The preacher and the lawyer talk frankly about the “deep” question of “imputed salvation,” and inquire who is eligible.
“Good afternoon, Doctor,” cheerfully exclaimed the young attorney. “Here I come again for further enlightenment on the deep subjects involved in eternal security. I find them tremendously interesting, and facing me with something of a challenge. However, this matter of ‘imputed salvation,’ has me guessing. I am eager to have you explain it to me.”
The young man tossed his hat upon a box of books, and familiarly seated himself in a chair. He pulled a well worn copy of the Bible from his pocket, and waited expectantly for the older man to begin.
“You are, indeed, welcome,” the pastor said. “It is a pleasure to review these matters with you. It refreshes my own mind to explore again these old familiar truths. It is a bit thrilling to find one keenly interested in them.”
As he spoke, he picked up several copies of the Bible in various versions, and laid them in an array about him, like a surgeon laying out his tools in preparation for a delicate operation.
“I believe,” he said, “that we are to discuss the matter of the imputation of the salvation merits of our Lord’s death, in contradistinction to the impartation of such merit.
“The word ‘impute’ in religious phraseology, signifies to credit one with grace, favor, standing and salvation unconditionally. This is accomplished through, and by means of the unmerited benefits of Christ’s atonement. The recipient does nothing, is not required to do anything, and indeed, in the case of some classes, which we will mention later, is unconscious of the royal favor.
“‘Impart,’ means to bestow upon one, in response to his fulfillment of certain conditions, mercy, forgiveness, regeneration and cleansing. This bestowment transforms his very being. Thus the Apostle Peter says that through faith in the mighty promises of God, we are `made partakers of the divine nature.’ Also in John’s gospel it states, that ‘as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God.’
“The ‘imputation’ or unconditional bestowment of God’s mercy and favor is accorded to three classes: the innocent, the imbecilic and the ignorant. Being a preacher, I naturally love my ‘firstly,’ ‘secondly,’ and ‘thirdly.’ With your permission, let us consider these classes in that manner.
“Firstly, the innocent. This class is almost wholly confined to infants. Christ’s unconditional eternal life is accorded every baby, the world around, from the hour of its birth, till it reaches the years of moral accountability. If it dies during that time, it already possesses every essential feature of spiritual safety, or if lacking in any, such will be added to it, as it enters eternity, This is taught and inferred by such expressions as our Lord used when He said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Also `Their angels do always behold the face of my Father.’
“However,” continued the doctor, “we must be careful to insist that this imputed, unconditional acceptance with God, so freely bestowed upon innocent children is lost to them, when, after reaching the years of moral accountability, they deliberately sin against God. This is what Paul’s classical expression in Romans 7:9 means, where he says, ‘I was alive without the law, once; but when the commandment came,’ that is, when he arrived at the period of moral responsibility, `sin revived, and I died.’ He evidently refers to his infantile justification. This he lost when the power of choice came, as he faced the requirements of God’s law, for he chose to sin. This is the fate of all human beings; first, they are innocent children possessed of eternal life through Christ’s imputed favor, and then they become backsliders because they sinned, when moral accountability arrived. If a child can be led into a conscious faith in Christ, thus resulting in its regeneration, at this critical period, it can pass at once from imputed spiritual safety to imparted salvation. It can become, through conscious faith a partaker of the divine nature. The poverty, not to say the madness, of the position of the eternal security people, is manifested when they deal with this question of innocents. The historic position of classical Calvinism is that all tiny children are damned in hell because, forsooth, they were unable to exercise conscious faith in Christ. One of their outstanding authors has been quoted as saying that ‘there are millions of infants in hell not a span long.’
“This position is nothing else than atrocious. It is a blasphemous reflection upon the wisdom, the mercy and the justice of a glorious heavenly Father. ‘Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?’ inquired Abraham, when he was pleading for mercy upon the vile inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. Well might we make the same inquiry, when we consider the diabolic deity that the full-fledged Calvinistic theory requires us to substitute for our loving, merciful heavenly Father.
“And now,” declared the man of God, “let us consider my secondly. That is, the imbecilic. This includes the insane, the feeble-minded and the idiotic, This is only an extension of innocence when such mental defect exists in infancy and continues on into adult age. If, however, it appears in one after he has reached the years of accountability, then, if he were in a conscious state of salvation, such a saved relationship justly continues. If, however, he had up to that point rejected the overtures of the gospel, and were in a lost condition, then such an absence of salvation continues to be his lot, on, even, into eternity, just as though he had literally died.”
The pastor paused.
The attorney drew his breath with an audible sigh, however, his eyes were bright with thought.
“There’s vastly more to this, than I supposed,” he declared. “This discussion is leading us much farther than I ever imagined it would. But, now for that ‘thirdly’ of yours, the ‘ignorant.’ I am keenly curious about that. What can you make out for them?”
The old doctor smiled. “Very well,” said he, “let us try the ‘thirdly.’ This is about the way we will state it: ‘To what extent are the unconditional merits of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ imputed to the ignorant?’
“It is perfectly safe to state that no human being will be held guilty to the extent of losing his soul for the violation of any divine requirement of which he was ignorant. We realize that this must be carefully guarded against willful ignorance. If a person can know and fails to avail himself of the opportunity either through careless neglect or willful refusal, he is guilty. The ignorance that receives the unconditional merits of Jesus’ atonement must stand only for unintentional, unwitting, inability to know any better.
“Ah,” exclaimed the attorney. “This, I see, brings us to a consideration of the moral condition of the heathen. Millions of them are ignorant. Now indeed, I am interested. Are they all damned or are they saved through ignorance?”
“Yes, indeed,” stated the pastor, “this is interesting. Let us discuss the heathen. Let us apply our above statement to a group of human beings situated as many heathen are, in gross superstition; in helpless mental and moral darkness. However, it must be remembered, that even these have a moiety of moral light, This is undoubtedly taught in Scripture where it says that there is ‘a light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world.’ Probably this refers to conscience, but it must also refer to that slight moral illumination which every sane, adult human being receives about the outstanding fundamentals of right and wrong. This is stated in Romans 1:19 and 20: ‘Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath showed it unto them, for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.’ That is, every tribe and race of people recognize that it is wrong, most of the time, to steal and to kill. They may think it permissible some of the time, but they admit that most of the time it is wrong to take human life, and to refuse to others the right to their own property. This is universal. If therefore, a heathen can be found who is living up to all the dim light that conscience and this faint moral illumination sheds on his path, he comes under the unconditional merits of the atonement on account of his ignorance of any higher and better will of God. He will not be condemned to the point of losing his soul, for what he doesn’t know, provided he is living faithfully up to the degree of light he does know about. It is, of course, painfully true, that few, if any, such heathen have ever been found. But, if they exist, they possess eternal life through the imputed merits of the blood of Jesus Christ.
“In this same class with the heathen, we can place people in civilized lands who have never heard the gospel, or who have never been privileged to hear the genuine gospel. If they are living up to the dim light of conscience and moral duty that has been accorded them, they will not be condemned and consigned to perdition for the unconscious and unintentional violation of the requirements of God, concerning which they have no knowledge. We must assume, however, that they have done their best to secure a more complete revelation of His will. If they have done that, the merits of Christ are imputed to them because of their ignorance.
“The second class are Christians. Despite the fact that one has with willing submissive faith, given his heart to God and is living up to all the light of the gospel that is falling on his path, still it is true that the complete will of the great God is so perfect, and so far transcends the poor human conceptions of mankind, that one is literally unable to know all the perfect requirements of his heavenly Father. However, beyond what he is able to know, and completing and fulfilling that which is above his reach, the perfect merits of Christ, His life, death and resurrection, are imputed to that sincere Christian’s credit. However, this is true only as long as he is walking in all the light that he does know about. This imputation of Christ’s merits is conditioned upon sincere obedience to all the requirements that he does know. The moment that he deliberately declines, or refuses or neglects to walk in that gospel and spiritual light that is accorded him, he will lose the benefits of all that imputed perfect merit of our Lord which are his for the fulfillment of the infinite requirements of God’s holy will. This applies only to those things that he does not and cannot know about. For all of his unintentional moral and spiritual defects, for all of his unwitting shortcomings, for all of his failure to measure up to the infinite and absolutely perfect will of God, he is accorded the unconditional merits of the perfect atonement, perfect obedience and perfect service of our divine Lord. But for this, no Christian could stand accepted before God.”
“I must admit,” smilingly spoke the young man of the law, “that your arguments sound convincing. But where can you find the Scripture to warrant this view? ‘To the law and the testimony,’ my reverend friend!” he cried, gaily.
“You are right,” answered the minister. “We should refuse to accept any religious doctrine that cannot be reasonably proved from the Bible, and that, too, without wresting the natural meaning of it.
“The Scriptures covering the imputation of eternal life to infants I have already given you. Those applying to the heathen and, in fact, all others who are accepted on account of ignorance, are pretty well covered by Paul’s statement in Romans 2:11,12,14, and 15. This is the way it reads: ‘For there is no respect of persons with God, for as many as have sinned without the law, shall also perish without the law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law. For when the Gentiles who have not the law do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law are a law unto themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or excusing one another, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men.’
“The principle laid down here by the apostle applies not only to the heathen, but to every one. Its application to the Christian calls for this — that God requires every believer to do his best to live up to all the light that he has, and to make as diligent an effort as he is capable of to acquire more light, and to obey all of our Lord’s commandments of which he has, or may have knowledge, but beyond that He will not hold him accountable for divine requirements concerning which he is ignorant. As long as he walks in the light, Christ becomes his eternal security.”
The young attorney sat as if lost in meditation. Finally, he lifted his thoughtful face and said, “But, Doctor, I have a dim recollection that the Master once said something about a man who knew what was wrong and yet practiced it; he was beaten, as I recall it, with many stripes; and of another who did not know and yet did the wrong thing, he was beaten with few. Is there not something like that in the New Testament? If so, how do you fit that into your idea that a man will not be punished for things concerning which he is ignorant?”
“You are right. But please remember we do not mean to say the ignorant one will not be punished at all; we allege only, that he will not be eternally lost. The passage that you refer to is in St. Luke, the 12th chapter and the 47th and 48th verses. Please read it.”
“‘And that servant which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not and did commit things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes.'”
“Now,” said the doctor, “you will notice that this is uttered in connection with a preparation for the second coming of our Lord, and the use of the word ‘servant,’ would indicate that the one referred to was a believer — a Christian. In other words, this first servant is the case of one who failed to walk in all the light he possessed; that is, light on the return of Jesus to this earth; and he was, in consequence, soundly punished. Indeed, his punishment was extreme. It consisted, so the text states, of being cast out from the company of the believers, and as Matthew puts it, assigned to the ‘hypocrites.’ This significant addition is also made: ‘there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ In other words, he lost his soul, his disobedience was fatal.
“But the second one who did not know, and yet committed things worthy of stripes, was, it states, beaten with few. We admit that he was beaten; there is no question as to his punishment. But you will notice that he was not cast out. That is, he was not eternally damned. His punishment consisted of some sort of penalty visited upon him in this life, or possibly a loss of rewards in the life to come; but it was not eternal death. Possibly the penalty in this life would be the absence of the many blessings that knowledge and obedience in connection with Christ’s return would have brought him. Possibly the penalty in the world to come might consist of failure to possess as worthy a position near the person of the King or at the Lamb’s marriage supper as otherwise would have been accorded. At all events we allege that he was not eternally lost.
“And this leads me to say,” continued the elderly man, “I feel sure that all disobedience subjects the disobedient one to some sort of loss and penalty, even though it was done in ignorance. But the Scriptures teach, I believe, that whatever that penalty is, it will not exclude the sincere, though ignorant one, from heaven and final acceptance with God.”
“Well, well, I must admit,” said the young man, “I have received light on some matters that I never had before. Surely you have taken me for an excursion today that has been both illuminating and profitable. But,” he exclaimed, looking at his watch, and springing to his feet, “I have overstayed my proposed time. Pardon me for keeping you so long from your other duties. But you have this to your credit that you have just about completely knocked my eternal security ideas into thin air.”
“It has been, I am sure, a great pleasure to me to have you come,” heartily replied his host. “Have you other questions? If you have matters upon which you wish a further discussion, do not hesitate to come again.”