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Vol. 9, No. 11
Nov., 2000

Why Many Believers Are Not Saved

by Glenn Conjurske

I say many believers are not saved, and I speak advisedly. I believe indeed that the majority of the believers in many Evangelical and Fundamental churches, and in many Brethren assemblies, are not saved. The proportion may vary a great deal from one church to another, but taking the modern church as a whole, I believe it safe to say that a large proportion of those who make it up are not saved. “By their fruits ye shall know them,” and many of them are so little different from the world that an angel could not tell the difference.

Nor do I speak without the Lord, nor without the Bible. The Lord says, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Now it goes without saying that these many believed in him, who prophesied in his name, and in his name did many wonderful works. Yet all who insist upon the doctrine of justification by faith alone are obliged to contend that these many did not believe in him----or something which amounts to the same thing. They will tell us that these “many” did not really believe in him----whatever that may mean. Or they will tell us that their faith was deficient or defective----that it was not real faith. But all such explanations are devised solely to maintain their theology, with not a word of Scripture to support them. What saith the Scripture? Does the Lord say to these “many,” “Depart from me, ye who did not really believe in me”? Does he say, “Depart from me, ye whose faith was defective”? Not a word of it. Neither does he say, as some modern preachers would have it, “Depart from me, ye that trust in your own wonderful works to save you.” Not a word of that either. What he says is, “Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” They are lost because they work iniquity, and they work iniquity in spite of the fact that they believe in Christ, and do many wonderful works in his name.

Now God has a directive for those who work iniquity, and that directive is not that they believe, but that they repent. “Now God commandeth all men every where to repent, because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained.” (Acts 17:30-31). Why does he not command all men everywhere to believe, if that is the only condition of salvation? Is God less intelligent, less consistent, than the modern preachers of Antinomianism? Some of those preachers tell us that repentance is unnecessary to salvation. And why then does God command all men everywhere----all the lost sinners on the face of the globe----to repent? Does he set the whole race of men to do mere needless busy-work, in place of the one thing needful?

But other preachers of salvation by faith only will agree that repentance is necessary to salvation, and yet affirm that we need not preach it, as it is a necessary part of saving faith. So speaks William Pettingill, a disciple of C. I. Scofield, in answer to the questions, “What place has repentance in salvation? Should we tell people to repent of their sins to be saved?” Pettingill replies, “The Gospel of John is the Holy Spirit's Gospel Tract, written that men might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God; and that believing they might have life through His name (20:31). And it does not mention the word 'repentance.' But that is only because repentance is a necessary part of saving faith. Strictly speaking, the word repentance means 'a change of mind.' It is by no means the same thing as sorrow (II Cor. 7:10). Since it is not possible for an unbeliever to become a believer without changing his mind, it is therefore unnecessary to say anything about it. The only thing for a man to do in order to be saved is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is at any rate plain speaking. But query: if “repentance is a necessary part of saving faith,” and if “it is therefore unnecessary to say anything about it,” why did the apostles of Christ constantly preach it? Why did the Lord commission them to preach “repentance and the remission of sins” among all nations? Nay, why does God himself command all men everywhere to repent? Are the disciples of C. I. Scofield and Lewis Sperry Chafer wiser than the apostles of Christ? Are the preachers of “salvation by faith alone” wiser than God?

But there are many who define repentance more soundly than Pettingill does----who define repentance as the forsaking of sin----whose minds are yet befuddled by the false notion that repentance is a necessary part of faith. That notion is certainly not derived from the Bible. It is rather a classic example of getting our theology from our theology, instead of from the Bible. That repentance is a necessary part of saving faith is a simple theological necessity for those who preach faith as the only condition of salvation, and to this theological necessity they tenaciously cling----and tamely bow----though it requires them to make void many plain scriptures. To make repentance a necessary part of faith shows no more sense than to make faith a necessary part of patience, or love a necessary part of marriage. The two things are diverse, and easily distinguished.

We realize that the language which is usually employed by these preachers makes repentance “a necessary part of saving faith,” but the very terminology is a mere necessity of their theological system, and serves only to perpetuate the error. Though the Bible speaks constantly of faith, it never in a single instance speaks of saving faith----as distinguished from a non-saving kind----and the necessity to use unscriptural terminology is a certain indication that there is something unscriptural in the theology which requires it. Indeed, to those whose eyes are open, the unscriptural terminology is a trusty signal, pointing directly to where and what the error is. The error here is that there are two kinds of faith, saving faith, and faith which does not save, but there is not one word in the Bible of such a distinction. Some, we know, will press the book of James into their service to maintain this distinction, but James is as much against them as are Jesus and Peter and Paul. More on that in its place.

Meanwhile, we do not wish to speak with too much dogmatism on the other side. We do not pretend to know everything, and we are quite well aware that most error contains at least a grain of truth, and maybe a dozen grains. We grant----we preach----that the faith of many is defective. They fail to trust that God is better than the devil, or more willing to make them happy than the devil is. They trust God for the life to come, and trust the world for the life that now is. They trust God for eternity, but follow the devil for time. This is defective faith, certainly. Their faith does not proceed so far as to believe that the ways of God are better than their own, or that holiness is therefore better than sin. We grant all that, and preach it too, and yet are not sure that such defects may not consist with the faith of the gospel. The faith of the gospel is a trust in the grace and mercy of God, through the cross and blood of Christ, and we suppose such faith may exist in the presence of a great deal of unbelief----unbelief in the wisdom and goodness of God, unbelief in the superiority of his ways over those of the world, the flesh, and the devil, unbelief in his ability or willingness to care for our interests or secure our happiness, and unbelief of a dozen sorts besides. We may trust God for eternity, and fail to trust him for tomorrow. It is a plain fact that faith comes in many degrees. The Lord speaks of “little faith” and “great faith,” and it is to saved men that he says, “O ye of little faith.” There is no perfect faith under the sun, and there may be a good deal of unbelief mixed with the best faith of the best of men. All our faith is defective, and yet if we have faith as a grain of mustard seed----the least of all seeds----nothing shall be impossible to us. Such faith, defective as it is, will move mountains, and save our souls also. All our faith is defective, yet the Bible does not trouble us therefor, nor ever, anywhere teach us to doubt our salvation on that account. It does not teach us, that is, to have less faith, because we have little, nor does it anywhere set us upon finding genuine faith, supposing what we have to be false, nor ever require anybody for any reason to believe after any other manner than they have done already. All our faith is defective, yet it is saving faith for all that----unless it be alone, for faith alone will save no one, as James plainly teaches. The Bible teaches us indeed to doubt our salvation if we continue in sin, without repentance, but never for failing to believe aright.

We suggest that those who insist upon the distinction between saving and non-saving faith will do the theological world a favor by attempting to define what non-saving faith is. We strongly suspect that if they would seriously attempt to define what it is, they would find themselves describing nothing other than what the Bible presents to us as the faith of the gospel----as believing the record that God gave of his Son, believing in the heart that God hath raised him from the dead, etc. Yet myriads believe all this who are not saved.

But I return to the many which the Bible says believe, and yet are not saved. In John 1:12 we read, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name,” but in John 2:23-25 we are told that “many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” Some modern Antinomians, we know, are sunk so low in theologically-dictated nonsense as to affirm that these “many” were all saved. A fine salvation this must be, in which the Saviour will not commit himself to the saved. We do not trouble ourselves to refute such stuff. We hold it to be self-evident that these “many,” to whom Jesus would not commit himself, were not saved.

But why not? The text tells us they “believed in his name,” and though there is a slight variation in the English version, the expression is the same in the Greek in John 2:23 as it is in John 1:12. Regardless of what our theology is, we must all account for the fact that these many, who “believed in his name,” were not saved. All the preachers of salvation by faith alone----if they are aware of the existence of this text----will come forward with one voice to affirm that they did not really believe, though the Bible says they did, or that they believed with the wrong kind of faith, though the Bible says nothing of that. Such explanations are dictated by the necessities of their theology, and not by anything whatsoever in the Bible. Others of them affirm that their faith was false, or non-saving, because it was the result of “seeing the miracles which he did,” and faith which is based upon miracles can never save. Harry Ironside, for example, says, “A faith that rests upon miracles is not a saving faith. A faith that rests upon signs and wonders does not bring salvation to anyone.” ----and this directly in the teeth of John's explicit statement at the close of this book, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name.”

Ironside's assertion demonstrates to what shifts men will resort in order to maintain a theological dogma which is false, and all who maintain the modern dogma of salvation “by faith plus nothing” must resort to one such shift or another, to account for the fact that these “many” who “believed in his name” were not saved, but they all bark up the wrong tree. They all tell us, in one way or another, that their faith was defective. I say, on the contrary, that what they lacked was repentance. The Bible plainly teaches us that we are saved by “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ and his apostles preached, “Repent, and believe the gospel.” Why this, if faith is the only condition of salvation? Why this, if repentance is a necessary part of faith? If a mother tells her daughter to fill the sink with soap and water, will anybody be found so senseless as to contend that the soap is a necessary part of the water? If the Bible admonishes us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who will be found to contend that the grace is a necessary part of the knowledge? If God exhorts us to faith and patience, who will maintain that the faith is a necessary part of the patience? If the Bible directs us to repent and be baptized, who will pretend that repentance is a necessary part of baptism, and that every man therefore who has been baptized has also repented? And just as foolish as all these is the assertion that repentance is a necessary part of faith, and that all therefore who have believed----or who have believed aright----have repented. This assertion does not arise from common sense or sound reason or Holy Scripture, but is directly in the teeth of all three. It is dictated by the necessities of a theological dogma, and that dogma is false.

We must account somehow for the fact that the “many” who “believed in his name” were not saved. We may do this two ways. We may affirm, as most do, that the faith itself was defective, or we may affirm that something else besides faith was necessary. From the standpoint of pure reason, either of these explanations is equally acceptable. Modern theology necessitates the former explanation. But what saith the Scripture? If the modern theological dogma is true, that faith is the only condition of salvation, and if the conclusion which is derived from that dogma is also true, that there are two kinds of faith, saving faith and non-saving faith, then surely the Bible ought to have something to say on the matter. But we look in vain. Never does the Bible admonish us to be sure we have real faith. Never does it exhort us to make sure we have the right kind of faith. Where in all the Bible is there a single hint in that direction?

On the other hand, the Bible does command us to “repent and believe.” The Bible does admonish us to “add to” our faith virtue, and knowledge, and temperance, etc., that we may make our calling and election sure.

Ah, but James speaks of dead faith, and this of course implies that there is such a thing as living faith. We know it well, but we shall hardly consent to have our firm ally James turned against us, by preachers who can scarce brook his strawy epistle at all, except when they think they can use him to make a point for their own mistaken notions. But they use him amiss. They use him only to misuse him. Read on.

What is the point of James's strawy second chapter? What is it that he labors to prove? Precisely this, “that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” (James 2:24). What right have they, then, who contend for justification by faith only, to resort to the second chapter of James for an argument? Had they not better steer clear of him? Do they suppose that James, by the Spirit of God, penned plain inconsistencies, inadvertently building up the very dogma which he aimed to tear down? If not, surely they will find no countenance for their notions here.

Well, what is it that James says concerning this dead faith, which cannot save? “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body, what doth it profit? Even so, faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being ALONE.” James speaks not one word about faith being unreal, or defective, or deficient. His whole complaint is that it is alone----and he speaks so for the express purpose of establishing the doctrine that faith alone cannot justify. Paul concludes “that a man is justified by faith without the deeds OF THE LAW,” but he never preaches salvation without repentance, or without works meet for repentance. Quite the contrary. The equating of the works of the law with works meet for repentance has caused endless confusion in modern theology----with little excuse, however, for repentance belongs entirely to the gospel, and has nothing to do with the law. The law requires perfect obedience, and in its very nature allows no room for repentance.

“Can faith save him?” James asks, and answers that it cannot, if it be alone. We know that our modern preachers must frame the question, “Can that faith save him?” pressing the Greek article into their service, and stretching it a little too. We only tell them to consistently do so with the Greek article, and they will make nonsense of the New Testament. The article is used with “faith” eight times in the passage, as it is times innumerable with abstract nouns throughout the New Testament. It means nothing other than “faith,” as the English Bible translates it throughout the passage. Some stretch the Greek article so far as to put the question, “Can that kind of faith save him?” but this is nothing other than a typical example of getting our Bible from our theology, instead of our theology from our Bible. The Bible never anywhere else distinguishes different kinds of faith, nor here either, unless we wrest the language of the text.

Again, “Thou believest that there is one God: thou doest well. The devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” Now it is perfectly plain that the faith of which he speaks here is dead faith, which cannot save. Yet observe what he says concerning it. “Thou believest that there is one God: thou doest well.” “Thou doest well,” to have a dead faith which cannot save thee! Why does he not say, “Thou doest ill,” if that faith is not real, or if it is defective? “Thou doest well,” so far as the faith is concerned, but something else is wanting. His complaint is not that the faith is not real, but that it is alone----that it is without works. Men will say that if it were real, it would not be alone, but this they say only because their theology requires it. The Bible says nothing of the sort.

Once more, “Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. ... For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Now there is no difference between a dead body and a living one. The difference lies wholly in the fact that the dead body is alone----being “without the spirit.” And “as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” It is not said that the body is defective, or not real, but that it is alone, that it is without the spirit. The fact is, a body may be very defective, and yet alive. It may lack arms and legs and ears, it may be diseased with cancer or leprosy, and be alive. And so may defective faith be alive also. We cannot give life to a dead body by curing its defects, nor can we to a dead faith either. We cannot give life to a dead body by any surgical operations upon it, by pouring medicines down its throat, by altering its constitution in any manner whatsoever, but only by adding to it a spirit. Adam's perfect body, newly created by God, was as dead before God added a spirit to it as our diseased and crippled bodies are after the spirit departs. And as it is with a dead body, so it is also with a dead faith. “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” Reason would suggest, then, that the cure is not to alter the nature of the faith, but to add to it the missing works.

And this is precisely what Peter admonishes us to do. “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:5-11).

We of course expect that some of our modern Fundamentalists will come forward to assert that this scripture has nothing to do with salvation----as they commonly say of all the Scriptures which require anything of us but bare believing----but we cannot stay to argue with them. That salvation is the only issue in the passage is transparent on its face.

Now observe what it is that Peter exhorts us to. He writes to those who have faith. It would be without sense to admonish them to add to their faith the other things mentioned, if they had no faith to which to add them. Neither does he tell them to believe, nor to get faith. Faith they had. He exhorts them to add to it this host of other virtues, that by this means they may be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, but that “so” (by adding these virtues) an entrance may be abundantly ministered to them into the everlasting kingdom of Christ, and thus are they to make their calling and election sure.

That the passage stands directly against the antinomian orthodoxy of modern times there is not the slightest doubt. That it stands against the modern dogma of salvation “by faith plus nothing” is equally certain. The perfectly plain----the only possible----sense of the passage is that we must add to our faith these other things, and so make our calling sure. And I say that our modern antinomian preachers know very well that this is the only possible sense of the passage, however they may endeavor to wrest it. Which one of all the modern preachers of salvation by faith alone would ever have penned such a passage as this, from their heart, and with the full consent of their mind? Who that preaches salvation “by faith plus nothing” would dare instruct men to add to their faith, that so an abundant entrance might be ministered to them into the kingdom of Christ? The thing is utterly impossible. Though they may endeavor to wrest it from its plain meaning, and tell us, as usual, that it is mistranslated, and that the Greek means something other than the English, yet they know very well that the passage as it stands, in Greek and every other language, is a thorn in their flesh. It is such a scripture as they cannot be comfortable with, and would not have penned if the matter had been left to them. No man who believes that faith is the only condition of salvation ever could pen such words as these.

But further, if the passage is plain proof that we are not saved “by faith plus nothing,” it is also proof that these virtues are not the inevitable fruit of faith. We are to add them to our faith, and this we are to do by “giving all diligence.” Peter speaks forcefully also of the awful condition of those who fail to add these things to their faith, which certainly proves that a man may have faith and not works, as it also does that he may have faith and be lost.

Ah, but we shall be told that these folks do not have true faith. They do not have saving faith. The faith which they have is deficient, defective, notional, intellectual, unreal. They have only a false and worthless faith, a non-saving faith. Very well----but mark the consequence. Peter comes forward to exhort all these mere nominal professors, who have no genuine or saving faith, to take such steps as will make them real Christians. And what does he tell them? To believe? Not a word of it. To be diligent to get a better, truer, sounder faith than that which they have? Not a breath of it. What he tells them is to ADD TO their worthless, non-saving faith virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and charity. “For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”----in spite of the fact that your faith is false and non-saving. “If ye do these things ye shall never fall,” though your faith is dead and empty. By means of adding these virtues “to your faith,” an entrance shall be ministered to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, though the faith to which you add them is worthless. To such absurdities are they reduced whose doctrine requires them to wrest the Scriptures, but who fail to think in the process.

The real difficulty is that our modern preachers do not trust the Scriptures. In their own false theology they have unbounded confidence, and whenever that theology comes into collision with the Scriptures----which it does very often----it is always the Scriptures which suffer for it. The word of truth must always yield to the false theology. We must therefore have endless wresting of the precious book, and continual skirting and evading of its contents. For all their preaching of faith, they have but little faith in many of the plainest statements of the Bible.

And those who preach this easy salvation by faith only set men practically upon a course of making bricks without straw. Those honest, earnest souls who seek to make their calling and election sure are set upon the impossible task of believing aright, where they may have failed to do so before, though a college of theologians cannot tell them how to go about it. On this plan many have repeated their “salvation experience” a dozen or a score of times, and remain as uncertain of their salvation as ever. What they need is not some different kind of faith, but repentance.

The great evangelist Sam Jones laid hold of this, and set men upon the possible----and extremely simple----course of repenting. Says he, “If you are doing wrong, quit it.” This is repentance, and you need no faculty of theologians to define what it means. He continues, “About twelve years ago the grace of God came gushing into my heart, and I knew that I was a sinner and ought to quit sinning. That lesson has lingered with me from that hour to this. The poorest, weakest man in this city may decide to-night, and God will help him to the point where he will never need help. The devil tempted me sometimes till my knees got weak. But God's grace is sufficient to make you quit doing wrong and go to doing right, in the name of Christ. That is my religion.

“What is the difference between what I was fifteen years ago and what I am to-night?” Was his faith false, defective, unreal, fifteen years ago? No, but it was alone, without works. He continues, “I have never believed any thing since that time that I did not believe before. I believed before, but did not do. I have now been a believer and a doer for twelve years. That is the difference between a Christian and a sinner. It is faith in Christ; it is following, loving, revering Him. I have never been converted, if a man must believe something afterward that he didn't believe before. It is not believing so much as it is doing. 'Show me your faith,' says James, 'without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.' Now you are getting down to facts. I believed and did not; now I believe and do. The teaching is that you must quit doing wrong.”

Here is the plain doctrine of the Bible. Simon the sorcerer believed (Acts 8:13), but in spite of that Peter perceived him to be in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. How, then, does Peter advise him? Does he tell him that his faith is defective or unreal, and that he must believe aright, or believe otherwise than he has done already? Nothing of the kind. The language of the Bible is as plain as can be against such a notion. “Then Simon himself believed also”----the same as the others had done. He was a believer, as much as they were. What Peter tells him is, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Faith without repentance has never yet saved a soul, and never will. That a man may have faith without repentance is plain from the text before us, as well as from a host of other scriptures----and from the lives of a great host of believers in Evangelical churches and assemblies all over this land. That their faith is false is what no man can prove from the Bible. That it is defective we grant, but so is mine and thine. The difficulty is that their faith is alone, without repentance, without works meet for repentance, without virtue. They believe in Christ----in his deity, virgin birth, sinless life, vicarious death, bodily resurrection, and literal return. They believe the record that God hath given of his Son. They believe in the efficacy of his shed blood to wash away their sins. They “trust in Christ for salvation”----and are saved according to Curtis Hutson and Zane Hodges, though they are ungodly. They believe, but cling to their sins. They sow to the flesh, and shall of the flesh reap corruption. They sow not to the Spirit, and therefore shall not of the Spirit reap everlasting life. They do not mortify the flesh. They live after the flesh, and so must die. They live in their sins, and shall die in their sins. They love the world, and “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” however sound his faith or trust may be. Faith they have, and perhaps a good deal too much of it, for faith without works is not only dead, but presumptuous also. But faith they have. They “believe in his name,” but they neither repent, nor bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, nor obey, nor follow Christ. They believe, but do not repent. They believe his promises, but disregard his commandments. Faith they have, but it is alone, and cannot save them.

All Agreed on Repentance & Faith

by the editor

Twice in the past I have published statements by prominent men of God, to the effect that all Christians are agreed on the terms upon which men may obtain salvation.

The first of these, by Brownlow North, appeared in October of 1997, on page 237.

The second, by Richard Baxter, in December of 1997, on page 284.

North belonged to the nineteenth century, and Baxter to the seventeenth. Since publishing those two, I have found another which says essentially the same thing. This one is from Richard Cecil, who flourished mainly in the eighteenth century, living from 1748 to 1810. He says,

“There has been a slander brought against religion----that we are NOT AGREED, as to the truths we should set before men. I say, it is false! We ARE agreed. All, who know anything of real religion, are agreed, that the SUBSTANCE of the matter is contained in REPENTANCE toward God, and FAITH toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

“If a man, like the Prodigal, feels that he has left his father's house, turned his back on God----and is become a fool and a madman for so doing----and that there is no hope but in his returning again; if such a change of mind is wrought in him by the Holy Spirit, as he wrought in David, when he cried, Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin: if, like Peter, he goes forth weeping bitterly----feeling that he has acted foolishly and wickedly, and that his only hope is in the mercy of God through the Saviour----then the man enters so far into the spirit of religion----REPENTANCE TOWARD GOD.

“But does he rest in this? Nay, he knows that if he could offer thousands of rams, and ten thousand rivers of oil, he could make no satisfaction for the sin of his soul. He looks to the atonement!----to Him, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood.

“Repentance toward God must be accompanied by faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is what Christ preached, this is what Paul preached, and this is what has been agreed upon by all the men of God through all the centuries, until the present antinomian age, in which repentance has been either denied, or so defined as to mean nothing at all, or something very different from what has been meant by it from John the Baptist onward, through all the centuries.

Four Unpopular Words

Abstract of a Sermon Preached on December 6, 1999

by Glenn Conjurske

In Hebrews 13:17 we read, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief, for that is unprofitable for you.” This verse contains four unpopular words, concerning which I will speak this morning.

The first of those unpopular words is “obey.” The whole human race has a strong aversion to obedience. We like to do our own will, not to submit to the will of another. To do our own will is the essence of sin, but since the fall of Adam we are all sinful, and love therefore to do our own will. We very much dislike being told what we have to do. We want to determine that ourselves. This is true of all of us by nature----not nature as God created it, but nature as it now exists, fallen and sinful. We are not born with a natural inclination to obey our parents, but quite the reverse. When my first child was very small, I taught her a little rhyme, which I required her to repeat on suitable occasions. It said, “Obey, obey, right away.” But though this rhyme was often in her mouth, it was not in her heart. Neither was it in yours, or mine. We had to be forced to obey, by hard strokes on our posterior ends, and most of us didn't learn it very well after all.

But as though it were not enough that we were born with an aversion to obedience, we have been nurtured in that aversion since the day we were born. In America at least, all these evil propensities of our sinful nature have been immeasurably strengthened by the principles of democracy, in which we have been immersed since we were rocked in our cradles. We grew up in an atmosphere of self-will, being told ten thousand times that “This is a free country,” the implication of this always being that we may therefore do as we please.

Our nature and our education and environment have thus combined together to make obedience extremely unpopular. We do not care to obey anybody. The carnal will do as they please. The carnal who think they are spiritual will profess that they owe obedience to God alone. They will obey God, but not man. They need no pastors or elders to tell them what to do, and certainly no church hierarchy. They proceed of course on the assumption that they are as competent as any pastor or elder to know what the will of the Lord is, and perfectly inclined also always to do it, whereas the plain fact is, if it were the will of the Lord which concerned them, they would set themselves to obey them that have the rule over them. The text does not command us to obey God, but men. God commands this, yet they repudiate the command of God, under the plea of obeying him. Whence it plainly appears that it is not the will of God which moves them, but self-will, and a good deal of pride besides.

But I proceed to the second unpopular word, which is “rule.” People don't like to be ruled, for the same reasons they don't like to obey. They want to do their own will, and want no one telling them what they have to do. But here is the plain fact: if you belong to the church of God, you are under rule, and not the rule of God only, but of “them that have the rule” under God. Somebody has the rule, and those who have it have been given it by God. Paul says to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers.” The flock is bound to obey these, and submit to them----not merely follow their advice if they please, but obey them. I am very well aware that there are many who occupy the office of elders who are no way fit for the place. They are disqualified by the Scriptures, and have no business in the office which they hold. This is true, without a doubt. But I say nothing of such elders at this time. The fact is, though it may be hard to find them in such a day as this, there are true elders in the church, to whom God himself has given authority over the flock, and these the flock is commanded to obey.

The church is no democracy. Democracy is not God's way of government. God has never established a democracy, and never will. Marriage is no democracy, the family is no democracy, and neither is the church. But people today are so steeped in democracy that they seem unable to understand God's method of government. The only notion they have of obedience is the keeping of laws which they themselves have had a part in enacting, and which they understand and approve. But God does not command obedience to laws, but to rulers. “Obey them that have the rule.” They may require things which you do not understand, and which you have no capacity to understand. If God has made “them” overseers in the church, your business is to obey “them,” and not merely their enactments which you happen to understand, or to like.

And you must understand that the whole theme of this morning's sermon is bound up with the subject of church membership. There are many who repudiate church membership in principle, claiming they can find no such thing in the Bible, but there are also many who decline it as a simple matter of self-will. They do not wish to be ruled. They want their independence. They will do as they please. Let any man endeavor to rule them, and they will immediately declare their independence. I have seen people leave churches ostensibly over the most trifling issues, where I believe the only real issue was, they were not willing to be ruled. This scripture is a perfect dead letter to them, and this is precisely as they would have it. Nobody has the rule over them, and they are generally as confused and unsettled as the Israelites were in the book of Judges, when there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes. I used to have great hopes of these folks who could never find a church which they could join, for I certainly am not blind to the wretched condition of most of the churches today, but the experience of thirty years has taught me that most of these independent souls are simply unwilling to be ruled. They are ruled indeed, but it is by pride and self-will. God says, “Obey them that have the rule over you,” and this assumes that somebody has that rule, unpopular as this may be.

We realize that there are two sides to every question, and of course two sides to this one. We know very well that there are thousands of pastors and elders in churches all over this land who are utterly unqualified for their places, being worldly, unspiritual, and ignorant of the Scriptures, elders in the church who cannot rule well their own houses, and indeed, elders who care nothing about ruling the church. We are not preaching submission to such elders (though it will usually be harmless enough) and rather suppose that saints ought to depose them, or leave their churches----probably the latter, as the former course is likely to cause endless strife.

But to proceed. The third unpopular word in this text is “submit.” “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves.” Submission is as unpopular as obedience, and for all the same reasons. But submission is not quite the same thing as obedience. Submission is a deeper thing. It goes farther. “Submit yourselves,” the text says. This is more than mere obedience to a requirement.

But we must look at what this submission is not, before we endeavor to explain what it is. We are absolutely opposed to any cultish notions of submission. We are not to sacrifice either our mind or our conscience to any man, no matter what his authority. This is the cultish doctrine, the doctrine of the Mormons and Catholics and Jehovah's Witnesses. Authorities have no right whatsoever to compel or over-ride the conscience of any man----to compel them, that is, to do what their conscience disapproves. This is the way of the cults, and its effect----no accident, by the way----is to make the authorities equal to God himself, to displace God, and put themselves in his place. To “submit yourselves” to them that have the rule over you certainly does not mean that. You must render to God what is God's, and to lesser authorities----to Caesar----what is Caesar's. To submit the conscience to man is to rob God of his due, for the conscience belongs by all means to God, and this I hold to be a fact which requires no proof. It is self-evident to all who understand the workings of conscience.

We are very well aware that refractory souls will usually plead conscience for their independent course, where conscience in reality has nothing to do with the matter. If the authorities require you to do what God forbids, then you may plead conscience. But if they require you to abstain from what God permits, it is mere perversity to plead conscience. Paul admonishes us in Romans 14 voluntarily to abstain from things which are right, and if so, we may certainly do so without violating our conscience. Permission to do something is no command, and it is certainly within the rights of authorities to require abstinence from things which God permits, such as the drinking of wine, or the killing of game. It is no sin to sleep on the floor, yet if your mother forbids it, you submit, and acknowledge her right to forbid you, and that whether you understand her reasons or not. To claim that her prohibition violates your conscience, because it is right to sleep on the floor, is just perversity. Very shallow reasoning also, such as no man of sense would be moved or intimidated by. Authorities have no right to over-ride the conscience, but they certainly have the right to over-rule these shallow pretenses concerning conscience, though they will be branded as tyrants and persecutors for so doing.

But authorities have no more right to subject the minds of their people than they do their conscience. Brigham Young, the successor of Joseph Smith as the Prophet of the Mormon Church, taught that a woman must not only submit to the practice of polygamy, but must approve it in her heart. He declared that any woman who rebelled against the “divine ordinance” of polygamy in her heart would be damned----to which Fanny Stenhouse rejoined that then every woman in Utah must be damned, and every woman in the world besides. Authorities have no right to subject the minds of their people, and this for the simple and obvious reason that they have no ability to do so. Authority is meant to control the conduct of men, not their thoughts. The authorities in the church have the God-given right and responsibility to require submission to their standards, but they have no ability to require men to agree with them. It is just here that one of the primary reasons for the existence of authority lies. If all men understood what was right, what was wise, what was best, and were also inclined to do it, there would be no reason for authority to exist.

We require women to dress modestly, and this for these two reasons. First, they may have no understanding of what is immodest, or why. And if they do understand, they may not be inclined to do as they ought. We can make rules and set standards, but some people can find as many loopholes as we can make rules. Some will do their best to keep the letter of the law, and discard its spirit. It is not the business of the shepherd merely to give the sheep a rule-book, but to watch over them, and see to it that they do as they ought. We once had a woman here who habitually dressed immodestly. I dealt repeatedly with her husband about it, but nothing changed. At length I told this woman that I had often dealt with her husband about the matter, but that he had never done anything effectual. She replied----to my surprise----”He never did anything.” So here you have the two reasons for the existence of authority. She had little understanding of what she ought to do. He understood it perfectly well, but had little inclination to do anything about it. He did not care to tangle with his wife over this, and so left it alone. This is why God has put authorities over the church, and given them the right and the responsibility to require the people to do as they ought. And it is equally the business of those who are under that rule to submit themselves to it.

But this does not extend to the submission of the mind. We may require a woman in this church to wear dresses, and modest dresses too, but we cannot require her to understand the matter, or to believe it wrong to wear trousers. The authority exists precisely for those cases which she does not or cannot understand. Babes in Christ cannot understand much of anything. They may see no wrong in watching television----no wrong in following the major league ball games----no wrong in wasting their time----no wrong in a hundred kinds of conformity to the world. They need someone to tell them what to do, and require them to do it. Understanding will come later.

I do not much concern myself about it if a woman can see no wrong in wearing slacks, so long as she doesn't wear them. She may submit herself, and yet her mind remain just where it was. The mind cannot be forced. But to submit herself certainly means more than mere obedience to the requirement. What would you do with a woman who submitted to our requirement that she wear dresses, but made it her business to talk it around that there was nothing wrong with wearing slacks? What would you do with her? I would put her out of the church. I was about to say I would put her out of the church as soon as I would a woman who refused to wear dresses, but the fact is, I would put her out a good deal sooner. She is a trouble-maker, and she really has no business in the church. She spreads dissention and discontent, and is certainly not submitting herself to them that have the rule, though she obeys their requirement. Submission is more than obedience. Submission embraces the spirit of obedience. It honors “them that have the rule,” and does honor to their standards also, even where it disagrees with them, or cannot understand them.

Paul charges Timothy to charge the people “that they teach no other doctrine.” (I Tim. 1:3). Christ indeed goes beyond this, and says to the angel of the church in Pergamos, “But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” (Rev. 2:14-15). There is nothing here of teaching at all, but only of holding certain doctrines. But these doctrines are abominations. To hold them is proof of a wrong state of heart, and those who hold them are to be put out of the church. The Lord's complaint against this angel is that he had them there, in the membership of the church, who held such doctrines. So far, then, “them that have the rule” have power over the mind also, but this does not extend to every innocent mistake or every matter of mere ignorance. We may let folks hold a good many things, but yet forbid them to teach them.

But some will say, This will undermine the right of free speech. What right of free speech? This is one of the principles of democracy, but not of the Bible. You look at the Holy Catholic Church of the dark ages, and the Communist regimes of the present century, and you see one extreme. You look at American democracy, and you see the other extreme. Neither are right, and neither are wise. On the one side, a totalitarian state will establish what is wrong, and allow none to speak against it. On the other side, a democratic state will establish what is (in general) right, and allow everybody to speak against it. Seditious and treasonous speech is protected by the constitution. If this is a necessary part of democracy, then democracy is suicidal in its constitution. If you had a child in your house who meticulously obeyed all your requirements, but continually told the rest of the children how stupid they were, would you allow such conduct? You would prove yourself stupid indeed if you did.

“Submit yourselves,” the Lord says, and this is more than mere obedience to the letter of the requirement.

And who is it to whom God requires this submission? Angels? Glorified saints? No, but to men in the flesh, men of like passions with yourselves, men who are failing and fallible. You of course know very well how fallible your leaders are, but you may be assured that God knows it as well as you do, and yet God requires you to obey them, and submit yourselves to them. This is for your benefit, and in fact it ought to be easier to submit to the authorities in the church than to any other authorities whatever. God lays down very stringent and particular qualifications for the elders in the church, to assure that they are good and wise men, and fit to exercise authority over others. God requires you to obey husbands and parents and masters and civil authorities also, while all those positions may be occupied by the basest of men. Any man who is old enough to have a child can exercise parental authority, and God requires his children to submit to him. Any boy old enough to marry may exercise the authority of a husband, regardless of his character, and wives must submit, though it be with many tears and sorrows. In the church it is quite otherwise. There God allows none in authority but those who are fit for it. To submit here, therefore, ought to be easy enough, and I believe it will be easy enough to those whose hearts are right. I am perfectly well aware that many of those who actually occupy the positions of authority in the churches are not fit for the place, and this raises many other questions. Certainly such rulers should be put out of their office, but that may not be possible. Family ties may reign, or party politics, or popular indifference. The path of the true-hearted saint will be a difficult one then, but I cannot pursue that here. When God requires his people to submit to those who have the rule, and obey them, he is certainly speaking of those who ought to have the rule, those who are fit for the place, and whom God himself has put in that place.

But “them that have the rule” by God's appointment are not perfect. Even the best of men may err, and do err. Yet their errors won't hurt you. The authority of the shepherd remains a benefit to the sheep, in spite of any errors which he may make. He may require you to give up something which is not wrong, but you would have a hard time finding a case of a Scripturally qualified elder actually requiring anybody to do anything which is wrong. God so safeguards authority in the church as to make this a practical impossibility, and if it should occur, you ought to obey God rather than men. In all other matters, God requires you to obey and to submit, and this is for your good, for they watch for your souls, as a tender parent would.

But this brings me to the fourth unpopular word in our text. The first time I preached on this text I entitled the sermon “Three Unpopular Words” ----but I have since discovered that there are not three, but four. The fourth of these unpopular words is “watch.” Do you like to be watched? Do you like somebody keeping an eye on you, to make sure you are behaving as you ought? With all the modern ideas of freedom and democracy firmly established in people's minds, along with a good deal of rhetoric about “the right to privacy,” most people have an aversion to being watched. But let me tell you a thing or two about this. It is generally those who are not behaving themselves who object to being watched. When I hear someone speaking contemptuously of the methods used by policemen to catch speeders, I know I am talking to someone who speeds----or wants to. When little Johnny is into mischief, of course he doesn't want his mother watching him. One of our men recently mentioned a conversation he had had with a labor union boss, who objected to the workers being watched by the management. My response to this was, It is the worthless who object to being watched. I have worked in many different places during my life, and it never troubled me at all to be watched by the supervisor. I supposed if he watched me long enough, I might get a pay raise, or a promotion. I worked for five years for a temporary employment agency. We had to call the office to get a job assignment, and when one job was finished, we called in for another. Two of us were sent one day to a large warehouse, to unload two semi trailers of roofing and siding. I asked the regular men at the warehouse how long they thought it would take us, as I wanted to call in for another job for the next day, if we could finish this one in a day. They assured me there was no way we could do it in one day. But as a matter of fact, we did it in half a day. We were done by noon, and we didn't work ourselves to death doing it. We worked at a good pace, as I always did, but certainly nothing heroic or extraordinary. At any rate, the supervisor soon noticed us, and after the mid-morning coffee break he gathered all his regular men together, to the number of eight or ten, lined them up in a semi-circle around the loading dock where we were working, and said, “I want you to stand here and watch these fellows for a while, and learn how to work.”

Now I tell you, it was my glory to be watched that day. I didn't object. The first job my son Timothy had was cutting and loading fire wood. His boss told me one day that he and another man had together loaded the truck in the same amount of time that it took Timothy to load it by himself, “but,” he added, “it almost killed us.” Now I really doubt my son would have objected if the boss had watched him. It is the loafers who object to being watched. It is the thieves and pilferers. It is the little boy who is into mischief. It is the man who is trying to get away with something. These all hate to be watched. The upright have no objection. One of our women came to me once and said, “I'm glad to have an elder watching over me.” She wanted to be corrected if I saw something wrong in her.

But let me tell you another thing about this. It is the proud who hate to be watched. The humble are willing to be corrected, glad to be corrected. The proud can't bear it. Yet God has set elders in the church precisely for this purpose. He calls them bishops, or overseers, and puts them in the place of authority for the very purpose of over-seeing, or watching over the flock. Yes, and he requires the flock to submit to them also. If you think this is hard, you will have to have a battle with God over it. He is the one who requires you to obey and submit, and he is the one who requires the elders to watch over you.

And if you think your place is hard, you ought to try the place of an elder. John Wesley was envied by many for his authority, but he continually speaks of that authority as a heavy burden. The Lord says, “Lovest thou me? Shepherd my sheep.” Tyrants may love such a position, but nothing short of love for the Lord will move a humble and spiritual man to take up such a burden. The Lord says, “Lovest thou me? Shepherd my sheep.” This is what the Greek says, though it is obscured in the English, by the rendering of two different words as “feed.” Shepherding is more than feeding. This is keeping the sheep together, keeping them in bounds, keeping them in order, keeping them out of trouble. The shepherd who loves the Lord will take up the task, but he is sometimes ready to think the Lord has set him over a herd of mules, instead of a flock of sheep. We all have something of the mule in us, inherited from Adam, and it is the business of the shepherd to perform surgery, and cut the remnants of the mule out of the sheep. And what God requires of the sheep in this scripture is that they deny themselves, and obey and submit.

Here, then, are our four unpopular words. “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves, for they watch for your souls.” And all this God commands, as unpopular as it may be, and commands it all for the good of his people, though he knows very well their rulers are not perfect.

Moral Authority

by Glenn Conjurske

No man can exercise authority aright unless he has moral authority which is equal in measure to his official authority. We have all known small men----and small women too----in large positions, and their position of authority inevitably becomes a detriment both to themselves and those who are called to submit to them. I met such a man once in a large furniture factory, where I was operating the freight elevator. As soon as I began to unload the freight on his floor, he came up with the air of a dictator, and informed me that nobody could put anything on that floor without his permission----thus demanding that I ask his leave to do my job. I declined to do this, but told him the freight belonged on his floor, and asked him where he would like me to put it. He was in a passion by this time, and would only order me to take the freight back where I got it, along with threats to report me to the manager. I ignored him, and unloaded my freight, for I plainly perceived that he had no concern to do his job, or to serve his employer, but only to flaunt his own authority.

Nothing is more common than to see parents who lack the moral weight to effectually wield the authority which they hold in their hands. Being large enough in body to have children, and so to obtain parental authority, they are too small in soul to use that authority aright. They cannot command the respect of their children, and they seem to know this intuitively. They must operate, therefore, from a position of felt weakness. Yet little does it occur to them to change their ways, and so earn and deserve the respect of their children. Instead of this, they compensate for their felt weakness by an obtrusive officiousness, and a continual flaunting of their position. They must be always cracking the whip. They must raise their voice, and yell. They must speak reproachfully and sarcastically, endeavoring thus to transfer the blame to their children for their own lack of moral weight. They must bolster their own position by enacting petty and oppressive rules. They are unwilling to give their children the liberty which becomes their age and their character, but require them to ask permission to do those things which they ought to be able to do at their own discretion. And such parents seemingly delight to deny the permission when it is asked----not for any good which might be pretended to the child, but only to make him feel the weight of their authority, only to “show him who's boss.” Thus they uphold their own authority, at the expense of the reason for its existence. Their own felt weakness gives them an inner compulsion to keep everything under their own control, and the less they have of moral power, the more they must flaunt their official power. They do not look to the real good of their children, but only to maintaining their own position of superiority, and so exercise their authority in a manner which is consistent with neither love nor righteousness. They use their position to deprive and demean and humiliate their children. They threaten what they will do, gloat over what they can do, demand the unreasonable, deny the reasonable, and practice petty persecution in a hundred forms. Such parents I have known.

But so far from strengthening their own position, all such ways invariably weaken it. Unable to earn the respect of their children, they resort to high-handed and oppressive measures, and so earn their contempt. I have known a father who never referred to the Bible at all, except to quote “Honor thy father and thy mother.” Being unable to earn that honor, he must continually demand it. But the more honor is demanded, the less it will be received. Those who deserve the respect of their lessers have no need to demand it. Those who demand it prove by the very fact that they must do so, that they do not deserve it.

The man who has moral weight can rule without such tactics. What he is commands respect. He has no need to crack the whip. This is true even in governing animals. Egerton Ryerson Young was a missionary to the Indians in the Northwest. His travels in winter were all by dog-train, and he kept a good number of dogs for that purpose. He did not hesitate to use the whip when it was needed----even felled his favorite dog to the ground with an oak axe handle when the occasion called for it----yet he says of his rule over his dogs, “By kindness and firmness they were easily broken in, and then a whip was only an ornamental appendage of the driver's picturesque costume.” The man who has moral weight may generally rule without the whip.

And so it is in every sphere. The more a man has of moral weight, the less occasion he has to assert his official position. The less he has of moral weight, the more he is obliged to flaunt his position. Official authority is often oppressive, and a good deal of the rebellion, revolution, and democracy in the world has been brought about by an abuse of authority, on the part of men who wielded official power, but who lacked all the elements of moral power. This brings authority itself into disrepute.

Moral authority, on the other hand, is not subject to such abuse. In the nature of the case, it can't be. It consists of an elevation of spirit and character, which is altogether above the petty tactics of abusive power. It consists of a moral superiority which is readily recognized and owned, and to which men readily submit. The men who possess such moral worth may rule others without possessing a scintilla of official power. Such we believe, were the judges of Israel. “The Lord raised up judges,” and the people submitted to their rule, though they apparently had no official position at all. This is by all means the best kind of authority, whether it is accompanied by any official position or not.

D. L. Moody never had any official position of any sort, yet he wielded authority. God, says William R. Newell, “gave him spiritual authority in the consciences of Christians throughout the whole world.” A corps of evangelists did his bidding. Singers “were more or less under Moody's direction.” They yielded to the behests of a man who had no official authority, because he was a man of moral weight.

John Wesley had no official position over the Methodists. God raised him up, God gave him his authority, and his moral authority was quite sufficient to maintain his position. Some resented his authority, others envied it, and some repudiated it, while better men gladly submitted to it.

Frances Asbury exercised the same power in America. He had official authority, given to him by John Wesley, ratified by the Americans, and his authority over American Methodism was absolute. There was no appeal from his judgement, and of course this was resented by the proud and the willful. Yet his moral authority was such that the whole Methodist Connexion gladly submitted to him. His funeral discourse, preached by Ezekiel Cooper, contains the following description of his moral power:

“His episcopal charges, official directions, and constitutional appointments and orders, in general, were punctually observed, and respectfully, willingly, and cheerfully obeyed. Very few, either primitive or modern, ever knew, or acquired the art, better than he, of obtaining, exercising and supporting, the pastoral and episcopal influence and authority; and of using it, with so much dignity, respectability, usefulness, and approbation. He had a particular qualification for governing; his peculiar temperature of mind and spirit, his dignified manner of conversation and deportment, his stern reserve, tempered by a social freedom, his authoritative decisions, softened down by gentle soothings, and his apparent inflexibility and independent opinion, placidly yielding to reasonable and amicable accommodations; carried with them an impressive, and almost irresistible influence; and gave him a kind of patriarchal ascendency and superiority. And which, had a powerful tendency to inspire others with filial reverence, and profound respect for the man, and to create a respectful diffidence, almost to embarrassment, in his presence; and to produce a pliable and courteous disposition of yielding, to his opinions, words, and wishes. Thus, in almost every circle, where he moved, he gained a kind of irresistable ascendency, influence, and authority, like a father in his family, and a ruler in Israel. We well know, what influence his presence had, what weight his words carried, and with what decision and precision, his opinion and judgment, would put to silence, and settle, the knotty, or the doubtful question. Who of us could be in his company without feeling impressed with a reverential awe, and profound respect, for the man, the christian, the minister, and ambassador of God? It was almost impossible to approach, and converse with him, without feeling the strong influence of his spirit and presence, upon our minds, sentiments, words, and actions. There was something, in this remarkable fact, almost inexplicable, and indescribable. Was it owing to the strength and elevation of his spirit, the exalted and sublime conceptions of his mind, the dignity and majesty of his soul; or the sacred profession and authority, with which he was clothed, in his distinguished character; as an eminent christian, remarkable for piety, and an ambassador of God, invested with divine authority? But so it was, it appeared as though the very atmosphere in which he moved, gave unusual sensations of diffidence and humble restraint, to the boldest and most undaunted confidence of man.”

This is moral authority, and when this is found in conjunction with the official authority which Asbury bore, it is a most propitious combination, and of unspeakable benefit to all who are governed by it. And who but small minds and petty spirits, who but the proud and the ambitious, who but the headstrong and the willful, would object to such a man holding the supreme official authority which Asbury held?

It is the absence of such moral power which brings official power into disrepute----which brings the very institution of authority into disesteem. This is most unfortunate, for the authorities which God has established are designed to be a boon and benefit to men, and men stand in need of that benefit. I have seen souls enough who repudiate ecclesiastical authority, and march off under their own banner, and most of these fare no better than a child would do, who ran away from home. That God leads some in such a path----the Luthers and Wesleys of the world----I have no doubt, but most of those who take that path are too small to walk steady in it. They are sheep without a shepherd, having none to correct them and none to lead them, and their dreams and visions and doctrines and standards are all awry, and generally full of self.

But there are two sides to the question. While many who renounce the authority which God has set in the churches are moved by nothing more than their own pride, others are forced to this by the abuse of that authority on the part of men who have no fitness for the positions which they hold. Official power they have, but nothing in the way of moral power. Surely such rulers must bear the blame when the poor sheep are driven away. A selfish or egotistical man in a place of authority, lording it over his subjects by petty oppression and high-handed measures, using his position for his own ends or his own glory, is one of the greatest evils under the sun, and there is really no excuse for allowing such men in authority in the church of God, though there may be no recourse in the state or the family.

Those who occupy places of authority will rarely have occasion to assert their position----I do not say never----if they make it their first business to deserve that position, by what they are, and to honor that position, by what they do. Mildness and gentleness, caring and yielding, mercy and clemency, goodness and faithfulness, firmness and reasonableness, consistency and stability----these are the elements of moral power, and those who would govern must have all these in a measure large enough to constitute moral superiority. Men of a right spirit will gladly submit to felt and acknowledged superiority. The proud and headstrong, of course will submit to no one, nor will they acknowledge any superiority above themselves, poor and petty though they be. Being superior is an unpardonable sin in their eyes. They can brook anything but this. It is primarily for such folks that authority exists. “The law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient,” and upon them it ought to be brought to bear, with whatever rigor their case requires. The use of bare authority, however, ought to be a rare thing, reserved for the headstrong and the refractory. In general it is no business of the shepherd either to drag or drive the sheep, but to lead them, and this can be done by none but a man of moral weight.


Ancient Proverbs Explained & Illustrated

by the Editor


One is better than none.

One and none is all one.

These two proverbs appear to stand in direct contradiction to each other, yet they are both true, and both wise. They are, indeed, both excellent proverbs. Anyone who had a mind to it might compile numerous such pairs of proverbs, which apparently contradict each other, and all of them true and wise. No proverb is of universal application. Each is true in that sphere to which it applies, or on that side of the question to which it speaks, and to press it beyond that is to make nonsense of it.

These things are true of human speech in general, and of divine speech also. The Bible is replete with one-sided statements, true in their own sphere, but altogether false if pressed too far. Most of the false doctrine in the church consists of pressing certain statements of the Bible beyond their legitimate meaning, while ignoring the scriptures which speak on the other side. “There are two sides to every question,” as another proverb speaks, and it is the way of the Bible to speak to both sides of every question----not usually in the same context, however. We may find a plain statement of one side in Ephesians or Hebrews, while the other side will be found in an example tucked away in Numbers or First Chronicles. Shallow thinking and simple ignorance take one side without the other, and make a false doctrine of it.

We are all aware----all of us, at any rate, who use a good translation of the Bible----that the Bible contains at least one pair of these apparently contradictory proverbs, for we read in Proverbs 26:4, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him,” and in the next verse, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” Certain modern Bible-menders, the translators of the New American Standard Version, have altered the second verse to “Answer a fool as his folly deserves,” but this is folly indeed, and I trust I may be forgiven if I answer it as it deserves. These translators evidently supposed that they were the only ones on earth who knew how to think, and must therefore do all the interpreting for the rest of the race, but they have only demonstrated that they had little ability to think at all. The most salient feature in this pair of proverbs is the fact that they apparently contradict each other, that the one enjoins what the other forbids----a fact preserved in every other version I have ever seen. This fact requires us to think, to determine the proper application of each proverb. The NASV destroys all this, by an officious meddling which thinks to be wiser than God, and which must explain everything instead of translating it.

Now it may be that there are other pairs of proverbs in the Bible which apparently contradict each other, but they do not stand next to each other. There are without doubt many plain statements which are apparently contradictory, as when we are told in one text to labor not for the meat that perisheth, and commanded in another text to labor for it. Such things require us to exercise our minds. Shallow thinking takes one side without the other, and makes something false of it.

As to the two proverbs before us, “One” may be vastly, immeasurably “better than none.” “He that findeth a wife findeth a good thing,” and he that finds one has found all, while he that finds none has nothing. How much better, for the woman who longs for motherhood, to have one child, than none. How much better to have one friend, than none. The man who is far ahead of his times----or, which is far better in these days, far behind them----may consider himself fortunate indeed if he has one who can understand him. How vastly superior is this to none. If the deep theologian has but one who can understand him, how satisfying this will be!----but how alone will he be if he has none. If the deep thinker has but one who can think with him, how immeasurably better is this than to have none. If the true poet finds one who can appreciate his poetry, how much more satisfying is this, than to find none.

To descend to lower spheres, how much better for the man lost in the wilderness to have one match, than none. How much better for the hungry man to have one biscuit, than none. How much better for the thirsty man to have one cup of water, than none.

But then if he has a hundred head of cattle to water, “One and none is all one.” If we have a dollar, and need a hundred, “One and none is all one.” If we need four tires which will hold air, and have but one, “One and none is all one.” The meaning of this, by the way, is that one is all the same as none. One is as good as none. If we have but one nail with which to shoe a horse, “One and none is all one.” Two and none may be all the same also. There was a time when I was out of money, and out of almost everything else also. I was walking across a field, and found two quarters. But what could I do with fifty cents, when fifty dollars would not have sufficed? I carried those two quarters in my pocket for a week, without spending them, though we were in need of most everything. My bus, in which we were travelling, was broken down. The gas tank was empty. We were out of almost all kinds of food, and what could I do with two quarters? Two and none were all the same.

It is the application of proverbs which gives them life, and in the examples before us the reader may plainly perceive that it is the application which gives them truth. Misapplied, they will both be false. Truly applied, they are full of wisdom.

A Modern False Definition of Repentance

by the editor

A little booklet has lately been put into my hands, entitled “The Gospel,” written by Dallas Seminary graduate Ron Shea, published by the “Clear Gospel Crusade,” and endorsed by Curtis Hutson and John F. Walvoord. The booklet tells us that “Saving repentance is to stop trusting in gaining eternal life through religion, religious rituals, or obedience to God's laws.” (And this slip-slop English was written by a man who has spent years in college and seminary, and earned master's and doctor's degrees. Our lot is cast in evil times.) The definition is based on one phrase from the book of Hebrews, “repentance from dead works,” while it ignores everything else in the Bible. This is typical of the Dallas school, having come originally from Lewis Sperry Chafer, but it is really perverse. It stands directly against the whole church of God for nineteen centuries, in which repentance was always defined as the forsaking of sin, and it stands directly against the Bible also. “God now commandeth all men everywhere to repent,” but a large segment of “all men,” including all the atheists, agnostics, and irreligious men of every sort, have nothing to repent of by this definition. They do no religious works, and some of them have never done a religious work in their lives. He presses Luke 13:1-5 into his service, and twists it to his own ends without quoting it, to support the assertion that “If he believes that obeying the laws of God are (sic) necessary to get to heaven, he must repent.” But that text says nothing whatever about obeying God's laws, but of being sinners.

When John preached repentance, and men asked him “What shall we do then?” it was their sin he addressed, not their righteousness, nor their religion. He prescribes righteousness, and speaks never a word of religion. “Repent of this thy wickedness” the Bible says to Simon Magus, who thought to obtain the gift of God with money. “I gave her space to repent of her fornication.” “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood, which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk. Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” Are we to suppose all these things are religious works, by which men thought to gain a place in heaven?

This “clear gospel” is nothing other than the devil's lie. “Ye shall not surely die,” though ye sin to your heart's content. You must repent of your righteousness, but not of your sin. Can false doctrine sink lower than this?

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OP&AL is a testimony, not a forum. Old articles are printed without alteration (except for correction of misprints) unless stated otherwise, and are inserted if the editor judges them profitable for instruction or historical information, without endorsing everything in them. The editor's own position is to be learned from his own writings.