SIN AFTER CONVERSION
No child of God
who has felt the sharp stab of conscience after sin but will ask, almost with
dread, whether such sin can be forgiven.
“If any [of us; any believer] sin,” replies the Apostle, “we
have an Advocate with the Father” (1 John 2:
1); not a Saviour, for such we already have; but an Advocate, to plead a
damaged cause. Sin is not a necessity,
but it is a certainty in the Christian life: the Bible is full of saints who
have sinned. “There
is no sin so small which a convert doth not abhor, and yet there is scarce any
sin so great which he may not commit” (Hardy).* We need an advocate to
meet a prosecution of infinite cunning, accurate information, and incessant
activity: “the accuser [prosecutor] of our brethren, which accuseth them before our God day
and night” (Rev. 12: 10).
And what is our Advocate/s brief?
“For He is the propitiation” - the reconciliation through sacrifice
–“of our sins”: not the
Propitiator only, but the propitiation: here is a rare and priceless Scripture which
explicitly states that
[* Sins of doctrine (Gal. 5: 4), sins of ritual (1 Cor. 11: 22), church sins (3 John, 10), dispensational sins (Matt. 5: 34), sins of temper (Eph. 4: 26), sins of the mouth (Jas. 3: 9), sins of worldliness (Rev. 3: 17), sectarian sins (Titus 3: 11), sins of unbelief (Rom. 14: 23), trade sins and immoralities (1 Cor. 5: 11), sins of pride (Jas. 2: 9), sins of neglect (Jas, 4: 17), sins even against Christ (1 Cor. 8: 12), sins which we are frankly to confess (Jas. 5: 16, R.V.): an Apostle has put it once for all – “In Many things we ALL stumble” (Jas. 3: 2). “To say that they [believers’ sins] are to be recognised as sins, and yet that no acknowledgment is to be made, and no forgiveness sought for them, is a statement so monstrous as to carry its own refutation” (B. W. Newton).]
But a grave responsibility now arises. “If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge [the after-knowledge: the knowledge of instruction, that follows on the knowledge that saves] of the truth” (Heb. 10: 26): “if we sin wilfully” - the Apostle sees no escape from the consequences even for himself, if he so sins: “if we sin wilfully” - consciously, not ignorantly; of our own accord, not under compulsion; with our eyes open, and (as the participle implies) continuing so to sin. Now it is true that deliberate wickedness, a set choice of sin, reveals the unregenerate or (as in this passage) the apostate; for the believer falls under sin, rather than deliberately chooses it: nevertheless if we fall into sin, it is possible to remain in it; and to that degree wilful sin - that is, known sin, which is un-repented, un-confessed, and un-abandoned - is possible to us all.* This Scripture assumes that it is possible even to an apostle. “The sacred writer clearly intimates by the very choice of the word [‘knowledge’] that it is not a mere outward and historical knowledge, but an inward, quickening, believing apprehension of revealed truth” (Delitzsch).
[* Unconscious sin, springing from the still indwelling flesh, the blood covers: “if we walk in the light” - free, that is, from all transgressions voluntary or known – “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1: 7)]
Now the consequence of such sin is necessarily grave. “If we sin wilfully, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment.” The reason is clear. Calvary covers all post-conversion sin potentially, exactly as, potentially, it covers the sins of the whole world; so that atonement can always be had, and by all: but Calvary is wholly ineffective unless applied so that the “propitiation for our sins” is as useless to the [regenerate] believer as the “propitiation for the sins of the whole world” is to the worldling, unless it is appropriated. No sacrifice was ordered or accepted in the Old Testament for un-abandoned transgression; and the Lord Jesus is not, and never will be, an Advocate for wilful sin. Now this is the case supposed. The transgressing [regenerate] believer either refuses to acknowledge that his sin is sin; or he openly declares that he will take the risks; or else he clings to the sin while striving to put the whole subject from his mind; or he may even boldly, assert (I have known of such) that a [regenerate] believer’s sin does not matter, being covered by the Atonement: in each case he refuses to apply the propitiation; and so the sacrifice vanishes. There is no other propitiation to which he can turn: there is no other Jesus than the Son of God: there is no further sacrifice in reserve. So there can be but one consequence. No propitiation, no remission; no remission, no pardon; no pardon - judgment: for all unpardoned sin must appear before the judgment bar of God. “The Lord shall judge His people” (Heb. 10: 30).
designed to impress this truth remarkably reinforces it. The sacrificial system of the law had been
completely delivered, when, on
Now the sacrifice appears. A Heifer - alone of all the sacrifices a female, because offered, not for the world, but the Bride (cf. Deut. 21: 3) : a red heifer - saturate with scarlet sin, and yet drenched with crimson atonement (cf. Lev. 14: 6): spotless, uncrippled, unyoked - the sinless, perfect Christ, never under sin for Hiniself; yet yoked to death for us. “Tempted men and women need a tempted Saviour; wounded men and women need a wourded Saviour; broken-hearted men and women need a broken-hearted Saviour; and the Master never looks more beautiful than when we see Him through our tears, and under the scarlet of a world’s sin.” The Heifer was slaughtered where the sinning believer is - outside the camp; that is, where the communion is broken, there our father provides our healing: thus even the justly excomunicate (1 Cor. 5: 11) have the heifer within reach, and can be restored to the Father’s home, and the broken fellowship of the clean.
The process of
sacrifice in this case is highly peculiar.
The whole heifer - hide, flesh, internals, and blood (except that
sprinkled) - was burnt: no part of our Lord escaped the cross: our whole
believing life, as in some measure tainted and corrupt, finds its
substitutionary counterpart in Calvary.
Then the ash to which the heifer has been reduced - with the blood burnt in it,
and so holding all the cleansing efficacy of the blood - was carried to a
clean spot, for after-use, and to be ready for constant application. The slain heifer was unclean, for it was
covered with the scarlet of human guilt - it is Christ upon the cross: the ash is clean,for it is the
sacrifice after the fire has dealt with it, and has burnt away all the carried
sin - it is Christ risen. The ash, the
most incorruptible of all bodily substances, is the imperishable residue of the
sacrifice, after the judgment flames have searched it through and through: so
Jesus “was carried up” - by “clean” angel hands
– “into Heaven” (Luke
24: 51) - a clean place, and there deposited as the Holy Life stored up,
the Advocate with the Father, the propitiation for our sins. “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God
through the death of His Son,
much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved [from wrath] by His life” (Rom. 5: 10). The Holy Ash, burnt once for all, is for ever
stored among God’s people, alongside the rushing River; perpetually accessible
throughout the pilgrim journey; and charged with the whole power of
But the point of
supreme practical importance still: remains.
The Ash alone cannot restore:
“running water shall be put thereto” Again
our Lord Himself suppliez the clue: “This spake He of
the Spirit” (John 7: 39),
which gushed forth ten days after the Rock had been smitten - that is, after God’s sacrificial
system was complete; the healer, the reconciler, the restorer, as well as an
inner dynamic against sin. “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and my Spirit upon thy seed” (Isa. 44: 12).
So the child of God, penitent, is cleansed not exactly by a
re-application of the blood by which he was: purged once for all, but through
the water of separation;* that is,
through the personal application by the Spirit of this powerful disinfecting
lye - the merit of the Christ Who survived the judgment fires, with
the blood in the ash. It is the ash, rather than the water, to
which the Holy Spirit (Heb. 9: 13)
attributes the cleansing, or the water because of the ash: that is, the Holy
Spirit can restore and sanctify only on the ground of
[* So from our Lord’s side “there came forth blood and water” (John 19: 34), the blood of the atonement and the water of separation: the blood for pre-conversion, and the water for post-conversion, sins.
** No believer can destroy the
So important is the after-cleansing of the believer that our Lord has enshrined the truth for ever in the loveliest of rites. “He that is bathed,”* He says (John 13: 10). “needeth not save to wash his feet, but [if he do both] is clean every whit.” A bather, totally immersed, is completely cleansed; but, coming up from river or seashore, his feet get soiled afresh: so, after our total plunge, our complete immersion, in the pardon of God, our perfect cleansing in the blood of Christ, we contract inevitable defilement in our contact with earth, and need the washing of the walk. No apostle was omitted as perfect in walk. “Our works maybe compared to the soul's feet: the Church will never be so clean that it will have no need of foot-washing” (Spurgeon). Coming up from the great pardon at conversion, and coming up ritually out of the baptismal flood, we come up fully bathed, spotlessly clean; for “ye were washed” (1 Cor. 6: 11): but now, over even apostles’ feet, our High Priest has to stoop in tender ablution and absolution of post-baptismal sin. “Justification must be followed by sanctification” (Lange). So baptism is the first pourtraval by ritual; “arise, and be baptised, and wash away thy sins” (Acts 22; 16): our Lord now institutes a supplementary rite to pourtray the covering of post-conversion sin; “I have washed your feet.” So Israel, coming up from their plunge through the red sea, where they had been walled in and overarched by water, contracted fresh defilement in the wilderness walk, and had that defilement cleansed away (Num. 19: 13) by ‘the water of separation.’
Peter’s impetuous blunders are used by the [Holy] Spirit to set all in a radiant light. He says: “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?”* He does not see the cross in the basin, nor the blood in the water. “Thou shalt never wash my feet.” Our Lord’s answer startlingly reveals our need of the pardon of all sin, whether before conversion or after. “If I wash thee not”- if pardon does not touch you at all – “thou hast no part [in me and] with Me”: without the great ablution, there is no life eternal [and no joint heirship (Rom. 8: 17) with Christ in the Millennium]; and without the partial ablution, there is no reward at the Judgment Seat: justificalion and sanctification are both essential for a full participatlon with Christ. Christ does not say that, once washed, no kind of washing can be needed again: nor does He say that once soiled, no fresh washing is possible. Peter, still misunderstanding, now rushes to the opposite extreme:- “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”** “Peter was thoughtlessly demanding the repetition of his baptism” (Godet). Jesus again corrects the error. “He that is bathed needeth not save to wash his feet.” “The foot needeth to be washed; but the totality of the cleanness is not lost” (B. W. Newton).*** The first cleansing is total and final, involving our whole nature, and, up to that moment, a perfect bath, unrepeated and unrepeatable; justification is for ever; it is ‘one baptism’ (Eph. 4: 5) once for all: but for sanctification, continual and progressive, a practical cleansing is required for occasional and partial sin. “The Devil wishes no child of God to get to Heaven with clean feet” (Luther); but Christ has made it possible.
[* Our Lord’s first reply lays down a principle of vast importance. “What thou knowest not now, thou shalt understand hereafter.” Obedience is not to wait until acommand is understood: it can be most glorious (e.g., Gen. 22: 12) when the command is least understood.
** Thus a believer’s cleansing depends wholly on his own consent to Christ’s action. This negatives B. W. Newton: “When they [all believers] enter their Father’s presence, each foot will have been perfectly wlshed.” Numerous sctiptures (such as Matt. 18: 35, Luke 12: 47, 2 Cor. 5: 10, Col. 3: 24-25, 1 John 2: 28, Rev. 3: 3, 16, etc.) make sure the shame of disciples after the resurrection, when a sharper chastisement will bring a belated repentance, and a cleansing that will be final. Of one sin our Lord says, “It shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is to come” (Matt. 12: 32): from which it may justly be inferred that certain other sins (obviously of believers only) will require and receive a future forgivness in the Age that succeeds to this. “Some men’s sins are evident, going before unto judgment; and some men also they follow after” (1 Tim. 5: 24).
*** “Then flew” - for God is swift to pardon at the cry of His penitent child - “one of the seraphim unto me” - for even as Isaiah needs partial cleansing - “with a live coal” - a burnt cinder of the sacrifice - “from off the altar” - an invariable picture of Calvary - “and he touched by mouth with it” (Isa. 6: 6) All our sin was burnt in the Sacrifice upon the Altar; but the burnt ash must touch the part that has sinned. “Lo, this” - cinder of Christ, this application of the burnt ash - “hath touched thy lips”: the part tainted is the part touched: and the expiation is made actual only by the confession (verse 5) followed by the conduct.]
Our Lord binds His authority and example upon us in terms the most drastic in order to compel us to an obedience which critically affects our future. “If I, the Lord and the Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet”; “for,” as He said elsewhere (Matt. 6: 15), “if ye forgive not men their tresspasses neither will your Father forgive your tresspasses.” I doubt if a day will ever pass on which we shall not need either to forgive or to be forgiven. “They are to admonish one another, to confess their sins one to another, to bring gently and lovingly before each other their mistakes, errors, and imperfections” (Govett). The priests, entering on the service of the Temple, bathed once for all; yet on daily entering, daily washed their hands and feet on penalty of death (Exod. 19: 19-21): so our footbath follows the laver of [attached to, significant of] regeneration (Eph. 5: 26)- our full bath, our complete plunge. And penalties attach. “Ye are clean” (John 15: 3): grafted into the Vine, the cleansing juices and purifying sap course through the veins of the living branch: nevertheless it is ‘cleansed’ again (verse 2, R.V.), to produce more fruit; and, if fruitless, it is removed. “For this cause [abuse of the Supper, to which the foot-cleansing introduced] many among you are weak and sickly, and not a few sleep” (1 Cor. 11: 30). So again we catch the solemn and urgent undertone. For it was at the moment when the disciples were talking of rank in the coming kingdom (Luke 22: 24), and “when the hour was come that He should depart [by rapture] out of this world,” and go unto God, that the Lord points to the soiled feet, and thus reveals our golden opportunity on the eve of the rapture and the Kingdom. “Whosoever would become great among you shall be your servant; and whosoever would be FIRST among you shall be your SLAVE” (Matt. 20: 28): supremacy in glory is in inverse ratio to lowliness in present service.
While extra-Biblical tradition is no
basis whatever for our faith or conduct, evidence that the acceptance of our
Lord’s words as indicating a rite is not an individual idiosyncracy may justly
be offered, on behalf of an interpretation which, through ignorance of church
history, may seem new-fangled and peculiar.
The Greek church has preserved
it, together with immersion in baptism, from the apostolic age. Of the four so-called ‘doctors of the Church,’ two - Ambrose and Augustine -
taught and practised it, and in the sub-apostolic age “the
ceremony was used by some churches, but rejected by others.”*
As late as the fifth century Augustine
perform this action one for another.
Among some saints the custom exists not, but they do it in heart; but much better and more exact is it,
beyond controversy, that it be done by the hand.” Bernard,
called ‘the last of the Fathers,’ is equally
explicit:- “That we may not doubt concerning the
remission of daily sins, we have its sacrament - the Washing of Feet.” The Council
of Toledo (A.D. 694) fixed an annual date when the feet of the newly
baptised were washed. Luther was not averse to it. Nor are the Moravians the only modern group to observe the rite. One of the giant intellects of modern days,
foremost in the ranks of science – Faraday
- was (with many an obscure disciple through many ages and in many lands) a
humble follower of this ritual of ablution.
“Many humble Christian societies have adopted
this view, and still find that some devout people are earnest for it” (C. Stanford,
[* Bingharn’s Christian Antiquities, vol. 1, p. 56r. The Church of Rome, which refused the rite, substituted its own caricature, Penance. Many errors (like Penance) are shipwrecked spars which mark the spot where a ship has gone down richly laden. It is obvious that the annual washing of the feet of twelve beggers by the Pope, the King of Spain, and the Emperor of Austria, cannot be taken seriously as a perpetuation of our Lord’s ritual.
After Baptism, p. 15.. R. Govett: one penny, A. J. Tilney, 66,
*** Even if, however, it be taken as a symbolic action only, and not a ritual, the truth on post-conversion cleansing remains exquisitely pictured by this kindergarten action of our Lord. Whether symbol or ritual, one and the same truth is expressed, decisively and for ever.]
Thus two jagged, dangerous rocks hem in a believer who has sinned - presumption and despair; presumption, which says it does not matter, and despair, which says it cannot be forgiven; on either of which, if the soul dashes, the discipleship splits in pieces. So Sin not is the first command; but, if we sin, Despair not is the second. So long as there is a penitent disciple on earth there will never be wanting a pardoning Advocate in Heaven. All post-conversion sin specifcally confessed to God and abandoned is wholly forgiven and forgotten. Calvary was an infinite sacrifice, and so, if offered for human sin at all, it must have been offered for all sin: “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son” - THE SON OF GOD – “cleanseth from all sin” (1 John 1: 7); not the Son of Adam, nor the Son of David, nor the Son of Mary, but the Son of God: for only an infinite Sacrifice can cover an infinitude of souls; and only an Infinite Being can be an infinite sacrifice. The propitiation is Jesus Christ the righteous, the sinless: if one sin was to be purged, it could be no less; if the sin of an entire universe, it could be no more. So there is a great ocean of pardon, in which a whole world can be plunged; a pardon for every sin, a pardon for every soul; so that it is possible for all to enter Heaven [and the coming Kingdom], not sinlessly perfect, but totally forgiven: “set before the presence of His glory without blemish in exceeding joy” (Jude 24).