THE JUDGMENT SEAT OF CHRIST

by D. M. Panton



Chapter Eighteen

NOTE ON PURGATORY

It is obvious that the truth of a believer’s judgment, so abundantly stated in the Scriptures, is of vast practical moment, and, once it lays its grip upon a soul, simply incalculable in its motive power. For, contrary to what is sometimes supposed, it greatly reinforces our assurance of eternal life; because, by disentangling countless conditioned promises of reward from the simple assurance of eternal life granted on bare faith, it isolates the unconditioned gift into a radiant light, while withdrawing into the sphere of reward numerous menacing passages, expressive of extreme difficulty and doubt, which have ever been the strongholds of Rome. By reassuring of eternal safety, while yet warning of Millennial peril, it frees the soul for an arrow-flight straight to God’s highest and best. Moreover, of all Scripture truths none is more needed by the Church of Christ.

Augustine, as remarkable a servant as God ever had, says that no more constant or powerful motive actuated his discipleship than the knowledge that he must give account; and no Christian would dare plunge into the worldliness and sin now rampant amongst multitudes of true believers had the truth our Lord expresses to Thyatira been once burnt home to the soul; - “All the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts, and I wilt give unto each one of you according to your works" (Rev. 2:23). And finally, it brings to bear upon the redeemed heart, with thrilling power, the full impact of facts. If a literal bodily removal from coming horrors, if literal bursting from the tombs with the throbbings of immortal life, if literal thrones, and a literal authority over the nations, walking with Christ in white - if all these are contingent on holiness and suffering, all other ambitions become as dust, and martyrdom itself no excessive price.

But not the least of its advantages is the light it casts on Roman error, and how that error arose; and, above all, on the Roman doctrine of purgatory. For (we first observe) it is a supreme peculiarity of our Lord’s love to His own that it can never stop short of the perfection of the person loved. "As many as I love, I reprove and chasten" (Rev. 3:19) : "He chastens us for our profit, that we may become partakers of His holiness" (Heb. 12:10). His holiness is perfection; so that our discipline, however drastic or prolonged, is never a proof of His enmity, but of His love; and is never a sign - either now, or at the Judgment Seat - of a disciple’s ultimate destruction, but of his ultimate perfection. Where others show their love by indulgence, Christ shows His by chastisement. "Every branch in Me that beareth fruit, He PURGETH it" (John 15:2). Thus if the judgment of believers, and the Scripture so calls it (I Cor. 11:32), is in full operation (as all admit) in the day of grace itself, it is obvious that such judgment, even to the infliction of death here (1 Cor. 11:30) or hereafter (Luke 12:46), can be no contravention of the principles of grace: our chastisement is our highway to perfection.

Now our Lord, in insisting on forgiveness among the servants of God, has pictured what may happen after this life with a force so appalling, in terms so irresistibly clear and convincing, and yet in words so little accepted or taught, that it may well be - as Sir Robertson Nicoll has said - that "the Christian Church has never fairly faced these words." For the regenerate nature of the Merciless Servant (Matt. 18:24) is decisively revealed: the unforgiving servant is himself a forgiven man. The King says, - "I forgave thee all that debt, because thou besoughtest me." Has any unbeliever sought and obtained forgiveness, and yet is an unbeliever and unregenerate still? No sin has ever been forgiven, or ever will be, save through the blood of the Cross: is such forgiveness ever unaccompanied by salvation? This Servant, says Mr. Kelly, "represents the Jew"; "it is the hatred of the Jew towards the Gentile": or, as Dr. Bullinger puts it, the ten-thousand talent debt is the Crucifixion. But the Jew has never repented, never confessed, never sought pardon, never obtained it, and for eighteen centuries unmingled justice has rested on Israel. This man confessed his sin - "all that debt": he asked forgiveness - "thou besoughtest me": he obtained pardon - "I forgave thee": he was raised to responsibility and trust - "thy fellow-servants." Moreover the King bases his censure wholly on the fact that the offender is a forgiven man: "shouldest thou not also have had mercy on thy fellow-servant, even as I had mercy on thee?"

Even if he were a regenerate Jew, of a remnant belonging partly to our Lord’s day and partly to the Great Tribulation, the truth is affected, not in principle, but only in application: FOR HE IS A SAVED (BECAUSE A FORGIVEN) MAN: therefore our Lord can so act towards the saved. So sore a judgment on a regenerate man would thus be a coming fact: all objections, therefore, to the principle behind the fact must fall to the ground. But the context carries no statement that he is a Jew, saved or unsaved. It is the resurrection of an old and (one had thought) obsolete assumption that all curses are for the Jew, and all blessings are for the Church. Such a thought assumes that more privilege means less responsibility; it assumes that Jewish disciples with far less light will, if they sin, incur far severer punishment: whereas the exact reverse is ever Paul’s warning cry - How much more, how much more! (Heb. 12:25; Rom. 11:24). Moreover, our Lord identifies the Servant with the Kingdom of heaven (ver. 23), which has been taken from the Jew (Matt. 21:43) and given to the Holy Nation, the Church (1 Pet. 2:9, R.V.).

But a further fact is equally decisive. Our Lord is answering a question - "How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Jesus saith unto him, Until seventy times seven. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would make a reckoning with his servants." The parable is an amplification of the answer: it is a revelation of what will happen to Peter if he does not forgive: it is a scene of the Judgment Seat of Christ. Our Lord has just dealt with church quarrels: "if thy brother sin against thee " - it is offences between brethren, or even apostles - "and he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican." If the servant is an unbeliever, the parable is wholly remote from Peter’s question. Peter asks Jesus to define the limits of forgiveness in the church disputes just named: it could be no answer to Peter for our Lord to reveal the consequences of an unforgiving spirit in an unbeliever. Who is a ‘brother’? "Whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother" (Mark 3:35).

Most remarkable is it that, just as our Lord is the most insistent preacher of Hell, so no warnings to the believer are as grave as His; and His application of His own parable is fearfully decisive. "And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors - till he should pay all that was due. So SHALL ALSO MY HEAVENLY FATHER DO UNTO YOU, IF YE FORGIVE NOT EVERY ONE HIS BROTHER FROM YOUR HEARTS": "for judgment is without mercy to him that hath showed no mercy" (Jas. 2:13). Nor does this passage stand alone. There are others of equally fearful force.

  1. "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John 15:6).
  2. "Whosoever shall say [to his brother], Raca, shall be in danger of THE GEHENNA OF FIRE" (Matt. 5:22).
  3. "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries" (Heb. 10:26).

No branch, withering after vital verdure, and embedded in the Vine can represent empty profession: the ‘brother’ who angrily charges another ‘brother’ as Moreh - ‘rebel from God’ - risks Gehenna because his charge is false; that is, both are children of God, and therefore God’s ancient principle (Deut. 19:16-19) recoils on him - that the false witness incurs the penalty he sought to inflict: nor could the Apostle be more explicit that ‘we’ - including himself - must meet fearful consequences for willful sin. These passages may be (I believe they are) susceptible of a reconciliation with the ultimate salvation of all believers; but no thinking soul, reverent of Scripture, and conscious of the dreadful holiness and majesty of God - "the Lord shall judge His people," is immediately followed by, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:30) - will wish to treat them lightly, or blunt the edge of these sharpest warnings of the Most High. It is an ill turn to the grace of God to make it silence the righteous claims of His justice and holiness: exactly so the Restorationist and the Universalist seek to elude the doctrine of Hell.

Now we turn to the Roman doctrine of Purgatory. Rome’s perversion of the truth, which would have been impossible had the Church always held and taught the full Scripture revelation of a believer’s purging, has only twice been officially defined. "If such as be truly penitent die in God’s favor before they have satisfied for their sins of commission and omission by worthy fruits of penance " - i.e., have assisted their own atonement - "their souls are purged after death with purgatorial punishments" (Council of Ferrara); "and the souls delivered there are assisted by the suffrages [prayers and devotions] of the Faithful, and especially by the most acceptable sacrifice of the Mass" (Council of Trent). The manifest errors here - apart from such fearful accretions as the sale of indulgences, or the efficacy of the Mass - are mainly three. (1) The doctrine of Purgatory locates the purging in Hades: Scripture locates it in this life, and at the Judgment Seat after resurrection, but never in Hades. Paradise, for all believers, is the ‘very far better’ of an especial presence of Christ. (2) No power of pope or priest, and no prayers of fellow-believers, can in the slightest degree modify the judgments due to any man, believer or unbeliever, after he has once passed into the other world. "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this cometh JUDGMENT" (Heb. 9:27. R.V.). Prayer for the dead is unknown in the Scriptures: even in this life prayer does not avail for a believer under sentence of death (1 John 5:16). This cuts away the root of all the abominations (as indulgences, etc.) that have grown around the Roman doctrine. (3) But the vital error lies in confusing discipline with salvation. Chastisement is necessary and salutary; it is inflicted by God in this life upon all believers without exception (Heb. 12:8); it may, in extreme cases, be fearful bodily disease (Ex. 15:26), or even be mortal (1 Cor. 11:30); and since death produces no magical change, such as converting the sinning into the sinless, and since much less can it cancel unrepented offences during discipleship, chastisement may be equally necessary and salutary at the Judgment Seat[35]: - but disciplinary suffering has no connection whatever with eternal life. There are no atoning sufferings but the sufferings of Calvary: human works with a view to salvation are sinful and deadly; "not of works, that no man should glory" (Eph. 2:9).

So we turn once again to the Scripture truth. God has provided two purgings - one by blood, and one by discipline; and the purging by blood must precede the purging by discipline. "According to the law, I may almost say, all things are purged by blood" (Heb. 9:22): "how much more shall the blood of Christ purge your conscience from dead works" - the deadly efforts of self-righteousness - "to serve the living God" (Heb. 9:14). For Christ has effected the essential and fundamental purging once for all: "who when He had purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Heb. 1:3); and this purging is the sole basis, and predisposing cause, of all subsequent purging. For only a saved soul can be purged by chastisement. No amount or degree of suffering can improve into life a soul dead in trespasses and sins, any more than dead wood can be made to grow fruit by pruning; chastisement cannot purge him; he can be purged, but not by chastisement; and God is not habitually chastening the wicked at all. For "if ye are without chastening whereby all [believers] have been made partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (Heb. 12:8). Corrective sufferings are only granted and effective to those already judicially purged by the sacrificial sufferings of Calvary. In the words of Dr. Griffith Thomas : - "While a genuine Christian who becomes a backslider will not be judicially condemned for ever, there will be a very serious measure of personal, practical condemnation when such an one stands before the judgment seat of Christ, to be dealt with according to works since conversion."

The second purging is by discipline. "Every branch that beareth fruit" - i.e., living wood, set in the living Vine - "He purgeth it" (John 15:2). A soul which is born again, yet still having ‘the flesh’ in him, can have his still fallible character cleansed and corrected by chastisement. Nor need this purging end with life. "Some of the old Roman divines taught that all the remains of sin in God’s children are quite abolished by final grace at the very instant of their dissolution; so that the stain of the least sin is not left behind to be carried into the other world" (Archbishop Usher’s Answer to a Jesuit, p. 165). This ancient Roman doctrine is as unscriptural as the later Roman doctrine of Purgatory. For the unbeliever who falls asleep unwatchful, wakes unwatchful - the servant who dies slothful, appears before the Judgment Seat slothful; their last look on this world is, morally, their first look on the next; they will be purged, but they are not purged; there is no magic in death, and no opportunity in Hades to correct a faulty discipleship; and the coming millennial day of Justice, dominated by the Judgment Seat, has for its essential characteristic the recoil of works in judicial retribution. “For he that doeth wrong" - the context is addressed solely to believers - "SHALL RECEIVE AGAIN FOR THE WRONG THAT HE HATH DONE; and there is no respect of persons" (Col. 3:25). But it is Divine Love that will not rest until all we who believe are "become partakers of His holiness": no discipline ever involves our destruction; it effects, sooner or later, our perfection. Perhaps the most solemn passage our Lord ever addressed to the believer concludes exactly thus : - "Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, TILL [for all chastisements of believers are purgative and temporary] thou have paid the last farthing" (Matt. 5:26).

So our Lord in the Parable of the Steward, puts the conversion of the ‘evil servant’ beyond all doubt by identifying the two characters as possible in one and the same man. "But if that servant” - the good steward, whom the Lord Himself set over His household - "shall say in his heart" (Luke 12:45): it is not a change of servants that our Lord contemplates, but a change of mind in the same servant: it is one and the same servant, who may turn out either a good steward, or a bad[36]. "And that servant; which knew his Lord’s will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, SHALL BE BEATEN WITH MANY STRIPES." The appearance of the slothful servant at the Bema with his fellow-servants is decisive proof of his conversion; for the Scripture knows nothing of a rapture of unbelievers. In the words of Dr. Seiss: - "The words do not at all imply that the one is saved, and the other lost, but simply that the one reaches blessedness at once when the Lord comes, while the other, not being prepared by proper watchfulness, is punished with temporal judgments, and only saved ‘so as through fire’ at a subsequent period."

It is certain that all believers must, sooner or later, appear at the Bema (2 Cor. 5:10), and it is equally certain that none can so appear as a naked spirit; but what is constantly overlooked is that, apart from our Lord, who rose in "the power of an endless life" (Heb. 7:16), so far from death after resurrection being impossible, we have not a single example to the contrary in the recorded history of mankind. "Women received their dead by a resurrection” (Heb. 11:35) - a genuine, actual rising of the corpse, like Lazarus; even a skeleton was reclothed (2 Kings 13:21) yet, without exception, it has always been no more than a temporary resuscitation to fulfil a specific purpose of God. Until the final entrance of all the risen into the City in the Eternal Ages, it is of one group of the risen, and of one group only; that a resurrection is stated which is incapable of death. "They that are accounted worthy to attain to that Age, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage: FOR NEITHER CAN THEY DIE ANY MORE; for they are equal unto the angels; and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Luke 20:35-36). Of believers not accounted worthy of that Age, and the resurrection from the dead, the First, no such assertion of incorruptibility is made; so also it is only of partakers of the Kingdom (I Cor. 15:50), that Paul says that they "shall be raised INCORRUPTIBLE" (1 Cor. 15:52).

Thus the warning of God comes home to us in full force. "So, then, brethren" - the Church of Christ - "we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh; for if ye live after the flesh, YE MUST " - ye are about to: the expression in the Greek is almost, one might say, consecrated to denoting the Millennial Kingdom; eight times it is used in Hebrews of the Coming Age (Govett) - "DIE" (Rom. 8:12). It is not eternal death, for the believer is guaranteed eternal life: it is not present death, for it is contrary both to Scripture and to fact that all sanctified believers live to a great age, and all backsliders die young: it is Millennial death, the cutting asunder at the Bema. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap CORRUPTION" (Gal. 6:7) - a "corruption" as literal as the "flesh." "The Apostle does not speak [in Rom. 8:11-13] of the lot reserved for the bodies of unbelievers, or of unsanctified believers. The same is the case in 1 Cor. 15:20-28. The word of ver. 13 - ‘If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die’ - should suffice: that is not, especially after all that precedes, a word of salvation" (Godet). For while all believers possess eternal life, that life will be manifested for such believers as have renounced heavily for Christ a thousand years earlier. "There is no man that hath left house or brethren . . . for my sake, and for the gospel’s sake, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, . . . and IN THE AGE TO COME eternal life" (Mark 10:29).[37]

So now we are in a position for a final summary on exclusion. Where, it will be asked, are the excluded during the Kingdom? We are not obliged to solve all possible problems connected with a revealed truth before we accept it; or else a skeptic's inquiries on the origin of evil, or the sovereign elections of God - queries impossible of human reply (Rom. 9:20) - could invalidate the Gospel. Nor is it wise to probe too deeply into that over which God has cast a holy reserve; lest, losing ourselves, we become "wise above that which is written." Let us grant (if we choose) that God has shrouded the temporary fate of the excluded in impenetrable mystery, the fact of exclusion remains, resting securely on its own abundant Scriptures. Nevertheless Scripture is not wholly silent on the location of the excluded. (1) Some, perhaps from the lower regions of Enoch and Elijah, may behold - as Moses from Pisgah - without entering (John 3:3,5). (2) Some return temporarily to corruption, as did all who rose before our Lord, until Hades, together with Death (or Abaddon) are emptied at the final judgment - saved inmates issuing from Hades (Rev. 20:13). Both these classes, presumably the great proportion of the excluded, continue to enjoy the conditions of Paradise - the ‘very far better’ of the Lord’s especial presence (Phil. 1:23; Luke 23:43). (3) Some are in the mysterious region known as the ‘outer darkness’ (Matt. 25:30). (4) Some, guilty of the very gravest offences, are temporarily in Gehenna (Matt. 5:22; John 15:6; Heb. 10:26-27; Rev. 2:11). "I say unto you, my friends,...I will warn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into GEHENNA: yea, I say unto you, Fear Him" (Luke 12:4).

The denial of these solemn truths paralyses and destroys some of the most powerful stimulants God has supplied to His Church in its deadening struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil; it empties of all horror the dread warnings to the backslider, and leaves him, if it does not put him, in a drugged sleep; and it drives privilege over the precipice of responsibility - a disaster of which the Church has had direct warning : - "continue thou in His goodness, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off" (Rom. 11:22). And the melancholy fact revealed all down the ages is this - that where the sharpness of God’s warnings has been blunted by the misuse of grace, sin follows, and too often privilege becomes the cloak of lasciviousness. No man kicks against God’s goads save at his own peril.

To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word" (Isa. 66:2). Concerning the utterances, unutterably solemn, with which our Saviour warns believers of the final fires with reiterated emphasis, Isaac Taylor has said : - "We of this age may expound as we think fit these appalling words; or may extenuate these phrases; or, if we please, let us cast away the whole doctrine as intolerable and incredible. Let us do so: but it is a matter of history, out of question, that the apostolic church, and the church of later times, took it, word for word, in the whole of its apparent value. It is true that several attempts were made to substantiate a mitigated sense: but it is certain that the language of Christ, in regard to the future life, was constantly on the lips of martyrs throughout the suffering centuries. Often and often was it heard from out of the midst of the fire, and was lisped by the quivering lips of women and children while writhing on the rack."



Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ


[35] The belief that judgment for the believer is exhausted in this life is obviously untenable, because we have all known backsliders who died in the utmost worldly prosperity: so that Paul prays for the faulty believer, “that he may receive mercy of the Lord IN THAT DAY (2 Tim. 1:18), and of others – “may it not be laid to their account (2 Tim. 4:16). For there are sins that will be forgiven – obviously not sins of unbelievers – in the Age to Come (Matt. 12:32). In the words of Messrs. Hogg and Vine: - “the attempt to alleviate the text [‘he that doeth wrong shall receive again for the wrong that he hath done,’ Col. 3:25] of some of its weight by suggesting that the law operates only in this life, fails, for there is nothing in the text or context to lead the reader to think other than that while the sowing is here, the reaping is hereafter.”

[36] The emphatic pronoun (Luke 12:45) must have some antecedent, and none is to be found save ‘the faithful and wise steward’ (12:42). Truth is not to be reached by settling for ourselves in advance what the Lord may or may not do to His own servants, and then sweeping aside the words which do not agree with that prior decision” (G. H. Lang).

[37] The disciple saved, but barely escaping with his life, is said to be ‘fined’ (1 Cor. 3:15); and our Lord, depicting the disciple who seeks his own good things in this life, in contrast to him who even lays down life itself in martyrdom, reveals that the ‘fine’ is the ‘soul,’ or life (Matt. 16:26). “He that findeth his life [soul, or animal life] shall lose it” – at the Bema; “and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39) in the First Resurrection, in a life indissoluble (Heb. 7:16, R. V. margin).

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)