Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
"...the first effect of the power of God in the heart in regeneration is to give the heart a Divine taste or sense; to cause it to have a relish of the loveliness and sweetness of the supreme excellency of the Divine nature ... The word of God is no proper cause of this effect: it does not operate by any natural force in it. The word of God is only made use of to convey to the mind the subject matter of this saving instruction: and this indeed it doth convey to us by natural force or influence. It conveys to our minds these and those doctrines; it is the cause of the notion of them in our heads, but not of the sense of the divine excellency of them in our hearts. Indeed a person cannot have spiritual light without the word. But that does not argue, that the word properly causes that light. The mind cannot see the excellency of any doctrine, unless that doctrine be first in the mind; but the seeing of the excellency of the doctrine may be immediately from the Spirit of God; though the conveying of the doctrine or proposition itself may be by the word. So that the notions that are the subject matter of this light, are conveyed to the mind by the word of God; but that due sense of the heart, wherein this light formally consists, is immediately by the Spirit of God. As for instance, that notion that there is a Christ, and that Christ is holy and gracious, is conveyed to the mind by the word of God: but the sense of the excellency of Christ by reason of that holiness and grace, is nevertheless immediately the work of the Holy Spirit."
- Jonathan Edwards - A Divine and Supernatural Light
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me [i.e. believe in me] unless it is granted him by the Father.” - John 6:63-65
"And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." - Deuteronomy 30:5-7
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
"You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a such a person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world." Ephesians 5:5
"For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." 1 John 2:16
Pleasures, and riches, and honors are the carnal man's trinity. These are the three great idols of worldly men, to which they prostrate their souls!
Idolatry is to give that honor and worship to 'the creature', which is due to the Creator alone. When this worship is communicated to other things, whatever they are, we thereby make them idols, and commit idolatry. When the mind is most taken up with an object, and the heart and affections most set upon it, this is "soul worship"--and this worship is due to God alone.
Now this worship due to God alone, is given . . . by the savage heathen to their stick and stones; by the papist to their angels, saints, and images; by carnal men to their lusts.
There are two kinds of idolatry:
1. Open, external idolatry--when men, out of a religious respect, bow to, or prostrate themselves before anything besides the true God. This is the idolatry of the heathen, and in part, the idolatry of papists.
2. Secret and soul idolatry--when the mind is set on anything more than God; when anything is . . . more valued than God, more desired than God, more sought than God, more loved than God.
Hence, secret idolaters shall have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Soul idolatry will exclude men from heaven, as much as open idolatry! He who serves his lusts is as incapable of entering heaven, as he who worships idols of wood or stone!"Therefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry!" 1 Corinthians 10:14
The Marks of Saving Faith
by Jonathan Dickinson (1688-1747)
First President of Princeton College
THAT MEN MAY DOCTRINALLY BELIEVE THE truth of the Gospel without a saving faith in Christ, and without an interest in Him, is a truth clearly taught in the Scriptures, and abundantly evident from our own experience and observation.
"What then," you ask, "is the plain distinction between a SAVING and a DEAD faith?" I answer:
A true and saving faith involves a realizing and sensible impression of the truth of the Gospel; whereas a dead faith is but a mere speculative belief of it. Faith is by the apostle described, "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen" (Heb. 11:1), that which brings eternal things into a near view, and presents them to the soul as realities. Hence the true believer, when he is wearied out of all his false refuges, emptied of all hope in himself, and brought to see and feel the danger and misery of his state by nature, is then brought in earnest to look to Jesus, as the only refuge and safety to his soul. He then sees the incomparable excellency of a precious Savior, breathes with ardent desire after Him, repairs to Him as the only fountain of hope, and "rejoices in Christ Jesus, having no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3). Now, the blessed Savior and His glorious salvation is the subject of his serious, frequent, and delightful contemplation. Now, an interest in Christ is valued by him above all the world, and he is in earnest to obtain and preserve good evidence that his hope in Christ is well founded. Now, the favor of God and the concerns of the eternal world appear of greater importance than everything else. He now mourns under a sense of his former sins, groans under the burden of remaining corruption and imperfection, and with earnest diligence follows after holiness. In a word, he has such an impression of these invisible realities, that whatever temptations, desertions, or prevailing corruptions he may conflict with, nothing can so banish the great concern from his mind as to make him slothful and indifferent about it: nothing can quiet him short of having his heart and affections engaged in the things of God, and his appetites and passions under the governing influence of "the law of the Spirit of life" (Rom. 8:2).
On the other hand, a dead faith often leaves the man secure and careless, trifling and indifferent in the concerns of the eternal world. These appear to him but distant futurities, which do not engage his solemn attention, nor give any effectual check to his inordinate appetites and passions. Or if (as it sometimes happens) any awakening dispensation alarms the conscience of such a person, drives him to external reformation, and makes him more careful and watchful in his conduct, he has yet no sensible impressive view of the way of salvation by Jesus Christ. He either endeavors to pacify the justice of God and his own conscience by his religious performances, and so lulls himself asleep again in his former security, or else continues to agonize under most dark, dreadful, and unworthy apprehensions of the glorious God, as if he were implacable and irreconcilable to such sinners as himself. Such a person would readily acknowledge, but he cannot feel this blessed truth, that Christ Jesus is a sufficient Savior He allows it to be truth, but it is to him such a truth as has no effectual influence upon his heart and life. Though he owns this to be true, yet he does not humbly and joyfully venture his soul and his eternal interest upon it.
Thus a true faith realizes the great truths of the Gospel by a lively and feeling discovery of them, giving the "light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). A false faith gives but a lifeless and inactive assent to these important truths. The one influences the heart and affections, and "by beholding with open face, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, changes the soul into the same image, from glory to glory" (2 Cor. 3:18). The other only swims in the head, and leaves the heart in a state either of security or despondency. The one is an abiding principle of divine life, from which flow rivers of living water: the other is transient and unsteady, and leaves the soul short of any spiritual principle of life and activity.
A saving faith cordially embraces the terms of the Gospel, while a dead faith is but a cold assent to its truth. Accordingly, a true faith is in the Gospel described to be a receiving of the Lord Jesus Christ. "To as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God" (John 1:12). Our blessed Redeemer is freely offering Himself and His saving benefits to poor perishing sinners. Our compliance with and acceptance of the Gospel offer are the terms of our interest in Him. They, therefore, and they only, are the true believers in Christ, who heartily acquiesce in the glorious method of a sinner s recovery from ruin by Jesus Christ, and heartily accept an offered Savior, in all His offices and benefits. A true believer, convinced of his natural blindness and ignorance, repairs to the Lord Jesus to enlighten his mind, to make his way plain, and to give him a clear and spiritual acquaintance with the great things of his eternal peace. The true believer has found, by experience, his utter incapacity to procure the divine favor by any reformations or moral performances, and that he has cause to be ashamed and confounded in his own sight for the great defects of his highest attainments in religion; and therefore welcomes Christ to his soul, as the "Lord his righteousness"; repairs to Him, and to Him only, "for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30); and builds all his hope of acceptance with God upon what Christ has done and suffered for him. The true believer is heavy laden with the sinfulness of his nature, and longs for entire victory over his corrupt affections, appetites and passions, for pure spirituality in his duties, and for perfection in holiness; and therefore heartily desires and accepts the Lord Jesus as his Sanctifier as well as Savior, and earnestly seeks the renewing, strengthening and quickening influences of His Spirit. The true believer feels the necessity of this blessed Savior in all His offices, relations, and characters. He sees Him to be just such a Savior as his soul wants, and therefore cheerfully accepts a whole Christ with his whole heart, without any desire of other terms of acceptance with God. He may entertain dark apprehensions of himself, and complain heavily of the great defects of his faith and holiness, but he can never entertain hard thoughts of the gospel scheme, nor complain of the terms of salvation: these appear to him "the wisdom of God and the power of God" (Eph. 3:10; Rom. 1:16), and every way suited to the exigencies of his state and the desires of his soul.
But a dead faith never brings the soul to consent to the terms of the Gospel without some exception and reserve. The unsound believer may imagine that he accepts the Lord Jesus as his Savior; but what is the foundation and encouraging motive of his imaginary compliance with the gospel offer? Upon an impartial inquiry it will always be found to be something in himself: his good affections, duties, moralities, reformations, promises, or purposes. He endeavors by these to recommend himself to God; and on account of these he hopes to find acceptance through Christ. Or if he feels ever so strong a desire of salvation by Christ, yet he is driven to it only by fear and self-love, and will renew his affections to his other lords as soon as his awakening apprehensions are worn off. He does not feel his want of Christ’s enlightening and enlivening influences; for he knows not what they mean. He "submits not to the righteousness of Christ" (Rom. 10:3-4); for he is still endeavoring to procure acceptance with God by some good qualifications of his own, or some duties which he performs, or some progress which he makes, or designs to make, in his religious course. He cannot submit to Christ as his Lord, for there is some slothful indulgence which he cannot forego, some darling lust which he cannot part with, some worldly idol which his heart is set upon, or some difficult duty from which he must excuse himself.
There is nothing more apparent than the distinction between these two sorts of believers. The one comes to Christ destitute of all hope and help in himself, but sees enough in Christ to answer all his wants: the other is full in himself. The one looks to Christ to be his light: the other leans to his own understanding. The one makes mention of Christ’s righteousness, and that only: the other hopes for an interest in Christ and his salvation on account of his own attainments; and, in effect, expects justification by his own righteousness, for Christ’s sake. The one brings a guilty, polluted, unworthy soul to the blessed Redeemer, without any qualification to recommend it, expecting from him alone all the supplies he wants — repairing to Him for "gold tried in the fire, that he may be rich; for eye-salve, that he may see; and for white raiment, that he may be clothed" (Rev. 3:18): the other ordinarily raises his expectations from Christ in proportion to his own imaginary qualifications and good disposition. The one desires salvation by Christ from pollution as well as from guilt: the other has a reserve of some deceitful lust, and hugs some Delilah in his bosom which he cannot be willing to part with. In fine, the one is willing to accept of the Lord Jesus Christ upon any terms: the other will not come to Christ but upon terms of his own stating
A saving faith is an humble trust in Christ, as the Author of our salvation; but a dead faith always builds upon some false foundation, or upon none at all. A saving faith is often described in Scripture by a "trusting in the Lord, committing our way to Him, resting on Him" (Ps. 37:3, 5, 7), and suchlike expressions, which suppose an humble confidence in the abundant sufficiency of the Redeemer’s merits, and the boundless riches of God’s mercy in Him. Accordingly the true believer, in his greatest darkness and discouragement, ventures his soul and eternal interests in the hands of Christ. His past sins may appear in most frightful forms, vastly numerous, dreadfully aggravated; still he humbly trusts that "the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin" (1 John 1:7). He may be oppressed with the sense of the defects of his duties and religious attainments, but he yet sees righteousness enough in Christ for a safe foundation of confidence. This, and this alone, keeps his soul from sinking, answers the clamors of conscience, and disposes him to rely upon the free grace and mercy of God. He may be distressed with the prevalence of his inward corruptions; he may, in an unguarded hour, be surprised and foiled by the power of his sinful appetites or passions, or by some unexpected temptation; but, even in this case, his refuge is in that blessed "Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). And though, from sad experience of his own dreadful imperfections, he may be ready to question his state, and to fear lest he be deceived, he ventures that also in the hands of Christ, and depends upon Him, that He will not leave him to a soul-ruining deceit, but will "guide him by His counsel, and afterward receive him to glory" (Ps. 73:24). Such a dependence upon Christ the believer ordinarily exercises in his darkest hours. But when he is in the more lively exercise of grace, he "knows whom he has believed, and that He is able to keep that which he has committed to Him against that day" (2 Tim. 1:12). With this confidence, he can even "glory in tribulation" (Rom. 5:3); he can cheerfully look death itself in the face, and triumph over the king of terrors.
On the contrary, the false believer ordinarily raises his expectations and encouragements from something in himself. His good frames, his joys and comforts, his endeavors or designs to serve God, are what he has to depend upon; and upon these he does and will depend, and perhaps will never see his mistake until it be too late. Some of these, indeed, do not find even this false foundation to build upon, but quiet their souls with a loose and general hope. They believe that God is merciful, and that Jesus Christ came to save sinners; or they hope they shall some time or other obtain grace, though they find none at present. Thus many go on quietly in their sins, dwell at ease, and cry peace to their souls, until the flood of God’s displeasure sweeps away their refuges of lies. Others there are who, by means of a better education, or from some awakening sense of guilt and danger, cannot but see that these beds are too short to stretch themselves upon, and therefore their faith is their torment. They believe in Christ as their Judge, but not as their Savior. They are harassed with fear and anxiety whenever conscience is awake to any serious apprehension of a future world. Thus they live under a "spirit of bondage" (Rom. 8:15), never venturing their souls upon the pardoning mercy of God and the infinite merit of the Redeemer’s blood.
Nothing can be more apparent than the difference between these two sorts of believers. The one, in all his straits, fears, difficulties, and dangers, looks to Christ as to a sure foundation of safety, confidence, and hope; and though he may at some times doubt his interest in Him, he can at no time deliberately place his confidence or expect safety for his soul anywhere else. The other leaves the soul asleep, or else seeks rest only from the righteousness of the law, from desires and endeavors of his own, and must either find comfort there, or nowhere. The one ventures all his interests, and all his hopes of grace and glory, upon the faithfulness of the gospel promises and the infinite mercy of God in Christ. The other sees not how to quiet the accusations of his conscience, and obtain qualifications for salvation, by depending upon a naked promise. In a word, the one can see safety and security in leaving all the concerns, both of time and eternity, in the hands of Christ. The other, being ignorant of the righteousness of Christ, must make the righteousness of the law his refuge, or else live without hope.
A saving faith subjects the soul to Christ, but a dead faith leaves the soul unrenewed, and disobedient. A true "faith purifies the heart" (Acts 15:9) and "overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4); and "he that bath this hope" in Christ "purifleth himself, even as He is pure (3:3). A true faith unites the soul to Christ, as the branch is united to the vine, and thereby enables the man to bring forth much fruit. The true believer hates every false way; he mourns over, and watches, strives and prays against all the corruptions of his nature, and all the imperfections of his heart and life. There is no known sin which he indulges himself in; no known duty which he willingly neglects; no difficulty which can deter him from following Christ; no temptation which can allure him from endeavoring a conformity to the whole will of God. "Not as though he had already attained, or were already perfect" (Phil 3:12). He has daily cause to lament his defects, but yet he can truly say that "he delights in the law of the Lord after the inward man" (Rom. 7:22); and accordingly endeavors, in every station and relation, in all his conduct both to God and man, as well in secret as openly, to live a life of conformity to God in all the duties He requires of him.
But, on the other hand, the seeming obedience of a false believer is very partial, defective, temporary, and but a matter of force and constraint upon the appetites and affections. If, with Herod, he reforms, and "does many things" (Mark 6:20), yet he retains some darling corruption unmortified, or leaves some duty neglected. Or if by the lashes of an awakened conscience he is driven for a time to a more general reformation from all known sin, and to outward attendance upon all known duty, he finds no inward complacency in it, and therefore is like a drill horse that will be kept on his way no longer than he feels a spur in his side.
Here then is a conspicuous difference between a true and false believer. The one has a principle of holiness, a delight in it, and an earnest and continuing desire after further proficiency in the divine life. The other aims only at so much holiness as he thinks will save him from hell, but cares for nothing more; and what he has, is excited by fear or constrained by force, contrary to the real tendency and bias of his soul. In fine, the one makes it the endeavor of his life to approve himself to a pure, holy, and omniscient God. The other rests in endeavors to quiet conscience and silence its clamors.
A saving faith works by love to God and man; but a dead faith always falls short of both. The apostle assures us, that "if we have all faith, so that we could remove mountains, and have not charity (or love), we are nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2). "Faith ... worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6); and the true believer "keeps himself in the love of God, looking to the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life" (Jude 21). He delights in contemplating the perfections of the divine nature. His meditations upon God are sweet, and the thoughts of Him precious to his soul. If he can have the glorious God for his portion, and live in the light of His countenance, he can be content with straits and difficulties, trials and afflictions. He takes peculiar pleasure in the ordinances of God, and all the appointed means of a near approach into His special presence; and often enjoys sensible communion with Him. He heavily complains of his own deadness or worldliness, which separates between God and his soul, and can find no true rest or satisfaction till he returns to Him. This is the ordinary course and tenor of the believer’s life; and if at any time he grow forgetful of God, and have the prevalence of a dead, carnal, worldly frame in his soul, this darkens the evidence of his state, robs him of comfort and peace, and will at length put him upon vigorous and active endeavors for obtaining a revival of his languishing graces, by a fresh supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Thus the true believer has the love of God dwelling in him.
And from the same principle he likewise loves his neighbor as himself. He maintains a life of justice, meekness, kindness, and beneficence toward all men, bears injuries, is ready to forgive, entertains the best opinion of men’s stares and actions that the case will allow, and endeavors to live in the exercise of "love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness" (Gal. 5:22-23). And as he thus maintains a love of benevolence to all men, he has, in a special manner, a love of complacence toward those who bear marks of the divine image. These he delights in, because [they are] the children of God. He loves them for their heavenly Father’s sake, as well as for those gracious qualifications which make "the righteous more excellent than his neighbor" (Prov. 1 2:26). He loves the company of the saints: these are "the excellent in whom is all his delight" (Ps. 16:3). He loves their piety, and studies an imitation of them wherein they follow Christ; and studies to equal, if not excel them in their highest improvements in religion. He loves their persons, and hopes to join in concert with them in the eternal praises of God.
The highest attainments of a dead faith fall short of every part of this description. The false believer may imagine that he has something of love to God in him; but, upon a just view, it will appear that it is only to an idol, the creature of his own imagination. If he seems to love God under an apprehension of His goodness and mercy, he yet dreads Him on account of His justice, and has an inward aversion to His purity and holiness; so that the object of his love is an imaginary being of infinite mercy, without either justice or holiness. If, from the alarms of conscience or the emotions of his natural affections, he takes some pleasure in religious exercises, this pleasure is short and transient, like the principle whence it flows; he soon sinks into carelessness and forgetfulness of God, and has his affections quickly engaged in worldly and sensual pursuits. And however he may deceive himself in any supposed progress in religion, he can never satisfy his soul with having God for his portion. He can never, of course, keep up a life of spiritual-mindedness and delight in God.
The same defects are likewise found in the unsound believer with respect to his love to his neighbor. If he be not (as is too commonly found) unjust and deceitful, wrathful and contentious, hard hearted and unkind, bitter and censorious, revengeful and implacable, yet he never loves the children of God as such. Whatever love he may have to any such from intimate acquaintance, or from their being in the same cause, party, or persuasion with himself (which is indeed no more than the exercise of selfishness), he never loves the image of Christ in every sect or party in whom he finds it, nor can he love a conformity to the children of God in the holiness of their hearts and lives.
Here then you see a difference in these two, kinds of believers. The one loves God above all things; and, indeed, he that does not love Him with a supreme love, does not love Him as God, and consequently does not love Him at all. But the other seeks the favor of God from no other motive but fear of His displeasure, or some desire of happiness, and not from a sense of the excellency of His glorious perfections. The one loves what God loves, hates what He hates, and is satisfied with himself only in proportion to his conformity to God. The other retains his delight in his lusts and idols, and repairs to God because he dare not do otherwise. The one, like God Himself, takes pleasure in doing good to all men; and rakes special delight in all, without distinction, who are partakers of the divine nature. The other, at the best, has his love to man influenced by selfish principles.
A saving faith humbles the soul, and makes it low and vile in its own eyes; whereas a dead faith rends to exalt the mind with vain apprehensions of some sufficiency or excellence of its own. The true believer has a deep sense of the greatness and aggravations of his sins, loathes himself on account of them, and adores the long-suffering of God toward him, that has kept him out of hell. He is so sensible of the great defects of his duties, of the sinfulness of his heart, the imperfections of his life, and his utter unworthiness of any favor from God, that he cannot but entertain a most deep and sensible impression that it must be a wonderful display of mere sovereign grace if he obtains salvation. It is always true, that the greater manifestation of God’s love is made to his soul, the greater sense he has of his own nothingness and unworthiness, and the more he admires and adores the astonishing riches of free distinguishing grace to such a guilty, polluted creature as he is. Though the true believer lives in the exercise of that charity toward others which "thinketh no evil... but believeth all things, and hopeth all things" (1 Cor. 13:5,7); he yet always finds occasion to condemn himself, and to censure his own inward affections and outward performances, religious duties and moral conduct, and therefore cannot but esteem others better than himself. He finds occasion of renewed repentance every day: he every day finds new cause to complain of himself, and new cause to commit a sinful and unworthy soul to the mere mercy of God in Christ.
On the contrary, a dead faith always either puffs up the mind with a haughty, pleasing apprehension of its own attainments, makes it censorious and uncharitable, and inspires it with that proud pharisaical language, "I thank God, I am not as other men" (Luke 18:11): or else, from the same haughty principle, either leaves the soul secure and easy in its good designs and purposes of future repentance, or impatient and desponding, through want of those good qualifications which it supposes necessary.
And now too sum up the whole in a short and easy view. If you have a good evidence of a saving faith in Christ, you must have such a sensible impression of the truth of the Gospel as makes you feel the importance of your eternal concerns, and your necessity of an interest in Christ, and puts your soul upon earnest and active desires after Him, as your only hope and safety. You must heartily approve the way of salvation which the Gospel reveals, and heartily consent to the terms on which it is offered. You must accept of Christ as a free gift, bringing nothing with you of your own to recommend you to His acceptance. You must accept Him as your only righteousness to justify you before God, and as your Prince as well as Savior, consenting as well to be governed as to be saved, to be sanctified as to be justified by Him. And as you must receive Him, so you must confidently trust in Him alone, as a sure foundation of safety and hope, and as a continuing fountain of all supplies of grace to your soul, whatever difficulties and discouragements you may meet with. And you must have this standing evidence of the sincerity of your faith, that it purifies your heart, and brings you to an earnest endeavor after habitual holiness of heart and life; that it works by love to God and man, and keeps up in your soul at the same time an abasing sense of your own vileness and titter unworthiness. This is that precious faith to which alone the promises of the Gospel are made
To conclude with a still shorter view. When a realizing belief of the Gospel, and a despair of all help in yourself, brings you to repair to Christ as your only safety, and to venture your soul, guilty as it is, upon the merit of His obedience, the sufficiency of His grace and strength, and the faithfulness of His promises, and heartily to submit to His rule and government, you cannot fail of the sanctifying influences of His Spirit to qualify you for the eternal inheritance; for "the Amen, the faithful and true Witness" (Rev. 3:14), has given you His word for it, that if you thus "come to Him, He will in no wise cast you out" (John 6:37).
I might sum up this important point in a yet shorter view. If you so heartily approve of and delight in the gospel way of salvation by Christ alone, that you can cheerfully venture your soul and your eternal interests upon it, as the sure and only foundation of hope and safety, you have then true faith. And in this case, He that has bestowed so much grace upon you, will carry on His own work in your soul, and will at last present you faultless before His throne, with exceeding joy.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
An Alarm to a Careless World
“Prepare to meet thy God.” (Amos 4:2)
The church calls upon us, by the present solemnity, to bring into our most serious thoughts, the advent of our blessed Lord in the flesh, when he came to visit us in great humility. He appeared upon earth in the character of a meek, suffering, dying Saviour. But there is another advent not far off, when all flesh shall see him in the majesty of the Godhead. His first advent was in the lowest humiliation, his second advent will be in the highest exaltation. And we wait for that great day, when he will come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, hoping to be found, when he comes, watching and praying, that we may rise with him to the life immortal.
We do not pretend to know the precise time of his coming: for of that day, and that hour, knoweth no man, but the judge himself has given us some signs and marks, by which we might be as certain, that he is nigh and standeth before the door, as that summer is nigh, when the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs. And whenever we see these scripture signs and marks, it is our office and duty, as faithful watchmen, to give you notice, that you may be ready, lest your Lord should come in a day, when ye look not for him, and in an hour that ye are not aware of, and should cut you asunder, and appoint you your portion with the hypocrites, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. On this account, the subject appointed by the church for this day, falls in seasonably with these remarkable providences, which have been lately manifested in this, and other countries. And I have therefore chosen a scripture proper to awaken your attention to the second advent of Christ. It is exceedingly awful and solemn. The very reading of it must make a deep impression upon every serious mind. “Prepare to meet thy God,” the eternal and almighty God, who is coming in all his glory to judgment, and if the righteous scarcely be saved in that great day, where shall the wicked and infidel appear? They will then have no excuse for their sins— self-condemned they will stand with guilt and horror before his tribunal, to hear their sentence of condemnation past, which is never, never to be reversed. So that unless an eternity of pain and misery be the best thing we can work out in our short life, we should now think of making some provision for an eternity of happiness. We should now be preparing to meet our God. As we must meet him soon, it should be our whole business to get ready and to be prepared, that whenever he comes, we may enter in with him into the joy of our Lord. This is the instruction which I shall draw from the text, “Prepare to meet thy God.”
First, We here learn that God our Saviour, who once came in great humility to visit us, is now preparing to meet us in judgment. And
Secondly, We should therefore be prepared to meet him, And,
Thirdly, I shall endeavour to stir you up to the true gospel preparation, that whenever our Saviour comes, you may lift up your heads with joy, knowing that your redemption draweth nigh. And
May the ever blessed Spirit, from whom the preparation must come, assist us with his grace, that our meditation first upon our Saviour's preparing to meet us in judgment, may be the means of preparing us to meet him. “Prepare to meet thy God.” The suffering Jesus was united to the eternal God, and so united, that as the reasonable soul and flesh are one man, so God and man are one Christ. At his first coming he visited us in great humility, and the Godhead was veiled under a covering of flesh, but at his second coming, all flesh shall see that Jesus is God indeed. Every eye shall then behold the divine glory of the suffering Saviour, and they who once pierced him at his bitter passion, or since with their horrid blasphemies, shall then confess to their everlasting shame, that he is the almighty God of heaven and earth. On this account, we should be prepared to meet him. At the time appointed he came to suffer for the sins of the world, and at the time appointed he will come to Judgment. His second advent is as certain as his first. It was foretold in the Old Testament, and promised in the New, and the scriptures cannot be broken. God had revealed it in the clearest manner to the patriarchs, so that Enoch, the 7th from Adam, prophesied of it, saying—“Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them, of all their ungodly deeds, which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches, which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” The Father of the faithful knew that he was to come to execute judgment upon all, and speaks with confidence, “shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” And Job had the same holy confidence, when he made his supplication to his judge, and the solemnity of his coming to judgment, Solomon being a prophet, foresaw and has plainly described it in these words—“God shall bring every work into judgment with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” And the judge himself has given us a very circumstantial description in three of the evangelists, of the process of the great day, and has called upon us again and again, to be always ready and prepared for it. His apostles argue from the certainty of our appearing before the judgment seat of Christ, and frequently make use of these terrors of the Lord to persuade men to faith and repentance. And there is a very remarkable circumstance, which gives great weight to these authorities; when our Lord is describing the general judgment, he confirms his account with a promise, that he would come to judge the Jewish nation, before that generation should pass away. Accordingly he came; and there has not a tittle failed of what he foretold concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, or concerning the dispersion of the Jews over the face of the earth. It is then a matter of fact, that he has already acted as judge, and he will come to complete his office. It is not more certain that the sun will rise tomorrow, than that he who judged the Jewish nation, will soon come to judge the whole earth. His second advent is fixed and determined to the fulness of time, as well as the first was. He will come in his glorious majesty at the last day. And in the mean time, he comes with many signal strokes of vengeance to awaken a careless sleepy world. He visits the inhabitants of the earth with his judgments, that they may learn righteousness, and he has lately visited us with some of his heaviest judgments, and I hope many of you have been stirred up by them to prepare to meet your God. And it is high time we should be all prepared: for the marks and signs of his second advent are fulfilling daily. His coming cannot be far off. The day, indeed, and the hour, are not known, but if you will compare the uncommon events, which our Lord says were to be the forerunners of his coming to judgment, with what has lately happened in the world, you must conclude, that the time is at hand. He foretells us, that there should then be wars, and rumours of wars and are there not wars, and rumours of more wars? There were to be pestilences, and we have had the pestilence for more than ten years in this kingdom. There were to be great earthquakes in divers places, and there have been earthquakes lately in many parts of the world, and in a far greater number than they ever were in any other age. And these earthquakes were to be attended with fearful sights; and did not many fearful sights in the element attend the two last earthquakes we had in this city? But the worst sign of all is the present decay of religion among us; this renders the rest more terrible, and makes it to be feared, that as we are ripe for destruction, so we may soon expect to have our candlestick removed: “for when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith upon the earth?” says Christ. There will be so little, that he shall scarce find any. The true saving faith will be diminished from among the children of men! and it has for some time been vanished out of the popish countries, and the reformed churches have lately fallen sadly from the faith, and have preserved very little more of Christianity than the mere name: and in our own church we have kept up the form of godliness, but we are so far from having the power, that we deny any person can have it, and the few, who say they have it, are treated as madmen and enthusiasts. These are some of the infallible signs of our Lord's second advent. From them we are assured that it is not a great distance. When we behold the fig-tree, and all the trees shooting forth, then we know that summer is near; and so likewise, when we see these things come to pass, we know that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand. It will not be long before the Son of man will come in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory, and because we are assured that he will come soon, and yet know not the day nor the hour, we should therefore be always waiting with watchfulness and prayer. Our Lord required us to be always in this devout frame of mind, when he closed the volume of revelation with these words, “surely I come quickly”—surely, says the almighty judge, I come quickly to judgment—to which the faithful reply, “Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus.” Happy would it be for us all, if we were so well prepared to meet our God, that when we see the signs of his coming speedily, and hear him promise, surely I come quickly, then we might give our “Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus.” And are you then, my brethren, not only ready, but also praying for his coming? Do you wait for it with faith, and are you looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ? If you are in this happy state, then you can cry out with joy, Lord we believe the promises, and we see the signs of thy speedy coming, even so, come Lord Jesus.
Christ will soon come to judgment, you ought therefore to be prepared to meet your God. He will come in all the glory of the Godhead, attended with the multitude of the heavenly host, and before him shall be gathered all nations. Every one of us must appear before his tribunal. We must meet the almighty God in judgment, when he cometh to take vengeance of his adversaries: and ought we not to be prepared for this awful meeting? We cannot resist the Almighty—we cannot fly from his presence—we cannot conceal one secret thought from him, and is it not then our interest to make the almighty judge our friend? For what king going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand; or else while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an embassage, and desireth conditions of peace. When the King of kings cometh against you, armed with his omnipotence, you can have no hopes of safety, but in desiring conditions of peace. Your only way is to submit, and to try to make him your friend. Then you will be safe. So soon as you have secured the friendship of the sovereign judge, and are under the protection of his almighty power, then you are prepared to meet him in judgment; and therefore since this preparation is the principal business of life, we ought to labour to secure his friendship, as the means of it; And how then shall we make him our friend? Sin made him our enemy, and it is the guilt of sin in the conscience, which makes his coming to judgment terrible, and will make the eternal punishment of sin terrible indeed. Take away sin, and God is reconciled. Let the soul be cleansed from the pollution, and the conscience purged from the guilt of sin, and there will no fear remain of condemnation. The judge will then be the Saviour, and we shall have no dread of his judgment, having already received the blessings of his salvation.
The gospel has proposed a plain method of bringing the mind into this happy state and it is generally effected in the following manner. While the sinner lies secure in sin, he cannot be prepared to meet his God. He must be awakened. He must be deeply convinced of his guilt and danger, and under the sense of them, he must be humbled to the very dust. These are the first steps towards his preparation. The Holy Spirit has now opened his eyes, and he sees his lost ruined condition. He beholds the God of nature at enmity with him, and all the power in nature combined to destroy him, and if he be ever saved, it must be all free mercy: for in himself he is miserable and helpless, and therefore not daring to look up unto heaven, he smites upon his breast, saying, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Under these convictions he labours, which though painful for a time, yet being the door and entrance into salvation, are therefore a blessing, and the greater blessing, as they are the general way, by which God brings sinners unto himself: for the deeper and more distressing these convictions of sin are, the greater necessity will the sinner find of mercy, and the more earnestly will he seek, until he obtain it. And he has the infallible promise of God to encourage his seeking, “blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” In God's own good time he begins to find his interest in this promise: he has faith given him to apply it to himself: he sees his interest in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and has the love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Ghost, giving him all joy and peace in believing. And the sense of this pardoning love casteth out fear: for now as his faith grows, so does he with comfort know that Jesus Christ is his Saviour and his God: he finds daily proof of it in the change of his life and conversation, not walking now by sight, but by faith. His will is now become renewed, and he loves and delights to do the will of God in the inward man. He has grace and strength given him to run the way of his commandments, now his heart is set at liberty. Thus walking with God, his reconciled Father in Jesus, and trusting to his grace and strength, he will be found watching and praying, whenever his Lord comes, and will therefore be always ready and prepared to go forth to meet him.
In this method the Holy Spirit prepares us to meet our God; he first convinces us of our sinful state, in which we are at enmity with God and are not prepared to meet him; and then he convinces us of our reconciliation with him, of which we have the witness of the word, together with the witness of the Spirit, bearing his testimony with our spirits, that we are the children of God, and we have the outward witness of our lives and conversations, which we are enabled by faith, to direct according to the rule of God's commandments. And then we need not doubt of our interest in the almighty judge: for he has washed us from our sins in his blood, and has clothed us with his all-perfect righteousness, and having thus saved us from our sins, we are thereby saved from the fear of judgment. And what have we then to fear? Our Saviour is the judge—his omnipotence is our protection—he comes in all his glory to take us up with him into his heaven, and to make us partakers of his everlasting joys. Blessed, and for ever blessed are they who are thus prepared to meet their God.
And are you, then, my brethren, prepared in this manner? Have you secured the friendship of the judge, so that whenever he comes you are ready to meet him? An eternity of happiness or misery depends on your preparation, and therefore I hope the vast importance of the subject will command your attention!
And now to apply what has been said as a motive to stir you up to be always prepared to meet your God. You have heard the character of the judge. He is the high and lofty one that inhabiteth eternity—the Lord of Hosts is his name. He is the almighty creator of all things visible and invisible—when he spake the word they were made—He commanded and they stood fast—His providence ruleth over them all, and he upholdeth them by the word of his power. And this eternal, infinite and almighty God hath appointed a day, wherein he will be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power. Such is the glorious majesty of the judge! And are you prepared to meet him? Have you no fear nor dread in your minds, if he should come this night? If you should this moment hear the loud trump of God calling the world to judgment, and should see the Lord of heaven and earth coming with thousand and ten thousands of angels and saints, how would it affect you? Consider, whether you could stand the shock? Look into your hearts, and see if you be this moment in the very state, in which you would wish to appear before Christ's tribunal. Put the question to yourselves, suppose the judge was to come this hour, am I prepared to meet my God? If you are prepared, you are happy. But if not, you are and will be miserable, unless you can be persuaded to seek an interest in the judge. And this I will attempt in the help of God, under two or three short remarks.
First, To them who do not believe the doctrine. These are the deists and profest infidels, the open enemies of Jehovah and his Christ, who having denied him to be God, think they are out of the reach of his judgment. I hope there are not many of them here present. Some perhaps there may be; for I know they are terribly affrighted at the late earthquakes, and their leaders have no way to quiet their consciences, but to assure them that they are mere natural effects, produced by natural causes; as if it were less terrible to be destroyed by a natural cause, than to be destroyed by the God of nature. Poor little philosophers! in what a despicable light do they appear, who are forced to exclude a providence, in order to get rid of their fear? And so for safety, they take shelter in atheism: and let them talk ever so much of one supreme being, yet they are rank atheists; for their one supreme being is one supreme nothing. God has been pleased to reveal his essence and personality to us, and his revealed account of himself they deny and consequently whatever they set up against him, be it a God in one person, or thirty thousand Gods, it is all a mere imagination, a one supreme being without any existence. No wonder, they should live loose libertine lives, since they are without God in the world. And what can we do but pity and pray for these men, who have adopted this system of practical atheism? Oh that the eternal Spirit would open their eyes, and if they have but a glimpse of truth, they will see that Jesus is God. And if they will not confess him here before men, there is a day coming, when they shall confess that he is a God indeed. At the glory of his appearance, these bold blasphemers, who now ridicule his divinity, will then be calling to the mountains to fall on them, and to the hills to cover them. The majesty of God the almighty judge will strike them with terror, and when they are called before his throne, to give an account of the hard speeches, which they had spoken against him, they will stand guilty, and trembling, waiting for that righteous sentence, which will carry with it inexpressible misery, “Go ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Oh that these terrors of the Lord may sink deep into the heart of every unbeliever, who is now at open war with his judge!
Secondly, Addressing myself to the careless sinners among you, who are, I fear, a great number. The generality of them who profess Christianity live to this world, and seldom think about the next. Their pleasures and diversions are the chief object of their pursuit, and money and honour and power are sought after, that they may enjoy themselves the better. All worldly men are upon this scheme; and while they pursue it, they go on securely in their sins, and are careless about the concerns of eternity. Their hearts are engaged upon other matters, than preparing to meet their God. Their attachment to the world is the greatest obstacle to their preparation, and therefore we are forbidden to “love the world, or the things of the world, for if any man love the world, the love of the father is not in him.” And if the love of God be not in us, we cannot be prepared to meet him in judgment.
Consider this all ye who speak peace to your souls, while you indulge yourselves in sin. You believe that God will call you before his judgment-seat, and that if you live and die in your sins, you cannot escape the eternal punishment of them. You know not but the judge may call you before him this night, and you are not prepared, and yet you have no concern about it. You sin on with the judgment-seat of Christ before your eyes to which you may be brought before the next act of sin be finished. What can we think of this unaccountable conduct? Certainly men in their sober senses cannot act such an absurd part. It is against reason: for if these very men were setting out upon a journey of two or three hundred miles, they would make more preparation than they do for eternity. It is against self-interest: for who would take some present empty indulgences of sin, as an equivalent for eternal happiness? It is against all principles of good sense to prefer sin to holiness, and to choose hell before heaven. And it is destroying religion, whose sole business it is to prepare the soul to meet its God. And are any of you, my brethren, in this strange careless state? Do you act thus against reason and self-interest, against common sense and religion? You are guilty of all these inconsistencies, if the judge should come in an hour, when ye look not for him. And he may come and find you unprepared as you are at present. You cannot promise yourselves an hour to prepare in. His judgments are now in the earth, and they are sent to rouse you out of your security. Oh that you would be awakened by them and see your danger. Do you not suppose, that the inhabitants of Lisbon thought themselves as safe as you may do at present? They had no apprehensions of an earthquake. They did not imagine that God was going to destroy them that morning. But you hear how they were surprised and overthrown with a great destruction. While they were speaking, peace, peace, unto themselves, they were called and hurried in a moment to judgment. One had set his heart upon getting an handsome fortune, and was just sitting down to cast up his accounts, and he was cut off that moment, and called to judgment, with a soul full of the love of money. Another, intent upon his pleasures, was feeding his imagination with a vile scene of indulgences, and his filthy soul was taken in the midst of this impurity, and brought before the all-pure and holy God. One with an oath in his mouth was calling for damnation upon his soul, and it came, while the words were in his mouth, and down he sunk into the pit of hell. Dreadful it is to think of the manner, in which they were surprised and cut off in their sins. Suppose such a judgment should be sent to this city at the same time of the day, how would it overtake sinners both high and low? The great, tired with diversions of the preceding day, would be surprised in their sleep, and would awake in the eternal world full of hatred to Jesus Christ, and his people, and his holy faith. What can they expect from the judge? And the lower people would be up, but at the devil's work, going on careless in their sins, lying, and cursing, and swearing, and blaspheming God, and snatched away with some horrid imprecation in their mouths. Why may not this happen to you, as well as to the inhabitants of Lisbon? Why may you not be thus cut off, and die in your sins, yea in the very act of sin? You have more reason to fear it than they had: for your sins are greater than theirs. Think not that they were sinners above all the inhabitants of the earth, because they suffered such things. I tell you, nay; but except you repent, you shall all likewise perish. The same immoralities which reigned among them, reign also in this city; but the contempt of Jesus Christ, and his religion, and the opposition now made to the progress of the gospel by every method, but shedding of blood, from which God withholds the enemies hands, these are crimes of a deeper guilt, then the unhappy Portuguese had to answer for. The common people in those popish countries are kept in great ignorance, they have not the light of the gospel shining clearly among them, as you have, and therefore they were not guilty of that one damnable sin, which makes all your other sins so exceeding sinful. You sin against the fullest evidence; you reject the light of the gospel in your understandings, and you act against it in your lives; and you sin on, when you are invited to forsake your sins and live. God sends his ministers to plead with you, but their counsel you reject with contempt. The means of grace are before you, but you refuse to make use of them. You have the scriptures in your hands, and you may there read the danger of your careless way of life, but the scripture has no influence. If none of these motives can prevail, be assured, that your guilt will increase in proportion to the advantages you enjoy; and the more reason there was for your being prepared to meet your God, the heavier will the condemnation be, if he should come and find you unprepared. May you lay these things to heart, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, now resolve to prepare for the coming of our almighty God and Saviour.
And if you have any desire to be prepared, there is one motive which ought to have great weight with you, and it is taken from a matter of fact. There are, God be praised, many persons in this city, several I hope in this congregation, who have obtained the love and friendship of the supreme judge. Look into their lives and examine them closely. See how they are affected with the report of these judgments, which are now in the earth. You will find no dread or fear in their minds. They are not afraid of any evil tidings. The inward peace and joy, which arise from the sense of God's loving them in Christ Jesus, are not lessened by any outward calamity. They know that he, who is the Lord of nature, will make all things work together for their good, and therefore their heart is established and will not shrink, though the earth should quake from its very foundations, and the hills should be carried into the midst of the sea. If the whole course of nature should be disturbed, they have nothing to fear. God is their friend. They are kept by the arms of the Almighty, and if the heavens should pass away, and the earth, and all that is therein should be burnt up, yet still they are safe. In life and death they can stay their minds upon God in perfect peace. You cannot deny, that there are Christians in this safe and happy state: for God has promised it them, and we declare that God is faithful and true, and if you believe it, how does it affect you? Do you find no desire to be as safe and happy as they are? Does no wish arise in your hearts, that you might be under the protection of the almighty God, and that he would set you on high out of the reach of public calamity; so that whenever he come to visit a sinful people laden with iniquity, and to be glorified in their destruction, then you may rejoice and be exceeding glad, knowing assuredly that your eternal redemption is at hand?
Lay all these considerations together, and may the Lord let you see the importance of them. God is preparing to meet you in judgment, and eternity depends on your being prepared to meet him. You have no time to lose. He may come this night. And you are not prepared. What would your condition be, if he should call you unprepared? Therefore as you love your souls apply to him this moment. Now go to the throne of grace for pardon, lest you should be called before the throne of glory unpardoned. Cry aloud for mercy. The judge may still be intreated. Oh plead with him then, and be importunate, until he become your friend. Remind him of his love to sinners. Urge his bloody sweat, his bitter cross and passion, his cruel mockings, buffetings, and scourgings, endured all for sinners. Plead these with him, and lay before him the torments and the shame of the cross, and the piercing of his hands and feet, which are the engravings of his love to sinners, and be assured that tender heart cannot want love for them, which bled to death for their salvation. Hold on this plea, until you find him gracious, and are enabled to place your whole trust and confidence in the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. Then you will be safe. There is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus. They shall be found in him at the great day, when he will become to them the author of eternal salvation. Knowing this by faith, they are prepared to meet their God.
I hope he has heard my prayers for you this day, and if it be his blessed will, has disposed you to seek an interest in the judge of all the earth. He will come to judgment, and quickly. May the Holy Spirit prepare us all to meet him. Oh! If he should come this night, how would he find you? Are you all ready? Is every one of you fit to die? Have you all got your lamps trimmed, and ye yourselves prepared; that if there should be a great cry made at midnight, Behold the Bride-groom cometh, ye may be ready, and enter in with him to the marriage? And if he should call you by an earthquake, or by any other judgment, have you so sure an interest in him, that sudden death would be welcome? Think, what an awful thing it would be, if you were to enter upon the eternal world this night, where your state is to be unalterably fixed forever. O what continual preparation should you be making for eternity. For if you die unprepared, all is lost. Hell and torments are your everlasting portion. And if you are not quite in love with misery, now beg of God to show you your danger, and to deliver you from it. The door of mercy is still open. O that you may find an entrance, and press forwards with an holy violence, until you receive grace to prepare you to meet your God. And let us all agree to look up to him for it!
“Almighty God give us grace, that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and dead, we may (be prepared to meet him and may) rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee, and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.”
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Hargrave Sermons to Be Aired Nationally on DirecTV ORMOND BEACH, Fla.
— Dr. Roy Hargrave’s Sunday sermons from Riverbend Community Church will soon be available to a national television audience on a delayed basis. Beginning Sept. 7, Dr. Hargrave’s messages will air on DirecTV’s satellite signal, which is beamed into more than 17 million homes nationally. The sermons, presented through Riverbend’s GraceWorx Ministries and the National Religious Broadcasters Network, will be shown at 2 p.m. each Sunday on DirecTV’s Channel 378. The program, called “GraceWorx,” features the Bible-teaching ministry of Dr. Hargrave, senior pastor at Riverbend Church in Ormond Beach, Florida. GraceWorx has entered into a one-year contract with NRB, which is hopeful of also airing on Dish Network and its 13 million subscribers in the future. “We are blessed that God has given us an opportunity to proclaim the gospel message to many more people,” said Dr. Hargrave. “The potential is unlimited. We must continue to pray for God to use this means to make an impact on people’s lives.” For more information, contact the GraceWorx Ministries office at the church: (386-672-1821) or visit the website: www.GraceWorx.com.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Friday, August 8, 2008
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Sunday, August 3, 2008
The Scripture doctrine of Repentance is to be learned in part from the meaning of the original Greek word used to express it, and in part from its application to a matter which is within the sphere of morals.
I. There are two forms of words used in the New Testament which are translated repent and repentance.
Only one of these is used of the repentance associated with salvation from sin. This is the verb metanoeo, and the corresponding noun metanoia. The other verb is metamelomai, the noun of which does not appear in the New Testament, but occurs in the Septuagint in Hosea 11:8. The verb is used in the Septuagint in Psalm 110:4; and Jer. 20:16. It is also the word used in the New Testament in Matt. 21:29, which says of the son who had refused to obey his father's command to work in the vineyard, "afterward he repented himself and went." It likewise is found in Matt. 21:32 and 27:3, this latter being the case of Judas. Paul uses it in Rom. 11:29; and 2 Cor. 7:8, 10. It is also the word used in Heb. 7:21. In all other places, translated repent and repentance in the New Testament, the original is metanoeo or metanoia. This word means to reconsider, to perceive afterwards, and hence to change one's view, mind, or purpose, or even judgement, implying disapproval and abandonment of past opinions and purposes, and the adoption of others which are different. In all cases of inward change there is not necessarily a change of outward conduct, nor is such inward change accompanied by regret. These results would flow from the nature of that about which that change has arisen.
We arrive, therefore, at the meaning of Christian repentance partly through the meaning of these Greek words, but also partly because it is exercised about a question of morals. It is seen that it involves a change in the outward life because such change is a result of the change of inward opinions. It also includes sorrow for sin because a change of view as to the nature of sin and of holiness must be accompanied by regret and sorrow as to the past acts of sin.
The word metamelomai means to change one's care, to regret; the idea of sorrow always accompanying it.
The two words are nearly synonymous in their secondary meaning, and each is used in this secondary meaning in the New Testament. Metanoeo, however, traces the feeling of sorrow and the change of life back to an inward change of opinion and judgement as to the nature of sin and holiness, and of the relations of man and God. It is perhaps on this account that it is exclusively used for true repentance in the New Testament. This is not simply sorrow, or remorse, which may pass away, or lead in despair to other sins, or fill the soul with anxiety' but a heartfelt change in the inward soul towards God and holiness, which is lasting and effective, and which may be associated with peace and joy in believing.
II. To set forth explicitly what Christian Repentance is, it may be stated that it includes
1. An intellectual and spiritual perception of the opposition between holiness in God and sin in man. It does not look at sin as the cause of punishment but abhors it because it is vile in the sight of God and involves in heinous guilt all who are sinners.
2. It consequently includes sorrow and self-loathing, and earnest desire to escape the evil of sin. The penitent soul does not so much feel the greatness of its danger as the greatness of its sinfulness.
3. It also includes an earnest turning to God for help and deliverance from sin, seeking pardon for guilt and aid to escape its presence.It is also accompanied by deep regret because of the sins committed in the past, and by determination with God's help to avoid sin and live in holiness hereafter. The heart heretofore against God and for sin is now against sin and for God.
From these facts it will be seen that
(1.) The seat of true repentance is in the soul. It is not of itself the mere intellectual knowledge of sin, nor the sorrow that accompanies it, nor the changed life which flows from it; but it is the soul's apprehension of its heinous character, which begets the horror and self-loathing which accompany it, and the determination to forsake sin which flows from it.
(2.) That true repentance is inconsistent with the continuance in sin because of grace abounding.
(3.) That true repentance consists of mental and spiritual emotion, and not of outward self-imposed chastisements. Even the pious life and devotion to God which follow are described not as repentance, but as fruits meet for repentance.
III. The Scriptures teach that the author of true repentance is God operating by truth upon the renewed heart.
Acts 5:31. Christ is said to have been exalted "to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.
"Acts 11:18. "Then to the Gentiles also hath God granted repentance unto life.
"The means used is the preaching and other exhibition of the truth. Repentance like faith comes through the hearing of the word. By this men are exhorted to that duty, and gain the knowledge of the truths taught by God, through spiritual apprehension of which men are led to the truth.
Friday, August 1, 2008
Ichabod S. Spencer
ONE of the most solemn assemblies that I have ever seen, was convened on the evening of the Sabbath, in a private house. It was an inquiry meeting; at which more than a hundred persons were present, the most of them young or in middle life. The structure of the house was rather peculiar. There was a spacious hail, about ten feet wide and about forty feet long, extending from the front door along the side of three parlors which opened into it, as well as into each other; and at the rear part of this hail was a staircase extending to the second story of the house. Moveable benches were introduced into this hail, and placed along each side of it, to afford seats for those who attended this meeting, and who could not all be accommodated in the parlors. After the meetings had been continued in this place for a few weeks; it became manifest, that the hail was the preferred place. As the different persons came in and took their seats ‘where they pleased, the seats in the hail would be filled, and then the stairs would be used as seats entirely to the top, and then the upper hail would be occupied, and finally the parlors I was accustomed to stand, while addressing the assembly, in one of the doors opening from the hail into the parlor, where my eye had a full view of all those in the hail, on the stairs and in one of the parlors. Besides a general exhortation, it was my ordinary custom to speak to each individual, passing from one to another. And all those in the hail and on the stairs could hear every word, which I uttered in this conversation, and the most of what any one said to me. And for these reasons, as I supposed, the persons who resorted there would choose the hall or the stairs. This listening of others, to what passed in conversation betwixt any one individual and myself, was never very pleasant to me. I should greatly have preferred to converse with each one alone; as there would have been less restraint on their part, and on my own, more certainty, that what I was saying would be truly applicable and would not be applied by any one, for whom it was not intended. And besides this, individuals would sometimes make expressions to me so erroneous, that I was unwilling others should hear them, lest they might be injured by it. To avoid this, I used to speak in a low tone of voice; and if the expressions of any individual were becoming such, as I feared might be injurious; I usually broke off the conversation suddenly, by saying, I will call and see you to-morrow.
On the evening, to which I now allude; all the seats were filled, and three persons were seated on each stair entirely to the top, and many had found their place in the hail above. It was a calm and mild summer evening; and perfect stillness reigned over the crowd assembled there, unbroken except by the long breathing or the deep sigh of some pensive soul. I thought I had never seen so still, so solemn, and thoughtful an assembly. I closed the front door, after all had entered, and took my stand in my accustomed place. I hesitated to speak. I was afraid to utter a word. It seemed to me, that anything I could say would be less solemn, impressive, instructive, than that tomb-like silence in an assembly of so many immortal souls, each visited by the Holy Spirit. I stood, for some time, in perfect silence. The power of that silence was painful. The people sat before me, like statues of marble, — not a movement, — not a sound. It appeared as if they had all ceased to breathe. I broke the silence by saying slowly and in a low voice: — “Each one of you is thinking of his own immortal soul and of his God.” Again I paused for the space of an entire minute; for I was overawed, and knew not what to say. Then falling on my knees, I commenced prayer. They all spontaneously knelt. After a short prayer, I proposed to speak a few words to each one of them, as far as it was possible; and requested all of them, except the individual with whom I should be conversing, to be engaged in reflection or in silent prayer to God. Passing rapidly from one to another, I had spoken to all those in the parlors and in the hall, till I had reached about the middle of it, where every word spoken could be heard, by the whole assembly. Coming to a man, about thirty years of age, whom I had seen there three times before, I said to him: — “I did not expect to see you here to-night. I thought you would have come to repentance, before this time; and would have no occasion any longer to ask, what shall I do to be saved?”
“I can’t repent,” said he, (with a sort of determined and despairing accent, and so loudly as to startle us all.) Instantly, I felt sorry for this expression. But I thought it would not do to avoid noticing it, and leave it sounding in the ears of so many impenitent sinners. I immediately answered, as I stood before him, as gently and yet solemnly as I could: —“What an awfully wicked heart you must have! You can’t repent! You love sin so well; that you cannot be sorry for it — you cannot forsake it — you cannot hate it! — You must be in an awful condition indeed! You are so much the enemy of God; that you cannot be sorry for having offended him — you cannot cease to contend against him — and even now, while you are sensible of the impropriety and unhappiness of it, you cannot cease to resist the Holy Spirit, who strives with you to bring you to repentance! — You must have an awfully depraved heart!”
“I can’t repent,” said he again, (with an accent of grief and intolerable vexation) — “I can’t repent, with such a heart!”
“That means,” said I, “that you have become too wicked to desire to become any better; for nothing but wickedness makes repentance difficult. And then, you just plead one sin, as an excuse for another — the sin of your heart, as an excuse for the continued sin of your heart!”
Still he insisted. “I can’t repent! I should if I could!” — (and the tears rolled down his cheeks, of which he seemed to ho utterly unconscious, as well as unconscious of the presence of any one but myself.)
“You would if you could,” said I, “is only a self-righteous and self-justifying excuse. Your deceitful heart means by it, that you are not so wicked as to continue in your impenitence willingly. It means that you are willing to repent, but you cannot. You are deceived. You are not willing. You think you are, but you are in an error. You never will be willing, unless God shall verify in you the promise, ‘My people shall be willing in the day of my power.’ In that power lies your only hope, as I have told you before, when I urged you to pray. If you are willing to repent, what hinders you? I am willing you should repent. All of us here are willing. Every angel in heaven is willing you should repent. Christ who died to redeem you is willing. God the Father is willing. The Holy Spirit is willing, who, at this moment strives with you to bring you to repentance. What hinders you, then? Yourself only! And when you say you can’t repent, you mean that you are not to be blamed for coming here to-night with an impenitent heart. You are woefully deceived! God blames you! The whole Bible blames you! Your own conscience, though you strive to silence it, blames you! — This excuse will not stand!”
“I can’t repent!” said he again, (in a harsh, vociferating voice, as if in anger.)
“Then God can’t save you,” said I; “for he cannot lie, and he has said the impenitent shall be destroyed! You say you cannot repent. He has not said so. He commands you to repent.”
He replied, with much agitation, but in a subdued tone: — “I am sure I have tried long; and my mind has been greatly tormented. All has done no good. I do not see as I can repent!”
“Other people have repented,” said I. “There are a great many penitents in the world. I find there are some here to-night, who think they have come to repentance, since they were here last Sabbath evening. One of them told me then, very much the same thing you tell me now, that it did not seem to him he ever could turn from sin; but he has found out he can. As to your having tried so long, the length of time will not save you if a man has got his face turned the wrong way, the longer he goes on, the worse off he becomes. He would do well to stop, and turn about. Such is the call of the Bible: ‘Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die? Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord.’ Other people have turned to God, and you ought to. But your mind has seized on the idea of your trying and your trouble, and you make an excuse and a self-righteousness of them.”
“Do you think I am self-righteous?” said he.
“I know you are. That is your grand difficulty. You have been trying to save yourself. You are trying now. When you tried to repent, your heart aimed after repentance, as something to recommend you to God, and constitute a reason why he should forgive and save you. It was just an operation of a self-righteous spirit. It was just an attempt to save yourself, to have your religion save you, instead of relying by faith upon Jesus Christ, to be saved from wrath through him. This is precisely the case with every impenitent sinner. The error is one. The forms of it may be various; but in all cases it is substantially the same thing. St. Paul has given a perfect description of it: ‘going about,’ (from one thing to another, from one device or attempt to another,) ‘going about to establish a righteousness of their own, they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God; for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.’ One man tries to establish a righteousness of his own, out of his reformations; another one, out of his duties; another, out of his painful attempts or painful convictions; as you just now mentioned your own torments of mind. It is evident, that you are trying to be righteous before God, through your pain — and your attempted penitence. And if you should find any peace of mind in that way; it would only be a deception, not an item of religion in it. You ought to betake yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, a poor, guilty, undone sinner, to be saved by him alone — saved by grace. You ought to go to him, just as you are, to be washed in his blood, to be clothed in his righteousness, to be sheltered from the thunders of God’s eternal law, in the security of his all-sufficient atonement. You ought to flee to Christ, like the man-slayer to the city of refuge, before he is cut down by the sword of the avenger of blood. You ought to go instantly, like the prodigal to his father, in all his poverty, starvation, and rags, as well as guilt. You ought to cry, like Peter sinking in the waves, “Lord, save me.” But instead of this, you are just looking to yourself, striving to find something, or make something in your own heart, which shall recommend you to God. And in this miserable way, you are making salvation a far more difficult matter, than God has made it. You have forgotten the free grace of the gospel, the full atonement of Jesus Christ, by the sacrifice of himself.”
“But,” said he, “I can’t repent and come to Christ, of myself.”
“I certainly never said you could; and never wished you to think you could. In my opinion, God does not wish you to think so. And if you have found out, that you cannot repent of yourself, aside from divine aid, I am glad of it — you have found out an important truth. Most certainly God does not tell you to repent of yourself. He tells you, that ‘Christ is exalted to give repentance.’ He says to every sinner, ‘Thou hast destroyed thyself, in me is thy help: let him take hold on my strength that he may make peace with me, and he shall make peace with me.’ On the ground that they need it, he has promised ‘the Holy Spirit to them that ask him.’ God never expects you to repent, without divine aid, but with it. He knows you are too wicked to do it, that you are without strength, helpless, undone, a lost sinner! — And here lies the very heart of your error. You have been trying to repent, in a way that God never told you, just by your own powers, instead of trying to get God to have mercy upon you, and save you by his help. You have been looking to the powers within you, instead of looking to the aid above you. You have trusted to yourself, instead of trusting yourself to the grace of Christ. And that is the very reason why you have failed; and now you complain, that you cannot repent; while, in reality, you have exactly the same sufficiency, as the penitent all around you. What has been their help, may be your help. And the sooner you are driven off from all that self-seeking and self-reliance, the better it will be for you. You are in the double error of undervaluing the character of God, and over-valuing your own. God is more merciful and more gracious, than you think him to be. He is more ready to save you. And when he commands you to repent, he does not wish you to forget, that all your hope lies in the immediate aid of his Holy Spirit. Nor does he wish you to attempt to dispense with that proffered assistance, by your not believing, that you are as utterly helpless as you really are. He does not tell you to rely upon your own shattered strength; but you have done so. And when you have failed, you then turn round and complain, that you ‘can’t repent.’ You reject his offered help — the help of the omnipotent Spirit. And for this reason, you will be the more criminal, if you do not repent. That Divine Spirit is your only hope. If he leaves you to yourself, you are lost — eternally lost! Tread softly, my dear friend! The ground whereon thou standest is holy ground! Let not the Holy Spirit, who presides over the souls here this evening, bear witness against you in the day of the final judgment, — ‘because I have called and ye refused!’ You can repent; just in the way that others repent; just because God is your help. Trust him; and rely upon yourself no longer.”
As I was saying these things, he appeared to become much less affected, but much more thoughtful. His tears and his agitations ceased; and he seemed to hang upon my lips, as if he was listening to some new wonder. When I had done, all was hushed as death; and in a deliberate, subdued, and solemn tone, he broke that expressive silence, saying: — “I hope, my God will help me.”
“Let us pray,” said I; — and a short prayer, pleading for God’s help, closed the exercises of the evening.
I afterwards found numerous reasons for believing, that that was one of the most profitable religious exercises, that I ever attended. Among others was the case of my friend, whose expression had drawn me somewhat out of my proposed mode of conducting the exercises of the evening. He became, as he hoped, a true believer. He stated to me the exercises of his mind, his repentance, his faith in Christ, his peace and hope, and his reliance upon the Holy Spirit. His mind appeared to seize upon the great truths of the gospel, almost without emotion. He had no ecstacy, no exultation, no joy. He had only peace and hope. lie told me, that his agitations had all been useless to him; that they were not faith and did not lead to faith; and that he thought “sinners ought to attend to the calls of God, in a believing and business manner.” And when I asked him what had kept him from Christ so long, he replied: “I was trying to make myself better — to have a religion instead of trusting in Christ. What you said to me that night, showed me my mistake; and I went home with a deeper sense of my dependence, and a clear view of the free grace of God to sinners, through the redemption of Christ.”
About six months after this he united with the church, and has continued to manifest an established and uniform faith.
To cut off the sinner from all reliance upon himself, his merits and his powers; and throw him, naked and helpless, into the hands of the Holy Spirit to lead him to Christ in faith; should be the one great aim of the ministry.
Sinners certainly ought to repent, for God commands them to repent. But in my opinion, he does not design to have them understand his command, as having respect only to their own ability to repent, and not having respect to the proffered aids of the Holy Spirit. Such aids constitute one grand ground on which his command is obligatory, and sweep away every possible excuse. No man ever did repent without the Holy Spirit, or ever will; and this is no small amount of proof that no man ever can. Nothing seems to be gained by making a sinner believe that he is able to repent without divine assistance. Such a belief will be very likely to mislead him to a reliance upon his own shattered strength And as to his conviction of criminality for not coming to repentance, surely there is strong ground for such conviction, since God offers him all the ability he needs, — in me is thy help, — let him take hold on my strength that he may make peace with me.
Ichabod Smith Spencer was born in 1798 in Rupert, VT. He was unconverted until just after his 18th birthday. The previous year his father died and this left him utterly devastated. “It is highly probable that his father's death so deeply felt, and so great a trial, was sanctified to his soul, and overruled to lead his mind and heart, so dark and trembling, to the only true ‘Rock of hope and support.’ It was more than a year, however, after this event occurred, before the grace of God changed his heart, and turned his feet into the way of life.”
He was converted in Granville, NY and was educated at schools in the upstate NY region. He became a school teacher, and his fame grew to the place that he was in great demand. In fact, in 1830 he was called to be President of the University of Alabama, and in 1832 the President of Hamilton College of NY. He refused these both as the Lord had by this time called him to preach. He was called to serve as colleague-pastor of the Congregational Church in Northampton, MA in 1828, the church made famous by Jonathan Edwards.
He refused a call to Park Street Church, Boston, the largest in New England at this time because of his tender health. Later in 1832 he accepted the call to the Second Presbyterian Church of Brooklyn, NY. This was a church planting effort with no building and about 40 people. He remained at this post the rest of his life, thus spending 22 years at this church. By the time of his death the church had grown to be one of the largest and most influential in all of NY State. His biographer states that he was one of the greatest preachers the American Pulpit produced during that era. At the same time, his greatest gift and legacy was in the pastoral ministry. He was a true shepherd.
He was a man fully committed to the doctrines of grace, and he constantly preached upon the themes of total depravity, sovereign grace, free justification by faith in Christ alone, the certainty of the judgment to come, the greatness of the mercy and love of God. He preached these themes both publicly and from house to house. As great and gifted a preacher as he was, and as effective as his sermons were to awaken sinners, it was his personal ministry that was most mightily blessed by God as he dealt with anxious inquirers.
This article is taken from Spencer's incredible two-volume book, A Pastor's Sketches. [The personal volumes I own were printed in 1853. - Ed.] However, they have been recently reprinted in paperback by Solid Ground Christian Books.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Ephesians 6:10, 11 “Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
We come now to the detailed consideration and analysis of this most important statement: ‘Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.’ The Apostle is exhorting these Ephesians to realize something of the nature of the battle in which we are all inevitably engaged as the result of being Christians. Indeed this battle exists whether we are Christians or not. The teaching of the Bible throughout is that this world in which we live is a battle-ground, is a place in which we literally have to fight for our souls, to fight for our eternal welfare.
The Apostle gives these Ephesians some very specific instruction with regard to the nature of that battle, and as to the only way in which it can be waged successfully. Clearly the exhortation is primarily for Christian people; his whole argument is based upon that consideration. At the same time, however, it has a message for everyone; for it is true to say that this is a conflict which affects all persons whether they realize it or not. Those who are not Christian do not understand their own world at this present time; they cannot understand why it is as it is, and why various things are happening. So while we are looking at the Apostle’s instruction with regard to the way to fight this great battle, we shall, incidentally, be seeing the exposure of the complete failure of all who are not Christian even to understand their problem, and still more their failure to deal with it in an adequate and successful manner. In other words, we are confronted here with the Apostle’s teaching as to the way in which we can fight successfully the forces that are arrayed against our souls and their highest and best interests.
Perhaps the best way to approach this subject, and to put it into its modern setting in order that we may realize the relevance of all this to life as it is today, would be for me to quote some words which I read in a newspaper recently. A certain senior lecturer in education in a college in Great Britain said this: ‘The Church should take a firmer lead in moral matters; woolly generalizations must go. The Church must give answers to real modern problems, including sex. While the religious basis offers the best prospect of success it should never be regarded as the only way to teach morality, otherwise we would become narrow-minded.’ This is a very typical statement of the attitude of so many in the world at the present time to the problem which is dealt with here by the Apostle Paul. I refrain from making certain obvious comments upon it, for I am interested in it simply because I think it will help us to understand the Apostle’s teaching. Setting detailed considerations aside for the moment, we shall consider the Apostle’s teaching in general as it gives an answer to this kind of statement. The lecturer uses the word ‘woolly’ - he does not want ‘woolly generalizations’. Yet, poor man, his own statement is nothing but a woolly generalization! However, let us ignore that. It is one of the typical modern clichés - ‘The Church must do this and not do that; it is about time the Church . . .’ We are all familiar with such remarks.
Statements of this type are invariably based on an ignorance of what the Church is, and what is the nature of her teaching. In the Ephesian passage before us, the Apostle is really saying that what he is teaching is the only way to deal with the problem of conflict. The lecturer says that ‘while religion offers the best prospect of success, it should never be regarded as the only way to teach morality, otherwise we would become narrow-minded’. The Apostle, on the other hand, specifically and openly says that the way he propounds is the only way to victory. That is why there is such a note of urgency in his teaching, and why, as I have said, it is a kind of trumpet-call: ‘Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God.’ If you fail to do this you are defeated, you are already finished before you start. The Apostle’s is the only way. We make no apology for saying so. We are not at all afraid of this charge of ‘narrow-mindedness’. When you know that to take a certain course is the only cure for a disease, that it is specific, that it cures it to a certainty, and that nothing else can do so, you do not regard it as being narrow-minded to use that remedy and to refuse to waste time with other remedies. That is not being narrow-minded, it is just being sensible and sane and rational.
Every kind of specialization is in this sense narrow. We are living in an age of specialization; but I have never heard anyone suggesting that an atomic scientist is narrow-minded because he gives the whole of his time to the science of the atom. Of course not! That is just common sense, that is wisdom; it is to concentrate on what matters, what is powerful, what really does yield results.
But let me state my thesis positively. The claim of the Christian faith quite openly and specifically is that it - and it alone - can deal with this problem. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not one of a number of theories and teachings and philosophies confronting the world. It is unique, it stands absolutely alone. The Bible is not one book among many books. It is God’s Book, it is a unique Book, it is the Book, standing apart from all the others. We must emphasize this because it is the whole basis of the Christian faith. The Church is not one of a number of institutions; she claims to be quite unique as an institution; she says she is the body of Christ. We speak because we have a revelation. The Bible does not provide us with a theory, a speculation, an attempt to arrive at truth. The position of all the men who wrote the books of the Bible is akin to what the Apostle says about himself in the third chapter of this Epistle to the Ephesians: ‘For this cause, I, Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery’.
The Apostle does not address the Ephesians saying: ‘Listen, many people have been offering you advice and teaching; well, I have studied a great deal also, and I have come to this conclusion; so this is what I suggest.’ That is not the case at all! He says, ‘a revelation was given to me’. It is not a message devised by Paul; it was given to him by the Lord Himself, the Lord of Glory, on the road to Damascus. He apprehended him and arrested him and said, ‘I am going to send you as a minister and a witness to the people and to the Gentiles’ (Acts 26:16-18). Divine communication is the whole basis of the Christian faith. It is therefore foolish to regard that faith as one amongst many. No, as the Apostle Peter stated it once and for ever at the very beginning of the Church when he and John had been arrested and were arraigned before the authorities in Jerusalem, ‘There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). None other! There is not even a second! He is the only One, and He is enough; you do not need any addition. This and this alone! And that note is found in everything the Apostle says. That is why he is so urgent, so insistent as he presses his message upon them. This is the only hope. Were it not for this there would be nothing at all. It is a dogmatic pronouncement; and anyone who apologizes for his Christianity, or tries to accommodate it, or to say that it is the best amongst a number, is virtually denying the most essential point in the Christian position.
We must not stop, however, at a mere dogmatic assertion, but must proceed to demonstrate it. I suggest that if you take the evidence of history you will be driven to the conclusion that it is the only way. Go back, review the history of the centuries as far as it is known, look at secular history-books, take history as it is recorded in the pages of the Old Testament, and you will find beyond any doubt or question that the asseveration of the Apostle is fully and completely substantiated.
You find it in miniature, as it were, in the story of the children of Israel themselves. Their story is that whenever they were true to God, and worshipped Him, and obeyed His commandments, all went well with them; they were a pattern and an example to the nations, and highly successful; but every time they turned away from God and looked at the idols of other nations, or took up their religion or their philosophies, everything went wrong with them. It is the principle that emerges as you read through the pages of the Old Testament.
But the most impressive statement of all, the perfect summary of this entire argument, is provided by the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, beginning at verse eighteen and going on to the end of the first chapter. He says that as nations and peoples in supposed ‘wisdom’ have turned their backs upon God the Creator, they have always become fools - ‘Imagining themselves to be wise, they became fools’. Then he proceeds to give an account of their terrible moral degradation, the perversions and obscenities into which they fell. ‘Ah,’ says our modern lecturer, ‘the Church must speak specifically about sex . . .’ Very well, the Church does so! If you want to know what she has to say, read the second half of the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and you will find an account of all the modern perversions, all the foulnesses that are disgracing life at the present time. They have occurred many times before. But when has that happened? It is always when man in his supposed wisdom has turned from the Creator and has given his worship to the creature. The whole history of the human race substantiates what the Apostle claims. Before Christ ever came into the world everything else had had its opportunity. The Greek philosophers had flourished, the greatest of them had already taught their beliefs. But they could not deal with the problem of sin; their teaching was not adequate and had already failed. There was also the great Roman Empire with its system of law; but there was a canker at the very heart of the Empire; and it finally collapsed, not because of the superior prowess of the Goths and the Vandals and the Barbarians, but because of the moral rot at its very heart. That was the cause of the ‘Decline and Fall’ of the great Roman Empire, as is admitted by all. In other words, history substantiates the Apostle’s teaching.
But, unfortunately, modern history, contemporary history, proves my thesis also. This is where we see the relevance of this teaching. And how up-to-date it is! how it speaks to us at this present time! We have read in our newspapers during the last week statements such as that of the Medical Officer of Health for the City of Edinburgh, and of various other Medical Officers of Health who have been giving their annual reports. ‘The Church,’ says the lecturer I have quoted, ‘must supply an answer to the problem of sex.’ What the Medical Officers of Health are reporting is that there is an appalling increase in venereal diseases and especially amongst adolescents and juveniles. Such is the problem confronting us. This moral problem has become the most acute and the most urgent - there is a serious breakdown of morality.
They tell us that we are confronted by an amoral generation, by people who do not seem to have a moral sense at all! But let us not forget that this situation must be considered in the light of the exceptional educational facilities and opportunities and advantages which have been available since 1870. This man who tells us that religion is not the only solution is a lecturer on education, and there has been an abundance of such lecturers and lectures since 1870. And yet here is our great problem - immorality and vice and evil! The world has multiplied its institutions for dealing with the moral and social problems in this present century more than ever before. Clubs, institutions, cultural agencies, have been multiplying one on top of another. Never has the government of any country spent so much in an attempt to deal with moral and social problems as has been done in this country in the present century. And yet here are these men saying one after another that moral standards are deteriorating almost hourly, week by week, and that the problem is becoming appallingly difficult of solution. They are asking what can be done? The lecturer in question says that things have come to such a pass that the Church must do something, the Church must begin to speak. But then he spoils it all by telling the Church what she is to say; and what he says, as I shall show, is completely wrong!
What then is the position? It is as religion has declined in this century that the moral problem has become more acute. Let us remember that we have two lots of statistics. There are the statistics of the Medical Officers of Health, proving that all these terrible problems and diseases are on the increase. But there are other statistics, church statistics. The number of church members is going down year by year; the number of adherents is declining; the number of Sunday School scholars grows less and less. The two things go together. As religion has gone down all these other things have gone up. I am simply saying all this to justify the assertion of the New Testament that its teaching is the only way, and that there is none other. The modern situation is proving it before our eyes, and yet our education lecturer says that Bible teaching must not be the only teaching. He says that ‘perhaps it will give the best hope of success’, but would be ‘narrow-minded’ if we said that this is the only answer and solution. Well, let him mention the others! What has he got to mention? Education? We have tried it. Let him mention various clubs. We have tried them also, and cultural agencies. We are still trying them all. How foolish, how ridiculous, to utter these general clichés and not face the facts!
But there is a further reason why this is inevitably the truth; it is because of the nature of the fight in which we are engaged. The whole of past history proves it, the modern position proves it. But apart from that the nature of the fight itself makes this proposition inevitably true. How? Man’s own nature makes a warfare absolutely certain. The fatal mistake made constantly about man is to regard him only as a mind and an intellect; and therefore, the whole basis of secular teaching is that all you need do is to tell men about the evil nature of certain things, and the evil consequences of doing them, and then they will stop doing them. Conversely, if you tell them to do certain things because they are right and good and true and noble, they will jump at them and do them. What ignorance of human nature!
I am not alone in speaking thus. I was interested recently to read a review of part of the autobiography of a well-known sceptical, irreligious, modern writer, Leonard Woolf. The review was written by another literary sceptic, Kingsley Martin. But the reviewer, at any rate, had reached the conclusion that the trouble with this whole school to which Leonard Woolf belongs is just this, that they will not see that man in the main is irrational. He used what seemed to me to be a very good illustration. ‘What Leonard Woolf and all his companions, such as Bertrand Russell and others, have always failed to grasp is this,’ he said, ‘that man is a kind of iceberg.’ Standing up above the water is a certain amount, about a third perhaps, which may look very white, but underneath are two-thirds out of sight in the depth, in the darkness. Writers like Leonard Woolf, says Kingsley Martin, do not realize that man is mainly irrational. What he means, of course, is that man is not governed by his mind, his intellect; his understanding, but by desires, impulses, and instincts, by what the psychologists call ‘drives’. These are the things that control and master a man; and the problem which is confronting the world in the present era is that of these instinctive ‘drives’.
All this can be seen on the national and international plane as well as in the case of the individual; and that is what makes all optimistic statements about some world organization that is going to banish war so childishly ridiculous. Nations, like individuals, are not governed by common sense.
If the world were governed by common sense there would never be a war. War is sheer madness, from every standpoint. It is a waste of money, it is a waste of life, it is a childish way of settling a dispute and a problem. How can you settle a problem of government or any other problem by just killing one another? I repeat, war is sheer madness; there is nothing to be said for it. Why then do the nations fight and prepare for war ? The answer is that they are not governed by their minds and intellects but by the two-thirds that is underneath the surface, the part of the iceberg that you do not see - greed, avarice, national pride, the desire to possess and to become greater than others. These are the things that ever cause wars. ‘Whence come wars among you?’ asks James. ‘Come they not hence, even of your lusts, that war within your members ?’ (James 4:1). That is true of the individual as well as of nations; and because it is true it follows that nothing but that which can deal with this hidden powerful two-thirds can really provide a remedy for the situation. It is the claim of the Gospel that it, and it alone, can do so. Nothing else can.
In the next place consider the enemy that stands against us. ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’ ‘Take unto you the whole armour of God,’ says Paul, ‘that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.’ Put up all your moral schemes and teachings against the wiles of the devil and he smiles at you in contempt. Of course! How utterly inadequate it all is! We shall elaborate that later.
Furthermore, consider the standard to which we are asked to attain. Christianity not merely tells us to be nice and good and clean and moral. A Christian is not simply a nice respectable person. It is because so many have thought that mere respectability is Christianity that they have left the Church. They say that. such a result can be achieved outside the Church, and point to the nice, good, moral people who are not Christians. And that is a perfectly fair argument. But the answer to it is that that is not Christianity. A Christian is not merely a person who does not do this, that, or the other. A Christian is positive. He is called to ‘hunger and thirst after righteousness’; to be ‘pure in heart’; to be ‘perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’. That is Christianity! To be like Christ, to live as He lived! And the moment you consider the standard you see how utterly impossible and inadequate are all these other suggestions that are being put forward. We can, therefore, sum it all up by asserting openly, frankly, avowedly, and unashamedly, as the Apostle does here by implication, that this, and this alone, is the only way of victory and of triumph. It was because this is so that the Son of God came into the world. If anything else could have sufficed He would never have come. There would never have been an Incarnation, still less a death upon the Cross, were it not that this is true. ‘The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.’ This is the beginning and foundation and basis of the Christian position. Christ came because, in a sense, He had to come if there was to be any salvation at all. He came because man had completely failed.
O loving wisdom of our God,When all was sin and shame,A second Adam to the fightAnd to the rescue came.
It was and is the only way, there is no other. Let the world in its supposed wisdom call it ‘narrow-minded’. As long as it does so it will continue to degenerate morally and ethically, and fester in its own iniquity. The Christian way is the only way.
But let us consider a second general point. It is obvious from the statement of the lecturer which we have been considering that Christianity is capable of being misunderstood and this, unfortunately, is something that has kept recurring throughout the centuries. There has been nothing so tragic as the misunderstanding of Christianity and the Christian message. There are people like this lecturer in education who are very ready to say, ‘The Church must make her contribution. Christianity, perhaps, is the best hope we have got. It is not our only hope, but perhaps it is one that is most likely to lead to results, so the Church must play her part.’ Governments are very ready to say this in times of crises. When the problem gets out of hand they ask, ‘Well now, what has the Church to say?’ And they expect the Church to make some general statements which will improve the moral tone of society. The Church must play its part! Yes, but this attitude betrays, as I say, a complete ignorance as to what the message of the Church really is.
There have been two main misunderstandings in this particular context. The first is that Christianity and its message is nothing but a teaching that we ourselves have to apply. This lies at the root of the misunderstanding of the lecturer whose statement we are examining. It is a very old fallacy. It was the real trouble at the beginning of the eighteenth century before the great Evangelical Awakening took place. It was the over-all fallacy of the men who were called Deists, and others. They said that God had created the world like a watchmaker winding-up a watch and then had no further concern with it, except that He had given it a certain moral teaching. So they merely equated Christianity with a teaching and morality which tell people to live a good life. Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby in the nineteenth century, was guilty of exactly the same fallacy: that was his teaching also. It is sometimes known as ‘Public School religion’ and teaches that Christianity is that which makes you ‘a good little gentleman’. You refrain from certain things and you do certain other things. It is just moral, ethical teaching.
Now this is a tragic misunderstanding of the whole position, for it regarded Christianity merely as one teaching among a number of other teachings, for example, those of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Seneca, and others who supplied high, idealistic, moral teaching. Christianity is but another, and perhaps the best of them all; so let us give great attention to it. And do not forget that the late Mr Gandhi of recent date held a very exalted and noble teaching; and there are various others. They add to their list of great teachers the name of ‘Jesus’, as they call Him, and He generally comes somewhere about the centre. Some rise superior to Him, others are esteemed His inferiors. But such thinking and talking simply reduces Christianity to nothing but a moral, ethical teaching - just a variant of the theme of ‘Goodness, Beauty and Truth’ to which we are to aspire. It is because such multitudes of people, especially in the present century, regard that as Christianity that the Church is as she is.
Such was the teaching of the theological school called Modernism or Liberalism which came in about the middle of the last century in this country. Its theme was ‘the Jesus of history’. They took out miracles, indeed the entire supernatural element, and the substitutionary atonement. What is Jesus? ‘Ah,’ they said, ‘Jesus is the greatest religious teacher the world has ever known. Listen to His teaching, emulate His example, follow Him; and if you do so you will be a good Christian. Do not bother about doctrines, they are not important; it is Jesus’ teaching that matters.’
So Christianity has been reduced to a moral and an ethical code and teaching. That leads inevitably to failure and to disaster, for it leaves the whole business to us as individuals. I have got to admire the teaching, next I am required to accept it, and then I have to proceed to put it into practice. It is left entirely to me. ‘Ah but,’ they say, ‘look to the example of Jesus.’ Example of Jesus? I know of nothing that is so discouraging as the example of Jesus! As I look at His moral stature, at His absolute perfection, as I see Him walking through this world without sin, I feel that I am already condemned and hopeless. Imitation of Christ? It is the greatest nonsense that has ever been uttered! Imitation of Christ? I who cannot satisfy myself and my own demands, and other people still less - am I to imitate Christ? The saints make me feel ashamed of myself. I read of men like George Whitefield and others, and I feel that I have not yet started. And yet I am told to take this ethical teaching of the Sermon on the Mount, this idealistic social teaching, and to put this into practice! ‘It is so marvellous,’ they say, ‘it will stimulate you; look at Him and follow Him!’
It is not surprising that failure has resulted, and that people have left the Christian Church; it is not surprising that we are faced with a moral collapse in this country, and in all the countries, at the present time; for the non-Christian ethical teaching leaves it all to me, strengthless and powerless though I am. I am like the Apostle Paul by nature and I say, ‘Alas, with my mind I see what is right, but I find another law in my members dragging me down. With my mind I receive and accept and admire the law of God, but there is this other law, this other thing, working within me, and making me captive to the law of sin and death which is within me’ (cf. Romans 7:14-25). There is this third of the iceberg, as it were, above water and it is looking at the sun; but I am aware of the other two-thirds that is dragging me down to the depths and the darkness. ‘O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me ?’ That is the inevitable position. If Christianity is but a moral ethical teaching it is as useless as all the others. The ‘Christian’ way has always been proved to be useless when it is reduced to such a level.
But Christianity is no mere code of ethics. Our educationalists cannot just turn to us and say, ‘Well now, come along, you representatives of the Christian Church. Do not be narrow-minded, but give us your help, give us your teaching, we want to know what you think about sex, and many other factors in life.’ I answer that what is needed is not what I think about sex, but a power that will deliver a man from being mastered and controlled by it. There is ample knowledge about sex. Alas, people today know far too much about sex; they know much more than their forefathers knew. They are reading books about it - novels, text-books, and so on - and the more they read the worse they get. Their reading only serves to aggravate the problem. It is not knowledge we need; it is power. And that is where your moral ethical systems break down and fail completely. They have no power to offer, none at all. We must beware, therefore, of reducing Christianity to a mere moral, ethical teaching. God forbid that anybody should still be held in that ignorance and blindness! All that teaching has been tried very thoroughly for a hundred years and more, and it has failed completely, both in the case of the individual, and also in the national and international realms.
But I must say a word about the other misunderstanding. Here, again, is an interesting and fascinating story. There have been those who have said, ‘No, it is not just enough to hold this teaching before men and to tell them to get on with it, because the forces against us are too great. We are up against the world and the flesh and the devil. There is all that I am conscious of within myself, and then as I walk about the streets and see the hoardings and the placards and read newspapers, sin is insinuating itself and tempting me. I see it everywhere around me, in advertisements, in dress, and in all that characterizes the life of a great city like London. How can I fight against all this? ‘No,’ they say, ‘there is only one thing to do. If a man is to save his soul and to live a good and pure life he has got to get away from all this, he has got to segregate himself.’
In other words, the second great misunderstanding of the Christian teaching is that which we can sum up under the whole notion of monasticism. Here is a wonderful story. There is something about the people who started the monastic idea which calls forth one’s admiration. At any rate they were men who were serious and concerned about their souls and their lives and their daily living. This was the biggest thing in life to them; so much so that they would give up a profession, they would give up home, they would give up all that had been dear to them and retire into a monastery, there to live what they called the ‘religious’ life. The idea was that the only way in which you could fight this battle was to get away from the enemy as much as possible. Now in that principle, as I shall explain, there is something which is right and true. The Apostle Paul, addressing the Romans in chapter 13 of his Epistle, says, ‘Make no provision for the flesh’. It would be good for all of us if we spent less time reading our newspapers, kept our eyes straight ahead as we walked the streets of London, did not look at certain things, and did not go to certain places. So far, so good! But certain people carried that further; they said that you must get right out of the world. You must concentrate on this alone, you must give up ordinary life and living, and isolate yourself; you must go into a monastery, or become a hermit on top of a mountain, or get away into some cell somewhere; that being the only way of escape. And they did not stop even at that. They said that you have to keep down the body; so you have to fast twice, perhaps three times a week. You have to do other things also, perhaps put on a camel-hair shirt, and in various ways knock down this body of yours and insult it as much as you can. They indulged in what were called ‘flagellations’; they would beat their bodies, scarify their flesh, all in an attempt to overcome these powers that are against us in this great fight of which Paul is speaking. The best description of all this that I have ever read is to be found in a book called The Vision of God, the Bampton Lectures delivered about 1928 by Kenneth E. Kirk. There you will find an account of how this idea came in, and at a very early period in the history of the church. And that same school of thought has persisted ever since.
But that is not Christianity, and for the following reasons. Though you leave the world and all its prospects, and go and live as a monk or a hermit in a cell; though you have left the world, you have not left yourself - the two-thirds submerged part of the iceberg is still with you! You do not leave your sinful nature outside the monastery. Evil imaginations and thoughts are with you still; you cannot get rid of them. Wherever you go they go; yourself, your nature, this part that drags you down will be with you in the cell exactly as it was on the streets of London. Not only so, the evil powers are also there as much as they were when you were living your life amongst other people. ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’ Stone walls do not keep them out, iron bars do not keep them out, locked doors do not keep them out; wherever you are they will be there. They are spiritual, they are unseen, they can penetrate everywhere, and they are with you in your cell. You cannot get rid of them. And for these reasons the great system of monasticism finally broke down completely.
The whole matter can be summed up in the story of one person, Martin Luther. What exactly did Luther discover? He was a monk there in his cell, fasting, sweating, praying, trying to get rid of the body, trying to get rid of this problem, trying to conquer these spiritual enemies. But the more he tried the nearer he seemed to be to complete failure and utter hopelessness. And at last he saw it! His monastic ideas were a travesty of Christianity; they were not Christianity at all. Christianity was something essentially different. He saw that you could be a Christian in the midst of the world, you could be a Christian ‘sweeping a floor’, as he puts it. You need not be a coenobite, you need not take vows of chastity and remain unmarried, in order to be a preacher. No, as a married man you are as eligible as a man who renounces sex. He suddenly saw that the monastic way was not God’s way, and that was the beginning of the great Protestant Reformation. Thank God that that which Luther had to unlearn is not the Christian teaching, for the logical end of the monastic argument is that you cannot be a true Christian and still live in the world. Of course the Roman Church did not teach that, but divided Christians into ‘religious’ and ‘laity’, and taught that the latter could be helped by borrowing from the over-plus of righteousness of the former - the utterly unscriptural doctrine of supererogation. You see how essentially different that is from the New Testament teaching. Here were ordinary people, servants, slaves, husbands, wives, parents, children. The Apostle does not say to them, ‘Off, all of you, into a monastery; get away somewhere from the world.’ Not at all! Thank God it is not that! That would be a gospel for wealthy people alone. And not only so; there would be no Christian witness and testimony in the world.
What a denial it is, ultimately, of the glory of the Christian faith! What is the Christian method? I end with a text. It is not, ‘Set about imitating Christ, adopt His moral ethical teaching, and try to put it into practice’. It is not, ‘Get away and become a monk or a hermit’. But just where you are in the midst of the world, with evil and sin rampant round and about you, and everybody and everything doing all they can to discourage you and to drag you down, just as and where you are, ‘Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand the wiles of the devil.’ It is not retreat, it is not escape, it is not attempting something that is impossible. No, it is this supernatural, miraculous Gospel that enables us to be ‘more than conquerors’ over everything that is set against us.