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2 CORINTHIANS 3:18 Just as there are certain verses in the Old Testament and the Gospels which give us a miniature of the redemptive work of Christ for God’s people— such, for example, as Isaiah 53:5 and John 3:16—so in the Epistles there are some condensed doctrinal declarations which express in a few words the entire work of the Spirit in reforming, conforming, and transforming believers. 2 Corinthians 3:18 is a case in point: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” This important passage supplies a brief but blessed summary of the progressive work of grace which is wrought in the Christian by the indwelling Spirit. It focuses to a single point the different rays which are emitted by the various graces which He communicates to them, namely, that wherein the saint is slowly but surely conformed unto and transfigured into the very image of the Lord.
There are many parts in and aspects of the Spirit’s work in reforming, conforming and transforming the believer, but they are here epitomized in one brief but most comprehensive statement, which we now propose to examine and expound. As an aid to this, let us proceed to ask our verse a number of questions.
First , exactly what is meant by “the glory of the Lord,” into “the same image” of which all believers “are changed”?—are—not, “shall be.”
Second , what is “the glass” in which we are beholding this glory?
Third , what is denoted in the we are “changed into the same image from glory to glory.”
Fourth , what is the force of “we all with open face” are beholding this glory? Finally, how does the Spirit of the Lord effect this great change in believers? Are they entirely passive therein, or is there an active cooperation on their part?
Perhaps it will help the reader most if we first give brief answers to these questions and then supply amplifications of the same in what follows. The “glory of the Lord” here signifies His moral perfections, the excellencies of His character. The “glass” in which His glory is revealed and in which those with anointed eyes may behold it, is the Holy Scripture. Our being “changed into the same image” has reference to our sanctification, viewed from the experimental side; that it is here said to be “from glory to glory” intimates it is a gradual and progressive work. Our beholding that glory with “open face” means that the veil of darkness, of prejudice, of “enmity,” which was over our depraved hearts by nature, has been removed, so that in God’s light we now see light. The Spirit effects this great change both immediately and mediately, that is, by His direct actions upon the soul and also by blessing to us our use of the appointed means of grace. “The glory of the Lord.” This we have defined as His moral perfections, the excellencies of His character. The best theologians have classified God’s attributes under two heads: incommunicable and communicable.
There are certain perfections of the Divine Being which are peculiar to Himself, which in their very nature cannot be transmitted to the creature: these are His eternity, His immutability, His omnipotence, His omniscience, His omnipresence. There are other perfections of the Divine Being which He is pleased to communicate, in measure, to the unfallen angels and to the redeemed from among men: these are His goodness, His grace, His mercy, His holiness, His righteousness, His wisdom. Now, obviously, it is the latter which the Apostle has before him in 2 Corinthians 3:18, for believers are not, will not, and cannot be changed into the “same image” of the Lord’s omniscience, etc. Compare “we beheld the glory... full of grace and truth ” ( John 1:14)—His moral perfections.
THE “GLASS” The “glass” in which the glory of the Lord is revealed and beheld by us is His written Word, as is clear by a comparison with James 1:22-25. Yet let it be carefully borne in mind that the Scriptures have two principal parts, being divided into two Testaments. Now the contents of those two Testaments may be summed up, respectively, in the Law and the Gospel.
That which is outstanding in the Old Testament is the Law; that which is preeminent in the New Testament is the Gospel. Thus, in giving an exposition or explanation of the “glass” in which believers behold the Lord’s glory, we cannot do better than say, It is in the Law and the Gospel His glory is set before us. It is absolutely essential to insist on this amplification, for a distinctive “glory of the Lord” is revealed in each one, and to both of them is the Christian conformed (or “changed”) by the Spirit.
Should anyone say that we are “reading our own thoughts into” the meaning of the “glass” in which the glory of the Lord is revealed, and object to our insisting this signifies, first the Law, we would point out this is fully borne out by the immediate context of 2 Corinthians 3:18, and what is found there obliges us to take this view. The Apostle is there comparing and contrasting the two great economies, the Mosaic and the Christian, showing that the preeminence of the one over the other lay in the former being an external ministration (the “letter”), whereas the latter is internal (the “spirit”), in the heart; nevertheless, he affirms that the former ministration “was glorious ” (v. 7), and “if the ministration of condemnation be glorious ” (v. 9), “for even that which is made glorious ” (v. 10), “if that which was done away was glorious ” (v. 11)—all being explained by the fact that the glory of the Lord was exhibited therein.
In the “glass” of the Law the Lord gave a most wondrous revelation of His “glory.” The Law has been aptly and rightly designated “a transcript of the Divine nature,” though (as is to be expected) some of our modems have taken serious exception to that statement, thereby setting themselves in opposition to the Scriptures. In Romans 8:7 we are told “the carnal mind is enmity against God,” and the proof furnished of this declaration is, “for it is not subject to the Law of God,” which, manifestly, is only another way of saying that the Law is a transcript of the very character of God. So again we read, “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” ( Romans 7:12): what is that but a summarized description of the Divine perfections! If God Himself is “holy and just and good” and the Law is an immediate reflection of His very nature, then it will itself be “holy and just and good.” Again, if God Himself is “love” ( 1 John 4:8) and the Law is a glass in which His perfections shine, then that which the Law requires, all that is required, will be love, and that is exactly the case: Matthew 22:37-39.
What a word is that in Exodus 24:16, “And the glory of the LORD abode upon Mount Sinai.” Yes, the glory of the Lord was as really and truly manifested at Sinai as it is displayed now at Mount Zion—that man in his present state was unable to appreciate the awe-inspiring display which God there made of His perfections, in no way alters that fact, for He is a God to be feared as well as loved. In the “glass” of the Law we behold the glory of the Lord’s majesty and sovereignty, the glory of His government and authority, the glory of His justice and holiness. Yes, and the “glory” of His goodness in framing such a Law which requires us to love Him with all our hearts, and for His sake, His creatures, our neighbors as ourselves.
But the “glory of the Lord” is further manifested in the “glass” of the Gospel, in which God has made a fuller and yet more blessed revelation of His moral perfections than He did at Sinai. Now the Gospel necessarily implies or presupposes the following things. First, a broken Law, and its transgressors utterly unable to repair its breach. Second, that God graciously determined to save a people from its curse. Third, that He purposes to do so without making light of sin, without dishonoring the Law, and without compromising His holiness—otherwise, so far from the Gospel being the best news of all, it would herald the supreme calamity.
How this is effected, by and through Christ, the Gospel makes known. In His own Son, God shines forth in meridian splendor, for Jesus Christ is the brightness of His glory, the express image of His Person. In Christ the veil is rent, the Holy of Holies is exposed to full view, for now we behold “The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” ( 2 Corinthians 4:6).
In the Gospel is displayed not only the amazing grace and infinite mercy, but also and mainly the “manifold wisdom ” of God. Therein we learn how grace is exercised righteously, how mercy is bestowed honorably, how transgressors are pardoned justly. God did not deem it suitable to the honor of His majesty to sovereignly pardon sinners without a satisfaction being offered to Himself, and therefore did He appoint a Mediator to magnify the Law and make it honorable. The great design of the incarnation, life and death of Christ, was to demonstrate in the most public manner that God was worthy of all that love, honor and obedience which the Law required, and that sin was as great an evil as the punishment threatened supposed. The heart of the glorious Gospel of Christ is the Cross, and there we see all the Divine perfections fully displayed: in the death of the Lord Jesus the Law was magnified, Divine holiness vindicated, sin discountenanced, the sinner saved, grace glorified, and Satan defeated.
THE UNREGENERATE SEE IT NOT Though the glory of the Lord be so plainly revealed in the two-fold “glass” of the Law and the Gospel, yet the unregenerate appreciate it not: concerning the one it is said, “But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart” ( 2 Corinthians 3:15); and of the latter we read, “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” ( 2 Corinthians 4:4).
The unregenerate are blind to the loveliness of the Divine character: not that they have no eyes to see with, but they have deliberately “closed them” ( Matthew 13:15); not that they are not intellectually convinced of the Divine perfections, but that their hearts are unaffected thereby. It is because man is a fallen depraved and vicious creature that he is not won by “the beauty of holiness.” “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” ( John 3:3).
Clearest possible proof of this was furnished when the Word became flesh and tabernacled among men. Those who had been “born of God” ( John 1:13) could say, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” ( John 1:14).
But different indeed was it with those who were left in their natural state— they, notwithstanding their education, culture, and religion, were so far from discerning any form or comeliness in Christ, that they cried, “Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil” ( John 8:48). Yet it is as plain as a sunbeam that the blindness of the Pharisees was due neither to the lack of necessary faculties nor to the want of outward opportunities, but entirely to the perverted state of their minds and the depraved condition of their hearts—which was altogether of a criminal nature.
From what has just been pointed out, then, it is plain when the Apostle declares, “but we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord” ( 2 Corinthians 3:18), that a miracle of grace had been wrought in them. As spiritual blindness consists in an absence of relish for holy beauty—which blindness is capable of being greatly increased and confirmed through the exercise and influence of the various corruptions of a wicked heart, and which Satan augments by all means in his power—so spiritual sight is the soul’s delighting itself in Divine and spiritual things. In regeneration there is begotten in the soul a holy taste so that the heart now goes out after God and His Christ. This is referred to in Scripture in various ways. It is the fulfillment of that promise “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God” ( Deuteronomy 30:6).
This new relish for spiritual things which is begotten in the soul by the immediate operations of the Spirit is also the fulfillment of, “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); and of, “I will give them an heart to know Me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be My people” ( Jeremiah 24:7).
In consequence thereof, the happy subjects of this work of Divine grace perceive and relish the holy character of God and are enamored with His perfections. “CHANGED INTO THE SAME IMAGE” “But we all”: that is, all who have been supernaturally brought from death unto life, out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. “With open face,” or “unveiled face,” as it is in the Greek and as the R.V. translates it: that is, with hearts from which “the veil” of prejudice ( 2 Corinthians 3:15) has been removed, from which that “covering cast over all people” ( Isaiah 25:7), the covering of enmity against God, has been destroyed. “Beholding”—note carefully the present tense, for it is a continuous action which is here in view; “as in a glass” or “mirror,” namely, the twofold glass of the Law and the Gospel; “the glory of the Lord,” that is His communicable perfections, His moral character; “are changed into the same image, ” this clause it is which must next engage our careful attention.
Following our usual custom, let us first give a brief definition and then amplify the same. To be changed into “the same image” means that the regenerated soul becomes conformed unto the Divine character, that answerable principles and affections are wrought in his heart, bringing him into harmony with the perfections of God. This must be the case, for since Divinely enlightened souls have such a relish for holy beauty, for such beauty as there is in the character of God, then it necessarily follows that every Divine truth as it comes into their view will appear beautiful, and will accordingly beget and excite holy affections corresponding with its nature.
Or, more specifically, as the heart is occupied with the several perfections of God exhibited in the Law and in the Gospel, corresponding desires and determinations will be awakened in and exercised by that soul.
It would imply a contradiction to suppose that any heart should be charmed with a character just the opposite to its own. The carnal mind is enmity against God: resenting His authority, disliking His holiness, hating His sovereignty, and condemning His justice: in a word, it is immediately opposed to His glory as it shines in the glass of the Law and the Gospel.
But one who has been Divinely enlightened loves the Truth because he has a frame of heart answerable thereto—just as the unregenerate soul loves the world because it suits his depraved tastes. The regenerate discerns and feels that the Law is righteous in requiring what it does, even though it condemns him for his disobedience. He perceives, too, that the Gospel is exactly suited to his needs and that its precepts are wise and excellent.
Thus he is brought into conformity with the one and into compliance with the other.
Universal experience teaches us that characters appear agreeable or disagreeable just as they suit our taste or not. To an angel, who has a taste for holy beauty, the moral character of God appears infinitely amiable; but to the Devil, who is being of a contrary taste, God’s moral character appears just the reverse. To the Pharisees, no character was more odious than that of the Lord Jesus; but at the same time Mary and Martha and Lazarus were charmed with Him. To the Jewish nation in general, who groaned under the Roman yoke, and longed for a Messiah to set them at liberty, to make them victorious, rich and honorable—a Messiah in the character of a temporal prince, who had gratified their desires—such an one had appeared glorious in their eyes, and they would have been changed into the same image; that is, every answerable affection had been excited in their hearts.
Now it is this moral transformation in the believer which is the evidence of his spiritual enlightenment: “beholding,” he is “changed.” Where a soul has been supernaturally illumined there will issue a corresponding conformity to the Divine image. But in so affirming, many of our Christian readers are likely to feel that we are thereby cutting off their hopes. They will be ready to exclaim, Alas, my character resembles the likeness of Satan far more than it does the image of God. Let us, then, ease the tension a little.
Observe, dear troubled souls, this transformation is not effected instantaneously, but by degrees: this great “change” is not accomplished by the Spirit in a moment, but is a gradual work. This is plainly signified in the “from glory to glory,” which means, from one degree of it to another. Only as this fact is apprehended can our poor hearts be assured before God.
This expression “from glory to glory” is parallel with “the rain also filleth the pools: they go from strength to strength” ( Psalm 84:6,7), which means that under the gracious revivings of the Spirit, believers are renewed again and again, and so go on from one degree of strength to another. So in Romans 1:17 we read of “from faith to faith,” which means from little faith to more faith, until sometimes it may be said, “your faith groweth exceedingly” ( 2 Thessalonians 1:3). So it is with this blessed “change” which the Spirit works in believers. The first degree of it is effected at their regeneration. The second degree of it is accomplished during their progressive (practical) sanctflcation. The third and last degree of it takes place at their glorification. Thus “the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” ( Proverbs 4:18).
SUMMARY For the benefit of clarity we will give a brief digest of our previous exposition of 2 Corinthians 3:18, which is a verse that supplies a comprehensive summary of the Spirit’s work in the believer. The “we all” are those that are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The “with open face” signifies with minds from which their enmity against God has been removed, with hearts that are reconciled to Him. “Beholding” is a repeated act of the soul, which is the effect of its having been supernaturally enlightened. “As in a glass” refers to the revelation which God has made of Himself in the Law and in the Gospel. The “glory of the Lord” connotes His character or moral perfections. “Are changed into the same image” tells of the transformation which is effected in the believer by the Spirit. The “from glory to glory” announces that this great change of the heart’s reformation and conformation to the image of God is produced gradually.
When the Spirit deals with an elect soul, He first brings him face to face with God’s Law, for “by the law is the knowledge of sin” ( Romans 3:20). He reveals to him the perfections of the Law: its spirituality, its immutability, its righteousness. He makes him realize that the Law is “holy, and just, and good” ( Romans 7:12) even though it condemns and curses him. He shows that the Law requires that we should love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and our neighbors as ourselves; that it demands perfect and perpetual obedience in thought, word, and deed. He convinces the soul of the righteousness of such a demand. In a word, the one with whom the Spirit is dealing beholds “the glory of the Lord”—His majesty, His holiness, His justice—in the glass of the Law. Only thus is the soul prepared and fitted to behold and appreciate the second great revelation which God has made of His moral perfections.
Next, the Spirit brings before the soul the precious Gospel. He shows him that therein a marvelous and most blessed display is made of the love, the grace, the mercy, and the wisdom of God. He gives him to see that in His eternal purpose God designed to save a people from the curse of the Law, and that, without flouting its authority or setting aside its righteous claims; yea, in such a way that the Law is “magnified and made honorable” ( Isaiah 42:21) through its demands being perfectly met by the believing sinner’s Surety. He unveils to his wondering gaze the infinite condescension of the Father’s Beloved, who willingly took upon Him the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. And the Spirit so works in his heart that, though the Cross be a stumbling block to the Jew and foolishness unto the Greek, it appears to him to be the most wondrous, blessed, and glorious object in the universe—and by faith he thankfully rests the entire interests of his soul for time and eternity upon the atoning sacrifice which Christ offered thereon unto God.
Not only does the Spirit give that soul to behold “the glory of the Lord” as it shines first in the “glass” of the Law, and second in the “glass” of the Gospel, but He also causes him to be “changed into the same image,” that is, He begets within him corresponding principles and affections, to the one and to the other. In other words, He brings his heart to a conformity to the Law and to a compliance with the Gospel. He causes the believer to “set to his seal” ( John 3:33) to the whole Truth of God. He brings him to a full acquiescence with the Law, consenting to its righteous claims upon him, and working in him a desire and determination to adopt the Law as his rule of life or standard of conduct. So, too, the Spirit causes him to gladly embrace the Gospel, admiring the consummate wisdom of God therein, whereby the perfect harmony of His justice and mercy are blessedly exhibited. He brings him to renounce all his own works, and rest alone on the merits of Christ for his acceptance with God. “Beholding as in a glass” is literally “in a mirror.” Now the mirrors to the ancients, unlike ours, were not made of glass, but of highly burnished metal, which reflected images with great brilliancy and distinctness, corresponding to the metal. If the mirror was of silver, a white light would be the result; if of gold, a yellow glow would be suffused. Thus an opaque object reflected the rays of the sun, and so became in a measure luminous.
Here the Apostle makes use of this as a figure of the Spirit’s transforming the believer. The Law and the Gospel display various aspects of “the glory of the Lord,” that is, of God Himself, and as anointed eyes behold the same, the soul is irradiated thereby and an answerable change is wrought in it.
As the soul by faith, with broken heart (and not otherwise), beholds the glory of the Lord, in the mirror of the two Testaments (and not in the New without the Old), he is by the continual operations of the Spirit in him ( Philippians 1:6) “changed into the same image.” The views thus obtained of the Divine character excite answerable affections in the beholder. Rational argument may convince a man that God is holy, yet that is a vastly different thing from his heart being brought to love Divine holiness. But when the Spirit removes the veil of enmity and prejudice from the mind and enables the understanding to see light in God’s light, there is a genuine esteem of and delight in God’s character. The heart is won with the excellence of His moral perfections, and he perceives the rightness and beauty of a life wholly devoted to His glory. Thus there is a radical change in his judgment, disposition and conduct.
In the glass of the Law there shines the glory of God’s holiness and righteousness, and in the glass of the Gospel the glory of His grace and mercy, and as by the Spirit’s enablement the believer is beholding them, there is wrought in him a love for the same, there is given to him an answerable frame of heart. He cordially owns God as righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works. He acknowledges that God is just in condemning him, and equally just in pardoning him. He freely confesses that he is as evil as the Law pronounces him to be, and that his only hope lies in the atoning sacrifice of the Lamb. Christ is now “The Fairest of ten thousand” to his soul. He desires and endeavors to exercise righteousness and truth, grace and mercy, in all his dealings with his fellows. Thus a personal experience of the transforming power of the Law and the Gospel brings its subject into a conformity to their temper and tendency.
This being “changed into the same image” of the glory of the Lord, is but another way of saying that the Law of God is now written on the heart ( Hebrews 8:10), for as we have said previously, the Law is a transcript of the Divine nature, the very image of God. As the Law was written in indelible characters on the tables of stone by the very finger of God, so at regeneration and throughout the entire process of sanctification, views and dispositions in accord with the nature of the Law become habitual in the heart, through the operations of the Holy Spirit, according to the measure of grace which He supplies. The genuine language of the soul now becomes, “How reasonable it is that I should love with all my heart such an infinitely glorious being as God, that I should be utterly captivated by His supernal excellence. How fitting that I should be entirely for Him and completely at the disposal of Him who is Lord of all, whose rectitude is perfect, whose goodness and wisdom are infinite, and who gave His Son to die for me!”
This being “changed into the same image” of the glory of the Lord, is also the same as Christ being “formed” in the soul ( Galatians 4:19). It is having in kind, though not in degree, the same mind that was in the Lord Jesus. It is being imbued with His Spirit, being brought into accordance with the design of His mediatorial work, which was to honor and glorify God. In a word, it is being at heart the very disciples of Christ. This being “changed into the same image” of the glory of the Lord, is to be “reconciled to God” ( 2 Corinthians 5:20). Previously, we were at enmity against Him, hating His sovereignty, His strictness, His severity; but now we perceive the surpassing beauty of His every attribute and are in love with His whole Person and character. No greater change than this can be conceived of: “Ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord” ( Ephesians 5:8). This great change is to “come unto” God ( Hebrews 7:25), causing us to diligently seek daily supplies of grace from Him.
OCCUPATION AND APPLICATION “Mine eye affecteth mine heart” ( Lamentations 3:51). We are influenced by the objects we contemplate, we become ostensibly assimilated to those with whom we have much intercourse, we are molded by the books we read. This same law or principle operates in the spiritual realm: “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” ( 2 Corinthians 3:18) —beholding, we are changed. Here, then, is our responsibility: to use the means which God has appointed for our growth in grace, to be daily occupied with spiritual objects and heavenly things. Yet our study and contemplation of the Truth will not, by itself, produce any transformation: there must be a Divine application of the Truth to the heart. Apart from the Divine agency and blessing all our efforts and use of the means amount to nothing, and therefore is it added “We are changed... by the Spirit. ” Just as surely as Christ’s all-mighty power will, on the resurrection morning, transform the bodies of His people from mortality to life and from dishonor to glory, so also does the Holy Spirit now exert a supernatural power in morally transforming the characters of those whom He indwells.
The great difference between these two—the future work of Christ upon the bodies of the saints and the present work of the Spirit upon their souls—is that the one will be accomplished instantaneously, whereas the other is effected slowly and gradually. The one we shall be fully conscious of, the other we are largely unconscious of. This being “changed into the same image” of the glory of the Lord is a progressive experience, as the “from glory to glory” plainly intimates—from one degree of it to another.
It is begun at regeneration, is continued throughout our sanctification, and will be perfected at our glorification.
Now that which deeply exercises and so often keenly distresses the sincere Christian is that as he seeks to honestly examine himself he discovers so very little evidence that he IS being “changed into” the image of the Lord.
He dare not take anything for granted, but desires to “prove” himself ( 2 Corinthians 13:5). The moral transformation of which we have been treating is that which supplies proof of spiritual illumination, and without at least a measure of it, all supposed saving knowledge of the Truth is but a delusion. We shall therefore endeavor now to point out some of the leading features by which this transformation may be identified, asking the reader to carefully compare himself with each one.
MARKS OF TRANSFORMATION First , where the Spirit has begun to transform a soul the Divine Law is cordially received as a Rule of Life, and the heart begins to echo to the language of Psalm 119 in its commendation. Nothing more plainly distinguishes a true conversion from a counterfeit than this: that one who used to be an enemy to God’s Law is brought understandingly and heartily to love it, and seek to walk according to its requirements. “Hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments” ( 1 John 2:3).
He who has been born again has a new palate, so that he now relishes what he formerly disliked. He now begins to prove that it is not only the fittest, but the happiest thing in the world, to aspire to be holy as God is holy, to love Him supremely and live to Him entirely.
Second , a life of self-loathing. The regenerated soul perceives that complete and constant subjection to God is His due, and that the gift of His beloved Son has laid him under lasting obligations to serve, please, and glorify Him. But the best of God’s people are only sanctified in part in this life, and realizing the Law requires, and that God is entitled to sinless perfection from us, what but a life of self-abhorrence must ensue? Once we are supernaturally enlightened to see that “the Law is spiritual, ” the inevitable consequence must be for me to see and feel that “I am carnal, sold under sin” ( Romans 7:14). And therefore there must be a continued sense of infinite blame, of self-loathing, of godly sorrow, of broken-heartedness, of hungering and thirsting after righteousness; of watching, praying, striving, or mourning because of frequent defeat.
Third , genuine humility. In view of what has just been pointed out, it is easy to see why humility is represented all through Scripture as a dominant feature of those who are quickened by the Spirit. An hypocrite, being experimentally ignorant of Divine Law—never having been slain by it ( Romans 7:9,11)—then, the more religious he is, the more proud and conceited will he be. But with a true saint it is just the opposite: for if the Law be his rule of duty, and his obligations to conform thereto are infinite, and his blame for every defect is proportionately great—if the fault lie entirely in himself, and his lack of perfect love and obedience to God be wholly culpable-then he must be filled with low and mean thoughts of himself, and have an answerable lowliness of heart.
There is no greater proof that a man is ignorant of the Truth savingly, and a stranger to Christ experimentally, than for spiritual pride to reign in his heart. “Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him” ( Habakkuk 2:4).
The graceless Pharisee, blind to the real character and purport of the Law, was ready to say, “God, I thank Thee, that I am not as other men”; while the penitent Publican, seeing himself in the light of God, dared not lift up his eyes to Heaven, but smote upon his breast (the seat of his spiritual leprosy) and cried “God be merciful to me, the sinner.” The proud religionists of Christ’s day exclaimed, “Behold, we see” ( John 9:41); but the holy Psalmist prayed, “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy Law.” Thousands of deluded people who profess to be Christians prate about their consecration, victories, and attainments; but the Apostle Paul said, “I count not myself to have apprehended” ( Philippians 3:13).
Fourth , a growing apprehension of the Divine goodness. The more a quickened soul sees himself in the light of God, the more he discovers how much there still is in him which is opposed to His Law, and in how many respects he daily offends. The more clearly he perceives how very far he comes short of the glory of God, and how unlike Christ he is in character and conduct, the deeper becomes his appreciation of the grace of God through the Mediator. The man who is of a humble, broken and contrite heart, finds the promises of the Gospel just fitted to his case. None but One who is “mighty to save” ( Isaiah 63:1) can redeem such a wretch as he knows himself to be; none but the “God of all grace” ( 1 Peter 5:10) would show favor to one so vile and worthless. “Worthy is the Lamb” is now his song. “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory, for Thy mercy, and for Thy Truth’s sake” ( <19B501> Psalm 115:1) is his hearty acknowledgment. It is the Spirit’s continued application of the Law to the believer’s conscience which prepares him to receive the comforts and consolations of the Gospel.
When the mind is thoroughly convinced that God can, consistently with His honor, willingly receive to favor the most naked, forlorn, wretched, guilty, Hell-deserving of the human race, and become a Father and Friend to him, he is happier than if all the world was his own. When God is his sensible Portion, everything else fades into utter insignificance. The fig tree may not blossom, nor any fruits be in the vine, yet he will “joy in the God of his salvation” ( Habakkuk 3:18). The Apostle Paul, although a prisoner at Rome, not in the least dejected, cries, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” ( Philippians 4:4). When God is chosen as our supreme Good, all earthly idols are rejected, and our treasure is laid up in Heaven. In proportion as grace flourishes in the heart our comforts will remain, let outward things go as they will; yea, it will be found that it is “good to be afflicted” ( <19B971> Psalm 119:71).
Here, then, are some of the principal effects produced by our being “changed,” or reformed, conformed, and transformed by the Spirit of God.
There is a growing realization of the ineffable holiness of God and of the righteousness and spirituality of the Law, and the extent of its requirements. There is a deepening sense of our utter sinfulness, failure and blameworthiness, and the daily loathing of ourselves for our hardheartedness, our base ingratitude, and the ill returns we make to God for His infinite goodness to us. There is a corresponding self-abasement, taking our place in the dust before God, and frankly admitting that we are not worthy of the least of His mercies ( Genesis 32:10). There is an increasing appreciation of the grace of God and of the provision He has made for us in Christ, with a corresponding longing to be done with this body of death and conformed fully to the lovely image of the Lord; which longings will be completely realized at our glorification.