Rev. 20:12 and I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and scrolls were opened, and another scroll was opened, which is that of the life, and the dead were judged out of the things written in the scrolls — according to their works.
Bede the Venerable ca. 673-735
In the reign of Coenred, who succeeded Ethelred, there was a layman in a military employment, no less acceptable to the king for his worldly industry, than displeasing to him for his private neglect of himself. The king often admonished him to confess and amend, and to forsake his wicked courses, before he should lose all time for repentance and amendment by a sudden death. Though frequently warned, he despised the words of salvation, and promised he would do penance at some future time. In the meantime, falling sick he was confined to his bed, and began to feel very severe pains. The king coming to him (for he loved the man), earnestly exhorted him, even then, before death, to repent of his offences. He answered, “He would not then confess his sins, but would do it when he was recovered of his sickness, lest his companions should upbraid him of having done that for fear of death, which he had refused to do in health.” He thought he then spoke very bravely, but it afterwards appeared that he had been miserable deluded by the wiles of the Devil.
The distemper still increasing, when the king came again to visit and instruct him, he cried out with a lamentable voice, “What will you have now? What are ye come for? for you can no longer do me any good.” The king answered, “Do not talk so; behave yourself like a man in his right mind.” “I am not mad,” replied he, “but I have now all the guilt of my wicked conscience before my eyes.” – “What is the meaning of that? ” rejoined the king. “Not long since,” said he, “there came into this room two most beautiful youths, and sat down by me, the one at my head and the other at my feet. One of them produced a very small and most curious book, and gave it me to read; looking into it, I there found all the good actions I had ever done in my life written down, and they were very few and inconsiderable. They took back the book and said nothing to me. Then, on a sudden, appeared an army of wicked and deformed spirits, encompassing this house without, and filling it within. Then he, who, by the blackness of his dismal face, and his sitting above the rest, seemed to be the chief of them, taking out a book horrid to behold, of a prodigious size, and of almost insupportable weight, commanded one of his followers to bring it to me to read. Having read it, I found therein most plainly written in black characters, all the crimes I ever committed, not only in word and deed, but even in the least thought; and he said to those men in white, who sat by me, ‘Why do you sit here, since you most certainly know that this man is ours?’ They answered, ‘You are in the right; take and add him to the number of the damned.’ This said, they immediately vanished, and two most wicked spirits rising, with forks In their hands, one of them struck me on the head, and the other on the foot. These strokes are now with great torture penetrating through my bowels to the inward parts of my body, and as soon as they meet I shall die, and the devils being ready to snatch me away I shall be dragged into hell.”
Thus talked that wretch in despair, and dying soon after, he is now in vain suffering in eternal torments that penance which he refused to suffer during a short time, that he might obtain forgiveness. Of whom it is manifest, that (as the holy Pope Gregory writes of certain persons) he did not see these things for his own sake, since they availed him only for the instruction of others, who, knowing of his death, should be afraid to put off the time of repentance, whilst they have leisure, lest, being prevented by sudden death, they should depart impenitent. His having books laid before him by the good or evil spirits, was done by Divine dispensation, that we may keep in mind that our actions and thoughts are not lost in the wind, but are all kept to be examined by the Supreme Judge, and will in the end be shown us either by friendly or hostile angels. As to the angels first producing a white book, and then the devils a black one; the former a very small one, the latter one very large; it is to be observed, that in his first years he did some good actions, all which he nevertheless obscured by the evil actions of his youth. If, on the contrary, he had taken care in his youth to correct the errors of his more tender years, and to cancel them in God’s sight by doing well, he might have been associated to the number of those of whom the Psalm says, “Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are hid.” This story, as I learned it of the venerable Bishop Pechthelm, I have thought proper to relate in a plain manner, for the salvation of my hearers. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 5.13)
Interestingly, these “books” in which the unrighteous deeds of man are inscribed are also present in pre-Christian Jewish tradition. Here are two instances from the Book of Enoch (ca. 300-100 b.c.?):
Chap. 81:4 And after that I said: ‘Blessed is the man who dies in righteousness and goodness, Concerning whom there is no book of unrighteousness written, and against whom no day of judgement shall be found.’
Chap. 98: 7-8 And do not think in your spirit nor say in your heart that ye do not know and that ye do not see that every sin is every day recorded in heaven in the presence of the Most High. From henceforth ye know that all your oppression wherewith ye oppress is written down every day till the day of your judgement.