THE CHRISTIAN AT THE JUDGMENT
by B.H. Carroll
“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” – Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10.
In the first sermon of this series we have found the Scriptures teaching a future, final and general judgment of men and angels. The second sermon was devoted to the consideration of the nature, philosophy and necessity of this future, final and general judgment. The theme of the present sermon – third of the series – is
THE CHRISTIAN AT THE JUDGMENT.
The design of the discussion is twofold:
First, to establish the FACT that the Christian as well as the sinner must appear before that final tribunal; and second, to show why he must so appear. For order and clearness the matter will be set forth under several distinct heads or propositions.
PROP. 1. — The Christian must stand before the judgment bar.
Here at the outset we are confronted with the contention by some that the Christian is exempt from this judgment. This contention is plausibly based upon these or kindred passages of Scripture:
“He that believeth on him is not judged.” (John 3:18.)
“He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24.)
“And by him everyone that believeth is justified from all things.” (Acts 13:39.)
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1.)
But if these and kindred passages mean all that the contention based on them claims, they prove too much, for by them it may be shown that the sinner is exempt from the final judgment.
For example, let us complete the declaration of which the first passage quoted is only a part: “He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not is judged already.” (John 3: 18.)
By the judgment here spoken of one class is already acquitted – the other already condemned. If, therefore, this judgment exempts the acquitted from appearance at the final judgment it must also exempt the condemned, and this would be to leave the final judgment without anybody to come before it except angels.
For this cause the second sermon of this series considered the philosophy, necessity and nature of the final judgment as a day of the revelation of the past judgments of God.
In that last day it is just as necessary to make manifest the past justification of the righteous as to make manifest the past condemnation of the wicked. This is one reason why both saint and sinner must appear at the judgment. Neither one in time, either before or after death, has fully comprehended all the wisdom and righteousness of these past verdicts . That day will make evident to all intelligences the dignity, majesty and holiness of law and the justice of the divine administration. But this by no means answers all the ends of the general judgment. Certain other scriptures make it evident that the Christian must appear before the judgment seat of Christ for actual judgment. To the Christians at Rome Paul wrote: “But thou, why dost thou judge thy brother? or thou again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, to me every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess to God. So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.” (Rom. 14:10-12.) To the church at Corinth he also wrote: “Wherefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well-pleasing unto him. For we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (II Cor. 5:9,10.)
And our Lord himself said: “The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things; and the evil man out of his evil treasure bringeth evil things. And I say unto you that for every idle word that man shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (Matt. 12:35,36.)
Yet again he says: “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father, with his angels; and then shall he render to every man according to his deeds.” (Matt. 16:27.)
If one should be so foolish as to claim that our Lord here speaks only of the wicked when he says “every man,” how can he escape from the later declaration of our Saviour recorded in Matt. 25:31-35? There unmistakably the Christian appears and is made to understand that his deeds come into account and the treatment he accorded to Christ, in his cause and in his people, receives a just though unexpected recompense of reward.
To the same effect writes the brother of our Lord: “Murmur not, brethren, one against another, that ye be not judged; behold the judge standeth before the door.” (James 5: 9.)
These scriptures establish the first proposition. The Christian must stand before the judgment.
As leading up to the next proposition we may revert to an objection against the final judgment urged by unrenewed men and cited in the second sermon, namely:
“All the saved, no two alike in environment, hereditary bias, natural abilities, gifts of grace, opportunities, or degrees of righteousness, are received alike into a fixed and equal heaven.”
It is perhaps needless to say that this objection is a monstrous perversion of Scripture teaching. Neither heaven nor hell is without degrees. But as equality of conditions is conceded in one particular of the final award-whether in heaven or hell let our next proposition cover this point.
PROP. 2. – Salvation is equal at the judgment because its conditions were equal.
Every Christian will be completely justified completely sanctified in spirit—and completely glorified in body. There is no inequality of condition here. This follows because all of them are saved by grace, through faith and not of works. If any part of this salvation were awarded as a debt due to man’s performances, then would we rightly expect salvation to be a variable quantity according to man’s variable work. But the apostles are no more saved than the pastors, and the pastors no more saved than the deacons, and the deacons no more saved than the private members. All are justified, all sanctified, all glorified. There is on none of them wrinkle, spot, blemish or any such thing. And that day will make manifest the righteousness of Paul’s declaration: “There is no difference.” (Rom. 3:22.)
Men in constructing ladders up which to climb to heaven, and even Titans, who for such object pile mountains on mountains, will find that there is no difference in value in their ladders of various lengths, since all are too short to span the chasm. One is as good as the other, since all are worthless.
God so loved the world as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him shall not perish, but have eternal life . It is of faith that it may be of grace and that promise may be sure to all the seed. In all this God’s ways are equal. And the light of that last day will bring home to every conscience that in this award the judge of all the earth doeth right.
PROP. 3. — Rewards at the judgment will be unequal because Christian fidelity will be found unequal.
Surely on this account there will be degrees in heaven. And particularly at this point the Christian will come into actual judgment that day and not merely to a revelation of past judgment as in the matter of salvation . So justification unto life and condemnation unto death, that day will be a revelation and vindication of past judgments. But with reference to rewards in life or degrees in punishment it will be a day of actual judgment.
Some of the scriptures already cited establish this. To them many others may be added. As bearing directly upon this point we cite:
The Parables of the Talents and of the Pounds. (Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 19:12-37.) “Now after a long time the Lord of those servants cometh and maketh a reckoning with them.”
“And it came to pass when he was come back again, having received the kingdom, that he commanded these servants, unto whom he had given the money, to be called unto him, that he might know what they had gained by trading.” Both parables teach that our Lord himself is judge. That his second advent is the time of judgment. That each one will be held to a strict account of his stewardship. That he will reward each steward according to his fidelity. That as there will be varying degrees of fidelity so there will be varying degrees of reward . In respect to these rewards heaven will not be a fixed and equal quantity to all the saved. The inequality of the fidelity accounts for the inequality of the rewards. In all this, as in the matter of salvation, God’s ways are equal.
In line with the unmistakable teaching of these parables is Paul’s doctrine of ministerial accountability:
“For we (preachers) are God’s fellow-workers. Ye (converts) are God’s husbandry, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given unto me, as a wise master builder, I laid a foundation, and another buildeth thereon . But let each man take heed how he buildeth thereon. For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall disclose it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work shall abide, which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire.” (1 Cor. 3:9-15.)
It would seem to be impossible to misunderstand this scripture. The command, “Take heed,” is a distinct warning of future accountability. A preacher may not lightly put into God’s building unconverted material, for God himself will inspect each building. Referring to this very building, the prophet Isaiah said: “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, of sure foundation ; he that believeth shall not make haste.
“Judgment also will I lay to the line and righteousness to the plummet ; and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall over flow the hiding-place.
“And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall notstand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. From the time that it goeth forth it shall take you: for morning by morning shall it pass over, by day and by night, and it shall be a vexation only to understand the report.
“For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it ; and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it.”
To the same effect is the word of the Lord by another prophet. “Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar: Say unto them which daub it with untempered mortar, that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it.
“Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?
“Therefore thus saith the Lord God: I will even rend it with a stormy wind in my fury; and there shall be an overflowing shower in mine anger, and great hailstones in my fury to consume it.
“So I will break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be discovered, and it shall fall and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof ; and ye shall know that I am the Lord.” (Ezekiel 13: 10-14.)
Brethren of the ministry, and there are many of you before me, let us not think we may avoid the final judgment of God. We must answer to him that day for all our work. The fire of Paul, the overflowing scourge of Isaiah, the storm of Ezekiel signify in strong and terrible figures some real ordeal through which at the judgment we and our work must pass. The loss we suffer by the rejection and destruction of our unfaithful work is a real and dreadful loss. If we be on the foundation ourselves we will be saved for Christ’s sake, though unrewarded for our work’s sake. If not on the foundation we must perish with the downfall of our faulty building.
What is true of preachers is true of all their flock – each one for himself must give account unto God. To the same effect is the teaching of all those scriptures concerning the crowns bestowed upon the people of the Lord: The crown of life, the crown of righteousness, the crown of joy, the crown of glory. Justification based on Christ, imputed righteousness, received by faith, is a judicial decision of time — and is equal in all the saved.
But the bestowal of crowns is a reward for personal service and takes place at the final judgment – all at one time. Not even Paul is crowned yet. The crowning is not only at the end of time but is in the presence of all the intelligences of the universe. The distinction in the crowns displays in a remarkable way the inequality of the fidelity of the saints. But hear the Scriptures themselves on these crowns:
“Know ye not that they that run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? Even so run that ye may attain. And every man that striveth in the games exerciseth self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, as not uncertainly; so fight I, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body, and bring it into bondage: Lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected.” (1 Cor. 9:24-27.)
The fear of rejection in this case is not an apprehension of being finally lost, but of not winning the reward which is the prize of the race. In like manner Paul writes his farewell words:
“For I am already being offered, and the time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give to me at that day; and not to me only, but also to all them that have loved his appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6-8.)
The righteousness of this text is not the imputed righteousness of Christ which Paul had already received and by which he was justified, but is his personal righteousness, or right-doing, for which a crown of reward is offered — not yet received by him, but laid up for him and to be bestowed at the coming of his Lord.
In the same direction he earlier wrote: “For what is our hope or joy, or crown of glorying? Are not even ye before our Lord Jesus at his coming? For ye are our glory and our joy.” (1 Thess. 2: 19,20.)
This is similar to the reward of David’s faithful sower: “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psa. 126: 5,6.)
So Peter encourages pastors to be faithful by holding out a hope of future reward: “And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away.” (1 Pet. 5:4.)
James also aligns himself with this teaching, in citing Christians to faithful endurance of trials, by hope of a future crown: “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation ; for when he hath been approved he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to them that love him.” (James 1:12.)
John, too, puts on record the words of our Lord himself, encouraging fidelity in the churches: “Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer; behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10.)
Here is a distinction between “life” and the “crown of life.” “Life” comes in time and by grace, through faith. The “crown of life” is a reward of fidelity bestowed at the judgment.
Oh, the crowns of the judgment — the crowns of the judgment — how bright and alluring are they!
But stars do not differ more in luster than the crowns bestowed on the righteous. Well saith the prophet: “And they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” (Dan. 12:3.)
Oh, be not deceived! There is inequality in heaven. God is just. All our instinctive judgments call for diversity of reward proportioned to fidelity in the service of our Lord.
What think you, brethren? Compare the fidelity of two women in the same church: One with sweetest meekness and self – denial honors her Lord in all things. When the world and society offer her their carnal pleasures, games, amusements and absorbing round of exacting requirements, her questions are: What would my Lord have me to do? Will these develop my spiritual nature? Will they be friends or foes to grace? Will they increase my Christian influence? Will they tend to lead my children towards God or away from God? She does not ask, What harm is in them, but what good? And so living in all things unto her Lord, ornamenting her life with good works, she finishes her course with joy, dying also unto the Lord, so that children and grandchildren arise and call her blessed.
Another indeed accepts the Lord as her Saviour, but lives ever with divided heart and service. The claims of the world, of society, are acknowledged more than the claims of Christ’s cause. She follows Jesus afar off. Her heart is cold. She is a stranger to the services of the Lord’s house. She cannot be counted on for regular Christian work. Her position, her social influence, her habits, are all quoted against religion rather than for it . Sinners through her are not convicted of sin and led to repentance. She worships much at the shrines of pleasure, of society, and but little and seldom at the altars of God. In times of death or other great bereavement she indeed remembers God — but her life, with its trend, has been after all but a shabby, ragged and miserable service of God. And so she passes away to the great judgment throne. Our question recurs with emphasis: What think you? Shall these two women find heaven equal?
True, we rejoice if a long-expected ship enters the harbor. But there are different entrances. One barely enters, towed in by tugs of grace, almost a wreck, shrouds torn, masts fallen, cargo lost. The other has abundant entrance, every mast standing, every sail full and cargoed to the water’s edge.
Is not this the lesson of Peter when he exhorts to that heavenly addition? I will not here quote his burning words, but go home and read them with earnest prayer for their profitable application to your souls: 2 Pet. 1:1-11. So far we have found two reasons why the Christian must appear before the judgment seat of Christ: (a) That his justification in time by grace, without works, may be manifested and vindicated. (b) That’ he may be actually judged and rewarded as a steward of his Lord’s grace.
We come now to consider other reasons to which but little attention is generally given. And yet are they very important. I never myself heard a sermon on them. Do therefore give your undivided attention to them now.
PROP. 4. – After being judged himself the Christian will sit on Christ’s throne and with him judge the unsaved world .
John Bunyan, in “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” well says: “When he shall come with sound of trumpet in the clouds, as upon the wings of the wind; you shall come with him; when he shall sit upon the throne of judgment, you shall sit by him; yea, and when he shall pass sentence upon the workers of iniquity, let them be angels or men, YOU SHALL HAVE A VOICE IN THAT JUDGMENT, because they were his and your enemies.”
For brevity sake, I cannot undertake to quote all the scriptures bearing upon this grave matter, but do cite enough to put the fact beyond question: “He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev. 3:21.) “And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron ; as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers ; as I also have received of my Father.” (Rev. 2:26,27.) “Dare any of you, having a matter against his neighbor, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints? Or know ye not that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge in the smallest matters?”
(I Cor. 6: 12.) “The men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation and shall condemn it: The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it.” (Matt. 12:41, first clause, and
12:42, first clause.) And Jesus said unto them, Verily, I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28.) “But ye are they that have continued with me in my temptation ; and I appoint unto you a kingdom, even as my Father appointed unto me, that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom; and ye shall sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Luke 22: 28-30.) “And to these also Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying: Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his holy ones, to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their works of ungodliness which they have ungodly wrought, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 14,15.)
On these startling scriptures but little needs to be said now by way of comment. They speak for themselves. Yet we may profitably note some things: To sit on the throne of judgment with Christ is not an empty form. It means our identification with him in all his honors. It implies an exercise of the functions of the throne both as to rule and judgment. It means that Christians actually pass judgment upon the ungodly. The tyrants who condemned the martyrs in time must receive sentence from the martyrs in glory. Festus, Felix, Agrippa and Cæsar then stand before the judgment seat of Paul. Herod must answer to John the Baptist. The earthly judges who condemned Obadiah Holmes and Lunsford and other Baptists to whipping or imprisonment in time, must be arraigned before their victims in eternity.
Before your bar, brethren, the infidels and atheists and materialists who now laugh you to scorn must stand and receive their final sentence from your lips. Impenitent scribes and Pharisees must answer to the apostles whom they persecuted. What a time it will be when the bloody Sanhedrin must be judged by Stephen, whom they unrighteously stoned! But particularly would I have you note the honor which God puts on the judgment of his people when compared with the judgments of human law courts. How intense is the condemnation put upon the church member here who despises the verdict of his brethren and drags them before the courts of law, thereby putting shame upon Christ’s cause before unbelievers! “I say this to move you to shame. What, cannot there be found among you one wise man who shall be able to decide between his brethren, but brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? Nay, it is altogether a defect in you that ye have lawsuits one with another. Why not rather take wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? ” (1 Cor. 6:5-7.)
Ought not Paul’s words to be written in letters of fire upon the memory of him who despises the repeated verdict of his brethren and “dares to go to law before the unrighteous”?
PROP. 5. — After being judged himself the Christian shall judge angels.
One scripture will suffice for this point: “Know ye not that ye shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life? ” (1 Cor. 6:3.)
Here we do well to note the inferiority of angels to men. In his first estate indeed man was made a little lower than the angels, but in his last estate he is destined to be above all angels, principalities, powers. Angels are the servants of men. Doubt less it was on this very point Satan’s pride revolted and he fell from his own first estate. This accounts for his malignity towards the human race, not only because they were designed to be exalted above him, but because in a sense they were the provocation of his pride and the occasion of his downfall. And is not this the sinner’s greatest degradation that he has become the slave of his servant? If it would be an unspeakable humiliation to an old time Southern planter to become the slave of his own bondman, how infinitely humiliating must it be to be the sinner, made in God’s image, to be sent to the slave-quarters of hell and there in the place prepared for his felon slaves call the devil master forever!
But to return to our subject:
Quite naturally servants are responsible to those whom they serve. And as angels were appointed to be ministering spirits to them that are the heirs of salvation, we may understand the philosophy of the Scriptures: Know ye not that ye shall judge angels?
And is it unreasonable to think that the holy angels who serve this probation well, shall at the last judgment be confirmed in their steadfastness against even the possibility of future apostasy? Men on the throne can utter the verdict: These have been faithful in all things. They have encamped about us. They have hovered over our assemblies. They have smitten our enemies. They have been diligent students of God’s manifold wisdom as it was unfolded by the church on earth. They strengthened us in weakness ; held up our heads in sorrow and met us at the depot of death with the chariots of the sky and borne us away into Paradise.
But certainly there is poetic justice in man’s judgment of the fallen angels. Then Christians will see Apollyon cower before him. And who would miss it when Eve and Job and Peter sit in judgment on Satan! How he did beguile the woman with his subtle craft! How he did hate Job without a cause and afflict him! How he did sift and triumph over poor, impulsive Peter!
Ah, well, it is their turn now. Everything comes to him who waits, and though the mill of God grinds slowly it grinds exceeding fine. For all these reasons, brethren, Christians must appear in the judgment.