There is no “fact of the future” more clearly revealed in Scripture, or more certainly believed in by the Christian Church, than that “God hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men in that he hath raised him from the dead.”
No doubt this fact is denied or explained away by many modern critics. But it would be difficult to say what revealed fact, from Genesis to Revelation, is admitted by them, or what things may now be “most surely believed among us.” We retain our first faith in the future judgment, and shall endeavour to look at it in a practical rather than in a speculative light.
There is, indeed, among mankind a general anticipation of a coming time when the mystery of God’s providence will be cleared up, and His righteousness displayed in the final judgment to be then passed on the evil and on the good. What the human race are led to anticipate, as likely to occur hereafter, from the many unsettled questions here between man and his brother, and between man and his God, Scripture reveals to us as certain.
While, however, every Christian believes in the coming of Jesus to judge the world as firmly as he does in the fact of His having risen from the dead, there seems to us to be very inadequate conceptions in the minds of many as to the designs of this day, or the ends which it is fitted to accomplish in the kingdom of God.
It is hastily assumed, for example, that the day of judgment will be short as the period included between an earthly sunrise and sunset; and that, during this brief interval, the dead shall rise, and be judged before the throne of Jesus Christ, along with fallen angels. It is accordingly asked, with doubt and wonder, what good can be gained, or what purpose served, by this summoning those whose doom has long been sealed to appear at the bar of Jesus, and there to receive a formal sentence? If Judas goes to his own place, and Stephen to the arms of his Redeemer; if the wicked rich man departs to the burning flame, and Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham; if Satan and his angels have long ago experienced the horrors of a state which they know to be unchangeable, because they are themselves unchanged; what conceivable reason can there be for appointing a day in which all the wicked and the righteous are to be assembled, only to receive their respective sentences of condemnation or acquittal?
I know not how such questions can be answered by those who suppose the day of judgment to be nothing more than one on which Jesus Christ will publicly declare what the eternal fate of His creatures is to be for ever; without any trial beyond that which has already taken place in the court of each man’s conscience, and in the presence of the living God.