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Vol. 4, No. 11
Nov., 1995

The Two Dispensations

by Glenn Conjurske

Though dispensationalists commonly speak of seven dispensations, there are in essence but two. There is a dispensation of justice and a dispensation of mercy. But before endeavoring to explain that matter, it will be first necessary to clarify what a dispensation is.

If we were to ask most dispensationalists what a dispensation is, the first words we would hear would be, “A dispensation is a period of time...” This comes directly from C. I. Scofield, who says, “A dispensation is a period of time during which God deals in a particular way with man in respect to sin, and to man's responsibility.” Though there is some justification for such a manner of speaking, it is not strictly true, and it serves to somewhat obscure the real essence of dispensationalism.

What, then, is a dispensation? A dispensation is an economy or administration. The Greek word from whence it is derived is j v ----that is, oikonomia, whence comes our “economy,” which was formerly spelled “oeconomie.” This Greek word is a compound of two words, meaning “house” and “law.” A dispensation, then, is a household law, or, when applied to a state or nation, an administration. It is not a period of time, but an aggregate of principles by which the state is governed. Thus Americans speak of “the Reagan administration,” or “the Nixon administration.” From this it will appear, however, how naturally the element of time is associated with dispensations, for it is perfectly proper to speak of events which took place “during the Reagan administration.” Yet the administration is not the time, but the principles which govern it. And as said, to make a dispensation a period of time tends to obscure the essence of dispensationalism, for people commonly suppose that there are seven different dispensations, whereas in reality, though the details of administration may vary, so far as concerns the root principle of them, there are but two. But many dispensationalists are so pre-occupied with the differences in detail----or the supposed and imagined differences in detail----between the various administrations, that they fail to perceive the real nature of those dispensations.

The two dispensations are in force alternately throughout history, somewhat after the manner of Democratic and Republican administrations alternating in the government of America. The two divine dispensations are the dispensation of justice, and the dispensation of forbearance----the dispensation of righteousness, and the dispensation of mercy----the dispensation of holiness, and the dispensation of love----the dispensation of law, and the dispensation of grace. These two, it will be plainly seen, correspond to the two sides of God's moral nature. “God is light”----a figurative term, which stands for holiness----“and in him is no darkness at all”----no taint of moral evil; and “God is love”----which is not figurative, and needs no explanation.

The two dispensations, then, are a display of what God is. Those two dispensations display the two sides of his nature. They say as it were, “Behold the goodness and severity of God”----the goodness of God in the dispensation of mercy, and the severity of God in the dispensation of justice.

It should also be understood that those two dispensations manifest what God is in relationship to sin. The foremost theme of the Bible, from cover to cover, is sin. The book is the record of the origin, course, consequences, and end of sin, and of God's dealings with it. Now it so happens that God has two ways of dealing with sin, according to the two sides of his moral nature. He deals in either justice or mercy. He either forbears and forgives, or executes judgement. And this it is that determines the character of the two dispensations.

It must be understood, however, that the display of one side of God's nature never excludes the other side. God is always God, and he is always both love and light. He is always both just and merciful. He is always both loving toward sinners, and indignant toward sin. There is mercy in the dispensation of justice, and judgement in the dispensation of grace. Rahab is saved even in the very day of judgement, in the dispensation of justice. And the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira meets with the same severity in the dispensation of grace as did the hypocrisy of Achan in the dispensation of law. There was but one difference, that being that in the day of grace God executed that judgement with his own hands, while in the day of justice God required his people to stone the offender. And this difference is very instructive, for the current dispensation consists of what God has committed into the hands of man. Though neither dispensation excludes the opposite side of God's nature, the administration which is in force determines the character of the time, and the character of the saints who live under the dispensation.

The full and final display of the two sides of God's nature awaits the eternal state, when “God is love” shall be fully manifested in an eternal heaven, while “God is light” is fully manifested in an eternal hell. Meanwhile, there is grace in every dispensation, as well as justice, but grace characterizes the dispensation of grace, while justice characterizes the dispensation of justice.

The dispensation of justice is always associated with the rule of God upon the earth. This dispensation is in force four times during the history of the world, over Adam in the garden, over the sons of Noah in the earth, over the children of Israel in the land, and over the sons of men in the redeemed earth in the millennial reign of Christ. The administration, dispensation, or economy which is in force during those times is an administration of justice, which establishes the authority of God over the earth----or over a part of it, which is representative of the whole, as in the garden of Eden and the land of Canaan. Excepting the first, when there was no sin, those dispensations are always introduced with the execution of judgement----with a thorough purge of the Lord's threshing-floor (Matt. 3:12), which is the earth. By those judgements the whole sphere of the display of the justice of God is swept clean of its wicked inhabitants. Such was the flood and the extermination of the Canaanites, and such will be the execution of judgement upon all the ungodly at the coming of Christ.

Sandwiched between those four manifestations of the dispensation of justice, we find always the dispensation of grace, or forbearance. The Lord does not then maintain his rights in the earth, but allows iniquity to run its course, while he calls his faithful few to a path of separation from it. While the earth is thus given over to corruption, the elect are called with a heavenly calling----to a life of “pilgrims and strangers on the earth.” Noah lived in such a dispensation before the flood, and his business then was to assert the claims of the Lord as a preacher of righteousness. The flood, however, was the beginning of the dispensation of righteousness, or justice, and after the flood Noah was called not only to preach righteousness, but to administer it. “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” (Gen. 9:6).

The responsibility which this injunction lays upon man has never been rescinded, so that the Gentile to this day is the minister of God, who bears the sword to execute justice in the earth. (Rom. 13). But God himself stands aloof from that administration of righteousness, for he long ago “gave them up” (Rom. 1) to go their own way, he meanwhile forbearing until the vine of the earth is ripe, when another sweeping judgement will introduce again the dispensation of justice.

It was at the tower of Babel that he “gave them up.” Dispensationalists, following C. I. Scofield and others, commonly refer to this as the judgement which ended the Noahic dispensation, but this is a mistake, stemming from a failure to apprehend the real nature of the two dispensations. In the thinking of Scofield and his followers, every dispensation must end with a judgement, and they therefore list the flood as the end of one dispensation, and “the judgement of Babel” as the end of the next, but this is confusion. The flood and the “judgement” at Babel have scarcely anything in common. Moreover, those judgements which dispensationalists commonly make the end of the various dispensations are in reality the commencement of the dispensation which follows. Those judgements themselves are the full proof that the dispensation of forbearance has ended, and the dispensation of justice begun. And this, by the way, is an oblique though very solid proof that the dispensation will change BEFORE the judgements of the book of Revelation are poured out. But it must be observed that in those cases when the dispensation of justice gives way to the dispensation of forbearance, there is no judgement, and in the nature of the case cannot be. The dispensation of forbearance is not introduced with judgement, as the dispensation of justice is. No judgement was poured out at the inauguration of the dispensation of grace. There was no judgement at the tower of Babel----nothing at all resembling the flood, or the execution of the Canaanites, or the judgement of the ungodly at the coming of Christ. At the tower of Babel, God scattered them and abandoned them, but executed no judgement. He restrained them, as he has done throughout the present dispensation of forbearance, but he poured out no judgement upon them. He “gave them up,” and thus entered upon the long course of forbearance which will end at the execution of those judgements which break the Gentiles in pieces as a potter's vessel, and establish the kingdom of God on earth.

God's forbearance with the Canaanites, however, ended much sooner, for while the whole race was given up by God, he maintained his dealings with a small portion of it, and while the whole earth was given up, he undertook to maintain his claims in a small portion of it, which was representative of the whole.

As for the race, no sooner did God give it up in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, at the tower of Babel, than he laid hold of Abraham. And his first words to Abraham were “Get thee out,” thus calling him to a life of separation from the corrupt mass which was now given up, and left to run its course in iniquity, under the forbearance of God. Abraham was called thus to be a pilgrim and a stranger on the earth, seeking a heavenly country.

As to the earth, the land of Canaan was chosen of God as the field for the display of his justice. That land was promised to Abraham and to his seed, but centuries must pass ere they could possess it, for the sole reason that “the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full” (Gen 15:16), and the dispensation of forbearance must run its course.

We, of course, belong to the same dispensation that Abraham did. We belong to the dispensation of grace, or forbearance. We are not called to execute judgement upon the earth, nor to establish the kingdom of God here, nor to maintain the claims of righteousness among the Gentiles whom God has given up. We are called to be pilgrims and strangers upon the earth, to seek the city whose builder and maker is God, to lay up our treasures in heaven, to “come out from among them and be separate,” and of course to preach the message that the day of forbearance will end, and the day of judgement overtake all who will not forsake the world and join with us in the holy pilgrimage.

We are well aware that there is progressive revelation in the Bible, and also altered circumstances from one age to another. Those things may very much affect the details of the varying dispensations, but do not affect the fact that the dispensations are in essence but two.


Be Not Deceived

by Glenn Conjurske

The Bible tells us that the devil is a great deceiver, and indicates also that he enjoys the utmost success in his arts of deception. He is “the devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.” (Rev. 12:9). He deceives the world upon many themes, but there is doubtless nothing more dear to his venomous heart than to deceive men concerning the salvation of their souls. He preaches today, and preaches with almost universal success, the same lie that he preached in the garden of Eden, namely, “Ye shall not surely die.” That is, you may have the forbidden fruit, and yet have life also. You may have the sin, without the consequences of sin. You may have your sins while you live, and heaven when you die. Thus sin----the great issue in Scripture----is made to be no issue at all. This is the greatest of the devil's deceptions.

And so successful has the devil been in his arts of deception, that this great lie has prevailed in the very church of God. The very evangelical and fundamental pulpits around the country ring with the devil's lie Sunday after Sunday. Some years ago I attended some evangelistic meetings in a Baptist church in Colorado, and heard the preacher tell the people night after night, “You don't have to give up anything!” That is, You may have Christ and salvation without giving up the world, without crucifying the flesh, without renouncing the devil----without forsaking a single sin. The same is repeated in fact, though not always in such explicit terms, in evangelical churches all over the country.

But this is nothing other than the devil's lie, which has now gained the reputation of orthodoxy, and goes by the name of grace. The theology of the church has been dyed with it, through the influence of a host of the leaders of Fundamentalism of a past generation. The devil, of course, practices his deceptions as “an angel of light.” He preaches his lie as greater doctrinal purity, and as grace theology, but it is the same old lie which he preached in Eden for all that. And while that lie bears full sway, evangelical preachers tell us, “It is not a sin question, but a Son question.” But an old proverb says, “A witticism proves nothing,” and this witticism flies directly in the teeth of Holy Scripture. The Bible, from cover to cover----Pentateuch, historical books, poetical books, prophets, Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation----makes it a sin question. We may grant (though I do not like to use such irreverent forms of speech) that it is both “a sin question” and “a Son question,” but the sin question comes first.

But while the devil's lie prevails, and “Ye shall not surely die” is the theology of the evangelical church, the issue of sin is excluded from the gospel which is preached. The church has produced a gospel which contains no moral responsibility, and produced at the same time a multitude of converts which display no moral difference from the unconverted. Nor is this exclusion of moral responsibility from the preaching of the gospel a mere oversight. It is designed and deliberate. It is the theology of the church which excludes it. One of the most prominent and influential of Fundamentalism's teachers was Lewis Sperry Chafer, who calls it a false message, a “False Force in Evangelism,” to raise the issue of sin, or righteousness, or repentance at all. “The issue before the unsaved,” he says, “is not one of after conduct. . . . The individual may be willing to accept Christ, but be wholly unable to see beyond that one step until that one step is taken.” This last sentence is really foolish, for it is a plain matter of fact that most sinners see very plainly, and know very well that if they come to Christ they cannot continue to live the life which they do. This is the very thing which keeps them from coming to Christ----till they are deceived to the contrary by evangelical theology. But it is Chafer's first sentence that we are concerned with. According to this, the way he shall live after he is converted is no issue at all to the sinner. The prodigal may return to the Father's house with no purpose to stay there, nor to serve or honor his Father----without ever considering that issue at all. He wants the “bread enough and to spare,” but how he shall treat his Father is no issue to him. He wants Christ as his Savior from hell, but it is no issue to him whether he shall submit to him as Lord. Whether he shall stay in the Father's house and behave himself, or rob his brother of his inheritance and return to the far country, is no issue at all, if only he has faith to obtain the best robe and the fatted calf.

And as is the gospel which is preached, so are the converts which are converted by it. They believe the devil's lie, that they may have their sins and salvation too, and this lie they call the gospel. And as they believe, so they live. But the plain fact is, those converts are deceived, and it is the gospel of the church which has deceived them.

The Bible contains no such gospel as this, but just the contrary. Against this very “gospel” the apostles of Christ give us repeated and explicit warnings, and those warnings are plain enough. The New Testament epistles contain repeated warnings against being deceived, and in all of those warnings the plain and undeniable issue is SIN OR SALVATION. The apostles are explicit and forceful in affirming that it must be one or the other, and cannot be both.

We begin with James, who says, “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to SAVE YOUR SOULS. But be ye DOERS of the word, and not hearers only, DECEIVING YOUR OWN SELVES.” (James 1:21-22). Now, though the translation is a bit cumbersome, to “lay apart ALL filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” is precisely the Bible doctrine of repentance. That being done----the right hand being cut off and the right eye plucked out, and no sin spared or cherished----we are to receive the word which is able to save our souls. That this text concerns salvation is too plain to be mistaken. It is the way of many evangelicals, whenever they see a scripture which lays any such requirements upon men, to deny that that scripture has anything to do with salvation. But he must be a bold man who could deny it here. What is the saving of our souls, if not salvation?

But this much being said, James must immediately add a solemn warning, for many there are who receive the word, believe it, hold its doctrines, and even contend for the faith, who have never yet begun to do the word. They have never laid aside all sin, and really have no intention of doing so. They have been taught that this is optional, and that the salvation of their souls is no way dependent upon it, no way affected by it. James says they “deceive their own selves.” Those who expect the word to save their souls, but who will not do the word, are deceived.

But the objections to this text will be many. To begin with, James does not say explicitly that such are deceived concerning salvation----though it would be hard to imagine what else he could refer to, when he has just told them to receive the word which is able to save their souls. But further, and most unfortunately for my doctrine, this text happens to be in James, and true Protestants know, having learned it from the father of Protestantism himself, that James is an epistle of straw, having nothing of the nature of the gospel about it. They do not state the matter in such bald terms as Luther did, but there are many who hold pretty much the same opinion. Beside all this, certain dispensationalists know also that James has nothing to do with the church, because it was not written by Paul. I admit none of these objections, but neither do I stop to answer them, for there is no need. The Spirit of God has been careful to repeat the same warning against deception often enough elsewhere, so that the very welkin of the New Testament would yet ring with it, if James did not exist.

The apostle John is just as careful to insist that it must be sin or salvation, and to solemnly warn us against deception on that point. Says he, “Little children, LET NO MAN DECEIVE YOU: he that DOETH RIGHTEOUSNESS is righteous, even as he is righteous. He that DOETH SIN is of the devil.” (I John 3:7-8). Certain antinomian Fundamentalists (as John R. Rice) tell us that this means nothing more than that the “new nature” does righteousness, while the “old nature” commits sin. But John speaks nothing of natures here, but of persons. “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil.” (Verse 10). When a man interprets this of the new nature and the old nature, he only makes it manifest that it is doctrinal bias which determines his interpretation. This is so far wresting the text from its natural and obvious meaning that my objection must be as much to such an unconscionable use of Scripture as it is to the doctrine. No man would ever have dreamed of such an interpretation, did not his antinomian theology compel him to it. Can anyone seriously suppose that John gives us a solemn warning to let no one deceive us concerning the fact that the new nature does righteousness, while the old nature does sin? Who was ever deceived about that?

The danger of deception lies in another direction altogether, and there it is very real. Men suppose that they are righteous by faith, righteous in Christ, righteous by imputed righteousness, while they do no righteousness themselves, but live rather in sin. Such are deceived. None are righteous but those who DO righteousness. All others are the children of the devil. If they “do sin”----practice it, that is, as their habit and character----and yet suppose that they are children of God, they are deceived. This scripture is so clear that there is no escaping it.

The apostle Paul bears the same testimony, and is even more forceful and explicit than either James or John. First, in I Cor. 6:9-10 he says, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? BE NOT DECEIVED: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Now observe:

1.This text unquestionably concerns salvation, for to “inherit the kingdom of God” certainly means to be saved. It has nothing to do with rewards for service, nor fitness for service, nor discipline in this life, nor with any number of other things to which such salvation texts are commonly applied by our “grace” theologians. The issue here is salvation, and nothing else.

2.The plain issue here is also sin. The issue is SIN OR SALVATION----one or the other. This is Paul's doctrine. “The unrighteous SHALL NOT inherit the kingdom of God.” And lest any should quibble as to who the unrighteous are, he immediately describes them in terms which are unmistakable. They are the fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, etc., etc. “They which DO such things,” Paul says elsewhere, “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

This is Paul's doctrine, and stated so plainly that it would seem that perversity itself could not deny it. And this doctrine he enforces with the solemn admonition to BE NOT DECEIVED, for then, as now, there were some who so perverted the gospel as to hold that the grace of God and the blood of Christ would take them to heaven, though they lived their lives in sin.

And understand, it is no question of faith here, but entirely of the life which they live. The issue is entirely one of personal and practical righteousness. Of course those who expect to be saved by the grace of Christ have faith, but there are multitudes of them who have a dead and worthless faith, which does not purify the heart nor save them from their sins. They remain in their sins, and trust in Christ to save them from hell. Such are deceived, or the solemn warning of Paul means nothing. We are very well aware, of course, that fornicators and idolaters and adulterers may be saved when they repent, and cease to be such, for this is precisely the message of the gospel. And so Paul no sooner delineates the sort of folks who shall not inherit the kingdom of God, than he proceeds to say, “And such WERE some of you, but ye are washed,” etc. There is no doubt that those who WERE such, but have repented, may be saved, but it is delusion and deception of the most deadly kind to suppose that any who ARE such shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul warns again against the same deception in Galatians 6:7-8. “BE NOT DECEIVED: God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption, but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”

This is another of those solemn warnings which unquestionably concerns the salvation of the soul, but which is generally applied to something else. The text is most commonly applied to the judgements of the Lord purely in this life. I do not deny such an application. The principles of sowing and reaping which this text sets forth have often a very solemn application to the present life. The pages of Scripture, as well as the world around us, are full of examples of this. And yet for all that, it remains a certainty that that is not Paul's meaning in this scripture. Paul is not speaking of the judgements of the Lord in this life, but of the eternal salvation of the soul. “He that soweth to the Spirit shall reap life everlasting.” He could scarcely make it plainer than this. This refers to salvation, and nothing else. It may be legitimate to speak of reaping the rewards of faithfulness even in this life, but the only thing which Paul speaks of reaping is eternal life. His whole warning, therefore, to “be not deceived” is concerned with salvation. It may be legitimate to apply the principle of the passage, “in due season we shall reap, if we faint not,” to the sowing of the gospel and the reaping of souls, but this is certainly not Paul's subject. He speaks of our own salvation, of reaping eternal life, and nothing else.

Some, who have paid attention to what the text actually says, have seen plainly enough that it must concern salvation, for to reap eternal life could certainly mean nothing else. John R. Rice was one of these. But to recognize the proper application of the text, and to do that text justice, are two different things----and Rice's theology would not allow him to do it justice. He maintained that this sowing to the Spirit is one act of faith, performed once for all when the sinner comes to Christ----and that all who have performed this one act of faith shall reap everlasting life, though they go on sowing to the flesh for the rest of their lives. But I am bold to say that such interpretation has nothing at all to recommend it, except the false theology which fathered it.

In the first place, Rice's interpretation causes the passage to contradict itself. It is obvious upon the face of the text that Paul means to delineate two classes of persons, the one of which sows to the flesh, and reaps corruption, and the other of which sows to the Spirit, and reaps life everlasting. These are obviously two distinct and separate classes, and folks must belong to one or the other of them. But Rice's shift puts many men into both classes at once. Here is a man who is sowing to the flesh, and so set to reap corruption. But in the midst of his course of sowing to the flesh, he sows one act to the Spirit----and thus becomes the heir of eternal life----and then goes on sowing to the flesh. So then it is no longer true that they who sow to the flesh shall reap corruption. Here is a numerous class who sow to the flesh----daily and habitually----and yet because one time they sowed one act to the Spirit, they shall reap----not corruption, but everlasting life. Thus does John R. Rice give the lie to Paul, and break the point and blunt the edge of the sword of the Lord----for he makes the text to support and sustain the very deception which it was written to overturn. We love and honor John R. Rice as a great and good man, but that does not excuse such handling of Scripture. Yet it was no personal fault that drove him to thus make void the word of God, but the theology of Fundamentalism.

What we actually have in the text are two statements which are exactly parallel. He that sows to the flesh shall reap corruption. He that sows to the Spirit shall reap everlasting life. If sowing to the Spirit is one act, to be performed once for all, then sowing to the flesh must be the same----but this is obviously false. Sowing to the flesh is a life-long thing, and so is sowing to the Spirit. And on this point I may refute John R. Rice out of his own mouth. I heard him preach once, years ago. He preached on prayer, from Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and ye shall find,” etc. In that sermon he strongly insisted upon the fact, which the text states, that “EVERY ONE that asketh receiveth”----and insisted just as strongly that this asking cannot refer to asking but once, nor even to asking a dozen times, but must refer to him that keeps on asking, for such (Rice contended) is the meaning of the present tense, in which “ask” appears in the Greek. Be it so: but then observe that as “asketh” is a present participle in Matthew 7:8, so also is “soweth” a present participle in Galatians 6:8, and Rice cannot have it both ways. If, as he insists, “that asketh” means “that keeps on asking,” then simple consistency and honesty ought to have moved him to insist equally that “that soweth to the Spirit” in Gal. 6:8 must mean “that keeps on sowing to the Spirit.”

But we need not ask Rice's leave to believe that this is the actual meaning of Galatians 6:8, for Paul himself makes that clear enough. He no sooner informs us in verse 8 that he that sows to the Spirit shall reap everlasting life, than he proceeds to exhort us in verse 9, “And let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not”----that is, if we do not give up, and cease sowing to the Spirit. The reaping in verse 9 is of course the same reaping he had spoken of in verse 8, the reaping, that is, of life everlasting. We shall reap eternal life in due time “if we faint not”----if we continue in well doing, or in “doing good,” as the expression really means, for “good” is a noun (the direct object), and not an adverb. And though some of our present-day teachers of “grace,” who are wiser than Paul, will doubtless decry this doctrine as heresy, there is no question whatever that, heresy or no heresy, it is the doctrine of Paul. It is in fact the very same doctrine which he also teaches in Romans 2:6 & 7, where he says that God “will render to every man according to his deeds: to them who by PATIENT CONTINUANCE in WELL DOING seek for glory and honour and immortality, ETERNAL LIFE.” But of Romans 2:7 prominent Fundamentalists inform us that “the case is hypothetical.” By this they mean that God would render eternal life to those who patiently continue in well doing, if there were any such, but there are not. But by this shift they do but manifest their settled antipathy to Paul's doctrine. Will they tell us that it is also hypothetical that God will render indignation and wrath to those who obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness? The two statements are exactly parallel, and if one is hypothetical, we suppose the other must be also. But there is nothing hypothetical in either one of them, but a plain and solemn statement of what God will do. He will judge every man according to his deeds. He will render eternal life to those who patiently continue in well doing----or in “good work” as the Greek says----and he will render indignation and wrath to those who obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness. And even supposing it to be legitimate for the teachers of Fundamentalism to toss this out as “hypothetical,” they gain nothing by it, for they must yet reckon with the very same doctrine in Galatians 6:8 & 9, and I do not suppose any of them will dare to call that hypothetical.

“The very same doctrine,” I say, for so it is, and the same as the doctrine of the apostle John also. He that sows to the Spirit shall reap everlasting life. To those who patiently continue in well doing, God will render eternal life, for he that doeth righteousness is righteous. But over against all of this, he that soweth to the flesh shall reap corruption. To those who obey unrighteous God shall render indignation and wrath, for he that doeth sin is of the devil. This is the plain doctrine of the apostle Paul, and this it is which he introduces with the solemn admonition, “BE NOT DECEIVED.” Any man who supposes that he may sow to the flesh, as his habit and character, and yet reap life everlasting, is deceived.

Thus Paul issues the same solemn warning to the carnal Corinthians on the one side, and the legal Galatians on the other. And he is not finished yet, for to make sure that he shall catch all in his net, he must also issue the same warning in one of the prison epistles. So he writes in Ephesians 5:5 & 6, “For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. LET NO MAN DECEIVE YOU WITH EMPTY WORDS, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” Any man who supposes that he has an inheritance in the kingdom of God, while he lives in the sins of the flesh, has been deceived with empty words. “They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God,” says Paul. (Gal. 5:21). Any gospel which grants you an inheritance in the kingdom of God, while you cling to your sins and live in them, is not the gospel of God.

And I ought to point out here that in both I Cor. 6:10 and Eph. 5:5 Paul lists the covetous among those who shall not inherit the kingdom of God, along with the fornicators, idolaters, railers, drunkards, and adulterers. And are not the covetous in much greater danger of being deceived, than drunkards and adulterers? Men are ashamed of adultery and fornication and drunkenness, while covetousness is approved and praised. Men are put out of the church for adultery, but the covetous remain as members in good standing. We may, of course, look into some Bible commentary, and find the term “covetous” so watered down and emptied of its meaning that it shall convict no one, but as a simple matter of common sense, it is safe enough to say that if there are no covetous men in fundamental churches, then there are none in the world. Evangelical churches are full of folks who display the same care in grasping after worldly place and position and possession as the rest of the world does. Yet Paul says they have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.

We have now examined five apostolic warnings to “be not deceived.” The doctrine is the same in every one of them. It is sin or salvation, one or the other. Repent or perish, one or the other. Any man who thinks to secure salvation while he holds to sin is deceived. That there is a great danger of such a deception is indicated by the very existence of these warnings. This is the very point at which the devil deceived Eve, and he has not changed his tactics an iota. Why should he? The now sinful heart of man is surely more susceptible to that deception than ever Eve's could have been. Men want to hold to their sins, while they of course also want exemption from the consequences of them. They therefore readily believe the devil when he tells them, “Ye shall not surely die.” How precarious is the state of sinners, who have so corrupt a heart, and so cunning and practiced a foe. But miserable indeed is their condition when their own spiritual guides----the very preachers and teachers of Fundamentalism----take up the devil's deception, and, under the names of “grace” and “gospel,” make it the test of orthodoxy. How miserable their state when their trusted guides do their utmost to break the point and blunt the edge of these solemn apostolic warnings! And how awful must be the responsibility of those guides, who, with a Bible in their hands, exalt their own notions of grace above the plain doctrines of the apostles, and wrest and misapply and explain away the most solemn apostolic warnings, and so deceive precious souls for whom Christ died, and whom the apostles labored so fervently to undeceive. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do! Holy Spirit of God, open their eyes, while they may yet undo the damage which their doctrines have done.

“Just One Sin”----by Harry Ironside. Friend, do you realise what an easy thing it is to lose your soul? Just cling to one sin; just let one sin come between you and God. Possibly someone is saying, “But you mistake the nature of your audience if you think we would stoop to the sin of which Herod was guilty.” Very well, if you know that to be true, if you know that you have never been guilty of these things, never stooped to these things, what other sin is it that is standing between you and your God?

When the Word of God is brought home in power to your soul, and you hear a voice within saying, “Now is the accepted time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6.2), and conscience says, “Yes, I ought to yield to God,” what is it that rises before you, and you say, “Oh, but----but----if I become a Christian, I cannot go on with that; I cannot do that any more; I will have to give that up, and I am not prepared for that.” You love that sin more than Christ; you love your sin more than a place in Heaven, and, therefore, you will have to sink with your sin into outer darkness, unless God in mercy still gives you repentance.

----“How Herod Lost his Soul”; God's Unspeakable Gift, by H. A. Ironside; London: Pickering & Inglis, n.d., pp. 174-175.


Richard Baxter on Sin or Salvation.

But I beseech you stay a little and consider the business.

1.Quest. Should your flesh be pleased before your Maker? Will you displease the Lord, and displease your Teachers, and your godly friends, and all to please your brutish appetites, or sensual desires? Is not God worthy to be the Ruler of your flesh? If he shall not Rule it, he will not save it: you cannot in reason expect that he should.

2.Qu. Your flesh is pleased with your sin: but is your conscience pleased? Doth not it grudge within you, and tell you sometimes that all is not well, and that your case is not so safe as you make it to be? and should not your soul and conscience be pleased before that corruptible flesh?

3.Quest. But is not your flesh preparing for its own displeasure also? It loves the bait, but doth it love the hook? It loves the strong drink and sweet morsels, it loves its ease and sports, and merriment; it loves to be rich and well spoken of by men, and to be some body in the world: but doth it love the curse of God? Doth it love to stand trembling before his Bar, and to be judged to everlasting fire? Doth it love to be tormented with Devils for ever? Take all together; for there is no separating sin and hell, but only by faith and true Conversion; if you will keep one, you must have the other.

----A Call to the Unconverted to Turn and Live, by Richard Baxter; London: Printed by R.W. for Nevil Simmons, etc., 1658, pp. 113-115.


Rejoice with Trembling

by Glenn Conjurske

A Sermon Preached on July 2, 1989, Recorded, Transcribed, & Revised

I'd like you to turn in your Bibles to the second Psalm. I'm not going to read it all, but just one verse. Verse 11 says, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” Let's pray. Holy Father, we do pray that this morning this verse might be written in our hearts. I pray, God, that you will give me help by the Holy Spirit of God, and give me unction. Give me the power to deliver your message this morning. Amen.

Two things here: serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Obviously the trembling is the result of the fear. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. How long? I preached to you just a little bit ago on the fear of the Lord, and we are told in the Scriptures, “Blessed is the man that feareth always.” We are also told to pass the time of our sojourning here in fear. You may say, “Why is that? I thought that the grace of God was sufficient, and I thought that it would secure all things for us”----and you thought a lot of things. Well, let me just say this: instead of thinking a lot of things, just do two things: read what the Bible says, and look around you. Now the Bible does say, in the first chapter of I Peter, “Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.” The Bible does say, “Blessed is the man that feareth always.” And it says here, “Serve the Lord with fear.” Read what the Bible says.

The other thing is, look around you. You know it's as though we are in the midst of a voyage across the ocean, and we see wreckage strewn everywhere, from other ships that were once engaged in a similar voyage, and if we could scan the bottom of the deep we would see wreckage strewn everywhere on the bottom of the deep. Therefore he says, “Serve the Lord with fear.” What are you different? What is your sailing vessel different from all those other sailing vessels that set out from one shore to the other, and never made it across? How are you different? They had as much access to the grace of God as you do.

Now, you come to the book of Philippians in the New Testament, the second chapter, and the twelfth verse, and Paul says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” The very two things that it speaks of in the second Psalm. “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.” In Philippians he says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” And you know that I am perverse enough, or deluded enough, to believe that this scripture means precisely what it says. It means to produce, bring about, or accomplish your own salvation with fear and trembling. That's the only thing that the Greek can mean, by the way. Of course, you've heard the foolish notions which are squeezed out of this verse. They tell us that this is “working out into our life the salvation which God has worked into us.” Indeed! And with fear and trembling, too? Such an explanation is false on its face. It is nothing better than a play upon words, and at that a play upon the English words. The Greek cannot be forced to mean any such thing, and neither could the English if common sense or honesty were consulted. Where does “work out” ever, anywhere, have such a meaning? I heartily wish that all of my fellow-dispensationalists----whose cry is always “Paul, Paul, Paul”----I heartily wish they had half as much confidence in Paul as I do. They honor him with their lips, but their heart is far from him. They wrest him, while I believe him. They ignore half his words, while I preach them.

But why “with fear and trembling?” Well, because there are many that set out on the narrow path to everlasting life, or who to all appearances set out on the narrow path to everlasting life, who never reach the goal. How are you different from them? Do you have a corner on the grace of God? The Son of God says, “Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” (Luke 13:24). How are you different from them? Jonathan Edwards speaks in one of his works on revival of the results of the great awakenings that they had, and he says, The proportion of real converts, who held out, to the number of professions that were made in the time of the revival, is like the proportion of apples on the tree in the Fall, compared to the blossoms that were on the tree in the Spring. For that reason the Scripture says, Rejoice with trembling, and serve the Lord with fear.

Some people don't like the idea of fear, because they think it implies some mistrust of God. If the grace of God is all-sufficient for my every need, then why should I fear? Well, the same Bible which teaches you of the grace of God, teaches you also to pass the time of your sojourning here in fear, and that settles the matter for anyone who has faith.

But isn't it somehow casting reproach upon God, or upon his grace, if I fear, or if I rejoice with trembling? Shouldn't the grace of God, and faith in his grace and power, take the trembling out of my rejoicing? No, because you can receive the grace of God in vain. Paul beseeches men that they “receive not the grace of God in vain.” (II Cor. 6:1). For every one who receives the grace of God to good effect, there are many who receive the grace of God in vain. Therefore fear. Not because you don't trust God, but because you don't trust yourself, and because something yet depends upon you. If there is one thing which the Bible doctrine of fear teaches beyond cavil, it is that something depends upon you. Those who deny this are directly in the teeth of Scripture at every turn of the path. Something depends upon you, and you don't know what kind of temptations you may have to face tomorrow. You don't know what kind of storms are going to come upon you tomorrow, and therefore you should serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

Now, rejoicing implies that you actually have something to rejoice over. God really has saved your soul. God has delivered you from the power of sin that once possessed you. God has given you peace in your heart. God has given you a clear conscience, and peace with God. He's given you joy in your heart, and he's given you a place among the people of God, and filled your heart with love for the people of God, and you really have got something to rejoice over. So he says, Rejoice. But he says, Do it with trembling. And that implies just this: you rejoice with trembling because everything here is insecure. Everything here is apt to change, including your own heart, including that strong faith which you now have, or think you have. Will you have it tomorrow? And therefore the Lord Jesus Christ, from his place at the right hand of God, exhorts you to hold fast what you have You have got something, but you'd better hold it fast. That's about the same thing as to say, Rejoice with trembling. You have something, but tremble because you may yet lose it.

As I said, it's like setting out on a voyage across the ocean. Anyone who has sailed the seas, I would think, would set out on such a voyage with trembling. Many ships have set out on such a voyage, and have never been heard of again. Many have been strewn on rocky shores----just a pile of scattered wreckage. Many have gone to the bottom. I think often of the sinking of the Titanic. Here was the largest boat that sailed the seas, and it was thought to be unsinkable. And on its maiden voyage with two thousand two hundred people on board, it sank, and fifteen hundred people went to the bottom with it. What was the problem? Well, the people on this boat were rejoicing in the strength of that vessel, and they rejoiced without any trembling. A carnival atmosphere prevailed. They were told that there were icebergs in the area. Other ships informed them of it by radio, and they didn't even slow down, but continued to plow through the high seas at full throttle. No concern, because they said, “This vessel cannot sink”----and it sank on its maiden voyage. Well, you only get one voyage for your soul, and you had best rejoice with trembling, or you may sink also. They didn't have enough life boats on board. They didn't think they needed life boats. The people wouldn't get into the lifeboats when they were launched. They said, “The lifeboats may sink, but this ship cannot.” Overconfident. Rejoicing a plenty, but no trembling.

Now I believe there's a reason why people rejoice without trembling, and I do not believe that that reason is faith. I believe it is pride. Turn over with me to Romans, the eleventh chapter. Paul gives you a warning here, and in that warning he incidentally indicates what it is that keeps men from serving the Lord with fear, or from rejoicing with trembling. Beginning at verse 17, he says, “And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree, boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” Boasting is the fruit of pride, and it is pride which excludes fear. You look at all the branches that were broken off, and yourself graffed in, and you get puffed up. You say, “They all fell, but I will not.” That is not faith, but pride and presumption. Verse 19: “Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear.” This scripture leaves no possible doubt that fear is perfectly consistent with faith. “You stand by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear.” The two go together, belong together. The sort of faith which excludes fear is only presumption. I'm not saying that you should go through life uncertain of your standing before God. He doesn't say, Don't rejoice, but he does say, Rejoice with trembling. Now to rejoice implies that I do have something, and know that I have it. But precisely because I have it, and know that I have it----precisely because I stand by faith----he tells me to fear.

Now if you'll turn back to the book of Proverbs, chapter 16, verse 18 says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” This is precisely why you should be not high-minded, but fear. The man who fears doesn't fall. But the proud man doesn't fear. He says, “All these branches were broken off, but I'm not going to be. All those ships went to the bottom of the sea, but mine isn't going to.” And he has no reason whatever----either doctrinal, or practical, or personal----to think so. If he says, “The grace of God will keep me,” I ask, “Why didn't the grace of God keep the others who fell?” If he says, “I have faith, and they had none,” then Paul says, “Thou standest by faith: be not high-minded, but fear”----lest he also spare not thee. You have no more corner on the grace of God than the others had who fell. Some will tell me, of course, that this passage has nothing to do with individual salvation. Well, what of it? It certainly must apply to something----and to something individual, too, if “thee” and “thou” mean anything----and whatever you apply it to, the principle which it sets forth is the truth of God. That principle is that those who actually stand----and do so by faith----ought to stand in fear, for they may yet fall. They ought to rejoice with trembling.

As for the application of the principle, let me suggest that this rejoicing with trembling is something which ought to characterize our whole life, and everything in it. Whatever you have got in this life to rejoice over, you ought to rejoice over it with trembling. For example, you have children. The Bible says that a woman is in pain and in travail, but as soon as a child is born she forgets her pain for joy that a child is born into the world. But, oh, the trembling that ought to be mixed with that joy! The trembling is precisely the thing that will preserve and secure that joy. The man who doesn't tremble for his weakness, for his inexperience, and for his ignorance, the man who doesn't tremble for the power of Satan and the snares of the world, the man who doesn't tremble for the awfully precarious state of his precious child, in the midst of snares and temptations which have taken millions of others to hell, he may have all of his joy turned into the most bitter sorrow. If you want to rejoice over that little life that God has given you, and rejoice for ever, you rejoice with trembling, because you know that there are thousands and hundreds of thousands of little babes born into godly families, in the present day and throughout history, who in eternity are going to inhabit the flames of hell. I believe one big reason for that is that their parents did not rejoice with trembling, but were too confident of their own abilities, and maybe too confident of the grace of God.

Can a man be too confident of the grace of God? He certainly can. Any faith which ignores or shirks its own responsibility, and expects God to do what he requires you to do, is no true faith at all, but only presumption. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” That is a precious promise of God, and we can have faith in the promises of God. But if I trust God, while I fail to train up my child in the way he should go, this is no faith, but presumption. Faith without works is dead. David is in heaven, but he has children in hell. So have a good many many others that you could name throughout the whole history of the world. You had best rejoice with trembling over that little soul that God has committed to you. If you rejoice with trembling, and serve the Lord with fear, then you can have real faith----not presumption, but real faith.

Now let me mention another thing in which I believe people ought to rejoice with trembling. There is probably no greater occasion of joy on earth than a wedding. Yet you know that half of the marriages in this country end in divorce, and many of them in a few months. You say, Well, you're talking about ungodly people. No, not only ungodly people. I know many Christians who are divorced. I know Christians who were raised in the straitest sect of our religion, with some of the holiest, most zealous parents on earth, who are divorced. I know students with whom I went to Bible school, that were apparently full of zeal and freshness to serve the Lord, and found themselves a beautiful bride or a prince charming with whom to serve the Lord, and went out into the world to serve the Lord, and I heard a few years later, Well, they're not together any more. They're divorced. How come? What happened? I don't know the details of what happened in most of those cases, but I do say that there are dangers on the sea of life that we may know nothing about. And therefore if you have got something good from God, you'd better rejoice with trembling. You'd better not be high-minded, like some whom I've heard say, “I can't figure out how these marriages fail. It couldn't happen to us. We're in love, and we don't have to try to make a good marriage. It just couldn't be anything but good.” Yes, and so said they all. So said they all, who are now divorced.

And by the way, I'm not just talking about divorce, either, because there are a lot of people who have enough character that they would never so much as consider divorce, who nevertheless have marriages which are little better than drudgery. All the romance has dried up. All the spark and spice that they once had are gone, and all they have is an empty shell of marriage. But oh, the joy, the overflowing abundance of joy which was theirs on their wedding day! It's all gone now, though they would never think of divorce. If you want to keep that joy, rejoice with trembling. Look around you at all the marriages which began with a love just as deep and just as thrilling as yours, and today they have none of it left, and they may be in the divorce court. Look around you, and rejoice with trembling. And while you tremble, put a look-out on the deck of the vessel, and watch for the icebergs. Watch for the coldness which may come into a marriage almost imperceptibly. Strive against the bad character which destroys good things. Cry to God for the grace you need to preserve the treasure he has given you. Rejoice with trembling.

Another occasion of great joy is the conversion of a sinner. The Bible says that there is joy in heaven when one sinner repents. The angels of God are singing for joy when one sinner repents. There is seldom occasion for greater rejoicing than when you see a sinner come home to God. But you had better rejoice with trembling. And oh, I hope if you don't get anything else this morning, you'll get this text into your soul. The church today seems completely unaware of its existence. It cuts across the grain of popular theology. There isn't much trembling in the rejoicing of the church today. I spoke to a woman just after the baptism of one of my children, and told this woman I rejoiced with trembling, and she seemed offended at it. But oh, how many whom we once thought to be on the narrow road to eternal life, are now obviously on the broad road to destruction.

I knew a fellow when I was a student at Bible school, who was also a student there when I was. Now, I should tell you that the fact that a man goes to Bible school does not prove that he is spiritual, or even that he is saved. My one great disappointment when I went to Bible school was with the student body. I went there expecting a little heaven on earth----expecting a body of students who were spiritual and devoted to Christ, but that is not what I found. I went to Bible school in 1965, and twenty-one years later, in 1986, I had a talk with the man who was the president of the Bible school which I attended, and I told him then that my great disappointment at Bible school was with the student body. And he said, “You would be a whole lot worse shocked if you came back there today. We have to start from zero with these kids.” They go to Bible school knowing nothing of Christianity. That, of course, is a reflection on the state of the churches that those kids come from. But when I was at Bible school, there was a small nucleus of students----men students----eight or ten of them, who were solid and spiritual. These men usually stuck together, and whenever there was a free hour you would usually see them together, speaking of the things of God, and of the work of God. It wasn't any preconcerted thing, and certainly wasn't designed to exclude anybody else, but these few just had common zeal and faith and diligence, and were just drawn together to each other. And this man that I am thinking of was one of the number. He was one who was chosen to speak at graduation, and I often thought, Here's a man who means business for God. Here's a man who has got some zeal. I can honestly say that I really didn't expect most of the students to amount to much. The most of them had so little devotedness to the cause of Christ that my thought was, I would be surprised if they did amount to anything. But this man I expected to amount to something. He was different. He really did have something.

Well, I lived out in Colorado for a couple of years, I lived in Madison for six years, and then I moved back to Grand Rapids, and I ran into this man when I moved back to Grand Rapids. I found him to be totally fallen, not only from his former zeal and diligence and spirituality, but fallen even from his profession of Christianity. He was living just to make money. Living without God----smoking, using profane language. And I assume he is still in the same condition, because I talked with him various times while I was in Grand Rapids, and I never could move him. Never could convict him. Never could make him thirst. Never could make him hunger. Never could make him resolve. He was resigned to staying where he was. How did he get from where he was to where he is? I'm not sure of all the steps that took him from the one place to the other, but I know there are many others like him, and when you look out there and see examples like that, who went from the height of zeal and devotedness and diligence to the place of giving up even their profession of Christianity, I say, You'd better rejoice with trembling. Those people who are glib in their professions, and glib in what they call faith, which may be only presumption, who rejoice without trembling, I tremble for them.

I knew of a couple who were apparently converted in a church in another state. Before these two were converted, the ungodly used to taunt the Christians concerning them, and say, “If you want to make any impression on us, you convert those two.” And they picked two of the most hopeless cases in the town. And one summer those very two were converted. I was at that church preaching shortly after those two were converted----a young man and a young woman. I thought this young man was a little too confident, but he had joy, and was basking in the light of God's countenance----basking in his acceptance with God. But he seemed a little too confident, and I tried to temper his confidence a little----to teach him to serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling----but he wouldn't listen to what I had to say. He wasn't exactly cocky----but was very sure of his state, and I think he kind of pitied me that I would think that he needed to rejoice with trembling. I cautioned him about numerous people, who professed to be saved, and in a little while were back to their old life of sin. He just got this kind of knowing smile on his face, and he said, “No, I'm saved. I know I'm saved.” He was rejoicing, but without a scintilla of trembling, and I couldn't move him to rejoice with trembling.

I went back to that church a few months later, and he was gone back to the world, and had given up his profession. And, you know, it happens all the time. But there is a way to prevent it, and that is “Rejoice with trembling.” I'm not saying this young man never had anything. I'm not saying that what he had wasn't real. It certainly seemed real. But I know that if he did have something he didn't keep it, because there wasn't any trembling in his rejoicing. He didn't have any idea of what kind of reefs and icebergs and storms were ahead of him. He was just rejoicing in the strength of the vessel that he was in, and didn't have any idea that the thing could ever sink, but it did.

You know, I have to tremble when I look forward, but I tremble even when I look back at my spiritual experience. When I look at my conversion, and I see how absolutely weak it was, how absolutely precarious it was, I tremble even when I look back. I had been a very ungodly youth. I smoked, I swore, took the name of God in vain. I was obscene in my talk, filled with the lust for every evil thing, even though I didn't have the opportunity for every evil thing. I worked two summers at a Jewish boys' camp up in Eagle River, the two summers before I was saved, and there I just abandoned myself to ungodliness. Everybody else there was ungodly, and I didn't have any parents around keeping track of me, or pretending to keep track of me. No authority over me, and I just abandoned myself to ungodliness. Well, I was planning to go back there the next summer also, after I was converted. But you know, when I contemplated going back there, I trembled. I knew I was saved, and by the way, I was filled with a lot of zeal, and a lot of joy, and I had very strong faith. I guess I could say my faith was so strong that I didn't even feel my trials. We set out to go to Bible school just a little while after the time I'm referring to. We left in our old '55 Chrysler at 10 o'clock at night. We were supposed to be in Grand Rapids in the morning. We made it as far as Elcho that night----about twenty miles from home. Generator went out on the car. Now I was with a couple of other Christians, or professing Christians, and, of course, it was a trial to us, but I smiled a big old grin, and I said, “It's just another opportunity to walk by faith.” And I meant it, too. I didn't even feel the trial. So I didn't tremble because I didn't have faith, but I trembled because I knew what I was. I talked to some of the people in the church, when I was contemplating going back to that camp to work for the summer. I was planning to go back, though it was really stupidity for me to go there. I was too weak. But I didn't know a whole lot then, and I didn't have anybody

to sit down with me, and tell me, “Don't go back there.” I didn't know much, but somehow I did know enough to rejoice with trembling.

I rejoiced for the grace of God that was given to me, but I trembled for my own weakness. I said, “I don't know how I can stand there. I'm afraid that if I go back there into that old atmosphere, I'll fall from where I am.

I won't be able to resist the temptations. I'll start smoking again. I'll start swearing again. I'll live like they do. I'm afraid, and I want you to pray for me.” I talked to different people in the church, and told them this. None of them had enough sense to tell me not to go there, and I didn't have enough sense to know it, but I was trembling. Well, I never did go there, though I had my application in, and wrote to them, and asked them why they had not responded. Time was getting short, and I needed to know if I could have the job. And at length I got a letter back that told me that after twenty-two years of operation, they had determined to close the camp.

I don't know what their reasons were, but I believe God closed it. He saw my weakness, and he saw my trembling, and he had mercy on me. But what multitudes walk into such situations with no trembling at all.

Trembling is the one thing missing from the evangelical church today, and the difficulty lies much deeper than the natural pride and self-confidence of the human heart. The church has a theology which excludes trembling, a theology which breeds self-confidence. It may go under the name of faith, but it's self-confidence after all. It is neither more nor less than presumption. It is a plain necessity that we should rejoice with trembling throughout our sojourn here, for everything under the sun is unstable. What thousands who once set out on the road to heaven have gone back to the world! What flaming zeal has been cooled! what fine gold tarnished and dimmed! How many who did run well have been hindered, that they should not obey the truth!

Oh, but you have a theology which says that is not possible----that is, you have a theology which gives the lie to Holy Scripture. You say, they never did run well----only thought they did----only pretended they did. But Paul says, “Ye did run well.” Yet they ran well no longer. And what are you better than they? Do you have some grace of God to which they had no access? Do you have some innate strength which they did not possess? If not, you had better rejoice with trembling.

The plain fact is this: everything under the sun is unstable. Everything here is yet in the hands of man, and subject to corruption. I believe in the blessed reality of the grace of God, but I believe just as surely in the awfully solemn reality of the responsibility of man. Your own responsibility is the great determining factor in your own eternal condition. If that is not so, the Bible is nothing but a string of myths, for the Bible assumes it, teaches it, and enforces it on every page. But most of modern evangelicalism is so steeped in false and presumptuous notions of the grace of God that it pays little or no regard to the responsibility of man. It either ignores it, or systematically denies it. It rejoices without trembling, which is the surest way to lose the grace of God, or receive it in vain. If you don't believe the doctrine, look around you. What broken homes, broken marriages, broken vows, broken hearts, broken lives, ungodly children, fallen preachers, and apostate believers flow out of the very church of God! Here is the legitimate fruit of a theology which is all security, and no fear and trembling----or is it the grace of God which has failed in all of these cases?

But there is a better way. “Rejoice with trembling.” An old proverb says, “He that is too secure is not safe,” and to this agrees the doctrine of Scripture. He that is too secure takes no precautions, and so he falls.

But oh, beloved, the day is soon to come when all our fear and trembling will be over. The day of our probation will end, and the day of our sweet rest begin. Then the weapons of our warfare may be laid down. Then we may cease to watch and pray. Then we may cease to strive against sin, and to fight the fight of faith. Then all our rejoicing may be pure and free, without any mixture of fear and trembling. But we have not reached that state yet, and those who think they have are the most likely to fall. Now we may rejoice indeed, but “rejoice with trembling.” And if we mix all of our joys here and now with a holy fear and trembling, then will we preserve all of our joys intact to that blessed day when the fear and trembling may all be laid aside for ever. But the warfare is not over yet. Here and now it is our wisdom, our strength, and our safety to cling to our fear and trembling as to our sword and shield. When the battles are all over and the victories all won, then we may lay them aside, and rejoice, and laugh, and sing for ever, and never tremble again. But through all of this pilgrim pathway, in a world filled with powerful temptations, with a corrupt heart within us and strong foes around us----while we view the failed and the fallen on every side of us----we had better “rejoice with trembling.”

Chats from my Library
By Glenn Conjurske

J. C. Ryle

When I was a student at Bible school I spent many of my Friday nights at one of Zondervan's book stores, combing through the books on the bargain tables. I knew but little about books in those days, and bought some which were certainly not worth keeping. I got very little guidance from the teachers at school, but one visiting lecturer offered us a list he had compiled, in which he recommended Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, calling them one of the best things available on the Gospels. In those days Zondervan published a number of substantial reprints, including Ryle on the Gospels, in four volumes, reprinted in 1951 and 1957. When I was a student they had a few odd volumes of these left, and I picked them up from the bargain tables. A little bit of use convinced me that this set is indeed one of the best things available on the Gospels----far superior, in fact, to any other commentary I have seen, containing not only real help in difficult places, but also plenty of food for the soul, the latter being a rarity in commentaries. But it should be noted that these volumes are not all of equal value. As first published the set contained one volume each on Matthew and Mark, two on Luke, and three on John. The volumes on Luke and John are of course much fuller, mainly in virtue of the fact that they add a section of “Notes” on each passage, dealing with more technical matters. These notes are valuable, while the body of the commentary is practical and spiritual throughout. Ryle was a Calvinist, but he did not usually explain away Scripture to conform it to his creed.

C. H. Spurgeon called Ryle the best man in the Church of England, and this is an understatement. He is simple and practical, and writes for the masses (without being shallow in the least), and never fails to deal with the conscience of the reader. In all the history of the church it is rare to find anyone at once so clear and consistent and scriptural in setting forth the terms of the gospel. His words are weighty, and always tell against unholiness and antinomianism. Two of his books, Holiness and Old Paths, are among the best for such a purpose. Unfortunately for us----though not for his original readers----most of what he wrote in this vein appeared in the form of tracts, several packets of which were issued by his publishers, among them a series called “Words for All,” two series of “Plain Speaking,” and two series of “Thoughts for Heads and Hearts,” each series containing forty tracts. Most of the copies of these have undoubtedly perished. Oh, that they had been published in book form! The loss is somewhat compensated for by his Home Truths, published in editions of six or eight volumes, but these are also very scarce. In all my years of searching I have found only two volumes of this (first and second series, fifth edition, 1854). I also have the first and second series of a recent (undated) reprint of the same title, but, unaccountably, the contents of this reprint are totally different from the contents of the old set.

Ryle is also author of several excellent historical works. Light from Old Times draws the contrast sharply between Protestant and Catholic religion, and at a time when the deluded Tractarians were laboring to take England back to Rome. The Christian Leaders of the Last Century contains brief biographies of the evangelical clergymen of the Church of England of the eighteenth century, including Whitefield, Wesley, Grimshaw, Venn, Toplady, Fletcher, and others. We may trace herein a little of the bias of both the Calvinist and the churchman, but these are good biographies. An edition published after the turn of the century is entitled The Christian Leaders of England in the Eighteenth Century. A third historical book is Bishops and Clergy of Other Days, with “an Introduction on the Real Merits of the Reformers and Puritans.”

Ryle was a Premillennialist, and published a volume on prophecy entitled Coming Events and Present Duties, being eight sermons, with a preface in which he sets forth his “prophetic creed” in eleven clear and concise articles. Though he is a little foggy on details, and unable to take a stand on some points, yet this is a good book on prophecy, eminently practical in its application to the conscience, and clear and cogent in argument.

Ryle was a “churchman”----a bishop in the church of England----and a number of his books reflect this, among them Principles for Churchmen, Church Reform, and Knots Untied. The latter is on “matters of dispute among English Churchmen,” but is broad enough in scope to be of interest to all. The preface says, “...there is hardly any point of theological controversy belonging to this era, which is not discussed.”

Hymns for the Church on Earth is a collection (in its final form) of 400 poems, without music or authors' names, designed to be used by individuals as a supplement to standard hymn books.

Some miscellaneous titles are The Upper Room (sermons), Practical Religion, and a series of “small books,” a few of which are Thoughts on Worldly Conformity, Thoughts for Parents (on Prov. 22:6), Higher Criticism, and Simplicity in Preaching.

J. C. Ryle: A Self-Portrait is an unfinished autobiography, with a biographical postscript by Michael J. Smout, edited by Peter Toon. Toon also wrote a biography called John Charles Ryle: Evangelical Bishop. These are both modern books, published by Reiner.

We do not doubt that Ryle was the best man in the Church of England, but we wonder at some of his conduct in it. Smout, for example, informs us that as a bishop Ryle dispensed canons and patronage to evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike. But this was perhaps only consistency on his part, for he uses the parable of the ten virgins to prove that the church is a mixture of good and bad. How much rather would we have heard him saying with J. N. Darby, that he must leave the Church of England because he found it to be not the Church of God at all, but the world, or standing strong like C. H. Spurgeon against any association with ecclesiastical corruption. And yet we must affirm that J. C. Ryle's writings on the terms of salvation are certainly sounder than Darby's, and his commentary on Matthew is certainly a great deal more spiritual and profitable than Spurgeon's. No man is to be judged on the basis of one issue.

Ï Stray Notes on the English Bible Ï
by the Editor

Effectual Fervent Prayer

Effectual and fervent are two things, and no one reading of “effectual fervent prayer” in the English Bible is likely to guess that “effectual” and “fervent” are the translation of a single word in the Greek, but such is in fact the case. Now it seems certain that this word does not mean both “effectual” and “fervent,” and it is a question whether it means either of the two. It certainly does not mean “fervent,” and it would seem almost a tautology to affirm that effectual prayer avails much. How then comes this rendering “effectual fervent” to stand in James 5:16.

To begin at the beginning, the verse is not an easy one to translate. The word rendered “effectual fervent” is a participle in the Greek, which means “working.” It has been explained and translated many ways, some of them strange enough. James MacKnight (Apostolical Epistles) has “the inwrought prayer,” which he explains as the prayer inspired by the Spirit. Christopher Wordsworth (Greek New Testament) has “working inwardly,” saying, “it is the inner working of the heart...that prevails with God.” Henry Alford's version seems more sane: “The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.”

Men have exercised their wits over this verse for centuries, and some of their renderings are highly interesting.

Tyndale, 1526, has “The prayer off a ryghteous man avayleth moche/ yf it be fervent.” “If it be fervent” is of course a paraphrase, which Tyndale apparently adopted directly from Luther, who has wenn es ernstlich ist, “if it is earnest.” Tyndale retained this rendering in his subsequent revisions, and was followed by Coverdale, Matthew and Taverner, and the Geneva Bible. The Great Bible retained “fervent, but reduced the verse to “For the feruent prayer of a ryghteous man auayleth moch.” This was retained by the Bishops' Bible, which was the immediate predecessor of the King James Version. Into this the word “effectual” was thrust by the King James Version, so that now one and the same Greek word is rendered both “effectual” and “fervent.” It has been suggested that perhaps the King James translators meant to substitute “effectual” for “fervent,” and so added “effectual” to the copy of the Bishops' Bible which formed their base, but neglected to cross out “fervent”----or that the typesetter retained it, though it was crossed out. Of this we shall never know the certainty in this life. It remains possible, of course, that the King James translators meant to simply add the word. They did have something of a penchant for the word “effectual,” and in fact introduced it in three other places besides the present one, where the earlier English versions did not use it, and always in connection with the same word which appears in James 5:16.

In II Cor. 1:6 Tyndale and his successors have “sheweth her power.” The Geneva altered this to “wroght,” and the Bishops' followed, but the King James Version altered this to “is effectuall.” In Ephesians 3:7, where the noun form appears, Tyndale and all other early English versions have “working,” but the King James Version alters this to “effectuall working.” Once more, in Gal. 2:8, all the early versions from Tyndale onward have “he that was myghty,” but the King James Version changed this to “he that wrought effectually.”

The Latin translators exercised their wits upon James 5:16 also. A manuscript (ff) of the Old Latin has frequens, that is, repeated or habitual. This the Vulgate replaced with adsidua, that is, continuing or persistent. Montanus and Beza read efficax, which is efficacious or powerful.

The Vulgate was the basis of several English versions. Coverdale's Latin-English version has “the instaunte prayer of the righteous is moch worth.” The Wycliffe version has “For êe contynuel preyer of a iust man is myche worth.” The Romanist's Rheims version also has “the continual praier.” A Lollard treatise of about the year 1400 has the quaint and expressive rendering, “êe bisi preier of êe ri3twise, is miche worêe,” that is, “the busy prayer of the righteous is much worth.” A [Romanist] Fourteenth Century English Biblical Version, (edited by Anna C. Paues, 1904), has also “For muche worê is a bysy preyere of a ri3tful man.”

But the reader would probably like me to give my own opinion. Indeed, I have given it. My opinion is that the verse is a difficult one to translate.

I do not believe that the word means both “effectual” and “fervent”----and I cannot see that it means “fervent” at all. Yet “fervent” is retained even by Darby, who says however in the margin, “Or `operative”'----and adds, “This word puzzles all the critics.”

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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 views are to be taken from his own writings.