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Judgment: When and Where?

Frederick William Grant

Facts and Theories as to a Future State

We must now proceed to what comes after death. And here, before we can come to details, there are some misconceptions as to the very idea of judgment which we must examine by the light of Scripture, and seek to remove.

In Mr. Constable's volume upon Hades, so often referred to in the earlier stages of our inquiry, he has two chapters of considerable importance to his argument which we have as yet scarcely glanced at.†

†Chap. xiii., xiv.

Their subjects are respectively, "The Time of Judgment" and "The Time of Retribution." The general object of these is to show that neither judgment nor retribution can take place until the resurrection, and we shall quote some passages that we may have a clear view of the issues before us.

His first arguments, grounded upon his peculiar views of death and of the nature of man, I may pass over. He next brings before us what the Lord says of Sodom and Gomorrah , Tyre and Sidon, as to a future day of judgment (Matt. x. 15; xi. 22; Mark vi. 11), and "what He affirmed of these heathen He also affirmed of the Jews living in His own days. Both are to be tried in this coming judgment day. And what He says of the Jewish cities of His own time, we suppose to be equally true of the Jews of all previous time... We are thus told that for four thousand years there was no such thing as judging men when they were dead."

This judgment of the great day, Mr. C. argues, our Lord tells us "is when He returns from that right hand of God where He now is. He tells us this in His parable of the talents. It is ‘after a long time the lord of those servants cometh and reckoneth with them.' There is no reckoning with good or with wicked servants until the Lord comes."

Mr. Constable goes on to show us how -

"our Platonic theology has virtually nullified this great truth of Scripture. It has not denied in words the great day of future judgment of which Christ and His apostles speak, but it has robbed it of all its significance and meaning by telling us that there is another judgment before it which effects for every man separately what the final judgment has to do". He quotes in proof of this the Roman Catholic "Key of Paradise" and Poole's Commentary, the latter of which "tells us that ‘after souls by death are separated from their bodies, they come to judgment, and thus every particular one is handed over by death to the bar of God the great Judge, and so is dispatched by His sentence to its particular state and place with its respective people. At the great and general assize, the day of judgment, shall the general and universal one take place, when all sinners in their entire persons, bodies and souls united, shall be adjudged to their final unalterable and eternal state.'"

Further, as to retribution, Mr. Constable quotes 2 Cor. v. 10 as -

"decisive that no retribution whatsoever, be it reward or punishment, takes place before the resurrection and the judgment. There can be no question that ‘made known or manifest' should be the translation of the Greek verb in this verse, as it is its translation in the next. Bengel expresses its sense when he says that it means not merely that we should appear in the body, but that we should be made known, together with all our secret deeds... The judgment seat of Christ is that judgment seat which He sets up when He comes and raises up the dead... not until then will retribution take place; not until then will the sinner be punished, and the saint receive his reward; i.e, it is in the body, and not out of the body that retribution takes place... Paul was here only following the teaching of his Master. Nowhere in the teaching of Christ are His disciples taught to expect their reward, or any part of it, when they are dead. The very idea of dead men recompensed is enough to excite scorn against the school of thought which has taught it, until, from the perpetual repetition of the nonsense, we could not see its folly. But not to the state of death, but to the resurrection from that state of death, does our blessed Lord teach His people to look. ‘When thou makest a feast,' He says, ‘call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and thou shalt be blessed for they cannot recompense thee; for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just... But are there, according to our Platonic theologians, any passages of Scripture which do directly state that before resurrection retribution of any kind, reward or punishment, takes place? Yes, they say, there is one. Where is it? In Luke xvi. 23. What do these words form part of? A parable! What are the words? ‘In hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.' "

He then has the usual objections to employing a parable to teach doctrine: all which we have already looked at.

Now there is truth in Mr. Constable's objections to the common doctrine here, as we shall see. The statements he objects to are not clear - do not distinguish between things which it is important not to confound. Especially the Romanist quotation (which I have not given, and which applies 2 Cor. v. 10 to the intermediate state) does clash entirely with Scripture. But then Mr. Constable's error on the other side is as plain. He meets a false issue with a partial truth, and is certainly no less superficial than those he is opposing. The full statement harmonizes all Scripture, parable and all else, instead of arraying one text against another.

The very chapter last quoted from, as we have seen, bears witness, not in the last parable but in the lesson which our Lord deduces from the first, that when the righteous "FAIL" (that is, at death therefore, not resurrection) they are "received into everlasting habitations" (Lk xvi. 9). And this the last parable shows, in whatever figurative language, with regard to Lazarus. And it is in express contrast to this that the rich man in hades is tormented, as he is "comforted." Thus there is no room to doubt the meaning of the solemn words. The rich man is certainly pictured (and even Mr. Constable cannot deny that) as receiving retribution in hades, before the resurrection and the final judgment, and if the Lord did not mean that, He would not have used words which every one must admit give that impression, without one word of warning. It is useless to talk of trees speaking, etc., in the same breath with this. By the one no one could be deceived. In the other the Lord would be coming in with what men represent as false and heathenish ideas actually in the very minds of His hearers: for He spoke to Pharisees. And we are forbidden therefore by our reverence for Him, who was never anything less than Incarnate Truth itself, to allow that He could so trifle with untruth, and help to confirm in error the souls of those He came to rescue out of it.

Thus far as to the parable. But as to the righteous at death being received into everlasting habitations, we cannot so ignore the direct teaching both of our Lord and His apostles, as to allow Mr. Constable unchecked to assure us that we have no other Scripture than that just looked at to establish such a doctrine. He may believe that when our Lord said to the thief by His side, "To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise," He meant only that he should fall asleep for perhaps two thousand years, so that it would be no matter to him whether that promise was kept or no! (What matter to him indeed, if he did not wake up forever? That quiet "sleep," in which the sleeper vanishes altogether, would not know one uneasy dream in consequence!) And so he may please to interpret Paul's desire to depart and be with Christ, and similar things. All this we have before examined. But then we must believe that we have some Scripture for a truth like this.

Mr. Constable may say, perhaps, "I am stating you have only one Scripture for retribution in the death state." Well, but the one involves the other. The righteous die, and the wicked. If death be extinction, the righteous could not be "comforted" in it, any more than the wicked "tormented." Mr. C. himself quits rightly puts both upon the very same footing. We should at least want proof of a difference, if difference indeed there were. We should need proof that the wicked were not tormented, if we were assured that the righteous were comforted.

Thus every text for the one is an argument for the other also; and when the language even of a parable comes in to sustain the prior conviction, we must be permitted to think that it neither stands alone, nor gives an uncertain sound either. We do not expect that it should be much dwelt upon. We have just been considering how little even the resurrection of the wicked is. Enough is given to establish the doctrine. Warnings and promises alike may be expected to be connected rather with a final and everlasting state, than with one necessarily to pass away. Yet we do not accept Mr. Constable's statement as to there being only one text. There are others, as Isa. xxiv. 21, 22; 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20, the first of which speaks of the "kings of the earth" whom Revelation (xix. .19, 21) shows us "slain with the sword" at Christ's coming in glory, while Isaiah speaks of them as prisoners shut up in the pit, to be visited after many days; i.e., at the judgment of the dead, after the millennium. While the latter speaks correspondingly of those disobedient in Noah's days, as now "spirits in prison." Both texts assure us of retribution in the intermediate state.

But Mr. Constable would allege doubtless, as he has against the views of others, that "retribution before judgment is contrary to all the principles of the divine and human law." I allow it fully. What he fails to see is that, as far as the settlement of personal guilt and condemnation is concerned, man - the world - is ALREADY judged - already condemned: a thing which, if it be not plain to him, as it would seem it is not, is none the less abundantly plain in Scripture.

We have already seen that God by the ministry of death and condemnation was for centuries pressing home upon man his lost condition, and that the apostle could speak for Christians in saying, "we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them that are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and ALL THE WORLD become guilty before God." Is that, or is it not, a sentence of God and is it to be passed, or passed already? Certainly, it is long since passed, and this sentence of the law was, as we have seen, only itself the affirming and confirming of a prior sentence, of which every grey hair in man was witness.

It is true man might, alas, prophesy smooth things to himself; and dream of being able to face God about his sins, and on the other hand it is blessedly true that, wherever there was real bowing to the sentence, the mercy of God was ready to manifest itself: real "repentance" is always "unto life." But it needed no judgment seat for him to manifest such mercy, wherever He knew a soul had bowed to own its guilt; while with all others judgment had not to be pronounced, but had been. This is what makes so solemn and so blessed that great truth of Ecclesiastes, the settlement of the question of the book "the spirit shall return to God that gave it." Not yet indeed the judgment seat, where He would "bring every WORK into judgment," but the assurance at least then, if never before, of PERSONAL acceptance, or of personal rejection.

Mr. Constable does not see - as many do not - the difference between these two things. We must look at them, therefore, more in detail, and the Scriptures which affirm and illustrate them.

Personal acceptance with God is NEVER on the ground of our works. "By the works of the law" - in which all good works are summed up - "shall no flesh living be justified." So the word of God decisively says. On the one hand not the most perfect upon earth (as Job was in his day) but must, with Job, put his hand upon his mouth in the presence of God, or open it but to say, "I am vile:" "I abhor myself; and repent in dust and ashes."

On the other hand, let any soul but take this latter ground, and "if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

The future day of judgment (whether we speak of saint or sinner) is, therefore, never in Scripture for the settlement of personal acceptance or the reverse. We have already seen that personal judgment for a sinful creature before a holy God can only be condemnation. The saved are saved here and now, and do not "come into judgment." The doom of the unsaved is determined in the present life also, and if men ignore it here, the spirit returning to God cannot remain ignorant. It is a "spirit in prison," already with the consciousness of wrath upon it, if not received into "everlasting habitations." This is the rich man's portion, where the wrath of God is the consuming fire by which he is tormented, and yet resurrection plainly has not come.

Does this set aside the reality of the judgment to come? By no means. It only affirms the reality of the judgment pronounced. The judgment to come is the judgment of works, and there is what answers to this even for the saint. But he comes to it in resurrection glory, and in the image of his Lord. Can he be put upon trial to decide the future of one already glorified? Clearly not. But he does stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and receives for the things done in the body, as a question of reward obtained or lost. Eternal life is not a reward, but the free gift of God in Christ, and justification is by His blood alone. Sonship, membership of the body of Christ, a home in the Father's house, are all fruits of the same blessed work, His and not ours. And these can never be brought in question: judgment never is brought in to settle these.

Similarly then as to the lost. The judgment to come does not settle that they are lost. If they come forth to a resurrection of judgment, it is not a judgment which is to decide if they can stand before God or not; but they are, as the saint is not, "judged," themselves personally, "according to their works" (Rev. xx. 13). They get a measured recompense, as the saint does, but a recompense of judgment and nothing else: "few" or "many stripes," as the case may be; an absolutely righteous apportionment for the sins committed in the body. This is the judgment of works, as distinct from the settlement of whether lost or saved as is the reward of works for the righteous.

What has helped to confuse the minds of many has been a question of prophetic interpretation; and it helps to show how little there can be a thorough settlement of the question of eternal judgment without a previous settlement of what many judge so lightly as "the millennarian question." Failing to see the Lord's coming as antecedent to the millennium, and the purification of the earth by judgment in order to the blessing, the separation of the sheep from the goats, in Matt. xxv., has been looked at as the same thing with the judgment of the dead more than a thousand years later. It was inevitable in this way that the latter should be supposed (yet in opposition to the plainest passages elsewhere) one in which righteous and wicked would stand together, and the former be discriminated from the latter by their works.

It should be plain, however, that in Matt. xxv. 31-46, we have a judgment of living nations when the Lord comes to earth and sets up His throne there, and not a judgment of the dead, when the earth and the heavens are fled away; and also that the account of the taking up of the saints to meet the Lord in the air in 1 Thess. iv., before He appears to the world at all (Col. iii. 4), is quite inconsistent with such an interpretation. There is no hint of resurrection in our Lord's prophecy at all. And the nature of the investigation differs much from that in Revelation. The truth is, that "the nations" in the former scripture are those who, after the taking away of the saints of the present dispensation, and during an interval which takes place between that and His appearing with them, have received a final call by the preaching of the coming kingdom. It would be too lengthy a matter to enter upon here. But the broad characteristic differences between this and the Apocalyptic vision, should be sufficient at least to prevent their being confounded.

Into judgment he who now believes in Christ can never come. So He declares. "As it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment, so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many, and to them that look for Him shall He appear the second time, apart from sin, unto salvation." If "God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world by that Man whom He hath ordained," the saints whom He declares to be even now "not of the world even as He is not of the world," shall (not be judged with it, but) "judge the world" with Him (1 Cor. vi. 2). They are thus seen upon the throne in Rev. xx. 4-6 as having part in the first resurrection; and not till a thousand years afterwards does the judgment of the dead take place. God has taken care to separate thus widely between His people's portion and that of those who hate Him.

The truth is what alone makes all harmonious. Present judgment has been passed upon the world. The very cross itself as His portion at men's hands, has only confirmed finally that sentence, to be executed when He comes.*

*John xii. 31-33; xvi. 8-11.

Out of it God in His grace is calling men and saving them. His saved are upon the ground of Christ and His work, not their own. The unsaved are still under the universal sentence already judged; the judgment of works, the full measurement of each man's due, being still to come. This is not a question of personal acceptance or rejection, which is on other ground, but is the solemn and exact award of deeds done in the body, as Scripture says. The doer and the deeds are questions, however connected, still distinct.

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