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Westminster Shorter Catechism Project

The Presbyterian Standards

Francis R. Beattie




The two concluding topics of the Standards which call for exposition are now reached. They very properly stand at the close of the outline of Christian doctrine, since they mark the close of the history of the human race and of the church in the world, and lead on to the consideration of the eternal destiny of men in a future state of existence. The Shorter Catechism has a brief statement upon these two topics, in which it states the fact of the resurrection without explaining it, and in which it asserts the fact of the general judgment and the eternal felicity of the redeemed in glory. The Larger Catechism and the Confession give much more extended statements upon these subjects. In this chapter the meaning of these statements will be opened up in an orderly way. There are two separate topics to be considered.

I. The Resurrection of the Dead.
Upon this subject the teaching of the Standards, in general, is to the effect that at the last day there shall be a general resurrection both of the just and the unjust. This great event shall take place at the end of the world, and at the completion of the history of the church upon the earth. This resurrection shall be general in its nature, including as its subjects all the dead, small and great, good and bad. When the trump of God shall sound, all in their graves shall come forth, and those in the sea shall appear in the resurrection. It is clear that the doctrine of the Standards does not favor two resurrections, as is held by some. All men, according to their teaching, are to be raised at the same time, and both just and unjust are to come forth to the issues of the judgment day. It is proper to remark, that when the Standards were drawn up premillennial ideas did not much prevail, and the notion of two resurrections in the premillennial sense had not definitely arisen. In the general statement of the Standards the following particulars are implied:

1. Those who are alive when the resurrection occurs shall not die, but shall be changed. This change will be some sort of transmutation, by means of which the bodies of those then alive shall be so changed as to fit them for their eternal abode. The change which Enoch and Elijah experienced illustrates this in a measure, and the modification which the body of our Lord underwent prior to or at the time of his ascension was, no doubt, a somewhat similar one. Thus in a moment, by divine power, the living shall be changed, and made to assume those qualities of body which the spiritual conditions of the future state of existence shall require. This change shall be experienced by all then living on the earth, whether good or bad, whether righteous or wicked.

2. All the dead shall be raised with the self-same bodies, and none other. The Larger Catechism says that the selfsame bodies of the dead which are laid in the grave, being then again united to their souls forever, shall be raised up by the power of Christ. Both of these statements teach that all that is necessary to preserve bodily identity is preserved in the resurrection body. In some well-defined sense, it shall be the same body which in this life was inhabited by the soul, and was the instrument of all its activities, that shall be raised up at the last day. This sets aside the idea that an entirely new body is to be created, or that in no sense is there to be any relation between the body that is laid in the grave and the resurrection body. It is the same body that dies and is buried which is reanimated and raised. Just as truly as Jesus had the identical body after the resurrection and ascension which he had before, so shall all the dead possess the same body after the resurrection which they had it this earthly life, however much is may be changed so fit is for its eternal home. The main thing to hold fast here is the fact that there is identity it some real sense between the present body and that which shall be ours by the resurrection.

3. The fact of the resurrection further implies that the soul and body shall be reunited. Death severs the bond between them, and leads so the dissolution of the body. The resurrection not only reanimates the body, but it also reunites the reanimated body to the disembodied soul. By this means the person is again made complete, and the basis of responsibility is fully preserved. Just when and how this union is effected we are not told, and may not be able to say definitely. Whether the body shall be reanimated by having its physical life restored to it prior to its reunion with the soul, or whether the presence of the soul itself in the lifeless gathered elements of the body shall be the cause of the reanimation of the body, we do not venture to assert. The simple fact is before us that the body and soul are reunited, the identity of the body is not destroyed, and the personal identity of those raised up is entirely preserved amid all the changes which take place.

4. It regard to the just, the Confession says that they shall be raised by the Spirit of Christ unto honor, and be made conformable to his own glorious body. The Larger Catechism, to a certain extent, expands this statement when it says that the bodies of the just are raised by the Spirit of Christ, and by virtue of his resurrection as their head, in power, spiritual and incorruptible, and made like unto his glorious body. Herein there are several things to be observed. The agency by which the resurrection of the just is effected is the Spirit of Christ. His Spirit dwelling in the just not only saves the soul, but is the agent by which the resurrection of their bodies is effected. The Larger Catechism signalizes a very important matter when it says that the resurrection of the just is also due to the virtue of the resurrection of Christ, their head. Through their union with Christ, as has been already stated, believers are joined to him both as to their bodies and their souls. Hence, their bodies, after death, are still united to Christ as they lie in their graves. At the resurrection that union supplies an important factor in effecting the resurrection of the just. And, finally, the resurrection of the just is to be a glorious one. It is unto honor, and in power. It is to be a spiritual and incorruptible estate in heaven. Such is the glorious hope which the believer has of life and immortality by the gospel.

5. In the case of the unjust or finally impenitent, the Standards set forth in a very brief way the bearing of the resurrection. The Confession simply says that the bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonor. The Larger Catechism, after stating, in general, that all the dead shall be raised by the power of Christ, and the just specially by his Spirit, adds that the bodies of the wicked shall be raised up in dishonor by him as an offended judge. Here it is asserted that Christ, by his power, and not by his Spirit, shall raise the bodies of the wicked. There is no bond of union between Christ and the unjust or unbelieving, as thereby the divine power may effect their resurrection. And as their resurrection is not a benefit of redemption, the unjust are raised up by Christ acting in the capacity of the judge of the quick and the dead, and their resurrection is consequently judicial in its nature, and in order to judgment, as will presently appear. This doctrine, it may be added, is inconsistent with the views of those who teach that the wicked shall tot be raised at all, or, if raised, shall be annihilated as a punishment for their sins. Hence, the wicked are raised up by Christ unto dishonor, to be finally judged by him.

6. An important and difficult question yet remains. It is one upon which the Standards speak in a somewhat indirect way, but it is one about which a good deal is said in writings upon this subject. This question relates to the precise nature of the resurrection body. It has already been shown that the resurrection body shall in some real sense be the same as the present body. It will be the self-same body, and none other. The question as to the sense in which it is the same at once arises. If there be identity between the body that now is and the body that shall be, the question is as to that in which the identity consists. In regard to this inquiry a few remarks are made, inasmuch as a number of objections are lodged against the whole doctrine of the resurrection of the body at this particular point.

First, Negatively, this identity does not necessarily imply identity or sameness of the material elements or atoms of which the body may be composed. Objections to the doctrine assume that the fact of the resurrection requires this identity. But the Standards do not so teach, nor does the Scripture so state. Personal identity may be continued and personal responsibility be preserved, without absolute preservation of the material particles of the body. This is true even in this present life, as the body undergoes change from youth to maturity, and from maturity to old age. The Confession gives the key to the solution of the problem when it says that the body which is raised as the self-same body shall possess different qualities from those which it now has. It shall doubtless be endowed by the agency which raises it up with all those qualities which it needs for its eternal destiny and abode. Those qualities are stated in the Scriptures, and are such as these: It shall be incorruptible, it shall be glorious, it shall be clad with power, and it shall be made a spiritual body. With such qualities it is fit for a spiritual state and place, and yet it can be properly called the self-same body, and none other. Personal identity and responsibility are carried up to the judgment, and on to eternity. Another passage bearing upon this point tells us that Christ shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body. Hence, what Christ's body became after the ascension and glorification, ours shall become by the change which the resurrection effects. Another passage indicates that we shall, in some respects, be like the angels of heaven.

Both Scripture and the Standards speak of the case of the just almost entirely at this point, but it is a proper inference to make that the bodies of the unjust shall also be changed, and yet their personal identity be entirely preserved. They shall have given to them by divine power those qualities necessary for their eternal abode in darkness and dishonor. This dark aspect of the subject need not detain us.

II. The Final Judgment.
This last solemn event is not alluded to at any length in the Shorter Catechism, but both the Larger Catechism and the Confession speak at length and clearly upon it. The Shorter Catechism simply says that there shall be a general judgment, when believers shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted, and made perfectly blessed in the enjoyment of God to all eternity. Concerning the place and destiny of the wicked in the judgment, this Catechism is silent. Only by way of inference can there be any statement made from the basis of this Catechism. The doctrine, therefore, must be drawn from the Larger Catechism and the Confession. The following remarks may supply a general summary of the teaching of the Standards upon the great subject of the last general judgment.

1. The judgment is to be general and is to come immediately after the resurrection. It relates to angels, specially the apostate angels, to all men, good and bad, small and great. Christ is to be the judge at that great day. Before him, gathered it would seem by the angels, shall be assembled men of every nation, tongue, and clime. The good and the bad shall be gathered at the world's last grand assize; and in regard to the judgment process, they shall be judged out of the records of heaven and according to the deeds done in the body. Just as there is one resurrection, so there shall be one judgment also. This is inconsistent with the premillennial idea of the judgment. The Standards teach that there shall be one general, final judgment, and that all men, just and unjust, are to be present at it. The world is to be judged in righteousness by Jesus Christ, to whom all power and judgment has been committed by the Father. The parties to be judged are apostate angels, and all the members of the human race who have ever lived upon the earth. They are all to appear before the tribunal of Christ at that great and notable day.

2. The day of judgment has had its time set by God, yet he hath not made the exact time known to men. The fact is frequently asserted in the Scriptures, but the precise time of its occurrence is never stated. This is, for good reasons, kept hidden from men. It comes after the resurrection, and at no great interval of time from it. The day and the hour of the judgment no man knoweth, that all may watch and pray and be ready for the appearance of the Lord when he comes the second time without sin, unto salvation, to judge the quick and the dead at his appearing. This is evidently a wise provision. It tends to deter men from sin, and it affords consolation to the godly in their adversity. It stirs up men to shake off carnal security, and it leads them to be sober and watchful, for they know not at what hour the Lord may come. They may thereby be the better prepared for his coming.

At this stage the topic of the second advent of Christ naturally comes before us. In regard to this great event, the Standards simply assume that it shall take place in connection with the resurrection and with a view to the final judgment. He comes the second time without or apart from sin to judge the living and the dead at his second advent in the world. Hence, the Standards do not favor the premillennial view that Christ shall come personally at the beginning of the millennium, and reign in person over his people on the earth for a thousand years before the general judgment now under notice shall come to pass. Moreover, the Standards never mention the millennium at all at any place in their doctrinal statements. The reason for this was chiefly the fact that the question was not really raised at that time, nor regarded of much doctrinal importance. It is only of late years that the premillennial theory of the second advent of Christ has become quite prominent, and is held by many good men. We cannot enter into the whole merits of the case here, and content ourselves with simply pointing out the fact that the Standards are not favorable in any way to premillennialism. At the same time, since many good, earnest men hold it, we shall not use hard words against it, however clear our own convictions may be that the premillennial theory is, if not unscriptural, at least extra-confessional.

3. The purpose of the judgment process next calls for some explanation. All men are to appear before the judgment seat of Christ, to give an account of their thoughts, words and deeds, and also to receive their award according to what they have done in the body, whether good or bad. As they are assembled on that solemn occasion, all things will be naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Our thoughts, our words, and our acts will all be inspected and pronounced upon. The underlying question will be in regard to our interest in Christ as our Redeemer, and whether or no our names are written in the Lamb's book of life. Our interest in Christ will be the ground of our acquittal and reward, but our deeds of loving service to Christ and his people will be the measure of our reward. The wicked, in like manner, will be condemned because they are not in union with Christ, and the degree of their punishment will be the measure of guilt which they have incurred by their profane and wicked deeds.

A further result of the judgment day and its highest end will be the manifestation of the glory of God. It will secure this in a twofold way. On the other hand, the glory of the mercy and grace of God is manifested in the eternal salvation of his people. They, in their salvation, are for the praise of his glorious grace. And on the other hand, the glory of his justice is manifested in the damnation of the reprobate, who remain wicked and disobedient to the end. Their wickedness and disobedience is the ground of their condemnation, and in their condemnation they but receive the due reward of their deeds, to the praise of God's glorious justice.

The glory of God's mercy in the case of the righteous appears in the fact that they go into everlasting life, and there receive that fulness of joy and refreshing which comes from the presence of the Lord. The glory of heaven and the praises of the redeemed through all the ages, as they sing the song of Moses and the Lamb, will continually manifest the glory of the mercy and grace of almighty God ; and the glory of God's justice in the case of the wicked appears in the fact that since they did not know God, nor obey the gospel of Jesus Christ, they are cast into eternal torments, and are punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his power. They did not seek to know God nor retain him in their thoughts, nor did they obey the gospel invitation, hence their condemnation is in accordance with the eternal justice of God, and it vindicates that justice in a very impressive manner.

4. The general results of the judgment remain to be briefly explained. To a certain extent, some of these results are involved in what is stated in the preceding section; but in the Larger Catechism, especially, the results of the judgment upon the parties who are judged are fully stated. It is interesting to note that the order in which the case of the wicked and that of the righteous is taken up in the Catechism is different from the order of treatment usually followed in the treatises on theology. Usually they deal with the case of the righteous first, as the Scriptures generally do, and conclude with a statement about the final doom of the wicked. The Larger Catechism reverses this order, and so it deals with the case of the wicked first, and concludes by reference to the glorious destiny of the righteous. This order is pleasant to think on, for it leads our thoughts last of all up to heaven, after they have been for a time at the gates of hell. Moreover, this order is justified by the text which says: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal. This is the order of the Catechism, while the Confession follows the other order. For many reasons, the order of the Catechism is to be preferred.

First, In the case of the wicked, a few things are to be set down. At the day of judgment the wicked shall be set at Christ's left hand. The evidence of their guilt shall be adduced. Upon the presentation of clear evidence in the case, and upon the full conviction of their own consciences, there shall be pronounced against them the fearful but just sentence of condemnation. In the justice of this sentence, both the outward fact of guilt and its inward evidence shall agree. After sentence is pronounced it shall be executed, and as the result of this the wicked shall be cast out from the favorable presence of God, and be separated from the fellowship and glory of Christ, and of his saints and the holy angels. And not only so, but they shall be cast into hell, and there punished with unspeakable torments in soul and body, with the devil and his angels forever. This is strong language, but not more so than the expressions of Scripture, even of our Lord himself, upon this subject. They are banished from God's favorable presence, but they are not beyond his judicial control. They are separated from the saints and angels forever, and they are in the company of the devil and his angels for eternity. And, to crown all, they suffer sore torments, in which the whole person suffers continually. There may be no literal fire, but that which such fire symbolizes in the way of punishment shall be endured.

It is well to add that the duration of this punishment is assumed by the Standards to be eternal. No care is taken to argue the matter, but the same language which is used in the Scriptures to denote endlessness is set down in the Standards ; and the eternal duration of the punishment, and the impossibility of deliverance from it, are simply assumed in the Scriptures and the Standards. No place is allowed for any kind of second probation, and no hint is given that the infliction of the penalty shall end. In recent years the doctrine of the endlessness of future punishment has been called in question in various quarters, and much controversy has been indulged in regarding it, so that a few additional sentences may with propriety be devoted to it here : First, The Greek terms here used in the Scriptures are the only ones in that language to denote endlessness. Secondly, There are no passages of Scripture to show that men will hear the gospel after death, which fixes destiny. Thirdly, There is no promise made in the Scriptures that man shall have the aid of the Holy Spirit beyond the grave. Fourthly, The circumstances and influences around the soul which dies impenitent cannot be so favorable to repentance as in this life. Fifthly, The force of habit and long continuance in sin must make the heart harder. Sixthly, Mere punishment hardens the soul when grace is not present to sanctify the suffering. Seventhly, The immortality of the soul implies eternal punishment, unless there is some way to get rid of sin after death. Eighthly, Endless sinning implies endless punishment, unless it can be shown that wicked men cease to sin after death. Ninthly, The reasons which take away the ground for endless punishment would also remove the ground for endless felicity in heaven. Abolish hell, and heaven is obliterated. Revelation is clear in regard to the perpetuity of both, and this means that both states are fixed, and that the experiences of the citizens of both abodes are perpetual.

Secondly, The case of the righteous needs only brief remark. At the day of judgment, the righteous, being caught up to Christ in the clouds, shall be set on his right hand, and there be openly acknowledged and acquitted. At death their happy destiny was fixed, but they were not qualified for full felicity till the resurrection reunited soul and body. Thus qualified for full felicity, they appear at the judgment, and are found on the right band of Christ the judge, where their sure title to heaven and their fit character for it are made manifest before men and angels. Then, further, they are associated with Christ in some way in judging apostate angels and reprobate men. What the precise nature of this office shall be we are not clearly told. Some would interpret it in harmony with premillennial views of Christ's second advent, and it is about the only passage in the Standards which may be so understood. Yet it is better to take this passage in the light of other clear passages which are opposed to premillennial theories.

Then, after the judgment process is over, and their acquittal and reward announced, the righteous shall be received into heaven, where they shall be fully freed from all sin and misery. They shall also be filled with inconceivable joys. They shall in like manner be made perfectly holy and happy, in body and soul, in the company of innumerable saints and angels. But the crowning element in their joy shall consist in the immediate vision and fruition of God the Father, of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, to all eternity. This is the perfect and full communion which the members of the invisible church enjoy with Christ in glory at the resurrection and day of judgment.

This completes the splendid inventory of the blessed experiences of the redeemed in heaven. Acquittal by Christ before all men and angels; association with him in judging apostate men and angels; introduction into heaven itself and all its glory; fellowship with saints and holy angels there; and, above all, an immediate vision of the triune Jehovah to all eternity, make up the category of felicity and glory which the redeemed enjoy at and after the judgment.

The locality of heaven is not stated, nor is the place where hell is to be found named. Here the Standards exhibit their usual reserve and caution. Where Christ and the redeemed are is heaven; where the devil and his angels are is hell. The main thing is that, through the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, we should prepare for heaven by seeking union with Christ, which faith in him implies; and then, being thus united with him, we may be sure that he will carry us up to his Father's presence with exceeding joy, and present us faultless before his throne, and at the same time introduce us into the experience of those things which eye hath not seen and ear hath not heard, nor hath entered into the heart of man to conceive, but which are reserved for all those who love his appearing, and who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed at the last time.

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