And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away…
Though the Book of Revelation contains much that is mysterious, and even inexplicable, passages such as this are as instructive as magnificent. The delineation is that of transactions in which we must all bear a part in the last general assize. It was before the Redeemer that the mighty multitude of those whom the grave had surrendered were arraigned, the title of absolute divinity being justly assigned to Him who is evidently the Son of Man, seeing that the two natures coalesced indissolubly in His person. Our text then proceeds to give some account of the principles upon which judgment will be conducted, showing that an accurate register has been kept of human actions, and that men will be judged according to their works, and therefore judged in righteousness. We know not whether the principles of God's moral government are insisted on with sufficient frequency and urgency from our pulpits, but we are sure that they produce not their due influence on the great mass of men. Here and there, indeed, you may meet with an individual whose thoughts are set on the account which he must one day render, and whose habitual endeavour it is to preserve an habitual sense of the coming of the Lord. But even individuals such as these will confess to you that their endeavours are but partially successful; that they have great cause of humiliation before God, on account of their forgetfulness of the day of trial. So that there can be no class of hearers to whom the subject of discourse presented by our text is not appropriate. We shall premise a few remarks on the necessity of a general judgment, in order to vindicate God's moral government, and then proceed to examine the several assertions made in our text in regard to this fact. Now, in every age of the world, men have been perplexed by what seemed opposite evidences as to the superintending care of a wise and beneficent Being. On the one hand, there is no doubt that we live under a retributive government, and that cognisance is taken of our actions by an invisible but ever-present Being whose attributes render Him the determined foe of vice and the steadfast upholder of righteousness. On the other hand, there has been an irresistible demonstration, from the experience of all ages, that no accurate proportion is at present maintained between conduct and condition, but that vice has most frequently the upper hand, while righteousness is depressed and overwhelmed. There has been no reconciling of these apparent contradictions, except by supposing that human existence would not terminate with death, but that in another, though yet unknown state, vice would receive its due meed of vengeance, and righteousness of reward. Thus you see how reason concurs with revelation in directing your thoughts to a state of retribution. We next remark that the season of judgment is not to arrive until the end of all things, when the dead shall be raised. Once admit that all men are to be put upon trial, and you also admit, so far as we can see, that their final portion is not entered upon ere that trial is past; for what could be more contrary to all show of justice than the sentencing after execution? But when men would curiously inquire into the particulars of the intermediate state, we are not at all able to answer their questions. We doubt not that the justified soul is immediately assured of its acceptance with God, and consigned to the peace and repose in the blessed certainty that heaven will be its portion. We doubt as little that the soul of him who dies in his impenitence is immediately conscious that its doom is determined, and given over to anguish and remorse because allowed no hope that lost time may be redeemed and hell yet avoided. It is the whole man, the compound of spirit and flesh, which has obeyed or transgressed; it must be therefore the whole man which is put upon trial, and which receives the portion whether of promise or threatening. Thus, whatever our thoughts of the intermediate state, we know that the allotments of eternity cannot be fully dealt out unless the vision of our text shall have been first accomplished, "and the dead, small and great, stand before their God." We pass now to the contemplation of the person of the Judge. We wish to set before you the combined wisdom and mercy of the appointment, that He who is to decide our portion for eternity, is the very Being who died as our surety. We cannot dispense with the omniscience of Deity; we see clearly enough that no finite intelligence can be adequate to that decision which will ensure the thorough justice of future retribution. But then neither can we dispense with the feelings of humanity; at least we can have no confidence in approaching His tribunal if we are sure that the difference in nature incapacitates Him from sympathy with those whose sentence He is about to pronounce, and precludes the possibility of His so making our case His own as to allow of His deciding with due allowance for our feebleness and temptations. It is thus we are assured that mercy and justice will alike have full scope in the transactions of the judgment, and that in appointing that the Mediator who died as our substitute will preside at our trial, God hath equally provided that every decision shall be impartial, and yet every man be dealt with as brother to Him who must determine our fate. It would have been an encouragement to wickedness had the Judge been mere man, and therefore liable to be deceived. It would have filled humble piety with dread had the Judge been only God, and therefore not "touched with a feeling of our infirmities." This leads us to our concluding point, the thorough righteousness of the whole procedure of the judgment.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.