ELDER W. L. BEEBE – DEAR BROTHER: – Hoping that you and your brother will be sustained in the editing and publishing of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES, to the edification and comfort of the saints, I will ask you to be so kind as to tell me through that medium if Christ did in any sense of the word atone for what some call the sins of ignorance. I had supposed that he atoned for the sins of transgression. As sin is the transgression of the law, and by the law is the knowledge of sin, so all sane persons of mature age have a law knowledge of sin. Also, where is the foundation of the church? Is it Christ, or revelation, or both?
Please comply, and oblige,
REPLY. – It is rather difficult to understand how any bible reader can doubt that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses subjects of his redemption from all sin; but as the devices of the tempter for trying the faith of the saints are varied and numerous, and he even dared assail the Captain of our salvation with temptations in all points, they who would follow him must expect to be tried in like manner.
In considering the first point suggested by our querist, the questions arise, What is atonement? What is the sin of ignorance? The word atonement is defined by Webster: “1. Reconciliation after enmity or controversy. 2 Satisfaction or reparation made by giving an equivalent for an injury; specifically, in theology, the expiation of sin made by the obedience and personal sufferings of Christ.” The first definition expresses the essential idea contained in the word. Although the learning of this world is of no weight in the ascertaining of abstract truth in divine revelation, there must be a proper understanding of the language used in expressing that truth. For uniformity in the meaning of human language, human learning is the necessary standard; otherwise the hearer could never receive the idea designed to be expressed by the speaker. The atonement, then, as used by our subscriber, must be understood to mean the satisfaction rendered to divine justice by the Lord Jesus in the redemption of his people from the bondage of sin by the one offering by which he forever perfected them who are sanctified in him. That this atonement was complete it is not presumed any lover of truth will question, therefore it is unnecessary to argue that point. The express words of our Lord are recorded, saying, “The Son of man is come to save that which was lost.” – Matthew xviii. 11. The name JESUS was given him by the direct command of God, for the reason that “he shall save his people from their sins.” And John says, “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin;” and “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – 1 John i. 7, 9. Without denying these plain declarations of the inspired record, and also contradicting the solemn declaration of the Lord Jesus in his dying prayer, as written John xvii. 4, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do,” it is impossible to find any sin, of any kind or name, still attached to those who were redeemed with the precious blood of Christ.
In the light of inspired testimony it is not very clear what is meant by the distinction stated between the sin of ignorance and the sin of transgression. John says, “Whosoever committeth sin, transgresseth also the law, for sin is the transgression of the law.” – 1 John iii. 4. Then how can ignorance be sin in distinction from transgression? Possibly this jargon results from the adoption of expressions borrowed from Ashdod, for it is not according to the pure language spoken of Zephaniah iii. 9, “For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, and serve him with one consent.” The very suggestion of any sin not cancelled by the atonement of our dear Redeemer, robs him of the glory of being able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by him, and takes away the perfect rest of assurance from those whose only hope is in his completed salvation. Ignorance is not of itself designated in the scriptures as sin; but on the other hand, it seems under the Mosaic law to have been regarded as a palliation for transgression, for which express provision for atonement was made in that law, even though the same sin presumptuously committed involved the irrevocable sentence of death. – Num. xv.
Again, if ignorance be a sin for which the atonement of Christ is not sufficient, then that blood was shed in vain for sinners who were ignorant of the law, and such cannot be saved by grace alone, but must first be educated to the proper degree to make them subjects of the saving efficacy of the atonement by the blood of Jesus Christ. So that instead of the absurdity that there is salvation in the sin of ignorance, it would follow necessarily that none of the ignorant could be saved. And still further, if any are saved because of their own ignorance, they could not unite in the song of the redeemed, who ascribe all the praise to the Lamb who was slain for their redemption. – Rev. v. 9, 10. If the sin of ignorance rendered them subjects of salvation, it would be entitled to share of the glory resulting therefrom.
The sacrifice of our Redeemer was not a general atonement with no specific object in view. He thereby saved his people from their sins, whether those sins were in the undeveloped thoughts of the carnal infant mind, or displayed in the heinous crimes of a bloody Manasseh, a persecuting Saul, or a dying their. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied; by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” – Isa. liii. 6,11. In the theory of a general atonement for sin, without particular redemption of the individual members of his body, the church, to whom he is indissolubly united as the life of that body, there is neither justice nor mercy. Nor could salvation come to any sinner upon that theory without the sacrifice of the truth and immutability of God, who has declared, “The soul that sinneth it shall die.' Ezekiel xviii. 20. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Rom. vi. 23. If ignorance were indeed an assistance in the salvation of sinners, then Herod should be regarded as a very eminent benefactor to the babes of Bethlehem whom he slew while they were yet ignorant, as some of them might otherwise have learned enough to be lost. This is too repugnant to truth to be admitted for a moment. All such unscriptural theories result from failure to apprehend the plain truth that Jesus did save his people in every age, great and small, old and young, learned and ignorant, bond and free, when he “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.” – Gal. i. 4. The helpless infant is saved by the same grace of God which saves Paul; and David on his royal throne can do no more, with mind or power, to help the work along, then the infant or the idiot. “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.” – Rom. iv. 16.
Will-worshipers, who think they are able to aid in their own salvation, may stumble at the doctrine of full salvation by the sovereign grace of our almighty Savior; but our “Subscriber” will admit that he finds no rest in any salvation limited by conditions to be fulfilled by frail and sinful man. That grace which was manifest in bringing salvation to such helpless, lost and ruined sinners as we see ourselves in the searching light of the knowledge of the glory of God, is amply able to save the vilest wretch or the most helpless infant.
It may not be thought needful to investigate the question whether abstractly ignorance is sin, hence we have preferred to be confined in this article to the inspired definition of sin. But as sin is the transgression of the law, what law does ignorance transgress? Was it sin in our earthly progenitor, before the transgression, that he was ignorant of good and evil? If ignorance is sin, how is it written, “He that is dead is freed from sin,” while “the dead know not anything?” – Rom. vi. 7; Eccl. ix. 5.
The subjects of the grace of God being “by nature the children of wrath, even as others,” (Eph. ii. 3,) if there were any sin which the atoning sacrifice of Christ did not cancel, none could be saved thereby. And while it is manifest that there are degrees in the enormity of crime, yet sin is not so measured; for he that is not perfect in every point, is guilty of the whole law. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” – James ii. 10. This inspired decision forever settles all quibbling as to degrees in sin. The universal reign of death demonstrates the universal condemnation of all the children of Adam. – Romans v. 12-21. And the salvation which is revealed in Jesus Christ is the only and perfect atonement which forever justifies all who come to God by him. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come into God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” – Heb. vii. 25. “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” – Acts iv. 12. Neither infant innocence nor ignorance, nor adult prayers and tears, can be accepted as participants in the glory of that atonement by which sinners are made holy in Christ Jesus.
To the inquiry as to the foundation of the church, it might be sufficient to refer to the declaration of Paul, “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, WHICH IS JESUS CHRIST.” – 1 Cor. iii. 11. This is plain, positive and explicit, and our inquiring “Subscriber” will not controvert the truth so clearly stated by the inspired pen of Paul. – See also Eph. ii. 20. These declarations are conclusive as to the fact that Jesus Christ is himself the Foundation, to whom the whole volume of the inspired scriptures bears witness. But as the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit, none can receive this testimony without the revelation which God gave unto Jesus Christ to show unto his servants; and he sends his angel (the spirit of revelation) and signifies this truth to each of them individually, as he did to John and Peter. – Rev. i. 1; Matt. xvi. 17.
Speculation on this unfathomable mystery of godliness may bewilder the children of God in unsearchable ways of perplexity; but the natural reason of man can never comprehend it, for God has hidden it in the blazing light of his own inscrutable perfection. It is therefore wisdom in the saints to rest in the truth revealed in the sacred scriptures, and taught in the experience of each of those who have learned of the Father. All such come unto Jesus; and no teacher, whether in human form or immaterial spirit, is worthy of confidence unless his teaching leads to the same Fountain of everlasting life. As there is no other Foundation for the saints to rest upon save Jesus Christ alone, so there is no knowledge of this foundation but by the revelation of his Holy Spirit. Still it is true as when the Lord declared the solemn fact, that “No man knoweth the Son but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” To all who have received this revelation he is the Rock on which they rest, and they find rest nowhere else. The Foundation on which every saint builds as led by the Spirit, is the same on which the apostles and prophets built, even Jesus Christ, the Author and finisher of our faith.
Elder William L. Beebe
Editorial – Signs of the Times
Volume 49, No. 19
October 1, 1881