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Abstract

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part II: The Crystallization of the Theology of Grace

 

Chapter 10

The Perseverance of the Saints
continued

 

     This important truth is easily lost sight of. We see a Christian in a time of suffering and imagine we can trace the effect to a supposed cause, saying to our brother, "Well, it serves you right." I have had this experience when my own brothers in the Lord have spoken with unbelievable harshness, assured in their own hearts that I was suffering the punishment of my own disobedience. Yet these same people in the very next breath would probably preach to the unsaved that the Lord Jesus assumed responsibility for all the sins of believers and that thenceforth there is no penalty. We have to learn to see both in our own experience and in the experience of our brethren that when calamity overtakes, neither we nor they are being punished. Sonship itself is not in question; there is not the least possibility of salvation being lost because of disobedience any more than there is of salvation being won by obedience. The seeming penalty is no penalty at all. It is allowed only as an exhibition of the Lord's loving concern. It is the chastening of a child received into the family of God forever, with whose perfecting He is graciously concerned.

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     But this does not mean that we are free to disobey. There is a penalty in a manner of speaking, but not in the legalistic sense. The penalty is loss of fellowship both with the Lord's people and with the Lord Himself.
     
One day we may perhaps be called upon to watch a rerun, as it were, of our lives as God has seen them, and all that we have done in self-will will be tested by a fire that will entirely consume the dross. And how we shall rejoice to see it altogether destroyed forever! We shall shed these old rags of self-righteousness with enormous relief when we see them held up for comparison with the spotless linen garment which the Lord is to provide for us and which is the true righteousness of the saints (Revelation 19:8) and then committed to the flames.
     
This process of refining fire is set forth in 1 Corinthians 3:11-15: "For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus. Now if any man build on this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire."
     
I have known people who were fearful at the thought of coming before the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10) to have their lives tested in this way. But why should we be afraid? Should we not rather rejoice at the thought that all the garbage of our daily living will be utterly consumed, leaving us only with what the Lord Himself has been able to realize of his own nature and Person in our individual lives? That will indeed be a day of great salvation!
     
The wonderfully reassuring thing here is that even if a man's total life work as a child of God should turn out to have been built of dead things such as wood, hay, or stubble, so that his building is wholly consumed by the flames, yet he himself is safe (1 Corinthians 3:15). He himself is beyond destruction even though all else of his own doing should prove to be perishable.

     There are a number of rather similar passages in Corinthians. Apparently the saints in that wanton city of Corinth were particularly subject to the evil influences of their pagan environment. Some indeed evidently became so corrupt that the Lord could no longer allow them to remain in the world as 

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part of the living Body of Christ, and He took them home rather than permit them to completely poison the Church's life. It will be remembered that Ananias and Sapphira were taken suddenly home (Acts 5:5 and 10) though their offense might seem to us scarcely to warrant such a drastic penalty. But it should also be remembered that when the Body of Christ was still an infant organism, very small evils had a potentially much more serious consequence for its well-being, magnified as they were in their potency for evil by the very immaturity of the Christian church and by the small size of its numbers. God therefore took what can best be described as "heroic measures" to preserve the purity and vitality of the Body of young believers by at once removing the corrupted organs. Ananias and Sapphira were thus immediately taken home, for at that stage of its development the Church could not sustain such corruption in its fellowship. This is rather analogous to emergency surgical intervention in the interest of the patient's life.
     
This swift action did not, however, constitute a revocation of personal salvation, as will be apparent by a reference to a somewhat parallel case recorded in 1 Corinthians 5:15 where Paul writes: "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that has so done this deed, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, in order that the spirit may be saved in the day of Jesus Christ."
     
So here, then the Church of God had matured at least to this point, that Paul was instructing the saints on how themselves to deal with gross immorality among believers. The offender was to be publicly delivered to Satan for his removal by death. And yet Paul gave the Corinthians every assurance that although the physical life of such a disobedient child of God was thus to be forfeited his spirit was eternally secure, for he was a brother in the Lord and safe in the salvation of his spirit despite the need that his physical life be cut short. The object of this drastic step was twofold: (1) to preserve the health of the local church (1 Corinthians 5:6, 7); and (2) to prevent the individual himself from a kind of spiritual reduction to near zero. Paul was not recommending a form of capital punishment by human agency but a special form of termination of life administered by Satan himself who has the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). Such a drastic step, which by some has been taken to mean that the individual's behaviour might deteriorate to the point of complete loss of salvation, clearly demonstrates precisely the opposite. A child of God who progresses so far in his betrayal will be taken home before he endangers his very soul! 

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     Such occasions were apparently not infrequent in the earliest days of the Church. But not every serious failure was a cause for such drastic surgery. Remedial action of a less dramatic nature was often possible. As John wrote: "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it" (1 John 5:16). Clearly, there were alternatives in some cases, but not in all. In this light, we see at once that the reference here is not to a loss of salvation but to a situation in which disobedience has proceeded beyond the point where the offender will any longer benefit by chastening. All that remains is to take him home, in order that his spirit may be preserved. Thus Paul in Romans 8:13 warns the Roman Christians likewise: "If you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live." He is speaking here of a physical body and of physical life, not of the salvation of the soul. Gross disobedience could bring death: better to amend one's ways and live.
     
Moreover, while some of the actions of the saints may not have been unduly injurious to themselves, it did happen that younger Christians patterning their lives along similar lines were going much farther in departing from godliness, and endangered themselves fatally as a consequence. So Paul wrote (Romans 14:14, 15): "I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteems anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. If your brother be grieved with your meat [i.e., with what you feel free to indulge in] then you walk not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died." The meaning of this warning is clear enough. Behaviour which to a more mature Christian is inoffensive may appear in a different light to a weaker brother who is thereby led astray. Such a brother may turn into license what for the stronger Christian is only an expression of liberty in the Lord, and he may so fatally corrupt his own spiritual life that the Lord will find it necessary to take him home. Thus, what we allow ourselves as being harmless in our own spiritual life may become the cause of a weaker brother's destruction.
     
So did Paul write also to the Corinthians in another passage (1 Corinthians 8:9-11): "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling-block to them that are weak. For if any man see you which have knowledge sit at meat in the idol's temple, shall not the conscience of him that is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; and through your knowledge shall the weaker brother perish, for whom Christ died?" The circumstance behind this warning was a commonplace one in those days. When a sacrifice was taken to any one of the pagan temples throughout the Roman Empire, it had to be the best meat obtainable. The meat was given to the priests who appear to have taken only a portion of it to lay on the altar fire to be consumed. It was their privilege to 

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sell the rest of the meat in a kind of open market which was called the "Shambles." The money from this went into the coffers of the temple to pay its expenses. This meat, thus offered to the public at a very reasonable cost, was naturally the best meat that could be purchased, and many people took advantage of it including, evidently, some Christians. They were not condoning the offering of sacrifices to pagan deities who were no gods at all, but merely taking advantage of an inexpensive source of good meat. But weaker brethren, only recently saved out of paganism which produced this supply of meat, not unnaturally mistook the motives which prompted Christians to buy it, perceiving only that they were thereby contributing to the maintenance of the worship of idols. Their conscience being defiled when, in spite of their doubts, they continued to follow the example of more mature Christians, the quality of their spiritual life was undermined, sometimes with fatal consequences.
     
If we the Lord's children see a brother behaving in this dangerous way, we are encouraged to make some effort to correct him if possible. Most of us are reluctant to do this, all too aware of our own spiritual frailty. Nevertheless James wrote (5:19, 20): "Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one turn him again; let him know, that he which turns the sinner back from the error of his way shall save a soul from death and shall hide a multitude of sins." Once again there is no question of personal salvation being at stake but of turning an erring brother back from a course of action which can have only fatal consequences for his life here on earth if he persists.
     
Peter reiterates this warning to believers among his brethren, the Jewish Christians, when he writes (2 Peter 2:1): "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them and bringing upon themselves swift destruction." The use of the word destruction seems harsh but it is common in Scripture in this context. We have seen it in the passage in Romans 14:15 where we are warned to "destroy not him . . . for whom Christ died." Similarly in 1 Corinthians 3:17 Paul says, "If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you are." All these passages refer not to pagans but to believers, to the saints who denying their Lord were in danger of being removed and taken home prematurely for the sake of the Body of believers whose spiritual life they endangered.
     
Many passages refer to this circumstance by implication; but we do not recognize them when we are reading the New Testament, for we seldom observe the circumstance itself today, now that the Church is worldwide and perhaps less endangered as to its continuance by personal disobedience of individual members. Yet such verses are everywhere to be observed. Consider Hebrews 12:9: "We have had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, 

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and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?"
     
It appears that in Corinth the Lord's people were in the habit of meeting for a kind of Communion Breakfast. Some were making it not so much a memorial of the Lord's death, which it was intended to be, as an occasion for merrymaking and indulgence in purely carnal appetite. Paul wrote to them to remind them that what they were supposed to be celebrating was the Lord's death (1 Corintians 11:23-26) and that by eating and drinking unworthily they were guilty of sacrilege. "Let a man examine himself," Paul wrote, "and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he that eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks condemnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you and many sleep"
(1 Corinthians 11:28-30). Now, what does this last observation signify? It signifies that by their improper attitudes as the Lord's people, many were spiritually enfeebled, and many others had already been taken home by the Lord and were now asleep in Jesus.

     
Such sudden judgments are not limited to the New Testament. The Old Testament had witnessed the same kind of thing on a number of occasions, as will be observed by reference to Genesis 38:9, 10 (the case of Onan): Numbers 16:30-32 (the case of Korah); and 1 Chronicles 2:3 (the case of Er). But such illustrations seem to differ slightly in purpose for they were probably judgments imposed with dramatic suddenness upon men who were not the Lord's people. Such seems to have been the case also with Herod in Acts 12:21-23.
     
But all other New Testament examples cited are clearly identified as having reference to members of the household of faith and as such cannot be viewed therefore as penal in nature. They were corrective in the sense that the offenders were prevented from destroying themselves further; in the final analysis they were carried out in mercy, not in anger, their contemporaries having been encouraged to warn them of their own personal danger and to turn them back before it was too late. Even in the worst situation, where the saints are specifically called upon to commit a wilfully disobedient brother to Satan for the destruction of his body, it is still clearly said to be a measure intended to preserve his spirit in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:5). Many passages commonly used to demonstrate that a child of God can carry his disobedience to the point of being lost eternally demonstrate precisely the opposite. The Lord's sudden action is not a final judgment but the emergency operation of a spiritual surgeon who quickly removes the gangrenous organ to save the patient's soul.
      
There is no doubt that we can and do grieve the Holy Spirit, whose presence within us secures for us our awareness of sonship in the family of God (Romans 8:16; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 4:30), and assures us of the Lord's presence within (1 John 3:24). These are the assurances that are partially forfeited  

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when we are disobedient, but such grieving of the Holy Spirit does not mean we surrender our actual sonship or the Lord's presence within. As David said (when he had proved himself capable of murder in consequence of his coveting Bathsheba): "Restore unto me the joy of tyour salvation" (Psalm 51:12). And when he besought the Lord not to take away his Holy Spirit from him (verse 11), we must remember that the Old Testament saints did not enjoy the uninterrupted presence of the Holy Spirit as we do. With them the Holy Spirit came and went. It is not until John 14:16 that the promise of his abiding presence was given. In this respect the Old Testament experience was different, as is evident from such passages as 1 Samuel 10:610 and 16:14; though we find a contrast in 1 Samuel 16:13.* Evidently the Lord did not deal with all Old Testament saints in the same manner, nor did He deal with them as He deals with us in this present age. What David recognized was the danger of losing his sense of fellowship with the Lord, not of losing his relationship; the joy of his salvation, not his salvation per se. The good works of the Lord's children are not to preserve a relationship which would otherwise be lost, but to maintain a fellowship which is a very different thing.
     
Yet we are not left without responsibility, for it is our responsibility to maintain that fellowship both with the Lord and with the Lord's children. What a blessing it is that we do not have the responsibility of maintaining our relationship as members in the family of God! If we did, we would be in a constant state of being disowned and being reinstated, a most unsatisfactory kind of life to be termed "more abundant" (John 10:10).
     
We must see from the implications of these many references that there is a real sense in which by forsaking our walk with the Lord we may become fruitless, cut off from the vine (John 15:4). We do indeed have a responsibility to walk in the light and not to be so habitually disobedient as to fail entirely to exhibit the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 5:4). We are to demonstrate actively in our lives the expected fruits of our salvation (Philippians 2:12), and in times of grave persecution to remain a faithful witness to the end (Matthew 24:13), thus avoiding any danger of becoming "disapproved" in our discipleship (1 Corinthians 9:27, where the Greek has adokimos, () the antonym to the Greek dokimos, () which means "approved," as 

* The reference is to David. "And the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward." Does this mean "and never left him?" If it does, David's prayer in Psalm 51:11 was heard ("take not thy Holy Spirit from me") and the Holy Spirit never did depart from him. In this case David cannot be made an example of those who lose their salvation. as has been done by Arminians. The same would be true of Peter, who is similarly used as an example, for did not the Lord pray that his faith would not fail (Luke 22:32)? Clearly he had his time of serious doubts, but surely not to the point that the Lord's prayer for him was refused!

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in Romans 14:18; 16:10; 2 Timothy 2:15, etc.). It is in this sense that we save our life, though we may be sacrificed to the world. *

     We cannot leave this subject without giving some thought to two classic passages of Scripture which are considered powerful weapons in the arsenal of those who would argue against the Eternal Security of the believer. I have in mind Hebrews 6:16 and Luke 15:1132. Let us look at the Epistle to the Hebrews first for here we read the frightening words, "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit . . . if they should fall away, to renew them again unto repentance."
     
To understand this warning we need some knowledge of the background of those to whom these words were addressed. And it is important first of all to understand what it meant to a Jew at that time to "believe in Jesus Christ." For this passage has particular reference to "the doctrine of Christ" (Hebrews 6:1), or, as this would be understood by the Jewish people, "the doctrine of the Messiah" (the definite article being present in the original Greek).
     
On many occasions during the Lord's earthly ministry we learn that people who called themselves, or who are referred to as, disciples or believers not infrequently became offended at his words and walked no more with Him. It is almost certain that some of these who were once "believers" became his most bitter enemies. What then was meant by the word believer in such a context?
     
It should be realized that the identity of the Lord Jesus presented a number of real problems to the Jewish people. The Lord Himself acknowledged

* The question of having one's name taken out of the Book of Life (Revelation 22:19) is a difficult one to resolve. For the Lord said that whoever committed sin of any kind would have his name taken out of the Book of Life (Exodus 32:33). This implies that every man born into this world has his name entered in a Book of the Living (a kind of register of all viable births?) to begin with. Presumably all who die before reaching the age of accountability never have their names removed from that Book; and since the Calvinist's position is that such children dying in infancy are to be counted among the elect, Election involves a name's being indelibly inscribed in the Book of Life. Then what of those who are among the elect, and who achieve maturity by passing beyond the infant stage? Are their names indelibly inscribed? When they reach the age of accountability and are disobedient, for all become sinners (Ephesians 2:3), then what happens to their names in the Book of Life? Are their names merely left inscribed because they are among the elect, even though they ought really to be removed? Or is this "accounting system" a different kind of accounting system, one that is written in the language of eternity and not in the language of time? There is nowhere in Scripture, to my knowledge, any indication that the names of the elect of God are ever removed from the Book of Life. Perhaps they were written in before the world began (Luke 10:20?), as though they formed part of the stated contract between the Father and the Son as a record of those who would be given to the Son by the Father and for whom the Son died. Is there perhaps more than one Book of Life: one for the non-elect, from which names are expungeable, and the other for the elect, from which names are never expunged (Revelation 20:12-15)?

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that the intense hatred which finally built up against Him was based in part on a genuine misunderstanding and confusion as to his identity. When Jesus on the cross said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34), it was not merely an expression of supreme charitableness; there was an element of truth in it. They did not know what they were doing. Their action was not only morally wrong, it was also a profound mistake. Peter, under inspiration, acknowledged this as part of the truth when he said, "And now, brethren, I realize that through ignorance you did it, as did also your rulers" (Acts 3:17). And Paul likewise in 1 Corinthians 2:7, 8 said: "We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory; which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." Even the Jewish authorities admitted when it was too late that they had made a mistake. This prompted them to desire Pilate to make doubly sure that the tomb was sealed "lest his disciples come by night and steal Him away and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first" (Matthew 27:64). This does not excuse them, because their real reason for having the Lord crucified was that they hated Him. Even so, it does show that coupled to their hatred of Him for personal reasons was a genuine doubt about Him on messianic grounds.
     
From their study of Old Testament prophecies the Jews had concluded that when the Messiah came He would free them from all their enemies (Luke 1:71). At that moment their most oppressive enemy was the Roman authority. All other oppressors except the Egyptian Pharaohs had been Semitic like themselves. The Roman oppressors were Gentiles, the lowest of all people in their estimation. The Messiah was to come as a Conquering King, setting the people free from the invaders of their land and liberating their glorious capital city, at the same time bringing healing and prosperity to the whole nation. But in the background, less distinct and less dramatic, one was to come whom they identified as the Suffering Servant, a mediator between themselves and Jehovah; one who would die for their sins (Isaiah 53), die for the nation (John 11:50), being "cut off, but not for himself" (Daniel 9:26). If a single Person was to fulfill both roles, it was difficult to reconcile how the King could also be the Suffering Servant, how the one who conquered could also be the one so abused as to be scarcely recognizable (Isaiah 53:2-4). It seemed impossible that one who was to lead their armies to victory and set them at the head of the nations, sitting in glory upon the throne of David forever, could be the one who was to be "brought as a lamb to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7). Were there, then, really two separate Saviours: a Lamb who would "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21) and a Lion who would deliver the nation from its enemies (Luke 1:71)?
     
The secret, of course, lay in the resurrection. But the Old Testament had 

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attached remarkably little importance to the fact of resurrection and it was not therefore a solution the Jews were likely to look for. Indeed there are only a few intimations with respect to Messiah that the resurrection would play a vital role in his ministry. For example, Psalm 16:10 ("You will not leave my soul in hell") seems to be a reference to the Messiah; but an even less specific passage in Isaiah 53:10 ("He shall prolong his days") does not seem to have been recognized at all. Yet the resurrection of the Lord was the missing key and, as though to emphasize this in prospect, the Lord Himself increasingly made reference to the fact that after three days He would rise again. But his words were lost even upon his closest disciples, because they shared the traditional biblical wisdom of their own day. In point of fact of course, Messiah was to be both the Lamb of God and the Conquering King, fulfilling the two roles perfectly by dying as the Lamb and rising again to become the King.
     
When John came preaching, he was sent to prepare the people for their King and for the coming Kingdom. This was his identifiable mission. In this role the Jewish people as a whole visualized him as fulfilling the position of the forerunner of the Messiah. When he suddenly appeared in the wilderness the people were excited and full of hopeful expectation. The nation's servitude under the Roman heel would surely soon be at an end, and they flocked to hear him and to ask what they must do to qualify for a place in the victory parade. This was really their motive: not repentance and sorrow for their sins, but eagerness to be on the winning side. Evidently John himself did not at first actually know the identity of the Messiah. He heard the call to prepare the way but he had not yet any certainty as to who the Messiah was. It seems unlikely that he could have anticipated that the Messiah was none other than a relative of his, his own mother being Mary's cousin. He may in fact have had little if anything to do with Jesus since very early childhood, thirty years before. Thus as he watched day by day while the people came out of the city to hear him preach and to be ceremonially cleansed by baptism, he one day received a message from God that the Suffering Servant was about to come to him for public identification. Perhaps he was surprised at this since the one he was really expecting and hoping for was not a Suffering Servant but the Messiah. Yet John obediently adjusted his natural expectations and accepted the new reality. When the time came he unhesitatingly identified the One whom he had looked for as the Messiah as, in fact, the Lamb of God instead (John 1:29, 36).
      
In later months, when John found himself in prison, he had time to reflect upon what was happening as he observed the Lord's mighty acts and saw the majesty of his Person; and he seems to have begun to wonder whether Jesus Christ might not also be the Messiah. Could Messiah and the Suffering Servant be one and the same individual?
     
So John sent a message to Jesus from prison: "Are you he that should 

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come [i.e., the Messiah] or do we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3); and the Lord sent word back to him that he should be reassured by the miracles of healing the sight of the blind was restored, the lame were walking, the deaf were hearing, and even the dead were raised, all of which were clearly hallmarks of the Messiah according to Isaiah 35:3-6. And I think we must assume that John, like many of his contemporaries, believed on the Lord Jesus in this sense, even though he may have wondered why he himself was not at once set free from his imprisonment.
     
Meanwhile the Jewish authorities and great numbers of the common people had been struggling with the same problem, trying to make up their minds. There were all kinds of divisions among them as is clear from many passages such as John 7:43; 9:16; and 10:19. Moreover, many of the rulers "believed" also, including Nicodemus in this sense (John 3:2; 12:42). One might say that this kind of faith was more like wishful thinking than firm conviction. Could this man, seemingly so meek and gentle, and often completely "retiring," really be the stuff of a Messiah who would successfully challenge the authority of Rome? Yet they were all impressed both by the regality of his presence and by his miraculous powers. Even the claims which He made for Himself were so stupendous that it seemed doubtful any ordinary man would dare to make them. Everywhere He went He was fulfilling messianic promises of healing, and the people swung back and forth between conviction and doubt, never quite able to make up their minds and dreading the consequences of making a mistake.
     
Preconceived ideas of what Messiah would be like proved a serious barrier to recognition for they were coloured almost entirely by ambition for power, not by any desire for holiness. The Jewish leaders genuinely imagined that they themselves would form Messiah's inner circle, but here his inner circle was composed of unlearned and ignorant men drawn almost entirely from the wrong strata of religious society.
     
In short, at one moment the Jewish authorities "believed" He was the Messiah and the next moment they doubted whether He could possibly be. They were both divided among themselves and within their own hearts. And, as is often the case, they were remarkably handicapped by ignorance of the Scriptures and of the circumstances surrounding the Lord's background, about which they were in a good position to be knowledgeable. Had they taken the trouble to inquire, the Temple records would have told them that Jesus was not a Galilean but a Judean from Bethlehem, and of the lineage of David through both Mary and Joseph. Yet in John 7:52 they disqualified Him by assuming He was from Galilee, and at the same time demonstrated their ignorance of the facts of history by suggesting that Galilee was the one place from which one should not expect a great prophet to arise. But in point of fact Elijah, the greatest of Israel's prophets, and Jonah, their greatest prophet to the Gentiles, were both from Galilee. Nicodemus 

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beautifully illustrates the genuine confusion which existed in the minds of many of the Jewish religious leaders at that time.
      
Consequently it is very important to understand that when we are told "many of the Jews believed on Him," they were not necessarily exercising saving faith,* faith in a personal Saviour as we commonly think of such faith, but messianic faith, confidence that their dreams of national liberation were about to be realized in the Person of Jesus Christ. They witnessed his miracles, and enjoyed the fruits of them. Hundreds were healed of diseases or were blessed with restored vision or hearing, and some of them recovered loved ones from the grave. Never in human history was any community so largely freed of disease as these people who lived round about Jerusalem in our Lord's time. Here was encouragement indeed to this kind of faith, and yet the One through whom these blessings came seemed constantly to fall short of their ideal by his forthright repudiation of their religious standards and of their own station and importance.
     Above all, his refusal to challenge the Roman authorities while at the same time advising the Jews to pay their taxes completely baffled their sense of propriety. Could this possibly be Messiah? What had looked promising developed into a more serious situation when it appeared that it was really the authority of the Jewish leaders that was about to be overthrown. As his miracles increased in magnitude, climaxing with the raising of Lazarus and the general acclaim of the common people which followed, it was felt the time had come to settle the issue once for all. The simplest course was to turn Him over to the Romans as a captive. If He then vindicated his

* It was possible for a Jew to express such faith that he would be accepted into the fellowship by the believers and even be baptized as a Christian. and yet that man's faith was not a saving faith. This seems to be true of Simon who is sometimes called Magus (being one of the Eastern Magi) and sometimes Magnus (after the Vulgate rendering of Acts 8:9). According to Acts 8:924 this man's profession of faith was accepted by Philip and the Christians of Samaria. And he was baptized as a believer. Whether Simon was a Jew or not, he was certainly living amongst Jews in Samaria and, like the Jews, was greatly impressed with signs and wonders. The word denoting Simon's amazement at the signs which accompanied Philip's ministry is the same word which is used to express the amazement of the Samaritans at Simon's sorcery. It tells us something about the nature of his faith.
     
Subsequently, when Peter came to confirm the believers by the laying on of hands and when these believers experienced a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit (as was normal at that point in the Church's development), Simon at once tried to buy from Peter rights to the same power. Peter's response was immediate "Your money perish with you . . . You haveneither part nor lot in this matter for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness. . . . For I perceive that you are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity" (verses 2023). Simon's trembling response was not a turning to his God for forgiveness, but an entreating of Peter to act on his behalf. It seems almost certain from those circumstances that though Simon had faith, it was not a saving faith. He had the same kind of faith that many of the Lord's earlier followers had who later turned entirely against Him. The writer of Hebrews 10:39 may well have had this in mind when he wrote, "Not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul."

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messiahship by some mighty act leading to Rome's destruction, there would be no question as to his identity, and their own position would be secure. If He allowed Himself to be taken and shamed before his own disciples and before the nation, the claims He had been making would clearly be invalidated, especially if they could get Him crucified. Any other kind of death might turn Him into a martyr and make a hero of Him. Crucifixion would demonstrate publicly that He was not merely repudiated of men but cursed of God (Galaians 3:13) and therefore totally disqualified as Messiah.
      
And it worked out as the Jewish authorities planned. He was seized by the Romans, disgraced by public trial, mercilessly abused by a mob of soldiers  and all this entirely without the slightest resistance. His presentation before the people by Pilate, shamed, disfigured, ridiculed, and apparently helpless, must have struck the people like a thunderbolt. The greater our expectations, the more devastating is the shattering of them. Even his own circle of personal friends was demoralized in utter amazement at the sudden turn of events. Their faith in Him as the promised Messiah collapsed.
     
After the "tragedy" was all over, the two disciples on the way to Emmaus summed up the general feeling of all the disciples when they said, "We trusted that it had been He who should redeem Israel" (Luke 24:21). This was their faith, and it had been shattered by events. Pragmatic Peter said simply, "I go a fishing" (John 21:3); and his companions in disillusionment said, "We also go with you." It was the end of a dream.
     
It is true that the Jewish authorities had engineered it all, and they had achieved his repudiation, which was precisely what they intended. Yet there are indications that they were as disappointed in the success of their own plans as the common people were disappointed in the failure of theirs. The common people really had believed Jesus was truly the Messiah, and when He had ridden into Jerusalem in a manner precisely fulfilling the predictions of Zechariah 9:9, their excitement had been intense. "All the world" seemed to have gone with Him (John 12:19), and no doubt the Romans were as disturbed by it all as were the religious authorities themselves, though for a different reason.
    
We know only too well the rest of the seeming tragedy and the unforeseen triumph which followed the resurrection. But though his triumph was public enough in the sense that thousands of Jews became true believers in Him as the Lamb and were wonderfully saved, yet it was not a public triumph in a national sense, for Israel remained officially unconvinced of his identity as Messiah. Pride would not allow them to admit their appalling error publicly, though there were undoubtedly great numbers among the officials who had witnessed his miracles and had joined in the general acclaim only to find their hopes dashed in the events of the crucifixion. These now witnessed the joy and exultation of thousands whose faith had suddenly been re-established and who were turning their world upside down, daily

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flooding the Temple precincts with their manifestations of joy. Yet the hated Romans were still there, still masters of the land, still exacting from them onerous taxes and many demeaning services. What did it all signify? Meanwhile, though the disciples were telling the people that the old sacrificial system was at an end, the religious authorities had repaired or replaced the rent veil of the Temple, and the whole elaborate system had once again been restored and was going on exactly as before.
     
How was it all to be reconciled? Was this man really the Messiah or not? And their daily disputations and arguments, which apparently continued for years until the Romans finally destroyed the city and the Temple in A.D. 70, left many of the Jews half-believing, half-doubting, never certain of their own position, still having no personal faith in the Lord Jesus as Saviour. Their "doctrine" was not about a Saviour at all, but about a Messiah; it was "a doctrine of the Messiah" (Hebrews 6:1) which absorbed their attention, and it did not pertain to the matter of personal salvation for the individual (Hebrews 6:9).
     
Whoever wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews addressed himself to this problem. "Therefore," he wrote, "leaving the question relating to the doctrine about the Messiah, let us go on to perfection of repentance from dead works and of faith towards God," that is, of saving faith. It was quite possible for these half-believers to stop short, even after many of them had personally experienced the wonders of the Lord's active ministry among them by being themselves healed, a ministry which was a foretaste of what would happen when the Kingdom of God was finally established, a demonstration of "the powers of the age to come" (Hebrews 6:5). As persecution began to cull their ranks and many were called upon to suffer the consequences of premature defiance of Roman authority, these one-time messianic believers, persisting in their half-faith by returning to the Temple sacrifice and separating themselves from true believers in Jerusalem, had in effect rejoined the screaming crowds who had demanded the Lord's crucifixion in the first place. They were crucifying the Lord a second time (Hebrews 6:6). Such Jewish "believers," while saying they believed the Lord Jesus to be the Messiah after all, yet resorted once again to the old sacrificial system and thus demonstrated their lack of any saving faith and of any true comprehension of the role the Lord Jesus had played as the Lamb of God. It was these who were now by this Epistle being warned not to make this fatal mistake but to abandon the old sacrificial system altogether and to cast themselves upon the Lord alone for their personal salvation. This is the burden of verses 912: "Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation [i.e., not just messianic promises], though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love which you have shown toward his name, in that you have ministered to the saints and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance

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of hope to the end: that you be not slothful but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
     
And the alternative? In the nature of the case there is only one alternative "a certain fearful looking for judgment." If after experiencing all these things and concluding that the Lord is truly Israel's Messiah, they should now refuse this work as a personal Saviour also, there simply remains no more sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 10:26), and they are hopelessly lost. There is no other destiny except certain judgment (Hebrews 10:27). Messianic faith is in vain unless they also have a saving faith.
     
This is the background of this ominous passage which has caused so many saints to tremble, needlessly fearing that their salvation might be in jeopardy. In actual fact a passage such as this one, having specific reference to Hebrew "believers" rather than to Gentiles, and specifically addressing itself to a rather unique and soon to be ended situation, cannot be safely applied with the same force outside of the circumstances which occasioned its writing. It belongs to us now as an essential part of the Word of God to complete our understanding of a particular situation, but it must be read and understood in the context of its intention. It has to be remembered that the Jewish people of that day expressed two rather different kinds of faith, faith in a national Messiah and faith in a personal Saviour. Mary rejoiced in God her personal Saviour (Luke 1:47) while Zacharias rejoiced in a national Saviour (Luke 1:71). John in prison undoubtedly recognized the fulfillment of Isaiah 53. What he needed to be assured about was the fulfillment of Isaiah 35. The disciples, and Peter in particular, saw the Lord as the Messiah: "You are the Messiah" (Matthew 16:1316, 21, 22). Of this they were sure at that time. The Jewish authorities were not so sure: "Are you then the Messiah?" (Mark 14:61). We must therefore distinguish between the faith which had messiahship as its object and the more personal faith which had as its object the work of the Suffering Servant. The messianic issue was constantly to the fore in everyone's mind as witnessed, for example, by the events of John 4:25-42, where the nub of the controversy was not, "Is this man a Saviour?" but, "Is this indeed the Messiah?" (verse 42). And this was the object of the faith expressed in verses 3941.
     
On the way to Emmaus this truth comes out very clearly when the two travellers so specifically express their shattered hope that Jesus might have been the national Messiah, "He who should have redeemed Israel" (Luke 24:21). The Lord had responded by saying, "Ought not the Messiah to have suffered these things before entering into his glory?" (Luke 24:26). Perhaps because they did not recognize their need of a personal Saviori, a need which required that one should suffer death in their place, what happened to Messiah was totally beyond them. They were still missing the key, his bodily resurrection. Reconciling what seemed to be two mutually exclusive roles, that of the Lamb and that of the Conquering King, was the basic

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problem facing every Israelite. Even the prophets themselves had the same problem (1 Peter 1:9-11): "Receiving the objective of your faith, even the salvation of your souls. Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Messiah, and the glory which should follow." Paul's concern when preaching to the Jewish people was to provide a key to this reconciliation (Acts 17:3): "Opening and alleging that Messiah must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Messiah." It is all of a piece; a believer in Israel was not necessarily a believer in the sense in which we use the term today, yet in many cases there were true believers in the terms of reference under which the Lord presented Himself to them as the hope of Israel. Yet this was only half of the belief that was essential to personal salvation, and the Epistle to the Hebrews was concerned with providing the grounds for encouraging that faith to progress to perfection. Such half-believers were unsaved, and those who went part way and turned back were not fit for the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). This seems clearly to be the explanation of the seeds which fell by the wayside and at first responded with enthusiasm, as many of the Jews did, but afterwards were offended or frightened away. John puts the matter thus: "If they had been of us, they would have continued with us" (1 John 2:19). They did not persevere to the end, and they were not saved.
     
I believe we witness even today something analogous. There are many whose lives are chaotic, powerless, and meaningless. We present to them a Lord who will straighten everything out, and in their desperation they are at once encouraged to look to Him for help. The question of a personal Saviour from the penalty of sin never enters this kind of Gospel message. It is not "look to the Saviour for forgiveness and restoration to the family of God whom you have outraged by your disobedience" but "take Him on board as the perfect Captain and make your life a success." This message offers a kind of "Gentile Messiah" rather than a personal Saviour: accordingly, the initial response results in a marvellous sense of relief. But later, things don't work out precisely as anticipated and "the sow that was washed turns back to its wallowing" (2 Peter 2:22). It happens again and again. It is a tragedy. The true child of God has quite another experience. We, too, get dirty and need cleansing daily, a fact which implies in some measure a return to our former wallowings. But there is this vital difference, as the Lord said to Peter, "'If I wash you not, you hast no part with Me.' Simon Peter saith unto Him, 'Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.' Jesus saith unto him, 'He that is washed needs only to wash his feet, but is every whit clean: and you are clean'" (John 13:810). The all-over washing we receive in Him is "once for all"; it is only that our daily walk   

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soils our feet. Only our feet need cleansing every day if we walk in his fellowship unbroken. For the rest, we are clean in his sight forever, in this sense eternally sanctified (Hebrews10:14). It is important today, as it was when the Epistle to the Hebrews was written, not to make the mistake of presenting the Saviour to be accepted as Lord before we have presented the Lord to be accepted as Saviour.

     The second famous passage is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). And this requires but little comment if careful attention is paid to the precise wording. The key here becomes apparent as soon as we ask, What was the son's estimate of his own position relative to his father when he was in "the far country"? He was still a son, his father was still his father. In the depths of his anguish he said to himself, "How many hired servants of my father have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and am no more worthy to be called your son. . ."
     
Note that he did not say, "I am no more worthy to be thy son," but, "I am no more worthy to be called your son." Not for one moment did he question his own sonship, not for one moment did he imagine that his relationship had been severed. What had suffered was fellowship, not relationship. Even his self-righteous brother who had remained at home recognized this continuing relationship: "As soon as this your son came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you have killed for him the fatted calf." When the father rejoiced at the return of his prodigal son and said, "This my son was dead, and is alive again: he was lost, and is found," he cannot surely have meant what we often bend this to mean, for the son himself had assurance of the continued relationship before he began his return journey. Once redeemed, always redeemed this is the position reflected in both the Old Testament and the New. As Isaiah 44:22 puts it: "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, your transgressions, and, as a cloud, your sins: return unto Me; for I have redeemed you." The last phrase here assures us that although we may have wandered away our redemption is a completed fact. We are not invited to return in order that we may be redeemed but because we have already been redeemed once for all.
     
What a wonderful assurance such security of sonship brings to us, his often wayward children! Once saved, always saved. Praise God!

     So there they are: the five Points, the five great asseverations of the Pauline-Augustinian-Calvinistic system of Reformed Faith which together constitute a satisfying, defensible, coherent, and thoroughly biblical confession that is realistic with respect to man's powers, position, and need, and   

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honouring to God in its unqualified adherence to the principle of Sovereign Grace.
     
We have now to see how this Sovereign Grace of God was, and will be worked out in the life of the nation Israel, and in the personal life of every individual who is called to be a member of God's blameless family. 

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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