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Monday, November 28, 2016

Except Ye Repent # 15

Except Ye Repent # 15

Hopeless Repentance

The tragedy of Judas is unquestionably the saddest story of human sin and deceitfulness ever recorded. That one could be in the chosen circle of the intimate friends and disciples of Jesus for over three years, listening to His teaching, beholding the works of power that He wrought, and observing the divinely perfect holiness of His life, and then become His betrayer, seems almost unbelievable. And yet there the record stands in God's holy Word and it will stand forever, "Judas by transgression fell, that he might to to his own place" (Acts 1:25).

We know nothing of his early years except that he was a man of Kerioth, for this is really the meaning of Iscariot. Kerioth was a city of Judea located near Hazor, so we learn from this that he was not, like the rest of the Twelve, a Galilean. He was a Judean, and in all probability had a measure of culture and refinement beyond that of the motley group of northern fishermen and villagers who with him made up the apostolic band. Like the others his first public act of obedience to the call of God was in response to the Baptist's preaching of repentance. When the publicans and sinners justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John, Judas took his place among them. He too stepped down into the mystical river of judgment and submitted to the rite which was intended to show that he owned himself a repentant sinner and was now looking for redemption in Israel.

What his inmost thought really were at this solemn crisis in his life we cannot tell, but we know he began as a disciple of John, for when Peter called for nominations for the vacated office of Judas he reminded his fellow disciples that, "of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection" (Acts 1:21-22). The necessary inference is that Judas himself had answered to this and that they had known him from the baptism of John until his terrible defection. We do not have any particulars of his call to be one of the Twelve, but there are several others of the company of whom this is also true. In fact, only in the cases of Andrew and Peter, John and James, Philip and Nathaniel, and Matthew the publican, are we given direct information as to how they came to be numbered with the select group.

It is noticeable that in the lists of the Twelve as given by each of the Synoptics (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:14-19; Luke 6:13-16) his name comes last and in each instance attention is directed to him by the words, "who also betrayed him," or, as Luke puts it, "which also was the traitor." What a terrible designation to stand for eternity.

As to the esteem in which he was held by the rest, before his wickedness became known, it is only necessary to say that he was the treasurer of this little group of itinerant preachers, dependent on the bounty of those who responded to their message for daily bread. He "had the bag" and John tells us he "bare what was put therein." The words imply that he misappropriated a part of the common fund. And yet he was trusted, and even Jesus who needed not that any should testify of men, for He knew what was in man, patiently bore with him through the years of his ill doing when, Gehazi-like, he thought he was covering up his tracks. Not only was he the apostolic bursar (a person who manages financial affairs) but he had the honorable position of almoner (an official distributor of money). It was he who was appointed to minister to the poor. On the occasion when Jesus ate the last Passover with His disciples and turned to Judas saying, "That thou doest, do quickly," none suspected what he really referred to. As the traitor passed out into the night they thought he had gone at the Lord's command to give something to the needy.

To what extent he was sincere when he went forth as one of the Twelve, to preach that men should repent and to prepare them for the manifestation of the King, we cannot say and speculation would be useless. But he was with the rest when they exultingly declared, "Lord, even the demons are subject unto us." Did he question or shudder when the Master bade them not rejoice because of this, wonderful as it was, but rather that their names were written in heaven?

Thomas DeQuincey, Marie Corelli, and other literati have sought to build up a defense for Judas and have even attempted to make a well-intentioned but disappointed hero of him. They even go so far as to intimate that the betrayal was, after all, not a positive act of treachery, but simply the ill-considered but well-meant effort of a live man of affairs to commit Jesus to a course for which He was destined, as Iscariot honestly believed but which His humility and indecision made Him slow to take. Such reasoning is preposterous and borders on blasphemy, for it impugns the wisdom for it disputes the honesty of the wisdom and obedience of Jesus Himself, who was ever the Father's delight, doing always those things that pleased Him.

Judas never had a true love for Christ. The incident of the alabaster box of spikenard makes that perfectly evident. To Mary there was nothing too good for Jesus, so she took her woman's treasure, the box of precious ointment, and broke it and poured it upon His head, as He said in deep appreciation of her devotion, for His burial, of which she had probably learned while sitting at His feet. But to Judas, and to others who were more or less influenced by him, this was utter waste. With cool calculation he figured that the ointment if sold would have yielded three hundred denarii, a full year's wages for a Roman soldier or an ordinary laboring man. Cunningly he insinuated that it was wasted on Jesus when it might have relieved much human misery if given to the poor. But it was only to cover up the covetousness of his heart that he mentioned the poor. He was really calculating the use he could have made of so large a sum for his own ends.

Such a man proved to be a ready tool in the hands of a designing and corrupt priesthood. His itching palms would make it easy for him to agree to sell the Lord into their hands for thirty pieces of silver. Did he recall the prophecy of Zechariah as to that, or was he so blinded and had he become so insensate through covetousness that the prophet's words had gone from his memory, if he ever knew them? He probably fulfilled them unconsciously, as he also fulfilled certain prophetic passages in the Psalms, notably, "He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me."

Note his perfect self-command and lack to telltale change of color when all were gathered around the table and Jesus informed them that one of their number should betray Him. Judas asked coolly, "Is it I?" and gave no sign of an accusing conscience. Even the reference to the sop and the grace that led the Lord to give him the choice portion left him unmoved as before. He arose from that feast of love and went out - and it was night. Not only was it night in the natural sense, but it was dark, dark night in his soul, to be unrelieved forevermore. He had turned his back forever on the light. satan had definitely entered into him. He was under control of the spirit that energetically works in the children of disobedience. Christ's words are pregnant with meaning, "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?"

It would seem that just as one may yield himself unto God and thus be filled and dominated by the Holy Spirit, so one can hand himself over to the authority of darkness and be controlled by satan himself. It was thus with Judas. Any qualms of conscience he had ever known were ended now. Any kindly regard for Jesus which had ever held sway in his breast was now forever stifled. Any tenderness of heart he had ever experienced was now changed to hardness like that of the nether millstone. He was sold under sin in the fullest sense. For him there could not be no turning back until his nefarious plot was executed in all its horrid details. The receiving of the money from the wiley priests, the guiding of the mob to Gethsemane's shades, the effrontery that led him to walk boldly forward exclaiming, "Hail, Master!" as he planted a hypocritical kiss on His check - all these tell of a conscience seared and a heart that had become adamant in wickedness.

But even for Judas there came an awakening at last. When he saw how meekly the Saviour allowed them to maltreat and condemn Him his sensibilities were stirred, and although there was no turning to God he regretted his fearful error. I cannot do better than let Matthew himself tell the story:

"Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day."

Since Judas repented, was he not forgiven and will he not after all find a place with the blest even though in his despair he filled a suicides's grave? Our Lord's own words forbid any such conclusion. He declared, when speaking of Judas, "Good were it for that man if he had never been born." This negatives any possibility for him in another world; for, in spite of the enormity of his guilt, if he ever attained to the joys of paradise it would have been well for him to be born.

The fact is, the Holy Spirit, who selects His words with divine meticulousness, used an altogether different word here, from that which we have been considering, for repentance. It is not "metanoia" but "metamellornai" - not a change of mind which involves a new attitude toward sin and self and God, but "to care afterwords," that is, to be regretful or remorseful. Thousands of imprisoned convicts, guilty of most atrocious crimes, repent in this lower sense. They would give much if they had not committed the offenses for which they are now suffering the penalty of the law, but they have never bowed the knee to God nor confessed their guilt to Him. So with Judas. He acknowledged his folly and wickedness to the callous priests who contemptuously replied, "What is that to us? see thou to that," and then were very purictilious (showing great detail to correct behavior)  as to the use they should make of the "tainted money" thrown down at their feet. But Judas went into eternity without one word with God regarding his sin or one evidence of repentance unto life.

Remorse is not repentance toward God. It brings no pardon, no remission of sins. It is but the terrible aftermath of a course of persistent rejection of the Word of the Lord, which, while it leaves the soul in an agony of bitter sorrow over opportunities forever lost and grace despised, works no change in the conscience but leaves it unpurged forever. It is this connection that the history of Judas becomes so important for us. It is God's own warning signal to all who tamper with His truth and grace. To play fast and loose with divine revelation is fatal. Its dire effects abide forever.

There is a soft, easy-going philosophy, much in vogue in our day, that would give men hope of a purifying repentance after death, no matter what state they might be in when life's day is ended. But the case of Judas is the negative answer to all this. Nothing he had ever heard from the lips of the Son of God during those years of intimate association with Him gave the remorseful traitor one ray of hope when he at the last began to apprehend something of the fearful wrong he had done. In his harrowing despair he turned not to God, but sought to get further away from him, and rushed out of the world a self-murderer.

Some have fancied they detected a discrepancy between Matthew's account of his death and that given by Peter in the upper room. But the two passages are easily pieced together. Judas hanged himself, probably in the very plot of ground purchased by the priests for the thirty pieces of silver. Suspended from a tree, the bough to which the rope was tied in all likelihood broke and he fell to the ground, rupturing his abdomen, as he did so, so that "all his bowels gushed out." It is easy to visualize the horrid scene.

What an end to the life of one who had been numbered with the Twelve, but what an unspeakably awful introduction to an unending eternity of woe! Judas is somewhere today. He will exist throughout the ages. And never will he be able to lose sight of the face of the One whom he betrayed and of the Cross upon which He died. But memory will not cleanse his soul. Though the victim of a remorse that must become increasingly poignant as the eons roll on, his must ever be a hopeless repentance because it is based, not on a sense of the wrong done to God, but of the wretchedness in which he involved himself by his stupendous folly. Byron has written:

"There are wanderers o'er the sea of eternity,
Whose bark drives on and on,
And anchored ne'er shall be."

Judas, not Iscariot, has described such as "wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever" *Jude 13). Those who refuse to turn to God in repentance while grace is freely offered are destined to repent when all hope has fled and they shall be as stars eternally out of their orbit. Created to circle round the Sun of Righteousness, they have gone off on a tangent of self-will, and despite all the constraining power of the love of Christ shall plunge deeper and deeper into the outer darkness, driving ever on, farther and farther from the One whom they have spurned and whose mercy they have rejected. It is an alarming picture, and God meant it to be such, for He would not have any man trifle with sin, but He desires that all should turn to Him and live.

It brings us face to face with what we saw before, that character tends to permanence. Men so accustom themselves to certain courses that they lose all desire to change, even though they may realize their behavior entails misery and woe. Hell itself is but the condition that men choose for themselves at last made permanent. By their own volition they unfit themselves for the society of the good and the blessed; moreover they reject the opportunity for the impartation of a new life and nature by a second birth which would make them suited to God in order that they would be at home in His society; and so there is nothing before them but "everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; when he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day" (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

It is true that God is love, and that He wills not the death of the sinner, but that all should turn to Him and live. It is equally true that He is light; and sin unjudged and unconfessed cannot abide the blaze of His glory, but must seek its own dark level. Of the lost it is written, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." It implies, in a sense, a certain voluntariness on their own part. Unfitted to abide in the light, like bats and vampires and other evil creatures of the night, they seek, like the infidel Altamont, a hiding place from God. It was he who is reported to have cried when dying, "O, Thou blasphemed and yet indulgent God! Hell itself were a refuge if it hide me from Thy face." Men can sin till, as Whittier so aptly puts it, they "lack the will to turn." For them there may be endless remorse, but no true repentance toward God, and therefore no hope forevermore.

~Harry Ironside~

(continued with # 16 - City-wide Repentance

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Except Ye Repent # 14

Except Ye Repent # 14

Repentance and Forgiveness

We may be instructed as to the how and when of divine forgiveness if we consider carefully what the Scriptures teach as to our own attitude toward our sinning brethren. This will emphasize anew what has come before us so frequently in these studies, that, while God gives remission of sins on the principle of pure grace, based upon the work our Lord Jesus has accomplished, when on the Cross He provided a righteous ground upon which God could be just and yet the justifier of sinners who trust His Son, nevertheless this forgiveness is not granted to unrepentant sinners. His heart is ever toward all men, but He does not force His pardoning grace upon anyone. The moment the trembling sinner comes to Him, owning His guilt and judging himself as utterly lost and unworthy, thus taking the ground of repentance, He speaks peace through Jesus Christ.

"The sinner who believes is free,
Can say the Saviour died for me,
Can point to the atoning blood
And say, This made my peace with God."

He who is thus forgiven is then called upon to forgive those who sin against him. The prayer, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," is not a prayer for the lips of a lost sinner. It is the cry of a disciple. Forgiven eternally, the believer nevertheless needs daily forgiveness when, as as erring child of God, he grieves His Holy Spirit by allowing any unholy thing in his life and walk. And he is therefore exhorted to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven him. He who refuses to show grace to an erring brother will have to feel the rod upon his own back. This was hard for Peter to comprehend, and doubtless also for the other apostles. As spokesman for them all, Peter asked, "Lord how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times?" Seven was to Peter the number of spiritual and mystical perfection, but how feebly did he enter into the perfection of the grace that should characterize the child of the new creation. The reply of Jesus is challenging in its comprehensiveness, for it shows not only what should be the extent of our forgiveness in dealing with our fellow sinners, but  it surely suggests the illimitable mercy that God our Father exercises towards us. He answered, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but Until seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21-22). This is from the account as we have it in Matthew's Gospel, and it is immediately after this that we have the parable of the implacable servant who, forgiven himself, refused to show mercy to his fellow servants and found himself delivered to the tormentors; for governmental forgiveness, in the house of God, may be revoked if the object of it behaves unworthily afterwards. In this respect it is altogether different from eternal forgiveness.

Matthew gives the scope of forgiveness, but does not tell us anything concerning the attitude of the sinning brother who is to be the recipient of such grace. When we turn to Luke 17:3-4 we learn the terms upon which this forgiveness is to be granted. "Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespasses against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." Christian forgiveness is not to be confounded with indifference to evil. The brother who trespasses is to be rebuked, and that for his own good. In the Law it was written, "Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him" (Leviticus 19:17). It might be far easier simply to ignore the wrong done and pay no attention to the evil doer. But this is not God's way, and He would have His children be imitators of Himself. He brings their sins home to them, thus seeking to arouse the conscience and create a sense of need; for, until they are conscious of sin, there will be no desire for forgiveness, nor true self-judgment.

When the guilty one has faced his sin, Jesus adds, "If he repent, forgive him." Again, let me stress what so often has come before us in this discussion. There is nothing meritorious in repentance; it is simply the recognition of the true state of affairs. So long as this is ignored the offender will not sue for pardon. When he honestly faces conditions as they are and comes confessing his sin he is to be forgiven.

But the extent of all this, and the many times that such grace may have to be manifested, is almost staggering, as we read in verse 4, "And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." If we, with all our personal sinfulness and shortcomings, are to forgive to this extent, how illimitable is the grace that our God waits to lavish upon those who come to Him saying, "I repent." There are no bounds to His restoring mercy.

Are we not all inclined to limit Him as to this? Have we not said in our hearts if not with our lips, 'I have failed so often. I have sinned so frequently. I am ashamed to come to Him again for forgiveness when I have proven myself so unworthy of His loving favor in the past.' But, if you were to prove yourself worthy, then His forgiveness would not be grace. He forgives because of the worthiness of Christ. He only waits for His sinning child to say, "I repent."

But if we thus need to repair to Him so frequently when conscious that we have dishonored His holy Name which we confess, how gracious should be our attitude toward others. I am persuaded there are many of God's dear children who know very little of real fellowship with the Father simply because they cherish the memory of wrongs, real or imagined, which they will not forgive. 'Oh," exclaims one, 'if you knew how terribly he has injured me you would not wonder that I cannot forgive him. If he had not spoken so ill of me or acted so badly it would be easy to forgive; but the offense is too great.' What strange nonsense is this for a child of grace to utter! Why, if you had not been wronged there would be no occasion to forgive. It is because you have been trespassed against that you are called upon to show the grace of God to the offender.

But perhaps we should be thinking more of the other side in this matter. Am I the one who has done the wrong? And am I refusing to repent? Then I have no right to expect forgiveness, and my Father Himself will not grant it until I can say from the heart, "I repent." Nay, my very gifts are so defiled that God cannot accept my attempts at worship and praise until I repent. The Saviour has said, "If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matthew 5:23-24). This is an abiding principle that transcends all dispensations. Yet how frequently is it ignored.

In many of the assemblies of God's saints there are brethren, and sisters too, who have been estranged from each other for years. Forgetting that sin never dies of old age, they have sought to ignore wrongs done years ago, and to justify themselves in an un-Christlike attitude to each other, as, with sins and trespasses unconfessed toward each other and toward God, they offer strange fire upon His altar and fancy He receives the money they give ostensibly for His work and the worship they offer in His house.

But He will have none of it. To Him it is all an abomination. He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. He will be sanctified in them that come nigh Him. He says, "Go ye, and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." When wrongs are put right, when sins are confessed, when tears of repentance take the place of formal lip service, He will accept the offerings that are brought to His altar and give "beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness."

We speak of the need of revival, we sing of revival, we pray for revival; but the heavens seem as brass above our heads. We could have revival and blessing tomorrow if we were willing to pay the price. "Be zealous therefore, and repent."

Another practical illustration, a fully authentic narrative related to me by eye and ear witnesses who participated in the revival described, will perhaps enforce this more clearly than a further attempt at didactic instruction. In a community that shall be nameless, because some of the persons referred to are still living, there had been a long period of spiritual famine and dearth. Years before a church had been born there in a time of great awakening, when the Spirit of God had wrought powerfully and hundreds had been brought to repentance and had found peace with God. Bound together in the love of the Spirit they had been a witnessing assembly whose testimony had borne abundant fruit throughout all the district. Missionaries had gone forth from their midst with hearts of flame and tongues of fire to carry the Gospel to adjacent regions and even to far-away lands.

But all this was in the distant past. A period of coldness and powerlessness had succeeded to that of the warmth of early days, and though the same people came together for the regularly announced meetings all was formal and lifeless, excepting that a little group who mourned over the fallen estate of the church met from time to time to weep before God and to entreat Him to refresh His thirsty heritage. It was doubtless in answer to their prayers that two devoted men of God came among them for what were euphemistically called "revival services," though it was soon manifest that the true spirit of revival was conspicuously absent. Nevertheless, for a period of some three weeks the crowds thronged the largest obtainable building, where the singing was hearty and the preaching clear and convincing. Yet there were no apparent conversions although the evangelists pleaded with men to be reconciled to God and faithfully endeavored to win the lost to Christ.

At last, oppressed in spirit by conditions that seemed inexplicable it was announced that for a time there would be no more preaching, but, instead, a day of fasting and prayer, to be followed by others if necessary until God Himself would reveal the hindrances and remove them.

To describe the exercises of that day of waiting upon God would be impossible. There was much in the way of individual confession and crying to Him to make bare His arm in the restoration of backslidden saints and the awakening of the Christless. At the night meeting the building was crowded, but there was no address. One after another prayed,some in agony of spirit, that God might come in. Suddenly a period of solemn silence was broken by a loud sobbing, and a strong man, an elder in the church, rose to his feet. "Brethren," he cried, "I am the one who has been hindering the blessing. I am the stumblingblock in this community." Then he openly confessed that for years he had cherished malice and hatred in his heart against a fellow elder who had been at one time his bosom friend. There had been a dispute over a property line in which he claimed he had been cheated out of a few feet of land. Wrangling had led to increased bitterness. Strife had gone on for months, and when at last the matter was settled in the courts it left him with a heart filled with hatred against his brother.

Striding across the front of the building he offered his hand to this man who had also risen to his feet and amid tears declared it was he who was to blame rather than the other. Together they both went to the foot of the speaker's platform and dropped upon their knees confessing their sins and forgiving each other. The effect upon the vast crowd was marvelous. It was the beginning of a mighty work of grace in that town, the good results of which were recognized for years afterwards. Many who had been under deep conviction but who had been stumbled by the unworthy conduct of these two leaders who should have been examples to the rest soon joined them at the front, and the vast hall resounded with the cries of penitents and the glad songs of those who were led to rejoice in God's  salvation. To the two who for so long had stood in the way of others and whose lives had been so barren and fruitless came new experiences of restoration and usefulness as their old-time spiritual fervor returned. This is no imaginary tale, and I am persuaded that in many a place there would be similar, or even greater blessing if there were downright honesty in dealing with God and with one another.

Often have I heard the question discussed, Is there any possibility of another great world-wide revival before the Lord's return? Some have insisted that we are too near the end of the age to expect anything of the kind. Others are more optimistic as they point out that it would be in keeping with God's mercy to give one last powerful witness to His grace before the coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering together unto Him. But after all we do not need to discuss the pros and cons relating to world-wide revival. We should rather be concerned about revival in our own individual lives, and in our local assemblies. And surely it is never too late to seek for this. God is ever waiting to hear the cry of repentant hearts and to give showers of blessing where there is recognized need and a readiness to obey His Word.

The hindrances are all on our side, never on His. The great trouble is, we are so unreal, so self-satisfied, so little exercised as to our true condition in His sight. Shall we not come to Him as repentant supplicants crying with the psalmist, "Wilt thou not revive us again, that thy people may rejoice in thee?" Then with every doubtful thing cast aside, with every known sin confessed and judged, we shall prove the truth of the words, "The joy of the Lord is your strength," and, as we thus joy in Him and He in us, we shall commend His loving-kindness to others and have the added gladness of leading needy sinners to His feet.

"Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord." He is waiting to be gracious. We are robbing Him of what is rightfully His if we hold anything back. He has said, "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts" (Malachi 3:10-12). What will be fulfilled literally for Israel, when they at last meet His conditions, we may enter into spiritually at this present time if we but give Him His rightful place and deal resolutely with every evil thing in our hearts and lives as His searching light reveals it to us.

~Harry Ironside~

(continued with # 15 - Hopeless Repentance

(three more chapters to go)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Except Ye Repent # 13

Except Ye Repent # 13

Impossible to Renew Unto Repentance

In Peter's Second letter he, I believe identifies for us the author, under God, of the Epistle to the Hebrews. He mentions a letter written to Jewish believers by "our beloved brother Paul,"  "in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction" (2 Peter 3:15-16). As we know, Peter's special ministry was to the circumcision, and he addresses his letters to Christian Jews of the Diaspora, that is, those dispersed among the Gentiles. The letter to the Hebrews therefore must be that referred to in the verses quoted, as no other of Paul's Epistles is addressed to Hebrew believers. And surely there is no other letter in the New Testament which contains more difficult statements than this one. How frequently have ignorant and poorly instructed saints misunderstood such passages as the first part of chapter 6 and the last half of chapter 10. Terrified by what was only intended as a warning against apostasy, true lovers of Christ have fancied that they have committed the unpardonable sin and by crucifying the Son of God afresh have put themselves beyond the pale of mercy. Reason has tottered on the throne as the terrible thought has gripped their consciences that for them there is now no hope, for so grave is their sin, they fear, it is impossible "to renew them again unto repentance."

Various explanations, or attempted explanations have been given of the passages in question, and godly men have differed greatly as to their proper application. Without going into the subject extensively, it nevertheless seems desirable that we should, in this connection, try to get a real understanding of what is involved in both these solemn warnings. Note carefully the exact words of Hebrews 6:1-3. The paragraph is somewhat lengthy, but it seems necessary to have it all in view if we are to grasp its import properly.

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptism, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by Himself."

In a previous chapter we have already glanced at verses 1-3. There we saw that "the first principles of the doctrine of Christ," or as the marginal rendering reads, "the word of the beginning of Christ," refers to the preparatory or foundation teaching of the former dispensation, apart from which it is next to impossible really to understand the true Christian doctrine. "Perfection" as used here has no reference to experience, but rather to the body of New Testament teaching which for the well instructed believer supersedes the foundation teaching of that past age. The tendency of these converted Hebrews, or of those among them who professed to be converted through the Gospel message, was to look back longingly to the ritual practises and the partial revelation of the Old Testament, in place of going on to a full understanding and appreciation of the present truth. The Epistle is throughout a warning against possible apostasy where there was unreality, and an exhortation to "go on" to the better things of the New Covenant as contrasted with the lesser things of the Old.

Before examining the solemn statements of verses 4-6, let us consider the closing part of this section, verses 9-11. The writer of Hebrews has no question concerning the ultimate fate of those truly saved though he warns them of the danger involved in spiritual sloth and indifference. But after setting forth the hopeless condition of the apostates depicted in verses 4-8 he says, "But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation though we thus speak." This is most important. If these words mean anything at all, they surely tell us that people might pass through all that is mentioned in verses 4 and 5 without being saved at all. Note this carefully; it will save from confusion of mind: Whatever else the five statements that are enumerated in these verses mean they do not necessarily accompany salvation. All of them might be true, and yet the soul remain out of Christ.

The evidence of divine life are given in the following verses. There was real devotion to the Lord Himself and unselfish care for His suffering people, seen in these converted Hebrews. Not merely the acceptance of certain doctrines, however true, but real trust in a living Saviour, had made them new creatures, and so their outward walk evidenced the inward change that had taken place. God, the righteous One, would not overlook all this in the day when He would have to judge the nation to which these believers belonged by natural birth. He would not leave a doubt in the minds of any who truly rested in Christ as to the genuineness of their conversion, even when He warned of the possibility of any unreal professors who had gotten in among them eventually apostatizing. But he would have all carefully examine the foundations of their hope of salvation.

If this is clear now go back and read again the warning: "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame." Who were the people here contemplated? According to verse 9 they were not saved people. In other words, they had never been born again of the Word and Spirit of God.

Who, then, were they? The answer is plain. They were professed converts to Christianity who had witnessed much of the supernatural character of the new and gracious movement, but they had never actually known Christ. They were like those in our Lord's day who believed in the miracles, but did not know the One who wrought them. What is said of their past? There are five statements.

First, they had been enlightened. This is true of every one who listens thoughtfully to the preaching of the Gospel. Light is thereby imparted to him to which he was a stranger before. "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple." But unhappily many have been thus enlightened who refuse to walk in the light. And we learn in 1st John 1:7 that, "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." Notice it is where you walk, not how. "Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord." The man who walks in the light the revealing power of God's truth, does not shun its manifestations or turn from its fierce revealing blaze. "God is light and in him is no darkness at all." Facing the light, walking in it, he learns that the blood is sprinkled on the mercy seat from which the light shines. He no longer dreads its brightness but allows it to search him to the depths of his being knowing that the blood meets every evil thing that is thus exposed. This is a very different thing from being simply enlightened.

In the second place, they had tasted of the heavenly gift.Now whether we think of this gift being the Lord Jesus Himself, whom God the Father gave to be the propitiation for our sins, or whether we think of it as that eternal life which is definitely called "the gift of God," it is quite evident that there are many who are for a time greatly impressed by the amazing fact that God has so loved the world as to send His Son into the world that He might give eternal life to all who trust Him; and yet they never truly feed upon the Living Bread that came down from heaven to give life to all who believe on His Name. To taste is one thing; to eat is quite another. There are vast numbers of persons who once seemed to appreciate Christ but have since proved that they never really knew Him, whom to know is life eternal.

Third, they "were made partakers of the Holy Spirit." Surely this implies reality. How could anyone be a partaker of the Spirit of God, and not be saved? I answer, Balaam was; and so was Judas. Yet both are lost. The Spirit of God is sovereign in His working. Yet He compels no one to surrender to Christ, though none would do so apart from His gracious brooding over their hearts. But men may experience much of His convicting power and be deeply stirred as He portrays the preciousness of Christ, and yet may resist His wooing and refuse to heed His message.

Note carefully we are not told that those apostates had ever been regenerated by the Spirit, or sealed, or anointed, or baptized, or filled. They simply became partakers of His power; but did not go on to know truly the Lord. Balaam is a sad example of this, he who felt the power of the Spirit upon him, but "loved the wages of unrighteousness" and never repented of his base intentions, even though not permitted to carry them out. Did not Judas work miracles with the rest in the energy of the Spirit? Apparently he did, for all the Twelve told how the demons were subject unto them, but our Lord declared he was a devil; and we are told he died a suicide and went to his own place.

Fourth, they "tasted the good word of God." This is closely allied to the first statement made by the inspired writer concerning them, yet it is not exactly repetition. They heard of the Word preached. It appealed to them. They felt it to be what they needed. But, though they tasted its preciousness, they did not feed on it with a living faith.

And lastly, they had known something of the "powers of the world [or age] to come." The reference is to the miraculous signs that were given by the Lord to authenticate the early Christian message. In the coming age miracles will be the ordinary thing. At the beginning of this dispensation of grace, they were given by our merciful God in order that men might be without excuse for rejecting His Word. And these Hebrews had seen many signs and wonders, so that they were, for a time at least, intellectually convinced of the truth of the new doctrine. But that truth had not been received into the heart. They knew much about Jesus, the Prophet, mighty in word and deed, but they did not know Him as Saviour and Lord by yielding themselves to His authority. While our Lord was on earth there were numbers of temporary followers who believed on Him when they saw the miracles that He wrought, but afterwards went back and walked no more with Him. Continuance is a proof of reality.

We may well challenge our own hearts as to whether we are in any better case than they. Formalists and hypocrites abound on every hand. If we profess to trust Him, do we love Him and seek to glorify Him in our lives? An empty profession saves no one. In the hour of testing these Hebrews turned back to Judaism. Apparently they were not prepared for the suffering that Christians were called upon to pass through for the Name of the Lord Jesus. So they turned their backs upon Christianity and relapsed into Judaism. In so doing they rejected every testimony that even God could give them. He had nothing hidden in reserve. He had told out all His heart when He spake in His Son. For those who deliberately and definitely refused to accept that testimony, God had nothing more to say. It was impossible to renew them again unto repentance. They positively and defiantly sided with His murders, and so they crucified the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame.

We are not told that God would refuse to save them if at the last they owned their guilt, bad as it was, and sought His forgiveness. We are told that they had so sinned against all light and all knowledge that God had nothing further to put before them. The Spirit of God had given them up, and the day for repentance had gone by. It was not that He would refuse to heed their cry, if they did repent; but He knew they would not. They were given over to hardness of heart and to a seared conscience.

A little parable follows in verses 7 and 8 before the reassuring words of the close of the passage at which we have already looked. Two plots of ground are seen side by side. The soil is alike in each field; the same sun shines upon them both; they are refreshed by the same showers. But at harvest time one produces a fine crop that is a delight to the farmer's heart; the other bears only thorns and briars fit for the fire. What makes the difference? In the one the good seed had found lodgment, but not in the other. The application is easy. Two boys grow up side by side. They attend the same synagogue; later both come under Christian influence; they go to the same meetings; they hear the same preaching; they see the same signs and wonders wrought by the Spirit of God; they both feel His convicting power; they alike profess to believe in His Name; both are baptized; both sit at the Table of the Lord. But when fiery persecution  breaks out against the infant church, one basely deserts the cause, while the other stands firm as a rock. The reason is easy to discern. One has received the good seed into an honest heart. The other has only made a lip profession, based upon a mere intellectual and emotional acquaintance with Christian truth.

It is the same in Hebrews 10, verses 26-35: "For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment, and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, said the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used. For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence which hath great recompense of reward."

Here too, in the closing part of the passage, those to whom the author of Hebrews writes are assured of the reality of their faith. He does not use such strong language to stumble any. Even the weakest babe in Christ is safe in Him. Divinely illumined these Hebrews had suffered and endured, not only individually, but they had strengthened the hands of others. Their reward was sure if they pressed firmly onward, knowing that they had a home in heaven that was eternally secure. Read carefully again verses 32-36, and remember that salvation is by grace, and reward is for service.

Then note the warning of the previous verses. The willful sin is, of course, apostasy. It is turning from Christ after having made definite acquaintance with His truth. Such deliberately trod the Son of God beneath their feet and counted His precious blood, on the basis of which God could look upon them as set aside for blessing, as a common or unholy thing, of no more value than the blood of beasts of old. What can God do with, or for, those who thus spurn His grace? They refuse His loving kindness. Therefore they must know His wrath.

These Hebrews might reason thus: 'Even if Christianity is from heaven, ye the same is true of Judaism. If we turn away from Jesus, we do not turn from God. If we reject Calvary, we can go back to the sacrifice at the Temple.' But no, "there remaineth no more [that is, no other sacrifice for sins." God  cannot own now the sacrifices of bulls and of goats since His own Son has fulfilled all the types by offering Himself without spot, a ransom for all who trust in Him. To refuse Him and to turn from His one sacrifice for sins was to expose oneself to a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which must destroy His enemies.

Though the majority of the company who professed to know Jesus as Saviour and Messiah were real, there was always, as today, the possibility that some were not genuine. So in chapter 12 the warning is repeated, but from a somewhat different standpoint. Note verses 15-17: "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears."

Esau is the outstanding example of one who had full knowledge of the covenant of grace, but who in the hour of stress put a higher value upon personal comfort than upon the blessing of the Lord. When awakened at last to see his folly in some measure, he wept and pleaded for the blessing he had once bargained away; but it was too late. His father had given the blessing to Jacob, and could not repent. This, as I understand it, is what is meant by the solemn words, "he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears." It is not that he himself could not repent of his former levity and profaneness; but he could not find a place of repentance in the mind of his father. However badly Jacob had acted, Isaac now knew it was the will of God that the blessing of Abraham should be given to the younger son. The lesson is a serious one. Divine things are not to be trifled with.  Mercies despised at one time may be sought in vain later on. It behooves us all to be real, to be in earnest while it is called today.

"Time is earnest, passing by,
Death is earnest, drawing nigh.
Sinner, wilt thou trifling be?
Time and death appeal to thee."

~Harry Ironside~

(continued with # 14 - Repentance and Forgiveness


Monday, November 14, 2016

Except Ye Repent # 12

Except Ye Repent # 12

Does God Ever Repent?

In the history of Jehovah's dealings with the people of Israel there is perhaps no story more affecting than that of Balak's effort to induce Balaam to curse them when they were encamped on the plains of Moab. The faithless prophet who loved the wages of unrighteousness was eager to comply with the wicked king's request, but was hindered each time he attempted to curse the people, by the Spirit of God. At last he confessed his inability to do the thing for which he had been called to Moab and instead of cursing Israel he blessed them, and foretold their glorious future in such a manner as to stir the ire of Balak, and to move the hearts of God's saints to devout thanksgiving. He introduced the narration of the divine purpose concerning the tribes of Israel, with the remarkable words: "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath spoken, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it" (Numbers 23:19-20).

This is surely a marvelous declaration. It tells us that once God enters into an unconditional covenant with any people He will never call back His words. And He had definitely confirmed just such a covenant with Abraham. This was before the giving of the law. The legal covenant they had a part in, and they failed to keep what they had promised. Only a few days later we read of the terrible sin of Baal-peor. On the ground of law they forfeited everything, and that covenant God Himself abrogated. But His covenant with Abraham was pure grace. He was the only contracting party. Whatever Israel's failures, He could not break His promise. He had bound Himself by an oath and He would not and could not repent, or reverse His decision. His attitude of grace through the promised seed would persist throughout the ages.

How comforting this is to the heart of one who has turned to Him for refuge. He may be assured that "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Romans 11:29). A careful reading of the entire dispensalional section of the Romans Epistle, chapters 9, 10, and 11, in which we have, respectively, God's past, present, and future dealings with Israel, will make this doubly clear. Yet it is singular how many read with blinded minds and fall to get the truth that the Holy Spirit seeks to reveal. Only recently a tract was mailed to me on the subject of salvation. The writer sought to show that, while in past ages, even in what he called "the Pentecostal dispensation of the early part of the book of the Acts," repentance had a place in the preaching of the Gospel as then made known, a very different Gospel was revealed to Paul in his later years, in which repentance had no part. And to prove his amazing theory he quoted as a proof text the words above referred to, "the gifts and calling of God are without repentance."

The interpretation he gave to this verse was that now God gives salvation to believers whom He calls by His grace, on the basis of sovereign mercy alone, and altogether apart from any repentance on their side. Do my readers exclaim, "What almost unbelievable ignorance?" Yet I have heard others affirm the
same foolish thing. It shows how carelessly even good men sometimes read the text of Holy Scripture.

The Apostle's argument is clear as crystal. God made certain promises to Abraham. Israel sought those blessings by works of law and failed, so they forfeited everything on that ground. Temporarily the nation is set to one side, and is partially blinded to the true meaning of the very Scriptures in which they glory. Meantime God is active in grace toward Gentiles, saving all who believe. In the same way He is now saving individual Jews, though the nation as such is no longer in the place of the covenant. But by and by when Israel shall turn to the Lord, they shall be grafted into their own olive tree again and brought into fullness of blessing. And the proof that it must be so is this: When God gives a gift or makes a promise to bless He will never reverse Himself. He will not change His attitude, for His gifts and callings are without repentance. It is the same as the declaration of Balaam, "He is not a man that he should lie nor the son of man that he should repent."

But what then shall we say of such a Scripture as Genesis 6:5-7: "And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man, whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them"? Here God distinctly said to repent, and His attitude toward man is completely changed. In place of longsuffering mercy He acts in condign judgment, blotting out the corruption and violence of the antediluvian world by destroying the human race with a flood, excepting that Noah and his house were saved in the ark. Is there a contradiction here? Do Genesis and Numbers teach oppositely the one to the other? We may be sure they do not.

In the first place, we need to remember that the same human author, Moses, who wrote the one book wrote the other also. He evidently saw no discrepancy, nothing incongruous or contradictory, in the two statements. And in the second place, back of Moses was God. The human writer spoke as he was moved by the Holy Spirit. Therefore we know there can be no mistake or erroneous conclusion.

Is not the explanation simply this: In Genesis we have a figure of speech in which God is represented as reasoning like a man. This is what theologians call an anthropomorphism, that is, God, acting in the manner of man. And it has to do, not with the promise made or a covenant of grace given, but with His attitude toward a sinful race. They had plunged into evil of the most repellent nature; so much so that God Himself abhorred them. He changed in His behavior toward them and destroyed them instead of preserving them alive in their vileness and corruption. Often has He thus dealt with sinful nations and individuals.

But where His pledged words has been given, He never repents. "I am the Lord, I change not; therefore the sons of Jacob are not consumed." How wondrous the grace that shines out in words such as these! Not all the waywardness of His people can make Him change His mind, once He has given His promise, or cause Him to alter His attitude toward them when He has entered into covenant with them.

It is because of Christ and because of His redemptive work that He, the Holy One, can thus bless a sinful nation. And concerning Christ Himself, who has become the Mediator of the New Covenant, He declares: "The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek" (Psalm 110:4). Thus has our blessed Lord been confirmed as "a surety of a better testament" than that of legal works. He is the Man of God's purpose, who represents all His people before the throne in heaven, and in whom all the promises of God are "yea and amen."

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the "exact expression of his [that is, God's] character" (Hebrews 1:3); therefore we are not surprised to find that there is no such thing as repentance in His attitude toward the Father or toward mankind. Horace Bushnell years ago, in his "Character of Jesus", drew attention to the essential difference between His piety and that of all others who profess His name. We are sinners, and we must come to God as such if we would ever be saved at all. Therefore we come to Him confessing our iniquities and bowing before Him in repentance. It was thus the publican in the parable came. "God," he exclaimed, "be propitious to me the sinner." Propitiation was made on the Cross. But our attitude of soul must still be the same as his. We come confessing we are without merit and trusting in Him who is the propitiation for our sins. Until we take this position before God we cannot really know Him as Father, and so enter into fellowship with Him.

But the piety of Jesus was on a totally different basis. He never confessed a sin either against God or man, in thought or word or deed. He taught others to pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." But He could never join with them in the use of such words. In fact, nothing brings out more clearly the essential difference between Him and us than the amazing fact that He is never found praying with anyone. Some of our most blessed experiences are enjoyed as we bow reverently and penitently before God with fellow believers, together acknowledging our mutual needs and confessing our common sins. But He never had any such experiences. He prayed for others, not "with" them, because His relationship was different from ours. He was "the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." And He prayed as the Son in manhood, who was nevertheless ever dwelling in the bosom of the Father. Hence He never shed one tear over His own sins or shortcomings, for He had none. He wept for those of others, but never for His own. His was "piety without one dash of repentance," to quote Bushnell again. He never sought for forgiveness. He never owned the need of grace. For He was ever the unblemished, spotless Lamb of God, perfect without and within, who came into the world to offer Himself without spot unto God, for our redemption.

If any have not yet sensed the vast chasm separating His holy humanity from our poor, fallen, sinful nature, let them weigh these things carefully. "If we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). But He definitely challenged his bitterest foes to give evidence that He had come short in anything. "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" To this day none have ever been able to reply to this challenge by pointing out one flaw in His life, one defect in His character, or one error in His judgment. He never retracted anything. He never said, "I am sorry." He never apologized for any offense committed. He could say, "I do always those things that please Him." And it was this very perfection of His character that fitted Him to make expiation for our guilt. God "hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might become the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

It is true that, as Captain of our salvation He was perfected through sufferings (Hebrews 2:10). As to His nature He was perfect throughout. From babyhood to His death upon the Cross He was the Holy One. But if He would become our Redeemer He must win the title by His sufferings. Only in this sense could He be said to be perfected. He who had always commanded, deigned to take the servant's form and "to learn obedience" as He walked this scene in holy subjection to the Father's will. "I came," He said, "not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent me." And such delight did the Father have in this perfect devotion of Jesus that He twice opened the heavens to declare, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him."

Surely the more we contemplate with adoring love His matchless perfections, the lower we will bow in humiliation before Him, confessing our sins and repenting, like Job, in sackcloth and ashes. It was the revelation of the wisdom and majesty of God that brought the patriarch of old to that place. How much more may we be humbled as we behold His love and holiness meeting in Christ. In Him "Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other." His Cross reveals, as nothing else could, our sinfulness and His Holy love. If God has so loved us as thus to give His Son to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, how can we ever doubt His intention to save eternally all who bow in repentance before Him and put in their plea as sinners and trust His matchless grace?

Having "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" He knew all we were, yea, all we would ever be, when He put us in Christ, and nothing now will ever cause Him to repent or to change His attitude toward us. It is not humility to doubt Him, and to wonder whether He will really bring us through to heaven at last. On the contrary, it is downright unbelief. "Hath he spoken, and shall he not do it?" Faith sets its seal to what God has said and rests serenely upon that inviolable pledge knowing that "God is not a man, that he should lie, neither the son of man, that he should repent."

It is true, He will not be indifferent to our sins as believers. "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent." But he will never cast us off, however severely He may have to chastise us if we persist in willfully disobeying His Word.

The principle on which He deals with erring believers is clearly set forth in Psalm 89:27-36: "Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, not alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness, that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me."

He hath promised His Son to take all to glory who put their trust in Him. He will discipline them if wayward; but He will never cast them off,for the blood of the Cross has settled the sin question eternally for all who believe.

Listen to Paul's exultant words (Romans 8:38-39): "For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature,shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." What is there that is neither a things present, nor a thing to come? What is there that is included neither in life nor in death? Could stronger words be used to assure us that God will never repent of His purpose of grace in Christ Jesus?

What we need to see, then, is that He who created man might well repent that He had made him when He saw the depth of wickedness into which the race had fallen, and so He determined to blot them out in the judgment of the flood, as later on His patience came to an end with the corrupt inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the place after He had (to use another Biblical anthropomorphism) come down to see if they were as bad as had been reported. He gave Canaan to seven great and powerful nations, but when at last the iniquity of the Amorites was full, He used the armies of Israel to destroy them. As Moral Governor of the universe He has used one nation to chastise another, and then in turn punished the people thus used, when they too became as vile as, or worse than, those they had destroyed. In all such instances, it may be said that "it repented the Lord that he had made man," or permitted certain blessings to be lavished upon him. But when He gives His pledged word to deliver and to bless, He never repents. His promises are irrevocable, because based on what He is Himself, not on what man deserves.

In the stirring little book of the prophet Hosea, God is portrayed as still yearning over Israel, even after He has decreed their judgment. Likening them to the cities of the plain, destroyed with Sodom and Gomorrah, because of their wickedness, He cries, "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboiim? mine heat is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together. I will not execute the fierceness of mine anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim: for I am God, and not man; the Holy One in the midst of thee: and I will not enter into the city" (Hosea 11:8-9). This is most heart moving. He who will never repent when He promises blessing is pictured as repenting concerning the predicted doom of His people. He would, as it were, alter His attitude toward them if they would but change theirs toward Him. It is enough to stir the soul to its depths; yet on Israel's part there was no response, and judgment had to take its course.

But the future holds promise of a glorious recovery. All, even of the rejected nation, who have personally sought His face in blessing will have part in resurrection glory. So God gives the gracious assurance of Hosea 13:14: "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes." Nothing shall ever take place in all the ages to come that will invalidate or alter His settled purpose of grace. Repentance shall be hid from His eyes. That is, He will never, by any possibility, change His attitude toward those whom He has redeemed to Himself.

"His is an unchanging love,
Higher than the heights above,
Deeper than the depths beneath,
True and faithful, strong as death."

~Harry Ironside~

(continued with # 13 - Impossible To Renew Unto Repentance

Friday, November 11, 2016

Except Ye Repent # 12

Except Ye Repent # 12

They Repented Not - continued

Again and again we have seen this principle exemplified in actual life. The student of history will recall how in past centuries, when wars, famines, and pestilences have decimated whole nations, the survivors in most cases have become worse rather than better. One thinks of the days of the plague in Paris in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when terror seized the populace, yet there was a turning from, instead of to, God, and the frenzied citizens plunged into all kinds of vile excesses and orgies of infamy in order to help them to forget the ever present danger.

If a small minority sought after God and recognized that the plague was His voice calling them to repentance, it was only because of His grace working in their hearts. And now that science has demonstrated the possibility of conquering such dire visitations as yellow fever, cholera, and bubonic plague by proper sanitation and extermination of vermin, the majority in place of gratefully owning the Creator's goodness in making known such things to His creatures, that they may protect themselves against disease and physical suffering, actually deride religion and scorn the Word of the Lord, supposing that increased scientific knowledge has made the concept of an intelligent Creator and an overruling Deity unnecessary, if not altogether absurd. In view of the well attested saying, that "character tends to permanence," we may readily see what place these considerations should have as we contemplate what the Holy Scriptures reveal concerning the eternal destiny of those who leave this world impenitent and unreconciled to God. We would all like to believe that there is something cleansing in the great change called death, so that eventually all men will attain the beatific vision and become pure and holy, purged from all earth stains and fitted for fellowship with the infinitely righteous One. But the Scriptures positively declare the very opposite. There we learn of two ways to die and two destinies afterwords, according to the state of those who pass from time into eternity. The Lord Jesus Himself has said, "If we believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8:2-4). And in verse 21 He declares, "whither I go, ye cannot come." In Revelation 14:13 we read: "And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them." 

Observe the vivid contrasts here. Some die in their sins; others die in the Lord. Those who die in their sins never go where Christ is; those who die in the Lord enter into rest and are rewarded for their devotion to their Redeemer. There is no hint that some post-mortem method of purification will be found whereby the first class will be brought to repentance and so to turn to Christ for the salvation they spurned on earth. And those who are in the Lord will never be in danger of apostatizing from the faith and losing at last the knowledge of the divine approval.

The solemn words of the Revelation 22:11, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still," make this position doubly sure. Instead of death leading to a continued probation, we find that it rather settles forever the state of the saved and also of the lost. Character remains unchanged thereafter. The righteous continue righteous. The unrighteous continue in their unrighteousness. The holy remain holy for eternity. The unclean are defiled forever. And the reason is that the saved will then be fully conformed to the image of God's Son, our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, while the unsaved will, by their own refusal to heed the message of grace, have become hardened in their sin so that they will be beyond all possibility of repenting.

"Sow an act, you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, you reap a character;
Sow a character, you reap a destiny."

Our Lord's story of the rich man and Lazarus has been treated by some as a parable solely, and by others as all intensely literal; while many see in it a true story in which figurative language is employed in part when describing the unseen world. But however one may take it, the solemn figure of "a great gulf fixed" and forever impassible either by those who would go from hell to paradise, or from paradise to hell, remains suggestive. It was surely intended to teach the impossibility that anything the wicked might suffer in another world would lead them to repent of their sins and seek to get right with God. The great lesson the Lord meant to impress upon every listener was the importance of repenting here and now, and not indulging the vain hope of some after-death purgatorial cleansing that would accomplish for the one who died impenitent what the believer may know on earth when he takes God at His word. "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." And if men now spurn the grace of God, trample on the blood of Christ, and do despite to the Holy Spirit, God Himself apparently has no other resources upon which to draw, no other means of bringing hardened sinners to repentance than are now in operation.

This accounts for the few among aged Christ-rejecters who repent ere called to give account to God. No one who has worked much in government hospitals, prisons, and other public institutions, where he has had to contact large numbers of hoary-headed sinners,  can fail to realize how exceedingly difficult it is to deal with them about eternal things.  Often has my very blood seemed to freeze in my veins as some aged blasphemer has cursed me for my temerity in seeking to tell him of Christ. Never have I heard such torrents of vile words poured forth from human lips as when such a one has openly expressed his hatred for God and his contempt for all things holy. One could not but realize that years of persistency in sin had hardened the heart and seared the conscience as with a hot iron, so that all desire for anything better had seemingly passed away, reminding one of the awful description of lost souls given in Revelation 18:14, where a literal translation would read, "the fruit season of thy soul's desire has gone from thee."

In the light of these considerations, how earnestly ought we who know Christ ourselves to seek after the lost and endeavor now, while the day of grace lingers, to bring men to repentance that they might come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus, and in turn be His messenger to others. But if we would do this we must be wise evangelists, not soothing unrepentant sinners to sleep with a "simple gospel" that has no place in it for showing them their great need, ere attempting to present the remedy.

To Jeremiah God said, as we noticed in an earlier chapter, "Break up you fallow ground, sow not among thorns." The ploughshare of God's truth must needs break up hard hearts if we would hear men crying in anxiety, "What must I do to be saved?" When they see their lost condition they will be ready to appreciate the salvation provided in grace.

This is what our forefathers in the Gospel ministry called "law-preaching." It was the application of the righteous commands of God to the souls of their hearers, in order that "sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful." We may possibly have a better understanding of "the dispensation of the grace of God" than some of them, but do we get as good results from our so-called "clear Gospel sermons" as they did from their sterner preaching? We are apt to be so occupied with the doctrinal presentation of the Biblical truth of justification by faith alone that we forget the indifference of the masses to this or any other supernatural message, and so we really fail where we hoped to help. Never be afraid to insist on man's responsibility to glorify God, and to drive home to his conscience the fact of his stupendous failure. Where there is no sense of sin, there will be no appreciation of grace. Do not daub with untempered mortar. Do not be in such a hurry to get to Romans 3:21 that you pass lightly and hastily over the great indictment of the entire human race in the preceding chapters. There is a world of meaning in Mary's words: "He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away." It is the "poor in spirit" who appreciate the "riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints."

Our Lord Himself has told us, "They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." And we may be certain that only a sense of their sinfulness will lead any to avail themselves of the skill of the Great Physician. I have already said that this does not mean that men must pass through a certain amount of soul trouble or feel just so much compunction for sin ere they can be saved. But it does mean that men who have sinned with impunity, who have forgotten God, who have scoffed at His grace, or have trusted in a fancied righteousness of their own, should be brought through the Word and Spirit of God to a changed attitude that will make them eager for the salvation so freely offered.

An evangelist had noticed a careless young woman who throughout his preaching had giggled and chattered to an equally thoughtless youth. At the close an overzealous and most unwise "personal worker" stopped the girl at the door and asked, "Won't you trust in Jesus tonight?" Startled, she replied, "Yes, I will." He directed her to the well known verse, John 3:16, and read it to her: "For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Do you believe that?" he inquired. "Sure, I believe it all," was the ready reply. "Then, don't you see, God says you have eternal life?" "O sure, I guess I must have," she answered with nonchalance and passed out the door. Elated the young worker hurried to the evangelist with the information that "Miss ... found peace tonight." "Peace!" exclaimed the preacher. "Did she ever find trouble?" It was a good question. Far too many are talked into a false peace by ill-instructed persons who would not know what David meant when he exclaimed, "The pains of hell got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow" (Psalm 116:3). It is the troubled soul who comes to Christ for rest.

How important that such should be urged to immediate decision lest, resisting the Spirit of God as He strives with them, they at last reach the place where they are given up to hardness of heart and "find no place of repentance," though seeking it with tears. It is not that God will refuse to give repentance, but that there comes a time when it is too late to seek to change conditions that have become settled.

~Harry Ironside~

(continued with # 13 - Does God Ever Repent?