In these papers, written in the form of a dialogue, views put forward in a book recently published, entitled “God’s Pilgrims,” are reviewed in the light of Scripture—Ed.
T. Solomon has said, “The words of the wise are as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which are given from one shepherd. And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Eccl. 12:11-12). And to words such as these we require to pay special attention in a day such as the present, when the printing-press stands ever ready to give expression and publicity to every thought that rises from the human mind, religious or otherwise.
That this is a day of “much study” may be open to question, for it is certainly a day of unparalleled superficiality and infinite conceit. I suppose these two things always go together. The enormous quantities of light literature which are scattered abroad, in which the depraved animal passions of fallen man are portrayed and glorified, are simply appalling. And the more these wretched, empty, and miserable visions of filthy dreamers are read, the more the lust after them is increased, until the desire for wholesome reading becomes dead within the soul.
E. But is the literature put forth in the religious world of a less dangerous character?
T. Surely not. It is indeed a great deal more dangerous; and even that which has the greatest appearance of truth about it may be the most dangerous of all. The devil has a tremendous pull on the printing-press, nor is he particular with what he occupies men with so as it is not Christ. Even those who love the Lord and mean to serve Him in ministering His Word to His people require to be very careful that they do not play into the enemy’s hands by sending forth as His truth that which is the mere imagination of the natural mind, but mistaken by them for the thoughts of God.
E. I was thinking about that to which you have just given expression, especially with reference to the subject of salvation, upon which either you or I require to have our thoughts remodelled, for on this subject I fear we do not think alike. I have read some things written by you and those who think as you do, and I have read very different ideas by others on the same subject, and that in very piously written books, and my mind rather inclines to what I have seen in these. Hence my desire to discuss the matter with you in all brotherly love. I do not doubt we have all much to learn regarding all the blessings of the gospel, and just because of this I do not desire to be bigoted in my ideas, but rather to look for things novel in connection with the truth of Christianity. We cannot be always at the same thing.
T. It is all very well to be looking to Gad for fresh acquisitions of light, and for this no honest heart ever looked to Him in vain. “They looked unto Him, and were lightened” (Ps. 34:5). He disappoints none who come to Him and whose desire is to do His will. But if I only desire the light in order that I may be considered something great in the midst of my brethren, He will have no regard to my quest for truth. There is also the “itching ear” to be guarded against; that is to say, the ear that is weary of hearing about Christ, and prefers “fables,” which are the inventions of the natural mind under the influence of the power of darkness, novelties instead of the living truth of a Saviour-God. We must also remember that John says to the babes, “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father” (1 John 2:24).
E. But surely there must be a great deal yet for us to learn. Of course, it is all in the Holy Scriptures, but out of that Book people seem to be bringing new ideas every day. You do not think that is wrong, do you?
T. A great many seem to be able to bring out of Scripture things which they never found there, for the fertility of the imagination of man is astonishing. That the spiritual mind will always be discovering new beauties in the Word of God need scarcely be said, for the depths of wisdom found within that Volume are infinite; and in whatever way Christ is presented—and the Word is Christ—there are always fresh attractions for the heart. The “form of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13) will not admit of the slightest change, but the varied glories of the Son of God are inexhaustible, and by these the hearts of the saints are attracted and nourished. For centuries after the passing away of the apostles the blessings of the gospel, as set before us in Scripture, were neither ministered by the professed servants of the Lord, nor enjoyed by His saints. But within the last century the Holy Spirit of God has awakened many of His own to the whole revelation of the thoughts of God, and the blessings of the gospel are now widely disseminated. One can truthfully say at the present moment that what is new is not true, and what is true is not new.
E. You mean that the truth was all there in the Scriptures?
T. I mean more than that. The truth was not only in the Word, but it was in the hearts of some of the Lord’s servants in the power of the Spirit, and ministered to all that had ears to hear with both freshness and energy. No one at the present time who knows what the Spirit of God has wrought in the way of recovering His truth for us would pay the least attention to any one professing to tell us something new. We can take no glory to ourselves, “Other men laboured, and ye are entered into their labours” (John 4:38) can most truly be said of us, though I fear we have but little availed ourselves of the rich field of blessing laid open to us through their faithful service.
E. Judging from what you say, I fear you will think I have paid but little attention to the things ministered for our profit during these last days, when I communicate to you my difficulties concerning the truth of salvation. But I will first of all begin by asking you a question. What is meant by “The salvation of the soul”?
T. The emancipation of the soul from the whole power of evil, by which it was held in bondage in the fallen condition in which man is by nature. In this also is included deliverance from the consequences of our sins, and being reconciled to God. Peter speaks of it in contrast with the temporal deliverance accorded to Israel when they were brought out of the grasp of the oppressor to God in the wilderness. This was a salvation which was open and manifest to the nations of the earth (Josh. 2:10); but the salvation of the soul of which the Apostle speaks, and which is accorded to us, is not yet revealed. Outwardly there is no alteration in our circumstances. As far as the human eye can see there has been no deliverance effected for us. Our salvation has not yet come to light. It still awaits its manifestation. When Christ appears we shall appear with Him in glory, and then shall our salvation be revealed.
E. But do you mean to say that when one believes the gospel his soul is saved? I think Scripture speaks of us as being saved by hope (Rom. 8:24). Surely this means that our salvation is yet future.
T. Not necessarily so. The point in that passage is the effect of the presence of the Spirit in us in this creation which has been made subject to vanity. It is a groaning creation; but its fall, on account of the transgression and fall of its head, has not been irremediable and hopeless. It has been allowed to fall under one head in order that it may be recovered under another. It has been made subject to vanity in hope of being delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. Now, through the grace of God we have been saved, as to our souls, in hope of the ultimate deliverance which shall be ours when the time comes for “the adoption, to wit, the redemption of the body.”
E. But Paul does tell us that “Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Rom. 13:11), and surely this must look at something not received by us as yet.
T. Certainly it does. But this is not peculiar to salvation. Other blessings of the gospel are spoken of in the same way. John says that He who believes in the Son has life eternal, but Paul speaks as in the hope of it (Titus 1:2). The righteousness of God is upon the believer (Rom. 3:22), but in Philippians 3 he counts everything in which he could glory in the flesh as rubbish, that he might be found in Him, not having on his own righteousness, but the righteousness of God by faith. Every blessing of the gospel is ours now in the grace of God, and in the power of the Spirit, but for the completeness of all blessings we await the coming of Christ. It is so with salvation. In 2 Timothy 1 we read, “Who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling;” and in Titus 3, “According to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Present salvation is the deliverance of the soul from the judicial consequences of its sins, from the dominion of sin, from the fear of death, from the power of the devil, and being brought into right relations with God in Christ.
E. What then do you make of the hope of salvation?
T. The hope of salvation is the prospect of final deliverance; not merely as we have it now in the life of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit, but in a change of body; which will place us with Christ in glory, as we read in Philippians 3, “Our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body.” The presence of the grace of God in the gospel has brought salvation to us in a moral and spiritual way, and the presence of the Lord in person shall bring it to us in an actual, complete, and final way. There is also a deliverance which is effected for us day by day. Our great Priest who has passed through the heavens is able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him (Heb. 7:25). There is still another aspect of salvation to be referred to; that is, salvation from wrath through Him (1 Thess. 1:10; Rom. 5:9). That will involve what is called the rapture of the church, which will remove us out of this world before the wrath He speaks of is poured out upon it. There are, I think, four aspects of salvation. First: the deliverance of the soul from the consequences of sin, and from every adverse power, and setting it in right relations with God in Christ. Second: the adoption, which is the redemption of the body, when we shall be planted in the position and place designed for us before the world was. Third: the daily deliverances which are vouchsafed us through the intercession of our great High Priest. Fourth: salvation from the coming wrath.
E. That is all very interesting; but how do you regard the salvation spoken of in the Hebrew epistle?
T. In the same way in which I regard it as spoken of in any other Epistle. To the people to whom God had formerly spoken by the prophets He had in these last days spoken in the Person of the Son, and the word which was spoken by the Lord to them during His life here upon earth is spoken of as salvation. Just as Paul, speaking to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch, and also to the God-fearing Gentiles amongst them, says, “To you is the word of this salvation sent” (Acts 13:26). And later on, when the Jews would not have the gospel, he says, “The salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear it” (Acts 28:28). Why should I think the salvation spoken of in Hebrews different to salvation referred to anywhere else?
E. It is addressed to a people who are viewed as in relationship with God. It is not the gospel to sinners.
T. But no epistle is addressed to sinners. All the epistles are addressed to the professed people of God. But the Epistle to the Hebrews is addressed to a people who never were out of relationship with God. But the relationship in which they had been previous to the coming of Christ was connected with the old fleshly order. It was not man in relationship with God in Christ, which involves a wholly new order of blessing, but man in covenant relationship with God, responsible to maintain himself in life and blessing by the fulfilment of his obligations. The salvation to which they had been accustomed was entirely temporal, as I have already said. It began by the shelter of the firstborn from the sword of the destroying angel in Egypt, and would have been completed, had they been faithful, by the destruction of their enemies in the land of Canaan, when and where they would have found rest. But all this having failed, and Christ being rejected by them the moment they saw Him, another kind of salvation begins to be announced by the Lord, and that is the salvation of the soul. Hence the Lord in the Gospels constantly speaks of this salvation. At present men were no longer to expect temporal deliverances, which were fruitless as regards any lasting blessing for the people; they were now to hear from the lips of the Messiah the Word of a new and eternal salvation, which, though for the moment it carried no temporal deliverances with it, emancipated the soul from spiritual bondage, that it might find its liberty and delight in the service of the God of salvation. And whatever may be said to the contrary, this is just what this salvation means. It takes in all the communications that fell from the lips of Jesus while He was here upon earth. It takes in also His death for our sins, His resurrection, and session at the right hand of God. These Hebrews, then, to whom this epistle was written, are looked at as in an unbroken line from the Fathers, but in the confession of Christ, in whom the power of this salvation was centred.
E. But this salvation is not what is represented by the deliverance of the children of Israel out of Egypt, but what is represented by bringing the survivors into the promised land.
T. Nothing in the epistle gives you the slightest warrant for either saying or thinking so. It began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard Him; and we have only to listen to what Peter and the other apostles preached to know what that salvation meant. Peter speaks, at the first announcement of this salvation by the apostles, of the guilt of the nation in their rejection of Christ, of His resurrection from the dead, of His exaltation to the right hand of God, and exhorts his hearers to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, and they shall receive the Holy Ghost (Acts 2). To the house of Cornelius he goes back to “the Word that God sent to the children of Israel” by Jesus Christ, and winds up with the statement that all the prophets give witness to Jesus, that whoever believes on Him receives the forgiveness of sins (chap. 10). These were the words by which Cornelius and his house should be saved; and I suppose there was no temporal deliverance granted to him; if it was not the salvation of his soul, I should like to know what it was.
E. But the forgiveness of sins in Hebrews is not the forgiveness of unconverted men upon believing the gospel of the crucified and risen Saviour. It is the forgiveness of the sins of the people of God. I refer to chapter 2 verse 17.
T. There is nothing about forgiveness there. The only place we have forgiveness in the epistle is whore he speaks of the terms of the new covenant, and there it is just presented in the way in which you deny. It is the terms upon which God will place the two houses of Israel with Himself when He takes them up in grace in the age to come. But instead of this salvation being that which is represented by bringing the survivors into the promised land, there is not a single type that lies on the Canaan side of the wilderness referred to. There is not a semblance of the Brazen Serpent, Jordan, or Gilgal; whereas there is the antitype of the Red Sea in the destruction of the one who had the might of death, and the setting free of the people in order to their taking their journey toward the Land of Promise. It became Him who was bringing many sons to glory—the exigencies of His nature and character demanded it—that the Leader of their salvation should be made perfect through sufferings. Propitiation had to be made, God in His nature and character must be vindicated from the suspicion of being indifferent to sin, death as the expression of God’s judgment of sin must be annulled, the power of the devil must be broken, before ever a soul can move forward toward the rest of God. That rest will be glory, and we who are justified by faith rejoice in hope of that glory (Rom. 5:2).
E. But the salvation of the soul is not that which is preached to sinners in the gospel. What the gospel offers to every believing sinner is the forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of eternal life as the free gift of God. Hence the saving of the soul is never spoken of in connection with the gospel.
T. I think you will find that what you have advanced will not stand examination in the light of Scripture. You say the salvation of the soul is not that which is preached to sinners. To whom was this preached? “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Or this, “To you is the word of this salvation sent”? (Acts 13:26). And what had Paul in his mind when he said, “The salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles, and they shall hear it” (Acts 28:28)? And to whom does the righteousness which is of faith address itself, that righteousness to which the great mass of the Jews would not submit themselves? It says, “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
And you tell me that what the gospel offers, to every believing sinner, is the forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of eternal life. Not a word of truth in it. The believing sinner possesses both these blessings. They are offered to unbelieving sinners. “Through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins.” To whom is that addressed? And when these people refused the message, what does he say? “Ye judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life” (Acts 13). Evidently eternal life is involved in the preaching of forgiveness. So also is salvation, for the Apostle lets these Jews know that, as they had by their rejection of the gospel judged themselves to be unworthy of everlasting life, he would now turn to the Gentiles, for God had set Christ to be a light of the Gentiles that He should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.
E. Oh, but I am speaking of the salvation of the soul.
T. And what other salvation is there in Christ? Besides, you were referring to “so great salvation,” in Hebrews 2; and there is not a word about the soul in that passage.
E. There is though in chapter 10.
T. Yes, but what is referred to there is not the Word of salvation, but the endurance of the believer.
E. Then do you wish me to understand that you consider forgiveness, or justification, to be the same thing as salvation?
T. I do not. There is a difference, and the difference is easily understood. If you could justify a murderer you would save him from the gallows. His salvation would be a consequence of his justification. Now the gospel is said to be the power of God unto salvation, just because that in it God’s righteousness is held out to man as a free gift, on the principle of faith. And this is just that which saves us from the wrath which has been revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness (Rom. 1). In Ephesians 2 we have salvation as the effect of the quickening power of God, exercised on our behalf when we lay dead in sins. Twice over we have in this connection, “By grace ye are saved.” And the object in saying this does not seem to be merely to occupy us with the grace as the principle upon which we are saved, but rather to cause us to take account of ourselves as in salvation by being in the life of the risen Christ. And so certain is this salvation our present portion that we are exhorted to take the helmet of salvation for the defence of our heads in our warfare with the powers of darkness. In Thessalonians, where salvation is from coming wrath, and therefore in hope, we are told to take as a helmet the hope of salvation (1 Thess. 5:8). James asks if faith can save, and then begins to show it cannot by reference to Abraham and Rahab who were justified by works. In Titus we read that He saved us by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost in order that being justified by His grace we should be heirs according to the hope of eternal life. That the soul who is justified is saved, and that the soul who is saved is justified, Scripture leaves no room for question. And both of these blessings belong to the true believer.
E. I do not think you have right thoughts regarding the salvation of the soul. You think—do you not?—that to lose one’s soul is to be eternally damned. But Scripture will not support such a thought. Conclusive proof that it does not mean incurring the wrath of God is furnished by the Lord’s words to His disciples in which He urged them, for their own advantage, to lose their own souls, and to hate their own souls in this world. I need hardly say the Lord did not exhort His disciples to be damned in this world. If losing the soul in this world does not mean damnation, then losing it in the world to come does not mean damnation.
T. But you might just as rightly say that as a man’s condemnation of himself as a sinner in this world is not the lake of fire, neither is the Lord’s condemnation of a sinner at the judgment throne the lake of fire. But really you are very loose in your dealings with Scripture. I know of no place in which the Lord urges His disciples to lose their souls in this world. He states a principle, which will abide true through the whole period of his rejection, but He does not apply it to His disciples. The truth is, it was in a large measure already true of them. They had given up for Him all that was really dear to living men in this world. Through their connection with Him they had brought down upon their heads the wrath of the leaders of earth, and tribulation was now to be their portion here. Therefore He seeks to encourage them by setting before them the eternal consequences of their act, in contrast with the consequences of rejecting Him and living a life of self-indulgence in this evil world. Hating your soul (or life) in this world is the judgment you pass upon yourself as a living man in an environment of evil and rebellion against God. It is practically crucifying the flesh, with its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24). But losing your soul in the world to come is to lose it with eternal life in sight, at which you never arrive. He that hates it in this world keeps it unto life eternal. If one does not lose his life in this world by his own act, he will lose it in the next by the judgment of God.
E. I am glad you admit, at any rate, that though justification and the receiving of eternal life do not depend upon what we do, the salvation of the soul does depend upon the believer’s walk, and upon the heed paid by him to his Lord’s commands.
T. I admit it no more with regard to salvation than I do with regard to justification or eternal life, except in so far as the difficulties incident to our journey through this world are concerned.
E. You do not mean, surely, that every believer will save his soul, regardless of his conduct?
T. That is not an ill-balanced question. The believer is saved. “God, who has saved us” (2 Tim. 1:9). But let me ask you another question: Do you think a man can be justified altogether regardless of his conduct? Supposing that when he hears the gospel he refuses to repent and turn to God, is he forgiven all the same? If so, why does the Apostle tell them to beware lest they perish (Acts 13:41)? And again, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6). And why does the Lord say, “He that is not subject to the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36)? And why is the first resurrection composed of those who do good; and the last, the resurrection of judgment, composed of those who do evil? (John 5.29). And I might also ask why Paul declares that, in the day in which God shall judge the secrets of men, wrath shall be the portion of all who obey unrighteousness; and eternal life shall be rewarded to all who seek for glory, honour and incorruptibility? (Rom. 2). You see no “doing” on our part connected with anything but salvation; not so Scripture.
E. I never hear saints exhorted to “work out their own justification.”
T. Nor salvation either in the sense of either acquiring or maintaining their position in relationship with God. Working out our own salvation is so walking in the energy of faith and of the Spirit that we come out down here as overcomers of the world in every form in which it lays itself out to turn us aside from faithfulness to a rejected Christ. But let us keep this in mind, and let us hold it fast, refusing to allow ourselves to be robbed of it: that we begin Christianity, or our pathway through this world to glory, with righteousness, eternal life, and salvation, and with the certainty that nothing we may meet in the desert can separate us from the love of Christ; neither can anything in the whole universe separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord; neither can anything with which we meet prevent us having our part with Christ in His kingdom and glory.
E. I think the difference between us comes from the fact that you do not seem to apprehend the distinction between salvation from eternal condemnation, and the salvation of the soul, for the losing of which in this world the Lord promises a great reward.
T. As great a reward as that is the portion of the one who confesses Christ before men, “Him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8). You build everything on a word which has a variety of meanings in Scripture. It is plain enough that the word translated “soul” means in some cases the person himself (Acts 27:37), sometimes one’s life (v. 22), sometimes for that part of man which stands in contrast with the body, through which the body lives, and by means of which man is in contact with, and in the enjoyment of, things here; while the spirit, is that by which he is in relationship with God, and responsible to Him.
But soul and spirit seem to me to be often used in the word interchangeably for the same thing. James says, “The body without the spirit is dead.” The Lord speaks of men, who are able to kill the body, but cannot kill the soul; but God can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt. 10:28). The Lord on the cross dismissed His spirit, but spoke of His soul not being left in Hades, and tells the dying robber that he would be with Him that day in Paradise. The Word of God is said to have such penetrative power that it can separate between soul and spirit; but it does not say that we can. In every instance in which the blessed Lord speaks of our parting with our life or soul here, we should read life and not soul. It simply means life in a moral way, life in its fallen condition and estrangement from God. This must be abandoned even for forgiveness, for this cannot be had apart from repentance, and repentance is the judgment one passes upon one’s former life of sin. You can have no blessing at all apart from turning from all that in which you found your enjoyment as one away from God. To possess eternal life, and in that life to find the salvation of your soul, the life in which you have gratified your fleshly appetites away from God must be hated; and though things are as dear to you as your right hand or eye they must be cast from you if you are to enter into life.
E. You have mentioned the rest of God, how is it that saints are warned against coming short of it?
T. The rest of God is a rest into which all who believe shall enter. This is plain from Hebrews 3 and 4. The rest is before us. For Israel and all earthly saints it will be mount Zion; but for the heavenly saints it will be the heavenly City, the New Jerusalem. In this dispensation saints have a heavenly calling. There was no rest for man under the old covenant; hence none under that covenant ever entered into the rest of God. Canaan was not that rest, for had it been so we never would have heard anything of the danger of not entering into it from David. But David addresses the same people who were called out of Egypt to inherit it. They could sing about it on the wilderness banks of the Red Sea. There we have the boasting of the hope, but that boasting was not held fast to the end. The day of provocation set in almost the moment they began their march through the wilderness. That day of provocation lasted the whole forty years. Moses speaks of them as “children in whom is no faith” (Deut. 32:20). Therefore in His wrath God swore they should not enter into His rest. They had sung at the beginning of their journey, or rather before they had entered upon that journey, “Thou in Thy mercy hast led forth the people which Thou hast redeemed: Thou hast guided them in Thy strength unto Thy holy habitation.” They had also boasted, “Thou shalt bring them in, Thou shalt plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, in the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in; in the sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established” (Ex. 15:13-17). But the day of provocation began when they went three days without water, and it continued the whole forty years, where, as Moses says, their days were “passed away in Thy wrath” (Ps. 90:9).
E. But those addressed in the Psalm to which you refer (Ps. 95) are “the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand,” and this is why we are to fear lest we fall after the same example of unbelief.
T. Yes, the Jews were ostensibly the sheep of Jehovah. They had that place all through the past dispensation. But when the true Shepherd came it became manifest that not all who had that place were true sheep. The true sheep knew the voice of the Shepherd and followed Him. Today these sheep are in the church where there is neither Jew nor Greek, as such, but where all are one in Christ; but when the church has been caught up to heaven at the coming of Christ these sheep, the Israel of God, will once more take up their place in connection with the nation. But all along the line it is these people who are in the mind of the Spirit on the way to the rest of God. It is not the church, as such, that is addressed, but those who had an ear to hear in Israel.
E. Has the Epistle no reference to us?
T. It has every reference to us, for we come in for blessing along with the Jewish remnant; that is, when it is a question of the promises made to the fathers. Romans 11 makes this very plain. The church of God is on the line of eternal purpose, and does not wait for the coming age as the fulfilment of all its hopes. In the past the calling of God was to an earthly inheritance, and it will be so in the future; but in the present time the calling is heavenly. We are partakers of the heavenly calling. There will be both an earthly and a heavenly side to “the world to come,” and we shall occupy the heavenly. But the whole sphere will be that of the rest of God, only that the rest of God will be eternal, whereas “the world to come “is limited to a thousand years.
Now all the Epistles are written to the profession, all supposed, of course, to be real, unless found other wise. The Epistle to the Ephesians may be an exception to this. The words of the Lord to His disciples are also addressed to them with the same supposition, and without any exception, until Judas came to be manifested. Then He says “I speak not of you all.” But previous to that it is, “Blessed are ye poor,” and “Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”, and “In the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” To the whole twelve the same words were spoken, the same blessings administered, and the same privileges opened out. There are no exceptions. All are treated as being true and faithful disciples of the Lord, and so little is Judas made any exception of, that when the Lord speaks of his treasonable intentions the others cannot tell to whom He refers.
E. But I think we must view the Hebrews to whom the Epistle is written as not only Jews, but as converted Jews; they are called “holy brethren.”
T. But why should there be any exception to others? Sanctification in Hebrews is everywhere positional, and has nothing to do with heart separation to God. At the beginning of the gospel vast multitudes of Jews embraced Christianity, but went on with their temple worship as usual. They were all zealous of the law, and with them Christians were no more than a sect of the Jews. They are said to have been sanctified by “the blood of the covenant,” and by the offering of the body of Jesus Christ,” but never by the Spirit of God. Their sanctification was outward and positional. But even if they were viewed as converted people—that is, as born again, and in new and eternal relationships with God as sealed with the Holy Ghost—this would not prove that it was so of every one of them. Their continuance in the confession, and in the boast of hope, or their going back to what they had left, would manifest their inward state of soul. If they turned back it would be the proof that they had no faith, for it is the believer, and no other, who enters into the rest of God. Those who are denied entrance into the rest of God are those who come under wrath. He says, “I sware in My wrath if they shall enter into my rest.” They could not enter in because of unbelief; and without faith it is impossible to please God; and not to reach the rest of God is to be lost forever.
E. But no true believer can be lost for ever.
T. Neither can any true believer come short of the rest of God. The word says, “We which have believed do enter into rest,” and “They could not enter in because of unbelief.” Do you expect unbelievers to be saved?
E. Not at all; but I have thought that the faith spoken of here is not the same as that which is said in other places to justify. It seems to me to connect more with the world to come than with merely forgiveness. It leads out of chapter 10, where we have “faith to the saving of the soul,” into chapter 11, which is given to the people of God for the very purpose of instructing them as to the character or nature of that “faith” that is effectual to saving the soul.
T. That there is such a thing as the mere assent of the mind to the gospel is recognized by Scripture. James speaks of such faith as dead. But this is not what you refer to. You seem to hint that the faith that saves the soul is of another quality than that which justifies the sinner. Now Paul tells us that faith comes by hearing, or report; and report by the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Faith then—living faith, the faith that works by love, the faith of God’s elect, the only faith that is of the least value to any human being—comes by the Word of God. It is the submission of the whole moral being to the testimony of God, whatever testimony that may be. The Word that called Israel out of Egypt that they might inherit Canaan was the gospel to them, just as the Word which calls men out of this world to heaven where Christ is is the gospel which is preached to us. But we are told that The Word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” Had they believed the gospel they would have come into the rest of God, for it was because of unbelief they were prohibited entrance. “Let us therefore fear,” says the writer of this Epistle.
E. But why should believers fear, if they cannot fail of entering in?
T. Believers have to be kept. And it is by the power of God they are kept. But it is through faith, which keeps the unseen things in view so that they become more real to the soul than things visible; and it is the visible things that are our real danger, for we are so ready to settle down in them, and give up as an object of faith that to which we have been called. There is always danger on our side, not on the side of God’s care and unfailing grace. Had Peter had a better knowledge of himself, he would have hearkened to the warning of the Lord, and his fall might have been avoided. But on the Lord’s side—“I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not”—secures the restoration of the self-confident disciple. Then again, as I have said, the Epistle being written to the profession, the possibility of there being a mixed multitude in that profession has to be considered. Ifs are found in all the Epistles, except Ephesians. There we could not have an “if,” for we are seated in the heavenly places. That Epistle, concerning itself with the counsels of God, shuts out the possibility of apostasy from Christ on account of the difficulties of the pathway. In Romans 11 we read, “If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee.” In 1 Corinthians 11 we have, “Wherefore let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” In Galatians 4:11, we read, “I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain.” In Colossians 1:23, “If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.” But I need not quote more passages of Scripture. These will suffice to show that the warnings of Scripture are not inconsistent with the assurance ministered to those who profess Christ as partakers of the blessings of the gospel.
E. But in Hebrews we have not only these general warnings, but we have the kind of persons to whom they are said to be specially applicable; and I think you will have to admit that such must be true children of God.
T. To whom do you refer?
E. I refer specially to those spoken of in the beginning of chapter 6. There everyone who has accepted the “first principles” of the doctrine of Christ, and experienced repentance from dead works and faith toward God, is in Christ, and is eternally saved from condemnation. These first principles, however, pertain to the state of spiritual infancy. Therefore the exhortation is to “go on” from them “to full growth.”
T. But the writer of the Hebrews has said nothing about “accepting principles,” and “experiencing repentance”. He is talking about teaching, and about that with which people may occupy themselves, apart from the question of their vital relationships with God. He is speaking of the contrast between two great systems of doctrine: that which belonged to the infancy of souls under “tutors and governors,” the law and the ordinances connected therewith. “Infancy” was the condition of souls under the law; “full growth” connects the soul with a glorified Christ, and with the relationships of the believer with Him, according to the complete revelation of the will of God. And this is that which the writer is desirous to lead the Hebrews into. The relationships of the people with God in the past were according to the measure of the revelation of Christ, as they also are at this present time, only now He has been perfectly revealed. “Full age” has now come to pass. We have the same thing referred to in Galatians 3:23-26, only in another connection, the writer exhorts them to “go on to perfection,” namely, that which is set forth regarding Christ glorified, and that in the power of the Holy Spirit.
E. But you see he says he will do this “if God permit.” Now this is not a mere pious sentiment. The acquisition of the knowledge of the Son of God as High Priest of the coming good things carries with it such grave responsibilities, and involves the possessor thereof in such serious dangers that God, who knows our hearts, may not “permit” all who are on the foundation of the first principles of Christ to come to that knowledge. It is far better to enter the kingdom as a “babe” in Christ than having become enlightened as to the truth now under consideration to be put to shame before Him at His coming.
T. So, then, you think it is the people He has little regard for who are allowed to go on to perfection! Even to accept your theory that the point in the passage is that the first principles of the doctrine of Christ refer to what “babes in Christ” occupy themselves with, in contrast with spiritual maturity, which it is not, or that what refers to full growth is “the knowledge of the Son of God as High Priest of coming good things,” which it is not—I say to accept such a theory would be to accept that which is the contradiction of almost all hortatory Scripture. The anxiety of the apostles for the spiritual growth and advancement of those to whom they ministered the Word comes out in almost every line of their writings, and their desire for those to whom they ministered was only a faint echo of the heart of Christ; and now to be told that after all it may not have been the mind of God that all His people should be led on to advanced things is certainly a little startling.
E. But, surely, it is better far not to know these things than knowing them not to do them.
T. But gifts have been given from the ascended Christ for the building up of the body of Christ, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4). And you tell me it may not be His will that we all should come to this measure. Which am I to believe—the Bible or you? And to think that the Lord in His mercy to us does not permit us to get on to the knowledge of His will! And the supplications of the apostles to that very end, and their exhortations, and their reproaches—all goes for nothing!
E. Well, what is meant by His use of the expression, “If God permit?”
T. His desire was to lead them to where he and they might together partake of a little solid food, for that is what belongs to full growth; and this he would do by the permission of God. But it is quite a mistake to suppose that “The knowledge of the Son of God as High Priest of the coming good things” is very advanced teaching. It is, on the contrary, most elementary. No people on earth ever had, or ever will have, such an exalted position in relationship with God as saints of this dispensation have; and “such a High Priest became us.” The Priest on High is to maintain us on earth in consistency with our heavenly position in Him. Will anything like that be wanted in the world to come? Nothing like that has ever been, or ever will be, required. My anxiety is not to become better acquainted with Him as High Priest of good things to come, but to know Him better in His present place as before the face of God for us. It is here we find “perfection.” Let us go on to it.
E. If you will examine some of the statements in this chapter (Heb. 6) you will, I think, discover that the danger of getting acquainted with these advanced things is neither insignificant nor imaginary.
T. Well, we will, with the help of God, examine these things. Verse 2 sets before us the things that belonged to the infancy of the people of God, that which was known in Judaism; verse 4 what people had come into contact with in Christianity. These had been “enlightened.” They were of the Christian assembly, where the power of the Spirit had made itself felt; and no one can come there without getting enlightened. It is true of Christendom today, though the mass are wandering again into heathen darkness. But they were not in that darkness, or we could not speak of their going back into it. It is no question of their salvation. No saved soul, no true believer, will ever abandon Christ. These abandon Him for what they had already rejected. But the writer exhorts them not to lay that foundation again, but to go on to perfection; for if, after seeing all that was in the power of the Spirit in the Christian assembly, they turned back to Judaism, those weak and beggarly elements, there could be no recovery for them. What could be presented to them that would act upon their consciences and hearts? They had seen, they had come into contact with all that could have any good effect upon them, and had given up the “new wine” in favour of the “old.” They had also been made “partakers of the Holy Ghost.” This does not of necessity mean that they were sealed, but rather that they had come under the influence of His presence, and, in measure, were endowed with His power. We read of some who will come to the Lord in the day of His judgment of the quick, and will speak of doing many mighty works in His name, and He will profess to them, “I never knew you” (Matt. 7:22-23). They had also “tasted the good Word of God,” like some who wondered at the words of grace that fell from His lips, and who with joy received the word of the kingdom, but without any saving faith in it. The “powers of the world to come” were also exhibited in the sphere of Christian profession. But none of these things of necessity supposed the possession of the divine nature. It might be there, or it might not; and everything was valueless without it (1 Cor. 13). But where it was no soul would abandon Christianity for Judaism, nor for anything else. The writer says, “We are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” They had shown work and labour of love for His name, having ministered to the saints, and were continuing to do so. They had the salvation and these things were the evidence of it, for they always accompany it. Then again, if any went back they were exposed as empty professors, and were lost for ever, nigh to cursing, and their end destruction. Their privileges could not have been greater, and their only safety was to hold fast to them, and not to lay a foundation again of that which they had abandoned.
E. But the passage speaks of the impossibility of renewing such again to repentance. The unbeliever has not been “renewed” at all. Consequently the passage could not be applied to such.
T. But that is just what this passage supposes. The person who “falls away” is viewed here as never having been renewed. The meaning of the word here translated “renew,” any Greek dictionary will show you is to make wholly new. It is not the refreshing, reviving, or re-animating anything that was in activity before, but it is the implanting of something that was never in the soul previously.
E. But how could an unbeliever “crucify to himself the Son of God”? They may reject the grace of God, continuing in their sins, refusing the pardon and life offered to them as the fruit of the cross of Christ, but Christ was crucified for them. They cannot crucify Him for themselves.
T. Supposing a Jew embraces Christianity, sees and tastes the things that are there ministered in the Spirit’s power, as far as the natural man can see and taste such things—and Scripture shows that this may go to very great lengths—and then returns to that order of things under which the people rejected and crucified the Messiah, the Son of God, does he not by thus going back justify their act, and, so to speak, crucify the Son of God for himself? Any one who does such things is “like the earth which drinks in the rain that comes oft upon it,” and “bears thorns and briars.” He has not profited by the ministrations of grace in the Christian assembly; instead of the precious fruits of the divine nature manifesting themselves it was the wretched product of fallen flesh that was brought to light. Such were nigh to cursing, and their end the unsparing judgment of God.
E. In chapter 10 we read, “If we sin wilfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversary.” The Apostle is certainly speaking here of sins committed by the people of God; for in support of the warning he quotes the scripture, “The Lord shall judge His people.”
T. Surely it is His people which are before the mind of the Spirit. But what people? It is the people who are looked at as His people the whole way through the Epistle. It is the descendants of those to whom God “at sundry times and in diverse manners spake in time past by the prophets”; though in the forefront of the mind of the Spirit stands the remnant who had confessed Christ.
E. Do you mean to say the passage has no application to the assembly of God?
T. I mean to say that the assembly of God, as the body of Christ, composed of Jews and Gentiles, is not in the mind of the Spirit in any part of the Epistle. Prominently in the mind of the Spirit is the Christian profession amongst the earthly people of God, but the nation, as such, is never absent from His thought, though there may be certain statements made regarding the portion of this remnant which cannot be, without some modifications, applied to the nation. That the Lord does judge His saints of this dispensation need scarcely be said; 1 Corinthians 11:30-32 makes this plain enough. But the passage here is confined to Israel. The quotation comes from Deuteronomy 32. In a song which Moses recited in the ears of the people he brings before them the favour bestowed upon them by God in making them the centre of the nations in His government of the world, then the way in which they provoked Him with their strange gods, and how He would have made the remembrance of them to cease from the earth had it not been that the nations around them would have taken the credit of their annihilation to themselves. But the time would come when He would deal with them in His wrath. He says, “To Me belongs vengeance and recompense, their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste. For the Lord shall judge His people, and repent Himself for His servants, when He sees that their power is gone, and there is none shut up or left.” To this people to whom this judgment and vengeance was due, these who confessed Christ were in danger of going back; hence the warning. The writer exhorts them to hold fast the confession of their faith without wavering. That is they were to hold fast to the fact that God had brought them out of the house of bondage—a worse bondage than their fathers had been in in Egypt—and that He would bring them into their heavenly inheritance at the coming of Christ, for whom they were patiently to wait. Next, they were to consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works; “Not forsaking,” he says, “the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” The neglecting of these privileges was but the precursor of their going back into the Judaism which they had professedly abandoned. This is what he calls sinning wilfully. Anyone carefully reading the three previous verses can have no doubt on the subject. Now if they went back, it was to the shadow they returned, after having tasted something of the substance; and as the sacrifice of Christ had made an end of sacrifices altogether (and this the truth in chapters 9 and 10 had made clear to their souls), there was nothing for them “but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”
E. It seems to me the reference here is to Leviticus 15. There we read that for sins of ignorance there was a sacrifice provided, but none for “the soul that does ought presumptuously.” Such an one was to be cut off from among His people.
T. That was under law, but the Lord says, “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men” (Matt. 12:31). The only exception is the sin against the Holy Ghost, and this involves the complete rejection of the testimony of the Christ; for they said He had an unclean spirit. But otherwise there are but few sins that are committed in Christendom that are not wilful. Was the sin of the fornicator in Corinth one of ignorance? Why, it was repulsive even to the idolatrous people about him! Yet through the one sacrifice of Christ there was forgiveness even for him. But let anyone abandon Christ, and what hope is there for him, especially if it be in favour of a religious system which had once been ordained of God? How could such an one be restored? There is no good in presenting Christ to him, for he has had a taste of that already, and has gone back to the old as better. And suppose one speaks evil against his brother. Does he not know well enough that this is forbidden? But how has such an one “trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace”? No one could do these things in any other way than in abandoning Christ. Then he says, “He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment shall he be counted worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God?” etc. What was that death without mercy, which was visited upon the transgressors of the law of Moses? They were consumed by the wrath of God in the wilderness (Ps. 90:7; Heb. 3:11); the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them (Num. 16:32); they were devoured by fire from before the Lord (Lev. 10:2); they were destroyed by serpents (Num. 21:6). There is but one punishment that can be spoken of as sorer than these, and that is “everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:9). Is it a fearful thing for a saint “to fall into the hands of the living God”?
E. Do you say that none who fell in the wilderness shall enter into the rest of God?
T. I cannot alter Scripture. I must take what it says, or say I know better than He does whose Word it is. I think the reference of the Psalmist (Ps. 96), from which the quotation in Hebrews 3:15 taken, refers to Numbers 14, and there evidently it is the land they are deprived of; but I think the psalm and Hebrews both go beyond the land to the world to come. In the profession of Christianity there are three classes of people which have their types in Israel. There were amongst the twelve tribes those who perished in the wilderness—these represent a class of professors who have really no faith in the Word spoken. They know Egypt better than they know the pleasant land, and in heart they go back into it. These are thoroughly unconverted professors, and are lost for ever. Then there are those who go right to the Jordan, and enter into possession of territory which has been given to them of God; for Israel inherited the whole country that lay between the Mediterranean Sea and the river Euphrates, though the land itself in which they were to dwell lay on the west side of the Jordan. But two and a half tribes of the people took up their abode on the territory which lay on the east of the Jordan, and refused to take up their abode in the place appointed them by God. These represent true saints of God, but saints who refuse while upon earth to take up a heavenly position, resting in the knowledge and enjoyment of forgiveness, and a hope of heaven when the present life is over, but who are practically very earthly-minded. Then there were those who crossed over the Jordan, and settled in the land which was theirs by the favour of God, and in the place in which He would have them dwell. I fear those Christians who are represented by these people are few indeed. They are such as take up a heavenly position and maintain it in spite of all hindrances. But this is all on earth, and in itself has nothing to do with the world to come, except in the danger of the situation. The antitypes of all these three circles are found in Christendom. First: those who have “no faith” (Deut. 32:20; Heb. 3:19); second: those who are true believers, and often very valiant for the truth when they find it attacked (1 Chr. 12:14-15, 37), but who fail to take account of themselves, heavenly men upon earth, and who are, in consequence, to an extent earthly-minded. Third: those who thankfully accept their full heavenly position, and seek to maintain it in the face of the “wicked spirits,” who are the original inhabitants of those high places (Eph. 6).