Diestelkamp – Patton Exchange: A Review Of “A Request Affirmation About Forgiveness”

By Marshall E. Patton

Brother Mike Willis has rather fervently requested that I review two articles submitted by brother LeslieDiestelkamp for publication in Guardian of Truth. This I propose to do just as honestly, objectively, and as much in the spirit of brotherly love as is possible on my part.

Brother Diestelkamp seems to find comfort and encouragement in the fact that he has “preached in about 53 meetings in 17 states” the past four years and “only three men have stated a disagreement with what I preached.” He says further “in almost every one I have preached at least once on ‘Grace,’ including some expressions about continuous forgiveness.” From this he concludes that 90% of the brethren do not agree with brother Willis on the issue of continual cleansing.

I personally fear that our brother is laboring under a good measure of deception. Both of us have been preaching long enough to know that brethren do not always express their opposition to us personally. Usually such opposition is expressed only by those who have strong convictions and deep feelings on the issue themselves. Even brother Diestelkamp admits this in his statement about the readers of Guardian of Truth: “they don’t write to him (Willis-mep), they write to me and others . . .”

Furthermore, if his observations prove anything in favor of his position, then I can, by using the same standard, prove the other side of this issue. In the past four years I have preached in 58 meetings. While not in 17 states, they have been widely scattered from the East Coast to California, and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. I, too, have done a lot of preaching on this issue. I find brethren generally not well acquainted with the issue involved and very grateful for the teaching done. Right now I do not recall a single expression of opposition from any brother in these meetings to what was preached on this issue.

Brother Diestelkamp, after all the years we have been preaching, we both have reason to marvel at the respect, confidence, and honor brethren have bestowed upon us. Yours, especially, is a record worthy of praise. Such honor and respect involves a fearful responsibility: “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” (Jas. 3:1). However, let neither of us be deceived by the silence or the praise of brethren in determining the truth on any issue.

I have extreme difficulty in understanding how his affirmation points I and 2 can be true, i.e., how can one be faithful and unfaithful at the same time. He said, “. . . a faithful Christian … does indeed sin even while he is faithful. Understand, his sin is not an act of faithfulness and God does not approve of it, but his life is a life of faithfulness and God does approve of it.” I see little, if any, difference between this and the argument of our Baptist neighbors on the impossibility of apostasy. Calvinism has long since affirmed that while the body sins, the soul does not; that God approves the soul and, hence, he is “always in grace.” Of course, Calvinism affirms unlimited coverage (for all sins) upon the basis of the personal righteousness of Christ being imputed to the saint. Upon what basis does brother Diestelkamp affirm his limited coverage?

It is not true that whether or not our life is faithful depends upon both our attitude and our acts in life? If one act of unfaithfulness leaves our life one of faithfulness, then how many acts of unfaithfulness may one commit before his life becomes unfaithful? Must the unfaithful acts outnumber the faithful before his life becomes unfaithful?

If it is not the number of unfaithful acts that makes one’s life unfaithful, then is it the kind of act? If so, what kind? Where is the Scripture that identifies certain acts of unfaithfulness which will not make one’s life unfaithful? Is every man free to arbitrarily make his own list?

If this is not true, then it follows that attitude only determines faithfulness.. In this case only a willful, deliberate, intentional sin would make one’s life unfaithful, and all the warnings such as “be not deceived,” “take heed,” “watch,” “prove,” etc., lest one fall, go for naught!

Brother Diestelkamp understands that 1 John 1:7,8; 2:1; Romans 8:1-4; 4:7,8 teach that God does not impute sin to the “faithful” Christian — even while he is sinning. Where is the proof that these verses teach such an idea? Remember, assertion and assumption do not constitute proof! We all know that the one whose iniquities have been forgiven will not have such sins imputed to him (Rom. 4:7, 8). Rather, righteousness is imputed to him on the basis of his obedient faith-faith without (meritorious-mep) works (Rom. 4:5, 6). This is the blessedness of Romans 4:8. It is the blessedness of forgiveness! But where is the proof that God will forgive and not reckon sin (or at least some sins) to the Christian without compliance with the conditions of forgiveness, which involve repentance, confession, and prayer (Acts 8:22; 1 Jn. 1:9)?

I know that brother Diestelkamp affirms that this forgiveness is conditional, among other conditions, specifies “confessing sins of which we are unaware” and “repentance and prayer.” Question: How can one confess a sin of which he is unaware? How can one repent of a sin when he is not aware that such is sin? Think brethren! Repentance involves a change of mind that results in a change of action. If one is not aware that an act in his life is sin, he will not change either his mind or action in relation to it, but rather just keep on doing it. To say that God forgives and does not reckon such sin against the Christian is to affirm a third law of pardon. I have preached all of my preaching life that there are only two laws of pardon-one for the alien and one for the saint. According to brother Diestelkamp’s position, there is forgiveness without repentance. I deny that what he calls repentance, in this instance, is repentance, and I beg of him to reconsider what repentance involves.

The expression “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:14) does not mean that a Christian can be forgiven of some sin and not have it reckoned against him because of his otherwise faithful life. Brother J.W. McGarvey along with others of his generation fought a hard and continuous battle with Calvinism. On Romans 8:1 he said:

True, Paul says, “There is now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1); but he undoubtedly includes in walking after the Spirit, compliance with the conditions on which a Christian’s sins are forgiven; for John expressly declares that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (J.W. McGarvey, “Justification by Faith,” Lard’s Quarterly, Vol. III, pp. 127, 128).

Again, 1 John 1:7, 8 does not teach that a Christian may and “does indeed sin even while he is faithful.” Rather, these verses teach that the one who sins becomes unfaithful, walks in darkness, and is in need of the advocate God has provided (1 Jn. 2:1). He must now “walk in the light,” which involves compliance with God’s law of pardon. He makes use of the Advocate through prayer and by confessing what he is guilty of as 1 John 1:9 shows: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. ” This involves more than confessing sins or that we are sinners-we must confess our “sins,” i.e., what we are guilty of.

Under point 4 of his article our brother affirms the absolute necessity of continuous cleansing. I do not know of anyone who denies this. The issue is, “Upon what conditions may it be enjoyed?” According to brother Diestelkamp, a general repentance (as some would call it) as expressed by the publican, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” is necessary. Question: Suppose one sins unawares after he last prayed “God, be merciful to me, a sinner,” and then dies before praying that prayer again, would he be forgiven anyway? If so, then we have forgiveness without repentance (even general repentance). If this general repentance and prayer is necessary, then it follows “unless we die with (this) a prayer upon our lips we may indeed die lost and every hour of every day and night would be a day and hour of misery and fear.”

God’s law of pardon is within reach of every man and it is full of grace. The alien must come to a knowledge of certain conditions of faith. When he obeys these conditions he has performed no work of merit. Truly, he is saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8,9). Likewise the Christian must come to a knowledge of certain conditions of faith. His obedience to these involves no work of merit. Many of the requirements made of him involve matters in which he grows, develops, and in which he becomes proficient. In all such matters (e.g., 2 Pet. 1:5-11) God judges us in relation to our time, opportunity, and ability (Matt. 25:14-30). In all such we will be short of perfection — He requires only that we “give diligence” (2 Pet. 1:5). However, in the matter of absolute conditions of faith, perfect obedience is required. This is the only obedience possible here. One either obeys or he does not. Moses E. Lard made this point of distinction this way:

“Partial obedience to the law is the only obedience possible to man; perfect obedience to conditions is the only obedience acceptable to God” (Commentary On Paul’s Letter to Romans, p. 350).

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 11, pp. 337-338
June 6, 1985