Letters on Profession and the Work of Grace

 •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 13
My Dear Brother, You touch upon the root of the matter towards the end of your letter, where you say, in reference to profession or confession, that you believe it means in the Scriptures the manifestation of a real inward thing, and not an outward thing where the inward is wanting; for there you own the distinction which exists between the inward and the outward, though I do not think you are right in holding that Scripture puts them as you say. I believe the Word shows that they are distinct, and that while profession should be true, i.e. a true indication of what one believes and is subject to, at the same time, this has not been, and is not always the case with those who profess. The general principle of the distinction between the two things is given in Rom. 10:1010For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Romans 10:10): "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation."
When the Scriptures speak of life, or of the heart being purified, it is in connection with the grace of God, which makes that a sure and perfect work (see Acts 15:7-97And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; 9And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:7‑9); 1 Peter 1:18-2318Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 19But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 20Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, 21Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. 22Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: 23Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (1 Peter 1:18‑23)); so He says, " My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any (man or devil) catch them out of my hand; " and this security rests on His divinity. " I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-3027My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: 28And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 29My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. 30I and my Father are one. (John 10:27‑30)) But profession is generally connected with privileges, and responsibility is always pressed where these are seen. Thus Heb. 3 says, " Holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling"-not "partakers of life"-" consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession," not " of our salvation;" and the whole epistle proceeds upon this ground, showing the privileges which professing Christians enjoy, and their responsibility in view of these, and therefore the epistle is full of warnings and ifs.
Thus chap. 1. shows that we have been spoken to by no less glorious a person than the Son of God (it is not a question of having received His word by faith, but of being addressed by such an One, and therefore responsible to pay attention and adhere to what He has said), and so the warning in chap. 2: 1-4 comes in, "we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip," and " how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? " &c. Chapter 2 shows who is the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, and the call to us to " consider " (it is not to follow) Him comes in. (3: 1, 2) Chapter 3 then shows who it is that our profession (in v. 1) brings us into connection, not union, with (as it is His "house," not His "body," which is spoken of), and we are His house " if we hold fast," &c. (v. 6) For this reason we are to " take heed, lest there be in any one of us an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God." (v. 12) If the people were looked at as the possessors of life this never could be said. When the Hebrew Christians are spoken to on that ground in the confidence which the thought of grace inspires, as in chap. 10: 39, the language is quite a contrast to this.
Paul had been giving a solemn warning in chap. 10., lest after knowing what the work of Christ had accomplished, viz., that it had opened free access to God (and not as it had been under law), any should draw back and give that up; but in verse 39, he turns and expresses the confidence which he had through grace in the Hebrew Christians. "We are," he says, linking himself with them, "of them which believe to the saving of the soul," which is of course quite different from saying, " We are those who have made a good profession." Where the latter word comes in in chap. 10., it is said (v. 23), " Let us hold fast the profession of our faith," &c. In chap. 3., further, verse 14, "We are made partakers" (or "fellows," not " members") " of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence," &c. Then the example of Israel is adduced (A). 15-19) to bring in a warning (iv. 1) lest we should not enter into the rest which Christ leads into, as some of the Israelites entered not into the rest in their day.
Chapter 5 speaks of Christ's glory as priest, which is put before us as something which we should know practically; and chap. 6. follows with a warning lest those who had come into connection with such privileges should fall away from them (the thought is not that they had been brought to Christ and might fall away from Him. 6: 1-8), though again Paul's confidence in the Hebrew Christians as those who had more than mere possession of privileges comes out in verses 9-12. Then 7., 8., 9., and part of 10., are all taken up with unfolding Christ in various characters, to show in other lights the great privileges of Christianity, and they are all summed up in 10: 19-21, to press in verses 22-31, the responsibility on us, who profess faith in it all, to " hold fast," and the warning in case we do not.
Then, as I have pointed out, there was much in the case of the Hebrew Christians to reassure Paul's heart about them as really saved and possessors (not simply professors) of faith, and so this comes out in verses 32-29. The characteristics of true faith are thereupon brought out in chap. 11, and practical exhortation follows on this ground; but this not being so distinctly privilege as what the former part of the epistle teaches, the warnings are not so severe; but they are there, showing that the people were addressed as responsible, and not as possessors of life. (12: 1, 3-5, 12-17, 25, 29, &c)
I have touched upon this before entering upon your questions about Israel, because it is well to see that Scripture establishes the general principle before we come to any applications of it.
We see, I may also note, in 1 Tim. 2:1010But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. (1 Timothy 2:10), "good works " named as that "which becomes women professing godliness," showing that the profession was not looked upon as necessarily a pledge of a true heart; for the good works give evidence that it, viz., the profession, is true. The good works are the adorning which is suitable or becoming to a true profession, and the thought therefore is not that the profession itself is the evidence that the women are godly.
In Rom. 1:2222Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, (Romans 1:22), and Titus 1:1616They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus 1:16), we see men professing one thing while their lives give evidence that their hearts are very different from their profession. And in Rom. 14:1111For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. (Romans 14:11), and Phil. 2:1111And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:11), we see that there are many who will confess Christ, but not be saved, or not have any love for Him in the future. So I think it plain that Scripture shows that profession and life are not confounded, and that profession is not presented as the manifestation of a real inward thing, but is a distinct and external thing requiring evidence to prove whether it be true or false.
With regard to Israel, if Heb. 11:2929By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. (Hebrews 11:29) had said, " By faith Israel, or the Israelites, passed through the Red Sea," &c., it would have been strong evidence that the nation had possessed faith when they did so, whatever might have become their condition afterward, because that chapter describes the characteristics, and bears testimony to the action, of true faith; but the verse does not say so. It merely says, "By faith they passed through the Red Sea," &c., the former verse having spoken of Moses and the passover, where it says, " By faith he kept the passover and the sprinkling of blood," &c. Thus verse 29 stands by itself, and speaks only of those who had faith, not of all who passed through the sea; and it is purposely indefinite in the expression "they," which is used (Israel not being mentioned at all), because in chap. 3. of the same epistle, it is expressly said that some of them " believed not" (vv. 16-19), and that they " could not enter into the rest because of unbelief." There is this difference between the passing through the Red Sea and the entering into Canaan, that in the former, God did everything, and the people only looked on and experienced His deliverance; the word to them being, " Stand still, and see the salvation (or deliverance) of God," i.e. God undertook for the people without any question as to their state, which indeed did not give much evidence of the calmness of faith. (See Ex. 14:10-1310And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid: and the children of Israel cried out unto the Lord. 11And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? 12Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness. 13And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. (Exodus 14:10‑13)) Whereas in the latter, entering the land involved conflict and exertion on their part, and so results depended upon their faithfulness as responsible. (Num. 33:50-5650And the Lord spake unto Moses in the plains of Moab by Jordan near Jericho, saying, 51Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye are passed over Jordan into the land of Canaan; 52Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images, and quite pluck down all their high places: 53And ye shall dispossess the inhabitants of the land, and dwell therein: for I have given you the land to possess it. 54And ye shall divide the land by lot for an inheritance among your families: and to the more ye shall give the more inheritance, and to the fewer ye shall give the less inheritance: every man's inheritance shall be in the place where his lot falleth; according to the tribes of your fathers ye shall inherit. 55But if ye will not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you; then it shall come to pass, that those which ye let remain of them shall be pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides, and shall vex you in the land wherein ye dwell. 56Moreover it shall come to pass, that I shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them. (Numbers 33:50‑56))
If you read verses 1-9, with 29-31. of Ex. 4, and verses 30 and 31 of Ex. 14, you will see that what is spoken of is the people's believing the evidence of what they saw; a very different thing from faith which connects the soul with God, because, as I once said to you, we see the same sort of " belief " in those who were certainly not saved, in Ex. 8:16-1916And the Lord said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt. 17And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt. 18And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not: so there were lice upon man, and upon beast. 19Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said. (Exodus 8:16‑19); John 2:23-2523Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. 24But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, 25And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. (John 2:23‑25); Acts 8:6,9,10,13,20-236And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. (Acts 8:6)
9But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: 10To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. (Acts 8:9‑10)
13Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. (Acts 8:13)
20But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. 21Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. 22Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. 23For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity. (Acts 8:20‑23)
We must not forget also that the deliverance in Ex. 14, though in type it was the deliverance of God from spiritual enemies, and though where there was faith this result might be recognized as the proper fruit of connection with God, yet actually, or in fact, it was deliverance from visible enemies, and faith was not required to ensure a share in it. God did not deal with them on the ground of faith in delivering them, but on the ground of His promise and grace in fulfilling it to them in spite of their being evil; and, moreover, the words which you quote from Ex. 14:3131And Israel saw that great work which the Lord did upon the Egyptians: and the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and his servant Moses. (Exodus 14:31), were spoken of what was subsequent to the passage through the Bed Sea, and describe the state of the people consequent upon what they saw in that passage and immediately after it, and not their state before that " baptism " took place.
In Ex. 4:2929And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the children of Israel: (Exodus 4:29), Moses and Aaron gathered the elders of the people, and in verses 30 and 31, these are called " the people," and " the children of Israel" are seen thus in the persons of their representatives, and get credit for what they do, although in fact they may have, and must have, formed a small number compared with the whole nation. They were the heads of the people, and represented the people then and always. This is a principle of frequent occurrence in the Scriptures, and an instance illustrating it is seen in Israel's future history. In the day that is coming it is said, " All Israel shall be saved " (Rom. 11:2626And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: (Romans 11:26)); but when we examine the prophecies which treat of that time, we find that only a very small " remnant " of Israel will be blessed, the great majority of the nation being cut off in judgment. (See Isa. 6:9-13;10:20-23; 41:17; 52:129And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. 10Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. 11Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, 12And the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. 13But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof. (Isaiah 6:9‑13)
20And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them; but shall stay upon the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth. 21The remnant shall return, even the remnant of Jacob, unto the mighty God. 22For though thy people Israel be as the sand of the sea, yet a remnant of them shall return: the consumption decreed shall overflow with righteousness. 23For the Lord God of hosts shall make a consumption, even determined, in the midst of all the land. (Isaiah 10:20‑23)
17When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. (Isaiah 41:17)
12For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward. (Isaiah 52:12)
; Jer. 23:33And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. (Jeremiah 23:3); Ezek. 6:8; 14:228Yet will I leave a remnant, that ye may have some that shall escape the sword among the nations, when ye shall be scattered through the countries. (Ezekiel 6:8)
22Yet, behold, therein shall be left a remnant that shall be brought forth, both sons and daughters: behold, they shall come forth unto you, and ye shall see their way and their doings: and ye shall be comforted concerning the evil that I have brought upon Jerusalem, even concerning all that I have brought upon it. (Ezekiel 14:22)
; Joel 2:28-3:2128And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: 29And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. 30And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. 31The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. 32And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. 1For, behold, in those days, and in that time, when I shall bring again the captivity of Judah and Jerusalem, 2I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land. 3And they have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. 4Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Zidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompence upon your own head; 5Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things: 6The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians, that ye might remove them far from their border. 7Behold, I will raise them out of the place whither ye have sold them, and will return your recompence upon your own head: 8And I will sell your sons and your daughters into the hand of the children of Judah, and they shall sell them to the Sabeans, to a people far off: for the Lord hath spoken it. 9Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: 10Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. 11Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord. 12Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat: for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. 13Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great. 14Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision. 15The sun and the moon shall be darkened, and the stars shall withdraw their shining. 16The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake: but the Lord will be the hope of his people, and the strength of the children of Israel. 17So shall ye know that I am the Lord your God dwelling in Zion, my holy mountain: then shall Jerusalem be holy, and there shall no strangers pass through her any more. 18And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the rivers of Judah shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim. 19Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land. 20But Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation. 21For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed: for the Lord dwelleth in Zion. (Joel 2:28‑3:21), &c) This remnant, however, gets the place and blessings of Israel, and is thus the representative of the nation.
The subject of 1 Cor. 10 is privilege, and the responsibility which flows from partaking in that to those who partake, whoever they are. So the passage, "did all eat the same spiritual meat," and " did all drink the same spiritual drink," &c., says something about the meat and the drink, but nothing about the people who partook of them except that they did partake. They participated in all these privileges; i.e. baptism unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea, the spiritual meat and the spiritual drink which were provided (and true as well as false ones did so, "they did all eat the same," &c), and yet many of them were proved in the long run to have been unworthy partakers, and we are to take warning by them, lest after partaking of our privileges we should sin and be destroyed as they. There is no thought of the possession of life, or of God's grace and its results in the chapter, but there is that of the privileges enjoyed by the people, and, even in spite of these, their course with its results.
Heb. 3, to which you refer, does describe this evil course of theirs-" they do always err in heart, and they have not known my ways; " " howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses " provoked Him, but " to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not?"-and in view of this description I can only believe that these never had faith; for although they saw God's acts they did not know His ways, and the end merely showed out what was their state all along. To say that at one time they had faith and were right in heart, and that subsequently they lost the one, and went wrong in the other, seems to me not only to be at issue with their history, but also to shut out altogether the work of grace in any soul, because this wherever it exists is perfect and eternal in its effects.
I may just note, before closing, that Matt. 25:14-3014For the kingdom of heaven is as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. 15And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey. 16Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents. 17And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two. 18But he that had received one went and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money. 19After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. 20And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more. 21His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 22He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them. 23His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord. 24Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: 25And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. 26His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed: 27Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury. 28Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. 29For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. 30And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:14‑30) and Luke 19:12-2612He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. 13And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. 14But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. 15And it came to pass, that when he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded these servants to be called unto him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. 16Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained ten pounds. 17And he said unto him, Well, thou good servant: because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities. 18And the second came, saying, Lord, thy pound hath gained five pounds. 19And he said likewise to him, Be thou also over five cities. 20And another came, saying, Lord, behold, here is thy pound, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: 21For I feared thee, because thou art an austere man: thou takest up that thou layedst not down, and reapest that thou didst not sow. 22And he saith unto him, Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee, thou wicked servant. Thou knewest that I was an austere man, taking up that I laid not down, and reaping that I did not sow: 23Wherefore then gavest not thou my money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required mine own with usury? 24And he said unto them that stood by, Take from him the pound, and give it to him that hath ten pounds. 25(And they said unto him, Lord, he hath ten pounds.) 26For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him. (Luke 19:12‑26) show how the Lord acknowledges and deals with false profession. It is plain that the wicked servant's condemnation is, that while he occupied the position of a servant he never did one bit of service; i.e. that he really was no servant; but the Lord in reckoning with him does not condemn him as no servant, but rather takes him up on the ground of his profession, acknowledges it, and condemns him as a (wicked and unprofitable) servant.
F. J. P.