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Spurgeon, IS CONVERSION NECESSARY?
The Spirit calls men to Jesus in diverse ways-
Some are drawn so gently that they scarcely
know when the drawing began, and others are
so suddenly affected, that their conversion
stands out with noonday clearness.
Perhaps no two conversions are precisely alike in detail-
the means, the modes, the manifestations, all vary greatly.
As our minds are not all cast in the same mold,
it may so happen that the truth which affects one
is powerless upon another; the style of address which
influences your friend may be offensive to yourself.
“The wind blows where it will.”
Yet in all true conversions there are points of essential agreement-
there must be in all a penitent confession of sin,
and a looking to Jesus for the forgiveness of it,
and there must also be a real change of heart such as
shall affect the entire life thereafter.
Where these essential points are not found,
there is no genuine conversion.
Where there is true faith, there is the new birth, and that
implies a change beyond measure, complete, and radical.
Any man who is united to Christ has experienced a great change.
This change is a thorough and sweeping one, and operates upon
the nature, heart, and life of the convert.
There must be a divine work, making us new creatures,
and causing all things to become new with us,
or we shall die in our sins.
Our condition before God,
our moral tone,
our state of mind,
are made by conversion totally different from what they were before.
In a word, if we are in Christ Jesus we are new creatures;
old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
In conversion, infidels become believers,
Roman Catholics forsake their priests,
harlots become chaste,
drunkards leave their cups,
and, what is equally remarkable, Pharisees leave
their self-righteous pride, and come as ‘sinners’ to Jesus.
Conversion may be known by the fact that it changes the whole man.
It changes the ‘principle’ upon which he lives-
he once lived for self, now he lives for God.
He once did right because he was afraid of punishment
if he did wrong, but now he shuns evil because he hates it.
He once did right because he hoped to merit heaven,
but now no such selfish motive sways him- he knows that he
is saved, and he now does right out of gratitude to God.
His ‘objects in life’ are changed-
he once lived for gain, or worldly honor;
now he lives for the glory of God.
His ‘comforts’ are changed-
the pleasures of the world and sin are nothing to him now,
he finds comfort in the love of God shed abroad in his heart.
His ‘desires’ are changed-
that which he once panted and pined for,
he is now content to do without.
And that which he once despised, he now longs after
as the deer pants after the water brooks.
His ‘fears’ are different-
he fears man no more, but fears his God.
His ‘hopes’ are also altered-
his expectations fly beyond the stars.
The man has begun a new life.
A convert once said-
“Either the world is altered or else I am.”
Everything seems new.
Beloved hearers, may we all meet in heaven.
But to meet in heaven we must all be converted,
for inside yonder gates of pearl none can enter
but those who are new creatures in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God bless you, for Christ’s sake. Amen.
He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. — Hebrews 7:25
True Christians come unto God. They are not as many, who turn their backs upon him: —who ‘go into a far country,’ like the prodigal son: —’who go out,’ like Cain, ‘from the presence of the Lord:’—who are ‘alienated, strangers, and enemies in their mind by wicked works’ (Col. 1:21). They are reconciled to God and friends of God. They are not as many, who dislike everything that belongs to God, —his Word, his day, his ordinances, his people, his house. They love all that belongs to their Master. The very footprints of his steps are dear unto them. ‘His name is as ointment poured forth’ (Song of Sol. 1:3). —They are not as many, who are content with coming to church, or with coming to chapel, or with coming to the Lord’s table. They go further than that. They ‘come unto God,’ and in communion with God they live.
But, more than this, true Christians come unto God in a certain peculiar way. They come unto God by Christ, —pleading no other plea, mentioning no other name, trusting in no other righteousness, resting on no other foundation than this, —that Jesus hath lived, Jesus hath died, Jesus hath risen again for their souls:
I the chief of sinners am, but Jesus died for me.
This is the way by which the true Christian draws near to God.
—from J.C. Ryle, Old Paths, pp. 410-11.
Robert Traill (The Lord’s Prayer, John 17:24), Works 2:235-236:
Faith is a large comprehensive grace, much spoken of in the word, more talked of than acted by many; and least known, and most mistaken by them that have it not. This faith I speak of, is not a bare believing, or giving an assent unto divine truth, upon the evidence of a divine testimony; nor is it believing and expecting of good from God, upon the ground of his faithful promise; though these are acts of true faith. But faith in Jesus Christ, in its closest, nearest nature, acts thus. The self-condemned sinner, loathsome in his own sight, and persuaded that as he is in himself he is far more loathsome in God’s sight, doth, on the gospel-call and promise, try, and trust Jesus Christ for making him accepted with God. This is proper believing, Gal. 2:16.
Source: https://www.puritanboard.com/threads/this-is-proper-believing.91644/, Comment 1
The Character of the True Christian
by J. C. Ryle
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
That is a glorious saying, a perfect and complete text; containing all I need to know for my soul’s comfort, full of privileges and mercies for true believers and penitent sinners, and at the same time shutting the door effectually against self-righteous Pharisees and whitened sepulchers and painted hypocrites. It shows us two things: the character of real Christians, and the spiritual treasures they possess. Or, in other words, what they are to their Savior—and what their Savior is to them. I propose this morning to consider these two things in order, and I pray God you may all be led to examine yourselves by the light which the text affords.
I. First, then, with respect to true Christians—their names, their marks, their character—what does the text say about them? “My sheep,” we read, “hear my voice and follow me.” The Lord Jesus Christ likens them to sheep; and He declares “they are mine, and they hear me and follow me.” There is matter we shall do well to consider in each of these expressions.
True Christians, then, are compared to SHEEP, and we shall find a great depth of meaning in the comparison if we look into it. Sheep are the most harmless, quiet, inoffensive creatures that God has made. So should it be with Christians: they should be very humble and lowly-minded, as disciples of Him who said, “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart.” They should be known as people of a very gentle and loving spirit, who desire to do good to all around them, who would not injure anyone by word or deed; who do not seek the great things of this world—but are content to go straightforward on the path of duty and take whatever it shall please God to send them. They ought to show forth in their lives and outward conversation that the Holy Spirit has given them a new nature, has taken away their old corrupt disposition and planted in them godly thoughts and purposes and desires.
When, therefore, we see people biting and devouring one another, saying and doing uncharitable things to their neighbors, fierce, and passionate and evil-tempered and angry on the slightest occasion; full of envy and strife and bitter speaking—surely we are justified in saying, “You do not belong to Christ’s flock; you have yet to be born again and made new creatures; there must be a mighty change. Profess what you please, at present we can only see in you the mind of the old man, even Adam the first—but nothing of the Second Adam, even Christ Jesus the Lord. We can discern the spirit of the wolf, however fair your clothing, and we want instead to discover in you the spirit of the lamb.”
But again, sheep are of all animals the most useful; none are so serviceable to man, none so necessary in every way for his comforts and conveniences; and such should be the character of a true Christian. We must study to do good in our day and generation, and lay ourselves out for the spiritual and temporal advantage of our brethren. All can do much: it is not the rich alone, and the great, who are able to be useful; there are a hundred ways of conferring benefits beside the form of giving gold and silver; and each in his respective station can do good if he desires.
Has not a poor man a tongue? Then surely, if he is a sheep of Christ’s flock, he will use it for his neighbors’ profit, when occasion is afforded; he will warn and entreat and counsel and persuade; he will reason and argue, as a witness and servant of God, against sin and carelessness in every shape; he will show himself an affectionate lover of men’s souls, who would gladly impart to others the knowledge he has found valuable to himself. He will never allow wickedness to pass unnoticed if, by saying a quiet word on the Lord’s side, he may perchance restrain it. He will never allow anger and strife to continue, if he can be the means of making peace.
And then has not a poor man a feeling heart? Then surely, if he is a true sheep of Christ’s flock, he will remember those who are in adversity, as being himself in the body. He will not shun the house of mourning—but strive to be a comforter, bearing in mind the proverb “A word spoken in season, how good is it.” He will weep with those who weep, as well as rejoice with those who rejoice. He will let men see that he is a real child of his Father in heaven, who does good to the just and the unjust too, and is kind even to the unthankful and the evil.
And cannot a poor man pray? Yes! and effectual fervent prayer avails much. And if he prays for the souls of others, who knows but he may draw down benefits on all around him? Oh! but a real praying Christian, a man who is constantly asking for the Spirit to come down on the place in which he dwells and convert the sleepers—that man is a mighty benefactor. He is working a powerful engine, and if he is the cause of one single person being converted, he has done something that makes all heaven rejoice.
Brethren, let it be written on our minds that all can do much, and those who belong to Christ’s flock will strive to do much. No man is so really useful in a church, as a true Christian; and no one can have much real Christianity about him who does not endeavor to do good either by his advice or by his example or by his prayers. Are we indeed the sheep of Christ? Let us never forget this point of our character.
A genuine Gospel-faith has nothing selfish about it—it never makes a man think only of his own salvation. It stirs him up, on the contrary, to concern about the souls of others. I always suspect that those who care nothing whether their brethren are saved or not, must in reality be ignorant or thoughtless about their own state.
Again. Sheep love to be together; they do not like being alone; there are no animals which seem to take such pleasure in being in a flock, and cling to each other’s company so faithfully. And so is it with true Christians: it is their delight to meet each other and be together, if possible. It is their continual sorrow and complaint that far too often they have to journey on alone, without any who are like-minded to commune with, about the things which their souls love most; and this is a very sore trial. Friends and relations may be kind and affectionate, they may have everything to make this world enjoyable—but what Christ’s sheep sigh and crave after is to have with them people who can enter into their secret feelings, who understand the unseen workings of their inward man, who can comprehend the hidden warfare which goes on in their hearts—people with whom they can take sweet counsel about their souls’ health and souls’ trials, with whom they can converse freely and unreservedly about their Lord and Master and their hopes of forgiveness through His name.
Who, indeed, can describe the pleasure with which the members of Christ’s flock do meet each other face to face? They may have been strangers before; they may have lived apart, and never been in company—but it is wonderful to observe how soon they seem to understand each other, there seems a thorough oneness of opinion, and taste and judgment, so that a man would think they had known each other for years; they seem, indeed, to feel they are servants of one and the same Master, members of the same family, and have been converted by one and the same Spirit; they have one Lord, one faith, one baptism; they have the same trials, the same fears, the same doubts, the same temptations, the same faintings of heart, the same dread of sin, the same sense of unworthiness, the same love of their Savior. Oh—but there is a mystical union between true believers, which they only know who have experienced it; the world cannot understand it—it is all foolishness to them. “Whatever can you find,” they say, “to make you take such interest in each other’s society?” But that union does really exist, and a most blessed thing it is; for it is like a little foretaste of heaven.
Beloved, this loving to be together is a special mark of Christ’s flock—nor is it strange if we consider they are walking in the same narrow way, and fighting against the same deadly enemies—and never are they so happy as when they are in company. The unconverted know nothing of such happiness; they meet each other, and are civil and polite, and even kind in their way—but how seldom do they open their whole hearts, how much of jealousy and cold suspicion there is about their very friendships, how much they conceal from their nearest acquaintances! The sheep of Christ know nothing of all this; it is their hearts’ desire to be together, and when together they have all their thoughts in common, there is no reserve, no keeping back.
No doubt there are false professors in the world, who have a form of godliness without the power—tinkling cymbals whose religion consists only in talk, all sound and no substance—but notwithstanding the number of these hypocrites, I still say that true believers are remarkable for their love of communion and fellowship with each other; they are ready to pine away with heaviness when separate; it is their very life-breath to be together.
The last thing I would remark about sheep is this: they are of all animals most helpless, most ready to stray, most likely to lose themselves and wander out of their pasture; and so it is with Christ’s people. They are far too ready to turn aside and go in ways that are not good; in vain they are warned and advised to be watchful and take heed to their path; they often get into a drowsy, sleepy frame, and imagine there is no danger, and so they wander down some bypath, and are only wakened by some merciful chastisement or heavy fall. They imagine that they are strong enough to get on without this constant vigilance, and so they take their eye off the Chief Shepherd, and wander on from this field to that, after their own desires, until they find themselves at last in darkness and doubt. And Christ’s sheep, too, like other sheep, do seldom return to the fold without some damage and loss, for it is far more easy to get out of the right way when you are in—than to get into it when you are out.
There are some people who imagine Christians are perfect and faultless creatures—but this is indeed an opinion far wide of the truth. No doubt they aim at perfection—but the very best come far short of it; they would tell you that in many things they offend daily, that they are continually erring and straying and backsliding, that the most fitting prayer they could offer up would be this: “Lord, we are no better than wandering sheep. God be merciful to us unworthy sinners!”
And then, too, like sheep, true Christians are easily frightened. It takes very little to alarm them and make them fearful about their own condition; they are jealous and suspicious of danger from every quarter, and, like creatures who know their own weakness and the number of their enemies, they will often imagine there is something to be feared where no fear really is. But still this godly fear is an eminent sign of Christ’s flock—it proves that they feel their own helplessness; and when a man knows nothing of it, and is full of presumptuous confidence, there is but too much reason to suspect he knows little of Christianity as he ought to know it.
Such appear to be the reasons why true believers are compared to sheep. They may not always be discerned in this corrupt and naughty world; you may often see no great difference between them and the unbelievers—but still they have a nature of their own, and sooner or later, if you observe, you will see it. You may put a flock of sheep and a flock of swine together in a broad green meadow, and an ignorant man might say at first their natures were the same—but drive them together in a narrow road, with a puddle at one side, and the mind of the animal will soon come out. The swine may have looked clean in the meadow—but as soon as they have the opportunity they will wallow in the mud. The sheep were clean in the meadow, and when they come to the dirt they will keep clean there too if they possibly can. Just so is the case of the Christian and the world: when things run smoothly, and there is no particular inducement to sin, there seems no mighty difference between them—but when there comes a temptation, and self-denial is required, immediately the disposition of the heart comes uppermost—the Christian holds on his way, however narrow it may be, the worldly-minded turns down that broad lane which leads to destruction, and the real character of each is revealed.
II. The second thing to be considered in our text is that word “My.” Our Lord does not simply call His people sheep—but He says also “My sheep.” It is as though Jesus would have us understand He looks upon them as His property; they are, as it were, stamped and sealed and marked as the possession of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and it is a blessed, comfortable thought that even as men are careful and tender about their earthly belongings, and will not willingly allow them to be lost and damaged, so is our Lord and Savior careful of the souls that belong to Him.
But why are Christ’s people called Mine, in this particular manner? There are many sufficient reasons. We are “His” by ELECTION. We were chosen and given to Him by the Father before the foundations of the world were laid; our names were written in the covenant of salvation before we were born, we were predestined or fore-ordained to be His people from all eternity. That is a glorious, a soul-comforting doctrine, however some abuse it: a man may doubtless get to heaven and never feel sure that he was a true sheep of Christ’s flock until he gets there; he may walk in much darkness and uncertainty all his days—but to all who really feel in themselves the working of Christ’s Spirit, the doctrine that we are His by everlasting election, is full of sweet, pleasant and unspeakable consolation.
But again: Christ’s people are “His “by PURCHASE. Death and hell had claims upon everyone of them, they had all broken the law and forfeited eternal life—but Christ has redeemed them. Christ paid the heavy price of their salvation, even His own most precious blood, and well may He call them “Mine,” for He has bought them off from captivity and Satan at the cost of His own life. He can say “They are Mine by fair purchase in time, as well as Mine by free election in eternity.”
And lastly, Christ’s people are “His” by ADOPTION. He has put His Spirit in them, and overturned the power of sin in their hearts. He has given them a child-like frame of mind, so that they cry Abba Father; they are become part of His family, the very sons and daughters of the Almighty; He looks upon them as a portion of Himself, as members of His body and flesh and bones, and loves them and cherishes them accordingly.
See then, beloved, what great things that little word “My “contains. “My sheep” is the name that Jesus gives to Christians. “Mine” by election, by purchase, by adoption. Oh, believe: you may sometimes be cast down and faint-hearted—but if you have any real interest in that blessed title, if you are really in the number of Christ’s sheep, you have indeed good reason to rejoice.
III. But I must hasten on to the third point which our text lays down in the character of true believers “My sheep,” says Jesus, “hear My voice.” This hearing of Christ’s voice, what is it? It cannot be the mere hearing of the ears, for many do that who die in their sins. It must be the hearing with the heart, the listening with attention; the believing what is heard—the acting manfully on what is believed. And where may Christ’s voice be heard? It sometimes whispers in a sinner’s conscience, saying, Oh, do not these abominable things: turn, turn, why will you die? It sometimes speaks solemnly, in a visitation of providence, as a sickness or an accident or an affliction or a death, saying slowly but clearly, “Stop and think; consider your ways: are you ready to die and be judged?” But it generally is to be heard in the reading of Scripture or the preaching of the Gospel; then the voice of the Lord Jesus may be heard plain and distinct. One day it is sharp and piercing: “Except you repent you shall all likewise perish;” “You must be born again.” “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead.” Another day it is gentle, winning, entreating: “Come unto me, O weary and heavy-laden one, and I will give you rest.” “If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink.” “Whoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” In all these ways and manners the voice of Jesus may be heard.
And here comes in the distinction between the converted and the unconverted. Those who are converted hear Christ’s voice—but they that are unconverted hear it not. The true sheep of Christ were once foolish and disobedient, serving divers lusts and pleasures, dead in trespasses and sins—but they heard their Redeemer’s voice at last, and when they heard they lived; they knew not at first who called them—but they heard a voice they could not disobey, and now they can tell you they are sure it was the Lord’s. They heard His voice, they listened to His invitation, they believed His promises, they confessed themselves sinners, and in Him they found peace. And now without His voice they will do nothing; His word, His saying, His command, His will is their rule of life—to be taught of Him by His Spirit and His Bible is their hearts’ desire and prayer—to hear about Him from His ministers is the food and drink of their souls. Their ears are like a dry soil, ever thirsting to drink in the water of life. Sometimes they may be tempted to turn aside to hear what the world can offer—but they soon go back again to sit at Jesus’ feet and hear His voice, with sorrow and shame and wonder for their own backslidings. The world cannot see that Christ’s voice is such a joyful sound; they dislike it—it offends them; to be told they are sinners, and must repent and believe or perish, is a stumbling-block. But Christ’s sheep are never offended; day after day they listen diligently to their Shepherd’s teaching; no music is so sweet to their ears as Jesus’ voice, and whether preached or written there is nothing they love so much. It seems as if it were spoken for their own particular case, and they cannot, they dare not, they would not for all the world disregard it.
IV. I must go on to the fourth and last mark of a true believer. “My sheep,” says the text in John, “hear my voice and follow me.” To follow Christ, that is the grand mark of Christians. No man shall ever say of them, they profess and do not practice, they say and do nothing for their Master’s sake; they must not only hear their Master’s voice—but follow Him. To follow Christ is to place implicit trust in Him as our Redeemer, Savior, Prophet, Priest, King, Leader, Commander and Shepherd; and to walk in His ways, straightforwards. It is to take up our cross and subscribe our name among His people, to look to the Lamb as our Guide and follow Him wherever He goes. We are not to follow our own devices and trust in ourselves for salvation; we are not to follow that vain shadow of a hope, our own doings and performances—but we are to fix our eyes and hearts on Christ; on Him we are to rest our faith for free and full forgiveness, to Him we are to pray for grace to help in time of need, after Him we are to walk, as the best, the brightest, the purest example. The way may be narrow and steep, we must press forward, not turning to the right hand or the left; the way may be dark, we must keep on—there will be light enough in heaven.
O that Christians, the very best of them, were not so slack in following! Some stop to trifle with the perishable things of earth. Some stop to pick up the gaudy, scentless flowers by the wayside. Some stop to sleep, forgetting this is not our rest, it is enchanted ground. Some stop to pick holes and find fault with their fellow-travelers. Few of Christ’s sheep do hold on their way as steadily as they might. But still, compared with the world, they are following Christ Jesus. Oh that they would only remember, those who follow Him most fully, shall follow Him most comfortably! They are following Christ Jesus, and they know where they are going; and even in the dark river, in the valley of the shadow of death, they feel a confidence that their Shepherd will be with them, and His rod and His staff will comfort them. They would all tell you they are poor wandering sheep, less than the least of all God’s mercies, ashamed of the little fruit they bear—but still, weak as they are, they are determined to follow on to the end, and to say, “None but Christ, in life and in death, in time and in eternity.”
Such is the character which the text gives of true Christians. They are compared to sheep; they are called Christ’s property; they hear His voice, and they follow Him. To go further at this time would be plainly impossible, and I therefore purpose, if the Lord will, to speak to you about the other branch of the text—the privileges of Christians—this evening. By God’s blessing you shall then hear what their Savior is to His people. It only remains to wind up what has been already said by PERSONAL APPLICATION.
I told you this was a text for self-inquiry; and in that light I press upon each of you now. I call upon you, O man or O woman, to put your hand upon your heart and ask that little question, “Am I a sheep of Christ’s flock—or am I not? Do I hear His voice or do I not? Do I follow Him or do I not?” Does not your Redeemer and your judge say plainly, “This is the character of my people?” Does He not give you the most certain marks by which to try your state? and if you cannot see in yourself these marks, where and what are your claims to eternal life? Without them you are, for the present, no better than a lost soul. Do you not know there are only to be two sorts of characters before the judgment-seat—sheep on the right hand in honor, and goats on the left hand in disgrace? And do you not know it is just the same even now? There are only two classes of people upon earth—men who hear Christ and follow Christ and are in a way to be saved; and men who neither hear nor follow Him and are in a way to be lost? And which flock do you belong to? There is no middle state. Examine yourself and be wise in time.
Think not to put off this question by saying, “I shall do as well as the rest of the world,”—that well may be doing very badly. The way of the world, indeed! Bring the world to the bar, and try it by the text, “Does the world hear Christ?” Who will stand forth and say it does? Christ’s promises and invitations and warnings and threatenings and instructions and exhortations are all alike disregarded and despised; the world is deaf to them; they might never have been spoken. “Oh,” says the world, “we shall do very well without minding all that; it was not meant for us.” And who was it meant for, then?
But again, does the world follow Christ? Who will stand up and say Yes to that? No, indeed! Christ’s ways and Christ’s example, holiness and love and meekness and temperance and self-denial, are the exceptions—the rare, scarce things in the world; and the things most frequent are anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, wantonness, pride, vanity, idleness, spiritual sloth, Bible-despising, prayer-neglecting, church-forgetting, worldliness, and the like. “Oh, never mind,” says the world; “we shall do very well without being so strict.” Very well in the devil’s opinion, who would love to ruin every living soul—but not very well in God’s. No; indeed the world will neither follow Christ nor hear Christ, anything else sooner—and yet remember it is the character of those who are to have eternal life that they hear Christ’s voice and follow Him. Sinner, remember, today I have told you.
And think not, O man, to put me off by saying, “At this rate very few will be saved.” You say very truly, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself foretold it. But let me tell you a secret: Why is it so few are likely to be saved? God would have all men brought unto the knowledge of the truth: why do so many, so very many, come short and take the broad way which leads to destruction? Simply because they will not believe what God has told them in His word; simply because they will have it God will not stand to what He has written in His Bible; they will imagine heaven is to be entered without being Christ’s sheep—will have their own way and not God’s.
Remember, then, this day, I tell you, that God is willing to receive you if you will only turn to Him: if you will only resolve to think for yourself and never mind the world, if you will only hear the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ and follow Him, if you will only be in earnest and come unto Him for forgiveness and His Holy Spirit, He shall grant you your heart’s desire, and you shall never perish but have eternal life. But whether you will hear or whether you will forbear, Christ and Christ only is the way, the truth, and the life—and whatever the world may tell you, no man shall ever come unto the Father but by Him.
§ 3. Different Kinds of Faith
Though the definition above given be accepted, it is to be admitted that there are different kinds of faith. In other words, the state of mind which the word designates is very different in one case from what it is in others. This difference arises partly from the nature of its objects, and partly from the nature or form of the testimony on which it is founded. Faith in a historical fact or speculative truth is one thing; faith in aesthetic truth another thing; faith in moral truth another thing; faith in spiritual truth, and especially faith in the promise of salvation made to ourselves another thing. That is, the state of mind denominated faith is very different in any one of these cases from what it is in the others. Again, the testimony which God bears to the truth is of different kinds. In one form it is directed especially to the understanding; in another to the conscience; in another to our regenerated nature. This is the cause of the difference between speculative, temporary, and saving faith.
Speculative or Dead Faith
There are many men who believe the Bible to be the Word of God; who receive all that it teaches; and who are perfectly orthodox in their doctrinal belief. If asked why they believe, they may be at a loss for an answer. Reflection might enable them to say they believe because others believe. They receive their faith by inheritance. They were taught from their earliest years thus to believe. The Church to which they belong inculcates this faith, and it is enjoined upon them as true and necessary. Others of greater culture may say that the evidence of the divine origin of the Bible, both external and internal, satisfies their minds, and produces a rational conviction that the Scriptures are a revelation from God, and they receive its contents on his authority. Such a faith as this, experience teaches, is perfectly compatible with a worldly or wicked life. This is what the Bible calls a dead faith.
Again, nothing is more common than for the Gospel to produce a temporary impression, more or less deep and lasting. Those thus impressed believe. But, having no root in themselves, sooner or later they fall away. It is also a common experience that men utterly indifferent or even skeptical, in times of danger, or on the near approach of death, are deeply convinced of the certainty of those religious truths previously known, but hitherto disregarded or rejected. This temporary faith is due to common grace; that is, to those influences of the Spirit common in a measure greater or less to all men, which operate on the soul without renewing it, and which reveal the truth to the conscience and cause it to produce conviction.
That faith which secures eternal life; which unites us to Christ as living members of his body; which makes us the sons of God; which interests us in all the benefits of redemption; which works by love, and is fruitful in good works; is founded, not on the external or the moral evidence of the truth, but on the testimony of the Spirit with and by the truth to the renewed soul.
What is meant by the Testimony of the Spirit
It is necessary, before going further, to determine what is meant by the testimony of the Spirit, which is said to be the ground of saving faith.
God, or the Spirit of God, testifies to the truth of the Scriptures and of the doctrines which they contain. This testimony, as has been seen, is partly external, consisting in prophecies and miracles, partly in the nature of the truths themselves as related to the intellectual and moral elements of the soul, and partly special and supernatural. Unrenewed men may feel the power of the two former kinds of testimony, and believe with a faith either merely intellectual and speculative, or with what may be called from its ground, a moral faith, which is only temporary. The spiritual form of testimony is confined to the regenerated. It is, of course, inscrutable. The operations of the Spirit do not reveal themselves in the consciousness otherwise than by their effects. We know that men are born of the Spirit, that the Spirit dwells in the people of God and continually influences their thoughts, feelings, and actions. But we know this only from the teaching of the Bible, not because we are conscious of his operations. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8.)
This witness of the Spirit is not an affirmation that the Bible is the Word of God. Neither is it the production of a blind, unintelligent conviction of that fact. It is not, as is the case with human testimony, addressed from without to the mind, but it is within the mind itself. It is an influence designed to produce faith. It is called a witness or testimony because it is so called in Scripture; and because it has the essential nature of testimony, inasmuch as it is the pledge of the authority of God in support of the truth.
The effects of this inward testimony are, (1.) What the Scriptures call “spiritual discernment.” This means two things: A discernment due to the influence of the Spirit; and a discernment not only of the truth, but also of the holiness, excellence, and glory of the things discerned. The word spiritual, in this sense, means conformed to the nature of the Spirit. Hence the law is said to be spiritual, i.e., holy, just, and good. (2.) A second effect flowing necessarily from the one just mentioned is delight and complacency, or love. (3.) The apprehension of the suitableness of the truths revealed, to our nature and necessities. (4.) The firm conviction that these things are not only true, but divine. (5.) The fruits of this conviction, i.e., of the faith thus produced, good works,—holiness of heart and life.
When, therefore, a Christian is asked, Why he believes the Scriptures and the doctrines therein contained, his simple answer is, On the testimony or authority of God. How else could he know that the worlds were created by God, that our race apostatized from God, that He sent his Son for our redemption, that faith in Him will secure salvation. Faith in such truths can have no other foundation than the testimony of God. If asked, How God testifies to the truth of the Bible? If an educated man whose attention has been called to the subject, he will answer, In every conceivable way: by signs, wonders, and miracles; by the exhibition which the Bible makes of divine knowledge, excellence, authority, and power, If an uneducated man, he may simply say, “Whereas I was blind, now I see.” Such a man, and indeed every true Christian, passes from a state of unbelief to one of saving faith, not by any process of research or argument, but of inward experience. The change may, and often does, take place in a moment. The faith of a Christian in the Bible is, as before remarked, analogous to that which all men have in the moral law, which they recognize not only as truth, but as having the authority of God. What the natural man perceives with regard to the moral law the renewed man is enabled to perceive in regard to “the things of the Spirit,” by the testimony of that Spirit with and by the truth to his heart.
Proof from Express Declarations of Scripture
1. That this is the Scriptural doctrine on the subject is plain from the express declarations of the Scriptures. Our Lord promised to send the Spirit for this very purpose. “He will reprove the world of sin,” especially of the sin of not believing in Christ; “and of righteousness,” that is, of his righteousness,—the rightfulness of his claims to be regarded and received as the Son of God, God manifest in the flesh, and the Saviour of the world; “and of judgment,” that is, of the final overthrow of the kingdom of darkness and triumph of the kingdom of light. (John 16:8.) Faith, therefore, is always represented in Scripture as one of the fruits of the Spirit, as the gift of God, as the product of his energy (πίστις τη̂ς ἐνεργείας του̂ Θεου̂) (Colossians 2:12). Men are said to believe in virtue of the same power which wrought in Christ, when God raised Him from the dead. (Eph 1:19, 20.) The Apostle Paul elaborately sets forth the ground of faith in the second chapter of First Corinthians. He declares that he relied for success not on the enticing words of man’s wisdom, but on the demonstration of the Spirit, in order that the faith of the people might rest not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. Faith was not to rest on argument, on historical or philosophical proof, but on the testimony of the Spirit. The Spirit demonstrates the truth to the mind, i.e., produces the conviction that it is truth, and leads the soul to embrace it with assurance and delight. Passages have already been quoted which teach that faith rests on the testimony of God, and that unbelief consists in rejecting that testimony. The testimony of God is given through the Spirit, whose office it is to take of the things of Christ and show them unto us. The Apostle John tells his readers, “Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things … The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you: and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” (1 John 2:20, 27.) This passage teaches, (1.) That true believers receive from Christ (the Holy One) an unction. (2.) That this unction is the Holy Ghost. (3.) That it secures the knowledge and conviction of the truth. (4.) That this inward teaching which makes them believers is abiding, and secures them from apostasy.
1 Corinthians 2:14.
Equally explicit is the passage in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man.” The things of the Spirit, are the things which the Spirit has revealed. Concerning these things, it is taught: (1.) that the natural or unrenewed man does not receive them. (2.) That the spiritual man, i.e., the man in whom the Spirit dwells, does receive them. (3.) That the reason of this difference is that the former has not, and that the latter has, spiritual discernment. (4.) This spiritual discernment is the apprehension of the truth and excellence of the things discerned. (5.) It is spiritual, as just stated, both because due to the operation of the Spirit, and because the conformity of the truths discerned to the nature of the Spirit, is apprehended.
When Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ the Son of the living God, our Lord said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 16:17.) Other men had the same external evidence of the divinity of Christ that Peter had. His faith was due not to that evidence alone, but to the inward testimony of God. Our Lord rendered thanks that God had hidden the mysteries of his kingdom from the wise and prudent and revealed them unto babes. (Matt. 11:25.) The external revelation was made to both classes. Besides this external revelation, those called babes received an inward testimony which made them believers. Hence our Lord said, No man can come unto me except he be drawn or taught of God. (John 6:44, 45.) The Apostle tells us that the same Gospel, the same objective truths, with the same external and rational evidence, which was an offence to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek, was to the called the wisdom and the power of God. Why this difference? Not the superior knowledge or greater excellence of the called, but the inward divine influence, the κλη̂σις, of which they were the subjects. Paul’s instantaneous conversion is not to be referred to any rational process of argument; nor to his moral susceptibility to the truth; nor to the visible manifestation of Christ, for no miracle, no outward light or splendour could change the heart and transform the whole character in a moment. It was, as the Apostle himself tells us (Gal. 1:15, 16), the inward revelation of Christ to him by the special grace of God. It was the testimony of the Spirit, which being inward and supernatural, enabled him to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. The Psalmist prayed that God would open his eyes that he might see wondrous things out of his law. The Apostle prayed for the Ephesians that God would give them the Holy Spirit, that the eyes of their souls might be opened, that they might know the things freely given to them of God. (Eph. 1:17, 18.) Everywhere in the Bible the fact that any one believes is referred not to his subjective state, but to the work of the Spirit on his heart.
Proof from the Way the Apostles acted
2. As the Scriptures thus expressly teach that the ground of true or saving faith is the inward witness of the Spirit, the Apostles always acted on that principle. They announced the truth, and demanded its instant reception, under the pain of eternal death. Our Lord did the same. “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18.) Immediate faith was demanded. Being demanded by Christ, and at his command by the Apostles, that demand must be just and reasonable. It could, however, be neither unless the evidence of the truth attended it. That evidence could not be the external proofs of the divinity of Christ and his Gospel, for those proofs were present to the minds of comparatively few of the hearers of the Gospel; nor could it be rational proof or philosophical arguments, for still fewer could appreciate such evidence, and if they could it would avail nothing to the production of saving faith. The evidence of truth, to which assent is demanded by God the moment it is announced, must be in the truth itself. And if this assent be obligatory, and dissent or unbelief a sin, then the evidence must be of a nature, to which a corrupt state of the soul renders a man insensible. “If our gospel be hid,” says the Apostle, “it is hid to them that are lost: in whom the God of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them … [But] God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:3–6.) It is here taught, (1.) That wherever and whenever Christ is preached, the evidence of his divinity is presented. The glory of God shines in his face. (2.) That if any man fails to see it, it is because the God of this world hath blinded his eyes. (3.) That if any do perceive it and believe, it is because of an inward illumination produced by Him who first commanded the light to shine out of darkness.
Proof from the Practice in the Church
3. As Christ and the Apostles acted on this principle, so have all faithful ministers and missionaries from that day to this They do not expect to convince and convert men by historical evidence or by philosophical arguments. They depend on the demonstration of the Spirit.
Proof from Analogy
4. This doctrine, that the true and immediate ground of faith in the things of the Spirit is the testimony of the Spirit, producing spiritual discernment, is sustained by analogy. If a man cannot see the splendour of the sun, it is because he is blind. If he cannot perceive the beauties of nature and of art, it is because he has no taste. If he cannot apprehend “the concord of sweet sounds,” it is because he has not a musical ear. If he cannot see the beauty of virtue, or the divine authority of the moral law, it is because his moral sense is blunted. If he cannot see the glory of God in his works and in his Word, it is because his religious nature is perverted. And in like manner, if he cannot see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, it is because the god of this world has blinded his eyes.
No one excuses the man who can see no excellence in virtue, and who repudiates the authority of the moral law. The Bible and the instinctive judgment of men, condemn the atheist. In like manner the Scriptures pronounce accursed all who do not believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. This is the denial of supreme excellence; the rejection of the clearest manifestation of God ever made to man. The solemn judgment of God is, “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema maranatha.” (1 Cor. 16:22.) In this judgment the whole intelligent universe will ultimately acquiesce.
Faith in the Scriptures, therefore, is founded on the testimony of God. By testimony, as before stated, is meant attestation, anything which pledges the authority of the attester in support of the truth to be established. As this testimony is of different kinds, so the faith which it produces, is also different. So far as the testimony is merely external, the faith it produces is simply historical or speculative. So far as the testimony is moral, consisting in the power which the Spirit gives to the truth over the natural conscience, the faith is temporary, depending on the state of mind which is its proximate cause. Besides these, there is the inward testimony of the Spirit, which is of such a nature and of such power as to produce a perfect revolution in the soul, compared in Scripture to that effected by opening the eyes of the blind to the reality, the wonders, and glories of creation. There is, therefore, all the difference between a faith resting on this inward testimony of the Spirit, and mere speculative faith, that there is between the conviction a blind man has of the beauties of nature, before and after the opening of his eyes. As this testimony is informing, enabling the soul to see the truth and excellence of the “things of the Spirit,” so far as the consciousness of the believer is concerned, his faith is a form of knowledge He sees to be true, what the Spirit reveals and authenticates.
~Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic theology (Vol. 3, pp. 67–74). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
What is a Biblical Christian?
by Albert N. Martin
There are many matters concerning which total ignorance and complete difference are neither tragic nor fatal. I believe many of you are probably totally ignorant of Einstein’s theory of relativity and if you were pressed to explain it to someone you would really be in difficulty. Not only are you ignorant of Einstein’s theory of relativity, you are probably quite indifferent, and that ignorance and indifference is neither fatal nor tragic. I am sure there are few of us who can explain all the processes by which a brown cow eats green grass and gives white milk. It does not keep you from enjoying the milk. But there are some things concerning which ignorance and indifference are both tragic and fatal and one such thing is the Bible’s answer to the question I am about to set before you.
‘What is a biblical Christian?’ In other words, when does a man or woman, a boy or girl, have the right to take to himself or herself the name Christian, according to the Scriptures?
We do not want to make the assumption lightly that you are true Christians. I want to set before you four strands of the Bible’s answer to that question.
1. ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE, A CHRISTIAN IS A PERSON WHO HAS FACED REALISTICALLY THE PROBLEM OF HIS OWN PERSONAL SIN
Now one of the many unique things about the Christian faith is this —unlike most of the religions of the world, Christianity is essentially and fundamentally a sinner’s religion. When the angel announced to Joseph he approaching birth of Jesus Christ, he did so in these words, ‘You halt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins’ [Matt 1.21]. The apostle Paul wrote in I Timothy 1.15, ‘This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’. He came into the world to save sinners. The Lord Jesus Christ himself says in Luke 5.31-32, ‘Those that are healthy do not need a doctor but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’. And the Christian is one who has faced realistically this problem of his own personal sin.
When we turn to the Scripture and seek to take in the whole of its teaching on the subject of sin, right down to its irreducible minimum, we find that the Scripture tells us that each one of us has a two-fold personal problem in relation to sin. On the one hand, we have the problem of a bad record and, on the other, the problem of a bad heart. If we start in Genesis 3 and read that tragic account of man’s rebellion against God and his fall into sin, then trace the biblical doctrine of sin all the way through the Old Testament, and on into the New, right through to the Book of Revelation, we shall see that it is not over-simplification to say that everything that the Bible teaches about the doctrine of sin can be reduced to those two fundamental categories — the problem of a bad record and the problem of a bad heart.
What do I mean by ‘the problem of a bad record’? I am using that terminology to describe what the Scripture sets before us as the doctrine of human guilt because of sin. The Scripture tells us plainly that we obtained a bad record long before we had any personal existence here upon the earth: ‘Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned’ [Rom 5.12]. When did the ‘all’ sin? We all sinned in Adam. He was appointed by God to represent all of the human race and when he sinned we sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression. That is why the apostle writes in 1 Corinthians 15.22, ‘As in Adam all die’. We passed our age of accountability in the Garden of Eden and from the moment Adam sinned we were charged with guilt. We fell in him in his first transgression and we are part of the race that is under condemnation. Furthermore, the Scripture says, after we come into being at our own conception and subsequent birth additional guilt accrues to us for our own personal, individual transgressions. The Word of God teaches that there is not a just man upon the face of the earth who does good and does not sin [Eccles 7.20], and every single sin incurs additional guilt. Our record in heaven is a marred record. Almighty God measures the totality of our human experience from the moment of our birth by a standard which is absolutely inflexible; a standard that touches not only our external deeds but also our thoughts and the very motions and intentions of our heart; so much so, that the Lord Jesus said that the stirring of unjust anger is the very essence of murder, the look with intention to lust as adultery. And God is keeping ‘a detailed record’. That record is among ‘the books’ Which will be opened in the day of judgment [Rev 20.12]. And there in those books is recorded every thought, every motive, every intention, every deed, every dimension of human experience that is contrary to the standard of God’s holy law, either failing to measure up to its standard or transgressing it. We have the problem of a bad record — a record in which we are charged with guilt; real guilt for real sin committed against the true and the living God. That is why the Scripture tells us that the entire human race stands guilty before Almighty God [Rom 3.19].
Has the problem of your own bad record ever become a burning, pressing personal concern to you? Have you faced the truth that Almighty God judged you guilty when our first father sinned, and holds you guilty for every single word you have spoken contrary to perfect holiness and justice and purity and righteousness? He knows every object you have touched and taken contrary to the sanctity of property and every word spoken contrary to perfect, absolute truth. Has this ever broken in upon you, so that you awakened to the fact that Almighty God has every right to summon you into his presence and to require you to give an account of every single deed contrary to His law, which has brought guilt upon your soul?
Certainly we have the problem of a bad record but we have an additional problem — the problem of a bad heart. We not only are pronounced guilty in the court of heaven for what we have done. The Scripture teaches that the problem of our sin is one that arises not only from what we have done, but from what we are. When Adam sinned he not only became guilty before God, but defiled and polluted in his own nature. The Scripture describes it in Jeremiah 17.9, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?’ Jesus describes it in Mark 7.21, ‘From within, out of the heart of man, proceed…’and then He names all the various sins that can be seen in any newspaper on any day — blasphemies, pride, adulteries, murder. Jesus said that these things rise out of this artesian well of pollution, the human heart. Notice carefully that he did not say, ‘For from without, by the pressure of society and its negative influences, come forth murder and adultery and pride and thievery’. That is what our so-called sociological experts tell us. It is ‘the condition of society’ that produces crime and rebellion. Jesus says it is the condition of the human heart. For from within, out of the heart, proceed these things — lies, selfishness, self-centredness, total pre-occupation with my feelings and my desires and my plans and my perspectives.
We have hearts that the Scripture describes as ‘desperately wicked’ — the fountain of all forms of iniquity. To change the biblical imagery, Romans 8.7 reads, ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be’. Paul says that the carnal mind, that is, the mind that has never been regenerated by God, is not reflective of some enmity; he calls it enmity itself. ‘The carnal mind is enmity against God’. The disposition of every human heart by nature can be visually pictured as a clenched fist raised against the living God. This is the inward problem of a bad heart — a heart that loves sin, a heart that is lie fountain of sin, a heart that is at enmity with God. And such is the problem that every one of us has by nature.
Has the problem of your bad heart ever become a pressing personal concern to you? I am not asking whether you believe in human sinfulness in theory. Oh, there is such a thing as a sinful nature and a sinful heart. My question is: Have your bad record and your bad heart ever become a matter of deep, inward, personal, pressing concern to you? Have you known anything of real, personal, inward consciousness of the awfulness of your guilt in the presence of a holy God? — the horribleness of a heart that is ‘deceitful above all things and desperately wicked’?
A Bible Christian is a person who has in all seriousness taken to heart us own personal problem of sin.
Now the degree to which we may feel the awful weight of sin differs from one person to another. The length of time over which a person is brought to the consciousness of his bad record and his bad heart differs. There are many variables, but Jesus Christ as the Great Physician never brought his healing virtue to any who did not know themselves to be sinners. He said, ‘I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’ [Matt 9.13]. Are you a Bible Christian, one who has taken seriously your personal problem of sin?
2. A BIBLE CHRISTIAN IS ONE WHO HAS SERIOUSLY CONSIDERED THE ONE DIVINE REMEDY FOR SIN
In the Bible we are told again and again that Almighty God has taken the initiative in doing something for man the sinner. The verses some of us learned in our infancy underscore divine initiative in providing a remedy or sinful man: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . .’; ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent us Son to be the propitiation for our sins’; ‘But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us. . .’ [John 3.16; 1 John 10; Eph 2.41. You see, the unique feature of the Christian faith is that it not a kind of religious self-help where you patch yourself up with the aid of God. Just as surely as it is a unique tenet of the Christian faith that Christ is a Savior for sinners, so it is also a unique tenet of the Christian faith that all of our true help comes down from above and meets us where we are. We cannot pull ourselves up by our own boot-strings. God in mercy breaks in upon the human situation and does something which we could never do for ourselves. Now when we turn to the Scriptures we find that the divine remedy has at least three simple but profoundly wonderful focal points:
(a) First of all, that divine remedy is bound up in a Person. Anyone who begins to take seriously the divine remedy for human sin will notice in the Scriptures that the remedy is not in a set of ideas, as though it were just another philosophy, nor is it found in an institution, it is bound up in a Person. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son’. ‘Thou shall call his name Jesus for he shall save. . .’ He, himself, said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father but by me’ [John 14.6]. That one divine remedy is bound up in a Person and that Person is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ — the eternal Word who became man, uniting to his Godhead a true human nature. Here is God’s provision for man with his bad record and his bad heart, a Saviour who is both God and man, the two natures joined in the one Person for ever. And your personal problem of sin, and mine, if it is ever to be remedied in a biblical way will be remedied only as we have personal dealings with that Person. Such is the unique strand of the Christian faith — the sinner in all his need united to the Saviour in all the plenitude of his grace, the sinner in his naked need and the Saviour in his almighty power, brought directly together in the Gospel. That is the glory of the Gospel!
(b) It is centred in the cross upon which that Person died. A cross that leads to an empty tomb, yes! And a cross preceded by a life of perfect obedience, yes! And when we turn to the Scriptures we find that the divine remedy in a unique way is centred in the cross of Jesus Christ. When he is formally announced by John the Baptist, John points to him and says, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who is bearing away the sin of the world’ [John 1.29]. Jesus himself said, ‘I did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give my life a ransom for many’ [Matt 20.28], and true preaching of the Gospel is so much centered in the cross that Paul says it is the word, or the message of the cross. The preaching of the cross is ‘to them who are perishing foolishness, but unto us who are being saved it is the power of God’ [1 Cor 1.18], and this same apostle went on to say that when he came to Corinth — that bastion of intellectualism and pagan Greek philosophy with its set patterns of rhetorical expertise — ‘I came amongst you determined to know nothing save Jesus Christ and him as crucified’ [1 Cor 2.2].
You see, God’s gracious remedy for sin is not only bound up in a Person, it is centred in the cross of that Person — not the cross as an abstract idea, nor as a religious symbol, but the cross in terms of what God declares it to mean. The cross was the place where God heaped upon his Son, by imputation, the sins of his people. On that cross there was substitutionary curse-bearing. In the language of Galatians 3.13, ‘God made him to be a curse for us’; ‘God made him to be sin for us’ [2 Cor 5.2] — the one who knew no sin. It is not the cross as some nebulous, indefinable symbol of self-giving love, it is the cross as the monumental display of how God can be just and still pardon guilty sinners; the cross where God, having imputed the sins of his people to Christ, pronounces judgment upon his Son as the representative of his people. There on the cross God pours out the vials of his wrath, unmixed with mercy, until his Son cries out, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? why have you forsaken me?’ [Psa 22.1; Matt 27.46]. There in the visible world at Calvary, God, as it were, was demonstrating what was happening in the invisible spiritual world. He shrouds the heavens in total darkness to let all mankind know that he is plunging his Son into the outer darkness of the hell which your sins and my sins deserved. Jesus hangs on the cross in the place of an undefended guilty criminal; he is in the posture of one for whom society has but one option, ‘Away with him’, ‘Crucify him’, ‘Hand him over to death’, and God does not intervene. There in the theatre of what men can see, God is demonstrating what he is doing in the realm where we cannot see. He is treating his Son as a criminal, he is causing him to feel in the depths of his own soul all of the fury of the wrath that should have been vented upon us.
(c) A remedy that is adequate for and offered to all without discrimination. Before we have any felt consciousness of our sin, about the easiest thing in the world is to think that God can forgive sinners. But when you and I begin to have any idea at all of what sin is — we, little worms of the dust, we creatures whose very life and breath is held in the hands of the God in whom ‘we live and move and have our being’ [Acts 17.28] — when we begin, I say, to take seriously that we have dared to defy Almighty God who holds our breath in his hands, the God who, when angels rebelled against him, did not wait to show mercy but consigned them to everlasting chains of darkness with no way of mercy ever planned or revealed to them, then our thoughts are changed. Once we take seriously the truth that it is this holy God who sees the effusions of the foul, corrupt human hearts which are yours and mine, then we say, ‘O God, how can you be anything other than just; and if you give me what my sins deserve, there is nothing for me but wrath and judgment! How can you forgive me and still be just? How can you be a righteous God and do anything other than consign me to everlasting punishment with those angels that rebelled’. When you begin to take your sin seriously, forgiveness becomes the most knotty problem with which your mind has ever wrestled. It is then that we need to know that God has provided in a Person, and that Person crucified, a remedy that is adequate for and offered to all without discrimination. When God begins to make us feel the reality of our sin, if there were any conditions placed on the availability of Christ we would say, ‘Surely I don’t meet the conditions, surely I don’t qualify’, but the wonder of God’s provision is that it comes in these unfettered terms: ‘Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; he who has no money, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do you labor for that which does not satisfy’ [Isa 55.1 -2]. ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Him that comes unto me I will in no wise cast out’ [Matt 11.28; John 6.37].
Oh, the beauty of the unfettered offers of mercy in Jesus Christ! We do not need to have God step out of heaven and tell us that we, by name, are warranted to come; we have the unfettered offers of mercy in the words of his own Son, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’.
3. A BIBLE CHRISTIAN IS ONE WHO HAS WHOLEHEARTEDLY COMPLIED WITH THE DIVINE TERMS FOR APPROPRIATING THE DIVINE PROVISION
The divine terms are two — repent and believe. That is what Jesus preached, ‘At that time Jesus came preaching, Repent and believe the gospel’ [Mark 1.15, 16]. It is what Paul preached. He says, ‘I testified to Jews and Greeks wherever I went, repentance toward God, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ’ [Acts 20.21]. This is the Gospel that Jesus told his own to preach [Luke 24.45, 46]. He opened their minds to understand the Scripture and told them it was necessary for Christ to die, and to be raised again from the dead the third day, that repentance unto remission of sins should be preached in his name among all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
What are the divine terms for obtaining the divine provision? We must repent, we must believe. Now because we have to speak in terms of one word following another, or preceding another, we must not think that this repentance is ever divorced from faith or that this faith is ever divorced from repentance. True faith is permeated with repentance, true repentance is permeated with faith. They inter-penetrate one another so that, whenever there is a true appropriation of the divine provision, there you will find a believing penitent and a penitent believer. The one will never be divorced from the other.
What is repentance? The definition of the Shorter Catechism is an excellent one: ‘Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of (that is, a laying hold of) the mercy of God in Christ, does with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience’.
Repentance is the prodigal down in the far country coming to his senses. He left his father’s home because he could not stand his father’s government. Everything about his father’s will and ways irritated him. It was a constant block to following the desires of his own foul, wretched, sin-loving heart. The day came when he said he wanted what was due to him. He went into the far country. When he left he had a notion of his father, of his government and of his ways, which was entirely negative, but the Scripture tells us in Luke 15 that down in the far country he came to himself: ‘And when he came to himself he said, I will arise and go to my father and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you, and am no more worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants’. And then the Scripture says he did not sit there and think about it, and write poetry about it and send telegrams home to his Dad. It says, ‘He rose up and came to his father’. He left all those companions who were his friends in sin; he loathed and abominated and abhorred everything that belonged to that life-style. He turned his back on it. And what was it that drew him home? It was the confidence that there was a gracious father with a large heart and with the righteous rule for his happy, loving home. And he said, ‘I will arise and go to my father’. He did not send a telegram saying, ‘Dad, things are getting rough down here; my conscience is giving me fits at night; won’t you send me some money to help me out and come and pay me a visit and make me feel good?’ Not at all! He did not need just to feel good, he needed to become good. And he left the far country. It is a beautiful stroke in our Lord’s picture when he says, ‘While he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran, and threw his arms around him and kissed him’. The prodigal did not come strutting up to his father, talking about making a decision to come home. There is a notion that people can come strutting into enquiry rooms and pray their little prayer and so do God a favour by making their decision. This has no more to do with conversion than my name is ‘Abraham Lincoln’. True repentance involves recognizing that I have sinned against the God of heaven, who is great and gracious, holy and loving, and that I am not worthy to be called his son. And yet, when I am prepared to leave my sin, to turn my back upon it and to come back haltingly, wondering if indeed there can be mercy for me, then — wonder of wonders! — the Father meets me, and throws the arms of reconciling love and mercy about me. I say it, not in a sentimental way but in all truth, he smothers repenting sinners in forgiving and redemptive love.
But note, the father did not throw his arms around the Prodigal when he was still in the hogpens and in the arms of harlots. Do I speak to some whose hearts are wedded to the world, who love the world’s ways? Perhaps in your personal life, or in relationship to your parents, or in your social life where you take so lightly the sanctity of the body, you show what you are. Maybe some of you are involved in fornication, in heavy petting, involved in looking at the kind of stuff on television and in the cinema that feeds your lust, and yet you name the name of Christ. You live in the hog-pens and then go to a house of God on Sunday. Shame on you! Leave your hog pens, your haunts of sin. Leave your patterns and practices of fleshly and carnal indulgence. Repentance is being sorry enough to quit your sin. You will never know the forgiving mercy of God while you are still wedded to your sins.
Repentance is the soul’s divorce from sin but it will always be joined to faith. What is faith? Faith is the casting of the soul upon Christ as he is offered to us in the Gospel. Forsaking All I Take Him. That is faith! ‘As many as received him, to them gave he the right to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in his name’ [John 1.12]. Faith is likened to drinking of Christ. In my soul-thirst I drink of him. Faith is likened to looking to Christ. Faith is likened to following Christ, fleeing to Christ. The Bible uses many analogies and the sum of all of them is this, that in the nakedness of my need I cast myself upon the Savior, trusting him to be to me all that he has promised to be to needy sinners.
Faith brings nothing to Christ but an empty hand by which it takes Christ and all that is in him. And what is in him? Full pardon for all my sins! His perfect obedience is put to my account. His death is counted as mine. And the gift of the Spirit is in him. Adoption, sanctification and ultimately glorification are all in him, and faith, in taking Christ, receives all that is in him. ‘But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, whom God has made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption’ [1 Cor 1.30].
What is a biblical Christian? A biblical Christian is a person who has wholeheartedly complied with the divine terms for obtaining the divine provision for sin. Those terms are repentance and faith. I like to think of them as the hinge on which the door of salvation turns. The hinge has two plates. One that is screwed to the door and the other screwed to the door jam. They are held together by a pin and on that hinge the door turns. Christ is that door, but none enter through him who do not repent and believe, and there is no true hinge made up only of repentance. A repentance that is not joined to faith is a legal repentance. It terminates on yourself and on your sin.
A professed faith that is not joined to repentance is a spurious faith, for faith Is faith in Christ to save me, not in but from my sin. Repentance and faith are inseparable and except you repent you will perish. He that believeth not shall be damned.
4. A TRUE CHRISTIAN IS A PERSON WHO MANIFESTS IN HIS LIFE THAT HIS CLAIMS TO REPENTANCE AND FAITH ARE REAL
Paul said that he preached that men should repent and turn to God and do works meet for, answering to, consistent with, repentance [Acts 26.20]. ‘By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God before ordained that we should walk in them’ [Eph 2.8-101. Paul says in Galatians chapter 5, that faith works by love. Wherever there is true faith in Christ there will always be implanted genuine love to Christ and where there is love to Christ there will be obedience to Christ. True faith always works by love, and what does it work? A life of obedience! ‘He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me. He who loves me not, keeps not my sayings’ [John 14.21-24]. We are not saved by loving Christ, we are saved by trusting Christ, but a trust that produces no love is not real. True faith works by love, and that which love works is not the ability to sit out on a beautiful starlight night writing poetry about how exciting it is to be a Christian. It works by causing you to go back into that home and to obey your father and your mother as the Bible tells you to do, or back to that university campus to take a stand for truth and righteousness against all the pressure of your peers. True faith makes you willing and prepared to be counted a fool and crazy, willing to be considered anachronistic, because you believe that there are eternal, unchangeable, moral and ethical standards. You are willing to believe in the sanctity of human life, and to take your stand against pre-marital gender and the murdering of babies in mothers’ wombs. For Jesus said, ‘Whoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’ [Mark 8.38]. What is a Bible Christian? Not merely one who says, ‘Oh, yes, I know I am a sinner, with a bad record and a bad heart. I know that God’s provision for sinners is in Christ and in his cross, adequate, freely offered to all, and I know it comes to all who repent and believe’. That is not enough. Do you profess to repent and believe? Then can you make that profession stick, not by a life of perfection but by a life of purposeful obedience to Jesus Christ? ‘Not everyone who says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of Heaven’, Jesus said, ‘but he who is doing the will of my Father who is in Heaven’ [Matt 7.21]. In Hebrews 5.8 we read, ‘He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him’ I John 2.4, ‘He who says, I know him, and keeps not his commandments is a liar and the truth is not in him.’
Can you make your claim to be a Christian stick from the Bible? Does your life manifest the fruits of repentance and faith? Do you possess a life of attachment to Christ, of obedience to Christ and confession of Christ? Is your behavior marked by adherence to the ways of Christ? Not perfectly — No! every day you must pray, ‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us’. But you can also say, ‘For me to live is Christ’, or
Jesus I my cross have taken
All to leave and follow Thee.
The world behind me, the cross before me, I have decided to follow Jesus. That is what a true Christian is. How many of us are real Christians? I leave you to answer in the deep chambers of your own mind and heart. But, remember, answer with an answer that you will be prepared to live with for eternity. Be content with no answer but that which will find you comfortable in death and safe in the day of judgment.