Since I had no idea what the word "assize" meant before reading this sermon, I'll quickly put the definition out there: it was a court in each county in England that administered criminal and civil law. I have to mention the correct meaning so quickly to keep your mind from wandering into potential parodies of what a sermon with such a title could possibly be about. (Even though I've done so, I'm sure that friends of mine like Robert, Barry, or m.coy will will still be able to come up with some entertaining options.)
Needless to say, we wouldn't give this sermon this title today, but would probably name it "The Great Judgment." But then, regardless of the title, the likelihood of any of us writing this sermon in our time is pretty small. It focuses on God's judgment, "the day of the Lord," when after the general resurrection, Christ will sit in judgment over all people. This simply isn't a topic I've often (if ever) heard preached.
One thing about this sermon that catches my attention is that despite the teachings of Jesus and the rest of Scripture regarding the judgment, many of us (particularly us Protestants) have somehow come up with a doctrine like this: because of salvation by faith, there will be no judgment based on works.
But really? Did Jesus ever say anything to indicate that? Or, since I'm talking about my fellow Protestants, did Paul? Paul certainly says that in Christ we will not be condemned at this judgment, but he never indicates that the judgment itself won't happen. (See Scripture Plaques You Won't Find at the Christian Bookstore, #11). And what kind of interpretation is needed for teachings of Jesus like Matthew 25:31-46, for us to give up thinking what Wesley obviously thought, that we should always have in our mind that this kind of judgment awaits us?
Summary: Wesley gave this sermon to a crowd at the legal proceedings (assizes) on May 10, 1758. He begins by pointing out how judgments benefit society, and says that as helpful as those proceedings were, a much greater judgment was coming when Christ would judge the world. He then summarizes some of the prophecies of scripture about what signs would take place before "the day of the Lord," describes what the judgment itself will be like, and then discusses the revealing of the new creation after the judgment.
An accompanying Wesleyan hymn:
From the 1889 Methodist Hymnal: #55 by Charles Wesley
1 THOU Judge of quick and dead, Before whose bar severe, With holy joy, or guilty dread, We all shall soon appear; Our cautioned souls prepare For that tremendous day, And fill us now with watchful care, And stir us up to pray:
2 To pray, and wait the hour, That awful hour unknown, When, robed in majesty and power, Thou shalt from heaven come down The immortal Son of man, To judge the human race, With all thy Father's dazzling train, With all thy glorious grace.
3 To damp our earthly joys, To increase our gracious fears, For ever let the archangel's voice Be sounding in our ears; The solemn midnight cry, "Ye dead, the Judge is come, Arise, and meet him in the sky, And meet your instant doom!"
4 O may we thus be found Obedient to his word, Attentive to the trumpet's sound, And looking for our Lord! O may we thus ensure A lot among the blest; And watch a moment to secure An everlasting rest!