No truth can be more indisputable or universally applicable than the manifestation of every man, saint or sinner, before the Lord. There is the utmost precision in the language as always in scripture. Never is it written that we all must be judged. Indeed, this would contradict the clear declaration of our Lord in John v. 24 that the believer has eternal life and does not come into judgment (krisis). It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment; whereas we, believers, are not all to die, but all to be changed : in fact, none of us alive when Christ comes shall fall asleep, but be clothed upon with our house from heaven without passing through death, mortality being swallowed up of life. But if no believers shall be judged, all must be manifested, saint no less than sinner, that each may receive the things done by the body (or, as the Authorised Version says, done in it), according to what he did, whether good or bad.
It is for the divine glory that every work done by man should appear as it really is before Him who is ordained by God Judge of living and dead. Only as the believer is by grace exempted from judgment both as a partaker of everlasting life and as having in Jesus Christ a perfectly efficacious Saviour, his standing, before the judgment-seat assumes the character of manifestation and in no way of a trial with the awful possibility of destruction.
There is not the smallest compromise of the salvation the believer now enjoys by faith; and accordingly he will be glorified before he stands there. He will give account of himself to God and be manifested ; but there is no condemnation depending on the issue then as there is none now to those that are in Christ.
This may not be reasonable in man's eyes, but it suits the God of all grace and is due to the glory and suffering of the Son of God, and harmonises with the testimony of the Holy Spirit, whose seal will not be broken or dishonoured in that day. And as it is for God's glory, so it is for the perfect blessing of the believer that everything should stand out in the light and he himself should stand out in the light, and he himself should know even as he is known.
Nothing will blind the eye then, no unsuspected motive warp the heart or mind before the judgment-seat of Christ. The merciful care, the overruling power, of God in all our ways will appear in their astonishing wisdom and goodness, no longer concealed by the mists of this life. We shall know perfectly what debtors we were to grace, and the resources and activity of that grace in our chequered history and experience even as saints, and the boundless patience of God to the last, as well as His rich mercy at the first.
Even now what a comfort to us to have renounced the dishonesty of the natural heart, to judge ourselves unsparingly in presence of love that never fails, to be in the light of God, and have no guile in our spirit as those who know Him who by redemption can and will impute nothing to us.
And this consciousness is true to faith now that we believe in Him who suffered once for us that He might bring us to God; not a cloud above, not a spot within. The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. Perfect love casts out fear. We love Him who first loved us, and shirk not but welcome the light which makes everything manifest.
"We have been—we are—manifested to God." It is the mighty and abiding effect of Christ's work, which made us meet for sharing the inheritance of the saints in light. We no longer walk in darkness as once when we had no true knowledge of God; we walk in the light as He is in the light.
Yet there are times when what is always true in principle is applied powerfully in fact to the Christian whom God gives in quiet retirement, often in a sick chamber, to review his ways and examine himself alone with God, when energy or self-love or flattery do not enfeeble a holy self-judgment; and all the more deeply as he firmly holds to the assurance of God's changeless favour.
What is thus verified in a high degree by the way will be complete and perfect at that day; when we, already caught up and glorified in the body, shall be manifested before the judgment-seat without a trace of the shame that either hides or with pain confesses.
It is great gain to have such times on earth, though the process be but imperfect, greater still the more it approaches an habitual state. How full the blessing when all is absolutely out in love and light with Christ.
But, as we have seen, the manifestation has an end here described, that each may receive the things done in [or, by] the body, good or bad. Even in the saints all will not have been good; and all will have its result, though not to jeopard the grace that saves by Christ.
But as God is not unrighteous to forget the work of faith and labour of love, so failure and wrong entail loss; and the soul itself will in full intelligence and unmurmuring adoration bow and bless Him who orders the place of each in His kingdom, and who (while never abandoning His own sovereignty) will take note of the greater or less fidelity and devotedness of each in service or ways.
But the manifestation of the wicked, as it will be at a considerably later time, so it will have a wholly different character and effect. The judgment-seat in this case will be the judgment of the great white throne after the reign of the thousand years, as for the righteous it will be before that, when the dead, small and great, are (not manifested only, but) judged each according to their works (Rev. xx. 12-15).
They refused the Saviour; they stood in their own righteousness or were indifferent about the lack of it, thinking nothing of God or counting Him like themselves. They had no life, as no faith, in Christ; they rise to a resurrection not of life but of judgment, for God will judge all who believe not 13:. Him whom they despised.
And if the righteous be saved with difficulty—with a difficulty that nothing but sovereign grace in Christ could surmount— where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? Theirs is eternal judgment dealing with evil, and the issues are as sure as they are awful and endless. " Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men."