T. PIERCE BROWN
Almost every gospel preacher who is sound in the faith, preaching against false doctrine, has had some false teacher rebuke him, in some cases consigning him to the Stygian pits of darkness for judging. Many of us have written articles or preached sermons showing the difference in the kinds of judging God condemned and the kind He commanded.
This article is to call attention to a different problem that deserves attention. There are a number of brethren like me who think of themselves as sound in the faith. Apparently an increasing number of us do not distinguish between the God given requirement to preach the truth about all subjects and yet leave the final judgment to God.
It was probably naive for me to assume that all sound gospel preachers taught that the final judgment in all situations belongs to God alone. Imagine my surprise when I was handed such a statement with a remark something like this, “Look at that false doctrine! He is claiming that no one can tell whether Billy Graham, Martin Luther or anyone else is going to hell.”
Since I did not agree with his assumption that anyone who says that we must leave all final judgment to God is teaching false doctrine, he accused me of straddling the fence, and upholding false teachers. Apparently that meant that he knew that if I died before I got home, I was also going to hell.
The argument that we can know for sure the final destiny of any person, and therefore have the right, and perhaps the responsibility of announcing it, is apparently based on the following sort of syllogistic reasoning:
Major premise: God clearly reveals that those who preach a different gospel than Paul preached are accursed.
Minor premise: It is clear that Billy Graham preaches a different gospel.
Conclusion: Therefore we know for certain that Billy Graham will be lost eternally.
Aside from the fact that “accursed,” in the major premise and “will be lost eternally,” in the conclusion do not necessarily refer to the same thing (Cf. 21:23, Gal. 3:13), there are other factors involved in the final destiny of a person than whether a person teaches false doctrine. Such things as a man’s ability, opportunity, motive, knowledge, etc. are included in God’s final decision. Since he alone knows all the factors, and how much weight each one should have, it is pure arrogant assumption to announce that you know all about it.
That attitude may be part of the reason that many among us are turning against such arrogance and presumption, and going to the other extreme, teaching that one cannot know the truth that God has revealed, so one doctrine is just as valid or good as another. It is one thing to know the truth about what God has revealed in general about the kinds of persons who will be lost, and another thing to assume that you know all the factors that put a specific person in one of those categories.
For those who are not already blinded by arrogance, pride, or self-righteousness, perhaps some illustrations may help to make the point clearer. I am required to preach that all thieves have their part in the lake of fire. Suppose I see a man standing in a jewelry store holding a diamond ring in his hand. He takes a furtive glance at the door from time to time. As soon as the jeweler turns his back, he runs for the door, and gets shot in the back of the head for so doing. I have just preached that all thieves have their part in the lake of fire. I have both the right and responsibility to preach that. Do I have either the right or responsibility to pronounce the final destiny of this man who died in the very act of running out of the store with the diamond in his hand?
The truth is that he saw his wife starting to get on a bus, and was running to get her to look at the ring. The fact that no one ever discovers this, and may legitimately assume that he died as an unrepentant thief does not change the matter. The question is still, “Is it either my right or responsibility to make any statement at all about his final destiny?” Is there any value in my doing so? Is it any part of the gospel truth that we have the privilege and responsibility to preach?
If you do not see that, then deal with this problem: Suppose you believe Shakespeare’s statement, “Who steals my purse steals trash — but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.” Suppose a person stole from me my good name by falsely accusing me of upholding false doctrine because I think all final judgment belongs exclusively to God. After he publishes abroad his false accusations of me, and good, sound, honest brethren lose confidence in me because they trust him, he dies of a heart attack before he corrects his false accusation. Is he going to hell? It appears that John put accusers of the brethren in the same category as the Devil in Revelation 12:10, “For the accuser of our brethren is cast down, who accuseth them before our God day and night.” Is it not clear that the man will most certainly be lost, and I have the right and responsibility to say so?
Surely you can see that is not the case. Even though I might conclude that he deliberately misrepresented and perverted the truth, and even though I have the right to try to correct his error, and even though I have the responsibility to teach what the Bible says about all liars and thieves being cast into the lake of fire, I still do not have the right to state that I know what his final destiny will be.
Even if things got so bad that I say to him, “I think you are going to hell if you do not change your arrogant, self-righteous usurpation of God’s authority,” I still do not have the right to do what he has done and conclude that my assumptions and conclusions based on the evidence I have is equivalent to God’s revelation. My function in preaching the gospel is to condemn sin, edify saints, but not to pass judgment on a particular sinner. I have no hope for the eternal salvation of old King Saul, based on the evidence the Bible gives. That does not mean that I have the right to say, “I know he will be in hell.” Surely anyone who wants to can see that this gives no excuse for offering hope for anyone who teaches false doctrine, or fails to do any thing God requires. Surely anyone can also see that regardless of your conclusion about the certainty of the final destiny of anyone, it is useless and vain, for it will not effect that destiny, whether you are right or wrong.