Christian Security and its Moral Results.
"Salvation!" "Saved!" O blessed, peace-inspiring words to him who knows the reality of them! What do they mean? Do they leave still the doubt that after all by that from which we are saved we may still be overtaken, overcome, and perish? Then, for pity's sake, and in the interests of truth itself, let us not use the words, — let us not inspire a hope which may be so mistaken!
But Scripture, which uses the words, is not responsible for the doubt, preaches not the uncertainty. Its "hope" is not one which possibly may make ashamed; therefore there is patience in it: "If we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it." We can wait with patience just because it is sure. "He is faithful who promised." Yes, He is faithful, but we? Well, when we came, helpless and hopeless, to Him, was it not just part of our intense misery that we could not trust in ourselves? Had He not to teach us that faith's object was not ourselves, but Himself? that every particle of self-trust was only robbing Him by so much of His due? But are we now as Christians to go back to that principle from which we were delivered?
Not so! "This is the right gospel frame of obedience: so to work as if we were only to be saved by our own merits; and withal so to rest on the merits of Christ as if we had never wrought any thing." (p. 142.) Yes; but if indeed we had never wrought any thing, would we be entitled to "rest in Christ"? Ah, that would be perilously near to antinomianism, would it not? For we are to be justified at last by works altogether, are we not? How then rest in Christ as if we had done nothing?
Nay, is not fear — fear lest we should perhaps be lost — a wholesome and needed motive to work? Is it not the check that the Arminian has to deter him from sin, that he "is told that the holiest saint on earth may fall from grace and drop into hell"? And do you not say that "human nature at its best estate can never be safely released from the salutary restraint of fear"? (p. 86.) How then can we rest in Christ as if we were not doing what if we did not, we should assuredly "drop into hell"?
I see you confess it is "a difficult thing" to unite these things together. (p. 142.) And I note too that you say elsewhere, "Nor are true believers, who have received the Spirit of adoption, under the law as the impulse to service. They are not spurred on to activity by the threatened penalties of God's law. Love to the Law-giver has taken the place of the fear of the law as a motive. This is specially true of those advanced believers out of whom perfect love has cast out all servile, tormenting fear." Yet you add, "Before emerging into this experience, there is a blending of fear and love as motives to service. But the law is put into the heart of the full believer, and its fulfillment is spontaneous and free." (p. 108.)
Why do you say, "Into the heart of the full believer"? Is not that one of the promises of the new covenant? Is it not true in principle of all those, therefore, of whom God says at the same time, "And I will be their God, and they shall be My people" and again, "Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more"? Why, then, do you insert this "full" believer? Is it on the warrant of Scripture, or of experience?
But how is it, then, that "human nature at its best estate can never be safely released from the salutary restraint of fear"?
And how can you say of the greater number even of believers, they are "not spurred on by the threatened penalties of God's law"? and "they are not under the law as an impulse to service"?
Yet it seems that they are exposed to these penalties, or the possibility of them; that they are (most of them) under the fear of these, that it is a salutary thing and that they need the spur!
Truly it is a difficult thing to unite these things together.
I do not forget that you tell us that "we are freed from the law as a ground of justification. Our ground of justification is the blood of Christ shed for us." This we might rejoice in if you had not before defined this that "all mankind are, by the atonement, forever freed from the necessity of pleading that we have perfectly kept the law in order to acceptance with God." (p. 108.) And you have given us elsewhere the "evangelical form in which it was defined by His adorable Son, "Thou shalt love God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself." (p. 41.) Thus, it seems, Christ's work has put us under the milder condition of only loving God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves. This you call "the evangelic form." The Lord justifies us, then, by His blood (correct me, if I should misunderstand you), and puts us under this milder law — the law of Christ, to be judged by; and you say that in the day of judgment we shall "be judged by works only" (p. 29), so that the blood of Christ shed for us will not be the ground of justification then. This is "salvation," as you say, "not by the merit of works, but by works as a condition."(p.45.)
Now if this be so, there are some serious questions, which a good many beside myself would probably like to have answered.
(1) Is it to be shown that we have obeyed this law perfectly?
(2) If so, for how long? — from the time of our justification? or how much later?
(3) If not perfectly, how far perfectly? where shall the all-important line be drawn?
(4) If the day of judgment is to decide where we are, for whom is it to decide it? Not for God; that cannot be. For ourselves? then can we be sure before it comes? or is it decided before it is decided?
Surely a thing of such solemn moment should not be left with so much haze upon it. Nor can you say that Scripture has left it in this condition. Scripture, blessed be God! is as plain as possible. It is theology only that is responsible for it all.
We know, then, how far our freedom from the law as a ground of justification goes. It certainly does not go far enough to entitle any one to rest wholly in Christ in view of eternity. Faith in Dr. Steele is, I doubt not, better than his creed, but it is the creed we are speaking of. After all, the great thing is, What says Scripture? And here we are in another atmosphere, and under clear and luminous skies. "He that heareth My words, and believeth on Him that sent Me," saith the Lord, "hath everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life." (John 5) It will not do to say, even with Alford (p. 88), "comes not into (krisis) separation, the damnatory part of the judgment." Krisis is the common word for "judgment," as every one who knows Greek knows. Dean Alford is interpreting, not translating; and even his interpretation does not avail. For "separation" in this sense would apply to the whole judgment-work, not necessarily to any damnatory part. But we are not left to argument. How are the dead saints raised? The apostle answers: "So also is the resurrection of the dead: it is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption; it is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Cor. 15:42-44.) Now it is beyond controversy, that he is speaking here simply of the resurrection of the saints. How are they raised? I ask. In incorruption, power, and glory, are they not? And "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump, . . the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed" — the living (v. 52).
When shall this be? "Every man in his own order," adds the apostle, "Christ the first-fruits; afterward, they that are Christ's, at His coming" (v. 23).
And again: "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain to the coming of the Lord shall not prevent (go before) them which are asleep; for the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thess. 4:15-17.) Thus "them that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him," and "when Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory." (Col. 3:3.) It is plain, then, not from the interpretation of a single text, but from the plainly given character and "order" of the resurrection, that the saints, dead or living when Christ comes, are caught up in one glorious company to meet Him in the air; and when He appears for the judgment of the world, they appear with Him. Thus, before judgment can possibly take place, all is decided. Into judgment personally they do not come.
Yet we shall all give an account to God, all be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, and receive for the things done in the body. But it should be already plain that the separative judgment of the sheep and goats cannot have to do with us. And think of Paul, John, and others waiting to be picked out in this way from unbelievers! Is Dr. Steele really waiting for this? I do not think so. Why then a judgment to decide which does not decide?
No: all is decided here. Here men are lost or saved, and he that believeth on Christ shall not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life. And that life is eternal life: "I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any one pluck them out of My hand." (John 10:28.)
Those who would put conditions or exceptions into such texts as these should mark that they belong to a class into which these never are put. There is many an "if" in Scripture: when professing Christians as such are addressed, they are often tested in order to prevent the fatal deceit which men may practice on themselves; but never are those singled out and pronounced upon as having eternal life, or salvation, or justification, or being born again, or children of God, or any thing analogous to these, put under conditions, as if it were doubtful how they would turn out. This is surely noteworthy, and should go far itself to establish the truth. If Scripture makes no doubt, should we? But we can say much more than this. In every way, from every side, we are thronged with assurances as to the safety of the saint.. . . . .
If justified, or reconciled, much more shall he be saved.
If he has eternal life, he shall never perish.
If born of incorruptible seed, his seed remaineth in him.
Whom He calls He justifies, and whom He justifies He glorifies.
If the apostle speaks of apostasy, better things accompany salvation.
If a man draw back, we are not of them that draw back.
Neither things present nor to come can separate from God's love in Christ.
He that loveth not his brother is in darkness even until now.
They who go out from us are proved by the fact not to have been of us.
Because the plant has no root, it withers away.
He that sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him.
I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity.
What avails it to interpolate certain texts with conditions, when this is the web and woof of Scripture? What profit indeed in limiting the wonderful grace of God which pledges itself in Christ to the poor and helpless, beggared in self-assurance. "I will NEVER leave thee, nor forsake thee." Blessed, blessed grace! without it, who that knows himself could have peace a moment?
Sad would it be, then, to find that the more this grace abounds, the more man will abuse it. It is not so the apostle speaks. "Sin shall not have dominion over you, because ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Rom. 6:14.) The real knowledge of grace it is that is the spring of holiness, as the "strength of sin," on the other hand, "is the law." No doubt there are those who, secretly or openly, would make God's precious grace a cover for licentiousness. No doubt also there are many who, through lack of knowledge of deliverance, find to their sorrow the law of sin authoritative, to the blighting of their practical life and testimony for God. Yet all true Christian experience agrees with, if it is not needed to confirm, the apostle's testimony. We must not slight grace because men have little learned or abused it. We must not supplement it with legal conditions in order to make it effectual. We must hold it more simply and learn it better.
Grace cannot assimilate with legal conditions. It is their essential opposite. "If it be of grace, then it is no more work; otherwise grace is no more grace." (Rom. 11:6.) No relaxation or modification of law can make it assimilate with it. As to moral content, the law is holy, just, and good. As a principle of fruitfulness, it is a necessary, fully announced failure. The Christian is dead to and delivered from it, not that he may be justified merely, but that he may bring forth fruit to God.
Baptize it as you may, you cannot make it Christian. Relax it, you have spoilt it as law without making it gospel. Call it, without warrant, the "law of Christ," your apparent scripturalness will not hinder the necessary result of an adoption of what is not of Him. "The law is not of faith; but the man that doeth them shall live in them." (Gal. 3:12.) Now the gospel most surely requires obedience to it, and Christ's commandments admit no relaxation and lack no authority. But commandments and obedience do not constitute law in its essential principle, its absolute contrast with grace. And grace is the one power for holiness, the only thing that can deliver from the dominion of sin.
A moral law supposes a sinner as the one to whom it is given, and it works by the influence of fear, its authority being maintained by penalties. It requires: it does not enable for the requirement. The fulfillment of the law is the thing impossible to the law.
This is what the apostle insists on in Rom. 8:1-4, which Dr. Steele so little understands, that to him it makes no difference whether you find "who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit" appended to the first verse or the fourth! (p. 153.) If the words be found, what matter the connection in which they are found? Certainly no matter, if Scripture be a collection of fragments without relation to one another. If a relative clause even does not depend upon its antecedent, then indeed it is no matter. But if sentences acquire any meaning from their relation to one another, then it does surely make a difference whether our walk as Christians be introduced into the question of "no condemnation" or into the statement of how grace enables us for what is impossible to the law.
"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteousness of the law may be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit."
The law says, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," and the conscience approves this; but though it say, Do this, or thou shalt die, the terrible alternative can never prevail to set my affections on Him from whom they have wandered. "We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19) is the Christian experience of grace as certified by an apostle, fulfilling in us the righteousness of the law. Sin in the flesh is condemned for us in that cross of Christ on which He died to redeem us, and thus we find deliverance from the condemnation and the power of it together.
Now if this be the principle of Christian fruitfulness, we must adhere to it consistently. The effect will not be found except as we allow that to act which will produce the effect. It will not do to mingle grace and law, — that is, to cancel the grace by an inconsistent addition to it, — and then declaim against grace as if it were itself unholy. It is thus, in fact, with a large number of those who professedly accept it. On the other hand we must of course distinguish grace from laxity — from the result of an indifferent and careless spirit which may use the language to cover its laxity.
"The law is not of faith," and faith is the character and power of the child of God as such. It is the working principle, so that the faith which has not works is dead, — it is not true faith at all. With all our heart we accept and emphasize this teaching of the apostle. With all our heart we reject Dr. Steele's assertion for us, that "its efficacy is concentrated into a single act of assent to a past fact." (p. 101.) Such statements scattered through his book, proved by fragmentary sentences no one knows from whence, are a dishonour to the one who makes them. Our author who claims so much for law should heed the law. If a witness is put upon the stand in any court of justice worthy to be called one, he is first asked his name, and where he belongs. Dr. Steele seems to care nothing, and to argue that his readers will care nothing for these things, without which his book is, however, a mere string of unsupported assertions, and will be rated by an upright mind as that.
On the contrary, faith is the character of the new nature, necessarily continuous as such, and the working principle in every one who has it. Nor does it only "grasp past and finished acts" (p. 59), but cleaves first of all to a living Saviour. "For you are all the children of God through faith in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:26.) Instead of setting aside faith in the way charged, I would press it as of all importance in the question before us. It would be a sad and terrible thing to be told that faith might justify and yet not purify. We have read our Bibles at least enough to know that the heart is purified by faith (Acts 15:9), and we believe and thank God that it is so.
But "the law is not of faith:" it does not appeal to or recognize it. Its principle, fear, tormenting fear, is not in love: "there is no fear in love, but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath torment." (1 John 4:18.) Our author uses often enough this text no doubt: has he apprehended its significance in this respect? Does he remember, not only that faith it is that worketh, but that "faith worketh by love"? (Gal. 5:6.) How is it, then, that this works, where he upholds as the Arminian check upon sin, the knowledge that "the holiest saint on earth may fall from grace, and drop into hell"? Is it not already one fallen from grace who can think and speak so?
Is this the grace which does not allow the dominion of sin? Is the fear that hath torment banished by it? Does it not rather make it a thing impossible to be banished by the holiest saint on earth? Nay, is it not openly contended that "human nature in its best estate can never be safely released from the salutary restraint of fear"? Is this the doctrine of Scripture, or an open break with it?
Talk no more, then, of fruitless faith, while you boast of a "perfect love" fruitless as any Antinomian faith could be! and while you set aside faith as fruitless, to take up terror to do its work instead. O sir, your theology halts where it should walk upright; and your holiness of the whip will never reach, nor come in sight of a "GENUINE CHRISTIAN PERFECTION." With all my soul, I turn from the perfection you present to me, to realize, if I may, that rest of faith which God's Word calls me to, and find a yoke for which "the joy of the Lord," not the terrors of hell, can be "strength." If, then, these are the divine principles of holiness, — if faith it is that worketh, and worketh by love, and a perfect love is to cast out fear, then the gospel of eternal security is also the gospel of holiness. We are set free from self-care to care for Christ and serve Him. The things are wide as heaven and earth asunder.
The more you work for salvation, the more you work for self: is it not so? a sad and foolish work, breaking the Sabbath which God has ordained, and for which He has provided. Please Him you cannot, while you set aside the efficacy of that one peerless work which secures all for the believer.
"The life which I live in the flesh," says one of old, "I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2:20. 21.)