We Believe In The Judgment
March 26th, 1970 @ 12:00 PM
WE BELIEVE IN THE JUDGMENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-26-70 12:00 p.m.
In the thirteenth chapter of the First Gospel, in the thirty-ninth verse, as the Lord expounds to His disciples the meaning of the parable of the tares [Matthew 13:36-43], He had said that the field is the world, and in it wheat and tares [Matthew 13:38]. And they are to grow up together, the good, the bad, the wicked and the righteous, the saved and the lost, in this life, in the field of this world they grow up together [Matthew 13:28-29]. But the Lord says that, “There is coming a time when they will be separated,” and He speaks of that harvest as the end of the world [Matthew 13:30]. And in the thirty-ninth verse and in the fortieth verse, He repeats that same thing [Matthew 13:39-40]. There is a harvest at the end of the world, and the tares shall be gathered and burned in everlasting fire, and the righteous shall be taken away into the glory of the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 13:41-43].
This is none other but a reflection of the entire revelation of God. It is poignantly and succinctly stated by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, “It is appointed, it is set, it is determined for men once to die; and after that the judgment” [Hebrews 9:27]. There is a day in God’s Book when we shall surely and certainly die. It is known to God, it is already written in the Book. It is appointed, it is recorded for a man once to die. There is a time when you shall die. You shall certainly die. And the Book says that no less certainly shall you face the judgment of Almighty God [Hebrews 9:27]. We haven’t time to elaborate upon that judgment.
All of us, according to 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verse 10, all of us who are saved shall stand before the bema, the judgment seat of Christ [2 Corinthians 5:10]. Then according to the twentieth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, the wicked dead shall stand before the great white throne of Christ [Revelation 20:11-15]. But all of us, someday, shall stand at the judgment bar of our Lord. And I shall speak of that in three categories: first, the ultimate and final end of the world and of our lives; second, the inexorable judgment we face; and third, the great separation.
First: the certain and final end of our lives. If it is mundane, if it is terrestrial, if it is material, whatever, someday it shall find an end. Even the stars shall burn out, and the heavens and the earth shall pass away [2 Peter 3:10]. There is an end to everything that we know mundane and terrestrial. There’s 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 in the dawn, that rises to meridian strength at noonday, but that dies in the twilight and shades of the night; so our own lives.
The Scriptures say that we spend our years as a tale that is told. That is, you can see the end from the beginning. And all of us follow that inexorable, inevitable road alike. It ends in death. I have stood, as many of you have, in the presence of the oldest living things in the world, the giant sequoia in California. And as you stand there by a park ranger, and he says they’re so many hundreds of feet high, and so many feet in diameter and girth, and they’re so many years old––two thousand years old before Christ was born––and you gaze at those venerable living giants and think of their antiquity, as you review their age standing there under God’s heaven, by the side of those sequoia giants, lying prostrate on the earth, turning back to the dust out of which they grew, there are other giant sequoia equally as old, equally as great, equally as mammoth turning back to the dust out of which they were made. If it is mundane and terrestrial, somewhere, sometime, someday it has an end; so with our lives and so with our day of grace. We live now, we have an open door now, the mercy and grace of God is extended toward us now; but it has an end. Some place, somewhere, sometime, it ceases to be, it is no more, it is taken away, it is withdrawn; and I have just now.
In a daily newspaper, I read an associated press dispatch that was one of the most astonishing newspaper articles I ever followed. The article said that there was a house burning down, and the woman was visiting a neighbor next door. And when they looked out the window, her house was in flames. The newspaper article said that she went into the house that was burning, and she took a picture down from the wall, and she opened the door and took out her silverware, and another, her jewelry, and she gathered up what trinkets she could in her arms and then dashed outside as the building burned. She put all of her trinkets around her and stood among them, watching her home go up in flames.
Then to the horror of the neighbors who had gathered around her, watching that house burn down, to their horror, the woman shrieked, “Oh, my God, my baby is in that house!” I read that as an article on the front page, a little thing of a daily newspaper. When I read it, I said, “That never happened. That’s contrary to human nature. No mother would ever forget her child, thinking of pictures, and silver, and jewelry, and draperies, and furniture. She’d never do it.”
But I have changed my mind, after being a pastor for the years and the years. That article that I read in the daily newspaper is the most accurate and poignantly pertinent of all the descriptions of human life that I’ve ever read. That is human life. Facing judgment and moral accountability, we spend our days and our time gathering together the trinkets of the world—a piece of gold, a ribbon, a piece of silver, a little possession—and forget, in our avarice and our greed and our worldly seeking, the great eternities of life and of God. We have it now, an open door; we have an opportunity today. Our period of grace is just so long, like our lives, then it comes to an end and forever.
Second: all of us are moving toward the great judgment day of Almighty God. You are enmeshed in this world, and you are placed in a niche in its moving history. You cannot change your place, nor your age, nor your time. These astronomers say that the entire universe, all that we see in the heavens above us, all are moving toward the great somewhere of Almighty God. And the movements of history and the social eruptions that characterize it in which our lives are enmeshed, all are moving toward the great somewhere, someday. Our lives are inexorably bound up in that moving. Somewhere, some day, some time this universe and this world and our lives inexorably bound up in it, shall meet in a great rendezvous with Almighty God. And the Bible calls that the judgment day [Matthew 12:36].
You shall be there. I shall be there, and all God’s created universe shall stand in judgment before the Almighty. That little babe in the cradle is reaching up its tiny arms toward the judgment day of Almighty God. That young man striding by with elastic tread is swiftly moving to the great judgment day of Almighty God. That old man tottering with his cane is tottering toward the judgment day of Almighty God. That poor man, barefoot and in rags, is walking to the great judgment day of Almighty God. That rich man, riding by with luxurious equipage, is riding to the great judgment day of Almighty God. That Christian, with songs on his lips and with praises in his heart, is pilgrimmaging to the great judgment day of Almighty God. And that lost sinner, doing despite to the Spirit of grace and counting the blood of the covenant wherewith He was sanctified an unholy thing [Hebrews 10:28-31], and saying “No,” to the preacher, and “No,” to the Spirit of God, and “No,” to the overtures of grace, he is moving to the great judgment day of Almighty God. However diverse our paths may be here, they all shall converge someday before the throne of the Judge of all the earth.
And that leads to the third revelation in God’s holy Word: the great separation. God says, and He repeats it, and He reiterates it, and He emphasizes it: there is coming a time when there shall be taken out of God’s world all that have sinned, the unbeliever, the rejecter, the sinner unforgiven, there shall be a great separation in this world. When I was a youth, I heard an old, retired, white-headed preacher in a sermon describe that in a dramatic way. It is as poignantly remembered in my heart this moment as when I sat there and listened to that old, white-headed man describe the judgment separation.
He’d been a pastor for fifty, sixty years, and as such had that pastoral word describing a funeral service. And he said, “There will come up a father, and look into the face of his son, and cry saying, ‘Goodbye, son, goodbye.’” And he’d describe a mother and a daughter, and the mother weeping over her daughter, “Goodbye, daughter, goodbye.” Then he’d describe the children weeping over their mother and father, “Goodbye, Mother, Goodbye, Father.” Or a husband weeping over his wife, or a wife weeping over her husband. But he said, “That is not goodbye; that’s just ‘Farewell, till I see you again.’” He said, “What it means, goodbye, is at the great judgment day of Almighty God, when the Lord shall separate those who are saved and those who are lost” [Matthew 25:31-46], then he said, “a wife shall say to her unbelieving husband, ‘Goodbye, goodbye.’ And the parents shall say to their unbelieving children, ‘Goodbye, goodbye.’ And the believing children shall say to their unbelieving parents, ‘Goodbye, goodbye.’” He said, “That is goodbye, forever and ever and ever; the separation between the lost and the saved.” Oh, such a solemn thought as that; you never get away from it.
And as I study the Word, and bow in humility before the great God who made me, and before whom someday I shall stand in judgment, I am appalled at how much in the Bible there is concerning that final separation. It is not incidentally mentioned; it is not an afterthought, but it is a part of the very woof and warp of the gospel message itself. Jesus spake more of it, and more solemnly, than of anything else of which He spake. Sometimes He would say that great judgment day is like a shepherd, dividing the sheep from the goats [Matthew 25:31-46]. Sometimes He would say it’s like the sower in the field; and the harvest comes and the wheat is separated from the tares [Matthew 13:25-30, 37-43]. Sometimes He would say it’s like a fisherman with his net; and the good is separated from the bad [Matthew 13:47-50]. Sometimes He would say it’s as two grinding at a mill, and one is taken, and the other left; or two sleeping in a bed, and one is taken, and the other left; or two working out in a field, one is taken, and the other left [Luke 17:34-36]. Sometimes He would say it’s like a marriage supper; and the five wise enter in and the five foolish are left outside [Matthew 25:1-13]. And sometimes He would say it’s like a great gulf fixed; and on one side are those in Abraham’s bosom in heaven, and on the other side are those in the abyss, tormented in an unceasing flame [Luke 16:19-31].
O Lord, dear God, these things strike terror to my heart. Could such a thing possibly be? Is it possible that a man can so sully his day of grace, and so say “no” to the overtures of God’s mercy, that he is shut out and separated from the presence of God and the Lord’s redeemed forever and ever and ever? O Lord, could such a thing be?
And then, in my own pastoral work, I see that separation. I see it down every street. I see it many times in almost every family. It is not a theological proposition; it is not an ecclesiastical doctrine, it is the harshest, most tragic of all of the facts that I face in human life, that great separation, that gulf in between. I have to close.
One of my deacons went on the other side of the railroad tracks to hold a revival meeting. And on a weekday morning, I went to the service to encourage him. He did something that day I’d never seen anyone do. He started at the back of that little church and asked each one present if he had a burden on his heart. And if that one had a burden on his heart, he’d ask, “What is it?” And then when that one described the burden on his heart, then we’d all bow, and he’d ask that one to pray, and we’d pray for the burden on the heart.
He went all through that little congregation to the little woman seated on the rough bench in front of me. She had a baby in her arms and another little fellow just big enough to play on the bench by her side and just big enough to begin to talk. When he got to that little mother, he said, “Little mother, do you have a burden on your heart?” And she said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, what’s the burden on your heart?” And she said, “Oh, that my husband might be saved.” He said, “Now let’s all bow our heads, and little mother you lead the prayer that your husband might be saved, and we’ll all pray with you.” So we all bowed our heads, and I bowed my head waiting for the little mother to pray for her husband, that he might be saved. She didn’t pray. She began to cry.
And the deacon paused, and she just cried and finally sobbed aloud. I stood up, and I said, “Deacon, if you don’t mind, let me pray in her stead.” So I prayed for her husband that he might be saved. And after the prayer I sat down. And when I opened my eyes, the little boy playing by her side was looking in astonishment in the face of his mother, and watching the tears fall down. He said, “Mother, what you crying for? What you crying for?” She never did answer. He finally worked himself into her arms, put his little chubby hands around her neck and then repeated his question, “Mother, what you crying for? What you crying for?” The mother never did reply. But seated back of her, I could look straight into the wide open innocent eyes of the little boy; and I thought in my heart as I looked at him, “Sonny boy, you’re too young to understand, you don’t know why Mother cries; but someday you will, someday you’ll understand,” the great gulf in between God’s saved and God’s redeemed, and those who reject the love and mercy of the Lord [Luke 16:26].
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 Book on the altar is closed,
And we stand before the great Judge of men,
And the record of heaven is opened
And we answer, what then?—WHAT THEN?
When the actor’s played his last drama,
And the mimic has made his last fun;
When the film has flashed its last picture,
And the billboard displayed its last run;
When the crowd seeking pleasure has 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 silence,
And the long marching columns stand still;
When the captain repeats his last orders,
And they’ve captured the last port and hill;
When the flag is hauled down from the mast head,
And the wounded of field checked in;
And a world that rejected its Savior,
Is asked for a reason—WHAT THEN?
[“What Then?”; J. Whitfield Green]
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we, we are not saved” [Jeremiah 8:20].
Lord, remember me. Lord, remember us. And may the atoning grace that reached down from heaven to earth, reach even to me. Dear God, forgive, save, and what I pray for myself, I pray for my people and for the whole world. Our Lord, in goodness and in mercy, may the Lord extend to us that golden scepter that shall bring healing, and forgiveness, and salvation, and joy to our souls in this life and in the life that is to come; in the grace of Jesus our Lord, amen.