“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 a judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”
By request of our dear brother Jacob Rhodes, of Jefferson County, Texas, this text is presented for our consideration. In volume xxxvii., No. 9, for May 1st, 1869, the late editor of the SIGNS OF THE TIMES gave a very full statement of his views on this text, including the two following verses. But as that paper may not be accessible to many of our readers, it may not be unprofitable to present this article on the same subject.
It should be remembered that this epistle was addressed by the inspired writer to the “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling,” who were by natural descent the children of Abraham, and as such from their infancy trained to the belief that they were by the covenant given by Moses the exclusive recipients of the favor of God, and that the blessings bestowed upon them for obedience and the penalties for disobedience all depended upon their own conduct; for such was the character of that legal covenant under which their natural birth placed them; and it is worthy of special observation that none ever were consulted as to whether they wished to be under even that typical covenant. Abraham, and all who were born in his house or bought with his money, were, without reference to their volition, under the law of that covenant which God gave to them. Nor could any action or willing on their part dissolve that relationship by which they were debtors to do all that was required by the inexorable demands of that law, whose voice of awful thunder caused Moses to exceedingly fear and quake, and shook smoking Sinai to its base, while they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more. The temporal blessings enjoyed in obedience gave no life, and could extend no further than to those to whom the sovereign will of God gave the covenant; and the most direful penalty inflicted for disobedience never annulled the relationship of those who were born under the provisions of that covenant. So that the obedience of a long lifetime never released an Israelite from the duty of continued service; and the most flagrant violation of its precepts, entailing death upon the transgressor, left him still an Israelite, though dead. It is important, in reading the typical import of the shadows under that figurative dispensation, that the facts stated should not be overlooked; for it is only by a careful observance of them, in the order divinely appointed, that we shall be able to find in them the testimony of Jesus, which is their essential spirit.
That the burden of this epistle is the presentation of the superiority of the gospel over the legal dispensation, clearly appears from the opening sentence, in which the long succession of dying prophets is presented in striking contrast with the Son of God himself, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds, the brightness of glory, the express image of his person, having by inheritance (vital relationship) obtained a more excellent name than the angels, by whom that legal and typical dispensation was given. Not only to the natural minds of those believing Hebrews but even to Gentile believers, there is an appearance of propriety in trying to dig up the buried body of Moses, that is, to seek in the canceled law of a carnal commandment for the directions by which to be governed in their conduct and conversation. Under the galling yoke of this heavy servitude they find no rest; for perpetually does that law proclaim, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” It is no wonder, then, that Peter spoke of that law as a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear. There was no provision in it which could make the comers thereunto perfect. Its requirements could never be satisfied. It required continual service. The perfect obedience of today did not abate one jot of its demands for to-morrow’s service. The gracious announcement of deliverance from the merciless demands of this exacting service, which was given in the revelation that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, was therefore good tidings of great joy to every one to whom the word of this salvation was sent. It showed the complete fulfillment of that law, and the removal of its burden, by the perfect service of Jesus, the antitype and Lord of David.
When the saints receive the revelation of this unspeakable deliverance they are called to liberty. Thenceforth they are no more under that law, even though by natural descent they are Israelites. And if they be Gentiles, who were never under the law of Moses, when they receive justification in Christ Jesus they are no more judged by the law of sin and death, under which all the human race die in their natural father Adam. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” – Rom. viii. 2. Paul’s experience in this particular is the experience of all the saints in whom this perfect law has been revealed. And the fact is the same even of those chosen vessels of mercy, who have not as yet received the revelation as applied to themselves by the Spirit; for the one offering of himself in sacrifice perfected forever them that are sanctified. Hence it is of that law of sin and death, as well as of the law of Moses, that it is written, “Ye are not under the law, but under grace.” – Rom. vi. 14.
From the foregoing observations it is manifest that the text under consideration does not apply to any others but those whom the inspired writer recognizes as “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling;” and the willful sin spoken of cannot refer to transgression of that law from whose dominion they have been delivered, and to which they owe no allegiance, for it still remains true that “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” The salvation that is in Christ Jesus has delivered the redeemed from that bondage, and it is the revelation of that deliverance in their individual experience which causes the unspeakable joy felt when Jesus speaks peace to them. In this ecstatic liberty of the sons of God they are free indeed; and they are admonished to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” – Gal. v. 1. The law of Moses as a rule for their guidance is the yoke referred to, as is apparent from the prededing portion of this letter. Hence, transgression of that law cannot be the sin spoken of in the text before us. Against that law these “holy brethren” cannot sin, being born of God. – 1 John iii. 9. Therefore they shall not come into condemnation, being passed from death unto life. – John v. 24.
Now, let us see how these subjects of the saving grace of our justifying Redeemer may come within the specification of the text, “If we sin willfully.” While, as has been shown by the infallible record of divine truth, they cannot sin against the law whose penalty is death, for the reason that they are not under its dominion, and so can no more transgress it than we can transgress the law of a foreign nation to which we owe no allegiance, yet the saints are not free from the law of their Lord, which is not written on tables of stone, nor placed over them, as was the law of the old covenant over carnal Israel; but this perfect law of liberty is that which is promised in this prophecy, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with the fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jere. xxxi. 31-34.
Under this new and everlasting covenant every law of our divine King and Lawgiver is made the most desirable of privileges to them who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. So that it may truly be said,
“Not by the terrors of a slave
Do they perform his will;
But with the noblest powers they have
His sweet commands fulfill.”
And with the psalmist they can sing, “O how live I thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” It is always day while this meditation leads the saints in the path of obedience and peace. But when they turn to fulfill the lusts of the flesh they walk in darkness. It is to the saints that it is written, “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” If we willfully disobey the law of our King, then that rod provided in the new covenant, as quoted from Jeremiah will be faithfully administered; not for our destruction or cutting off from the vital relationship given us in our Redeemer, but for the destruction of our sinful flesh, our carnal mind, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, that is, when the meditation is the law of the Lord. This chastening is not to be despised or lightly esteemed by the saints, as if it were of little consequence to endure it. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” “Our God is a consuming fire.” Before his scrutiny all things are naked and open. How important, then, that we heed his admonition, and walk as children of the light! Do we need the terrors of the final doom to frighten us to obedience to the laws which he has written in the hearts of his children? Then may we not well feel that certain fearful looking for of judgment, of which our text speaks? Those who love the law of our Lord can hardly desire to rest in the self-assured condition of such as find comfort in saying, “The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, are these!” while his commandments are despised, his admonitions treated with contempt, and even his agonizing groans are regarded with cold indifference. If we have the tender-hearted principle of love dwelling within us, we should choose rather to suffer all the pain, mental and physical, of which mortals are capable, than thus to deny our precious Savior. Yes! incomparably better to endure even the painful apprehension expressed in the text, than to be so dead to every emotion of love and every obligation of gratitude that the word of him who bore our sins on the accursed tree should be regarded by us with indifference.
“Such vile ingratitude as this
What heart but must detest?
Sure Christ deserves the noblest place
In each redeemer breast.”
Let us not settle down in carnal security upon the presumption that this text does not mean what it says. There is sometimes a very liberal spirit, though not of God, which generously hands over such expressions as this to the unbelieving world. Let us be careful lest we handle the word of God so deceitfully as even to delude ourselves. The text specifies those who “have received the knowledge of the truth.” And the inspired writer includes himself with them by using the word “we.” Then the admonition certainly does not apply to them who never received the knowledge of the truth. It must be written for the benefit of those who are “partakers of the heavenly calling.” Nor can the solemn declaration be blunted by the conclusion that an impossible case is suggested. This would imply that the inspired record would have been complete without this serious declaration.
“There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Under the ceremonial law, sacrifices for sins were authorized. Daily their consecrated altars recked with blood from the victims offered in sacrifice; and legally those who brought the offerings were purged thereby, though in truth it never was possible that those offerings could take away sins. This also was signified by the yearly sacrifice, in which there was a remembrance again made of sins every year. Now, these Hebrew saints are told that this ceremonial offering has forever ceased. All that is signified is now fulfilled in Christ, the true atoning sacrifice. Now, “He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol.” All these sacrifices are passed away, with the old leaven and old earth to which they appertained. Nor does the law of Moses enter the new heaven and new earth, in which the Lord God creates Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. – Isa. lxvi. 17, 18. As typified in the death of Moses on the border of the land of promised rest to national Israel, that law, our school-master unto Christ, is buried by th power or hand of the Lord in an unknown sepulchre, before the gospel rest is entered by the believer. Now, Joshua (Jesus) leads his people into the glorious land of rest, into which all they, and they only, which have believed, do enter. Here is the sabbath where no labor can come, no burdens must be borne, no sacrifice for sins must be offered. It is contempt of the blood of the covenant to presume to bring such offerings, whether they be literal animals, or works of righteousness wrought by our own hands. The inevitable consequence, therefore, of sin against the law of Jesus, the King who reigns in righteousness to this new creation, is that the transgressor must feel the burden of his sin; not in the transient suffering of mere temporal death, but as stated in the text.
“But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” How concisely the inspired pen expresses what every disobedient saint knows by painful experience! Whether the sin is contempt of the command to follow the Lord in the ordinances he has enjoined on all who love him, or in an open transgression of his law in any particular, there is this CERTAIN (not probable or possible) fearful apprehension. The sin in all its vivid and terrible enormity is ever before the sinner, (Psalm li. 3,) producing this fearfulness, so that “Every man shall bear his own burden.” – Gal. vi. 5. If any can sin without realizing this certain chastening, the indication is that he is not a son. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” – Heb. xii. 6. Yet, dear child, you need not faint under the rod. While this judgment and fiery indignation shall devour the adversaries, it shall not devour you. The furnace is needful for your profit. The fire burns off your fetters, devours the sins which so easily beset you, and which are well designated as the adversaries of your soul, the destroyers of your comfort in believing, the enemies which continually war against your peace. You may indeed be overwhelmed, and sink in deep mire where there is no standing, but you can never fall so low but that the everlasting arms of the infinite love and unchanging faithfulness of the Almighty are still underneath. Wildly as you may have wandered, the eternal God is still your Refuge. Weak and faint as you may be, even though your heart and flesh may fail, yet God is the strength of your heart, and your portion forever. It is not for your faithfulness and attention to duty that you have been preserved hitherto, but “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” – Lam. iii. 22. This is the only principle upon which you have ever received any favor from his gracious hand, and this should be your comfort under every future trial. How cheering the thought that the unceasing and abundant stream of mercies already bestowed, the benefits past numbering lavished upon you in the past, have not in the slightest lessened the boundless fullness of the fountain of his mercies. Not only do his compassions abound, but their constant flow has not at all diminished the inexhaustible fountain whence they are poured forth upon you. “His compassions fail not.”
Now, reader, assuming all this to be true, how does it affect you? Do you feel that you are licensed to live according to the corrupt and sinful inclinations of the carnal mind? If you believed that salvation in the world to come is forever secured in Christ Jesus to all the saints, without reference to what they may do, good or evil, would it encourage you to continue in sin? Is there nothing to cause you to wish to live righteously but the hope of happiness and the fear of punishment in the future? If so, it is evident you neither hate sin nor love righteousness; and without a new principle to govern you, the heaven where God reveals his glorious perfection would be to you the most infinite torment. But, if you admire the heavenly grace which has revealed this unfailing fountain of divine compassions, and although you tremble to think of appropriating to yourself such boundless and unfathomable blessings, yet you are attracted to linger in their contemplation, and to love the divine Author of such unspeakable favor to unworthy sinners, that principle of love does not spring from the corrupt and depraved carnal mind, and the heart whose every imagination is only evil continually. This is the mark of them that love the Lord. No others bear it. Nature cannot counterfeit it. Satan with all his arts can produce nothing resembling it. “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself.” – 1 John v. 10. This is the only infallible test by which to determine the question of your personal interest in the salvation of God. If the love of God dwells in you, while you may tremble with apprehension, and write bitter things against yourself because your heart condemns you, yet remember, poor tried one, “God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” Yes, “He knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust.” Therefore we may confidently trust in him, even when under his severest chastening.
Elder William L. Beebe,
Middletown, N. Y.,
Editorial – Signs of the Times,
Volume 49, No. 24,
December 15, 1881