2 Corinthians 5: 5-12; 1 John 2: 27, 28; 4: 17, 19; Revelation 19: 6-8
You will have gathered from the scriptures read that what is a little before me is the judgment seat of Christ. I think it is a great thing that we can be brought even while down here, I believe, in spirit to the judgment seat. And I question how far any of us can enter into the purpose of God until we are in our experience past the judgment seat.
I dare say most of us are aware that the former part of the second Epistle to the Corinthians is occupied specially with the ministry of the Apostle Paul, and the way in which he was given of God to bring out the wonderful and glorious ministry entrusted to him, so that the saints might be taught, and formed by it, and he carries on that ministry so as to bring the saints up to the point of the judgment seat. Now, we might be disposed somewhat to look on the judgment seat with fear, but the verses we read in John’s epistle tell us we need not regard it with fear. I believe with regard to Christians that the object of the Lord in bringing us there is not for condemnation, but to manifest us blameless, the great point being that it is for approval. Thus when we come at last to the bride, the New Jerusalem, she has passed the judgment seat and, when measured with the golden reed, all is approval. We read, “And his wife hath made herself ready, and to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of saints.” She is about to be presented, so that necessarily there is approval. That makes the judgment seat of the greatest possible value to us now, because we come under what I may call the discrimination of Christ. When I think of the ministry confided to Paul, I am in the sense of the grace of Christ, and when he brings us to the judgment seat he brings us to the discrimination of Christ; He must approve what His grace has effected, and in His light we see how far we have been formed according to the grace of Christ by the Spirit, and so by divine teaching. If there is one thing I desire for the saints today it is that the grace of Christ may more and more teach us, so that we might be formed in His grace. All sorts of questions try us, and distress us, but what a blessed thing if our souls should get more under the impress of Christ by divine teaching; then we see everything according to Christ. I have no doubt as to what has often been said that in that day all our lives will pass in review before the judgment seat. I do not raise any question as to that; we shall see in His light everything that was contrary to Christ, and the grace that met it, but it will all be gone, and we shall see all that is according to God remain. The reason it will all he gone is this: – “For he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” We are to be made the righteousness of God in Him, that is the blessedness of it, and the ground for that is laid in Christ having been “made sin.” If anyone of us had written that verse, in whom was working the leaven of the human mind in regard to the gospel or the things of God, we should never have written such a sentence as that. I take it that a great many of us, if we had written about the death of Christ as the sin-bearer, would have thought it wonderful to say, He was made sin, that we should go as poor forgiven sinners into heaven. But that is not how you are going to be in heaven, you are going to be there “the righteousness of God in Him.” There will not be a trace of the old sinful condition. I do not believe we realise sufficiently the extent and depth of those words “made sin for us” – how completely sin is put away that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ. I do not forget that I am a forgiven sinner. I do not forget what I was nor the hole of the pit whence I was digged, but what I see is that I am to be there in righteousness. I should put a slight on the grace of God and the work of Christ if I allowed any thought to mar the wonderful way in which that grace of Christ has entirely obliterated in the cross all that was contrary to God. Do you suppose it will ever come up in His presence? No; we are made the righteousness of God in Him. What a wonderful thing to see what is the effect of the work of Christ! and nowhere do we so see it as in the light of the judgment seat. I do not think we have all taken in the thought that sin is put away from before God for ever. There are pious expressions from converted persons so far as God has taught them, and God forbid we should put a slight upon them, but we want to get into the depth and reality of the cross of Christ, and the work He has done. God forbid that we should limit it in anywise. As we sometimes sing –
“‘I’he work that Thine own Son hath wrought
Has brought us back in peace and free,
And now as sons before Thy face,
With joyful steps the path we tread
Which leads us on to that blest place
Prepared for us by Christ our Head.”
Not in peace and free as forgiven sinners, but “as sons.” The prodigal was not in the house at all as a prodigal but as a son. I want you to see that through the work of Christ on the cross God can say, “Your sins and iniquities I will remember no more for ever.” They will never come before Him. But what do you become? “The righteousness of God in him.” Is not that a wonderful thing when we think of it?
Now I believe that it is a great point to see that when we are converted we come into the sense of the opening out to our souls of the riches of the grace in Christ. And then through ministry we are brought to see everything that is set forth in Christ. He is in glory, and God has been pleased to set forth everything in Him. All that was offensive to God, He has so put away that it can never come up again before Him, and God has been completely and fully glorified. A Saviour in glory is the witness of this.
See the remarkable way in which the Lord speaks through Balaam. If we looked at Israel we could not conceive it, but he is forced to speak from God’s height, not of what Israel had done, but of what God had wrought. What he spoke of could not be fully seen in that day, but in this day it can be seen what God has wrought. As we look at that blessed Man in the glory of God we see the work He has done has so completely put sin away that it is obliterated from the mind of God, and He is there in the glory, setting forth to us all the good pleasure and delight of God. Is not it a blessed thing to come under that teaching?
There are many of us here who seek to help one another, to build up and edify one another in Christ, but you will agree with me, that unless it is growth in Christ it is worthless; growth in mere knowledge of scripture will not do. I do not undervalue growth in the knowledge of scripture, but what I long to see is growth in the knowledge of the Son of God, growth in the Lord Jesus Christ, growing up into Him. That is what God has got before Him, and nothing is of any value but that; because the whole question with us before God is the end to which He is conducting us. A beloved brother, who has often stood here, used to quote to us the text, “That ye may be found of Him in peace without spot and blameless.” Because it is a great point how you will come out in the day of Christ. So the apostle, in writing to the Thessalonians, says, “I pray God your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless unto [or rather at] the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” God has to exercise much discipline toward us down here, and we need it, in order that divine teaching may be effective with us. We learn through it how completely He has dealt with man in the cross, but we learn also what He has set before us in the Man that is glorified at His right hand. We get this divine teaching by the Spirit.
In the beginning of this fourth chapter of John’s epistle I see what is very important for us in regard to the Spirit of God in a day like this. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God … Every spirit that confesseth Jesus Christ come in flesh is of God.” I believe that is a test which the youngest believer can use, and by it detect what is the truth and what is not. The Spirit of God confesses Jesus Christ come in flesh. A young Christian may hear others speak of the heavenly places, of eternal life in the Son of God, and of entering into the holiest and so forth, and he might say, I am not sure that I know much of these things; but I say to him, Have you seen what the Lord was when down here in lowly grace, and learnt of Him? He was here in meekness and gentleness, dealing with souls in grace – “Jesus Christ come in flesh” – do you know Him? Now where the Spirit of God is, there is the confession of Jesus Christ come in flesh; it is the test as to all assumption of superior light and knowledge: the youngest believer can say, when something is presented to him that lays claim to spirituality, though it may be put in a very specious way, That sounds well, but when I look at the person who presents it to me, 1 do not see the character of Jesus Christ come in flesh – His meekness, lowliness, and grace – I do not see the impress of Christ in that person. The talk of the lips is nothing.
Divine teaching is very simple for our souls. Christ is the measure of everything for us, the anointing teaches us of Him, and thus by the Spirit we come under the impress of Christ. Paul and John both conduct us to the judgment seat; it has been called the examination day when it is seen how far divine teaching has formed us after Christ. Up to verse 5 of 2 Corinthians 5, Paul had been speaking of the ministry of grace which brought the light of God’s glory in Christ into the souls of the Corinthians, God had wrought in them through divine teaching in view of a resurrection body, and Paul brings them, so to speak, before the judgment-seat; but, like John, he brings them to it in confidence. “We are always confident,” he says; he has no thought but of confidence in going to the Lord; so John, “that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.” God has come out in love to remove everything that was offensive to Him. Christ was made sin for us, and in His grace He makes Christ everything to our souls.
Having brought them to the judgment-seat, Paul can then go on with the ministry of reconciliation, so John brings us to the day of judgment, in the light of love perfected with us, “as he is so are we in this world;” and then in chapter 5 carries us on to eternal life in the Son of God. God has to teach us lessons as to His grace, His righteousness, His love – of all that Christ is, and in view of the judgment-seat the soul is made conscious that everything which is not Christ will not do for God. Nothing but what is of Christ can go into heaven, but He is the measure as to everything down here in this world; we are to be like Christ in heaven, and the judgment-seat can approve nothing less down here. Then in chapter 5 Paul carries us into another scene, but you do not really get there until in spirit you are past the judgment-seat; there you come under the eye of Christ, and He only can approve what is of Himself, and there you learn the judgment of all that is not of Himself.
In the passage which I read in chapter 2, the apostle says, “the anointing teacheth you of all things;” as an apostle there could be no question but that he had ministered to them in the power of the Spirit, yet as to the things he ministered, it was the anointing which taught them and not man, even though an apostle ministered the things; it thus became truth in them taught by the Spirit and not by law, that is, by letter, and the effect of it was that they would abide in Christ. The apostle then says, “Abide in him,” in order that he, as an apostle, might have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. If we do not come under the teaching of the anointing, all head knowledge, even of apostolic ministry, is useless; it will not form us in Christ, nor shall we be abiding in Him. We may think that we have a great deal of light and truth, but it is what we are which is really light that can be seen, and it is by divine teaching that the soul is formed in view of the judgment-seat. I am afraid very few of us have in reality come there. It is in the light of the judgment-seat that we see the great truth which has been before us, how completely the old man has been removed to God’s glory, then we are free to go on to the ministry of reconciliation.
I have tried sometimes to bring home to the young the incapacity of the flesh to be anything for God by reference to Paul in Romans 7. He there says, “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.” Tell anyone he is not to have even a wrong desire, and you may as well tell him not to be a man. But where does such an experience bring me to? Why, that nothing will do for me but Christ. In Him I find the Deliverer, and then it is that we take the place of little children, “children taught by grace.” I would to God that we were all more children taught by grace; the fact that many of us are teachers and preachers should make us more desirous of this teaching. What marked the apostle was that he commended the ministry entrusted to him by his life. He could say, “We are made manifest to God, and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences.” As if he should say, I minister Christ to you, and I trust that you see in me the Christ I minister. He adds, “For whether we be beside ourselves it is to God, or whether we be sober it is for your cause.” Some perhaps thought that Paul lived up in the clouds, and did not know the sober realities of life down here. Well, if he was at times beside himself, it was to God, but he could come down in all soberness to where the Corinthians were. He was clear enough as to the judgment-seat himself, but he would lend a hand, so to speak, to the feebleness he saw in the Corinthians, and seek to bring their souls into the light of God, so that they might get clear in view of the judgment-seat, and so be enabled to enter into the Father’s delight in Christ. So John brings the children, those taught by grace, to the same point, “Abide in him,” and in reality this is in view of the judgment-seat when all would be manifest, that we may “not be ashamed before him at his coming.”
It is a good thing for us in connection with this teaching of grace to see the object of discipline. We may not always see why the Father chastens us, but it is in connection with the teaching of grace. An ache or a pain may for the moment seem to unfit us for anything, but God can use it to withdraw us from our purpose. Our schemes and the purposes of our hearts are broken in upon, and we are more ready to take the place of children taught by grace. What a blessed thought this patient teaching of grace is for our souls. Christ becomes everything to us, the measure of everything for us, and the treasure of our hearts. He gets a larger place there from time to time. We look at everything in the light of Christ. We see how God has cleared away the old man, and that He has one thought for us, that we should be presented perfect in Christ.
It is good sometimes to look at the saints in the light of the judgment-seat. As I stand here and look at you all, it is very blessed to think of one another in the light of Christ, children taught by grace. God has His own end and purpose in view, and divine teaching is to the end that we may be blameless at His coming – freed from things here because Christ’s death is our freedom, that we might live by Him. There is often this question among the saints, and that question, this trouble has to be met, and that trouble, but it is blessed to be able to rise above it all, and look at each other in the light of God’s purpose, and to think of how surely He is teaching us by grace, and leading us to that point.
“Father, Thy name our souls would bless,
As children taught by grace,”
Then I love to think of the next lines:
“Lift up our hearts in righteousness,
And joy before Thy face.”
We can lift up our hearts in righteousness, for Christ is our righteousness there in the presence of God, but we could not have any other measure of righteousness down here. When we look at one another in the light of Christ, one feels the saints are worth living for. Christ is worth living for, and the saints are worth living for. If we can only afford the least bit of help to the youngest and feeblest believer and help him on in the grace of Christ, it is indeed worth the while. May the Lord more and more enable us to be:
“CHILDREN TAUGHT BY GRACE.”