(Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).
(Preached on the Thursday Morning, Nov. 30.)
REVELATIONS xxii. 12.
And, behold, I come quickly, and my reward is with Me, to give to every man according as his work shall be.
FROM THENCE HE SHALL COME TO JUDGE THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. One would think it impossible for any one, however careless and hard of heart, to hear and believe this Article of the Creed, and remain unmoved and indifferent to it. A man may be told of God the Father Almighty, and may go away and think no more of it: it is no wonder; God is out of sight, and the man is swallowed up by the things of sense. He may be told of the infinite love of the Father and the Son, as shewn in the Humiliation and Incarnation of Jesus Christ; and it may fall dead on his ear: and no wonder; he is selfish and sensual, and cannot understand what disinterested Love means. The Cross of Christ may be lifted up in his sight, and he may behold and see, and not understand how it can be any thing to him. He may read of our Lord rising from the dead and ascending into Heaven and sitting tm the Right Hand of God, and it may seem to him no more than if he were told of any other good man departed: for why? he sees things going on according to the ways of this world, and has no faith to perceive the Arm of the Almighty Saviour, ordering all things in Heaven and in Earth to the good of them that love Him.
So far one may go in the Creed, and not so very much wonder at people's indifference: but when we come to the Article of Judgment, when we are reminded that "this same Jesus, which is gone away from us into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as we have seen Him go:" that we shall be all there, every one of us, forced to look towards Him though we be never so unwilling, and to feel that His heart-searching Eye is fixed upon us: that the very secrets of our hearts shall there be laid open, and the things which now make us shudder, whenever we do but inwardly recollect them, shall be exposed before Men and Angels; that the books shall be opened, and the quick and dead shall be judged out of those things which are written in the books, according to their works; and that after all this there will be no change, no repentance, nothing for each one of us but everlasting fire or everlasting glory, according as our work shall be:-surely these things, one should think, must come home to the heart and mind of every one who does but believe them possible.
And not only must they touch us deeply themselves, but they must also bring home tb us all the former Articles of the Belief, which else might fail to make impression on us. For thus we come to perceive the awefulness of the trust, which God the Father, our Creator, has laid upon us; we understand that nothing is our own, but that we shall give account of all to Him. Meditating on the Two Resurrections, the one to Life, the other to Damnation, we understand a little of that Infinite Love of God, which caused His Son to be made Man, and to suffer so extremely for us, that He might save us from the one, and prepare us for the other. Looking forward to that Day when every eye shall see Him, we shall learn to tremble under His outstretched arm, and to own Him as °ur King, and obey His voice, though as yet we see Him not.
Thus it is that men would reason with themselves when they heard of a judgment to come, were it not that sin, and the world, and the Devil, have a blinding, deadening power, a power of which the best of us know too much by sad experience, to make even the sharpest and most prudent dull and stupid as to the things of Eternity. God grant that it be not so always with us,- with us, I say, who are here present: for we are the very persons concerned in these fearful things: we ourselves, and not another for us, shall behold that Day, and stand before the Judge, and hear our sentence, and go away to our place. God grant that when we hear or speak or read or recollect these things, we may do it seriously and in earnest, and not so as to make our burthen heavier in that Day! God grant that we may meditate very often, day by day and many times a day, on the Coming of the Son of Man, and that every such meditation may not only bring us to the foot of our Saviour's Cross, but also cause us to take up our own cross, humbly and heartily, before it be too late!
If our thoughts and purposes be like these, we may with good hope of a blessing proceed to consider some of the particulars contained in those words of unspeakable warning, "I come quickly, and My reward is with Me."
Such sayings imply that the Government of our Lord must be for the present a Government out of sight. His rewards do not prevent Him: they come with Him. He will, as His own Parables teach, bear, we know not how long, with the tares growing in His field, the bad fish in His net, the wild grapes in His vineyard: but by and by He will come from thence: He will cause the clouds to roll away, and will make bare that holy Arm which now governs all things, Itself unseen: He will come and set all things right: the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain: the righteous shall no longer be as the wicked; He will no more endure in His Kingdom any thing that offends, nor them that work iniquity.
Who it is that shall do this, and when, and how, and by what rule, the great Judgment will take place, our Lord Himself tells us in few words, so far as was necessary for us to know, here in the conclusion of His last Revelation of Himself to His beloved Disciple St. John. In few words here and elsewhere, and more at large in many of His Parables, He has given us with His own divine lips full warning of a judgment to come. "Behold, I come quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every man according as his work shall be." "Behold"--the word sounds as if He had said, "If you ever take notice of any thing, I charge you, take notice of this." It is like His own warning added to many of His Parables, "Whoso hath ears to hear, let him hear."
"I come quickly;" I, and no other; I, the Son of Man, the Incarnate Word. The Scriptures throughout, and especially the discourses of our Lord, invite our particular attention to this circumstance. "The Father," He saith, "judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son; He hath given Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man.'' Because of His Incarnation, and because He endured the Cross, therefore He and no other shall come to be our Judge.
This is probably the reason, why in almost all places, wherein our Lord foretels the Day of Judgment, He uses the title, Sou of Man. "The Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His Angels, and then shall He judge every man according to His works." "Whosoever shall be ashamed of Me and of My words, of him also shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He cometh in the glory of His Father." "The Son of Man shall send His Angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and shall cast them into the furnace of fare." And just before His condemnation by the Chief "nests: in aweful forewarning, how they who judged unrighteous judgment, should stand before their judge. "Ye shall see the Son of Man sitting on the Right Hand of power, and coming in the clouds of Heaven."
Now this circumstance, that He Who shall come to be our Judge is not only the King of Glory, the Everlasting Son of the Father, but also the Same Who took on Him to deliver man, and neither abhorred the Virgin's womb, nor drew back from the sharpness of death-this circumstance, I say, is at once most aweful and most encouraging, to such as will consider it dutifully and in earnest.
It is most aweful, for it brings the truth home to our very senses: our very eyes shall discern on the Throne the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, as plainly as He was discerned in the cradle at Bethlehem, in His daily walk among men, and on the Cross at Calvary: His murderers will look on Him Whom they have pierced; and the thoughtless ones, who now care not for their Saviour, because He is out of sight, will then be assured by that kind of witness, which alone they regard,-the witness of their senses-that He is, that He is close to them, that they are in His hand to be punished or rewarded for ever.
Besides, Scripture speaks of the wrath of the Lamb as of something inexpressibly dreadful, over and above the wrath of God. The enemies of Christ shall call on the mountains and on the rocks, saying, "Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth upon the Throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of His wrath shall come, and who shall be able to stand?" And indeed, according to our human feelings, who does not acknowledge in his heart how deep and bitter the remorse is, when we know that the person whom we have at any time displeased, and under whose rod we are smarting, is a Father or fatherly Benefactor? How much more when the impenitent shall feel that it is his Saviour with Whom he has dealt so ungraciously, and that even from Him he may never more look for compassion or forbearance?
On the other hand, to those who seek mercy in penitence, no thought surely can he so consoling and encouraging, as the thought of its being the Son of Man, their crucified Saviour, and no other, Who will come to be their Judge. To them every one of the kind words, gracious looks, and most merciful and bountiful actions of our Lord, performed while He was here on earth, and written for our comfort in the holy Gospels, becomes a sort of token, or pledge, or sacrament, of His perfect absolution and blessing, to be pronounced at the last Day. We hear Him saying to the paralytic, "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee;" to the woman who touched the hem of His garment, "Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague;" to the blind men, "According to your faith be it unto you;" to the mother of the lunatic child, "O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt." Again we observe Him turning and looking on St. Peter, with that mild and yet reproving eye which at once won him back to Himself: we watch Him as Ho went about doing good: we mark especially His unspeakable condescension after He had risen from the dead, as before calling His disciples brethren, saluting them with, "Peace be unto you," graciously asking them, "Why are ye troubled, and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?" and promising to be with them always, even to the end of the world: and every one of these instances of His heavenly goodness is to the dutiful and considerate heart a pledge of that gracious blessing, uniting in itself all mercy, forgiveness, and acceptance, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, receive the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." He can be touched with a feeling of our infirmities, for He was in all points tempted like as we are. Therefore even from the Throne of judgment we may imagine His Rays, if I may so speak, coming softened and tempered to us: and we may take comfort, as St. John did in His vision, beholding in the midst of God's glory, otherwise not to be approached or endured, the likeness of this Holy Lamb, slain from the foundation of the world. So much mercy is conveyed to us by the heavenly intimation, so often repeated, that it is the Son of Man Who will come to be our Judge; and that even on the throne of glory and of Judgment He will still remember mankind as brethren: "Inasmuch as ye have done it, or not done it, unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it, or not done it, unto Me."
In the next place the text tells us, what also we are assured of in many parts of Holy Scripture, that this great day will soon be here: "Behold, I come quickly:" quickly, that is, in God's account, with Whom a thousand years is as one day, and one day as a thousand years; and quickly too, as it will one day seem, in the accounts of the children of men: for when once that Day is past, and we look back on it from eternity, no doubt all on this side of it will appear to us nothing, yea, less than nothing, and vanity. Of which we may form some slight judgment, by considering how differently we feel, even now, concerning time past and time to come. Forty years, for instance, seems a long time to look forward to; but what is it to look back on? a short unsatisfactory dream.
Our Lord therefore might be truly said to come quickly, though He should be as many thousand years in coming as He has yet been hundreds; and to the greater part He will seem to have come the more quickly, because He will find them unprepared. "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the Angels which are in Heaven;" not even the Son knew it so as to reveal it to His brethren; it was a secret as it were in the Bosom of Godhead.
This is the circumstance regarding our Lord's coming, so earnestly dwelt on in the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Then, when the Son of Man comes, the Kingdom of Heaven, the Church of the living God, will have in it, as it had all along, a mixture of persons good and bad, wise and foolish, pure and corrupt. As though of the Virgins appointed beforehand to wait on the Bridegroom at a marriage feast, some should come prepared with oil to trim their lamps, some in their idleness or wantonness forget it altogether; even so some Christians will be found provided with spiritual oil, a treasure of good works wrought by the grace of the Holy Ghost; others destitute of that heavenly treasure, and therefore of all true heavenly hope. But all in the Parable, wise and foolish too, all, we read, slumbered and slept. Which sounds as if our Lord intended to warn us, as His Prophet had done long before, "The vision is yet for an appointed time: though it tarry, wait for it." It will be long ere that day come, and Christians in general, even the best of them, will be tempted to count the Lord "slack concerning His Promise." Thus it will come to pass, that to wise and foolish alike the arrival of the Bridegroom will be unexpected. There will be a cry made at midnight. He will come as a thief in the night; and well will it be for those who have still their lamps burning, who have not forfeited the treasure of baptismal grace, who will be in a condition with trembling hope to go forth and meet their Saviour, relying on no merits of their own, but on His manifold and great mercies. They shall go in with our Lord to the marriage feast, and presently the door will be shut-there will be no room for any more; and any vain hopes they have cherished will be met with the fearful word, "Verily I say unto you, I know you not."
Such is the drift and purpose of the Parable of the Ten Virgins; it answers to those warnings in the Book of Revelations, "Behold, I come quickly, I come as a thief:" and the shutting of the door on those who were unprepared fearfully reminds us of the great gulph in the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus: it shews how unchangeable is the Judge's doom, once fixed; it cries aloud, "Watch, for you know not the day nor the hour" after which repentance will be impossible.
As the Parable of the Virgins urges so earnestly the danger of being caught unready at Christ's coming, so the next Parable to it, that of the Talents, puts before us the absolute certainty of every one's being called to account: it is the same lesson as those words of the text, "My reward is with Me, to give to every one according as his work shall be." My reward, that is, Christ's reward; eternal life and death committed to Him, according to the counsel of the Father, to be dispensed to whom He will.
And observe, the blessing as well as the curse to be dispensed at the last day is called a reward; that is, although it is altogether a free gift, the least measure of it infinitely surpassing the highest deserts of man, if he could deserve any thing of God, yet it will be distributed to each person in the manner of a reward. God's blessings, the blessings of Heaven, every one of them infinite and eternal, will admit however of comparison one with another, and the greater measure will be assigned to those who have done more, according to their opportunities. As we see in the like parable in St. Luke; he whose pound had gained ten pounds was ruler over ten cities, and he whose gain was five pounds only over five cities: the rewards were all of them out of all proportion to the services done, but in themselves they differed by a measure depending entirely on the amount of those services.
Christ's rewards therefore will be unequal, answering to the goodness and holiness, the practical goodness, of those shall be found meet to receive them, and His punishments will differ in like manner. For He has told us of some who shall be beaten with many stripes, and some with few. Even the same transgression is in His sight more or less excusable, as it was done in knowledge or in ignorance of our great Lord and Master's will.
But after all, the main point in this Parable of the Talents is, to make us understand that there is none of us all, whom God will not call to account; no one so poor, so wreak, so ignorant and helpless, but the secrets of his heart, his idle words, his profane and careless doings, will be made manifest. Every one will be tried, and for every thing: and not only for what we have done, but also for what we have left undone. For the unprofitable servant was cast into outer darkness, not for making a bad use, but no use, of his talent; for hiding it in the earth, as if it were not worth improving. It was but one talent, and therefore, in a wilful mood, he went on as though he might safely neglect it altogether. Let the poor, the hardworking, the uneducated, mark this; for they are apt, in their want of many outward advantages, to excuse themselves strangely for their neglect of what little they have. Let them remember the poor widow and her two mites, and the high praise she received from Christ our Saviour. Let them remember the reward promised even to a cup of cold water given to a Christian for Christ's sake. Let them encourage themselves with the thought of the good centurion, who, compared with one of God's own people, had surely but one talent, but for his devout use of that one obtained from our Lord more praise, than any of the Israelites themselves with their ten talents. "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel."
I wish this thought was more considered than it is; that w« are all, every one of us, to appear, or be made manifest, before the judgment-seat of Christ. The poor aged helpless person must appear, to give account of his poverty, age, and helplessness, whether he have improved them rightly, as opportunities of great patience, sweetness of mind and behaviour, command of temper, submission to the will of God. Those who are sick and in pain must appear, to give an account of their pain and sickness, whether they have made the most of it, as an opportunity for obtaining something like a martyr's crown. Those who are weak and slow of understanding, or incurably ignorant from want of education, they too must appear, to give an account how they have acted on what little knowledge they had: whether they have kept the plain rules of honesty and truth; whether they have been temperate, chaste, and sober; whether they have kept their tongue from swearing and other bad words; whether they have been kind, and have done to others as they would wish to have done to themselves; whether they have tried to say their prayers heartily in the Name of Jesus Christ crucified. Those who died in childhood, they also must appear, as many as had begun to be at all aware of the difference between right and wrong; and must give an account how far they have resisted or obeyed the warnings of their conscience; rather I should say, the motions of that good Spirit, which entered into them at Baptism to be the Guide of their life. Servants must give an account how far they have profited by opportunities given them in strict and holy families; and in particular, whether they have not wilfully forfeited the grace which God there provided for them, by continual indulgence in what seemed to them little sins, such as pilfering in trifles, petty deceits, falsehoods, and concealments, and other liberties of the like kind: which are thought little of at the time, but will make a heavy burthen hereafter, as hindrances in the way of Christian perfection. And masters in their turn must give, account-and a sad account it will be to many of them-of their too great easiness and carelessness about the souls of their servants, of their suffering the law of God to be broken in order to save themselves trouble or inconvenience; and worse still, of the bad examples they have set, and stumbling-blocks put in the way of the little ones of Christ, committed to their charge as part of their household. They who have wealth, will have to give account of their wealth, as the poor of their poverty.
All evil or good is from God; all therefore is a talent, and we know that His most precious deepest gifts are sickness, sorrow, pain, bereavement, poverty, suffering, whatever, in a word, likens us to the Sufferings of our Lord. We shall have then to give account of things which people commonly call God's gifts, or of their absence; not only whether we bore patiently God's merciful chastisements, but whether they produced in us that amendment or penitence, or deepening of our souls for which God sent them. We shall have to give account of our use of daily public worship, if bestowed upon us, and of the many blessed times when the Bread of Life was held out to us; and I know scarcely any thing which causes such a pang of deep unworthiness, as to see one who has lived the greater part of life, untaught perhaps concerning this sacred gift, devoutly using it when he came to know of it: and then to look back on all the grace, which one's own solemn existence, as in such wise a member of Christ that "He dwelleth in us and we in Him, He is One with us and we with Him," ought to have brought with it, and its little fruit and manifold waste and misuse. And for ourselves, my brethren, who have more than an Angel's office, even that of our Blessed Lord Himself, to seek out unweariedly His lost sheep, and as His instruments, His hands, voice, and feet, Who through us seeketh, through us speaketh, through us ministereth, to seek and to save that which was lost;-which of us had not rather be silent, lest that be true of us, "Out of thine own mouth will I---- [a]" which of us can have any other hope, than that "mercy may triumph over judgment!" which of us but must earnestly pray, "Enter not into judgment with Thy servant, O Lord; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified!"
Not to be more particular at present, the serious, the anxious, the terrible thought is, Christ will give to every one according as his work shall be: the dead, small and great, shall stand before God: we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, every one to receive in the eternal world according to the deeds done in the body, whether they be good or bad.
And we shall be judged according to all our works: not with respect to this or that thing only, as men now vainly flatter and judge themselves. A man's being kind to the poor will not then save him from the wrath to come, if he have neglected Jesus Christ and His holy religion: neither will his having done no one any harm be taken in exchange for his want of sobriety and chastity. There will be found in that day but One Only Ransom worthy to be taken in exchange for any sin: the Precious Blood, namely, of our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus-and that ransom will be applied to none of us, except we have seriously applied ourselves here to the serving Him in holiness, according to our baptismal promise, not in one part of our duty alone, but in all.
We are justified by faith: but "faith without works is dead, being alone." We see how the two are united in that Parable of our Blessed Lord, which finishes the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew, and which is especially remarkable, as being the last Parable which He spoke before He was betrayed to be crucified. When the Son of Man shall have come in His glory, and all the holy Angels with Him, and all the nations shall be gathered before Him, and He shall have separated them, one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: the sheep on the right and the goats on the left;" the one thing mentioned, according to which our places will be fixed in the eternal world, is our having or not having done works of charity to Jesus Christ our Saviour. Here are plainly both faith and works; works, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and the like: faith, in that all Christians, all who have learned the Gospel, understand that these things are to be done as to Jesus Christ, and in love and honour of His Name.
Here too is very plainly a most aweful warning, how very serious our doings on earth will be found in that Day to have been, far more serious than the most thoughtful of us ever imagined. For, as a good and wise writer has said, concerning this part of St. Matthew's Gospel, "Neither the saints here know their own goodness, nor the rejected their own crimes." When Christ the Judge tells them, "Ye treated Me so and so," it seems strange to them, and they both answer, "Lord, when saw we Thee, to be kind or unkind to Thee?" And He will tell them, "Inasmuch as ye did it, or did it not, to one of the least of these My brethren, ye did it, or did it not, to Me." Consider well, my Christian friends, what our Lord here teaches us all. He teaches us that He is Himself present with us, in the persons of our brethren, to be well or ill treated. You are out on the road, perhaps, or you are sitting quietly at home, and you meet with some one, or some one comes to you, who needs your help, and you have the power to help him. You refuse perhaps to help him, for some selfish reason: perhaps you treat him with rudeness and scorn. He goes away, and you think no more of it. But see what our Lord here teaches, concerning you and that person. Your meeting with him will be remembered at the last Day, and you will find then, what you little thought of at the time, that it was Christ Himself Whom you were scorning and rejecting, Christ Who laid down His Life for you, and Who at that and every other moment was giving you all that you had. He asked you for a very little out of His gifts back again: a little money, or time, or trouble, or may be only a kind word or look, and you refused it.
On the other hand, if you from a sense of duty put yourself out of the way, to do another person good in body or soul, though you might not distinctly consider it at the time, you will find at the last that Christ was really there, that He reckons it as if you were doing good to Him: it is written in His Book, and will in no wise lose its reward. Our Lord spake it about bodily charity only: but it holds true also with regard to works of purity also, and of that charity which regards people's souls. It seems a trifle, to all but earnest believers, to give way to bad thoughts, to take sinful liberties with the eye or hand: but what says the Scriptures? Your eyes and your hands are members of Christ; shall I then take Christ's Eye and Hand, (O horrible!) and make an unclean use of it? Indeed we shall never understand how grievous are our sins against purity, until we have learned to believe in deed that we are members of Christ ourselves, nor against charity, until we believe that our brethren are so. The last day will shew us what a depth of good or evil lay in all that we did willingly. It will shew us that nothing could be a trifle to us, where there was a right and a wrong.
Why then doubt we any longer? why do we not give ourselves up, once for all, to serve Him Who died for us, in all works of love to His members, and of purity in regard of ourselves, morning, noon, and night, this day? and every day of our lives, offering to Him the sacrifice of righteousness, and putting our whole trust in Him: and that we may do so with a quiet mind, calling ourselves daily to a strict account, judging and punishing ourselves in time, that we may not be accused and condemned in that fearful judgment?
As you love your own souls, think on these things, for surely they are true, and the time is short. And may He by His Holy Spirit make good in us that Prayer, which we offer to Him daily in His Church: "We believe that Thou shalt come to be our Judge. We therefore pray Thee, help Thy servants, whom Thou hast redeemed with Thy precious Blood. Make them to be numbered with Thy Saints in glory everlasting."
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which Thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when He shall come again in His glorious Majesty to judge both the quick and dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through Him Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
[a] In the delivery, the aweful words were thus broken off. There was no power to speak them. [Ed.]