The Confession of Faith: A commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith
Of the Last Judgment
SECTION I: God hath appointed a day, wherein he will judge the world, in righteousness, by Jesus Christ , to whom all power and judgment is given of the Father. In which day, not only the apostate angels shall be judged. but likewise all persons that have lived upon earth shall appear before the tribunal of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds; and to receive according to what they have done in the body, whether good or evil.
1. Acts 17:31
2. John 5:22, 27
3. Jude 1:6; II Peter 2:4
4. II Cor. 5:10; Eccl. 12:14; Rom. 2:16; 14:10, 12; Matt. 12:36-37
SECTION II: The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of his mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of his justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
5. Matt. 25:21, 31-46; Rom. 2:5-6; 9:22-23; Acts 3:19; II Thess. 1:7-10; Mark 9:48
THESE sections teach --
1. That God has appointed a day of general judgment.
2. That he has committed this judgment into the hands of the God-man in his character as Mediator.
3. That the persons to be judged include apostate angels and the whole human race, good and bad.
4. That these persons are to be judged as to all their thoughts, words, and deeds.
5. That the great end of God in the appointment of this day is the manifestation of his glorious justice in the condemnation of the reprobate, and of his glorious grace in the glorification of believers.
6. That the righteous are to be awarded admission to the presence of the Lord, which is to be consciously enjoyed by them in a state of unending holiness, happiness, and honour.
7. That the reprobate are to be awarded a place with the devil and his angels, to be endured with conscious torment and shame through a ceaseless eternity.
1. It is a dictate of natural reason and conscience that in some way, formally or informally, severally or collectively, God will call all the subjects of his moral government to an exact account for their character and actions. It is obvious -- as the author of the seventy-third Psalm declares, and as many other perplexed souls have thought -- that justice is not executed upon men in this world. All this suggests the probability that God will at a future time adjust the disturbed balances and call all men to a strict account. This presumption of reason and conscience is confirmed and declared to be a fact in the Word of God; and the additional information is conveyed that this judgment of men and angels shall be general and simultaneous, and shall be conducted on a certain predetermined day in the future. " The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance to all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead." Acts xvii. 30, 31; Rom. ii. 16; Matt. xxv. 31 -- 46.
2. The Judge on this great occasion is to be, not God absolutely considered, but the God-man in his office as mediatorial King. All judgment is said to be, not inherently his, but committed to him by the Father. John v. 22, 27. As Judge he is called "the Son of man" and "the man ordained by God." Matt. xxv. 31, 32; Acts xvii. 31. He conducts the judgment as "the King," and as Head of his members who have lived on earth. "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink....... And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Matt. xxv. 35, 40. And thus, as mediatorial King, he will consummate his work in the destruction of his enemies, the complete redemption of his friends, and "the restitution of all things." 2 Thess. i. 7 -- 10; Rev. i. 7; Acts iii. 21.
3. The subjects of the judgment will embrace the entire human race of every generation, each individual appearing immediately after his resurrection, in the completeness of his reintegrated person, both soul and body. All the generations of the dead are to be raised and the then living " changed." "Before him shall be gathered all nations." " We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; ...... the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God....... And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell (Hades) delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged, every man according to their works." Matt. xxv. 31 -- 40; 1 Cor. xv. 51, 52; 2 Cor. v. 10; 1 Thess. iv. 16; Rev. xx. 11 -- 15. All evil angels are also to be arraigned in this judgment. " The angels which kept not their first estate ...... he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day." Jude 6; 2 Pet. ii. 4. Good angels will be concerned in it as attendants and ministers. Matt. xiii. 41, 42; 2 Thess. i. 7, 8.
4. The judgment will not rest upon appearances, nor testimony, nor any partial knowledge of the facts, nor upon technical grounds of law, nor specific actions dissociated from the state of the heart and the motives which prompted them. The heathen who has sinned without the law " shall be judged without the law;" that is, without the law supernaturally revealed, but by the law written upon the heart, which made him a law unto himself. Luke xii. 47, 48; Rom. ii. 12 -- 15. The Jew who "sinned in the law shall be judged by the law." Rom. ii. 12. Every man who has lived under the dispensation of the gospel shall be judged by the gospel. Heb. ii. 2, 3; x. 28, 29. We are told not to judge according to the appearance (John vii. 24); and therefore to "judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts." 1 Cor. iv. 5; Eccles. xii. 14. " There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the house-tops." Luke viii. 17; xii. 2, 3; Mark iv. 22. This shall be done to manifest the righteousness of God in the condemnation of his enemies, and his glorious grace in the sanctification of his people.
The saints will not be acquitted in the day of judgment on the ground of their own good deeds, but because their names are found "written in the book of life," or the book of God's electing love, and on the ground of their participation in the righteousness of Christ. Their good deeds will be publicly cited as the evidences of their union with Christ. Their union with Christ is the ground of their justification. Their faith is the instrument of their union with Christ; and their faith, as the Apostle James says, is shown by their works. Phil. iv. 3; Rev. iii. 5; xiii. 8; xx. 12, 15.
5. The great end of God in this public unveiling of secrets and manifestation of character in connection with his final disposition of his creatures, is, of course, the manifestation of his own glorious excellencies as moral Governor and Redeemer. The redeemed are for ever "vessels of mercy," prepared beforehand, in order that in them might be "made known the riches of his glory." And the reprobate in like manner are exhibited as the "vessels of wrath," to show his righteous wrath and " make his power known." Rom. ix. 22, 23. It has already been proved, under chapter iv., section 1, that the chief end of God in the original creation was the manifestation of his own glorious perfections. If this was his end in the original creation, it of course must be so in every subsequent step consequent upon it.
6. Immediately upon the close of the judgment, the righteous, being honorably acquitted, are to be awarded admission to the presence of the Lord, with whom they are ever to continue in a state of conscious and exalted happiness, excellence, and honor, for an absolutely unending eternity. Of the blessed estate of the saints, the Scriptures teach -- (1.) Their blessedness flows from their perfect freedom from sin, and from their being with God and Christ, and their sharing the glory of Christ as joint heirs with him. John xvii. 24; Rom. viii. 17; 1 Thess. iv. 17; Rev. xxi. 3. (2.) It shall be perfectly free from all evil of every kind (Rev. xxi. 4), and it shall involve every form of blessedness in an inconceivably great degree (1 Cor. ii. 9) and exalted in kind (Col. i. 12). (3.) It is to endure for an absolutely unending eternity. It is called " eternal life" and " everlasting life," an " eternal weight of glory," "eternal salvation," an "everlasting kingdom," an "eternal inheritance." Matt. xix. 16, 29; xxv. 46; Rom. ii. 7; 2 Cor. iv. 17; Heb. v. 9; 2 Pet. i. 11; 1 Pet. i. 4; Heb. ix. 15.
From such passages as Rom. viii. 19 -- 23; 2 Pet. iii. 5 -- 13, and Rev. xxi. 1, it appears not improbable that after the great conflagration of the Earth and all that inhabits its surface, which the Scriptures reveal shall accompany the judgment, this world will be reconstituted, and as the "new heaven" and the "new earth" be gloriously adapted to be the permanent residence of Christ and his Church.
7. The reprobate will be immediately driven to the place prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. xxv. 41); and are there to continue in the conscious endurance of torment and shame for an absolutely unending eternity.
The strongest terms which the Greek language affords are employed in the New Testament to express the unending duration of the penal torments of the lost. The same words (aion, aionios, and aidios) are used to express the eternal existence of God (1 Tim. i. 17; Rom. i. 20; xvi. 26), of Christ (Rev. i. 18), of the Holy Ghost (Heb. ix. 14), and the endless duration of the happiness of the saints (John vi. 58; Matt. xix. 29; Matt. xxv. 40, etc.. etc.), and the endless duration of the sufferings of the lost. Matt. xxv. 46; Jude 6. Besides, their condition is constantly set forth by such terms as, the "fire that shall not be quenched," "fire unquenchable," "the worm that never dies," "bottomless pit," the necessity of paying "the uttermost farthing," "the smoke of their torment ascending up for ever and ever." Luke iii. 17; Mark ix. 45, 46; Rev. ix. 1; Matt. v. 26; Rev. xiv. 10, 11. Of the unpardonable sin, Christ says that it shall never be pardoned, "neither in this world nor in that which is to come." Matt. xii. 32.
The entire Christian Church, Greek and Roman, Lutheran and Reformed, have agreed in holding this truth that the penal sufferings of the lost are to last for ever. Certain individuals and heretical societies, however, have denied it, and substituted in its place one or other of the following hypotheses: --
(1) That the "second death" spoken of in Rev. xx. 14, to which the wicked shall be subjected after their condemnation in the judgment, involves the total and absolute destruction of their being -- i.e., annihilation. But the Scriptures always consistently speak of the future of the lost as a state of conscious suffering enduring for ever. The "worm dieth not" --" everlasting fire"-- "unquenchable fire" --" weeping and gnashing of teeth"--" the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night."
(2.) The other hypothesis supposes that, sooner or later, God will secure the repentance and consequent reformation and restoration of all sinners, even of the devil himself. This is to result either through the atoning and purifying efficacy of protracted though temporary suffering, or through other moral influences which God will bring to bear upon them in another world. But remember -- (a.) That suffering per se, while it may expiate guilt, has no tendency to purify the soul from pollution or to enkindle spiritual life. (b.) The atonement of Christ and the sanctifying power of his Spirit are the only appointed means of bringing men to repentance, and indeed the highest possible means to that end. In the case of the reprobate these have been finally rejected, and hence "there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." Heb. x. 26, 27. (c.) There is not the slightest trace in Scripture of such an ultimate restoration, either in the design of it, or the means of it, or the results of it. On the contrary, as we have seen, the Scriptures positively affirm the precise reverse to be true.
SECTION III: As Christ would have us to be certainly persuaded that there shall be a day of judgment, both to deter all men from sin; and for the greater consolation of the godly in their adversity: so will he have that day unknown to men, that they may shake off all carnal security, and be always watchful, because they know not at what hour the Lord will come; and may be ever prepared to say, Come Lord Jesus, come quickly, Amen.
6. II Peter 3:11, 14; II Cor. 5:10-11; II Thess. 1:5-7; Luke 21:27-28; Rom. 8:22-25
7. Matt. 24:36, 42-44; Mark 13:35-37; Luke 12:35-36; Rev. 22:20
This section teaches --
1. That God has made the fact absolutely certain that there will be a future judgment, in order that this knowledge may act upon all men as a wholesome motive deterring them from sin; and, at the same time, that it may console the godly in the midst of their adversity. With reference to the first object, Paul says, " We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men." 2 Cor. v. 10, 11. And Peter says, "Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God? " 2 Pet. iii. 11, 12. With reference to the second object, Paul says, "Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you that are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels." 2 Thess. i.6, 7.
2. That, on the other hand, God has left us in absolute uncertainty with respect to the time at which this great event shall occur; in order to prevent carnal security, and to keep his people ever on the alert and constantly prepared. That the time is intentionally left unknown is expressly affirmed again and again in Scripture: "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the, Father." Mark xiii. 32; Matt. xxiv. 36. "Be ye therefore ready also; for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not." Luke xii. 40. "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power." Acts i. 7. " The day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night." 1Thess. v. 2; 2 Pet. iii. 10. "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments." Rev. xvi. 15. The designed effect of the attitude of uncertainty with regard to the time of the second advent and general judgment in which the saints are placed is, that they should regard it as always immediately impending; that they should look forward to it with solemn awe, and yet with joyful confidence; and hence, in view of it, be incited to the performance of duty and the attainment of holiness, and. comforted in sorrow. Phil. iii. 20; Col. iii. 4, 5; James v. 7. It is their duty also to love, watch, wait for, and hasten unto the coming of our Lord. Luke xii. 35-37; 1 Cor. i. 7, 8; 1 These. i. 9, 10; 2 Tim. iv. 8; 2 Pet. iii. 12; Rev. xxii. 20.