppose the day of judgment be far off, yet the day of death cannot be so, for the common saying is true: today a man, tomorrow none. Now look as death leaveth thee, so shall the day of judgment find thee. Impenitent Cain died long since, and yet the day of judgment when it cometh, shall find him impenitent still. The same thing may be said of Saul, Ahithophel and Judas. They died desperately and impenitent, and the Lord shall find them so at His coming. So will it be with thee, whatsoever thou art that repenteth not. Death may come upon thee, the next day or the next hour, therefore watch and pray. Prepare thyself against the day of death, that at the day of judgment thou mayest be found worthy to obtain favour in the sight of the Lord. Security doth overwhelm the world; but let us for our parts learn to prepare ourselves daily; for if the day of death do leave thee unworthy, then the Lord Jesus at His coming shall find thee unworthy; and the devil shall stand before thee and accuse thee, thy conscience shall condemn thee, and hell shall be ready to swallow thee up. If this admonition take no place in thy heart, then the day of judgment it shall stand against thee, and be a bill of inditement to thy further condemnation.
(2) The second point follows: that Christ after that He is come in the clouds, shall sit in a throne of glory (Matt. 25:31) as the sovereign judge of heaven and earth, after the manner of earthly kings, who when they will shew themselves unto their subjects in majesty, power and glory, use to ascend into the thrones of their kingdoms, and there to shew themselves and appear in state unto all the people. Now what this throne is, and how Christ sits in the same, the Scripture hath not revealed, and therefore I will not stand to search. Yet here must we further mark that this appearance of His in endless glory and majesty shall be more terrible and dreadful to the ungodly, and therefore in Daniel (Dan. 7:9), His throne is said to be like a flame of fire, and at the very sight thereof men shall desire the mountains to fall upon them and the hills to cover them.
(3) The third point is the citing of all men and of the angels before His majesty in that day, there to answer for themselves. This citing shall be done by the voice of Christ, as He Himself saith (John 5:28,29), In that day all that are in the graves shall hear His voice and they shall come forth. And here we are to consider two things: (i) The power of His voice, and (ii) the minister whereby it shall be uttered.
(i) For the first, no doubt the power of His voice shall be unspeakable, and therefore it is compared to a trumpet (Matt. 24:31), the loudest and shrillest of all musical instruments; and to the cry of the mariners (1 Thess. 4:16), whose manner hath been in the doing of any business with all their strength at one instant to make a common shout. And sensible experience shall manifest the force thereof. For it shall cause all the dead even from the beginning of the world to rise again, though they have lien rotten in the earth many thousand years; and all unclean spirits shall be forced and compelled, will they, nil they, to come before Christ, who shall be unto them a most fearful and terrible judge, neither man nor angel shall be able to absent or hide himself; all without exception must appear, as well high as low, rich as poor; none shall be able to withdraw themselves, no not the mighty monarchs of the earth.
(ii) Furthermore, this voice shall be uttered by angels (Matt. 24:31). As in the church Christ useth men as His ministers by whom He speaks unto His people; so at the last day He shall use the ministry of angels, whom He shall send forth into the four winds to gather His elect together; and therefore it is likely that this voice shall be uttered by them. And by this which hath been said, we must be moved to make conscience of all sin. For there is no avoiding of this judgment, we cannot absent ourselves, no excuse will serve the turn; even the most rebellious of all creatures, whether man or angel, shall be forced to appear; and therefore it stands us in hand, while we have time in this life; to look unto our estates and to practise the duties of Christianity, that when we shall be cited before His glorious majesty at the last day, we may be cleared and absolved.
(4) The fourth point is the separation of the sheep from the goats, the good from the bad (Matt. 25:32); for which all the kindreds of the earth and all unclean spirits shall stand before Christ sitting in the throne of His glory; then as a good shepherd He shall separate them one from another, the righteous from the wicked, and the elect from the reprobate. He which knoweth the hearts of all men, knoweth also how to do this; and He will do it. This full and final separation is referred to Christ, and shall not be accomplished till the last day. For so it is in the parable (Matt 13:30), that the tares must grow with the wheat till harvest, and the reapers must separate them and gather the wheat into the barn, but the tares must be burnt with unquenchable fire. By the consideration of this one point, we learn divers things:
(i) That in the church of God in this world, good and bad are mingled together, elect and reprobate; and we are not to imagine any perfection of the church of God upon earth, as many have dreamed, which when they could not find, they have therefore forsaken all assemblies. I confess indeed that the preaching of the Word is the LordŐs fan whereby He cleanseth His church, in part, but yet the finishing of this work shall not be before the last judgment. For when the ministers of God have done all they can, yet shall the wicked be mingled with the godly. Therefore the church is compared to a barn floor where is both wheat and chaff; and a corn field where is both tares and good corn; and a drawnet wherein is both good fish and bad.
(ii) Secondly, whereas this separation must not be before the end of the world, hence we learn the estate of GodŐs church in this life. It is like a flock of sheep mingled with goats, and therefore the condition of GodŐs people in this world is to be troubled many ways by those with whom they live. For (Ezek. 34:18) goats use to strike the sheep, to annoy their pasture, and to make their water muddy that they cannot drink of it; and therefore we must prepare ourselves to bear all annoyances, crosses and calamities that shall befall us in this world by the wicked ones among whom we live.
(iii) Thirdly, we are taught that goats and the sheep be very like, and feed in one pasture, and lie both in one fold all their lifetime; yet Christ can and will sever them asunder at the last day. Therefore, considering as we are born of Adam, we have the nature of the goat, yea of the wild beast, and not of the sheep; it stands us in hand to lay aside our goatish condition, and to take unto us the properties of the sheep of Christ, which He expresseth in these words (John 10:27): My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. And the properties are three: to know Him; to be known of Him; and to follow Him; namely, in obedience; and he that finds them all in himself, wear the brand and mark of the true sheep of Christ. But contrariwise, they that make profession of Christ, and yet therewithal join not obedience; howsoever the world may account of them, they are but goats and no sheep. Let us therefore with the knowledge of Christ, join obedience to His Word, that when the day shall come that the goats must be separated from the sheep, we may be found to be in the number of the true sheep of Christ. We may deceive men both in life and death, and bear them in hand that we are sheep, but when the judgment shall come, we cannot deceive Christ; He it is that formed us; He knows our hearts, and therefore can easily discern what we are.
(5) The fifth thing is the trial of every manŐs particular cause; a point especially to be considered. For as at the bar of an earthly judge, the malefactor is brought out of prison and set before the judge and there examined; even so, in that great day shall every man without exception be brought before the Lord to be tried. But how shall this trial be made? Answer: By works, as the apostle saith (2 Cor. 5:10), We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that every man may receive the things which are done in the body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or evil. And the reason is because works are the outward signs of inward grace and holiness. And though we be justified by faith alone without works, yet may we be judged both by faith and works. For the last judgment doth not serve to make men just that are unjust, but only to manifest them to be just indeed, which are just before, and in this life truly justified. The consideration of this very point should move us all to repent us of our sins past, and to reform ourselves throughout, and to be plentiful in all good works. And undoubtedly if we seriously think upon it, it will hold us more straitly to all good duties, than if with the papists we held justification by works.
Furthermore, in this trial two things must be scanned: (i) How all menŐs works shall be made manifest; (ii) By what means they shall be examined.
(i) Of the manifestation of every manŐs work, St John speaks (Rev. 20:12): And I saw (saith he) the dead both great and small stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life, and the dead were judged of those things which were written in the book according to their works. God is said to have books not properly, but because all things are as certain and manifest to Him as if He had His registers in heaven to keep rolls and records of them. His books are three: The book of providence; the book of judgment; the book of life.
(a) The book of His providence is the knowledge of all particular things, past, present or to come. Of this the psalmist speaks (Psa. 139:16): Thine eyes did see me when I was without form; for in thy book were all things written, which in continuance were fashioned, when there was none of them before.
(b) The book of judgment is that whereby He gives judgment; and it is twofold:
i. The first is GodŐs knowledge or prescience, in which all the affairs of men, their thoughts, words and deeds, are as certainly known and set down, as if they were put in books of record. We may forget our sins, but God keeps them in a register; He knows them every one.
ii. The second book is every manŐs particular conscience, which also brings to remembrance and testifies what men have done and what they have not done.
(c) The book of life is nothing else but the decree of GodŐs election, in which God hath set down who be ordained to life eternal.
Now the opening of these books is a thing wherein the endless power of God shall most notably shew itself. For when we shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ, He then knowing all things in His eternal counsel, shall reveal unto every man his own particular sins, whether they were in thought, word or deed; and then also by His mighty power, He shall so touch menŐs consciences that they shall afresh remember what they have done. Now, indeed, the wicked manŐs conscience is shut up as a closed book; but then it shall be so touched, and as it were opened, that he shall plainly see and remember all the particular offences which at any time he hath committed, and his very conscience shall be as good as a thousand witnesses; whereupon he shall accuse and utterly condemn himself. The consideration of this ought to terrify all those that live in their sins; for howsoever they may hide and cover them from the world; yet at the last day, God will be sure to reveal them all.
(ii) Now after that menŐs works are made manifest, they must further be tried whether they be good or evil. And that shall be done on this manner: They that never heard of Christ must be tried by the law of nature, which serves to make them inexcusable before God. As for those that live in the church, they shall be tried by the law and the gospel, as Paul saith (Rom. 2:12): As many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law. And again (v.16): At the day of judgment God shall judge the secrets of our hearts according to His gospel. And (Heb. 11:7): By faith, Noah builded an ark whereby he condemned the old world. Then we must in the fear of God hear His Word preached and taught with all reverence, and make conscience to profit by it. For otherwise in the day of judgment when all our works shall be tried by it, the same Word of God shall be a bill of indictment, and the fearful sentence of condemnation against us. Therefore let us be humbled by the doctrine of the law, and willingly embrace the sweet promises of the gospel; considering it is the only touchstone whereby all our words, thoughts and works must be examined.
(6) The sixth point in the proceeding of the last judgment, is the giving of sentence, which is twofold: (i) The sentence of absolution, and (ii) The sentence of condemnation; both which are to be observed diligently, that we may receive profit thereby.
(i) And first of all, Christ shall begin His judgment with the sentence of absolution; which shews that He is ready to shew mercy and slow to wrath. In this sentence we are to consider four points:
(a) A calling of the elect to the kingdom of heaven.
(b) The reason thereof.
(c) A reply of the elect.
(d) The answer of Christ to them again.
(a) The calling of the elect is set down in these words (Matt. 25:34): Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. And the words are to be observed one by one:
Come ye blessed. Though Christ now sits in glory and majesty in judgment, yet He ceaseth not to shew His tender affection of love unto His chosen. And this overthroweth the opinion of the church of Rome, which would have us rather to come unto Christ by the intercession of saints than by ourselves immediately because He is now exalted in glory and majesty. But mark, when He was here on earth He said (Matt. 11:28), Come unto me all you that are heavy laden, and I will ease you. And when He shall be most glorious in majesty and power at the day of judgment, He will then also say, Come ye blessed of my Father, and therefore we may resolve ourselves that it is His will now that we should come unto Him without any intercession of saints.
Ye blessed of my Father. The elect are here called the blessed of God because their righteousness, salvation and all that they have, springs of the mere blessing of God. Nothing therefore must be ascribed to the work of man.
Inherit. That is, receive as your inheritance; therefore the kingdom of heaven is GodŐs mere gift. A father giveth no inheritance unto his son of merit, but of his free gift; whereupon it follows that no man can merit the kingdom of heaven by his works.
The kingdom. That is, the eternal estate of glory and happiness in heaven; therefore in this life we must so use the world as though we used it not; all that we have here is but vain and transitory; and all our study and endeavour must be to come to the kingdom of heaven.
Prepared. Here note the unspeakable care of God for the faithful. Had He such care to provide a kingdom for His children before they were? Then we may assure ourselves He will have greater care over them now, when they have a being.
For you. That is, for the elect and faithful. Hence it appears that there is no universal election whereby (as some suppose) God decrees that all and every man shall be saved. Indeed, if He had said, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for all, but received of you, it had been something; but He saith only, prepared for you; and therefore all were not chosen to salvation.
(b) The reason of this calling is taken from works, as from signs, in these words (Matt. 25:35): For I was hungry and ye gave me meat etc.
When He saith, For I was hungry, He means His poor and distressed members upon earth; and thereby He signifies to us that the miseries of His servants are His own miseries. Thus the Lord saith in Zechariah (Zech. 2:8), He which toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye. And when Saul was going to persecute them in Damascus and elsewhere that called on the name of Christ, He cried from heaven (Acts 9:4), Saul, Saul, Why persecutest thou me? And this is a notable comfort to GodŐs church and people, that (Heb. 4:15) they have an High Priest who is touched with the feeling of their infirmities, and if He account our miseries His own miseries, then no doubt He will pity our estate and make us able to bear the worst.
And ye gave me meat. Here we note that the principal works of men are those which are done to the poor members of Christ. We are indeed to help all, in as much as they are our very flesh and the creatures of God; but the rule of St Paul must be remembered (Gal. 6:10): Do good to all, but especially to those that are of the household of faith. Many are of the mind that the best works are to build churches and monasteries, but Christ tells us here that the best work of all is to relieve those that be the living members of His mystical body.
(c) The third point is the reply of the saints to Christ again, in these words (Matt. 25:37): Lord when saw we thee an hungred and fed thee? etc. They do not deny which Christ avouched, but do, as I take it, standing before the tribunal seat of God, humble themselves, having still an after consideration of the infirmities and offences of their lives past. Here note then that it is a satanic practice for a man to brag of works, and to stand upon them in the matter of justification before God. And we must rather do as the saints of God do: abase ourselves in regard of our sins past.
(d) The last point is the answer of Christ to them again, in these words (Matt. 25:40): Verily, I say unto you, in as much as ye did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. A most notable sentence; and it serveth to teach us how we should behave ourselves in doing works of mercy, which are duties to be performed in this life. We are not to do them of any sinister respect, as for praise of men or commodity, but we must propound unto ourselves the party to whom we do any good, and in him look on Christ, and so do it as unto Christ and for ChristŐs sake only; and this is a good work indeed. Christ saith (Matt. 10:42), Whosoever shall give a cup of cold water to a disciple in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward. It is but a small gift, but yet the manner of doing it, namely, in the name of a disciple, that is, in respect that he is a member of Christ, doth make it an excellent work of mercy. It is a special mark of a child of God to shew mercy on a Christian because he is a Christian. If any would know whether he is a Christian or no, let him search himself whether he love a man and can do good unto him because he is a child of God and a member of Christ. For this is a plain argument that he also is the child of God. Many can love because they are loved again; but to love for ChristŐs sake is a work of Christ in us and a special gift of God.
(ii) The sentence of condemnation followeth in the second place; and if contains four points:
(a) The rejection of the ungodly.
(b) The reason of their rejection.
(c) The defence which the wicked make for themselves.
(d) Lastly, the answer of Christ to them again.
(a)The rejection of the wicked is uttered by a terrible sentence (Matt. 25:41): Away from me ye cursed into hell fire. The use hereof is twofold:
i. First, it serves to awake and excite all men and women in the world, whosoever they be that shall hear it, to look unto their own estates. It is wonderful to see what great security reigneth everywhere in these our days. Men go on in sin from day to day and from year to year without repentance, nothing at all fearing the sentence of condemnation at the last day; like unto many which for the obtaining of other menŐs goods are neither by the fear of arraignment or imprisonment kept in good order. The occasions of security are twofold:
a. The prosperity of the wicked, who of all men live at most ease without trouble either in body or mind.
b. GodŐs patience and longsuffering, as Solomon saith ((Eccl. 8:11), Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the children of men are fully set in them to do evil. But to awake all those which live in their security; they must remember that howsoever the Lord God doth now defer His judgment, yet there is a day wherein He will no way shew mercy and longsuffering, when they shall hear this fearful sentence of condemnation pronounced against them: Away from me ye cursed.
ii. The second use is to the godly: It serves to nurture them and to keep them in awe before God; and no doubt this was a principal cause why this sentence was here penned by the Holy Ghost. A wise master of a family will check his servant, and if the cause require, correct him in his childŐs presence, that the child itself may learn thereby to fear and stand in awe of his father. So Christ, the most careful and wise governor of His church, hath set down this sentence of condemnation against the wicked, that the children of God in this world whensoever they shall hear or read the same, might be moved thereby to stand in fear of God, and more dutifully perform obedience unto His commandments.
Away from me. Here we may learn what a blessed thing it is for a man to have true fellowship with Christ in this world. For in the day of judgment the punishment of the wicked is to be cut off from him and driven away from his presence. Now he that would have fellowship with God after this life, and escape that punishment, must seek to have it in this life; and he that will not seek to have fellowship with Him in this life shall never have it after in the day of judgment. Again, let us mark that it is nothing to draw near to Christ with our lips if the heart be not with Him; for such as come near with the lip and keep aloof in the heart, shall hear the sentence pronounced: Away from me ye cursed; and shall be severed as far from Christ as hell from heaven. Therefore let us not content ourselves with formal profession, but open the doors of our hearts that the King of glory may come in.
Ye cursed. They are cursed who are born in sin and live in their sins, and all the days of their lives so persevere to the last gasp without seeking recovery. Whosoever he be that is in this estate, the curse of God hangeth over his head, and will so do till he get reconciliation with God in Christ. This being so, above all things in this world we must labour to be at peace with God, and never cease nor be quiet with ourselves till we have the same wrought and sealed in our hearts. For before such a time as we be in GodŐs favour, His fearful curse hangs over our heads, and if we so persevere without repentance, the day will come when we shall hear this fearful sentence pronounced against us: Away from me ye cursed into hell fire. What hell fire is, we must not curiously search, but rather give our whole endeavour to learn how we may avoid it; as when a manŐs house is on fire, his care must be not to search how it came, but rather how to quench it; yet we are to know thus much: that by hell fire is not meant any bodily flame, but it signifies the seizing of the fearful wrath of God both on body and soul for ever. For howsoever the body be subject to burning with bodily fire, yet the soul, being spiritual, cannot burn; and therefore hell fire is not a material fire but a grievous torment, fitly resembled thereby.
Prepared for the devil and his angels. There is in every manŐs heart by nature this corruption; whereby when he sinneth, he thinks there is no danger but all is well, having, as Isaiah saith (Isa. 28:15), made a covenant with hell. But here consider that although the devil was once an angel of light, yet when he had sinned, he could not escape hell; it was prepared even for him. How then shall ungodly men, which are no half so wily, think to escape?
(b) Now followeth the reason of their rejection in these words (Matt. 25:42,43): For I was an hungred and ye gave me no meat, etc. Hence we learn these two points:
i. That all manŐs religion and serving of God is in vain, if so be he shews no compassion towards the poor members of Christ, in feeding, clothing, lodging and visiting of them. For we must think that many of those against whom this reason shall be brought, did know religion and profess the same, yea, they prophesied in the name of Christ, and called on Him saying, Lord, Lord (Matt. 7:21-23); and yet the sentence of condemnation goeth against them because they shew no compassion towards the members of Christ; and therefore it is a principal virtue and a special note of a Christian to shew the bowels of compassion towards his needy brethren.
ii. Here again we note that it is not sufficient for us to abstain from evil, but we must also do good. For it is not said, I was an hungred and ye took from me, but (Matt. 25:42), When I was hungry ye gave me no meat. They are not charged with doing evil, but for not doing good. John Baptist saith (Matt. 3:10), The axe is laid to the root of the tree, and the reason follows: not because the tree bare evil fruit, but because it bare not good fruit; therefore it must be cast into the fire. This condemns a bad opinion of all worldly men, who think that all is well and that God will be merciful unto them because they do no harm. Thus we see how the devil blinds the eyes of men; for it will not stand for payment at the day of judgment to say, I have hurt no man, unless we further do all the good we can.
(c) The third point is the defence which impenitent sinners make for themselves in these words (Matt. 25:44): Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or thirsty, or naked, or in prison, or sick, and did not minister unto thee? Thus is their own defence: That which Christ saith, they gainsay, and justify themselves. Here mark the nature of all impenitent sinners, which is to soothe and flatter themselves in sin, and to maintain their own righteousness, like to the proud Pharisee in his prayer (Luke 18:11), who bragged of his goodness and said, Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners etc., and in the very same manner ignorant persons of all sorts among us, justify themselves in their strong faith and brag of their zeal of GodŐs glory and of their love to the brethren, and yet indeed shew no signs thereof. And truly we are not to marvel when we see such persons to justify themselves before men, whereas they shall not be ashamed to do it at the day of judgment before the Lord Jesus Himself.
(d) The last point is ChristŐs answer to them again, in these words (Matt. 25:45): Verily I say unto you, in as much as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. This sentence being repeated again, doth teach us the lesson which we learned before, that when we are to shew compassion to any man, especially if he be a member of GodŐs church, we must not consider his outward estate or his baseness, in that he wants food or raiment, but behold Christ in him, not respecting him as a man, but as a member of Christ. This it is that must move us to compassion and cause us to make a supply of his wants more than any respect in the world besides. And surely when Christ in his members comes to our doors and complains that he is hungry, and sick, and naked; if our bowels yearn not towards him, there is not so much as a spark of the love of God in us.
(7) The seventh point in the proceeding of the last judgment, is the retribution or reward, in these words (Matt. 25:46): And they shall go into everlasting pain, and the righteous into life eternal. How do the wicked enter hell, and the godly into heaven? Answer: By the powerful and commanding voice of Christ, which is of that force that neither the greatest rebel that ever was among men, nor all the devils in hell, shall be able to withstand it. And seeing that after the day of judgment we must remain forever either in heaven or in hell, we are to look about us and to take heed unto our hearts. Indeed if the time were but a thousand or two thousand years, then with more reason men might take liberty to themselves; but seeing it is without end, we must be more careful through the whole course of our lives so to live and behave ourselves, that when the day of judgment shall come, we may avoid that fearful sentence of everlasting woe and condemnation which shall be pronounced against the wicked. And whereas all wicked men shall go to hell at ChristŐs commandment; it teacheth us willingly to obey the voice of Christ in the ministry of the Word. For if we rebel against His voice in the world, when in the day of judgment sentence shall be pronounced against us, we shall hear another voice, at the giving whereof, we must obey whether we will or no, and thereupon go to everlasting pain, whether we would or not. Let us therefore in time deny ourselves for our sins past, and only rely upon Christ Jesus for the free remission of them all; and for the time to come, lead a new reformed life.
Thus much of the order of Christ His proceeding at the day of judgment. Now follow the uses thereof, which are either comforts to GodŐs church or duties for all men.
1. The comforts to GodŐs church:
(1) The first comfort or benefit is this: that the same Person which died for us upon the cross to work our redemption, must also be our judge. And hence we reap two special comforts:
(a) The people of God shall hereby enjoy full redemption from al miseries and calamities, which they had in this life. So Christ Himself speaking of the signs of the end of the world, saith to His disciples (Luke 21:28), When you see these things, lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth near. Then He shall wipe all tears from their eyes.
(b) Secondly, we shall hereby have a final deliverance from all sin. Now what a joyful thing it is to be freed from sin, may plainly appear by the cry of St. Paul (Rom. 7:24): O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death? And certain it is that he which knows what sin is, and seriously repents him of the same, would with all his heart to be out of this world, that he might leave off to sin, and thereby cease to displease God.
(2) The second comfort is this: the godly in this world have many enemies; they are reviled, slandered, and oftentimes put to death. Well, Christ Jesus at the day of judgment will take every manŐs cause into His own hand; He will then hear the complaint of the godly, howsoever in this world they found no remedy; and then He will revenge their blood that is shed upon the earth, according to their prayer. This comfort is to be considered, especially of all those that are any way persecuted, or molested by the wicked of this world.
2. Now follow the duties to be learned of every one of us, and they are divers:
(1) First, the consideration of the last judgment serveth to teach all ignorant persons and impenitent sinners, repentance and humiliation for their sins, and to move them with speed to seek unto Christ for the pardon of the same. When Paul preached to the Athenians (Acts 18:31), he willed them to repent upon this ground and reason: Because the Lord hath appointed a day wherein He will judge the world in righteousness. To speak plainly; we can be content to hear the Word of God, and to honour Him with our lips, yet for the most part, all is done but for fashionŐs sake; but still we live in our old sins; our hearts are not turned; but in the fear of God let us bethink ourselves of the time when we shall come before the judge of heaven and earth, and have all our sins laid open, and we must answer for them all. This is the point which the Holy Ghost useth as a reason to move men unto repentance; and assuredly if this will not move us, there is nothing in the world will.
(2) Secondly, to this purpose, Paul saith (1 Cor. 11:31), If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. Wouldest thou then escape the judgment of Christ at the last day? Then in this life judge thyself. Now a man in judging of himself must perform four things:
(a) He must examine himself of his own sins.
(b) He must confess them before the Lord.
(c) He must condemn himself, and as a judge upon the bench, give sentence against himself.
(d) Lastly, he must plead pardon and cry unto God as for life and death, for the remission of all his sins.
And he that doth this unfeignedly, shall never be judged of the Lord at the last day. But if we slack and neglect this duty in this life, then undoubtedly there remains nothing but eternal woe in the world to come.
(3) Thirdly, by this we may learn, one not to judge or condemn another, as Paul saith (1 Cor. 4:5), Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who will lighten all things that are in darkness, and make the counsels of the hearts manifest. And Christ saith (Luke 6:37), Judgment is mine; and, Judge not and ye shall be not judged. And again, Paul saith to the Romans (Rom. 14:10), Why doest thou judge thy brother? For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ. But some will ask, How doth one judge another? Answer: Thus:
(a) When a man doth well, to say of him that he doth evil.
(b) When a man doth evil, then to make it worse.
(c) When a thing is doubtful, to take it in the worst part.
And by any of these three ways we are not to judge either of menŐs persons, or of their actions.
(4) Fourthly, we must endeavour ourselves to keep a good conscience before God and before all men. This is the practice of St Paul (Acts 24:15,16), who in consideration and hope of a resurrection unto judgment, as well of the just as of the unjust, endeavoured himself to have always a clear conscience both towards God, and towards men. His example is worthy our marking and imitation; for a few there be that upon this occasion make any conscience either of duty to God or to their brethren.
(5) Fifthly, the last judgment must stir us up to a reverent fear of God, and cause us to glorify Him; as the angel saith in Revelation (Rev. 14:7), Fear God, and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come. And doubtless if anything in the world will move a man to fear the Lord, it is this: to remember the fearful and terrible day of judgment.