The Last Things [Judgement]

 

R. A. Finlayson

 


 

Every religion has a doctrine or belief about the last things, however crude. This is because this is one of man's basic interests. Ironical as it may be, man is more interested in the end of his life here than in anything else about it. This is because he has a deep-seated belief- it may be a conviction, a hope, a dread - that the end of this life is the beginning of another life.

Where he got this intuition, this instinct as it were, we cannot say. But he has it. He feels deep down within him that he belongs here and now to two worlds - that part of him belongs to some other sphere, and that when this world ends, he will be wholly in that other world, he will enter upon another form of life.

What man is interested in is his destiny: he feels he is a creature of destiny and he wants to know - with a great eagerness - what that destiny is.

That matter of destiny obtrudes itself into man's life in the here and now - it casts its shadow or its light upon the daily life of man. He is trying to see things in the light of it: it is to him the reality in which he judges all other realities.

Now the problem of man's destiny is the problem of his moral character. What he is and what he is going to be are linked together, and he cannot in thought separate them. If he thinks of it at all, he must postulate the continuity of human personality. If there is no continuity, then he is not interested, for it will be another than himself. And man is interested only in himself - the I - the self-conscious Ego - the man I am. How is he going to fare?

This problem is not raised by the Bible or by religion; very often it is the other way round. It is this problem that causes man to be interested in religion. But once it is raised, man is driven to religion to find out if there is any solution to it there. And that means, for us at least, that we are driven to the Bible to ask if the answer is there.

Since the Bible is a text-book of human values, it is not surprising that it attempts to answer the problem. The Bible tells us very plainly what we already suspected, that it is all a question of moral character the validity, the permanence of character - and of the values that are interwoven into character.

It becomes at once apparent that the Bible recognizes only two types of moral character, what it calls the righteous and the wicked. Between these two there is absolutely nothing.

 

1. The Assessment of Moral Character

How is moral character to be assessed as righteous or wicked? The Bible says there is only one standard - the moral character of God. He is the supreme and final standard of what is right and wrong. His character is the norm, the standard of measurement, by which all moral character is judged.

And the Bible is insistent that it is in the presence of God, a holy God, that character will be judged at the last. This is the meaning of the wealth of imagery that you find in the New Testament dealing with man's final destiny. He is to appear before a Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11) in order that over against that purity - that glistening whiteness - his character may be judged. What is the Great White Throne but the moral purity of God's character.

Again, we read that the books are to be opened at the last (Revelation 20:12), and his life is to be judged according to the things written in the books. What is that Book - that record of man's moral being, of his real self - what but the searchlight of God's holy character, in its flaming purity, searching and laying bare what in man's life is in accordance with the character of God.

That then is the Judgement Seat that marks the final act in the determination of man's character and so of his destiny. It is significant that the Bible unhesitatingly places that judgement on the very threshold of destiny. Man must meet his Maker, and when man meets a holy God, then judgement falls on man's character. Now that is what Christianity means by its Doctrine of Judgement. It is the final assessment of man's life and character.

There are certain matters of detail that He reveals about it.

(a) It is a single event

God has appointed a Day in which He will judge the world(Acts 17.31). Put any content you may into 'Day', it must connote an event: an experience that man must pass through at a given point in his conscious existence.

It is passed on a fully reconstituted human personality. The personality of man is complex - body, soul, mind, heart, flesh and spirit. All these elements enter into personality and comprise personality. When therefore man is to be judged his personality must be reintegrated. Death has temporarily broken up his personality. It takes a resurrection to restore personality in all its parts, to integrate the true self.

Here the Christian doctrine of Resurrection comes in - as a prelude to judgement. All men, in virtue of being men, must share in that resurrection before they participate in that judgement.

(b) It is a general event

The Bible depicts the entire race appearing before the Judgement Throne. This is because man is to be judged in all his relationships. Man has lived morally all his life in relation to his fellows: he has done good or evil in that relationship. In that relationship - and not in isolation - he will be judged.

(c) It is an unveiling before a Judge

You see personality can be judged only by a person. Human personality in all its relationships can be judged before the Supreme Human Personality. For that reason we read that God has appointed a day in which to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed (Acts 17:31). The Bible declares with full authority that that Man is the Lord Jesus Christ. Underlying the idea of British Justice there is judgement by Jury - by our peers. Why? Because they are most likely to enter fully and sympathetically into all the personal human relationships involved. The Law in all its cold impersonal statutes could not deal with these personal relationships adequately.

Final judgement for human character is in the presence of the Man, Christ Jesus. God has appointed all judgment unto the Son, because He is the Son of Man (John 5:27). He is therefore in Himself the supreme and final judge of human character. And, of course, there can be only one of two verdicts - right or wrong, righteous or wicked. The middle verdict of non proven will never have to be passed. In relationship to Christ we are either righteous or wicked.

Take another look at the parables that draw aside the veil from the Eternal Future: in what respect does He deal with those before His Tribunal? Always the righteous and the wicked. You see it's a moral issue and no side issues are to come in.

(d) The Judgement is final

That is inherent in the ultimates that are being judged. No one ever stages a come back. No judgement ever comes up for review. Listen to the verdict as the curtain falls on human destiny: 'He that is unjust filthy - righteous - holy -' (Revelation 22:11) like the thud of the earth falling on a coffin lid.

 

2. Destiny

As there are only two types of character, so there are only two kinds of destiny; the destiny of the wicked and the destiny of the righteous. For Character is Destiny. Character is destiny because character is the fixation of the moral trend of behavior. In the course of this life character is being built on moral issues and manifests itself in moral behavior.

Death stamps character with moral permanence - but it is a permanence that lets the character pursue its course as it had begun. Revelation 22: 11 puts it so: 'He that is unjust let him be unjust still: and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.' The two states of character are unjust or righteous, filthy or holy.

The moral behavior is either unjust or righteous. The moral quality of life is either filthy or holy. These are the ultimates in human character. For the character whose ruling principle is evil there is the possibility of more and more complete submission to the domination of evil. For the character whose ruling principle is righteous there is the possibility of developing in righteousness. The character will go on expressing itself in the manner natural to itself for ever. The state of character and its manifestation are apparently fixed by eternal law, and the trend of existence, the drift of moral character goes on.

This would seem to rule out the possibility of change in the moral orientation of existence after death. And that is what we mean by destiny.

The two destinies recognized by Scripture are heaven and hell. There can be no doubt but that the word in each case may denote both place and state, though naturally we attach greater significance to state than to place, to what we are to be, rather than to where we are to be. 'And these shall go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life' (Matthew 25:41).

(a) The Destiny of the Wicked

It is significant that the Biblical approach nowhere suggests that some evil will be put out of existence. The idea of annihilation is alien to the thought of the Bible. The Scriptures view evil not abstractly, but as something inherent in the nature of spiritual beings through the fact of a wrong character. The very possibility of evil would therefore belong to the possession of free-will.

Will gives the right to act, and its freedom to act in the line of its moral character is indestructible. It is a necessary Godsend to moral creatures and its withdrawal would leave man less than moral. In the case of man the removal of free-will would render him less than human, and the element of responsibility would disappear from his destiny.

But though the Bible does not tell us that the evil inherent in the wills of moral creatures will ever be destroyed or put out of existence, it does tell us that it will be put under eternal restraint. Since a holy God is in charge of His universe, evil will not triumph, nor will it be able to ravage or disturb God's universe for ever. Evil will be put under eternal restraint and in this fact lies the biblical conception of hell.

The New Testament imagery suggests locality. We need to use caution in the handling of figurative language. Spatial descriptions are often used in the Bible, as in common speech, to convey non-spatial truths. Even with this in view we affirm that the terms used by our Lord and His apostles suggest locality.

The word 'hell' is also used as a state. There are definite conceptions that must appear inseparable from the imagery of language of our Lord. Thus:

Conscious Suffering: outer darkness, furnace of fire, cutting asunder.

Acute Suffering in Soul or Spirit. an act of final separation; 'He shall separate the one from the other'; deprivation; 'Take therefore the talent from him'; finality; no hint of a reversal.

What is Hell?

(a) It is the fixation of moral character. At death character seems to have passed the point beyond which there is no possibility of change.

(b) Hell is an encounter with the character and will of God. God's nature is holy, and His character is unsullied righteousness. For the unholy to mix with holiness is Hell. Every moral creature will make this encounter with the holy will of God either in harmony or in conflict. The unregenerate soul finds himself at the last in radical and implacable conflict with the will of God.

(c) Hell is an unending process of spiritual disintegration. Physical death is breaking down of organic matter. Spiritual death is breaking down of spiritual personality.

(d) Hell means that character and environment must be in harmony. Every soul reaches its moral level. Judas went to his own place as every man will. The wicked in nature and character have an affinity to the place to which they go.

 

3. The Destiny of the Righteous

The eternal state of the righteous is usually associated with heaven. It is often accepted as 'above the bright blue sky', but that is no consideration of where the final home of the redeemed will be.

What is Heaven?

(a) It is the vision of God accompanied by an affinity of moral spiritual character.

(b) Heaven is fellowship with God - a vision deeper than sight, mediated through experience, through communion. Faith only can see God.

(c) Heaven is Likeness to God.

 

4. The Final State

Here man must be seen in relation to the larger community of which he is a member - the human race. And the race itself can be seen only in relation to the universe. There will be new harmony.

There is a racial destiny for mankind. Racial redemption does not mean that every one will be saved: it means that the saved will constitute the new race - the new humanity. Rescued humanity shall be the Spiritual Temple in which God's glory will dwell.

The Consummation will see a restitution of all things, a renewal and restoration of the world blighted by sin. There will be a regeneration, a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness will permanently dwell.

Two questions are frequently asked:

(a) Will there be a restoration of those who died rejecting the gospel? There seems no substantial hope for this in the New Testament. Only in this life as far as we know can the will be renewed, the liberty of choice exercised, and the desire for salvation expressed.

(b) Are there many that be saved?

That is an old question to which Christ refused to give a direct answer. His answer was an appeal to individual responsibility and it met the local condition only. We do not imagine that Christ was drawing aside the veil for the future. He was answering a personal question in a personal way.

There is no reason to believe that the number will be few. John in vision saw a multitude which no man could number (Revelation 7:9). Christ shall see of the travail of His soul. But how is it to happen? On the present scale it looks well nigh impossible. But Christianity has known in the past its periods of mass movements when multitudes entered the kingdom. The kingdom of the heavens is behind the scenes. It can break through at any moment as it did at Pentecost and multitudes may be swept into the kingdom. What the crisis or crises will be, we do not know, but we believe that the power of sin will be for ever vanquished, and its ravages fully restrained. The purposes of God regarding the earth will come to full fruition, and the world of mankind will fulfill its destiny, and the devil shall not pluck it out of God's hand.