Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE EFFECTUAL RESTRAINT OF THE POWER OF EVIL. It is here pictured as a single act. But we must read the history of the strife which is ever proceeding - the gradual leavening of the entire life of humanity by the principles and the power of the holy gospel. Whatever may be the oscillations between the probabilities of success and the danger of defeat, this picture must be held to declare the ultimate happy triumph of the true and good over the false and the evil. Satan is held in chains; his power is restricted. The heavenly holds back the earthly and the hellish. It is the comfortable encouragement to the patient, suffering toiler that the agency employed of God is effective. That binding and restraining every faithful servant must see to be now going on.
II. THE DURATION OF THIS RESTRAINT. The millennium - "a thousand years" - a long but definite period, now reigns; yet must we not forget the symbolical character even of the definite words of this book. No time must be affixed. It is a period of blessing, of rest, of rejoicing. The toils of the Church, and the patience of the suffering faithful ones, have, by Divine grace, become fruitful. Now in the world, permeated by the pure and lofty principles of Christianity, peace, truth, righteousness, reign; and by how much they prevail, by so much evil is restrained. In their supremacy is to be seen the complete chaining of the evil agents of an evil kingdom.
III. THIS PERIOD IS MARKED AS ONE OF TRIUMPH AND REJOICING on behalf of the faithful Church of Christ. Thrones are set, the faithful reign with Christ, and judgment over human conduct is given to them - a significant indication that principles of righteousness are predominant, and that by them human life is adjudged. These are "blessed and holy;" they have priestly functions, they approach, they mediate, they are channels of blessing, they live to reign; they escape that second death which is the penalty of sin, from which they have been raised - they partake in a first resurrection which presages another.
IV. To this happy period of the universal prevalence of Christian truth there succeeds A TEMPORARY RELAPSE. Like all human blessedness, even this has the signature of imperfectness upon it. It is historical, not imposed. But this is only temporary, "for a little time," and issues in a final destruction of all tempting and evil power - even "forever and ever." In this the Church is to find
(1) encouragement to faith;
(2) motive for diligent labour;
(3) the most cheering assurances in times of discouragement and fear.
The truth shall ultimately prevail; the false, the foul, the vile, shall be restrained. - R.G.
five analyses of homilies; because I think I discover there what seems admirably adapted for deep and practical moral impression. The nineteen verses may be fairly taken as an illustration of the moral history of humanity. They disclose no less than five moral scenes through which the redeemed portion of our race is to pass; namely:
(1) The scene of moral struggle;
(2) the scene of moral triumph;
(3) the scene of moral reaction;
(4) the scene of an awful retribution; and
(5) the scene of the final destiny of the good. The first - the scene of moral struggle - is the one unfolded in these verses. This scene shows us two things.
I. THAT REDEEMED HUMANITY HAS A TEARFUL ANTAGONIST TO CONTEND WITH. This enemy is called "dragon," "serpent," "devil," "Satan." This highly symbolic language, applied to the great antagonist of the good, implies three things.
1. The actual existence of such an enemy. The names "dragon," "serpent," etc., must stand for something. They are the names of real beings, and cannot be supposed as used to designate the mere phantoms of the imagination. Most conclusive arguments for the existence of some mighty agent of evil, whose influence is world wide, may be drawn from three considerations.
(1) The universal belief of humanity.
(2) The opposite classes of moral phenomena. In the world we have error, selfishness, infidelity, and misery; and truth, benevolence, religion, and happiness. Can these be branches from the same root? or streams from the same fount?
(3) The general teaching of the Bible.
2. The personality of such an enemy. These are names of creatures having individual existence and attributes. The Bible always speaks of this evil existent as a person. It is far too great a demand upon our credulity to believe that the various inspired writers, from Moses to John, extending over a period of more than two thousand years, possessing various idiosyncrasies and attainments, and living under different economies, governments, and circumstances, could all fall into the common habit of speaking of evil as a person if it were only a principle. This, I say, is too much for our faith. Moreover, an evil principle implies an evil person. Sin is not some mysterious entity, separate from moral existence. Is sin an act? Then it must have an agent, Is it a motive? Motive implies thought, and thought implies a thinker.
3. The characteristics of such an enemy. "Dragon" stands as the emblem of power. Probably the leviathan described in Job 41. is of the same class: "Shall not one be cast down, even at the sight of him?" "Serpent" stands as the emblem of cunning and venom. "Devil" means accuser. "Satan" signifies opposer. This adversary of redeemed humanity, then, is mighty, crafty, and virulent. The New Testament is full of the doctrine that this being is the determined foe of humanity (Matthew 4:10; Matthew 12:26; Mark 4:15; Luke 10:18; Luke 22:3, 31; Acts 26:18; Romans 16:20; 2 Corinthians 11:14; Revelation 2:13; Revelation 12:9).
II. THAT HEAVEN HAS VOUCHSAFED AN AGENCY WHICH IS DESTINED TO MASTER THE ADVERSARY. "And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit [abyss]." Who is this angel that descends from heaven? The word "angel" both in Hebrew and Greek, means messenger. It is applied to impersonal as well as personal agents; and it is applied to evil, as well as good, personal agents. It is evidently used here to designate some good personal agent, for he descends from heaven, and descends from heaven to do battle with evil. The language applies preeminently to Christ, but refers also to every true religious teacher. Let the word "angel," here, then, stand forevery true religious teacher - including Christ and all his true servants; and we shall get a most clear and practical meaning from the passage. We have here two things about this true teacher - this angel.
1. His authority. He has the "key" of the bottomless pit. A key is the emblem of authority. Christ is said to have the keys of death and hell (Hades) at his girdle; and to his servant Peter he gave the "keys" of the kingdom - the authority to open the kingdom of truth, by true preaching, to Jew and Gentile. Every man who has the true spirit and power of a teacher, has the "key" or the authority to teach. He has a right to do battle with the enemy wherever he is found; whether in literature or commerce, Churches or governments, theories or practices. A true man has Heaven's key in his hand for this work.
2. His instrumentality. What is the instrument employed? "A chain." What is the chain? Iron, brass, adamant? No, no! These cannot fetter intellect - these cannot manacle soul. Nothing can curb or restrain the influence of Satan but Christian truth. What is meant by binding Satan? It does not mean the binding of his being or faculties, but the binding of his influence. He is to be bound, in the sense of limiting his sway, by closing up human hearts against him. As liberty binds the influence of slavery, intelligence the influence of ignorance, and religion the influence of infidelity, so Christian truth is to bind the influence of Satan. Every truth is a link in that mighty chain. The chain of Christian teaching is far too weak and short at present to restrain the force or measure the dimensions of Satanic influence. This is the scene through which we are passing. All is battle now. For the subjugation of the common foe, let each forge some holy thought link for the all-enfettering chain. - D.T.
first scene in the history of redeemed humanity - namely, the scene of moral struggle - occupied our attention in the last homily. The passage before us is a very glorious, though highly symbolic, view of the scene which will succeed it - the scene of moral triumph. This scene is, probably, many long centuries in the future; for as yet the great enemy of souls is the "prince of this world." But prophecy, the tendency of Christianity, the victories which the gospel has already achieved, and the unequivocal assurances of God's Word in general, all show that, however far off, the bright era will dawn on the world when the "will of God shall be done on earth as it is in heaven." Stripping the words before us of their highly figurative garb, I discover four great features which will distinguish this glorious age.
I. THE ENTIRE OVERTHROW OF MORAL EVIL. Satan, the great adversary, is said to be cast into "the bottomless pit." This figurative language suggests two thoughts.
1. That the great enemy will have lost his stand place in the world. His throne will have lost its foundation; he will not have a resting place for his foot in this period. What had been his stand place in the world? Error, prejudice, selfishness, evil passions, etc.; but these will have gone. He will have no fulcrum for his lever.
2. That the fall of the great enemy will be complete for a time. "Bottomless pit." He will be sinking for ages. The more humanity progresses in intelligence, rectitude, and holiness, the more hopeless his condition becomes. As humanity rises, he must sink.
II. THE UNIVERSAL SOVEREIGNTY OF CHRIST. Christ is here spoken of as reigning for a "thousand years" (ver. 2). There are many who judge this passage "after the flesh," give it a carnal and Judaic interpretation. They infer from it a personal manifestation of Christ, with all the appendages of a temporal dominion. I disclaim this, for two reasons.
1. The only true sovereignty is spiritual. Who have been the greatest sovereigns of the world? The men who have sat on thrones of gold, and ruled with the sceptre of force? No! it is not your Pharaoh, Ceasar, Alexander; but your Aristotle, Bacon, Milton, and Bunyan. Men who direct the thoughts of humanity are the real rulers. Christ is the greatest spiritual Sovereign, and his sovereignty is destined to increase.
2. A religious spiritual sovereignty over man is the great want of the race. He who rules the human mind, directs its faculties, energies, and feelings rightly, is man's greatest benefactor. This Christ does in the highest and most perfect manner. Let every philanthropist, therefore, pray that his kingdom may come - that he may become the moral Monarch of all souls.
III. THE GENERAL ASCENDANCY OF GREAT SOULS. The world, hitherto, has been under the dominion of weak and wicked men. Its kings and heroes have generally been as small as their hearts have been corrupt. In this scene the great soul will be "on thrones," and reign with Christ. The words suggest three things about the men who will then be in power.
1. They will be men who have passed through a spiritual resurrections. They had a part in the "first resurrection" (ver. 6). That a spiritual resurrection is here referred to is obvious, from three considerations.
(1) The idea harmonizes with the symbolical character of the whole book.
(2) The passage specially mentions "souls," and not bodies.
Indeed, the resurrection of the body is but a type of the resurrection of the soul; the resurrection of the soul is the true resurrection. That of the body is but figurative. Two ideas are implied in the resurrection:
(1) The resuscitation of an old moral life in man - Divine love.
(2) The resuscitation of an old moral life by God himself. It is God's work alone to raise the dead.
2. They wilt be men of martyr mould. "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" (ver. 4). The idea unquestionably is, not that the "souls" of the old martyrs who have long since departed will be brought back to this earth, but souls like theirs will exist in this age. Souls marked by invincible attachment to truth, by the most generous sentiments; Divine aspirations, and noble daring; feeling truth to be ever more precious than existence itself. This interpretation agrees with the interpretation which one is bound to give such scriptural language as that which speaks of the ministry of John, the ministry of Elijah, and the conversion of the Jews, as a "life from the dead."
3. They will be men possessing exclusive ascendancy. "But the rest of the dead lived not again" (ver. 5). In this glorious age there is no reproduction of those little and corrupt men who, in every age, have played the despot, both in Church and state. Your Herods and Caiaphases, your Henrys and your Lauds, will have no representatives in this glorious age. "The rest of the dead lived not again."
4. They will be men raised forever beyond the reach of all future evil. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power" (ver. 6). Such men are delivered forever from all the influences and all the fears of Hades. What an age is this! Would it had dawned!
IV. THE EXTENSIVE DURATION OF THE WHOLE. "And shall reign with him a thousand years" (ver. 6). If you suppose that this is literal, that ten centuries are meant, it is a long period for the continuation of one moral scene in man's history. How short was the scene of primeval innocence! The scene of wickedness, too, is never long without being broken. Conscience is everlastingly breaking in upon, and disturbing, wickedness here. Ten centuries of unbroken holiness and peace for the world are a long period! But I am disposed to regard the period referred to here as much longer than ten centuries. A little interpretation would not agree either with the general structure of the book or with this passage. Nor would it fully meet the nature of the case. I therefore regard the period either as meaning three hundred and sixty-five thousand years, or some vast indefinite period of time. The Jews and other nations were in the habit of using the expression, "a thousand years," to denote a period of immense duration.
1. This long period of holiness is a glorious set off against all the preceding ages of depravity and sin. When we think of the past ages of corruption, the millions who, from period to period, have passed away without a knowledge of the gospel, we are sometimes confounded. But all this may appear but as a few vibrations of a pendulum, when compared with the long ages of universal purity and peace. The lost, perhaps, will be as units to millions, compared with the saved.
2. This long period of holiness serves wonderfully to heighten our ideas of the grandeur of Christ's work. Although the influence of Christianity as yet is confessedly limited compared with the widespread districts lying on all hands beyond its present reach, still no one who honestly looks at its past history will be disposed to deny that its conquests over the minds, systems, and institutions of humanity are unparalleled in the history of religions, and far out measure the appreciative faculty of the world's greatest intellects. But, in the view of the effulgent ages before us, its past most brilliant achievements pale their fires. Hitherto its rays have only fallen in twilight dimness upon the summit of an isolated mountain here and there; but in the glorious time coming it shall flood the world in warm, cloudless, and life imparting light. Oh! let me learn, then, to estimate the greatness of Christ's work, not by what he has done or is doing, but by those glorious achievements of his which prophecy has foretold. Let me not judge in this respect before the time. Shall I judge the husbandman just as he commences the cultivation of one of the hundred acres committed to his care? or the architect just as the scaffolding is reared and a few stones are brought together? Still less will I dare pronounce upon the work of Christ until in the great eternity I shall behold redemption finished. - D.T.
I. MARTYRS ARE SOMETIMES MURDERED MEN. John saw the souls of those who were "beheaded." All murders are not martyrdoms; all martyrdoms are murders. There has often been martyrdom, and still is, where there is no killing. There are sufferings inflicted on men on account of their conscientious convictions that are often as bad, if not worse, than death itself. There is slander, contumely, the loss of freedom, the destruction of rights. For a man to spend his life amidst social scorn, civil disabilities, and religious intolerance on account of his conscientious beliefs, is a martyrdom; his life is a protracted and painful dying. But thousands have been murdered, and that by every variety of method which Satanic cruelty could invent. Paul summarizes some of the tortures of ancient martyrdom. "Some had trials of cruel mocking," etc.
II. MARTYRS ARE ALWAYS WITNESSING MEN. "Beheaded for the witness." Indeed, the word means a witness. All witnesses are not martyrs, but all martyrs are witnesses. The man who dies on account of conscientious beliefs, whether they are right or wrong, hears witness to several things.
1. To the invincibility of the human will. The ablest metaphysical works cannot give you anything like the impression of the freedom and the force of that power m man which we call will, as one martyrdom. The martyr rises up against the powers of the world, and dares it to do the utmost.
2. To the force of the religious element. When religious convictions get hold of a man's soul, whether the convictions be right or wrong, they invest him with an unconquerable power. The stake, the faggot, the fire, have no power to crush or to subdue him.
3. To the power of the soul over the body. Men who have had their souls filled with religious feeling become physically insensible to all the tortures and fires of martyrdom; they have sung in the flames. I say that a martyr, whether his religious convictions are right or not, is a mighty witness to these things.
III. MARTYRS ARE OFTEN CHRISTLY MEN. Those whom John saw were those who were "witnesses of Jesus, and for the Word of God." I say often Christly men, for false religions as well as the true have had their martyrs. Who but God can tell the number of men that have been put to death on account of their fidelity to Jesus and the Word of God? In the first ages under Nero, Domitian, and Trajan, Christians were slain by thousands, and who but God knows the number of those whose blood in Christian Europe has been shed on account of their attachment to Christianity? These Christian martyrs were witnesses of something more than the invincibility of the human will, the force of the religious element, and the power of the soul over the body.
1. They bore witness to the sustaining grace of Christ. In the midst of their torturing agonies they gloried in their attachment to him. Their grim persecutors, when endeavouring to extort from them recantation of their faith, were answered in the same spirit as that expressed by the ancient martyr, "Sanctus Christianus sum." They all "gloried in tribulation," etc. They endured "joyfully the spoiling of their goods," etc.
2. They bore witness against the lukewarmness of living Christians. The martyrs were earnest men.
IV. MARTYRS WHO ARE CHRISTIANS ENTER HEAVEN. John now saw the souls of "those who were beheaded" raised to immortality, and invested with imperishable dignities. Men whom the world considered unworthy to live, but of whom the world is not worthy, are welcomed into the Paradise of God. This fact should act:
1. As an encouragement to the persecuted Christian.
2. As a warning to persecutors. How much greater was Stephen than all the members of the persecuting Sanhedrin! How angelic his countanance, how calm his spirit, how peacefully he passed away into the serene heavens of love! - D.T.
I. WHAT DOES IT MEAN? Surely that which it seems to say - that the faithful servants of Christ, of whom those who had been beheaded for his sake are named as representing all the rest, shall rise from the dead, and live and reign with Christ for a vast period, here called a thousand years, whilst all the rest of the dead shall have no resurrection until this period be past. Therefore there is a first resurrection for the saints of God, and another, inferior and later one, for all the rest of the dead. So this Scripture seems to teach. But many have affirmed that, however much it may seem to teach this, in reality it does not. For, it is affirmed:
1. That there is nothing else like it in all the rest of Scripture. It stands all alone. But if it be really taught here, our failing to find it elsewhere will not excuse us from accepting it. We accept other doctrines even if declared but once. Take 1 Corinthians 15. Where but there shall we find not a few of the truths it teaches? And there are other instances beside. But we do not admit that it stands alone, not by any means (cf. infra).
2. That it is all metaphor, like the rest of the book. But all is not metaphor, and what is and what is not can be readily distinguished. The resurrection is not a metaphor.
3. That it means baptism. We read that Christians have "risen with Christ in baptism" (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12). Here, then, it is said, is the first resurrection. But St. John, in our text and its context, is speaking of men who have died, have been beheaded for Christ; the death is a literal one, so therefore must the resurrection be. If it were a spiritual death that were told of, then the resurrection might be spiritual also. And the living with Christ comes after death. How, then, can it be baptism?
4. Others, many, say that it tells of the thousand years or more which stretch from the fourth century to the fourteenth. At the beginning of the fourth, persecution by heathen Rome ceased, Rome herself adopting the Christian faith. For a thousand years after, her ministers and Churches, it might be said, lived and reigned. But then came the capture of Constantinople, and the establishment of the Turkish empire, and the dominance over so large a portion of the once Christian world of the Mohammedan imposture. Well, if Satan was "bound" during all that period whenever - so one would ask - was there a time when he seemed more free? If that thousand years were the millennium, or like it, then may we be delivered from such another one!
5. The entire present dispensation. Reference is made to our Lord's word as to the "fall" of Satan "from heaven;" as to his being "judged" and "cast out;" and it is said that this is Satan's condition now - fallen, judged, cast out, bound, shut up in the abyss, reserved for condemnation - and has been so ever since our Lord was here on earth; and that during all this period the faithful have lived and reigned with Christ. Again, we say, such interpretation makes a mockery of the millennium, and empties St. John's words of well nigh all their meaning. Therefore, on the sound principle of interpretation that, when a literal meaning will stand in any Scripture, the meaning furthest from that is generally the worst, we accept that literal meaning, and the more so that the question -
II. WHERE IS THE PROOF OF IT? is one that can be satisfactorily answered.
1. In the Old Testament there were many Scriptures which had led the Jews to the belief that for faithful Israel there was to be a special resurrection. Such texts were Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 26:1; Ezekiel 37.; Daniel 12. And this belief of their resurrection when Messiah came was what St. Paul called "the hope of Israel." And this general belief our Lord never contradicted, which he who said, "If it were not so I would have told you," would assuredly have done. But:
2. The New Testament must, of course, furnish the larger proof. Our Lord perpetually speaks of the resurrection of the good and of the evil as of separate things. He tells (John 5:29) of "the resurrection of life" and of "the resurrection of judgment;" and in ver. 24 he has said that believers "shall not come into judgment." Here, then, is a resurrection with which believers can have nothing to do, and another which is specially theirs. Then cf. John 6:39, 40, "I will raise him up at the last day." This is several times repeated. But why, if every one is to be raised up at the last day - if that be the general resurrection, why is there this mark of distinction for "him" if there be none? We conclude there is a distinction. Another and a more glorious resurrection awaits "him" than awaits others. Then (Luke 14:14) the Lord speaks of "the resurrection of the just." Why does he not speak of the general resurrection if there be nothing special for "the just"? He teaches us that there is. Again (Luke 20:35), he speaks of a resurrection for the children of God, who shall be equal to the angels, which is a resurrection "from among the dead" (ἐκ), and for which they who shared in it needed to be "counted worthy." But this is not the case with the general resurrection; therefore we gather that this is a special one. Then 1 Corinthians 15:22-24, where the order of the resurrection is given - "every man in his own order: Christ... afterward they that are Christ's at his coming;" and then, after the great work of subjugating all things is accomplished - "then cometh the end." But with this we know is associated that resurrection of "the rest of the dead" of which we read in this chapter (ver. 12). See, too, in Matthew 24:31. The gathering together of the elect is told of, and then afterwards - we know not how long - the judgment of the heathen, the nations, of which we are told at the close of Matthew 25. See, too, Philippians 3:14. Now, "the resurrection from the dead" which St. Paul there speaks of as "the prize of his high calling," and after which he strove, if "by any means he might attain unto it" - for as yet he had not attained to it, and therefore he still pressed, as an eager racer, towards the goal - this resurrection could not be the general one, for he knew that he would rise again; nor either does it mean simply being saved, for he knew that he was saved already. It must mean, therefore, a special resurrection - this of which our text tells; a prize - the prize, indeed. And we read of "a better resurrection" after which the saints of old strove. And Christians are called "firstfruits," and "the Church of the Firstborn" - expressions which denote priority and privilege such as the first resurrection declares. We hold it, therefore, to be no vain and unauthorized imagination which believes that in these remarkable verses St. John does teach what his words so evidently seem to affirm.
III. WHAT IS THE INFLUENCE IT SHOULD HAVE UPON US? St. John's purpose, or rather the Holy Spirit's purpose through him, was by this glorious revelation to do in an especial manner that which was the great design of the whole book - to comfort, strengthen, and inspire with holy courage the persecuted Church. And we can hardly imagine that it failed to do this. The imagery is taken from facts within their own experience - the constitution of the empire, in which the varied kings who ruled over the provinces each contributed to the power and glory of the whole; and the priestly service in the temple with which they had long been familiar. The book is full of Jewish imagery throughout. The vision, therefore, assured to them that the lot of their faithful brethren the martyrs, and all of like mind with them, should speedily and wondrously be changed. Poor, persecuted, down trodden, the offscouring of all things now, they should be as kings; their dungeons they should exchange for thrones; their dreadful death for life - life eternal, life with Christ. Vast capacity for ministering to the glory of the reign of Christ should be theirs, for they should be kings under him, their Lord. Constant access to his presence and the ministry of intercession for their brethren - these, too, should be theirs, for they were also to be his priests. 'Twas worth living for, worth suffering for, worth dying for, let the death come in what dreadful form it might. So would they feel and speak and act, and this was what was intended. "Strong consolation" they needed, and "strong consolation they had," as God's people ever have had and will have when placed in like circumstances. And for ourselves - for the vision is for all Christ's faithful ones as well as for the martyrs - what should be the influence of this doctrine of the first resurrection upon us? Surely we should "have respect unto the recompense of the reward." If Christ have put this reward before us, we should have respect to it. Is it fitting, some may ask, that Christ's servants should serve him with their eyes on the reward? Was it fitting that any reward which Christ promised to bestow should be without appreciation? Think what this promise is. It is not merely blessedness - it could not but be that - but it means kingship and priesthood. That is to say, dropping the metaphors, it means infinitely increased capacity for serving Christ and furthering his glory; it means, as his priest, constant access to his presence, and the duty and privilege of intercession for his people. Yes, the faithful now with Christ are serving him as they never could before. It is no indolent case in which they abide, but one of service as well as honour, in forms which as yet we cannot know. The kingdom of Christ is the better for what they do. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister?" Nor can we doubt that the great functions which are involved in the idea of priesthood are theirs also - to draw near to God and to intercede for the people. They who on earth were so fervent in prayer are they all at once stricken dumb there? No; they arc priests of Christ, and by virtue of that office they are intercessors. Is this a recompense of reward for which we need have no respect? Should it not rouse our energies and call forth our most strenuous endeavours? Holiness, conformity to the mind and will of God, is the condition of this blessedness. The rewards of Christ are not mere external things, but inward and spiritual possessions. Therefore to say that we shall be content with the lowest place in heaven, as many do say, may sound like humility and Christian meekness; but it means being content with less of likeness to Christ, less of his spirit, less of his love. Priority and privilege in heaven, the share in this first resurrection, are according to these things; and how can we be content with but little of them? It is not humility, it is not self denial, it is wrong to Christ himself, to be indifferent to this reward. Whilst low in the dust as regards yourself, have a lofty ambition in regard to this. Oh, then, seek, strive, pray, for this holiness of heart and life, that you may be of those blessed ones who have part in the first resurrection! - S.C.
deceiving the nations "which are in the four quarters of the earth." There is a tremendous reaction. This age is here presented under a veil of imagery, if possible, more variously coloured and thickly folded than either of the preceding epochs already noticed. My work is not to describe the veil, but gently to draw it aside, in order to discover the great facts which lie beneath. Disrobing this passage of its highly symbolic garb, I discover three facts which mark this age of moral reaction.
I. THE REACTION IS BROUGHT ABOUT IN THE MANNER IN WHICH MANKIND HAVE EVER DEGENERATED. Let us mark the process.
1. Here is deception. "The nations" are deceived (ver. 8). Certain ideas, directly opposed to the eternal principle of truth, the settled conditions of virtue, and means of true blessedness, but at the same time most plausible to the reason, prompting to the lusts, and gratifying to the selfhood of the human heart, are put into circulation; men receive, follow them, and fall. Sin came first into the world through deception, and it has been propagated and nourished by it ever since. Men fall by error, and rise by truth. Hence the seducer and the Saviour alike deal with the judgments of men. Hell and heaven are acting on our world through thoughts; the one through the false and the other through the true.
2. Here is deception employed by Satan. "Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out [come forth] to deceive the nations" (vers. 7, 8). Christ, who knows his entire history, has declared that he "abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him;" and that "he is a liar, and the father of lies." He has filled the world with lies - charged our atmosphere with lies - political, social, moral, and religions. "Every man walketh in a vain show." Who can "fathom the depths of Satan"? He "beguiled" our first parents; he prompted Ananias "to lie to the Holy Ghost." He "hath blinded the minds" of men.
3. Here is deception employed by Satan, first, upon those who are most assailable, and afterwards through them upon others. "He goes out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters [corners] of the earth, Gog and Magog," etc. (vers. 8, 9). No one has been able to determine with certainty who Gog and Magog are. I am inclined to believe, with Bloomfield, "that no particular nations are meant, but that these are only names designating bodies of men inimical to the gospel." Probably, through all the ages of the millennial period, there had always continued some disaffected towards Christ, some who loved darkness rather than light, some "Gog and Magog." Upon these Satan now acted. By his suggestions he evoked their latent depravity, kindled into a flame the long-smouldering fires of their rebellion against heaven. The more evil there is in a man, the more accessible that man is to Satan, and the more susceptible to his influence. The more virtue in the heart, the stronger its safeguard. Hence he ever begins his work with the most assailable - with those who are morally the most remote from Christianity, who dwell "in the four quarters of the earth." And through them he goes on to propagate his cause. From Eve he proceeds to Adam; from Gog and Magog he proceeds to the very "camp of the saints" (ver. 9).
II. THE REACTION IS OF A CHARACTER THE MOST THREATENING. There are two things in the passage which suggest this.
1. The vast number of its agents. Those whom Satan enlists in his cause from the "four quarters of the earth" - these moral tribes, called Gog and Magog, constitute a great multitude, "the number of whom is as the sand of the sea" (ver. 8) - a figurative expression indicating their numerousness. It is not necessary to suppose that these unbelievers had been numerous through all the centuries of the millennial times. Nor is it necessary to suppose that any genuine Christians had really and finally been tempted to renounce their principles. It seems to me highly improbable that a man whose nature has been thoroughly Christianized will ever finally degenerate into a life of sin. We may suppose that for many ages there were but few whose spirits did not flow with the clear and majestic stream of Christian truth and practice. If, however, at one time there were only a dozen, or even fewer, sinners among the teeming millions of saints, it is easy to see how they could multiply in the course of time, without causing any of the really good to apostatize. These twelve, we will suppose, become parents; their children, on the principle of filial love and dependence, will catch their spirit and be moulded by their example; they, in their turn, become parents; and thus, according to the common law of generation, in a few years these few may multiply to thousands. Amongst the angels, who do not probably derive their existence from each other, between whom there is not this relation of parent and child, there is not this character - propagating power.
2. The anti-Christian aim of its agents. "And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city" (ver. 9). The idea, symbolized, I take to be this - they made efforts to assault the most central and vital part of religion. They sought, perhaps, to argue away the being of God, the doctrine of human responsibility, the necessity of mediation, and the existence of a future life of rewards and punishments. There are minor attacks which unbelievers make upon Christianity, but the attempt to disprove these fundamentals is a blow aimed at the most vital part - it is to compass "the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city."
III. THE REACTION TERMINATES IN- THE EVERLASTING DESTRUCTION OF ALL ITS AGENTS. "And fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire," etc. (vers. 9, 10). From this language we learn the following truths:
1. That there is in the universe of God a distinct local scene, where the wicked of all classes are to receive their righteous retribution. This is implied in the expression, "lake of fire." There are other scriptural expressions which imply it; such as "Gehenna," "furnace of fire," etc. Reason would also suggest this.
(1) All existence implies place. You may think of space apart from being, but you cannot think of being apart from space. You think of an infinite being in connection with infinite space, and finite being in connection with limited locality.
(2) A wicked existence implies a miserable scene. Antecedently, we should infer that the outer scene of a moral being's existence would resemble his moral character and mood. This world was made for innocence, and it is beautiful, etc. It seems fitting that a dark, inharmonious, deformed spirit should have a sunless, tumultuous, and horrid world as its residence.
(3) Moral beings, of directly opposite sympathies, habits, and aims, as are sinners and saints, imply separate local homes. There is a mutual repugnance to each other's society here, and it is natural to suppose that, when retribution comes, they shall have their "own place." We know not where this place is, whether in the depths of the earth or in regions far beyond this planet. There may be, perhaps, in some district of the creation, a scene without a streak of beauty, a gleam of light, or a drop of goodness, on which justice frowns and thunders.
2. That the retribution which the wicked will endure in this scene will be of a most terrible description. "Fire and brimstone" (ver. 10). The allusion here is most likely to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24-28); fire is the emblem of suffering (Zechariah 13:9; 1 Corinthians 3:13-15; 1 Peter 1:7); brimstone is the emblem of desolation (Job 18:15). Nothing will grow on any soil that is covered with sulphur. The Bible employs other figures equally terrible, such as "outer darkness," "blackness of darkness," "prison," etc. Here, then, is the end of the enemies of Christ. Redeemed humanity, henceforth, will be freed from "Gog and Magog," from the beast and the false prophet, and from the devil, the prince of darkness, forever and ever. Glorious day! Though countless ages in the future, this faint glimpse of thee adds energy to our faith and brightness to our hope! But how long will this reaction continue? We have an answer to this in the third verse of the chapter, "And after that he must be loosed for a little season." Its duration will be short compared with either of the two following periods:
(1) Compared with the preceding period of almost universal holiness. The period of millennial holiness continued for a thousand years - i.e. either three hundred and sixty-five thousand years, or some immense period of duration. This period of reaction is called a "little season" in relation to that.
(2) Compared with the succeeding period of perfect holiness to be enjoyed by the redeemed in the heavenly world. In the twenty-second chapter of this book it is said of the state and residence of the redeemed that "there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign forever and ever." "Forever and ever." What arithmetic can compute the ages contained in this "ever and ever"? All the preceding periods in the world's history are but as "little season" compared with this "ever and ever;" less than an hour to the geological cycles that are gone; less than a spark to the central fires that light and warm the unnumbered worlds of space. - D. T.
Those of the Bible. The confirmatory passages are everywhere throughout its pages, and especially in those which record the very words of Christ. The most dreadful things in the Bible fell from his lips. Those of the traditions of ancient and heathen peoples. Everywhere we find, as especially in Egypt, creeds which declare a final and awful judgment. Those of conscience. They tell of "a fearful looking for of judgment." Read 'Macbeth,' and wherever any great writers have drawn true portraitures of men, the witness of conscience may be heard in them all. The imagery here is taken from the tribunals, and the procedure in them, with which the age of St. John was familiar - the august and awe inspiring paraphernalia of justice, the magnificent and elevated throne of the judge, the giving of the evidence, and the sentence. But underlying all this metaphor are such truths as these -
I. THAT DEATH DOES NOT END ALL. This great transaction takes place when life is over, when this world is done with. Men, therefore, live on after death, or else they could not appear at this judgment bar. And that men do thus continue to live in their true real self, there is much evidence, beside that of Scripture, to show. The ancient Greeks disputed whether the relation of the soul to the body was that of harmony to the harp, or that of the rower to the boat. If the former, then, if you destroy the harp, you destroy the harmony it gave forth; and so, if you destroy the body, you destroy the soul too, and death does end all. But if the second, then the boat may sink or go to pieces, but the rower lives on still. And so is it with the soul. The body - its boat - may sink into the depths of the grave, but the soul sinks not with it. Professor Huxley has affirmed that "life is the cause of organization, and not organization the cause of life;" and Tyndall has shown that dead matter cannot produce life. Life, therefore, must exist prior to and independent of matter, and therefore can exist after the material organization which it for a while animated has decayed. We are the same self conscious beings in old age as we were when in childhood, though our bodies have changed over and over again meanwhile. Death, then, does not end all; we live on, and so one demand of the doctrine of final judgment is met.
II. THAT THERE SHOULD BE RECORDS UPON WHICH THE JUDGMENT SHALL PROCEED. They are spoken of in this Scripture (ver. 12) as "books." "And another book, which is the book of life." The books contain biographies, and therefore are voluminous. The "other book" contains but names, and therefore is but one. No biography is needed; nought but the fact that they believed in Jesus. But what is meant by the "books"? Simply that there are records of the soul's life, which will be opened and read in the great judgment day. They are found:
1. In the souls of others. In the character we have helped to impress upon them. There is no one but what has written down evidence about himself on the souls of others. If we have helped them heavenward, that is there; if we have urged them hellward, that is there.
2. But chiefly in our own souls. We are always writing such record, and it may be read even now in the body, in the countenance, in the very way we bear ourselves before our fellow men. Character can be read now. It comes out at the eyes, in the look, the aspect, is heard in the tone of voice. But much more helps to conceal it. The restraints of society, the regard to the opinion of others, make men reticent and reserved and full of concealment of their real selves. But in the spiritual body it is altogether probable that the essence of the man will be far more visible - may, in fact, be, as many have thought, the creator of its body, so that "every seed" shall have "its own body." But on the soul itself its record will be read. Many a man can trace yet the scar of a wound, and that not a severe one, which he received thirty, forty, fifty, years and more ago. The ever changing body will so hold its record. And there are scars of the soul. Wounds inflicted on it will abide and be visible so long as the soul lasts. Like the undeveloped plate of the photographer, a mere blurred surface until he plunges it into the bath, and then the image comes out clearly; so our souls are now illegible and their record indistinct, but when plunged into the bath of eternity, then what has been impressed thereon will be distinct and clear. Then the image of "the deeds done in the body" will come out with startling but unerring accuracy. If man can find out means, as he has found, so to register the words and tones of a speaker that they can be reproduced years after, and whenever it is desired, is there not in that discovery of science a solemn suggestion that all our "idle" and worse "words" may be recorded somewhere, and be heard again when we thought they were forgotten forever? Yes, there are records. And -
III. A JUDGMENT. "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment." "And they were judged every man," etc. (ver. 13). What do these Scriptures mean? Now, the Greek word for "judgment" is "crisis;" that is the Greek word, simply, in English letters. But what is more is that our word "crisis" does more accurately set forth the meaning of "judgment" than what is commonly understood thereby. When we speak of a "crisis," we mean a turning point, a decisive settling as to the course which affairs will take. That is a crisis. But when we speak of "judgment," the imagery of these verses rise up before our minds, and we think of an external judge, and a sentence that he passes upon us. Judgment, however, often takes place. How common it is to hear it said of a man who has passed through some great experience, "He has never been the same man since"! Great trials, disappointments, distresses of any kind, and great successes and wealth also, act as crises, turning points, judgments, to a man. They act like the watershed of a district, which determines which way the streams shall flow; so these great crises of a man's life turn this way or that the moral and spiritual dispositions which dwell in him. They do much to settle him in a fixed habit of character, for good or ill, as the case may be. How much more, then, after "death" must there be "judgment"! Then, freed from all the restraints of life, from all that hindered the manifestation of what he really was, his nature now gravitates towards that side of spiritual character to which it has long been leaning, but from which it has hitherto been held back. It takes up its position according to its nature. If evil, with the evil; if good, with the good - for in this case his name is found "written in the book of life." It is ill for us to put off the idea of judgment until some far distant day, amid some unwonted scenes. God's judgments are continually taking place, and every thought, act, and word is helping to determine to which side, whether to the right hand or to the left, our souls shall go.
IV. THE SENTENCE. It has been said that this judgment told of here is of the ungodly only, and that the book of life is mentioned only for the sake of showing "that their names are not there." We cannot think this. Nothing is said about the sentence of any, only the final fate of the ungodly. "The lake of fire," the "oven of fire" (Matthew 13.), and similar expressions, are metaphors taken from the barbarous punishments of that age. To east men alive into fire was a fearful but not unusual punishment. Hence it is taken because of its fearfulness as a figure of the final fate of the ungodly. Evil character such as that into which they have settled is like a raging fire, and the blindness of heart and mind which attends such character is like "the blackness of darkness" itself. We may see men in hell today when filled with the fury of rage and passion; and, blessed be God, we may see others in heaven because filled with the peace of God. Heaven or hell is, in great degree, in a man ere ever he enters either the one or the other. They are in us before we are in them, and the judgment is but each man's going to his own place. What solemn confirmation, then, do such Scriptures as that before us receive from observed facts and experiences of men in this life! What urgency, therefore, do they lend to the exhortation, "Commit thy way unto the Lord"! And how prompt should be our resolve to entrust the keeping of our souls unto Christ, so that in the great judgment after death they may go with Christ and his saints into eternal life! "Jesus, by thy wounds we pray, help now that our names may be written in the book of life" (Hengstenberg). - S.C.
I. THE AUTHORITY, SANCTITY, AND DREAD TERRIBLENESS OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. The symbol of the authoritative character of the judgment is represented in "a great throne;" its sanctity in the ever-present symbol of purity - it is a "white" throne, "we know that his judgment is according to truth;" while the terribleness of the holy judgment is indicated in the assertion that the very "earth and the heaven fled away" from "the face" of him that sat on the throne.
II. THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE JUDGMENT. The symbol here approaches a terrible realism. The seer beheld "the dead, the great and the small, stand before the throne," and "the sea" and "death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them, and they were judged." The judgment is upon the "dead," and it transplants our thoughts to the final issues of human history.
III. The judgment which is universal is also MINUTE AND INDIVIDUAL. "They were judged every man." None escape or pass by. Every servant to whom the Lord has entrusted goods must give account of the same.
IV. The judgment proceeds UPON THE CONDUCT OF THE EARTHLY LIFE. "They were judged every man according to their works." Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, "Every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment."
V. THE FINAL, TERRIBLE AWARD OF EVIL DOING. "If any was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire." That this represents the termination of the present order of things is indicated by the destruction of death and Hades; the present, the temporary, is swallowed up in the final. One side only of the judgment is represented - that of the wicked. Truly these awful scenes are not for the eye, but for the heart. No picture is permissible of any part of these unspeakable things. Men must take the terrible intimations, and ponder them in their hearts; and "blessed" is the man that so "reads" and so "understands the words of the prophecy of this book," that he turns in lowly meekness to him who is the one and only Saviour of men, and seeks by his grace to walk "in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless." - R.G.
probationary, all connected with the overtures of mercy to the guilty, and the means of spiritual purity, blessedness, and elevation for the polluted, unhappy, and degraded. But the probationary element, which had run on through all dispensations from Adam to Christ, and through all revolutions from Christ to the consummation of the world, is now closed; its last ray has fallen, its sun has gone down to rise no more. Hence on, every man shall be treated according to his past works, and shall reap the fruit of his own doings. The morning of retribution has broken. The magnificent passage before us points to the period designated in Scripture "the day of God," "the judgment of the great day," "the revelation of the righteous judgment of God," "the eternal judgment." It may be well to premise at the outset, in order to guard against the tendency of associating too much of what is merely material and human with the circumstances and transactions of this period, that this retribution will literally involve the judiciary circumstances here portrayed. I have heard and read discourses on this subject, which impress the mind more with a kind of Old Bailey scene, than with the great moral facts which distinguish that period from all preceding times. It is true that we have here the mention of the "throne" and "books" common to human courts; but it should be remembered that inspired writers, in accommodation to our ordinary habits - ay, and laws of thought - reveal to us the unknown through the medium of the known. What mind, in sooth, can receive any new idea without comparing it with the old? We judge of the unseen by the seen; we learn what the testimony of others unfolds to us through the medium of what we have already beheld. Thus "the day of judgment' is set forth under the figure of ancient courts of judicature, which in general features agree with all the modern courts in the civilized world. There is the judge on his seat or throne; there is the prisoner arraigned; there is the investigation carried on through "books" or documents; and there is justice administered. Now, there is quite sufficient resemblance between these courts of human justice and the judicial transactions of God at the last day, to warrant the former being employed as illustrations of the latter, without supposing a "throne" or a "book" whatever. For example:
1. There is the bringing of the Judge and the accused into conscious contact.
2. There is the final settling of the question of guiltiness or non-guiltiness, according to recognized law.
3. There is the administration of an award to which the accused is bound to submit. Let us now proceed to notice a few facts in relation to this retributive period.
I. THIS RETRIBUTIVE PERIOD WILL DAWN WITH OVERPOWERING SPLENDOUR UPON THE WORLD. Observe:
1. The character of this manifestation. He comes on a throne. A "throne" is an emblem of glory. It is generally valuable in itself. That of Solomon consisted wholly of gold and ivory; but its glory mainly consists of its being the seat of supremacy. Hence ambition points to nothing higher. The people have ever looked up with a species of adoration to the throne. But what a throne is this! "His throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire." It is a "white throne." Human thrones have often, perhaps generally, been stained by sensuality, injustice, and tyranny. The throne has sometimes become so loathsome that the people, roused into indignation, have seized and burnt it in the streets. But this is a "white throne." There is not a single stain upon it. He who has ever occupied it "is light, and in him is no darkness at all." It is a great "white throne." Great in its occupant: "He filleth all in all." Great in its influence. Toward it the eyes of all intelligences are directed; to it all beings are amenable; from it all laws that determine the character and regulate the destiny of all creatures proceed.
2. The effect of this manifestation. Before its refulgence this material universe could not stand; it melted - it vanished away. "No more place was found for them" (ver. 11). It will pass away, perhaps, as the orbs of night pass away in the high noontide of the sun: they are still in being, still in their orbits, and still move on as ever; but they are lost to us by reason of a "glory that excelleth." What a contrast between Christ now as the Judge, and Christ of old as the despised Nazarene!
II. THIS RETRIBUTIVE PERIOD WILL WITNESS THE RESURRECTION OF THE DEAD, AND THE CONSEQUENT DESTRUCTION OF HADES AND THE GRAVE. "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell [Hades] delivered up the dead which were in them" (ver. 13). The words suggest two thoughts on this subject.
1. That in the resurrection there will be a connection between man's raised and man's mortal body. A resurrection of the material relics is a traditional dogma of the stupid, not a conviction of the studious. It is evidently implied that the resurrection-body is a something that has come out of the body, deposited either in the grave or the sea. What is the connection? Is it meant that men will come up with exactly the same bodies as they had during the probationary state? This, probably, is the vulgar idea, and this is the idea against which infidels level their objections. The question is now, as of old, "With what body do they come?" And assuming that they come in the same body, they commence their antagonistic reasonings and their sneers. But this is not the Scripture doctrine. "That which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be." If it be said - Is there no identity, no sameness? I ask - What do you mean by "sameness "? If you say sameness, in the sense of particles, bulk, or capacity, I answer - No! The sameness between the old body and the resurrection body is not the sameness between the seed you deposit in the soil and the wheat which in autumn is produced by it. The one grows out of the other, has the form of the other; the resurrection body is not the same as the old probationary body, in the same sense as the body of any given individual is the same in its man-state as it was in its child-state. Take the case of a man in two different periods of life - say, ten years of age and sixty. In the intervening periods his body has passed through several radical changes; yet at sixty he feels that he has the same body which he had at ten. It is not until your science comes that he questions it; and where the science has been the most convincing, it has never destroyed this underlying consciousness of physical identity. How can you account for this consciousness of sameness?
(1) Not because he knows the particles to be the same. He cannot know that, for it is contrary to fact; the particles of his body, when a child, having gone off long ago, and mixed themselves, perhaps, with a hundred different bodies.
(2) Not because he knows the amount is the same. He may know that there are ten times the quantity in the one body state as in the other.
(3) Not because he knows the capability is the same. In its childish stage it was weak, incapable of much labour or endurance; but in its man-state it is vigorous - its physical powers have increased manifold. How, then, can you account for this consciousness? Consciousness must have some truth as a foundation.
(a) Because he knows the one has risen out of the other. It has been an evolution. The casual connection has been preserved. The one was the outcome of the other.
(b) Because he knows the one has retained the same plan, or outline as the other. If the body, in the man-state, had taken a form different to that of its child-state, the consciousness of identity might have been lost. If it passed, for instance, from the human form to the lion, eagle, or any other form, though the particles might have been all retained, and bulk and capacity continued as ever, the sense of identity would have been lost.
(c) Because he knows the one fulfils the same functions as the other. The body, in the child-state, was the inlet and outlet of himself. Through it, in all cases, he derived and imparted his feelings and ideas. It was the great medium between his spirit and the material universe. Now, for these three reasons, man may feel that his resurrection body is the same as the one in which he spent his probationary life. It grows out of the buried. There is in the body that went down to the grave a something, I know not what, which the man, the spiritual self, takes into his immortal frame. The resurrection body may retain its present form or outline; it may be moulded after the same archetype. It may also fulfil many of the same functions. Ever will it be the medium between the material and the spiritual. I know, then, of no objection that you can urge against the fact of a man having a resurrection body which he may feel to be identical with his probationary body, that could not antecedently be urged against a fact in the present experience of every adult - the fact of an individual having a man body which he feels to be the same as his child body.
2. That the resurrection will be coextensive with the mortality of mankind. "The sea gave up its dead." What a vast cemetery is the sea! Here mighty navies slumber; millions of the industrious, the enterprising, and the brave, lie beneath its restless waves. But all must now come forth. All that have perished - whether in the barques of scientific expedition, or the ships of commerce, or the fleets of conquered nations, must come forth in this dread day. "Death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them" (ver. 13). This is the grave. "All that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and shall come forth." What a voice is that! It would reverberate over sea and land, from island to island, from continent to continent; roll its thunders through the deepest vaults and catacombs; and soon the mouldering skeletons and the scattered dust would feel the stir of life, and spring to immortality. Martyrs, who had no grave to shelter them from the storm of ages, whose dust was consumed in the flames, and left at the mercy of the wild elements, would appear again; as the field of battle, where mighty armies struggled in demon fury, would start to life on the plains where, in hellish rage, they fell. "And hell gave up its dead." Hell here means, not the place of punishment, but the universe of disembodied spirits, both good and bad. This Hades of the Greeks, and Sheol of the Hebrews, sends forth all the myriads of human souls that it has ever received, from Abel to the last man that grappled with the" king of terrors." "The small and great." Not an infant too young, not a patriarch too old. Tyrants and their slaves, sages and their pupils, ministers and their people - all will appear.
III. This RETRIBUTIVE PERIOD WILL BRING HUMANITY INTO CONSCIOUS CONTACT WITH GOD. "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God" (ver. 12). They stand before God; they confront him, as it were, eye to eye, being to being. Each feels God to be the All to him now. The idea of God fills every soul as a burning flame. They stand before him, feeling his presence, and awaiting his doom fixing word. This is a distinguishing feature of the retributive period. In every preceding period of human history, with the exception of the millennial ages, the vast majorities of all generations had no conscious contact with God. Some denied his very being, whilst others desired not a knowledge of his ways. But hence on, forever and ever, all the good and the bad will "stand before God" - will be in conscious contact with him. His felt presence will be the heaven of the good, and his felt presence will be the hell of the ceil.
1. There will be no atheism after this. How will the atheist teachers of the past ages feel now? Lucretius, Democritus, and Strabo among the ancients; Diderot, Lagrange, D'Alembert, Mirabeau, and Hobbes amongst the moderns, will feel now, and evermore, that the greatest reality in the universe was the Being whose existence they impiously ignored or denied.
2. There will be no deism after this. The men who taught, through preceding ages, the doctrine that God had no immediate connection with his creatures; that he governed the universe through an inflexible system of laws; that he took no Cognizance of individuals, and felt no interest in them, will know now that no being in the universe had been in such close contact with every particle and period of their existence as God. All the objects that intervened between God and the soul will be withdrawn now; the veil of sense and matter will be rent asunder, to unite no more.
3. There will be no indifferentism after this. God's Being, presence, and claims will no longer be subjects of no importance. They will be everything to all. God's presence will fill the conscious life of all, as midday sun without a cloud the day.
IV. THIS RETRIBUTIVE PERIOD WILL SETTLE FOREVER THE QUESTION OF EVERY MAN'S CHARACTER AND DESTINY. "And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works," etc. (vers. 12, 13). Here observe three things.
1. That the worth of a man's character will be determined by his works. "According to their works." Not by religious position, or creed, or profession, or office; but by "works." "What has a man done?" will be the question.
2. That a man's works will be determined by recognized authorities. "Books" will be opened. God's moral and remedial laws are books, and these books will now be opened - opened to memory, to conscience, and the universe. This will be a day of moral conviction.
3. That according to the correspondence, or noncorrespondence, of man's works with these recognized authorities will be his final destiny. "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (ver. 15). "The book of life" - the remedial law or scheme of salvation - the gospel. Whoever was not found vitally interested in this was cast into the lake of fire. What a scene is this that has passed under review! In its light how mean do man's highest dignities and honours appear! How ineffably paltry the pageantry of courts! how empty the pretensions of sovereigns! How solemn is life, in all its stages, relations, and aspects! God help us to live in the light of "that day"! - D.T.