Rom. 14: 10; 1 Cor. 3: 2; 2 Cor. 5: 10.
The Judgment Seat of Christ.
THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST.
I. In these Scriptures the great fact is stated—"We (believers) must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ."
There are real difficulties raised by this subject.
Does not John 5: 24 tell us that the believer "shall not come into judgment" (krisis) but is passed from death unto life? How then must he appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ and of God (as the R.V. of Rom. 14: 10 has it)? Again, has not God promised to remember his sins and iniquities no more? How then shall the deeds done in the body whether good or bad be brought up at the Judgment Seat? Are they not cast into the depths of the sea—behind God's back and blotted out as a thick cloud? Imagery that leaves no doubt that sins righteously dealt with at the Cross are no longer imputed to the believer.
Before attempting to discover the Scriptural answer to this problem, let us review----
THE FOUNDATIONS upon which we stand.
1. We are justified freely by grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. So complete is that justification, that we are said to have died, and "he that died is justified" (Rom. 6: 7, R.V.). No charge can be brought against the dead. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect, since God has justified?
2. The work of Christ on the Cross, which is imputed to us, is so complete that we are said to have been perfected forever by that one offering.
3. We have received the free gift of eternal life—are born again a new creation. We can never perish. This life was not earned or merited, but gratuitously given.
4. Immediately, we depart and are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord. Hereafter, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. We shall all be changed in a moment—in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump.
5. At the Coming of the Lord we shall all be caught up to meet Him in the air.
These are the eternal verities of the Christian faith. They are its distinctive features, its unique characteristics. We must not allow any construction to be put upon any other Scriptures that would rob us of the priceless treasure of---- JUSTIFICATION AND SALVATION BY GRACE.
To go back to law is to fall from grace. To get on to legal ground is to lose the great motive of Christian conduct—reigning grace—standing in grace—constraining love.
Grace has produced what law failed to do. The law made nothing perfect; we dare not return to it. Yet it is abundantly clear that----
WE MUST ALL APPEAR BEFORE THE BEMA.
A word used twelve times in the New Testament, and, with two unimportant exceptions, always translated Judgment Seat.
How shall we reconcile this fact with the great verities before named?
1. It is clear that a distinction must be drawn between the tribunals—the Bema and the Great White Throne. Before the one "we" (that is, all Christians) must appear and be manifested; before the others, all nations (panta ta ethne), or all the world. These two tribunals are probably separated by at least a thousand years. The one is for the justified; the other is for the condemned.
2. We must distinguish between the nature of the Judgments taking place at these tribunals. There is a judgment unto condemnation. There is a judgment unto victory. In the one, the sinner is condemned. In the other, the saint comes through saved—a victory of grace. In some cases with honour; in others saved "so as by fire."
The statement of John 5: 24, that the believer shall not come into judgment clearly means condemnation. This is confirmed by Romans 8: 1, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Jesus Christ," and Rom. 8: 34, "Who shall condemn . . ., etc." Whatever the "Bema" shall mean, it cannot mean final condemnation.
3. A distinction of the utmost importance—a distinction of a fearful and tremendous character—little, I fear, grasped or understood. It is the distinction between forgiveness and the----
GOVERNMENTAL DEALINGS OF GOD.
In other words, Forgiveness, Mercy, Justification cover much, but not all the sanctions against sin. An illustration from ordinary everyday life will make my meaning clear. A poor wretch whose health, character, and life have been ruined by drink and vice, flings himself down at the penitent form and finds mercy. We glory in the fact that Christ receives the Devil's castaways. He rises forgiven and recreated, a new creature in Christ Jesus.
Is his health restored? Is his ignorance, vulgarity, and deficiency in every noble characteristic of true manhood made up? No, indeed. Is the lost opportunity of life recovered? No. We recognize that while the penalty of sin (eternal death) is remitted, the consequences of sin remain in the enfeebled body, in the unformed character, and ignorance, and the lost opportunity of life. For these, like Esau who sold his birthright, he finds no place of repentance, though he may seek it carefully with tears. It is written in the order of God, that he can never be what he might have been.
The example of David's sin carries us further than this. The prophet had said, "The Lord hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die" (2 Sam. 12: 13). Here was forgiveness. Yet not only the consequences remained in the disgrace to the Name of Jehovah and in the loss of strength (2 Sam. 21: 15), but God did not remit the governmental dealings with David that righteousness demanded. "The sword shall never depart from thine house because thou hast despised Me" (2 Sam. 11: 10).
Thus forgiveness does not exempt from some forms of judgment. Righteousness must be done though the sinner is spared. Mercy must be extended to the guilty, yet justice must be done to the injured, and God's holy Name vindicated. The Cross allowed God to extend mercy to the guilty on righteous ground, but righteous government has other demands as well.
II. SEVEN THINGS WHICH ARE NOT AFFECTED BY FORGIVENESS.
After the sinner has found mercy, there are many things in his life which still remain to be dealt with. They are:
1. The Consequences in His Own Case.
Have we any justification for believing that the solemn message addressed to saints, "Whatever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6: 7), is limited to this life? Does not character survive the grave? Is the result of careless walk, of forgotten duty, of dishonourable behaviour, all wiped out by death? The whole trend of Scripture teaches the contrary. Is the reward of patient continuance in well-doing, the steady growth in grace, the knowledge and wisdom acquired by the obedience of faith of no avail? Is there no distinction between the man of sterling worth and character and the wretch saved so as by fire? There is. The consequences in character and of conduct survive the grave, and will meet us in the Land beyond.
2. The Consequences in the Lives of Others.
In John Wesley's journal, 6th March, 1738, is the following entry: "I began preaching the 'new doctrine' (that man is justified by faith alone) though my soul started back from the work. The first person to whom I offered salvation by faith alone was a prisoner under the sentence of death. His name was Clifford. "On April 27th" he adds: "Prayed with the condemned man. After a space he rose up and eagerly said, 'I am now ready to die. I know Christ has taken away my sins and there is no more condemnation for me.' "
Mr. Wesley accompanied him to the scaffold. "In his last moments," he writes, "he enjoyed perfect peace in confidence he was accepted in the Beloved."
Who doubts it? The glorious Saviour refuses none. That is why He chose to take the dying thief, who was crucified beside Him, to Paradise. A murderer may find mercy. But what of the one murdered? Is there no concern for him? Slain, perhaps, in his sins, with no interval to cry for mercy.
I heard a preacher once tell of visiting such a murderer in prison, and he added, "I believe he went from the scaffold to the 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'" This was shocking. Such is the common ignorance of things spiritual. Mercy? Yes. But "Well done?" No. There must be justice done as to the other soul robbed of life.
3. Disgrace, Reproach, and Dishonour Brought on the Name of Christ----
by unfaithful Christians will certainly not be undone by forgiveness. These survive and to speak as if they would be remembered no more is but to forget the honour due to that worthy Name.
4. Debts Are Not Paid.
Broken promises are not fulfilled, and dishonest business transactions are certainly not righted because the transgressor finds mercy. We have heard of the man who, having professed conversion, refused to pay his debts on the ground that they had all been forgiven with the rest of his sins.
Wesley was once asked to pay an account twice, and when given the receipt wrote on it, "to be reopened on the Day of Judgment." This must most certainly be so if justice is to rule.
5. Quarrels Are Not Made Up.
Slander is not recalled, nor are enmities reconciled necessarily because either of the parties to these is a believer and has found mercy. Angry words wound, untrue words injure just as much (if not more) from a believer's lips as from an infidel's.
A believer lay dying. His spirit had been broken by the persistent and unsparing slander of a fellow-believer. On his death-bed, his enemy came to ask his forgiveness, alarmed at the result of his persecution. The dying man asked him first to do him a last favour. Would he take his pillow to the housetop and shake out all the feathers to the wind, and this was done. "Now go," said the dying man, "and gather the feathers up again." "That is quite impossible," was the reply. "Even so," said the dying man, "It is easy for me to say I forgive you, which as a child of God I willingly do, but you cannot recall the cruel words nor gather up the malicious lies that have gone abroad. Only at the Judgment Seat of Christ can all that be made right. Only then shall my name and character be cleared of the defamation you have heaped upon it."
6. Neglected opportunities are not recovered on forgiveness.
7. Privileges forfeited do not return.
Is no account to be taken of these? The suggestion that no justice is to be done in such cases, no inquiry made into these evils, no adjustment of these quarrels, no loss sustained by the lost opportunities and forfeited privileges, because the offender has found mercy, is unthinkable!
God has the government of the universe to think of, and is Judge of all the earth. He will do right. It is these and such things as these that will be dealt with at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
The Judgment Seat and the Coming of the Lord is very significant in this relation. We are told:
1. We shall all be manifested—revealed in our true character there. Everything hidden will be openly shown. The real truth will come out.
2. We shall receive the things done in the body—whether good or bad.
3. We shall give an account of ourselves, and, Christ adds, of every evil and idle word spoken.
4. We may "suffer loss" though saved, our works being burnt up.
5. We may be ashamed before Him at His Coming.
6. We may lose our Crown.
7. We may have no treasure laid up in Heaven.
The world has a foolish idea of "Going to Heaven when we die;" that is, to an indiscriminate Heaven of unvaried bliss, into which all Christians are swept irrespective of all else. Grace to such is merely another word for Irresponsibility. Forgiveness wipes out everything—character, injustice, cruel and continuing wrongs, and leaves all on the dead level of no responsibility and no accountability. It's all right, for we go to Heaven—nothing else really matters. Let us fear lest we conceive the same folly in our hearts—man is never irresponsible. Grace does not relieve him of accountability. We must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
III. BEFORE THE BEMA.
What will take place before the Judgment Seat of Christ? There are three passages which bring that solemn tribunal before us. They may be contrasted thus:
1. 2 Cor. 5: 10, which has the review of our personal conduct in view. "We must all be made manifest (R.V.) before the Judgment Seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, whether it be good or bad." "Manifest" means appear in our true light. "Receive" is the common word for being paid wages, "In his body" is by means of the body—the body used as an instrument. "Good or bad" makes it quite clear that it is not only rewards but also righteous retribution that is intended. Col. 3: 25 confirms this: "He that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done, and there is no respect of persons."
OUR CHARACTER will be seen; all false pretenses will fall off; all vain show, all disguise, and we shall stand what we are actually before Him. Our conduct will be reviewed. Approval or censure will be meted out as each has deserved praise or blame.
2. Romans 10: 14. “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ” (God, R.V.).
Here our attitude to and treatment of our brother come under review. "None of us liveth to himself," we read in v. 7. Our influence upon our brother, whether deliberate or unconscious, is a serious matter, and will be brought into judgment in that Day.
Several expressions help us to understand what is intended. "Judging thy brother." All the harsh, unkind words, false statements, and cruel reflections and slanders are included. "Setting at nought thy brother." Here the proud and contemptuous treatment of another; the discouragement, the injustice that despises his efforts, are in view. "Putting a stumbling block or occasion to fall," v.13, by careless example, so that he is stumbled or made weak and possibly defiled. Grieving him is also included, v. 15, and such strong language as: "Destroying him for whom Christ died" (v. 15).
I suppose the quarrels and differences among saints will form a large part of the Judgment Seat inquiry. What evils have they wrought, what appalling havoc—yes, what destruction! Tens of thousands have fallen under the burden that they might have lived and served Christ happily but for the pride, anger, cruelty, and malice of fellow-believers.
3. 1 Cor. 3 evidently refers to the Judgment Seat of Christ, and here the reward and judgment of our work and service is contemplated. All will pass through the fire to ascertain, not the amount or the success of it, but of what sort it is. The fire is doubtless intended to mean the searching glance of the holy eyes of the One Who sits upon the throne. They are said to be "as a flame of fire" (Rev. 1: 14). It must refer, too, to the test of His Word, for is not His Word like a fire? All that will not bear that searching glance, or that is not found to be in accordance with that holy Word, will be burned up and perish.
Rewards Will Play a Great Part.
1. Nothing will be forgotten: The cup of cold water (Matt. 10: 42); the feast given to the poor will be rewarded at the Resurrection of the Just (Luke 14: 14).
2. The rewards will possibly take the form of honourable position and dignified service in the future life. Thus differences of character and qualification will be rewarded; those who have patiently and diligently grown in grace will be given rulership over ten cities; those who have neglected their opportunities will suffer loss.
The summing-up of the whole matter, dear saints of God, is in one word----
Grace must never be so used as to lose the sense of this. We are responsible to our Lord. Two final considerations:
1. He Who sits on the Bema is our Divine Lord, Whose perfect love has cast out all fear. Whatever be His Word, His love to us will not change. We can never forget that He redeemed us by His Own Blood. We shall welcome His judgments, shall realize their truth and grace, whatever they are.
Moreover, none will be present but our fellow saints, with whom we shall spend eternity. This will prevent us falling into a slavish fear of that Day. We can never forget that He has promised we shall be with Him and see His glory and be conformed to His image. Nevertheless, it will be a great loss in that day to know that we have not merited His "Well done, good and faithful servant."
2. We Can Anticipate That Day.
"If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged" (1 Cor. 11: 31). The Apostle Paul, after stating that we must all be manifested before the Bema, says, "But we are made manifest (using the same word) and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences" (v. 11). Thus by self-judgment and walking in a good conscience, he anticipated the Bema, and could even say with confidence later, "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 also that have loved His appearing," (epiphaneia) His manifestation. May we be among such!