By Jimmy Tuten
Many times the Bible speaks of removing boundaries (Prov. 22:28; Deut. 19:14; 27:17). Solomon said emphatically, “remove not the old landmark. . .” (Prov. 23: 10). A landmark was considered a sacred thing that helped perpetuate family holdings and was used as a means of protection against deceit, error, and confusion. It might be a rock, a post or a metal stake. Sometimes they get lost, misplaced or obscured. For example, a metal stake in one corner of our property line that the church owns has been determined to be completely engulfed in an oak tree. The tree simply grew around it! We know where the line is, but we can’t see the stake. Therein lies the purpose of a landmark, i.e., to help one know where the boundary is and to help us identify an area where we have liberty. For example, I have the liberty to mow the grass up to the property line between my property and that of my neighbor’s, but no further. He might like me to mow his side of the grass, but I am not at liberty to do so!
When Jehovah sets a landmark n His Word, that means that there are limitations and restrictions attached to it. I have the right and the privilege to move within a certain area of God’s Word, but I cannot tamper with it, nor change what is set. I can move only within the area or boundary set by God (Tit. 2:1; 2 Tim. 1:13).
In 1 Kings 12:28-30 we have the example of Jereboam changing things set by God. He changed relating to the worship of Jehovah: the place of worship (Dan and Bethel), the priesthood, the period of worship and even the object of worship. He should never have moved God’s landmark. Matthew 15 records the fact that the Jews in Christ’s day changed God’s law regarding one’s duty to parents and their devotion to God (“with their lips,” vv. 3-9). Again, stakes were moved. False brethren spied out the liberty of first century Christians by moving God’s boundary regarding circumcision (Acts 15; Gal. 2:1-5).
The fact that there are ancient landmarks of doctrine goes undisputed (Jude 3; Tit. 2: 1). It is obvious though, that some have been converted to and are following landmarks that are really obstructions standing in the middle of the road of truth! The greatest need among our brethren in the area of doctrine is to clear away the rubbish of some current thinking on the original truths of the New Testament! I know that to do so is to bring certain consternation that will shock and disturb us. But some of us need to be jerked into reality when it comes to attitudes toward God’s Word and each other. It is
never right to accuse those who are trying to be faithful with removing ancient landmarks, when they are only taking away later accretions. Regardless of the obscurities that men have placed in the way, we cannot dispense with the truly ancient landmarks of God’s Word. To forsake God’s Word in any area is to forsake the authority behind it (Jn. 12:48; Mk. 7:9).
The Landmark Of Sin And Mercy
There is one area where the process of removing the boundary of sound doctrine is in great suspect. Things that are uncertain in sound regarding sin and mercy are rippling through our ranks with discouraging shockwaves. Some have loosed themselves from the boundary marker of God’s Word and appear to be floundering. The only solution lies in going back to and holding to the pattern of God’s Word. God has definitely driven a stake, or landmark, regarding sin and mercy. The floundering upon the waves of uncertainty comes not from the lack of a landmark about sin, but from our own rationalizations. The landmark appears obscured and hidden to some, but it is there nonetheless. Some have simply failed to hold to it.
In 1953 1 sat in a class taught by Homer Hailey. We were discussing the “way that is right and cannot be wrong” concept as opposed to what “appeared reasonable, though uncertain. ” What he said was so deeply burned into my mind that I have never forgotten it, nor strayed from it: “Boys,” he said, “when you find yourself wandering in the area of uncertainty, always come back to the stake of what God has said and you will never believe nor teach false doctrine. ” That advice needs to be passed on. I say with no intended disrespect toward any preacher: there are some who need to go back to the landmark about sin that God set 1,900 years ago. I am hearing things about sin and mercy that cannot be found in the Word of God! Some of these things may sound reasonable, but are they scriptural? I judge no man, butfrom what I am heating ancient landmarks are being uprooted, even though pleas of “that’s not what I mean ” are being heard. If some of our preaching brethren do not believe what they are saying, then they should not say it! The precious body of Christ must not be ruptured by statements and cliches that are divisive, regardless of our right to say them. Brethren, I beg you and I implore you, place your hand on the stake of God’s teaching about sin and forgiveness, and desist from making the reasonableness of certain conclusions that are questionable disruptive to our peace and harmony. Look with me at God’s teaching (an ancient landmark) concerning sin. Can we alter or move the stake?
Sin And Forgiveness According To The Bible
(1) What Sin Is And Is Not. The definition, “missing the mark,” generally defines sin. The Bible describes it as “all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 5:17) and “lawlessness,” or being without law (1 Jn. 3:4). While there is a great deal said about “sins of weakness,” all sin reflects weakness (cf. Gal. 6:1, “overtaken”; 1 Cor. 3:3, “manner of men”; 1 Jn. 2:16, “lust,” etc.), there are sins of omission (Jas. 4:17) and comission (Rom. 7:14-25). The Bible speaks of rebellious sins that would involve unrighteousness, lawlessness and commission (Heb. 10:26). Sins of ignorance (1 Tim. 1: 13) and violations of conscience are likewise categories of sin (Rom. 14:23). But nowhere does the Bible speak of sin as depravity, nor due to depravity though some brethren border this concept in that they teach “a Christian will sin daily” (cf. 1 Jn. 2:1-2). Too, the New Testament does not speak of “momentary sins,” “minor sins,” “everyday sins,” or “incidental faults.” To speak of sin as “incidental” or a “good deed left undone because of circumstances beyond our control” is to remove an ancient landmark (Vanguard, Vol. 8, No. 3, p. 19).
(2) The Consequences of Sin. Sin alienates (Eph. 4:18), causes one to be “dead” (Eph. 2:1,5), and separates from God (Isa. 59:2). One may not understand when a sin separates (1 Jn. 1:8), or how a sin (darkness) can exist while one walks in the light (1 Jn. 1:7-9), or even how long mercy is extended between the time we commit a sin and the time we confess it, but his lack of understanding gives no right to advocate that some sins do not separate. This would be removing the landmark!
(3) Attitudes Toward Sin. God hates sin because He is light (1 Jn. 1:5), He is just (Rom. 3:26) and His very nature causes Him to disapprove of evil (Hab. 1: 13). Since God Almighty hates wickedness (Psa. 11:5), should we not hate it as well (Psa. 119:104)? Do we really understand that the very nature of God causes Him to be grieved when we sin (Psa. 95: 10)? Can we not see that we are to walk in the light even as He is in the light (1 Jn. 1:5-7) and that we are to be holy like the Father (I Pet. 1: 15)? Why then do some minimize sin with speculative reasoning? Our attitude toward sin should be to abhor it and abstain from every form of evil (Rom. 12:9; 1 Thess. 5:22). This “even as he sins” business that we are hearing so much advocates automatic coverage of certain sins (ignorance and weakness) committed by the Christian. This is the removing of a landmark. God forbid!
(4) One Sin Condemns. If one sin that is not forgiven by repentance and confession (conditions that God has laid down) does not condemn the Christian, then please tell me: how many must I commit before I am condemned? Are we going to use a pen knife on James 2: 10? Are we going to ignore the one sin condemnation of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8), etc.? There is not a man alive who has the right to say that God will not condemn a Christian over one sin. To do so is to tamper with ancient landmarks.
(5) The Solution For Sin. “He that covereth his transgressions, shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsiketh them shall obtain mercy” (Prov. 28:13). Blessed indeed is the man “whose iniquities are forgiven” (Rom. 4:7-8). God has driven two markers or stakes regarding the boundary of forgiveness for the alien sinner and the Christian who errs. He tells the alien to believe on His Son (Jn. 3:16), to repent of his sins (Acts 17:30), to confess with his mouth his faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 10:10), and to be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). This is what God says and I preach it regardless of the reasonableness of God showing mercy to the alien who dies on the way to the creek before he is actually immersed! God has not given me the right to say that He saves the person who sincerely tries to do God’s will but somehowfails to do so! Whether Jehovah does or does not extend mercy in this situation is the business of Deity and I will not remove the ancient landmark by postulating my opinion.
When it comes to the Christian, I know that he is not perfect (and all that is implied therein) because God says so (1 Jn. 1: 10). I know, too, that I do not have to sin because by Bible says so (1 Jn. 2: 1). I am not perfect, so if I sin I have an Advocate (1 Jn. 2: 1). That Advocate says I must confess my sin to be forgiven (1 Jn. 1:9). Just because I do not understand how specific or detailed repentance and confession must be does not give me the right to say that the Christian cannot confess all his sins. This is removing a landmark! It is straying beyond the boundary. This business that some Christians’ .sins are automatically covered by the grace of God without repentance, confession and prayer, i.e., instantaneously and constantly cleansed unconditionally (the only condition being “walking in the light,” which to some simply means a “penitent attitude”) tends to: (a) minimize sin, (b) give a false assurance to the Christian as he sins, and (c) will lead to fellowshipping Christians who practice doctrinal error such as instrumental music in worship, etc.
At the risk of being redundant let me say as emphatically as possible that God has not revealed what He will do with the Christian who dies while guilty of some sin of ignorance before and without repentance for that sin in some given hypothetical case. Those who are uprooting landmarks in this area have no right to say that the well intentioned will be saved even as he sins. Nor do I (as one who is in opposition to that position) have the right to say that God will show him no mercy in the judgment. Let’s leave the landmarks where God placed them!
I think a lot of the confusion would be eliminated if our brethren who have been criticized for saying what they claim they do not believe would be more careful in what they say. I feel that their love for unity and peace obligates them in this area. It is not too late to mend fences by careful, prayerful concern regarding our speech, our attitudes and our brotherliness. Let’s stop confusing the issue with our rationalizations and hypothetical examples. Go back to the stake and remove not the ancient landmarks.
I liken a lot of what has happened to a parable that I am going to call the “Parable of the Watermelon Patch.” Once a certain farmer raised watermelons for a living. Soon, however, a group of boys in the community found the location of his secluded field of fruit, and began raiding the patch. Against his better judgment, the farmer finally agreed to try a plan suggested by a neighbor. He placed a sign at the edge of the field, reading: “one melon in this patch is poisoned.” The next day, when the boys saw the farmer leave for the market, they headed for his melon patch to feast on his luscious fruit that brought such delights to their taste buds. They were startled to read the sign posted outside the enclosure. Just as they were leaving, an idea popped into the mind of one of the boys. He took a piece of chalk from his pocket and altered part of the message. When he finished, the sign read: “two melons in this patch are poisoned.” Laughing hilariously, they left. The farmer returned and found himself in a predicament, for now all the melons were unsafe for use, for he could not be sure which of the melons the boys had contaminated.
Is it interestingly possible that both sides of the current issue under discussion (sin and forgiveness) have made a similar mistake? By agreeing that one of the “spiritual melons” in the Garden of God’s Word was not true, they have made a fatal blunder. One says that the “every , sin must be repented of and confessed” position is a “yo-yo” religion. The other says that the automatic cleansing of the “even as you sin” position gives a false assurance to the Christian as he sins. There is confusion. Who is right? In the story, however, neither the farmer nor the gang of boys had really poisoned the delicious fruit. The analogy holds true for many Bible subjects. Whoever the false teacher is and whatever he says to make his opponent look ridiculous so that he will look right, still does not change God’s Word.
“Boys, when you find yourself wandering in the area of uncertainty, always come back to the stake of what God has said, and you will never believe nor teach false doctrine.” God help us to follow the wisdom, experience and judgment of the sage who gave this advice, for it is biblically founded!
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 4, pp. 104-106
February 21, 1985