Charles G. Finney, a young lawyer, sat in a law office in New York one morning. All alone, he seemed to hear a voice:
“Finney, what are you going to do when you finish your schooling?”
“Why, put out my shingle and practice law, I imagine.”
“Build a big, beautiful house and have a family—after I develop my law firm, of course.”
“Well, I’ll grow old and retire.”
Finney recalled a text from childhood: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”1 As he contemplated the solemn thought of a judgment to come, he surrendered his heart to God—and a profound change took place in Finney’s life.
Do you realize that you, too, must face the judgment? “For 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.”2 No one will be overlooked, and no one is exempt from this judgment. God will judge man, not men their fellow men. Think for a moment. Someday your whole life will be reviewed before the entire universe. Everyone will know what you really are. Does that make you feel uncomfortable, perhaps afraid? If so, do something before it is too late. Prepare now to be pronounced “not guilty.”
When does the judgment take place? Well, one judgment precedes the second coming of Christ. It determines whether you will be saved or lost. “Wait a minute,” you may say. “I thought the judgment takes place after Christ’s coming.” Let me explain. The judgment has three phases. The first phase, the investigative judgment, pertains to all who have ever professed to be followers of Christ and determines whether or not their names will be retained in the book of life.
The second phase takes place during the millennium, the 1,000-year period after Christ has taken the righteous to heaven. During that time, the righteous will investigate the records of the unrighteous and pronounce sentence on them.
The execution of those sentences takes place during phase three of the judgment. “And fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. … And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”3 In this article I will focus on the judgment that precedes the second coming of Christ, the deliberations that began in 1844 (as pinpointed in Daniel 8).
At this moment, then, the investigative judgment is taking place. Writing about our generation, John the Revelator urged us to “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come.”4 Not “may come” or “will come” but “is come.” What does this mean? It means that the investigative judgment is now in session in heaven. For 164 years, the judge, jury, witnesses, and defense attorney have been at work.
Come with me. Let’s review this heavenly court scene. “I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened.” 5 (Emphasis supplied.)
Here we see God, the Judge, sitting upon His throne. Before Him are thousands and thousands of angels who serve as faithful witnesses. In today’s earthly courts of justice, mistakes are made. A fact may be omitted or distorted, a jury biased. What would result? An unfair trial, in which an innocent man is convicted of a crime he did not commit, or a guilty woman is set free. This will not happen when God does the final judging. His ways are righteous and perfect.
The Bible describes the records used in the judgment. “The books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.”6 (Emphasis supplied.)
The book of life, then, is one of the opened books. It is absolutely essential for a person’s name to appear in this book in order to be saved. Any time anyone accepts Jesus as Savior, that person’s name is recorded in the book of life.
There is, however, very definitely a possibility of one’s name being blotted out of the book of life. The Bible does not teach “once saved, always saved.” Yes, you can fall away from grace if you are not faithful till the end of your life. “He that overcometh,” wrote John, “the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life.”7
The investigative judgment began with the first name in the book of life—Adam. Next to his name is written “pardon.” Although Adam sinned, he truly repented and accepted the precious blood of Christ in his behalf. Adam’s name remained in the heavenly record book. Abel’s name was also called in the investigative judgment. Because he, too, trusted in God, Abel’s name is still in the Lamb’s book of life. Many centuries later, Judas became a follower of Jesus. Judas, however, lost his place in the book of life because he sold his Master for 30 pieces of silver.
How sad, how terrible to have your name removed from such an important record! No longer eligible for eternal life, you are now doomed to eternal death. One of these days, very soon, my name will be called in the heavenly tribunal. If you believe in Christ, your case, too, will be considered. Have you repented of every sin and asked Jesus to forgive you?
Malachi speaks of another heavenly volume, the book of remembrance.8 This contains all the good deeds performed by the righteous. “There every temptation resisted, every evil overcome, every word of tender pity expressed, is faithfully chronicled.”9
Every time we yield to temptation, however, our sin is accurately recorded in another place, the book of sin.10 The holy angels sadly witness every wayward act. Not only do they record our visible actions, but our deepest thoughts are registered as well. God looks directly into our hearts. He sees our envy, our lust, even when no one else guesses that such feelings exist—or realizes to what they may lead. “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her,” Jesus clearly stated, “hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” 11
We cannot fool or deceive God. Not ever. “Sin may be concealed,” wrote an inspired author. It may be “denied, covered up from father, mother, wife, children, and associates; no one but the guilty actors may cherish the least suspicion of the wrong; but it is laid bare before the intelligences of heaven. The darkness of the darkest night, the secrecy of all deceptive acts, is not sufficient to veil one thought from the knowledge of the Eternal.”12 Long before, wise Solomon had written that “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.”13
By what standard will each of us be judged? Our deeds will be measured by conformance to God’s holy and perfect law, the Ten Commandments. As the apostle James warns, “So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”14 (Emphasis supplied.) Imagine! God’s law is described as the “law of liberty.” Although the Ten Commandments reveal our sins and condemn us to death, they also make us realize our need for a Savior. Jesus came to this earth for only one reason: to save us from eternal death. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”15 What a marvelous promise!
In your heavenly day in court, who will represent you? Who is your defense attorney, your personal lawyer, your advocate? “My little children,” wrote John in yet another message of entreaty, “these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”16
This very day, Jesus pleads His merits on behalf of His faithful children. Standing before the Father, Christ confidently says, “My blood, Father; My blood is sufficient for them.” What a wonderful defense attorney we have!
Very soon, however, Jesus will end His work as our Advocate. The last name called, the books will be shut, the court will close forever. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.”17 At this pronouncement, the verdict of the trial for every human being that has ever lived will have been decided innocent—or guilty.
“The hour of His judgment,” I repeat, “is come.”4
Court is in session. Some names are being cleared; others, condemned. Today, accept Jesus as your Savior, your Advocate. He loves you; He died to save you. Now this moment, confess your sins to Him like Charles Finney did. Jesus will forgive and defend you. He will win your case.
- Hebrews 9:27
- 2 Corinthians 5:10
- Revelation 20:9, 14
- Revelation 14:7
- Daniel 7:9-10
- Revelation 20:12
- Revelation 3:5
- Malachi 3:16
- The Great Controversy, p. 481
- Psalm 51:1, 9; Isaiah 43:25
- Matthew 5:28
- The Great Controversy, p. 486
- Ecclesiastes 12:14
- James 2:12
- 1 John 1:9
- 1 John 2:1
- Revelation 22:11
By Henry Dering