PART I: THE SALVATION OF GOD
It is but sober truth to say that THE GOSPEL OF THE GRACE OF GOD is the only remedy for man’s deep need, the only hope for a sad and sick world. No thoughtful person but must be alarmed at the present condition of things. There was a time when this country could be called a Christian land. There was a time when the churches were crowded. Today it is reported that less than five out of every hundred persons ever darken the doors of a place of worship. Incredible as it may sound, there are children in this land of ours, who have never heard of the name of Jesus, and have never seen a Bible. The naked truth is that this land is rapidly becoming pagan. And what is the result of turning the back upon God and His Word? Divorce is so common that it occasions no surprise. Immorality is the order of the day.
And what about the nations? Look at the last two great world wars, conflicts between so-called Christian nations to the great scandal of the heathen world. We shudder as we recall the memory of the past, of high explosives, aerial bombardments, poison gas, jet-propelled instruments of ruthless destruction, rockets that can fly faster than sound, so that neither sight nor sound can give warning of sudden destruction. And all this in so-called Christian lands! The utter tragedy of it is frightful to contemplate.
But the worst has yet to be told. The atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima, Japan, at 8:15 am. on August 6th, 1945, was more than a portent. It staggered humanity. The world woke up that day to be gripped by a new, fearsome, sickening dread that cannot be dismissed. Nothing can exceed the seriousness of the warning given, for on that day
THE ATOMIC ERA BEGAN
with a frightfulness, that threatens to engulf civilization itself.
Can there be a shadow of doubt as to the appalling need of the individual and of the world? Many are the voices telling of wonderful panaceas, that will cause wars to cease, and lead nations to beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. These schemes are about as substantial as an erection made out of a pack of cards. The world has not progressed a fraction of an inch on the road to real peace and security.
And lastly, how brief life is. A few short, fitful years, and then—DEATH. What of eternity? What of eternity? Unlike the beast of the field, man does not cease to exist. The soul of man lives on and on and on. Man is responsible to God. He must meet His Creator.
“Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:12).
If so, there must of necessity be a resurrection, but how shall each one of us stand before God? Heaven and Hell are realities. And what sinner is fit to be in a Heaven, where the presence of a Holy God is supreme? Is there no prospect of happiness for the individual when he departs from this life and enters eternity? It is to answer these questions that we put pen to paper.
THE MESSAGE OF THE GOSPEL
At the outset we would draw particular attention to the fact that God has graciously sought to prepare men’s minds gradually for the reception of the Gospel message. He might have done otherwise had He chosen. In His kindness and wisdom He has prepared the minds of men to expect a SAVIOUR. No other book but the Bible has dared to prophesy such an event hundreds of years before fulfilment.
So we find prophet after prophet foretelling that a Saviour would be raised up, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Judah, of David’s kingly stock, that He would be born at Bethlehem of a virgin with no human paternity, thus narrowing the sent One of God to a single individual, to the only One of all the millions of the human race, who has come into the world in this miraculous fashion.
To crown all, the prophet Isaiah, seven centuries before our Lord was born into the world, wrote,
“Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, THE MIGHTY GOD, THE EVERLASTING FATHER, THE PRINCE OF PEACE” (Isa. 9:6).
In this most striking prophecy, Isaiah foretold our Lord’s entrance into this world as Man, whilst taking care, at the same time, to affirm His eternal Deity. No uninspired writer would have dared to pen these lines in his wildest dreams, to record such a human impossibility. But Isaiah was inspired of God to write what he did, and he wrote the truth in harmony with the whole tenor of Scripture, which presents our Lord as God and Man, one blessed Person, an inscrutable mystery.
Isaiah likewise prophesied most plainly of a suffering Messiah. So we read the wonderful words, which have been blessed to the salvation of multitudes,
“He was wounded for OUR transgressions, He was bruised for OUR iniquities: the chastisement of OUR peace was upon Him: and with His stripes WE are healed” (Isa. 53:5).
King David, likewise, prophesied of a suffering Christ about ten long centuries before He hung upon Calvary’s cross of shame (Ps. 22). He wrote of hands and feet being pierced. He could not have referred this to himself, for his hands and feet were not pierced. For hundreds of years these words lay an enigma on the sacred page, for crucifixion was a death unknown till the time of the Romans. David further prophesied that the garments of the suffering Saviour would be gambled for, and this was literally fulfilled when the Roman soldiers divided His clothing and cast lots for His seamless vesture (John 19:23-24). Surely Old Testament prophecies of the coming Saviour are given of God graciously to help our poor unbelieving hearts to receive the most wonderful message that ever fell on human ears.
HUMAN NEED IS INDEED GREAT
Some have found this out for themselves and acknowledged it honestly to their eternal blessing. Hear how Job, the self-righteous man, finding out the truth about himself after most bitter experiences, addressed God,
“I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye sees Thee. Wherefore I ABHOR MYSELF, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).
The prophet Isaiah exclaimed:
“Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips for mine eyes have seen the LORD of hosts” (Isa. 6:5).
The Apostle Paul testified of his own sinnership,
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; OF WHOM I AM CHIEF” (1 Tim. 1:15).
In the face of all this testimony, what do we say of ourselves? But what does God, “the Judge of all the earth” (Gen. 18:25), say of us? We read,
“There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10-12).
This is sweeping indeed, but it is what God says, and it is true. Do we say, “Amen” to this solemn indictment? This is the only way of blessing.
THE GREAT PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED
Man is a sinner. God is a Holy God. He will by no means clear the guilty (Ex. 34:7). Divine righteousness at all costs must be maintained. But what does this involve? We know full well that the sentence passed by God upon the sinner is DEATH (Rom. 6:23). And does death end all? No, infinitely solemn are the words of Scripture:—
“It is appointed unto men once to die, but AFTER THIS the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
We repeat, there is no evading this question of all questions, How can a Holy God offer salvation to guilty sinners unless His righteousness be fully maintained?
THE QUESTION DIVINELY ANSWERED
The truly amazing truth is that the very God we have sinned against has at infinite cost to Himself provided the solution. Could there be anything grander and more satisfying than this? In all the man-made religions of the world there is nothing like it. In every one of them man is exhorted to be his own saviour, a truly hopeless task. The Christian faith is the only one, that offers guilty man a Saviour, sufficient and willing to meet all God’s claims of divine righteousness. Here is the only remedy. We read these wonderful words,
“The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14).
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
But note carefully what was involved in sending our Lord into this world. We have seen that death is the penalty of sin, and that after death comes the judgment. It is manifest that if death is the penalty of sin, death must of necessity be its expiation, and that the death of a spotless Victim, One sufficient to meet the judgment of God meted out against sin. Only the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ was sufficient to meet this.
The sending of the Lord Jesus into this world was in full view of His dying an atoning sacrifice on Calvary’s cross, which should meet the demands of divine righteousness, and exhaust the judgment that lay upon the sinner. It is deeply important that we should see that there are …
TWO SIDES TO THE DEATH OF CHRIST.
There is man’s side of the death of the cross, constituting the blackest and foulest crime that ever stained the page of history. The blessed Son of God, who lived a life entirely well pleasing and glorifying to God, was accounted by man as unworthy to live. And man will assuredly have to answer for this crime. If Abel’s innocent blood cried for vengeance from the ground, how much more that of the Lord of glory. Little did the fanatical Jews realise what was involved when they took up the challenge,
“His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matt. 27:25).
No one can be neutral here. If we refuse Christ as our Saviour, if we neglect Him as unworthy of our trust, equally with the Jewish chief priests and rulers we shall be held guilty of the Lord’s death.
But there is God’s side of the cross. That is a different story! It is indeed a wondrous tale we have to unfold. The cross is the full expression of God’s wondrous love to guilty man. We read that on that crucifixion day when the sun was at its noonday height, darkness fell on the land. Surely the chief priests and rulers must have felt that this was a testimony from heaven, for it was utterly beyond the power of man to bring it about. What did it mean? Above all what was the meaning of that cry of bitterest anguish that burst forth from the lips of the Son of God,
“MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?”
Is it not enough to freeze the very marrow in our bones to realise, even in the smallest degree, the meaning of this cry of bitterest anguish. Why should God forsake His Son? Was He not at that moment in highest favour with God? He was. Was not His very crucifixion a proof of His utter devotion to the will of God? It was. Why then was He forsaken of God? Who can tell the bitterness of the cup He was called upon to drink. We read the wonderful answer to our question:—
“Christ also has also suffered for sins, THE JUST FOR THE UNJUST, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
It was for US, sinners, that the Lord of glory laid down His life on the cross of Calvary. It was for OUR salvation that He suffered, bled and died. Above all, it was for God’s glory that He died to maintain God’s righteousness, thus setting Him free to offer salvation and forgiveness of sins to guilty man. That is God’s side of the cross, and a wondrous story it is, unlike any other in the world. How often we do sing,
“There from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flowed mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown.”
Following the cry of abandonment there rang out three triumphant words,
“IT IS FINISHED,”
telling that the work of atonement was completed.
Both cries were uttered with a loud voice, the one of bitterest anguish, the other of holiest triumph. As these triumphant words rang out, the veil of the Temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, rent by the hand of God Himself, the Divine testimony to the completeness of the work of atonement.
Our Lord was buried. On the third day He rose triumphant from the grave. We read,
“Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Rom. 6:4).
Here is fullest testimony to God’s complete satisfaction in the atoning sacrifice of our Lord, and if it satisfied Him, surely its testimony, received into our hearts, should satisfy us.
THE RECEPTION OF THE MESSAGE
It may be that some of our readers at this point may re-echo in their hearts the earnest cry of the Philippian jailor of old,
“WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?”
Thank God, if this is so, for it would have been far better, if you had never been born than to pass out of time into eternity without this question of all questions passing your lips. Here is the blessed answer in all its grandeur and simplicity,
“BELIEVE ON THE LORD JESUS CHRIST, AND THOU SHALT BE SAVED” (Acts 16:31).
Alas! many ask this question with the emphasis put in the wrong place. They ask, What shall I do? They put the emphasis upon “I.” They vainly think they can do something towards their own salvation. But be assured there is nothing the sinner can do for three reasons:—
(1) The work necessary for our salvation has already been done.
(2) To think that we can do anything towards our salvation is a slight on the sufficiency of the work of Christ.
(3) Salvation is a gift. You cannot purchase a gift, either by labour or money or in any other way.
Scripture is most positive on the point. We read,
“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8).
How gladly we can sing,
“Nothing either great or small,
Nothing, sinner, no,
Jesus did it, did it all,
Long, long ago.
IT IS FINISHED: Yes, indeed,
Finished every jot:
Sinner, this is all you need,
Tell me, is it not?”
Taking salvation is not a mere mental assent to the doctrines of the Gospel, but the heart-felt acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord of your life. It is clear that till men and women feel the burden of their sins, they will not desire forgiveness. Our Lord surely had this in mind when He affirmed in plain language,
“Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3 and 5).
WHAT IS REPENTANCE?
A most important question, seeing we shall perish, if we do not repent. Repentance means a change of mind, not of some detail affecting this life, but a complete and radical change of the whole mind. It means the whole attitude of the mind in relation to God, and change of mind in reference to sin and self. It could not be better stated than it was by a man in a Norfolk village. Referring to His conversion to God two years previously, he said, “The things I loved two years ago, I hate now. The things I hated two years ago, I love now.” Two years before he loved the public house and his sins. Two years before he hated the company of Christian men and women. Now he shuns the public house, and seeks the companionship of Christians. What an utter change took place in his mind. His whole outlook on life was altered. But to be personal, Have you repented? Repent or perish! Our Lord plainly puts before us the alternative.
When we realise the mighty work of redemption in any little measure, that it was purchased by the amazing sacrifice of the Son of God on the cross of Calvary, surely we should accept the Saviour with feelings of the deepest gratitude. Have you ever on bended knees told the Lord that you bow to the claims of Divine love, and accept Him as your Saviour and the Lord of your life? Remember:
(1) Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ SAVES.
(2) Believing the testimony of Scripture makes you SURE.
Here is the Person—“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Here is the assurance—“And thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Such an approach is never refused. Our Lord said,
“Him that comes to Me I will in NO WISE cast out” (John 6:37).
How plain and assuring are the words of Scripture,
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may KNOW that ye HAVE eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
Are not these words sufficient to give complete assurance as to salvation and the present possession of eternal life as the gift of God? It is all of God’s grace from first to last to be known NOW on the authority of God’s own word. To Him be all the praise and glory.
But Satan is not willing to let young converts continue in peace. He will assail their new-found faith, chiefly by twisting Scriptures from their true meaning. In the following pages we seek to give a true explanation of such Scriptures. Our examination of them will only tend to assure the young convert of the salvation he or she has found in trusting the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour and Lord.
PART II: DIFFICULTIES EXAMINED
A favourite device of Satan is to sow doubt in the mind of the young convert as to the inspiration of Scripture. He has many agents alas! ready enough to do this. Happily there are many and ample proofs the Scriptures themselves render, that manifestly prove their Divine origin. We would entreat young converts not to allow their belief in the inspiration of Scripture to be undermined. It may be an ordained minister, with all the learning of a theological college behind him, who seeks to undermine this confidence, but Scripture gives us a warning that Satan may come as an angel of light, and his ministers appear as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-15). So we may well be warned.
Let us not allow any person to instil into our minds anything that would undermine the authority of holy Scripture. Let us be careful that we do not receive any teaching but what can be substantiated by the word of God. We read that the Christians at Berea were more noble than those of Thessalonica in that they searched the Scriptures daily to see whether the teaching of the great Apostle Paul was in accordance with them. They are praised in Scripture for their carefulness; surely an encouragement to us to test everything by the word of God, from whomever we may hear it.
IS IT PRESUMPTION TO CLAIM TO BE SAVED?
How many believers on the Lord Jesus are held in bitter bondage of soul, sometimes for long years, by the fear that it is presumption on their part to take the ground of being sure of salvation. But to believe God is surely no presumption. On the other hand to refuse to believe God’s testimony is indeed presumption. How honouring to take God at His word. Here is one passage of Scripture out of many, that makes it abundantly plain that we can know for certain, that believing on the Lord Jesus we are saved, and that the very moment we believe. We read,
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears My word, and believes on Him that sent Me, HAS everlasting life, and SHALL NOT COME INTO CONDEMNATION; but IS passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).
This verse is sufficient to banish all fear, and to make it evident that it is not presumption on our part to say that we are saved. Rather it is God-honouring to take God at His word, and true humility to accept the assurance He offers.
IS THE BELIEVER ON THE LORD JESUS SAVED FOR EVER?
This is the plain teaching of Scripture, as the following Scriptures prove.
“By the which will [God’s] we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ ONCE FOR ALL” (Heb. 10:10).
“By one offering He has perfected FOR EVER them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).
“And I give unto them [believers on the Lord Jesus] eternal life; and THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29).
The believer in the teaching that a true child of God may fall away and perish for ever, may say in response, “It is quite true that believers can never be plucked by any man out of the hand of the Good Shepherd of the sheep, nor out of the hand of the Father, but he may take himself out of their hands, or else where does human will come in?” We have had a very long experience of Christian work, and we have yet to meet the Christian man or woman, who wishes to take himself or herself out of the hands of the Lord. The advocates of such an idea must be very hard up for an argument, to descend to such a low level as this.
But in the last Scripture we have just quoted we have …
THE ABSOLUTELY UNQUALIFIED STATEMENT
as to the sheep of Christ, that “they shall never perish.” Write these glorious words in golden letters across the skies so that all mankind can see them! If a sheep of Christ perishes, either by the action of any, or by his own act, then these words of our Lord Jesus are proved false. Far be the thought! These words stand grandly true for all time, and for every believer on the Lord Jesus without one single exception, for these words were spoken by One no less than the Son of God. We may well enjoy the assurance and comfort they bring.
DOES THE BLOOD OF CHRIST CLEANSE FROM ALL SIN?
It is taught by some that only the believer’s PAST sins are forgiven, and that sins AFTER conversion need to be confessed, and a fresh application of the blood of Christ is necessary for their cleansing. But let us see what the Scripture says as to the precious blood of Christ. We read,
“If we [believers] walk in the light, as He [God] is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from ALL SIN” (1 John 1:7).
“Exactly,” says the teacher of the reapplication of the blood of Jesus, “this Scripture plainly says cleanses. Surely this is a process, and not once for all.” But not quite so fast! This verse says nothing about PAST sins, nor about FUTURE sins, but simply says that for the believer ALL SIN is cleansed by the blood of Christ. This verse sets forth the quality of the shed blood of Christ, that when applied, it cleanses from ALL SIN.
If a professor of chemistry were to hold up a phial containing deadly poison, and say to his students, “This poison killeth,” or, to use a less archaic form, “This poison kills,” would he not be greatly surprised at the stupidity of his pupils, if they thought his words conveyed the idea that the poison was at the moment killing, and that this was a process to be repeated again and again? No, they would understand that he was describing the quality and nature of the liquid, and that when it was applied it would kill.
A Scriptural illustration confirms what we have been saying. We read,
“He that comes from above [the Lord Jesus] is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaks of the earth: He that comes from heaven is above all” (John 3:31).
Twice repeated in this Scripture we get the word comes, in precisely the same form of the verb, as in the word cleanses. Does comes mean a process, that our Lord came once, then kept coming continually; or does it mean that He came once for all? Most surely the latter. The Lord, having completed the work of atonement at the cross of Calvary, sat down for ever at the right hand of God (Heb. 10:12). In perpetuity the work of atonement was completed once for all to God’s fullest satisfaction.
What then are the instructions for a sinning saint? We read,
“If we [believers] confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, 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” (1 John 1:9-2:1).
Please bear in mind that these verses immediately follow the Scripture, which tells us of the precious blood of Christ, cleansing from all sin. Read the Scripture carefully and you will see that it is not a question of a sinner coming to God for pardon of his sins for the first time, but of a sinning saint, coming to his Father in Heaven, seeking His forgiveness and restoration to communion with Him. And please note particularly that the Advocate, Jesus Christ, the righteous, is with the Father.
And what does the word, Advocate imply? It means one who comes alongside to help, just as an earthly advocate will undertake the case of his client and carry it through. Was it not in essence illustrated by our Lord’s actions towards Peter, after he had denied Him with oaths and cursings, resulting in his restoration and recovery? Is this not a sample of the way the blessed Lord will act for us and with us, when alas! it may be necessary?
And further note, it does not say that God is loving and gracious (He surely is that, blessed be His name), but “faithful and just.” Why does it say, “faithful and just”? It is because the precious blood of Christ cleanses from ALL SIN, that our Lord has the righteous ground to put into action His restoring grace, so that the sinning saint, brought to repentance and confession, can receive the pardon of the Father, who is “faithful and just” in doing so, and able “to cleanse from all unrighteousness.”
David, who sinned very grievously in the matter of Bathsheba, confessing his sin in deep contrition, prayed:
“Restore unto me the JOY of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit” (Ps. 51:12).
Note carefully, he did not ask for salvation, but the JOY of salvation, to be restored. Salvation is a blessing, once given, never to be withdrawn, blessed be the Lord. Our Lord became the “Author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9).
But the enquiry may be pressed, How can God forgive sins BEFORE they are committed? Scripture furnishes the only answer to our question. We read that our Lord
“was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25).
For how many of our offences was our Lord delivered? If it were only our sins up to conversion, we were in a sorry plight indeed, for our Lord will not be called upon to die again. Surely this Scripture was written for all time. And it is a matter of fact when our Lord died for our offences on the cross, we, believers alive today, were not born, nor had we committed a single sin.
The Apostle Peter writes in similar strain,
“Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24).
Was not this verse also written for all time? Does it not cover untold millions of believers, who were unborn when our Lord died upon the cross? It must be as this Scripture states, that our Lord bore ALL our sins in His own body on the tree. Let us rejoice that in God’s sight the FUTURE is as the PAST, and that the precious blood of Christ cleanses from ALL SIN, judicially satisfying fully Divine justice, setting the believing sinner free from all charge of guilt the moment he believes.
But this leads us to another enquiry, the complete opposite of what we have been considering.
WHAT ABOUT “SINLESS PERFECTION”?
It is a curious thing that some, who teach the re-application of the blood of Christ, should go to the other extreme, and claim that the heart of the believer can be thoroughly cleansed, every trace of evil eradicated, and henceforth the believer be made free of sin in thought, word and deed, arriving thereby at a state of sinless perfection while in this world. But this is very far from the teaching of Scripture.
It is most instructive that the verse we are about to quote, stands in close proximity to the one telling us that the blood of Christ cleanses from ALL SIN. We read,
“If we [believers] say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us … If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 John 1:8, 10).
Scripture thus tells us plainly that the one claiming “sinless perfection” is deceiving himself, and, we may add, deceiving nobody else. He makes God a liar, and His truth is not in him.
The story is told of John Wesley introducing to George Whitefield a man who claimed to have arrived at a state of “sinless perfection.” Mr. Whitefield happened to be washing his hands at the moment, and he resorted to the very severe test of flinging the soapy water in the face of this man, who immediately fell into a towering rage.
“Away with your ‘sinless perfection’!” cried George Whitefield. How simply and effectually does Scripture make short work of this foolish pretension.
WAS THE APOSTLE PAUL AFRAID OF BEING A CASTAWAY?
Did he believe that it was possible for a believer to fall away, and perish for ever? We know he did not. Let us read what Scripture does say on this matter. We read Paul’s own inspired words,
“I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Cor. 9:27).
Note carefully what the Apostle did not say. He did not say, Lest after I was SAVED. But no, he said, “Lest when I have PREACHED to others.” Salvation is a gift of God never to be recalled. Preaching is a matter of profession. Happy is the servant of the Lord, whose profession is real. Judas Iscariot preached, but he was never saved, and all the time a traitor at heart. Preaching may not always be accompanied by reality. Too often it is not, as we know full well today. The Apostle Paul, however, proved his reality by keeping his body under, bringing it into, subjection. If a man claims to be the Lord’s and makes no effort to refuse the flesh within him, he would clearly be no child of God.
The word, castaway, is used for a counterfeit coin. Now a gold coin is a gold coin and can be nothing else. A counterfeit coin is a base coin and can be nothing else. But Paul, a real servant of God, was true gold, and could not be found to be anything else; just as Judas Iscariot was a base coin and could not be found to be anything else. Paul did not say he might become a castaway, but be a castaway, that is false all the time. Of himself he wrote with assurance,
“I therefore so run, NOT AS UNCERTAINLY; so fight I, NOT AS ONE THAT BEATETH THE AIR” (1 Cor. 9:26).
There was no uncertainty about him. He was a real servant of the Lord. He knew he was saved. He knew he was no counterfeit. He knew on whom he had believed, and was persuaded that what he had committed to Christ was safe in His keeping till the day of glory (2 Tim. 1:12).
It would be well at this point to consider …
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BACKSLIDING AND APOSTASY
Backsliding is failure in testimony and practical Christian living, resulting in a believer walking in a way dishonouring to the Lord. For such, sad as it is to backslide, there is a road open to restoration by true repentance and confession. We read,
“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely” (Hos. 14:4).
The Apostle Peter was a backslider indeed when he denied his Lord with oaths and cursings. Yet we all know how tenderly the Lord sought his restoration.
Apostasy on the other hand is far more serious. For that there is no road to recovery and restoration. An apostate is doomed to be bound for ever in his sin, both in this world and in the next.
The Greek word for “falling away” is apostasia, from which we get our English word, apostasy. The Hebrew believers were evidently in danger of going back to Judaism, so a plain warning was given as to what that step would involve. By such an act they would renounce Christ as Saviour, the Holy Spirit as sent of the Father, the New Testament as setting forth Christian doctrines. In short to return to Judaism meant open apostasy, for which there could be no pardon. Here is the plain statement of Scripture:—
“FOR IT IS IMPOSSIBLE for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, IF THEY SHALL FALL AWAY, to renew them again unto repentance; SEEING THEY CRUCIFY TO THEMSELVES THE SON OF GOD AFRESH, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:4-6).
But it may be asked, Surely this description must refer to true Christians. The answer is that all these things may be the experience of those who have been affected only outwardly in their contact with Christian circles.
The impact of Christianity on Jewish and pagan peoples was very marked, as seen in the Acts of the Apostles. About 3,000 souls were converted to God on one day—the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:41). In those early days the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, and a great number of the priests were obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7). The sick were brought into the streets, perchance the shadow of the Apostle Peter might fall upon them for healing (Acts 5:15); whilst napkins taken from the body of the Apostle Paul sufficed to heal men and women of their diseases, and to the casting out of evil spirits in bodies so tormented (Acts 19:11-12). Such mighty evidences of the powers of the world to come must have greatly impressed many, leading them to consort with the Christians. They tasted the word of God, and of the powers of the world to come. They moved in a circle where the power of the Holy Ghost was felt. Such might well be characterized by the features described in Hebrews 6:4-6.
Take the record as to Simon Magus. When he witnessed the signs and miracles that Philip wrought in the name of the Lord in the city of Samaria he was impressed. Indeed he made so fair a profession of Christianity that he was baptised. When he saw how the Spirit of God came upon believers through the laying on of the apostles’ hands he offered money, seeking this gift for himself, not for spiritual blessing, but that he should thereby make himself great and influential with supernatural power, no doubt for merely carnal gain. The Apostle Peter unmasked his false profession by telling him plainly that he was “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:23). He asked Peter to pray for him. But if Simon Magus had gone to the length of denouncing Christianity root and branch, that would have been apostasy, for which there would be no forgiveness. We do not read that he went as far as that. He was a very evil man. We know nothing of his after career.
But a worse day is coming for the world. Scripture prophesies that in the last days, after the church of God has been raptured to glory, and only the hollow shell of a Christless profession left, that Christendom will become utterly apostate. It needs but little to show that this apostasy is well on the way. Look at Modernism today. Every fundamental doctrine of Christianity is explained away or denied point-blank. The inspiration of Scripture, miracles, the virgin birth of our Lord, the atoning character of His death, His bodily resurrection, are all more or less refused.
Look at Roman Catholicism, proclaiming the fundamental doctrines of Christianity yet denying them in practice, withholding the Word of God from the laity, grasping for world dominion, its prelates living in luxury, and often in sin, as the page of history records. Surely it will take but few steps to complete full and open apostasy. Thank God, we are comforted by knowing this will not be reached as long as true believers are left on earth. We read,
“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away [Greek, apostasia] first, and that man of sin [the antichrist] be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3).
WHAT ABOUT THE VINE BRANCH THAT WAS CAST FORTH AND BURNED?
We have the striking analogy of our Lord likening Himself to “the true vine” (John 15:1-8), in contrast to Israel, likened to a vine planted by Jehovah, yet producing no fruit for God. Read Psalm 80:8-19, and you will see how the vine of responsibility (Israel) failed entirely, and how in verse 17 of that Psalm all hope for the future is centred in Christ,
“Let Thy hand be upon the Man of Thy right hand, upon the Son of Man whom Thou madest strong for Thyself.”
We find the fulfilment of this prophetic utterance in John 15:1-8, where the Lord presents Himself as “the true vine,” and His disciples as the branches. The whole analogy is full of comfort, and yet there seems the tendency on the part of many to extract doubts and fears, where God puts none. Indeed; our Lord tells us,
“These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that YOUR JOY MAY BE FULL” (John 15:11).
If we extract doubts and fears from this passage of Scripture, it is because we have misunderstood and misapplied it.
In the matter of Israel as the unfruitful vine, the branches had to furnish the fruit to the vine, and not the vine to the branches, for Israel was put under the law, which demanded a response, but furnished no power to satisfy its claims. In the case of the true vine, it is the blessed Lord, who furnishes the sap and strength and vitality that are needed. Not only so, but the Father is the Husbandman, or Cultivator. This brings out the teaching that the “purging” of the branches, in other words the hand of the Father in wise and loving discipline, is to the end that the branch, the believer, might bear more fruit. We read,
“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples” (John 15:8).
What then is the secret of fruit-bearing? It flows from the branch abiding in the vine, from the believer abiding in Christ.
To abide in Christ is the mark of the true believer. To be a professed branch, yet to have no vital connection with the vine, to be lifeless, that is without life, is the analogy of the mere professor. The worthless branch is cast forth, withered and burned. The mere professor, one who makes an empty profession of abiding in Christ, will meet his doom when the books are opened at the Great White Throne, and, in the unutterably solemn words of Scripture, the lake of fire for eternity will be his doom. Judas Iscariot among the apostles may well stand as an example and a warning of the branch that did not abide in the vine, which never had this vital connection.
May each reader only extract joy out of our Lord’s words, and not doubts and fears that a true believer may fall away and be lost for ever. To have all our fulness in Christ, a fulness which can never fail us, to have the Father’s hand “purging” the branches, in wise and loving discipline in cutting out the dead wood, retarding growth and fruitfulness, thus helping us to a deep reality, to abide in Christ, should indeed fill the true believer with fulness of joy.
WHAT ABOUT NAMES BEING BLOTTED OUT OF “THE BOOK OF LIFE”?
It is very plain that the statement that certain names would NOT be blotted out of the Book of Life implies that names may be blotted out. God does not hold out empty threats (Rev. 22:19).
An illustration might help here. We know that churches keep a careful register of their members. We know that generally speaking these members may be true Christians, but in many cases alas! are mere professors. Suppose the Lord examined these lists with a view to retaining the names of believers and blotting out the names of mere professors. We know what would be the result.
In 2 Timothy 2:19, we are told, so great will be the deadness and coldness of the Christian profession in the last days, that it will be difficult to know, who are Christians, and who are not. The test given to the Christian is that all those who profess the Lord’s name should be marked by departing from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19). But with the Lord, who can read every heart, no mistakes are made. His eyes pierce the thin veneer of a false profession. His eyes infallibly recognize those who trust in Him. In this Scripture it is a question between the real and the false, between real believers and empty professors. It assures us that the names of true believers will never be blotted out of the Book of Life, for we read,
“Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, the Lord knows them that are His” (2 Tim. 2:19).
“THE FOUNDATION OF GOD STANDETH SURE.”
And what makes it sure? The words are added, “Having this seal, the Lord knows them that are His.” In Ephesians 1:11 we read what that seal is, viz., that all who receive the gospel of their salvation have bestowed upon them the Holy Spirit of God as God’s seal, thereby claiming them as His own property for ever. God gives the seal. He will never recall it. The gifts and calling of God are without repentance on His part (Rom. 11:29). That means, God will never change His mind, that, if a gift is given and a calling made, they are never revoked or withdrawn. So we read,
“Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed UNTO THE DAY OF REDEMPTION” (Eph. 4:30),
that is up to the time when we shall have reached the end of our earthly journey, and we are gathered home to the Father’s house on high.
It is to be remarked that in Scripture another book of life is mentioned. It is called “The Lamb’s Book of Life.” The Greek work for “the book of life,” we have been considering, is biblos, a book, a roll; whereas the word for “the Lamb’s Book of Life” is biblion, a little book, scroll or roll. This latter word is a diminutive, implying a small book, evidently containing fewer names. The former is the book of profession, from which all those, who profess Christianity, and are mere empty professors, will have their names blotted out. The latter is the book of reality, and no names are ever said to be blotted out of that book or threatened to be so treated. This is so for more reasons than one. We read of the blasphemous head of the Revived Roman Empire,
“And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
Here two things are stated,
(1) It is the Book of the Lamb slain.
(2) Names are written in it from the foundation of the world.
The book of the Lamb slain means that only those whose sins have been cleansed away by the precious blood of Christ will have their names inscribed in that book; and secondly, being inscribed from the foundation of the world speaks of God’s unalterable eternal counsel, and we know that will stand for ever.
“YE ARE FALLEN FROM GRACE” (Gal. 5:4).
We may be asked, What about falling from grace? This is a much misunderstood passage of Scripture, not because it is difficult of understanding if carefully considered, but because those who believe in the possibility of a true child of God perishing for ever twist this Scripture in the vain attempt to prove their theory. Many think that falling from grace means a good Christian falling into sinful ways. For instance that prize fighter, who got soundly converted to God, and who went on well and happily for a long time, one day got intoxicated, and in his drunken frenzy knocked a man down, and found himself within the four walls of a prison cell, ruefully lamenting that he had “fallen from grace.” “Fallen from grace” really describes a believer, who failing in his apprehension of the grace of God as set forth in the Gospel, falls from that grace by descending to law-keeping in a mistaken effort to perfect himself in the flesh (Gal. 3:3). Thank God, however, he does not fall out of the grasp of God’s grace.
“Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” (Gal. 5:4-5).
This sets forth the condition of true believers, who have been saved, and have received the gift of God’s Holy Spirit, but who, listening to Judaising teachers, were in danger of putting themselves under law in order to perfect their salvation. This was in effect the complete undermining of the gospel of the grace of God, which had been the means of their salvation. The Apostle Paul denounced in no unmeasured terms this snare of the devil, for Christianity and Judaism, law and grace, could no more mix than oil and water.
Listen to the solemn anathema,
“Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, LET HIM BE ACCURSED” (Gal. 1:8).
And this anathema is twice repeated, showing how very serious the situation was, and how great was their danger in listening to these Judaising teachers.
WHAT ABOUT ENDURING TO THE END?
Those, who fasten on Scriptures they think will support their teaching, that a true Christian can fall away and perish after all, generally do so in a haphazard way without the least attention to the context of the passage. The way this Scripture is twisted to suit this theory is a glaring example of this. We read,
“He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13).
Examine this Scripture, and you will see it does not describe the case of an individual believer, enduring to the end of his earthly pilgrimage, and thereby making sure of his salvation. It is here not a question of eternal salvation.
The careful reader will note that the Lord is giving instruction to godly Jews in view of a day still future, viz., the time of the great tribulation, such as will not have been since the beginning of the world (Matt. 24:21). The setting of the passage is placed in Palestine. The time, the Great Tribulation which will not break forth till after the Church of God is raptured to the Father’s house on high (1 Cor. 15:52). The tribulation will be so severe and its onset so sudden, that one on the housetop may not enter his home to snatch a few necessities for his flight. One in the field must not return back to take his clothes. Flight, instant flight, would be their only chance of escape. This tribulation will be so severe that the love of many will wax cold. For this time of such terrible strain, the Lord exhorts them to endure to the end, and holds out the promise of salvation from their earthly perils. He tells them deliverance will come. The Lord will interfere at this juncture. He will come from Heaven followed by His celestial armies. Out of His mouth will proceed a sharp sword, whereby to smite the nations. This will take place at the great battle of Armageddon, as prophesied in Revelation 19:11-21, and mentioned by name in Revelation 16:16.
WHAT ABOUT “THE WASHED SOW”?
It is best to see what Scripture has to say about it, before we seek to answer this question. We read,
“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in this mire” (2 Peter 2:20-22).
One thing is certain, the Scriptures would never describe a true Christian, a child of God, as a dog. Dogs always stand in Scripture for evil persons. We read,
“Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision” (Phil. 3:2).
“Without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loves and makes a lie” (Rev. 22:15).
The Lord would not put Christians in a class with dogs and other evil workers, such as whoremongers and murderers. Dogs in the East are very different creatures from the valued companions of men in these countries. These pariah dogs are wild and dangerous, belonging to no one, and devouring what scraps of garbage they can find in the dusty road. In Scripture they are only symbolic of evil.
And as to the sow please note, at best it is only a washed sow, a sow still, with a sow nature, that loves wallowing in the mire. Surely Scripture would not liken a Christian to a sow, washed though it might be. We read of believers being likened to the sheep of Christ, but never to a sow.
This Scripture brings before us the condition of mere professors who naturally may go back to their old sinful ways, seeing there is no inward reality to restrain them.
At the first Christianity made such an impact upon Judaism and the pagan world that many unbelievers attended the gatherings of the Christians, and doubtless were influenced for a time for good, but having no inward reality, no vital touch with God, such were liable to backslide, in which case it were better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than to turn away from it. Such are described as the dog returning to his vomit, and the washed sow to her wallowing in the mire.
You will notice that 2 Peter 2:1-3 tells of false prophets, and false teachers, and the many that will follow their pernicious ways. Of that condition of things we have abundant evidence today in the many crank religions in the world, and in the evil ministry of Modernists.
THE MAN WITHOUT THE WEDDING
This parable is often quoted in support of the theory of a true Christian falling away and perishing. It concerns the case of a man, who presented himself at the wedding feast, but who had not on the wedding garment provided for all the guests. When the king came in to greet his guests, his eye saw this man. He asked,
“Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 22:12-13).
Our Lord’s parables were always intended to teach some spiritual lesson. So we ask, What is the garment that fits the Christian to stand before God in acceptance, that will warrant his being present at the marriage of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7)? The Apostle Paul indicates plainly what is the Divine covering, provided for every believer on the Lord, viz.,
“The righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all, and UPON all them that believe” (Rom. 3:22).
In this unspotted dress, procured through the atoning sufferings of our Lord upon the cross of Calvary, believers are fitted to be present at the marriage of the Lamb. It is clear from this, that the man without the wedding garment typifies a mere professor, one professing to be the Lord’s, and yet without any vital link with Him. To have on the wedding garment is the mark of a true believer. To be without the wedding garment is the mark of a mere professor with no right to be at the wedding feast. In this very striking way false professors are warned that the day will come when their true condition will be made manifest, and their doom will be with the wicked in the outer darkness with weeping and gnashing of teeth.
WHAT ABOUT THE FOOLISH VIRGINS?
You will remember there were ten virgins, who went forth to meet the bridegroom. Five were wise, having oil in their vessels with their lamps. Five were foolish for they had no oil in their vessels wherewith to feed the flame. The lamps signify profession. All are professors. Happy is it when profession is real, typified by the oil in the vessels. Oil in Scripture is typical of the Holy Spirit, given to all believers, sealing the reality of their profession, and enabling their testimony to continue. The foolish virgins had the lamps of profession, but no oil of reality. When of all times they desired their lamps to burn, viz., when the cry went forth that the bridegroom was arriving, and they were bidden to meet him, their lamps were going out. While they went to buy oil, the bridegroom arrived, and those that were ready went in to the marriage, and the door was shut. The foolish virgins knocking at the closed door, beseeching for admission, heard the reply of the bridegroom,
“Verily I say unto you, I KNOW YOU NOT” (Matt. 25:12).
These warnings against mere profession are sadly wanted today, for there are tens of thousands who take the Lord’s Supper who have no real part or lot in the matter.
The parable speaks of five wise, and five foolish virgins, showing how far Christian observances may become merely formal and lifeless. Jude well describes false professors:
“These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withers, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots” (Jude 12).
But the Lord can never say to the true believer that He never knew them, for we read,
“The LORD … knows them that trust in Him” (Nah. 1:7).
THE SERVANT WHO HID HIS TALENT IN THE EARTH
Talents were handed out by the man travelling to a far country, so that in his prolonged absence his servants might trade with the same, and that on his return he might receive his own with usury. To one servant was given five talents, to another, two, to a third, one. See the earnestness and zeal of the two, who had respectively five talents and two talents. Year in and year out they traded industriously in view of their Lord’s return. How sadly different was the conduct of the one to whom the one talent had been entrusted. See him digging in his garden, behold him burying the precious talent out of sight. What cared he for his lord! What value did he put on the one talent entrusted to him! Surely this is not symbolical of a true believer, but of a mere professor. And what was his end? One that will never be the experience of a true believer—outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth.
THE BRANCHES OF THE OLIVE TREE THAT WERE BROKEN OFF
A careful reading of Romans 11, the chapter that takes up the condition of the Jewish nation as symbolised by the olive tree, will show the contrast between the privileges of the Jews and those of the Gentiles. This Scripture does not take up the case of an individual, so much as nationally with the Jew, and worldwide with the Gentile. The blessings were at first lodged with Abraham, and through him descended to the Jewish nation.
But what did the Jewish nation do with all its privileges, and they were many, chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2)?
When our Lord came with all the grace and love of God in His heart, going about doing good, and undoing the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) how did the nation respond to all this wealth of kindness and goodness? They put our Lord on a gibbet, mocked His dying agonies, and crucified Him.
This is delineated in the parable of the householder, who planted a vineyard, and let it out to husbandmen. When the time came for the husbandmen to receive of the fruits of his vineyard, his servants were beaten, stoned and some killed. What did the husbandman do after such vile treatment? Spite of it all we read the astonishing news that he sent his son, saying, They will reverence my son (Matt. 21:37).
But what did they do? They seized the opportunity to slay his son, and thus obtain the inheritance. In this is vividly portrayed the way prophet after prophet of the coming Christ was treated, as narrated in Old Testament history; and how God in loving kindness beyond measure sent His only begotten Son, whom they crucified, and cast Him out of the world His own hands had made. Nay more, God took occasion of man’s blackest crime to turn it into an expression of His wonderful love, inasmuch as our Lord died to meet the whole question of sin, to enable God righteously to proclaim His mercy and longsuffering to guilty man. For near two thousand years the day of wondrous grace has been prolonged.
But it will not always be so. In the parable the question is asked as how the husbandman would act when he should return to his vineyard. We read,
“They say unto Him, He will miserably destroy those wicked men, and will let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons” (Matt. 21:41).
All this was prophetic, and much of it has already happened to the Jewish nation. The Jews are scattered among the nations. Jerusalem was destroyed. Its Temple overthrown, not one stone standing upon another, fulfilling the prophecy of our Lord (Luke 21:6). The natural branches of the olive tree have been broken off. God’s grace has gone out the Gentiles, as the Acts of the Apostles so fully testify. Gentile branches have been grafted into the olive tree.
So blindness has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in (Rom. 11:25). The day will come when a repentant Jewish nation will be again grafted on to the olive tree (Zech. 12:10-14; 13:1).
THAT BIG WORD “IF.”
“If” is a very salutary word in Scripture. It challenges the Christian as to how far he appreciates the privileges that God has given, and whether he is answering in his daily life to those privileges and blessings. We quote three of these “ifs,” often brought up by the enemy to upset young Christians, and leave them in perplexity and doubt.
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand: by which also ye are saved, IF ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain” (1 Cor. 15:1-2).
Some of these Corinthian saints were asserting that there was no resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:12). The Apostle Paul writes to them earnestly on the subject, and points out that if there is no resurrection, then is Christ not risen, and if Christ be not risen, they were yet in their sins. The very gospel of the grace of God was at stake. So here was a challenge to keep in mind the gospel they had received. What true Christian is there, who will ever forget the blessed gospel of the grace of God, that was the means of his salvation? This “if” was well timed by the Apostle, but he did not write the words we have just quoted to throw a doubt on the salvation of those who had believed on Christ and were saved once and for ever.
In Hebrews 3:14 we get another “if.” We read,
“We are made partakers of Christ, IF we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.”
The Hebrew believers, who are addressed in this epistle, were in danger of turning back to Judaism. The Apostle Paul knowing this tells them plainly what that would mean. But though he thus warns them with a stern reminder of what such a step would involve, he had no doubt as to these believers, for he says,
“But beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak …” (Heb. 6:9).
Again he speaks of his confidence as to them. He writes,
“If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them that draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:38-39).
These verses show that the Apostle had no doubt as to them, though he used the word “if” to exercise them to go forward on the road on which they had placed their feet by the infinite mercy of God.
A last chapter we refer to with a challenging “if” is Colossians 1:21-23. We read,
“And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now has He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight: IF ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel.”
There are two sides to every truth. Believers are saved and saved for ever. We are the sheep of Christ, and we have our Lord’s own word that we shall never perish. On the other hand we are in this world, pilgrims on the heavenly journey, and this is where responsibility comes in. We are therefore exhorted to steadfastness and continuance in well doing. This is why the Spirit is given, the Holy Spirit of God, the Power by which believers are enabled to walk to God’s glory, and answer to their responsibility on this earth. This is where the “if” comes in as a salutary challenge, since continuance in the faith is the most conclusive proof of the reality of conversion. This is especially seen in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where the believers are exhorted to run the race set before them with patience (Heb. 12:1), and to look off unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of faith. And then we are told how God disciplines His children to help them on their heavenly way, to wean them from wrong ways and hindrances in the race.
There is no Scripture than the one we are about to quote, that more vividly and strikingly brings these two sides together. On the one hand is presented the grace of God that never breaks down, the salvation that is never recalled, whilst on the other hand the responsibility of the pilgrim on the heavenly road is pressed, and the discipline of God that will go to the extremest length to preserve that grace to His own.
“Whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord … For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that WE SHOULD NOT BE CONDEMNED WITH THE WORLD” (1 Cor. 11:27-32).
It appears these Corinthian believers, who had recently been pagan, bound in superstition and idolatry, were seriously misbehaving themselves at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper by indulging in gluttony and drunkenness. For this sad departure from godly behaviour the discipline of the Lord came in. We are told that as a result of this, many of the saints were weak and sickly, and if this discipline was not sufficient to effect its purpose, the Lord went to the extreme length of taking these believers from the scene where their carnal ways were bringing such disgrace on the name of the Lord. This is most impressive. These believers were fit for heaven, but certainly not on their own merit, but by the infinite grace of God, and through the virtue of the precious blood of Christ, that cleansed them from ALL SIN. And on no other ground will any of us reach the glory.
On the other hand they were not fitted to remain on earth in testimony, because of the dishonour they were bringing upon the Lord’s holy name. See how they were told, that if they would judge themselves, they would not be judged, but when this judgment came, even of removing them by death from the earth, this discipline was carried out, that “THEY SHOULD NOT BE CONDEMNED WITH THE WORLD.”
Here is a wonderful blending of the mighty grace of God that saves once and for ever, and a loving discipline that would go to extremest lengths to maintain this grace on the side of their earthly life as Christians. Here we cease, but it seems that this last reflection throws a flood of light on one and all of the difficult passages of Scripture we have been examining, we trust, with some measure of profit and helpfulness to our readers, especially to young converts.