THE WRATH OF GOD AND THE CHASTENING OF THE LORD
In view of questions that have been raised concerning certain parts of this book (Godís Pilgrims), namely, those which apply the warnings of Hebrews and of other New Testament Scriptures to the redeemed people of God, it has seemed desirable to append a few comments so as, if possible, to give further light upon that subject. In order that readers may understand clearly the points in question we quote below an article which recently appeared in print under the title "No More Wrath." It is our earnest desire that readers may compare the statements of that article with what is said in this volume, and may carefully subject both views to the test of the Scriptures. There is need of this, seeing that the matter discussed is of very great importance. The article referred to is as follows:
"Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5: 14). "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8: 1). "Who delivered us from so great a death" (2 Cor. 1: 10). "Who delivered us from the wrath to come" (1 Thess. 1: 10). "For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess. 5: 9). "Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son" (1 Col. 1: 13). "And were by nature the children of wrath, even as others" (Eph. 2: 3). "And I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of My Hand" (John 10: 28).
And how many more texts might be given, which teach the complete deliverance from wrath and condemnation of the sinner who has believed in the Lord Jesus Christ! Our blessed and adorable Substitute on the Cross has accomplished the work of deliverance for us. The judgment due to us rolled over His Head. He drank the cup of wrath in our stead. Nothing we have done, or could do, can deliver us from wrath and condemnation. Equally true it is that the One Who hath saved us and delivered us will keep us. Wrath and condemnation can never, no, NEVER, be the lot of a child of God. The sins, the failures, and the short-comings of the believer can never affect his standing in grace. Once saved means forever saved, independent of what we are and what we do.
The apostates mentioned in Hebrews were not true believers, but Jews that had gone to a certain extent with Christianity and were going back to Judaism. The enemies of the Cross in Philippians (chapter 3.), whose end is destruction, were not true children of God, but such as had crept in unawares (Jude, verse 4). No true Christian, who knows himself a lost sinner and is saved by grace, can ever be an enemy of the Cross. To teach that salvation depends on what we do, and that our keeping for eternal life, and the receiving of glory, depends on a surrendered and separated life, or anything else, is a dangerous thing. It leads to self-occupation and introspection; it must eventually take away from the glory and sufficiency of the work and power of the our Lord. It leads simple Christians into confusion. The heart knowledge of salvation by Grace, the great love wherewith He hat loved us, the living Christ, and His love for us, produces a holy walk in the believer.
1. We rejoice in the truth, so clearly stated in the Scriptures quoted in the foregoing article, that there is no wrath in store for those whom God has justified through faith in Jesus Christ, and that they have, by His grace, perfect deliverance from condemnation. This truth is set forth in the present volume (p. 17 and first paragraph of p. 41), so that there is no controversy here. But, while there is no wrath and no condemnation for those that are in Christ, they are to expect chastening and discipline. The writer of the foregoing article has lost sight of the chastening of the Lord, than which there is probably no subject that is more needful at this time to be pressed upon the attention of Godís people. Chastening is radically different from wrath. The latter is the portion of those who reject the gospel: the former is wholly for believers. In 1 Cor. 11: 32 the contrast between chastening and condemnation is sharply drawn: "When we (believers) are judged we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world."
The motive of the chastening of the Lord is love. "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten" (Rev. 3: 19). The statement of Heb. 12: 6 is very strong: "For whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth." God scourges His own sons; but there is nothing penal in this. It is wholly corrective.
2. The passages of Scripture which proclaim the believerís security from wrath and condemnation apply to him from the moment he believes. If, therefore, those Scriptures had any reference to the Lordís chastening (which plainly they have not), it would follow that the believer would never be disciplined at all. Clearly, then, the promises of security from wrath afford no immunity from chastening.
3. The statements in the foregoing article that "the apostates mentioned in Hebrews were not true believers," and that "no true Christian who knows himself a lost sinner and is saved by grace can ever be an enemy of the Cross," are mere assertions, for which no proof is offered. On the other hand, we have given in chaps. 10 and 11., and elsewhere (in particular pp. 95-100), ample and convincing Scriptural evidence and arguments, showing that the warnings of Hebrews against departing from the living God are written for the admonition of His redeemed people.
Great difficulty has been encountered by expositors in attempting to classify the persons specified in Heb. 6: 1-6; and inasmuch as there are teachers and expositions of high repute who, like the able writer of the foregoing article, regard those persons as "not true believers, but Jews who had gone to a certain extent with Christianity and were going back to Judaism," it seems incumbent upon us to give fully the reasons why we cannot any longer hold to that opinion.
No doubt the particular persons to whom the Epistle was addressed in the first instance were Jews, and the situation in which they were placed had special features which do not exist in the case of Gentile Christians; and there is no doubt that the particular system into which those Jews were in danger of lapsing was Judaism, from which even Peter had difficulty in freeing himself (Gal. 2: 11, 12). But we maintain that they were converted Jews. And as one reads the several statements made in Heb. 6. which describe the spiritual state of the persons referred to, he must be impressed with the idea that such statements could not possibly be made of unpardoned and unreconciled sinners. Whoever those persons were, the writer of the Epistle classes himself among them, for the exhortation begins with the words "let us go on to full growth." The language of this passage would apply to such as were children (infants) in the true faith, and that such they were is distinctly asserted in the passage immediately preceding (chap. 5: 12-14). They had become dull of hearing; they had need to be taught again the first principles of the oracles of God; and having ceased to "go on" in the ways of God, there was danger lest they should go back to the old doings from which they had been called out. We do not see how it could possibly be said that those who were on "the FOUNDATION of repentance from dead works and faith toward God" were unbelievers. And it is calculated to give one something of a shock to hear that men in their sins and in the corruption of the flesh were "partakers of the Holy Ghost." The Lord Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit, said "Whom the world cannot receive" (John 14; 17); from which it follows that an unconverted person could not possibly be a partaker of the Holy Ghost. Therefore, the statements of Heb. 6. could not have been made to define a class of unbelievers. We think it will be quite clear, when viewed apart from all theological bias, that those statements were made to set before our minds the great privileges to which even the youngest believers have been brought through the grace of God, and in order that all might understand how serious a matter it is to "fall away" from what is set before the redeemed people of God as a goal. For instance, even the "babe" in Christ has "TASTED the good word of God," for he has been fed upon the milk of the Word. Beyond all doubt the whole purpose of the passage is to exhort spiritual infants to "go on" to the full attainment of "the promise," and to stimulate them to do this by showing them the peril and loss they incur if they turn back therefrom.
But, it will be asked, if the meaning be so clear, how is it that some of the ablest expositors of Scripture have entertained the view set forth in the above quoted article? That fact certainly calls for an explanation; and we think it can be supplied. The view referred to is that of theologians of the Calvinistic School, who hold (and we believe rightly) that a person who has received the Son of God as his Saviour, thereby becoming a child of God, can never forfeit his relationship with God, and can "never perish." On the other hand, the passage in Heb. 6. is the principal Scripture upon which theologians of the Arminian School rely in support of the contention that a child of God may forfeit his relationship with God, and be lost. Both parties to this theological dispute have taken it for granted that the words "fall away," meant to fall away from God, that is, to cease to be a Christian, or to depart wholly from the faith and be lost; and that "impossible to renew them again unto repentance," meant impossible to restore them again to a standing in grace, thus putting them in a position impossible of salvation, as if they had committed the unpardonable sin. But immediately it is seen that the entire passage has to do solely with the attainment of a REWARD, promised to those children of God who go on to full- growth and show diligence to the full assurance of the hope unto the end, and who thus, through persistent faith and patience, inherit the promises, the difficulty disappears. Obviously, a son and heir may forfeit part, or all, of his inheritance, without ceasing to be the son of his parents; and there may be conditions imposed as to certain portions of the estate such that, if he once violates them (as by contracting marriage contrary to his fatherís expressed wishes) he can never undo his act, and be "renewed," i.e., reinstated in the place he was, with reference to the estate, before the condition was violated. There can be no doubt (in our opinion) that such is the true significance of the passage under consideration. It is clearly a case illustrated by the "provocation in the wilderness," and by Esauís sale of his birthright. There was no "renewing unto repentance" in either case. But the Israelites did not lose their status as Godís people, nor Esau his as the son of Isaac. Esau subsequently received a blessing, but not the blessing. We might refer also to Moses as a conspicious instance of one who, though a servant who "was faithful in all Godís house," yet because of disobedience forfeited the privilege of entering the Land of Promise, and who found in the Lord no place of repentance as to that matter, though he sought carefully. (See Deut. 3: 23-27.)
4. Referring more particularly to the expression "crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh," and "enemies of the Cross of Christ," we call special attention to our comments on pp. 95-100, which will, we think, satisfy the unbiassed reader that those expressions are applicable to Christians, and are inapplicable to any others. If further proof as to this be desired, it may be found in 1 Cor. 11., where the Lordís Supper is spoken of. No one, we suppose, will question the application of that passage to believers; yet it contains expressions every whit as strong as those in Phil. 3. and Heb. 6. and 10. There we read the solemn statement that "Whosoever shall eat this bread and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily shall be GUILTY of the BODY and BLOOD of the Lord"; and further that, "he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation (judgment) to himself." The expression "guilty of the Body and Blood of the Lord" is, if anything, a stronger expression than "enemies of the Cross of Christ."
An "enemy" is one who opposes, or acts in a hostile manner. The Cross of Christ separates the Christian from the appetites of the flesh (the "belly") and from "earthly things." Hence the Christian who acts with reference to those things in a manner contrary to the intended effect of the Cross is in opposition or enmity to that Cross. Other Scriptures fully confirm this explanation. According to Rom. 8: 5-7 (a passage which unquestionably applies to believers) the mind of the flesh is ENMITY against God. Hence believers who walk after the flesh, and who mind the things of the flesh, are at enmity with God. The danger is that the mind of the flesh in us may be "death" to us. For "the mind of the flesh is death," and it is written "if ye (believers) live after the flesh ye shall die." Again, friendship with the world is spiritual adultery and is ENMITY with God (Jas. 4: 4). Manifestly these offences, referred to in Rom. 8. and James 4., are, from their very nature, such as only a Christian can commit. Those who are of the world cannot commit adultery with the world, for they have no covenant relations with God. In like manner the Christian who shares in the enjoyment of the things from which he has been separated, in Godís contemplation and purpose, by the Cross of Christ, is at enmity with that Cross. Only a Christian can commit that offence. Therefore the telling of it brought tears to the Apostleís eyes. That unbelievers should so "walk" is inevitable. But that saints should so walk is cause for weeping.
The word "destroy" is applied to believers in several instances, the sense of the word being to inflict grievous injury. Destruction is radically different from perdition or damnation. Thus in Rom. 14: 15 we read, "Destroy not him (thy brother) with thy meat, for whom Christ died." The word "destroy" in that passage is the same as in Phil. 3: 19, "whose end is destruction," and in Heb. 10: 38, "them that draw back unto destruction." The fact that the word "destruction" is used in these texts, instead of "perdition" or "damnation" or "everlasting destruction" (as in 2 Thess. 1: 9), is an additional reason for taking them as applying to believers.
5. In the article quoted above, the word "saved" is used as if it meant pardoned, or justified; whereas in the Scriptures discussed in this book the "salvation" spoken of is something yet future; and this (as we have shown) is almost invariably the Scriptural sense of the words "saved" and "salvation." This distinction is of the very essence of the doctrine under discussion. We are well aware that justification and the receiving of eternal life do not depend upon "what we do." Far from it. This volume very distinctly asserts the contrary. But on the other hand, we do say, and upon the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles, that the salvation spoken of by them as the salvation of the soul, does depend upon the believerís walk and upon the heed paid by him to his Lordís commands. This teaching does not lead to "self-occupation and introspection," nor does it lead "simple Christians into confusion." Since it is the teaching of the Lord Himself, it would be presumptuous on our part to defend or justify it; but we may properly point out that its obvious purpose is to admonish the slothful, disobedient, and worldly Christian to consider and amend his ways. Since the publication of the first edition of this book, we have had abundant and gratifying evidence that it has served to stimulate and encourage some of Godís saints, and to arouse others. We do not in the least fear that it will lead any simple Christian into confusion.
On the other hand, we do greatly fear that the effect of such articles as that quoted above is to lull into false security, and to confirm in their self-pleasing ways, those saints for whose benefit chiefly the warnings of the Lord and of His apostles have been recorded. The desire for the preaching of "smooth things" is by no means confined to the unconverted. It is not a kindness to the slothful, world-conformed Christian to tell him that all is well with his soul, and that "the heart knowledge of salvation by grace produces a holy walk in the believer." That statement is contradicted both by Scripture and common experience; for there are many believers who, notwithstanding their knowledge of salvation by grace, are walking after the flesh, making a god of their appetites, and minding earthly things. These are "enemies of the Cross of Christ."
Again, we are told in the above quoted article that to teach that salvation depends upon what we do is "a dangerous thing." Of course, it is according to the sense in which the word "salvation" is used, whether it depends upon what we do, or solely on what Christ has done for us. The Lord Jesus is our Authority for the teaching that the saving of our soul does depend very much upon what we do. It is He Who said, "Whosoever shall lose his soul for My sake and the Gospelís shall SAVE it." Those words are simple and clear, and their meaning is confirmed by every Scripture that speaks of the salvation of the soul. Pardon of past sins and eternal life are indeed secured to every believer, and do not depend in the least upon his doings; but we are admonished to "work out our own SALVATION with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2: 12). Dare any one, after weighing the words of the Lord and His apostles, assert that every believer will save his soul regardless of his conduct? It seems to us that whosoever discredits this wholesome doctrine as a "dangerous thing," and seeks to turn the saints against it, is assuming a very grave responsibility.
There is a man-pleasing doctrine abroad which finds ready acceptance with the unpardoned and unreconciled sinner, namely, that God is all goodness and mercy, and there is no wrath to come for the unbeliever. But there is a counterpart to this doctrine which is well pleasing to the disobedient, world-conformed Christian, namely, that God is all grace, and there is no chastening to come for the believer. Against this latter doctrine we have sought to raise a warning. Surely it will not disturb those saints who are walking in holy separation from the world, awaiting the coming again of the Son of God "unto salvation." That it may serve to disturb those who are not so walking is much to be desired.
6. Several correspondents have questioned the application of Matt. 24: 42-51, and Luke 12: 35-48 to the saints of this dispensation. This objection comes mainly from those who exclude the earth-life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ from the present, or Church dispensation. Without discussing the dispensational question, we would enter a strong protest against limiting the application of these words of the Lord to any special era. Another has well said, "Dispensational knowledge should drive the application home to us with tenfold power, instead of leading us to say, Ďit does not apply to us.í" The Lord, in the Scriptures cited above, was addressing His own disciples, whom He designates in this connection by the endearing term, "little flock" (Luke 12: 32); and He was telling them what He requires of His "servants." What conceivable reason can there be for supposing that His requirements of His servants in this dispensation are any less rigid than in some other? If there be any difference, it should be the other way, since the greater privileges always carry with them increased responsibilities. In this very passage we read, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required" (Luke 12: 48). Those servants who are charged with the custody of the Gospel of the grace of God, and with the ministry to the members of the Body of Christ, are entrusted with the greatest responsibility ever committed to human hands. It is required of stewards that they be faithful (1 Cor. 4: 2); and this was said by the Apostle Paul concerning himself, and to a Gentile Church. In another place he said, "Woe is unto me if I preach not the Gospel." We deem it a perilous thing to dismiss the warnings that come from the Lips of the Lord Jesus, as applying only to "the Jewish remnant." And surely it is an extreme instance of misdirected ingenuity in the handling of the Scriptures to apply the words "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Fatherís good pleasure to give you the kingdom," to the saints of this dispensation, and then to apply the words that immediately follow, and which were addressed to that very same "little flock," to the "Jewish remnant." That order of ingenuity has been very much exercised in dealing with the Epistle to the Hebrews. We believe it to be a real service to the people of God to warn them against it.
7. SAVING THE SOUL. We are not aware that anyone has heretofore attempted to lead the Lordís people to inquire precisely what is meant by "saving the soul." So far as we have information, it is a new subject; and it is very probable that most of our readers have never sought to trace, by the aid of Scriptures, the distinction between soul and spirit. It is not surprising, therefore, that some have found difficulty in laying hold of that distinction. Desiring to aid further to that end, we offer here some additional suggestions.
The point of chief importance to be grasped is that "saving the soul" does not mean escaping eternal perdition. The saving of the soul is not what is preached as the Gospel of Godís grace to sinners. What the Gospel offers to every believing sinner is the forgiveness of sins and the bestowal of eternal life as the free-gift of God. Hence the saving of the soul is never spoken of in connection with the Gospel. It is not in the Lordís commission to the apostles (Luke 24: 47). It is not in Peterís address to Jews in Acts 2. and 3., and to Gentiles in Acts 10. It is not in Paulís model address in Acts 13., nor in his epistles which treat of the Gospel (Rom., Cor., Gal.). The saving of the soul is something radically different from the justification and life which God bestowes upon every sinner who believes on the crucified and Risen Saviour. The saving of the soul is not preached to sinners at all. It is spoken of by the Lord only to His disciples, and by the apostles only to believers. Moreover it is invariably spoken of as something in regard to which the saints themselves have responsibility.
Losing oneís soul does not mean being eternally lost, i.e., damned. It does not mean incurring the wrath of God. Conclusive proof of this is furnished by the Lordís words to His disciples in which He urged them, for their own advantage, to lose their own souls, and to hate their own souls in this world. We need hardly say the Lord did not exhort His disciples to be damned in this world. If losing the soul in this world does not mean damnation, then losing it in the world [age] to come does not mean damnation. On the other hand, we may learn what is meant by saving the soul in the world [age] to come, by ascertaining what it means for a man to "find his soul" in this present world [age] ; and this we may do by attentively considering the Scriptures cited in chapter 16. of this book. Whatever be meant by finding oneís soul in this age, the same thing is meant by finding it in the age to come.
By reference to those Scriptures it will be seen that the subject of saving and losing the soul is always found in connection with a reference to experiences in this world that are directly contrary to the natural feelings and desires of a human being, and which involve present loss, suffering, trial, or denial of self in some form. The first occurrence of the subject is in connection with the sufferings which the Lord foretold as awaiting the twelve (Matt. 10: 16-39). The next is in connection with the Lordís disclosure to His disciples of the sufferings that awaited Himself at Jerusalem (Matt. 16: 21-27). He was speaking there of laying down His own Soul, and His call to His disciples is to follow Him in losing their souls in this world, though not necessarily in the same manner in which He parted with His. Likewise in John 12: 23-27 the Lord speaks of saving and losing the soul in direct connection with His own Sufferings on the Cross. And here it is recorded that He used the expression "Now is My Soul troubled." In Luke 21: 19 the Lordís exhortation "By your patience (endurance) gain ye your souls" is found in connection with the sufferings which He foresaw for His disciples. By enduring those sufferings as the present portion of their souls, in lieu of the pleasures which the soul naturally craves, they were to "gain" their souls, though apparently losing them. In Heb. 10. and 1 Pet. 1., where the same subject is referred to, the immediate context speaks of sufferings experienced through the natural human feelings. These Scriptures afford much light as to the significance of the expression we are considering.
Thus, from the teaching of the Lord and His Apostles, we learn that to every Christian is presented a choice between two paths in this world. One is the part of self-pleasing. Those who take it are in pursuit of pleasures, honours, indulgences, and whatever else is gratifying to the nartural feelings of the man, which feelings have their seat in his soul. There may be nothing inherently wrong in the things sought. They may be quite proper and respectable, so that the Christian may "see no harm in them." In that path, then, one may perhaps succeed in finding gratifications for his soul, so far as it is possible for this present world to supply them. This is what we understand by "finding oneís soul in this world."
The other path is that of denial of oneís self. To walk in it involves submitting to present loss, to the daily cutting off of the soul from the things which exist in the world for its enjoyment. It involves the endurance of reproach, ridicule, and it may be of persecution, for Christís sake and the Gospelís. They who enter upon that path have deliberately willed (for it an action of the heart) to part with their souls, as it were, during this present time for the sake of Christ. They will to lose their souls in this world; for the loss of the things that satisfy the soul of man is virtually the loss of the soul itself. To chose that path is an act of faith; for the choice is influenced solely by the Word of God. Such a choice is, from the natural standpoint, an act of folly - throwing oneís life away - for that path leads away from all that makes life in this world agreeable. They who walk in the path of separation and loss "walk by faith"; for they are influenced in so doing by "things not seen." In fact, they must go directly against all the powerful attractions of the things that are seen. To follow the Word of God in a direction contrary to nature, and because of what God has spoken, is the walk of FAITH. This is that particular kind of faith spoken of in Hebrews. Abraham displayed it when, at the bidding of Godís Word, he came out of his native country, and when he sojourned as a stranger in the land of promise to him for an inheritance (Heb. 11.) This following of Godís Word in a direction contrary to the natural inclinations, is the distinguishing trait of those who are "of faith to the saving of the soul"; for thereby they are distinguished from those who "draw back" to the resources of the world, seemingly to their immediate gain, but really to their great and irreparable loss (Heb. 10: 39).
The Lordís words found in Matt. 11: 29 are sufficiently clear to settle the meaning of the expression "saving the soul"; and surely no one believes His words would dare, in the face of that saying, to maintain that a man can find rest unto his soul in any other way than by taking voluntarily the yoke of Christ upon him, and by learning of Him meekness and lowliness of heart.
Finally, let us keep in view the main thing, which is, not to settle the meaning of a disputed passage of Scripture, but to secure the benefit of the doctrine of the Lord. Beyond all doubt, consequences of the most serious character depend upon our walk here below. Whether we describe those consequences by the words "saving the soul," or by some other words, does not affect their serious character. Whatever explanation of those disputed passages may seem right to us, we cannot afford to neglect that salvation so great, which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him.