Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  The Last Judgment

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

The Last Judgment

By Thomas Shepard (1605–1649)

[From The Sincere Convert. 1655.]

WHAT will become of thine immortal Soul when thou art dead? Thou sayest: “I know not, I hope well.” I tell thee therefore that which may send thee mourning to thy House, and quaking to thy Grave, if thou diest in this estate, thou shalt not die like a Dog, nor yet like a Toad; but after death comes Judgment; then farewell friends when dying; and farewell God forever when thou art dead.

Now the Lord open your eyes to see the terrors of this particular Judgment; which if you could see, (unless you were mad) it would make you spend whole days and nights in seeking to set all even with God.

I will show you briefly the manner and nature of it in these particulars:—

1. Thy Soul shall be dragged out of thy Body, as out of a stinking prison, by the Devil, the Jaylor, into some place within the Bowels of the third Heavens, and there thou shalt stand stript of all friend, all comfort, all creatures before the Presence of God; as at the Assizes, first the jaylor brings the prisoners out.

2. Then thy Soul shall have a new Light put into it, whereby it shall see the glorious Presence of God, as prisoners brought with guilty eyes, look with terror upon the Judge. Now thou seest no God abroad in the world, but then thou shalt see the Almighty Jehovah; which Sight shall strike thee with that hellish terror and dreadful horror, that thou shalt call to the mountains to cover thee, “O Rocks, Rocks, hide me from the Face of the Lamb!”

3. Then all the sins that ever thou hast or shall commit, shall come fresh to thy mind, as when the prisoner is come before the face of the Judge, then his accusers bring in their evidence; thy sleepy Conscience then will be instead of a thousand Witnesses, and every sin then with all the circumstances of it, shall be set in order, armed with God’s wrath round about thee. As letters writ with the juice of oranges cannot be read until it be brought unto the fire, and then they appear; so thou canst not read that bloody bill of indictment thy conscience hath against thee now; but when thou shalt stand near unto God, a consuming Fire, then what an heavy reckoning will appear? It may be thou hast left thy sins now, and goest so far, and profitest so much, that no Christian can discern thee; nay, thou thinkest thyself in a safe estate; but yet there is one Leak in thy Ship that will sink thee; there is one secret sin in thine heart, which thou livest in, as all unsound people do, that will damn thee. I tell thee as soon as ever thou art dead and gone, then thou shalt see where the Knot did bind thee, where that sin was that hath spoiled thee forever, and then thou shalt grow mad to think: “O that I never saw this sin I loved, lived in, plotted, perfected mine own eternal ruin, until now, when it is too late to amend!”

4. Then the Lord shall take his everlasting Farewell of thee, and make thee know it too. Now God is departed from thee in this life, but he may return in mercy to thee again; but when the Lord departs with all his Patience, to wait for thee no more, nor shall Christ be offered thee any more, no Spirit to strive with thee any more, and so shall pass Sentence, though haply not vocally, yet effectually upon thy Soul;—the Lord saying: “Depart, thou cursed!” Thou shalt see indeed the Glory of God that others find, but to thy greater Sorrow shalt never taste the same.

5. Then shall God surrender up thy forsaken Soul into the hands of Devils, who being thy Jaylors, must keep thee till the great Day of Account; so that as thy friends are scrambling for thy goods, and worms for thy body, so Devils shall scramble for thy Soul. For as soon as ever a wicked man is dead, he is either in Heaven or in Hell. Not in Heaven, for no unclean thing comes there; if in Hell then amongst Devils; there shall be thine eternal Lodging, and hence thy forlorn Soul shall lie mourning for the Time past, now, ’t is too late to recall again; groaning under the intolerable torments of the wrath of God present, and amazed at the Eternity of Misery and Sorrow that is to come, waiting for that fearful Hour when the last trump shall blow, and then body and soul meet to bear that Wrath, that Fire that shall never go out. Oh, therefore suspect and fear the worst of thyself now! Thou hast seldom or never, or very little, troubled thine head about this matter, whether Christ will save thee or not; thou hast such strong hopes and confidences already, that he will. Know, that it is possible thou mayst be deceived, and if so, when thou shalt know thy Doom after Death, thou canst not get an hour more to make thy peace with God, although thou shouldest weep tears of blood. If either the Muffler of Ignorance shall be before thine eyes, like an handkerchief about the face of one condemned; or if thou art pinioned with any lust, or if thou makest thine own pardon, proclaimest (because thou art sorry a little for thy sins, and resolvest never to do the like again) peace to thy Soul, thou art one that after death shalt appear before the Lord to Judgment; thou that art thus condemned now, dying so, shalt come to thy fearful Judgment after death.

There shall be a general Judgment of the soul and body at the End of the World, wherein they shall be arraigned and condemned before the great tribunal Seat of Jesus Christ. The hearing of Judgment to come made Felix to tremble. Nothing of more Efficacy to awaken a secure Sinner, than sad Thoughts of this fiery Day.

But thou wilt ask me: “How it may be proved that there will be such a day?”

I answer, God’s Justice calls for it. This world is the stage where God’s Patience and Bounty act their Parts, and hence every Man will profess and conceive because he feels it, that God is merciful. But God’s Justice is questioned. Men think God to be all Mercy and no Justice; all Honey and no Sting; now the wicked prosper in their ways, are never punished, but live and die in peace; whereas the godly are daily afflicted and reviled. Therefore because this Attribute suffers a total Eclipse almost now, there must come a Day wherein it must shine out before all the world in all the glory of it….

Christ shall break out of the third Heaven and be seen in the air, before any Dead arise; and this shall be with an admirable shout, as when a King cometh to triumph among his subjects, and over his enemies.

Then shall the voice of the Arch-Angel be heard. Now this Arch-Angel is Jesus Christ himself, as the Scripture expounds, being in the clouds of Heaven; he shall with an audible Heaven-shaking shout say: “Rise, you Dead, and come to Judgment!” even as he called to Lazarus, “Lazarus, arise!”

Then the trump shall blow and even as at the giving of the law it ’s said “the trumpet sounded,” much more louder shall it not sound when he comes to judge men that have broken the Law?

Then shall the Dead arise. The bodies of them that have died in the Lord shall rise first, then the others that live shall (like Enoch) be translated and changed.

When thus the Judge and Justices are upon their bench at Christ’s right hand, on their thrones, then shall the guilty prisoners be brought forth, and come out of their graves like filthy toads against this terrible storm. Then shall all the wicked that ever were or ever shall be, stand quaking before this glorious Judge, with the same bodies, feet, hands to receive their Doom.

Oh! Consider of this Day, thou that livest in thy sins now, and yet art safe; there is a Day coming wherein thou mayst and shalt be judged!

Consider, Who shall be thy Judge? Why Mercy, Pity, Goodness itself, even Jesus Christ that many times held out his bowels of compassion towards thee. A child of God may say: “Yonder is my brother, friend, husband;” but thou mayst say: “Yonder is mine Enemy.” He may say at that Day: “Yonder is he that shed his blood to save me;” thou must say: “Yonder he comes whose Heart I have pierced with my sins, whose Blood I have despised.” They may say: “O come, Lord Jesus, and cover me under thy Wings!” but thou shalt then cry out: “O Rocks, fall upon me, and hide me from the Face of the Lamb!”…

Consider the manner of his coming. He shall come in flaming fire, the Heavens shall be on a flame, the elements shall melt like scalding lead upon thee. When a house is on fire at midnight in a town what a fearful cry is there made! When all the world shall cry “Fire! fire!” and run up and down for shelter to hide themselves, but cannot find it but say: “O now the gloomy day of blood and fire is come! Here ’s for my pride, here ’s for my oaths and the wages for my drunkenness, security, and neglect of duties!”

In regard of the heavy accusations that shall come against thee at that day there ’s never a wicked man almost in the world as fair a face as he carries but he hath at some time or other committed some secret villany that he would be ready to hang himself for shame if others did know it…. At this day all the world shall see and hear these privy pranks, then the Books shall be opened. Men will not take up a foul business nor end it in private, therefore there shall be a day of public hearing. Things shall not be suddenly shuffled up, as carnal thoughts imagine, viz.: That at this day, first Christ shall raise the dead and then the separation shall be made and then the sentence passed, and then suddenly the Judgment Day is done.

No, no, it must take up some large quantity of time that all the world may see the secret sins of wicked men in the world and therefore it may be made evident from all Scripture and reason, that this day of Christ’s kingly office in judging the world shall last happily longer than his private Administration now (wherein he is less glorious) in governing the world…. In regard of the fearful sentence that then shall be passed upon thee: “Depart, thou cursed Creature, into everlasting Fire, prepared for the Devil and his Angels!” Thou shalt then cry out: “O mercy Lord! O a little mercy!” “No,” will the Lord Jesus say, “I did indeed once offer it you, but you refused; therefore Depart!”

Then thou shalt plead again: “Lord, if I must depart, yet bless me before I go!”

“No, no, Depart, thou cursed!”

“O, but Lord, if I must depart cursed let me go to some good place!”

“No, Depart, thou cursed, into Hell fire!”

“O Lord, that ’s a torment I cannot bear; but if it must be so, Lord, let me come out again quickly!”

“No! Depart, thou cursed, into everlasting Fire!”

“O Lord, if this be thy pleasure that here I must abide let me have good company with me!”

“No! Depart, thou cursed, into everlasting Fire, prepared for the Devil and his Angels!”

This shall be thy sentence, the hearing of which may make the Rocks to rent….

When the Judgment Day is done then the fearful wrath of God shall be poured out and piled upon their bodies and souls and the breath of the Lord like a stream of Brimstone shall kindle it; and here thou shalt lie burning, and none shall ever quench it. This is the execution of a sinner after Judgment.

Now this Wrath of God consists in these Things:

1. Thy Soul shall be banished from the Face and blessed sweet Presence of God and Christ, and thou shalt never see the Face of God more. It is said that they wept sore because they should see Paul’s face no more. Oh, thou shalt never see the Face of God, Christ, saints and angels more. O heavy Doom to famish and pine away forever without one Bit of Bread to comfort thee, one Smile of God to refresh thee! Men that have their sores running upon them, must be shut up from the presence of men sound and whole. Oh, thy sins, like Plague-Sores, run on thee, therefore thou must be shut out like a dog from the Presence of God and all his people.

2. God shall set himself like a consuming, infinite Fire against thee, and tread thee under his Feet, who has by sin trod him and his Glory under Foot all thy Life. A man may devise exquisite torments for another, and great power may make a little stick to lay on heavy strokes; but great Power stirred up to strike from great Fury and Wrath, makes the stroke deadly. I tell thee all the wisdom of God shall be then set against thee, to devise torments for thee. There was never such Wrath felt or conceived, as the Lord hath devised against thee, that livest and diest in thy natural estate, hence it is called “Wrath to come.” The torment which wisdom shall devise, the almighty Power of God shall inflict upon thee, so as there was never such Power seen in making the world, as in holding a poor Creature under his wrath, that holds up the Soul in Being with one Hand, and beats it with the other, ever burning like Fire against the Creature, and yet that Creature never burnt up. Think not this Cruelty,—it ’s Justice; what cares God for a vile wretch whom nothing can make good while it lives? If we have been long in hewing a block and we can make no meet vessel of it, put it to no good use for ourselves, we cast it into the fire. God heweth thee by Sermons, Sickness, Losses, and Crosses, sudden Deaths, Mercies and Miseries,—yet nothing makes thee better; what should God do with thee but cast thee hence? Oh, consider of this Wrath before you feel it! I had rather have all the world burning about my ears, than to have one blasting Frown from the blessed Face of an infinite and dreadful God! Thou canst not endure the torment of a little kitchen-fire on the tip of thy finger, not one half-hour together; how wilt thou bear the Fury of this infinite, endless, consuming Fire in body and soul throughout all Eternity!

3. The never-dying Worm of a guilty Conscience shall torment thee, as if thou hast swallowed down a living, poisonful Snake, which shall lie gnawing and biting thine heart for sin past, day and night. And this Worm shall torment by showing the cause of thy misery; that is that thou didst never care for him that would have saved thee. By showing thee also thy sins against the Law; by showing thee thy sloth whereby thy happiness is lost. Then shall thy Conscience gnaw to think, “So many nights I went to bed without prayer, and so many days and hours I spent in feasting and foolish sporting. Oh, if I had spent half that time, now misspent, in praying, in mourning, in meditation, yonder in Heaven had I been!” By showing thee also the means that thou once hadst to avoid this misery: “Such a minister I heard once, that told me of my particular sins, as if he had been told of me; such a friend persuaded me once to turn over a new leaf; I remember so many knocks God gave at this iron heart of mine, so many mercies the Lord sent; but oh, no means could prevail with me!” Lastly, by showing thee how easily thou mightest have avoided all these miseries: “Oh, once I was almost persuaded to be a Christian, but I suffered my heart to grow dead, and fell to loose company and so lost all. The Lord Jesus came unto my door and knocked, and if I had done that for Christ which I did for the Devil many a time, to open at his knocks, I had been saved.” A thousand such bites will this Worm give at thine heart, which shall make thee cry out: “O Time, Time! O Sermons, Sermons! O my Hopes and my Helps are now lost, that once I had to save my lost Soul!”

4. Thou shalt take up thy lodging forever with Devils, and they shall be thy companions. Him thou hast served here, with him thou must dwell there. It scares Men out of their Wits almost to see the Devil, as they think, when they be alone; but what horror shall fill thy soul, when thou shalt be banished from Angels’ society, and come into the fellowship of Devils forever!

5. Thou shalt be filled with final Despair. If a man be grievously sick, it comforts him to think it will not last long. But if the physician tell him he must live all his life-time in this extremity, he thinks the poorest beggar in a better estate than himself. Oh, to think, when thou hast been millions of years in thy sorrows, when thou art no nearer thy end of bearing thy misery, than at the first coming in, “Oh, I might once have had Mercy and Christ, but no hope now ever to have one glimpse of his Face, or one good look from him any more!”

6. Thou shalt vomit out blasphemous oaths and curses in the Face of God the Father forever; and curse God that never elected thee; and curse the Lord Jesus that never shed one drop of blood to redeem thee; and curse God the Holy Ghost that passed by thee and never called thee. And here thou shalt lie and weep and gnash thy teeth in spite against God and thyself, and roar and stamp and grow mad that there thou must lie under the curse of God forever. Thus (I say) thou shalt lie blaspheming, with God’s Wrath like a Pile of Fire on thy Soul burning, and Floods, nay Seas, nay more, Seas of Tears (for thou shalt forever lie weeping) shall never quench it. And here, which way soever thou lookest, thou shalt see matter of everlasting grief. Look up to Heaven, and there thou shalt see (Oh!) that God is forever gone. Look about thee, thou shalt see Devils quaking, cursing God; and thousands, nay, millions of sinful damned Creatures crying and roaring out with doleful shriekings: “O the Day that ever I was born!” Look within thee, there is a guilty conscience gnawing. Look to time past; O those golden Days of Grace and sweet Seasons of Mercy are quite lost and gone! Look to time to come; there thou shalt behold evils, troops and swarms of sorrows, and woes and raging waves and billows of Wrath coming roaring upon thee. Look to time present; oh, not an hour or moment of ease or refreshing, but all Curses meet together, and feeding upon one poor, lost, immortal Soul, that never can be recovered again! No God, no Christ, no Spirit to comfort thee, no Minister to preach unto thee; no Friend to wipe away thy continual tears, no Sun to shine upon thee, not a Bit of Bread, not one Drop of Water to cool thy Tongue!