Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Commentary on Lord's Day 19

NINETEENTH LORD’S DAY


Question 50. Why is it added, “and sitteth at the right hand of God?”

Answer. Because Christ is ascended into heaven for this end, that he might there appear as head of his church, by whom the Father governs all things

EXPOSITION

To ascend into heaven, and to sit at the right hand of God, are not the same; because the one may be without the other. This Article, which refers to Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God, differs from his ascension into heaven in the three following particulars: 1. The end of the former article is expressed in this; because it was for this reason that Christ ascended into heaven, that he might sit at the right hand of God. 2. Christ sits forever at the right hand of the Father; but he ascended only once into heaven. 3. The angels ascend, and we shall also ascend into heaven; but neither they nor we shall sit at the right hand of the Father. “To which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy foot-stool.” (Heb. 1:13.) Much less has God said this of any man, Christ only excepted.

Concerning this sitting at the right hand of God, we must consider more particularly:

          I.      What the right hand of God signifies in the Scriptures:
          II.      What it is to sit at the right hand of God:
          III.      Whether Christ has alway sat at God’s right hand:
          IV.      What the fruits of his sitting at the right hand of the Father are.


I. WHAT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD SIGNIFIES IN THE SCRIPTURES

The right hand, and other members of our body, are attributed to God in an improper sense. As used in the Scriptures, the phrase, right hand of God signifies two things. First, the supreme power and virtue, or omnipotence of God. “Him hath God exalted with his right hand, to be a Prince and a Saviour.” “The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.” “Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.” (Acts 5:31. Ps. 118:16. Ex. 15:6.) And secondly, supreme dignity and glory, or majesty. It is in this second sense that we are to understand it as here used.


II. WHAT IT IS TO SIT AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD

To sit at the right hand of God is to be a person equal with God in power and glory, by whom the Father works immediately, and governs all things. According to the definition which is commonly given to this phrase, it means to reign in equal power and glory with the Father. This is true of Christ; for he does all things in the same manner as the Father does, and is endowed with equal power with the Father, which he also exercises. But the Son has always reigned in this manner. The same may also be said of the Holy Ghost, who is nevertheless not said in the Scriptures to sit at the right hand of God, and does not sit there; because the Father does not govern all things, and especially the church, by the Holy Ghost; but by the Son. Hence this commonly received definition is not sufficient and complete. Others confound his sitting with his ascension, and say that they express the same thing. But we have already specified certain particulars in which they differ; and it is absurd to suppose that there would be such a repetition of the same thing in a creed so brief and condensed.
The phrase, sitteth at the right hand of God, is borrowed from the custom of kings and monarchs, who place those whom they wish to honor at their right hand, and have their own assessors, to whom they entrust certain departments of the government. It is in this way that Christ is said to sit at the right hand of the Father, because the Father will govern and rule immediately all things, both in heaven and earth, by him. This sitting, therefore, is the supreme dignity and glory which the Father gave to Christ after his ascension, or it is the highest exaltation of the mediator, in his kingdom and priesthood. It is peculiar to Christ; because he alone is that almighty person and mediator through whom the Father immediately governs all things, and especially his church, which he defends against all her enemies. This glory and sitting of Christ at the right hand of the Father consists in these four things:
1. In the perfection of his divine nature, or in the equality of the Word with the Father, which he did not then receive, but always had. This his Divinity, although it was hid, as it were, and unobserved during the whole of the time of his humiliation, afterwards revealed itself with power and majesty.
2. In the perfection and exaltation of the human nature of Christ, which excellency consists, first, in the personal union of the human nature with the Word. “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” (Col. 2:9.) And, secondly, in the excellency of gifts, such as wisdom, power, glory, majesty, and others which are far greater and more in number than those which either the angels or men have received; and by which he also greatly excels all creatures in heaven or on earth. “Of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.” “For God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” (John 1:16; 3:34.)
3. In the perfection and excellence of the office of mediator, which is prophetical, priestly and regal, which Christ now, as the glorified head of his church, gloriously executes in heaven in his human nature. For now he intercedes in glory, grants the Holy Spirit, and gloriously preserves and defends his church. This excellency of Christ’s office is his exaltation itself in his kingdom and priesthood, which is the same as to say, that it is the laying aside the infirmity of his human nature, and the consummation of that glory which was due him, as well by reason of his office as prophet, priest and king, as by that of his person, as God. “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth.” (Matt. 28:18.)
4. In the perfection of honor, reverence and worship, which angels and men ascribe and give unto Christ equally with the Father; because he is acknowledged, adored and magnified by all as the Lord and Head of all. “Let all the angels of God worship him.” “To which of the angels said he, Sit on my right hand?” “God hath given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,” &c. (Ps. 9:7. Heb. 1:6, 13. Phil. 2:9.) This name, of which the Apostle here speaks, consists in the excellency of the person and office of Christ, and is a declaration of both by his visible majesty, that all may acknowledge and be constrained to confess that he is that king by whom God governs all things. It was thus that Stephen saw him standing on the right hand of God, crowned with visible majesty and glory, and adored him. Christ had, indeed, even before this his exaltation at the right hand of the Father, certain parts of the excellency of his person and office, but now he attained the consummation of his glory.
From what has now been said, we may give a more complete definition of Christ’s sitting at the right hand of the Father. It is to have the same and equal power with the Father: to excel all the angels and men in his human nature, both in the number and excellency of the gifts which were conferred upon him, and also in visible glory and majesty: to declare himself Lord of angels and men, and so of all things which are created: to rule immediately, in the name of the Father, his kingdom in heaven, and the whole world, and especially to govern the church in the same manner by his power: and, finally, to be acknowledged and praised by every one as Lord and Head of all. But how and in what respects Christ is said to be our Head, has already been explained in the exposition of the thirty-second Question of the Catechism.
The honor, therefore, which attaches itself to this sitting at the right hand of God does not belong to the Father, nor the Holy Ghost, but is peculiar to Christ alone, and is, indeed, the highest degree or consummation of the honor which the Son obtained, and that in respect to both natures, but in a manner peculiar to each. In respect to his human nature it is a real communication of heavenly gifts, or perfect glory, which the humanity of Christ had not before his ascension. But, in relation to his divine nature, this sitting at the right hand of God does not include any change of his Divinity; but is merely the laying aside his humiliation, and the manifestation of that glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world, but which he had concealed during the time of his humiliation; and the right and title to the free and full possession of that which his Godhead had laid aside, as it were, in assuming our nature. For as the Godhead humbled itself, so it was again placed at the right hand of the Father, that is to say, it was gloriously manifested in the flesh. “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” (John 17:5.)
This exposition which we have now given of this Article of the Creed, overthrows many objections which have been brought forward in relation to this subject, of which we may mention the following:
Obj. 1. The Holy Ghost is also equal with the Father. Therefore, we may correctly say that he also sits at the right hand of the Father. Ans. We deny the conclusion which is here drawn, because the argument is based upon an incorrect definition; for although the Holy Ghost, as well as the Father, be God, Lord and Ruler of the church, yet it does not belong to him to sit at the right hand of the Father, but to Christ alone, because he assumed human nature, humbled himself, died, rose again, ascended into heaven and is mediator. Again, the Father works immediately through Christ alone, but mediately through the Holy Ghost; for the same order which exists in relation to the persons of the Godhead, must be preserved in their operation. The Father does not work by, but of himself, because he is of none. The Son works by, and not of himself, because he is begotten of the Father. The Holy Ghost works by himself, but from the Father and the Son, from whom he proceeded. Therefore, the Father works immediately by the Son, because he is before the Holy Ghost, not however in time, but only in the order of existence, or of working; whilst he works mediately by the Holy Ghost. It is for this reason that the Son, who is mediator, is correctly said to sit at the right hand of the Father.
Obj. 2. Christ was always, even before his ascension, the glorious Head and King of the church. Therefore his sitting at the right hand of the Father was before his ascension into heaven. Ans. We have here, as in the former objection, an incomplete definition, from which the argument is deduced. Christ was, indeed, always glorious, but was not always exalted in the office of mediator, which is to say, in his kingdom and priesthood. The consummation of his glory, which consists in the administration of his kingdom, and priesthood in heaven, commenced with his exaltation at the right hand of the Father.
Obj. 3. But Christ says, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne,” &c. Therefore we shall also sit at the right hand of God. Ans. We shall sit with Christ by a participation in his glory.
We admit also that the throne of the Father and the Son is the same. Upon this throne many sit; some in higher, others in lower places; but not in the same dignity. Many counsellors may sit near the king; but the chancellor alone sits at his right hand. Christ will not give to another the supreme dignity and glory given him of the Father.


III. HAS CHRIST ALWAYS SAT AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD?

The curiosity of man, which is disposed to pry into every thing, makes it necessary for us to say something in relation to this question. In speaking upon it, however, we must distinguish as to the natures of Christ, and then as to time.
First, Christ has always sat at the right hand of the Father as it respects his Godhead, if we understand this phrase to mean that he reigns in equal power with the Father, and that he is endowed with equal honor and glory; for his divine nature was from everlasting equal to the Father in honor and power. The same thing is true if we understand the phrase, to sit at the right hand of God to signify that Christ is the Head of the church; for the Son was always that person by whom the Father governed all things from the beginning, as he also created all things by him. In this sense Christ was placed at the right hand of the Father by his eternal generation. Secondly, Christ was always at the right hand of God according to his Divinity, by virtue of his appointment to the office of mediator which was made from everlasting. This appointment had respect even to his divine nature from the beginning. Thirdly, the same may be said of the Godhead of Christ, from the fact that he commenced to execute, and has executed the office of mediator from the very beginning of the world.
But Christ, according to his Divinity, was placed at the right hand of the Father after his ascension into heaven, in as far as his Godhead then began to manifest itself gloriously in his human nature in which it had concealed itself, so to speak, during the time of his humiliation. For when Christ lived on earth his Godhead had also humbled itself, not, indeed, by becoming weaker, but only by veiling and not openly manifesting itself. Christ was, therefore, also as to his divine nature, placed at the right hand of the Father in this sense, that he then laid down that humility which he had taken upon himself for our sakes, and made an open declaration of that glory which he had with the Father before the foundation of the world, but which he had concealed during the time of his humiliation; he was exalted, we say, by manifesting, and not by adding any thing to his Godhead which it did not before possess, nor by making it more powerful or glorious, nor by declaring it before God, but before men, and by fully and freely claiming his own right, which his Divinity had, as it were, given up in assuming our nature. Hence he says, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” (John 17:5.) This glory of which Christ here speaks, he had not with men. He therefore prays, that as he always had this with the Father, so he might also manifest it unto men. This, however, is not to be understood in such a sense as though the Word underwent any change as to his Divinity, but only in the sense in which we have already explained it.
In reference, however, to his humanity, Christ was then according to this, first placed at the right hand of the Father, when he ascended into heaven. It was at this time that he obtained his glorification, when he received that which he had not before. “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory.” (Luke 24:26.)
Obj. 1. He who sits at the right hand of God is everywhere. Christ sits at the right hand of God. Therefore he is everywhere. Ans. This may be granted in respect to the person of Christ, by the communication of properties. But if any one infers the same thing also in regard to his humanity, there will be more in the conclusion than in the premises.
Obj. 2. The right hand of God is everywhere. The human nature of Christ is at the right hand of God. Therefore it is everywhere. Ans. We deny the conclusion which is here drawn; because there are four terms in this syllogism. The right hand of God. and to sit at his right hand are not the same. The minor proposition should be thus expressed: The human nature of Christ is the right hand of God. But if thus expressed it is not true. Again, the major proposition is not absolutely true; for a part of Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God, is that visible glory and majesty with which his human nature is adorned, and with which Stephen saw him crowned in heaven. This is not everywhere, but only in that place where his body is.
Obj. 3. Christ ascended above all heavens that he might fill all things, that is, with the presence of his humanity. Ans. This is a false interpretation of the words of the Apostle, Eph. 4:10. He ascended that he might fill all things with his gifts and graces, but not with his flesh, skin and bones, which would, indeed, be monstrous and unreasonable, and give the devil occasion to bring the glory of God in derision.
Obj. 4. That nature which is endowed with omnipotence is everywhere. The humanity of Christ is endowed with omnipotence. Therefore it is everywhere. Ans. That nature is, indeed, everywhere which is endowed with omnipotence, by a real transfusion or communication of properties, but not that which is endowed with it by a personal union. There are, how ever, many things conferred upon the humanity of Christ by real transfusion, viz, other qualities than those which he had in his humiliation and upon the cross. For there were far more and greater gifts conferred upon his human nature after his ascension, than were conferred either upon angels or men. In respect to this bestowment of these gifts Christ, according to his humanity, was placed at the right hand of God: but according to his Divinity, he is said to be placed at the right hand of the Father, in as far as this was glorified, and in as far as he, being taken up into heaven, manifested the same in his flesh, and has obtained the perfection of glory, and the highest degree of glorification in the manner already explained.


Question 51. What profit is this glory of Christ, our head, unto us?

Answer. First, that by his Holy Spirit he poureth heavenly graces upon us, his members; and then, that by his power, he defends and preserves us against all his enemies.

EXPOSITION


IV. WHAT ARE THE FRUITS OF CHRIST’S SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER?

The fruits of his sitting at the right hand of the Father comprehend all the benefits of the kingdom and priesthood of Christ glorified. They are such as the following: 1. Intercession for us. 2. The gathering, governing and preservation of the church by his word and Spirit. 3. The defence of the church against all her enemies. 4. The rejection and destruction of the enemies of the church. 5. The glorification of the church, and the removal of all the infirmities to which it is here subject. These fruits of Christ’s sitting at the right hand of God, naturally grow out of the office which he sustains. The benefits of the kingdom of Christ glorified are, that he rules us through the ministry of his word and Spirit, that he preserves his ministry, gives his church resting places, makes his word effectual in the conversion of the elect, raises them up at length from the dead, delivers them from all their infirmities, glorifies them, wipes all tears from their eyes, places them upon his throne, and makes them kings and priests unto his Father. The fruit of the priesthood of Christ glorified is, that he appears and intercedes prevailingly for us in heaven, so that the Father does not refuse us any thing on account of the virtue and force of his intercession. It is in view of this, that we obtain this precious comfort, that since he who is our king, our head, our flesh and brother, sits at the right hand of the Father; therefore he will grant unto us his members every good. He will grant unto us the Holy Spirit, so that we shall be quickened and glorified: he will bestow upon us celestial gifts, such as a true knowledge of God, faith, repentance, and every christian virtue, and he will accomplish all this for us, as well on account of the brotherly love which he cherishes towards us, as from the office which he sustains as our head. And, because we have such a High Priest, who is set down at the right hand of the Father, there is no reason why we should doubt in regard to our salvation, for he will preserve it safely for us, and at length bestow it upon us. “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hands.” “I will that they also whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.” (John 10:28; 17:24.)
What now is the application which it becomes us to make of this article relating to Christ’s sitting at the right hand of the Father? It is this: I believe that Christ, possessed of supreme and divine majesty, intercedes for me and all the elect, and that he applies to us his sacrifice, that the Father, by and for his sake, may bestow upon me eternal life; and that he may also rule and defend me in this life, against the devil and all dangers, and that he will at length glorify and grant me eternal life.


Question 52. What comfort is it to thee, that “Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead?”

Answer. That in all my sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted head, I look for the very same person who before offered himself, for my sake, to the tribunal of God, and hath removed all curse from me, to come as judge from heaven; who shall case all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me, with all his chosen ones, to himself, into heavenly joys and glory.

EXPOSITION

The second coming of Christ, the end of the world and the last judgment, although they differ somewhat from each other, are, nevertheless, all comprehended in this Article. We shall treat of them in common, in as much as they are closely linked together; yet in such a manner as to give special attention to the final judgment; because it would be of little account for us to think and speak of the second coming of Christ, if we did not, at the same time, consider the end for which he will come.
The subjects which specially claim our attentton in connection with the final judgment, are the following:

          I.      Whether there be a future judgment:
          II.      What it is:
          III.      Who the judge will be:
          IV.      Whence and whither he will come:
          V.      The manner in which he will come:
          VI.      The subjects of this judgment:
          VII.      What the character of the sentence, and the execution of this judgment will be:
          VIII.      The objects of this judgment:
          IX.      When it will take place:
          X.      The reasons why we should expect it:
          XI.      The reasons why God has left the time of it uncertain:
          XII.      Why it is deferred: and,
          XIII.      Whether it may be desired and looked for.


I. WILL THERE BE A FUTURE JUDGMENT?

This question is necessary. The Scriptures have also foretold that there shall come, in the last days, scoffers, who will regard this article as nothing more than a fable: “Saying, Where is the promise of his coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation,” &c. (2 Pet. 3:4.) It is true, indeed, that philosophy cannot fully and clearly establish the doctrine of the final judgment: nor does it, on the other hand, contain anything that would conflict with it. The whole certainty of this doctrine depends upon the teachings of the church and the oracles of God. And, although the philosopher, having a faint glimmering of light, might perhaps say, and reason might also decide in the same way, that it ought to be well with the good and ill with the wicked, and that it is not probable that man was created merely to be subjected to the evils and miseries of this life; yet man, having lost the knowledge of the righteousness, goodness and truth of God, could not, when left to himself, conclude with any great certainty whether there will be any future judgment, or when it will be; much less the circumstance with which it will be attended. Hence we are forced to rest the truth of this doctrine chiefly upon the testimony of the Scriptures. The arguments which philosophy adduces are, indeed, forcible in themselves; but they cannot be explained or drawn out with any clearness, unless they are taken in connection with theology, so that their force is only felt by those who enjoy the advantages of a supernatural revelation. The proofs which theology, or the doctrine of the gospel, furnishes are such as these:
1. The declarations of Scripture, from the Old and New Testaments, touching this subject clearly and explicitly teach the doctrine of a future judgment. The testimony of Daniel is here in point: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” And a few verses before he says: “The Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set and the books were opened. The beast was slain, and the body destroyed and given to the burning flame.” (Dan. 7:13, 14, 9, 10.) So also the prophecy of Enoch, quoted by the Apostle Jude, bears similar testimony: “Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds, which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 14, 15.) The discourses of Christ are equally explicit upon this point, especially the 24th and 25th chapters of Matthew. The same may also be said of the writings of the Apostles. “He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance in that he raised him from the dead.” “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive, and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” “It is appointed unto men once to die; but after this the judgment.” “I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heavens fled away: and I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.” (Acts 17:31. 1 Thes. 4:16. Heb. 9:27. Rev. 20:11, 12.) Nor does the certainty of a future judgment merely appear from these and similar explicit declarations of God’s word; but it is also evident from other portions of Scripture, from which we may deduce these proper, and just conclusions:
2. From the decree of God, by which he ordained, and determined with himself, from everlasting to raise the dead. This purpose can never be altered as God is unchangeable. A copy, or transcripts of this decree, may be found in the thirty seventh chap. of Ez., whilst Enoch, Elijah and Christ, are examples of it.
3. From the omnipotence of God, by which he is able to accomplish things which are impossible in the judgment of reason. Christ uses this argument in refuting the Sadducees. “Ye do err not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God.” (Matt. 22:29.)
4. From the justice of God, which demands that it be well with the good, and ill with the wicked, and that perfectly. But this does not come to pass in this life. There must, therefore, be another life in which God will render full justice to every one. It is in this way that Paul comforts himself, and all the godly under the trials to which we are exposed. “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompence tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” “Son, remember that thou, in thy life-time receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.” (2 Thes. 1:6. Luke 16:25.)
5. From the end for which God created the human race. The purpose of God is never thwarted; he always obtains his end. He created man for this purpose, that he might be the temple in which he would dwell, and that he might communicate joy and blessedness to man. But this does not take place here in this life, neither can it here take place; and as God would not create so excellent a creature as man for perpetual misery, we may infer with certainty that there will be a change. God is never disappointed in his purpose, nor will he permit the temple of the Holy Ghost to be given over to perpetual corruption. This happiness, too, is a part of the image of God in which man was created; and as it was destroyed by the devil, God, who is greater than the devil, will restore it. Therefore it is not only probable, according to the reasoning of philosophers, but it is also most certain that man was not created to suffer these evils but for a better end, which although it is not obtained in this life on account of various hinderances, will, nevertheless, certainly be attained in the end. The resurrection and happiness of our bodies is also confirmed by this argument; according to what Paul says: “What! know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you.” (1 Cor. 6:19.)
6. From the glory of God. God created man that he might for ever praise and glorify him, which cannot take place without the resurrection and the judgment. All other arguments may be referred to these.


II. WHAT THE FINAL JUDGMENT IS

In every judgment amongst men we have the accused, the accuser, the judge, the case, the trial, the law according to which a decision is given, the sentence of acquittal or condemnation, and the execution thereof according to the law. Hence a human judgment, in general, is the examination of a case by a regular judge according to just laws, and the passing and execution of the sentence either by acquitting or punishing the guilty.
From this it is easy to give a definition of the final judgment which God will execute through Christ. The judge, in this case, will have no need of accusers or witnesses, inasmuch as he himself will make the works of all manifest, being himself the searcher of hearts. There will then merely be the judge, the guilty, the law, the sentence and its execution. The final judgment is, therefore, that judgment which will take place at the end of the world, when Christ the judge will descend in a visible manner from heaven in a cloud in the glory and majesty of his Father and the holy angels, when all men who have lived from the beginning of the world will be raised, whilst those who will then be living shall be suddenly changed, and when all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, who will pass sentence upon all, and who will then cast the wicked with the devils into everlasting punishment, but will receive the godly to himself, that they may, with him and the blessed angels, enjoy eternal felicity and glory in heaven. “He shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11.) Or, we may define the last judgment in a few words to be the disclosure of all hearts, and the revelation of all those things which have been done by men, and a separation between the righteous and the wicked, which God will execute through Christ, who will pronounce and execute sentence upon all according to the doctrine of the law and gospel, which will result in the perfect deliverance of the church, and the banishment of the wicked and devils into everlasting punishment.
The holy Scriptures corroborate all the different parts of this definition, as is evident from the passages which we shall here adduce. 1. There will be a disclosure and revelation of all the thoughts and actions of men; for the books shall be opened, that the secrets of the heart may be made manifest. (Rev. 20:12.) 2. There will be a separation between the righteous and the wicked; for “the judge shall separate them one from another as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” (Matt. 25:31, 33.) 3. This separation will be made by God himself; and therefore be most holy and righteous. “Is God unrighteous? For then how shall he judge the world?” (Rom. 3:6.) It will be effected through Christ: because “the Father hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” “God hath appointed a day in the which he will judge the world by that man,” &c. (John 5:22. Acts 17:31.) 4. Sentence will also be pronounced: “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” To those on his left he shall say, “Depart from me ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:34, 41.) 5. The execution will be eternal. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment; but the righteous into life eternal.” 6. The righteous and wicked will be judged according to the law and gospel, which means, that they will be declared righteous or wicked at the tribunal of Christ. The acquittal of the righteous will be principally according to the gospel, but will be confirmed by the law. The condemnation of the wicked, on the other hand, will be chiefly by the law, and confirmed by the gospel. Sentence will be passed upon the wicked according to their own merits; but upon the righteous according to the merits of Christ applied to them by faith, the truth of which will then be made manifest by their works which shall be brought to light. The righteous themselves will then also confess that their reward is not of merit, but of grace in that which they shall be heard to say: “When saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty and gave thee drink?” (Matt. 25:37.) We are by nature all subject to the wrath of God. Yet we shall by him be pronounced blessed, not, indeed, in Adam, but in Christ, the blessed seed. It is for this reason that sentence shall be passed upon the righteous according to the gospel.
Obj. But every one shall receive according to his works. Therefore sentence will not be passed according to the gospel; but only according to the law. Ans. It is true, indeed, that God will render even to the elect according to their works, not, however, because their works are meritorious, but because they are the effects of faith. They shall, therefore, receive according to their works, which are the effects of their faith, that is, they shall be judged according to their faith, which is the same thing as to be judged according to the gospel. The judgment now which Christ will execute will be rather according to the effects of faith, than according to faith; because he will have it manifest to all why he thus judges, in order that the wicked may not impugn his righteousness as though he bestowed eternal life unjustly upon the faithful. He will prove from the fruits of their faith, that it was a true faith which they possessed, and that they are the persons to whom eternal life is due according to the promise. He will, therefore, exhibit to the wicked the works of the righteous, and bring them forward as evidences for the purpose of convincing the ungodly that they have applied unto themselves the merits of Christ. God will also render to the faithful according to their works, that we may take comfort therefrom in this life, having the assurance that we shall be placed at his right hand.


III. WHO WILL BE THE JUDGE?

The judge will be Christ, the same person who is the mediator. “The Father hath committed all judgment to the Son, and hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.” (John 5:22, 27.) By this, however, we are not to understand that the Father and the Holy Ghost will have no part in this judgment, but it is committed to Christ because he will appear and pronounce the sentence in his human nature. But when he speaks, God will speak; when he judges, God will judge, and that not only because he is himself God, but also because the Father speaks and judges through him. “He was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.” “He will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained.” (Acts 10:42; 17:31.) This judgment, therefore, will belong to all the persons of the Trinity as it respects their consent and authority; but to Christ as it respects the visible scene, the announcement and execution of the sentence; for Christ will in a visible manner pass and execute sentence upon all. The church will also judge by giving its approbation to the decision of the judge. It is for this reason that Christ says that the apostles shall be seated upon twelve thrones, and that they shall judge the twelve tribes of Israel. Yea, we also shall approve and subscribe to the sentence which Christ will then pass.
The following reasons may be assigned for the appointment of the man Christ as the judge. 1. Because the judgment of men will require a visible judge; but God is invisible. 2. Because it is the good pleasure of God that the same mediator, who justified and saved the church, should also glorify it. “God will judge the world by that man whom he hath ordained.” “They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with great power and glory.” “The Father hath given him authority to execute judgment also because he is the Son of man” (Acts 17:31 Matt. 24:30. John 5:27.) 3. That we may have this comfort, that this judge, being our redeemer, our brother and our head, will be gracious to us, and will not condemn those whom he has purchased with his own blood, and whom he has deigned to constitute his brethren and members. This comfort may be said to consist, first, in the person of the judge, who is our brother and our flesh. Then in the promise of the judge, who has declared for our consolation: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life;” “and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” (John 3:36; 5:24.) And lastly, in the end for which he will come, which is to deliver his Church, and to cast all his and our enemies into everlasting condemnation. 4. It is proper that the man Christ should be the judge on account of the justice of God, which demands that those who have reproached Christ, and rejected his benefits, should see him whom they have pierced, and be the more confounded by being compelled to confront him whom they have so strongly opposed.
Obj. But Christ says that he came not to condemn the world. How then shall he be the judge? Ans. This he says of his first coming, which was not to judge, but to save the world. But in his second coming, of which we here speak, he will be the judge of the quick and dead.


IV. WHENCE, AND WHITHER WILL HE COME?

We expect Christ, our judge, to come from heaven in a cloud. He will come from the same place to which the disciples saw him ascend. “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels.” “Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” “Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus.” (2 Thes. 1:7. Matt. 26:64. Phil. 3:20.) Christ, according to these declarations of Scripture, will descend in a cloud from heaven, where he sits at the right hand of God, and not from the air, the sea, or the earth. He will descend from heaven in a visible manner to this region of the air, as he ascended into heaven. “He shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11.) It is necessary that these things should be explained that the church may know whence to look for her judge and redeemer; for as Christ will have it known whither he ascended, so he will also have it known whence he will return, that we may be assured that he has not laid aside the human nature which he assumed.


V. IN WHAT MANNER WILL HE COME?

He will come, first, truly, visibly and locally, and not imaginarily, or apparently. He will descend in the same manner in which he went up into heaven, which, as we have shown, was visible and local. “They shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 24:30.) They shall recognize him to be God from his visible majesty. “They shall look upon him whom they have pierced.” (Zech. 12:10.) Secondly, he will come arrayed in the glory of his Father, and with divine majesty, with all the holy angels, with the voice and trump of the archangel, with divine power to raise the dead, to separate the righteous from the wicked, to deliver the godly, and to cast the ungodly into everlasting punishment. “The Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his holy angels.” (Matt. 16:27.) which means that he will come with such glory as belongs to the true God alone; and glorious in view of the retinue of angels with which he will be attended. Thirdly, he will come suddenly, when the wicked will not be looking for him: “for when they shall say, Peace, and safety then sudden destruction cometh upon them as a thief in the night.” (1 Thes. 5:3, 4.)


VI. WHOM WILL HE JUDGE?

He shall judge all men, the living as well as the dead, the righteous as well as the wicked. He shall also judge the bad angels. Men are called the living or dead in respect to the state which precedes the judgment. Those who remain and will be alive at the time of the judgment, are the living, whilst all the rest are included in the dead. At the time of the judgment the dead shall be raised, whilst the living shall be changed, which change shall, as far as they are concerned, take the place of death; and so we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
Obj. But it is said, he that believeth on the Son shall not come in judgment. Therefore all will not be judged. Ans. He that believes on the Son of God shall not come under the judgment of condemnation; but he shall come under that of acquittal. Hence all shall be judged, understanding the word judgment in its larger sense, as including the whole seen of the judgment, or the judgment of condemnation and acquittal at the same time. The judgment of the fallen angels will consist in the public declaration and aggravation of the decision already passed upon them.


VII. WHAT THE PROCESS, THE SENTENCE, AND EXECUTION OF THE FINAL JUDGMENT WILL BE

1. The dead shall be raised by the divine power and virtue of Christ, and by his human voice calling them forth. “All that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth.” (John 5:28.) The living shall be changed; their mortal bodies shall be made immortal. 2. Christ will gather all, both the righteous and the wicked, from the four corners of the earth, and cause them to stand before his judgment seat, through the ministry of the angels. This he will do, however, not from any necessity, but with authority; not because he will need their ministry, but that he may declare himself Lord of angels and of all creatures, and because it will contribute to his majesty and glory. 3. The world, the heavens and earth shall be dissolved by fire: there will be a change in the present state of things, but no annihilation. 4. There will be a separation between the righteous and the wicked, and a sentence passed upon each. The sentence which will be passed upon the wicked will be principally, as we have before shown, according to the law, yet in such a way as to be approved of by the gospel; whilst that which will be passed upon the righteous will be chiefly according to the gospel, yet so as to be sanctioned by the law. The righteous will, therefore, hear their sentence out of the Gospel, according as they have apprehended the merits of Christ by faith, of which faith their works will testify. “Come, ye blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for,” &c. (Matt. 25:34.) The wicked, on the other hand, will hear the terrible sentence of the law: “Depart, ye accursed, into everlasting fire.” (Matt. 25:41.) 5. There will then follow the perfect glorification of the righteous, and the casting of the wicked into everlasting torments. Christ will then take the faithful to himself; for said he, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself.” “We shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.” (John 14:3. 1 Thes. 4:17.) But the ungodly shall be cast away with devils, and sentenced to everlasting punishment.
Obj. But it it said that the unbelieving are condemned already; and that the prince of this world is judged. Therefore they are already under sentence of condemnation and will not again be judged in the final judgment. Ans. The devils and unbelieving are already condemned, and judged in the following respects: in the decree of God—in the word of God in as far as it contains a revelation of his decree—in their own consciences, and as it respects the commencement of their own condemnation. But in the final judgment their condemnation will be made public, for then there shall be, 1. A manifestation of the judgment of God, that those who perish are justly punished. 2. The ungodly shall also suffer punishment and torments in the body which now lies in the grave. 3. Their punishment will be greatly aggravated, and they will be put under such restraints that they shall no longer be able to injure the righteous, or to despise God and cast reproach upon his church. The great gulf fixed between them and us will effectually prevent them from ever doing us any harm.


VIII. WHY WILL THERE BE A JUDGMENT?

The chief cause of this judgment lies in the decree of God. God has decreed and declared that it shall be. Hence there is a necessity in view of this decree, that it should take place. It is also necessary that God may obtain the end for which he created man, and be eternally praised by his people—that he may declare his great goodness and mercy towards the faithful, who in this life suffer various trials and afflictions; and that he may manifest his justice and truth in the punishment of the wicked, who here flourish and prosper; for there is a necessity that it should at length be well with the righteous, and ill with the wicked both in body and soul. In a word, the end of the final judgment is, that God may cast away the wicked and deliver the church, that he may dwell in us and be all in all.


IX. WHEN WILL THIS JUDGMENT TAKE PLACE?

The future judgment will take place at the end of time, or at the end of the world. The duration of the world consists of three periods; that before the law; that under the law; and that under Christ. The period which is under Christ is called the end of the world, the end of days, the last time, and the last hour, and comprehends that portion of the world’s history included between the first and second coming of Christ. This period will not be as long as that from the beginning of the world to the first coming of Christ; for we are in the last times, and daily see the signs which were foretold in relation to the judgment. “Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time.” (1 John 2:18.) But the year, the month, the day, the hour, in which the final judgment will take is known by no one, not even the angels. Christ himself is ignorant of it as it respects his humanity, and his office as mediator, which does not require that he should declare unto us the time of the judgment. “Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32.)


X. THE REASONS WHY WE SHOULD CERTAINLY LOOK FOR THE JUDGMENT

Although we are ignorant of the precise time of the judgment, yet God will have us assured of the certainty of it, first, on account of his glory, that we may be able to refute all those who regard the doctrine of a future judgment as a mere fable, and who infer from the apparent confusion which there is in the world, that God has no concern for it, or if he has, that he is unjust; for, say they, it ought to be well with the righteous, but it is not; therefore God is either not able to effect this, or he is not as good as his promise; or there is no providence. We reply to this cavil, that in the life to come a different state of things will succeed that which we now see in this life; for since it is not here well with the righteous it shall be well with them hereafter. Secondly, God will have us know the certainty of a future judgment for our comfort, that we may be assured that hereafter we shall obtain a deliverance from the miseries of this life. Thirdly, that we may keep ourselves in the fear of God, and in the proper discharge of our duties, so that we may be able to stand in the judgment. “Watch ye, therefore, and pray always that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” “Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation.” (Luke 21:36. 2 Pet. 3:11.) Fourthly, that the wicked may be stripped of every excuse, in that they have been so frequently admonished of the importance of being constantly prepared for the coming of the Son of man, so that they cannot say that they have been taken on surprise.


XI. THE REASONS WHY GOD WILL HAVE US IGNORANT OF THE PRECISE TIME OF THE JUDGMENT

Certain as it is that there will be a future judgment, the precise time of it is altogether unknown. “Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” (Mark 13:32.) The reasons why God will have the time of the judgment unknown to us are: 1. That he may exercise our faith, hope an patience, and that we may believe in him, and persevere in the expectation of the fulfillment of his promise, although we are ignorant of the time when our deliverance shall take place. 2. That he might restrain our curiosity. 3. That he might keep us in his fear, and in the observance of our christian duties, that so we may not fall into a state of carnal security, but always be ready inasmuch as we know not when the Lord will come. 4. That the ungodly may not defer repentence, seeing they are ignorant of the hour, that so this day may not come upon them unprepared. “But know this, that if the good man of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched.” “Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” “Occupy till I come.” (Matt. 24:43; 25:13. Luke 19:13.)


XII. WHY THIS JUDGMENT IS DEFERRED

The Lord defers his coming: 1. That he may exercise the godly in faith, hope, patience, and prayer. 2. That all the elect may be gathered into the church; for it is on their account, and not on account of the wicked, that the world is permitted to stand. The lower orders of creation were made for the children of God. The wicked use them as thieves and robbers. But when the whole number of God’s people shall once have been gathered into the church, then will the end be. God, too, will have his people brought in by ordinary means; he will have them hear his word, and through this be converted and born again, the accomplishment of which will require time. 3. That he may afford all time for repentence, as in the days of Noah, and that this his delay may render the wicked and disobedient without excuse. “God endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.” “Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance.” (Rom. 9:22; 2:4.)


XIII. WHETHER THE LAST JUDGMENT MAY BE DESIRED

The final judgment should be anxiously looked for, because there will then be a separation between the righteous and the wicked, which the godly earnestly desire: for they continually exclaim with Paul, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death.” “I desire to depart and to be with Christ.” (Rom. 7:24. Phil. 1:23.) The Holy Spirit works this desire in their hearts, so that they say with the Spirit and the bride, come Lord Jesus; and let him that heareth say come. The wicked, on the other hand, fear and tremble at the mention of this judgment. Denn es dienet ihnen nicht in ihrer Bube. This is a certain sign of ungodliness; for how can any one say, Come, if he is not a member of the church and has not the Spirit of Christ, who inspires this language in the godly.
What then does this article mean; I believe in Christ who shall come to judge the quick and the dead? It means, I believe, 1. That Christ shall certainly come, and that at his second coming there will be a renewing of heaven and earth. 2. That the very same Christ shall come who suffered, died, and rose again for us. 3. That he shall come visibly and gloriously to deliver his church, of which I am a member. 4. That he shall come to cast the wicked into everlasting punishment. From these considerations we obtain strong and solid comfort; for seeing that heaven and earth shall be made new, we have this confidence that our condition will hereafter be different and better than it now is: seeing that Christ shall come, we have the assurance that our judge will be gracious; for it will be the very same person who has merited for us righteousness, and who is our brother, redeemer and defender: seeing that he shall come gloriously we believe that he will pass a righteous sentence, and will have sufficient power to deliver us: seeing that he shall come to liberate his church we look for him with joy: seeing that he shall come to cast the wicked into everlasting punishment, we patiently bear with their opposition and tyranny; and finally, seeing that he will deliver the righteous and reject the wicked, he will also either deliver or reject us; and hence there is a necessity that we should repent, be thankful, and avoid carnal security, that we may be included in the number of those whom he will deliver.


Ursinus, Z., & Williard, G. W. (1888). The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (pp. 253–270). Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company.