Chapter 34: The Last Judgment
"The history of the world is the judgment of the world," says Schiller. The Bible not only does not con- test this statement, but repeatedly confirms it. That the judgment of God prevails in history, as well as in the life of the individual, is the meaning of the stories of the Flood and the tower of Babel, in which God judges in catastrophe the blasphemous deeds of men. They relate how God steps into history with His storms and upheavals to shatter those moments of human madness in which self-drunken men raise their towers to heaven. The Bible teaches us to observe how "he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption." It shows us how "righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people," and that this is true of great and small, of the life of the Nations as of individuals. These are indeed judgments, but they are not "The Judgment." These judgments have been or are being completed in history, they are but preludes to "The Judgment," which has not yet come. These judgments give us a preview, as it were of the Last Judgment.
"We must all appear before the Judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." "God will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath." It is no Jewish moralist who tells us that, but the Apostle through whom God has most power- fully proclaimed the message of His forgiving love.
One scarcely hears a sermon any more about The Judgment. Perhaps in former times there was too much and too rash preaching on this subject, motivated by a desire to drive men into the Kingdom of Heaven by fear. No one enters into the Kingdom of Heaven by fear, and the man who tries to do God's will out of fear simply does not do God's will. He alone can do God's will who loves God with all his heart, and trusts Him and relies wholly upon His mercy, but just because we must constantly take refuge in God's mercy, and not go our independent way, we need the message of the Judgment. We need it, just because we learn from it to "bring forth fruits meet for repentance." Every man, believer or unbeliever ought to know that at last comes
the Judgment when the Shepherd of Nations will sepa- rate the sheep from the goats. "Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." "Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." These words are not an opinion, they are the Lord's words (Matt. 25). So God speaks to each one of us, and whether or not we want to hear Him is not a matter of choice or speculation. The message of the Judgment informs us that God is to be taken seriously, that God will not be mocked. It tells us that God is not only the loving Father, but also the righteous Lord, who desires that His commandments find obedience.
"We must all," says Paul, "appear before the Judgment seat of Christ and must testify." "Who then can be saved?" the troubled disciples asked their Lord. "With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible," he gave answer.
Therefore the message of the Cross of Christ is given us, that it might show us the mercy of God with whom all things are possible. This message, however, does not mean, as it has often been interpreted, that the Judgment no longer means anything to him who believes in Christ, but rather that he alone survives the Judgment who has become a new man through faith in Christ, who has "passed from death to life" and hence belongs among those who "by patient continuance in well-doing seek for eternal life." God alone knows which are the good trees, that bear good fruit. We men can deceive ourselves. We know this much for certain, however, that no one is a "good tree" that rests upon his own righteousness.
We understand what the Bible tells us about forgive- ness only when we take seriously what it says about the Judgment. Only then do we really know what the Scriptures mean by "repent and be baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus," for it is this name alone that sustains us on that day. But the Lord Jesus can help us then only when he knows us to be his own, and does not have to say, "I know ye not." "For not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." This word, too, we must "let remain." It belongs to the word of Judgment, not to make us afraid, but to drive us to repentance, that we might really become those who "are His" by faith, hope, and love.