The Great Judgment Day
May 7th, 1968 @ 7:30 PM
THE GREAT JUDGMENT DAY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-7-68 7:30 p.m.
There are two things that all of us shall face, most poignantly, pointed out and writ large on the sacred page by God Himself: “It is appointed unto men once to die.” All of us shall someday die, all of us. If the Lord does not intervene from heaven, all of us shall someday face death. And whether the Lord intervenes or not, the second thing; all of us shall stand at the bema of Christ. “It is appointed unto men once to die; and after that, the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27]. And the sermon tonight is concerning that great and final day. In the Book of Matthew, in chapter 13, beginning at verse 36:
Then Jesus sent the multitude away. . . and His disciples came unto Him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field.
Jesus answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the tares are the children of the wicked one;
The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; the reapers are the angels.
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
And shall cast them into a furnace of fire . . .
But the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of his Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.
How plain, how meticulously delineated.
There shall be a great separation; all through the Word of God is that avowal precisely presented. There shall someday be a great separation. It is not the program of God that the wicked and the righteous shall forever be together. God will not endure iniquity and transgression in the world that He made. Someday there shall be a cleansing, there shall be a purging, and all that is vile and iniquitous God will gather out, and it shall be cast into an eternal fire, and God’s righteous people shall be gathered together to live with Him, world without end [Matthew 13:40-43]. And that delineation, that description, that presentation is avowed in this Bible from the first to the last, from the middle page out to both ends. There shall someday be a great separation.
Now the Lord says, in this parable that He explains, that there shall be an end of the world. And in this little short passage I read, twice does He say it, “The harvest is the end of the world” [Matthew 13:39]. And as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world” [Matthew 13:40].
So God says that there is an end to all things mundane and terrestrial. If they are down here; if it belongs to this globe and this planet, there shall someday be an end. “Heaven and earth shall pass away” [Matthew 24:35; Luke 21:33]. There shall be a new, renovated heaven, and there shall be a new purge by fire and renovated world. If it is mundane, if it is terrestrial, if it is in this life, if it is on this planet, somewhere, someday, it has an end.
There is never a river so long but that finally loses itself in the expanse of the sea. There is never a day that comes to birth at the dawn that rises to meridian strength but that dies in the twilight shades of the night. There is never a year that is born in the springtime that flowers and fruits in the summer but dies in the autumn and cold of the winter.
So it is with our life. We spend our years as a tale that is told. You can see the end from the beginning. All the way through that ultimate and final consummation of our life is never a surprise, as though we met it with astonishment, as though it were not already known. I know that my life someday shall end, and every life somewhere, someday has its finale. It is roger; it is over; it is dirty; it is done; it is finished; it has an end.
I have stood in the presence of the oldest living things in the world, the giant sequoia of California. And as you stand and look at the tremendous height of those vast trees, and a ranger will stand by your side and say, there for hundreds of feet in the air, and there for so many feet in the circumference, an unbelievable specimen; but the most impressive thing he will say is that that tree you are looking at was a thousand years old when Jesus was born, or two thousand years old when Jesus was born. And as I look at its height and its diameter and marvel at its age and antiquity, I have but to cast my eyes to the ground and there returning to the dust out of which it grew are giant sequoia equally as great, equally as tall, equally as mammoth and gigantic. But they are fallen and are returning to the ground out of which they were made. So all of life, all of it, somewhere, sometime has an end, and our life has that end.
Our day of grace is so brief, for just a moment and it’s forever done. My opportunity, my open door is for the moment then it is done with, and I can never recall it, and I can never relive it; I can never remake it, and if I sin away my day of grace and my opportunity, I am lost forever and ever and ever! [Hebrews 10:26].
Now most of these things, all of us are conscious of and sensitive to; I know I shall die, I know that. And I know that what I do in this life for God I must do soon, for my day of grace is so soon past, I know that, but how few of us are so sensitive to it and so conscious of it that we respond to its necessity, and its appeal, and its dramatic thrust.
I picked up a newspaper one time, and I read an Associated Press report, just an item in the paper. And when I read it, I said, “Such a thing as that never happened, never. It’s against nature, those things just don’t happen.” Yet I read it there in the paper. Just an ordinary news report and this is what it said, “Such and such town and there was a fire in a home in that town,” and the newspaper report said that the woman in the home, when she saw that her house was on fire, that she had run into the building and had gathered in her arms all that she could hold. She took a picture or two down from the wall, and she ran to the dining room and there gathered some of her silverware, and to the dresser and there some of her jewelry, and she had filled her arms full of these trinkets and had come back outside of her home and was standing there with her trinkets around her and was watching the building burn. And as she stood there with her silverware here and her jewelry there and her pictures close by watching her house burn, she suddenly screamed “O, O my God, my baby is in that house! My baby is in that house!”
I just read that as an Associated Press report, and when I read it, I said, “That’s contrary to nature, such a thing as that never was. Some vivid imagination has written that and put it there in the paper.” But I have changed my mind. As the years have passed, and these forty years I have been a pastor, I have concluded that is the truest picture of mankind that I have ever seen. For our people spend their lives like pack rats gathering trinkets, and the most vital and dear and precious of all the things in life we let go by, slip through our fingers. Our day of grace is soon past.
Our holy Book says that all of us someday shall appear at the judgment door of Almighty God, all of us [2 Corinthians 5:10]. We’re not conscious of it, but the astronomer says that this whole universe of ours, the sun and the planets, are moving through space at a terrific speed; going where, at an appointed place and an appointed time with Almighty God—and in this planet we live, and on this planet we shall be buried, and when that great rendezvous is made with God we shall be there. The whole universe is moving toward that final day and that final place. These eruptions of history, the fabric of social life in which we are enmeshed and from which we cannot extricate ourselves, the final end of all of the movement of human history is to meet God, and we shall be in that great assize! And however our path may diverge, and however our lives may be divergent, they shall all meet again and cross again at the great judgment day of Almighty God.
The little babe in the cradle reaching up its tiny arms is reaching out to the great judgment of Almighty God. And that youth going by with elastic tread is striding to the great judgment day of Almighty God. And that old man tottering with his cane is moving to the great judgment day of Almighty God. And that rich man with his splendid equipage is riding to the great judgment day of Almighty God. And that poor man, barefoot, clothed in rags, is moving to the great judgment day of Almighty God. And the Christian with songs on his lips and with praises in his heart is pilgrimaging to the great judgment day of Almighty God. And the lost man—and the lost man, doing despite to the Spirit of grace, and counting the blood of the covenant wherewith he was sanctified an unholy thing [Hebrews 10:29], and saying no to the pastor, and no to the Holy Spirit, and no to the Holy Spirit, and no to the appeal; he is moving to the great judgment day of Almighty God. For we shall all appear, all of us someday, someday, at the bema of Christ [Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10].
And of that judgment the Lord hath more to say than of any other one thing of which He spake to us. Sometimes He would say it like this, “It will be like a shepherd as he divides the sheep from the goats” [Matthew 25:32]. Sometimes He would say it like this, “It will be like the tares that are burned with unquenchable fire, and the wheat gathered in the garner” [Matthew 3:12]. Sometimes he would say it like this, “It will be like fish caught in a net and the bad thrown away” [Matthew 13:47-50]. Sometimes He would say it like this, “It is like a wedding and the five foolish virgins are shut out and the five wise maidens are entered in” [Matthew 25:1-13]. Sometimes He would say it like this, “Be like two sleeping in a bed; one shall be taken, and the other left. Two shall be working in a field; one shall be taken, and the other left. Two shall be grinding at a mill; one shall be taken, and the other left” [Luke 17:34-36]. And sometimes He would say it like this, “It is like a great gulf fixed and on this side are the children of God, and on this side are those who have refused God’s overtures of grace and mercy, with a great gulf in between [Luke 16:26].
Pastor, in this modern age, do you believe in that old medieval theology that there is a hell, and there is damnation, and there is a judgment to face, and there is a division between God’s people and those that do not belong to the Lord? Do you believe that?”
I believe it for two reasons. One: because Christ who loved us and died for us [Galatians 2:20; 1 Corinthians 15:3], Christ says there is a judgment to come, and there will be a great separation [Matthew 25:31-46]. There is a dividing. I believe it because Christ says it. That’s why He died for us. There must have been some tremendous reason why God in Christ came down from heaven to die for our sins, and that reason is because of the tragedy of our lostness without Him [Hebrews 10:4-14].
I believe it for a second reason. I see that gulf in between—in all of the ministries of my pastorate, in all of them through all of the years—that gulf in between that separates between those who love God and those who reject God’s invitation.
I had a deacon that went on the other side of the railroad tracks to hold a revival meeting, and on a weekday morning at the 10:00 o’clock service, I attended his revival to encourage him in his work. And he did something that morning I never had seen before. He started at the back of the little church, and he asked each one present if he had a burden on his heart, and if that one had a burden on his heart to tell the people what was the burden on his heart, and then the deacon would say, “We will bow our heads.” And the one who had the burden on his heart was to pray to God.
Well, he went through the whole congregation, and in front of me there sat a little mother with a baby in her arms and another little boy just big enough to talk and to play by her side on the pew. When he came to that little mother he said to her, “And little mother, do you have a burden on your heart?”
And she said, “Yes.” And the deacon said, “Little mother, what is the burden on your heart?”
And she replied, “Oh, that my husband might be saved, that my husband would be a Christian.”
So the deacon said, “Now we shall all bow our heads, and little mother you pray for your husband, that he might be saved.” So we all bowed our heads and waited for that little mother to pray. Instead of praying, she began to cry, and as the deacon waited for her to voice her supplication, she began to sob.
Finally, I stood up and I said, “Good deacon, may I pray in her place?”
He said, “Why, yes pastor, yes.” So I bowed my head and prayed for her husband, that he might be a Christian.
When I finished the prayer, I sat down and raising my head, I looked into the face of the little boy who was looking at the tears fall down from the face of his mother, and the little fellow said, “Mother, what you crying for? What you crying for?” She never replied. The little fellow worked himself into her arms along with his little baby brother, and putting his arms around his mother’s neck, he looked straight into her eyes and repeated his question, “Mother, what you crying for? What you crying for?” And the mother never replied.
Seated back of the mother, I could look straight into the face of the little boy, and as I looked at his wide-eyed innocent eyes wondering at the tears of his mother, I said in my heart, “Sonny boy, you don’t understand why mother cries, but someday you will, someday you will.” Why mother cries—that gulf in between—all of the gifts and money in the world cannot bridge it. All of the affection and love and devotion in the world cannot bridge it. All of the shared experiences in the world cannot bridge it; why mother cries, “Oh, that my husband might be a Christian.” There is no gift God can bestow upon a home than to put it together in Christ. Nor is there any fullness of soul as when father and mother bring their children to God; the gulf in between. And if that gulf is ever to be bridged, you must bridge it now [Psalm 78:1-8]. The children grow up so quickly. They change so rapidly. Mother, just turn around and look back and that girl is a young woman. Dad, just be busy a moment, then turn around and that boy is a young man.
If you have aught in your heart in vision and dream and love for that child, give him a united Christian home now; tomorrow is too late [Hebrews 3:13]. And if ever we’re to be saved, we must be saved now [2 Corinthians 6:2]. There is an end to our lives. There is an end to all things. There is finally an end to the world.
When the choir has sung its last anthem,
And the preacher has prayed his last prayer;
When the people have heard their last sermon,
And the sound is died out on the air;
When the Bible lies closed on the altar,
And the pews are all emptied of men,
And the great book in Heaven is open,
And we stand before Him—What Then?
When the actor has played his last drama,
And the mimic has made his last pun;
When the film has flashed its last pictures,
And the billboard has displayed its last run,
When the crowd seeking pleasure have vanished
And gone out in the darkness again;
And the trumpet of ages is sounded,
And we stand before Him—what then?
When the bugle’s call sinks into the silence,
And the long-marching columns stand still;
When the captain repeats his last orders,
And they capture the last fort and hill;
When the flag is hauled down from the masthead,
And the wounded afield checked in;
And a world that rejected its Savior,
Is asked for a reason—What Then?
[from “What Then?” J. Whitfield Green]
“The harvest is past and the summer ended, and we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20]. Come now, tomorrow is too late; and tomorrow never comes. God’s Holy Spirit never said, “Tomorrow.” God’s Holy Book never says, “Tomorrow.” God’s apostles never said, “Tomorrow.” But the Spirit pleads, “Now”; God’s Book says, “Now, this is the accepted time; this is the day of salvation” [2 Corinthians 6:2], and if ever I am to move God-ward, I must do it now.
“But pastor, there are questions I haven’t resolved”; let God resolve them. “But pastor, there are strengths I don’t possess”; He is our strength [Philippians 4:13]. “But pastor, there are hesitancies”; bring them to Jesus. Come, just as you are, and God will see you through. He never fails; He never will. Just as you are, full of hesitancies maybe; full of unresolved questions, maybe; full of doubts and tremblings, maybe; full of a thousand other things that would intervene and interdict; come just as you are and let God see you through.
A couple you, a family you, a one somebody you; one of you coming by letter, the other coming to be baptized, both of you coming to be baptized [Matthew 28:19-20], both of you coming by letter, one of you coming to put your life in the church, the other already belonging, to reconsecrate his life to Jesus, one you, that somebody you for whom Jesus died [1 Corinthians 15:3], for whom we would hold this whole meeting and a thousand beside if it would win you, you come, you come.
In a moment when we sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Come. Come. Make the decision now. Put your hand on the hand of your wife, and when you stand up, stand up coming. “Dear, we shall do this together.” Or one somebody you, make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand, stand up coming. That first step will be the greatest step you have ever made in your life, coming to God and to us [Romans 10:9-10]. Do it now, make it now, and the Lord attend you and bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.