Studies in the Scriptures
Zion's Watch Tower
"THERE IS A SIN UNTO DEATH"
"If any man see his brother sin a sin not unto death, he shall ask and God will give him life for them that sin
not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say
that he shall pray for it."
The Lord’s proposition to mankind is life or death—life on condition of their hearty acceptance of the Divine will and obedience to it; death on condition of their rejection of the Divine will, their love for sin and failure to be responsive to the Divine requirements. Life and death from the Scriptural standpoint are finalities—life everlasting or death everlasting. All mankind are to be judged to ascertain which shall be the portion of each—which shall enter life everlasting, which shall be consigned to death everlasting. The assurance of the Divine Word is that those who attain to life everlasting will attain bliss everlasting; that is to say, that God has made no provision for the giving of life everlasting under any except the absolutely perfect conditions that will insure joy, blessing and happiness. There is no provision in God’s great Plan for an everlasting condition in woe, sorrow or pain or trouble. Hence the assurance is freely given that those who come into harmony with the Lord shall have all tears wiped away from all faces and that there shall be no more sighing, no more crying, no more dying, for the former things shall have passed away.—
#Re 21:4; 22:3
On the other hand, the death everlasting will be the penalty inflicted upon all who do not eventually come into the fullest heart harmony with the Lord. They shall be as though they had not been; or, as the Apostle Peter declares, they shall be utterly destroyed from amongst the people; or, as the Apostle Paul expresses it, they shall be destroyed with an everlasting destruction; or,
as the Lord expressed the matter in a parable of the sheep and goats, they shall go into everlasting punishment. (Ob. 16;
.) The punishment for sin being death, it would in the case of such be an everlasting one, and in that sense of the word different from the blight of death which for the past six thousand years has rested upon the whole human family. What we now know as death is in the Scriptures designated sleep, because God has made provision for the awakening of all from the present death-sleep in the glorious Morn of the Resurrection. Without such a resurrection such a death would be everlasting, for as the Prophet has declared, "There is neither wisdom nor device in the tomb whither thou goest."—
THE CROSS THE CENTER OF HOPE
And were it not for the redemptive work of Christ, begun at His baptism, finished at the cross, there would be no release of humanity from the tomb; for God by His own edict has closed every avenue and channel of hope, so that the eyes of the whole world might be turned to the Crucified One, even as the serpent-bitten Israelites of old were all caused to look at the brazen serpent, which prefigured our Lord and His payment of our penalty.
But some will say, Why did our Creator pronounce a death sentence on our race, under which we have suffered for the past six thousand years as a "groaning creation," and then provide a Ransom for all in the person of His Son, and then make a provision for a Second Death for some? We answer that the matter is entirely clear from the Scriptural standpoint. God dealt originally with our first parents when they were perfect, in His own image and likeness. They were on trial. If obedient to God they might continue to live; if disobedient they would die and return to the dust whence they were taken. This was the just edict—that none were worthy of life everlasting except as they would be obedient to the
Creator, whose laws are righteous altogether, and in the interest of all who love righteousness. Our Creator foreknew that the death sentence working in Father Adam would impair his entire race, and that none of them, therefore, would be worthy of life everlasting.
Hence the sentence against Adam prevails against all of his posterity, inheritors of his weaknesses and blemishes, which indeed have increased continually during the six thousand years of the reign of Sin and Death.
THE DIVINE PURPOSE
The Divine purpose, foreseeing the fall, arranged in advance for the redemption accomplished at Calvary, to the intent that Adam and all of his race, having had an experience with sin and a taste of the exceeding bitterness of its results, might be granted another trial for life. There is no partiality with God, and this privilege of a fresh trial is alike to every member of Adam’s race as well as to Adam himself. In his case the fresh trial constitutes a second trial, or a second chance of obtaining eternal life. But in the case of his posterity this chance for opportunity for attaining eternal life will be the first chance, except as they might be reckoned as having shared with Adam in the fall, and thus in the losses of that original or first chance. Individually, however, the chance or trial for life or death which comes to each member of the human family will be practically the first and only chance that any of them will have.
Since our God is just, it stands to reason that if He has provided a way of mercy and salvation for Adam and his family—if He purposes to give to each of them a chance for life eternal—then we may be sure that it will be a righteous, a fair, a full opportunity. The fact that it is the Almighty who has purposed this great opportunity for life to our race, sentenced to death in Adam, guarantees us that every member of our race, therefore, shall come to an accurate knowledge of the Truth and
to a full opportunity of embracing righteousness on fair, equitable and reasonable terms; and that only such as have enjoyed such terms and opportunities and knowledge have had their trial for life. Others, who have not yet enjoyed full, fair opportunities of clear knowledge and of opportunity for obedience, have not yet had their trial for life. Of this class is the great mass of mankind, the heathen world, and in all lands the infants who die before reaching years of knowledge and discretion, and the mentally unbalanced, the idiotic. None of these surely have had the opportunities of deciding for themselves the question of life or death by an intelligent acceptance of the Lord and His way of righteousness.
"IN THE WORLD TO COME"
The Apostle speaks of the world to come—that is, the Age to come in which righteousness will prevail. (
.) And we are assured that it is there, in that Day, that these classes enumerated, which constitute the great majority of mankind, will have their opportunity and testing, to determine whether they shall have life everlasting or death everlasting—whether they shall enjoy an eternity of Divine favor or whether they shall be utterly blotted out, extinguished.
Since the great majority of mankind have not possessed the opportunities of testing and trial for life or death in the present life or in the "present evil world," as the Apostle designates the epoch during which sin and ignorance and superstition prevail as darkness over the earth and as gross darkness covering the people (
), it therefore follows, that the time of God’s provision for the great majority of mankind is in the "world to come"—the Age to come—the Age or epoch in which Christ shall reign and God’s will shall be done on earth as in Heaven. That Kingdom Reign of the Redeemer will insure to the great mass of mankind, therefore, a most equitable test to determine their worthiness or unworthiness of the life eternal which is the gift of God.—
But now we come back to the civilized and intelligent and the educated; and we say, Are not all who live in civilized lands on trial for life or death in the present time? We answer No! the great majority of them are not. The great majority who reside in Christian lands are blind and deaf as respects the Divine character and Plan, and are thoroughly incompetent to make a choice as between good and evil. They are not all alike blind.
Perhaps none of them are totally blind as to what constitutes right and wrong on some questions. There are few, for instance, who do not know it is wrong to commit murder; but apparently there are few who recognize that it is murder from God’s standpoint to speak evil of a neighbor. Their eyes are holden, more or less darkened by custom and heredity; and they are depraved. If they were judged according to their present light, while under the domination of present weaknesses of the flesh, the great majority would certainly be condemned as imperfect.
Even if their actions were left out of account altogether they would be imperfect in their ideals, imperfect in their endeavors, imperfect in their wills, and hence would be subjects of the Second Death, unworthy of life eternal, the gift which God has provided only for those who attain to a heart-likeness to Himself.
"IF WE SIN WILFULLY"
In view of the foregoing, the Apostle’s words are perfectly plain, when discussing this question of the sin unto death. He does not indicate that murderers, thieves and blackguards of the world as being the subjects of this death. They are not on trial yet. We do not know what will be the verdict in their cases. God has chosen a certain order in which He will give the opportunity for attaining life eternal. Some are granted this opportunity in the present life; others, the great mass, will be granted the great opportunity or trial or test in the world, the age, to come, under the Kingdom
conditions. It might be suggested that the conditions of the Kingdom in the future will be much more favorable than the conditions of the present time. To this we answer, in some respects, Yes. However, the Lord has a method of compensation which seems to overcome all the difficulties, and guarantees to every member of Adam’s race a full, fair, kind, generous, impartial test respecting their worthiness or unworthiness of the gift of God, eternal life.
First, the Lord seeks for the class known in the Scriptures as the "Very Elect." They are chosen according to two conditions:
(1) Their faith;
(2) Their loyalty to God and His Laws. These are chosen in the present time when sin is still permitted to have great influence and power, while the whole world is still blind and serving Mammon, selfishness. Those invited to be of this elect class are such as have been favored of the Lord with more of a hearing ear than the majority of the race possessed. Indeed, they "have much advantage everyway," amongst others the testimony and the Divine revelation through Jesus, the Apostles and Prophets.
The knowledge enables them in advance of the world to discern the principles of righteousness and to strive for them. Their weaknesses do indeed hinder them from doing what they would. But the Lord has arranged a compensating feature by which He deals with them not according to their weaknesses and imperfections, but according to their intentions and efforts, so that, with the best of intentions and loyalty to the Lord, their imperfect works are accepted as though they were perfect and they are credited accordingly in the Divine records.
These, justified by faith, covered with the merit of Christ’s righteousness, consecrated to the Lord’s service even unto death, are the Lord’s special treasure, His jewels. These have the assurance of eternal life; and if they continue faithfully in the same way in which they have begun they are in no danger at all of losing it. But
if they turn from the way of righteousness they are the very ones who could sin the sin unto death. In a word, they are the only ones who at the present time, through justification and Divine favor and knowledge, are really upon trial for life or death everlasting. They have entered the race for the life eternal which God has offered; and only through failure will they miss it—and the failure, we are assured, cannot be one of ignorance or weakness, but must be a wilful one. In other words, the Lord has so taken this class under His supervision that all things necessary to their attainment of eternal life are guaranteed them; and only by their wilful, intelligent neglect and refusal of the terms and assistances can they cut themselves off from the Lord and from the everlasting life which is His gift to all who maintain their relationship to Him.
DOCTRINAL AND PRACTICAL SIN UNTO DEATH
None of the Lord’s people are righteous in the perfect, absolute sense that in thought, word or deed they come up to the Divine standard. But all of the Lord’s people may be righteous under His gracious arrangement; namely, that if their hearts be true, loyal and perfect toward Him, none of their blemishes or imperfections of the flesh shall count for anything. So, then, the sin unto death must be a sin against light and knowledge, and must be committed with a reasonable degree of wilfulness—otherwise it would not be unto death. The Scriptures speak of this as a sin, as though it were simply one transgression or transaction. Nevertheless the context shows that we are not liable to sufficiently stumble into this condition of alienation and opposition to God; but that rather the matter comes on gradually, little by little, until the heart is completely turned away from the Lord. It behooves us, then, to be on the alert for the beginnings of evil in our hearts, which might ultimately lead later on to the complete alienation which would mean for us the Second Death.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews the Apostle seems to indicate that the sin unto death should be looked for to approach us in one of two forms. The first of these he describes in Chapter 6:4-9; the second he describes in Chapter 10:26-32.
In the first of these he seems to picture a moral retrogression in the words, "As touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the Heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good Word of God, and the powers of the age to come if these fall away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance, seeing that they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put Him to open shame."
The context here seems to indicate a falling away in the sense of falling into sinful practices—giving away to besetting sins, ceasing to resist the Adversary and his works, ceasing to avail themselves of the grace of God provided in Christ for their deliverance from bondage to sin. There was a hope of recovering them from all manner of evil and sin through the Message of the Gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit. But if after having enjoyed all the privileges and mercies which the Lord has provided, they then turn to their wallowing in the mire like the sow (
), it gives evidence that they have not the real heart-love for truth, purity and righteousness, and that they are not worthy of the life everlasting.
But while giving this warning, the Apostle in the very next verse assures his hearers that he is persuaded better things of them—things which must accompany salvation and without which salvation to life eternal would be impossible. He is persuaded of them that they desire to be in accord with the Lord, and that they will avail themselves of the opportunities provided them through His Word, through the fellowship of the Spirit and through the assistances of the brethren. And so, dear brothers and sisters, we assure you today that
when we point out this matter of the Second Death, and that we who are the Lord’s consecrated, spirit-begotten ones alone could commit this sin unto death, nevertheless we are persuaded of you all that, so far from desiring to see how near you could go into sin, you on the contrary, do not love sin but hate it as your foe, and are striving to walk not after the flesh but after the spirit.
I can assure all such that the grace of the Lord is sufficient for us, that His strength is made perfect even in our weakness.
The second, or doctrinal, deflection which might lead to the Second Death is very explicitly stated to be a rejection of the Lord Jesus as our Redeemer from sin and death. Of course those who have never seen these things, those who like the world are blind to them, could never sin against them. Those who know not what the Ransom is, who see not into the Divine Plan, could neither gain the life now through faith and obedience nor could they be condemned now to the Second Death on the score of rejecting that which they have not seen.
ATTAINMENTS MEASURE RESPONSIBILITY
We, dear brothers and sisters, by the grace of God, have had the eyes of our understanding widely opened to see the grace and mercy of God toward us and toward the world in the great gift of His Son, of our Redeemer.
We have seen how He "tasted death for every man," and how eventually this is to be available to all. If by any circumstances or means we shall now be turned aside from this faith, from this trust, it would mean that we had previously rejected the Lord’s leading; that He had ceased to be our Guide; and that it was under the leadings of the Prince of Darkness that we could get into such an attitude, where we thus do despite to the spirit of grace, favor, in rejecting the only name, the only sacrifice, the only means by which there is forgiveness of sins and fellowship with the Father.
The Apostle specifies, "If we sin wilfully after we
have received the knowledge of the Truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sin." Again we see that it is we who have tasted, we who have received, we who have had knowledge, we who have already benefited by the sacrifice to the extent of being justified by faith in the blood. This passage, therefore, does not refer to the world, who have never seen, never known, never been justified. Their trial is future. It refers to the saints, who are now on trial. The Apostle proceeds to speak of what this sin might be, saying that those who committed it trampled underfoot the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant wherewith they were once sanctified as a common thing, doing despite to the Spirit of God’s favor, which was manifest in the great Gift at Calvary. (V. 29.) Alas, that we must say it, but on every hand we have evidences that many, many are rejecting the Atonement work of Christ, renouncing it and even in some cases denouncing it, counting the blood of Christ, the death of Christ, as a common thing, as an ordinary death, and not as a special holy sacrifice valid for the cancellation of our sins. Many both in pulpits and pews are rejecting the mediatorial work of Christ and all the promises of God to the effect of forgiveness of sins through faith in the blood.
Our hope is that many of these are merely tares, who never knew really of the grace of God, who only imperfectly at any time trusted in Christ. Our hope is that they were never justified through faith in His blood; and that therefore their opportunity for hearing correctly, understanding and appreciating fully lies beyond in the world to come—the Age to come—the Millennial age. Nevertheless, while it is not for us to judge the hearts, it is for us to warn, to caution, all those who ever have appreciated the grace of God in Christ to hold the same confidence of their rejoicing firm unto the end.
It is for us to warn all who are even thinking along the line of rejecting the precious Sacrifice of Christ to look
well to what they do, to reconsider the matter, to consider that probably they have gotten into their present attitude of unbelief because of unfaithfulness, because of coldness, because of inattention to their vows to the Lord. We counsel them that no one ever got into that position suddenly or without some previous deflection along other lines, and that they should, therefore, look carefully to the pathway over which they have been going to see where they switched off, where their hearts became cold toward the Lord, that they may return to their first love, to fidelity to the Lord, and to an appreciation of the great redemptive value of the blood, the Sacrifice of Christ.
It is also our duty, dear brethren and sisters, to warn those who are still holding fast the previous Word, still trusting in the precious blood, still appreciating the grace of God and still sanctified, that they take heed against insidious sin, insidious errors, lest by these they should be gradually switched out of the way and gradually find their course leading farther and farther away from harmony with the Lord and fellowship with those who are His in the appreciation of His Word. The switch on the railway track has a very small beginning, but it steadily turns the car aside in a very different direction.
And so with our minds, our hearts, our attitude toward the Lord—a little deflection on some point seemingly not so important, may lead farther off, eventually to alienation from the Lord.
"MUCH SORER PUNISHMENT"
The context proceeds to call attention to the fact that those who despised Moses and his law died without mercy. Then it adds that those who have heard the voice of the antitypical Moses, if they despise that voice and that Law, will have "much sorer punishment" than did the typical Israelites who despised the message of the typical Moses.
The word "sorer" here does not signify more painful;
but in the old form of language in which the Bible was written it simply signifies severer or more weighty punishment. The Scriptures inform us in line with our subject of today that the punishment of sin, the wages of sin, is death, the Second Death; and that this Second Death—which results to those who despise God’s Plan in Christ after they know it, have benefited by it and appreciated it—will indeed be a sorer, a more severe death penalty than the one which came upon those who rejected Moses and his message; for those executed for disobedience to Moses were merely types of those who will suffer the Second Death.
They merely suffered a temporary suspension of life.
They are all included in the world redeemed by the precious blood of Christ; and they will all, therefore, at some time have a glorious opportunity of coming into full accord with the Lord and, if fully obedient to Him, of attaining life everlasting. Their death, therefore, did not mean everlasting death, but merely temporary death, and sleep of death. The punishment that will come upon those who wilfully and intelligently reject the Ransom and count the blood of the covenant a common thing, will be a Second Death, a much more severe and terrible punishment than that shown in the type, as the antitype is always on a larger and weightier scale than the type.
Those who thus reject Christ’s work fall out of the hands of Mercy, which God provided, into the hands of Justice; and the sentence of Justice against all imperfection is described as everlasting destruction—the Second Death.
LITTLE FOXES SPOIL THE VINES
After stating the matter thus plainly the Apostle exhorts us to confidence and loyalty, saying, "Call to remembrance the former days when, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; partly whilst ye were made a gazing stock both by reproaches and afflictions, and partly whilst ye became companions of them who were so used." The Apostle thus urges us
to look back to the beginning of the way, and to maintain the zeal and love which then began and which should be increasing day by day as the years go by. He exhorts that we cast not away our confidence; that while seeking to go on in the way of the Lord we keep well in line with all our blessed experiences of the past. Thus, for instance, our appreciation of the redemption accomplished in our Lord’s Sacrifice for us will only be enhanced as we grow in grace and knowledge along the proper lines. Growth in grace and knowledge will not deprive us of the original joy and favor which came to us through the mercy, love and grace of God, but will rather enhance the value of these. And thus pressing on continually, maintaining the foundation and adding the superstructure of faith and obedience, we shall be found by the Lord when He comes to make up His jewels.
Let us not only be on our guard against the great sins that we have considered, the open enmity against God through wicked works or through falling away from the doctrines of His grace, but let us remember that it is the little deflections from the Divine Word that lead astray. Let us take heed to our steps lest we be switched off by the great Adversary, who every here and there along the pathway is permitted of the Lord to test us, to prove us, and thus, if we are faithful to the Lord, to make us more and more strong in faith and in obedience and more ready for the Kingdom. The least deflections from the teachings of the Word are very sure to bring us into trouble. Let us, therefore, take more and more heed to all the jots and tittles of the Master’s Word, not only for the exhortations and instructions given us by Himself, but also those given through the Apostles, especially appointed to be our guides in the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. He who is faithful in the little things will be faithful in the great. He who is unfaithful in the little things and inattentive to the Divine messages will more than likely fail to make his calling and election sure.