Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.—Hebrews 6:1-2
Last Sunday our subject was “Perfection” as defined in the Scriptures. Today we will consider the foundational principles which everyone must have before he can “go on to perfection.” Last Sunday it was the building; today it is the foundation which the building leaves without forsaking. Last Sunday it was the tree; today it is the root which the tree leaves without forsaking. Last Sunday it was the literature; today it is the alphabet which every writer leaves without forsaking. He is no longer learning his alphabet, but he cannot write a sentence without his alphabet. Last Sunday it was the music; today it is the scale, which every musician leaves without forsaking. He has ceased to learn the scale, but he cannot sing the simplest songs without the scale. Today let us look at the foundation of the building, the root of the tree, the alphabet of the literature, the scale of the music. In other words the foundational things which every Christian must have before he can even make the start toward perfection, and which, if he has, he is certain to go on to perfection at a rapid pace.
The text gives us six foundational principles and a seventh by fair inference. We have (1) a foundational experience, (2) a foundational attitude, (3) a foundational disposition, (4) a foundational equipment, (5) a foundational faith, (6) a foundational expectation and (7) a foundational necessity.
A Foundational Experience.
A foundational experience is in the words “Repentance from dead works.” It is not repentance from sin. Sin is not a dead work, but rather a work that kills. It is the assassin which by slow poison or by dagger thrust murders the soul. A dead work is a work upon the merit of which one depends for salvation apart from Jesus Christ. It is dead because it is separated from the source of all spiritual life. The man who depends upon his character as the ground of justification before God while he declares that he has no need of an atoning Saviour is relying upon a dead work, dead because it is a character without the life of God in it. The man who depends upon salvation through baptism or any other external ordinance is trusting to a dead work. The fruit of the Spirit grows upon the tree of grace. Dead works are like wax fruits manufactured and hung upon a tree. They look like fruit but they are not, because they lack the life of the tree. They are mere imitations of life.
After one has repented of sin that kills, the adversary seeks to induce him to rely upon works that are dead, in order to prevent him from trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ who makes alive and fruitful. Max Muller declares that the difference between Christianity and all other religions is in the fact that Christianity saves by grace and all other religions seek to save by works. Salvation by grace humbles the soul, while salvation by works panders to pride. Salvation by grace gives God the glory, while salvation by works glorifies self. In salvation by works “Christ and him crucified” is displaced by “man and him glorified.” Salvation by grace produces live luscious fruit; salvation by works produces only dead, tasteless imitations of fruit. Even the fruits of the Spirit would become dead works, if depended upon for salvation. “Love, joy and peace” as fruits upon the tree of life are alive and good, but “love, joy and peace” depended upon as our ground of justification before God are dead works. Church membership as the expression of Christ’s life within us is living fruit, but church membership as a basis for salvation is a dead work. “Dead works” is another expression for what is known in theology as legalism, by which is meant that men try to be saved by obeying the law rather than by accepting Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Now if you would go on to perfection, you must get rid of dependence upon any work of your own as a ground of salvation.
A foundational attitude of soul is in the words “faith toward God.” It is the opposite of faith toward works. There can be no growth without this soul attitude toward God. As well try to make a plant grow that never turns its leaves toward the sun. As well seek the development of animal life without the light. It is more than faith toward truth. One may believe that the Bible is the word of God without trusting God for salvation. One may even believe in the deity of Christ without accepting Christ as a Saviour. One may believe in salvation by grace without appropriating grace for his own salvation. Faith toward God in Christ means salvation. Faith toward God the Holy Spirit means power. Faith toward God the Father means sonship and worship. May God save us from faith toward man. We should trust our brethren, but we should not permit hero-worship to take the eyes of the soul from Christ. There were some in Corinth whose faith had turned toward Paul, others toward Apollos, others toward Peter and some would make a partisan leader even of Christ on a level with the rest. But Paul would have none of this human exaltation. He insists that the Christ who died for them is worthy of all honor and He cannot be divided into factions. The man-following spirit is responsible for most of the schisms of Christendom. You have only to mention Dowieism, Sandfordism, Russellism and Eddyism, to be reminded that faith toward men and women rather than toward God is the cause of apostasy. Charles H. Spurgeon said that the word “Spurgeonites” was the most repulsive word he had ever heard and “Moodyite” was an offense to Mr. Moody’s soul. These partisan appellations contract rather than expand the soul and prevent us from going on to perfection. If we can preserve the habitual attitude of faith toward God in Christ we will be in Christ and the spiritual body of Christ will grow like a tree planted by rivers, bearing fruit in season, and its leaf never withering.
It is said that Michelangelo looked up at the domes of buildings so much that he acquired the upward look wherever he went. God gives us the habit of the upward look toward God and then growth toward perfection will be more rapid.
A foundational disposition is in the words “the doctrine of baptisms.” There may be reference to the ceremonial workings of the Jews or to Christian baptism, perhaps to both. But the underlying meaning is the same in both cases. The Jews practiced these ceremonial washings because they believed that God had commanded them. The Christians practiced baptism because Christ commanded it. The disposition of the soul in both cases was the same, though the disposition of the Christian marked a higher type of spirituality than the disposition of the Jew. In both cases, however, that disposition could be defined as the spirit of obedience. It was a desire to please the one they worshiped and loved. This disposition is essential to Christian growth. Indeed, it is essential to Christianity itself. No one who lacks it is a Christian. If we care not to obey Christ, we have sure proof that we are not Christians. Christ was obedient unto death, and, if we have not the spirit of Christ, we are none of His.
This disposition for the lack of knowledge may show itself in mistaken ways. It may fail to do the exact thing which Christ commanded and may not be excused for ignorance when knowledge is in reach, but the disposition to obedience in the soul is more important than any outward act. A mother told her children to go into the garden and gather some flowers, and the happy laughter which came from the garden was proof that the disposition to obey imposed no burden. Two of the children came into the house with their hands full of brilliant roses, but one little half-witted boy who heard his mother’s request came in with his hands full of weeds and sticks which he had gathered. There were no flowers among them. And yet the mother forgot the bright children with their flowers while she took the half-witted boy in her lap and kissed him and praised him for what he had done. In act he had disobeyed, but in disposition he was obedient. It was the disposition that counted with the mother as she took the handful of weeds and sticks and arranged them for a place on her table beside the flowers. I pray for knowledge that I may understand and strictly obey every command of our Lord, but, if in my weakness and ignorance I bring only weeds and sticks while others bring their flowers, He will not despise the disposition to obey which prompted the act.
A foundational faith is in the words “resurrection of the dead.” Both words in the Greek ware without the article and might be translated resurrection of dead things, whether souls, bodies or institutions. It is fundamental that a Christian believe in resurrection, which means the power of God to give life to the dead. Of course, he believes in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and he does not explain it away by silly talk about suspended animation or merely figurative language. His Lord who was crucified, dead and buried rose from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures. The very body that was laid away in weakness came forth in power. The very body that was entombed a natural body came out a spiritual body, not a spiritual spirit, but a real body, although no longer subject to natural law, being ever here-after permeated and dominated by the Spirit. Of course, the Christian believes in the resurrection of his own body. The plants that spring up from the soil, budding and blooming above the grave of his loved one in the Spring time, are to him symbolic of the fact that the dead that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God and shall come forth.
To the Christian who believes in the past resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of the body there is a present resurrection of transcendent importance. There are dead souls all about us and every soul dead to God can be made to pass from death unto life “through the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when He raised him from the dead.” In other words, the resurrection power of God is ready to cooperate with our faith in raising to life every dead soul.
Faith in this almighty power is essential to success in winning souls to Christ. We must avail ourselves of it if we would go on to the perfection of usefulness. There are no hard cases. God can raise to life one dead soul as easily as another. There may be degrees of life, but there are no degrees of death. Every corpse is equally dead. Lazarus was no more dead on the fourth day than he was the minute after the breath left his body. Every bone in Ezekiel’s vision was equally dead and it was, therefore, as impossible to raise one to life as another. But when in response to Ezekiel’s prayer the breath of God came upon them, they were all equally easy of resurrection. The miracle-working resurrection power of God is the one thing we need in order to bring about the salvation of the wickedest man and woman of the city.
A foundational equipment is in the words “laying on of hands.” Beyond doubt this refers to the enduement of the Holy Spirit. The Apostles laid their hands upon people and they received the Holy Spirit. What relation the laying on of hands had to the imparting of the Holy Spirit we are not told. It may have been the method by which the miraculous gift of the Spirit was imparted to others or it may have been in recognition of the fact that the Holy Spirit was already given. As to whether one person today has the power to impart the Holy Spirit to another, we do now know. If it be true, then our difficulty is in finding the person or persons who have such power. There are those who claim the power to impart the Holy Spirit by means of their official position, but their credentials are not satisfactory to most of us. However, we need not spend time in seeking to learn whether or not one may impart the Holy Spirit to another, after we have learned on the authority of God’s word that every Christian may receive the Holy Spirit for himself. The ceremony of imparting may with reason give way to the act of receiving. Jesus said, “If ye being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.” Here the Holy Spirit is offered for the asking. James wrote “Ye have not because ye ask not.” It was while the Apostles were at prayer that the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, not while they were laying hands upon each other. As Jesus Christ is the gift of God for salvation, so the Holy Spirit is the gift of God for power. The sinner needs no intermediary in receiving Christ for salvation and the church needs no intermediary in receiving the Spirit for power. For power in service it is foundational and fundamental that we pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit and receive the gift by faith. Without this enduement of the Spirit we will make slow progress toward perfection.
A foundational expectation is in the words “eternal judgment.” “Judgment” may mean a decree for us or against us, though its usual meaning is a decree of condemnation. Judgment for the penitent believer is eternal and judgment against the impenitent sinner is eternal. Certainly there is no teaching that either decree will be revoked after death. But what has my faith in eternal salvation for the righteous and eternal condemnation for the wicked to do with the perfecting of Christian character? Much every way. The man who believes that the destinies of men are not settled in this life, but that they will have another chance after death lacks incentive to earnestness in living or working for the salvation of others. If I can repent in the future, why not eat, drink and be merry here, if I feel so inclined? If my friends may be saved after death, why should I be earnestly concerned about them now? The doctrine of future restoration is paralysis to Christian earnestness, while it is an opiate for the conscience of the man who wants to live in sin. It proves a shallow surface view of sin and holiness. It would comfort with a false hope some whose loved ones have died in unbelief at the risk of damning thousands who ought to repent and turn to God today.
A foundational necessity is, by fair inference, at the bottom of all this. It is a two-fold necessity. First, if we would “go on to perfection,” we must have these elemental and essential things. We must have an experience of salvation by grace; we must live with the attitude of faith toward God; we must have the disposition to obedience; we must be endued with the Holy Spirit; we must exercise faith in the resurrection power of God; and we must be influenced by the expectation of eternal judgment for saint and against sinners. Let us see to it that we have this foundation before we try to build, this alphabet before we try to write a literature of Christian life, this musical scale before we seek to compose the songs of life.
A second necessity is that, having the foundation, the alphabet, the scale, we should begin at once and persevere in erecting the building, writing the literature and composing the songs. More than twenty-five years ago the foundation of the great Roman Catholic cathedral in Brooklyn was laid and the foundation covered with grass is still there without a building. It is suggestive of failures to every passer-by. Some children have learned their alphabets and then refused to study, their ignorant illiteracy a reproach to them and their parents. Some have learned the musical scale and then ceased their efforts, willing to remain ignorant of music. Is our religious experience like a foundation without a superstructure, like a book all alphabet and no literature, like a musical composition all scale and no harmonies? Hear the command “Go on to perfection.” Run toward the goal; if you cannot run, walk; if you cannot walk, creep or crawl. But “go on.” Begin with what you are and have. Do not wait for more before you begin to seek the best. An artist spent years looking for a piece of wood out of which to carve an image and after searching the country for it, he found just what he needed, hard, smooth and rich-grained, lying neglected in his back yard. A farmer’s son went to college and studied mining engineering. He was offered a position at a salary of twenty-five dollars a week, but refused saying that he intended to gain a fortune by discovering a rich mine. He went West and worked for years in search of his rich mine with an income less than twenty-five dollars a week, and returned home discouraged, to find that his younger brother, sitting one day on a stone in the shade of a tree, noticed that in the stone were some little white particles unlike the rest of it. He had the stone tested and found that it was in index to a great silver mine on the old farm which enriched the family. Let us begin where we are with the common places of life and seek to make out of them, the best we can. Do not make the mistake of gazing at the stars a million miles away and falling into the ditch at your feet. Do not forget the stars, but look at the ditch. In its gravelly bottom may be a fortune for you. The stars will keep. We may reach them best by way of the ditch. I would not “hitch my wagon to a star,” for stars were not made to guide or hold wagons, but I would try to make my old wagon the star wagon in the neighborhood. Use commonplace things for God. Invest your own every day common life for His glory and see if He does not pay interest in your transfigured character.
As Christians should begin at once with what they have and “go on to perfection,” so every sinner should begin at once with what he has and become a Christian. First he can make a beginning with his sins. If he is honest, he will not have to go far to find them. Make an inventory of them before God and ask Him to forgive them for the sake of Christ. You may not know much about Christ. Perhaps you have been taught to believe that He is not divine. I will not stop to argue with you, though I think the argument is strong enough to convince an unbiased mind. Begin on the sure foundation that you are a sinner and need salvation. Then confess your sins to God and accept the Christ you know as the sin bearer. He will do the rest. I promise you that, if you will make an honest confession of your sins and accept the Christ you know as Saviour, you will then have revealed to you the full-orbed Christ as He is. A pastor in New York urged an intellectual but dissipated man in his parish to become a Christian. The man replied: “I cannot believe in the inspiration of the Bible, in the deity of Christ or in prayer.” “Do you believe in your own sins?” asked the preacher. “O yes,” replied the honest soul, “there is no doubt about my being a sinner and sometimes I am in hell.” “Are you willing to bring your sins to Christ for forgiveness and let Him, whatever you may think of Him, take your guilt?” “But,” he said, “I can’t believe in the inspiration of the Bible, in the deity of Christ or in prayer.” “Just now,” persisted the earnest pastor, “I am not asking you to believe those things. You know you are a sinner and in sin there is a taste of hell. Now I offer you Jesus Christ as your Saviour from sin. Will you accept Him as such and leave all questions that puzzle you for future solution?” The man went to his home and that night he accepted the Christ he knew as his Saviour and came to the meeting the next night to tell the people the joy of forgiveness which was in his soul. After several days of joyful testimony which led others to Christ, the pastor gently asked, “What do you think now of the deity of Christ?” “Such a Saviour” he replied with great emotion, “must be divine. If He were not divine, He could not have done what He has done for me.” Like the blind man who knew little of Christ, but one thing he did know that, whereas he was once blind, now he could see. Come with your guilt of sin to the Christ you know and receive Him as your Saviour. It will not be long before He will reveal Himself to you in His fullness.