|Volume 22 Number 11 November 2020||
T. Pierce Brown
There is so much loose and liberal thinking today suggesting that we must never condemn anything because Jesus said “Judge not, that ye be not judged” that I hesitate to write anything that might be used to justify the false idea that the Bible offers hope that almost anyone can be saved eternally even without obeying the Gospel, especially if they mean well. The fact that 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 says that God will come “rendering vengeance to them that know not God, and to them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus: who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face of the Lord and from the glory of his might” does not seem to mean anything to some who are connected with our brotherhood.
However, we need to understand something else that many conservative brethren do not seem to understand. That is, that there is a difference in teaching what the Bible teaches about a general truth and assuming that we have either the right or the responsibility to apply that general truth to a specific person in Judgment Day. God committed that judgment to His Son, not to you or to me (Acts 17:31).
For example, all liars, thieves, fearful and various kinds of sinners will be consigned to the fires of everlasting Hell (1 Corinthians 6:10; Revelation 21:8). In Matthew 25:25, we find a picture of a man who hid his talents and said, “I was afraid, and went away and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, thou hast thine own.” His lord said in verse 30, “And cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We need to teach that without compromise or hesitation.
Now, suppose you have found a person in your congregation, or see his reflection in a mirror, who has not properly used his talents. He was not as actively engaged in personal evangelism as he should be because he was fearful that he did not know enough, might turn someone away or any other number of illegitimate excuses. He dies and you have his funeral service. Is it your ability, responsibility or privilege to consign him to some particular place in eternity?
Many preachers define a liar as a person who fails to tell the whole truth about anything. This is not the proper definition but is still quite popular. In your congregation there is a person with a malignant tumor of the brain that causes the doctors to predict that he has less than a month to live. You ask him how he is getting along. He replies, “I am doing fine.” He dies the next day. Where will he go? Does the fact that you may assume that he lied when he said “I am doing fine” when he was sick enough to die give you any right or responsibility to consign him to Hell? Are you in the consigning or judging business?
More than 50 years ago, a precious lady whom I presumed to be a Christian visited in our house. There was a straight pin on the sofa that she picked up and put in her lapel. She left with it. A thief may be defined as one who takes that which does not belong to him or her. She did that. Suppose she had died on the way home. I would have probably been asked to conduct her funeral. In fact, I did conduct it several years later. Did I have the right to define what she did as a mortal or a venial sin, or a sin at all and consign her to some destiny? Or, did I have the right or responsibility to make excuses for someone who steals a small item, but condemn one who steals one more costly? Did her motive of trying to remove an object that might injure someone give her an excuse to take something that did not belong to her? If so, does a good motive excuse some wrong actions?
I am aware that almost every preacher, whether liberal or ultra conservative, will begin to rationalize at points like this and find a way to justify whatever conclusion he reaches. I am not concerned about the possibility of being classified one way or the other. I am only concerned about teaching what the Bible teaches and glorifying God in all my life and teaching.
What does the Bible teach about these things? It teaches that all liars, thieves and fearful will suffer eternal punishment, and I have no right to compromise, soften or change God’s decree. I also have no right or responsibility to make any sort of assumptions about how the specific individual is going to be judged in the Final Judgment. God’s final judgment will be in terms of one’s ability, opportunity, motive, words and actions as well as in terms of what His Word actually says. To assume that you know or have the right to pass judgment on another person’s ability, opportunity or motive is to assume too much. You may know what God’s Word teaches about thieves, liars and all sorts of other persons, but you do not know how God is going to apply His Word to a specific person in terms of his ability, opportunity and motive. Since God did not give us either the ability or responsibility to make such judgments, why bother trying? Preach the Word. You have no right to offer hope to a person who disobeys that Word, no matter what your assumptions might be about how gracious God is, or what God might or might not do for a person who fails to obey.
In the Lord’s church, we have the problem on the one hand of compromising what God has said and trying to rationalize or to excuse almost anyone or anything in order not to be judgmental. On the other hand, we have the problem of some brethren assuming that because the Bible teaches some particular truth, we have the right and the responsibility to apply that truth to every specific situation that may come to our attention.
To press the point even more, in order to make it clearer or more emphatic, the Bible says that he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved and that baptism doth also now save us. To compromise that, water it down, deny its importance is unsound and unscriptural and condemned by God’s Word. So, we have a person who is 12-years-old who has never been baptized. He has been at church services all his life. He is one of the sweetest, nicest children we know. On his way back from school, he gets off the bus and is hit by a car and dies. You have his funeral. Is it your right or responsibility to tell his parents where you know he will spend eternity? If so, who gave you that right? If not, is it your right or responsibility in any other case of which you know? Of course you might have less hope of his brother who was 18-years-old and was killed in a car wreck the next week, but the fact still remains that you are not the judge, and you can admit it without compromising the truth. God did not ask us to pass judgment on specific persons but to preach the Word. One reason for this is that we simply do not have all the facts in hand to make the judgment. Another one is, no matter what your conclusion is, you do not change anything. If you judge a person to be saved and God judges him to be lost, he will be lost. If you are sure that he will be lost, but you did not understand his ability, opportunity, motive or any other factor that God will use, you have changed nothing in his destiny. You may have lost your opportunity to help another see the truth, however, if you assume the right of a judge in those matters that are none of your business.
I am aware that some brethren may read this and accuse me of teaching that God says one thing but will change His mind on Judgment Day. That accusation would be wrong. When God says, “Baptism doth also now save us,” He will not then say, “I have changed my mind about that, and baptism really is not important.” He can say, however, “John Doe, whom you assumed was accountable and thus condemned, I pronounce saved.” When God says, “All teachers of unsound doctrine stand condemned,” He will not change that and say, “Doctrine is not really important.” He can say, however, “The person you thought was teaching unsound doctrine and was therefore lost was merely mistaken in the meaning of some passage. It was not a rejection of my Word, nor a perversion of the Gospel, and I have forgiven him, for he had a penitent, obedient attitude.” Surely every thoughtful person can see the difference in a person teaching that we will be judged in terms of what God’s Word has said, and one assuming that he is to be the final judge of how God’s Word must be applied to a specific individual. If you cannot see that, perhaps God, in His mercy, will forgive you for thinking that you can take the place of God on Judgment Day.