The Willful Sin!
James Smith, 1864
A reply to several questions on Hebrews 10:26, 27: "If we deliberately sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth — no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God!"
Beloved in the Lord Jesus,
It is a great mercy for the Church of God, that she possesses the Word of God; and is also promised the Spirit of God to lead into a knowledge of its contents. God's book is a Godlike book, there is something of infinity about it. I conceive that no man can fully comprehend its contents, or reconcile all its statements. It is given us as a light — to instruct, direct, and cheer us in this gloomy wilderness of woe. It is . . .
to be received with reverence,
to be believed with implicit faith, and
to be obeyed with cheerfulness and gratitude.
The Epistle to the Hebrews, was written to Jews who
professed the Lord Jesus Christ; they were exposed to persecution,
excommunication, and great trials from their countrymen and others. The
apostle writes to them in order to instruct, confirm, caution, encourage,
comfort, and exhort them. He sets before them the divinity of our Lord's
person; his apostleship; his priesthood; and shows him to be the sum and
substance of the old dispensation. He points out . . .
our obligations in reference to the Gospel,
the nature and consequences of unbelief,
the superior privileges we enjoy, and
exhorts to a variety of duties, especially steadfastness in the faith.
Toward the close of the tenth chapter, he cautions them against neglecting public ordinances, to which no doubt they were tempted, in consequence of the persecution they suffered; he intimates that neglect of ordinances is the first step to apostasy, and therefore bids them exhort one another to a diligent attendance on them. Then come the verses you refer to, "For if we sin willfully," etc.
By "the truth" in these verses, I understand the truth respecting the divinity, messiahship, priesthood, sacrifice, atonement, and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Or that Jesus Christ was really what he professed to be, and what his apostles proclaimed him to be. They had preached this truth to the people; the Holy Spirit had confirmed the same by miracles, wonders, and signs; and they received it, and professed Christ accordingly. They were in consequence exposed to the bitter rage and determined opposition of their carnal neighbors; they were stripped of their goods, cast out of the synagogue, and suffered the loss of all things. These things are bad at first — but their continuance is worse; the intention was to lead them to apostasy, and therefore the apostle especially cautions them against that.
By sinning willfully, I understand the willful rejection of the truth of God — in consequence of persecution; or a rejection of Christ as the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of the world. They had been convinced he was this; they professed the same; they had suffered on account of it: but now the apostle assures them if they deny him after such convictions and professions, and join with the Jews in counting Jesus an impostor — and treating his Gospel as an imposition, there remains no more sacrifice for sin, etc.
God will not pardon without a sacrifice; the old ceremonial economy is abolished; and if Christ is rejected — then there is no other sacrifice; consequently there can be no pardon, or hope, or salvation. The Son of God is treated with the greatest indignity, trodden under foot; his blood is counted as no better than the blood of a common malefactor; contempt is poured upon the Spirit of grace, who witnessed to his divinity and messiahship by miracles and signs — and now there remains only "a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God!"
The Law of Moses, the servant, punished presumption with death; the Gospel of Christ punishes the apostate with eternal damnation. Mercy is scorned, grace is despised, justice is insulted, and God will take vengeance; "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!"
But I look at the questions separately:
"Is any particular sin implied in the words — If we sin
Yes, apostasy from Christ — a drawing back to perdition — a giving up the confidence, that Jesus was really and truly that Prophet who would come into the world. It is called a falling away, a crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh, and putting him to an open shame. Such people being persuaded that Jesus was the Christ — yet nevertheless through fear (Rev. 21:8), love of the present life, or other carnal motives — willfully deny him, join with his enemies, and are doomed to darkness, death, and black despair. "If a man abides not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned." John 15:6, Matthew 13:41, 42. "Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall." "You stand by faith, be not high-minded but fear;" "for if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not you!" 1 Corinthians 10:12; Romans 11:20, 21: Hebrews 4:1; 3:12, 13.
"Do the words, "knowledge of the truth" imply a bare reception of the truth literally — and not spiritually?" All professors receive the truth into the head — but in some it sinks down into the heart; when it gets into the heart — it produces lasting effects.
When the Holy Spirit enlightens the mind — then it sees
the glory, majesty, suitability, and excellency of the truth; faith springs
up and embraces it, and it now becomes an instrument of sanctification.
Every faculty of the soul then becomes affected by the truth:
the memory finds a place for it and hides it;
the understanding is illuminated by it;
the affections are set on the great Object which it presents;
the will is regulated by it; and
the conscience becomes instructed and tender.
The man obeys from the heart, the form of doctrine which is delivered to him. He beholds as in a looking-glass the glory of the Lord, and is changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord. Romans 6:17; 2 Corinthians 3:18. He feels what David utters, "O how I love your law — it is my meditation all the day!" Such a one will never fall away, or willfully deny Christ.
But others are intellectually convinced of the truth of the doctrines — who never see their glory; they are affected with them — but not sanctified by them; they mentally embrace them — but are not united to them; they find a place in the mind — but have not a home in the soul. See Hebrews 6:4-8; iv. 2; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; James 1:21; John 15:5-11. Such may sin willfully, and deny the Savior who is above.
Spiritual knowledge makes a man humble, watchful, prayerful, and dependent on his God — these preserve him.
Natural knowledge of spiritual things, makes a man proud, self-sufficient, careless, and often imprudent; consequently is expected that he will fall. We can only tell the nature of the knowledge we possess — by its effects or fruits; therefore we should be diligent that we may be found of him in peace, without spot, and blameless. 2 Peter 3:11; 1 John 2:28; Rev. 16:15; 1 John 2:4, 5; Rev. 22:14.
"Have those words reference to the whole of divine truth?" All truth is sacred — and we are bound to receive all that God has revealed; we are not at liberty to reject any one portion of God's book. Our understandings should be entirely subjected to the Word of God. We ought to receive it without asking, why? or disputing about its importance.
But the truth referred to by the apostle conceive is, the truth of the Redeemer's profession, word, and work. He professed to be the Christ, the Son of the living God: that his word was the word of God; and that his work is our salvation. If these are denied — salvation cannot be obtained: for there is salvation in no other; for there is none other name given under Heaven among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12. He is Jehovah, and beside him there is no Savior. Isaiah 43:11.
"Can none be the children of God who are only partially endowed with the light or knowledge of divine truth?" It is impossible to say with how little knowledge a person may be saved — or how much error may remain in a sanctified mind. A man must know himself as a sinner, and the Lord Jesus Christ as a Savior, in order to salvation; but I am not sure that anything further is absolutely necessary. The dying thief had not much knowledge — but he was saved. There are doubtless thousands in glory, who while on earth had but very little knowledge of the great and glorious doctrines of the everlasting Gospel. They knew Jesus; they found him to be precious; they trusted their soul in his hands; they depended on his one sacrifice; they slipped through the world, and out of time, almost unobserved, and were introduced into his presence and glory.
But who is more than partially endowed with the knowledge of divine truth? According to my apprehension, it would require an infinite intellect to grasp all the truth God has revealed. Paul himself only knew in part, he prophesied in part, and waited for further discoveries of the truth to his mind. I Corinthians 13:9-13; Philippians 3:10.
"Do not the children of God sin willfully after having received the knowledge of the truth?" Yes, to their shame, sorrow, and confusion — they do. Most of our sins, are in a sense willful sins: we are not dragged to sin against our will, but our wills under the influence of the depraved principles which are in our nature, go forth in the commission of sins. But then we are checked, hindered, and condemned in the commission — by grace which dwells in us. 1 John 3:20,21.
Nothing can be more dangerous, than for a person to presume to sin — because he believes sin cannot damn him; yet a believer may be tempted to this, yes, and at times is tempted to it. But he trembles at the idea; exclaims, God forbid! He turns to the throne of grace and prays, "Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression." Psalm 19:13; 1 John 5:16, 17.
None have more reason to make sure of the greater damnation — than those who live in sin, assuring themselves of salvation. If our religion does not lead us to hate sin, fear sin, forsake sin, and pant for freedom from sin — it is not the religion of Christ — but we are under a most awful delusion.
When a believer has been guilty of willful sin, he feels condemned, is distressed, and cast down. And before he can recover his former standing, he is led to aggravate his sin in reflecting upon it; he condemns himself, rejecting all vain excuses; humbly confesses it before God. He then loathes and abhors himself in his own sight on account of it; and when he obtains a pardon, is more watchful, doubly jealous of himself, and earnest with God to keep him in future.
He who makes excuses, or accepts excuses for his sins — is in a most doubtful state. He is very different to Peter who went out and wept bitterly; or to David whose experience you read in the fifty-first Psalm. "Stand in awe, and sin not; commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still." Psalm 4:4.
Beware how you walk on the margin of your liberty. "You have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh — but by love serve one another." Galatians 5:13.
Observe, 1. Timid, fearful, doubting believers, are
not at present in danger of committing this willful sin. Satan may
misrepresent the truth, bring charges against them, and fill their
consciences with terror and alarm; but they are innocent of this great
transgression. They still desire to love Jesus, they believe he is the
Savior of the guilty and undone, and they would give a world if they could
claim him, ardently love him, and like glorified spirits adore him. They
look at his word, think of his grace, and flee to his cross.
Your vengeance will not strike me here,
Nor Satan dares my soul invade.
Yes, my poor brother, you are safe at the cross of Jesus; he does speak to you and says, "All that the Father gives me shall come to me, and him that comes to me I will never cast out." His heart yearns over you with indescribable pity, compassion, and love; and he directs you to his Word for comfort, peace, and joy: he spoke it, and caused it to be written that you might have his joy fulfilled in you. John 17:13; 1 John 1:4; 5:13. He knows your infirmities, pities your weaknesses, and will be merciful to you as he is accustomed to be to those who fear his name. So long as you . . .
fear to offend him,
pant to enjoy him,
long to be with him,
pray to be like him —
there is no fear of your rejecting his claims, denying his messiahship, joining the camp of his enemies, and blaspheming his dear name; consequently there is nothing in these fearful verses to terrify you.
2. The vain-confident, trifling, and incautious professor is in the greatest danger on this subject: therefore "blessed is the man that fears always." The man who concludes he is safe, and shrouds himself in his sound creed and lofty notions — is a pitiable character; if God leaves him to his vanity — he is sure of broken bones, if not of a broken neck! The trifler, who can trifle with God's Word, treating it as though it was the word of man, as though it was submitted to his revision, and may be re-molded by his imagination, is in a most dangerous state!
O, I tremble for some, whom I see taking such daring liberties with God's Book; they act as though they were at liberty to reject whatever they do not approve; to pervert whatever does not accord with their notions, or fall in with their creed; to wrest the plain meaning of words to suit their fancies. Indeed I fear that many of us have taken very undue liberties with the holy Scriptures; we have not read them under the impression that they were God's writings, and would judge us at the last day. John 12:48. We have not realized sufficiently our own ignorance and liability to err — nor our absolute dependence on the Holy Spirit to unfold their meaning.
Here I would just drop a word to young Christians, especially to young men who are imagining that God intends them for preachers of his holy Word: my brethren, beware how you treat God's book, never take your creed to it — but derive your creed from it; admit that the Scriptures are wiser than you are. I often grieve over the manner in which I have treated the Scriptures in years that are past; I admire the goodness and forbearance of my God toward me; and in love I would say to all my brethren: the Bible brings with it a solemn responsibility — let us be serious, prayerful, childlike learners, whenever we turn over the sacred pages. There is such a thing as wresting the Scriptures to our own destruction, 2 Peter 3:16, 17; and also to the injury of others, many have been stripped of their simplicity, tenderness of conscience, and holy fear of sin, through connection with those who have wrested the Scriptures. Others have been robbed of their confidence, comfort, and joys; and some have been drowned in destruction and perdition. 2 Peter e; Jude; 1 Timothy 4:9.
3. The passage which we have been considering was intended to stir up professors to diligence in attending ordinances, how many neglect them as though they were not of divine institution, or of real importance. It was designed to prompt them to perseverance in the path of tribulation. Sometimes we are allured by prospects, Hebrews 12:1,2; sometimes exhorted on the ground of obligation, 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20; and sometimes urged from the idea of danger, as here, and elsewhere.
How solemn, how awful, how startling the words of the Holy Spirit by Peter, which will fill up my paper: "If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome — they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: "A dog returns to its vomit," and, "A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mire!" 2 Peter 2:20-22