The Significance of the Pre-Advent Judgment
The doctrine of a pre-Advent judgment for the people of God is the one unique doctrine of the Advent Movement. It is the one original contribution to Christian doctrine which Adventism has given to Christian theology.
The message of the pre-Advent judgment is the message that God has commissioned His people to proclaim to the world with a loud voice. Whilst we can be grateful to God for blessing the proclamation of this truth all over the world, we must admit that the message of the pre-Advent judgment has not really arrested the attention of the world. It has not even arrested the attention of the Christian Church. It has made no impact on a host of earnest Bible students who are scattered all through the religious bodies. Nearly all of those who have some knowledge of the peculiar Adventist doctrine of "the investigative judgment" regard it as further evidence that Seventh-day Adventists are committed legalists who do not know the power and glory of the gospel of Christ and the Reformation truth of justification by faith. At best they regard the doctrine of "the investigative judgment" as the product of an extreme Arminianism.
Even when Seventh-day Adventists come professing the truth of justification by faith, many evangelical Christians think that the "yes but" of the investigative judgment stands in the background to seriously limit and qualify the free gift of justification.
It is a wrong approach to say to evangelical Christians, "We believe in justification by faith, but .. ." This "but" has caused many to question whether we really believe in the gospel at all. The better approach is to follow the advice of Baxter, the great English Puritan. He says that the best approach to opposition is to beat the opposition on its own ground. For instance, Seventh-day Adventists are renowned for their stand on the law of God. It takes no effort to outdo other Christians on the ground of the ten commandments. We are already well in the forefront with a reputation for upholding the law. (And this is how it should be). It will not help evangelical Christians if we show them how we outdo them with law. In fact, this only confirms them in their impression that we are legalists. Rather we must outdo them on their own ground. When they sing the praises of grace, we must be able to out-grace them. When they extol the truth of justification by faith, we can cut all the ground from under the opposition if we show that the light of the third angel's message lifts up the truth of justification by faith far higher than they have ever dreamed of. Once Seventh- day Adventists can convince honest Christians in this way, they will listen earnestly to the testimony about the Sabbath.
Now the question arises: How can we "out-grace", "out-gospel" and "out- evangelize" the evangelicals? God has given us the key. Preach the pre-Advent judgment. But says one, "That is the very doctrine which has made these Christians believe we don't believe in or at least seriously qualify justification by faith." We suggest that the problem has not been with the God-given doctrine but with our method of presenting it. Let us therefore consider the gospel significance of a pre-Advent judgment.
All Protestant scholars have had great difficulty handling the Biblical doctrine of a final judgment as it concerns the people of God. The Bible clearly declares two great facts about the judgment:
1. That God will judge all men,
2. That He will judge them by their works.
Evangelical Christians have real difficulty with those Bible passages which declare that God will judge men by their works. I have read a number of attempts by some of their best scholars to deal with judgment according to works in the light of justification by faith. Their attempted explanations are unconvincing. They are on the horns of a dilemma. They hesitate to admit that there is a final judgment according to works for God's people, for fear they admit the Roman Catholic premise that final salvation rests on works. This would mean that the Protestant principle collapses and Rome triumphs. If, on the other hand, they insist that salvation is solely by grace, they feel that they have to contend that there never will be a final judgment for God's people. The largest section of Protestantism takes this position, but by so doing they have opened wide the door to antinomianism.
Adventism alone has the answer to the dilemma which faces Protestantism. There are two divine certainties about the judgment.
1. God's people must be judged by their works. (Matt. 16:24-27; 25:32; 12:36; Luke 19:11-26; 1 Cor. 4:3-5; 3:13; 6:9; 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:7; 1 Peter 4:17, etc.)
2. God's people must be judged before Jesus comes; that is to say, while He is still a High Priest making intercession for them. (Dan. 7:9-14; Rev. 14:6-14; 1 Peter 4:17, etc.)
Now these two aspects of the judgment are paradoxical; but each side must be equally stressed. When judgment according to works is upheld, the law is upheld. When Christ's intercession in the judgment is preached, the gospel is preached. The chapter on The Investigative Judgment in G.C. 479-491 is a wonderful example of how to maintain the tension of law and gospel in the light of the judgment. The first section of the chapter deals with judgment according to works. The law takes hold of the reader as he faces the reality of judgment. Now he knows what the first angel's message means, "Fear God.. .for the hour of His judgment is come." But if the chapter had closed with judgment according to works, no soul who had any sense of his own sinfulness could have any hope in view of the judgment. But when the law has done its work, that great chapter introduces the gospel in the setting of the judgment. Now we are given to see that we shall not be judged after mercy's day is past. We shall not be judged after Jesus has stepped down from the throne of mercy. We shall not have our lives examined in judgment after He puts off His priestly attire and comes in kingly robes. Ah, no, we shall be judged while we still have an Advocate to plead our cause, to lift His wounded hands, to present His righteousness on behalf of every repentant, believing sinner. This puts a new complexion on judgment according to works.
No soul who rests in the blood of Christ in living faith can be lost. Christ will not lose one soul who really belongs to Him. None of the works of God's children could endure the judgment of God if there were no High Priest presenting all in the cloud of the incense of His merit. Jesus makes up for every deficiency of the saints with His own divine merit. He presents them as faultless and perfect in Himself. He not only asks for pardon, but for a restoration as if man had never fallen. Even more, He asks that His people be given a share in His glory and a seat upon His throne (G.C. 484). In this light, judgment is good news for God's people. They are not as defendants in the dock awaiting trial in judgment, but they are like the plaintiff who not only knows he will win the case, but that he will get a resounding victory with heavy damages against the adversary. In this light we may know what the message means when it says, "Give glory [praise, thanks, gratitude]... for the hour of His judgment is come."
When the judgment message is presented in the proper tension of law and gospel (i.e. judged by works and judged by an Interceding Saviour) men will fear God and tremble at His judgment seat; and at the same time they will enter boldly by faith in the blood of Jesus. They will keep both "the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus" Rev. 14:12.