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THE GREAT ASSIZE.
Preached at the Assizes held before the Honourable Sir Edward Clive, Knight, one of the Judges of his Majesty's Court of Common Pleas, in St. Paul's Church, Bedford, on Friday, March 10, 1758; published at the request of William Cole, Esq., High Sheriff of the County, and others.
"We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ." Rom. xiv. 10.
1. How many circumstances concur to raise the awfulness of the present solemnity!—The general Concourse of people of every age, sex, rank, and condition of life, willingly or unwillingly gathered together, not only from the neighbouring, but from distant parts; Criminals, speedily to be brought forth, and having no way to escape; Officers, waiting in their various posts, to execute the orders which shall be given; and the Representative of our gracious Sovereign, whom we so highly reverence and honour. The occasion likewise of this assembly, adds not a little to the solemnity of it: To hear and determine causes of every kind, some of which are of the most important nature; on which depends no less than life or death, death that uncovers the face of eternity! It was, doubtless, in order to increase the serious sense of these things, and not in the minds of the vulgar only, that the wisdom of our forefathers did not disdain to appoint even several minute circumstances of this solemnity. For these also, by means of the eye or ear, may more deeply affect the heart and when viewed in this light, trumpets, staves, apparel, are no longer trifling or insignificant, but subservient, in their kind and degree, to the most valuable ends of society.
2. But, as awful as this solemnity is, one far more awful is at hand. For yet a little while, and "we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ." 'For, as I live, saith the Lord, every knce shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God." And in that day, "every one of us shall give account of himself to God."
3. Had all men a deep sense of this, how effectually would it secure the interests of society! For what more forcible motive can be conceived to the practice of genuine morality, to a steady pursuit of solid virtue, and an uniform walking in justice, mercy, and truth? What could strengthen our hands. in all that is good, and deter us from all evil, like a strong conviction of this, "The Judge standeth at the door;" and we are shortly to stand before him?
4. It may not therefore be improper, or unsuitable to the design of the present assembly, to consider,
I. The chief Circumstances which will precede our standing before the Judgment-Seat of Christ:
II. The Judgment itself: And,
III. A few of the Circumstances which will follow it.
I. Let us, in the first place, consider the chief Circumstances which will precede our standing before the Judgment-Seat of Christ.
And, 1st, "God will shew signs in the earth beneath;" (Acts ii. 19;) particularly he will "arise to shake terribly the earth." "The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage." (Isa. xxiv. 20.) "There shall be earthquakes," AT TOTаs (not in divers only, but) "in all places; not in one only, or a few, but in every part of the habitable world; (Luke xxi. 11;) even "such as were not since men were upon the carth, so mighty earthquakes and so great." In one of these "every island shall flee away, and the mountains will not be found." (Rev. xvi. 20.) Meantime all the waters of the terraqueous globe will feel the violence of those concussions; "the sea and waves roaring," (Luke xxi. 25,) with such an agitation as had never been known before, since the hour that "the fountains of the great deep were broken up," to destroy the earth, which then "stood out of the water and in the water." The air will be all storm and tempest, full of dark vapours and pillars of smoke; (Joel ii. 30;) resounding with thunder from pole to pole, and torn with ten thousand lightnings. But the commotion will not stop in the region of the air; "the powers of heaven also shall
be shaken. There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; " those fixed, as well as those that move round them. "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come." (Joel ii. 31.) "The stars shall withdraw their shining," yea, and "fall from heaven," (Rev. vi. 13,) being thrown out of their orbits. And then shall be heard the universal shout, from all the companies of heaven, followed by the "voice of the archangel," proclaiming the approach of the Son of God and Man, "and the trumpet of God," sounding an alarm to all that sleep in the dust of the earth. (1 Thess. iv. 16.) In consequence of this, all the graves shall open, and the bodies of men arise. The sea also shall give up the dead which are therein, (Rev. xx. 13,) and every one shall rise with "his own body;" his own in substance, although so changed in its properties, as we cannot now conceive. "For this corruptible will [then] put on incorruption, and this mortal put on immortality." (1 Cor. xv. 53.) Yea, "death and hades," the invisible world, shall "deliver up the dead that are in them." (Rev. xx. 13.) So that all who ever lived and died, since God created man, shall be raised incorruptible and immortal.
2. At the same time, "the Son of Man shall send forth his angels" over all the earth; and they shall gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." And the Lord himself shall come with clouds, in his own glory, and the glory of his Father, with ten thousand of his saints, even myriads of angels, and shall sit upon the throne of his glory." And before him shall be gathered all nations, and he shall separate them one from another, and shall set the sheep [the good] on his right hand, and the goats [the wicked] upon the left." (Matt. xxv. 33.) Concerning this general assembly it is, that the Beloved Disciple speaks thus: "I saw the dead, [all that had been dead,] small and great, stand before God. And the books were opened," [a figurative expression, plainly referring to the manner of proceeding among men,] and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." (Rev. xx. 12.)
II. These are the chief Circumstances which are recorded in the Oracles of God, as preceding the General Judgment. We are, Secondly, to consider the Judgment itself, so far as it hath pleased God to reveal it.
1. The Person by whom God will judge the world, is his only-begotten Son, whose "goings forth are from everlasting; "who is God over all, blessed for ever." Unto Him, being "the out-beaming of his Father's glory, the express image of his person," (Heb. i. 3,) the Father "hath committed all judgment, because he is the Son of Man;" (John v. 22, 27 ;) because, though he was "in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet he emptied himself, taking upon him the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men;" (Phil. ii. 6, 7;) yea, because "being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, [yet farther,] becoming obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God hath highly exalted him," even in his human nature, and "ordained him," as man, to try the children of men, "to be the Judge, both of the quick and dead;" both of those who shall be found alive at his coming, and of those who were before gathered to their fathers.
2. The Time, termed by the Prophet, "The great and the terrible Day," is usually, in Scripture, styled The Day of the Lord. The space from the creation of man upon the earth, to the end of all things, is the day of the sons of men; the time that is now passing over us, is properly our day; when this is ended, the Day of the Lord will begin. But who can say how long it will continue? "With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." (2 Pet. iii. 8.) And from this very expression, some of the ancient Fathers drew that inference, that, what is commonly called the Day of Judgment would be indeed a thousand years: and it seems they did not go beyond the truth; nay, probably they did not come up to it. For, if we consider the number of persons who are to be judged, and of actions which are to be inquired into, it does not appear, that a thousand years will suffice for the transactions of that day; so that it may not improbably comprise several thousand years. But God shall reveal this also in its season.
3. With regard to the Place where mankind will be judged, we have no explicit account in Scripture. An eminent writer (but not he alone; many have been of the same opinion) supposes it will be on earth, where the works were done, according to which they shall be judged; and that God will, in order thereto, employ the Angels of his strength,
"To smooth and lengthen out the boundless space,
But perhaps it is more agreeable to our Lord's own account of his coming in the clouds, to suppose it will be above the earth, if not "twice a planetary height." And this supposition is not a little favoured by what St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians: "The dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who remain alive, shall be caught up together with them, in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air." (1 Thess. iv. 16, 17.) So that it seems most probable, the great white throne will be high exalted above the earth.
4. The Persons to be Judged, who can count, any more than the drops of rain, or the sands of the sea? "I beheld," saith St. John, a great multitude, which no man can number, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands." How immense then must be the total multitude of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues; of all that have sprung from the loins of Adam, since the world began, till time shall be no more! If we admit the common supposition, which seems no ways absurd, that the earth bears, at any one time, no less than four hundred millions of living souls, men, women, and children; what a congregation must all those generations make, who have succeeded each other for seven thousand years!
"Great Xerxes' world in arms, proud Canna's host,
Every man, every woman, every infant of days that ever breathed the vital air, will then hear the voice of the Son of God, and start into life, and appear before him. And this seems to be the natural import of that expression, "the dead, small and great:" all universally, all without exception, all of every age, sex, or degree; all that ever lived and died, or underwent such a change as will be equivalent with death. For long before that day, the phantom of human greatness disappears, and sinks into nothing. Even in the moment of death, that vanishes away. Who is rich or great in the grave?
5. And every man shall there "give an account of his own works;" yea, a full and true account of all that he ever did while in the body, whether it was good or evil. O what