Are you a Christian?
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These are the words of Christ, the risen Christ, and are the last that He uttered ere He left this earth. None more important were ever spoken to the sons of men. They call for our most diligent attention. They are of the greatest possible consequence, for in them are set forth the terms of eternal happiness or misery: life and death, and the conditions of both. Faith is the principal saving grace, and unbelief the chief damning sin. The law which threatens death for every sin has already passed sentence of condemnation upon all, because all have sinned. This sentence is so peremptory that it admits of but one exception—all shall be executed if they believe not.
The condition of life as made known by Christ in Mark 16:16, is double: the principal one, faith; the accessory one, baptism; we term it accessory because it is not absolutely necessary to life, as faith is. Proof of this is found in the fact of the omission in the second half of the verse: it is not “he that is not baptized shall be damned,” but “he that believeth not.”
Faith is so indispensable that, though one be baptized, yet believeth not, he shall be damned. As we have said above, the sinner is already condemned; the sword of Divine justice is drawn even now, and waits only to strike the fatal blow. Nothing can divert it but saving faith in Christ. My reader, continuance in unbelief makes hell as certain as though you were already in it. While you remain in unbelief, you have no hope and are “without God in the world” ( Ephesians 2:12).
Now if believing be so necessary, and unbelief so dangerous and fatal, it deeply concerns us to know what it is to believe. It behooves each of us to make the most diligent and thorough inquiry as to the nature of saving faith. The more so because all faith in Christ does not save; yea, all faith in Christ does not save. Multitudes are deceived upon this vital matter.
Thousands of those who sincerely believe that they have received Christ as their personal Saviour, and are resting on His finished work, are building upon a foundation of sand. Vast numbers who have not a doubt that God has accepted them in the Beloved, and that they are eternally secure in Christ, will only be awakened from their pleasant dreamings when the cold hand of death lays hold of them; and then it will be too late. Unspeakably solemn is this, Reader, will that be your fate? Others just as sure that they were saved as you are, are now in hell. 1. ITS COUNTERFEITS There are those who have a faith which is so like to that which is saving that they themselves may take it to be the very same, and others too may deem it sufficient, yea, even others who have the spirit of discernment.
Such a faith had he, and so expressed it, that Philip took him to be a Christian, and admitted him to those privileges which are peculiar to them.
Yet, a little later, the apostle Peter said to him, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God... I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” ( Acts 8:21,23).
A man may believe all the truth contained in Scripture so far as he is acquainted with it, and he may be familiar with far more than are many genuine Christians. He may have studied the Bible for a longer time, and so his faith may grasp much which they have not yet reached. As his knowledge may be more extensive, so his faith may be more comprehensive. In this kind of faith he may go as far as the apostle Paul did when he said, “This I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets” ( Acts 24:14).
Call the above a mere historical faith if you will, yet Scripture also teaches that people may possess a faith which is more than the product of mere nature, which is of the Holy Spirit, and yet which is a non-saving one. This faith which we now allude to has two ingredients which neither education nor self-effort can produce: spiritual light and a Divine power moving the mind to assent. Now a man may have both illumination and inclination from heaven, and yet not be regenerated. We have a solemn proof of this in Hebrews 6:4. There we read of a company of apostates, concerning whom it is said, “It is impossible... to renew them again unto repentance.”
Yet of these we are told that they were “enlightened,” which means that they not only perceived it, but were inclined toward and embraced it; and both because they were “partakers of the Holy Spirit.”
People may have Divine faith, not only in its originating power, but also in its foundation. The ground of their faith may be the Divine testimony, upon which they rest with unshaken confidence. They may give credit to what they believe not only because it appears reasonable or even certain, but because they are fully persuaded it is the Word of Him who cannot lie. To believe the Scriptures on the ground of their being God’s Word is a Divine faith. Such a faith had the nation of Israel after their wondrous exodus from Egypt and deliverance from the Red Sea. Of them it is recorded, “The people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord, and His servant Moses” ( Exodus 14:31), yet of the great majority of them it is said that their carcasses fell in the wilderness, and He swore that they should not enter into His rest ( Hebrews 3:17,18).
It is indeed searching and solemn to make a close study of Scripture upon this point and discover how much is said of unsaved people in a way of having faith in the Lord. In Jeremiah 13:11, we find God saying, “For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto Me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord,” and to “cleave” unto God is the same as to “trust” Him: see 2 Kings 18:5,6. Yet of that very same generation God said, “This evil people, which refuse to hear My words, which walk in the imagination of their heart, and walk after other gods, to serve them, and to worship them, shall even be as this girdle, which is good for nothing” ( Jeremiah 13:10).
The term “stay” is another word denoting firm trust. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the remnant of Israel, and such as are escaped of the house of Jacob, shall no more again stay upon him that smote them, but shall stay upon the Lord” ( Isaiah 10:20); “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed upon Thee” ( Isaiah 26:3).
Who would doubt that this was a saving faith? Ah, let us not be too hasty in jumping to conclusions: of this same people God said, “Thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass” ( Isaiah 48:4).
Again, the term “lean” is used to denote not only trust, but dependence on the Lord. Of the spouse it is said, “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” ( Song of Solomon 8:5).
Can it be possible that such an expression as this is applied to those who are unsaved? Yes, it is, and by none other than God Himself: “Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity...
The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the Lord, and say, Is not the Lord among us? none evil can come upon us” ( Micah 3:9,11).
So thousands of carnal and worldly people are leaning upon Christ to uphold them, so that they cannot fall into hell, and are confident that no such “evil” can befall them. Yet is their confidence a horrible presumption.
To rest upon a Divine promise with implicit confidence, and that in the face of great discouragement and danger, is surely something which we would not expect to find predicated of a people who were unsaved. Ah, truth is stranger than fiction. This very thing is depicted in God’s unerring Word.
When Sennacherib and his great army besieged the cities of Judali, Hezekiah said, “Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God” ( 2 Chronicles 32:7,8); and we are told that “the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah.” Hezekiah had spoken the words of God, and for the people to rest upon them was to rest on God Himself. Yet less than fifteen years after, this same people did “worse than the heathen” ( 2 Chronicles 33:9). Thus, resting upon a promise of God is not, of itself, any proof of regeneration.
To rely upon God on the ground of His “covenant” was far more than resting upon a Divine promise; yet unregenerate men may do even this. A case in point is found in Abijah, king of Judah. It is indeed striking to read and weigh what he said in 2 Chronicles 13 when Jeroboam and his hosts came against him. First, he reminded all Israel that the Lord God had given the kingdom to David and his sons for ever “by a covenant of salt” (verse 5). Next, he denounced the sins of his adversary (verses 6-9). Then he affirmed the Lord to be “our God” and that He was with him and his people (verses 10-12). But Jeroboam heeded not, but forced the battle upon them. “Abijah and his people slew them with a great slaughter” (verse 17), “because they relied upon the Lord God of their fathers” (verse 18).
Yet of this same Abijah it is said, “he walked in all the sins of his father,” etc. ( 1 Kings 15:3). Unregenerate men may rely upon Christ, rest on His promise, and plead His covenant. “The people of Nineveh [who were heathen] believed God” ( Jonah 3:5).
This is striking, for the God of heaven was a stranger to them, and His prophet a man whom they knew not—why then should they trust his message? Moreover, it was not a promise, but a threatening, which they believed. How much easier, then, is it for a people now living under the Gospel to apply to themselves a promise, than the heathen a terrible threat! “In applying a threatening we are like to meet with more opposition, both from within and from without. From within, for a threatening is like a bitter pill, the bitterness of death is in it; no wonder if that hardly goes down. From without, too, for Satan will be ready to raise opposition: he is afraid to see men startled, lest the sense of their misery denounced in the threatening should rouse them up to seek how they may make an escape. He is more sure of them while they are secure, and will labour to keep them off the threatening, lest it should awaken them from dreams of peace and happiness, while they are sleeping in his very jaws. “But now, in applying a promise, an unregenerate man ordinarily meets no opposition. Not from within, for the promise is all sweetness; the promise of pardon and life is the very marrow, the quintessence, of the Gospel. No wonder if they be ready to swallow it down greedily. And Satan will be so far from opposing, that he will rather encourage and assist one who has no interest in the promise to apply it; for this he knows will be the way to fix and settle them in their natural condition. A promise misapplied will be a seal upon the sepulchre, making them sure in the grave of sin, wherein they lay dead and rotting. Therefore if unregenerate men may apply a threatening, which is in these respects more difficult, as appears may be the case of the Ninevites, why may they not be apt to apply [appropriate] a Gospel promise when they are not like to meet with such difficulty and opposition?” (David Clarkson, 1680, for some time co-pastor with J. Owen; to whom we are indebted for much of the above).
Another most solemn example of those having faith, but not a saving one, is seen in the stony-ground hearers, of whom Christ said, “which for a while believed” ( Luke 8:14). Concerning this class the Lord declared that they hear the Word and with joy receive it ( Matthew 13:20). How many such have we met and known: happy souls with radiant faces, exuberant spirits, full of zeal that others too may enter into the bliss which they have found. How difficult it is to distinguish such from genuine Christians—the good-ground hearts. The difference is not apparent; no, it lies beneath the surface—they have no root in themselves ( Matthew 13:21): deep digging has to be done to discover this fact! Have you searched yourself narrowly, my reader, to ascertain whether or not “the root of the matter” ( Job 19:28) be in you?
But let us refer now to another case which seems still more incredible.
There are those who are willing to take Christ as their Saviour, yet who are most reluctant to submit to Him as their Lord, to be at His command, to be governed by His laws. Yet there are some unregenerate persons who acknowledge Christ as their Lord. Here is the scriptural proof for our assertion: “Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” ( Matthew 7:22,23).
There is a large class (“many”) who profess subjection to Christ as Lord, and who do many mighty works in His name: thus a people who can show you their faith by their works, and yet it is not a saving one!
It is impossible to say how far a non-saving faith may go, and how very closely it may resemble that faith which is saving. Saving faith has Christ for its object; so has a non-saving faith ( John 2:23,24). Saving faith is wrought by the Holy Spirit; so also is a non-saving faith ( Hebrews 6:4).
Saving faith is produced by the Word of God; so also is a non-saving faith ( Matthew 13:20,21). Saving faith will make a man prepare for the coming of the Lord; so also will a non-saving faith: of both the foolish and wise virgins it is written, “Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps” ( Matthew 25:7).
Saving faith is accompanied with joy; so also is a non-saving faith ( Matthew 13:20).
Perhaps some readers are ready to say that all of this is very unsettling and, if really heeded, most distressing. May God in His mercy grant that this article may have just those very effects on many who read it. If you value your soul, dismiss it not lightly. If there be such a thing (and there is) as a faith in Christ which does not save, then how easy it is to be deceived about my faith! It is not without reason that the Holy Spirit has so plainly cautioned us at this very point. “A deceived heart hath turned him aside” ( Isaiah 44:20). “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee” (Obad. 3). “Take heed that ye be not deceived” ( Luke 21:8). “For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself” ( Galatians 6:3).
The Devil deceives more souls by this one thing than by all his other devices put together. Take this present discourse as an illustration. How many a Satan-blinded soul will read it and then say, It does not apply to me; I know that my faith is a saving one! It is in this way that the Devil turns aside the sharp point of God’s convicting Word, and secures his captives in their unbelief. He works in them a false sense of security, by persuading them that they are safe within the ark, and induces them to ignore the threatenings of the Word and appropriate only its comforting promises. He dissuades them from heeding that most salutary exhortation, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves” ( 2 Corinthians 13:5).
Oh, my reader, heed that word now.
In closing this first section we will endeavour to point out some of the particulars in which this non-saving faith is defective, and wherein it comes short of a faith which does save. First, with many it is because they are willing for Christ to save them from hell, but are not willing for Him to save them from self. They want to be delivered from the wrath to come, but they wish to retain their self-will and self-pleasing. But He will not be dictated unto: you must be saved on His terms, or not at all. When Christ saves, He saves from sin—from its power and pollution, and therefore from its guilt. And the very essence of sin is the determination to have my own way ( Isaiah 53:6). Where Christ saves, He subdues this spirit of self-will, and implants a genuine, a powerful, a lasting, desire and determination to please Him.
Again, many are never saved because they wish to divide Christ; they want to take Him as Saviour, but are unwilling to subject themselves unto Him as their Lord. Or if they are prepared to own Him as Lord, it is not as an absolute Lord. But this cannot be: Christ will either be Lord of all or He will not be Lord at all. But the vast majority of professing Christians would have Christ’s sovereignty limited at certain points; it must not encroach too far upon the liberty which some worldly lust or carnal interest demands.
His peace they covet, but His “yoke” is unwelcome. Of all such Christ will yet say, “But these Mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before Me” ( Luke 19:27).
Again, there are multitudes who are quite ready for Christ to justify them, but not to sanctify. Some kind, some degree, of sanctification they will tolerate, but to be sanctified wholly, their “whole spirit and soul and body” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23), they have no relish for. For their hearts to be sanctified, for pride and covetousness to be subdued, would be too much like the plucking out of a right eye. For the constant mortification of all their members they have no taste. For Christ to come to them as Refiner, to burn up their lusts, consume their dross, to dissolve utterly their old frame of nature, to melt their souls, so as to make them run in a new mould, they like not. To deny self utterly, and take up their cross daily, is a task from which they shrink with abhorrence.
Again, many are willing for Christ to officiate as their Priest, but not for Him to legislate as their King. Ask them, in a general way, if they are ready to do whatsoever Christ requires of them, and they will answer in the affirmative, emphatically and with confidence. But come to particulars: apply to each one of them those specific commandments and precepts of the Lord which they are ignoring, and they will at once cry out “Legalism”! or “We cannot be perfect in everything.” Name nine duties and perhaps they are performing them, but mention a tenth and it at once makes them angry, for you have come too close home to their case. After much persuasion, Naaman was induced to bathe in the Jordan, but he was unwilling to abandon the house of Rimmon ( 2 Kings 5:18). Herod heard John gladly and did “many things” ( Mark 6:20), but when John referred to Herodias it touched him to the quick. Many are willing to give up their theatre-going, and card-parties, who refuse to go forth unto Christ outside the camp. Others are willing to go outside the camp, yet refuse to deny their fleshly and worldly lusts. Reader, if there is a reserve in your obedience, you are on the way to hell. 2. ITS NATURE “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness” ( Proverbs 30:12).
A great many suppose that such a verse as this applies only to those who are trusting in something other than Christ for their acceptance before God, such as people who are relying upon baptism, church membership or their own moral and religious performances. But it is a great mistake to limit such scriptures unto the class just mentioned. Such a verse as “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” ( Proverbs 14:12) has a far wider application than merely to those who are resting on something of or from themselves to secure a title to everlasting bliss.
Equally wrong is it to imagine that the only deceived souls are they who have no faith in Christ.
There is in Christendom today a very large number of people who have been taught that nothing the sinner can do will ever merit the esteem of God. They have been informed, and rightly so, that the highest moral achievements of the natural man are only “filthy rags” in the sight of the thrice holy God. They have heard quoted so often such passages as, “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” ( Ephesians 2:8,9), and “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” ( Titus 3:5), that they have become thoroughly convinced that heaven cannot be attained by any doing of the creature. Further, they have been told so often that Christ alone can save any sinner that this has become a settled article in their creed, from which neither man nor devil can shake them. So far, so good.
That large company to whom we are now referring have also been taught that while Christ is the only way unto the Father, yet He becomes so only as faith is personally exercised in and upon Him: that He becomes our Saviour only when we believe on Him. During the last twenty-five years, almost the whole emphasis of “gospel preaching” has been thrown upon faith in Christ, and evangelistic efforts have been almost entirely confined to getting people to “believe” on the Lord Jesus. Apparently there has been great success; thousands upon thousands have responded; have, as they suppose, accepted Christ as their own personal Saviour. Yet we wish to point out here that it is as serious an error to suppose that all who “believe in Christ” are saved as it is to conclude that only those are deceived (and are described in Proverbs 14:12, and 30:12) who have no faith in Christ.
No one can read the New Testament attentively without discovering that there is a “believing” in Christ which does not save. In John 8:30, we are told, “As He spake these words, many believed on Him.” Mark carefully, it is not said many believe in Him,” but “many believed on Him.”
Nevertheless one does not have to read much farther on in the chapter to discover that those very people were unregenerate and unsaved souls. In verse 44 we find the Lord telling these very “believers” that they were of their father the Devil; and in verse 59 we find them taking up stones to cast at Him. This has presented a difficulty unto some; yet it ought not. They created their own difficulty, by supposing that all faith in Christ necessarily saves. It does not. There is a faith in Christ which saves, and there is also a faith in Christ which does not save. “Among the chief rulers also many believed on Him.” Were, then, those men saved? Many preachers and evangelists, as well as tens of thousands of their blinded dupes, would answer, “Most assuredly.” But let us note what immediately follows here: “but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” ( John 12:42,43).
Will any of our readers now say that those men were saved? If so, it is clear proof that you are utter strangers to any saving work of God in your own souls. Men who are afraid to hazard for Christ’s sake the loss of their worldly positions, temporal interests, personal reputations, or anything else that is dear to them, are yet in their sins—no matter how they may be trusting in Christ’s finished work to take them to heaven.
Probably most of our readers have been brought up under the teaching that there are only two classes of people in this world, believers and unbelievers. But such a classification is most misleading, and is utterly erroneous. God’s Word divides earth’s inhabitants into three classes: “Give none offence, neither to  the Jews, nor  to the Gentiles, nor  to the church of God” ( 1 Corinthians 10:32). It was so during Old Testament times, more noticeably so from the days of Moses onwards. There were first the “gentile” or heathen nations, outside the commonwealth of Israel, which formed by far the largest class. Corresponding with that class today are the countless millions of modern heathen, who are “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.” Second, there was the nation of Israel, which has to be subdivided into two groups, for, as Romans 9:6, declares, “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” By far the larger portion of the nation of Israel were only the nominal people of God, in outward relation to Him: corresponding with this class is the great mass of professors bearing the name of Christ. Third, there was the spiritual remnant of Israel, whose calling, hope and inheritance were heavenly: corresponding to them this day are the genuine Christians, God’s “little flock” ( Luke 12:32).
First , there were the hardened leaders of the nation, the scribes and Pharisees, priests and elders. From start to finish they were openly opposed to Christ, and neither His blessed teaching nor His wondrous works had any melting effects upon them.
Second , there were the common people who “heard Him gladly” ( Mark 12:37), a great many of whom are said to have “believed on Him” (see John 2:23; 7:31; 8:30; 10:42; 12:11), but concerning whom there is nothing to show that they were saved. They were not outwardly opposed to Christ, but they never yielded their hearts to Him. They were impressed by His Divine credentials, yet were easily offended ( John 6:66). Third, there was the insignificant handful who “received Him” ( John 1:12) into their hearts and lives; received Him as their Lord and Saviour.
The same three classes are clearly discernible (to anointed eyes) in the world today. First, there are the vast multitudes who make no profession at all, who see nothing in Christ that they should desire Him; people who are deaf to every appeal, and who make little attempt to conceal their hatred of the Lord Jesus. Second, there is that large company who are attracted by Christ in a natural way. So far from being openly antagonistic to Him and His cause, they are found among His followers. Having been taught much of the Truth, they “believe in Christ,” just as children reared by conscientious Mohammedans believe firmly and devoutedly in Mohammed.
Having received much of instruction concerning the virtues of Christ’s precious blood, they trust in its merits to deliver them from the wrath to come; and yet there is nothing in their daily lives to show that they are new creatures in Christ Jesus!
Yes, there is a faith in Christ which saves, but there is a faith in Christ which does not save. From this statement probably few will dissent, yet many will be inclined to weaken it by saying that the faith in Christ which does not save is merely a historical faith, or where there is a believing about Christ instead of a believing in Him. Not so. That there are those who mistake a historical faith about Christ for a saving faith in Christ we do not deny; but what we would here emphasize is the solemn fact that there are also some who have more than a historical faith, more than a mere head-knowledge about Him, who yet have a faith which comes short of being a quickening and saving one. Not only are there some with this non-saving faith, but today there are vast numbers of such all around us.
They are people who furnish the antitypes of those to which we called attention in the last article: who were represented and illustrated in.Old Testament times by those who believed in, rested upon, leaned upon, relied upon the Lord, but who were, nevertheless, unsaved souls.
What, then, does saving faith consist of? In seeking to answer this question our present object is to supply not only a scriptural definition, but one which, at the same time, differentiates it from a non-saving faith. Nor is this any easy task, for the two things often have much in common: that faith in Christ which does not save has in it more than one element or ingredient of that faith which does vitally unite the soul to Him. Those pitfalls which the writer must now seek to avoid are undue discouraging of real saints on the one hand by raising the standard higher than Scripture has raised it, and encouraging unregenerate professors on the other hand by so lowering the standards as to include them. We do not wish to withhold from the people of God their legitimate portion; nor do we want to commit the sin of taking the children’s bread and casting it to the dogs. May the Holy Spirit Himself deign to guide us into the Truth.
Much error would be avoided on this subject if due care were taken to frame a scriptural definition of unbelief. Again and again in Scripture we find believing and not believing placed in antithesis, and we are afforded much help toward arriving at a correct conception of the real nature of saving faith when we obtain a right understanding of the character of unbelief. It will at once be discovered that saving faith is far more than a hearty assenting unto what God’s Word sets before us, when we perceive that unbelief is much more than an error or judgment or a failure to assent unto the Truth. Scripture depicts unbelief as a virulent and violent principle of opposition to God. Unbelief has both a passive and active, a negative and positive, side, and therefore the Greek noun is rendered both by “unbelief” ( Romans 11:20; Hebrews 4:6,11), and “disobedience” ( Ephesians 2:2; 5:6) and the verb by “believed not” ( Hebrews 3:18; 11:30) and “obey not” ( 1 Peter 3:1; 4:17). A few concrete examples will make this plainer.
Take first the case of Adam. There was something more than a mere negative failing to believe God’s solemn threat that in the day he should eat of the forbidden fruit he would surely die: by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners ( Romans 5:12). Nor did the heinousness of our first parent’s sin consist in listening to the lie of the serpent, for 1 Timothy 2:14, expressly declares “Adam was not deceived.” No, he was determined to have his own way, no matter what God had prohibited and threatened.
Thus, the very first case of unbelief in human history consisted not only in negatively failing to take to heart what God has so clearly and so solemnly said, but also in a deliberate defiance of and rebellion against Him.
Yes, for a “promise” of entering in was “left” them, but it was not “mixed with faith in them that heard it” ( Hebrews 4:1,2)—God had declared that the seed of Abraham should inherit that land which flowed with milk and honey, and it was the privilege of that generation which was delivered from Egypt to lay hold of and apply that promise to themselves. But they did not. Yet that is not all! There was something far worse: there was another element in their unbelief which is usually lost sight of nowadays— they were openly disobedient against God. When the spies brought back a sample of the goodly grapes, and Joshua urged them to go up and possess the land, they would not. Accordingly Moses declared, “notwithstanding ye would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God” ( Deuteronomy 1:26).
Ah, there is the positive side of their unbelief; they were self-willed, disobedient, defiant.
Consider now the case of that generation of Israel which was in Palestine when the Lord Jesus appeared among them as “a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God” ( Romans 15:8). John 1:11, informs us, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not,” which the next verse defines as “they believed” Him not. But is that all? Were they guilty of nothing more than a failure to assent to His teaching and trust to His person? Nay, verily, that was merely the negative side of their unbelief. Positively, they “hated” Him ( John 15:25), and would “not come to” Him ( John 5:40). His holy demands suited not their fleshly desires, and therefore they said, “We will not have this man to reign over us” ( Luke 19:14). Thus their unbelief, too, consisted in the spirit of self-will and open defiance, a determination to please themselves at all costs.
Unbelief is not simply an infirmity of fallen human nature, it is a heinous crime. Scripture everywhere attributes it to love of sin, obstinacy of will, hardness of heart. Unbelief has its root in a depraved nature, in a mind which is enmity against God. Love of sin is the immediate cause of unbelief: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” ( John 3:19). “The light of the Gospel is brought unto a place or people: they come so near it as to discover its end or tendency; but as soon as they find that it aims to part them and their sins, they will have no more to do with it. They like not the terms of the Gospel, and so perish in and for their iniquities” (John Owen).
If the Gospel were more clearly and faithfully preached, fewer would profess to believe it!
Saving faith, then, is the opposite of damning belief. Both issue from the heart that is alienated from God, which is in a state of rebellion against Him; saving faith from a heart which is reconciled to Him and so has ceased to fight against Him. Thus an essential element or ingredient in saving faith is a yielding to the authority of God, a submitting of myself to His rule. It is very much more than my understanding assenting and my will consenting to the fact that Christ is a Saviour for sinners, and that He stands ready to receive all who trust Him. To be received by Christ I must not only come to Him renouncing all my own righteousness ( Romans 10:3), as an empty-handed beggar ( Matthew 19:21), but I must also forsake my self-will and rebellion against Him ( Psalm 12:11,12; Proverbs 28:13). Should an insurrectionist and seditionist come to an earthly king seeking his sovereign favour and pardon, then, obviously, the very law of his coming to him for forgiveness requires that he should come on his knees, laying aside his hostility. So it is with a sinner who really comes savingly to Christ for pardon; it is against the law of faith to do otherwise.
Saving faith is a genuine coming to Christ ( Matthew 11:28; John 6:37, etc.). But let us take care that we do not miss the clear and inevitable implication of this term. If I say “I come to the U.S.A.” then I necessarily indicate that I left some other country to get here. Thus it is in “coming” to Christ; something has to be left. Coming to Christ not only involves the abandoning of every false object of confidence, it also includes and entails the forsaking of all other competitors for my heart. “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls ( 1 Peter 2:25). And what is meant by “ye were [note the past tense—they are no longer doing so] as sheep going astray”? Isaiah 53:6, tells us: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to His own way.” Ah, that is what must be forsaken before we can truly “come” to Christ—that course of self-will must be abandoned. The prodigal son could not come to his Father while he remained in the far country. Dear reader, if you are still following a course of self-pleasing, you are only deceiving yourself if you think you have come to Christ.
Nor is the brief definition which we have given above of what it means really to “come” to Christ any forced or novel one of our own. In his book Come and Welcome to Jesus Christ, John Bunyan wrote: “Coming to Christ is attended with an honest and sincere forsaking all for Him [here he quotes Luke 14:26,27]. By these and like expressions elsewhere, Christ describeth the true comer: he is one that casteth all behind his back. There are a great many pretended comers to Jesus Christ in the world. They are much like the man you read of in Matthew 21:30, that said to his father’s bidding, ‘I go, sir: and went not.’ When Christ calls by His Gospel, they say, ‘I come, Sir,’ but they still abide by their pleasure and carnal delights.”
C. H. Spurgeon, in his sermon on John 6:44, said, “Coming to Christ embraces in it repentance, self-abnegation, and faith in the Lord Jesus, and so sums within itself all those things which are the necessary attendants of those great steps of heart, such as the belief of the truth, earnest prayers to God, the submission of the soul to the precepts of His Gospel.”
Coming to Christ is a leaving of all false confidences, a renouncing of all love to sin and a looking to Jesus as the solitary pillar of our confidence and hope.”
It is the unreserved acceptance of Christ as my absolute Lord, bowing to His will and receiving His yoke. Possibly someone may object, Then why are Christians exhorted as they are in Romans 12:1? We answer, All such exhortations are simply a calling on them to continue as they began: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him” ( Colossians 2:6).
Yes, mark it well that Christ is “received” as Lord. Oh, how far, far below the New Testament standard is this modern way of begging sinners to receive Christ as their own personal “Saviour.” If the reader will consult his concordance, he will find that in every passage where the two titles are found together it is always “Lord and Saviour, and never vice versa: see Luke 1:46,47; 2 Peter 1:11; 2:20; 3:18.
Until the ungodly are sensible of the exceeding sinfulness of their vile course of self-will and self-pleasing, until they are genuinely broken down and penitent over it before God, until they are willing to forsake the world for Christ, until they have resolved to come under His government, for such to depend upon Him for pardon and life is not faith, but blatant presumption, it is but to add insult to injury. And for any such to take His holy name upon their polluted lips and profess to be His followers is the most terribly blasphemy, and comes perilously nigh to committing that sin for which there is no forgiveness. Alas, alas, that modern evangelism is encouraging and producing just such hideous and Christ-dishonoring monstrosities.
Saving faith is a believing on Christ with the heart: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” ( Romans 10:9,10).
There is no such thing as a saving faith in Christ where there is no real love for Him, and by “real love” we mean a love which is evidenced by obedience. Christ acknowledges none to be His friends save those who do whatsoever He commands them ( John 15:14). As unbelief is a species of rebellion, so saving faith is a complete subjection to God: Hence we read of “the obedience of faith” ( Romans 16:26). Saving faith is to the soul what health is to the body: it is a mighty principle of operation, full of life, ever working, bringing forth fruit after its own kind. 3. ITS DIFFICULTY Some of our readers will probably be surprised to hear about the difficulty of saving faith. On almost every side today it is being taught, even by men styled orthodox and “fundamentalists,” that getting saved is an exceedingly simple affair. So long as a person believes John 3:16, and “rests on it,” or “accepts Christ as his personal Saviour,” that is all that is needed. It is often said that there is nothing left for the sinner to do but direct his faith toward the right object: just as a man trusts his bank or a wife her husband, let him exercise the same faculty of faith and trust in Christ. So widely has this idea been received that for anyone now to condemn it is to court being branded as a heretic. Notwithstanding, the writer here unhesitatingly denounces it as a most God-insulting lie of the Devil. A natural faith is sufficient for trusting a human object; but a supernatural faith is required to trust savingly in a Divine object.
While observing the methods employed by present-day “evangelists” and “personal workers,” we are made to wonder what place the Holy Spirit has in their thoughts; certainly they entertain the most degrading conception of that miracle of grace which He performs when He moves a human heart to surrender truly unto the Lord Jesus. Alas, in these degenerate times few have any idea that saving faith is a miraculous thing. Instead, it is now almost universally supposed that saving faith is nothing more than an act of the human will, which any man is capable of performing: all that is needed is to bring before a sinner a few verses of Scripture which describe his lost condition, one or two which contain the word “believe,” and then a little persuasion, for him to “accept Christ,” and the thing is done. And the awful thing is that so very, very few see anything wrong with this—blind to the fact that such a process is only the Devil’s drug to lull thousands into a false peace.
So many have been argued into believing that they are saved. In reality, their “faith” sprang from nothing better than a superficial process of logic.
Some “personal worker” addresses a man who has no concern whatever for the glory of God and no realization of his terrible hostility against Him.
Anxious to “win another soul to Christ,” he pulls out his New Testament and reads to him 1 Timothy 1:15. The worker says, “You are a sinner,” and his man assenting he is at-once informed, “Then that verse includes you.” Next John 3:16, is read, and the question is asked, “Whom does the word ‘whosoever’ include?” The question is repeated until the poor victim answers, “You, me, and everybody.” Then he is asked, “Will you believe it; believe that God loves you, that Christ died for you?” If the answer is “Yes,” he is at once assured that he is now saved. Ah, my reader, if this is how you were “saved,” then it was with “enticing words of man’s wisdom” and your “faith” stands only “in the wisdom of men” ( Corinthians 2:4, 5), and not in the power of God!
Multitudes seem to think that it is about as easy for a sinner to purify his heart ( James 4:8) as it is to wash his hands; to admit the searching and flesh-withering light of Divine truth into the soul as the morning sun into his room by pulling up the blinds; to turn from idols to God, from the world to Christ, from sin to holiness, as to turn a ship right round by the help of her helm. Oh, my reader, be not deceived on this vital matter; to mortify the lusts of the flesh, to be crucified unto the world, to overcome the Devil, to die daily unto sin and live unto righteousness, to be meek and lowly in heart, trustful and obedient, pious and patient, faithful and uncompromising, loving and gentle; in a word, to be a Christian, to be Christ-like, is a task far, far beyond the poor resources of fallen human nature.
It is because a generation has arisen which is ignorant of the real nature of saving faith that they deem it such a simple thing. It is because so very few have any scriptural conception of the character of God’s great salvation that the delusions referred to above are so widely received. It is because so very few realize what they need saving from that the popular “evangel” (?) of the hour is so eagerly accepted. Once it is seen that saving faith consists of very much more than believing that “Christ died for me,” that it involves and entails the complete surrender of my heart and life to His government, few will imagine that they possess it. Once it is seen that God’s salvation is not only a legal but also an experimental thing, that it not only justifies but regenerates and sanctifies, fewer will suppose they are its participants.
Once it is seen that Christ came here to save His people not only from hell, but from sin, from self-will and self-pleasing, then fewer will desire His salvation.
The Lord Jesus did not teach that saving faith was a simple matter. Far from it. Instead of declaring that the saving of the soul was an easy thing, which many would participate in, He said: “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” ( Matthew 7:14).
The only path which leads to heaven is a hard and laborious one. “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” ( Acts 14:22): an entrance into that path calls for the utmost endeavours of soul—”Strive to enter in at the strait gate” ( Luke 13:24).
After the young ruler had departed from Christ, sorrowing, the Lord turned to His disciples and said, “How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” ( Mark 10:24,25).
What place is given to such a passage as this in the theology (if “theology” it is fit to be called) which is being taught in the “Bible institutes” to those seeking to qualify for evangelistic and personal work? None at all.
According to their views, it is just as easy for a millionaire to be saved as it is for a pauper, since all that either has to do is “rest on the finished work of Christ.” But those who are wallowing in wealth think not of God: “According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart exalted; therefore have they forgotten Me!” ( Hosea 13:6).
When the disciples heard these words of Christ’s “they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?” Had our moderns heard them, they had soon set their fears at rest, and assured them that anybody and everybody could be saved if they believed on the Lord Jesus. But not so did Christ reassure them. Instead, He immediately added, “With men it is impossible, but not with God” ( Mark 10:27).
Of himself, the fallen sinner can no more repent evangelically, believe in Christ savingly, come to Him effectually, than he can create a world. “With men it is impossible” rules out of court all special pleading for the power of man’s will. Nothing but a miracle of grace can lead to the saving of any sinner.
And why is it impossible for the natural man to exercise saving faith? Let the answer be drawn from the case of this young ruler. He departed from Christ sorrowing, “for he had great possessions.” He was wrapped up in them. They were his idols. His heart was chained to the things of earth.
The demands of Christ were too exacting: to part with all and follow Him was more than flesh and blood could endure. Reader, what are your idols?
To him the Lord said, “One thing thou lackest.” What was it? A yielding to the imperative requirements of Christ; a heart surrendered to God. When the soul is stuffed with the dregs of earth, there is no room for the impressions of heaven. When a man is satisfied with carnal riches, he has no desire for spiritual riches.
The same sad truth is brought out again in Christ’s parable of the “great supper.” The feast of Divine grace is spread, and through the Gospel a general call is given for men to come and partake of it. And what is the response? This: “They all with one consent began to make excuse” ( Luke 14:18).
And why should they? Because they were more interested in other things.
Their hearts were set upon land (verse 18), oxen (verse 19), domestic comforts (verse 20). People are willing to “accept Christ” on their own terms, but not on His. What His terms are is made known in the same chapter: giving Him the supreme place in our affections (verse 26), the crucifixion of self (verse 27), the abandonment of every idol (verse 33).
Therefore did He ask, “which of you, intending to build a tower [figure of a hard task of setting the affections on things above ], sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost?” ( Luke 14:28). “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?” ( John 5:44).
Do these words picture the exercise of saving faith as the simple matter which so many deem it? The word “honour” here signifies approbation or praise. While those Jews were making it their chief aim to win and hold the good opinion of each other, and were indifferent to the approval of God, it was impossible that they should come to Christ. It is the same now: “Whomsoever therefore will be [desires and is determined to be] a friend of the world is the enemy of God” ( James 4:4).
To come to Christ effectually, to believe on Him savingly, involves turning our backs upon the world, alienating ourselves from the esteem of our godless (or religious) fellows, and identifying ourselves with the despised and rejected One. It involves bowing to His yoke, surrendering to His lordship, and living henceforth for His glory. And that is no small task. “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you” ( John 6:27).
Does this language imply that the obtaining of eternal life is a simple matter? It does not; far from it. It denotes that a man must be in deadly earnest, subordinating all other interests in his quest for it, and be prepared to put forth strenuous endeavours and overcome formidable difficulties.
Then does this verse teach salvation by works, by self-efforts? No, and yes.
No in the sense that anything we do can merit salvation—eternal life is a “gift.” Yes in the sense that wholehearted seeking after salvation and a diligent use of the prescribed means of grace are demanded of us. Nowhere in Scripture is there any promise to the dilatory. (Compare Hebrews 4:11). “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” ( John 6:44).
Plainly does this language give the lie to the popular theory of the day, that it lies within the power of man’s will to be saved any time he chooses to be. Flatly does this verse contradict the flesh-pleasing and creaturehonouring idea that anyone can receive Christ as his Saviour the moment he decides to do so. The reason why the natural man cannot come to Christ till the Father “draw” him is because he is the bondslave of sin ( John 8:34), serving divers lusts ( Titus 3:3), the captive of the Devil ( Timothy 2:26). Almighty power must break his chains and open the prison doors ( Luke 4:18) ere he can come to Christ. Can one who loves darkness and hates the light reverse the process? No, no more than a man who has a diseased foot or poisoned hand can heal it by an effort of will.
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? No more can they do good who are accustomed to do evil ( Jeremiah 13:23). “And if the righteous with difficulty is saved, the ungodly and sinner where shall they appear?” ( 1 Peter 4:18, Bag. Int.).
Matthew Henry said, “It is as much as the best can do to secure the salvation of their souls; there are so many sufferings, temptations, and difficulties to be overcome; so many sins to be mortified; the gate is so strait, and the way so narrow, that it is as much as the righteous man can do to be saved. Let the absolute necessity of salvation balance the difficulty of it. Consider your difficulties are the greatest at first:
So also John Lillie, “After all that God has done by sending His Son, and the Son by the Holy Spirit, it is only with difficulty, exceeding difficulty, that the work of saving the righteous advances to its consummation.
The entrance into the kingdom lies through much tribulation— through fightings without and fears within—through the world’s seductions, and its frowns—through the utter weakness and continual failures of the flesh, and the many fiery darts of Satan.”
Here then are the reasons why saving faith is so difficult to put forth. (1) By nature men are entirely ignorant of its real character, and therefore are easily deceived by Satan’s plausible substitutes for it. But even when they are scripturally informed thereon, they either sorrowfully turn their backs on Christ, as did the rich young ruler when he learned His terms of discipleship, or they hypocritically profess what they do not possess. (2) The power of self-love reigns supreme within, and to deny self is too great a demand upon the unregenerate. (3) The love of the world and the approbation of their friends stands in the way of a complete surrender to Christ. (4) The demands of God that He should be loved with all the heart and that we should be “holy in all manner of conversation” ( 1 Peter 1:15) repels the carnal. (5) Bearing the reproach of Christ, being hated by the religious world ( John 15:18), suffering persecution for righteousness’ sake, is something which mere flesh and blood shrinks from. (6) The humbling of ourselves before God, penitently confessing all our self-will, is something which an unbroken heart revolts against. (7) To fight the good fight of faith ( 1 Timothy 6:12) and overcome the Devil ( 1 John 2:13) is too arduous an undertaking for those who love their own ease.
Multitudes desire to be saved from hell (the natural instinct of selfpreservation) who are quite unwilling to be saved from sin. Yes, there are tens of thousands who have been deluded into thinking that they have “accepted Christ as their Saviour,” whose lives show plainly that they reject Him as their Lord. For a sinner to obtain the pardon of God he must “forsake his way” ( Isaiah 55:7). No man can turn to God until he turns from idols ( 1 Thessalonians 1:9). Thus insisted the Lord Jesus, “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be My disciple” ( Luke 14:33).
The terrible thing is that so many preachers today, under the pretence of magnifying the grace of God, have represented Christ as the Minister of sin; as One who has, through His atoning sacrifice, procured an indulgence for men to continue gratifying their fleshly and worldly lusts. Provided a man professes to believe in the virgin birth and vicarious death of Christ, and claims to be resting upon Him alone for salvation, he may pass for a real Christian almost anywhere today, even though his daily life may be no different from that of the moral worldling who makes no profession at all.
The Devil is chloroforming thousands into hell by this very delusion. The Lord Jesus asks, “Why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” ( Luke 6:46); and insists, “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven” ( Matthew 7:2 1).
The hardest task before most of us is not to learn, but to unlearn. Many of God’s own children have drunk so deeply of the sweetened poison of Satan that it is by no means easy to get it out of their systems; and while it remains in them it stupefies their understanding. So much is this the case that the first time one of them reads an article like this it is apt to strike him as an open attack upon the sufficiency of Christ’s finished ‘work, as though we were here teaching that the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb needed to be plussed by something from the creature. Not so. Nothing but, the merits of Immanuel can ever give any sinner title to stand before the ineffably holy God. But what we are now contending for is, When does God impute to any sinner the righteousness of Christ? Certainly not while he is opposed to Him.
Moreover, we do not honour the work of Christ until we correctly define what that work was designed to effect. The Lord of glory did not come here and die to procure the pardon of our sins, and take us to heaven while our hearts still remain cleaving to the earth. No, He came here to prepare a way to heaven ( John 10:4; 14:4; Hebrews 10:20-22; 1 Peter 2:21), to call men into that way, that by His precepts and promises, His example and spirit, He might form and fashion their souls to that glorious state, and make them willing to abandon all things for it. He lived and died so that His Spirit should come and quicken the dead sinners into newness of life, make them new creatures in Himself, and cause them to sojourn in this world as those who are not of it, as those whose hearts have already departed from it. Christ did not come here to render a change of heart, repentance, faith, personal holiness, loving God supremely and obeying Him unreservedly, as unnecessary, or salvation as possible without them.
How passing strange that any suppose He did!
Ah, my reader, it becomes a searching test for each of our hearts to face honestly the question, Is this what I really long for? As Bunyan asked (in his The Jerusalem Sinner Saved), “What are thy desires? Wouldest thou be saved? Wouldest thou be saved with a thorough salvation? Wouldest thou be saved from guilt, and from filth too? Wouldest thou be the servant of the Saviour? Art thou indeed weary of the service of thy old master, the Devil, sin, and the world? And have these desires put thy soul to flight? Dost thou fly to Him that is a Saviour from the wrath to come, for life? If these be thy desires, and if they be’ unfeigned, fear not.” “Many people think that when we preach salvation, we mean salvation from going to hell. We do mean that, but we mean a great deal more: we preach salvation from sin; we say that Christ is able to save a man; and we mean by that that He is able to save him from sin and to make him holy; to make him a new man. No person has any right to say ‘I am saved,’ while he continues in sin as he did before. How can you be saved from sin while you are living in it? A man that is drowning cannot say he is saved from the water while he is sinking in it; a man that is frost-bitten cannot say, with any truth, that he is saved from the cold while he is stiffened in the wintry blast. No, man, Christ did not come to save thee in thy sins, but to save thee from thy sins, not to make the disease so that it should not kill thee, but to let it remain in itself mortal, and, nevertheless, to remove it from thee, and thee from it. Christ Jesus came then to heal us from the plague of sin, to touch us with His hand and say ‘I will, be thou clean’”(C. H. Spurgeon, on Matthew 9:12).
They who do not yearn after holiness of heart and righteousness of life are only deceiving themselves when they suppose they desire to be saved by Christ. The plain fact is, all that is wanted by so many today is merely a soothing portion of their conscience, which will enable them to go on comfortably in a course of self-pleasing which will permit them to continue their worldly ways without the fear of eternal punishment. Human nature is the same the world over; that wretched instinct which causes multitudes to believe that paying a papist priest a few dollars procures forgiveness of all their past sins, and an “indulgence” for future ones, moves other multitudes to devour greedily the lie that, with an unbroken and impenitent heart, by a mere act of the will, they may “believe in Christ,” and thereby obtain not only God’s pardon for past sins but an “eternal security,” no matter what they do or do not do in the future.
Oh, my reader, be not deceived; God frees none from the condemnation but those “which are in Christ Jesus” ( Romans 8:1), and “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are [not “ought to be”] passed away; behold, all things are become new ( 2 Corinthians 5:17). Saving faith makes a sinner come to Christ with a real soul-thirst, that he may drink of the living water, even of His sanctifying Spirit ( John 7:38,39).
To love our enemies, to bless them that curse us, to pray for them that despitefully use us, is very far from being easy, yet this is only one part of the task which Christ assigns unto those who would be His disciples. He acted thus, and He has left us an example that we should follow His steps.
And His “salvation,” in its present application, consists of revealing to our hearts the imperative need for our measuring up to His high and holy standard, with a realization of our own utter powerlessness so to do; and creating within us an intense hunger and thirst after such personal righteousness, and a daily turning unto Him and trustful supplication for needed grace and strength. 4. ITS COMMUNICATION From the human viewpoint, things are now in a bad state in the world. But from the spiritual viewpoint things are in a far worse state in the religious realm. Sad is it to see the anti-Christian cults flourishing on every side; but far more grievous is it, for those who are taught of God, to discover that much of the so-called “Gospel” which is now being preached in many “fundamentalist churches” and” gospel halls” is but a satanic delusion. The Devil knows that his captives are quite secure while the grace of God and the finished work of Christ are “faithfully” proclaimed to them, so long as the only way in which sinners receive the saving virtues of the Atonement is unfaithfully concealed. While God’s peremptory and unchanging demand for repentance is left out, while Christ’s own terms of discipleship (i.e. how to become a Christian: Acts 11:26) in Luke 14:26,27,33, are withheld, and while saving faith is frittered down to a mere act of the will, blind laymen will continue to be led by blind preachers, only for both to fall into the ditch.
Things are far, far worse even in the “orthodox” sections of Christendom than the majority of God’s own children are aware. Things are rotten even at the very foundation, for with very rare exceptions God’s way of salvation is no longer being taught. Tens of thousands are “ever learning” points in prophecy, the meaning of the types, the significance of the numerals, how to divide the “dispensations,” who are, nevertheless, “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” ( 2 Timothy 3:7) of salvation itself—unable because unwilling to pay the price ( Proverbs 23:23), which is a full surrender to God Himself. As far as the writer understands the present situation, it seems to him that what is needed today is to press upon the serious attention of professing Christians such questions as: When is it that God applies to a sinner the virtues of Christ’s finished work? What is it that I am called upon to do in order to appropriate myself to the efficacy of Christ’s atonement? What is it that gives me an actual entrance into the good of His redemption?
The questions formulated above are only three different ways of framing the same inquiry. Now the popular answer which is being returned to them is, “Nothing more is required from any sinner than that he simply believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” In the preceding articles of this series we have sought to show that such a reply is misleading, inadequate, faulty, and that because it ignores all the other scriptures which set forth what God requires from the sinner: it leaves out of account God’s demand for repentance (with all that that involves and includes), and Christ’s clearly defined terms of discipleship in Luke 14. To restrict ourselves to any one scripture term of a subject, or set of passages using that term, results in an erroneous conception of it. They who limit their ideas of regeneration to the one figure of the new birth lapse into serious error upon it. So they who limit their thoughts on how to be saved to the one word “believe” are easily misled. Diligent care needs to be taken to collect all that Scripture teaches on any subject if we are to have a properly balanced and accurate view thereof.
To be more specific. In Romans 10:13, we read, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Now does this mean that all who have, with their lips, cried unto the Lord, who have in the name of Christ besought God to have mercy on them, have been saved by Him?
They who reply in the affirmative are only deceived by the mere sound of words, as the deluded Romanist is when he contends for Christ’s bodily presence in the bread, because He said “this is My body.” And how are we to show the papist is misled? Why, by comparing Scripture with Scripture.
So here. The writer well remembers being on a ship in a terrible storm off the coast of Newfoundland. All the hatches were battened down, and for three days no passenger was allowed on the decks. Reports from the stewards were disquieting. Strong men paled. As the winds increased and the ship rolled worse and worse, scores of men and women were heard calling upon the name of the Lord. Did He save them? A day or two later, when the weather changed, those same men and women were drinking, cursing, card-playing!
Perhaps someone asks, “But does not Romans 10:13 say what it means?” Certainly it does, but no verse of Scripture yields its meaning to lazy people. Christ Himself tells us that there are many who call Him “Lord” to whom He will say “Depart from Me” ( Matthew 7:22,23).
Then what is to be done with Romans 10:13? Why, diligently compare it with all other passages which make known what the sinner must do ere God will save him. If nothing more than the fear of death or horror of hell prompts the sinner to call upon the Lord, he might just as well call upon the trees. The Almighty is not at the beck and call of any rebel who, when he is terrified, sues for mercy. “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination” ( Proverbs 28:9)! “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” ( Proverbs 28:13).
The only “calling upon His name” which the Lord heeds is that which issues from a broken, penitent, sin-hating heart, which thirsts after holiness.
The same principle applies to Acts 16:31, and all similar texts: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” To a casual reader, that seems a very simple matter, yet a closer pondering of those words should discover that more is involved than at first sight appears. Note that the apostles did not merely tell the Philippian jailer to “rest on the finished work of Christ,” or “trust in His atoning sacrifice.” Instead, it was a Person that was set before him. Again, it was not simply “Believe on the Saviour,” but “the Lord Jesus Christ.” John 1:12 shows plainly that to “believe” is to “receive,” and to be saved a sinner must receive One who is not only Saviour but “Lord,” yea, who must be received as “Lord” before He becomes the Saviour of that person. And to receive “Christ Jesus the Lord” ( Colossians 2:6) necessarily involves the renouncing of our own sinful lordship, the throwing down of the weapons of our warfare against Him, and the submitting to His yoke and rule. And before any human rebel is brought to do that, a miracle of Divine grace has to be wrought within him. And this brings us more immediately to the present aspect of our theme.
Saving faith is not a native product of the human heart, but a spiritual grace communicated from on high. “It is the gift of God” ( Ephesians 2:8). It is “of the operation of God” ( Colossians 2:12). It is by “the power of God” ( 1 Corinthians 2:5). A most remarkable passage on this subject is found in Ephesians 1:16-20. There we find the apostle Paul praying that the saints should have the eyes of their understanding enlightened, that they might know “what is 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.” Not the strong power of God, or the greatness of it, but the “exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward.” Note too the standard of comparison: we “believe according to the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead.”
God put forth His “Mighty power” when He resurrected Christ. There was a mighty power seeking to hinder, even Satan and all his hosts. There was a mighty difficulty to be overcome, even the vanquishing of the grace.
There was a mighty result to be achieved, even the bringing to life of One who was dead. None but God Himself was equal to a miracle so stupendous. Strictly analogous is that miracle of grace which issues in saving faith. The Devil employs all his arts and power to retain his captive.
The sinner is dead in trespasses and sins, and can no more quicken himself than he can create a world. His heart is bound fast with the grave-clothes of worldly and fleshly lusts, and only Omnipotence can raise it into communion with God. Well may every true servant of the Lord emulate the apostle Paul and pray earnestly that God will enlighten His people concerning this wonder of wonders, so that instead of attributing their faith to an exercise of their own will they may freely ascribe all the honour and glory unto Him to whom alone it justly belongs.
If only the professing Christians of this untoward generation could begin to obtain some adequate conception of the real condition of every man by nature, they might be less inclined to cavil against the teaching that nothing short of a miracle of grace can ever qualify any sinner to believe unto the saving of his soul If they could only see that the heart’s attitude towards God of the most refined and moral is not a whit different from that of the most vulgar and vicious; that he who is most kind and benevolent toward his fellow creatures has no more real desire after Christ than has the most selfish and brutal; then it would be evident that Divine power must operate to change the heart. Divine power was needed to create, but much greater power is required to regenerate a soul: creation is only the bringing of something Out of nothing, but regeneration is the transforming not only of an unlovely object, but of one that resists with all its might the gracious designs of the heavenly Potter.
It is not simply that the Holy Spirit approaches a heart in which there is no love for God, but He finds it filled with enmity against Him, and incapable of being subject to His law ( Romans 8:7). True, the individual himself maybe quite unconscious of this terrible fact, yea, ready indignantly to deny it. But that is easily accounted for. If he has heard little or nothing but the love, the grace, the mercy, the goodness of God, it would indeed be surprising if he hated Him. But once the God of Scripture is made known to him in the power of the Spirit, once he is made to realize that God is the Governor of this world, demanding unqualified submission to all His laws; that He is inflexibly just, and “will by no means clear the guilty”; that He is sovereign, and loves whom He pleases and hates whom He wills; that so far from being an easy-going, indulgent Creator, who winks at the follies of His creatures, He is ineffably holy, so that His righteous wrath burns against all the workers of iniquity—then will people be conscious of indwelling enmity surging up against Him. And nothing but the almighty power of the Spirit can overcome that enmity and bring any rebel truly to love the God of Holy Writ.
Rightly did Thomas Goodwin the Puritan say, “A wolf will sooner marry a lamb, or a lamb a wolf, than ever a carnal heart be subject to the law of God, which was the ancient husband of it ( Romans 7:6). It is the turning of one contrary into another. To turn water into wine, there is some kind of symbolizing, yet that is a miracle. But to turn a wolf into a lamb, to turn fire into water, is a yet greater miracle. Between nothing and something there is an infinite distance, but between sin and grace there is a greater distance than can be between nothing and the highest angel in heaven... To. destroy the power of sin in a man’s soul is as great a work as to take away the guilt of sin. It is easier to say to a blind man, ‘See,’ and to a lame man, ‘Walk,’ than to say to a man that lies under the power of sin, ‘Live, be holy,’ for there is that that will not be subject.”
In 2 Corinthians 10:4, the apostle describes the character of that work in which the true servants of Christ are engaged. It is a conflict with the forces of Satan. The weapons of their warfare are “not carnal”—as well might modern soldiers go forth equipped with only wooden swords and paper shields as preachers think to liberate the Devil’s captives by means of human leaning, worldly methods, touching anecdotes, attractive singing, and so on. No, “their weapons” are the “word of God” and “all prayer” ( Ephesians 6:17,18); and even these are only mighty “through God,” that is by His direct and special blessing of them to particular souls. In what follows, a description is given of where the might of God is seen, namely in the powerful opposition which it meets with and vanquishes; “to the pulling down of strong holds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”
Herein lies the power of God when He is pleased thus to put it forth in the saving of a sinner. The heart of that sinner is fortified against Him: it is steeled against His holy demands, His righteous claims. It is determined not to submit to His law, nor to abandon those idols which it prohibits. That haughty rebel has made up his mind that he will not turn away from the delights of this world and the pleasure of sin and give God the supreme place in his affections. But God has determined to overcome his sinful opposition, and transform him into a loving and loyal subject. The figure here used is that of a besieged town—the heart. Its “strongholds”—the reigning power of fleshly and worldly lusts—are “pulled down”; self-will is broken, pride is subdued, and the defiant rebel is made a willing captive to “the obedience of Christ”! “Mighty through God” points to this miracle of grace.
There is one other detail pointed by the analogy drawn in Ephesians 1:19,20, which exemplifies the mighty power of God, namely “and set Him [Christ] at His own right hand in the heavenly places.” The members of Christ’s mystical body are predestinated to be conformed to the glorious image of their glorified Head: in measure, now; perfectly, in the day to come. The ascension of Christ was contrary to nature, being opposed by the law of gravitation. But the power of God overcame that opposition, and translated His resurrected Son bodily into heaven. In like manner, His grace produces in His people that which is contrary to nature, overcoming the opposition of the flesh, and drawing their hearts unto things above.
How we would marvel if we saw a man extend his arms and suddenly leave the earth, soaring upward into the sky. Yet still more wonderful is it when we behold the power of the Spirit causing a sinful creature to rise above temptations, worldliness and sin, and breathe the atmosphere of heaven; when a human soul is made to disdain the things of earth and find its satisfaction in things above.
Before setting His Son at His own right hand in the heavenlies, God raised Him from the dead; so before the Holy Spirit fixes the heart of a sinner upon Christ He first quickens him into newness of life. There must be life before there can be sight, believing, or good works performed. One who is physically dead is incapable of doing anything; so he who is spiritually dead is incapable of any spiritual exercises. First the giving of life unto dead Lazarus, then the removing of the grave-clothes which bound him hand and foot. God must regenerate before there can be a “new creature in Christ Jesus.” The washing of a child follows its birth.
When spiritual life has been communicated to the soul, that individual is now able to see things in their true colours. In God’s light he sees light ( Psalm 36:9). He is now given to perceive (by the Holy Spirit) what a lifelong rebel he has been against his Creator and Benefactor: that instead of making God’s will his rule he has gone his own way; that instead of having before him God’s glory he has sought only to please and gratify self. Even though he may have been preserved from all the grosser outward forms of wickedness, he now recognizes that he is a spiritual leper, a vile and polluted creature, utterly unfit to draw near, still less to dwell with, Him who is ineffably holy; and such an apprehension makes him feel that his case is hopeless.
There is a vast difference between hearing or reading of what conviction of sin is and being made to feel it in the depths of one’s own soul. Multitudes are acquainted with the theory who are total strangers to the experience of it: One may read of the sad effects of war, and may agree that they are indeed dreadful; but when the enemy is at one’s own door, plundering his goods, firing his home, slaying his dear ones, he is far more sensible of the miseries of war than ever he was (or could be) previously. So an unbeliever may hear of what a dreadful state the sinner is in before God, and how terrible will be the sufferings of hell; but when the Spirit brings home to his own heart its actual condition, and makes him feel the heat of God’s wrath in his own conscience, he is ready to sink with dismay and despair. Reader, do you know anything of such an experience?
Only thus is any soul prepared truly to appreciate Christ. They that are whole need not a physician. The one who has been savingly convicted is made to realize that none but the Lord Jesus can heal one so desperately diseased by sin; that He alone can impart that spiritual health (holiness) which will enable him to run in the way of God’s commandments; that nothing but His precious blood can atone for the sins of the past and naught but His all-sufficient grace can meet the pressing needs of the present and future. Thus there must be discerning faith before there is coming faith. The Father “draws” to the Son ( John 6:44) by imparting to the mind a deep realization of our desperate need of Christ, by giving to the heart a real sense of the inestimable worth of Him, and by causing the will to receive Him on His own terms. 5. ITS EVIDENCES The great majority of those who read this will, doubtless, be they who profess to be in possession of a saving faith. To all such we would put the questions. Where is your proof? What effects has it produced in you? A tree is known by its fruits, and a fountain by the waters which issue from it; so the nature of your faith may be ascertained by a careful examination of what it is bringing forth. We say “a careful examination ,” for as all fruit is not fit for eating nor all water for drinking, so all works are not the effects of a faith which saves. Reformation is not regeneration, and a changed life does not always indicate a changed heart. Have you been saved from a dislike of God’s commandments and a disrelish of His holiness? Have you been saved from pride, covetousness, murmuring? Have you been delivered from the love of this world, from the fear of man, from the reigning power of every sin?
The heart of fallen man is thoroughly depraved, its thoughts and imaginations being only evil continually ( Genesis 6:5). It is full of corrupt desires and affections, which exert themselves and influence man in all he does. Now the Gospel comes into direct opposition with these selfish lusts and corrupt affections, both in the root and in the fruit of them ( Titus 2:11,12). There is no greater duty that the Gospel urges upon our souls than the mortifying and destroying of them, and this indispensably, if we intend to be made partakers of its promises ( Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5,8). Hence the first real work of faith is to cleanse the soul from these pollutions, and therefore we read, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” ( Galatians 5:24). Mark well, it is not that they “ought to” do so, but that they have actually , in some measure or degree.
It is one thing really to think we believe a thing, it is quite another actually to do so. So fickle is the human heart that even in natural things men know not their own minds. In temporal affairs what a man really believes is best ascertained by his practice. Suppose I meet a traveler in a narrow gorge and tell him that just ahead is an impassable river, and that the bridge across it is rotten: if he declines to turn back, am I not warranted in concluding that he does not believe me? Or if a physician tells me a certain disease holds me in its grip, and that in a short time it will prove fatal if I do not use a prescribed remedy which is sure to heal, would he not be justified in inferring that I did not trust his judgment were he to see me not only ignoring his directions but following a contrary course? Likewise, to believe there is a hell and yet run unto it; to believe that sin continued in will damn and yet live in it—to what purpose is it to boast of such a faith?
Now, from what was before us in the above section, it should be plain beyond all room for doubt that when God imparts saving faith to a soul radical and real effects will follow. One cannot be raised from the dead without there being a consequent walking in newness of life. One cannot be the subject of a miracle of grace being wrought in the heart without a noticeable change being apparent to all who know him. Where a supernatural root has been implanted, supernatural fruit must issue therefrom. Not that sinless perfection is attained in the life, nor that the evil principle, the flesh, is eradicated from our beings, or even purified.
Nevertheless, there is now a yearning after perfection, there is a spirit resisting the flesh, there is a striving against sin. And more, there is a growing in grace, and a pressing forward along the “narrow way” which leads to heaven.
One serious error so widely propagated today in “orthodox” circles, and which is responsible for so many souls being deceived, is the seemingly Christ-honoring doctrine that it is “His blood which alone saves any sinner.” Ah, Satan is very clever; he knows exactly what bait to use for every place in which he fishes. Many a company would indignantly resent a preacher’s telling them that getting baptized and eating the Lord’s supper were God’s appointed means for saving the soul; yet most of these same people will readily accept the lie that it is only by the blood of Christ we can be saved. That is true Godwards, but it is not true manwards. The work of the Spirit in us is equally essential as the work of Christ for us. Let the reader carefully ponder the whole of Titus 3:5.
Salvation is twofold: it is both legal and experimental, and consists of justification and sanctification. Moreover, I owe my salvation not only to the Son but to all three persons in the Godhead. Alas, how little is this realized today, and how little is it preached. First and primarily I owe my salvation to God the Father, who ordained and planned it, and who chose me unto salvation ( 2 Thessalonians 2:13). In Titus 2:4, it is the Father who is denominated “God our Saviour.” Secondly and meritoriously I owe my salvation to the obedience and sacrifice of God the Son Incarnate, who performed as my Sponsor everything which the law required, and satisfied all its demands upon me. Thirdly and efficaciously I owe my salvation to the regenerating, sanctifying and preserving operations of the Spirit: note that His work is made just as prominent in Luke 15:8-10, as is the Shepherd’s in Luke 15:4-7! As Titus 3:5, so plainly affirms, God “saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit”; and it is the presence of His “fruit” in my heart and life which furnishes the immediate evidence of my salvation. “With the heart man believeth unto righteousness” ( Romans 10:10).
Thus it is the heart which we must first examine in order to discover evidences of the presence of a saving faith. And first, God’s Word speaks of “purifying their hearts by faith” ( Acts 15:9). Of old the Lord said, “0 Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness, that thou mayest be saved” ( Jeremiah 4:14). A heart that is being purified by faith (cf. 1 Peter 1:22), is one fixed upon a pure Object. It drinks from a pure Fountain, delights in a pure Law ( Romans 7:22), and looks forward to spending eternity with a pure Saviour ( 1 John 3:3). It loathes all that is filthy— spiritually as well as morally—yea, hates the very garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 23). Contrariwise, it loves all that is holy, lovely and Christlike. “The pure in heart shall see God” ( Matthew 5:8).
Heart purity is absolutely essential to fit us for dwelling in that place into which there shall in no wise enter anything “that defileth, neither worketh abomination” ( Revelation 21:27). Perhaps a little fuller definition is called for. Purifying the heart by faith consists of, first, the purifying of the understanding, by the shining in of Divine light, so as to cleanse it from error. Second, the purifying of the conscience, so as to cleanse it from guilt. Third, the purifying of the will, so as to cleanse it from self-will and self-seeking. Fourth, the purifying of the affections, so as to cleanse them from the love of all that is evil. In Scripture the “heart” includes all these four faculties. A deliberate purpose to continue in any one sin cannot consist with a pure heart.
Again, saving faith is always evidenced by a humble heart. Faith lays the soul low, for it discovers its own vileness, emptiness, impotency. It realizes its former sinfulness and present unworthiness. It is conscious of its weaknesses and wants, its carnality and corruptions. Nothing more exalts Christ than faith, and nothing more debases a man. In order to magnify the riches of His grace, God has selected faith as the fittest instrument, and this because it is that which causes us to go entirely out from ourselves unto Him. Faith, realizing we are nothing but sin and wretchedness, comes unto Christ as an empty-handed beggar to receive all from Him. Faith empties a man of self-conceit, self-confidence, and self-righteousness, and makes him seem nothing, that Christ may be all in all. The strongest faith is always accompanied by the greatest humility, accounting self the greatest of sinners and unworthy of the least favour (see Matthew 8:8-10).
Again, saving faith is always found in a tender heart. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” ( Ezekiel 36:26).
An unregenerate heart is hard as stone, full of pride and presumption. It is quite unmoved by the sufferings of Christ, in the sense that they act as no deterrent against self-will and self-pleasing. But the real Christian is moved by the love of Christ, and says, How can I sin against His dying love for me. When overtaken by a fault, there is passionate relenting and bitter mourning. Oh, my reader, do you know what it is to be melted before God, for you to be heart-broken with anguish over sinning against and grieving such a Saviour? Ah, it is not the absence of sin but the grieving over it which distinguishes the child of God from empty professors.
Another characteristic of saving faith is that it “worketh by love” ( Galatians 5:6). It is not inactive, but energetic. That faith which is “of the operation of God” ( Colossians 2:12) is a mighty principle of power, diffusing spiritual energy to all the faculties of the soul and enlisting them in the service of God. Faith is a principle of life, by which the Christian lives unto God; a principle of motion, by which he walks to heaven along the highway of holiness; a principle of strength, by which he opposes the flesh, the world, and the Devil. “Faith in the heart of a Christian is like the salt that was thrown into the corrupt fountain, that made the naughty waters good and the barren land fruitful. Hence it is that there followeth an alteration of life and conversation, and so bringeth forth fruit accordingly: ‘A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good fruit’; which treasure is faith” (John Bunyan in Christian Behaviour).
Where a saving faith is rooted in the heart it grows up and spreads itself in all the branches of obedience, and is filled with the fruits of righteousness.
It makes its possessor act for God, and thereby evidences that it is a living thing and not merely a lifeless theory. Even a newborn infant, though it cannot walk and work as a grown man, breathes and cries, moves and sucks, and thereby shows it is alive. So with the one who has been born again; there is a breathing unto God, a crying after Him, a moving toward Him, a clinging to Him. But the infant does not long remain a babe; there is growth, increasing strength, enlarged activity. Nor does the Christian remain stationary: he goes “from strength to strength” ( Psalm 84:7).
But observe carefully, faith not only “worketh” but it “worketh by love .” It is at this point that the “works” of the Christian differ from those of the mere religionist. “The papist works that he may merit heaven. The Pharisee works that he may be applauded, that he may be seen of men, that he may have a good esteem with them. The slave works lest he should be beaten, lest he should be damned. The formalist works that he may stop the mouth of conscience, that will be accusing him, if he does nothing. The ordinary professor works because it is a shame to do nothing where so much is professed. But the true believer works because he loves. This is the principal, if not the only, motive that sets him a-work. If there were no other motive within or without him, yet would he be working for God, acting for Christ, because he loves Him; it is like fire in his bones” (David Clarkson).
Saving faith is ever accompanied by an obedient walk . “Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” ( 1 John 2:3,4).
Make no mistake upon this point: infinite as are the merits of Christ’s sacrifice, mighty as is the potency of His priestly intercession, yet they avail not for any who continue in the path of disobedience. He acknowledges none to be His disciples save them who do homage to Him as their Lord. “Too many professors pacify themselves with the idea that they possess imputed righteousness, while they are indifferent to the sanctifying work of the Spirit. They refuse to put on the garment of obedience, they reject the white linen which is the righteousness of the saints. They thus reveal their self-will, their enmity to God, and their non-submission to His Son. Such men may talk what they will about justification by faith, and salvation by grace, but they are rebels at heart; they have not on the wedding-dress any more than the self-righteous, whom they so eagerly condemn. The fact is, if we wish for the blessings of grace, we must in our hearts submit to the rules of grace without picking and choosing” (C.H. Spurgeon on “The Wedding Garment”).
Once more: saving faith is precious , for, like gold, it will endure trial ( Peter 1:7). A genuine Christian fears no test; he is willing, yea, wishes, to be tried by God Himself. He cries, “Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart” ( Psalm 26:2).
Therefore he is willing for his faith to be tried by others, for he shuns not the touchstone of Holy Writ. He frequently tries for himself, for where so much is at stake he must be sure . He is anxious to know the worst as well as the best. That preaching pleases him best which is most searching and discriminating. He is loath to be deluded with vain hopes. He would not be flattered into a high conceit of his spiritual state without grounds. When challenged, he complies with the apostle’s advice in 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Herein does the real Christian differ from the formalist. The presumptuous professor is filled with pride, and, having a high opinion of himself, is quite sure that he has been saved by Christ. He disdains any searching tests, and considers self-examination to be highly injurious and destructive of faith.
To preach to him of the finished work of Christ and the eternal security of all who believe in Him strengthens his false peace and feeds his carnal confidence. Should a real servant of God seek to convince him that his hope is a delusion, and his confidence presumptuous, he would regard him as an enemy, as Satan seeking to fill him with doubts. There is more hope of a murderer being saved than of his being disillusioned.
Another characteristic of saving faith is that it gives the heart victory over all the vanities and vexations of things below. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world : and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” ( 1 John 5:4).
Observe that this is not an ideal after which the Christian strives, but an actuality of present experience. In this the saint is conformed to His Head: “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” ( John 16:33).
Christ overcame it for His people, and now He overcomes it in them. He opens their eyes to see the hollowness and worthlessness of the best which this world has to offer, and weans their hearts from it by satisfying them with spiritual things. So little does the world attract the genuine child of God that he longs for the time to come when God shall take him out of it.
Alas, that so very few of those now bearing the name of Christ have any real experimental acquaintance with these things. Alas, that so many are deceived by a faith which is not a saving one. “He only is a Christian who lives for Christ. Many persons think they can be Christians on easier terms than these. They think it is enough to trust in Christ while they do not live for Him. But the Bible teaches us that if we are partakers of Christ’s death we are also partakers of His life. If we have any such appreciation of His love in dying for us as to lead us to confide in the merits of His death, we shall be constrained to consecrate our lives to His service. And this is the only evidence of the genuineness of our faith” (Charles Hodge on 2 Corinthians 5:15).
Reader, are the things mentioned above actualized in your own experience?
If they are not, how worthless and wicked is your profession! “It is therefore exceedingly absurd for any to pretend that they have a good heart while they live a wicked life, or do not bring forth the fruit of universal holiness in their practice. Men that live in the ways of sin, and yet flatter themselves that they shall go to heaven, expecting to be received hereafter as holy persons, without a holy practice, act as though they expected to make a fool of their Judge.
Which is implied in what the apostle says (speaking of men’s doing good works and living a holy life, thereby exhibiting evidence of their title to everlasting life), ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ ( Galatians 6:7). As much as to say, Do not deceive yourselves with an expectation of reaping life everlasting hereafter, if you do not sow to the Spirit here; it is in vain to think that God will be made a fool of by you” (Johathan Edwards in Religious Affections).
That which Christ requires from His disciples is that they should magnify and glorify Him in this world, and that by living holily to Him and suffering patiently for Him. Nothing is as honoring to Christ as that those who bear His name should, by their holy obedience, make manifest the power of His love over their hearts and lives. Contrariwise, nothing is so great a reproach to Him, nothing more dishonors Him, than that those who are living to please self, and who are conformed to this world, should cloak their wickedness under His holy name. A Christian is one who has taken Christ for his example in all things; then how great the insult which is done Him by those claiming to be Christians whose daily lives show they have no respect for His godly example. They are a stench in His nostrils; they are a cause of grievous sorrow to His real disciples; they are the greatest hindrance of all to the progress of His cause on earth; and they shall yet find that the hottest places in hell have been reserved for them. Oh that they would either abandon their course of self-pleasing or drop the profession of that name which is above every name.
Should the Lord be pleased to use this article in shattering the false confidence of some deluded souls, and should they earnestly inquire how they are to obtain a genuine and saving faith, we answer, Use the means which God has prescribed. When faith be His gift, He gives it in His own way; and if we desire to receive it, then we must put ourselves in that way wherein He is wont to communicate it. Faith is the work of God, but He works it not immediately, but through the channels of His appointed means. The means prescribed cannot effect faith of themselves. They are no further effectual than in instruments in the hands of Him who is the principal cause. Though He has not tied Himself to them, yet He has confined us. Though He be free, yet the means are necessary to us.
Here is a gracious promise, but in what way will He accomplish it, and similar ones? Listen, “Thus saith the Lord God; I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them”’ ( Ezekiel 36:3 7).
Cry earnestly to God for a new heart, for His regenerating Spirit, for the gift of saving faith. Prayer is a universal duty. Though an unbeliever sin in praying (as in everything else), it is not a sin for him to pray.
The second means is the written Word heard ( John 17:20; Corinthians 3:5) or read ( 2 Timothy 3:15). Said David, “I will never forget Thy precepts: for with them Thou hast quickened me” ( <19B993> Psalm 119:93).
May the Lord deign to add His blessing.
In When first writing upon this subject, we practically confined our attention to the omnipotence of God as it is seen in and through the old creation. Here we propose to contemplate the exercise of His might in and on the new creation. That God’s people are much slower to perceive the latter than the former is plain from Ephesians 1:19, where the apostle prayed that the saints might know “what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power.” Very striking indeed is this. When Paul speaks of the Divine power in creation he mentions “His power and Godhead” ( Romans 1:20); but when he treats of the work of grace and salvation, he calls it “the exceeding greatness of His power.”
God proportions His power to the nature of His work. The casting out of demons is ascribed to His “finger” ( Luke 11:20); His delivering of Israel from Egypt to His “hand” ( Exodus 13:9); but when the Lord saves a sinner it is His “holy arm” which gets Him the victory ( Psalm 98:1). It is to be duly noted that the language of Ephesians 1:19, is so couched as to take in the whole work of Divine grace in and upon the elect. It is not restrained to the past—“who have believed according to”; nor to the time to come—“the power that shall work in you”; but, instead, it is “the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe. ” It is the “effectual working” of God’s might from the first moment of illumination and conviction till their sanctification and glorification.
So dense is the darkness which has now fallen upon the people ( Isaiah 60:2), that the vast majority of those even in the “churches” deem it by no means a hard thing to become a Christian. They seem to think it is almost as easy to purify a man’s heart ( James 4:8) as it is to wash his hands; that it is as simple a matter to admit the light of Divine Truth into the soul as it is the morning sun into our chambers by opening the shutters; that it is no more difficult to turn the heart from evil to good, from the world to God, from sin to Christ, than to turn a ship round by the help of the helm.
To mortify the lusts of the flesh ( Colossians 3:5), to be crucified daily to sin ( Luke 9:23), to be meek and gentle, patient and kind—in a word, to be Christ-like—is a task altogether beyond our powers; it is one on which we would never venture, or, having ventured on, would soon abandon, but that God is pleased to perfect His strength in our weakness, and is “mighty to save” ( Isaiah 63:1). That this may be the more clearly evident to us, we shall now consider some of the features of God’s powerful operations in the saving of His people. 1. IN REGENERATION Little as real Christians may realize it, a far greater power is put forth by God in the new creation than in the old, in refashioning the soul and conforming it to the image of Christ than in the original making it. There is a greater distance between sin and righteousness, corruption and grace, depravity and holiness, than there is between nothing and something, or nonentity and being; and the greater the distance there is, the greater the power in producing something. The miracle is greater according as the change is greater. As it is a more signal display of power to change a dead man to life than a sick man to health, so it is a far more wonderful performance to change unbelief to faith and enmity to love than simply to create out of nothing. There we are told, “the gospel of Christ... is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” ( Romans 1:16).
The Gospel is the instrument which the Almighty uses when accomplishing the most wondrous and blessed of all His works, i.e. the picking up of wretched worms of the earth and making them “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” ( Colossians 1:12).
When God formed man Out of the dust of the ground, though the dust contributed nothing to the act whereby God made him, it had in it no principle contrary to His design. But in turning the heart of a sinner toward Himself, there is not only the lack of any principle of assistance from him in this work, but the whole strength of his nature unites to combat the power of Divine grace. When the Gospel is presented to the sinner, not only is his understanding completely ignorant of its glorious contents, but the will is utterly perverse against it. Not only is there no desire for Christ, but there is inveterate hostility against Him. Nothing but the almighty power of God can overcome the enmity of the carnal mind. To turn back the ocean from its course would not be such an act of power as to change the turbulent bent of man s wicked heart. 2. IN CONVICTING US OF SIN The “light of reason” of which men boast so much, and the “light of conscience” which others value so highly, were utterly worthless as far as giving any intelligence in the things of God was concerned. It was to this awful fact that Christ referred when He said, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” ( Matthew 6:23).
So “great” is that darkness that spiritual things are ‘‘foolishness” unto them ( 1 Corinthians 2:14). So “great” is that darkness that they are completely ignorant of it ( Ephesians 4:18), and utterly blind to their actual state. Not only is the natural man unable to deliver himself from this darkness, but he has no desire whatever for such deliverance, for being spiritually dead he has no consciousness of any need for deliverance.
It is because of their fearful state that, until the Holy Spirit actually regenerates, all who hear the Gospel are totally incapacitated for any spiritual understanding of it. The majority who hear it imagine that they are already saved, that they are real Christians, and no arguments from the preacher, no power on earth, can ever convince them to the contrary. Tell them, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness” ( Proverbs 30:12), and it makes no more impression than does water on a duck’s back. Warn them that, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” ( Luke 13:3), and they are no more moved than are the rocks by the oceans spray. No, they suppose that they have nothing to repent of, and know not that their repentance needs “to be repented of” ( 2 Corinthians 7:10). They have far too high an opinion of their religious profession to allow that they are in any danger of hell. Thus, unless a mighty miracle of grace is wrought within them, unless Divine power shatters their complacency, there is no hope at all for them.
For, a soul to be savingly convicted of sin is a greater wonder than for a putrid fountain to send forth sweet waters. For a soul to be brought to realize that “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” ( Genesis 6:5) requires the power of omnipotence to produce. By nature man is independent, self-sufficient, self-confident: what a miracle of grace has been wrought when he now feels and owns his helplessness! By nature a man thinks well of himself; what a miracle of grace has been wrought when he acknowledges, “in me... dwelleth no good thing” ( Romans 7:18)! By nature men are “lovers of themselves” ( 2 Timothy 3:2); what a miracle of grace has been wrought when men abhor themselves ( Job 42:6)! By nature man thinks he is doing Christ a favour to espouse His Gospel and patronize His cause; what a miracle of grace has been wrought when he discovers that he is utterly unfit for His holy presence, and cries, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” ( Luke 5:8).
By nature man is proud of his own abilities, accomplishments, attainments; what a miracle of grace has been wrought when he can truthfully declare, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus... and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” ( Philippians 3:8). 3. IN CASTING OUT THE DEVIL “The whole world lieth in wickedness” ( 1 John 5:19), bewitched, fettered, helpless. As we go over the Gospel narratives and read of different ones who were possessed of demons, thoughts of pity for the unhappy victims stir our minds, and when we behold the Saviour delivering these wretched creatures we are full of wonderment and gladness. But does the Christian reader realize that we too were once in that same awful plight? Before conversion we were the slaves of Satan, the Devil wrought in us his will ( Ephesians 2:2), and so we walked according to the prince of the power of the air.” What ability had we to deliver ourselves? Less than we have to stop the rain from falling or the wind from blowing. A picture of man’s helplessness to deliver himself from Satan’s power is drawn by Christ in Luke 11:21: “When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.” The “strong man” is Satan; his “goods” are the helpless captives.
This too was pictured by Christ in the same parable: “But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth the spoils” ( Luke 11:22).
Christ is mightier than Satan, He overcomes him in the day of His power ( <19B003> Psalm 110:3), and emancipates “His own” who are bound ( Isaiah 61:1). He still comes by His Spirit to “set at liberty them that are bruised” ( Luke 4:18), therefore is it said of God, “who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and bath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” plucking or snatching out of a power that otherwise would not yield its prey. 4. IN PRODUCING REPENTANCE Man without Christ cannot repent: “Him hath God exalted with His right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance” ( Acts 5:31).
Christ gave it as a “prince,” and therefore to none but His subjects, those who are in His kingdom, in whom He rules. Nothing can draw men to repentance but the regenerating power of Christ, which He exercises at God’s right hand; for the acts of repentance are hatred of sin, sorrow for it, determination to forsake it, and earnest and constant endeavour after its deaths But sin is so transcendently dear and delightful to a man out of Christ that nothing but an infinite power can draw him to these acts mentioned. Sin is more precious to an unregenerate soul than anything else in heaven or earth. It is dearer to him than liberty, for he gives himself up to it entirely, and becomes its servant and slave. It is dearer to him than health, strength, time, or riches, for he spends all these upon sin. It is dearer to him than his own soul. Shall a man lose his sins or his soul?
Ninety-nine out of a hundred vote for the latter, and lose their souls on that account.
Sin is a man’s self. Just as “I” is the central letter of “sin,” so sin is the center, the moving-power, the very life of self. Therefore did Christ say, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself’ ( Matthew 16:24).
Men are “lovers of their own selves” ( 2 Timothy 3:2), which is the same as saying that their hearts are wedded to sin. Man “drinketh iniquity like water” ( Job 15:16); he cannot exist without it, he is ever thirsting for it, he must have his fill of it. Now since man so dotes on sin, what is going to turn his delight into sorrow, his love for it into loathing of it?
Nothing but almighty power.
Here, then, we may mark the folly of those who cherish the delusion that they can repent whenever they get ready to do so. But evangelical repentance is not at the beck and call of the creature. It is the gift of God: “If God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” ( 2 Timothy 2:25).
Then what insanity is it that persuades multitudes to defer the effort to repent till their death-beds? Do they imagine that when they are so weak that they can no longer turn their bodies they will have strength to turn their souls from sin? Far sooner could they turn themselves back to perfect physical health. What praise, then, is due to God if He has wrought a saving repentance in us. 5. IN WORKING FAITH IN HIS PEOPLE Saving faith in Christ is not the simple matter that so many vainly imagine.
Countless thousands suppose it is as easy to believe in the Lord Jesus as in Caesar or Napoleon, and the tragic thing is that hundreds of preachers are helping forward this lie. It is as easy to believe on Him as on them in a natural, historical, intellectual way; but not so in a spiritual and saving way. I may believe in all the heroes of the past, but such belief effects no change in my life! I may have unshaken confidence in the historicity of George Washington, but does my belief in him abate my love for the world and cause me to hate even the garment spotted by the flesh? A supernatural and saving faith in Christ purifies the life. Is such a faith easily attained?
And again, we read, “They could not believe” ( John 12:39).
Faith in Christ is receiving Him as He is offered or presented to us by God ( John 1:12). Now God presents Christ to us not only as Priest, but as King; not only as Saviour, but as “Prince” ( Acts 5:21)—note that “Prince” precedes “Saviour,” as taking His “yoke” upon us goes before finding “rest” to our souls ( Matthew 11:29)! Are men as willing for Christ to rule as to save them? Do they pray as earnestly for purity as for pardon? Are they as anxious to be delivered from the power of sin as they are from the fires of hell? Do they desire holiness as much as they do heaven? Is the dominion of sin as dreadful to them as its wages? Does the filthiness of sin grieve them as much as the guilt and damnation of it? The man who divides what God has joined together when He offers Christ to us has not “received” Him at all.
Faith is the gift of God ( Ephesians 2:8,9). It is wrought in the elect by “the operation of God” ( Colossians 2:12). To bring a sinner from unbelief to saving faith in Christ is a miracle as great and as wondrous as was God’s raising Christ from the dead ( Ephesians 1:19,20). Unbelief is far, far more than entertaining an erroneous conception of God’s way of salvation: it is a species of hatred against Him. So faith in Christ is far more than the mind assenting to all that is said of Him in the Scriptures. The demons do that ( James 2:19), but it does not save them. Saving faith is not only the heart being weaned from every other object of confidence as the ground of my acceptance before God, but it is also the heart being weaned from every other object that competes with Him for my affections.
Saving faith is that “which worketh by love” ( Galatians 5:6), a love which is evidenced by keeping His commandments ( John 14:23); but by their very nature all men hate his commandments. Therefore where there is a believing heart which is devoted to Christ, esteeming Him above self and the world, a mighty miracle of grace has been wrought in the soul. 6. IN COMMUNICATING A SENSE OF PARDON When a soul has been sorely wounded by the “arrows of the Almighty” ( Job 6:4), when the ineffable light of the thrice holy God has shone into our dark hearts, revealing their unspeakable filthiness and corruption; when our innumerable iniquities have been made to stare us in the face, until the convicted sinner has been made to realize he is fit only for hell, and sees himself even now on the very brink of it; when he is brought to feel that he has provoked God so sorely that he greatly fears he has sinned beyond all possibility of forgiveness (and unless your soul has passed through such experiences, my readers, you have never been born again), then nothing but Divine power can raise that soul out of abject despair and create in it a hope of mercy. To lift the stricken sinner above those dark waters that have so terrified him, to bestow the light of comfort as well as the light of conviction into a heart filled with worse than Egyptian darkness, is an act of Omnipotence. God only can heal the heart which He has wounded and speak peace to the raging tempest within.
Men may count up the promises of God and the arguments of peace till they are as old as Methuselah, but it will avail them nothing until a Divine hand shall pour in “the balm of Gilead.” The sinner is no more able to apply to himself the Word of Divine comfort when he is under the terrors of God’s law, and writhing beneath the strokes of God’s convicting Spirit, than he is able to resurrect the moldering bodies in our cemeteries. To “restore the joy of salvation” was in David’s judgment an act of sovereign power equal to that of creating a clean heart ( Psalm 51:10). All the Doctors of Divinity put together are as incapable of healing a wounded spirit as are the physicians of medicine of animating a corpse. To silence a tempestuous conscience is a mightier performance than the Saviour’s stilling the stormy winds and raging waves, though it is not to be expected that any will grant the truth of this who are in themselves strangers to such an experience. As nothing but infinite power can remove the guilt of sin, so nothing but infinite power can remove the despairing sense of it. 7. IN ACTUALLY CONVERTING A SOUL “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?” ( Jeremiah 13:23).
No, indeed; though he may paint or cover them over. So one out of Christ may restrain the outward acts of sin, but he cannot mortify the inward principle of it. To turn water into wine was indeed a miracle, but to turn fire into water would be a greater one. To create a man out of the dust of the ground was a work of Divine power, but to re-create a man so that a sinner becomes a saint, a lion is changed into a lamb, an enemy transformed into a friend, hatred is melted into love, is a far greater wonder of Omnipotence. The miracle of conversion, which is effected by the Spirit through the Gospel, is described thus: “For the weapons of our warfare [i.e. the preachers] are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 10:4,5).
Well has it been said, “To dispossess a man, then, of his self-esteem and self-sufficiency, to make room for God in the heart where there was none but for sin, as dear to him as himself, to hurl down pride of nature, to make stout imaginations stoop to the cross, to make designs of selfadvancement sink under a zeal for the glory of God and an overruling design for His honour, is not to be ascribed to any but to an outstretched arm wielding the sword of the Spirit. To have a heart full of the fear of God that was just before filled with contempt of Him, to have a sense of His power, an eye to His glory, admiring thoughts of His wisdom; to have a hatred of his habitual lustings that had brought him in much sensitive pleasure; to loathe them; to live by faith in and obedience to the Redeemer, who before was so heartily under the dominion of Satan and self, is a triumphant act of infinite power that can ‘subdue all things’ to itself” (S. Charnock). 8. IN PRESERVING HIS PEOPLE “Who are kept by the power of God through faith... ready to be revealed in the last time” ( 1 Peter 1:5). “Kept from what? Ah, what mortal is capable of returning a full answer? A whole section might profitably be devoted to this one aspect of our subject.
Kept from the dominion of sin which still dwells within us. Kept from being drawn Out of the narrow way by the enticements of the world. Kept from the horrible heresies which ensnare thousands on every side. Kept from being overcome by Satan, who ever seeks our destruction. Kept from departing from the living God so that we do not make shipwreck of the faith. Kept from turning His grace into lasciviousness. Weak as water in ourselves, yet enabled to endure as seeing Him who is invisible. This “is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Sin is a mighty monarch which none of his subjects can withstand. There was more in Adam while innocent to resist sin than in any other since, for sin has an ally within the fallen creature that is ever ready to betray him into temptation from without. But sin had no such advantage over Adam, nevertheless it overwhelmed him. The non-elect angels were yet better able to withstand sin than Adam was, having a more excellent nature and being nearer to God, yet sin prevailed against them, and threw them out of heaven into hell. Then what a mighty power is required to subdue it! Only He who “led captivity captive” can make His people more than conquerors. “As the providence of God is a manifestation of His power in a continued creation, so the preservation of grace is a manifestation of His power in a continued regeneration. God’s strength abates and modifies the violence of temptations, His staff supports His people under them, His might defeats the power of Satan. The counterworkings of indwelling corruptions, the reluctancies of the flesh against the breathings of the spirit, the fallacies of the senses and the rovings of the mind would quickly stifle and quench grace if it were not maintained by the same all-powerful blast that first inbreathed it. No less power is seen in perfecting it, than implanting it ( 2 Peter 1:3); no less in fulfilling the work of faith, than in engrafting the word of faith ( 2 Thessalonians 1:11).”—S.
The preservation of God’s people in this world greatly glories the power of God. To preserve those with so many corruptions within and so many temptations without magnifies His ineffable might more than if He were to translate them to heaven the moment they believed. In a world of suffering and sorrow, to preserve the faith of His people amid so many and sore testings, trials, buffetings, disappointments, betrayals by friends and professed brethren in Christ, is infinitely more wonderful than if a man should succeed in carrying an unsheltered candle alight across an open moor when a hurricane was blowing. To the glory of God the writer bears witness that but for omnipotent grace he had become an infidel years ago as the result of the treatment he had received from those who posed as preachers of the Gospel. Yes, for God to supply strength to His fainting people, and enable them to “hold the beginning of their confidence stedfast unto the end” ( Hebrews 3:14), is more marvelous than though He were to keep a fire burning in the midst of the ocean.
The power of God was the ground of Abraham’s assurance ( Hebrews 11:19), of the three Hebrews’ in Babylon ( Daniel 3:17), of Christ’s ( Hebrews 5:7). Oh, to bear constantly in mind that “God is able to make all grace abound toward us” (2 Corinthians 19:8). Nothing is so calculated to calm the mind, still our fears, and fill us with peace as faith’s appropriation of God’s sufficiency. “If God be for us, who can be against us?” ( Romans 8:3 1). His infallible promise is, “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness” ( Isaiah 41:10).
CHAPTER - THE GREAT CHANGE OLD THINGS PASSED A WAY Some of our older readers may recall a book which made quite a stir in the religious world, especially the Arminian sections of it, some forty years ago. It was entitled “Twice-born Men”, and was written in a somewhat racy and sensational style by a well-known journalist, Harold Begbie. It purported to describe some startling “conversions” of notorious profligates and criminals under the evangelistic efforts of the Salvation Army and City Missions. Whether or no the reader is acquainted with that particular book, he has probably read similar accounts of reformations of character. He may, as this writer, have personally heard the “testimonies” of some unusual cases. We recall listening unto one in New York city some twentyfive years ago: a man past middle age who had “spent twenty Christmas days in prison”, who had been delivered from a life of crime, attributing his deliverance to the amazing grace of God and the efficacy of the redeeming blood of Christ, and who, to use one of his Scriptural quotations, had been given “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness”.
Many, if not all, of those reformed characters, testify that so thorough was the work of grace wrought in them that their old habits and inclinations had been completely taken away, that they no longer had the slightest desire to return to their former ways, that all longing for the things which once enthralled them was gone, declaring that God had made them new creatures in Christ, that old things were passed away, and all things had become new ( 2 Corinthians 5:17). Personally we do not deem ourselves competent to pass an opinion on such cases. Certainly we would not dare assign any limit to the wonder-working power of God; nevertheless, we should need to be in close contact with such people for some considerable time and closely observe their daily walk, in order to be assured that their goodness was something less evanescent than “a morning cloud and as the early dew” which quickly vanishes ( Hosea 6:4). On the one hand we should keep in mind the miraculous transformation wrought in the fierce persecutor of Tarsus, and on the other we would not forget Matthew 12:43-45.
But this we may safely affirm, that such cases as those alluded unto above are not general or even common, and certainly must not be set up as the standard by which we should ascertain the genuineness of conversion, be it our own or another’s. Though it be blessedly true that in His saving operations God communicates subduing and restraining grace to the soul— to some a greater measure, to others a lesser; yet it is equally true that He does not remove the old nature at regeneration or eradicate “the flesh”.
Only One has ever trodden this earth who could truthfully aver “the Prince of this world (Satan) cometh, and hath nothing in me” ( John 14:30) —nothing combustible which his fiery darts could ignite. The godliest saint who has ever lived had reason to join with the apostle in sorrowfully confessing “when I would do good, evil is present in me” ( Romans 7:21). It is indeed the Christian’s duty and privilege to keep himself from all outward sins: “walk in the spirit and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh” ( Galatians 5:16), yet as the very next verse tells us, the flesh is there, operative, and opposing the spirit.
But we will go further. When such persons as those referred to above appropriate 2 Corinthians 5:17 to describe their “experience”, no matter how well suited its language may seem to their case, they are making an unwarrantable and misleading use of that verse; and the consequence has been that many of God’s dear children were brought into sad bondage.
Countless thousands have been led to believe that, if they truly received Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, such a radical change would be wrought in them that henceforth they would be immune from evil thoughts, foul imaginations, wicked desires and worldly lusts. But after they did receive Christ as their Lord and Saviour, it was not long ere they discovered that things inside them were very different from what they expected: that old inclinations were still present, that internal corruptions now harassed them, and in some instances more fiercely than ever before.
Because of the painful consciousness of “the plague of his own heart” ( 1 Kings 8:38) many a one has drawn the conclusion that he was never soundly converted, that he was mistaken in believing he had been born of God, and great is their distress.
Now one very important and necessary part of the work to which God has called His servants is “take up the stumblingblock out of the way of My people” ( Isaiah 57:14 and cf. 62:10), and if he would faithfully attend unto this part of his duty, then he must make it crystal clear to his hearers, believers and unbelievers, that God has nowhere promised to eradicate indwelling sin from the one who believes the Gospel. He does save the penitent and believing sinner from the love, the guilt, the penalty, and the reigning power of sin; but He does not in this life deliver him from the presence of sin. The miracle of God’s saving grace does indeed effect a real, a radical, and a lasting change in all who are the subjects of it—some being more conscious of the same and giving clearer evidence of it, and some (who previously led a moral, and perhaps religious, life) less so; but in no single instance does He remove from the being of that person “the flesh” or evil principle which he brought with him when he entered this world. That which was born of the flesh is still flesh: though that which has been born of the Spirit is spirit ( John 3:6).
Not that the minister of the Gospel must swing to the opposite extreme and teach, or even convey the impression, that the Christian can expect nothing better than a life of defeat while he be left in this scene; that his foes, both internal and external, are far too mighty for him to successfully cope with.
God does not leave His dear child to cope with those foes in his own power, but strengthens him with might by His Spirit in the inner man; yet he is required to be constantly on his guard lest he grieve the Spirit and give occasion for Him to suspend His operations. God tells the saint “My grace is sufficient for thee”, but that grace must be sought ( Hebrews 4:16) and used ( Luke 8:18), and if it be sought humbly and used aright, then “He giveth more grace” ( James 4:6), so that he is enabled to fight the good fight of faith. Satan is indeed mighty, but there is one yet mightier: “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world” ( John 4:4), and therefore is the Christian called upon to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” ( Ephesians 6:10); and though while severed from Christ he can produce no fruit ( John 15:5), yet strengthened by Christ, he “can do all things” ( Philippians 4:13).
Thus we see once more that there is a balance to be preserved: avoiding at the one extreme the error of sinless perfectionism, and at the other that of spiritual defeatism. Truth is to be presented in its Scriptural proportions, and not dwelt unduly on either its gloomy or its bright side. When one is regenerated he is effectually called “out of darkness into God’s marvelous light” ( 1 Peter 2:9), yet if an unconverted soul reading those words forms the idea that should God quicken him, all ignorance and error will be immediately dispelled from his soul, he draws an unwarrantable conclusion and will soon discover his mistake. The Lord Jesus promises to give rest unto the heavily-laden soul which comes to Him, but He does not thereby signify that such an one will henceforth enjoy perfect serenity of heart and mind. He saves His people from their sins ( Matthew 1:21), yet not in such a way that they will have no occasion to ask for the daily forgiveness of their transgressions ( Luke 11:4). It is not that His salvation is an imperfect one, but that it is not completely experienced or entered into in this life, as such passages as Romans 13:11, 1 Peter 1:5 show. The “best wine” is reserved unto the last. Glorification is yet future.
Above we have said that when such characters as those mentioned in the opening paragraph appropriate 2 Corinthians 5:17 to describe their “experience”, they make an unwarrantable and misleading use of that verse.
They are not the only ones who do so, and since many have been stumbled by toiling to understand that verse aright, a careful exposition of it is called for. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new”. It must be admitted in all fairness that the sound of those words decidedly favors those who claim that such a miracle of grace has been wrought in them that the old nature with its evil propensities was eradicated when they were born again. But in view of the very different experience of the vast majority of God’s children of the last two thousand years of whom we have any reliable knowledge, must we not pause and ask, Is that really the sense of the verse? Probably there are few of our readers who have not been perplexed by its language.
The careful student will observe that we have omitted the opening word of 2 Corinthians 5:17, which is done eight times out of ten by those who quote it; nor are we acquainted with any exposition that satisfactorily explains its force. “Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature.”
Obviously that “therefore” is where we must begin in any critical examination of the verse. It indicates that a conclusion is here drawn from a foregoing premise, and tells us this verse is not to be regarded as a thing apart, complete in itself, but rather as intimately related to something preceding. On turning back to verse 16 we find that it, in turn, opens with “Wherefore” (The same Greek word being used), which at once serves to classify the passage, indicating that it is a didactic or doctrinal one, wherein the apostle is presenting an argument, or a reasoned-out train of thought; and not a hortatory passage wherein a call unto duty is made, or a biographical passage in which an experience of the soul is delineated.
Unless that key be used, the passage remains locked to us.
The key is hung upon the door by the presence of its introductory “therefore” or “wherefore”, and if it be ignored, and instead we force the door, then its lock is strained or its panels and hinges broken; in other words, the interpretation given to it will be a strained and unsatisfactory one. And such has indeed been the case with those who sought to explain its meaning without giving any due weight to—using—the very word on which the verse turns. Disregarding the opening “therefore”, it has been commonly assumed that 2 Corinthians 5:17 is speaking of the miracle of regeneration and describing what is thereby effected in the one experiencing the same. But those who gave the verse that meaning at once felt themselves faced with difficulties, and were obliged to whittle down its terms or qualify its language, for it is an undeniable fact, a matter of painful consciousness to Christians, that though some of the “old things” which characterized them in their unregeneracy have “passed away,” yet others of them have not done so, nor have “all things” yet become new within them.
In his commentary on 2 Corinthians one otherwise excellent expositor tells us, “In the O.T. ( Isaiah 43:18,19; 65:17) the effects to be produced by the coming of the Messiah are described as a making all things new. The final consummation of the Redeemer’s kingdom in heaven is described in the same terms, ‘He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new’ (Revelation 21: 5). The inward spiritual change in every believer is set forth in the same words, because it is the type and necessary condition of this great cosmical change. What would avail any conceivable change in things external, if the heart remained a cage of unclean birds? The apostle therefore says that if any man be in Christ he experiences a change analogous to that predicted by the prophet, and like to that which we still anticipate when earth shall become heaven. ‘Old things are passed away: behold, all things have become new’. Old opinions, plans, desires, principles and affections are passed away; new views of truth, new principles, new apprehensions of the destiny of man, and new feelings and purposes fill and govern the soul”.
It is accrediting just such extravagant statements as the above—which is a fair example of those made by many other good men, who have held influential positions in the churches—that have brought so many of God’s little ones into cruel bondage, for they know full well that no such great change has been wrought in them as like unto that which will obtain on the new earth, concerning which God assures us “there shall in nowise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither worketh abomination or maketh a lie”, and where “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away” ( Revelation 21:27,4).
We make so bold as to say that the Christian experience of that expositor falsified his own assertions. “Old opinions and plans” many indeed pass away when a person is soundly converted, but it is not true that old “desires, principles, and affections” pass away: on the contrary, they remain, are active, and plague him to the end of his course; otherwise there would be no corruptions for him to resist, no lusts which he is exhorted to mortify.
It is really surprising to find some excellent men, whose writings are generally most helpful and whose memories we revere, uttering such absurdities when interpreting 2 Corinthians 5:17 (The explanation is that, like ourselves, they too were compassed with infirmity). Another of them wrote of the Christian: “He concludes that he is in Christ, because he is ‘a new creature.’ He finds old things passed away, and all things become new. His old secure, benumbed, unfaithful conscience is passed away. His old perverse, stubborn, rebellious will; he has a new will. His old strong, sensual, corrupt, unbelieving, impenitent heart is gone...his old disordered, misplaced, inordinate affections,...He has new thoughts, new inclinations, new desires, new delights, new employments.” True, he closes his paragraph by saying “sometimes (i.e. formerly) carnal, but now in some measure spiritual; sometimes worldly, but now in some degree has his conversation in heaven; sometimes profane, but now in part holy,” which not only virtually contradicts his previous sentences, but serves to illustrate what we said above, about men creating their own difficulties when ignoring the key to a passage, and being obliged to tamper with its terms to make them fit their interpretations.
The Greek word for “passed away” is a very strong one, as may be seen from such passages as Matthew 5:18; 24, 34; James 1:10; 2 Peter 3:10, and signifies (not from its etymology, but its usage) a removal, a making an end of. Whatever be the “old things” referred to in Corinthians 5:17, they are not merely subdued, or temporarily put to sleep, only to waken again with fresh vigor but are “passed away”—done with.
Therefore to define those “old things” as “old affections, old dispositions of Adam” as still another theologian does, is utterly misleading, and one had supposed his own spiritual history had taught him better than to make such an assertion. An older writer is somewhat more satisfactory, when he says, “By old things he means all those corrupt principles, self ends, and fleshly lusts belonging to the carnal state, or the old man; all these are ‘passed away’, not simply and perfectly, but only in part at present, and wholly in hope and expectation hereafter”. The very fact that such a frittering of “passed away” was deemed necessary, makes us highly suspicious of his definition of the “old things”; and should make us search for an alternative one.
THE DISPENSATIONAL CHANGE To say that the “old things” which are “ passed away” when a person becomes a new creature in Christ refer to “old desires, principles and appetites” is flatly contradicted by Romans 7:14 - 25. The old nature, the “flesh” or evil principle, most certainly does not pass away, either wholly or in part, neither at the new birth nor at any subsequent stage of his life while the Christian is left here on earth. Instead, the “flesh” remains in the saint, and “lusteth against the spirit” ( Galatians 5:17), producing a continual conflict as he seeks to walk with and please the Lord. That a real and radical change takes place in the soul when a miracle of grace is wrought within him, is indeed blessedly true, but to describe that miraculous change as consisting of or being accompanied by the removal of the old sinful nature or indwelling corruption, is totally unwarranted and utterly unscriptural. And it is just because so many have been confused by this error, and sufficiently affected by it, as to have their assurance undermined and their peace disturbed, that we are now writing upon the subject.
It should be carefully noted that 2 Corinthians 5:17 is not describing some exceptional experience which is attained unto only by a favored few from among the children of God, but rather is it postulating that which is common to the whole family: “Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature”. The “if any man” shows that we have here a proposition which is general, one which is of universal application unto the regenerate—as much so as though it said “if any man be in Christ his sins are pardoned”. This at once assures the Christian that it is not through any fault of his that he comes short of such a standard as some would appear to measure unto. Nor is our verse giving an account of that which is gained as he reaches Christian maturity, still less that which will characterize him only when he reaches Heaven: instead it predicates a present fact the moment one is vitally united to Christ. It is true the substantive “he is” (or “there is”—R.V.) is supplied by the translators, yet the legitimacy or rather the necessity of it is evident from what follows: “old things are passed away; behold all things are become new The opening “Therefore” bids us ponder the context. Upon turning to the verse immediately preceding, here is what we read: “Wherefore, henceforth know we no man after the flesh, yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we (Him so) no more”. We wonder how many of our readers understand that verse, have even formulated any idea of what it is speaking about. If they consult the commentators, instead of finding help they are likely to be the more perplexed, for no two of them are agreed as to its meaning, and some of them had been more honest if they frankly owned they did not understand it instead of darkening counsel by a multitude of meaningless words. Now is it not obvious that, in order to a right perception of its significance we must seek answers to the following questions. Whom was the apostle here instructing? Upon what particular subject was he writing? What required his taking up this subject? or, in other words, what was his special design on this occasion? This alone will afford us the true perspective.
As we have pointed out before in these pages, it is necessary to know something of the circumstances which occasioned the writing of the Corinthian epistles if we are to obtain an insight of many of their details.
Soon after Paul departed from Corinth (Acts 18) false teachers assailed the saints there, seeking to undermine the apostle’s influence and discredit his ministry. The result was that the believers became divided into opposing classes engaged in disputes and being guilty of carnal walking ( 1 Corinthians 1:11,12). Those who said “I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos” were in all probability the Gentile converts; whereas those who boasted “I am of Cephas and I am of Christ” (glorying in a fleshly relation to Him which the Gentiles could not lay claim unto), were undoubtedly the converted Jews. Thus the enemies of the Gospel had succeeded in sowing the seeds of discord in the Corinthian assembly, creating jealousies and animosities by an appeal to racial prejudices, seeking to perpetuate the ancient enmities of Semitism and anti-Semitism.
Those false teachers had come to Corinth with “letters of commendation” ( 2 Corinthians 3:1), issued most likely by the temple authorities. They were “Hebrews” ( 11:22), professing to be “ministers of Christ”—i.e. of the Messiah (11:23), yet in fact they were “false apostles, deceitful workers”, the ministers of Satan ( 11:13-15). They had attempted to Judaize the Gentile saints, insisting that such could not participate in the covenant blessings and privileges of God’s people unless they be circumcised and become the proselytes of the Mosaic religion. It was because of this the apostle had written to them, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God” ( 1 Corinthians 7:19). That was indeed a startling thing to affirm, for it was God who had instituted circumcision ( Genesis 17:10), and for many centuries it had entailed peculiar privileges ( Exodus 12:48). The Lord Jesus Himself had been circumcised ( Luke 2:21). But now it was “nothing”—useless, worthless. Why so? Because of the great change which had taken place dispensationally in the kingdom or economy of God upon earth. Judaism had become effete, a thing of the past. Something new and better had displaced it.
Those false teachers had evidently denied that Paul was a true apostle of Christ, arguing (on the basis of what is recorded in Acts 1:21,22) that he could not be such, since he had not (as the Eleven) accompanied Him during the days of His flesh. This had obliged him to write unto the saints vindicating the Divine authority of his apostleship ( 1 Corinthians 9:1-3).
That his first epistle had produced a salutary effect upon them is clear from 2 Corinthians 1 and 2, yet it had neither silenced the “false apostles” nor completely established those whose faith they had shaken; hence the need for his second epistle to them. On the one hand, the major part of the assembly had expressed the warmest affection for him ( 1:14;7:7); but on the other, the boldness and influence of his adversaries had increased, and their false charges and determined efforts to repudiate his apostolic authority ( 10:2; 11:2-7, 12-15) moved him to indignation. Those two adverse elements at Corinth is what serve to explain the sudden change from one subject to another, and the noticeable variations of language in this second epistle.
In the third chap. of 2 Corinthians the apostle vindicated his apostleship in a manner which demonstrated the irrelevancy and worthlessness of the objections of his detractors and which placed the faith of his converts on an unshakeable foundation, by affirming that God had made him and his companions “able (or “sufficient”) ministers of the new testament” (v. 6), or as it should be rendered “of the new covenant”. Therein he struck the keynote to all that follows, for unto the end of the chapter he proceeded to draw a series of contrasts between the old and new covenants, and exhibited the immeasurable superiority of the latter over the former. By so doing he entirely cut away all ground from under the feet of those who were troubling the Corinthian saints, for what mattered it whether or no Paul had companied with Christ during the three and a half years of His public ministry, or whether his converts were circumcised or not, seeing that the old order of things, Judaism, had been “done away” (v. 7)! Who would complain at the absence of the stars when the sun was shining in its meridian splendor?
With unmistakable wisdom from on High, Paul wove into the texture of his personal vindication a lovely picture of the various respects in which Christianity excelled Judaism. The one was founded upon what was written on “the tables of stone ‘ and the ceremonial law which accompanied the same; the other is rendered valid and vital by “the Spirit of the living God” writing in fleshly tables of the heart” (v. 3). The one was “of the letter” which “killeth”; the other “of the spirit” which “giveth life” (v. 6), those expressions denoting the leading characteristics of the two covenants or economies—cf. Romans 7:6. Judaism is likened unto “the letter” because it was something external and objective, for it presented a rule of Divine duty though it conveyed neither disposition nor power to obey:
Christianity has to do with the soul and is made effectual— Romans 1:16. “The one was external, the other spiritual; the one was an outward precept, the other an inward power. In the one case the law was written on stone, in the other on the heart. The one was therefore letter, the other spirit” (C. Hodge).
In verses 7-11 the apostle contrasts the ministrations of the two dispensations or economies. It is not— as the Dispensationalists erroneously teach—that he here opposes Grace (a word never occurring in this chapter!) to the Moral Law, but that Christianity is set over against Judaism. It is a great mistake to suppose that Paul was here speaking of the Ten Commandments as such: rather is it the whole Mosaic system which he has in view—“when Moses is read ” (v.15) the reference is primarily to the ceremonial law, wherein there was much that pointed forward to Christ and typified His work of redemption, but which, because of their carnality the Jews discerned not. Judaism was a “ministration of death”: the Moral Law is designed to slay all self-righteousness, for it condemns and brings in the whole world guilty before God, thereby revealing the sinner’s dire need of salvation. The ceremonial law, with its priesthood and ritual, likewise exhibited both the guilt and pollution of man, as well as the ineffable holiness and inexorable justice of God, so that without shedding of blood is no remission. The brazen altar in the outer court, where the sacrificial victims were slain, testified loudly to this fact that Judaism is “a ministration of death ”.
Though the ministration of the old covenant was one of “death”, nevertheless it was “glorious”. Judaism was not of human invention but of Divine institution. In it there was a solemn and yet glorious revelation of the moral perfections of God. In it there was a wondrous and blessed foreshadowing of the person, office and work of the Redeemer. In it there was a wise and necessary paving of the way for the introduction and establishment of Christianity. That “glory” was adumbrated on the countenance of the mediator of that covenant ( Deuteronomy 5:5; Galatians 3:19) when he returned to the people after speaking with Jehovah in the mount, for the “skin of his face shone” ( Exodus 34:19).
That radiance of his features was emblematic of the glory pertaining to the old covenant, and that, in two noticeable respects. First, it was only an external one, whereas a glorious work of grace is wrought within the beneficiaries of the new covenant. Second, it was but a transient glory, as the quickly-fading brightness of Moses’ face symbolized; whereas that connected with the new covenant is one that “fadeth not away” ( 1 Peter 1:4). Christians, beholding the glory of the Lord, are “changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” ( 2 Corinthians 3:18).
First , he tells us in 3:7 that the glory connected with the old covenant “was to be done away.” But he went further, saying, Second , “For if that which is done away was glorious much more that which remaineth is glorious” (v. 11): the old economy and its ministry were but temporary and had even then been set aside. The sacrificing of bulls and goats was no longer valid now the Antitype had appeared.
Third , in verse 13 he uses still stronger language: “that which is abolished” or “destroyed”. In the former epistle ( 13:10) Paul had laid down the maxim that “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away”, so here he declares the new covenant annulled the old, for that was never designed to have anything more than a transient existence. The “old things” which are “passed away” are circumcision, the temple ritual, the Levitical priesthood, the whole of the ceremonial law; in a word, Judaism and all that marked it as a system.
In 2 Corinthians 4 the apostle continues the same subject. The “this ministry” of verse 1 is that of “the new covenant” spoken of in 3:6 and termed “the ministration of the spirit” and “of righteousness” (vv. 8,9). In 3:14, speaking of the great body of the Jewish nation, he said, “But their minds were blinded” and in 4:3,4 declares “But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the god of this world (i.e. Satan, as the director of its religions) hath blinded the minds of them that believe not”. In 3:9, 10 he affirmed that while indeed there was a “glory” connected with the old covenant, yet that of the new “excelled” St.
Amplification of that is made in 4:6. The pillar of cloud and of fire which guided Israel during their journeys was but external and temporary, but Jehovah has now “shined in our hearts unto the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”: that inward illumination abides in the believer forever—immeasurably superior are the “new things” which have displaced the old! In verses 8-18 the apostle mentioned some of the trials which a faithful discharge of his commission had entailed.
After a characteristic digression, in which the apostle described the rich compensations God has provided for His servants—and His people in general (vv. 1-10), he returns to the subject of his ministerial labours, making known the springs from which they issued (vv. 11-14). As in chap. 3, when vindicating his apostleship, he had interwoven important doctrinal instruction, so here. First, it should be carefully noted that Paul was still engaged in closing the mouths of his detractors, yea, furnishing his converts with material to silence them (see 5: 12), speaking of his adversaries as those who “glory in appearance, and not in heart”. In what follows, he adduces that which could not be gainsaid. “Because we thus judge (or “reason”) that if one died for all, then were all dead” (v. 14)—a most misleading translation, which is corrected in the R.V.: “one died for all, therefore all died”. It is quite true that those for whom Christ died were spiritually dead, but that is not what is here referred to—their being unregenerate was a fact without Christ dying for them! Rather was Paul showing the legal effect or what follows as the consequence of Christ’s having died for them. “Having judged this, that if one died for all, then the all died”(Bag. Int.).
The apostle there enunciates a theological axiom: it expresses the principle of federal representation. The act of one is, in the sight of the law, the act of all those on whose behalf he transacts. The whole election of grace “died” judicially in the death of their Surety. Christ’s death, so far as the claims of the Divine Law or the end of the Divine government were concerned, is the same as though they had all personally died. “Died” unto what? The consequences of their sins, the curse of the Law? Yes, though that is not the main thing which is here in view. What then? This, rather that they had “died” to their old standing in the flesh: they no longer had any status in that realm where such distinctions as Jew and Gentile obtained. They had not only died unto sin, but unto all natural relations.
Death levels all distinctions!
But that is only negative; the apostle goes further, and brings in the positive side: “And He died for all, that they that live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him” who has fulfilled all its requirements.
It is the legal oneness of Christ and His Church on resurrection-ground.
Having borne the curse, they are dead in law; living now through Christ’s resurrection, they cannot but “live unto Him”, because judicially one with Him. His resurrection was as vicarious as His death, and the same individuals were the objects of both. The pertinency of this reasoning, this blessed truth and fact, to the apostle’s case, should at once be apparent.
Christ’s own relation to Judaism terminated at His death, and when He came forth from the grave it was onto resurrection—entirely new —ground; and thus it is with all those He legally represented.
What has just been pointed out above is made yet clearer in verse 16, where the apostle shows the conclusion which must be drawn from what he had just proved: “Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we (Him so) no more”. To know a man after the flesh is to own him according to his natural state his racial distinction. To know Christ “after the flesh” was to approve Him as the “Seed of David”, the Jewish Messiah. But the death of Christ annulled such relations: His resurrection brought Him a new and higher relationship. Therefore in the exercise of his ministry, Paul showed no respect to a man merely because he was a Jew, nor did he esteem Christ on account of His being the Son of David—rather did he adore Him as being the Saviour of Jew and Gentile alike. Thus the sinful partiality of those who were seeking to Judaize the Corinthian saints was conclusively exposed. Verse 17 states the grand conclusion to be drawn from what has been established in the context.
THE GREAT CHANGE “Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” ( 2 Corinthians 5:17).
Familiar as are those words, simple and plain as their meaning appears to be, yet like almost every verse in the Epistles this one can only be rightly understood by ascertaining its connection with the context. Nay, we go further: unless this verse be interpreted in strict accord with its setting, we are certain to err in our apprehension of it. The very fact that it is introduced with “therefore” shows it is inseparably connected with what goes before, that it introduces an inference, or draws a conclusion therefrom, and if we ignore it we reject the key which alone will open its contents. We have already taken up the preceding verses, though we have by no means attempted to give a full exposition of the same. Our design has been simply to supply a sufficient explanation of their terms as would enable the reader to perceive the apostle’s drift. That required us to point out the general conditions prevailing in the Corinthian assembly (so that it might appear why Paul wrote to them as he did) and then to indicate the trend of what he said in chapters 3 and 4.
In 5:12 the apostle tells them, “For we commend not ourselves again unto you (see <470301> 3:1,2), but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that ye may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart”. Those who gloried in appearance were the Judaizers, who boasted of their lineage from Abraham and of belonging to the Circumcision. In what follows Paul furnishes his converts with arguments which the false teachers could not answer, employing language which set aside the exclusivism of Judaism. First he pointed out that “ if one died for all then the all died; and he died for all” (vv. 14,15). That thrice repeated “all” emphasized the international scope of Christ’s federal work: He died as truly on the behalf and in the stead of God’s elect among the Gentiles as for the elect Jews, and as verse 15 goes on to show, the one benefits therefrom as much as does the other. The cross of Christ effected and introduced a great change in the kingdom of God. Whatever peculiar position of honour the Jews had previously occupied, whatever special privileges had been theirs under the Mosaic economy, they obtained no longer. The glorious inheritance which Christ purchased was to be the portion of all for whom He endured the curse and of all for whom He earned the reward of the Law.
Next the apostle showed the logical inferences which must be drawn forth from what he had established in verses 14,15. First, “Therefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we (Him so) no more” (v. 16). Notice first the words which we have placed in italics: they are time-marks defining the revolutionary transition, calling attention to the great dispensational change which the redemptive work of Christ had produced.
That change consisted of the complete setting aside of the old order of things which had held sway during the fifteen centuries preceding, under which a fleshly relation had predominated. Christ had ushered in an order of things wherein such distinctions as Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female, had no virtue and conferred no special privilege. For one who had been redeemed it mattered nothing whether his brethren and sisters in Christ were formerly members of the Jewish nation or aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. He knew or esteemed no man according to his natural descent. The true Circumcision are they “which worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh”—or their genealogy ( Philippians 3:3).
Not only had the death and resurrection of Christ resulted in the setting aside of Judaism, which was based upon a fleshly descent from Abraham, and whose privileges could only be enjoyed by those bearing in their bodies the covenant sign of circumcision (Judaism being displaced by Christianity, which is based upon a spiritual relation to Christ, the privileges of which are enjoyed by those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit—the sign and seal of the new covenant), but Christ Himself is now known or esteemed after a different and higher manner. It was as their promised Messiah He had appeared unto the Jews, and it was as such His disciples had believed on Him ( Luke 24:21; John 1:41,45). Accordingly, He had bidden His apostles “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” ( Matthew 10:5,6) —contrast 28:19 after His resurrection! So far from knowing Christ as the Jewish Messiah, they worship Him as exalted above all principality and power. “Jesus Christ was a Minister of the circumcision” ( Romans 15:8), but He is now seated “on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a Minister of the (heavenly) Sanctuary” ( Hebrews 8:1,2).
In verse 17 the apostle draws a further conclusion from what he had stated in verse 15, “Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature” — yes, “any man”, be he a Jew or Gentile. Before we can ascertain the force of “ a new creature” we have to carefully weigh the opening word, for its absence or presence entirely changes the character of the sentence: “if any man be in Christ he is a new creature” is a simple statement of fact, but “therefore if” is a conclusion drawn from something preceding. That one consideration should be sufficient to show our verse is not treating of regeneration, for if it signified “any person who is vitally united to Christ has been born again”, the “therefore” would be entirely superfluous—he either is or he is not a spiritually-quickened soul and no reasoning, no inference, can alter the fact. Nor is there anything in the context from which regeneration can be deduced, for the apostle is not treating of the gift and operations of the Spirit, but of the judicial consequences of Christ’s federal work. Instead of describing Christian experience in this 17th verse Paul is stating one of the legal effects which necessarily results from what Christ did for His people.
In verses 13, 14 Christ is set forth as the federal Head of His Church, first in death, then in resurrection. From that doctrinal statement of fact a twofold inference is pointed. First and negatively (v. 16) those whom Christ represented died in Him to their old status or natural standing, so that henceforth they are no longer influenced by fleshly relationships.
Second and positively (v. 17) those whom Christ represented rose in Him and were inducted into a new status or spiritual standing. Christ was transacting as the Covenant Head of His people, and He rose as the Head of the New creation (as Adam was the head of the old), and therefore if I be federally in a risen Christ I must legally be “a new creature”, having judicially “passed from death unto life” As Romans 8:1 declares “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”, and why? Because being legally one with Him they died in Him. In like manner, they are therefore new creatures in Christ, and why? Because being legally one with Him they rose in Him “Who is the Beginning (i.e. of the new creation, cf. Revelation 3:14), the Firstborn from the dead” ( Colossians 1:18).Judicially they are “risen with Christ” ( Colossians 3:1).
Not only does the context and its opening “therefore” preclude us from regarding 2 Corinthians 5:17 as describing what takes place in a soul at regeneration, but the contents of the verse itself forbid such an interpretation. It is indeed true that such a miracle of grace effects a most blessed transformation in the one who is the subject of it, yet not such as comes up to the terms here used. What is the principal thing which affects the character and conduct of a person before he is born again? Is it not “the flesh”? Beyond dispute it is. Equally indubitable is it that the old nature does not “pass away” when God quickens a spiritually-dead soul. It is also true that regeneration is an entrance upon a new life, yet it certainly is not the case that “all things become new , for he receives neither a new memory nor a new body. If verse 17 be describing some aspect of Christian experience then it is glorification, for most assuredly its language does not suit regeneration. “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us (the ministers of the new covenant—3:6) the ministry of reconciliation” (18). This also is quite against the popular interpretation of the foregoing. Let it be duly noted that verse 18 opens with “And”, which indicates it continues the same line of thought. “All (“the”—Greek) things” which are of God refer not to the universe as proceeding from Him, nor to His providential agency by which all events are controlled, but rather to those particular things spoken of from verse 13 onwards: all that Christ accomplished, the great dispensational change which has resulted from His death and resurrection, the preaching of the ministers of the new covenant, have God for their Author. The outcome of what Christ did is, that those for whom He transacted are “reconciled to God”, and reconciliation, be it particularly noted is, like justification, entirely objective and not subjective as is regeneration! Reconciliation is, as we have fully demonstrated in our articles on that doctrine, wholly a matter of relationship —God’s laying aside His wrath and being at peace with us. “And hath given to us (His ambassadors) the ministry of reconciliation: to wit, that God was in Christ reconciling a (Gk.) world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them” (vv. 18, 19).
From there to the end of 6:10 the apostle informs us what this “ministry” consisted of. First, it was that God “was in Christ reconciling” not merely an apostate Judaism, but an alienated “world”, that is, the whole election of grace, the “all” of verses 14, 15. Then he states the negative side of “reconciliation”, namely, “not imputing their trespasses unto them”, which again brings in the legal side of things. The positive side of reconciliation is given in verse 21: “that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him”, which is entirely objective and judicial, and in no sense subjective and experimental. How vastly different is that than if he had said “reconciling a world unto Himself, imparting unto them a new nature” or “subduing their iniquities”! It is not what God works in His people, but what by Christ He has done for them, that the whole passage treats of.
Turning back again to verse 17. “Therefore”: in view of what has been established in the preceding verses, it necessarily follows that—“if any man be in Christ he is a new creature”: he has a new standing before God; being representatively one with Christ, he has been brought onto resurrection ground, he is a member of that new creation of which Christ is the federal Head, and consequently he is under an entirely new Covenant. This is the grand and incontrovertible conclusion which must be drawn: “the old things are passed away: behold, all things are become new”. The natural and national distinctions which obtained under the old covenant find no place on resurrection ground: they were connected with the flesh, whereas the relationship which obtains and the privileges which are enjoyed under the new covenant are entirely spiritual. Once that was clearly apprehended and laid hold of by faith it rendered nugatory the contentions of the Judaizers.
It is by no means easy for us at this late date to conceive of what that revolutionary transaction from Judaism to Christianity involved, to Jew and Gentile alike. It was the greatest change this world has ever witnessed. For fifteen centuries God’s kingdom on earth had been confined unto one favored nation, during which time all others had been left to walk in their own ways. The gulf which divided Judaism from Paganism was far more real and very much wider than that which exists between Romanism and orthodox Christianity. The divisive spirit between Jew and Gentile was more intense than that which obtains between the several castes in India.
But at the Cross the Mosaic economy “passed away”, the middle wall of petition was broken down, and upon Christ’s resurrection the “Go not into the way of the Gentiles” gave place to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” Fleshly relationships which had so markedly characterized Judaism, now gave place to spiritual ones; yet it was only with the greatest difficulty that converted Jews could be brought to realize that fact, and much in the N. T. is devoted unto a proving of the same. The principal design of the entire epistle to the Hebrews was to demonstrate that “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new”! In it the apostle makes it manifest that the “old covenant” which Jehovah had entered into with Israel, at Sinai, with all its ordinances of worship and the peculiar privileges connected therewith, was disannulled, that it was superceded by a new and better economy. Therein it is declared that Christ hath “obtained a more excellent ministry” in proportion to His being “the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises”; and after quoting from Jeremiah where the new covenant was announced, pointed out that the former one was “waxed old are ready to vanish away” (8:6-13). The transcendent superiority of the new above the old is brought out in many details: the former was but temporary, the latter is eternal; the one contained only the shadow of good things to come, the latter the substance. The Aaronic priesthood has been displaced by Christ’s; an earthly inheritance by an heavenly. The blessed contrast between them is set forth most fully in Hebrews 12:18-24.
Not only did the converted Jews find it difficult to adjust themselves to the great change produced by the covenant displacing the old, but unconverted Jews caused much trouble in the Christian assemblies, insisting that their descent from Abraham conferred special privileges upon them, and that Gentiles could only participate in them by being circumcised and becoming subject to the ceremonial law. Not a little in Paul’s epistles is devoted to a refutation of such errors. That the Corinthians were being harassed by such Judaizers we have already shown—further evidence is supplied by Corinthians 11:18, where the apostle refers to “many glory after the flesh”, i.e. their natural lineage. But all ground had been cut from under their feet by what he had declared in 2 Corinthians 3 and his unanswerable argument in 5:13-18. Christ’s death and resurrection had caused “old things” to pass away: the old covenant, the Mosaic economy, Judaism was no more. “All things had become new”: a new covenant, Christianity, with better relationships and privileges, a superior standing before God, different ordinances of worship, had been introduced.
The same is true of the epistle to the Galatians, wherein there are many parallels to what has been before us in Corinthians. The churches of Galatia were also troubled by teachers of error, who were seeking to Judaize them, and Paul uses much the same method in exposing their sophistries. “There is neither Jew nor Greek...bond or free... for ye are all one in Christ” ( Galatians 3:28) is an echo of “henceforth know we no man after the flesh”. In several respects the contents of 4:21-31 are similar to what is found in 2 Corinthians 3, for in both the two covenants are contrasted in Galatians 4, under the allegory of Hagar and Sarah and their sons, the superiority of the latter is shown. “Ye that desire to be under the law” ( 4:21) means under the old covenant. “Born after the flesh” in verse signifies according to nature, “by promise” equals supernaturally. “These are” means “represent the two covenants” (v. 24). “Cast out the bond woman and her son” of 4:30 has the force of act in accordance with the fact that the old things are “passed away”. While the “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (the only other place in the N. T. that expression occurs!!) of 6:15 is enforcing the same truth as 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Once the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:16 be perceived there is no place for any dispute as to the signification of what immediately follows. In the light of 5:12; 10:7; 11:18 it is unmistakably clear that the apostle was dissuading the Corinthian saints from a carnal and sinful partiality, namely, of regarding men according to “outward appearance” or fleshly descent; bidding them to esteem their brethren by their relation to Christ and not to Abraham, and to view Christ Himself not as “a Minister of the circumcision” but as “the Mediator of a better covenant” who has made “all things new”. The old covenant was made with one nation only; the new with believers of all nations. Its sacrifices made nothing perfect, our Sacrifice has perfected us forever ( Hebrews 10:1,14). Circumcision was for the natural seed of Jacob; baptism is for the spiritual children of Christ. Only the Levites were permitted to enter the holy place, all the children of God have the right of immediate access to Him. The seventh day was the Sabbath under the Siniatic constitution; the first day celebrates the order of things introduced by a risen Christ. “Old things are passed away; behold all things are become new”!
Having endeavoured to remove a stumbling-stone from the path of conscientious souls by showing that 2 Corinthians 5:13-21, does not describe the work of the Holy Spirit within God’s people, but rather that which results legally from what Christ did for them, it seems needful that we should now seek to probe and search out a different class by considering what does take place in one who is supernaturally quickened.
In other words, having dealt with the great dispensational change which the death and resurrection of Christ effected, we turn now to contemplate the great experimental change which, in due time, is wrought in each one of those for whom the Redeemer shed His precious blood. There are many in Christendom today who give no evidence that they have been made the subjects of such a change, who nevertheless are fully persuaded they are journeying heavenwards; while there are not a few souls perplexed because uncertain of what this great change consists of.
That which we now propose to treat of may perhaps be best designated “the miracle of grace.”
Second , because those operations are wholly of His sovereign benignity, and not because of any worthiness in those who are the favored subjects of it.
Furthermore, that expression, “a miracle of grace,” is sufficiently abstract and general as to include all such terms as being “born again,” “converted,” etc.—which really refer to only one phase or aspect of it. Moreover, it possesses the advantage of placing the emphasis where it properly belongs and ascribes the glory unto Him to whom alone it is due, for God is the sole and unassisted Author—whatever instruments or means He may or may not be pleased to use in the effectuation of the same—in a sinner’s salvation. “It is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” ( Romans 9:16).
Nothing short of a miracle of grace can change a “natural man” ( Corinthians 2:14) into a “spiritual” one ( 1 Corinthians 2:15). Only the might of Omnipotence is able to emancipate a serf of Satan’s and translate him into the kingdom of Christ. Anything less than the operations of the Holy Spirit is incapable of transforming a “child of disobedience” ( Ephesians 2:2) into a “child of obedience” ( 1 Peter 1:14). To bring one whose “carnal mind” is “enmity against God” into loving and loyal subjection to Him is beyond all the powers of human persuasion. Yet being supernatural it necessarily transcends our powers to fully understand. Even those who have actually experienced it can only obtain a right conception thereof by viewing it in the light of those hints upon it which God has scattered throughout His Word: and even then, but a partial and incomplete concept. As our eyes are too weak for a prolonged gazing upon the sun, so our minds are too gross to take in more than a few scattered rays of the Truth. We see through a glass darkly, and know but in part.
Well for us when we are made conscious of our ignorance. The very fact that the great change of which we are here treating is produced by the miracle-working power of God implies that it is one which is more or less inscrutable. All God’s works are shrouded in impenetrable mystery, even when cognizable by our senses. Life, natural life, in its origin, its nature, its processes, baffle the most able and careful investigator. Much more is this the case with spiritual life. The existence and being of God immeasurably transcend the grasp ,of the finite mind; how then can we expect to fully comprehend the process by which we become His children? Our Lord Himself declared that the new birth was a thing of mystery: “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh nor whither it goeth, so is every one that is born of the Spirit” ( John 3:8).
The wind is something about which the most learned scientist knows next to nothing. Its nature, the laws which govern it, its causation, all lie beyond the purview of human inquiry. Thus it is with the new birth: it is profoundly mysterious, defying proud reason’s diagnosis, unsusceptible of theological analysis.
The one who supposes he has a clear and adequate comprehension of what takes place in a soul when God plucks him as a brand from the burning is greatly mistaken: “If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know” ( 1 Corinthians 8:2).
To the very end of his earthly pilgrimage the best instructed Christian has reason to pray “that which I see not teach Thou me” ( Job 34:32). Even the theologian and the Bible-teacher is but a learner and, like all his companions in the school of Christ, acquires his knowledge of the Truth gradually—“here a little, there a little” ( Isaiah 28:10). He too advances slowly, as one great theme after another is studied by him and opened up to him, requiring him to revise or correct his earlier apprehensions and adjust his views on other portions of the Truth as fuller light is granted him on any one branch thereof. Necessarily so, for Truth is a unit, and if we err in our understanding of one part of it that affects our perception of other parts of it.
None should take exception to nor be surprised at our saying that even the theologian or Bible-teacher is but a learner and acquires his knowledge of the Truth gradually. “The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day” ( Proverbs 4:18).
Like the rising of the sun, spiritual light breaks forth upon both preacher and hearer by degrees. The men who have been the most used of God in the feeding and building up of His people were not thoroughly furnished for their work at the outset of their careers, but only by dint of prolonged study did they make progress in their own apprehension of the Truth. Each preacher who experiences any real spiritual growth views most of his first sermons as those of a novice, and he will have cause for shame as he perceives their crudity and the relative ignorance which marked the production of them; for even if he was mercifully preserved from serious error, yet he will probably find many mistakes in his expositions of Scripture, various inconsistencies and contradictions in the views he then held, and which a fuller knowledge and mature experience now enables him to rectify.
What has just been pointed out explains why the later writings of a servant of God are preferable to his earlier ones, and why in a second or third edition of his works he finds it necessary to correct or at least modify some of his original statements. Certainly this writer is no exception. Were he to rewrite today some of his earlier articles and pieces, he would make a number of changes in them. Though it may be humiliating unto pride to have to make corrections, yet it is also ground for thanksgiving unto God for the fuller light vouchsafed which enables him to do so. During our first pastorate we were much engaged in combating the error of salvation by personal culture and reformation, and therefore we threw our main emphasis on the truth contained in our Lord’s words, “ye must be born again” ( John 3:3,5,7), showing that something far more potent and radical than any efforts of our own were required in order to give admission into the kingdom of God; that no education, mortification, or religious adorning of the natural man could possibly fit him to dwell for ever in a holy heaven.
But in seeking to refute one error great care needs to be taken lest we land ourselves into another at the opposite extreme, for in most instances error is Truth perverted rather than repudiated, Truth distorted by failure to preserve the balance. Being “born again” is not the only way in which Scripture describes the great change effected by the miracle of grace: other expressions are used, and unless they be taken into due consideration an inadequate and faulty conception of what that miracle consists of and effects will be formed. Our second pastorate was located in a community where the teaching of “Entire Sanctification” or sinless perfectionism was rife, and in combating it we stressed the fact that sin is not eradicated from any man’s being in this life, that even after he is born again the “old nature” still remains within him. We were fully warranted by God’s Word in so doing, though if we were engaged in the same task today we should be more careful in defining what we meant by “the old nature” and more insistent that a regenerate person has a radically different disposition sinwards from what he had formerly.
That a great change is wrought upon and within a person when God regenerates him is acknowledged by all His people—a change very different from that which is conceived of by many who have never personally experienced it. For example, it goes much deeper than a mere change of creed. One may have been brought up an Arminian, and later be intellectually convinced that such tenets are untenable; but his subsequent conversion to the Calvinistic system is no proof whatever that he is no longer dead in trespasses and sins. Again, it is something more radical than a change of inclination or taste. Many a giddy worldling has become so satiated with its pleasures as to lose all relish for the same, voluntarily abandoning them and welcoming the peace which he or she supposes is to be found in a convent or monastery. So too it is something more vital than a change of conduct. Some notorious drunkards have signed the pledge and remained total abstainers the rest of their days, and yet never even made a profession of being Christians. One may completely alter his mode of living and yet be thoroughly carnal, forsake a life of vice and crime for one of moral respectability, and be no more spiritual than he was previously. Many are deceived at this point.
Let not the reader infer from what has just been said that one may be the subject of a miracle of grace and yet it be unaccompanied by an enlightening of his understanding, a refining of his affections, or a reforming of his conduct. That is not at all our meaning. What we desire to make clear is that, that miracle of grace consists of something far superior to those superficial and merely natural changes which many undergo. Nor does that “something far superior” consist only in the communication of a new nature which leaves everything else in its recipient just as it was before: it is the person (and not simply a nature) who is regenerated or born again. “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” ( John 3:3) is an altogether different thing from saying “except a new nature be born in a man he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Any deviation from Scripture is fraught with mischief, and if we reduce that which is personal to something abstract and impersonal we are certain to form a most inadequate—if not erroneous—conception of regeneration.
CHANGE OF HEART We turn next to Romans 5:5, where we read, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us.” By nature no man has any love for God. To those Jews who contended so vehemently for the unity of God and abhorred all forms of idolatry, and who in their mistaken zeal sought to kill the Saviour because of “making Himself equal with God,” He declared, “I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you” ( John 5:18,42).
Not only loveless, the natural man is filled with enmity against God (Romans 8:7). But when a miracle of grace is wrought within him by the Holy Spirit, his heart experiences a great change Godwards, so that the One he formerly dreaded and sought to banish from his thoughts is now the Object of his veneration and joy, the One upon whose glorious perfections he delights to meditate, and for whose honour and pleasure he now seeks to live.
That great change which is wrought within the regenerate does not consist in the annihilation of the evil principle, “the flesh,” but in freeing the mind from its dominion, and in the communication of a holy principle which conveys a new propensity and disposition to the soul: God is no longer hated but loved. That freeing of the mind from the evil dominion of the flesh is spoken of in Ezekiel 36:26, as God’s taking away “the stony heart,” and that shedding abroad of His love within the heart by His Spirit is termed giving them “a heart of flesh.” Such strong figurative language was used by the prophet to intimate that the change wrought is no superficial or transient one. Through regarding too carnally (“literally”) the terms used by the prophets, dispensationalists and their adherents have created their own difficulty and failed to understand the purport of the passage. It is not that an inward organ or faculty is removed and replaced by a different one, but rather that a radical change for the better had been wrought upon the original faculty—not by changing its essential nature or functions, but by bringing to bear a new and transforming influence upon it.
It ought not to be necessary for us to labour what is quite simple and obvious to the spiritually-minded, but in view of the fearful confusion and general ignorance prevailing, we feel that a further word (for the benefit of the perplexed) is called for. Perhaps a simple illustration will serve to elucidate still further. Suppose that for a long time I have cherished bitter animosity against a fellow creature and treated him with contempt, but that God has now made me to repent deeply of the injustice I have done him, so that I have humbly confessed my sin to him, and henceforth shall esteem him highly and do all in my power to amend the wrong I did him; surely no one would have any difficulty in understanding what was meant if I said that I had undergone a real “change of heart” toward that person, nor would it be misleading to say that a “heart of bitterness” had been removed from me and “a heart of good will” be given to me. Though we do not pretend to explain the process yet something very much like that are the nature and effect of God’s taking away the heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh or freeing the mind of enmity against God and shedding abroad His love in the heart. “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you (“whereunto ye were delivered”— margin). Being then made free from (the guilt and dominion of) sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” ( Romans 6:17,18).
In this passage the Holy Spirit is describing that wondrous transformation whereby the servants of sin became the servants of righteousness. That transformation is effected by their being delivered unto that form of doctrine which requires hearty obedience. To aid our feeble understanding another similitude is used. “The Truth which is after godliness” ( Titus 1:1) is called “that form (“type or impress,” Young; rendered “fashion, pattern” in other passages) of doctrine” or “teaching”: the figure of a mould or seal being used wherein the hearts of the regenerate (softened and made pliable by the Holy Spirit) are likened to molten metal which receives and retains the exact impress of a seal, answering to it line for line, conformed to the shape and figure of it. The quickened soul is “delivered unto” (the Greek word signifies “given over to,” as may be seen in Matthew 5:25; 11:27; 20:19) the Truth, so that it is made answerable or conformable unto it.
In their unconverted state they had been the willing and devoted servants of sin, uniformly heeding its promptings and complying with its behests, gratifying their own inclinations without any regard to the authority and glory of God. But now they cordially yielded submission to the teaching of God’s Word whereunto they had been delivered or cast into the very fashion of the same. They had been supernaturally renewed into or conformed unto the holy requirements of Law and Gospel alike. Their minds, their affections, their wills had been formed according to the tenor of God’s Standard. Thus, from still another angle, we are informed of what the great change consists; it is God’s bringing the soul from the love of sin to the love of holiness, a being transformed by the renewing of the mind— such a transformation as produces compliance with the Divine will. It is an inward agreement with the Rule of righteousness into which the heart is cast and after which the character is framed and modeled, the consequence of which is an obedience from the heart—in contrast from forced or feigned obedience which proceeds from fear or self-interest. “For I was alive without the Law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” ( Romans 7:9).
As the last-considered passage describes the positive side of the great change experienced in the child of God, this one treats more of its negative aspect. The commentators are generally agreed that in Romans 7:7-11, the apostle is narrating one of the experiences through which he passed at his conversion.
First , he says, there had been a time when he was “without the Law”— words which cannot be taken absolutely. In his unregenerate days he had been a proud pharisee. Though he had received his training under the renowned rabbi, Gamaliel, where his chief occupation was the study of the Law, yet being totally ignorant of its spirituality he was, vitally and experimentally speaking, as one “without” it—without a realization of its design or an inward acquaintance of its power. Supposing that a mere external conformity unto its requirements was all that was necessary, and strictly attending to the same, he was well pleased with himself, satisfied with his righteousness, and assured of his acceptance with God.
Second , “but when the commandment came”: verse seven informs us it was the tenth commandment which the Holy Spirit used as the arrow of conviction. When those words, “thou shalt not covet,” were applied to him, when they came in the Spirit’s illuminating and convicting power to his conscience, the bubble of his self-righteousness was pricked and his self-complacency was shattered. Like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky that Divine prohibition, “thou shalt not (even) desire that which is forbidden, brought home to his heart with startling force the strictness and spirituality of the Divine Law. As those words, “thou must have no self-will,” pierced him, he realized the Law demanded inward as well as outward conformity to its holy terms. Then it was that “sin revived”: he was conscious of his lusts rising up in protest against the holy and extensive requirements of the Divine Rule. The very fact that God has said “thou shalt not lust” only served to aggravate and stir into increased activity those corruptions of which previously he was unconscious, and the more he attempted to bring them into subjection the more painfully aware did he become of his own helplessness.
Third , “and I died”: in his own apprehensions, feelings, and estimate of himself. Before he became acquainted with his inward corruptions and was made to feel something of the plague of his heart, living a morally upright life and being most punctilious in performing the requirements of the ceremonial law, the apostle deemed himself a good man. He was in his own opinion “alive” uncondemned by the Law, having no dread of punishment and judgment to come. But when the tenth commandment smote his conscience, he perceived the spirituality of the law and realized that hitherto he had only a notional knowledge of it. Convicted of his inward depravity, of his sinful desires, thoughts and imaginations, he felt himself to be a condemned criminal, deserving eternal death. That is another essential element in the great change—which we should have introduced much earlier had we followed a theological order rather than tracing out the various references to it as recorded in the Scriptures. That essential element consists of a personal conviction of sin, of one’s lost estate, and such a conviction that its subject completely despairs of any self-help and dies to his own righteousness. “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” ( 1 Corinthians 6:11).
The “such were some of you” refers to the licentious and vicious characters mentioned in verses nine and ten, of whom Matthew Henry said they were “very monsters rather than men. Note, some that are eminently good after conversion have been as remarkable for wickedness before.”
What a glorious alteration does grace effect in reclaiming persons from sins so debasing and degrading! That grand transformation is here described by three words: “washed, sanctified, justified.” It may appear very strange to some of our readers to hear that quite a number of those who regard themselves as the champions of orthodoxy, if they do not explicitly repudiate the first, yet give it no place at all in their concept of what takes place at regeneration. They so confine their thoughts to that which is newly created and communicated to the Christian that any change and cleansing of his original being is quite lost sight of. God’s children are as truly “washed” as they are sanctified and justified. Literally so? Yes; in a material sense. No, morally. “But ye are washed” was the fulfillment of that Old Testament promise, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness and your idols will I cleanse you” ( Ezekiel 36:25). Titus 3:5, makes it clear that the new birth consists of something more than the communication of a new nature, namely, “the washing of regeneration”— cf. Ephesians 5:26. It is further to be noted that “ye are washed” is distinct from “justified,” so it cannot refer to the removal of guilt.
Moreover it is effected by the Spirit and therefore must consist of something which He does in us. The foul leper is purged: by the Spirit’s agency he is cleansed from his pollutions and his heart is made “pure” ( Matthew 5:8). It is a moral cleansing or purification of character from the love and practice of sin. First, “washed,” then “sanctified” or set apart and consecrated to God as vessels meet for His use. Thereby we obtain evidence of our justification—the cancellation of guilt and the imputation of righteousness to us. Justification is here attributed to the Holy Spirit because He is the Author of that faith which justifies a sinner. “But we all with open (it should be “with unveiled ”) face beholding as in a glass (better “mirror”) the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” ( 2 Corinthians 3:18).
In the unveiled face there is a double reference and contrast. First, to the veil over the face of Moses (verse 13), which symbolized the imperfection and transitoriness of Judaism: in contrast, Christians behold God as He is fully and finally revealed in the person and work of His Son. Second, to the veil which is over the hearts of unconverted Jews (verse 16): in contrast with them, those who have turned to the Lord have the blinding effects of error and prejudice removed from them, so that they can view the Gospel without any medium obscuring it. The “glory of the Lord, “the sum of His perfections, is revealed and shines forth in the Word, and more particularly in the Gospel. As His glory is beheld by that faith which is produced and energized by the Spirit, its beholder is changed gradually from one degree to another into the “same image,” becoming more and more conformed unto Him in character and conduct. The verb “changed” (“metamorphoo”) is rendered “transformed” in Romans 12:2, and “transfigured” in Matthew 17:2! The “mirrors” of the ancients were made of burnished metals, and when a strong light was thrown on them they not only reflected images with great distinctness but the rays of light were cast back upon the face of one looking into them, so that if the mirror were of silver or brass a white or golden glow suffused his or her countenance. The “mirror” is the Scriptures in which the glory of the Lord is discovered, and as the Spirit shines upon the soul and enables him to act faith and love thereon, he is changed into the same image. The glory of the Lord is irradicated by the Gospel, and as it is received into the heart is reflected by the beholder, through the transforming agency of the Spirit. By the heart’s being occupied with Christ’s perfection, the mind’s meditating thereon, the s subjection to His precepts, we drink into His spirit, become partakers of His holiness, and are conformed to His image. As our view of Christ is imperfect, the transformation is incomplete in this life: only when we “see Him” face to face shall we be made perfectly “like Him” ( 1 John 3:2). “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, unto the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 4:6).
Had we been following a strictly logical and theological order, this is another aspect of our subject we should have brought in earlier, for the spiritual illumination of the understanding is one of the first works of God when He begins to restore a fallen creature. By nature he is in a state of complete spiritual ignorance of God, and therefore of his own state before Him, sitting in “darkness” and “in the region and shadow of death” ( Matthew 4:16). That “darkness” is something far more dreadful than a mere intellectual ignorance of spiritual things: it is a positive and energetic “power” ( Luke 22:53), an evil principle which is inveterately opposed to God, and with which the heart of fallen man is in love ( John 3:19), and which no external means or illumination can dispel ( John 1:5).
As God commanded the light to shine out of that darkness which enveloped the old creation ( Genesis 1:2,3), so He does in the work of new creation within each of His elect. That supernatural enlightenment consists not in dreams and visions, nor in the revelation to the soul “of anything which has not been made known in the Scripture of Truth, for it is “The entrance of Thy words (which) giveth light” ( <19B9130> Psalm 119:130).
Yes, the entrance: but ere that takes place, the blind eyes of the sinner must first be miraculously opened by the Spirit, so that he is made capable of receiving the light: it is only in God’s light we “see light” ( Psalm 36:9). The shining of God’s light in our hearts partially and gradually dissipates the awful ignorance, blindness, error, prejudice, unbelief of our souls, thereby preparing the mind to (in measure) apprehend the Truth and the affections to embrace it. By this supernatural illumination the soul is enabled to see things as they really are ( 1 Corinthians 2:10-12), perceiving his own depravity, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the spirituality of the Law, the excellency of truth, the beauty of holiness, the loveliness of Christ.
We repeat: the Spirit communicates no light to the quickened soul which is not to be found in the written Word, but removes those obstacles which precluded its entrance, disposes the mind to attend unto the Truth ( Acts 16:14) and receive it in the love of it ( 2 Thessalonians 2:10). When the Divine light shines into his heart the sinner perceives something of his horrible plight, is made conscious of his guilty and lost condition, feels that his sins are more in number than the hairs of his head. He now knows that there is “no soundness” ( Isaiah 1:6) in him, that all his righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and that he is utterly unable to help himself. But the Divine light shining in his heart also reveals the all-sufficient remedy. It awakens hope in his breast. It makes known to him “the glory of God” as it shines in the face of the Mediator, and the sun of righteousness now arises upon his benighted soul with healing in His wings or beams. Such knowledge of sin, of himself, of God, of the Saviour, is not obtained by mental effort but is communicated by the gracious operations of the Spirit. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 10:4,5).
The apostle is here alluding to his ministry: its nature, difficulties and success. He likened it unto a conflict between truth and error. The “weapons” or means he employed were not such as men of the world depended upon. The Grecian philosophers relied upon the arguments of logic or the attractions of rhetoric. Mohammed conquered by the force of arms. Rome’s appeal is to the senses. But the ambassadors of Christ use nought but the Word and prayer, which are “mighty through God.” Sinners are converted by the preaching of Christ crucified, and not by human wisdom, eloquence, or debate. The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation ( Romans 1:16).
Sinners are here pictured as sheltering in “strongholds.” By hardness of heart, stubbornness of will, and strong prejudices they have fortified themselves against God and betaken themselves to a “refuge of lies” ( Isaiah 28:15). But when the Truth is effectually applied to their hearts by the Spirit those strongholds are demolished and their haughty imaginations and proud reasonings are cast down. They no longer exclaim, “I cannot believe that a just God will make one a vessel unto honor and another to dishonor,” or “I cannot believe a merciful God will consign any one to eternal torments.” All objections are now silenced, rebels are subdued, lofty opinions of self cast down, pride is abased, and reverential fear, contrition, humility, faith and love take their place. Every thought is now brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ: they are conquered by grace, taken captives by love, and Christ henceforth occupies the throne of their hearts. Every faculty of. the soul is now won over to God. Such is the great change wrought in a soul who experiences the miracle of grace: a worker of iniquity is made a loving and loyal child of obedience.
GOD’S WORKMANSHIP “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” ( Galatians 4:19).
In the past the apostle had laboured hard in preaching the Gospel to the Galatians, and apparently his efforts had met with considerable success. He had plainly set before them “Christ crucified” ( <480301> 3:1) as the sinner’s only hope, and many had professed to receive Him as He was offered in the Gospel. They had abandoned their idolatry, seemed to be soundly converted, and had expressed great affection for their spiritual father ( 4:15). For a time they had “run well,” but they had been “hindered” ( 5:7). After Paul’s departure, false teachers sought to seduce them from the Faith and persuade them that they must be circumcised and keep the ceremonial law in order to salvation. They had so far given ear unto those Judaizers that Paul now stood in doubt of them ( 4:20), being fearful lest after all they had never been truly regenerated ( 4:11). It is to be carefully noted that he did not take refuge in fatalism and say, If God has begun a good work in them He will certainly finish it, so there is no need for me to be unduly worried. Very much the reverse.
No, the apostle was much exercised over their state and earnestly solicitous about their welfare. By this strong figure of speech “I travail in birth again,” the apostle intimated both his deep concern and his willingness to labour and suffer ministerially after their conversion, to spare no pains in seeking to deliver them from their present delusion and get them thoroughly established in the truth of the Gospel. He longed to be assured that the great change had taken place in them, which he speaks of as “Christ be formed in you.” By which we understand that they might be genuinely evangelized by a saving knowledge of Christ. First, that by spiritual apprehension of the Truth He might be revealed in their understandings. Second, that by the exercise of faith upon Him, He might “dwell in their hearts” ( Ephesians 3:17): faith gives a subsistence and reality in the soul of that object on which it is acted ( Hebrews 9:1).
Third, that He might be so endeared to their affections that neither Moses nor anyone else could be admitted as a rival. Fourth, that by the surrender of their wills He might occupy the throne of their hearts and rule over them. Christ thus “formed in” us is the proof of His righteousness imputed to us. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” ( Ephesians 2:10).
In those words the apostle completes the blessed declaration he had made in verses 8 and 9, thereby preserving the balance of Truth. Verses 8 and present only one side of the Gospel and ought never to be quoted without adding the other side. None so earnest as Paul in proclaiming sovereign grace; none more insistent in maintaining practical godliness. Has God chosen His people in Christ before the foundation of the world? It was that they “should be holy” ( Ephesians 1:4). Did Christ give Himself for us?
So here, immediately after magnifying free grace, Paul states with equal clearness the moral results of God’s saving power, as they are exhibited with more or less distinctness in the lives of His people. Salvation by grace is evidenced by holy conduct: unless our lives are characterized by “good works” we have no warrant to regard ourselves as being the children of God. “We are His workmanship”; He, and not ourselves, has made us what we are spiritually. “Created in Christ Jesus” means made vitally one with Him. “In Christ” always has reference to union with Him: in Ephesians 1:4, to a mystical or election union; in 1 Corinthians 15:22, to a federal or representative one; in 1 Corinthians 6:17, and 2 Corinthians 5:17, to a vital or living one. Saving faith (product of the Spirit’s quickening us) makes us branches of the living Vine, from whom our fruit proceeds ( Hosea 14:8). “Created in Christ Jesus unto good works” expresses the design and efficacy of God’s workmanship, being parallel with “This people have I formed for Myself: they shall show forth My praise” ( Isaiah 43:21).
God fits the thing for which He creates it: fire to burn, the earth to yield food, His saints to walk in good works—God’s work in their souls inclining and propelling thereunto. He creates us in Christ or gives us vital union with Him that we should walk in newness of life, He being the Root from which all the fruits of righteousness proceed. United to the Holy One, holy conduct marks us. Those who live in sin have never been savingly joined to Christ. God saves that we may glorify Him by a life of obedience. “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” ( Ephesians 4:24).
Those words occur in the practical section of the epistle, being part of an exhortation which begins at verse 22, the passage as a whole being similar to Romans 13:12-14. Its force is, Make it manifest by your conduct that you are regenerate creatures, exhibiting before your fellows the character of God’s children. That which most concerns us now is the particular description which is here given of the great change effected in the regenerate, namely, “a new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” With our present passage should be carefully compared the parallel one in Colossians, for the one helps to explain and supplements the other. There we read “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.” In both we find the expression “the new man,” by which we are not to understand that a new individual has been brought into existence, that a person is now brought forth who previously had no being.
Great care needs to be taken when seeking to understand and explain the meaning of terms which are taken from the material realm and applied to spiritual objects and things.
A regenerated sinner is the same individual he was before, though a great change has taken place in his soul. How different the landscape when the sun is shining than when darkness of a moonless night is upon it—the same landscape and yet not the same! How different the condition of one who is restored to fullness of health and vigor after being brought very low by serious illness—yet it is the same person. How different will be the body of the saint on the resurrection morning from its present state—the same body which was sown in the grave, and yet not the same! So too with those saints alive on earth at the Redeemer’s return: “Who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” ( Philippians 3:21).
Thus it is, in measure, at regeneration: the soul undergoes a Divine work of renovation and transformation: a new light shines into the understanding, a new Object engages the affections, a new power moves the will. It is the same individual, and yet not the same. “Once I was blind, but now I see” is his blessed experience.
In Ephesians 4:24, we read of the new man “which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness,” while in Colossians 3:10, it is said “which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him.” i.e. originally. By comparing the two passages, we understand the “which after God” to signify conformity to Himself, for it is parallel with “after the image of Him.” That the new man is said to be “created” denotes that this spiritual transformation is a Divine work in which the human individual plays no part, either by contribution, cooperation, or concurrence. It is wholly a supernatural operation, in which the subject of it is entirely passive. The “which is renewed ” of Colossians 3:10, denotes that it is not something which previously had no existence, but the spiritual quickening and renovating of the soul. By regeneration is restored to the Christian’s soul the moral image of God, which image he lost in Adam at the fall. That “image” consists in “righteousness and true holiness” being imparted to the soul, or, as Colossians 3:10, expresses it, in the spiritual “knowledge” of God. God is now known, loved, revered, loyally served. It is now fitted for communion with Him. “Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will finish it” ( Philippians 1:6).
This verse contains a manifest warning, if an indirect or implied one, against our pressing too far the figure of a “new creation.” “Creation” is an act and not a “work,” a finished or completed object and not an incomplete and imperfect one. God speaks and it is done, wholly and perfectly done in an instant. The very fact that the Holy Spirit has employed such figures as “begetting” and “birth” to describe the saving work of God in the soul, intimates that the reference is only to the initial experience of Divine grace.
A new life is then imparted, but it requires nurturing and developing. In the verse now before us we are informed that the great change produced in us is not yet fully accomplished, yea, that it is only just begun. The work of grace is called “good” because it is so in itself and because of what it effects: it conforms us to God and fits us to enjoy God. It is termed a “work” because it is a continuous process, which the Spirit carries forward in the saint as long as he is left in this scene.
This good work within the soul is commenced by God, being wrought neither by our will nor our agency. That was the ground of the apostle’s persuasion or confidence: that He who had begun this good work would perform or finish it—had it been originated by man, he could have had no such assurance. Not only did God initiate this good work, but He alone continues and perfects it—were it left to unto us, it would quickly come to nought. “Will finish it until the day of Jesus Christ” tells us it is not complete in this life. With that should be compared “them that believe to the saving of the soul” ( Hebrews 10:39): observe carefully, not “have believed” (a past act) to the salvation (a completed deliverance) of the soul, but “who believe (a present act) to the saving of the soul”—a continuous process. As Christ ever liveth to make intercession for us, so the Spirit ever exercises an effectual influence within us. The verb for “finish” is an intensive one, which means to carry forward unto the end. “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me” ( <19D808> Psalm 138:8) enunciates the same promise. “According to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ” ( Titus 3:5,6).
If we followed our inclination, we should essay an exposition of the whole passage (verses 4,7), but unless we keep within bounds and confine ourselves to what bears directly on our present theme, this topic will be extended too much to suit some of our readers. In this passage we are shown how the three Persons of the Godhead cooperate in the work of salvation, and that salvation itself has both an experimental and legal side to it. Here we are expressly said to be “saved by” the effectual operations of the Holy Spirit, so that the Christian owes his personal salvation unto Him as truly as he does unto the Lord Jesus. Had not the blessed Spirit taken up His abode in this world, the death of Christ would have been in vain. It is by the meditation and merits of His redemptive work that Christ purchased the gift and graces of the Spirit, which are here said to be “shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.”
The will of the father is the originating cause of our salvation, the worth of the Son’s redemption, its meritorious cause, and the work of the Spirit, its effectual cause. Experimental salvation is begun in the soul by “the washing of regeneration,” when the heart is cleansed from the prevailing love and power of sin and begins to be restored to its pristine purity. And by the “renewing of the Holy Spirit,” that is, the renewing of the soul in the Divine image: or, more particularly, “the renewing of the spirit of the mind” ( Ephesians 4:23), that is, in the disposition of it. The whole of which is summed up in the expression, God has given us “a sound mind” ( 2 Timothy 1:7), “an understanding, that we may know Him” ( John 5:20). The mind is renovated and reinvigorated, so that it is capacitated to “spiritually discern” the things of the Spirit, which the natural man cannot do ( 1 Corinthians 2:14), no matter how well he be educated or religiously instructed.
But that to which we would specially direct the attention of the reader is the present tense of the verbs: “the washing and renewing (not “renewal”) of the Holy Spirit.” Like 2 Corinthians 3:18, and Philippians 1:6, this is another verse which shows the great change is not completed at the new birth, but is a continual process, in course of effectuation. The “good work” which God has begun in the soul, that washing and renewing of the Holy Spirit, proceeds throughout the whole course of our earthly life, and is not consummated until the Redeemer’s return, for it is only then that the saints will be perfectly and eternally conformed to the image of God’s Son.
God says of His heritage, “I the Lord do keep it: I will water it every moment ” ( Isaiah 27:3): it is only by the continuous and gracious influences of the Spirit that the spiritual life is nurtured and developed. The believer is often conscious of his need thereof, and under a sense of it cries, “quicken me according to Thy Word.” And God does: for “Though our outward man perish, yet the inward is renewed day by day” ( 2 Corinthians 4:16).
That “inner man” is termed “the hidden man of the heart” ( 1 Peter 3:4). “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord. I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them in their hearts” ( Hebrews 8:10—quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34).
Without entering into the prophetic bearings of this passage (about which none should speak without humble diffidence,) suffice it to say that by the “house of Israel” we understand “the Israel of God” ( Galatians 6:16), the whole election of grace, to be here in view. The “I will put” and “I will write” refer to yet another integral part of the great change wrought in God’s people, the reference being to that invincible and miraculous operation of the Spirit which radically transforms the favored subjects of it. “God articles with His people. He once wrote His laws to them, now He writes His laws in them. That is, He will give them understanding to know and believe them; He will give them courage to profess and power to put them into practice: the whole habit and frame of their souls shall be a table and transcript of His laws” (Matthew Henry). “I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them in their hearts.”
We are shown how rebels are made amendable to God. “God calls to us without effect as long as He speaks to us in no other way than by the voice of man. He indeed teaches us and commands what is right, but He speaks to the deaf; for when we seem to hear aright, our ears are only struck by an empty sound, and the heart, being full of depravity and perverseness rejects every wholesome doctrine. In short, the Word of God never penetrates into our hearts, for they are iron and stone until they are softened by Him; nay they have engraved on them a contrary law, for perverse passions reek within, which lead us to rebellion. In vain then does God proclaim His Law by the voice of men until He writes it by His spirit on our hearts, that is until He frames and prepares us for obedience” (Calvin). “And I will write them in their hearts.” The “heart,” as distinguished from the “mind,” comprises the affections and the will. This is what renders actually effective the former. The heart of the natural man is alienated from God and opposed to His authority. That is why God wrote the Ten Words upon tables of stone: not so much to secure the outward letter of them, as to represent the hardness of heart of the people unto whom they were given. But at regeneration God takes away “the heart of stone” and gives “a heart of flesh” ( Ezekiel 36:26). Just as the tables of stone received the impression of the finger of God, of the letter and words wherein the Law was contained, so “the heart of flesh” receives a durable impression of God’s laws, the affections and will being made answerable unto the whole revealed will of God and conformed to its requirements: a principle of obedience is imparted, subjection to the Divine authority is wrought in us.
Here, then, is the grand triumph of Divine grace: a lawless rebel is changed into a loyal subject, enmity against the Law ( Romans 8:7) is displaced by love for the Law ( <19B997> Psalm 119:97). The heart is so transformed that it now loves God and has a genuine desire and determination to please Him.
The renewed heart “delights in the Law of God” and “serves the Law of God” ( Romans 7:22,25), it being its very “nature” to do so! Let each reader sincerely ask himself, Is there now that in me which responds to the holy Law of God? Is it truly my longing and resolve to be wholly regulated by the Divine will? Is it the deepest yearning of my soul and the chief aim of my life to honour and glorify Him? Is it my daily prayer for Him to “work in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure”? Is my acutest grief occasioned when I feel I sadly fail to fully realize my longing? If so, the great change has been wrought in me. “According as His Divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us by glory and virtue. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” ( 2 Peter 1:3,4).
That is more of a general description of experimental salvation than a delineation of any particular part thereof, yet since there be in it one or two expressions not found elsewhere, it calls for a separate consideration. The opening “According as” should be rendered “Forasmuch as” or “Seeing that” (R.V.), for it indicates not so much a standard of comparison, as that verses 3 and 4 form the ground of the exhortation of verses 5 to 7. First, we have their spiritual enduement. This was by “Divine power,” or as Ephesians 1:19, expresses it, “the exceeding greatness of His power to usward, who believe according to the working of His mighty power,” for nothing less could quicken souls dead in trespasses and sins or free the slaves of sin and Satan.
That Divine power “hath given unto us (not merely offered them in the Gospel, but hath graciously bestowed, actually communicated) all things that pertain unto life and godliness”: that is, whatever is needful for the production, preservation and perfecting of spirituality in the souls of God’s elect. Yet though the recipients be completely passive, yea, unconscious of this initial operation of Divine grace, they do not continue so, for, second, their enduement is accompanied by and accomplished “through the knowledge of Him that hath (effectually) called us by glory and virtue” or “energy.” That “knowledge of Him” consists of such a personal revelation of Himself to the soul as imparts a true, spiritual, affecting, transforming perception of and acquaintance with His excellency. It is such a knowledge as enables its favored recipient in adoring and filial recognition to say, “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee” ( Job 42:5).
Third, through that spiritual “knowledge” which God has imparted to the soul is received all the gracious benefits and gifts of His love: “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be partakers,” etc. The “whereby” has reference to “His glory and virtue,” or better ‘‘His glory and energy’’ or “might.” The “promises” are “given unto us” not simply in words but in their actual fulfillment: just as the “by His glory and might” is the same thing as “His Divine power” in the previous verse, so “are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these ye might be partakers of the Divine nature” corresponds with “hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” the one amplifying the other. The “exceeding great and precious promises” were those made in the Old Testament—the original ( Genesis 3:15), fundamental, central, and all-pervading one being that of a personal Saviour; and those made by Christ, which chiefly respected the gift and coming of the Holy Spirit, which He expressly designated as “the promise of the Father” ( Acts 1:4).
Now those two promises—that of a Divine Saviour and that of a Divine Spirit—were the things that the prophets of old “ministered not unto themselves, but unto us” ( 1 Peter 2:12), and they may indeed most fitly be termed “exceeding great and precious promises,” for they who are given this Saviour and this Spirit do in effect receive “all things that pertain unto life and godliness,” for Christ becomes their Life and the Spirit their Sanctifier. Or, as verse 3 expresses it, the end for which this knowledge (as well as its accompanying blessings) are bestowed is first “that by these (i.e. the promises are fulfilled and fulfilling in your experience) ye might be partakers of the Divine nature.” Here we need to be on our guard against forming a wrong conclusion from the bare sound of those words: “Not the essence of God, but His communicable excellencies, such moral properties as may be imparted to the creature, and those not considered in their absolute perfection, but as they are agreeable to our present state and capacity” (Thos. Manton).
That “Divine nature,” or “moral properties,” is sometimes called “the life of God” ( Ephesians 4:18), because it is a vital principle of action; sometimes the “image of Him” ( Colossians 3:10), because they bear a likeness to Him—consisting essentially of “righteousness and true holiness” ( Ephesians 4:24); or in verse 3, “life and godliness”—spiritual life, spiritual graces, abilities to perform good works. It is here called “the Divine nature because it is the communication of a vital principle of operation which God transmits unto His children. The second end for which this saving knowledge of God is given is expressed in the closing words: “having escaped the corruption which is in the world through lust.”
Personally we see no need for taking up this expression before “partakers of the Divine nature” as that eminent expositor Thos. Manton did, and as did the most able John Lillie (to whom we are indebted for part of the above), for the apostle is not here enforcing the human-responsibility side of things (as he was in Romans 13:12; Ephesians 4:22-24), but treats of the Divine operations and their effects. It is quite true that we must put off the old man before we can put on the new man in a practical way, that we must first attend to the work of mortification ere we can make progress in our sanctification, but this is not the aspect of Truth which the apostle is here unfolding. When the Gospel call is addressed unto our moral agency the promise is “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” ( John 3:15,16).
But where spiritual things are concerned, the unregenerate man never discharges his moral agency. A miracle of grace must take place before he does that, and therefore God in a sovereign manner (unsought by us) imparts life, that he may and will believe ( John 1:12,13; 1 John 5:1)—the “sanctification of the Spirit” precedes the saving “and belief of the Truth” ( 2 Thessalonians 2:13)! In like manner, our becoming “partakers of the Divine nature” precedes (not in time, but in order of nature and of actual experience, though not of consciousness) our escaping “the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
Let not the young preacher be confused by what has been pointed out in the last paragraph. His marching orders are plain: when addressing the unsaved he is to enforce their responsibility, press upon them the discharging of their duties, bidding them forsake their “way” and “thoughts” in order to pardon (Isaiah 55), calling upon them to “repent” and “believe” if they would be saved. But if God be pleased to own his preaching of the Word and pluck some brands from the burning, it is quite another matter (or aspect of Truth) for the preacher (and, later on, his saved hearer, by means of doctrinal instruction) to understand something of the nature of that miracle of grace which God wrought in the hearer, which caused him to savingly receive the Gospel. It is that which we have endeavoured to deal within the above paragraphs, namely, explain something of the operations of Divine grace in a renewed soul, so far as those operations are described in 2 Peter 1:3,4. “Having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.”
First , by the Divine operation, and then by our own agency, for it is ever “God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” ( Philippians 2:13).
Indwelling sin (depravity) is here termed “corruption” because it blighted our primitive purity, degenerated our original state, and because it continues both in its nature and effects to pollute and waste. That “corruption” has its source, or is seated in, our “lusts”—depraved affections and appetites. This “corruption” is what another apostle designated “evil concupiscence” ( Colossians 3:5), for it occupies in the heart that place which is due alone unto the love of God as the Supreme Good. “Lust” always follows that “nature”: as is the nature, so are its desires—if corrupt, then evil; if holy, then pure. All the corruption that is in the world is “through lust,” i.e. through inordinate desire: lust lies at the bottom of every unlawful thought, every evil imagination.
The world could harm no man Were it not for “lust” in his heart—some inordinate desire in the understanding or fancy, a craving for something which sets him a-work after it. The fault is not in the gold, but in the spirit of covetousness which possesses men; not in the wine, but in their craving to excess. “But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust” ( James 1:14) —the blame lies on us rather than Satan! It is remarkable that when the apostle explained his expression “all that is in the world,” he defined it as “the lust of flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the pride of life” ( 1 John 2:16).
Now of Christians our passage says, “having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust,” and that by the interposition of the Divine hand, as Lot escaped from Sodom; yet not through a simple act of omnipotence, but by the gracious bestowments which that hand brings, but that holiness which He works in the heart, or, as a passage already reviewed expresses it, “by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” We escape from the dominion of inward corruption by the “Divine nature in us” causing us to hate and resist our evil lusts.
Thus it is by adhering closely to the Divine order of this passage that we are enabled to understand the meaning of its final clause. When we become partakers of “the Divine nature,” that is, when we are renewed after the image of God, a principle of grace and holiness is communicated to the soul, which is called “spirit” because “born of the Spirit” ( John 3:6), and that principle of holiness (termed by many “the new nature”) is a vital and operating one, which offers opposition to the workings of “corruption” or indwelling sin, for not only does the flesh lust against the spirit, but “the spirit lusteth against the flesh” ( Galatians 5:17). The “Divine nature” has wrought “godliness” in us, drawing off the heart of its recipient from the world to heaven, making him to long after holiness and pant for communion with God. Herein lies the radical difference between those described in 2 Peter 1:3,4, and the ones in 2 Peter 2:20 — nothing is said of the latter being “partakers of the Divine nature!” Their “escaping from the pollutions of the world” was merely a temporary reformation from outward defilements and gross sins, as their turning again to the same makes clear (verse 22). “We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren” ( 1 John 3:14) Here is set before us still another criterion by which the Christian may determine whether the great change has been wrought in him. First, let us point out that it seems to be clearly implied here (as in other places in this epistle: e.g. 2:3; 4:13) that the miracle of grace is not perceptible to our senses at the moment it occurs, but is cognizable by us afterward from its effects and fruits. We cannot recall a single statement in Scripture which expressly declares or even plainly implies that the saint is conscious of regeneration during the moment of quickening. There are indeed numbers (the writer among them) who can recall and specify the very hour when they were first convicted of sin, realized their lost condition, trusted in the atoning blood, and felt the burden of their hearts roll away. Nevertheless, they knew not when life was imparted into their spiritually dead souls—life which prompted them to breathe, feel, see, hear and act in a way they never had previously. Life must be present before there can be any of the functions and exercises of life. One dead in sin cannot savingly repent and believe.
Now it is one of the designs for which the first epistle of John was written that the regenerate may have assurance that eternal life has been imparted to them ( 5:13), several different evidences and manifestations of that life being described in the course of the apostle’s letter. The one specified in 3:14, is “love for the brethren.” By nature we were inclined to hate the children of God. It could not be otherwise: since we hated God, and that because He is holy and righteous, we despised those in whom the image of His moral perfections appeared. Contrariwise, when the love of God was shed abroad in our hearts and we were brought to delight ourselves in Him, His people became highly esteemed by us, and the more evidently they were conformed unto His likeness, the more we loved them.
That “love” is of a vastly superior nature from any natural sentiment, being a holy principle. Consequently, it is something very different from mere zeal for a certain group or party spirit, or even an affection for those whose sentiments and temperaments are like our own. It is a Divine, spiritual and holy love which goes out unto the whole family of God: not respect to this or that brother, but which embraces “the brethren” at large.
That of which 1 John 3:14 treats is a peculiar love for those saved by Christ. To love the Redeemer and His Redeemed is congenial to the spiritual life which has been communicated to their renewed soul. It is a fruit of that holy disposition which the Spirit has wrought in them. It must be distinguished from what is so often mis-termed “love” in the natural realm, which consists only of sentimentality and amiability. The regenerate “love the brethren” not because they are affable and genial, or because they give them a warm welcome to their circle. They “love the brethren” not because they deem them wise and orthodox, but because of their godliness, and the more their godliness is evidenced the more will they love them; and hence they love all the godly—no matter what be their denominational connections. They love those whom Christ loves, they love them for His sake—because they belong to Him. Their love is a spiritual, disinterested and faithful one which seeks the good of its objects, which sympathizes with them in their spiritual trials and conflicts, which bears them up in their prayers before the throne of grace, which unselfishly shows kindness unto them, which admonishes and rebukes when that be necessary.
But that to which we would here direct particular attention is the language employed by the Spirit in describing the great change, namely, “passed from death unto life.” The same expression was used by our Lord in John 5:24, though there its force is rather different. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth (with an inward or spiritual ear) My word, and (savingly) believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life (the very fact he so heareth and believeth is proof he has it) and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life.” The “shall not come into condemnation,” brings in the forensic side of things, and therefore the “hath passed from death unto life” (which, be it duly noted, is in addition to “hath everlasting life” in the preceding clause) is judicial. The one who has had “everlasting life” sovereignly imparted to him, and who in consequence thereof “hears” or heeds the Gospel of Christ and savingly believes, has for ever emerged from the place of condemnation, being no longer under the curse of the Law, but now entitled to its award of “life,” by virtue of the personal obedience or meritorious righteousness of Christ being imputed unto him; for which reason he is exhorted “reckon ye also yourself to be dead indeed unto sin but alive unto God through (in) Jesus Christ our Lord” ( Romans 6:11).
But 1 John 3:14, is not treating of the forensic or legal side of things, but the experimental, that of which God’s elect are made the subjects of in their own persons. Here it is not a relative change (one in relation to the Law), but an actual one that is spoken of. They have “passed from” that fearful state in which they were born—“alienated from the life of God” ( Ephesians 4:18): a state of unregeneracy. They have been supernaturally and effectually called forth from the grave of sin and death.
They have entered “into life,” which speaks of the state which they are now in before God as the consequence of His quickening them. They have for ever left that sepulchre of spiritual death in which by nature they lay, and have been brought into the spiritual sphere to “walk in newness of life.”
And “love for the brethren” is one of the effects and evidences of the miracle of grace of which they have been favored subjects. They evince their spiritual resurrection by this mark: they love the beloved of Christ; their hearts are spontaneously drawn out unto and they earnestly seek the good of all who wear Christ’s yoke, bear His image and seek to promote His glory,1 John 3:14, is not an exhortation but a factual statement of Christian experience.
Now let the reader most diligently note that in 1 John 3:14, the Holy Spirit has employed the figure of resurrection to set forth the great change, and that it also must be given due place in our thoughts as we endeavour to form something approaching an adequate conception of what the miracle of grace consists. Due consideration of this figure should check us in pressing too far that of the new birth. The similitude of resurrection brings before us something distinct and in some respects quite different from that which is connoted by “new creation,” “begetting” ( James 1:18) or being “born again” ( 1 Peter 1:23). Each of the latter denotes the bringing into existence of something which previously existed not; whereas “resurrection” is the quickening of what is there already. The miracle of grace consists of far more than the communication of a new life or nature: it also includes the renovation and purification of the original soul. Because it is a “miracle,” an act of omnipotence, accomplished by the mere fiat of God, it is appropriately likened unto “creation,” yet it needs to be carefully borne in mind that it is not some thing which is created in us: for “we (ourselves) are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus” ( Ephesians 2:10). It is the person himself, and not merely a nature, which is born again.
We have now reviewed not less than twenty-five passages from God’s Word, wherein a considerable variety of terms and figures are used to set forth the different aspects of the great change which takes place in a person when the miracle of grace is wrought within him: all of which passages, in our judgment, treating of the same. We have not sought to expound or comment upon them at equal length, but, following our usual custom, have rather devoted the most space in an attempt to explain those which are least understood, which present the most difficulty to the average reader, and upon which the commentators often supply the least help. A comparison of those passages will at once show that what theologians generally speak of as “regeneration” or “the effectual call” is very far from being expressed by the Holy Spirit in uniform language, and therefore that those who restrict their ideas to what is connoted by being born again, or, even on the other hand, “a change of heart,” are almost certain to form a very one-sided, inadequate and faulty conception of what experimental salvation consists. Regeneration is indeed a new birth, or the beginning of a new life; but that it is not all it is—there is also something resurrected and renewed, and something washed and transformed!
The Bible is not designed for lazy people. Truth has to be bought ( Proverbs 23:23), but the slothful and worldly minded are not willing to pay the price required. That “price” is intimated in Proverbs 2:1-5: there must be a diligent applying of the heart, a crying after knowledge, a seeking for an apprehension of spiritual things with that ardor and determination as men employ when seeking for silver; and a searching for a deeper and fuller knowledge of the Truth as men put forth when searching for hid treasures—persevering until their quest is successful; if we would really understand the things of God. Those who complain that these articles are “too difficult” or “too deep” for them, do but betray the sad state of their souls and reveal how little they really value the Truth; otherwise they would ask God to enable them to concentrate, and reread these pages perseveringly until they made its contents their own. People are willing to work and study hard and long to master one of the arts or sciences, but where spiritual and eternal things are concerned it is usually otherwise. “Search the Scriptures” ( John 5:39), “comparing the spiritual things with spiritual” ( 1 Corinthians 2:13). That is what we sought to heed.
Twenty-five different passages have been collated—all of which we are persuaded treat of some aspect or other of “the miracle of grace” or the great change—and in varying measure engaged our attention. It will be observed that in some of them it is the illumination of the understanding which is in view ( Acts 26:18), in others the searching and convicting of the conscience ( Romans 7:9), and in others the renovation of the heart ( Ezekiel 36:26). In some it is the subduing of the will ( <19B003> Psalm 110:3) which is emphasized, in others casting down reasonings and bringing our thoughts into subjection ( 2 Corinthians 10:5), and in others the writing of God’s laws in our minds and hearts. In some the miracle of grace appears to be a completed thing ( 1 Corinthians 6:11), in others the great change is seen as a gradual process ( 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 1:6). In one something is communicated ( Romans 5:5), In different passages the figures of creation ( Ephesians 2:10), of renewing ( Titus 3:5), and of resurrection ( 1 John 3:14) are employed.
If it be asked, Why has it pleased the Holy Spirit to describe His work so diversely and use such a variety of terms and figures? Several answers may be suggested. First, because the work itself, though one, is so many-sided.
Its subject is a complex creature and the process of salvation radically affects every part of his composite being. Just as sin has marred each part of our constitution and has corrupted every faculty the Creator gave us, so grace renews and transforms every part of our constitution and purifies every faculty we possess. When the apostle prayed, “The very God of peace sanctify you wholly, and your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23), he was asking that God would graciously preserve and perfect that which He had already wrought in His people, and the terms he there used intimated the comprehensiveness and entirety of the grand miracle of grace.
This is a gem possessing many facets and our estimate of it is certain to be most faulty if we confine our view to only one of them.
Second, because God would thereby warn us from supposing that He acts according to a stereotyped plan or method in His saving of sinners. Variety rather than uniformity marks all the ways and workings of God, in creation, providence, and grace. No two seasons are alike—no field or tree yields the same crop in any two years. Every book in the Bible is equally the inspired Word of God, yet how different in character and content is Leviticus from the Psalms, Ruth from Ezekiel, Romans from the Revelation! How varied the manner in which the Lord Jesus gave sight to different ones who were blind: different in the means used and the effect produced—one, at first, only seeing men as though they were trees walking ( Mark 8:24)! How differently He dealt with religious Nicodemus in John 3 and the adulterous woman of John 4, pressing on the one his imperative need of being born again, convicting the other of her sins and telling her of “the gift of God!” The great God is not confined to any rule and we must not restrict His operations in our thoughts: if we do, we are certain to err.
Third, because God would thereby teach us that, though the work of grace be essentially and substantially the same in all its favored subjects, yet in no two of them does it appear identical in all its circumstances— neither in its operations nor manifestations. Not only does endless variety mark all the ways and workings of God, but it does so equally in His workmanship.
This is generally recognized and acknowledged in connection with the material world, where no two blades of grass or two grains of sand are alike. But in the spiritual realm it is very far from being perceived and owned: rather is it commonly supposed that all truly regenerate persons conform strictly unto one particular pattern, and those who differ from it are at once suspected of being counterfeits. This should not be. The twelve foundations of the new and holy Jerusalem, in which are the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, are all composed of “precious” stones, but how diverse is each! The first jasper, the second sapphire, the third a chalcedony, the fourth emerald, etc. (Revelation 21)—different in color, size and brilliancy. Each Christian has his own measure of faith and grace “according to the measure of the gift of Christ” ( Ephesians 4:7).
Those who have written upon God’s work of grace in the soul, especially when treating of His initial act therein, have used a wide variety of terms— generally those most in vogue among the particular party to which they belonged. Each denomination has its own more or less distinctive nomenclature—determined by the portions of Truth it is wont to emphasize—and even when dealing with doctrine which is held by all the orthodox, does so with a certain characteristic pronunciation or emphasis.
Thus, in some circles one would find “effectual calling” the term most frequently employed; in other places, where “the new birth” is substituted, few would understand what is meant by “an effectual call”; while “a change of heart” is how a third group would describe it. Others, who are looser in their terminology, speak of “being saved,” by which some signify one thing, and others something quite different. As a matter of fact, each of those expressions is justifiable, and all of them need to be combined if we are to form anything approaching an adequate concept of the experience itself.
The better to enable our feeble understandings to grasp something of the nature of the great change which takes place in each of God’s people, the Holy Spirit has employed a considerable variety of terms—figurative in character, yet expressing spiritual realities—and it behooves us to diligently collate or collect the same, carefully ponder each one, and regard all of them as being included in “the miracle of grace.” Probably we are not capable of furnishing a full list, but the following are some of the principal verses in which experimental salvation is described. “The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart” ( Deuteronomy 30:6): an operation painful to the soul, in removing its filth and folly—its love of sin—is necessary before the heart is brought to truly love God! This figure of circumcising the heart is found also in the New Testament: Romans 2:29; Philippians 3:3. “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power” ( <19B003> Psalm 110:3): omnipotence must be exercised ere the elect will voluntarily deny self and freely take Christ’s yoke upon them. “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from your idols will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh” ( Ezekiel 36:25,26).
We are not concerned here with the prophetic or dispensational bearing of this statement, but with its doctrinal import. Nor can we here attempt a full exposition of it. In our judgment those verses describe an essential aspect of that “miracle of grace” which God performs in His people. The “clean water” with which He sprinkles and cleanses them within is an emblem of His holy Word, as John 15:3, Ephesians 5:26, make quite clear. The heart of the natural man is likened to one of “stone”—lifeless, insensible, obstinate. When he is regenerated, the heart of man becomes one “of flesh”—quickened into newness of life, warm, full of feeling, capable of receiving impressions from the Spirit. The change effected by regeneration is no superficial or partial one, but a great, vital, transforming, complete one. “Make the tree good and his fruit good” ( Matthew 10:32): the Husbandman’s method of accomplishing this is shown in Romans 11:17. “Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” ( Matthew 18:3): to “be converted” is to experience a radical change, for pride to be turned into humility, and self-sufficiency into clinging dependence. “Of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace” ( John 1:16): the life of the Head is communicated to His members, and every spiritual grace that is found in Him is, in measure, reproduced in them. “No man can come to Me except the Father which hath sent Me draw him” ( John 6:44): to come to Christ is to receive Him as our Lord and Saviour—to abandon our idols and repudiate our own righteousness, to surrender to His government and trust in His sacrifice; and none can do that except by the power of God. “Purifying their hearts by faith” ( Acts 15:9, and cf. Peter 1:22—“Ye have purified your souls by obeying the Truth”): the Christian does not have two hearts, but one which has been “purified”! “Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken” ( Acts 16:14): the door of fallen man’s heart is fast closed against God until He opens it. “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose: to make thee a minister and a witness...to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they might receive forgiveness of sins and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me” ( Acts 26:18).
Here we have still another description of that miracle of grace which God performs within His people and wherein He is pleased to make use of the ministerial instrumentality of His servants. The faithful preaching of His Word is given an important place therein, though that preaching is only rendered effectual by the powerful operations of the Spirit. That miracle is here spoken of as the opening of our eyes, the reference being to the eyes of our understanding, so that we are enabled to perceive something of the spiritual meaning of the Gospel message and its bearing upon our own deep need. The soul which hitherto was engulfed in spiritual darkness is brought forth into God’s marvelous light ( 1 Peter 2:9) so that we now discover the perfect suitability of Christ unto our desperate case. At the same time the soul is delivered from the captivity of Satan, who is “the power of darkness” ( Luke 22:53), and brought into a new relation with and knowledge of God, which produces faith in Him and issues in the forgiveness of sins.
Fourth, because God would thereby make it easier for His children to recognize themselves in the mirror of the Word. Possessed of honest hearts and fearful of being deceived, some find it no simple matter to be thoroughly convinced that they have truly experienced the great change. So far from sneering at their trepidation, we admire their caution: where the eternal interests of the soul are concerned only a fool will give himself the benefit of the doubt. But if a miracle of grace has been wrought in the reader, there is no good reason why he should long be in uncertainty about it. As in water face answers to face, so the character of the renewed soul corresponds to the description of such furnished by the Word of Truth.
That description, as we have seen, is given with considerable variety, sometimes one feature or aspect being made prominent, sometimes another. It is like a photographer taking a number of different pictures of the same person: one with his countenance in repose, another with him smiling; one a full-face view, another of his profile. One may appear to do him “more justice” than another or be more easily “recognized,” yet all are likenesses of himself.
Let then the exercised reader impartially scrutinize himself in the mirror of the Word and see if he can discern in himself some of the marks of the regenerate, as those marks are there delineated. Observe well we say “some of” those marks, and not all of them. Though you may not be sure that Ezekiel 36:26 has taken place in you, perhaps you know something of what is recorded in Acts 16:14, and Romans 5:5. Because your first conscious “experience” was not like that of Romans 7:9, perhaps it closely resembled that of Zaccheus, who came down from the tree and “received Him joyfully” ( Luke 19:6). Commenting on the quickness of his conversion, Whitefield aptly said to those who queried whether any were genuine Christians who had not undergone some “terrible experience” of conviction or terror of the wrath to come, “You may as well say to your neighbor you have not had a child, for you were not in labour all night. The question is, whether a real child is born, not how long was the preceding pain”!
There is nothing in the sacred record to show that either Lydia or Zaccheus felt anything of the terrors of the Law before their conversion, yet from what is said of them in the sequel we cannot doubt the reality of their conversion. Though you may not be sure whether God has put His laws into your mind and written them on your heart, yet you should have no difficulty in perceiving whether or no you “love the brethren” as such, and if you do, then you may be fully assured on the Word of Him that cannot lie, you have “passed from death unto life.” The fact that you are afraid to aver that God has renewed you after His image and created you “in righteousness and true holiness” does not of itself warrant you inferring you are still in a state of nature. Test yourself by other passages and see if you can discern in your soul some of their marks of regeneration, such as a grieving over sin, a hungering after righteousness, a panting for communion with God, a praying for fuller conformity unto Christ. Has the world lost its charm, are you out of love with yourself, is the Lamb of God a desirable Object in your eyes? If so, you possess at least some of the distinctive marks of the regenerate.
REVERSAL OF THE FALL Since we are seeking to write this for the benefit of young preachers as well as the rank and file of God’s people, let us point out that the nature of this great change may also be determined by contemplating it as the begun reversal of the Fall: “begun reversal,” for what is commenced at regeneration is continued throughout our sanctification and completed only at our glorification. While it be true that those who are renewed by the Holy Spirit gain more than Adam lost by the Fall, yet we have clear Scripture warrant for affirming that the workmanship of the new creation is God’s answer to man’s ruination of his original creation. Great care needs to be taken in cleaving closely to the Scriptures in developing this point, particularly in ascertaining exactly what was the moral and spiritual condition of man originally, and precisely what happened to him when he fell. We trust that a patient perusal of what follows will convince the reader of both the importance and value of our discussion of these details at this stage the more so since the children have sadly departed from the teaching of the fathers thereon.
Even those sections of Christendom which boast the most of their soundness in the Faith are defective here. Mr. Darby and his followers hold that Adam was merely created innocent (a negative state), and not in (positive) holiness. Mr. Philpot said, “I do not believe that Adam was a spiritual man, that is, that he possessed those spiritual gifts and graces which are bestowed upon the elect of God, for they are new covenant blessings in which he had no share” (Gospel Standard, 1861, page 155).
One error ever involves another. Those who deny that fallen man possesses any responsibility to perform spiritual acts (love God, savingly believe in Christ) must, to be consistent, deny that unfallen man was a spiritual creature. Different far was the teaching of the Reformers and Puritans. “And where Paul treats of the restoration of this image ( 2 Corinthians 3:18), we may readily infer from his words that man was conformed to God not by an influx of His substance, but by the grace and power of His Spirit.”
And again, “As the spiritual life of Adam consisted in a union to his Maker, so an. alienation from Him was the death of his soul” (Calvin, Institutes). “Adam had the Spirit as well as we: the Holy Spirit was at the making of him and wrote the image of God upon his heart, for where holiness was, we may be sure the Spirit of God was too...the same Spirit was in Adam’s heart to assist his graces and cause them to flow and bring forth, and to move him to live according to those principles of life given him” (Goodwin, 6/54).
And again, commenting on Adam’s being made in the image and likeness of God, and pointing out that such an “image” imports a thing “permanent and inherent,” he asked, “what could this be but habitual inclinations and dispositions unto whatsoever was holy and good, insomuch as all holiness radically dwelt in him” (page 202).
So too Charnock: “The righteousness of the first man evidenced not only a sovereign power, as the Donor of his being, but a holy power, as the pattern of His work....The law of love to God, with his whole soul, his whole mind, his whole heart and strength, was originally writ upon his nature. All the parts of his nature were framed in a moral conformity with God, to answer His Law and imitate God in His purity” (vol. 2, page 205).
In his Discourse on the Holy Spirit (chapter 4, His “Peculiar works in the first creation”), when treating of “the image of God” after which Adam was created (namely, “an ability to discern the mind and will of God,” an “unentangled disposition to every duty” and “a readiness of compliance in his affections”) J. Owen said, “For in the restoration of these abilities unto our minds in our renovation unto the image of God in the Gospel, it is plainly asserted that the Holy Spirit is the imparter of them, and He doth thereby restore His own work. For in the new creation the Father, in the way of authority, designs it and brings all things unto a head in Christ ( Ephesians 1:10), which retrieves His original work.
And thus Adam may be said to have had the Spirit of God in his innocency: he had Him in those peculiar effects of His power and goodness, and he had Him according to the tenor of that covenant whereby it was possible that he should utterly lose Him, as accordingly it came to pass.”
The superiority of the new covenant lies in its gifts being unforfeitable, because secured in and by Christ. “God made man upright” ( Ecclesiastes 7:29)—the same Hebrew word as in Job 1:8, and Psalm 25:8: “This presupposes a law to which he was conformed in his creation, as when anything is made regular or according to rule, of necessity the rule itself is presupposed. Whence we may gather that this law was no other than the eternal indispensable law of righteousness, observed in all points by the second Adam.... In a word, this law is the very same which was afterwards summed up in the Ten Commandments...called by us the Moral Law, and man’s righteousness consisted in conformity to this law or rule” (Thomas Boston, Human Nature in its Fourfold State). “When God created man at first, He gave him not an outward law, written in letters or delivered in words, but an inward law put into his heart and concreated with him, and wrought in the frame of his soul...spiritual dispositions and inclinations, in his will and affections, carrying him on to pray, love God and fear Him, to seek His glory in a spiritual and holy manner” (Goodwin).
When Adam left the Creator’s hand the law of God was in his heart, for he was endowed with holy instincts and inclinations, which tended unto his doing that which was pleasing unto God and an antipathy against whatever was displeasing to Him. That “law of God” within him was his original character or constitution of his soul and spirit—as it is the “law” or character of beasts to care for their young and of birds to build nests for theirs. Should it be asked, Is there any other Scripture which teaches that God placed His law in the heart of unfallen Adam? we answer, Yes, by clear and necessary implication. Christ declared “Thy Law is within My heart” ( Psalm 40:8), and Romans 5:14, tells us that Adam was “the figure of Him that was to come.” Again, just as we may ascertain what grain a certain field bore from the stubble in it, so we may discover what was in unfallen man by the ruins of what is still discernible in fallen humanity: “the Gentiles do by nature the things contained in the Law” ( Romans 2:14) —their consciences informing them that immorality and murder are crimes: there is still a shadow in his descendants of the character originally possessed by Adam.
But Adam did not continue as God created him. He fell, and terrible were the consequences. But it is only by adhering closely to the terms used in the Word that we can rightly apprehend the nature of those consequences; yea, unless we allow Scripture itself to interpret those terms for us, we are certain to err in our understanding of them. Possibly the reader is ready to exclaim, There is no need to make any mystery out of it: the matter is quite simple—those consequences may all be summed up in one word—“death.”
Even so, we must carefully inquire what is meant there by “death.” “Spiritual death,” you answer. True, and observe well that presupposes spiritual life, and that in turn implies a spiritual person, for surely one endowed with spiritual life must be so designated. However, our inquiry must be pressed back a stage farther, and the question put, Exactly what is connoted by “spiritual death”? It is at this point so many have gone wrong and, departing from the teaching of Holy Writ, have landed in serious error.
It is to be most carefully noted that God did not say to Adam, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thy spirit or thy soul shall surely die,” but rather “thou shalt surely die” ( Genesis 2:17). It was not some thing in or some part of Adam which died, but Adam himself! That is very, very far from being a distinction without any difference: it is a real and radical difference, and if we tamper with Scripture and change what it says, we depart from the Truth. Nor is “death” an extinction or annihilation; instead, it is a separation. Physical death is the severance or separation of the soul from the body, and spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. The prodigal son was “dead” so long as he remained in “the far country” ( Luke 15:24), because away from his Father. 1 Timothy 5:6, tells us, “she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth”; that is, she is spiritually dead, dead Godwards, while alive and active in sin. For the same reason, “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” is called “the Second Death” ( Revelation 21:8), because those cast into it are “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” ( 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Man was created a tripartite being, composed of “spirit and soul and body” ( 1 Thessalonians 5:23). That is unmistakably implied in the Divine account of his creation: “God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness” ( Genesis 1:26); the Triune God made man a trinity in unity! And when man fell, he continued to be a tripartite being: no part of his being was extinguished, no faculty was lost when he apostatized from God. It cannot be insisted upon too strongly that no essential element of man’s original constitution was forfeited, no component part of his complex make-up was annihilated at the Fall, for multitudes are seeking to hide behind a misconception at this very point. They would fain believe that man lost some vital part of his nature when Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, and that it is the absence of this part in his descendants which explains (and excuses!) all their failures.
They console themselves that they are more to be pitied than blamed: the blame rests on their first parents, and they, forsooth, are to be pitied because he deprived them of the faculty of working righteousness. Much preaching encourages that very delusion.
The truth is that fallen man today possesses identically the same faculties as those with which Adam was originally created, and his accountability lies in his making good use of those faculties, and his criminality consists in the evil employment of them. Others seek to evade the onus of man by affirming that he received a nature which he did not possess before the Fall, and all the blame for his lawless actions is thrown upon that evil nature: equally erroneous and equally vain is such a subterfuge. No material addition was made to man’s being at the Fall, any more than some intrinsic part was taken from it. That which man lost at the Fall was his primitive holiness, and that which then entered into his being was sin, and sin has defiled every part of his person; but for that we are to be blamed and not pitied. Nor has fallen man become so helplessly the victim of sin that his accountability is cancelled; rather does God hold him responsible to resist and reject every inclination unto evil, and will justly punish him because he fails to do so. Every attempt to negative human responsibility and undermine the sinner’s accountability, no matter by whom made, must be steadfastly resisted by us.
It is by persuading men that the spirit died at the Fall, or that some concrete but evil thing was then communicated to the human constitution, that Satan succeeds in deceiving so many of his victims: and it is the bounden duty of the Christian minister to expose his sophistries, drive the ungodly out of their refuge of lies, and press continually upon them the solemn fact that they are without the vestige of an excuse for their own rebellion against God. In the day of his disobedience Adam himself died, died spiritually, and so did all his posterity in him. But that spiritual death consisted not of the extinction of anything in them, but of their separation from God: no part of Adam’s being was annihilated, but every part of him was vitiated. It was not the essence but the rectitude of man’s soul and spirit which sin destroyed. By the Fall man relinquished his honour and glory, lost his holiness, forfeited the favour of God, and was severed from all communion with Him; but he still retained his human nature. All desire Godwards, all love for his Maker, all real knowledge of Him was gone. Sin now possessed him, and to the love and exercise of it he devoted himself.
Such too is our natural condition.
Let none conclude from the last few paragraphs that we do not believe in the “total depravity” of man, or that we do so in such a manner as practically to evacuate that expression of any real meaning. Most probably the writer believes more firmly in the utter ruin of fallen human nature than do some of his readers, and views the plight of the natural man as being more desperate than they do. We hold that the state of every unregenerate soul is such that he cannot turn his face Godward or originate a single spiritual thought, and that he has not even so much as the wish or will to do so. Nor let it be inferred from our preceding remarks that we deny the evil principle or “the flesh” as being existent and dominant in the natural man: we most emphatically believe—both on the testimony of the Word of Truth and from personal experience of its awful potency and horrible workings—that it is. But we also hold that great care should be taken when seeking to visualize or define in our minds what “the flesh” consists of. It is a principle of evil and not a concrete or tangible entity. The moment we regard it as something material, we confuse ourselves.
It is because all of us are so accustomed to thinking in the terms of matter that we find it difficult to form a definite concept of something which though immaterial is real. Nor is it by any means a simple task for one to express himself thereon so that he will be coherent unto others. Man lost no part of his tripartite nature when he fell, nor was a fourth part then communicated to him. Instead, sin—which is not a material entity— entered into him, and vitiated and corrupted his entire being. He was stricken with a loathsome disease which defiled all his faculties and members, so that his entire spirit and soul became precisely like one whose body is thus described: “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores” ( Isaiah 1:5).
An apple remains an apple when decayed within. And man still retained his human nature when he apostatized from God, died spiritually, and became totally depraved. He remained all that he was previously minus only his holiness.
When man fell he died spiritually and, as we have shown, death is not annihilation, but separation. Yet that word “separation” does not express the full meaning of what is signified by “spiritual death.” Scripture employs another term—“alienation,” and that too we must take fully into account. “Alienation” includes the thought of severance, but it also imparts an opposition. A dear friend may be separated from me physically, but a cruel enemy is bitterly antagonistic to me. Thus it is with fallen man: he is not only cut off from all communion with the Holy One, but he is innately and inveterately hostile to Him—“alienated” in his affections. We are not here striving about mere “words,” but calling attention to a most solemn truth and fact. It is thus that the Scripture depicts the condition of fallen mankind: “Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart” ( Ephesians 4:18); yea, it solemnly declares that “the carnal mind is enmity against God” ( Romans 8:7), and “enmity” is not a negative and passive thing, but a positive and active one. “Dead in trespasses and sins” ( Ephesians 2:1) is the fearful diagnosis made of fallen man by the Divine Physician. Yet though that language be true to fact and is no exaggeration, still it is a figure, and unless we interpret it in strict accord with Scripture, we shall falsify its meaning. It is often said that the spiritual state of the natural man is analogous to that of a corpse buried in the cemetery. From one standpoint that is correct; from another it is utterly erroneous. The natural man is a putrefying creature, a stench in the nostrils of the Holy One, and he can no more perform a spiritual act Godwards than a corpse can perform a physical act manwards. But there the analogy ends! There is a contrast between the two cases as well as a resemblance. A corpse has no responsibility, but the natural man has! A corpse can perform no actions; different far is the case of the sinner. He is- active, active against God!
Though he does not love Him (and he ought!), yet he is filled with enmity and hatred against Him. Thus spiritual death is not a state of passivity and inactivity, but one of aggressive hostility against God.
Here then, as everywhere, there is a balance to be preserved; yet it is rarely maintained. Far too many Calvinists, in their zeal to repudiate the freewillism of Arminians, have at the same time repudiated man’s moral agency; anxious to enforce the utter helplessness of fallen men in spiritual matters, they have virtually reduced him to an irresponsible machine. It has not been sufficiently noted that in the very next verse after the statement “who were dead in trespasses and sins,” the apostle added, “Wherein (i.e. that state of spiritual death) ye walked (which a corpse in the grave could not!) according to the course of this world, according to the spirit of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. Among whom also we all had our conversation (“conduct”) in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind” ( Ephesians 2:1-3).
So that in one sense they were dead (i.e. Godward) while they lived (i.e. in sin), and in another sense they lived (a life of self-seeking and of enmity against God), while dead to all spiritual things.
By the Fall man both lost something and acquired something. Term that something a “nature” if you will, so long as you do not conceive of it as something material. That which man lost was holiness, and that which he acquired was sin, and neither the one nor the other is a substance, but rather a moral quality. A “nature” is not a concrete entity, but instead that which characterizes and impels an entity or creature. It is the “nature” of gravitation to attract; it is the nature of fire to burn. A “nature” is not a tangible thing, but a power impelling to action, a dominating influence—an “instinct” for want of a better term. Strictly speaking a “nature” is that which we have by our origin, as our partaking of human nature distinguishes us from the celestial creatures who are partakers of angelic nature. Thus we speak of a lion’s “nature” (ferocity), a vulture’s nature (to feed on carrion), a lamb’s nature (gentleness). A “nature,” then, describes more what a creature is by birth and disposition, and therefore we prefer to speak of holiness or imparted grace as a “principle of good,” and indwelling sin or “the flesh” as a principle of evil—a prevalent disposition which moves its subjects to ever act in accord with its distinguishing quality.
If it be kept in mind that, strictly speaking, a “nature” is that which we have by our origin, as partaking of human nature distinguishes us from the celestial creatures on the one hand and from the beasts of the field (with their animal nature) on the other, much confusion of thought will be avoided. Furthermore, if we distinguish carefully between what our nature intrinsically consists of and what it “accidentally” (non-essentially) became and becomes by virtue of the changes passing upon it at the fall and at regeneration, then we should have less difficulty in understanding what is signified by the Lord’s assuming our nature. When the Son of God became incarnate He took unto Himself human nature. He was, in every respect, true Man, possessed of spirit ( Luke 23:46), soul ( John 12:27), and body ( John 19:40): “in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren” ( Hebrews 2:17)—otherwise He could not be their Surety and Mediator. This does not explain the miracle and mystery of the Divine incarnation, for that is incomprehensible, but it states the fundamental fact of it. Christ did not inherit our corruption, for that was no essential part of manhood! He was born and ever remained immaculately pure and holy; nevertheless, He took upon Him our nature intrinsically considered, but not as it had been defiled by sin; and therefore is denominated “the son of Adam” ( Luke 3:38).
When, then, we say that by the fall man became possessed of a “sinful nature” it must not be understood that something comparable to his spirit or soul was added to his being, but instead that a principle of evil entered into him, which defiled every part of his being, as frost entering into fruit ruins it. Instead of his faculties now being influenced and regulated by holiness, they became defiled and dominated by sin. Instead of spiritual propensities and properties actuating his conduct, a carnal disposition became the law of his being. The objects and things man formerly loved, he now hated; and those which he was fitted to hate, he now desires. Therein lies both his depravity and his criminality. God holds fallen man responsible to mortify every inclination unto evil, to resist and reject every solicitation unto sin, and will justly punish him because he fails to do so. Nay more, God requires him and holds him accountable to love Him with all his heart and to employ each of his faculties in serving and glorifying Him: his failure so to do consists solely in a voluntary refusal, and for that He will righteously judge him.
Now the miracle of grace is God’s answer to man’s ruination of himself, His begun reversal of what happened to him at the Fall. Let us now establish that fact from the Scriptures and show this concept is no invention of ours. The very fact that Christ is denominated “the last Adam” implies that He came to right the wrong wrought by the first Adam— though only so far as God’s elect are concerned. Hence we find Him saying by the Spirit of prophecy, “I restored that which I took not away” ( Psalm 69:4). A lengthy section might well be written on those comprehensive words: suffice it now to say that He recovered both unto God and His people what had been lost by Adam’s defection—to the One His manifestative honour and glory; to the other, the Holy Spirit and holiness in their hearts. What Christ did for His people is the meritorious ground of what the Spirit works in them, and at regeneration they begin to be restored to their pristine purity or brought back to their original state.
Therefore it is that the great change is spoken of as the “renewing of the Holy Spirit” ( Titus 3:5), that is, a renovating and restoring of spiritual life to the soul. “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him” ( Colossians 3:9).
Those to whom the apostle was writing had, by their profession and practice, “put off” or renounced “the old man,” and by lip and life had avowed and exhibited the new. That new man is here said to be “renewed in knowledge,” which cannot be the obtaining of a knowledge which man never had previously but rather the recovery and restoration of that spiritual knowledge of God which he had originally. That is confirmed by what follows: “after the image of Him that created him,” i.e. at the beginning. Man was originally made “in the image of God” ( Genesis 1:27), which imported at least three things. First, he was constituted a tripartite being by the Triune God; and this he continued to be after the Fall. Second, he was created in His natural image, being made a moral agent, endowed with rationality and freedom of will; this too he retained.
That which takes place in the elect at regeneration is the reversing of the effects of the Fall. The one born again is, through Christ, and by the Spirit’s operations, restored to union and communion with God ( Peter 3:18). The one who previously was spiritually dead, alienated from God, is now spiritually alive, reconciled to God. Just as spiritual death was brought about by the entrance into man’s being of a principle of evil, which darkened his understanding and hardened his heart ( Ephesians 4:18), so spiritual life is the introduction of a principle of holiness into man’s soul, which enlightens his understanding and softens his heart. God communicates a new principle, one which is as real and potent unto good as indwelling sin is unto evil. Grace is now imparted, a holy disposition is wrought in the soul, a new temper of spirit is bestowed upon the inner man. But no new faculties are communicated unto him: rather are his original faculties (in measure) purified, enriched, elevated, empowered.
Just as man did not become less than a threefold being when he fell, neither does he become more than a threefold being when he is renewed. Nor will he in heaven itself: his spirit and soul and body will then be glorified — completely purged from every taint of sin, and perfectly conformed unto the image of God’s Son.
But is not a “new nature” received by us when we are born again? If that term (in preference to “another principle”) be admitted and used, we must be careful lest we carnalize our conception of what is connoted by that expression. Much confusion has been caused at this point through failure to recognize that it is a person, and not merely a “nature,” who is born of the Spirit: “he is born of God” ( 1 John 3:9). The selfsame person who was spiritually dead Godwards (separated and alienated from Him) is now spiritually alive Godwards—reconciled and brought back into union and communion with Him. The same person whose entire being (and not merely some part of him!) was dead in trespasses and sins, wherein he walked according to the course of this world, according to the evil spirit who worketh in the children of disobedience, fulfilling the lusts of the flesh; his entire being is now alive in holiness and righteousness, and he walks according to the course of God’s Word, according to the power and promptings of the Holy Spirit, who worketh in the children of obedience, moving them to fulfil the dispositions and develop the graces of the spirit or “new nature.”
This must be so, or otherwise there would be no preservation of the identity of the individual: we repeat, it is the individual himself who is born again, and not merely something in him. The person of the regenerate is constitutionally the same as the person of the unregenerate, each having a spirit and soul and body. But just as in fallen man there is also a principle of evil which has corrupted each part of his threefold being — which principle may be styled his “sinful nature” (if by that be meant his evil disposition and character), as it is the “nature” of swine to be filthy; so when a person is born again another and new principle is introduced into his being, which may be styled a “new nature,” if by it be meant a disposition which propels him in a new direction—Godwards. Thus, in both cases, “nature” is a moral principle rather than a tangible entity. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit”—spiritual and not material, and must not be regarded as something substantial, distinct from the soul of the regenerate, like one part of matter added to another; rather is it that which spiritualizes his inward faculties as the “flesh” had carnalized them.
When treating of regeneration under the figure of the new birth some writers (ourselves included in earlier days) have introduced analogies from natural birth which Scripture by no means warrants, and which, by its employment of other figures it disallows. Physical birth is the bringing forth into this world of a creature, a complete personality which before conception had no existence whatever. But the one regenerated by God had a complete personality before he was born again! To that statement it may be objected, Not a spiritual personality. True, but keep steadily in mind that spirit and matter are opposites, and we only confuse ourselves if we think or speak of that which is “spiritual” as being something concrete.
Regeneration is not the creating of a person who hitherto had no existence, but the spiritualizing of one who had—the renewing and renovating of one whom sin had unfitted for communion with God, and this by the imparting to him of a principle, or “nature,” or life, which gives a new and different bias to all his faculties. Ever beware of regarding the Christian as made up of two distinct personalities. A century ago a booklet was published in England purporting to prove that “A child of God cannot backslide,” and many in a reputedly orthodox circle were evilly affected by it. Its author argued “a regenerated man possesses two natures: an old man of sin, and a new man of grace; that the old man of sin never made any progress in the Divine life nor ever can, consequently he can never go back or imbibe the least taint or particle of sin. How then can the child of God backslide?” A reviewer exposed this sophistry by mentioning a Papist in Germany who was a royal bishop that was very fond of hunting, and who was friendly admonished of the inconsistency of the chase with the mitre. His reply was, “I do not hunt as bishop, but as prince,” to which it was answered, “If the prince should break his neck while a-hunting and went to hell, what would become of the bishop!” That was answering a fool according to his folly!
The “old man” and the “new man” indwell and belong to the same individual, and can no more be divorced from his person than the bishop could be separated from the prince. It is not merely something in the Christian but the Christian himself who backslides. What we have called attention to above is but the corollary, a carrying out to its logical conclusion of another error, equally mischievous and reprehensible, though not so fully developed, namely, wherein the “two natures” in the believer are made so prominent and dominant that the person possessing them is largely lost sight of and his responsibility repudiated. Thus, it is just as much an idle quibble to reason that neither “the flesh” or old nature, nor “the spirit” or new nature, is capable of backsliding. It is the person possessing those two natures (or principles) who backslides, and for that God holds him accountable and chastens him accordingly. Unless believers are much on their guard, they will eagerly snatch at any line of teaching which undermines their accountability and causes them to slur over the exceeding sinfulness of their sins, by finding a pretext for supposing they are more to be pitied than blamed.
The youth differs much from the infant, and the adult from the immature youth; nevertheless, it is the same individual, the same human person, who passes through those stages. Human beings we are; moral agents, responsible creatures we shall ever remain, no matter what be the precise nature of the internal change we experienced at regeneration (nor how the character of that experience be defined or expressed), or whatever change awaits the body at resurrection: we shall never lose our essential personality or identity as God created us at the first. Let that be clearly understood and firmly grasped: we remain the same persons all through our history. Neither the deprivation of spiritual life at the Fall, nor the communication of spiritual life at the new birth, affects the reality of our being in possession of human nature. By the Fall we did not become less than men; by regeneration we do not become more than men—though our relation to God is altered. That which essentially constitutes our manhood was not lost, and no matter what be imparted to us at regeneration, our individuality and personal identity as a responsible being remains unchanged. We will now endeavour to summarize all that has been set before the reader concerning the great change which takes place in one who is born again, renewed spiritually, resurrected, by the operations of the Spirit of God. Perhaps this can best be accomplished by making some epitomized statements and then offering some further remarks on those against which certain of our readers may be most inclined to take issue. Negatively, that great change does not consist of any constitutional alteration in the make-up of our being, no essential addition being made to our persons. We regard it as a serious mistake to consider the natural man as possessed of but soul and body, and as only having a “spirit” communicated to him when he is regenerated. Again, it is a still worse error to suppose that indwelling sin is eradicated from the being of a bornagain person: not only does Scripture contain no warrant to countenance such an idea, but the uniform experience of God’s children repudiates it.
Nor does the great change effect any improvement in the evil principle. The “flesh,” with its vile properties and lusts, its deceiving and debasing inclinations, its power to promote hypocrisy, pride, unbelief, opposition unto God, remains unchanged unto the end of our earthly course.
Yet it would be utterly wrong for us to conclude from those negatives that regeneration is not entitled to be designated a “miracle of grace” or that the change effected in its subject is far from being a great one. A real, a radical, a stupendous, a glorious change is wrought, yet the precise nature of it can only be discovered in the light of Holy Writ. While it is indeed an experimental change, yet the subject of it must interpret it by the teaching of Scripture, and not by either his own reason or feelings. Nor should that statement be either surprising or disappointing. The miracle of grace effects a great change Godwards in the one who experiences it, and God is not an Object of sense nor can He be known by any process of reasoning. We may then summarize by saying the great change, positively considered, consists first of a radical change of heart Godwards. God discovers Himself unto the soul, makes Himself a living reality unto it, reveals Himself both as holy and gracious, clothed with authority and yet full of mercy. That personal and powerful revelation of God unto the soul produces an altered disposition and attitude toward Him: the one alienated is reconciled, the one who shrank from and was filled with enmity against Him, now desires His presence and longs for communion with Him.
Such a vital and radical change in the disposition and attitude of a soul Godwards is indeed a miracle of grace, and cannot be described as anything less than a great change. It is as real and great as was the change when man apostatized from his Maker, as vivid and blessed a change spiritually as the resurrection will effect physically: when that which was sown in corruption, in dishonor, in weakness, shall be raised in incorruption, glory and power; when our vile body shall be changed, “that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body” ( Philippians 3:21).
For one who was a total stranger to the ineffably glorious God to now become experimentally and savingly acquainted with Him, for one who sought to banish Him from his thoughts to now find his greatest delight in meditating upon His perfections, for one who lived in total disregard of His righteous claims upon him to be made a loyal and loving subject, is a transformation which human language—with all its adjectives and superlatives—cannot possibly do justice unto. In the words of Divine inspiration, it is a “passing from death unto life,” a being “called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light,” a being “created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”
Second, that great change consists in a moral purification of the inner man. Though this be the most difficult aspect of it for us to understand, yet the teaching of the Word thereon is too clear and full to leave us in any uncertainty as to its truth. Such expressions as “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you” ( Ezekiel 36:25), “but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified” ( 1 Corinthians 6:11), “Ye have purified your souls in obeying the Truth” ( 1 Peter 1:22) would be meaningless if there had been no internal transformation. Our characters are formed by the Truth we receive: our thoughts are more or less molded, our affections directed, and our wills regulated by what we heartily believe.
Truth has a vital, effectual, elevating influence. Any man who professes to take the Word of God for his Guide and Rule and is not altered by it, both internally and externally, is deceiving himself. ‘The Truth will make you free” ( John 8:32): from the dominion of sin, from the snares of Satan, from the deceits of the world. The tastes, the aims, the ways of a Christian are assimilated to and fashioned by the Word.
A radical change Godwards which is accompanied by a moral purification within, necessarily consists, in the third place, of a thoroughly altered attitude toward the Divine Law. It cannot be otherwise. “The carnal mind is enmity against God”; it is completely dominated by ill will unto Him. The evidence adduced by the Spirit in demonstration of that fearful indictment is this, “and is not subject unto the law of God, neither indeed can be” ( Romans 8:7): the one is the certain outcome of the other—hatred for the Lawgiver expresses itself in contempt for and defiance of His Law. Before there can be any genuine respect for and subjection to the Divine Law the heart’s attitude towards its Governor and Administrator must be completely changed. Conversely, when the heart of any one has been won unto God, His authority will be owned, His government honored, and his sincere language will be, “I delight in the Law of God after the inward man”—i.e. the soul as renewed by the Spirit ( Romans 7:22). Thus, while the unregenerate are denominated “the children of disobedience” ( Ephesians 2:2) the regenerate are called “obedient children” ( Peter 1:14), for obedience is one of their characteristic marks, evidencing as it does the general tenor and course of their lives.
After all that has been said, it ought not to be necessary for us to interrupt our train of thought at this point and consider a question which can only prove wearisome unto the well-taught reader; but others who have drunk so deeply from the foul pools of error need a word thereon. Are there not two “minds” in a born-again person: the one carnal and the other spiritual?
Certainly not, or he would have a dual personality, and a divided responsibility. By nature his mind was, spiritually speaking, deranged — how else can a mind which is “enmity against God” be described? But by grace his mind has been restored to sanity: illustrated by the demoniac healed by Christ, “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” ( Mark 5:15); or as 2 Timothy 1:7, expresses it, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” It is true his original carnality (“the flesh”) still remains, ever seeking to regain complete control of his mind; but Divine grace suffers it not to so succeed that his mind ever becomes “enmity against God.” There will be risings of rebellion against His providences, but a renewed person will nevermore hate God.
A real and radical change of heart Godwards will, in the fourth place, be marked by a thoroughly altered attitude towards sin. And again we say, it cannot be otherwise. Sin is that “abominable thing” which God “hates” ( Jeremiah 44:4), and therefore that heart in which the love of God is shed abroad will hate it too. Sin is “the transgression of the Law” ( John 3:4), and therefore each one who has been brought to “delight in the Law” will detest sin and earnestly seek to resist its solicitations. That which formerly was his native element has become repugnant to his spiritual inclinations. Sin is now his heaviest burden and acutest grief. Whereas the giddy worldling craves after its pleasures and the covetous seek after its riches, the deepest longing of the renewed soul is to be completely rid of the horrible activities of indwelling sin. He has already been delivered from its reigning power, for God has dethroned it from its former dominion over the heart, but it still rages within him, frequently gets the better of him, causes him many a groan, and makes him look forward with eager longing to the time when he shall be delivered from its polluting presence.
Another important and integral part of the great change consists in the soul’s deliverance from the toils of Satan. Where the heart has really undergone a radical change of disposition and attitude toward God, toward His Law, and toward sin, the great Enemy has lost his hold on that person.
The Devil’s power over mankind lies in his keeping them in ignorance of the true God, in the scorning of His Law, in holding them in love with sin; and hence it is that he “hath blinded the minds of them that believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ... should shine unto them” ( 2 Corinthians 4:4).
While God permits him to succeed therein, men are his captives, his slaves, his prisoners, held fast by the cords of their lusts. But it was announced of the coming Saviour that He would “proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” ( Isaiah 61:1).
Accordingly when He appeared we are told that He not only healed the sick, but also “all that were oppressed of the Devil” ( Acts 10:38). The regenerate have been delivered “from the power of Satan” ( Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13) and made “the Lord’s free men.” True, he is still suffered to harass and tempt them from without, but cannot succeed without their consent; and if they steadfastly resist him, he flees from them.
In those five aspects of the great change we may perceive the begun reversal of what took place at man’s apostasy from God. What were the leading elements in the Fall? No doubt they can be expressed in a variety of ways, but do they not consist, essentially, of these?
Their physical eyes were open previously (!) but now they had a discovery of the consequences of their sin: a guilty sense of shame crept over their souls, their innocence was gone, they perceived what a miserable plight they were now in—stripped of their original righteousness, condemned by their own conscience.
And what was their response? Did they rejoice at His gracious condescension in thus paying them a visit? Did they welcome their opportunity to cast themselves upon His mercy? Or did they even fall down before Him in brokenhearted confession of their excuseless offence: Far otherwise. When the Serpent spoke, Eve promptly gave ear to and conferred with him; but now that the voice of the Lord God was audible, she and her guilty partner fled from Him. “Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden.”
A guilty conscience warned them that it was the approach of that Judge whose Law they had broken, and they were terror-stricken at the prospect of having a face-to-face meeting with the One against whom they had rebelled. They dared not look upon Holiness incarnate, and therefore sought to escape from His presence. Thereby they evidenced they had died spiritually —their hearts being separated and alienated from Him! Their understanding was “darkened” and their hearts in a condition of “blindness” ( Ephesians 4:18); a. spirit of madness now possessed them, as appears in their vain attempt to hide among the trees from the eyes of Omniscience.
Those then were the essential elements the Fall, or the several steps in man’s departure from God. A parleying with and coming under the power of the Devil, sin’s being made attractive in their sight, inclining unto the act of disobedience, resulting in the loss of their primitive purity and their consequent alienation from God. The attentive reader will observe those things are in the inverse order of those mentioned above as constituting the five leading characteristics of the great change wrought in those who are the favored subjects of the miracle of grace. Nor is the reason for that far to seek: conversion is a turning round, a right-about face, a being restored to a proper relation and attitude toward God. Let us employ a simple illustration. If I journey five miles from a place and then determine to return to it, must I not re-traverse the fifth mile before coming to the fourth, and tread again the fourth before I arrive at the third, and so on until I reach the original point from which I departed? Was it not thus with the ragged and famished prodigal, who had journeyed into the far country: he must return unto the Father’s House if he would obtain food and clothing.
If the great change be the reversing of what occurred at the Fall, then the order of its constituents should necessarily be viewed inversely. First, being restored to our original relation unto God, which was one of spiritual union and communion with Him. That is made possible and actual by the renewing us after His image, which consists of “righteousness and true holiness,” a saving and experimental knowledge of His ineffable perfections; or in other words, by the renovation and moral purification of our souls, for it is only the “pure in heart” ( Matthew 5:8) who see God as He actually is—our rightful Lord, our everlasting Portion. Only then does the Divine Law have its due and true place in our hearts: its authority being owned, its spirituality esteemed, the fulfilling of its holy and just requirements being our sincere and resolute aim. Obviously it cannot be until we have a right attitude toward God, until our hearts truly love Him, until after His Law becomes the rule and director of our lives, that we can perceive the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and consequently loathe, resist and mourn over it. And just so far as that be the case with us, are we morally delivered from the power of Satan: while the heart beats true to God the solicitations of His enemy will be repellent to us rather than attractive.
But let us point out once more that this great change is not completed by a single act of the Spirit upon or within the soul, but occurs in distinct stages: it is commenced at regeneration, continues throughout the whole process of our experimental sanctification, and is only consummated at our glorification. Thus, regeneration is only the begun reversing of what occurred at the Fall. The very fact that regeneration is spoken of as a Divine begetting and birth at once intimates there is there only the beginning of the spiritual life in the soul, and that there is need for the growth and development of spiritual life in the soul, and that there is need for the growth and development of the same. “He which hath begun a good work in you will finish it” ( Philippians 1:6) is the plain declaration and blessed assurance of what is implied by the “birth,” and such statements as “the inward man is renewed day by day” ( 2 Corinthians 4:16) and our being “changed into the same image from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord” ( 2 Corinthians 3:18) tell us something of the Divine operations within the souls of the regenerate while the great change is continued and brought, little by little, unto completion. That miracle of grace which was begun at regeneration is gradually carried forward in us by the process of sanctification, which appears in our growth in grace or the development of our graces.
If the reader desires a more detailed analysis and description of what that process consists of, how the great change is carried forward in us by sanctification, we may delineate it thus.
First , by the illumination of the understanding which enables the believer to grow “in the knowledge of the Lord” and gives him a clearer and fuller perception of His will.
Third , by the emancipation of the will, God working in the soul “both to will and to do of His good pleasure,” giving us both the desire and the power to concur with Him, for He deals with us not as mere automatons but ever as moral agents. Thus it is our responsibility to seek illumination, to prayerfully study His Word for the same, to occupy our minds (by constant meditation) and exercise our hearts with spiritual objects, and to diligently seek his enablement to avoid everything which would hinder and use all the means appointed for the promotion of our spiritual growth. As we do so, that process will issue and appear, fourth, in the rectification of our life.
From what has just been pointed out it plainly appears that they err greatly who suppose that regeneration consists of nothing more than the communication of a new nature or principle to an individual, leaving everything else in him just as it was before. It is the person himself who is regenerated, his whole soul which is renewed, so that all its faculties and powers are renovated and enriched thereby. How can everything else in him be unchanged, how otherwise can we designate the blessed transformation which the miracle of grace has wrought in him, than by styling it “a great change”—a real, radical and thorough one; since his understanding (which was previously darkened by ignorance, error and prejudice) is now spiritually enlightened, since his affections (which formerly were fixed only on the things of time and sense) are now set upon heavenly and eternal objects, and since his will (which hitherto was enslaved by sin, being “free from righteousness”— Romans 6:20) is now emancipated from its bondage, being “free from sin” ( Romans 6:18).
That glorious transformation, that supernatural change, is what we chiefly have in mind when we speak of “the moral purification” of the soul.
Just as the Fall introduced the principle of sin into man’s being, which resulted in the death of his soul Godwards—for death is ever the wages of sin—so in the reversing of the Fall, a principle of holiness is conveyed to man’s soul, which results in his again being spiritually alive unto God. Just as the introduction of sin vitiated and corrupted all the faculties of the soul, so the planting of a principle of holiness within vitalizes and purifies all its faculties. We say again that man lost no portion of his original tripartite nature by the Fall, nor was he deprived of any of his faculties, but he did lose all power to use them Godwards and for His glory, because they came completely under the dominion of sin and were defiled by it. And again we say that man receives no addition to his original constitution by regeneration, nor is any new faculty then bestowed upon him, but he is now empowered (to a considerable degree) to use his faculties Godwards and employ them in His service; because so long as he maintains communion with God they are under the dominion of grace and are ennobled, elevated, and empowered by the renewing of the Spirit.
CONCLUSION That which occasions the honest Christian the most difficulty and distress as he seeks to ascertain whether a miracle of grace has been wrought within him is the discovery that so much remains what it always was, yea, often his case appears to be much worse than formerly—more uprisings of opposition to God, more upsurges of pride, more hardness of heart, more foul imaginations. Yet that very consciousness of and grief over indwelling corruptions is, itself, both an effect and an evidence of the great change. It is proof that such a person has his eyes open to see and a heart to feel evils which previously he was blind unto and insensible of. An unregenerate person is not troubled about the weakness of his faith, the coldness of his affections, the stirrings of self within. You were not yourself while you were dead Godwards! But if such things now exercise you deeply, if your eyes be open to and you mourn over that within to which no fellow creature is privy, must you not be very different now from what you once were?
Surely if my heart had been made pure there would not still be a filthy and foul sea of iniquity within me! Dear friend, that filth has been in you from birth, but it is only since you were born again that you have become increasingly aware of its presence. A pure heart is not one from which all sin has been removed, as is clear from the histories of Abraham, Moses, David. The heart is not made wholly pure in this life: as the understanding is only enlightened in part (much ignorance and error still remaining), so at regeneration the heart is cleansed but in part. Observe that Acts 15:9, does not say “purified their hearts by faith,” but “purifying”—a continued process. A pure heart is one which is attracted by “the beauty of holiness” and longs to be fully conformed thereunto, and therefore one of the surest proofs I possess a pure heart is my abhorring and grieving over impurity— as Lot dwelling in Sodom “vexed his righteous soul” by what he saw and heard there.
Then are we not obliged to conclude that the Christian has two “hearts”— the one pure and the other impure? Perhaps the best way for us to answer that question is to point out what is imported by the “heart” as that term is used in Scripture. In a few passages, where it is distinguished from the “mind” ( 1 Samuel 2:35; Hebrews 8:10) and from the “soul” ( Deuteronomy 6:5), the heart is restricted to the affections; but generally it has reference to the whole inner man, for in other places it is the seat of the intellectual faculties too, as in “I gave my heart to know wisdom,” etc. ( Ecclesiastes 1:17) — I applied my mind unto its investigation. In its usual and wider signification the “heart” connotes the one indwelling the body. “The heart in the Scriptures is variously used: sometimes for the mind and understanding, sometimes for the will, sometimes for the affection, sometimes for the conscience.. Generally it denotes the whole soul of man and all the faculties of it” (J. Owen).
Its first occurrence is, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” ( Genesis 6:5). “Before I had spoken in my heart” ( Genesis 24:45) plainly means “within myself.” It does so in “Esau said in his heart”— determined in himself ( Genesis 27:41). “Now Hannah, she spake in her heart” ( 1 Samuel 1:13). “Examine me, O Lord, prove me: try my reins [motives] and my heart” ( Psalm 26:2) —my inner man. “With my whole heart [my entire inner being] have I sought Thee” ( Psalm 26:2).
In the New Testament the “mind” often has the same force. On Romans 12:2, C. Hodge pointed out, “The word nous [“mind”] is used, as it is here frequently in the New Testament ( Romans 1:28; Ephesians 4:17,23; Colossians 2:18, etc.). In all these and similar cases it does not differ from the heart, i.e. in its wider sense, for the whole soul.” Ordinarily, then, the “heart” signifies the whole soul, the “inner man,” the “hidden man of the heart” ( 1 Peter 3:4) at which God ever looks ( 1 Samuel 16:7).
Now “the heart” of the natural man (that is, his entire soul—understanding affections, will, conscience) is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” ( Jeremiah 17:9), which is but another way of saying he is “totally depraved”— the whole of his inner being is corrupt. And therefore God bids us “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and take away the foreskins of your hearts...wash thine heart from wickedness [in true repentance from the love and pollution of sin] that thou mayest be saved” ( Jeremiah 4:4,14).
Yea He bids men “Cast away from you all your transgressions... and make you a new heart” ( Ezekiel 18:31), and holds them responsible so to do. That man cannot effect this change in himself by any power of his own is solely because he is bound by the cords of his sins: the very essence of his depravity consists in being of the contrary spirit. So far from excusing him, that only aggravates his case, and compliance with those precepts is as much man’s duty and as proper a subject for exhortation as is faith, repentance, love to God. So in the New Testament, “purify your hearts ye double minded” ( James 4:8). “Make you a new heart.” But, says the awakened and convicted sinner, that is the very thing which I am unable to produce: alas, what shall I do?
Why, cast yourself upon the mercy and power of the Lord, and say to Him as the leper did, “If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” Beg Him to work in you what He requires of you. Nay, more, lay hold of His Word and plead with Him: Thou hast made promise “A new heart also will I give you” ( Ezekiel 36:26), so “do as Thou hast said” ( 2 Samuel 7:25). It is a blessed fact that God’s promises are as large as His exhortations, and for each of the latter there is one of the former exactly meeting it. Does the Lord bid us circumcise our hearts ( Deuteronomy 10:16)? Then He assures His people “I will circumcise thine heart” ( Deuteronomy 30:16). Does He bid us purify our heart ( James 4:8)? He also declares “From all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you” ( Ezekiel 36:25).
Then they are promised “He which hath begun a good work in you will finish it.”
God, then, does not leave the hearts of His people as they were born into this world, and as they are described in Jeremiah 17:9. No, blessed be His name, He works a miracle of grace within them, which changes the whole of their inner man. Spiritual life is communicated to them, Divine light illumines them, a principle of holiness is planted within them. That principle of holiness is a fountain of purity, from which issue streams of godly desires, motives, endeavors, acts. It is a supernatural habit residing in every faculty of the soul, giving a new direction to them, inclining them Godwards. Divine grace is imparted to the soul subjectively, so that it has entirely new propensities unto God and holiness and newly created antipathies to sin and Satan, making us willing to endure suffering for Christ’s sake rather than to retain the friendship of the world. To make us partakers of His holiness is the substance and sum of God’s purpose of grace for us, both in election ( Ephesians 1:4), regeneration ( Ephesians 4:24), and all His dealings with us afterwards ( Hebrews 12:10). Not that finite creatures can ever be participants of the essential holiness of God, either by imputation or transubstantiation, but only by fashioning us in the image thereof. It is the communication of Divine grace, or the planting within us of the principle and habit of holiness, which both purifies the heart or soul, and which gives the death-wound unto indwelling sin. Grace is not only a Divine attribute of benignity and free favour that is exercised unto the elect, but it is also a powerful influence that works within them. It is in this latter sense the term is used when God says “My grace is sufficient for thee,” and when the apostle declared “by the grace of God, I am what I am.” That communicated grace makes the heart “honest” ( Luke 8:15), “tender” ( 2 Kings 22:10), “pure” ( Matthew 5:8).
An honest heart is one that abhors hypocrisy and pretence, that is fearful of being deceived, that desires to know the truth about itself at all costs, that is sincere and open, that bares itself to the Sword of the Spirit. A “tender” heart is one that is pliant Godwards: that of the unregenerate is likened unto the “nether” millstone” ( Job 41:24), but that which is wrought upon by the Spirit resembles wax—receptive to His impressions upon it ( 2 Corinthians 3:3). It is sensitive —like a tender plant—shrinking from sin and making conscience of the same. It is compassionate, gentle, considerate.
In addition to our previous remarks thereon, we would add that a heart (or “soul”) which has been made inchoately yet radically pure, and which is being continually purified, is one in which the love of God has been shed abroad, and therefore it loathes what He loathes; one wherein the fear of the Lord dwells, so that evil is hated and departed from. It is one from which the corrupting love of the world has been cast out. A pure heart is one wherein faith is operative ( Acts 15:9), attracting and conforming it unto a Holy Object, drawing the affections unto things above. It is one from which self has been deposed and Christ enthroned, so that it sincerely desires and earnestly endeavors to please and honour Him in all things. It is one that is purged, progressively, from ignorance and error by apprehending and obeying the Truth ( 1 Peter 1:22). A pure heart is one that makes conscience of evil thoughts, unholy desires, foul imaginations, which grieves over their prevalency and weeps in secret for indulging them.
The purer the heart becomes, the more is it aware of and distressed by inward corruptions.
The Puritans were wont to say that at regeneration sin receives its “deathwound.”
We are not at all sure what exactly they meant by that expression, nor do we know of any Scripture which expressly warrants it—certainly such passages as Romans 6:6,7, and Galatians 5:24, do not; yet we have no objection to it providing it be understood something like this.
When faith truly lays hold of the atoning sacrifice of Christ the soul is for ever delivered from the condemnation and guilt of sin, and it can never again obtain legal “dominion” over him. By the moral purification of the soul it is cleansed from the prevailing love and power of sin, so that the lusts of the flesh are detested and resisted. Sin is divested of its reigning power over the faculties of the soul, so that full and willing subjection is no longer rendered to it. Its dying struggles are hard and long, powerfully felt within us, and though God grants brief respites from its ragings, it breaks forth with renewed force and causes us many a groan.
In our earlier days we rejected the expression “a change of heart” because we confounded it with “the flesh.” The heart is changed at regeneration, but “the flesh” is not purified or spiritualized, though it ceases to have uncontrolled and undisputed dominion over the. soul. Indwelling sin is not eradicated, but its reign is broken and can no longer produce hatred of God. The appetites and tendencies of “the flesh” in a Christian are precisely the same after he is born again as they were before. They are indeed “subdued” by grace, and conversion is often followed by such inward peace and joy it appears as though they were dead, but they soon seek to reassert themselves, as Satan left Christ “for a season” ( Luke 4:13), but later renewed his assaults. Nevertheless, grace opposes sin, the “spirit” or principle of holiness strives against the flesh, preventing it from having full sway over the soul. As life is opposed to death, purity to impurity, spirituality to carnality, so there is henceforth experienced within the soul a continual and sore conflict between sin and grace, each striving for the mastery.
While then it be true that there are two distinct and diverse springs of action in the Christian, the one prompting to evil and the other unto good, it is better to speak of them as two “principles” than “natures.” To conceive of there being two minds, two wills, or two hearts in him, is no more warrantable than to affirm he has two souls, which would mean two moral agents, two centers of responsibility, which would destroy the identity of the individual and involve us in hopeless confusion of thought. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” ( Hebrews 3:12) would be meaningless if the saint possessed two “hearts”—the one incapable of anything but unbelief the other incapable of unbelief. The Christian is a unit, a person with one heart or soul, and he is responsible to watch and be sober, to be constantly on his guard against the workings of his corruptions, to prevent sin hardening his heart so that he comes under the power of unbelief and turns away from God. “Incline my heart [my whole soul] unto Thy testimonies and not to covetousness” ( <19B936> Psalm 119:36).
This is another one of many verses which expose the error of a Christian’s having two “hearts,” the one carnal and the other spiritual, and making them synonymous with “the flesh” and “the spirit.” It would be useless my asking God to incline “the flesh” (indwelling sin) unto His testimonies for it is radically opposed unto them. Equally unnecessary is it for me to ask God not to incline “the Spirit” (indwelling grace) unto covetousness, for it is entirely holy. But no difficulty remains if we regard the “heart” as the inner man: “incline me unto Thy testimonies,” etc. The saint longs after complete conformity unto God’s will but is conscious of much within him that is prone to disobedience, and therefore he prays that the habitual bent of his thoughts and affections may be unto heavenliness rather than worldliness: let the reasons and motives unto godliness Thou hast set before me in Thy Word be made effectual by the powerful operations of Thy Spirit.
The heart of man must have an object unto which it is inclined or whereto it cleaves. The thoughts and affections of the soul cannot be idle or be without some object on which to place them. Man was made for God, to be happy in the enjoyment of Him, to find in Him a satisfying portion, and when he apostatized from God he sought satisfaction in the creature. While the heart of fallen man be devoid of grace it is wholly carried out to the things of time and sense. As soon as he is born, he follows his carnal appetites and for the first few years is governed entirely by his senses. Sin occupies the throne of his heart, and though conscience may interpose some check, it has no power to incline the soul Godwards, and sin cannot be dethroned by anything but a miracle of grace. That miracle consists in giving the soul a prevailing and habitual bent Godwards. The heart is taken off from the love of base objects and set upon Christ, yet we are required to keep our hearts with all diligence, mortify our lusts, and seek the daily strengthening of our graces.
Great as is the change effected in the soul by the miracle of grace, yet, as said before, it is neither total nor complete, but is carried forward during the whole subsequent process of sanctification, a process that involves a daily and lifelong conflict within the believer, so that his “experience” is like that described in Romans 7:13-25. The Christian is not the helpless slave of sin, for he resists it—to speak of a “helpless victim” fighting is a contradiction in terms. So far from being helpless, the saint can do all things through Christ strengthening him ( Philippians 4:13). As a new object has won his heart, his duty is to serve his new Master: “yield yourselves unto God as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” ( Romans 6:13) use to His glory the same faculties of soul as you as you formerly did in the pleasing of self. The Christian’s responsibility consists in resisting his evil propensities and acting according to his inclinations and desires after holiness.
The great change in and upon the Christian will be completed when dawns that “morning without clouds,” when the Day breaks “and the shadows flee away. For then shall he not only see the King in His beauty, see Him face to face, but he shall be made “like Him,” fashioned unto the body of His glory, fully and eternally conformed unto the image of God’s Son.
CHAPTER - HEART WORK As well might a poor man expect to be rich in this world without industry, or a weak man to become strong and healthy without food and exercise, as a Christian to be rich in faith and strong in the Lord without earnest endeavour and diligent effort. It is true that all our labours amount to nothing unless the Lord blesses them ( <19C701> Psalm 127:1), as it also is that apart from Him we can do nothing ( John 15:5). Nevertheless, God places no premium upon sloth, and has promised that “the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” ( Proverbs 13:4). A farmer may be fully persuaded of his own helplessness to make his fields productive, he may realize that their fertility is dependent upon the sovereign will of God, and he may also be a firm believer in the efficacy of prayer; but unless he discharges his own duty his barns will be empty. So it is spiritually.
God has not called His people to be drones, nor to maintain an attitude of passiveness. No, He bids them work, toil, labour. The sad thing is that so many of them are engaged in the wrong task, or, at least, giving most of their attention to that which is incidental, and neglecting that which is essential and fundamental. “Keep thy heart with all diligence” ( Proverbs 4:23): this is the great task which God has assigned unto each of His children. But oh, how sadly is the heart neglected! Of all their concerns and possessions, the least diligence is used by the vast majority of professing Christians in the keeping of their hearts. As long as they safeguard their other interests—their reputations, their bodies, their positions in the world—the heart may be left to take its own course.
As the heart in our physical body is the center and fountain of life, because from it blood circulates into every part, conveying with it either health or disease, so it is with us spiritually. If our heart be the residence of impiety, pride, avarice, malice, impure lusts, then the whole current of our lives will largely be tainted with these vices. If they are admitted there and prevail for a season, then our character and conduct will be proportionately affected.
Therefore the citadel of the heart needs above all things to be well guarded, that it may not be seized by those numerous and watchful assailants which are ever attacking it. This spring needs to be well protected that its waters be not poisoned.
The man is what his heart is. If this be dead to God, then nothing in him is alive. If this be right with God, all will be right. As the mainspring of a watch sets all its wheels and parts in motion, so as a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he” ( Proverbs 23:7). If the heart be right, the actions will be.
As a man’s heart is, such is his state now and will be hereafter: if it be regenerated and sanctified there will be a life of faith and holiness in this world, and everlasting life will be enjoyed in the world to come. Therefore, “Rather look to the cleansing of thine heart, than to the cleansing of thy well; rather look to the feeding of thine heart, than to the feeding of thy Hock; rather look to the defending of thine heart, than to the defending of thine house; rather look to the keeping of thine heart, than to the keeping of thy money” (Peter Moffat, 1570). “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for Out of it are the issues of life” ( Proverbs 4:23).
The “heart” is here put for our whole inner being, the “hidden man of the heart” ( 1 Peter 3:4). It is that which controls and gives character to all that we do. To “keep”—garrison or guard—the heart or soul is the great work which God has assigned us: the enablement is His, but the duty is ours. We are to keep the imagination from vanity, the understanding from error, the will from perverseness, the conscience clear of guilt, the affections from being inordinate and set on evil objects, the mind from being employed on worthless or vile subjects; the whole from being possessed by Satan. This is the work to which God has called us.
Now to “keep” the heart right implies that it has been set right. Thus it was at regeneration, when it was given a new spiritual bent. True conversion is the heart turning from Satan’s control to God’s, from sin to holiness, from the world to Christ. To keep the heart right signifies the constant care and diligence of the renewed to preserve his soul in that holy frame to which grace has reduced it and daily strives to hold it. “Hereupon do all events depend: the heart being kept, the whole course of our life here will be according to the mind of God, and the end of it will be the enjoyment of Him hereafter. This being neglected, life will be lost, both here as unto obedience, and hereafter as to glory” (John Owen in Causes of Apostasy). 1. To “keep” the heart means striving to shut out from it all that is opposed to God. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” ( 1 John 5:21). God is a jealous God and will brook no rival; He claims the throne of our hearts, and requires to be loved by us supremely. When we perceive our affections being inordinately drawn Out unto any earthly object, we are to fight against it, and “resist the devil.” When Paul said, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” ( 1 Corinthians 6:12), he signified that he was keeping his heart diligently, that he was jealous lest things should gain that esteem and place in his soul which was due alone unto the Lord. A very small object placed immediately before the eye is sufficient to shut out the light of the sun, and trifling things taken up by the affections may soon sever communion with the Holy One.
Before regeneration our hearts were deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked ( Jeremiah 17:9): that was because the evil principle, the “flesh,” had complete dominion over them. But inasmuch as “the flesh” remains in us after conversion, and is constantly striving for the mastery over “the spirit,” the Christian needs to exercise a constant watchful jealousy over his heart, mindful of its readiness to be imposed upon, and its proneness unto a compliance with temptations. All the avenues to the heart need to be carefully guarded so that nothing hurtful enters therein, particularly against vain thoughts and imaginations, and especially in those seasons when they are apt to gain an advantage. For if injurious thoughts are suffered to gain an inroad into the mind, if we accustom ourselves to give them entertainment, then in vain shall we hope to be “spiritually minded” ( Romans 8:6). All such thoughts are only making provision to fulfil the lusts of the flesh.
Thus, for the Christian to “keep” his heart with all diligence means for him to pay close attention to the direction in which his affections are moving, to discover whether the things of the world are gaining a firmer and fuller hold over him or whether they are increasingly losing their charm for him.
God has exhorted us, “Set your affections on things above, not on things on the earth” ( Colossians 3:2), and the heeding of this injunction calls for constant examination of the heart to discover whether or not it is becoming more and more dead unto this deceitful and perishing world, and whether heavenly things are those in which we find our chief and greatest delight. “Take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart” ( Deuteronomy 4:9). 2. To “keep” the heart means striving to bring it into conformity with the Word. We are not to rest content until an actual image of its pure and holy teachings is stamped upon it. Alas, so many today are just playing with the solemn realities of God, allowing them to flit across their fancy, but never embracing and making them their own. Why is it, dear reader, that those solemn impressions you had when hearing a searching sermon or reading a searching article so quickly faded away? Why did not those holy feelings and aspirations which were stirred within you last? Why have they borne no fruit? Was it not because you failed to see that your heart was duly affected by them? You failed to “hold fast” that which you had “received and heard” ( Revelation 3:3), and in consequence your heart became absorbed again in “the care of this life” or “the deceitfulness of riches,” and thus the Word was choked.
It is not enough to hear or read a powerful message from one of God’s servants, and to be deeply interested and stirred by it. If there be no diligent effort on your part, then it will be said that “your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away” ( Hosea 6:4).
What, then, is required? This: earnest and persevering prayer that God will fasten the message in your soul as a nail in a sure place, so that the Devil himself cannot catch it away. What is required? This: “Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” ( Luke 2:19).
Things which are not duly pondered are soon forgotten: meditation stands to reading as mastication does to eating. What is required? This: that you promptly put into practice what you have learned, walk according to the light God has given, or it will quickly be taken from you ( Luke 8:18).
Not only must the outward actions be regulated by the Word, but the heart must also be conformed thereto. It is not enough to abstain from murder, the causeless anger must be put away. It is not enough to abstain from the act of adultery, the inward lust must be mortified too ( Matthew 5:28).
God not only takes note of and keeps a record of all our external conduct, but He “weighteth the spirits” ( Proverbs 16:2). Not only so, He requires us to scrutinize the springs from which our actions proceed, to examine our motives, to ponder the spirit in which we act. God requires truth—that is sincerity, reality—in “the inward parts” ( Psalm 51:6).
Therefore does He command us, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” 3. To “keep” the heart means to preserve it tender unto sin. The unregenerate man makes little or no distinction between sin and crime; as long as he keeps within the law of the land, and maintains a reputation for respectability among his fellows, he is, generally speaking, quite satisfied with himself. But it is far otherwise with one who has been born again: he has been awakened to the fact that he has to do with God, and must yet render a full account unto Him. He makes conscience of a hundred things which the unconverted never trouble themselves about. When the Holy Spirit first convicted him he was made to feel that his whole life had been one of rebellion against God, of pleasing himself. The consciousness of this pierced him to the quick: his inward anguish far exceeded any pains of body or sorrow occasioned by temporal losses. He saw himself to be a spiritual leper, and hated himself for it, and mourned bitterly before God.
He cried, “Hide Thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
Now it is the duty of the Christian, and part of the task which God has set him, to see to it that this sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin be not lost. He is to labour daily that his heart be duly affected by the heinousness of self-will and self-love. He is steadfastly to resist every effort of Satan to make him pity himself, think lightly of wrongdoing, or excuse himself in the same. He is to live in the constant realization that the eye of God is ever upon him, so that when tempted he will say with Joseph, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” ( Genesis 39:9).
He is to view sin in the light of the cross, daily reminding himself that it was his iniquities which caused the Lord of glory to be made a curse for him; employing the dying love of Christ as a motive why he must not allow himself in anything that is contrary to the holiness and obedience which the Saviour asks from all His redeemed.
Ah, my Christian reader, it is no child’s play to “keep the heart with all diligence.” The easy-going religion of our day will never take its devotees (or rather its victims!) to heaven. The question has been asked, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His Holy place?” and plainly has the question been answered by God Himself: “He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart,” etc. ( Psalm 24:3,4). Equally plain is the teaching of the New Testament, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” ( Matthew 5:8).
A “pure heart” is one that hates sin, which makes conscience of sin, which grieves over it, which strives against it. A “pure heart” is one that seeks to keep undefiled the temple of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling-place of Christ ( Ephesians 3:17). 4. To “keep” the heart means to look diligently after its cleansing. Perhaps some of our readers often find themselves sorrowfully crying, “Oh, the vileness of my heart!” Thank God if He has discovered this to you. But, dear friend, there is no sufficient reason why your “heart” should continue to be vile. You might lament that your garden was overgrown with weeds and filled with rubbish; but need it remain so? We speak not now of your sinful nature, the incurable and unchangeable “flesh” which still indwells you; but of your “heart,” which God bids you “keep.” You are responsible to purge your mind of vain imaginations, your soul of unlawful affections, your conscience of guilt.
But, alas, you say, “I have no control over such things: they come unbidden and I am powerless to prevent them.” So the Devil would have you believe! Revert again to the analogy of your garden. Do not the weeds spring up unbidden? Do not the slugs and other pests seek to prey upon the plants? What, then? Do you merely bewail your helplessness? No, you resist them, and take means to keep them under. Thieves enter houses uninvited, but whose fault is it if the doors and windows be left unfastened?
Oh, heed not the seductive lullabies of Satan. God says, “Purify your hearts, ye double minded” ( James 4:8); that is, one mind for Him, and another for self! one for holiness, and another for the pleasures of sin.
But how am I to “purify” my heart? By vomiting up the foul things taken into it, shamefacedly owning them before God, repudiating them, turning from them with loathing; and it is written, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” By daily renewing our exercise of repentance, and such repentance as is spoken of in 2 Corinthians 7:11; “for behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
By the daily exercise of faith ( Acts 15:9), appropriating afresh the cleansing blood of Christ, bathing every night in that “fountain” which has been opened “for sin and uncleanness” ( Zechariah 13:1). By treading the path of God’s commandments: “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit” ( 1 Peter 1:22).
We now point Out what is obvious to every Christian reader, namely that such a task calls for Divine aid. Help and grace need to be earnestly and definitely sought of the Holy Spirit each day. We should bow before God, and in all simplicity say, “Lord, Thou requirest me to keep my heart with all diligence, and I feel utterly incompetent for such a task; such a work lies altogether beyond my poor feeble powers; therefore I humbly ask Thee in the name of Christ graciously to grant unto me supernatural strength to do as Thou hast bidden me. Lord, work in me both to will and to do of Thy good pleasure.” “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” ( 1 Samuel 16:7).
How prone we are to be occupied with that which is evanescent, rather than with the things that abide; how ready to gauge things by our senses instead of by our rational powers. How easily we are deceived by that which is on the surface, forgetting that true beauty lies within. How slow we are to adopt God’s way of estimating. Instead of being attracted by comeliness of physical features we should value moral qualities and spiritual graces. Instead of spending so much care, time and money on the adorning of the body we ought to devote our best attention to the developing and directing of the faculties of our souls. Alas, the vast majority of our fellows live as though they had no souls, and the average professing Christian gives little serious thought to the same.
Yes, the Lord “looketh on the heart”: He sees its thoughts and intents, knows its desires and designs, beholds its motives and motions, and deals with us accordingly. The Lord discerns what qualities are in our hearts: what holiness and righteousness, what wisdom and prudence, what justice and integrity, w h at mercy and kindness. When such graces are lively and flourishing, then is fulfilled that verse, “My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies” ( Song of Solomon 6:2).
The sincerity of our profession largely depends upon the care and conscience we have in keeping our hearts. A very searching example of this is found in 2 Kings 10:31, “But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart.”
Those words are more solemn because of what is said of him in the previous verse: “And the Lord said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in Mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according unto all that was in Mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” Jehu was partial in his reformation, which showed his heart was not right with God; he abhorred the worship of Baal which Ahab had fostered, but he tolerated the golden calves which Jeroboam had set up. He failed to put away all the evil.
Ah, my reader, true conversion is not only turning away from gross sin, it is the heart forsaking all sin. There must be no reserve, for God will not allow any idol, nor must we. Jehu went so far, but he stopped short of the vital point; he put away evil, but he did not do that which was good. He heeded not the law of the Lord to walk in it “with all his heart.” It is greatly to be feared that those who are heedless are graceless, for where the principle of holiness is planted in the heart it makes its possessor circumspect and desirous of pleasing God in all things—not from servile fear, but from grateful love; not by constraint, but freely; not occasionally, but constantly. “Keep thine heart with all diligence.” Guard it jealously as the dwelling place of Him to whom you have given it. Guard it with the utmost vigilance, for not only is there the enemy without seeking entrance, but there is a traitor within desirous of dominion. The Hebrew for “with all diligence” literally rendered is “above all”; above all the concerns of our outward life, for, careful as we should be as to that, it is before the eyes of men, whereas the heart is the object of God’s holy gaze. Then “keep” or preserve it more sedulously than your reputation, your body, your estate, your money. With all earnestness and prayer, labour that no evil desire prevails or abides there, avoiding all that excites lust, feeds pride, or stirs up anger, crushing the first emotions of such evils as you would the brood of a scorpion.
Many people place great expectations in varied circumstances and conditions. One thinks he could serve God much better if he were more prospered temporally; another if he passed through the refining effects of poverty and affliction. One thinks his spirituality would be promoted if he could be more retired and solitary; another if only he could have more society and Christian fellowship. But, my reader, the only way to serve God better is to be content with the place in which He has put you, and therein get a better heart! We shall never enter into the advantages of any situation, nor overcome the disadvantages of any condition, until we fix and water the root of them in ourselves.” Make the tree good, and the fruit good” ( Matthew 12:33): get the heart right, and you will soon be superior unto all “circumstances.” “But how can I get my heart right? Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” Answer: you are creating your own difficulty by confounding “heart” with “nature”; they are quite distinct. It is important to recognize this, for many are confused thereon. There has been such an undue emphasis upon the “two natures in the Christian” that often it has been lost sight of that the Christian is a person over and above his two natures. The Scriptures make the distinction clear enough. For example, God does not bid us keep our “nature,” but He does our “hearts.” We do not believe with our “nature,” but we do with our “hearts” ( Romans 10:10). God never tells us to “rend” our nature ( Joel 2:13), “circumcise” our nature ( Deuteronomy 10:6) or “purify” our nature ( James 4:8), but He does our “hearts”! The “heart” is the very center of our responsibility, and to deny that we are to improve and keep it is to repudiate human accountability.
It is the Devil who seeks to persuade people that they are not responsible for the state of their hearts, and may no more change them than they can the stars in their courses. And the “flesh” within finds such a lie very agreeable to its case. But he who has been regenerated by the sovereign grace of God cannot, with the Scriptures before him, give heed unto any such delusion. While he has to deplore how sadly neglected is the great task which God has set before him, while he has to bemoan his wretched failure to make his heart what it ought to be, nevertheless he wants to do better; and after his duty has been pressed upon him he will daily seek grace better to discharge his duty, and instead of being totally discouraged by the difficulty and greatness of the work required he will cry the more fervently to the Holy Spirit for His enablement.
The Christian who means business will labour to have a “willing” heart ( Exodus 35:5), which acts spontaneously and gladly, not of necessity; a “perfect” heart ( 1 Chronicles 29:9), sincere, genuine, upright; a “tender” heart ( 2 Chronicles 34:26), yielding and pliable, the opposite of hard and stubborn; a “broken” heart ( Psalm 34:18), sorrowing over all failure and sin; a “united” heart ( Psalm 86:11), all the affections centered on God; an “enlarged” heart ( <19B932> Psalm 119:32), delighting in every part of Scripture and loving all God’s people; a “sound” heart ( Proverbs 14:30), right in doctrine and practice; a “merry” heart ( Proverbs 15:15), rejoicing in the Lord alway; a “pure” heart ( Matthew 5:8), hating all evil; an “honest and good heart” ( Luke 8:15), free from guile and hypocrisy, willing to be searched through and through by the Word; a “single” heart ( Ephesians 6:5), desiring only God’s glory; a “true” heart ( Hebrews 10:22), genuine in all its dealings with God.
THE TIME OF HEART WORK The duty of keeping the heart with the utmost diligence is binding upon the Christian at all times; there is no period or condition of life in which he may be excused from this work. Nevertheless, there are distinctive seasons, critical hours, which call for more than a common vigilance over the heart, and it is a few of these which we would now contemplate, seeking help from above to point out some of the most effectual aids unto the right accomplishment of the task God has assigned us. General principles are always needful and beneficial, yet details have to be furnished if we are to know how to apply them in particular circumstances. It is this lack of definiteness which constitutes one of the most glaring defects in so much modern ministry. 1. In times of prosperity. When providence smiles upon us and bestows temporal gifts with a lavish hand, then has the Christian urgent reason to keep his heart with all diligence, for that is the time we are apt to grow careless, proud, earthly. Therefore was Israel cautioned of old, “And it shall be, when the Lord thy God shall have brought thee into the land which He sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildest not, and houses full of good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; then beware lest thou forget the Lord” ( Deuteronomy 6:10-12).
Alas that they heeded not that exhortation.
To the king of Tyre God said, “Thine heart is lifted up, because of thy riches” ( Ezekiel 28:5). Of Israel we read, “And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards and olive yards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in Thy great goodness. Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against Thee, and cast Thy law behind their backs, and slew Thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to Thee” ( Nehemiah 9:25,26).
Sad indeed are the above passages, the more so because we have seen such a tragic repetition of them in our own days. Oh the earthly-mindedness which prevailed, the indulging of the flesh, the sinful extravagance, which were seen among professing Christians while “times were good!” How practical godliness waned, how the denying of self disappeared, how covetousness, pleasure and wantonness possessed the great majority of those calling themselves the people of God. Yet great as was their sin, far greater was that of most of the preachers, who, instead of warning, admonishing, rebuking, and setting before their people an example of sobriety and thrift, criminally remained silent upon the crying sins of their hearers, and themselves encouraged the reckless spending of money and the indulgence of worldly lusts. How, then, is the Christian to keep his heart from these things in times of prosperity?
First , seriously ponder the dangerous and ensnaring temptations which attend a prosperous condition, for very, very few of those who live in the prosperity and pleasures of this world escape eternal perdition. “It is easier [said Christ] for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven” ( Matthew 19:24).
What multitudes have been carried to hell in the cushioned chariots of earthly wealth and ease, while a comparative handful have been shipped to heaven by the rod of affliction. Remember, too, that many of the Lord’s own people have sadly deteriorated in seasons of worldly success. When Israel was in a low condition in the wilderness, then were they “holiness unto the Lord” ( Jeremiah 2:3); but when fed in the fat pastures of Canaan they said, “We are lords; we will come no more unto Thee” (verse 31).
Second , diligently seek grace to heed that word, “If riches increase, set not your heart upon them” ( Psalm 62:10). Those riches may be given to try you; not only are they most uncertain things, often taking to themselves wings and flying swiftly away, but at best they cannot satisfy the soul, and only perish with the using. Remember that God values no man a jot more for these things: He esteems us by inward graces, and not by outward possessions: “In every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him” ( Acts 10:35).
Third , urge upon your soul the consideration of that awful day of reckoning, wherein according to our receipt of mercies so shall be our accountings of them: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” ( Luke 12:48).
Each of us must yet give an account of our stewardship. 2. In Times of adversity. When providence frowns upon us, overturning our cherished plans, and blasting our outward comforts, then has the Christian urgent need to look to his heart, and keep it with all diligence from replying against God or fainting under His hand. Job was a mirror of patience, yet his heart was discomposed by trouble. Jonah was a man of God, yet he was peevish under trial. When the food supplies gave out in the wilderness, they who had been miraculously delivered from Egypt, and who sang Jehovah’s praises so heartily at the Red Sea, murmured and rebelled. It takes much grace to keep the heart calm amid the storms of life, to keep the spirit sweet when there is much to embitter the flesh, and to say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Yet this is a Christian duty!
To help thereunto, first consider, fellow Christian, that despite these cross providences God is still faithfully carrying out the great design of electing love upon the souls of His people, and orders these very afflictions as means sanctified to that end. Nothing happens by chance, but all by Divine counsel ( Ephesians 1:11), and therefore it is that “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” ( Romans 8:28).
Ah, beloved, it will wonderfully calm your troubled breast and sustain your fainting heart to rest upon that blessed fact. The poor worldling may say, “The bottom has dropped out of everything,” but not so the saint, for the eternal God is his refuge, and underneath him are still the “everlasting arms.”
It is ignorance or forgetfulness of God’s loving designs which makes us so prone to chafe under His providential dealings. If faith were more in exercise we should “count it all joy” when we fall into divers temptations, or trials ( James 1:2). Why so? Because we should discern that those very trials were sent to wean our hearts from this empty world, to tear down pride and carnal security, to refine us. If, then, my Father has a design of love unto my soul, do I well to be angry with Him? Later, if not now, you will see that those bitter disappointments were blessings in disguise, and will exclaim, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted” ( <19B907> Psalm 119:7 1). “God is not the author of confusion” ( 1 Corinthians 14:33); no, the Devil causes that, and he has succeeded in creating much in the thinking of many, by confounding the “heart” with the “nature.” People say, “I was born with an evil heart, and I cannot help it.” It would be more correct to say, “I was born with an evil nature, which I am responsible to subdue.” The Christian needs clearly to recognize that in addition to his two “natures”—the flesh and the spirit—he has a heart which God requires him to “keep.” We have already touched upon this point, but deem it advisable to add a further word thereon. I cannot change or better my “nature,” but I may and must my “heart.” For example, “nature” is slothful and loves ease, but the Christian is to redeem the time and be zealous of good works. Nature hates the thought of death, but the Christian should bring his heart to desire to depart and be with Christ.
The popular religion of the day is either a head or a hand one: that is to say, the laboring to acquire a larger and fuller intellectual group of the things of God or a constant round of activities called “service for the Lord.” But the heart is neglected! Thousands are reading, studying, talking “Bible courses,” but for all the spiritual benefits their souls derive they might as well be engaged in breaking stones. Lest it be thought that such a stricture is too severe, we quote a sentence from a letter recently received from one who has completed no less than eight of these “Bible study courses”: “There was nothing in that ‘hard work’ which ever called for self-examination, which led me really to know God, and appropriate the Scriptures to my deep need.” No, of course there was not: their compilers—like nearly all the speakers at the big “Bible conferences”— studiously avoid all that is unpalatable to the flesh, all that condemns the natural man, all that pierces and searches the conscience. Oh, the tragedy of this head “Christianity.”
Equally pitiable is the hand religion of the day, when young “converts” are put to teaching a Sunday school class, urged to “speak” in the open air, or take up “personal work.” How many thousands of beardless youths and young girls are now engaged in what is called “winning souls for Christ,” when their own souls are spiritually starved! They may “memorize” two or three verses of Scripture a day, but that does not mean their souls are being fed. How many are giving their evenings to helping in some “mission,” when they need to be spending the time in “the secret of the Most High”!
And how many bewildered souls are using the major part of the Lord’s day in rushing from one meeting to another instead of seeking from God that which will fortify them against the temptations of the week! Oh, the tragedy of this hand “Christianity.”
How subtle the Devil is! Under the guise of promoting growth in “the knowledge of the Lord,” he gets people to attend a ceaseless round of meetings, or to read an almost endless number of religious periodicals and books; or under the pretence of “honoring the Lord” by all this so-called “service” he induces the one or the other to neglect the great task which God has set before us: “keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” ( Proverbs 4:23).
Ah, it is far easier to speak to others than it is constantly to use and improve all holy means and duties to preserve the soul from sin, and maintain it in sweet and free communion with God. It is far easier to spend an hour reading a sensational article upon “the signs of the times” than it is to spend an hour in agonizing before God for purifying and rectifying grace!
This work of keeping the heart is of supreme importance. The total disregard of it means that we are mere formalists. “My son, give Me thine heart” ( Proverbs 23:26): until that be done, God will accept nothing from us. The prayers and praises of our lips, the labour of our hands, yea, and a correct outward walk, are things of no value in His sight while the heart be estranged from Him. As the inspired apostle declared, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing: And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth nothing” ( 1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
God cannot be imposed upon, and he who takes no care to order his heart aright before Him is a hypocrite. “And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as My people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument” ( Ezekiel 33:31,32).
Here are a company of formal hypocrites, as is evident from the words “as My people”: like them, but not of them. And what constituted them impostors? Their outside was very fair—high professions, reverent postures, much seeming delight in the means of grace. Ah, but their hearts were not set on God, but were commanded by their lusts, went after covetousness.
But lest a real Christian should infer from the above that He is a hypocrite too, because many times his heart wanders, and he finds—strive all he may—that he cannot keep his mind stayed upon God when praying, reading His Word, or engaged in public worship, to him we answer that the objection carries its own refutation. You say “strive all I may”; Ah, if you have, then the blessing of the upright is yours, even though God sees well to exercise you over the affliction of a wandering mind. There remains still much in the understanding and affections to humble you, but if you are exercised over them, strive against them, and sorrow over your very imperfect success, then that is quite enough to clear you of the charge of reigning hypocrisy.
The keeping of the heart is supremely important because “out of it are the issues of life”; it is the source and fountain of all vital actions and operations. The heart is the warehouse, the hand and tongue are but the shops; what is in these comes from thence—the heart contrives and the members execute. It is in the heart that the principles of the spiritual life are formed: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil” ( Luke 6:45).
Then let us diligently see to it that the heart be well stored with pious instruction, seeking to increase in grateful love, reverential fear, hatred of sin, and benevolence in all its exercises, that from within these holy springs may flow and fructify our whole conduct and conversation.
This work of keeping the heart is the hardest of all. “To shuffle over religious duties with a loose and heedless spirit will cost no great pains; but to set thyself before the Lord, and tie up thy loose and vain thoughts to a constant and serious attendance upon Him: this will cost something! To attain a facility and dexterity of language in prayer, and put thy meaning into apt and decent expressions, is easy; but to get thy heart broken for sin whilst thou art confessing it, be melted with free grace, whilst thou art blessing God for it, be really ashamed and humbled through the apprehensions of God’s infinite holiness, and to keep thy heart in this frame, not only in, but after duty, will surely cost thee some groans and travailing pain of soul. To repress the outward acts of sin, and compose the external acts of thy life in a laudable and comely manner, is no great matter—even carnal persons by the force of common principles can do this; but to kill the root of corruption within, to set and keep up an holy government over thy thoughts, to have all things lie straight and orderly in the heart, this is not easy” (John Flavel).
Ah, dear reader, it is far, far easier to speak in the open air than to uproot pride from your soul. It calls for much less toil to go out and distribute tracts than it does to cast out of your mind unholy thoughts. One can speak to the unsaved much more readily than he can deny self, take up his cross daily, and follow Christ in the path of obedience. And one can teach a class in the Sunday School with far less trouble than he can teach himself how to strengthen his own spiritual graces. To keep the heart with all diligence calls for frequent examination of its frames and dispositions, the observing of its attitude towards God, and the prevailing directions of its affections; and that is something which no empty professor can be brought to do!
This work of keeping the heart is a constant one. “The keeping of the heart is such a work as is never done till life be done: this labour and our life end together. It is with a Christian in this business, as it is with seamen that have sprung a leak at sea; if they tug not constantly at the pump, the water increases upon them, and will quickly sink them. It is in vain for them to say the work is hard, and we are weary; there is no time or condition in the life of a Christian, which will suffer an intermission of this work. It is in the keeping watch over our hearts, as it was in the keeping up of Moses’ hands, while Israel and Amalek were fighting below ( Exodus 17:12); no sooner do Moses’ hands grow heavy and sink down, but Amalek prevails. You know it cost David and Peter many a sad day and night for intermitting the watch over their own hearts but a few minutes” (J. Flavel).
CONSEQUENCES OF HEART WORK Having sought to show that the keeping of the heart is the great work assigned the Christian, in which the very soul and life of true religion consists, and without the performance of which all other duties are unacceptable to God, let us now point out some of the corollaries and consequences which necessarily follow from this fact. 1. The labours which many have taken in religion are lost. Many great services have been performed, many wonderful works wrought by men, which have been utterly rejected by God, and shall receive no recognition in the day of rewards. Why? Because they took no pains to keep their hearts with God in those duties; this is the fatal rock upon which thousands of vain professors have wrecked to their eternal undoing—they were diligent about the externals of religion, but regardless of their hearts. How many hours have professors spent in hearing, reading, conferring and praying, and yet as to the supreme task God has assigned have done nothing. Tell me, vain professor, when did you spend five minutes in a serious effort to keep, purge, improve it? Think you that such an easy religion can save you? If so, we must inverse the words of Christ and say, “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth unto life, and many there be that go in thereat.” 1 If the keeping of the heart be the great work of the Christian, then how few real Christians are there in the world. If everyone who has learned the dialect of Christianity and can talk like a Christian, if every one who has natural gifts and abilities and who is helped by the common assisting presence of the Spirit and pray and teach like a Christian, if all who associate themselves with the people of God, contribute of their means to His cause, take delight in public ordinances, and pass as Christians were real ones, then the number of the saints would be considerable. But, alas, to what a little flock do they shrink when measured by this rule: how few make conscience of keeping their hearts, watching their thoughts, judging their motives. Ah, there is no human applause to induce men to engage in this difficult work, and were hypocrites to do so they would quickly discover what they do not care to know. This heart work is left in the hands of a few hidden ones. Reader, are you one of them? 3. Unless real Christians spend more time and pains about their hearts than they have done, they are never likely to grow in grace, be of much use to God, or be possessors of much comfort in this world. You say, “But my heart seems so listless and dead.” Do you wonder at it, when you keep it not in daily communion with Him who is the fountain of life? If your body had received no more concern and attention than your soul, what state would it now be in? Oh, my brother, or sister, has not your zeal run in the wrong channels? God may be enjoyed even in the midst of earthly employments: “Enoch walked with God, and begat sons and daughters” ( Genesis 5:19) —he did not retire into a monastery, nor is there any need for you to do so. 4. It is high time the Christian reader set to this heart work in real earnest.
Do not you lament, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept” ( Song of Solomon 1:16)?
Then away with fruitless controversies and idle questions; away with empty names and vain shows; away with harsh censuring of others—turn upon yourself. You have been a stranger long enough to this work; you have trifled about the borders of religion too long: the world has deterred you from this vitally necessary work too long. Will you now resolve to look better after your heart? Haste you to your closet.
ADVANTAGES OF HEART WORK The heart of man is his worst part before it be regenerate, and his best part afterwards; it is the seat of principles and the source of actions. The eye of God is, and the eye of the Christian ought to be, principally fixed upon it.
The great difficulty after conversion is to keep the heart with God. Herein lies the very pinch and stress of religion; here is that which makes the way to life a narrow way, and the gate of heaven a straight one. To afford some direction and help in this great work, these articles have been presented.
The general neglect of the heart is the root cause of the present sad state of Christendom; the remainder of this article might readily be devoted unto the verifying and amplifying of that statement; instead, we merely point out briefly one or two of the more prominent features. Why is it that so many preachers have withheld from their congregations that which was, so obviously, most needed? Why have they “spoken smooth things” instead of wielding the sword of the Spirit? Because their own hearts were not right with God: His holy fear was not upon them. An “honest and good heart” ( Luke 8:15) will cause a servant of Christ to preach what he sees to be the most essential and profitable truths of the Word, however displeasing they may be unto many of his people. He will faithfully rebuke, exhort, admonish, correct and instruct, whether his hearers like it or not.
Why have so many church members departed from the faith and given heed to seducing spirits? Why have multitudes been led away by the error of the wicked, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness? Why have so many others been attracted to companies of notional professors, which, despite their proud boasts of being the only people gathered together in (or unto) the name of Christ, are, for the most part, people who have only an acquaintance with the letter of Scripture and are strangers to practical godliness? Ah, the answer is not far to seek: it was because they had no heart acquaintance with the things of God. It is those who are sickly and diseased who fall easy victims unto the quacks; so it is those whose hearts are never rooted and grounded in the Truth who are tossed about with every wind and doctrine. The study and guarding of the heart is the best antidote against the infectious errors of the times. And this leads us to point out some of the advantages of keeping the heart. For much of what follows we are indebted to the Puritan, John Flavel. 1. The pondering and garrisoning of the heart is a great help to the understanding of the deep things of God. An honest and experienced heart is a wonderful aid to a weak head. Such a heart will serve as a commentary upon a great portion of the Scriptures. When such a one reads the Psalms of David or the Epistles of Paul, he will find there many of his own difficulties stated and solved: he will find them speaking the language of his own heart—recounting his experiences, expressing his sorrows and joys.
By a close and regular study of the heart he will be far better fitted to understand the things of God than graceless rabbis and inexperienced doctors—not only will they be clearer, but far sweeter unto him. A man may discourse orthodoxly and profoundly of the nature and effects of faith, of the preciousness of Christ, and the sweetness of communion with God, who never felt the impressions or efficacy of them upon his own spirit. But how dull and dry will these notions be unto those who have experienced them.
Ah, my reader, experience is the great schoolmaster. Much in Job and Lamentations will seem dull and uninteresting until you have had deeper exercises of soul. The seventh chapter of Romans is not likely to appeal much unto you until you make more conscience of indwelling sin. Many of the later Psalms will appear too extravagant in their language until you enjoy closer and sweeter fellowship with God. But the more you endeavour to keep your heart, and bring it into subjection unto God, to keep it from the evil solicitations of Satan, the more suited to your own case will you find many chapters of the Bible. It is not simply that you have to be in the “right mood” to appreciate, but that you have to pass through certain exercises of heart ere you can discover their appropriateness. Then it is that you will have “felt” and “tasted” for yourself the things of which the inspired writers treat. Then it is that you will have the key which unlocks many a verse that is fast closed unto masters of Hebrew and Greek. 2. Care in keeping the heart supplies one of the best evidences of sincerity.
There is no external act which distinguishes the sound from the unsound professor, but before this trial no hypocrite can stand. It is true that when they think death to be very near many will cry out of the wickedness and fear in their hearts, but that signifies nothing more than does the howling of an animal when it is in distress. But if you are tender of your conscience, watchful of your thoughts, and careful each day of the workings and frames of your heart, this strongly argues the sincerity of it; for what but a real hatred of sin, what but a sense of the Divine eye being upon you, could put anyone upon these secret duties which lie out of the observation of all creatures? If, then, it be such a desirable thing to have a fair testimony of your integrity, and to know of a truth that you fear God, then study, watch, keep the heart.
The true comfort of our souls much depends upon this, for he that is negligent in keeping his heart is generally a stranger to spiritual assurance and the sweet comforts flowing from it. God does not usually indulge lazy souls with inward peace, for He will not be the patron of any carelessness.
He has united together our diligence and comfort, and they are greatly mistaken who suppose that the beautiful child of assurance can be born without soul pangs. Diligent self-examination is called for: first the looking into the Word, and then the looking into our hearts, to see how far they correspond. It is true that the Holy Spirit indwells the Christian, but He cannot be discerned by I-us essence; it is His operations that manifest Him, and these are known by the graces he produces in the soul; and those can only be perceived by diligent search and honest scrutiny of the heart. It is in the heart that the Spirit works. 3. Care in keeping the heart makes blessed and fruitful the means of grace and the discharge of our spiritual duties. What precious communion we have with God when He is approached in a right frame of soul: then we may say with David, “My meditation of Him shall be sweet” ( <19A434> Psalm 104:34). But when the heart be indisposed, full of the things of this life, then we miss the comfort and joy which should be ours. The sermons you hear and the articles you read (if by God’s servants) will appear very different if you bring a prepared heart to them! If the heart be right you will not grow drowsy while hearing or reading of the riches of God’s grace, the glories of Christ, the beauty of holiness, or the needs-be for a scripturally ordered walk. It was because the heart was neglected that you got so little from attending to the means of grace!
The same holds good of prayer. What a difference there is between a deeply exercised and spiritually burdened heart pouring out itself before God in fervent supplication and the utterance of verbal petitions by rote! It is the difference between reality and formality. He who is diligent in heart work and perceives the state of his own soul is at no loss in knowing what to ask God for. So he who makes it a practice of walking with God, communing with God, meditating upon God, spontaneously worships Him in spirit and in truth: like David, he will say, “My heart is inditing a good matter” ( Psalm 45:1). The Hebrew there is very suggestive: literally it is “my heart is boiling up a good matter”; it is a figurative expression, taken from a living spring, which is bubbling up fresh water. The formalist has to rack his mind and, as it were, laboriously pump up something to say unto God; but he who makes conscience of heart work finds his soul like a bottle of new wine—ready to burst, giving vent to sorrow or joy as his case may be. 4. Diligence in keeping the heart will make the soul stable in the hour of temptation. The care or neglect of the conscience largely determines our attitude toward and response unto solicitations of evil. The careless heart falls an easy prey to Satan. His main attacks are made upon the heart, for if he gains that he gains all, for it commands the whole man! Alas, how easy a conquest is an unguarded heart; it is no more difficult for the Devil to capture it than for a burglar to enter a house whose windows and doors are unfastened. It is the watchful heart that both discovers and suppresses the temptation before it comes in its full strength. It is much like a large stone rolling down a hill-—it is easy to stop at first, but very difficult after it has gained full momentum. So, if we cherish the first vain imagination as it enters the mind, it will soon grow into a powerful lust which will not take a nay.
Acts are preceded by desires, and desires by thoughts. A sinful object first presents itself to the imagination, and unless that be nipped in the bud the affections will be stirred and enlisted. If the heart does not repel the evil imagination, if instead it dwells on it, encourages it, feeds on it, then it will not be long before the consent of the will is obtained. A very large and important part of heart work lies in observing its first motions, and checking sin there. The motions of sin are weakest at the first, and a little watchfulness and care then prevents much trouble and mischief later. But if the first movings of sin in the imagination be not observed and resisted, then the careless heart is quickly brought under the full power of temptation, and Satan is victorious. 5. The diligent keeping of the heart is a great aid to the improving of our graces. Grace never thrives in a careless soul, for the roots and habits of grace are planted in the heart, and the deeper they are radicated ( cause to take root ) there the more thriving and flourishing grace is. In Ephesians 3:17, we read of being “rooted and grounded in love”: love in the heart is the spring of every gracious word of the mouth and of every holy act of the hand. But is not Christ the “root” of the Christian’s graces? Yes, the originating root, but grace is the derivative root, planted and nourished by Him, and according as this thrives under Divine influences, so the fruits of grace are more healthy and vigorous. But in a heart which is not kept diligently those fructifying influences are choked. Just as in an uncared-for garden the weeds crowd out the flowers, so vain thoughts that are not disallowed, and lusts which are not mortified, devour the strength of the heart. “My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and with fatness; and my mouth shall praise Thee with joyful lips: when I remember Thee upon my bed, and meditate on Thee in the night watches” ( Psalm 55:5,6). 6. The diligent care of the heart makes Christian fellowship profitable and precious. Why is it that when Christians meet together there are often sad jarrings and contentions? It is because of unmortified passions. Why is their conversation so frothy and worthless? It is because of the vanity and earthiness of their hearts. It is not difficult to discern by the actions and converse of Christians what frames their spirits are under. Take one whose mind is truly stayed upon God; how serious, heavenly and edifying is his conversation: “The mouth of the righteous speaketh wisdom, and his tongue talketh of judgment: the law of his God is in his heart” ( Psalm 37:30,31).
If each of us was humbled every day before God and under the evils of his own heart, we should be more pitiful and tender toward others ( Galatians 6:1). 7. A heart well kept fits us for any condition God may cast us into, or any service He has to use us in. He who has learnt to keep his heart lowly is fit for prosperity; and he who knows how to apply Scripture promises and supports is fit to pass through any adversity. So he who can deny the pride and selfishness of his heart is fit to be employed in any service for God.
Such a man was Paul; he not only ministered to others, but looked well to his own vineyard (see 1 Corinthians 9:27). And what an eminent instrument he was for God: he knew how to abound and how to suffer loss. Let the people defy him, it moved him not, except to indignation; let them stone him, he could bear it. 8. By keeping our hearts diligently we should the soonest remove the scandals and stumbling-blocks out of the way of the world. How the worthy name of our Lord is blasphemed because of the wicked conduct of many who bear His name. What prejudice has been created against the Gospel by the inconsistent lives of those who preach it. But if we keep our hearts, we shall not add to the scandals caused by the ways of loose professors. Nay, those with whom we come in contact will see that we “have been with Jesus.” When the majestic beams of holiness shine from a heavenly walk, the world will be awed and respect will again be commanded by the followers of the Lamb.
Look over the eight special benefits we have named, and weigh them in a just balance; they are not trivial things. Then guard well your heart, and watch closely its love for God. Jacob served seven years for Rebekah, and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love that he had unto her.
The labour of love is always delightful. If God has your heart, the feet will run swiftly in the way of His commandments: duty will be a delight. Then let us earnestly pray, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” ( Psalm 90:12) —as we “apply” our hands unto manual tasks.
Let me now close with a word or two of consolation to all serious Christians who have sought to give themselves faithfully and closely to this heart work, but who are groaning in secret over their apparent lack of success therein, and who are fearful that their experience falls short of a saving one.
First , this argues that your heart is honest and upright. If you are mourning over heart conditions and sins, that is something no hypocrite does. Many a one is now in hell who had a better head than mine; many a one now in heaven complained of as bad a heart as thine.
Second , God would never leave you under so many heart burdens and troubles if He intended not your benefit thereby. You say, Lord, why do I go mourning, all the day having sorrow of heart? For long have I been exercised over its hardness, and not yet it is broken. Many years have I been struggling against vain thoughts, and still I am plagued by them.
When shall I get a better heart? Ah, God would thereby show you what your heart by nature is, and have you take notice of how much you are beholden to free grace! So, too, He would keep you humble, and not let you fall in love with yourself!
Third , God will shortly put a blessed end to these cares, watchings and heartaches. The time is coming when your heart shall be as you would have it, when you will be delivered from all fears and sorrows, and never again cry, “O my hard, vain, earthly, filthy heart.” Then shall all darkness be purged from your understanding, all vanity from your affections, all guilt from your conscience, all perversity from your will. Then shall you be everlastingly, delightfully, ravishingly entertained and exercised upon the supreme goodness and infinite excellency of God. Soon shall break that morning without clouds, when all the shadows shall flee away; and then we “shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” ( 1 John 3:2).