Judgement Day, The Mercy of God, and One Sin of Ignorance
“There’s a great day coming ... when the saints and the sinners shall be parted right and left . . . . ” The most deadly serious “ and solemn thought that a man can contemplate is that of the final day when this earthly sojourn is over and he must give account to the Great Judge of the universe for the things he did or did not do in this life (2 Cor. 5:10; Mt. 25). We must not speculate on this subject for the fun of it, for the sake of academic or mental exercise, or for the sake of winning an argument. None of those reasons are serious enough. We are talking about the most crucial moment that a man will ever face.
Will There Be Mercy?
“There’s a bright day coming ... but its brightness shall only come to them that love the Lord. . . ” Over and over we are told that love and obedience go together (Jn.14:15,21; 15:14; 1 Jn.5:3; 2 Jn. 6; etc.). As others have done, I too have voiced the sentiment that I expect to need God’s mercy on the day of judgment. Most of us find it easier to refrain from sins of commission (overt forbidden acts) than to avoid sins of omission leaving undone things we should do, taking advantage of all opportunities). All of Christ’s judgment parables were in condemnation for sins of omission, not commission.
That Jehovah is a God of mercy no Bible student will deny (Ps. 136; Eph. 2:4). However, some have taught that there will be no mercy on judgment day for we are living in the time of God’s mercy right now. It is true that God is merciful to us daily, sending sunshine, rain, and a host of other blessings on the just and unjust (Mt. 5:45). But it is not true that there will be no mercy at the judgment. “For judgment is without mercy to him that hath showed no mercy: mercy glorieth against judgment”(Jas. 2:13). The judgment scene ofMatthew 25 hinged on whether the person had been merciful in life. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt. 5:7). The kind of mercy we extend in life is not one of doctrinal mercy (I am not being merciful to a man when I tell him he can be saved by faith only or can continue to live in adultery). Rather, it has to do with the kindness I show to him as a person. Jesus, James, and Paul gave examples of what they meant (feeding the hungry, hospitality to strangers, not being a respecter of persons regarding the poor, etc., seeMt. 18:21-35; 25:31-46; Jas. 2:1-13;2 Tim. 1:16-18). These things distinguish whether we are practicing genuine Christianity or whether our religion is an academic pursuit. However, watering down the gospel to make it more palatable is not an act of mercy.
God’s Mercy and Man’s Sins
Let me hasten to say that if the Lord decides to extend mercy to the unbaptized or the person guilty of one sin of ignorance, that will be fine with me. I won’t complain or argue; I will rejoice. But in the meantime, what must I teach on those subjects?
Whenever God wants us to make an exception to any of His requirements, He has told us what the exception is. For example, we are to obey the laws of the civil government (Rom. 13:11;1 Pet. 2:13-15). However, He has given us an exception. When there is a conflict between the laws of men and the law of God then “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Another example: God’s law from the beginning is that marriage is for life (Rom. 7:1-3). But Jesus gave an exception (fornication) whereby one may put away his mate (Mt. 19:9).
Does the Bible give any exceptions to baptism for accountable people? Does it teach that God’s mercy will cover sins of ignorance or unconfessed sins? No, and we have no right to teach otherwise though we might long for God’s pardon on our loved ones who fall into these categories. We must not put a premium on ignorance (Acts 17:30). To teach that God will overlook ignorance encourages ignorance and nullifies all exhortations to study, learn, and grow. Exceptions have a tendency to become the rule - with a little help from their friends. Sprinkling was introduced as “baptism” when it was thought that a man was too sick to be immersed. It eventually became the rule for many mainline denominations. Divorce has almost become the rule of the day. If God intends for His mercy to cover any degree of ignorance, it was in His wisdom not to tell us ahead of time, lest we conclude that “ignorance is bliss” or “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.”
On the other hand, while God has told us some of the conditions of mercy (Mt. 18:21-35; 25:31f; Jas. 2:13), he has not told us exactly how it will be applied. No man on earth knows how it will be applied or at exactly what point He will place limitations. This is a secret area over which Christians should not speculate (Duet. 29:29). “How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counselor? (Rom. 11:33,34).
Leave Judgment to God
“There’s a sad day coming ... when the sinner shall hear his doom ‘Depart, I know ye not’. . . . “ God hasn’t asked us to determine the judgment beforehand. Our primary mission is to teach the message. If there are exceptions, teach them. If there are none, omit them. Doing otherwise can cause eternal consequences for the very ones for which we desire salvation. Likewise, let us not hem God into a corner with no room to change His mind. He is a just God. His judgments will be tempered with whatever mercy He thinks we deserve. Only He can determine that. Let us make haste and be busy teaching the gospel. This is urgent, for we each have only a limited amount of time.