Thomas Manton (1620-1677) dealt with the subject of judgement according to works in a series of sermons on 2 Corinthians 5:10 – ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.’
The proposition he draws from this verse is that ‘there will certainly come a day when every person that ever lived shall be judged by Christ according to his works.’
Manton develops his theme in the following way:-
1. The necessity of the final judgment
Manton bases the necessity of the final judgment on God’s righteous character, his providence, the light of conscience, and the mediatorial work of Christ.
There will be a final judgment so that God’s grace, known in part now, may be fully displayed and glorified in his people (1 Pet 1:13), as he welcomes them into his presence and his palace, Jn 12:26; Mt 25:34; and so that the wicked and impenitent may be finally convinced of their guilt, and be tried according to God’s standard of righteousness, Rom 3:20.
In the final judgment, God will not only render to everyone according to their works, but also rectify the inequities in the present age between the sufferings of the righteous and the comfort and ease of the wicked.
God’s righteous nature demands a final judgment. His providence also demands it: temporal judgments, such as the flood and the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, warn of future judgment.
Conscience demands a final judgment: even unbelievers are aware that their sins merit death, Rom 1:32; Acts 24:25.
Believers know that the final judgment is certain because God’s word teaches it, Mt 12:36f; 13:49f; Jn 5:28f; Heb 9:27; Rom 14:12; Rev 20:12.
Christ himself has a fourfold interest in the final judgment: so that he who once came in humiliation and was condemned may come again and be vindicated as Judge; that he may possess what he has purchased; that he may receive his Sheep into his presence, and finally and publicly triumph over his enemies; and that he may enquire what his servant have done with their talents, Mt 25 and what his church has done with the ordinances that have been given to her.
2. The universality of the judgment
The ‘all’ in 2 Cor 5:10 includes, for Manton, everyone, without exception. It includes young and old, those who are alive at the time of Christ’s return and those who had died, good and the bad, believers and unbelievers, rich and poor, church officers and lay people. The judgment will include every person who has ever lived.
3. The Judge of the living and the dead
It is Christ, the God-man, who will be Judge. As God he is the offended party; it is his law that has been broken, his glory that has been denied. As Saviour, he has the right judge both those who accept his offer of grace and those who reject it. As mediator, he has been ordained to judge on behalf of the Godhead.
It is Christ who possesses the necessary wisdom (to weigh the evidence and know what is right and wrong), justice (to pronounce a fair and unbiased sentence), power (to compel persons to stand at his bar and to impose punishment on the wicked and grant rewards to the righteous) and authority (sanction from God the Father to fulfil this role).
As a judge, Christ will be a terror to those who have despised God’s kingdom, Lk 19:27; refused God’s grace, Ps 81:11; despised God’s benefits, Heb 2:3; abused God’s grace and turned to wickedness, Jude 1:4; broken God’s commandments, Jn 15:10; dismissed God’s promises, 2 Pet 3-4; and perverted God’s ordinances, Mt 24:48-51.
Christ as judge will be a comfort to those who have believed his teaching, Jn 11:25; loved him, Eph 6:24; 1 Cor 16:22; fought against Christ’s enemies, the world, the flesh and the devil, Rev 3:21; and obeyed his commands, 1 Jn 2:28. For believers, there is comfort in knowing that their Judge not only their friend, brother, and high priest, but also the one who died for their sins. When he comes, he will take them to mansions he has prepared for them in heaven.
4. The manner of judging
The Gk phanerothenai means ‘to appear’, ‘to be made manifest’. The words ‘we must all appear’ imply the wisdom and justice of the judge, the power and impartiality of Christ’s angels, the summons to appear, and the ends of the judgment.
Nothing can be hidden from Christ, Heb 4:14. God has a perfect knowledge of each person’s works, Psa 69:5; Jer 17:10.
Much of the work of judgment will be delegated to God’s angels, Mt 24:31. They will bring the righteous and unrighteous out of their graves and escort them to their respective eternal dwellings, Mt 13:39-41, 49-50.
There will be a visible appearance of Christ and those who are to be judged. No-one shall be judged in absentia. Everyone must give an account before God, Rom 14:12, but the wicked will have no defence, Psa 130:3.
We shall not only ‘appear’, but our works, 1 Cor 3:13, and the deepest secrets of our hearts will be ‘made manifest’, Lk 12:2; 1 Cor 4:5. The innocence of the righteous, and the sin of the wicked, may lie confused at the present time, but they shall be ‘made manifest’: hypocrisy disclosed and sincerity rewarded. On the last day shall be opened the book of Scripture, as the rule, the book of conscience, as a witness, and the book of God’s remembrance, as the notice (Cf. Rev 20:12).
Sinners will be convicted by their own consciences, cf. Lk 19:22. ‘God can make all occur to memory as fresh as if newly committed, and in an instant the story of an ill-spent life.’ Moreover, the wicked will accuse one another, the words of Adam and Eve against one another (Gen 3:12f) serving as a ‘notable presignification’ of this aspect of the general judgment. The godly, too, will play and active role in judgment, Heb 11:7; 1 Cor 6:2. Finally, the circumstances of unbeliever’s wickedness with testify against them, Hab 2, showing their greed, selfishness, and so on.
5. Judgment according to works
Christ’s judgment will be according to the works we have done ‘in the body’, be they good or bad, Mt 16:27; Rev 20:12.
The purposes of this judgement are, firstly, to manifest the glory of God in his holiness (God showing that he delights in holiness, and detests wickedness); in his justice (which demands that each person must reap what he has sown, Acts 17:31; 2 Thess 1:6f, was first declared in the covenant of works, and which is no applied to believers through the covenant of faith); in his faithfulness to his covenant (for it is at the final judgment that he will make good his promise of life to those who believe); and in his love and mercy (for, by the canons of strict justice, we all would perish, and it is only by grace that even our best works, tainted as they are, could rewarded, rather than punished).
The second purpose of this judgment is to convince everyone that their sentence is just. Believers, as opposed to unbelievers, are under a double law – the law of nature and the law of grace. Christ will examine the sincerity of their repentance, and this will be seen in their works. There is, accordingly, a double justification: one declarative, the other demonstrative, or evidential.
In considering the works of believers and unbelievers, the key issue is the heart. Good works spring from grace, and therefore have the nature, not of outward conformity, but inward sincerity. The works of the unregenerate do not please the Lord, because they spring from an unbelieving, rebellious heart.
Christ will not consider just individual thoughts, words and actions, but the whole course of a person’s life. There will be no ‘ledger’, show whether the good works outnumber or outweigh the evil works. Rather, a good man will spend all his days seekings to be filled with the fruits of righteousness. And in this, the aim is as important as the action.
Sin deserves punishment. Good works, on the other hand, do not merit reward, because, as God’s creatures, we are obliged to love and obey him. But, in the covenant of grace, good works do have a relation to reward. Good works enable us to be more capable objects of God’s delight and approbation, more capable of the rewards themselves, they are the evidence of saving faith, and are therefore the measure of the rewards each believers will receive, 2 Cor 9:6.
6. What awaits each person
On the day of judgment, a distinction and a separation will be made between the sheep and the goats, the righteous and the unrighteous. This distinction will last for ever. Some will eternal torment in hell, the others, eternal joy and comfort in heaven. The impenitent are banished from God’s presence, deprived of his favour, and of all the joys and benefits that the righteous enjoy. The unrighteous do not care to know God in this life, and they allow the things of this world to divert their attention. In hell they will have nothing to divert their attention from their great loss. But their punishment consists not only is a sense of loss, but also in a sense of pain, as they experience the fire of God’s wrath.
Both the joy of the blessed and the punishment of the wicked are eternal. Hell will be a place of utter and unending misery. If it be asked how temporal sins could deserve everlasting punishment, then it is answered: that God has every right to determine the nature and extent of both rewards and punishments, that it is a good and wise incentive that the rewards and punishments to come should be greater than present joys and pains, and that in in human affairs, a punishment may last far longer than the offence. Sin is committed against an infinite God, and the punishment must suit not only the sin but the one sinned against. Sin is potentially everlasting: sinners would sin everlastingly if they could.
God’s sentence is irrevocable. In the present age, God may revoke his judgment and show mercy, Jer 8:7. But, at the final judgment, there will be no escape.
The sentencing will begin with the godly; for they will judge the world with Christ and his angels, 1 Cor 6:2. Execution, however, with begin with the unrighteous: the godly will look on their punishment and ‘have a deeper sense of their own happiness, by seeing from what wrath they are delivered.’
We rightly treasure the doctrine of justification by faith alone. There is a justification in this life, which declares us right before God and accepted by him. But there is also an evidential justification, which is based on an examination of the sincerity of our faith, as evidenced by our good works. Both, in reformed thinking, are attributable to the grace of God, by which righteousness is first imputed, and then imparted.
Based on A Puritan Theology, Beeke & Jones, 789-802