THE LAW OF THE JUDGMENT SEAT

 

As nothing is more certain than that all believers must stand before the Lordís Judgment Seat, so nothing can surpass in importance the discovery of the principle on which that judgment will be conducted. It is the judge Himself who, beyond all others, states and restates, enforces and reinforces the searching, satisfying, sublime law of the Judgment Seat. It is a principle divinely simple and sufficient. It is the quintessence of all law - "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth"; yet, since it is applied in a court embracing the holiest saints as well as the lowest graded of Godís servants, it is made to work as a general principle covering all conduct; and so while it carries exact retribution for wrong-doing, it ,equally and simultaneously carries an automatic recoil of glory. It is a fact past all conceivable wonder that we are the arbiters of our own judgment.

 

Now our Lord, "as He lifted up His eyes on His disciples" (Luke 6: 20) - for "the persons addressed," as Dean Alford says, "are Christians, persons justified by faith, and waging the Christian conflict in the power of the Spirit" - in the heart of His counsels to the Ďlittle flockí propounds the law of the Judgment Seat. He says:- "Judge not" - do not act on the principle of justice, set not yourself up as a judge (Godet) - "and" - as an automatic recoil - "ye shall not be be judged" (Luke 6: 37) - the principle of justice will not be applied to you. That our Lord refers to the judgment of God and not the judgment of man is certain because whether we judge men or not, they will judge us; the most un-censorious, of saints will not escape the censure of the world: our very refusal to condemn can make the uncharitable pronounce us hypocrites for speaking kindly of all.*"It cannot mean," as Augustine says, "that if we judge rashly of others, God will judge rashly of us; or, if we measure unjustly to them, it will in turn be measured unjustly to us." Nor is it mental discrimination which our Lord forbids: for immediately after (Matt. 7: 3) He explains how, rightly, we can analyse our brotherís faults, and how detect the human wolf masked as a child of God: what He forbids us is to invoke law, or to sentence as a judge sentences. So the Apostle James, defining it with inspired aptness as Ďthe law of libertyembodies the principle beyond misunderstanding:- "So speak ye, and so do, as men that are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment shall be without mercy" - that is, purely judicial and retributive - "to him that showed no mercy" - who acted, in all things, on justice: "mercy rejoiceth against judgment" (Jas. 2: 13).

 

[* "It frequently happens that the children of God receive the very worst reward, and are oppressed by many unjust slanders: and that, too, when they have injured no man's reputation, and even spared the faults of others" (Calvin).]

 

But now our Lord, to put the meaning beyond all doubt, splits up judgment into its two constituent elements of condemnation and acquittal, and once again reveals that the principle of action we adopt is the principle of action we shall experience. "Condemn not, and ye shall not he condemned" - not because you have no counts of condemnation, but because they are cancelled by your action: do not pass sentence, and sentence will not be passed on you: refrain from all that is judicial, and you will receive all that is merciful.*As God "is not reckoning unto the world their trespasses" (2 Cor. 5: 19), His patience is to be our pattern; His kindness our precedent; His forbearance our rule; and His love our law. And so shall we receive back. "Punishment is the recoil of crime, and the force of the backstroke is in proportion to the force of the original blow" (Archbishop Trench).

 

[* That the Epistles are woven of one web with the Gospels, is proved by identical doctrine. So Paul equally warns of appeal to law:- "Dare any of you go to law? Brother goeth to law with brother, and that before unbelievers: it is altogether a defect in you, that ye have lawsuits one with another" (1 Cor. 6: 1-7). Certain exceptions however, Scripture states. In the Church, for certain sins (1 Cor. 5: 12); in business relations, which demand "that which is just" (Col. 4: 1); and in the rule of the home (1 Tim. 3: 4, 5), a measure of justice is permitted.]

 

So then the Lord takes up the other half of the judicial function:- "release" - acquit, absolve, discharge: it is a legal term - "and ye shall be released." The emphasis our Lord places on forgiveness can hardly be over-stated: in the heart of His model prayer He makes our forgiveness to turn exactly on the degree with which we forgive, and He commands us to tell God that we accept and plead the principle.

 

"Forgive us our sins as" - like as, in the same manner as - "we forgive men their sins against us" (Luke 11: 4). Moreover alone of the seven petitions of the Prayer He singles it out, afterwards, for restatement and emphasis; and enforces it both positively and negatively, so as to make misunderstanding impossible "giving one more blow to the die, so as to make the impression sharper and deeper" (Trench). "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also" - will correspondingly - "forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matt. 6: 15).* It is obvious that the pardon, or non-pardon, must be after death, for only then does the opportunity for trespassing cease: that is, it is an adjudication at the Judgment Seat; and our perfect pardon will turn upon our perfect pardoning. "Whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against anyone; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses" (Mark 11: 25).

 

[*Apart from known sin, there may be sins once conscious and unrepented, but now forgotten; or dispensational sins (and the like) not admitted to be sins; or sins against the dead, whose forgiveness we cannot now obtain; and other such. "The remains of sin in us require the same forgiveness through grace that we received at first" (Stier). As the Church has seen all down the ages, this petition, put into the mouth of every child of the Father in Heaven, is fatal to any doctrine of sinlessness. "In many things we all stumble" (Jas. 3: 2); and some degree of mercy's need the most exalted saint will carry to heaven's gates.]

 

But our Saviour, not content with these categorical commands, nor with embedding the principle in our most sacred Prayer, has crystallized it into one of His pregnant, exquisite Beatitudes. "Blessed are the merciful: for" - apart from all loveliness of character it may produce, or the scattering of mercyís priceless boons: another fact altogether is the Lordís ground of the beatitude - "they shall obtain mercy" (Matt. 5: 7); for "with the merciful Thou shalt show thyself merciful" (Psa.18: 25). Mercy broke from every action of our Lord. He brought no charge against the Tempter; He wept for Jerusalem, the slaughter-house of Himself and His saints; He suffered the kiss of Judas; He won the heart of the reviler on the cross; He pleaded with God for His murderers; He forgave Peter. If it had not been for mercy, there would not be one disciple on earth, nor one glorified saint in heaven. Thus the law of the Judgment Seat bursts upon us here * in all its glory. By the very letter of the Law - "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" - mercy creates mercy: the hand that looses its legal grip over a fellow-man, finds Christís legal grasp loosed over itself: its catalogue of evil offences vanishes, because, in the far-away earth-life, it cancelled a brotherís catalogue against itself. "The Lord grant unto him," Paul prays for Onesiphorus, who had been most merciful to the Apostle, "to find mercy of the Lord in that dayĒ (2 Tim. 1: 18).

 

[* "Servants obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord: whatsoever ye do, WORK heartily, as unto the Lord and not unto men ; knowing that from the Lord ye" - the Lordís servants - "shall receive the recompence of the inheritance ; ye serve the Lord Christ. For he that doeth wrong shall receive again for the wrong that he hath done: and there is no respect of persons." (Col. 2: 22-24).

All God-inspired belief in the truth of our Lordís near return to establish His Kingdom is essentially practical. It is not content merely to sit down and wait, but remembering that "the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation," it seeks to hasten the Coming by gathering in souls while the opportunity remains. The need is urgent, the opportunity short-lived, and it behoves us to become those who are skilled in the art of soul-winning.

This old dead world is waiting for "the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to vanity" (Rom. 8: 19, 20). It will still roll on, and the men that belong to it will be left behind. Shall we, beloved, take our place like Enoch? - a type of all who walk with God (Jude 14.) Shall we begin the journey that leads to the gates of light and the chariots of the Translation? (Luke 21: 34-36; Rev. 3: 10, 11).]

 

The Christianís behaviour here and now will determine our reward in the future.

 

Judgment - (now active on every believerís works) - is what will determine whether or not we will have an Ďinheritanceí in the Millennial Kingdom - not in the Eternal Kingdom. This principle is taught throughout the word of God:

 

Once more our Lord takes this harp of many strings but pouring one music, and strikes the fullest chord of all. "Give" - manifestly wealth, first of all; but also all else we have to give - "and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they" - the judgment officers of the court above* - "give into your bosom" (Luke 6: 38). The Age to Come will show that the man who hoarded was the true spendthrift, and the ultimate bankrupt: on the other hand he who invests his all for Christ will find his worthless scrip, one day, fabulous. "In this world it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich" (H. W. Beecher).

 

[* ďThe plural they will give, corresponds to the French indef. pron. on; it denotes the instruments of divine munificence, whoever they may be" (Godet): "such agents being indefinite, and the meaning I hereby rendered solemn and emphatic; if we are to find a nominative, it should be the Angels, the ministers of the divine purpose" (Alford).]

 

Finally, the Lord sums it all up in its essential principle.

 

"With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matt. 7: 2). Could anything be conceived more subtle, yet more simple? anything more intensely practical? anything more fearfully analytical of our own spirits? anything more extraordinarily pregnant, if practised, with all the graces of the Christian character? The most merciful of us will need mercy, and the most forgiving will need pardon: therefore do to others, the Lord says, as you would that God should do to you; and reap exactly what you sow - love for love, mercy for mercy, or else justice for justice, vengeance for vengeance. In the words of Chrysostom:- "God makes thee arbiter of the judgment : as thou thyself judgest, He will judge thee."

 

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