Project Canterbury

Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times"

volume one

[pp 9- 18]

London: J. G. F. and J. Rivington, 1839.



2 COR. v. 10.

"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."

IT seems, at first sight, strange and unaccountable that Christians should go on from day to day, or at least from Sunday to Sunday, reading and hearing the word of GOD, and many attending to it too, and yet that all the while they should make little or no progress in holiness: for years and years remaining much in the same state, neither becoming much better, nor much worse. Whatever may be the cause of this, we may be certain that it is a very dangerous mistake:—and the more dangerous, because we are too apt to be unconcerned about it, and even to think we do very well if we do not grow worse.

It was an old heathen maxim, that "He who does not go forward, must go backward." And how much more important is it, in regard of our conduct as Christians! For there is surely no ground to be met with in all the Bible and Testament for supposing that, when we have arrived at a certain point, we may stand still, and say, "We are good enough"—"if we remain as we are now, we are safe." On the contrary, we are taught over and over again, that it is necessary we should " grow in grace," and "in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST," and "press forward towards the prize of our high calling," and that "as we know how we ought to live so as to please GOD, we should abound more and more," that "we should not be weary in well doing," but should "take good heed lest we lose those things which we may have already wrought or gained, and miss of receiving a full reward."

That many souls are eternally ruined by this kind of error who can doubt, that considers what Christian Religion requires, and how most people live and die? And perhaps among many causes which may tend to produce so dreadful an effect, this is one—that we are so apt to hear, and read, and even meditate on GOD'S word, without applying it to ourselves. Or, at least, if we do embrace any part as our own, and really treasure it up in our hearts, it is rather the promises, the blessings, the rewards, and the comforts of religion, than its strict commands and painful warnings. Not, however, but that we apply these too, readily enough—but then it is not to ourselves that we apply them, but to others. We consider not whether we are concerned in them or not. Indeed we take it for granted we are not. But we acknowledge at once their power and piercing sharpness, as directed against other people.

Thus when we hear the solemn warnings and the bitter rebukes contained in the Psalms, the Prophets, and the other scriptures of the Old Testament, these we apply chiefly, if not entirely, to the Jews; rather pleased to flatter ourselves with the notion (be it true or false) that we have never treated GOD so ungratefully as they did.

So we get rid of the Old Testament, and as to the New, we hear and read even the warnings of our LORD JESUS and His Apostles, without being much, if at all, moved by them; because we do not take them to ourselves, though we may be quick enough at applying them to our neighbours. We are more fond of looking at other men's sins than at our own, and, therefore, we think that the threatenings and reproofs of the Gospel are meant for them, not for ourselves. And so like the Pharisees of old, we "make the word of GOD of none effect;" every body applying it to others, and no man taking it to himself. In some matters this self-deceit may pass off more easily, but in the matter of the last Judgment it can have no place. Here we can none of us pretend to escape. Here we are all concerned, one as much as the other. "All must appear before the Judgment-seat of CHRIST," and amongst them we also must each of us appear there. This, at least, we cannot put off upon other people, as a truth which ought to make them tremble while we have no reason to be afraid. The Apostle does not say "Every one of you shall give account of himself to GOD," nor again does he say, "You must all appear before the Judgment-seat of CHRIST." He looked on it as a matter wherein himself was concerned as much as any of them. He could not but anxiously wait for that day himself, and therefore he laboured to fill others with the like anxiety. "Knowing" so well "the terrors of the LORD, he persuaded men," with all affectionate earnestness, to lay them up in their hearts. Whereas we are too apt to go on, as if we alone were free from that, which every body else was subject to.—As if all the world should be judged, and we should escape. As if other people's souls were all we had to care about, and our own were in no danger. It were far better that (as the saying is) "Each should take care of one," and that one should be himself. It will be well if each shall have his own single account ready against that day.

Again, we may observe that Almighty GOD does not say "we shall," but "we must all appear before the Judgment-seat of CHRIST." Now this deserves to be seriously considered by all who have any value for their souls, because the Bible and our own experience will both assure us, that many men flatter themselves that somehow or other (they know not how) they shall escape without being called to account.

Thus we read of men in old time who "said in their hearts, GOD hath forgotten—HE hideth His face—HE will never see it." And at another time they would say, "JEHOVAH shall not see, neither shall the GOD of Jacob regard it." "They considered not in their hearts that GOD remembered all their wickedness, and that all their doings were before His face." In the Apostles' times there were persons who thought they might mock GOD and be never the worse for it; that they might sow to the flesh without reaping corruption—that they might reap life everlasting without sowing to the SPIRIT. And even in the day of judgment itself, we are taught that there will be many who will endeavour, though in vain, to flee from the face of their offended Judge, who will even yet cling to their old false hope of escaping from punishment. "They shall hide themselves (says the apostolical Prophet) in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains, and they shall say to the mountains and to the rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of HIM that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb."

And to this testimony of GOD'S word, may be added that of our own experience. For, do we not see people every day allowing themselves in the commission of errors, and in the neglect of duties—in conduct which they all the while know to be wrong, just as if it would be passed over and forgotten, and they should never hear of it again? Do we not see others acting thus continually, and are we not too ready to fall into it ourselves? Do we not too easily forget how positive, and certain, and unavoidable it is, not a matter of choice, or of doubt, that we shall appear before the Judgment-seat of CHRIST?

If it were a matter of choice whether we should be judged or not; whether we would be tried according to the terms of the Gospel-covenant, or be utterly destroyed, and perish for ever, like the beasts; it is not to be doubted, that very many persons, perhaps most, would choose the last. They would willingly enough part with the future rewards of Religion, if they might but enjoy without fear or restraint the present pleasures of sin. If they could get rid of hell, they would not mind the loss of Heaven.

But, however, be it good or evil, it matters not; whatever we might wish, it is not now in our power to choose, we must appear before the Judgment-seat of CHRIST; we must give an account of our own works.

If again it were any matter of doubt whether we should be judged or not, it must be allowed that our case would be materially different. For we naturally are much less careful about matters for which we think we may never be called to account. Although certainly a wise and prudent person would strive to do whatever he did well, even if there were the least chance of its being hereafter inquired into. But, however, this is not our case; we know for a certainty that all we do, will be inquired into; we must appear before the Judgment-seat. It is necessary, it is unavoidable, no cunning will conceal us from the eye of our Judge, no strength will deliver us out of His hand. Before HIM must we all appear, saith the Apostle—all—that is, none will be excused on any consideration whatever. Be we young or old, rich or poor, learned or ignorant, good or bad, we cannot escape appearing at the Judgment seat of CHRIST.

Remember this, then, you that are children, and see that you live always in the love and fear of ALMIGHTY GOD your heavenly Father. For though you are young, yet be sure that His eye is ever fixed on you by day and by night; that HE sees all you do, and hears all you say; that "a book of remembrance is written before HIM" for all your bad actions and bad words; and that in the last great day you will be judged out of the things which are written in this book.

Remember this too, you, that in consideration of your riper years, ought to have arrived also at riper judgment. You, who divide your time between the cares and comforts of this life, and neglect your principal business; who love the world better than you love GOD, and make religion a second-rate concern. Yet think, that though you can find little leisure for it now, yet the day will come when, whether you will or no, you must find time to give account for your own works.

Let the old too, whose night is fast drawing on, whose strength is but labour and sorrow, and even that soon to pass away; yet, let them remember, that their old age will not excuse them, but they must appear before their Judge. Let them think that they must give account, not only for the days of youth and health and strength, but for the latter days of sickness and feebleness. For indeed, to spend old age as we ought is a hard task, much harder than is generally supposed; it is a task that we have great need to be learning all our lives. But, however we spend it, we must give account for it, and as the account is, so will be the everlasting sentence.

Again, let those who are in any degree blest with "this world's good" ever remember (as they love their own souls) that they are not the owners, but the stewards of it; that hereafter they will have a strict reckoning to make for the manner in which they have employed their money, or their property, be it ever so little; that in that day of wrath, riches will be of no profit to us, that unless we take all possible pains to spend what we have (be it little or much) to the honour of our SAVIOUR, and the comfort of His and our brethren, and not to our own honour and comfort, they will bring on us the curse of the unprofitable servant; we shall be cast into outer darkness.

On the other hand, let not those whose lot it is to lead a life of poverty and distress, flatter themselves that in consideration of this, they shall escape the judgment of GOD, that the want of worldly comforts will be taken as an excuse for want of holiness. The truth is, that both the rich man ought to be the better for his riches, and the poor man the better for his poverty, whereas both riches and poverty are generally made an excuse for sin. But the excuse is a vain one; for it matters not at all what our condition is in this short life. Be we rich or poor, happy or miserable, we must all alike give an account of ourselves to GOD.

Nor again shall we be allowed to pass into Heaven, without examination, be we ever so wise and learned. For it is "not he that commendeth himself who is approved, but whom the LORD commendeth." The more knowledge we have, the more danger we are in of being puffed up with self-conceit; whereas the understanding of all mysteries and all knowledge is nothing without charity or the love of GOD, which alone really edifies and builds us up as living temples of the HOLY GHOST. "If ye know these things (said our LORD JESUS) happy are ye." But how happy? not simply because we know them, for we might know them, and yet be very wicked and very miserable all the while; then only happy "if we do them." Nor on the other side let us trust to that too common, though most false notion, that want of knowledge will be accounted before GOD as an excuse for want of religion and holiness. All must come forth to a strict and just judgment: the unlearned as well as the learned—they who have had less advantages of education, as they who have had the highest. For after all, in all important points, in this country at least, there is little difference in the knowledge of the most learned and the most ignorant. Who is there that does not, or might not easily know, that he must be partaker of eternal happiness or eternal misery according as he spends his life now? that in a short time he must appear before the Judgment-seat of CHRIST, to give an account of his own works, and that however people in general may spend their lives, it concerns him to take care for his own soul above all things, without much regarding his present condition? All this the most unlearned (though he may disregard it) yet must know very well, and the most learned cannot know much more. Therefore let no one suppose that little will be required of him, because he knows little. For indeed, if he would but be careful to be up to his knowledge, he would find that he had a great deal to answer for.

The consideration, too, of the judgment to come, may well make even the best of men tremble. For although they may have given up their lives to the honour and service of their Master, and "laboured to have a conscience void of offence towards Him and towards all men," to "walk worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called," and "to adorn the doctrine of GOD our Saviour in all things," yet this will not save them from the dreadful hour of making their account with GOD. In that hour indeed it will be an inexpressible comfort that they have that same JESUS for their Judge, whom on earth they have laboured to love and serve, and obey beyond all others. Still, the holiest life will not excuse us from coming forth and standing before the throne of our SAVIOUR CHRIST; and giving an account of our own works before men and angels.

But "if the righteous scarcely be saved," if even they must stand up and be judged as criminals before that dreadful tribunal, where and how "shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" For they too must appear, however unwilling they may be. They must appear to give account of their thoughtless, unholy lives, of the time they have wasted, the talents they have abused, the sins they have indulged in, the duties they have neglected, the warnings they have despised, the offers of mercy they have slighted, the contempt they have brought by their pride, their malice, their worldly-mindedness, on the sacred name of our LORD JESUS CHRIST, His Word and Sacraments.

Thus certain is it, my Christian brethren, that "we must all appear before the Judgment-seat of CHRIST." The confidence of strength and manhood will avail us nothing in that day, the feebleness of childhood or old age will not be accepted as an excuse. Money will then be of no use, for the Judge will take no bribes. Poverty and distress will be no plea in our favour, for that will be a time of justice, not of mercy. Wisdom and learning will show us no way of escaping the terrors of the last judgment. Nor shall we be allowed to pass unnoticed under pretence of ignorance and want of scholarship. If we are ever so good, we shall not be excused from this judgment—if we are ever so bad, we shall not be able to flee from it.

There is then no avoiding it, but we must all appear before our Judge in the last day.—Appear—that is, be laid open, or made manifest, so the word signifies in the original. For in that day our real character will be seen, the veil of deceit and hypocrisy will be taken off, and our whole conduct will be set forth in its true colours. Then "the hidden things of darkness will be brought to light," "the councils of the heart will be made manifest," and every one shall have his reward of GOD, not according to what he seems, but to what he is.

For how many proud and wicked thoughts do we cherish, which none but GOD is witness to! How many false or boastful, flattering or uncharitable words do we speak, of which none but GOD knows the full meaning! And as to our actions, how few (if any scarce) are done out of pure love to HIM! Even the best things we do, are very often either set about with improper motives, or carried on by improper means. The good we do is very often for an evil end, whilst for a good end we think we may do any thing.

All this secret perverseness and pride of our hearts, which is now known to none but to HIM, Whose "eye is in every place beholding the evil and the good" all shall "appear," and be laid open before the Judgment-seat of CHRIST.

Now, when it is said, that in that great day, all shall be shown forth or made to appear, it can hardly mean that we should then be laid open before GOD, for His eye thoroughly tries and searches us at all times, now as much as then. HE is alway "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." "HE knows what is in man." "Neither is there any creature which is not manifest in HIS sight, for all things are naked and open" in His eyes. Thus thoroughly does GOD know what we are:—but some there are who do not yet know us, namely, the Angels, other men, and ourselves. To these, therefore, we shall be laid open, and made manifest before the Judgment-seat of CHRIST.

First of all, our whole hearts will be set forth before the Angels, for though we are taught, that those blessed Spirits do continually watch over us for good, and are filled with heavenly joy, when we serve GOD with regularity, order, and diligence, yet we have no reason to believe that they are now acquainted with the secrets of our hearts. This is a peculiar right which the ALMIGHTY hath reserved to Himself alone, calling Himself, "GOD that knoweth the hearts," or, as it is properly, the "heart-knowing GOD." But the Angels esteem of us only by our outward conduct; and to this they pay particular regard, as we may gather from different parts of Holy Scripture. But forasmuch as our outward actions do not always show us our inward thoughts; in the last day these also will be discovered. And surely if we are not quite hardened to all sense of shame, we must, at least in some degree, be affected by the consideration, that our most secret sins, our most cunning deceits, shall be all laid open by the Judge Himself, before that mighty assembly of the blessed and holy Angels.

Let us remember, again, that our hearts and lives will be shown forth in their true and proper colours, to all men as well as all Angels. Then, it will be seen how different many of our outward actions and words were from our inward thoughts. It will be seen how easy it is to have a fair character in the world, to be reckoned honest, upright, just, liberal, or sober, and yet all the while to be no true servant of CHRIST JESUS. Then will be seen how little use it is for man to approve, if GOD disapprove—how little harm it is for man to hate us, if GOD loves us. Then will be brought to light those many hidden pieces of fraud and cheating, of deceit and cunning, and hypocrisy, which we think men will never know; but in that day they will appear. "There is nothing covered that shall not be" then "revealed, nor hid which shall not be" then "made known" to the whole world. Think, too, that if we will not now, we shall then acknowledge the dreadful nature of sin, when we are about to feel the punishment of it. We shall curse our own folly, for not having sooner laid seriously to heart the great truths of the Gospel of JESUS CHRIST. Though our eyes be now blinded and our hearts hardened by the love of this world, yet, in that day, we shall be of a far different mind. Our hearts will be softened by the terrible sound of the last trumpet, our eyes will be opened by the brightness of the Judge's presence. But what will that avail? The day of salvation will then be past; according to our lives we must be judged. "Then shall it be too late to knock when the door shall be shut, and too late to cry for mercy when it is the time for justice."

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