By Cecil Willis
We have continued to tell you that the position being taken of late by some of our brethren is a dangerous approximation of Calvinistic theology. While the older preachers among us fought Calvinism half a century ago on a thousand fronts, some of our “precocious neophytes” (as Brother James W. Adams so aptly named them) act as though their latitudinarian concepts on the grace of God just freshly have been discovered. Nearly everything these young brethren have said on the subject of grace could be read, nearly word-by-word, from the writings of John Calvin, and if not from Calvin, in the revised vocabulary of neo-orthodox Calvinistic theologians.
Evidently another very close associate and preacher friend of mine has “bit the dust” and begun the acceptance of this looser view on the grace of God. When once one starts down that road, his destination is predictable by the pattern of those who have trodden the same path before. Some of the statements these brethren make as they begin to digress from the truth astound me. It is beyond me as to why they cannot see rank-denominationalism permeating what they are writing. But evidently they do not see it.
The dear brother to which I just alluded has written me several times trying to explicate his views. Recently he wrote:
“If I admit that I commit sin, and I would not defend the position that I am sinless, then does not this make me a sinner? A sinner is simply one who sins. If I understand the writings of John correctly, although he teaches that a Christian commits acts of sin, he nevertheless strongly insists that a Christian cannot live in the practice of sin (1 Jno. 3:6, 9). The one who really knows God always strives to keep the commandments of God, although he never achieves this in a perfect sense. If, as some teach, each act of sin separates from God (and John says that if we say we have no sin we lie), then every Christian faces the frightful daily situation of being ‘in= and >out’ of Christ, or >in’ and >out’ of grace.
“It would appear to me that if we take the position that each and every sin must be specifically confessed in prayer, regardless of its nature, then we are forced to believe that we can live days and weeks at a time without sinning, or else we must constantly pray for the forgiveness of sins, and still live in fear that we have committed some sin in between that could condemn us if we suddenly die. Which side of the coin do you take?
AAny concept we hold must be harmonized with the picture in the New Testament that the child of God can constantly stand in a state of grace (Rom. 5:1; 8:1). The kingdom of God is characterized as one of righteousness, joy, and peace (Rom. 14:17). There is no peace, assurance, or confidence if the nature of the Christian life is one of constant fear of being lost regardless of how hard we might try. These are some specific issues that are crying for some specific answers. Would you please clarify this problem for me?”
This brother deeply resents the fact that I have represented to some that he is changing his position, and is moving in the direction of Brother Edward Fudge’s position on grace. But it does not take any “Solomon” to see the logical consequence of what he has said, and where his premises are going to take him, unless he forsakes his premises. In a later effort to more fully state his position, this brother wrote me very similarly, as follows:
“Your position that `every sin separates from God’ must lead you to the conclusion that the child of God is constantly `in’ and `out’ of grace, as you have admitted. This is consistent with your position, but this is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1-2; Rom. 8:1-4; Col. 1:1-2; etc.). There can be no real joy and peace if we must constantly be `in’ and `out’ of grace. Again, your position demands that you can be in grace only when you are sinlessly perfect in practice. Can we constantly `walk in the light’ without being sinlessly perfect in practice? You deny that `walking in the light’ demands sinless perfection, but your theory demands it.
“I freely admit that I am a sinner and constantly need the blood of Jesus Christ. To speak otherwise is to become a liar. I freely admit that I do not have all of the answers to all of the issues facing brethren today. I am trying to grow daily in knowledge and in favor with God. But I do know that I love God, love the brethren, and strive to keep His commandments. I can know that I am in a saved condition if I continue to walk by faith.”
You will notice that the brother just quoted said, “your position demands that you can be in grace only when you are sinlessly perfect in practice.” I wonder if this brother never heard of the word `forgiveness” in relation to a Christian. It ma very well turn out that the battleground on this grace- fellowship heresy is going to be the book of 1 John. Brother Roy E. Cogdill and I had about fourteen hours of discussion with the above-quoted brother in Conroe, Texas during February, 1974. We discussed these matters at great length. There were three other preaching brethren who sat in on various parts of these discussions which included three separate sessions.
My position does not demand perfect practice. My position simply demands that a person repent of his sin, and ask God’s forgiveness. Neither do I maintain that every sin must be specifically confessed, one-by-one. Some of these brethren cite David as an instance of one who committed sin, and yet remained in the favor (grace) of God. But these brethren. need to remember what the Bible tells us about David’s disposition toward his sins. David said “My sin is ever before me.” Our brother said that if one took the position that I hold, “. . . we must constantly pray for the forgiveness of sins . . . .” Yes, brother, that is exactly what I believe. Paul said, “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). But notice what David said his attitude was toward his sins.
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear, joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:1-4, 7-13, 16-17).
It was really David’s penitence that made him a man after God’s own heart. In Psalm 19:12 David said, “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults.” David even asked for forgiveness of sins which he knew not how to confess specifically one-by-one. On this passage from Psalm 19, Albert Barnes said:
“The word rendered errors is derived from a verb which means to wander, to go astray; then, to do wrong, to transgress. It refers here to wanderings, or departures from the law of God …. In view of a law so pure, so holy, so strict in its demands, and so extended in its requirements, asserting jurisdiction over the thoughts, the words, and the whole life,-who can recall the number of times that he has departed from such a law? . . . Who can number the sins of a life? Who can make an estimate of the number of impure and unholy thoughts which, in the course of many years, have flitted through, or found a lodgment in the mind? Who can number up the words which have been spoken and should not have been spoken? Who can recall the forgotten sins and follies of a life-the sins of childhood, of youth, of riper years?”
Do you think that David went around complaining about the fact that he was going all the time to have to be confessing his sins? Do you think David complained, “. . . we must constantly pray for the forgiveness of sins…”? On the reference to “secret faults,” Barnes said:
“The word here rendered secret means that which is hidden, covered, concealed. The reference is to those errors and faults which had been hidden from the eye of him who had committed them, as well as from the eye of the world. The sense is, that the law of God is so spiritual, and so pure, and so extended in its claims, that the author of the psalm felt that it must embrace many things which had been hidden from his own view,-errors and faults lying deep in the soul, and which had never been developed or expressed. From these, as well as from those sins which had been manifest to himself and to the world, he prayed that he might be cleansed.”
David gives no comfort to those who would seek to contrive some way to extend God’s grace to those who have not met His terms of pardon, and this is precisely what our brother is trying to do.
“In” and “Out” of Grace
The brother whose letters I am reviewing said in the quoted sections, “. . . then every Christian faces the frightful daily situation of being ‘in’ and ‘out’ of Christ, or ‘in’ and `out’ of grace.” Later he said, “Any concept we hold must be harmonized with the picture in the New Testament that the child of God can constantly stand in a state of grace (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).” If a Christian cannot be “in” and later “out” of God’s grace, then only two alternatives are possible: (1) Either the Christian is always “out” of God’s grace, or (2) Else the Christian is always “in”God’s grace. Brother, as you said to me in your letter, “Which side of the coin do you take?”
However, I guess that question is not necessary for you already have told us that “Any concept we hold must be harmonized with the picture in the New Testament that the child of God can constantly stand in a state of grace . . . . ” I emphatically deny that the New Testament teaches that a sinning Christian is “constantly in a state of grace.” Your position is the one that would require perfect practice, since you expect to receive forgiveness of sins, of which sins you neither have repented nor confessed. Such a promise God has never made to us. The passages which you cite certainly do not prove your contention. The Baptists call the position you have taken, “once in grace, always in grace;” “once saved, always saved;” “the security of the believer;” “the perseverance of the saints;” or “the impossibility of apostasy.” But call it whatever you will brother, it still is a false doctrine!
You cite Rom. 5:1 as proof that a Christian is “constantly in a state of grace.” What does Rom. 5:1 say? “Being therefore justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Did any of you see anything in that passage about being “constantly in a state of grace’,’? If you did, you saw something in it I did not see. I think our brother is referring to the fact that we can have “peace with God,” and if he has to worry daily about whether he is right with God or not, he would not have any peace. The very next verses speak of the necessity of being “steadfast” (Rom. 5:25). Does an unsteadfast Christian remain “constantly in the grace of God?” Brother, if you will go down the street and talk to just nearly any Baptist preacher, he will give you better passages to prove your “once in grace, always in grace” doctrine.
You also cited Rom. 8:1 as proof that the Christian remains “constantly in a state of grace.” So let us read it also. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.” My, how the Baptists like that passage! But just like the Baptists, my brother, you fail to note that those for whom there is “now no condemnation” are those “who walk not after the flesh. but after the Spirit.”
And you cite Col. 1:1, 2 to prove that the Christian can “constantly stand in a state of grace.” So let us read this passage also. Paul said, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus through the will of God, and Timothy our brother, to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ that are at Colosse: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.” Was that really the verse you intended to use? These that remained in the favor (grace) of God were the ‘faithful brethren in Christ.”.Your position necessitates that you prove that the unfaithful brethren also remain “constantly in a state of grace.” If your Baptist doctrine is so, reckon why Paul told these same people in Col. 1:23, “if so be that ye continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel which ye heard . . .”? The book of Colossians certainly does not prove that a Christian remains “constantly in a state of grace.” And incidentally, one must wonder why Paul and Barnabas exhorted the brethren “to continue in the grace of God” (Acts 13:43), if indeed a Christian is “constantly in a state of grace.”
Our Discussion in Conroe
In the lengthy discussion with this brother and some others who came with him, and involving Brother Cogdill and myself, we tried to show them the consequence of the position they were taking. Some of these brethren were affirming that a person could sin, and never repent of it, never confess it, and never ask God’s forgiveness and still remain “in the grace of God.” They were speaking here of just two kinds of sins: one group they called “sins of ignorance,” and the other group they called “sins that result from the weakness of the flesh.” Those two categories would include most of my sins! These brethren tried to convince us that the word “cleanseth” in 1 Jno. 1:7 implies continuous action. Both Brother Cogdill and I already knew that. These brethren cite the same passages, and with the same enthusiasm, as a young Baptist preacher fresh out of Seminary. The word “cleanseth” in 1 John 1:7 is from the verb katharizei, and is in the present tense, thus indicating that it is a constant process, conditioned on our walking in the light. But there is another word these brethren need to consider in the same context. In 1 John 1:9, John said: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It should also be noted that the word translated “confess” is from a present active subjunctive, thus it literally means, “If we keep on confessing our sins . . . . “What the Bible teaches is that “if we keep on confessing our sins, ” then He “keeps on cleansing us.”
But these passages do not help the cause of these brethren any. Their position necessitates that they prove that a man who does not confess his sins, does not repent of his sins, and does not ask God’s forgiveness of these “sins of ignorance” and “sins that result from the weakness of the flesh” nonetheless continues to enjoy the cleansing power of Christ’s blood. Brethren, if this doctrine be so, it is but another cheap form of the Calvinistic doctrine of “unconditional grace.” The Calvinists teach that without regard to the character or life of the “elect,” God nonetheless bestows upon them His grace, and regardless of how they live afterward, they are “always in grace.” I would like to hear these brethren explain to anybody how God unconditionally can bestow His cleansing grace upon the Christian. but then explain why this same God cannot unconditionally bestow His grace upon the alien sinner! These brethren have espoused Calvinism, and evidently do not know it yet.
In an effort to show those three preaching brethren the consequence of their “constantly in the grace of God” position, we posed for them some questions, which we would ask any Baptist preacher who took the same position. I asked, “If a Christian got drunk, and died drunk, would God save him anyway?” Would you believe that a gospel preacher unhesitatingly answered, “Yes.” So I thought I would try him again. I then asked, “If a Christian committed fornication. and died in the act of fornication, would God save him anyway?” And once again, without a moment’s hesitation, this 30 or 35 year old gospel preacher said, “Yes.” When we began then to show them the absurdity of what he had admitted, he explained that he meant that this drunk Christian or this fornicating Christian would be saved, Aif his heart is right.” Now all I need to know in order to understand this Baptist position which some of our brethren have espoused is for someone to explain to me how a Christian gets drunk and commits fornication while “his heart is right!” I need a little help on that, brethren. And a certain Baytown, Texas preacher also needs some help in explaining that. To be fair, I must report that the brother whose letters I have been examining in this article, and who had declared that the Christian “constantly” stands “in a state of grace” immediately repudiated the position into which his co-defender had been pressed. But when he did so, he logically forfeited his position of God bestowing His grace unconditionally upon the Christian when he sins, if the sin happens to be a “sin of ignorance” or one that “results from the weakness of the flesh.”
Now before we could get down to the conclusions and show the absurdity of the position being advocated, we had to spend many hours talking about the fellow who exceeds the speed limit by one mile per hour, and one second later drops dead. We had to discuss whether there was anything we did not know, or if it could be possible that there is anything upon which we might be wrong. What was all of this preliminary fencing about? Well, some of these brethren, like Brother Edward Fudge, also are trying to find some ground upon which to argue that people who are “ignorant” of the fact that instrumental music and institutionalism are wrong can still unconditionally receive the saving grace of God at the Judgment. The concluding step, if they ever can get that far, is this: If such people are going to be received into God’s everlasting fellowship in heaven, it is absurd for us to withhold our fellowship from them hereon earth. You may get plenty tired of hearing me tell you that this is where these brethren are headed. If so, then I suggest that you hang around a while and see whether I was right or not. You have heard the old aphorism, “Give him an inch, and he will take a mile.”Well, these brethren are trying; by every means they can think of, just to get that first inch. Once they have gotten the first inch, they think “the mile” is all thereafter a downhill pull. There are a host of brethren who are determined to contest even that first inch, and who certainly do not intend to concede them the mile they seek.
As most of you who have read what I have written through the years very likely already know, I do not like imprecise articles. However, in the preceding article I have not identified the brethren of whom I am speaking. I presume the reason why I have not done so is because of a “weakness of the flesh.” One of the brethren involved happens to be a particularly close friend of mine, and a brother for whom I have had very high regard. But I do not think it is fair for me to write such an article without identifying the brethren of whom I speak, and the Lord knows that I do not do so out of any malicious intent toward either of these brethren. The brother whose letters I quoted at length is Brother Lindy McDaniel, and the brother who said a Christian who died drunk or in the act of fornication would still be saved by the grace of God, Aif his heart is right” was Brother Maurice Cornelius of Baytown, Texas.
Just for the sake of public information, let me also state just now that as a result of these discussions with Brother Lindy McDaniel it was decided that the Cogdill Foundation no longer would publish Pitching For the Master. It also should be added that Brother McDaniel concurred in our decision that his paper should no longer be published by the Cogdill Foundation. Several times before, I have felt the necessity to tell Brother McDaniel that the Cogdill Foundation did not intend to publish two papers, one going in one direction, and the other going in another direction. When it became evident that this unwanted condition was going to exist, we had no alternative but to disassociate the Cogdill Foundation from Pitching For the Master. Lindy McDaniel I still consider to be a friend, but I can no more countenance what I believe to be “pernicious error” taught by him than I could if the same error were taught by Edward Fudge, Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, or the “Pastor” of the First Baptist Church.
(Closing Note: Since much of what I have said in this article resulted from lengthy conversations in the home of Brother Roy Cogdill, I sent this article to him for his careful scrutiny, lest I should have misrepresented some point, either by misunderstanding or remembering incorrectly. Brother Cogdill replied: “That is just exactly the way I remember it.”)
Truth Magazine, XVIII:29, p. 3-7
May 23, 1974