Letters on "Profession" and the "Work of Grace."

1. My dear brother,

You touch upon the root of the matter towards the end of your letter, where you say, in reference to profession or confession, that you believe it means in the Scriptures the manifestation of a real inward thing, and not an outward thing where the inward is wanting; for there you own the distinction which exists between the inward and the outward, though I do not think you are right in holding that Scripture puts them as you say. I believe the Word shows that they are distinct, and that while profession should be true, i.e. a true indication of what one believes and is subject to, at the same time, this has not been, and is not always the case with those who profess. The general principle of the distinction between the "two things is given in Rom. 10:10: "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

When the Scriptures speak of life, or of the heart being purified, it is in connection with the grace of God, which makes that a sure and perfect work (see Acts 15:7-9; 1 Peter 1:18-23); so He says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any (man or devil) catch them out of my hand;" and this security rests on His divinity. "I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-30.) But profession is generally connected with privileges, and responsibility is always pressed where these are seen. Thus Heb. 3 says, "Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling" - not "partakers of life" - "consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession," not "of our salvation;" and the whole epistle proceeds upon this ground, showing the privileges which professing Christians enjoy, and their responsibility in view of these, and therefore the epistle is full of warnings and "ifs."

Thus Heb. 1 shows that we have been spoken to by no less glorious a person than the Son of God (it is not a question of having received His word by faith, but of being addressed by such an One, and therefore responsible to pay attention and adhere to what He has said), and so the warning in Heb. 2:1-4 - comes in, "we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip," and "how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?" etc. Heb. 2 shows who is the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, and the call to us to "consider" (it is not to follow) Him comes in. (Heb. 3:1-2.) Heb. 3 then shows who it is that our profession (in v. 1) brings us into connection, not union, with (as it is His "house," not His "body," which is spoken of), and we are His house "if we hold fast," etc. (v. 6.) For this reason we are to "take heed, lest there be in any one of us an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." (v. 12.) If the people were looked at as the possessors of life this never could be said. When the Hebrew Christians are spoken to on that ground in the confidence which the thought of grace inspires, as in Heb. 10:39, the language is quite a contrast to this. Paul had been giving a solemn warning in Heb. 10, lest after knowing what the work of Christ had accomplished, viz., that it had opened free access to God (and not as it had been under law), any should draw back and give that up; but in verse 39, he turns and expresses the confidence which he had through grace in the Hebrew Christians. "We are," he says, linking himself with them, "of them which believe to the saving of the soul," which is of course quite different from saying, "We are those who have made a good profession." Where the latter word comes in in Heb. 10, it is said (v. 23), "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith," etc. In Heb. 3, further, verse 14, "We are made partakers" (or "fellows," not "members") "of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence," etc. Then the example of Israel is adduced (vv. 15-19) to bring in a warning (Heb. 4:1) lest we should not enter into the rest which Christ leads into, as some of the Israelites entered not into the rest in their day.

Hebrews 5 speaks of Christ's glory as priest, which is put before us as something which we should know practically; and Heb. 6 follows with a warning lest those who had come into connection with such privileges should fall away from them (the thought is not that they had been brought to Christ and might fall away from Him. Heb. 6:1-8), though again Paul's confidence in the Hebrew Christians as those who had more than mere possession of privileges comes out in verses 9-12. Then 7, 8, 9, and part of 10, are all taken up with unfolding Christ in various characters, to show in other lights the great privileges of Christianity, and they are all summed up in Heb. 10:19-21, to press in verses 22-31, the responsibility on us, who profess faith in it all, to "hold fast," and the warning in case we do not.  

Then, as I have pointed out, there was much in the case of the Hebrew Christians to reassure Paul's heart about them as really saved and possessors (not simply professors) of faith, and so this comes out in verses 32-29. The characteristics of true faith are there upon brought out in Heb. 11, and practical exhortation follows on this ground; but this not being so distinctly privilege as what the former part of the epistle teaches, the warnings are not so severe; but they are there, showing that the people were addressed as responsible, and not as possessors of life. (Heb. 12:1, 3-5, 12-17, 25, 29, etc.)

I have touched upon this before entering upon your questions about Israel, because it is well to see that Scripture establishes the general principle before we come to any applications of it.

We see, I may also note, in 1 Tim. 2:10, "good works" named as that "which becomes women professing godliness," showing that the profession was not looked upon as necessarily a pledge of a true heart; for the good works give evidence that it, viz., the profession, is true. The good works are the adorning which is suitable or becoming to a true profession, and the thought therefore is not that the profession itself is the evidence that the women are godly.

In Rom. 1:22, and Titus 1:16, we see men professing one thing while their lives give evidence that their hearts are very different from their profession. And in Rom. 14:11, and Phil. 2:11, we see that there are many who will confess Christ, but not be saved, or not have any love for Him in the future. So I think it plain that Scripture shows that profession and life are not confounded, and that profession is not presented as the manifestation of a real inward thing, but is a distinct and external thing requiring evidence to prove whether it be true or false.

With regard to Israel, if Heb. 11:29 had said, "By faith Israel, or the Israelites, passed through the Red Sea," etc., it would have been strong evidence that the nation had possessed faith when they did so, whatever might have become their condition afterwards, because that chapter describes the characteristics, and bears testimony to the action, of true faith; but the verse does not say so. It merely says, "By faith they passed through the Red Sea," etc., the former verse having spoken of Moses and the passover, where it says, "By faith he kept the passover and the sprinkling of blood, etc. Thus verse 29 stands by itself, and speaks only of those who had faith, not of all who passed through the sea; and it is purposely indefinite in the expression "they," which is used (Israel not being mentioned at all), because in chap. 3 of the same epistle, it is expressly said that some of them "believed not" (Heb. 3:16-19), and that they "could not enter into the rest because of unbelief." There is this difference between the passing through the Red Sea and the entering into Canaan, that in the former, God did everything, and the people only looked on and experienced His deliverance; the word to them being, "Stand still, and see the salvation (or deliverance) of God," i.e. God undertook for the people without any question as to their state, which indeed did not give much evidence of the calmness of faith. (See Ex. 14:10-13.) Whereas in the latter, entering the land involved conflict and exertion on their part, and so results depended upon their faithfulness as responsible. (Num. 33:50-56.)

If you read verses 1-9, with 29-31 of Ex. 4, and verses 30 and 31 of Ex. 14, you will see that what is spoken of is the people's believing the evidence of what they saw; a very different thing from faith which connects the soul with God, because, as I once said to you, we see the same sort of "belief" in those who were certainly not saved, in Ex. 8:16-19; John 2:23-25; Acts 8:6, 9, 10, 13, 20-23.

We must not forget also that the deliverance in Ex. 14, though in type it was the deliverance of God from spiritual enemies, and though where there was faith this result might be recognized as the proper fruit of connection with God, yet actually, or in fact, it was deliverance from visible enemies, and faith was not required to ensure a share in it. God did not deal with them on the ground of faith in delivering them, but on the ground of His promise and grace in fulfilling it to them in spite of their being evil; and, moreover, the words which you quote from Ex. 14:31, were spoken of what was subsequent to the passage through the Red Sea, and describe the state of the people consequent upon what they saw in that passage and immediately after it, and not their state before that "baptism" took place.

In Ex. 4:29, Moses and Aaron gathered the elders of the people, and in verses 30 and 31, these are called "the people," and "the children of Israel" are seen thus in the persons of their representatives, and get credit for what they do, although in fact they may have, and must have, formed a small number compared with the whole nation. They were the heads of the people, and represented the people then and always. This is a principle of frequent occurrence in the Scriptures, and an instance illustrating it is seen in Israel's future history. In the day that is coming it is said, "All Israel shall be saved" (Rom. 11:26); but when we examine the prophecies which treat of that time, we find that only a very small "remnant" of Israel will be blessed, the great majority of the nation being cut off in judgment. (See Isa. 6:9-13, Isa. 10:20-23, Isa. 51:17-52:12; Jer. 23:3; Ezek. 6:8, 14:22; Joel 2:28 - 3:21, etc.) This remnant, however, gets the place and blessings of Israel, and is thus the representative of the nation.

The subject of 1 Cor. 10 is privilege, and the responsibility which flows from partaking in that to those who partake, whoever they are. So the passage, "did all eat the same spiritual meat," and "did all drink the same spiritual drink," etc., says something about the meat and the drink, but nothing about the people who partook of them except that they did partake. They participated in all these privileges; i.e. baptism unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, the spiritual meat and the spiritual drink which were provided (and true as well as false ones did so, "they did all eat the same," etc.), and yet many of them were proved in the long run to have been unworthy partakers, and we are to take warning by them, lest after partaking of our privileges we should sin and be destroyed as they. There is no thought of the possession of life, or of God's grace and its results in the chapter, but there is that of the privileges enjoyed by the people, and, even in spite of these, their course with its results.

Hebrews 3, to which you refer, does describe this evil course of theirs - "they do always err in heart, and they have not known my ways;" "howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses" provoked Him, but "to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not?" - and in view of this description I can only believe that these never had faith; for although they saw God's acts they did not know His ways, and the end merely showed out what was their state all along. To say that at one time they had faith and were right in heart, and that subsequently they lost the one, and went wrong in the other, seems to me not only to be at issue with their history, but also to shut out altogether the work of grace in any soul, because this wherever it exists is perfect and eternal in its effects.

I may just note, before closing, that Matt. 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-26 show how the Lord acknowledges and deals with false profession. It is plain that the wicked servant's condemnation is, that while he occupied the position of a servant he never did one bit of service; i.e. that he really was no servant; but the Lord in reckoning with him does not condemn him as no servant, but rather takes him up on the ground of his profession, acknowledges it, and condemns him as a (wicked and unprofitable) servant.

2. My dear brother,

In Ephesians 2 I read, "God who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace, in His kindness towards us through Christ Jesus. For 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."

Now this Scripture is noticeable, because it puts before us complete salvation entirely as God's work, without the necessity or possibility of anything on our part, and also as a fully accomplished thing for us now. In general in the other epistles we have the salvation of our souls known to us as a present thing by faith, and we wait for the deliverance to be extended to our bodies. Here, however, in Ephesians, we are viewed as already "seated in heavenly places in Christ" - seen as, in the full present possession of all that is ours in Him; and it is here, where the whole extent of the work is in view, that salvation is in the most explicit way entirely referred to grace. There is no question of our doing any thing in the matter, because we are "dead in trespasses and sins," and it is all His work from that point.

Now, this is a direct illustration of the work of grace as applied to sinners, and it is of course founded upon what we may call the work of grace for them; that is, the death of the Lord Jesus on the cross. No man asked Him to do that work, and it was entirely His own grace which (as Romans 5 teaches) found in man's sin the occasion for the display of His love. He is sovereign in the acting of His grace towards sinners - "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8); and as 1 Peter 1:3-9 teaches, it is both "He who is the beginner of the work in us, and the One who maintains us unto the end. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to His abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time," etc. See also Col. 1:12-14 and John 10:27-30: My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them 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."

Now, all this illustrates what I called the work of grace. There is a divine work wrought for, and a divine work wrought in, man; and it is all outside of merit or work on his part, though of course accompanied by exercises in him, and is therefore entirely of grace. Responsibility to answer in life to it, and to show that it is true, follows the profession of His name who has done this work (as in Rom. 10:10-13 and 2 Tim. 2:19, etc.); and Christians may be, and are, spoken to in the Scriptures (as I showed in my last) on the ground of what they are responsible to exhibit, leaving out for the moment the question of whether salvation is true of them or not; while, on the other hand, they may be and are spoken to (as these Scriptures herein quoted show) on the ground of participating in that divinely-accomplished work.

Now, it is quite plain that a person may profess faith in Christ, and yet utterly fail to maintain that character of life and walk which become indispensable to one who stands on that ground; while it is equally plain, that wherever there is true faith in Him, i.e. wherever He is owned in the heart (as in Rom. 10:10), the soul is eternally safe, or, as the Scripture expresses it, "has everlasting life, shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life," and is one of "the sheep" who "shall never perish." (John 5:24; 10:27-30.) To say that one could be right in heart with God, and then fall away from this so as to be lost, is thus to say that a man may have eternal life and lose it; that is, that after all it may prove to be not eternal life. And it is to say also that it is possible for some power to catch His sheep out of His hand in spite of His affirming the contrary.

In some Scriptures, as the epistle to the Romans, the responsibility of man as man (God's creature) to live a good and proper life, and even to seek God, is brought up for the purpose of convicting all men that they "have sinned and come short of the glory of God;" and salvation is presented as satisfying the need in him which this truth when believed is sure to produce. The contrast between the former life of those who are justified and brought "unto Christ," and their life subsequent to this, or to the profession of this, necessarily comes out in this line of truth. Again in other portions, as Philippians and Hebrews, we have the responsibility of Christians as Christians brought out, and this is always measured by the place they are in, either professedly or really.

All these truths have their places divinely given, and are useful and precious parts of divine truth, while that which grace, or God in grace, works remains true, and is the heavenward side, and not the earthward side, of the same truth.

We are told to "hold fast the form of sound words," and there are of course truths which we may convey to one another in expressions, which are not perhaps precisely copied from Scripture, without departing from this injunction. Were we to object to every expression which is not to be found in the Bible, we should have to object to much that is good and true, and used to convey precious truth. For instance, we do not find in Scripture the word "person" applied to the Father, or to the Son, or to the Holy Ghost, and yet what better word have we for conveying the truth of their blessed individuality? "Trinity" is also not a word in Scripture, but does it not convey the truth?

We must not forget who said, "The letter killeth," and we must therefore be careful to hold the truth, and not mistake for this mere acquaintance with correct phrases. Mere effort of human mind can take these up, but the living truth must be received in the simplicity of children by faith; and it sets free no less from error than from the bondage to forms which our minds always seek to bring us into.

3. My dear brother,

In my reply to your last letter, I omitted to point out the application of the truth of God's work, or the "work of grace," as I called it, to the saints in former days. It is not so readily seen as in its application to us Christians, because there is not anything like the same fulness of Scripture revelation about it, "life and incorruptibility" having been "brought to light by the gospel." Nevertheless, the Lord shows us that in principle what is true now was true then; and although there was no revelation about the life which saints had, so that they could not have used the language of full assurance which belongs to us, yet it was a divine necessity that a man "must be born again;" and so the Lord spoke of the truth, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:5), as among the "earthly things" which, as a master or teacher in Israel, Nicodemus should have known. This shows plainly the character of the work by which life was, and is always, communicated to a sinner, and shows, too, that it is divine life, and quite different in nature from all that man is or was. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit."

Psalm 16; Ps. 19:7-8, Ps. 21:1-6, Ps. 32:1-6, Ps. 40:1-5, Ps. 51, Ps. 103, etc.; Ezek. 20:44, Ezek. 36:25-38, Ezek. 37:1-14, etc., are among the many Old Testament Scriptures which show that man needed life as a divine gift in order to have part with God, and that it was there for faith. But I do not believe that any soul had the consciousness that it possessed eternal life, because the character of the life was not then revealed, and, moreover, certain earthly blessings were then connected with that life, and to these the attention of God's people was directed, because as to their ways on the earth - they were directly subject to God's government exercised in the earth, and this uses earthly blessings and curses as rewards and chastisements.

Romans 3:25 shows how the death of Christ, to which God then looked forward, was the foundation upon which He thus dealt with any sinner then, passing over his sins and giving him life, though justly deserving death; and in due time, by the death of Christ accomplished, God was declared righteous in His past dealings. So that we see the application of both sides of the work of grace to sinners in other days as well as in our own.

There is a great difference, of course, between a man merely professing to love and serve God, and this work of God in a soul. The one will not last nor stand the test of trial; but the other is indestructible; while, of course, it leads everyone who is the subject of it into that character of life which pleases God. F. J. R.