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Sermons on Important Subjects
By J. M. Pendleton

Sermon III.
Wresting the Scriptures Destructive.

      * * * Which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. - 2 Peter iii:16.

      The world is under infinite obligations to God for the Bible. It is the book of books. It gives light to those who sit in darkness. It is a lamp to the feet of the traveler to eternity. Those who are guided by its directions go safely to the mansions of glory. As the Bible contains truth without error, it might be supposed that its doctrines would forever escape perversion; for truth should never be perverted. But, alas! owing to their depravity, men sometimes pervert the Word of the living God - pervert it to their ruin. They extract poison from the balm of Gilead. This is a dangerous process; and as it is more common than many imagine, I think it proper to refer to some scriptural truths which men wrest to their own destruction.

      1. The Divinity of Jesus Christ. - Divine titles and perfections are ascribed to Christ. He, while on earth, said: "I and my Father are one." All men are required to "honor the Son even as they honor the Father." The Redeemer never declined

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receiving divine worship. It is true that the eternal Word became a man - took on him the, nature of man. He was truly and properly man. He performed acts which proved him to be God; and also acts which proved him to be man. Men walk, eat, drink, sleep, etc. "What does this indicate? That they have bodies. They think, reason, etc. What does this prove? That they have minds. So Jesus Christ possesses a compound nature. Some of his acts are predicable of his divine, others of his human nature. There are persons, however, who attach a disproportionate importance to those Scriptures which teach Christ's humanity - overlook, in a great measure, those which assert his divinity - and thus, "handling the Word of God deceitfully," they pervert the doctrine of the Deity of Christ. They persuade themselves that it is an untaught doctrine. This they can not do without perverting the Scriptures, and the perversion leads to destruction. Is this not plain? No man, strictly speaking, believes in Christ who does not believe in him as his character is made known in the Scriptures. And as faith in Christ is indispensable to salvation, it is manifest that, as he is a divine being, those who do not believe in him as divine, wrest the Scriptures (which speak of his divinity) to their own destruction. I can not conceive how any man can be saved by Christ who does not rely on him as divine. Christ must be divine to be competent to save, and he must be trusted in his true character. Can he who believes
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that Jesus is a mere man or angel be saved by him? Assuredly not. To take the opposite view is to attach importance to faith abstracted from what is believed. But the importance of faith must arise from the importance of the truth believed. Salvation is in Christ alone. Christ is God. It follows, therefore, that those who pervert the Scriptures pertaining to his divinity do so to their destruction. So awful is the perversion that it precludes the possibility of salvation.

      2. The expiatory nature of the Redeemer's death. - This topic is intimately connected with the preceding. Those perverting either of the doctrines generally pervert the other. Jesus certainly died to make an atonement for sin. The Bible can not be explained on any other supposition. What is to be done with such passages as these: "He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath lain on him the iniquity of us all." "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood." "Once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." The Scriptures do not teach more evidently that Christ died than that he died to expiate sin. His death was a sacrificial death. Hia agonies were atoning agonies. His blood was expiatory blood. The atonement of Christ furnishes

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the only reasons why God can forgive sins. Transgressions can be blotted out, because the Savior was delivered for our offenses. There can be a release from the penalty of the law, because Christ was made a curse for us. All hope of a sinner's salvation is traceable to the Cross. The light that dawns on man's darkness comes from Calvary alone. Now, if men suppose that Jesus did not die to make atonement, or that God can forgive sins without respect to Christ's atonement, they must wrest all the Scriptures that refer to these topics. And they do so to their own destruction. Those who repudiate the idea of expiation of sin can not rely on the atonement of Christ; nor can those who suppose that God can pardon sin irrespectively of the Redeemer's sacrifice. God saves only through the atoning merits of his Son. Those, therefore, who pervert the Scriptures pertaining to Christ's expiatory death, secure their own destruction. The perversion is such as to cut off all hope of salvation.

      3. The purposes of God. - Jehovah is a being of purpose. It is his purpose to "bring many sons to glory." It is his purpose to punish with everlasting destruction all who know him not, and obey not the gospel of Jesus Christ. But how often do we hear it said: "If it is God's purpose to save me, I shall be saved; if not, I shall be lost; therefore, I need not concern myself about the matter." This is horrible. No sensible Calvinist, however strongly he may believe

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in election and predestination, adopts this view; for Calvinists say that God ordains means as well as ends. God never decreed an end without decreeing the means for its accomplishment. Another fact is to be taken into account: God's purposes are his rule of action - not ours. His Word is our rule of action, and we are not to trouble ourselves about his purposes. It is manifest that those who take such a view of the divine purposes as encourages them to continue in sin, wrest every Scripture that has the remotest bearing on the subject. There is no doctrine in the Bible whose legitimate influence is to make sinners satisfied in their condition. The sinner who comes to the conclusion that because God has purposes, and because salvation is of grace, that, therefore, he will make no effort to secure his salvation, is on the way to hell. There is no hope for him while he continues in this state of mind. Let him yield his acquiescence to this sentiment till death, and his soul will be lost. I aim not to enter into an explanation of the philosophy of the divine purposes; I only mean to say, that if any man justifies his inaction in the work of salvation by persuading himself that if he is to be saved he will be saved, and if he is to be lost he will be lost, and, therefore, will do nothing, he is wresting the Scriptures to his own destruction. The very passages which should act as so many stimulants to effort, are made, by the perverting process, to perform the office of opiates. Alas! that God's Word is so wrested.
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      4. The free agency of man. - Salvation by grace is consistent with human agency - with free agency. Both doctrines are clearly revealed. If I can not reconcile them, it furnishes no argument against their truth. If I can not explain how Jesus was delivered to death "by the determinate counsel of God," and yet that the "Jews took him with wicked hands, crucified and slew him," still both facts are plainly taught in God's Word.

      Many pervert the doctrine of human agency. They suppose if they have any thing to do in their salvation, that thing, whatever it is, must be meritorious. " If," say they, "we can not be saved without repentance, faith, and lives of holiness, there must be merit in these things, and we will rely in whole or in part on this merit for salvation." Here they wrest the doctrine of human agency. However actively we employ our agency, there is nothing meritorious in what we do. We are unprofitable servants when we have done all we are required to do. This fact utterly divests our best performances, of all claim to merit. We must rely on grace from first to last. He who finally stands justified, sanctified, and glorified before the Throne of the Majesty on high, will say with devoutest emphasis: "By the grace of God I am what I am." There is nothing in the doctrine of human agency, properly understood, to prevent, but everything to induce reliance on grace for salvation. Whoever takes the opposite view, wrests, and even caricatures

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the doctrine. Who does not see that if men persuade themselves that the Scriptures authorize a dependence on works for salvation, they pervert the doctrine of human agency to their destruction! Whatever keeps the sinner from surrendering himself unreservedly to Christ, will infallibly secure his destruction. Thus does it appear that man's agency, clearly as it is taught in the Bible, whenever misapplied and perverted, leads to the ruin of the soul. Wresting the Scriptures has a fatal connection with destruction.

      5. The benevolence of God. - There is a numerous class of Scriptures which refer to the love of God. They are precious portions of the divine record. They are full of consolation to the saints, but many sinners wrest them. They are sundered from their appropriate connections, and are allowed to exert an injurious influence. Sinners have learned from the Bible that God is good - that he is merciful - that he is love - and they infer that he is too good to punish them for their sins. They admit that they are sinners, but they think God is gracious, and that they shall not surely die. What would be thought of the clemency of that executive who would suffer no criminal to be punished? Would it not be regarded a spurious clemency? Would not a proper regard for all the interests of the commonwealth prompt the adoption of a different course? God is the Supreme Executive of the moral universe. He could not fail to punish the

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guilty without injuring the best interests of His moral empire. God, to be good, must be just, and to be just he must punish the guilty - those who deserve punishment. And then, too, if the guilty were not punished, the intelligent universe would never have an adequate conception of God's hatred of sin, or His determination to sustain and vindicate the majesty of His law. God governs His rational creatures by an appeal to their hopes and fears. The everlasting bliss of Heaven, is an everlasting appeal to their hopes; the doctrine of eternal punishment, is an eternal appeal to their fears, the legitimate tendency of which is to deter from sin. Important purposes are doubtless answered in the government of God by the punishment of the guilty; and, therefore, when sinners conclude that God is too good to punish the ungodly, they wrest the Scriptures which say, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment - shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power." Every one can see that those who believe that God is too merciful to punish His creatures, can not be awakened to a sense of their danger. They believe there is no danger. When admonished to flee from the wrath to come, they are unmoved, for they say there is no wrath. Believing there is no hell, they necessarily make no effort to avoid it. Those who consider the torments of hell temporary, can not feel the full power of the motives of the gospel. Future punishment
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is divested of most of its terror when dissociated from eternity of duration. Do you not see that those who pervert the Scriptures which speak of God's love to man - so pervert them as to deny His punitive justice - wrest those Scriptures to their own destruction. They strangely take encouragement to sin from those passages of the Divine Word which indicate how sin may he forgiven. They make the gospel of salvation a gospel of licentiousness - they make sin a trifle in view of the awful scenes of Calvary - they pour contempt on the whole remedial scheme of mercy. Alas! what wresting of the Scriptures! What perversion of the Word of the living God! It is a master stroke of policy on the part of Satan to induce the wresting of the Scriptures. He can not accomplish a great deal in this age, and in this part of the world, by making bold and reckless infidels. There is a general theoretic belief that the Bible is true. This belief it is difficult to displace. What, then, is to be done? Satan very well knows. He seeks to influence those who admit the inspiration of the Bible to pervert its truths - to wrest its doctrines. Accomplishing this object, he as infallibly secures his purpose as he would do by inducing a positive denial of the inspiration of the Scriptures. Wresting the Scriptures is a most destructive process.


      1. How valuable are the Scriptures! They are more precious than gold - "sweeter than honey

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and the honeycomb." On subjects most interesting to man the "Word of God gives utterance. It teaches the sublime science of redemption - a science the glory of which eclipses all other glory. The volume of divine truth deserves a high appreciation. Those love it who love its author. They assign its truths a place in their hearts, and exemplify them in their lives.

      2. The most valuable things are susceptible of abuse and perversion. This arises from man's depravity. The Scriptures are wrested. This is a very common thing. The process is going on in every part of the land. God's Word is perverted - it is handled deceitfully. Nor is this confined to those who make no profession of Christianity. Alas! how many who call themselves the children of God are doing this thing. How many a pulpit is desecrated because its occupant wrests the Scriptures! What heavy contributions are levied on the press in this work of perverting the Word of God! Will it be said that those thus engaged do not believe that they are wresting the Scriptures? Suppose they do not - does this help the matter? A man may believe he is not mixing poison with his food, but if he does it, the effect will be the same. The utmost sincerity can not prevent the mischievous influence of error.

      3. Destruction is a word of awful import. Its meaning is appalling. It comprehends all that is signified by the loss of the soul, the wrath of God, the torments of hell, etc. How many who

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will read this sermon are, by wresting the Scriptures, working out their own destruction. Poor sinners! be warned while it is called to-day. Let not a rich blessing conferred on you by the God of Heaven prove an awful curse. Let not that Word which should guide you to Heaven, be so wrested and perverted as to lead you to hell. Let not the source of light envelop you in darkness. If you do, how great will be the darkness.

[From J. M. Pendleton, Short Sermons on Important Subjects, 1859. This book is from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Wake Forest, NC via ILL through Boone County Public Library, Burlington, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]

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