The Righteousness of Final Judgment
Acts 17:31
Because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained…

In which words I observe these five particulars.

I. First, AN ASSERTION OF A JUDGMENT TO COME. He will judge the world. For the more clear apprehension of the full importance of which it is to be noted that there are two pares of Divine Providence. The former, that by which He takes notice of the actions of men in this life; the latter, that by which He brings men to account in the other world. Which two branches of Providence do mutually infer and prove each other. For on the one hand if there were no such thing as a wise eye of God that strictly observes the actions of men in this world, it were impossible there should be any judgment to come, at least not a judgment in righteousness; for how shall He judge that doth not discern? And on the other hand, if there were no judgment to come, it were to no purpose for God to concern Himself about the affairs of mankind here below. Now this doctrine is the soul and spirit of all religion, and the sinew of all government and society. It is the soul of all religion, for what doth the belief of a God signify (although we should imagine Him to be never so great, glorious and happy) if He will not trouble Himself with government; in short, if He will neither reward nor punish; virtue is then but an empty name. And it is the sinew of all government; for it is certain that plots may sometimes be laid so deep that no eye of man can discover them. And there may be such a potent confederacy of wicked men, as that they shall outface human justice, in which case, what shall keep the world from running into confusion, and becoming an hell upon earth, but the discerning eye and steady hand of Providence?

II. The second observable in my text is, THAT THERE IS NOT ONLY A JUDGMENT TO COME, BUT THAT THE DAY OF IT IS DETERMINED. "He hath appointed a day wherein," etc. To adjourn to no certain time is, I think, to dissolve the court; and to appoint no day is to disappoint the business; the Almighty, therefore, hath appointed an express and solemn time for this great transaction. And indeed it is worthy of observation, that in all the great passages of Divine Providence He hath passed such an immutable decree upon them, that the time of their event can be no more casual than the very things themselves. So Exodus 12:41, the servitude of the children of Israel was determined to four hundred and thirty years, and the text tells us "that when the four hundred and thirty years were expired, even the self-same day departed all the host of the Lord out of the land of Egypt." Again 2 Chronicles 36:21, God had decreed to punish the nation of the Jews with seventy years captivity in Babylon, and precisely upon the expiration of that term, when the Word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah was finished, God put it into the heart of Cyrus to proclaim them liberty.

III. The third observable, namely, that as the day of judgment is set, so THE PERSON OF THE JUDGE IS ALSO CONSTITUTED AND ORDERED; "He will judge the world by that man whom He hath ordained," etc. And as all circumstances of time, place, and persons, are evidences of fact, and assurances of the principal business, so doth this particular designation of the Judge further confirm the certainty of the judgment. And not only so, but it also opens to us the great depth of the Divine goodness, especially upon these two considerations.

1. In the first place, it is wonderful decorous and becoming the Divine Majesty, and righteous towards the person of our Saviour, that He who humbled Himself to take our nature upon Him, and therein to fulfil exactly the Divine law, should in reward of this obedience and humiliation be exalted to be the Judge of the world, which He died for (Philippians 2:9).

2. Again, secondly, it wonderfully displays the Divine goodness towards us, that He should be appointed our Judge, that hath been, and yet is in our nature, that hath felt our infirmities, conflicted with the same temptations, and that withal had so much love to us as to die for us. That the Divine Majesty will not oppress us with His own glory, nor employ an archangel to pass judgment upon us, who as He hath had no commerce with a body of flesh and blood, cannot have sufficient compassion of our infirmities.

IV. In the fourth particular of my text, HE HATH GIVEN ASSURANCE UNTO ALL MEN IN THAT HE RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD. But how doth that assure us of this great and comfortable point? It is true the resurrection of our Saviour did denote Him to be some great and extraordinary person, but that is no sufficient argument that He shall be Judge of the world; the evidence therefore lies in this, our Saviour, Christ Jesus, whilst He was in the world, had often declared that He was appointed by God to judge the quick and dead, and appealed to His resurrection as the great proof of this.

V. There is one particular more in my text that deserves especial consideration, and that is THE MANNER OF THIS JUDGMENT, OR RATHER THE MEASURES THIS JUDGE WILL PROCEED BY AT THAT GREAT JUDGMENT AND THAT IS IN RIGHTEOUSNESS; He will judge the world in righteousness. Now in order hereto, we must first settle the Scripture notion of this phrase "righteousness" or "in righteousness." And that which I first observe to this purpose is this: Nowhere in all the Scripture doth righteousness signify rigour. I say there is no such use of this word in Scripture, when applied to God's dealings, no, nor yet when it is applied to men; a severe, harsh, rigorous man is so far from being a righteous man in the style of Scripture, that He is quite under another character. But to come home to the business, the full of my observation touching the Scripture notion of the phrase in my text is this, that δικαιοσύνη, or righteousness, is always used there in a comprehensive sense, so as to take in not only justice and uprightness, and impartiality, and the like, but also goodness, kindness, equity, clemency, candour, and mercy. "In righteousness shall He judge the world, and the people with equity (Psalm 98, last verse). Where, as world and people are equivalent expressions, and interpret each other, so are righteousness and equity made to be expressive of each other. Now agreeably to this notion, I will, by the guidance of the same holy Scripture, endeavour to represent the measures of that great day.

1. Christ Jesus, the Judge of all the world, will not at the last day proceed arbitrarily with men, but according to known laws; that is, He will not absolve and save any merely because He hath decreed so to do (Revelation 2:23; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Indeed in this world God doth deal by prerogative, and dispenses the means of grace as well as other favours, as He pleases, from whence it comes to pass, that greater advantages are conferred upon some people than other, but this is not the case at the end of the world, when God comes to demonstrate His justice and righteousness. And besides, wherefore is the Judge said to be the searcher of hearts, if He proceed proleptically upon bare resolution or determination? Why is He said to separate the sheep from the goats, if He make a distinction without a difference? Why is it called a fiery trial if there be no discrimination; and in a word, if He save and damn by prerogative?

2. The Judge of the world will not be partial, or use any respect of persons; that is, He will neither acquit nor condemn any man or men whatsoever, in consideration of external circumstances. As for kindred and family, the Jews were wont to bear themselves in hand with their lineage and descent, that they were Abraham's seed. God will sooner exert His omnipotency in the most improbable miracle that ever He wrought, than admit an unholy person into heaven upon the pretence of kindred and consanguinity. And as for sect and opinion, it is notoriously evident that there is no opinion so orthodox, nor party so canonical, but an evil man may be of it, and at that day nothing will pass current for the sake of the public stamp upon it, but according to the intrinsic value; for all shall be weighed in the balance of the sanctuary. To this head I refer also, that this righteous Judge is capable of no fondness or indulgence, will be wrought upon by no flattery, will value nothing that men can either do or suffer for Him without an holy temper, an habitually pious and virtuous life, and such qualifications inherent as fit a man for the kingdom of heaven.

3. So just and righteous will be the proceedings at this great tribunal, that as no man shall be saved for the righteousness of another, so neither shall any man be damned for the sin of another, but every man shall bear his own burden. Whatever it may please the Divine Majesty to do in this world, where His inflictions are not so properly revenged or the expletion of justice, as methods of mercy to reclaim men from sin; yet most certainly at that day the sons shall not bear the iniquity of the fathers, but every man shall bear his own burden, and the soul only that sinneth shall die.

4. This Judge of all the world will at that great day candidly interpret men's actions, and make the very best of things that the case will bear. Now touching this the tenor of the whole gospel assures us that our merciful Judge will not watch advantages against men, will not insist upon punctilios, but principally looks at the sincerity of men's intentions (Matthew 25:34). But that which I principally note in this place is the benignity of His interpretation, for when the righteous say, "Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered," He replies, "Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these," etc., as if He had said, I know the sincerity of your intentions, and I take notice of the virtuous temper from whence those actions of yours proceeded; 'tis the heart I value more than the thing done, or the opportunity of doing.

5. The admirable equity of the great and final judgment is this, That the glory and happiness of good men in the other world shall be increased proportionably to the measures of their difficulties, sufferings, and calamities here in this world. The apostle tells us, "That as one star differeth from another in glory, so also is the resurrection of the dead."

(J. Goodman, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

WEB: because he has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has ordained; of which he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead."

The Resurrection a Judgment
Top of Page
Top of Page