The text proposed for consideration is II Corinthians 5:10: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." The italicized words are supplied by the translators. A general impression has prevailed that the judgment seat of Christ is a seat at present unoccupied, on which Christ shall be seated when the earth and heavens shall have passed away, and the graves of all the families of the earth shall deliver up their slumbering tenants. Then all the tribes of mankind shall be summoned to appear in his august presence; that then he shall vacate the mercy seat, and assume the judgment seat to adjudicate the case and determine the final destiny of all the children of men. In this theory is necessarily involved the supposition that the saints and glorified spirits in heaven, and all who are now, or shall at that period be suffering the vengeance of eternal fire, shall from heaven and hell assemble in resurrected bodies reproduced in form and nature as when they were on earth. Each shall then and there be subjected to a judicial examination, and receive from the Judge a reward for their righteous acts, or a sentence of wrath for their wickedness, proportioned in strict justice to the amount of merit or demerit in which they shall be found. The text on which we are requested to give our views has been relied on, perhaps more than any other, in support of the above stated theory. Christians being the only class that can find nothing at all meritorious in themselves to plead, and everything that is vile and sinful in their nature to loath and abhor, have been perplexed and sometimes even terror-stricken in the fearful apprehension that the heart-searching and rein-trying Judge, at that awful day, will find them as guilty and sinful as they now feel themselves to be, and will bid them depart from his presence to everlasting burnings. Nor would such dismal apprehensions be unwarranted if the views presented in the foregoing were sustained in the Scriptures of truth; for the Psalmist has said, "If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand (Psalm 130:3)." Again, "Blessed is he whom transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity (Psalm 32:1,2)."
The subject presented by our brother involves the following considerations: First, the judgment seat of Christ. Second, who must appear before it? When, and for what purpose? Our firm conviction on the subject is that our Lord Jesus Christ is now occupying his judgment seat, and all judgment is vested in him. "In righteousness he doth judge and make war (Revelation 19:11)." "All power is given unto him in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18)." "Power is given to him over all flesh, that he should give eternal life unto as many as the Father has given him (John 17:2)." The judgment seat, however, of which the apostle is speaking in our text, is that on which he presides, as the Head over all things to his church. As it is written, "The Lord shall judge his people (Hebrews 10:30)." His judgment seat is his throne; and God has said, "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion (Psalm 2:6)." "For the Lord is our Judge, the Lord is our law-giver, the Lord is our King; he will save us (Isaiah 33:22)." "When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from the other, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31,32)." When our Redeemer had finished transgressions and made an end of sin, when he had met and canceled all the demands of law and justice, redeemed his people from the curse and also from the dominion of the law, he was exalted with the right hand of the Father, sat down with him in his throne, and is forever sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high. He has received his kingdom, and is inaugurated in power, and has ascended his mediatorial throne, which is the seat of his judgment. In his kingdom he spreads his throne. It stands in Zion, and justice and judgment are the habitation of it forever. In his gospel church he holds his court, and bringeth forth judgment unto victory. If the church of God is not the judgment seat of Christ, we know not where to find it. "Now gather thyself in troops, O daughter of troops; he hath laid siege against us; they shall smite the Judge of Israel with the rod upon the cheek. But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting (Micah 5:1,2)." We cannot believe that he who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, changes from place to place, from seat to seat. He has set down forever upon his throne, and his throne is his mercy seat, and it is also his judgment seat, and all his decisions are as immutable, irrevocable and decisive now as they can ever be at any subsequent period. When he said unto the dear child of God, "Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee," that judgment was officially rendered, and firmly as the pillars of his throne shall that decision stand when earth and heaven shall have fled away.
Having, as we conceive, fully demonstrated that the church of God is the judgment seat of Christ; that Zion is the "Holy Hill" on which God has set his King, and that a glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our Sanctuary, we may contemplate with joy and gratitude its exalted altitude. Higher than the heavens, and lasting as eternity. "For unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom."
Two. Let us now inquire to whom it is said in our text: "For we must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ." The epistle in which these words are written is thus addressed: "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in Achaia;" and these are still further described as a people who know that they have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. A people who groan in the earthly house of this tabernacle, and who earnestly desire to be clothed upon with their house which is from heaven; and still further, a people whom God has wrought for this self-same purpose (to be clothed upon with their house which is from heaven). A people who are always confident, knowing that whilst they are present in the body, they are absent from the Lord; and who would rather be absent from the body and present with the Lord. A people who walk by faith and not by sight. A people who labor, that whether present or absent, they may be accepted of him. And in the subsequent part of the same chapter, they are further described as a people for whom Christ died, and who were all dead with him, who are quickened together with Christ, and raised up together and made to sit together with him in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. To these, and only to these, are the words of our text applied, or applicable. None but the members of this kingdom have access to the judgment seat of Christ. They have come unto Mount Sion, to this heavenly Jerusalem, and to God, the Judge of all. All others stand before the mountain that might be touched, and that burned with fire, and blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the voice of words. But those who are redeemed to God, and from the dominion of the law, now stand in this peculiar relation to him, as subjects of his spiritual kingdom, and amenable to him as their Judge, and to them is secured the high and happy privilege of standing before his judgment seat. They have full confidence in the righteousness of his judgments, and confide in all his decisions; and their desire and prayer is: "Search me, 0 God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23,24)." As Christ is their Lord, their King and their Judge, they must all of them stand before his judgment seat. Of all that is wrought in them, by God working in them to will and to do of his good pleasure, and of their working out their own salvation with fear and trembling, Christ is the only competent Judge. His foundation standeth sure, and hath this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. It is an invaluable birthright privilege of all the sons of God to stand before the judgment seat of Christ. There is no other judgment seat to which they can so confidently appeal. God has wrought all their works in them, and of his own works he alone can judge with unerring righteousness. All others are condemned already, and the wrath of God abideth on them. He will not accuse them unto the Father, for they have one that accuseth them, even Moses in whom they trust.
Three. When, and for what purpose must they all appear before the judgment seat of Christ? The impression has generally prevailed, as we have already remarked, that the judgment seat will not be assumed by Christ until after the resurrection of the dead, and that immediately after the resurrection all the human family, in one promiscuous mass, shall be assembled before the bar of God, when the exact state of every one shall be ascertained and determined, and the final destiny of each shall be announced by the eternal Judge. That God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he has appointed, and that that day or period shall be after the resurrection, we fully believe. But that judgment will not be a court of inquisition or investigation; for the dead shall all be judged according to the things which are already written in the books, which shall then be opened. The Lord already knows them that are his; the saints have already been judged and acquitted, and freely justified through the redemption that is Christ Jesus. God has already pronounced on them, and promised to remember their sins and iniquities no more. They are blotted out as a thick cloud, and shall never again come in remembrance. Nor will any investigation of the condition of the ungodly be required; for they are condemned already and the wrath of God (even now) abides on them. The judgment of both saints and sinners is already decided, pronounced and recorded in the books, and the day of judgment which shall be at the resurrection is the day when all that is now written, of the destiny of saints and sinners, shall be fully executed. The day of the judgment of Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, Sidon, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum and Jerusalem, were not days of investigation, for their sins were summed up, and the amount of their punishment determined and written hundreds of years before the execution of their judgments on them, and the times of execution were called the days of their judgment. Can it be supposed that God has less knowledge of the state of mankind now than he will have at any future time? Or that he will find occasion to revoke, modify, or in the smallest degree recede from what he has already pronounced on all the sons of Adam? Already he knows them that are his; he has not to wait to be informed. He has put his seal upon the heirs of immortality, and has given them his Spirit to witness with their spirit that they are the sons of God. Christ has pledged his word, that he will raise them all up at the last day, and that they shall live and reign with him in glory. "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." They shall never come into condemnation, world without end.
Instead then of indulging fearful apprehensions of a future day of inquisition, and liability of being repelled from the presence of our God and Savior, let us rejoice that the Judgment Seat of Christ is in his Holy Hill of Zion, in his church, and that he now presides, that he now sits in judgment, and now all his judgments are decisive and irrevocable. He now calls his own sheep by name, and none but his own, and leadeth them out from all wrath and condemnation. He now says unto them, "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." If this view of the subject be accepted, what does the apostle mean by reminding the saints that "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ?"
We understand Paul to mean that the saints, to whom these words are exclusively addressed, being redeemed from that law which consigned them to wrath and damnation, are no more under it, and can never again be tried and condemned by it. We are dead to it, by the body of Christ. No more under it, but under Christ, who is himself the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. Now therefore being under law to Christ, we stand before his judgment seat, and not before the seat of Moses, or the law of sin and death. Being now under law to Christ, we are amenable to him, subject to his law, which he has written in our hearts and in our minds, and accountable to him for all that is done in our body, good or bad. The context describes the saints in the body. The new man which is born of God is now living in an earthly tabernacle, which is soon to be dissolved; this tabernacle he calls a body, a house, etc., which is so radically distinct and dissimilar from the new man, that to be present with, and at home in it, is to be absent from Christ; yet while in it we groan, and earnestly desire to be clothed upon with our heavenly house, or spiritual body, we are subject to trials, temptations, doubts, fears, distrust and disobedience. While in the body or earthly tabernacle, the law of the spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus makes us free from the law of sin and death; so also another law which is in our members warring against the spirit, brings us into captivity to the law of sin which is in our members. Thus in our body things good and bad are constantly transpiring. In this state we stand before the church of God, which is the judgment seat of Christ, where every vain thought and idle word is judged and condemned. And there Christ by his Spirit sits in judgment to approve of all the works of the Spirit which are wrought in us. When the heaven-born child comes to relate to the church his experience of the quickening operation of the Spirit, he stands before the judgment seat, to give an account of what God has wrought in him, and to receive from the judgment seat a decision, according to what God has done for him, and when gathered into the church he is no more his own, being bought with a price. He is there subject to the laws of the Kingdom and the discipline of the House of God, from which judgment seat shall be awarded to him either approval or censure, according to the things done in the body, whether they be good or bad.
When, therefore, and so long as we stand in the church of God, we are before the judgment seat of Christ, and all our walk and conversation must be tested by the laws of Christ, and all the decisions from the judgment seat are bound on earth, and bound in heaven. The necessity of our standing before the judgment seat of Christ is because we are incompetent to judge for ourselves. The Lord is our Judge, our Lawgiver and our standing King, and his judgment seat is as indispensable to our good and his glory as his mercy seat. Remember, Christians, your holy calling, your birthright privilege, and submit to the authority of Christ in his church. None but Christians stand before the judgment seat of Christ, to be tried by the laws of his spiritual kingdom, and it is of God's abounding mercy and grace that we can appeal, in all our straits, to him who is not only our Judge, but also our Advocate. As in the words of the poet:
"Is there ambition in my heart?
Search, gracious God, and see;
And turn each cursed idol out
That dares to rival thee."
July 15, 1868.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 7
Pages 228 – 234