By T. De Witt Talmage
DOCTOR TALMAGE'S SERMON, PREACHED AT CORK, IRELAND, SUNDAY MORNING, SEPT 6th, 1885.
"When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats."--MATTHEW xxv: 31, 32.
Half-way between Chamouny, Switzerland, and Martigny, I reined in the horse on which I was riding, and looked off upon the most wonderful natural amphitheater of valley and mountain and rock, and I said to my companion, "What an appropriate place this would be for the last judgment. Yonder overhanging rock the place for the judgment seat. These galleries of surrounding hills occupied by attendant angels. This vast valley, sweeping miles this way and miles that, the audience-room for all nations." But sacred geography does not point out the place. Yet we know that somewhere, some time, somehow, an audience will be gathered together stupendous beyond all statistics, and just as certainly as you and I make up a part of this audience to-day, we will make up a part of that audience on that day.
A common sense of justice in every man's heart demands that there shall be some great winding-up day, in which that which is now inexplicable shall be explained.
Why did that good man suffer, and that bad man prosper? You say, "I don't know, but I must know." Why is that good Christian woman dying of what is called a spider cancer, while that daughter of folly sits wrapped in luxury, ease, and health? You say, "I don't know, but I must know." There are so many wrongs to be righted that if there were not some great righting-up day in the presence of all ages, there would be an outcry against God from which His glory would never recover. If God did not at last try the nations, the nations would try Him. We are, therefore, ready for the announcement of the text. The world never saw Christ except in disguise. If once when He was on earth He had let out His glory, instead of the blind eyes being healed, all visions would have been extinguished. No human eye could have endured it. And instead of bringing the dead to life, all around about him would have been the slain under that overpowering effulgence. Disguise of human flesh. Disguise of seamless robe. Disguise of sandal. Disguise of voice. From Bethlehem caravansary to mausoleum in the rock, a complete disguise.
But on the day of which I speak the Son of Man will come in His glory. No hiding of luster. No sheathing of strength. No suppression of grandeur. No wrapping out of sight of the Godhead. Any fifty of the most brilliant sunsets that you ever saw on land or sea would be dim as compared with the cerulean appearance on that day when Christ rolls through, and rolls on, and rolls down in His glory. The air will be all abloom with His presence, and everything from horizon to horizon aflame with His splendor.
Elijah rode up the sky-steep in a chariot, the wheels of whirling fire and the horses of galloping fire, and the charioteer drawing reins of fire on bits of fire; but Christ will need no such equipage, for the law of gravitation will be laid aside, and the natural elements will be laid aside, and Christ will descend swiftly enough to make speedy arrival, but slowly enough to allow the gaze of millions of spectators. In his glory! Glory of form, glory of omnipotence, glory of holiness, glory of justice, glory of love. In His glory! An unveiled, an uncovered God descending to meet the human race in an interview which will be prolonged only for a few hours, and yet which shall settle all the past and all the present and all the future, and be closed before the end of that day, which will close, not with setting sun, but with the destruction of the planet as a snuffers takes off the top of a burned wick.
It is a solemn time in a court-room when there is an important case on hand, and the judge of the Supreme Court enters, and he sits down, and with gavel strikes on the desk commanding bar and jury and witnesses and audience into silence. All voices are hushed, all heads are uncovered. But how much more impressive when Christ shall take the judgment seat on the last day of the last week of the last month of the last year of the world's existence, and with gavel of thunder-bolt shall smite the mountains, commanding all the land and all the sea into silence.
Can you have any doubt about who it is on the seat on the judgment day? Better make investigation, to see whether there are any scars about Him that reveal His person. Apparel may change. You can not always tell by apparel. But scars will tell the story after all else fails. I find under His left arm a scar, and on His right hand a scar, and on His left hand a scar, and on His right foot a scar, and on His left foot a scar. Oh, yes, He is the Son of Man in His glory. Every mark of wound now a badge of victory, every ridge showing the fearful gash now telling the story of pain and sacrifice which He suffered in behalf of the human race.
But what is all that commotion and flutter, and surging to and fro above Him and on either side of Him? It is a detailed regiment of heaven, a constabulary angelic, sent forth to take part in that scene, and to execute the mandates that shall be issued. Ten regiments, a hundred regiments, a thousand regiments of angels; for on that day all heaven will be emptied of its inhabitants to let them attend the scene. All the holy angels. From what a center to what a circumference. Widening out and widening out, and higher up and higher up. Wings interlocking wings. Galleries of cloud above galleries of cloud, all filled with the faces of angels come to listen and come to watch, and come to help on that day for which all other days were made. Who are those two taller and more conspicuous angels? The one is Michael, who is the commander of all those who come out to destroy sin. The other is Gabriel, who is announced as commander of all those who come forth to help the righteous. Who is that mighty angel near the throne? That is the resurrection angel, his lips still aquiver and his cheek aflush with the blast that shattered the cemeteries and woke the dead. Who is that other great angel, with dark and overshadowing brow? That is the one who in one night, by one flap of his wing, turned one hundred and eighty-five thousand of Sennacherib's host into corpses.
Who are those bright immortals near the throne, their faces partly turned toward each other as though about to sing? Oh, they are the Bethlehem chanters of the first Christmas night! Who are this other group standing so near the throne? They are the Saviour's especial bodyguard, which hovered over Him in the wilderness and administered to Him in the hour of martyrdom, and heaved away the rock of His sarcophagus, and escorted Him upward on Ascension Day, now appropriately escorting Him down. Divine glory flanked on both sides by angelic radiance.
But now lower your eye from the divine and angelic to the human. The entire human race is present. All nations, says my text. Before that time the American Republic, the English Government, the French Republic, all modern modes of government may be obliterated for something better; but all nations, whether dead or alive, will be brought up into that assembly. Thebes and Tyre and Babylon and Greece and Rome as wide awake in that assembly as though they had never slumbered amid the dead nations. Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, and all the nineteenth century, the eighteenth century, the twelfth century, the tenth century, the fourth century--all centuries present. Not one being that ever drew the breath of life but will be in that assembly.
No other audience a thousandth part as large. No other audience a millionth part as large. No human eye could look across it. Wing of albatross and falcon and eagle not strong enough to fly over it. A congregation, I verily believe, not assembled on any continent, because no continent would be large enough to hold it. But, as the Bible intimates, in the air. The law of gravitation unanchored, the world moved out of its place. As now sometimes on earth a great tent is spread for some great convention, so over that great audience of the judgment shall be lifted the blue canopy of the sky, and underneath it for floor the air made buoyant by the hand of Almighty God. An architecture of atmospheric galleries strong enough to hold up worlds. Surely the two arms of God's almightiness are two pillars strong enough to hold up any auditorium.
But that audience is not to remain in session long. Most audiences on earth after an hour or two adjourn. Sometimes in court-rooms an audience will tarry four or five hours, but then it adjourns. So this audience spoken of in the text will adjourn. My text says, "He will separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats."
"No," says my Universalist friend, "let them all stay together." But the text says, "He shall separate them." "No," say the kings of this world, "let men have their choice, and if they prefer monarchical institutions, let them go together, and if they prefer republican institutions, let them go together." "No," say the conventionalities of this world, "let all those who moved in what are called high circles go together, and all those who on earth moved in low circles go together. The rich together, the poor together, the wise together, the ignorant together." Ah! no. Do you not notice in that assembly the king is without his scepter, and the soldier without his uniform, and the bishop without his pontifical ring, and the millionaire without his certificates of stock, and the convict without his chain, and the beggar without his rags, and the illiterate without his bad orthography, and all of us without any distinction of earthly inequality? So I take it from that as well as from my text that the mere accident of position in this world will do nothing toward deciding the questions of that very great day.
"He will separate them as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats." The sheep, the cleanliest of creatures, here made a symbol of those who have all their sins washed away in the fountain of redeeming mercy. The goat, one of the filthiest of creatures, here a type of those who in the last judgment will be found never to have had any divine ablution. Division according to character. Not only character outside, but character inside. Character of heart, character of choice, character of allegiance, character of affection, character inside as well as character outside.
In many cases it will be a complete and immediate reversal of all earthly conditions. Some who in this world wore patched apparel will take on raiment lustrous as a summer noon. Some who occupied a palace will take a dungeon. Division regardless of all earthly caste, and some who were down will be up, and some who were up will be down. Oh, what a shattering of conventionalities! What an upheaval of all social rigidities, what a turning of the wheel of earthly condition, a thousand revolutions in a second! Division of all nations, of all ages, not by the figure 9, nor the figure 8, nor the figure 7, nor the figure 6, nor the figure 5, nor the figure 4; but by the figure 2.
Two! Two characters, two destinies, two estates, two dominions, two eternities, a tremendous, an all-comprehensive, an all-decisive, and everlasting two!
I sometimes think that the figure of the book that shall be opened allows us to forget the thing signified by the symbol. Where is the book-binder that could make a volume large enough to contain the names of all the people who have ever lived? Besides that, the calling of such a roll would take more than fifty years, more than a hundred years, and the judgment is to be consummated in less time than passes between sunrise and sunset. Ah! my friends, the leaves of that book of judgment are not made out of paper, but of memory. One leaf in every human heart. You have known persons who were near drowning, but they were afterward resuscitated, and they have told you that in the two or three minutes between the accident and the resuscitation, all their past life flashed before them--all they had ever thought, all they had ever done, all they had ever seen, in an instant came to them. The memory never loses anything. It is only a folded leaf. It is only a closed book.
Though you be an octogenarian, though you be a nonagenarian, all the thoughts and acts of your life are in your mind, whether you recall them now or not, just as Macaulay's history is in two volumes, although the volumes may be closed, and you can not see a word of them, and will not until they are opened. As in the case of the drowning man, the volume of memory was partly open, or the leaf partly unrolled; in the case of the judgment the entire book will be opened, so that everything will be displayed from preface to appendix.
You have seen self-registering instruments which recorded how many revolutions they had made and what work they had done, so the manufacturer could come days after and look at the instrument and find just how many revolutions had been made, or how much work had been accomplished. So the human mind is a self-registering instrument, and it records all its past movements. Now that leaf, that all-comprehensive leaf in your mind and mine this moment, the leaf of judgment, brought out under the flash of the judgment throne, you can easily see how all the past of our lives in an instant will be seen. And so great and so resplendent will be the light of that throne that not only this leaf in my heart and that leaf in your heart will be revealed at a flash, but all the leaves will be opened, and you will read not only your own character and your own history, but the character and history of others.
In a military encampment the bugle sounded in one way means one thing, and sounded in another way it means another thing. Bugle sounded in one way means, "Prepare for sudden attack." Bugle sounded in another way means, "To your tents, and let all the lights be put out." I have to tell you, my brother, that the trumpet of the Old Testament, the trumpet that was carried in the armies of olden times, and the trumpet on the walls in olden times, in the last great day will give significant reverberation. Old, worn-out, and exhausted Time, having marched across decades and centuries and ages, will halt, and the sun and the moon and the stars will halt with it. The trumpet! the trumpet!
Peal the first: Under its power the sea will stretch itself out dead, the white foam on the lip, in its crystal sarcophagus, and the mountains will stagger and reel and stumble, and fall into the valleys never to rise. Under one puff of that last cyclone all the candles of the sky will be blown out. The trumpet! the trumpet!
Peal the second: The alabaster halls of the air will be filled with those who will throng up from all the cemeteries of all the ages--from Greyfriar's Churchyard and Roman Catacomb, from Westminster Abbey and from the coral crypts of oceanic cave, and some will rend off the bandage of Egyptian mummy, and others will remove from their brow the garland of green sea-weed. From the north and the south and the east and the west they come. The dead! The trumpet! the trumpet!
Peal the third: Amid surging clouds and the roar of attendant armies of heaven, the Lord comes through, and there are lightnings and thunder-bolts, and an earthquake, and a hallelujah, and a wailing. The trumpet! the trumpet!
Peal the fourth: All the records of human life will be revealed. The leaf containing the pardoned sin, the leaf containing the unpardoned sin. Some clapping hands with joy, some grinding their teeth with rage, and all the forgotten past becomes a vivid present. The trumpet! the trumpet!
Peal the last: The audience breaks up. The great trial is ended. The high court of heaven adjourns. The audience hie themselves to their two termini. They rise, they rise! They sink, they sink! Then the blue tent of the sky will be lifted and folded up and put away. Then the auditorium of atmospheric galleries will be melted. Then the folded wings of attendant angels will be spread for upward flight. The fiery throne of judgment will become a dim and a vanishing cloud. The conflagration of divine and angelic magnificence will roll back and off. The day for which all other days are made has closed, and the world has burned down, and the last cinder has gone out, and an angel flying on errand from world to world will poise long enough over the dead earth to chant the funeral litany as he cries, "Ashes to ashes!"
That judgment leaf in your heart I seize hold of this moment for cancellation. In your city halls the great book of mortgages has a large margin, so that when the mortgagor has paid the full amount to the mortgagee, the officer of the law comes, and he puts down on that margin the payment and the cancellation; and though that mortgage demanded vast thousands before, now it is null and void. So I have to tell you that that leaf in my heart and in your heart, that leaf of judgment, that all-comprehensive leaf, has a wide margin for cancellation.
There is only one hand in all the universe that can touch that margin. That hand this moment lifted to make the record null and void forever. It may be a trembling hand, for it is a wounded hand, the nerves were cut and the muscles were lacerated. That record on that leaf was made in the black ink of condemnation; but if cancellation take place, it will be made in the red ink of sacrifice. O judgment-bound brother and sister! let Christ this moment bring to that record complete and glorious cancellation. This moment, in an outburst of impassioned prayer, ask for it. You think it is the fluttering of your heart. Oh, no! it is the fluttering of that leaf, that judgment leaf.
I ask you not to take from your iron safe your last will and testament, but I ask for something of more importance than that. I ask you not to take from your private papers that letter so sacred that you have put it away from all human eyesight, but I ask you for something of more meaning than that. That leaf, that judgment leaf in my heart, that judgment leaf in your heart, which will decide our condition after this world shall have five thousand million years been swept out the heavens, an extinct planet, and time itself will be so long past that on the ocean of eternity it will seem only as now seems a ripple on the Atlantic.
When the goats in vile herd start for the barren mountains of death, and the sheep in fleeces of snowy whiteness and bleating with joy move up the terraced hills to join the lambs already playing in the high pastures of celestial altitude, oh, may you and I be close by the Shepherd's crook! "When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory; and before Him shall be gathered all nations; and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth the sheep from the goats."
Oh, that leaf, that one leaf in my heart, that one leaf in your heart! That leaf of judgment! Oh, those two tremendous words at the last, "Come!" "Go!" As though the overhanging heavens were the cup of a great bell, and all the stars were welded into a silvery tongue and swung from side to side until it struck, "Come!" As though all the great guns of eternal disaster were discharged at once, and they boomed forth in one resounding cannonade of "Go!" Arithmetical sum in simple division. Eternity the dividend. The figure two the divisor. Your unalterable destiny the quotient.