BOLDNESS IN THE DAY OF JUDGMENT.
"Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the Day of Judgment: because as He is, so are we in this world." --- 1 John iv. 17.
It has been so often repeated that St. John's eschatology is idealized and spiritual, that people now seldom pause to ask what is meant by the words. Those who repeat them most frequently seem to think that the idealized means that which will never come into the region of historical fact, and that the spiritual is best defined as the unreal. Yet, without postulating the Johannic authorship of the Apocalypse --- where the Judgment is described with the most awful accompaniments of outward solemnity --- there are two places in this Epistle which are allowed to drop out of view, but which bring us face to face with the visible manifestations of an external Advent. It is a peculiarity of St. John's style (as we have frequently seen) to strike some chord of thought, so to speak, before its time; to allow the prelusive note to float away, until suddenly, after a time, it surprises us by coming back again with a fuller and bolder resonance. "And now, my sons," (had the Apostle said) "abide in Him, that if He shall be manifested, we may have confidence, and not be[Pg 211] ashamed shrinking from Him at His coming." In our text the same thought is resumed, and the reality of the Coming and Judgment in its external manifestation as emphatically given as in any other part of the New Testament.
We may here speak of the conception of the Day of the Judgment: of the fear with which that conception is encompassed; and of the sole means of the removal of that fear which St. John recognises.
We examine the general conception of "the Day of the Judgment," as given in the New Testament.
As there is that which with terrible emphasis is marked off as "the Judgment," "the Parousia," so there are other judgments or advents of a preparatory character. As there are phenomena known as mock suns, or haloes round the moon, so there are fainter reflections ringed round the Advent, the Judgment.[Pg 212] Thus, in the development of history, there are successive cycles of continuing judgment; preparatory advents; less completed crises, as even the world calls them.
But against one somewhat widely-spread way of blotting the Day of the Judgment from the calendar of the future --- so far as believers are concerned --- we should be on our guard. Some good men think themselves entitled to reason thus --- "I am a Christian. I shall be an assessor in the judgment. For me there is, therefore, no judgment day." And it is even held out as an inducement to others to close with this conclusion, that they "shall be delivered from the bugbear of judgment."
The origin of this notion seems to be in certain universal tendencies of modern religious thought.
The idolatry of the immediate --- the prompt creation of effect --- is the perpetual snare of revivalism. Revivalism is thence fatally bound at once to follow the tide of emotion, and to increase the volume of the waters by which it is swept along. But the religious emotion of this generation has one characteristic by which it is distinguished from that of previous centuries. The revivalism of the past in all Churches rode upon the dark waves of fear. It worked upon human nature by exaggerated material descriptions of hell, by solemn appeals to the throne of Judgment. Certain schools of biblical criticism have enabled men to steel themselves against this form of preaching. An age of soft humanitarian sentiment --- superficial, and inclined to forget that perfect Goodness may be a very real cause of fear --- must be stirred by emotions of a different kind. The infinite sweetness of our Father's heart --- the conclusions, illogically but effectively drawn from this, of[Pg 213] an Infinite good-nature, with its easy-going pardon, reconciliation all round, and exemption from all that is unpleasant --- these, and such as these, are the only available materials for creating a great volume of emotion. An invertebrate creed; punishment either annihilated or mitigated; judgment, changed from a solemn and universal assize, a bar at which every soul must stand, to a splendid, and --- for all who can say I am saved --- a triumphant pageant in which they have no anxious concern; these are the readiest instruments, the most powerful leverage, with which to work extensively upon masses of men at the present time. And the seventh article of the Apostles' Creed must pass into the limbo of exploded superstition.
The only appeal to Scripture which such persons make, with any show of plausibility, is contained in an exposition of our Lord's teaching in a part of the fifth chapter of the fourth Gospel. But clearly there are three Resurrection scenes which may be discriminated in those words. The first is spiritual, a present awakening of dead souls, in those with whom the Son of Man is brought into contact in His earthly ministry. The second is a department of the same spiritual resurrection. The Son of God, with that mysterious gift of Life in Himself, has within Him a perpetual spring of rejuvenescence for a faded and dying world. A renewal of hearts is in process during all the days of time, a passage for soul after soul out of death into life. The third scene is the general Resurrection and general Judgment. The first was the resurrection of comparatively few; the second is the resurrection of many;[Pg 214] the third will be the resurrection of all. If it is said that the believer "comes, not into judgment," the word in that place plainly signifies condemnation.
Clear and plain above all such subtleties ring out the awe-inspiring words: "it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the Judgment;" "we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ."
Reason supplies us with two great arguments for the General Judgment. One from the conscience of history, so to speak; the other from the individual conscience.
General history points to a general judgment. If there is no such judgment to come, then there is no one definite moral purpose in human society. Progress would be a melancholy word, a deceptive appearance, a stream that has no issue, a road that leads nowhere. No one who believes that there is a Personal God, Who guides the course of human affairs, can come to the conclusion that the generations of man are to go on for ever without a winding-up, which shall decide upon the doings of all who take part in human life. In the philosophy of nature, the affirmation or denial of purpose is the affirmation or denial of God. So in the philosophy of history. Society without the[Pg 215] General Judgment would be a chaos of random facts, a thing without rational retrospect or definite end --- i.e., without God. If man is under the government of God, human history is a drama, long-drawn, and of infinite variety, with inconceivably numerous actors. But a drama must have a last act. The last act of the drama of history is "The Day of the Judgment."
The other argument is derived from the individual conscience.
Conscience, as a matter of fact, has two voices. One is imperative; it tells us what we are to do. One is prophetic, and warns us of something which we are to receive. If there is to be no Day of the General Judgment, then the million prophecies of conscience will be belied, and our nature prove to be mendacious to its very roots.
There is no essential article of the Christian creed like this which can be isolated from the rest, and treated as if it stood alone. There is a solidarity of each with all the rest. Any which is isolated is in danger itself, and leaves the others exposed. For they have an internal harmony and congruity. They do not form a hotchpot of credenda. They are not so many beliefs but one belief. Thus the isolation of articles is perilous. For, when we try to grasp and to defend one of them, we have no means left of measuring it but by terms of comparison which are drawn from ourselves, which must therefore be finite, and by the inadequacy of the scale which they present, appear to render the article of faith thus detached incredible. Moreover, each article of our creed is a revelation of the Divine attributes, which meet together in unity. To divide the attributes by dividing the form in which they are revealed to us is to belie and falsify the attribute; to[Pg 216] give a monstrous development to one by not taking into account some other which is its balance and compensation. Thus, many men deny the truth of a punishment which involves final separation from God. They glory in the legal judgment which "dismisses hell with costs." But they do so by fixing their attention exclusively upon the one dogma which reveals one attribute of God. They isolate it from the Fall, from the Redemption by Christ, from the gravity of sin, from the truth that all whom the message of the Gospel reaches may avoid the penal consequences of sin. It is impossible to face the dogma of eternal separation from God without facing the dogma of Redemption. For Redemption involves in its very idea the intensity of sin, which needed the sacrifice of the Son of God; and further, the fact that the offer of salvation is so free and wide that it cannot be put away without a terrible wilfulness.
In dealing with many of the articles of the creed, there are opposite extremes. Exaggeration leads to a revenge upon them which is, perhaps, more perilous than neglect. Thus, as regards eternal punishment, in one country ghastly exaggerations were prevalent. It was assumed that the vast majority of mankind "are destined to everlasting punishment"; that "the floor of hell is crawled over by hosts of babies a span long." The inconsistency of such views with the love of God, and with the best instincts of man, was victoriously and passionately demonstrated. Then unbelief turned upon the dogma itself, and argued, with wide acceptance, that "with the overthrow of this conception goes the whole redemption-plan, the Incarnation, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the grand climax of the Church-scheme, the General Judgment." But the alleged article[Pg 217] of faith was simply an exaggeration of that faith, and the objections lay altogether against the exaggeration of it.
We have now to speak of the removal of that terror which accompanies the conception of the Day of the Judgment, and of the sole means of that emancipation which St. John recognises. For terror there is in every point of the repeated descriptions of Scripture --- in the surroundings, in the summons, in the tribunal, in the trial, in one of the two sentences.
"God is love," writes St. John, "and he that abides in love abides in God: and God abides in him. In this [abiding], love stands perfected with us, and the object is nothing less than this," not that we may be exempted from judgment, but that "we may have boldness in the Day of the Judgment." Boldness! It is the splendid word which denotes the citizen's right of free speech, the masculine privilege of courageous liberty. It is the tender word which expresses the child's unhesitating confidence, in "saying all out" to the parent. The ground of the boldness is conformity to Christ. Because "as He is," with that vivid idealizing sense, frequent in St. John when he uses it of our Lord --- "as He is," delineated in the fourth Gospel, seen[Pg 218] by "the eye of the heart" with constant reverence in the soul, with adoring wonder in heaven, perfectly true, pure, and righteous --- "even so" (not, of course, with any equality in degree to that consummate ideal, but with a likeness ever growing, an aspiration ever advancing) --- "so are we in this world," purifying ourselves as He is pure.
Let us draw to a definite point our considerations upon the Judgment, and the Apostle's sweet encouragement for the "day of wrath, that dreadful day."
It is of the essence of the Christian faith to believe that the Son of God, in the Human Nature which He assumed, and which He has borne into heaven, shall come again, and gather all before Him, and pass sentence of condemnation or of peace according to their works. To hold this is necessary to prevent terrible doubts of the very existence of God; to guard us against sin, in view of that solemn account; to comfort us under affliction.
What a thought for us, if we would but meditate upon it! Often we complain of a commonplace life, of mean and petty employment. How can it be so, when at the end we, and those with whom we live, must look upon that great, overwhelming sight! Not an eye that shall not see Him, not a knee that shall not bow, not an ear that shall not hear the sentence. The heart might sink and the imagination quail under the burden of the supernatural existence which we cannot escape. One of two looks we must turn upon the Crucified --- one willing as that which we cast on some glorious picture, or on the enchantment of the sky; the other unwilling and abject. We should weep first with[Pg 219] Zechariah's mourners, with tears at once bitter because they are for sin, and sweet because they are for Christ.
But, above all things, let us hear how St. John sings us the sweet low hymn that breathes consolation through the terrible fall of the triple hammer-stroke of the rhyme in the Dies iræ. We must seek to lead upon earth a life laid on the lines of Christ's. Then, when the Day of the Judgment comes; when the cross of fire (so, at least, the early Christians thought) shall stand in the black vault; when the sacred wounds of Him who was pierced shall stream over with a light beyond dawn or sunset; we shall find that the discipline of life is complete, that God's love after all its long working with us stands perfected, so that we shall be able, as citizens of the kingdom, as children of the Father, to say out all. A Christlike character in an un-Christlike world --- this is the cure of the disease of terror. Any other is but the medicine of a quack. "There is no fear in love; but the perfect love casts, out fear, because fear brings punishment; and he that fears is not made perfect in love."
We may well close with that pregnant commentary on this verse which tells us of the four possible conditions of a human soul --- "without either fear or love; with fear, without love; with fear and love; with love, without fear."
Ch. iv. 7, v. 3.
Ver. 3. This verse should divide about the middle.
From The Epistles Of St. John by WILLIAM ALEXANDER, D.D., D.C.L. Oxon., Hon. LL.D. Dublin, published by Hodder and Stoughton, 27, Paternoster Row, MDCCCXCVI Lightly updated to the language of the 21st century by D. N. Pham. (c) 2012.
Insights of the past for the present
Epistles of John 2/2 - W. Alexander
ON THE BOOK SHELF
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