The Judgement Seat of Christ
E. J. Strange, Bridgwater
In considering the Judgment-Seat of Christ, there are two pitfalls that we must carefully avoid. The first is to lull the soul into a state of complacency or indifference; the second is the other extreme, which veils the. subject in dark mystery and fearful warnings, robbing the Christian of his assurance in the Lord and the sweetness of the hope that we shall soon meet Him who is the eternal lover of our souls. The doctrine of the Judgment-Seat of Christ should act as a spur to the conscience but it should never cause the believer to waver on that rock of the Lord's own words, when Tie said, " Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation (judgment) but is passed from death unto life." (John 5. 24).
Consider first of all the time of the Judgment-Seat. The Christian life is regarded by the Apostle Paul under a variety of figures, a warfare, a race, or some other athletic contest. The assessment of prowess and its appropriate reward was made after the event by a judge, governor, or emperor sitting upon a " Benin." It is this word that is used for the judgment-seat. The great assessment will take place when the Christian warfare is over, and when the race has been run. The question then arises, ' Are believers judged individually in the intermediate state shortly after their personal race is over, or is there a period of waiting until all are gathered in ?' It has been suggested that the former might he the case ; that as the Lord had an interview alone with Peter, restoring his conscience, so would He deal with each one of His own when ushered into His blest presence. However beautiful such a thought may be, the Bema, and in fact judgment generally, is associated with the time of the Lord's return. " Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts." (1 Cor. 4.5). We have already seen that at His coming the dead in Christ shall be raised and we shall be changed, so that we may assert that we shall stand before the Bema in our glorified state, possibly immediately after our translation. As " judgment begins with the House of God " and as rewards are associated with the manifestation of Christ's Kingdom, we are surely justified in stating that the time of the Judgment-Seat will be in the interval between the Rapture and the appearing of the Lord to execute vengeance on a godless world.
Let us now look at the Judge. The first chapter of the Revelation may be regarded as an epitome of the whole book. We hear the church singing and the world wailing; and then we have the vision of " One" like unto the .Son of Man." It is important to note the significance of this term here, and to link it with the same writer's Gospel. " The Father hath given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man " (John 5. 27). The vision of the Lord that was given to John on the island of Patmos should be compared with that given to Daniel (chap. 10, verses 5, 6). There is one very suggestive difference. In Daniel, where the Lord is seen as the Judge of the Nations, the girdle is about the loins, the place of strength ; in Revelation, where He is seen as the Judge in the midst of His people, the girdle is seen about the breasts, the place of affection. It would not be within the scope of this paper to discuss fully this latter vision of the Lord, but for the encouragement of all believers let it be noted that the first words He speaks are, " Fear not." The Judge of the people of God is the Living One, who became dead, and is alive for evermore. He lives for His people whom Tie loves ; He lives, holding in His right hand the stars, the angels of the churches. The eyes that flash with the lire of divine holiness are the same eyes that closed in death for us on the cross ; the feet that are as shining brass are the same feet that trod the roads of Galilee ; the voice that is as the sound of many waters is the same voice that tenderly said, " Come unto Me, and T will give you rest." " Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment." (I John 4. 17, R.V.). Therefore fear not!
Our third task will he to discover the nature of the judgment or assessment before the ' Bema,' and we shall find in the relevant passages in I Cor. 3 and 4, and 2 Cor. 5, that it may be classified under two headings, viz. the assessment of character, and the assessment of service.
Our character will be assessed in the light of the Bema. " 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." (2 Cor. 5. 10, R.V.). There is no thought here either of reward or of punishment, but the reaping in character of a life's sowing, IX, in life here below, we have given diligence to add to our faith, virtue, and to our virtue, knowledge ... if the graces of a truly Christian character are sown and carefully cultivated here on earth, then these shall be manifested in that great Day—if not, then the light will reveal their lack. " One star differeth from another in glory." " If ye do these things, ye shall never fall ; for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (2 Pet. I. JO, 11).
Our service will be assessed. The Lord has said, " Behold I come quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be " (Rev. 22. 12). It should be noted that what is said in 1 Cor. 3, applies primarily to teachers, their teaching and reward. The false doctrine of purgatory cannot be supported by this passage ; rather, as Bengal puts it, " It quenches the fires of purgatory." Alford's comment on verse 15 is clear, " but he himself shall be saved, having held and built on the true foundation. Jesus Christ, he shall not be excluded from the salvation which is the free gift of God to all who believe on Christ, but shall get no especial reward as a faithful and effectual teacher . . . but so as through fire : i.e. as a builder, whose building was consumed, would escape with personal safety, but with a loss of his work." Let us rejoice that the Lord is not unmindful to forget any labour of love, and He is so gracious that even a cup of cold water given in His name will not lose its reward.
In conclusion of what can be only a brief survey of this important subject, may we note what has been well said by others, " We cannot all be great and successful, but we can all be good and faithful." Go through the Gospels carefully, and note the emphasis that the Lord always puts upon faithfulness in the discharge of duty.
" Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom Ins lord has made ruler over his household to give them meat in due season ? Blessed is that servant whom his lord, when he conielh. shall find so doing " (Matt. 24. 45, 46). Whatever the I-ord has given ns to do for Him, when Ho conies, may we be found SO DOING.