by D. M. Panton

Chapter Twelve


One New Testament passage decisively proves—though a multitude confirm — the possibility of exclusion: let us examine it. As, in the regenerate, the current of being sets towards good, and evil is a backwater; so, in the unregenerate, the current of being sets towards evil, and effort after good is a backwater: and this is always the criterion of regeneration. "He that doeth righteousness is righteous: he that doeth sin is of the devil" (I John 3:7,8). "Faith alone saves; but faith which is alone is not faith" (Luther). Yet it is also certain that the regenerate can sin deeply, and die in such sin. For—as an example—three facts decisively establish the regenerate nature of the incestuous brother whom the Holy Ghost has made a perpetual and conclusive proof.

  1. Excommunication was to deliver his flesh, but not his spirit, to Satan: Satan might touch his body, like Job’s, but not his soul: "that the spirit may be SAVED in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Cor. 5:5). Now the destruction, like Ananias’s, might be immediate (for aught we read to the contrary) and yet his salvation was assured: therefore he was regenerate before excommunication. "When we are judged" - even unto death (1 Cor. 11:30) - "we are chastened of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world" (1 Cor. 11:32).
  2. Paul sharply limits the jurisdiction of the Church to believers: "do not ye judge them that are within, whereas them that are without God judgeth? Put away the wicked man" - pass sentence, for he is within - "from among yourselves.[18]" The right to judge unbelievers, Paul says, belongs solely to God: therefore the incestuous brother, judged by the Church at Paul’s command, was a believer.
  3. This brother, if excommunicated at all, was promptly restored: for in his second Epistle Paul says - "forgive him and comfort him; confirm your love toward him" (2 Cor. 2:7)[19]. This is absolutely decisive. The sharp discipline had severed him from his sin: acting under an inspired command the Church restored him to full fellowship, as a living member of Christ. Therefore a believer can so sin, and has: and — since there may be destruction of the flesh — can also die in it. Just as no natural deaths (not even of Moses and Aaron) are recorded in the Wilderness, and all who were slain for fornication, etc., were already thereby excluded from Canaan, so it is with the excommunicate committed to Satan for the destruction of the body.

But a fact of overwhelming decisiveness still remains. Paul states that the identical sin might permeate the whole assembly. "Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the WHOLE LUMP?" Was the "whole lump" all good dough, or half bad? Was the assembly regenerate throughout or not? "Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump" - fresh, pure dough throughout—“even as ye ARE unleavened." Those whom Paul is alone addressing (1 Cor. 1:2) had all left the hands of God as pure, sweet dough on conversion: all were regenerate: "ye ARE unleavened": now keep so, Paul says, and if any leaven returns, purge it out, to keep the lump new. For fornication — as also the other immoralities named — might spread through the entire Church: "know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?" So far from Paul regarding the incestuous brother as no believer, because of his fornication, he asserts exactly the reverse — that, unless drastic measures purge the Body, immoralities may contaminate the whole. No disciple is immune from peril; and Paul therefore devotes the rest of the chapter to proving how great a sin fornication is in one indwelt by the Holy Ghost. "Shall I then," - for the sin is possible even to an apostle - "take away THE MEMBERS OF CHRIST and make them members of a harlot?" (1 Cor. 6:15). If Paul has unbelievers in mind, then he warns them of a sin which they cannot commit; for to take the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot, is an act possible only to one in Christ: that is, Paul, throughout the passage, speaks solely of the members of the Body of Christ.

Thus it is certain that believers can commit such sins: it is certain that some in Corinth did: it is certain that all such are to be excommunicated: Paul now unfolds the tremendous revelation that disciples so unclean as to be shut out of the Church, must also be shut out of the Kingdom; that the excommunicated will be the excluded. For what is the catalogue of excommunication? Fornicators, idolaters, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners (1 Cor. 5:11). And what is the catalogue of exclusion? "Ye yourselves do wrong": at what peril? "Know ye not that wrong-doers [the same word, with no article] shall not inherit the kingdom of God?[20] Be not deceived” — could a well-instructed Church like Corinth be in peril of imagining that unregenerate adulterers would enter the Kingdom? - "neither fornicators, nor idolaters, [four new sins are now added, three an expansion of fornication, one an expansion of covetousness: exclusion is a wider thing than excommunication], nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners” — each excommunicating sin is also an excluding sin - "shall inherit the kingdom of God." It is the same list: the justly excommunicated will be the infallibly excluded[21]. For "whose soever sins ye forgive [e.g., the incestuous brother’s], they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain" — always assuming that it is an excommunication which God has commanded - "they are retained" (John 20:23); “for what things so ever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matt. 18:18).

Paul closes with words finally conclusive. "Such were some of you; but ye were washed" - through blood, and water - "but ye were sanctified" - set apart for God as hallowed - "but ye were justified" - through the accepted righteousness of Christ: these are the souls Paul is threatening with exclusion: defiled, ye were cleansed; profane, ye were hallowed; unrighteous, ye were justified. Dare any of you become foul again? Paul asks. If unbelievers only are excluded, Paul’s warning is not only pointless, but unjust. Believers are sinning; unbelievers are to be excluded: "ye do wrong"; therefore the world will be punished: does God reveal the sins of one set of men, to threaten punishment to another? "I fear lest I should find you not such as I would," because of "uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they COMMITTED" (2 Cor. 12:20). It is the washed, the sanctified, the justified that are in peril. Are hypocrites—empty professors, false brethren, who have slipped past the Church examiners—washed, sanctified, justified? Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches : - "HE THAT DOETH WRONG SHALL RECEIVE FOR THE WRONG THAT HE HATH DONE; AND THERE IS NO RESPECT OF PERSONS" (Col. 3:25). "Thou hast a few names in Sardis which did not defile their garments: and THEY shall walk with me in white; FOR THEY ARE WORTHY" (Rev. 3:4). "NOT EVERY ONE THAT SAITH UNTO ME, LORD, LORD" - an utterance peculiarly characteristic of disciples (John 13:13) - "SHALL ENTER INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN;[22] but he that DOETH THE WILL of my Father which is in heaven" (Matt. 7:21.)

For it is exceedingly remarkable that in the very heart of the great Grace chapter of the Bible, the truth that a Christian’s reward is exclusively determined by his own fidelity lies deeply embedded. "Working," as Calvin has said, "is not at all opposed to grace." "For if, by the trespass of the one [Adam], death reigned through the one; much more" - as much more as God loves to reward His servants more than He loves to reward His enemies — "shall they that receive" - take constantly, take continuously; not grace, but - "the abundance of grace" - its superabundance, so that the superfluity overflows (Godet) - "reign in life" (Rom. 5:17) - "life," a limited phrase used in the Gospels (Mark 9:43, 45, 47) as a synonym for the Millennial Kingdom. So far from reward undermining grace, it is the ABUNDANCE of GRACE, which alone entitles to reward: grace confers justification as a free gift; but only the abundance of grace, deliberately and continuously received, qualifies for glory with Christ in the Life that is life indeed. Grace underlies all: in the beautiful words of Augustine, - "To whom could the righteous Judge give the crown if the merciful Father had not given grace? And how could these be paid as things due, were not things not due previously given?" For Grace, while it grants salvation solely on the merits of our Lord, cannot ignore our conduct after regeneration; and every instinct of our hearts calls for justice, after the painful controversies that have rent the Church for two thousand years, before eternal bliss shall pass an obliterating sponge over the past, "in that all-reconciling world where Luther and Zwingle are well agreed." And so Paul asserts. "But thou, why does thou judge thy brother? or thou again, why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the Judgment Seat of God: let us not therefore judge one another any more" (Rom. 14:10, 13); but, while rigidly adhering to all the truth we know, hand over all judgment to an august and awful Tribunal not our own.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

[18] Thus the term “wicked” – applied here to an immoral believer by the Holy Ghost, as by our Lord to a slothful servant (Luke 19:22) – does not disprove conversion. Wickedness is inherent in the unsaved: it is incidental in the redeemed.

[19] It is blessedly certain that a disciple’s confessed and abandoned sin is immediately purged. “If we confess our sins” – our specific transgressions, after conversion, confessed as they occur – “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Therefore Peter’s denial has not forfeited his throne. “Many shall be FIRST that are LAST” (Matt. 19:30)

[20] “The Kingdom of God is here taken in the eschatological sense” - Godet: “the Kingdom of God refers here to its external appearance at a future period” – Olshausen. That “the Kingdom” is the Millennial and not the Eternal, this very epistle declares: - “He shall deliver up THE KINGDOM to God, even the Father” (1 Cor. 15:24)

[21] Other passages, equally decisive, are also addressed to believers with equal clearness. “For this ye know of a surety, that no fornicator, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, hath any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God. Let no man deceive YOU with empty words” (Eph. 5:5): man may grant us free passes into the Kingdom, but these certificates will not be franked at the gates. To Galatia Paul gives the most exhaustive list. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties” – distinctively Church sins – “envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I forewarn YOU, even as I did forewarn you, that they which practice such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21)

[22] Death-bed conversions leave no room for “the works of faith”: it is certain that our Lord ignores the dying thief’s petition (Luke 23:42), but comforts him with the assurance of simple salvation. Our Lord closes the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:21-27) as He began it (Matt. 5:20) by presenting the Sermon as the great standard of righteousness for entrance into the Kingdom; for in the Sermon, together with our Lord’s other utterances and the Spirit’s body of commands throughout the Epistles, our active righteousness is to be found: “for except your righteousness [your active obedience] exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees [the standard of the Mosaic Law], ye shall IN NO WISE enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)