By Ron Halbrook
Loose Use of “Legalism” By William Wallace
Others are giving forth an uncertain sound throwing the term legalism around loosely. The case of Brother William Wallace is a sad enigma. He did quite a lot of writing in his closing days of editing the Gospel Guardian that amounts to this, “There is something to be said in favor of both truth and error, so when we say our `something’ it would behoove us to come down gently in favor of truth and lightly in opposition to error-but not too hard either way.” It seems to be an application of the “there-is-so-much-good-in-the-worst-of-us-and-so-much-bad-in-the-best-of-us-that-it-ill-behooves-any-of-us-to-say-anything-bad-about-the-rest-of-us” philosophy to doctrinal error. Apparently the adage brought to mind recently by Brother James P. Needham applies to Brother Wallace, “He who lies down with dogs, will get up with fleas.” (1) Some of the articles written by Brother Wallace seem to be intended to disassociate him from the errors of Brother Fudge for which he has been covering in the past several months -but while coming out in favor of truth, he seems to fall all over himself trying to say something in favor of error.
In an editorial on “Not Under Law,” Brother Wallace proposes to discuss two “extremes.”(2) He rejects the position which denies “that there be any essential legal or constitutional aspects in the saving gospel or in saving truth” and which equates “conditional salvation or salvation by faith-plus-works” with “salvation by right, legal claim, merited or earned status.” But just about the time Brother Wallace might have turned to rebuke the other extreme claims to sinless perfection, moral uprightness, or humanistic righteousness (which do not need grace with its conditions) and the establishment of standards or norms for service to God which He did not authorize-the fleas started biting. Trying to write and scratch at the same time produced a case of profound confusion, so that the supposed rebuke of the opposite extreme came out sounding like the speech of those who hold the first extreme which he has just finished rejecting! He speaks out against legalism which thinks of salvation as involving “a condition or reward achieved by conforming to the do-its and don’t-do-its of statutes.” Such statements can only create confusion for one reading the Bible.
Is salvation not conditional on certain do-its and don’t-do-its revealed in God’s statutes? David wanted to “learn thy statutes” (Ps. 119:71). Therefore he constantly pled with God, “Teach me thy statutes” (vv. 12, 26, 64, 68, 124, 135). “I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word” (v. 16). “Thy servant did meditate in thy statutes” (v. 23). “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage” (v. 54). David said his safety depended on having “respect unto thy statutes continually” (v. 117). “Let my heart be sound in thy statutes” (v. 80). But why did David desire to learn, pray God to teach, delight in, meditate on, and have such profound respect for the statutes of God? “Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end” (v. 33). Did David actually think his salvation was conditioned on obedience to the things revealed in those statutes-did he think he really had to keep those statutes to be saved? “O that my ways were directed to d keep thy statutes!… I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly. . . I cried with my whole heart; hear me, O Lord: I will keep thy statutes” (vv. 5, 8, 145). “I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end” (v. 112). David said he would not “forget thy statutes” because he recognized “Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes” (vv. 83, 118). “Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes” (v. 155). If that does not teach the absolute necessity of certain “do-its and don’t-do-its of statutes” given by God, then words have no meaning.
Some who have drunk from the wells of denominational theology will complain that the attitude expressed by David applied only to the Old Law period, that because of the sinful nature of man such obedience is impossible, and that therefore God has relaxed or made provision for failure to meet the conditions of salvation. Or, that the only condition now is “faith” (used in a denominational sense). Not only are aliens told they must believe and be baptized to be saved, Christians are told they must mortify the sinful deeds of the body if they wish to continue in grace (Mark 16:16; Col. 3aff). The supposed contrast between God requiring obedience under the Old and somehow relaxing that requirement under the New is absolutely reversed by the inspired men! “For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation” which was revealed (including facts, promises, and commands) through Christ and the inspired men? (Heb. 2:1-4) What about Gal. 5:19-23. . . is Paul saying there once was the requirement of “conforming to the do-its and don’t-do-its” but not any more???
Brother Wallace complains of “legalism” being “a law system which threatens penalties and demands lustrations.” He adds that the “motivation. . . is to merit, deserve, and earn-and to thus escape from the penalties.”(3) Now obviously “escape” cannot come by personal merit or by earning salvation. But the system of redemption does indeed threaten penalties and demand obedience to outward acts that may seem unnecessary (especially to those who do not understand what it is to “walk by faith”). It does indeed promise and deliver “escape from the penalties” of sin. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Sinners who come to God by obedient faith must have the right motive, but that includes a healthy fear of the penalties of disobedience along with a genuine love for the One who did so much to deliver us from such penalties.
In connection with the above quote from Wallace and one to follow, we ask our readers to recall the words of Baptist D. B. Ray already given. “. . . fear alone. . . moves the Campbellites to obedience. All those who attempt to keep the ordinances through fear of punishment alone are not the children of God.” Ray concluded, “If we are Christians, we love God because he first loved us, and then we will keep his commandments. . .”(4) Of course denominationalists teach that obedience is the fruit of salvation and of love for God who has already saved by grace. The faith which saves and which makes one already saved supposedly precedes the obedience; therefore the obedience is not enacted through fear of punishment, but only comes as the fruit of the faith which saved axed as the fruit of love for God who saved.(5)Now hear these garbled, uncertain sounds from Brother Wallace in his “Not Under Law,”
“We are not under law, seeking statutory salvation, but law is in us as we respond in appreciation of the grace of God. We are motivated and moved, by what Jesus did for us, to do what he wants us to do, for him. We do his will not because of a legalistic `have-to’ attitude, but because of an appreciative `want-to’ spirit.”
As already pointed out, he says some things which come down on the side of truth, and some which come down (lightly) against the side of error; but in statements like the above ones, he seems to be coming down on the “side” of the middle! Why must we separate the motives of loving God and fearing the penalties of disobedience? Why must we separate wanting to serve God from having to do so? Does not Eph. 5 teach the wife she ;must be in submission to the husband and at the same time show the husband how to make her want to do so? Are faith and baptism absolutely necessary (Mk. 16:16)? Does not obedience to the gospel include a clear understanding, yea a genuine fear, that “he that believeth not shall be damned”? Must we mortify the sinful deeds of the body? Do we have to? Yes, and we also want to do these things! We both have to and want to put off “the works of the flesh. . . which are these . . . . ” We both have to and want to bear “the fruit of the Spirit” in our lives (Gal. 5:19-23). What about preaching lessons on a text like this one: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13). Or what about lessons on the return of the Lord “in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:7-9). Similarly, we should preach “the goodness of God (that) leadeth thee to repentance” (Rom. 2:4). “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God” (Rom.11:22). (To Be Continued Next Week)
5. A typical expression of this view is found in material published by the Southern Baptist Convention. The “condition on which we are saved” is “faith.” Once we are saved, ‘faith produces works …. Our works exhibit our faith as the fruit exhibits the life of the tree.” Since the works exhibit faith and life which already exist, anyone who thinks the works themselves are required in order to save does “not understand the nature of the saved life.” Harold W. Tribble, Our Doctrines (Nashville: Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1936), pp. 80-81. Before brother Wallace found it necessary to say something in favor of error-which grew out of his efforts to cover up for Edward Fudge-he could write in marked contrast both to Baptist doctrine and to Ed Fudge’s warmed-over denominational doctrine. Brother Wallace dug an article out of “A file of old articles,” so old he did not remember writing the article, and therefore an article written before the Fudge debacle. The title is “The Two Great Commandments” and demonstrates his ability to speak in words too plain to be misunderstood. His unambiguous comments there would have been an excellent substitute for his ambiguous “Not Under Law” article. The old article says nothing in favor of error, and constitutes legalism by Fudge’s terms. Wallace~ says, “The only adequate expression of the sinner’s love for God is his full obedience to the things which God has enjoined upon Him …. obedience to God is not only a fruit, but also a root-both an effort and a cause, as shown in the latter part of John 14:21. Our obedience not only expresses adequately our love for God, but keeps us within the grace and blessings of the Heavenly Father …. As love for God requires action, so does love for neighbor. These rules of action are found in the word of God. Some of them are negative, while others are positive . . . . The test of our love for God and neighbor is in our submission to the laws or commandments, by which these relationships have been regulated. There is no other test. By this, we shall stand or fall in the day of judgment.” William Wallace , “The Two Great Commandments,” Gospel Guardian, Vol. 26, No. 26 (Oct. 31, 1974), pp. 409-410. Contrast this emphasis on full obedience, obedience both an effort and cause of Salvation, obedience keeping us in grace, rules of action both positive and negative (i.e., the statues of God require do-its and don’t-do-its), and The test of love is obedience to laws or commandments-There is no other test-By this we stand or fall!, contrast, I say, this emphasis with the hedging in his “Not Under Law. “
Truth Magazine XIX: 23, pp. 362-363
April 17, 1975