THIRD LETTER TO J. T. MOLESWORTH
In this letter I propose, after having in the previous ones examined your pleas, now to state the case positively.
First then - I gather from Scripture, that there will be a judgment of believers as well as unbelievers by Christ as "the Righteous Judge."
1. "For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then shall He reward every man (each) according to his works:" Matt. 16: 27. This was a word to "disciples:" ver. 24. I have already quoted 7: 21.
2. "That servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes:" Luke 12: 47, 48. This was said to "disciples."
3. "It came to pass, that when he was returned having received the kingdom, then he commanded those servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much each had gained by trading:" Luke 19: 15. Then comes the award: to the possessor of ten pounds ten cities are given to rule. To the acquirer of five pounds, five cities are committed. From the profitless servant the pound is taken away. In Matt. 25, the penalty is heavier. Here is the judgment of believers - is there not?
4. "But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou (Paul is dealing with two different parties) set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.* For it is written, ‘As I live saith the Lord every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’ So THEN EVERY TONGUE SHALL ACCOUNT OF HIMSELF TO GOD. Let us not therefore judge one another any more:" Rom. 14: 10-13.
[* The critical editions read on the best authority - "judgment seat of God."]
5. "With me it is a very small thing, that I should be judged of (by) you, or of (by) man’s day, (marg.) yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by (against) myself; yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge not before the time, until the Lord come, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man (each) have (his) praise of God. And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes:" 1 Cor. 4.
‘But does not this suppose that each believer will be praised by God?’ Nay: those only who are faithful: ver. 2. The Corinthians were judging concerning the respective faithfulness of Paul, and of Apollos. The apostle warns them against such judgment. It must be left to the Lord Jesus; and He will award, who knows the heart and the secrets of all, - according to the faithfulness of each.
6. "We labour, that whether present or absent we may be accepted of (well-pleasing to) Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of the Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad:" 2 Cor. 5: 9, 10. It is still stronger in the Greek. We must "all be manifested" as we are, - before the Christ.
7. "For we know Him that hath said, ‘Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense,’ saith the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord shall judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God:" Heb. 10: 30, 31.
8. "So speak ye and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment (justice) without mercy that showed no mercy; [and] mercy rejoiceth against judgment:" Jas. 2: 12, 13.
9. "Grudge ['murmur,' R.V.] not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned; behold the Judge standeth before the door:" Jas. 5: 9.
10. "The time is come, that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it begin at us, what shall be the end of them that obey not the Gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear:" 1 Pet. 4: 17, 18.
11. "All the Churches shall know that I am he which trieth the reins and hearts; and I WILL GIVE UNTO EVERY ONE OF YOU ACCORDING TO YOUR WORKS:" Rev. 2: 23.
12. "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me to give to every man (each) according as his work shall be:" Rev. 22: 12, 16.
I have not inserted Luke 16: 9-12, or Rom. 2: 4-16. The reader can also consult that solemn passage Matt. 18: 34, 35.
This future judging of believers by Christ is not with a view to inquire - Whether they shall be [eternally] saved or lost? That is settled already. Nor whether the sins of their unconverted life are pardoned? That is certain: Acts 10: 43; Matt. 9: 2. But the inquiry turns upon their conduct as the servants of Christ, since the day that they took Him for their Master. The question will be - Are they to be accounted worthy to obtain the age of bliss, the first resurrection? And then will arise the further inquiry - What place is each to hold, either in the kingdom, or amongst the excluded from it? Both these questions are to be decided by "the deeds done by means of the body." It is evident, therefore, that forthwith there arise to view three classes.
(1) The doers of good.
(2) The non-doers of good.
(3) The doers of evil.
By the very terms of the judgment the last two classes are excluded.
It is especially upon the last of these divisions that the brunt of resistance to the doctrine occurs. Let us then consider this class at some length. It consists of those guilty of -
(1) Acts openly immoral. Some think, that no believer can transgress in this way. But the Scripture witnesses with clear tone to the contrary.
What shall we say to Peter’s lies, and denials with oath and curse? "Nay, ye are doing wrong, and defrauding, and that your brethren:" 1 Cor. 6: 8. Are there none in the churches now, who borrow of their brethren with fair promises, and after the money is obtained, never attempt to pay? What says Paul even concerning the elders of the church? "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear:" 1 Tim. 5: 20. What was Paul obliged to write to Corinthians, even after the solemn commands and discipline of the first Epistle? "I fear . . . lest when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed:" 2 Cor. 12: 21. Do we not hear an echo of the same thing in 1 Thess. 4: 1-8? And yet again, what says Jesus in the Epistle to Thyatira? Rev. 2: 20, 23.
(2) But there is a still larger list of dispensational offences. Jesus, as the lawgiver of His church, has forbidden not a few things formerly lawful: Matt. 5: 17; Gal. 6: 2; Luke 12: 47, 48. The Saviour has fobidden oaths; but multitudes of Christians take them: Matt. 5: 33-37. Yea, they live by the professions and trades into which none can enter, and where none can abide, without taking oaths. Jesus calls His disciples to be peace-makers; commands the love of enemies, and attempts to do them good: Matt. 5: 9: 38-48. But many Christians are warriors by profession, and are trained to slay enemies. Christians are taught not to judge and condemn as the magistrate, not to rule as kings; but many are living in open disobedience to this: Matt. 7: 1; Luke 6: 37; 1 Cor. 4: 8-15. We are warned, that those who do not now confess Christ before men will not be confessed by Him when He comes: Matt. 10: 32, 33; Mark 8: 38; Luke 9: 26. Are there not in our day many who secretly believe in Jesus, but will not openly own Him? Are there not many who see that baptism is a rite to be observed by every believer, while on one pretext or another, they do not, they will not fulfil it? Can these be rewarded?
It is forbidden to the Christian to marry the unconverted: 2 Cor. 6: 14-18; 1 Cor. 7: 39. But multitudes unnumbered offend against this. In the most deliberate act of life they disobey. Here is high-handed, presumptuous sin. Will the Lord account such worthy of a place in His kingdom?
We are warned, that all teachers will have to give account for their doctrines. The day of fire will try the work of each; and if their work be burned up, they will have a fine inflicted on them: 1 Cor. 3: 10-15. Now are there not multitudes of Christian instructors who are teaching the philosophies and the traditions of men, instead of the word of God? Are there not Romish priests, who accept just enough of the truth to be saved thereby, and yet give in to and teach the idolatries and false doctrines of the Church of Rome?
Are there no believers who are mischief-makers in churches? Who promote party-spirit and strife, and attempt to set one brother against another? Shall those be accounted worthy to enter the glory? The Lord has decided otherwise: "He cannot deny himself:" 1 Cor. 3: 16, 17.
These will suffice as instances of dispensational offences. And any one of these, I suppose, will suffice, unrepented of, to exclude.
Actions will form the groundwork too for adjusting the places of those excluded. As all are not equal among those who enter the kingdom, so is there every variety of standing amongst those 'accounted unworthy' to be admitted. I say this the rather, because you seem to mistake this point, and to suppose that all the excluded are on a level in all respects. But it is clear, that there may be either simple exclusion, or exclusion with "many" or "few stripes:" Luke 12: 47, 48; 9: 26; 1 Cor. 3: 15; Matt. 6: 14, 15; 18: 34, 35, etc.
Let me now add a word or two on your replies to some of the texts cited by me. "If ye live after the flesh, ye are about to die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live:" (Greek) Rom. 8: 13. This is addressed to believers; is it not, dear brother? "There is now no condemnation to those in Christ:" ver. 1 "The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free:" ver. 2. "In us, who walk not after the flesh:" ver. 4. "If Christ be in you:" ver. 10. "If the Spirit of Him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you:" ver. 11. "Therefore (next verse) brethren, we are debtors not to the flesh to live after the flesh:" ver. 12. "For if ye live after the flesh, ye are about to die:" ver. 13.
On this I observe, that the death and life spoken of refer to a death and life physical, which are to take the place after present natural life and death. This seems to me certain. For believers who walk after the Spirit still suffer natural death. Therefore the life that is promised them is yet to come. "If ye through the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." They were already spiritually alive. It must, therefore, be a physical life yet to come. "They lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years:" Rev. 20: 4-6. "If we died with Him (Jesus) we shall also live with Him:" 2 Tim. 2: 11, 12. Physical life - is it not? - which is to be enjoyed in Jesus’ reign? "Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him:" (Greek) Rom. 6: 8. Again, "For yet a little while, and He that is coming will arrive, and will not tarry. Now the righteous by faith shall live, but if he draw back, my soul hath no pleasure in him:" (Greek) Heb. 10: 37, 38. A reference is here to the same season (is it not?) of Jesus’ advent and millennial reign? Those in whom God’s soul has no pleasure will not receive life at that time. For "blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection." Again, "For though He (Jesus) was crucified through weakness, yet He liveth by the power of God: for we are also weak in Him, but we shall live by the power of God toward you:" 2 Cor. 8: 4. Again, "We had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits - and we shall live?" Heb. 12: 9. Once more, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life:" Rev. 2: 10. Here the death is a physical death of the believer; and the reward is, I suppose, physical life - in which the crown of life is to be worn.
You think, indeed, that Paul in Romans 8: 13, is referring to present spiritual life. ‘If believers live to the flesh, they cause even now to decay of spiritual life tending on to spiritual death.’ Now I acknowledge that the apostle might so have written: but I am sure that his words do not express such a meaning.
Suppose I say, ‘If you take a grain of arsenic daily you will die,’ I do indeed imply that arsenic is prejudicial to health, and has a tendency to kill. But I mean, I assert more. I mean that actual death is the result of such a course. And if I can add - as I do in this case - ‘And there are hundreds who in the past have so eaten arsenic, and hundreds more who will’ - I really say, that the poison will produce, and has produced, death actual.
Paul declares of all carnal Christians, that "they will die." The death is future and certain. And I ask - Are there not many such Christians? Many who continue in the carnal state up to the end of this life? It does not then refer to any spiritual death. For spiritual life once given shall never be extinguished. In that we are agreed: Rom. 8. And it does not refer to natural death; for that overtakes alike the believer, whether he be living after the flesh or living after the Spirit. Moreover, death is generally called ‘sleep’ when it refers to those alive in Christ. It must refer then to a physical death to arrive after natural death. Just as, in the opposite case, the Holy Ghost speaks of a life in the body to begin in a future day.
Very remarkable too is the expression - "Ye are about to die." This word constantly expresses the future era of the kingdom. "the future habitable earth of which we are speaking:" (Greek) Heb. 2: 5. "Powers of the future age:" 6: 5. "High priest of the future good things:" 9: 11; 10: 1, 27; 11: 8; 13: 14; Jas. 2: 12, etc. And still more closely connected with our text, is - "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present season are not worthy to be compared with the glory which is about to be revealed unto us:" Rom. 8: 18. (Greek.) And then the apostle goes on to speak of the day of the revelation of the sons of God at the redemption of the body.
Take also the other alternative. "If ye by the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live." Here it is not the fortifying of present spiritual life which is promised; but a future life is proffered to those possessed already of present spiritual life. What can it be then but a future physical life in resurrection? So again - "He that found his life (soul) shall lose it; and he that lost his life (soul) for my sake shall find it:" Matt. 10: 39. (Greek) So again, Matt. 16: 25, 26, where Jesus further expounded it, by speaking of the reward according to works to be given at His return - connecting it closely with the kingdom of God, of which He gave a miniature picture in the Transfiguration: 17: 1.
In short, I trace the sentiment of this verse of Rom. 8, which we are considering, as reproduced in another form, in Gal. 5 and 6. "Now the works of the flesh are these, adultery . . . and such like; of the which I tell you before as I have also told you in times past, that they which do such things shall not inherit (have part in) the kingdom of God:" 5: 19-21. Then in the next chapter - "For he that soweth to his (own) flesh, shall (out) of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall (out) of the Spirit reap life everlasting[age-lasting- Ed.]:" 6: 8. I infer then at once, that to be excluded the kingdom, and to "reap corruption," depict the same thing. I gather, too, that this is the death and this is the life of which Paul speaks in Rom. 8. There it was a warning to believers against the works of the flesh. Here, also, it is a threatening to believers against the results of a life to the flesh. See also Rom. 6: 21, 23; Jas. 1: 15; 5: 20.
You further observe: -
"Three strong texts are adduced as proof texts of the doctrine of exclusion, viz. 2 Cor. 5: 10; Gal. 6: 7, 8; Col. 3: 25. If these can be shown not to admit such interpretation, the doctrine will fall as unscriptural."
By no means, brother! He who would wrest from us this truth, must examine all the texts we allege. Two or three are enough to prove any doctrine. But we can cite more than a hundred.
You add: -
"Let us consider these truly solemn announcements in the light of such passages as 1 Cor. 3: 13-15; Gal. 6: 4; Phil. 2: 16, and 4: 1, in connection with 1 Thess. 2: 19, 20; 1 John 2: 28; 2 John 8; Rev. 3: 11. And 16: 15."
Dear brother, is this to argue? Is it not to beg the question? Do I admit, that the texts you last cite are to rule the meaning of those which I have quoted? Must not each text be interpreted by its own words? You do not attempt to prove, that the texts you last allege say the same thing as the three strong ones adduced.
You believe, that these and other passages teach an elevation and depression in the millennial kingdom, as the result of the present conduct of believers. I am very glad you go with me so far. I wish all our brethren admitted and taught so much. The theory you here offer is neat and simple, and if God had testified no more, I should have been glad. But while the Lord has SEVEN TIMES OVER said to believers offending in various ways, - ‘They shall not enter the kingdom’, - how can I agree with you?
Let me spread them before you.
1. "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven:" Matt. 5: 20. This is a word to those already "disciples" of Jesus, and therefore possessed of the Saviour’s imputed righteousness. It refers, therefore, to practical righteousness. They are taught to seek after the millennial kingdom as their end, and the righteousness of God as the means to it. This, then, is practical righteousness; we are not to seek imputed righteousness. Also the true reading of Chap. 6: 1, is, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness (marg.) [your good works] before men, to be seen of them, otherwise ye have no reward of (from) your Father which is in heaven." Here the hope set before us is the millennial kingdom, as the reward of good works. And I understand that the Saviour, in the words which immediately follow the verse given in italics, is elevating the rule or practical righteousness above that given by Moses. Moses was owned as the standard by the Scribes and Pharisees who sat in Moses’ seat. Now are there not multitudes of Christians whose practical righteousness does not exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees? Are there not numbers who take the Decalogue as their standard of righteousness, and therefore fall short, both in their practice and in their principle, of the new teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount? For those who would enter the kingdom the cry must be - ‘Not Moses, but Jesus!’ Moses is imperfect - "The law made nothing perfect." But Jesus teaches a perfection like that of our Father in heaven. Moses commanded justice - Jesus teaches mercy.
2. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven:" 7: 21.
This passage confirms greatly what has been said. Jesus the Son of God reveals the will of His Father. "This is my Beloved Son; HEAR HIM:" Matt. 17: 5. Moses and Elijah were present on the Mount of Transfiguration. But the Father takes no notice of either. He who would enter the kingdom must obey the words of God by His Son. So, presently after, our Lord says, "Therefore whosoever heareth THESE SAYINGS OF MINE." They are not, then, a republication of Moses’ words. They are new sayings of the Son of God to sons of God: they are the mind of the Father in heaven. They are the way in which those must walk who would enter the kingdom of heaven. Are there not, dear brother, crowds of believers, who are not thus doing the will of the Father?
3. The apostles inquire of Jesus, "Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" There had been strife among them which of them should be the greatest. Jesus replies, "Except ye turn * [* Not passive voice.] (Greek) and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven:" 18: 3. Is it not clear and startling? That to apostles! ‘You are inquiring which of you will get the chief place in the kingdom? I tell you, you will not enter it at all, unless you put away from you these ambitions jostlings, these bitter strifes with one another!’ Here, methinks, is the exclusion which I teach.
4. Jesus was speaking to a rich young Israelite, who professed to have observed Moses’ law from his youth up. The young man inquires, if there were anything more for him to do? Jesus replies, by assuring him there was a higher standard than that of Moses, and a better reward. But the young man moves away: the lesson taught was too severe. The Saviour turns to His disciples to extract from them the suited moral from this instructive case. "Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God:" Matt. 19: 23, 24. Has the Saviour no rich disciples? "Woe unto you rich (disciples); for ye are receiving * [* Present tense.] your consolation:" Luke 6: 24. (Greek).
5. "Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein:" Luke 18: 17. This has be noticed before, but it has a right to be noticed here also.
6. "Verily, verily, I say unto you Except a man be born (out) of water and the Spirit, * [* No article.] he cannot enter into the kingdom of God:" John 3: 5. Are there not many born of the Spirit who obstinately and till death refuse to be born out of water? "And all the people that heard him and the publicans justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him:" Luke 7: 29, 30.
7. "Know ye not that unrighteous (ones) shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived : neither forincators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit (have part in) the kingdom of God:" 1 Cor. 6: 9, 10.
With these seven clear texts addressed to disciples, can you wonder if I deny the entrance of all believers into the kingdom? Is there one of these seven testimonies which does not describe actual offences among disciples in our day? Have there not been unnumbered instances in days gone by?
Allow me again to subscribe myself,
Yours in Christ,