A BELIEVER'S SIN
D. M. PANTON.
[Blind leaders within the church are a great danger, and the only possible warning is a plain statement of facts. One of the grave defects of to-days ministry and evangelical literature, is the careful suppression of unpopular truths and unpalatable facts. But rousing facts and truths can be the very dynamite of God: they are greatly needed today to awaken His people.]
All evangelical believers are agreed that only a changed life can prove a changed heart; that without a new character and a new conduct, openly shown, there has been no second birth. My little children, let no man lead you astray: he that doeth righteousness is righteous (1 John 3: 7) - the imparted righteousness proves his possession of the imputed righteousness. The Apostle John puts it, both positively and negatively, with extreme clearness. Ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is BORN of GOD (1 John 2: 29). Such a one may be overcome by temptation, and fall into gross sin; nevertheless the bent of his mind, the current of his life, is Godward: as a stream can flow only if there be a fountain, and the rush of the current alone proves that there is a fountain, so a godly life can only issue from the Divine nature implanted; and invariably it does thus flow out of the new birth. In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God (1 John 3: 10).. Or as our Lord expresses it:- Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?. Therefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Matt. 7: 16).
now the exceedingly important and exceedingly practical question arises
the degree to which a believer can
sin, and his consequent
fate.. And here the
Now there are two examples recorded in Scripture - to name no others - so peculiarly plain and decisive as to be utterly unanswerable; and they prove both groups wrong: for, as is so often the case in Scripture exposition, they prove that the truth lies in a golden mean. These two cases establish - against the Calvinist - that the converted can so sin, and - against the Arminian - that the converted man so sinning is not thereby eternally lost, however fearful may be the punishment which he incurs. Or, to put it in another way:- the truth is that a child of God can suffer a far severer judgment than the Calvinist dreams, while his bedrock security is unforfeitable - which the Arminian denies; and these two facts cover, and reconcile, all the Scriptures.
The first case is the model of all excommunication. Ye being gathered together, to deliver such a one - for it applies to all who sin according to the list given unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor. 5: 5). The sin in this case - incest - is a form of immorality so revolting that it was almost unknown even among the heathen; as Paul himself says, - such fornication as is not even among the Gentiles; and the penalty the destruction of the flesh - assumes that the sin continues until death. So here is the grossest sin, found in a member of the Church and handled by Paul himself on the ground that the man is a member: do not ye judge them that are within, whereas them that are without God judgeth? Put away the wicked man from among yourselves. That the incestuous brother was a [regenerate] believer is proved decisively by the fact - which we learn from the second Epistle (7: 9-12) - that he confessed and abandoned his sin, and was never put out of fellowship at all. Otherwise the dread sentence must have fallen. We all shrink inexpressibly from the surgeons knife falling on one whom we love: nevertheless if it cuts out a cancer, and so saves his life, we let the knife fall.
own summary of the sentence now enables us to apply this critical case
two sets of doctrines prevalent in the
[* We have every reason to believe that Satan is still employed in Gods hands for this very work of discipline or destruction. The ruin, thus wrought in the outer man, is not to be an utter and final one (Lange).
** The punishment, though it be the withdrawing of one instrument of Grace, is itself another, and therefore purposely chosen and allowed in exchange for the former, because it is looked on as the more probable to produce the effect (Bishop Wordsworth).]
The second case - for we are dealing with but two - is mental sin rather than moral, and not one sin but wrong conduct throughout the entire discipleship. The fire itself shall prove each [regenerate believer's] work, of what sort it is. If any [believer's] work shall be burned, he shall suffer, loss (1 Cor. 3: 15): that is, he escapes down a blazing corridor, and out through the collapsing doorway, of the building he has spent his whole discipleship in erecting.. Dean Stanleys paraphrase brings home the truth vividly:- The nature of every ones work or superstructure shall sooner or later be known; for the Great Day of the Lord is at hand, which shall dawn in a flood of fire. The house of gold and silver shall be lit up by its dazzling brilliancy; but the house of wood and thatch shall be burnt up; and the builder whose house is consumed will lose his reward, having nothing to show. Our Lord expresses the identical truth as applied to conduct. * Every one that heareth these words of mine - the Sermon on the Mount and doeth them not, [builds] his house upon the sand - it is the building of a lifetime and the floods came and smote upon that house, and it fell; and great was the fall thereof (Matt. 7: 26). The whole structure crashes.
[* The context in Corinthians lays special emphasis on Christian teachers and how they build; and it is exceedingly solemn to learn - though it fits in exactly with the facts around us - that while such can hold vitally, and teach, the fundamental truths, they can so add what is unscriptural in all the rest of their teaching as to have their entire creed - apart from the fundamentals - swept away in the judgment.]
Now this case also is extraordinarily convincing. For it is no isolated sin which the believer here commits, however gross; but the Holy Spirit here assumes a child of God who, after a lifetime of discipleship, has nothing to show: his entire superstructure, though truly built on the foundation of Christ, is destroyed as worthless by the consuming fire. Yet what is the summary? HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED, yet so as through fire; See the Greek through the midst of fire' (Stanley).* To quote Dean Stanley again:- He himself, as having built on the true foundation, will be saved, yet he will come out singed and scorched as by an escape out of a burning ruin: his personal faith saves himself from destruction, but it is at the cost of seeing his work destroyed and his labour lost - like a merchant who escapes from shipwreck, but at the cost of his property. He is saved for Christs sake, his labour is lost for his own. So again both current views proved erroneous.. A discipleship entirely worthless - from the viewpoint of the Judgment-Seat - is not, by itself, decisive that the man was never regenerated; on the contrary, here he is saved: so, equally, a regenerate mans complete miscarriage in theology and conduct, for a lifetime, does not prove him lost he himself shall be saved. Therefore the very refusal of this truth so common among evangelicals of both groups, together with all that is built upon that refusal in erroneous theology and conduct, must itself be ablaze of straw before the Judgment Seat. **
[* He himself, as contrasted with his reward and with his work: he will be snatched as a brand from the burning saving nothing but his bare life (Lange).]
** Thus the doctrine of reward is made inescapably clear. Reward rests in no degree whatever on the fact that we are on the Foundation, but results from what our own hands have wrought (through grace) after being saved. So also it would be impossible to make salvation by faith plainer. For, according to the picture, apart from the foundation already laid, and actually beneath us, no God-acknowledged superstructure can exist - that is, no works are accepted before conversion: on the other hand, works wrought for a lifetime on the foundation by a saved soul can be completely burnt up, and yet that soul saved. Works therefore, before or after faith are divorced forever from all salvation.]
It is exceeding remarkable that the Apostle who instructs us most clearly that a mans active righteousness is the only proof that he is fundamentally righteous is the very Apostle who invokes us to the highest, on the ground that our whole workmanship may be lost. Look to yourselves, that ye lose not the things that ye have wrought, but that ye receive A FULL REWARD (2 John 8). False materials, spiritual collapse, unabandoned sin* - and the building, it may be after fifty years, crashes: on the other hand, by facing at once the darkest Scriptures, and squaring our lives to their demands, we adopt Napoleons master principle, - I ALWAYS MASTER THE WORST FIRST, AND THEN I KNOW THAT I HAVE MASTERED ALL THAT IS LESS THAN THE WORST.
[* Believers are even warned against committing murder (1 Pet. 4: 15); and while it is probable that some Inquisitors have been regenerate men, it is certain that Calvin shared in the killing of Servetus. In the Day of Grace, killing on the principle of religion (Stephen says) is murder. Acts 7: 52.]