By Jack L. Holt
In the November issue of Action there is an article by Rubel Shelly with the title, “A Question of Eternity.” The editor of Action, Jimmie Lovell, gives the article his editorial approval and blessings.
Brother Shelly wrote about a conversation he had with a man he was trying to convert to Christ. This man finally got around to the issue that disturbed him. He could see his need to obey the Gospel but was reluctant to do so because as he said to Shelly, “Rubel I think my mother was the godliest woman who ever lived. She loved us kids, taught us the word of God and showed us how to live with respect for everything that is good. I don’t know whether she was immersed or not. Are you saying my mother will go to hell if she wasn’t immersed?”
That question seems to give modern preachers a lot of trouble. I say modern preachers, for this question didn’t give preachers like Jesus and the apostles any trouble at all. The Lord told the apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). Now, why were they to do that? Because every creature needs the gospel of Christ. Jesus didn’t say, “Go present some things that can be the basis for a religion,” or “Go preach a gospel.” But “Go preach the gospel.” Then, “He that believeth (that gospel) and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mk. 16:16).
There are five facts that stand out in this commission: (1) every creature needs the gospel; (2) because every responsible creature is a sinner; (3) every creature can understand it; (4) every creature is responsible to it; and (5) only those who believe it and are baptized can be saved. Jesus views the whole world as lost. The world is lost because it is in sin. The gospel is the only way out of sin.
When the apostles labored under that commission, they went forth to preach the only saving gospel to a lost world. In the preaching of that gospel the saving grace of God was fully and finally revealed. The only grace of God that can be preached with His approval is “the word of His grace” (Acts 20:32). There is only one gospel of God’s grace (Gal. 1:6-9). To preach another does not mean one is loving and kind, but accursed.
Paul tells us, “The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Tit. 2:11). The word appeared means “to make clear, manifest.” It refers to the sudden coming of God’s word into a sinful world as light comes into a dark place. When Jesus said, “Go preach the gospel,” He is saying “let the light of salvation burst upon a lost world.” Or to put it another way, “Go tell a lost sinful world about the saving grace of God, those who believe and are baptized shall be saved; but those who disbelieve will be damned. ” Those who obey the gospel are saved “by grace through faith” (Eph. 2:8-9).
The Scriptures tell us we are saved “by grace through faith.” I ask, “Through faith in what?” Is it through faith in what we think God will do, or through faith in what God says He will do? To reject what God says He will do is unbelief. Is faith in God faith in what we think is true, or faith in what He says is true? For example if we have faith in God we must accept His view of the world. In God’s view every responsible creature who has not obeyed the Gospel of Christ is lost in sin, perishing and is “without hope” (Eph. 2:11).
In God’s view one has saving hope only in Christ. One comes to the Father through Christ, not through human goodness. Now shall I sit in judgment on God? Brother Shelly says, “God forbid that any human being presume to sit in judgment on the eternal destiny of another.” Well, Paul was a human being and he said those who “obey not the Gospel will be punished with everlasting (eternal) destruction . . .” (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
Brother Shelly, was Paul wrong in “presuming to make such judgments upon the eternal destiny of another?” Is it wrong to declare to lost men God’s judgments upon the disobedient? Is it wrong to tell an unbeliever his destiny will be damnation if he doesn’t change? Does God make any exceptions upon the basis of human goodness?
I have said it before, I say it now again: ” There is no objection that can be made against a preacher who properly quotes the Scripture in proof of a proposition that is not also made against God who gave the Scriptures. ” Faulting the preacher of the Scriptures is faulting God. To put it another way, to criticize those who contend for the pattern is to criticize the One who gave the pattern!
Brother Shelly wrote, “Judgment is the work of the Son of God when He sits on the great white throne in the last day (Acts 17:31; Rev. 20:11-15). It is an arrogant thing for any sinner to think himself fit to pass judgment on any other sinner.”
It is true there will be a final judgment day in which the Lord will pass sentence upon all men. But it is not the purpose of that judgment to determine whether one is saved or not. We can know that now. I may just ask, “Brother Shelly, are you fit to pass judgment on yourself?” Or would that be arrogant? Whether one is saved or not is a judgment we can make now. That judgment is going on daily. Jesus said, “He that believeth in me is not judged, but he that believeth not is judged already” (John 3:18). Now is a gospel preacher unfit to tell an unbeliever about this judgment? Brother Shelly, do you judge an unbeliever to be condemned or not?
Brother Shelly told this man: “I had no judgment to make about his mother, him or any other person,” Well, that’s strange talk coming from one who professes to know the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. Tell us, brother Shelly, since you were talking to this man before he obeyed the gospel, did you tell him he was saved or lost? Did you make any judgments about that? Further, do you judge sinners are lost? If not, why preach to them? Again, is a sinner lost until he obeys the gospel? If you are unfit to judge about this, why are you preaching? If you can pass judgments on one’s present condition as set forth in God’s grace and not be arrogant, why can’t you pass judgments based on God’s grace about a dead sinner’s condition and not be arrogant? God’s grace teaches that if one dies in his sins, where Jesus is there he cannot come (John 8:21-24). What gospel of grace sets aside that gospel of grace?
We need to come to grips with the truth that in situations where one has a good kind mother or father, that the question is not one of human goodness, but human sin. One’s parents may be worthy of the highest praise, but goodness doesn’t remove the fact that they are sinners. Jesus came to “save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), and this includes dear sweet mothers, fathers and children. Christ died for all men, which in turn shows that all men need His death, “for all were dead” (2 Cor. 4:14). The godliest mother that ever lived needs the cleansing blood of Jesus just as does the vilest sinner.” If righteousness comes by law (any law-moral or Moses) then Christ died in vain” (Gal. 2:21).
If the blood of Christ will cleanse the unbelieving sinner upon the basis of his goodness, then we have a new gospel. We could then preach, “Go into all the world and tell every sinful creature that he that is a good kind person can be saved; but he that is not may be lost.” But then we would have to be arrogant and judge who is good or bad! “O, what a deceitful web we weave, when first the gospel we do leave.”
To get a better look at Shelly’s error, let’s picture Shelly talking to this man’s mother about her salvation one week before she died. Would he tell her she must believe and be baptized to be saved? Suppose he did and she responded, “You’re judging, and it is an arrogant thing for any sinner to think himself fit to pass judgment on any other sinner.” How would Shelly answer? Would he say, “Well, I suppose you’re right. Judgment will come at the great white throne and I won’t be so arrogant as to say you’re lost.” Yet this same Shelly claims to be a gospel preacher.
Brother Shelly claims that he preaches one must be baptized to be saved, or at least to obey God. But then he says, “Some will surely find mercy in their ignorance and unbelief.” Now Brother Shelly wouldn’t be so arrogant as to pass judgments about that would he? Does he think he is “fit” to do that. The idea, “one human being passing judgments upon the eternal destiny of another human being! ” Well, that settles it Lord. “Judge” Shelly, who doesn’t believe in judging, has now spoken from the judgment seat. He is “surely” sure about it all.
It is remarkable how some will tell you you are not judging if you say a living unbeliever is lost, but it is arrogant, unfit judging if you say a dead unbeliever is lost. Jesus said, “. . . but he that believeth not shall be damned.” When I say what Jesus said am I preaching the truth in love? Can I preach the truth in love and say the unbelievers will be saved? Again, if one can be saved in unbelief when dead, why can’t that same one be saved in unbelief when alive? And if saved, why preach to them?
Brother Shelly affirms that God will save unbelievers! Look at this quote again, “some will surely find mercy in their ignorance and unbelief.” This is Shelly’s judgment of what God will do. Never mind that Jesus said, the unbeliever will be damned. Rubel Shelly has spoken. There is nothing arrogant about that – or is there?
Brother Shelly says, “God’s mercy is the only hope any of us has.” True indeed. But to whom does the Lord show mercy? Listen, “But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear Him and keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them” (Psa. 103:17-18). Now we find that He will be merciful and save sinners in unbelief.
We need to keep in mind that God never commanded anyone to go apologize for His gospel. Should anyone be ashamed to preach what God was not ashamed to reveal? If the great God in heaven was not ashamed to write His gospel, why should we be ashamed to preach what is written? His ways and thoughts are higher, more loving and merciful than ours, no matter what we think about it.
Brother Shelly concludes, “How much better if we simply teach leaving both increase and judgment to God.” Very well, but teach what and to whom? One can’t teach without making judgments upon the spiritual condition of men. I preach to only two classes; (1) the sinner saved; and (2) the sinner unsaved. My preaching doesn’t put these people into either class. They are already there. I teach all men that if they do not obey the gospel they will be lost in hell. In doing that I simply teach what God’s judgments are and I will leave the matter of my fidelity in purpose to Him.” God forbid that any human being think himself fit to sit in judgment on God.”
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 14, pp. 439-440
July 19, 1984