Our Threefold Judgment.
1. Our judgment as sinners.
2. As sons.
3. As servants.
1. The whole question of sin was gone into between God and Christ on Calvary, and perfectly settled. There His name was glorified, His love manifested, His majesty upheld, His justice satisfied, His truth vindicated, His law magnified, and His righteousness displayed in the putting away of sin; so that, since Calvary, God's controversy with sinners is not so much about sin, as about His Son; therefore He promised that when He "shed forth" the Holy Ghost, as the result of Christ being glorified, He would "convict the world of sin, because they believe not on Jesus." The rejection of His Son is therefore the greatest sin and blackest crime under heaven, and will meet the severest punishment. For those who do believe on Jesus, how blessed to think that there is no more judgment for sin. Jesus said (John v. 21), "He that heareth my Word, and believeth on Him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation (literally judgment); but is passed from death unto life." Let me use an illustration: Suppose someone became bankrupt, and could not compound with his creditors. He is brought before the judge of the bankruptcy court, and stands there a miserable pauper. Suppose someone of well-known integrity, and possessed of much wealth, comes into court, and says to the Judge, "I will be answerable for all that man's liabilities." "If that is the case, let the bankrupt go free; for I will now look to his surety." So, beloved, Jesus became answerable to God for us when we were poor, miserable bankrupts; unable to meet our liabilities, or pay our debts; He undertook our cause and became our surety. The question about our sins is therefore between Christ and God, and not between God and us who believe. God looks to Christ---
"He bore on the tree the sentence for me,
And now both the Surety and sinner are free."
As another has said, "If anyone is to be kept out of heaven for my sins, it is Christ." Our judgment for sin is past and over, and never shall any child of God appear in judgment for his sins. Jesus did not merely bear our confessed sins—for some teach that our unconfessed sins will be brought up at the Judgment-Seat of Christ—but all our sins. When we believed, God made a clean sweep of them all from His Book and from His memory. Blessed be His name, no question of sin will or can ever be raised again! It was all settled on the Cross. Full atonement was made. All our sins, past, present, and to come, were atoned for. Our judgment as sinners was borne by Jesus—Our surety. Though all are atoned for, all are not forgiven; for forgiveness is connected with confession of sin. When we believed, God forgave us all the past, and made provision for the future.
This brings us to the second division: Our judgment as sons. The moment we believed on Jesus to the saving of our souls, our relationship to God was changed. We became His sons. As long as we are in these bodies, we have sin in us, an attendant evil; though no longer sin on us, a condemning power. We are not now obliged to do wrong; but enabled to do right by the Spirit of God dwelling in us. It is to our shame if we sin. We are responsible, as sons of God, energized by the Spirit, not to sin. "Sinneth not" is our normal state. Sin will never be dead to us; but always an active principle, ready at any moment to break out. We are to reckon ourselves dead to it. This is our power.
There are two things God requires of His children—self-examination or judgment, and confession; then comes forgiveness. This is the divine order. Unconfessed sin will be dealt with here, and not at the Judgment- Seat of Christ. (1 Cor. xi. 31, 32.)
"For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord." "But," says someone, "that only applies to the sin of the Corinthians." Let us see. The Corinthians had fallen into a sad state in perverting the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, in making it a social meal, where many, not discerning in it the Lord's body, got drunk. There was no self-judgment about this; therefore many were sick and weakly, and many were removed by death. They were to examine themselves—not to see whether they were worthy, but as to their manner of eating and drinking. There was no question about their worthiness; for in a few chapters before (vi. 11), Paul wrote of them that they were washed, sanctified, justified; but they ate and drink unworthily, i.e., in an unworthy manner; therefore the apostle called on them to examine or judge themselves.
Turning from the particular charge against Corinth wherein he speaks of "you" and "ye," he brings out a general truth, using the words "we" "ourselves." What is this? Self-examination. It is a most necessary and healthy exercise, and one little practiced by God's people. What do we mean by it? Certainly not the unhealthy, unscriptural practice of examining our frames, feelings, experiences, and actions, to see whether we are God's people or not; in other words, that if we do not come up to a certain standard of our own making, we are not God's people at all. This is from the devil, not from God. How absurd the idea of setting my child down to examine herself, and if she did not come up to a certain measurement of her actions and ways to come to the conclusion, that she is not my child! But because she is my child, I require her to examine herself, her actions and ways, to see how she is pleasing me, lest she grieve me. And so with God, He requires His children to examine themselves, their ways, their motives, and their actions, to see whether we are pleasing Him. We are not to measure ourselves by ourselves, or among ourselves; for this would end in self-justification; but He puts Jesus—"the holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners"—before us, as our example and measure; this will end in humility and confession. There is a verse which, at first sight, would seem to favour the thought of our examining ourselves, to see whether we are Christians or not; and we may as well dispose of it, lest Satan use it with some against the truth. It is in 2 Cor. xiii. 5. Taken by itself without the context—which many do in this and other passages of scripture—it seems to imply examination as to our salvation. Such is not the case. Read verse 3 in connection—verse 4 being parenthetical. "Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith." False teachers had crept into Corinth, who unsettled the saints there by denying the apostleship of Paul, because he was not a witnesser of the miracles, sufferings, and death of Christ. The apostle appeals to them, as the proof of his apostleship, of Christ speaking in him. As if he had said, "My being used of God in the conversion of your souls, is the proof of my mission. The fact of your being in the faith through my preaching ought to be to you sufficient proof of my being a God-sent man—an apostle of Jesus Christ." So we see, this refers not to self-examination to unchristianize ourselves. I said before, God requires us to judge ourselves, that we be not judged. There is one of two alternatives, self-judgment or God-judgment. God will do by chastisement what we ought to do by self-judgment; viz., bring us to confession on our part, and forgiveness on His. "When we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord." I repeat it—it is here God deals with us for unjudged, unconfessed sin, and not at the Judgment-Seat of Christ. Remember, I do not say all chastisement from God is for unconfessed sin. Chastisement may be preventative, corrective, instructive, and curative, as well as punitive. Let us look at Heb. xii. 5-10, where chastisement—its end and object—is brought before us.
There are three ways here spoken of, in which we receive chastisement from God.
1. Despise it (ver. 5), that is, make light of it. How many of us make little of God's dealings in love when sent lightly. The blow of the rod is not felt much; we despise it. We forget that Satan's object is to rob us of the blessing God intends us to receive from the chastisement, however slight it may be. A light sickness, a trivial accident, a disappointment, &c, are made little of. We despise them, and lose the blessing.
The 2nd is the other extreme, we faint under the rebuke. When the light blow is despised a heavier one is sent. It may be a blow that will rend our heart-strings—crush us down to the earth. Satan intrudes at such a time, and whispers, "Can a God of love do this? Do you call this love?" The vile suggestion is listened to, and rebellion comes in, and with it misery and darkness, and the soul is utterly prostrate, fainting under the chastisement of God.
There is a 3rd way, and the right way, to receive all His rebukes of love (ver. 7), to "endure," viz., to bear up under it, and say, "Even so, Father; for so it seemeth good in Thy sight"—to see and to acknowledge that it is all in love; to say, "not my will, but Thine be done;" to bear patiently and resignedly the chastisement, knowing there was "a needs be" for it, that we may bring forth the fruits of righteousness. Conformity to the image of Jesus is the great object of God's dealings with us in chastisement as sons, that we may be partakers of His Holiness. Surely, it is for our profit. Oh what lessons we learn in these seasons of discipline! Lessons we would never learn otherwise; lessons of self, poor sinful, deceitful self; lessons of His unalterable love and tenderest care and sympathy. How truly it has been said, "The vine-dresser is never so near the vine as when the pruning-knife is in his hand". We would not have been without the chastisements for anything this world could give. They were times of rich blessing; for they brought us to pour out our hearts in deep confession of our past failures and sins, and brought to us once more the sweet assurance of a loving Father's forgiveness. He did with the rod what we ought to have done as the result of self-judgment. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
We now come to the third aspect of this subject; namely, our judgment as servants. This will be at the Judgment-Seat of Christ, where all God's children will be manifested, not in their character as sons, but as servants; where we shall receive rewards, or suffer loss of them. Our service will pass in review, and each servant will have to give an account of his stewardship, and how he spent his Master's talents committed to him. Let us remember, beloved, that every child of God is a servant of God, and as such, he is responsible to his Lord and Master for the time, money, opportunities, and abilities committed to him here.
Before we enter on this subject, there are two matters I wish to dispose of. (1.) When will the Judgment-Seat of Christ be set up? Many confound the Judgment-Seat of Christ with the great white throne; they think that at the latter, good and bad will stand in a promiscuous multitude before God, and then the good will be separated from the bad. The great white throne is only for the wicked dead, and no saint of God will be before it, blessed be His name! Our judgment for sin is passed and gone at Calvary, as we have seen; and "we shall not come into judgment." The judgment of the great white throne will be the closing scene of this world's history, where all the unsaved will have to answer for their sins, where there will be no pity, no salvation, no escape; but where all, will he cast into the lake of fire, with Satan and his demons; the fallen angels who kept not their first estate, and the man of sin, and the false prophet. The Judgment-Seat of Christ, on the other hand, will take place when Christ comes for His Church. "Ye shall be recompensed at the resurrection of the just," said Christ (Luke xiv. 14); again, in Revelation xxii. 12, "Behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be." (2.) How shall we be manifested before the Judgment-Seat of Christ? In glorified bodies, perfectly conformed, morally and spiritually, to the image of Him before Whom we appear. There, we shall be as He is, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. There, we shall see eye to eye with Him, and His verdict will be ours on all our service. We shall look back from that blaze of glory at all our pathway of service—see our blunders, our mistakes, our mixed motives, our half-heartedness, and the wondrous grace that bore with us all through, and then shall burst forth from our adoring souls, loud and rapturous Hallelujahs! The apostle Paul took the figure of this scene from the Isthmian games, where the judge sat on the Bema (βῆμα) seat, and witnessed the games; and gave to the successful competitors their crowns of victory. Our blessed Master will sit on His Bema at the resurrection of the just, and before Him will be gathered those He left in this world to fight the good fight of faith, to run their race, and to keep their stewardship, and "then will everyone have his praise from God".
There are three great subjects to be brought up at the Judgment-Seat of Christ:
1. Our conduct to our fellow-servants.
2. Our work as regards its quality.
3. Our motives for doing the work.
In Rom. xiv. the first is brought most solemnly before us. There never was a time in the history of the church when the exhortations of this chapter were so needed. Never was there so much judging, condemning, and despising one another among the servants of God as now. Many there are who see motes in others eyes; but perceive not the beam in their own! Oh, beloved, may the Lord write the solemn words before us on our consciences, that we sin not against our fellow servants, and grieve our loving Master's heart! "We are exhorted not to judge, condemn, or despise one another. How many prejudices we take against some servants of God, whom, perhaps, we have never seen or known! What erroneous judgments do we form of others! What evil surmisings! What jealousies about the success of someone the Lord is using! What unkind, unchristian remarks concerning others, behind their backs! All this heap of rubbish will be brought to light, judged, condemned, and burnt up at the Judgment-Seat of Christ. "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth." Would to God there was more of that love that thinketh no evil; instead of the accursed jealousies and backbiting, distrust and suspicions among the saints of God towards each other, especially if one belongs not to the same sect and party as the other! It is hateful to God, and a fruitful cause of the weakness of the church in the midst of a Christ-rejecting world. Let us have done with it. Let us cease to do the devil's work; and "let us love one another; for love is of God." It is true, we cannot love the crooked ways, the crochets, the angularities of many Christians. Let us love the servants of Christ for their works' sake—for the Master's sake. Let us see what is of Christ in them, and thank God, and pray for them. May the Lord empty us of our self-esteem, self-importance, self-exaltation; and may we "esteem others better than ourselves," and ever exalt the blessed, peerless Person of our adorable Lord. Let us ever remember that we have "to give an account of ourselves to God;" therefore, says the apostle (ver. 13), "Let us not judge one another anymore; but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block, or an occasion to fall, in his brother's way." Oh, beloved, may we be watchful over our actions, ways, and words, lest we stumble each other.
May these solemn exhortations lead us to holy carefulness from day to day—how we behave to, think and speak of each other! It must be brought to light at the Judgment-Seat of Christ, and cast into the fire. May we ever remember the words of our blessed Lord before leaving this world, "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."
2nd. Our work will be judged of what sort it is. Read 1 Cor. iii. 10-15. Here we have the "foundation laid, which is Jesus Christ." What are we building on it? Either wood, hay, stubble; or gold, silver, and precious stones. Remember, beloved, it is not the quantity of our work but the quality, that will be tested. "Every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If a man's work abide, which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If a man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire."
I cannot believe, with some, that the works here spoken "of are persons, viz., false professors, whom we have perhaps introduced into fellowship with the saints. That would make us responsible to read the hearts of men; which could not be. And besides, the judgment-seat will not be the place where professors are dealt with and burned. As far as I understand the passage, it is work done from a single eye for the glory of Christ, that will be able to stand the testing of Him Whose eyes are as a flame of fire. Every particle of our work will have to stand the all-searching eye of Him with whom we have to do. What stands the test, passes His eye—the gold, silver, precious stones, will call forth from His blessed lips, "well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things. Enter thou into the joy of Thy Lord." Oh, what an amount of rubbish will be burned up that day! Things that seemed so praiseworthy, and made a great noise down here among men, will be as wood, hay, and stubble.
Christian workers seem to glory in popularity and success. The disciples in days of old, who were sent out two and two to do the Master's work—to heal the sick, cleanse lepers, and cast out devils, were eminently successful, and rejoicing in their achievements, returned to Christ, and told Him what great things they had done. Not so Paul. He gathered the church together, and told them what great things God had done by him. There is so much now about "my work," "my success," "my blessing," "my converts." How many are writing tracts and religious periodicals, about the blessings they are having, and so many converted through them. Others are parading their "movements," and feel quite annoyed and disappointed because no notice is taken of their work in the religious papers. This rubbish must be burned up. It puffs up the poor instrument, and causes many to lose their heads and their usefulness; the flesh cannot stand it. At the Judgment-Seat of Christ, rewards will be given for whole-hearted service; but I think that for the conversion of souls, the rewards will be distributed. For example: A young man is brought to the Lord at a certain meeting, through the preaching of the Word. Will the preacher get all the reward for that soul? I trow not. First the parents. How they have watched over and prayed for that young man! Will they receive naught? Surely they will. Then there was the faithful teacher in the Sunday-School, who taught him the way of life; then there was the Word spoken by some companion or friend. Will these have no "Well done" from the Master? I believe they will. Let us not therefore talk so much about "our converts." Let us wait till the work is put into the balances of the sanctuary and duly weighed and estimated, and then, and not till then, shall we know the share we had in the work of Christ.
There will be plenty of wood, hay, stubble to be burned up; but, blessed be His name, none will be better pleased than we, to see all consumed. We may safely leave all in Christ's hands, knowing well that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will do right, estimate aright, and reward each according to the grace that flows from His loving heart. May we then, beloved, ever seek to build on Christ, that which will be recompensed by His smile of approval, and the welcome of "well done".
3rd. Our motives are to be judged. In 2 Cor. v. 9, 10, Paul writes: "Wherefore we labour, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of Him. For we must all appear (be manifested) before the Judgment-Seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." We are accepted in the Beloved; but we are to strive to be accepted of Him. These two things should never be separated, the one, the outflow of the other. Even now, we should walk in the light of the judgment-seat, and constantly endeavour to be accepted of Him. The word translated "accepted of," should more correctly be "well pleasing to;" it is translated so in other places. This word, is the keynote to this aspect of the Judgment-Seat of Christ. This could not apply, as some make it, to the unconverted, as they can do nothing to please Him (Rom. viii. 8); but to the children of God, whose whole aim and object ought to be to please the blessed Master, Who never pleased Himself. This brings us to the motive, the test of our service. Why do we work, preach, teach? Is it for the sake of pleasing men, to be popular, to be thought highly of? Is it to please the church, or our friends? or is it to please Jesus? It is either; not both. Paul said, "If I please men, I should not be the servant of Christ," (Gal. i. 10). How much is done to please self! What gratification it is to the flesh, to give large sums of money to this charity or that society, to see the name in the newspaper and the report, and to be looked upon as a benefactor, and lauded by the world and the church! At the judgment-seat, this will be burned up, unless done with the sole object of pleasing the Master. There is many a poor unknown saint of God, who for the glory of Jesus, and to please Him, gives a cup of cold water, and who in that day will get a brighter reward. Everything will come out there in its true colours; we shall see things in a different light altogether then. Things we thought a great deal of down here will be "found wanting" and defective then; and, on the other hand, many little things which were done in self-forgetfulness and love to Jesus, will be blessedly remembered, and abundantly rewarded. Then we shall see how much of our service, our work, was engaged in from mixed motives. What is "bad " will in grace be put away, burned up; and what is "good " will receive a reward. We shall suffer loss—not of soul, or of eternal life, but of reward—for everything done to please anyone but Christ.
This ought to lead us to examine our motives continually; so that whatever we do, we may do it heartily unto the Lord, and not unto men". We should look to it, that we bring no wood, hay, or stubble into the light of that coming day. We should endeavour earnestly to do what is pleasing to our blessed Lord; not from any fear of that scene, or for the sake of reward, but from the love of Christ constraining us; and never will we have so deep a sense of that love that passeth knowledge as when we stand before Him, and receive from His pierced hands the crowns of reward. Oh what unmingled joy! What rapturous songs of praise to Him Who has brought us through all our toils and dangers, borne with all our mistakes and failures, and called us to share His joy, and to bask in the bright beams of His glory, and shine in His image forever and ever.
"Now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen."