Reply to Brother John Barger: Although quite unaccustomed to sermon writing, we are willing to make an effort to comply with the desire of our brother. As Old School Baptists never preach by notes, or read manuscript sermons, they must have a far more retentive memory than we possess if any of them can give an accurate statement of them, either before or after preaching. What we shall now write must therefore be accepted by our readers, rather as a presentation of the present leading of our mind, than an accurate statement of the discourse delivered at the funeral of our dear departed brother.
Text: “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. 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.” Revelation 20:11,12.
In our last interview with brother Leachman, and during his last sickness, he said that his mind had been led through his painful illness to meditate sweetly and constantly on the sovereignty of God; which subject had opened to his mind in greater beauty than ever before. And being informed by those who were constantly with him in his last hours, that the government of God had continued to be his theme to the end; and his having selected to be sung at his funeral the hymn,
“Keep silence, all created things,
And wait your Maker’s nod,”
suggested to our mind as peculiarly appropriate for the occasion the text which we announced.
The holy apostle John, secluded from the society of mankind, an exile on a desolate island, far from the noise, the strife and turmoil of the world, and out of the sight of his cruel persecutors, was at the very place where the power and wisdom of our sovereign God had appointed; and, as though in mockery of all their wicked and malicious designs, the deep counsel of the sovereign God was most clearly displayed. Wrapped in holy vision, he received, “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John, who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.” Revelation 1:1,2. This faithful record of the things which John saw, is endorsed by the Son of God himself, in these solemn and emphatic words: “I Jesus have sent mine angel, to testify unto you these things in the churches.” Revelation 22:16. Some of the popular, but false, expounders of the word, have, perhaps by way of compliment, called John the Revelator. But he was not the revelator, nor did he assume to be; but to him, the angel or Spirit of Christ made known the revelation of Christ which God has given, and John was a faithful witness of the things which he saw. And among the astonishing things which he saw, perhaps no manifestation was more sublime and glorious than that of which he bore record in the words of our text. It is true he had seen in the earlier part of his vision the form of the risen and immortal Savior, in the midst of the candlesticks, holding the stars in his right hand, and the keys of death and hell in his possession. He had seen the Lamb standing on mount Zion, with all his saints worshipping before him. He had seen and bore record of the mighty conflicts in which Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and his angels, and in which the latter were vanquished. He saw and bore record of the rising of the several beasts, the development of their rage and malice against the cause of God and truth. He had seen the souls of the martyred servants of God under the altar waiting the day and vengeance held in store for their enemies; and many other demonstrations of the wisdom, power and goodness of God, inspiring his ransomed saints to sing, “Great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.” But in the text, he records the vision of the uncovered throne of God. That throne of which the royal psalmist sang, “He that keepeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth his cloud upon it.” Now to the eyes of John the cloud is rolled back, and the face, the greatness, power, majesty and purity of the eternal throne of God is uncovered, unclouded, and clearly seen, through the revelation which God gave to our Mediatorial Head, to show to his servants; it is now sent and signified by his angel [spirit] unto John, to be by him witnessed for the benefit of all the saints of the Most High.
A throne is a place of imperial power, a place of government, the seat of state occupied by a reigning king or sovereign; and when the word is used in reference to the government of God, it signifies to us his supreme power to govern, control, and dispose of all beings, events and worlds, according to his sovereign will and pleasure. The throne which John saw is described in two important particulars. First, it was a great throne. Whether considered as descriptive of the throne, or supreme power of God in his universal providence, extending to all beings and all events, from the creation of the world to the great burning day, or especially applied here, as we understand it, to the Mediatorial throne of our exalted Prince and Savior, the description given in our text is equally appropriate and true. For John is evidently speaking of what he elsewhere calls the throne of God and the Lamb. Christ in his exaltation far above all heavens, has sat down with his Father on his throne, and all the power of heaven and earth is vested in him. Power over all flesh, to give eternal life to as many as the Father has given him; and power to control all events in both worlds, so that all the angels worship him, and kingdoms and empires arise and decline at his bidding.
He is not only in a spiritual sense, the “King of saints,” ruling in and reigning over them, and causing all things to work together for their good, but he is also the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. The greatness of a throne is estimated by the amount of power and dominion which it represents; in this view of the subject, the throne which John saw, embracing all the power of heaven and earth, and a dominion spreading from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and extending from everlasting to everlasting, must be inconceivably great. “A glorious high throne from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary.” Of the throne of our Redeemer, God has said, “Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion.” Psalm 2:6. And “Unto the Son, he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.”
“And, Thou Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of thy hand. They shall perish, but thou remainest; and they shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed; but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.” Hebrews 1:8-12. A great throne, towering above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. “His seed also will I make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven. His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me.” Psalm 89:29 & 36. How terribly sublime and glorious is the inspired testimony of the supreme power and majesty of the Holy One! “His throne is set in the heavens, and his kingdom ruleth over all.” Examples of his eternal power and Godhead are visible whichever way we look. His hand has garnished the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth. In all the radiant brightness of his Father’s glory, and as the express and only true image of the invisible God, he rides upon the wings of the wind and makes the clouds his chariot. He doeth his pleasure in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.
“Life, death and hell, and worlds unknown,
Hang on his firm decree;
He sits on no precarious throne,
Nor borrows leave to be.”
Frankly confessing our utter inability to set forth in adequate terms the might and majesty of the throne, we can only adopt the descriptive word given in our text. A great throne! How great, no uninspired tongue can tell, no pen can write, nor finite mind conceive.
But we pass to notice the second descriptive word. It was a white throne. White is emblematic of purity, unsullied, unstained, and unblemished purity. The thrones of men may be comparatively great, when compared with other earthly powers; but none of them can be called pure, or white. Marks of defection have stained all earthly thrones and powers; and every organized government of this world has become defiled and drunken with the cup of Mystery, Babylon the Great. Christ is the only king that has ever reigned in righteousness, and whose princes have, and still do rule in judgment. His throne is white, and from every blemish perfectly free. And although the heathen rage, and the kings of the earth set themselves against him, as the Anointed of the Father, they cannot detect the shadow of a spot upon his throne, or blemish in his government. But because of their own perverseness and unlikeness to his purity, they rage and blaspheme. Even the saints of God while here in the flesh, find in their carnal earthly nature a propensity to murmur, and complain of his dealings with them, because his judgments are too profound for them to comprehend, and his ways are past finding out by their reasoning powers; still when he restoreth their souls, they feel reproved, and chide themselves, and pray for grace to reconcile them to all his dealings with them. And when their faith in him triumphs over their depravity, they rejoice to know, that in all things, “The Lord God Omnipotent reigneth,” and then they would not for thousands of worlds have it otherwise. Then they say, “I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it.” Or with the ancient priest, “It is the Lord, let him do unto me what seemeth him good.”
The crushing blow which God has dealt to us, in calling from us our dear brother, in the midst of his extraordinary usefulness, leaving so wide a field for his labors, to feel the painful stroke, seems dark and inscrutable to our finite minds. But has it stained his throne, has it sullied his government? May grace prevent the impious thought. It may indeed be hard for us to see why this deep affliction has come upon us. If for our sins, why were we not taken and our dear brother spared? If for the trial of our faith, why could we not been tried as effectually by some other trying ordeal? But hush! -
“Not Gabriel asks the reason why,
Nor God the reason gives.”
When thus we vent the gushing anguish of our sad and sorrowing hearts, we fail to see, as John saw, the glory of the great white throne on which our Lord presides. He keepeth back its face, and mantles it from our discernment with his cloud. This is in wholesome discipline to us, for we need those trials of our faith; and when he shall have sufficiently prepared us for the joy inspiring vision, he will roll back the darksome cloud, and let in upon us the light of his countenance; and then with admiration and ecstatic delight shall we be prepared to say, in view of the immaculate purity of his throne,“Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints.”
But John saw not only the great white throne; he saw also him that sat upon it. It was not a vacant, abdicated or deserted throne. According to the glorious majesty and dazzling splendor of the throne, its holy occupant is described as the only being of sufficient excellence to sit upon such a place of power. Worshipping millions prostrate themselves before him, saying, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor, and power for thou hast created all things; and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Revelation 4:11. “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof; for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests, and we shall reign on the earth. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.” Revelation 4:9-13. How indescribably glorious must he be to command such homage and excellent glory. But greater still the wonder, the earth with all its charms, and the heavens with all its worlds of light retreat, and haste away; for, as we have seen, they shall wax old, they shall be folded like a garment, they shall pass away. The retiring earth and fading heavens recede before his face, and there is no place found for them. His supreme glory demands all space. Nothing is permitted to remain to obscure his presence and supreme glory.
It has been even thus with all the saints of God, whenever they have beheld the King in his beauty; before his face everything else has disappeared. The world has become to us as nothing and vanity. Our own fleshly nature has sunk into nothingness, and whether we were ourselves in or out of the body, we could not tell; for he whom John saw sitting on the great white throne filled all things.
And yet we infer from the testimony of I John 3:2, that with all the glory of Christ that ever has been revealed to the saints while here in this vale of tears, it doth not yet appear what we shall be, as it will appear, when far removed from all terrestrial things, we shall see our Lord enthroned in that glory in which John saw him, and as we are fully persuaded our departed brother now sees him, where the glory of his face repels all other objects from our admiring eyes. When our God shall call us hence, to be with him, to behold the glory he had with the Father before the world began, could we take this world with us, or any part of it, could we find any place to put them? As to the dying saints, the old earth and heavens disappear, and the light and glory of the heavenly world breaks in upon their wondering eyes, they sing with the poet,
“The world recedes, it disappears,
Heaven opens to my eyes, my ears,
With sounds seraphic ring;
Lend, lend your wings, I mount, I fly,
O grave! Where is thy victory?
O death! Where is thy sting?”
Those who are looking for a heaven to consist in carnal enjoyments, fleshly relations, a reconstruction of nature, can have no adequate idea of the true and spiritual import of our subject. No place shall be found in the full orbed glory of the great white throne, and the face of him that sits upon it, for this world or any of the appurtenances thereunto belonging.
“The earth and heavens shall pass away,
And the old rolling skies.”
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God.” They have always stood before God; nothing ever has or can be hidden from the sight of him with whom we have to do. But this to us will be a revelation, as it was to John. God is the Judge of both the quick [or living] and the dead, and the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his.
While the great white throne and him who sits upon is truly awe-inspiring, the refulgent glory of the throne and of the government, when thus unveiled is seen without the intervention of a cloud or shadow. The blazing sun grows dim, and all the lights of nature are put out, the earth and heavens retire, the sun, and moon, and stars give place, all their glory is absorbed, they flee from his presence, and in his uncovered glory no place for them can be found; his judgment but exemplifies the spotless splendor of the throne, and the inconceivable majesty and divine perfections of him whose is the power, the kingdom and the glory forever and ever. His royal mandate reaches the deepest grave, penetrates the strongest tomb; throughout all space, the winged summons flies. The dead have heard the voice of the Son of God, and they come forth, and death and hell, of which he holds the keys, by him unlocked, at once give up their dead. Of all the unnumbered millions not one is able to resist his call. The small, the great, they all are now before him. The everlasting destiny of every son or daughter of Adam hangs on his lips. For that judgment which is final and irrevocable, they stand before the throne of God. How awfully solemn the thought. Kings and their subjects, tyrants who have oppressed, and victims of oppression, unmasked hypocrites and humble followers of the Lamb, the just and the unjust, the small and the great, they all stand before God. So John in vision saw them, and so they really stand and have forever stood before the rein-trying and heart-searching God. The eternal Judge is on the throne; that throne is pure and white, the Judge is perfectly competent. But not, as vain speculators have imagined, to hold a court of investigation. The final issue can supply the mind of God with nothing new. That day, that awful scene shall disclose no secret that was not known to God from everlasting. In that sealed book which none but the Lion of the tribe of Judah is worthy to look upon, unseal, or make known, is “every angel’s form and size, written by the eternal pen.” The august Judge has “declared the end from the beginning, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.”
“And the books were opened.” Not to make some new entry, or to record some newly discovered secret, but to disclose, or make manifest the records of eternity, what was known and established in the unchangeable counsel and prescience of God from everlasting. By the books figuratively considered, and as the figure is frequently used in the Scriptures, we may understand the purposes and decrees of God, as it is used in Psalm 139:15. “And in thy book all my members were written.” “Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, to do thy will, O God.” As in the hymn so valued by our brother.
“Chained to his throne a volume lies,
With all the fates of men.”
Or without doing violence to the figure we may understand the books in their plural number to mean the book of the law, and of the prophets; for what things the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” Romans 3:19,20. The opening of the books of the law alone would seal the doom of all the sons of Adam, as by it no flesh can be justified. But, joy to the saints, “Another book is opened, which is the book of life [the gospel], in which all the members of Christ are written.”
“And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books.” Not out of things newly brought to the knowledge of the Judge. Long as the books of law and gospel have been held in the archives of the eternal world, they have contained the judgment of our God; and to those secret records Job appealed when grievously accused by his mistaken friends. “Also now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high.” Job 16:19. No judgment shall or can be passed or executed that is not found in the books, without involving the immutability and the truth of God; for if he has found out anything new, or that he did not always know, his new discovery would imply a change; and if what the books declare should in one jot or tittle fail, his truth would fail. Should we understand the books to mean the counsels and decrees of God, all the dead must be judged out of, and according thereunto; for he worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. Or if we understand them to be the books of the Bible, which are a transcript of the mind and will of God, in them the final, irrevocable and everlasting judgment, sentence and destiny of every being is recorded.
In these books, when opened, will be found the record of the judgment and decision of God. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forgot God.” Have we a right to think this sentence will be revoked, or modified in the least? While in the book of life of the Lamb we have the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, - a record of his atoning sacrifice for the sins of his people; a faithful identification of his people, and a positive declaration that “all his saints are in his hand.” Deuteronomy 33:3. “Neither shall any pluck them out of my hand. My Father which gave them me is greater than all, and none is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” John 10:28,29. For their sins he was delivered up, for them he drained the vials of almighty wrath, and having borne their sins in his own body on the tree, has put them away by the sacrifice of himself, and arisen from the dead for their justification. Having redeemed them unto God with his own blood, and washed and cleansed them from all guilt in the same, he has constituted them “the righteousness of God in him.” In the book of life of the Lamb slain, this record is found, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death: for what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4.
The books out of which all the dead, both small and great, are judged, already contain the judgment and decision. Thus: “He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already.” “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” John 3:18 & 5:24. Although these decisions are plainly recorded, the books which contain them are sealed to the wise and prudent of this world. Nor is it possible for any man to pry between the folded leaves, until arraigned before the great white throne, and him that sits thereon.
Although the letter of the word may have been familiar to us from our infancy, how little did we know of its spirit and power, until we heard the voice of the Son of God, and were quickened; then the books to us were opened, and the great white throne appeared; then we stood trembling before the throne, the spirituality of the law, its stern demands with killing power convinced us of our guilt and condemnation. In our anguish and deep contrition we saw no stain upon the throne, it was spotless and pure, even in our condemnation. Nor could we see how the purity of that throne could be preserved in our salvation, until the other book, which is the book of life, was opened, and the gospel of our salvation brought to light. No new law required to be enacted to condemn us, nor was any new gospel or plan of grace required for our justification. Enough for all the purposes of justice and judgment was found in the books, when thus they were opened, and we were judged, and condemned, and our Surety appeared, canceled all demands, and clothed us with garments of salvation, and covered us with the robe of righteousness, and presented us before the great white throne, freely, fully and forever justified through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Out of those things which were written in these books all the dead were judged; and this judgment, to be out of the records of the books, must of necessity be according to their works.
A careful examination of those things which are written in the books will show beyond all cavil or contradiction that the works of every one will show to what class he belongs. Men do not gather grapes of thorns; nor figs of thistles. Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” Yet not for believing or for being baptized; for the faith by which alone any can believe the gospel is the gift of God, and hence an evidence that its possessor is a sinner saved by grace; and the baptism of an unbeliever is a desecration of the sacred ordinance. As the books of God contain a record of the destiny of all, so it is “God that worketh in all his children both to will and to do of his own good pleasure.” God has wrought all their works in them. They who are of God hear Christ, and they that know God hear the apostles. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. The sovereign Judge has already pronounced that they who are of their father the devil will do the works of their father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and their feet are swift to shed blood. He is a liar, and the father of it, and they make lies their refuge, and under falsehood do they hide themselves. So, while the fruit cannot change the nature of the tree, the tree gives character to its fruit, and its fruit demonstrates the character of the tree.
We have not to wait long ages for this throne to be planted in the heavens, nor for the Son of God to come and occupy it. God has declared the decree, “Yet have I set my King upon his holy hill of Zion.” The God of heaven has set up the kingdom, and in the regeneration, his King already enthroned in power and judgment, is exalted to the throne of his glory, and the twelve apostles are seated with him on thrones of judgment. This glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our Sanctuary. The dead, both small and great, are now before him; and he is now separating the nations, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.
Some of the saints have been made sad by the delusive traditions which prevail in the world, that their final destiny is yet unsettled; that it cannot be decided until some period far off in the distant future, in which it is represented that all the saints, with all the kindreds of the earth, shall stand in a promiscuous assembly before the bar of God, and there be examined, or rather their works to be examined, to ascertain in weight and measure whether their good works shall over-balance their evil works; and whether they shall be saved or lost. Can we entertain that view and yet rely upon what our Judge has already told us? I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish. Can this pledge be revoked? “Verily, verily I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.” John 6:47. The sins and iniquities of his people, God has promised to remember no more. As a thick cloud has he blotted them out, and they shall never again be brought to remembrance.
“Rest, doubting saint, assured of this,
For God has pledged his holiness.”
This very moment, while we weep around the cherished form of our dear departed brother, his spirit clothed with immortality mingles with the glorified saints in loud and blissful anthems, before the great white throne, and in the presence of him who sits upon it. Ransomed millions with him swell the notes of immortal songs of praise unto God and the Lamb. There is no intermediate state between mortality and immortality, no purgatory; no slumbering in the ground; no waiting for corruption; earth and worms to refine or otherwise improve our dust. They that are accounted worthy of that world, and of the resurrection of the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are equal to the angels, and are children of God, being the children of the resurrection. From the shores of time our brother has passed; beyond those shores there is no time; all, all is boundless eternity. All is present, all is one eternal now.
Of him the joy inspiring words of Paul are peculiarly applicable: “Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing.”
In the foregoing article, although we may have gone over much of the ground occupied by us at the funeral of our brother, we have not aimed to give a statement of that discourse; for that we could not do; but in compliance with the desire of our beloved brother Barger, and others, we have labored rather to present such views as have occurred to our mind while writing. Much, no doubt, that was said then is omitted here, and much contained in this article was not uttered on that occasion.
May the subject be carefully, prayerfully and profitably considered, the saints edified and comforted, and our God be glorified.
April 1, 1869.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 385 – 397