By D. M. PANTON, B.A.
In the growing chaos of the
So Paul first of all lays down the one abiding fundamental of all stewardship:- It is required in stewards that a man be found - as he must ultimately be examined FAITHFUL: that is, faithful to whatever the trust which has been committed to him: as a steward, he is not the proprietor, but a trustee, and so must sooner or later give in his report. This is the position of us all. Health, opportunity, competence, influence, means, witness, conduct - all we have we hold in trust from God, who gave it, and who requires faithful trusteeship. And the stewardship is all summed up in one concrete heart of the Christian commission: we are stewards of the mysteries of God - that is, of a body of truth which the human mind never invented, secrets of eternity now disclosed by God and entrusted to us; and all believers are the stewards - less so than ministers in teaching the mysteries of God, but equally so in living them.* By the Word of God we are to mould our lives, and by it we shall be judged; and it is required in stewards that a man be found FAITHFUL.
[* It is obvious that those entrusted with the mysteries of God in the sense of expounding them have a graver responsibility than ordinary believers. Be not many teachers, my brethren, knowing that we [teachers] shall receive heavier judgment (Jas. 3: 1).]
Now therefore the Apostle lays down for himself -
and therefore for us all - the first consequence of this Divine stewardship in
our relationship to others. But with me it is a very small thing - the
superlative: it is largely negligible to be judged
of you; that is, the
Paul now passes on to the judgment of the world. With me, he says, it is a very small thing that I should be judged of mans judgment: mans day, as distinct from the Divine day which is coming; for this is the day, and the only day for all eternity, in which we shall be judged by men. The closer we walk with God, the more the world pronounces us impossible people. But the world is not the judge of the stewardship. How shall the wickedness which shall itself be summoned before the Almighty summon to its bar the servants of the Most High God? The balance of Paul is perfect. I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit - here is the saving clause but the profit of the many, that they may be saved (1 Cor. 10: 33). But Mendelssohn would as soon have submitted his oratorios to the judgment of a deaf-mute, or Raphael his canvas to the judgment of a man born blind, as Paul the mysteries of God to the judgment of a world that knows not God. At the best, mans day will quickly forget you and me: Gods day is for ever. Mans judgment is premature, rash, and founded on outside appearances - the world has no other data on which to judge: God knows all.
But far more important is the third court which Paul repudiates. All mere defiance of the Church or the world, in a passionate confidence in our own judgment - the independence of pride - must completely disappear. Yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified. Complete clearness of conscience or an assurance that we are personally without sin, is neither any foundation for the fact nor an ultimate justification before God. It is not because we are infallible that we are to set so little store on human judgment. The assurance of a blood-cleansed conscience walking in the light is beyond price; and as it knows inmost secrets of the life, and, to some degree, the underlying motives, it can be a judgment much more valuable than that of the Church or the world. But there are deep recesses in the heart, and spots in the memory become blank, which the little rushlight of conscience, priceless as far as it goes, cannot penetrate. Much that appears stainless in our clouded vision may be unclean to the Eyes of Flame. So the third tribunal vanishes. A Christians friends may overpraise him, and his critics overblame him: the world is certain to misunderstand him: his own conscience may flatter him. Therefore Paul thoroughly distrusts even his own verdict: he himself is not the judge.
So now Paul arrives at our final court of appeal. But he that judgeth me is the Lord;* who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness - the whole mass of unknown data, including sins of which I was totally unconscious, buried virtues and vices the world has never known and make manifest the counsels of the heart - reveal the exact motives and heart-life of us all. The Church can crown a disciple whom Christ will disrobe, and, like Diotrophes, it can actually excommunicate an apostle (3 John 9): the Eye which is really to judge must not only be able to travel back over all secrets, but dive down to the depths of all motives. The just and infallible summing up of a Christian life depends upon two factors which are in the hands of God alone:- the bringing to light of all the facts of the life, good and bad, in their totality, even the most secret and unknown; and the revealing of the inner motives of the will by which every act was done - for its motive is the soul of an act. Blessed secrets will start to life:- Thy Father which seeth in secret shall REWARD thee openly (Matt. 6: 4). Thus ours is the Divine Tribunal alone. So then each one of us shall give account of himself TO GOD (Rom. 14: 12).
[* Therefore the [regenerate] believer will be judged; and - since Paul speaks of that which is against him - the inquiry will include unabandoned sin, as well as the apportionment of reward, by the Lord, the righteous Judge (2 Tim. 4: 8). Not, that justifieth me, which language would have been the term employed had Paul here had in mind the matter of his general Christian estate; but judgeth, i.e. holds an inquest and decides on the merits of the case which may be brought into issue (D. W. Poor, D.D.).]
So the Apostle now launches a command which is an enormous relief. Wherefore JUDGE NOTHING - come to no final estimate before the time. It is not only that our powers are too feeble, our facts are too few, our minds are too biased, all life and character are infinitely too complex, for us to judge; but, supremely and blessedly above all, God has forbidden it. The judgment of God so perfectly covers everything that it not only dwarfs all other judgment, but actually makes it unnecessary.*
[* Disobedience to this command has been the fountain of all sectarianism. A passion for the truth, if ignorant or incredulous of the exhaustive judgment coming at the Advent, resorts to judgment now on doctrinal offences, in a true, but mistaken, instinct of righteousness. On certain moral sins (1 Cor. 5: 11) alone not doctrinal - God allows and requires the Church to take judicial action. Why dost thou judge thy brother? For we shalt all stand before the judgment seat of God(Rom. 14: 10).]
Thus we reach the final summary. And then shall each [believer] have his praise - the praise (if any) due to him, praise in such degree and such proportion as he deserves from God. Astounding truth - that a man can be praised by God! Unworthy, unmerited praise is worthless: exact praise, as only God can judge it, will be priceless: praise so valuable as to make all human praise dust in the balance; praise so lovely because it is right in itself; praise which runs no risk of ever being reversed by a higher tribunal.