AW Pink (1886-1952): The Mediation of Christ

The Mediation of Christ
By
AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

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THE MEDIATION OF CHRIST

For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Ti 2:5). Some unregenerate men, who deny the God-head of Christ, imagine they find something in this verse which supports their system of infidelity, but this only serves to make the more evident the fearful blindness of their minds. As well might they reason from Galatians 1:1 (where we read, “Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ”), that the Lord Jesus is not Man, as to infer from 1 Timothy 2:5 that He is not God. As we shall show in what follows, none could possibly heal the breach between God and men save one who partook of each of their natures.

“For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1Ti 2:5). “In that great difference between God and men, occasioned by our sin and apostasy from Him, which of itself could issue in nothing but the utter ruin of the whole race of mankind, there was none in heaven or earth, in their original nature and operations, who was meet or able to make up a peace between them. Yet this must be done by a mediator, or cease forever. This mediator could not be God Himself absolutely considered, for ‘a mediator is not of one, but God is one’ (Gal 3:20). And as for creatures, there was none in heaven or earth, there was none meet to undertake this office. ‘For if one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him; but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall intreat for him?’ (1Sa 2:25)” (John Owen, 1616-1683).

In view of this state of things, the eternal Son, out of love for His Father and that people which had been given to Him, volunteered to enter the office and serve as Mediator. It is to this that Philippians 2:7 refers, where we are told that He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” The susception (taking upon Him) of our nature for the discharge of the mediatorial office therein, was an act of infinite condescension, wherein He is exceedingly glorious in the eyes of His saints. To quote again from the eminent Puritan:

“Such is the transcendent excellency of the divine nature, it is said of God that, ‘He dwelleth on High, and humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth’ (Psa 113:5-6). All His respect unto creatures, the most glorious, is an act of infinite condescension. And it is so on two accounts. First, because of the infinite distance there is between His being, and that of the creature. Hence, ‘All nations before him are as a drop of a bucket.’ Second, because of His infinite self-sufficiency unto all the acts and ends of His own eternal blessedness. What we have a desire unto, is that it may add to our satisfaction, for no creature is self-sufficient unto its own blessedness. God alone wants nothing, and stands in need of nothing, see Job 35:6-8. God hath infinite perfections in Himself.

“How glorious, then, is the Son of God in His susception of the office of mediator! For if such be the perfection of the divine nature, and its distance is so absolutely infinite from the whole of creation, and if such be His self-sufficiency unto His own eternal blessedness, so that nothing can be taken from Him, nothing added unto Him, so that every regard to Him unto any of His creatures, is an act of self-condescension from the prerogative of His being and state; what heart can conceive, what tongue can express the glory of that condescension in the Son of God, whereby He took our nature upon Him, took it to be His own, in order to a discharge of the office of Mediator in our behalf!” Nothing but love, love unfathomable, to His Father and to His people, could have moved Him thereunto.

When we speak of Christ as Mediator, we always think of Him as God and man in one person, and that His two natures, though infinitely distinct, are not to be separated. As God, without a human nature united to His divine person, He would be too high to sustain the character or to perform the work of a servant, and, as such, to yield to the law that obedience which was incumbent upon Him as Mediator. So, on the other hand, to be man, or merely a creature, would be too low, and altogether inconsistent with that infinite value and dignity which must be put upon the work He was to perform. Therefore, none but God incarnate, possessing two natures, was qualified to act as Mediator. Let us amplify this important consideration with a few details.

First, it was necessary that the Mediator should be a divine person. “It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that He might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God and the power of death, give worth and efficacy to His sufferings, obedience, and intercession, and to satisfy God’s justice, procure His favour, purchase a peculiar people, give His Spirit to them, conquer all their enemies, and bring them to everlasting salvation” (Westminster Catechism, 1643). None but God can give eternal life, and, therefore, none but a divine person could be a real Saviour of those who were dead in sins (Joh 10:27-28). Again, “For man to glory in any one as his Saviour, and give him the honour of the new creation, to resign himself to His pleasure, and become His property, and say to Him, ‘Thou are Lord of my soul,’ is an honour to which no mere creature can have the least claim. ‘In JEHOVAH shall all the seed of Israel be justified and shall glory’ (Isa 45:25) (Hermann Witsius, 1636-1708).

Second, it was necessary that the Mediator should be a human person. “It was requisite that the Mediator should be man, that He might advance our nature, perform obedience to the law, suffer, and make intercession for us in our nature, having a fellow-feeling of our infirmities, that we might receive the adoption of sons, and have comfort and access with boldness unto the throne of grace” (Westminster Catechism). The law of God requires the love of our neighbour, but none is our neighbour but who is of the same blood with us. Therefore, before our Surety could satisfy the law for us, He must become man. So, too, He needed to take on Him our nature in order to our being united to Him in one body, and He made members “of his flesh and of his bones” (Eph 5:30).

Third, it was necessary that the Mediator should be God and man in one person. “It was requisite that the Mediator, who was to reconcile God and man, should Himself be both God and man, and this in one person; that the proper works of each nature might be accepted of God for us, and relied on by us, as the works of the whole person” (Westminster Catechism). Had He been God only, He could not have died. Had He been man only, He could not have merited for and bestowed the Holy Spirit upon all His people. Had He not been the God-man, our redemption would have been brought about by two persons! Therefore, did the eternal Word become flesh (Joh 1:14)—for ever be His name adored.

Now, inasmuch as the Mediator is God and man in one person, it follows that various things may be truly stated concerning, or applied to Him, which are infinitely opposite to each other, namely, that He has all power and wisdom as it concerns His Deity, and yet, that He is weak and finite as respects His humanity. In one nature, He is equal with the Father, and so receives nothing from Him, nor is under any obligation to yield obedience. In His other nature, He is inferior to the Father, and so receives all things from Him. Here then is what makes it manifest that there is no contradiction between John 10:30 and John 14:28. As the second person of the Trinity, He could say, “I and my Father are one.” As the God-man Mediator, “My Father is greater than I.” Such verses as Matthew 11:27; 28:18; John 17:5; 1 Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:22-23; Revelation 1:1, etc., all speak of Him as “the Mediator!”

In seeking to make practical application of this blessed theme, we cannot do better than quote the following words. “Think of it, my brother, I entreat you, upon every occasion when drawing nigh to the throne of grace, through that channel by which alone you can approach the throne—through the mediation of Jesus—and in that recollection, may the Lord strengthen your hands and heart. That almighty Friend we now have in heaven, in whose hands all our high interests are placed, though once ‘Man of sorrows,’ was, and is, no less, at the same time, one with the Father, ‘over all God blessed forever,’ (Rom 9:5)” (Robert Hawker, 1753-1827). May the Lord be pleased to add His blessing to this meditation.

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AW Pink (1886-1952): Regeneration or The New Birth

Commentary on Regeneration or The New Birth
By

AW Pink (1886-1952)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Be Berean (Acts 17:11) – Use the Internet with discernment.

LNW Note: To get the most out of Commentaries that incorporate the Hebrew and Greek spellings, use an interlinear Bible.

INTRODUCTION

Two chief obstacles lie in the way of the salvation of any of Adam’s fallen descendants: bondage to the guilt and penalty of sin, bondage to the power and presence of sin; or, in other words, their being bound for Hell and their being unfit for Heaven. These obstacles are, so far as man is concerned, entirely insurmountable. This fact was unequivocally established by Christ, when, in answer to His disciples’ question, “Who then can be saved?”, He answered, “with men this is impossible.” A lost sinner might more easily create a world than save his own soul. But (forever be His name praised), the Lord Jesus went on to say, “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:25, 26). Yes, problems which completely baffle human wisdom, are solvable by Omniscience; tasks which defy the utmost efforts of man, are easily accomplished by Omnipotence. Nowhere is this fact more strikingly exemplified than in God’s saving of the sinner.

As intimated above, two things are absolutely essential in order to salvation: deliverance from the guilt and penalty of sin, deliverance from the power and presence of sin. The one is secured by the mediatorial work of Christ, the other is accomplished by the effectual operations of the Holy Spirit. The one is the blessed result of what the Lord Jesus did for God’s people; the other is the glorious consequence of what the Holy Spirit does in God’s people. The one takes place when, having been brought to lie in the dust as an empty-handed beggar, faith is enabled to lay hold of Christ, God now justifies from all things, and the trembling, penitent, but believing sinner receives a free and full pardon. The other takes place gradually, in distinct stages, under the Divine blessings of regeneration, sanctification, and glorification. In regeneration, indwelling sin receives its death-wound, though not its death. In sanctification, the regenerated soul is shown the sink of corruption that dwells within, and is taught to loathe and hate himself. At glorification both soul and body will be forever delivered from every vestige and effect of sin.

Now a vital and saving knowledge of these Divine truths can not be acquired by a mere study of them. No amount of pouring over the Scriptures, no painstaking examination of the soundest doctrinal treatises, no exercise of the intellect, is able to secure the slightest spiritual insight into them. True, the diligent seeker may attain a natural knowledge, an intellectual apprehension of them, just as one born blind may obtain a notional knowledge of the colorings of the flowers or of the beauties of a sunset, but the natural man can no more arrive at a spiritual knowledge of spiritual things, than a blind man can a true knowledge of natural things, yea, than a man in his grave can know what is going on in the world he has left. Nor can anything short of Divine power bring the proud heart to a felt realization of this humbling fact; only as God supernaturally enlightens, is any soul made conscious of the awful spiritual darkness in which it naturally dwells.

The truth of what has just been said is established by the plain and solemn declaration of 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But 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.” Alas that so many evade the sharp point of this verse by imagining that it applies not to them, mistaking an intellectual assent to spiritual things for an experimental acquaintance of them. An external knowledge of Divine truth, as revealed in Scripture, may charm the mind and form ground for speculation and conversation, but unless there is a Divine application of them to the conscience and heart, such knowledge will be of no more avail in the hour of death than the pleasing images of our dreams are of any satisfaction when we awake. How awful to think that multitudes of professing Christians will awaken in Hell to discover that their knowledge of Divine truth was no more substantial than a dream!

While it be true that no man by searching can find out God (Job 11:7), and that the mysteries of His kingdom are sealed secrets until He deigns to reveal them to the soul (Matt. 13:11), nevertheless, it is also true that God is pleased to use means in the conveyance of heavenly light to our sin-darkened understandings. It is for this reason that He commissions His- servants to preach the Word, and, by voice and pen, expound the Scriptures; nevertheless, their labors will produce no eternal fruits unless He condescends to bless the seed they sow and give it an increase. Thus, no matter how faithfully, simply, helpfully a sermon be preached or an article written, unless the Spirit applies it to the heart, the hearer or reader is no spiritual gainer. Then will you not humbly entreat God to open your heart to receive whatever is according to His holy Word in this booklet?

In what follows, we shall, as God enables, seek to direct attention to what we have referred to at the beginning of this booklet as the second of those two humanly insurmountable obstacles which lies in the way of a sinner’s salvation, and that is, the fitting of him for Heaven, by the delivering of him from the power and presence of sin. Such a work is a Divine one, and therefore it is miraculous. Regeneration is no mere outward reformation, no mere turning over a new leaf and endeavoring to live a better life. The new birth is very much more than going forward and taking the preacher’s hand: it is a supernatural operation of God upon man’s spirit, a transcendent wonder. All of God’s works are wonderful. The world in which we live is filled with things which amaze us. Physical birth is a marvel, but, from several standpoints, the new birth is more remarkable. It is a marvel of Divine grace, Divine wisdom, Divine power, and Divine beauty. It is a miracle performed upon and within ourselves, of which we may be personally cognizant; it will prove an eternal marvel.

Because regeneration is the work of God, it is a mysterious thing. All God s works are shrouded in impenetrable mystery. Life, natural life, in its origin, in its nature, its processes, baffles the most careful investigator. Much more is this the case with spiritual life. The Existence and Being of God transcends the finite grasp; how then can we expect to understand the process by which we become His children? Our Lord Himself declared that the new birth is a thing of mystery: “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). The wind is something about which the most learned scientist knows next to nothing. Its nature, the laws which govern it, the causation, all lie beyond the purview of human inquiry. So it is with the new birth: it is profoundly mysterious.

Regeneration is an intensely solemn thing. The new birth is the dividing line between Heaven and Hell. In God’s sight there are but two classes of people on this earth: those who are dead in sins, and those who are walking in newness of life. In the physical realm there is no such thing as being between life and death. A man is either dead or alive. The vital spark may be very dim, but while it exists, life is present. Let that spark go out altogether, and. though you may dress the body in beautiful clothes, nevertheless, it is nothing more than a corpse. So it is in the spiritual realm. We are either saints or sinners, spiritually alive or spiritually dead. children of God or children of the Devil. In view of this solemn fact, how momentous is the question, Have I been born again? If not, and you die in your present state, you will wish you had never been born at all.

—ARTHUR W. PINK.

ITS NECESSITY

1. The need for regeneration lies in our natural degeneration. In consequence of the fall of our first parents, all of us were born alienated from the Divine life and holiness, despoiled of all those perfections wherewith man’s nature was at first endowed. Ezekiel 16:4, 5 gives a graphic picture of our terrible spiritual plight at our entrance into this world: cast out to the loathing of our persons, rolling ourselves in our own filth, impotent to help ourselves. That “likeness” of God (Gen. 1:26) which was at first stamped on man s soul, has been effaced, aversion from God and an inordinate love of the creature having displaced it. The very fountain of our beings is polluted, continually sending forth bitter springs, and though those streams take several courses and wander in various channels, yet are they all brackish. Therefore is the “sacrifice” of the wicked an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 15:8), and his very ploughing “sin” (Prov. 21:4).

There are but two states, and all men are included therein: the one a state of spiritual life, the other a state of spiritual death; the one a state of righteousness, the other a state of sin: the one saving. the other damning; the one a state of enmity, wherein men have their inclinations contrary to God, the other a state of friendship and fellowship, wherein men walk obediently unto God, and would not willingly have an inward notion opposed to His will. The one state is called darkness, the other light: “For ye were (in your unregenerate days, not only in the dark, but) darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:6). There is no medium between these conditions; all are in one of them. Each man and woman now on earth is either an object of God’s delight or of His abomination. The most benevolent and imposing works of the flesh cannot please Him. but the faintest sparks proceeding from that which grace hath kindled are acceptable in His sight.

By the fall man contracted an unfitness to that which is good. Shapen in iniquity and conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5), man is a “transgressor from the womb” (Isa. 48:8): “they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Ps. 58:3), and “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen. 8:21). He may be civilized, educated, refined, and even religious, but at heart he is “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9), and all that he does is vile in the sight of God, for nothing is done from love to Him, and with a view to His glory. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (Matt. 7:18). Until they are born again, all men are “unto every good work reprobate” (Titus 1:16).

By the fall man contracted an unwillingness to that which is good. All motions of the will in its fallen estate, through defect of a right principle from whence they flow and a right end to which they tend, are only evil and sinful. Leave man to himself, remove from him all the restraints which law and order impose, and he will swiftly degenerate to a lower level than the beasts, as almost any missionary will testify. And is human nature any better in civilized lands? Not a whit. Wash off the artificial veneer and it will be found that “as in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man” (Prov. 27:19). The world over, it remains solemnly true that “the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Rom. 8:7). Christ will prefer the same charge in a coming day as when He was here on earth: “Men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). Men will not come to Him that they might have “life.”

By the fall man contracted an inability to that which is good. He is not only unfitted and unwilling, but unable to do that which is good. Where is the man that can truthfully say he has measured up to his own ideals? All have to acknowledge there is a strange force within dragging them downward, inclining them to evil, which, notwithstanding their utmost endeavors against it, in some form or other, more or less, conquers them. Despite the kindly exhortations of friends, the faithful warnings of God’s servants, the solemn examples of suffering and sorrow, disease and death on every side, and the vote of their own conscience, yet they yield. “They that are in the flesh (in their natural condition) cannot please God” (Rom. 8:18).

Thus it is evident that the need is imperative for a radical and revolutionary change to be wrought in fallen man before he can have any fellowship with the thrice holy God. Since the earth must be completely changed, because of the curse now resting on it, before it can ever again bring forth fruit as it did when man was in a state of innocency; so must man, since a general defilement from Adam has seized upon him, be renewed, before he can “bring forth fruit unto God” (Rom. 7:4). He must be grafted upon another stock, united to Christ, partake of the power of His resurrection: without this he may bring forth fruit, but not “unto God.” How can any one turn to God without a principle of spiritual motion? How can he live to God who has no spiritual life? Row can he be fit for the kingdom of God who is of a brutish and diabolical nature?

2. The need for regeneration lies in man’s total depravity. Every member of Adam’s race is a fallen creature, and every part of his complex being has been corrupted by sin. Man’s heart is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). His mind is blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4) and darkened by sin (Eph. 4:18), so that his thoughts are only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). His affections are prostituted, so that he loves what God hates, and hates what God loves. His will is enslaved from good (Rom. 6:20) and opposed to God (Rom. 8:7). He is without righteousness (Rom. 3:10), under the curse of the law (Gal. 3:10) and is the captive of the Devil. His condition is truly deplorable, and his case desperate. He cannot better himself, for he is “without strength” (Rom. 5:6). He cannot work out his salvation, for there dwelleth no good thing in him (Rom. 7:18). He needs, then, to be born of God, “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15).

Man is a fallen creature. It is not that a few leaves have faded, but that the entire tree has become rotten, root and branch. There is in every one that which is radically wrong. The word “radical” comes from a Latin one which means “the root,” so that when we say a man is radically wrong, we mean that there is in him, in the very foundation and fiber of his being, that which is intrinsically corrupt and essentially evil. Sins are merely the fruit, there must of necessity be a root from which they spring. It follows, then, as an inevitable consequence that man needs the aid of a Higher Power to effect a radical change in him. There is only One who can effect that change: God created man, and God alone can re-create him. Hence the imperative demand, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). Man is spiritually dead and naught but all-mighty power can make him alive.

“By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men” (Rom. 5:12). In the day that Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, he died spiritually, and a person who is spiritually dead cannot beget a child who possesses spiritual life. Therefore, all by natural descent enter this world “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18), “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). This is no mere figure of speech, but a solemn fact. Every child is born entirely destitute of a single spark of spiritual life, and therefore if ever it is to enter the kingdom of God, which is the realm of spiritual life (Rom. 14:17), it must be born into it.

The more clearly we are enabled to discern the imperative need of regeneration and the various reasons why it is absolutely essential in order to a fallen creature being fitted for the presence of the thrice holy God, the less difficulty are we likely to encounter when we endeavor to arrive at an understanding of the nature of regeneration, what it is which takes place within a person when the Holy Spirit renews him. For this reason particularly, and also because such a cloud of error has been cast upon this vital truth, we feel that a further consideration of this particular aspect of our subject is needed.

Jesus Christ came into this world to glorify God and to glorify Himself by redeeming a people unto Himself. But what glory can we conceive that God has, and what glory would accrue to Christ, if there be not a vital and fundamental difference between His people and the world? And what difference can there be between those two companies but in a change of heart, out of which are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23): a change of nature or disposition, as the fountain from which all other differences must proceed—sheep and goats differ in nature.

The whole mediatorial work of Christ has this one end in view. His priestly office is to reconcile and bring His people unto God; His prophetic, to teach them the way; His kingly, to work in them those qualifications and bestow upon them that comeliness which is necessary to fit them for the holy converse and communion with the thrice holy God. Thus does He “purify unto Himself a peculiar people zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14).

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived” (1 Cor. 6:9). But multitudes are deceived, and deceived at this very point, and on this most momentous matter. God has warned men that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9), but few will believe that this is true of them. Instead, tens of thousands of professing Christians are filled with a vain and presumptuous confidence that all is well with them. They delude themselves with hopes of mercy while continuing to live in a course of self-will and self-pleasing. They fancy they are fitted for Heaven, while every day that passes finds them the more prepared for Hell. It is written of the Lord Jesus that “He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), and not in their sins: save them not only from the penalty, but also from the power and pollution of sin.

To how many in Christendom do these solemn words apply, “For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful” (Ps. 36:2). The principal device of Satan is to deceive people into imagining that they can successfully combine the world with God, allow the flesh while pretending to the Spirit, and thus “make the best of both worlds.” But Christ has emphatically declared that “no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). Many mistake the force of those searching words: the true emphasis is not upon “two,” but upon “serve”—none can serve two masters. And God requires to be “served”—feared, submitted unto, obeyed; His will regulating the life in all its details, see 1 Samuel 12:24, 25. “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. 4:10).

3. The need for regeneration lies in man’s unsuitedness to God. When Nicodemus, a respectable and religious Pharisee, yea, a “master in Israel,” came to Christ, He told him plainly that “except a man be born again” he could neither see nor enter the “kingdom of God” (John 3:3, 5 )—either the Gospel-state on earth or the Glory-state in Heaven. None can enter the spiritual realm unless he has a spiritual nature, which alone gives him an appetite for and capacity to enjoy the things pertaining to it; and this, the natural man has not. So far from it, he cannot so much as “discern” them (1 Cor. 2:14). He has no love for them, nor desire after them (John 3:19). Nor can he desire them, for his will is enslaved by the lusts of the flesh (Eph. 2:2, 3). Therefore, before a man can enter the spiritual kingdom, his understanding must be supernaturally enlightened, his heart renewed, and his will emancipated.

There can be no point of contact between God and His Christ with a sinful man until he is regenerated. There can be no lawful union between two parties who have nothing vital in common. A superior and an inferior nature may be united together, but never contrary natures. Can fire and water be united, a beast and a man, a good angel and vile devil? Can Heaven and Hell ever meet on friendly terms? In all friendship there must be a similarity of disposition; before there can be communion there must be some agreement or oneness. Beasts and men agree not in a life of reason, and therefore cannot converse together. God and men agree not in a life of holiness, and therefore can have no communion together (Condensed from S. Charnock).

We are united to the “first Adam” by a likeness of nature; how then can we be united to the “last Adam” without a likeness to Him from a new nature or principle? We were united to the first Adam by a living soul, we must be united to the last Adam by a quickening Spirit. We have nothing to do with the heavenly Adam without bearing an heavenly image (1 Cor. 15:48, 49). If we are His members, we must have the same nature which was communicated to Him, the Head, by the Spirit of God, which is holiness (Luke 1:35). There must be one “spirit” in both: thus it is written, “he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17). And again God tells us, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of His” (Rom. 8:9). Nor can anything be vitally united to another without life. A living head and a dead body is inconceivable.

There can be no communion with God without a renewed soul. God is unable on His part, with honour to His law and holiness, to have fellowship with such a creature as fallen man. Man is incapable on his part, because of the aversion rooted in his fallen nature. Then how is it possible for God and man to be brought together without the latter experiencing a thorough change of nature? What communion can there be between Light and darkness, between the living God and a dead heart? “Can two walk together, except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3). God loathes sin, man loves it; God loves holiness, man loathes it. How then could such contrary affections meet together in an amicable friendship? Sin has alienated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18), and therefore from His fellowship; life, then, must be restored to us before we can be instated in communion with Him. Old things must pass away, and all things become new (2 Cor. 5:17).

Gospel-duties cannot be performed without regeneration. The first requirement of Christ from His followers is that they shall deny self. But that is impossible to fallen human nature, for men are “lovers of their own selves” (2 Tim. 3:2). Not until the soul is renewed, will self be repudiated. Therefore is the new-covenant promise, “I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh” (Ezek. 11:19). All Gospel duties require a pliableness and tenderness of heart. Pride was the condemnation of the Devil (1 Tim. 3:6), and our first parents fell through swelling designs to be like unto God (Gen. 3:5). Ever since then, man has been too aspiring and too well opinionated of himself to perform duties in an evangelical strain, with that nothingness in himself which the Gospel requires. The chief design of the Gospel is to beat down all glorying in ourselves, that we should glory only in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:29-31); but this is not possible till grace renews the heart, melts it before God, and moulds it to His requirements.

Without a new nature we cannot perform Gospel-duties constantly. “They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh” (Rom. 8:5). Such a mind cannot long be employed upon spiritual things. Prickings of conscience, terrors of Hell, fears of death, may exert a temporary influence, but they do not last. Stony-ground may bring forth blades, yet for lack of root they quickly wither away (Matt. 13). A stone may be flung high into the air, but ultimately it falls back to the earth; so the natural man may for a time mount high in religious fervor, but sooner or later it shall be said of him, as it was of Israel, “their heart was not right with Him, neither were they stedfast in His covenant” (Ps. 78:37). Many seem to begin in the Spirit, but end in the flesh. Only where God has wrought in the soul, will the work last forever (Eccl. 3:14: Phil. 1:6).

As regeneration is indispensably necessary to a Gospel-state, so it is to a state of heavenly glory. It seems to be typified by the strength and freshness of the Israelites when they entered into Canaan. Not a decrepit and infirm person set foot in the promised land: none of those that came out of Egypt with an Egyptian nature, and desires for the garlic and onions thereof, with a suffering their old bondage, but dropped their carcasses in the wilderness; only the two spies who had encouraged them against the seeming difficulties. None that retain only the old man, born in the house of bondage; but only a new regenerate creature, shall enter into the heavenly Canaan. Heaven is the inheritance of the sanctified, not of the filthy: ‘that they may receive an inheritance among them which are sanctified through faith that is in Me’ (Acts 26:18). Upon Adam’s expulsion from paradise, a flaming sword was set to stop his reentering into that place of happiness. As Adam, in his forlorn state, could not possess it, we also, by what we have received from Adam, cannot expect a greater privilege than our root. The priest under the law could not enter into the sanctuary till he was purified, nor the people into the congregation: neither can any man have access into the Holiest till he be sprinkled by the blood of Jesus: Hebrews 10:22″ (S. Charnock).

Heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. Said Christ, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). For whom? For those who have, in heart, “forsaken all” to follow Him (Matt. 19:27). For those who love God (1 Cor. 2:9) love the things of God: they perceive the inestimable value and beauty of spiritual things. And they who really love spiritual things, deem no sacrifice too great to win them (Phil. 3:8). But in order to love spiritual things, the man himself must be made spiritual. The natural man may hear about them and have a correct idea of the doctrine of them, but he receives them not spiritually in the love of them (2 Thess. 2:10), and finds not his joy and happiness in them. But the renewed soul longs after them, not by constraint, but because God has won his heart. His confession is “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee” (Ps. 73:25). God has become his chief good, His will his only rule, His glory his chief end. In such an one, the very inclinations of the soul have been changed.

The man himself must be changed before he is prepared for Heaven. Of the regenerate it is written, “giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). None are “made meet” while they are unholy, for it is the inheritance of the saints; none are fitted for it while they are under the power of darkness, for it is an inheritance in light. Christ Himself ascended not to Heaven to take possession of His glory till after His resurrection from the dead, nor can we enter Heaven unless we have been resurrected from sin. “He that hath wrought (polished) us for the self-same thing (to be clothed with our Heavenly house) is God,” and the proof that He has done this is, the giving unto us “the earnest of the Spirit” (2 Cor. 5:5); and where the Spirit of the Lord is “there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17), liberty from the power of indwelling sin, as the verse which follows clearly shows.

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). To “see” God is to be introduced into the most intimate intercourse with Him. It is to have that “thick cloud” of our transgressions blotted out (Isa. 44:22), for it was our iniquities which separated between us and our God (Isa. 58:2). To “see” God, here has the force of enjoy, as in John 3:36. But for this enjoyment a “pure heart” is indispensable. Now the heart is purified by faith (Acts 15:9). for faith has to do with God. Thus, a “pure heart” is one that has its affections set upon things above, being attracted by “the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 17:15). But how could he enjoy God who cannot now endure the imperfect holiness of His children, but rails against it as unnecessary “strictness” or puritanical fanaticism? God’s face is only to be beheld in righteousness.

“Follow peace with all, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). None can dwell with God and be eternally happy in His presence unless a radical change has been wrought in him, a change from sin to holiness. This change must be, like that introduced by the fail, one which reaches to the very roots of our beings, affecting the entire man: removing the darkness of our minds, awakening and then pacifying the conscience, spiritualizing our affections,, converting the will, reforming our whole life. And this great change must take place here on earth. The removal of the soul to Heaven is no substitute for regeneration. It is not the place which conveys likeness to God. When the angels fell. they were in Heaven, but the glory of God’s dwelling place did not restore them. Satan entered Heaven (Job 2:1), but he left it still unchanged. There must be a likeness to God wrought in the soul by the Spirit before it is fitted to enjoy Heaven.

“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 15:50). If the body must be changed ere it can enter Heaven, how much more so the soul, for “there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth” (Rev. 21:27). And what is the supreme glory of Heaven? Is it freedom from toil and worry, sickness and sorrow, suffering and death? No: it is, that Heaven is the place where there is the full manifestation of Him who is “glorious in holiness”—that holiness which the wicked, while presumptuously hoping to go to Heaven, despise and hate here on earth. The inhabitants of Heaven are given a clear sight of the ineffable purity of God and are granted the most intimate communion with Him. But none are fitted for this unless their inner being (as well as outer lives) have undergone a radical, revolutionizing, supernatural change.

Can it be thought that Christ will prepare mansions of glory for those who refuse to receive Him into their hearts and give Him the first place in their lives down here? No, indeed; rather will He “laugh at their calamity and mock when their fear cometh” (Prov. 1:26). The instrument of the heart must be tuned here on earth to fit it to produce the melody of praise in Heaven. God has so linked together holiness and happiness (as He has sin and wretchedness) that they cannot be separated. Were it possible for an unregenerate soul to enter Heaven, it would find there no sanctuary from the lashings of conscience and the tormenting fire of God’s holiness.

Many suppose that nothing but the merits of Christ are needed to qualify them for Heaven. But this is a great mistake. None receive remission of sins through the blood of Christ, who are not first “turned from the power of Satan unto God” (Acts 26:18). God subdues their iniquities whose sin He casts into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Pardoning sins and purifying the heart are as inseparable as the blood and water which flowed from the Saviour’s side (John 19:34).

Our being renewed in the spirit of our mind and our putting on of the new man “which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph. 4:23, 24), is as indispensable to a meetness for Heaven, as an having the righteousness of Christ imputed to us is for a title thereto. “A malefactor, by pardon, is in a capacity to come into the presence of a prince and serve him at his table, but he is not in the fitness till his noisome garments, full of vermin be taken off” (S. Charnock). It is both a fatal delusion and wicked presumption for one who is living to please self to imagine that his sins have been forgiven by God. It is “the washing of regeneration” which gives evidence of our being justified by grace (Titus 3:5-7). When Christ saves, He indwells (Gal. 2:20), and it is impossible for Him to reside in a heart which yet remains spiritually cold, hard, and lifeless. The supreme pattern of holiness cannot be a Patron of licentiousness.

Justification and sanctification are inseparable: where one is absolved from the guilt of sin, he is also delivered from the dominion of sin, but neither the one nor the other can be until the soul is regenerated. Just as Christ’s being made in the likeness of sin s flesh was indispensable for God to impute to Him His people’s sins (Rom. 8:3), so it is equally necessary for us to be made new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) before we can be, legally. made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). The need of our being made “partakers of the Divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4) is as real and as great as Christ’s taking part in human nature, ere He could save us (Heb. 2:14-17). “Except God be born, He cannot come into the kingdom of sin. Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of righteousness. And Divine power—the power of the Holy Spirit, the plenipotentiary and executant of all the will of Godhead—achieves the incarnation of God and the regeneration of man. That the Son of God may be made sin, and the sons of God made righteous” (H. Martin).

How could one possibly enter a world of ineffable holiness who has spent all his time in sin, i.e., pleasing self? How could he possibly sing the song of the Lamb if his heart has never been tuned unto it? How could he endure to behold the awful majesty of God face to face, who never before so much as saw Him “through a glass darkly” by the eye of faith? And as it is excruciating torture for the eyes that have been long confined to dismal darkness, to suddenly gaze upon the bright -beams of the midday sun, so it will be when the unregenerate behold Him who is Light. Instead of welcoming such a sight “all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him” (Rev. 1:7); yea, so overwhelming will be their anguish, they will call to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us. and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:17). And, my reader, that will be your experience, unless God regenerates you!

When the Lord Jesus said “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6) He not only intimated that every man born into this world inherits a corrupt and fallen nature, and therefore is unfit for the kingdom of God; but also that this corrupt nature can never be anything else but corrupt, so that no culture can fit it for the kingdom of God. Its tendencies may be restricted, its manifestations modified by education and circumstances, but its sinful tendencies and affections are still there. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, prune and trim it as you may. For good fruit, you must have a good tree or graft from one. Therefore did our Lord go on to say, “And that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” This brings us to consider.

ITS NATURE

We have now arrived at the most difficult part of our subject. Necessarily so, for we are about to contemplate the workings of God. These are ever mysterious, and nothing whatever can be really known about them, save what He Himself has revealed thereon in His Word. In endeavoring to ponder what He has said on His work of regeneration two dangers need to be guarded against: first. limiting our thoughts to any isolated statement thereon or any single figure the Spirit has employed to describe it. Second, reasoning from what He has said by carnalizing the figures He has employed. When referring to spiritual things. God has used terms which were originally intended (by man) to express material objects, hence we need to be constantly on our guard against transferring to the former erroneous ideas carried over from the latter. From this we shall be preserved if we diligently compare all that has been said on each subject.

In treating of the nature of regeneration, much damage has been wrought, especially in recent years, by men confining their attention to a single figure, namely, that of the “new birth,” which is only one out of many expressions used in the Scriptures to denote that mighty and miraculous work of God within His people which fits them for communion with Him. Thus, in Colossians 1:12, 13 the same vital experience is spoken of as God’s having “made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son.” Regeneration is the commencement of a new experience, which is so real and revolutionizing that the one who is the subject of this Divine begetting is spoken of as a “new creature”; “old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). A new spiritual life has been imparted to the soul by God, so that the one receiving it is vitally implanted into Christ.

The nature of regeneration can, perhaps, be best perceived by comparing and contrasting it with what took place at the fall, for though the person who is renewed by the Spirit receives more than what Adam lost by his rebellion, yet, the one is, really, God’s answer to the former. Now it is most important that we should clearly recognize that no faculty was lost by man when he fell. When man was created, God gave unto him a spirit and soul and body, Thus, man was a tri-partite being When man fell, the Divine threat “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die” was duly executed, and man died spiritually. But that does not mean that either his Spirit or soul, or any part thereof, ceased to be, for in Scripture “death” never signifies annihilation, but is a state of separation. The prodigal son was “dead” while he was in the far country (Luke 15:24), because he was separated from his father. “Alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18) describes the fearful state of one who is unregenerated, so does “she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim 5:6), that which is dead spiritually is dead Godwards, while alive in sin the spirit and soul and body, each being active against God.

That which took place at the fall was not the destruction of either portion of man’s threefold being, but the vitiating or corrupting of them. And that, by the introduction of a new principle within him, namely, sin, which is more of a quality than a substance. But let it be stated very emphatically that a “nature” is not a concrete entity but rather that which characterizes and impels an entity or creature. It is the nature of gravitation to attract, it is the nature of the wind to blow, it is the nature of fire to burn. A “nature” is not a tangible thing, but a principle of operation, a power impelling to action. Thus, when we say that fallen man possesses a “sinful nature,” it must not be understood that something as substantial as his soul or spirit was added to his being, but instead, that the principle of evil entered into him, which polluted and defiled every part of his constitution, as frost entering fruit spoils it.

At the fall, man lost none of the faculties with which the Creator had originally endowed him, but he lost the power to use his faculties Godwards. All desire Godwards, all love for his Maker, and real knowledge of Him, was lost. Sin possessed him: sin as a principle of evil, as a power of operation, as a defiling influence, took complete charge of his spirit and soul and body, so that he became the “servant” or slave “of sin” (John 8:34). As such, man is no more capable of producing that which is good, spiritual, and acceptable to God, than frost can burn or fire freeze: “they that are in the flesh (remain in their natural and fallen condition) cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). They have no power to do so, for all their faculties, every part of their being, is completely under the dominion of sin. So completely is fallen man beneath the power of sin and spiritual death, that the things of the Spirit of God are “foolishness” unto him, “neither can he know them” (1 Cor. 2:14).

Now that which takes place at regeneration is the reversing of what happened at the fall.. The one born again is, through Christ, and by the Spirit’s operation, restored to union and communion with God; the one who before was spiritually dead, is now spiritually alive: John 5:24. Just as spiritual death was brought about by the entrance into man’s, being of the principle of evil, so spiritual life is the introduction of a principle of holiness. God communicates a new principle, as real and as potent as sin, Divine grace is now imparted. A holy disposition is wrought in the soul. A new temper of spirit is bestowed upon the inner man. But no new faculties are created within him, rather are his original faculties enriched, ennobled, and empowered. Just as man did not become less than a threefold being when he fell, so he does not become more than a threefold being when he is renewed. Nor will he in Heaven itself: his spirit and soul and body will simply be glorified, i.e., completely delivered from every taint of sin, and perfectly conformed to the image of God’s Son.

At regeneration a new nature is imparted by God. But again we need to be closely on our guard lest we carnalize our conception of what is denoted by that expression. Much confusion has been caused through failure to recognize that it is a person, and not merely a “nature” which is born of the Spirit: “ye must be born again” (John 3:7), not merely something in you must be; “he which is born of God” (1 John 3:9). The same person who was spiritually dead—his whole being alienated from God—is now made spiritually alive: his whole being reconciled to God. This must be so, or otherwise there would be no preservation of the identity of the individual. It is the person, and not simply a nature which is born of God: “Of His own will begat He us” (James 1:18). It is a new birth of the individual himself, and not of something in him. The nature is never changed, but the person is—relatively, not absolutely.

The person of the regenerate man is essentially the same as the person of the unregenerate: each having a spirit, and soul and body. But just as in fallen man there is also a principle of evil which has corrupted every part of his threefold being, which “principle” is his “sinful nature” (so-called because it expresses his evil disposition and character as it is the “nature” of swine to be filthy), so when a person is born again another and new “principle” is introduced into his being, a new “nature” or disposition, a disposition which propels him Godwards. Thus, in both cases, “nature” is a quality rather than a substance. “That which is born of the Spirit is spirit” must not be conceived of as something substantial, distinct from the soul of the regenerate, like one portion of matter added to another; rather is it that which spiritualizes all his inward faculties, as the “flesh” had carnalized them.

Again; “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” is to be carefully distinguished from that “spirit” which every man has in addition to his soul and body: (see Num. 16:22; Eccl. 12:7; Zech. 12:1). That which is born of the Spirit is not something tangible, but that which is spiritual and holy, and that is a quality rather than a substance. In proof of this compare the usage of the word “spirit” in these passages: in James 4:5 the inclination and disposition to envy is called “the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy.” In Luke 9:55 Christ said to His disciples, “ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of,” thereby signifying, ye are ignorant of what a fiery disposition is in your hearts. See also Numbers 5:14; Hosea 4:12, 2 Timothy 1:7. That which is born of the Spirit is a principle of spiritual life, which renovates all the faculties of the soul.

Some help upon this mysterious part of our subject is to be obtained by noting that in such passages as John 3:6, etc., “spirit” is contrasted from the “flesh.” Now it should scarcely need saying that “the flesh” is not a concrete entity, being quite distinct from the body. When the term “flesh” is used in a moral sense the reference is always to the corruption of fallen man’s nature. In Galatians 5:19-21 the “works of the flesh” are described, among them being “hatred” and “envying,” in connection with which the body (as distinguished from the mind) is not implicated—clear proof that the “flesh” and the “body” are not synonymous terms. In Galatians 5 the “flesh” is used to designate those evil tendencies and affections which result in the sins there mentioned. Thus, the “flesh” refers to the degenerate state of man’s spirit and soul and body, as the “spirit” refers to the regenerate state of the spirit and soul—the regeneration of the body being yet future.

The privative (darkness is the privative of light) or negative side of regeneration, is that Divine grace gives a mortal wound to indwelling sin. Sin is not then eradicated nor totally slain in the believer, but it is divested of its reigning power over his faculties. The Christian is no longer the helpless slave of sin, for he resists it, fights against it, and to speak of a helpless victim “fighting,” is a contradiction in terms. At the new birth sin receives its death-blow, though its dying struggles within us are yet powerful and acutely felt. Proof of what we have said is found in the fact that while sin’s solicitations were once agreeable to us, they are now hated. This aspect of regeneration is presented in Scripture under a variety of figures, such as the taking away of the heart of stone (Ezek. 36:26), the binding of the strong man (Matt. 12:29), etc. The absolute dominion of sin over us is destroyed by God (Rom. 6:14).

The positive side of regeneration is that Divine grace effects a complete change in the state of the soul, by infusing a principle of spiritual life, which renovates all its faculties. It is this which constitutes its subject a “new creature,” not in respect of his essence, but of his views, his desires, his aspirations, his habits. Regeneration or the new birth is the Divine communication of a powerful and revolutionizing principle in the soul and spirit, under the influence of which all their native faculties are exercised in a different manner from that in which they were formerly employed, and in this sense “old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). His thoughts are “new,” the objects of his choice are “new,” his aims and motives are “new,” and thereby the whole of his external deportment is changed.

“By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). The reference here is to subjective grace. There is an objective grace, inherent in God, which is His love, favour, goodwill for His elect. There is also a subjective grace which terminates on them, whereby a change is wrought in them. This is by the infusion of a principle of spiritual life, which is the spring of the Christian’s actions. This “principle” is called “a new heart” and a “new spirit” (Ezek. 36:26). It is a supernatural habit, residing in every faculty and power of the soul, as a principle of holy and spiritual operation. Some have spoken of this supernatural experience as a “change of heart.” If by this expression be meant that there is a change wrought in the fallen nature itself, as though that which is natural is transformed into that which is spiritual, as though that which was born of the flesh ceased to be “flesh,” and became that which is born of the Spirit, then, the term is to be rejected. But if by this expression be meant, an acknowledgement of the reality of the Divine work, which is wrought in those whom God regenerates, it is quite permissible.

When treating of regeneration under the figure of the new birth, some writers have introduced analogies from natural birth which Scripture by no means warrants, in fact disallows. Physical birth is the bringing forth into this world of a creature, a complete personality, which before conception had no existence whatsoever. But the one who is regenerated had a complete personality before he was born again. To this statement it may be objected, Not a spiritual personality What is meant by this? Spirit and matter are opposites, and we only create confusion if we speak or think of that which is spiritual as being something concrete. Regeneration is not the creating of a person which hitherto had no existence, but the renewing and restoring of a person whom sin had unfitted for communion with God, and this by the communication of a nature or principle of life, which gives a new and different bias to all his old faculties. It is altogether an erroneous view to regard a Christian as made up of two distinct personalities.

As “justification” describes the change in the Christian’s objective relationship to God, so “regeneration” denotes that intrinsic subjective change which is wrought in the inclinations and tendencies of their souls Godwards. This saving work of God within His people is likened unto a “birth” because it is the gateway into a new world, the beginning of an entirely new experience, and also because as the natural birth is an issuing from a place of darkness and confinement (the womb) into a state of light and liberty, so is the experience of the soul when the Spirit quickens us. But the very fact that this revolutionizing experience is also likened unto a resurrection (1 John 3:14) should deliver us from forming a one-sided conception of what is meant by the “new birth” and the “new creature,” for resurrection is not the absolute creation of a new body, but the restoration and glorification of the old body. Regeneration is also called a Divine “begetting” (1 Pet. 1:3), because the image or likeness of the Begetter is conveyed and stamped upon the soul. As the first Adam begat a son in his own image and likeness (Gen. 5:3), so the last Adam has an “image” (Rom. 8:29) to convey to His sons (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10).

It has often been said that in the Christian there are two distinct and diverse “natures,” namely, the “flesh” and the “spirit” (Gal. 5:17). This is true, yet care must be taken to avoid regarding these two “natures” as anything more than two principles of action. Thus in Romans 7:23 the two “natures” or “principles” in the Christian are spoken of as “I see a other law in my members, warring against the law of my mind.” The flesh and the spirit in the believer must be conceived of as something very different from the “two natures” in the blessed person of our Redeemer, the God-man. Both the Deity and humanity were substantial entities in Him. Moreover, the “two natures” in the saint result in a necessary conflict (Gal. 5:17), whereas in Christ there was not only complete harmony, but one Lord.”

The faculties of the Christian’s soul remain the same in their essence, substance, and natural powers as before he was “renewed,” but these faculties are changed in their properties, qualities and inclinations. It may help us to obtain a clearer conception of this if we illustrate by a reference to the waters at Marah (Ex. 15:25, 26). Those “waters” were the same waters still, both before and after their cure. Of themselves in their own nature, they were “bitter,” so as the people could not drink of them; but in the casting of a tree into them, they were made sweet and useful. So too with the waters at Jericho (2 Kings 19:20, 21), which were cured by the casting of salt (emblem of grace, Col. 4:6) into them. In like manner the Christian’s affections continue the same as they were in their nature and essence, but they are cured or healed by grace, so that their properties, qualities and inclinations are “renewed” (Titus 3:5), the love of God now being shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5).

What man lost by the, fall was his original relation to God, which kept all his faculties and affections within proper exercise of that relation. At regeneration the Christian received a new life, which gave a new direction to his faculties, presenting new objects before them. Yet, let it be said emphatically, it is not merely the restoration of the life which Adam lost, but one of unspeakably higher relations: he received the life which the Son of God has in Himself, even “eternal life.” But the old personality still remains. This is clear from Romans 6:13, “but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.” The members of the same individual are now to serve a new Master.

Regeneration is that which alone fits a fallen creature to fulfill his one great and chief duty, namely, to glorify his Maker. This is to be the aim and the end in view in all that we do: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). It is the motive actuating us and the purpose before us which gives value to each action: “When thine eye (figure of the soul looking outward) is single (having only one object in view—the glory of God), the whole body is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, the body is full of darkness” (Luke 11:34). If the intention be evil, as it certainly is when the glory of God is not before us, there is nothing but “darkness,” sin, in the whole service.

Now fallen man has altogether departed from what ought to be his chief end, aim, or object, for instead of having before him the honour of God, himself is his chief concern; and instead of seeking to please God in all things, he lives only to please himself or his fellow-creatures. Even when, through religious training, the claims of God have been brought to his notice and pressed upon his attention, at best he only parcels out one part of his time, strength and substance to the One who gave him being and daily loadeth him with benefits, and another part for himself and the world. The natural man is utterly incapable of giving supreme respect unto God, until he becomes the recipient of a spiritual life. None will truly aim at the glory of God until they have an affection for Him. None will honour Him supremely whom they do not supremely love. And for this, the love of God must be shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), and this only takes places at regeneration. Then it is, and not till then, that self is dethroned and God enthroned; then it is that the renewed creature is enabled to comply with God’s imperative call, “My son, give Me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26).

The salient elements which comprise the nature of regeneration may, perhaps, be summed up in these three words: impartation, renovation, subjugation. God communicates something to the one who is born again, namely, a principle of faith and obedience, a holy nature, eternal life. This though real, palpable, and potent, is nothing material or tangible, nothing added to our essence, substance or person. Again: God renews every faculty of the soul and spirit of the one born again, not perfectly and finally, for we are “renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). hut so as to enable those faculties to be exercised upon spiritual objects. Again; God subdues the power of sin indwelling the one born again. He does not eradicate it, but He dethrones it, so that it no longer has dominion over the heart. Instead of sin ruling the Christian, and that by his own willing subjection, it is resisted and hated.

Regeneration is not the improvement or purification of the “flesh,” which is that principle of evil still with the believer. The appetites and tendencies of the “flesh” are precisely the same after the new birth as they were before, only they no longer reign over him. For a time it may seem that the “flesh” is dead, yet in reality it is not so. Often its very stillness (as an army in ambush) is only awaiting its opportunity or a gathering up of its strength for a further attack. It is not long ere the renewed soul discovers that the “flesh” is yet very much alive, desiring to have its way. But grace will not suffer it to have its sway. On the one hand the Christian has to say, “For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:18). On the other hand, he is able to declare, “Christ liveth in me, and the life which 1 now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself “for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Some people find it very difficult to conceive of the same person bringing forth good works who before brought forth nothing but evil works, the more so when it be insisted upon that no new faculty is added to his being, that nothing substantial is either imparted or taken from his person. But if we rightly introduce the factor of God’s mighty power into the equation, then the difficulty disappears. We may not be able to explain, in fact we are not, how God’s power acts upon us, how He cleanses the unclean (Acts 10:15) and subdues the wolf so that it dwells with the lamb (Isa. 11:6), any more than we can thoroughly understand His working upon and within us without destroying our own personal agency; nevertheless, both Scripture and experience testify to each of these facts It may help us a little at this point if we contemplate the working of God s power in the natural realm. In the natural realm every creature is not only entirely dependent upon its Maker for its continued existence, but also for the exercise of all its faculties, for “in Him we live, and move (Greek, ‘are moved’) and have our being” (Acts 17:28) Again; as the various parts of creation are linked together, and afford each other mutual support—as the heavens fertilize the earth, the earth supplies its inhabitants with food, its inhabitants propagate their kind, rear their offspring, and cooperate for the purpose of society—so also the whole system is supported, sustained and governed by the directing providence of God. The influences of providence, the manner in which they operate on the creature, are profoundly mysterious: on the one hand, they are not destructive of our rational nature, reducing us to mere irresponsible automatons: on the other hand they are all made completely subservient to the Divine purpose.

Now the operation of God’s power in regeneration is to be regarded as of the same kind with its operation in providence, although it be exercised with a different design. God’s energy is one, though it is distinguished by the objects on which, and the ends for which, it is exerted. It is the same power that creates as upholds in existence: the same power that forms a stone, and a sunbeam, the same power that gives vegetable life to a tree, animal life to a brute, and rational life to a man. In like manner, it is the same power that assists us in the natural exercise of our faculties, as it is which enables us to exercise those faculties in a spiritual manner. Hence “grace” as a principle of Divine operation in the spiritual realm, is the same power of God as “nature” is His process of operation in the natural world.

The grace of God in the application of redemption to the hearts of His people is indeed mighty as is evident from the effects produced. It is a change of the whole man: of his views, motives, inclinations and pursuits. Such a change no human means are able to accomplish. When the thoughtless are made to think, and to think with a seriousness and intensity which they never formerly did; when the careless are, in a moment, affected with a deep sense of their most important interests: when lips which are accustomed to blaspheme, learn to pray; when the proud are brought to assume the lowly attitude and language of the penitent; when those who were devoted to the world give evidence that the object of their desires and aims is a heavenly inheritance: and when this revolution. so wonderful has been affected by the simple Word of God, and by the very Word which the subject of this radical change had often heard unmoved, it is proof positive that a mighty influence has been exerted, and that that influence is nothing less than Divine—God’s people have been made willing in the day of His power (Ps. 110:3).

Many figures are used in Scripture, various expressions are employed by the Spirit, to describe the saving work of God within His people. In 2 Peter 1:4 the regenerated are said to be “partakers of the Divine nature,” which does not mean of the very essence or being of God, for that can neither be divided nor communicated—in Heaven itself there will still be an immeasurable distance between the Creator and the creature, otherwise the finite would become infinite. No, to be “partakers of the Divine nature” is to be made the recipients of inherent grace, to have the lineaments of the Divine image stamped upon the soul: as the remainder of that verse shows. being “partakers of the Divine nature” is the antithesis of “the corruption that is in the world through lust.”

In 2 Corinthians 3:18 this transforming miracle of God’s grace in His people is declared to be a “changing” into the image of Christ. The Greek word there for “change” is the one rendered “transfigured” in Matthew 17:2. At Christ’s transfiguration no new features were added to the Saviour’s face, but His whole countenance was irradiated by a new light; so in 2 Corinthians 4:6 regeneration is likened unto a “light” which God commands to shine in us—note the whole context of 2 Corinthians 3:18 is treating of the Spirit’s work by the Gospel. In Ephesians 2:10 this product of God’s grace is spoken of as His “workmanship,” and is said to be “created,” to show that He, and not roan, is the Author of it. In Galatians 4:19 this same work of God in the soul is termed Christ’s being “formed” in us—as the parents’ seed is formed or molded in the mother’s womb, the “likeness” of the parent being stamped upon it.

We cannot here attempt a full list of the numerous figures and expressions which the Holy Spirit has employed to set forth this saving work of God in the soul. In John 6:44 it is spoken of as a being “drawn” to Christ. In Acts 16:14 as the heart being “opened” by the Lord to receive His Truth. In Acts 26:18 as the opening of our eyes, a turning us from darkness unto light, and the power of Satan unto God. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 as the “casting down imaginations. and every high thing that exalteth itself against the know1edge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” In Ephesians 5:8 as being “light in the Lord.” In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 it is designated the “sanctification of the Spirit.” In Hebrews 8:10 as God’s putting His laws into our mind and writing them on our heart—contrast the figure in Jeremiah 17:1! Thus it should be most apparent that we lose much by limiting our attention to one figure of it. All we have given, and still others not mentioned, need to be taken into consideration if we are to obtain anything approaching an adequate conception of the nature of that miracle of grace which is wrought in the soul and spirit of the elect, enabling them to henceforth live unto God.

As man was changed in Adam from what he was by a state of creation, so man must be changed in Christ from what he is by a state of corruption. This change which fits him for communion with God, is a Divine work wrought in the inclinations of the soul. It is a being renewed in the spirit of our minds (Eph. 4:23). It is the infusion of a principle of holiness into all the faculties of our inner being. It is the spiritual renovation of our very persons, which will yet be consummated by the regeneration of our bodies. The whole soul is renewed, according to the image of God in knowledge, holiness and righteousness. A new light shines into the mind, a new power moves the will, a new object attracts the affections. The individual Is the same, and yet not the same. How different the landscape when the sun is shining, than when the darkness of a moonless night is upon it—the same landscape, and yet not the same. How different the condition of him who is restored to health and vigor after having been brought very low by sickness; yet it is the same person.

The very fact that the Holy Spirit has employed the figures of “begetting” and “birth” to the saving work of God in the soul, intimates that the reference is only to the initial experience of Divine grace: “He which hath begun a good work in you” (Phil. 1:6). As an infant has all the parts of a man, yet none of them come to maturity, so regeneration gives a perfection of parts, which yet have need to be developed. A new life has been received, but there needs to be growth of it: “grow in grace” (2 Pet. 3:18). As God was the Giver of this life, He only can feed and strengthen it. Thus, Titus 3:5 speaks of “the renewing” and not the “renewal” of the Holy Spirit. But it is our responsibility and bounden duty to use the Divinely-appointed means of grace which promote spiritual growth: “desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby” (1 Pet. 2:2); as it is our obligation to constantly avoid everything which would hinder our spiritual prosperity: “Make not provision for the flesh to the lusts” (Rom. 13:14), and cf. Matthew 5:29, 30; 2 Corinthians 7:1.

God’s consummating of the initial work which we experience at the new birth, and which He renews throughout the course of our earthly lives, only takes place at the second coming of our Saviour, when we shall be perfectly and eternally conformed to His image, both inwardly and outwardly. First, regeneration; then our gradual sanctification; finally our glorification. But between the new birth and glorification, while we are left down here, the Christian has both the “flesh” and the “spirit,” both a principle of sin and a principle of holiness, operating within him, the one opposing the other: see Galatians 5:16, 17. Hence his inward experience is such as that which is described in Romans 7:7-25. As life is opposed to death, purity to impurity, spirituality to carnality, so is now felt and experienced within the soul a severe conflict between sin and grace. This conflict is perpetual, as the “flesh” and “spirit” strive for mastery. From hence proceeds the absolute necessity of the Christian being sober, and to “watch unto prayer.”

Finally, let it be pointed out that the principle of life and obedience (the “new nature”) which is received at regeneration, is not able to preserve the soul from sins, nevertheless, there is full provision for continual supplies of grace made for it and all its wants in the Lord Jesus Christ. There are treasures of relief in Him, whereunto the soul may at any time repair and find necessary succour against every incursion of sin. This new principle of holiness may say to the believer’s soul, as David did unto Abiathar when he fled from Doeg: “Abide thou with me, fear not; for he that seeketh my life seeketh thy life; but with me thou shalt be in safeguard” (1 Sam. 22:23). Sin is the enemy of the new nature as truly as it is of the Christian’s soul, and his only safety lies in heeding the requests of that new nature, and calling upon Christ for enablement. Thus we are exhorted in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

If it ever be a time of need with the soul, it is so when it is under the assaults of provoking sins, when the “flesh” is lusting against the “spirit.” But at that very time there is suitable and seasonable help in Christ for succour and relief. The new nature begs, with sighs and groans, for the believer to apply to Christ. To neglect Him, with all His provision of grace, whilst He stands calling on us, “Open to Me . . . for My head is filled with dew and My locks with the drops of the night” (Song of Sol. 5:2), is to despise the sighing of the poor prisoner, the new nature, which sin is seeking to destroy, and cannot but be a high provocation against the Lord.

At the beginning, God entrusted Adam and Eve with a stock of grace in themselves, but they cast it away, and themselves into the utmost misery thereby. That His children might not perish a second time, God, instead of imparting to them personally the power to overcome s-in and Satan, has laid up their portion in Another, a safe Treasurer; in Christ are their lives and comforts secured (Col. 3:3). And how must Christ regard us, if instead of applying to Him for relief, we allow sin to distress our conscience, destroy our peace, and mar our communion? Such is not a sin of infirmity which cannot be avoided, but a grievous affront of Christ. The means of preservation from it is to hand. Christ is always accessible. He is ever ready to “succour them that are tempted” (Heb. 2: 18). O to betake ourselves to Him more and more, day by day, for everything. Then shall each one find “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).

All men are by nature the children of wrath, and do belong unto the world, which is the kingdom of Satan (1 John 5:19), and are under the power of darkness. In this state men are not the subjects of Christ’s kingdom, and have no meetness for Heaven. From this terrible state they are unable to deliver themselves, being “without strength” (Rom. 5:6). Out of this state God’s elect are supernaturally “called” (1 Pet. 2:9), which call effectually delivers them from the power of Satan and translates them into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1:13). This Divine “call,” or work of grace. is variously denominated in Scripture: sometimes by “regeneration” (Titus 3:5), or the new birth, sometimes by illumination (2 Cor. 4:6), by transformation (2 Cor. 3:18), by spiritual resurrection (John 5:24). This inward and invincible call is attended with justification and adoption (Rom. 8:30; Eph. 1:5), and is carried on by sanctification in holiness. This leads us to consider:

ITS EFFECTS

“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). Though the wind be imperious in its action, man being unable to regulate it; though it be mysterious in its nature man knowing nothing of the cause which controls it; yet its presence is unmistakable, its effects are plainly evidenced: so it is with every one that is born of the Spirit. His secret but powerful operations lie beyond the reach of our understanding. Why God has ordained that the Spirit should quicken this person and not that, we know not, but the transforming results of His working are plain and palpable. What there are, we shall now endeavor to describe.

1. The illumination of the understanding. As it was in the old creation, so it is in connection with the new. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). That was the original creation. Then came degeneration: “And the earth became without form and void (a desolate waste) and darkness was upon the face of the deep.” Next came restoration: “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” So it is when God begins to restore fallen man: “For 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. 4:6).

The Divine illumination which the mind receives at the new birth is not by means of dreams or visions, nor does it consist in the revelation of things to the soul which have not been made known in the Scriptures. Not so, the only means or instrument which the Holy Spirit employs is the written Word: “The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Ps. 119:130). Hitherto, God’s Word may have been read attentively, and much of its teaching intellectually apprehended; but because there was a “vail” upon the heart (2 Cor. 3:15) and so no spiritual discernment (1 Cor. 2:14), the reader was not inwardly affected thereby. But now the Spirit removes the vail, opens the heart to receive the Word (Acts 16:14), and powerfully applies to the mind and conscience some portion of it. The result is that, the one renewed is able to say “One thing 1 know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). To particularize:

The sinner is now enlightened in the knowledge of his own terrible condition. He may, before this, have received much scriptural instruction, subscribed to a sound creed, and believed intellectually in “the total depravity of man”; but now the solemn declarations of God’s Word concerning the state of the fallen creature are brought home in piercing power to his own soul. No longer does he compare himself with his fellows, but measures himself by the rule of God. He now discovers that he is unclean, that his heart is “desperately wicked,” and that he is altogether unfit for the presence of the thrice holy God. He is powerfully convicted of his own awful sins, feels that they are more in number than the hairs of his head, and that they are high provocations against Heaven, which call for Divine judgment on him. He now realizes that there is “no soundness” (Isa. 1:6) in him, and that all his best performances are only as “filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6), and that he is deserving of nought but the everlasting burnings.

By the spiritual light which God communicates in regeneration the soul now perceives the infinite demerits of sin, that its “wages” can be nothing less than eternal death, or the loss of Divine favor and a dreadful suffering under the wrath of God. The equity of God’s law and the fact that sin righteously calls for such punishment is humbly acknowledged. Thus his mouth is “stopped” and he confesses himself to be guilty before God, and justly liable to His awful vengeance, both for the plague of his own heart and his numerous transgressions. He now realizes that his whole life has been lived in utter independence of God, having had no respect for His glory, no concern whether he pleased or displeased Him. He now perceives the exceeding sinfulness of sin, its awful malignity, as being in its nature contrary to the law of God. How to escape the due reward of his iniquity, he knows not. “What must I do to be saved?” is his agonizing cry. He is convinced of the absolute impossibility of contributing anything to his deliverance. He no longer has any confidence in the flesh; he has been brought to the end of himself.

By means of this illumination the renewed soul, under the guidance of the Spirit through the Word, now perceives how well-suited is Christ to such a poor, worthless wretch as he feels himself to be. The prospect of obtaining deliverance from the wrath to come through the victorious life and death of the Lord Jesus, keeps his soul from being overwhelmed with grief and from sinking into complete despondency because of the sight of his sins. As the Spirit presents to him the infinite merits of Christ’s obedience and righteousness, His tender compassion for sinners, His power to save, desires for an interest in Christ now possesses his heart, and he is resolved to look for salvation in no other. Under the benign influences of the Holy Spirit, the soul is drawn by some such words as, “Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavily laden, and if will give you rest,” or “him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out,” and he is led to apply to Him for pardon, cleansing, peace, righteousness, strength.

Other acts besides turning unto Christ flow from this new principle received at regeneration, such as repentance, which is a godly sorrow for sin, an abhorring of it as sin, and an earnest desire to forsake and be completely delivered from its pollution. In the light of God, the renewed soul now perceives the utter vanity of the world, and the worthlessness of these paltry toys and perishing trifles which the godless strive so hard to acquire. He has been awakened from the dream-sleep of death, and things are now seen in their true nature.

Time is precious and not to be frittered away. God in His awesome Majesty is an object to be feared. His law is accepted as holy, just and good. All of these perceptions and actions are included in that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. In some these actions are more vigorous than in others, and consequently, are more perceptible to a man’s self. But the fruits of them are visible to others in external acts.

2. The elevation of the heart. Rightly does the Lord claim the first place: “he that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:37). “My son, give Me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26) expresses God’s claim: they “first gave their own selves to the Lord” (2 Cor. 8:5) declares the response of the regenerate. But it is not until they are born again that any are spiritually capacitated to do this, for by nature men are “lovers of their own selves” and “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God” (2 Tim. 3:2, 4). When a sinner is renewed, his affections are taken off his idols and fixed on the Lord (1 Thess. 1:9). Hence it is written “with the heart (the affections) man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom. 10:10). And hence, also, it is written, “if any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ let him be accursed” (1 Cor. 16:22).

“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thy heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Deut. 30:6). The “circumcising” of the heart is the “renewing” of it, severing its love from all illicit objects. None can truly love God supremely till this miracle of grace has been wrought within him. Then it is that the affections are refined and directed to their proper objects. He who once was despised by the soul, is now beheld as the “altogether lovely” One. He who was hated (John 15:18), is now loved above all others. “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee” (Ps. 73:25) is now their joyous confession.

The love of God has become the governing principle of the life (2 Cor. 5:13). What before was a drudgery is now a delight. The praise of man is no longer the motive which stimulates action; the approbation of the Saviour is the Christian’s highest concern. Gratitude moves a hearty compliance with His will. “How precious also are Thy thoughts unto me, O God” (Ps. 139:17) is now his language. And again, “the desire of our soul is to Thy name, and to the remembrance of Thee. With my soul have I desired Thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek Thee early” (Isa. 26:8, 9). So too the heart is drawn out to all the members of His family, no matter what their nationality, social position, or church-connection: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14).

3. The emancipation of the will. By nature, the will of fallen man is free in only one direction: away from God. Sin has enslaved the will, therefore do we need to be “made free” (John 8:36). The two states are contrasted in Romans 6: “free from righteousness” (v. 20), when dead in sin; “free from sin” (v. 18), now that we are alive unto God. At the new birth the will is liberated from the “bondage of corruption” (Rom. 8:21 and cf. 2 Pet. 2:19) and rendered conformable to the will of God (Ps. 119:97). In our degenerate state the will was naturally rebellious, and its practical language was, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey Him?” (Ex. 5:2). But the Father promised the Son, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power” (Ps. 110:3), and this is accomplished when God “worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13 and cf. Heb. 13:21).

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall seek My judgments, and do them” (Ezek. 36:26, 27). This is a new covenant promise (Heb. 8:10), and is made good in each renewed soul. The will is so emancipated from the power of indwelling sin as to be enabled to answer to the Divine commands according to the tenor of the new covenant. The regenerated freely consent to and gladly choose to walk in subjection to Christ, being anxious now to obey Him in all things. His authority is their only rule, His love the constraining power: “If a man love Me, he will keep My words” (John 14:23).

4. The rectification of the conduct. A tree is known by its fruits. Faith is evidenced by works. The principle of holiness manifests itself in a godly walk. “If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29). The deepest longing of every child of God is to please his heavenly Father in all things, and though this longing is never fully realized in this life—”Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Phil. 3:12)—nevertheless he continues “reaching forth unto those things which are before.”

“Ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine where to ye were delivered” (Rom. 6:17 mar.). The Greek word for “form” here signifies “mold.” Observe how this figure also presupposes the same faculties after the new birth as before. Metal which is molded remains the same metal it was previously, only the fashion or form of it is altered. That metal which before was a dish, is now turned into a cup, and thus a new name is given to it: cf. Revelation 3:12. By regeneration the faculties of the soul are made suitable to God and His precepts, just as the mould and the thing molded fit one another. As before the heart was at enmity against every commandment, it is now molded to them. Does God say, “Fear Me,” the renewed heart answers, “I desire to fear Thy name” (Neh. 1:11). Does God say, “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy,” the heart answers, “the sabbath is my delight” (Isa. 58:13). Does God say, “love one another,” the new creature finds an instinct begotten within him to do so, so that real Christians are said to be “taught of God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9).

A change will take place in the deportment of the most moral unconverted man as soon as he is born from above. Not only will he be far less eager in his pursuit of the world, more scrupulous in the selection of his company, more cautious in avoiding the occasions to sin and the appearance of evil, but he realizes that the holy eye of God is ever upon him, marking not only his actions, but weighing his motives. He now bears the sacred name of Christ, and his deepest concern is to be kept from everything which would bring reproach upon it. His aim is to let his light so shine before men that they may see his good works and glorify his Father which is in Heaven. That which occasions him the deepest distress is not the sneers and taunts of the ungodly. But that he fails to measure up to the standard God has set before him and the conformity to it after which he so much yearns. Though Divine grace may preserve him from outward falls, yet he is painfully conscious of many sins within: the risings of unbelief, the swellings of pride, the oppositions of the “flesh” to the desires of the “spirit.” These occasion him deep exercises of heart and lead to humble and sorrowful confessions unto God.

It is of great importance that the Christian should have clear and scriptural views of what he is both as the subject of sin and of grace. Though the regenerate are delivered from the absolute dominion of sin (Rom. 6:14), yet the principle of sin, the “flesh” is not eradicated. This is clear from Romans 6:12, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof”: that exhortation would be meaningless if there were no indwelling sin seeking to reign, and no lusts demanding obedience. Yet this is far from saying that a Christian must go on in a course of sinning: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God” (1 John 3:9), the reference there being to the regular practice and habit of sinning. Nevertheless, prayerful heed needs to be constantly paid to this word, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not” (1 Cor. 15:34).

The experiences of Paul, both as a subject of sin and of grace, are recorded in Romans 7. A careful reading of verses 14-24 reveals the fact that grace had neither removed nor purified the “flesh” in him. And as the Christian today compares his own inner conflicts, he finds that Romans 7 describes them most accurately and faithfully. He discovers that in his “flesh” is no good thing and he cries “O wretched man that I am.” Though he longs for fuller conformity to the image of Christ, though he hungers and thirsts after righteousness, though he is under the influence and reign of grace, and though he enjoys real fellowship with God, yet, at seasons (some more acutely felt than others) he feels that though with the mind he serves the law of God, yet with the flesh the law of sin. Yea, every experience of reading the Word, prayer, meditation, proves to him that he is, in his fallen nature, “carnal, sold under sin,” and that when he would do good, evil is present with him. This is a matter of great grief to him, and causes him to “groan” (Rom. 8:23) and yearn the more for release from this body of death.

But ought not the Christian to “grow in grace?” Yes, indeed. Yet let it be said emphatically that growing “in grace” most certainly does not mean an increasing satisfaction with myself. No, it is the very opposite. The more I walk in the light of God, the more plainly can I see the wiliness of the “flesh” within me, and there will be an ever-deepening abhorrence of what I am by nature. “For to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not” (Rom. 7:18) is not the confession of an unbeliever, nor even of a babe in Christ, but of the most enlightened saint. The only relief from this distressing discovery and the only peace for the renewed heart is to look away from self to Christ and His perfect work for us. Faith empties of all self-complacency and gives an exalted estimate of God in Christ.

A growth “in grace” is defined, in part by the words that immediately follow: “and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). It is the growing realization of the perfect suitability of Christ to a poor sinner, the deepening conviction of his fitness to be the Saviour of such a vile wretch as the Spirit daily shows me I am. It is the apprehension of how much .1 need His precious- blood to cleanse me, His righteousness to clothe me, His arm to support me, His advocacy to answer for me on High, His grace to deliver me from all my enemies both inward and outward. It is the Spirit revealing to me that there is in Christ everything that I need both for earth and Heaven, time and eternity. Thus, growing in grace is an increasing living outside of myself, living upon Christ. It is a looking to Him for the supply of every need.

The more the heart is occupied with Christ, the more the mind is stayed upon Him by trusting in Him (Isa. 26:3), the more will faith, hope, love, patience, meekness, and all spiritual graces be strengthened and drawn forth into exercise and act to the glory of God. The manifestation of growth in grace and in the knowledge of Christ is another thing. The actual process of growing is not perceptible either in the natural or in the spiritual sphere; but the results of it are—mainly so to others. There are definite seasons of growth, and generally the Christian’s spiritual graces are growing the most while the soul is in distress through manifold temptations, mourning on account of indwelling sin. It is when we are enjoying God and are in conscious communion with Him, feasting upon the perfections of Christ, that the fruits of the Spirit in us are ripened. The chief evidences of spiritual growth in the Christian are a deepening hatred of sin and loathing of self, a higher valuation of spiritual things, and yearning after them, a fuller recognition of our deep need and dependency on God to supply it.

Regeneration is substantially the same in all who are the subjects of it: there is a spiritual transformation, the conforming of the soul unto the image of God: “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). But although every regenerated person is a new creature, has received a principle of faith and holiness which acts on every faculty of his being, and is indwelt and led by the Holy Spirit, yet God does not communicate the same measure of grace (Rom. 12:3; 2 Cor. 10:13; Eph. 4:16) or the same number of talents to all alike. God’s children differ from each other as children do at their natural birth, some of whom are more lively and vigorous than others. God, according to His sovereign pleasure, gives to some a fuller knowledge, to others stronger faith, to others warmer affections—natural temperament has much to do with the form and color which the manifestation of the “spirit” takes through us. But there is no difference in their state: the same work has been performed in all, which radically differentiates them from worldlings.

“Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” (1 Cor. 6:2). Does not this clearly denote, yea, require, that the “saints” shall exercise a distinguishing holiness and live quite otherwise than the world? Could one who now takes the Lord’s name in vain be righteously appointed to sit in judgment upon those who profane it? Could one who lives to please self be a fit person to judge those who have loved pleasure more than God? Could one who has despised and ridiculed ‘puritanic strictness of living,’ sit with Christ as a judge on those who lived in rebellion against Him? Never: instead of being the judges of others, all such will find themselves condemned and executed as malefactors in that Day.

“The Lord will give grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). “Grace and glory” are inseparably connected: they differ not in nature, but in degree. “Grace” is glory begun; “glory” is grace elevated to the acme of perfection. 1 John 3:2 tells us that the saints shall be “like Him,” and this, because they will “see Him as He is.” The immediate vision of the Lord of glory will be a transforming one, the bright reflections of God’s purity and holiness cast upon the glorified will make them perfectly holy and blessed. But this resemblance to God, His saints do here, in measure, bear upon them: there are some outlines, some lineaments of God’s image stamped upon them, and this too is through beholding Him. True, it is (comparatively speaking) through a glass darkly, yet “beholding” we “are changed into the same image from glory to glory (from one degree of it to another) as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

In conclusion, let both writer and reader test and search himself in the presence of God, by these questions. How stands my heart affected toward sin? Is there a deep humiliation and godly sorrow after I have yielded thereto? Is there a genuine detestation of it? Is my conscience tender, so that my peace is disturbed by what the world calls “trifling faults” and “little things?” Am I humbled when conscious of the risings of pride and self-will? Do I loathe my inward corruption? What engages my mind in sea sons of recreation? Are my affections dead toward the world an alive toward God? Do I find spiritual exercises pleasant and joyous or irksome and burdensome? Can I truthfully say, “How sweet are Thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth (Ps. 119:103)? Is communion with God my highest joy? Is the glory of God dearer to me than all the world contains?

AM Toplady (1740-1778): A CAVEAT AGAINST UNSOUND DOCTRINES

A CAVEAT AGAINST UNSOUND DOCTRINES
By
A.M. Toplady (1740-1778)
Copyright: Public Domain

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A CAVEAT AGAINST UNSOUND DOCTRINES

BEING THE SUBSTANCE OF A

DISCOURSE

PREACHED

IN THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST. ANN, BLACKFRIARS;

On Sunday, April 29th, 1770.

Seeing then, that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech.

2 Con.s iii. 12.

This Sermon was first preached at St. Matthew, Bethnal Green, April 22. Some persons then present, to whose judgment and request I pay the highest deference, desired me to retrieve as much of it as I could, the Sunday following, at St. Ann’s; with a view to its being taken in short hand and published.

The loss of my nearest relative, soon after this Sermon was preached, and the many avocations occasioned by that lamented and unexpected event account but too well for the delay with which the publication has been attended. Having, however, transcribed it at last, from the notes of the person who penned it at the time of its delivery, I now transmit it to the press, most affectionately and respectfully inscribed to my dear London friends; whose favors, equally great, numerous, and unmerited, I have no other public way of acknowledging, London, July 3, 1770.

SERMON I.

“And if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine” 1Ti 1:10.

St. Paul is commonly, and most probably, supposed to have written this Epistle about A. D. 65, that is, about two years before his own martyrdom, and about thirty-one after our Lords ascension. He addressed it to Timothy; who, though a very (1Ti 4:12) young man, had been some time in the ministry, and was then entrusted with the oversight of the church at Ephesus. In the estimation of unprejudiced reason, honorable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years: but wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age. (Wisd. 4:8, 9)

But Timothy, though young, was far from robust. He was only strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. His regenerate heaven-born soul dwelt in a sickly infirm body. Whence we read of his (1Ti 5:23) or frequent indispositions: arising, perhaps, originally from a natural delicacy of constitution: and, certainly, increased by a rigid abstemiousness, and constant course of ministerial labors. Thus our heavenly Father, graciously severe, and wisely kind, takes care to infuse some salutary bitter into his children’s cup below; since, were they here to taste of happiness absolute and unmingled; were not the gales of prosperity, whether spiritual or temporal, counterpoised, more or less, by the needful ballast of affliction; his people (always imperfect here) would be enriched to their loss, and liable to be overset in their way to the kingdom of God. Wherefore consummate felicity, without any mixture of wormwood, is reserved for our enjoyment in a state where perfect sanctification will qualify us to possess it. In heaven, and there only, the inhabitant no more say, in any sense whatever, I am sick. (Isa 33:24)

St. Paul, in the opening of his apostolic directions to Timothy, adopts the same simple, majestic, and evangelical exordium, with which the rest of his epistles usually begin. Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ; ordained and sent forth by the head of the Church, the supreme master of the spiritual vineyard: without whose internal, authoritative commission, none have a real right to minister in sacred things, nor to thrust the sickle into Gods harvest. For how can men preach to purpose, so as to be instruments of conviction, comfort and sanctification, except they be sent (Rom 10:15) of God, and owned of him? whence the apostle adds, by the commandment of God our Saviour, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our hope. As an English nobleman, who travels to some foreign court, cannot reasonably expect to be received as the representative of his sovereign here, unless charged with an actual delegation, and able to produce the credentials of his mission: no more is any individual authorized to arrogate to himself the honor of a divine embassage, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. (Heb 5:4) A sufficient degree of gospel light and knowledge; an ardent love of souls, and a disinterested concern for truth; a competent measure of ministerial gifts and abilities; and, above all, a portion of divine grace and experience; a saving change of heart, and a life devoted to the glory of God; are essential pre-requisites to an evangelical discharge of the sacred function.

The first verse may be read thus: Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ according to the express, or authoritative, designation of Jesus Christ our God, Saviour, and Lord. So the passage may be rendered; and so perhaps it ought to he understood, in its natural and most obvious construction. Now, even supposing that the apostle had not the divinity of Christ immediately in view, at the time of his writing these words; yet, you must either give up his inspiration, or believe that Christ is, with the Father and the Spirit, God over all, blessed for ever: since on a subject of such unspeakable consequence, it would have argued a degree of negligence, little short of criminal, had the apostle expressed himself in terms palpably liable to misapprehension. I therefore conclude that both as a scholar and as a Christian; as Gamaliels pupil and as an inspired apostle; our sacred penman would have delivered himself in a far more guarded style, had not the Son of God been indeed God the Son. Either Jesus is the God, Saviour and Lord of his people, or St. Paul was guilty of such inexcusable inaccuracy, as every writer of common sense and common honesty would be sure to avoid.

He goes on to style the blessed Jesus our hope. Ask almost any man, “Whether he hopes to he saved eternally?” He will answer in the affirmative. But enquire again, “On what foundation the rests his hope?” Here too many are sadly divided. The Pelagian hopes to get to heaven by a moral life and a good use of his natural powers. The Arminian by a jumble of grace and free-will, humus works, and the merits of Christ. The Deist by an interested observance of the social virtues. Thus merit-mongers, of every denomination, agree in making any thing the basis of their hope, rather than that foundation which Gods own hand hath laid in Zion. But what saith Scripture? It avers, again and again, that Jesus alone is our hope: to the exclusion of all others, and to the utter annihilation of human deservings. Beware, therefore, of resting your dependence partly on Christ, and partly on some other basis. As surely as yon bottom your reliance partly on the rock, and partly on the sand; so certainly, unless God give you an immediate repentance to your acknowledgment of the truth, will your supposed house of defense fall and bury you in its ruins, no less than if you had raised it on the sand alone. Christ is the hope of glory. (Col 1:2)Faith in his righteousness, received and embraced as our sole justifying obedience before God; and the love of Christ (an inseparable effect of that faith), operating on our hearts, and shining in our lives; are the most solid evidences we can have below of our acceptance with the Father, and of our being saved in Jesus with an everlasting salvation.

Unto Timothy, my own son in the faith; grace, mercy, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Some have thought that Timothy was not converted under the ministry of St. Paul; and they ground their conjecture on Act 16:1-2 where Timothy is mentioned as a disciple, and a person well reported of by the Christians at Derbe and Lystra, previous to St. Paul’s visitation of those places. That Timothy was a nominal professor of religion, and a youth of circumspect behavior, are evident from that passage: which external form of godliness was probably the effect of the religious (2Ti 3:15) education he had the happiness to receive from his earliest childhood. But, from St. Paul’s compellation of him as his own son in the faith; it may, I think, be reasonably inferred that the young disciple was led from the outer court of mere external profession into the sanctuary of heavenly and spiritual experience, either by the private labors, or under the public ministry, of this apostle. And none but those ministers whose endeavors have been blest to the conversion of souls, and those persons who have been born of God by their instrumentality, can form any idea of that spiritual relation and unspeakably tender attachment which subsist between spiritual fathers and the children of grace whom God hath given them.

Timothy had been a true believer some considerable time before St. Paul wrote this Epistle. Consequently, by the grace, mercy, and peace, which he prayed might be the portion of his beloved converts, we are to understand, not the first vouchsafement, but a large increase, of those spiritual blessings and comforts: that he might have repeated discoveries and continued manifestations of the Fathers electing grace; of Christ’s redeeming mercy; and experience that sweet peace and joy in believing which are fruits of the Holy Spirits influence and flow from fellowship with him. Privileges these which unawakened men will always ridicule; but to which every real Christian will ardently aspire.

Time would fail me, should I attempt to consider all the intervenient verses. I find myself at a loss, not what to say, but what to leave unsaid. However, I shall observe, as briefly as I can, that one grand reason of St. Paul’s writing this Epistle was, to put Timothy on his guard against the dissemination of corrupt doctrines, and the insidious arts of corrupt teachers, with which the Church of Ephesus where Timothy was now stationed, seems to have been particularly infested. Unregenerate ministers are much the same in all ages and in every country: an unconverted preacher in England, and an unconverted preacher in Italy, so far as matters merely spiritual are concerned, stand nearly on a level. These all are, what the Ephesian schismatics were desirous to he, teachers of the law, or legal teachers. And all unconverted people, whether their denomination be Protestant or Popish, desire to be hearers of the law, and are displeased when they hear anything else. We are, naturally, fond of that very law which, unless the righteousness of Christ is ours, is the ministration of death, pronounces us accursed, and binds us over to everlasting ruin. The pernicious error, against which Timothy was directed to guard his flock, was a dependence on the law and the works of it, for salvation. And the reason why this destructive tenet was taught and enforced by some preachers of that day, and has been taught by their successors ever since, is assigned by the apostle; who observes, that those blind guides understood neither what they said nor whereof they affirmed: for if they had understood anything of Gods inviolable holiness; of the laws inflexible rectitude, extent, and spirituality; of mans total inability to fulfill it perfectly (and without perfect obedience the law cannot justify); they would, at once, have ceased to be teachers of the law, and simply pointed sinners to that Saviour alone who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Rom 10:4)

Fashionable as the doctrine of legal, conditional justification is, we may say to every individual that embraces it, There is one that condemns you, even Moses, in whom you trust, (Joh 5:45) and that very law on which you rest: for its language is. He that breaketh me only in one point is guilty of all: (Jas 2:10) and, Cursed is every man that continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them. (Gal 3:10) Show me the man who has never offended in one point; who hath continued in all things prescribed by Jehovah’s perfect law; who loves the Lord with all his heart, and his fellow-creatures as himself; show me the man who, from the first to the last moment of his life, comes up to this standard, and then you will show me a man who can be justified by works of his own.

But if no such person could ever be found, Jesus Christ the righteous singly excepted, St. Paul’s conclusion stands unshaken, that they who teach or hold justification by any other obedience than that of Christ, neither know what they say, nor whereof they affirm.

Yet, notwithstanding we neither are, nor can be, justified by the law; still the uses of the law are numerous and important: whence the apostle takes care to add, that the law is good, or answers several valuable purposes, if a man use it lawfully. Nothing can be more evident than that, by the law, in this place, is meant the moral law. The ceremonial could not possibly be intended; because it is not now to be adhered to, and is no longer in force: whereas the apostle speaks of a law which is, to this very day, unrepealed, and of standing use: the law is good, if a man use it lawfully. Of this law there is a two-fold use: or rather, an use and an abuse. The use of the law is, among other things, first to convince us of our other sinfulness; and then, secondly, to lead us to Christ, as the great and only fulfiller of all righteousness. Now the law does not answer these important ends directly, and of itself; but in a subservience to the Holy Spirits influence; when that adorable person is pleased to make the law instrumental to the conversion of a sinner. In which case, having shaken us out of our self-righteousness, and reduced us to a happy necessity of closing with the righteousness of Christ; the law has still another and a farther use, no less momentous: for, thirdly, it from that moment forward stands as the great rule of our practical walk and conversation: seeing a true believer is not without law, (a lawless person) towards God; but is within the bond of the law to Christ (1Co 9:21); not exempted from its control, as the standard of moral action; though delivered from its power and execration as a covenant of works.

* “A gracious sight of our vileness,” says one of the ablest and most useful writers of the last century, “is the work of Christ only by his Spirit, The law is indeed a looking-glass; able to represent the filthiness of a person: but the law gives no eyes to see that filthiness. Bring a looking-glass, and set it before a blind man: he sees no more spots in his face than if he had none at all. Though the glass be a good glass, still the glass cannot give eyes: yet, if he had eyes, he would, in the glass, see his blemishes. The apostle James compares the law to a looking-glass; and a faculty to represent is all the law possesseth: but it doth not impart a faculty to see what it represents. It is Christ alone who opens the eyes of men to behold their own vileness and guilt. He opens the eyes, and then in the law, a man sees what he is.”

These are the three grand lawful uses of the law. On the other hand, if any of us are so deplorably lost to all sense of Christian duty and gospel privilege, as to suppose that by our own partial conformity to the law, how sincere soever it be, we can work out and work up a righteousness for ourselves, wherein to stand before the tribunal of God, and for which to obtain any favor at his hand, we use the law unlawfully; we sadly mistake the very end for which the law was promulgated, which was, that, under the efficacy of grace, and the teachings of the blessed Spirit, it might bring us to a knowledge of our (Rom 3:20) guilt, and a sense of our (Deu 33:2; Heb 12:21-28) danger; convince us of our (Ps 119:96. Ro 7:3) helplessness. and, as a schoolmaster, bring us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith, and not by the works of the law; for, by the works of the law, as performed by us, shall no flesh be justified. (Gal 3:24; 2:16)

That grand error of the heart (for it is a heart-error, as well as a head-error; deeply rooted in our corrupt nature, as well as perniciously pleasing to unassisted reason), which misrepresents justification as at all suspended on causes or conditions of human performance; will, and must, if finally persisted in, transmit the unbeliever, who has opportunities of better information, to that place of torment where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

The apostle goes on: knowing that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the disobedient, &c. The phrase, a righteous man, means, in its strictly evangelical sense, one that is in Christ; or, who is righteous before God in the righteousness of his Son, apprehended by faith. Now, the law, i.e., the damnatory sentence of it, was not designed for such a person. Weak believers have sometimes a good deal to do with the law, and are apt to hover about Mount Sinai; but the law has nothing to do with them; any more than a creditor who has received ample payment from the hand of a surety can have any remaining claim on the original debtor. The law took as it were our heavenly bonds-man by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And Jesus acknowledged the demand. He paid the double debt of obedience and suffering to the utmost farthing. So that, as some render the words under consideration, the law lieth not against a righteous man; its claims are satisfied; its sentence is superseded; its condemning power is abolished. And whoever have been enabled to fly for refuge to the righteousness of Christ, and to lay hold on the hope set before them, may depend on this, as a most certain truth, that Christ hath redeemed them from the curse of the law, having been himself made a curse for them. (Gal 3:13) Such are not under the law, whether as a covenant of works to be saved by, or as a denunciation of wrath to be condemned by, but they are under grace: (Rom 6:14) under that sweet dispensation of everlasting love which, when made known to the believing soul, at once ensures the practice of universal godliness, and refers the entire praise of salvation to the unmerited grace of Father, Son, and Spirit. I said that the dispensation of grace ensures the practice of universal godliness: for considered as a rule of moral conduct, the law most certainly is designed for believers. And, indeed, only believers can yield real, acceptable, obedience to the law: for without faith it is impossible to please God, (Heb 11:6) and whatever proceedeth not from faith is sin. (Rom 14:23) Therefore, if God hath not wrought living faith in your heart, you have never performed one truly good work in your whole life.

St. Paul next proceeds to draw a catalogue of sins, against which the denunciations of the law are most eminently leveled; closing the list with the words first read, “And if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.” A plain intimation, that error, in principles fundamental, has a very unfavorable influence on practicals: and that, in proportion as the doctrines of God are disbelieved, the commandments of God will be disobeyed. Doctrinals, therefore, are not of that small significance which the injudicious and the heterodox affect to give out. For, though matters of doctrine are, by some, considered merely as the shell of religion, and experience only as the kernel; yet let it be remembered that there is no coming at the kernel but through the shell: and, while the kernel gives value to the shell, the shell is the guardian of the kernel. Destroy that, and you injure this.

The apostle, in the words before us, stamps the evangelical doctrines with the seal of dignity, usefulness and importance: as is evident from the epithet he makes use of. He calls the system of gospel-truths sound doctrine: salutary, health-giving doctrine; not only right and sound in itself, but conducing to the spiritual strength and health of those that receive it: doctrine, that operates like some efficacious restorative on an exhausted constitution; that renders the sin-sick souls of men healthy, vigorous and thriving; that causes them, through the blessing of divine grace, to grow as the lily, and to cast forth the root as Lebanon, to revive as the corn, and to flourish as the vine, to diffuse their branches, and rival the olive tree (Hos 14) both in beauty and fruitfulness.

On the other hand, unsound doctrine has the very opposite effects. It impoverishes our views of God; withers our hopes; makes our faith languid; blasts our spiritual enjoyments; and lays the axe to the very root of Christian obedience. We may say of it, as the Jewish students said, on another occasion, there is death in the pot. If you eat it you are poisoned. With the utmost attention, therefore, should we attend to the apostles caveat, and avoid every thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.

Many such things there are. I have not time even to recite, much less to expatiate on, them all. I shall, therefore, only endeavor, as God may enable me, to point out a few very common, but very capital errors, which are totally inconsistent with sound doctrine. Previous to my entrance on this part of the subject, I would premise two particulars:

1. That what I am going to observe does not proceed from the least degree of bitterness against the persons of any from whom I differ; and,

2. That I am infinitely remote even from the slightest wish of erecting myself into a dictator to others.

The rights of conscience are inviolably sacred, and liberty of private judgment is every mans birthright. If, however, any, like Esau, have sold their birth-right for a mess of pottage, by subscribing to articles they do not believe, merely for the sake of temporal profit or aggrandizement; they have only themselves to thank for the little ceremony they are entitled to. With regard to myself, as one whom God has been pleased to put into the ministry; above all, into the ministry of the best and purest visible church in the whole world; I should be a traitor to God, to Christ, to the Scriptures and to truth, unfaithful to souls, and to my own conscience, if I did not, without fear or favor, declare the entire council of God, so far as I apprehend myself led into the knowledge of it. Inconsiderable as I am, man, of you are, no doubt, acquainted with the variety of reports that have been spread (especially since this time of my being in town), concerning me, and the doctrines by which I hold it my indispensable duty to abide. I deem myself, therefore, happy, in having one more opportunity to testify the little that I know concerning that mystery of the gospel which God ordained before the world for our glory. And I desire in the most public manner to thank the great Author of all consolation for a very particular instance of his favor, and which I look upon as one of the most felicitating circumstances of my whole life: I mean my early acquaintance with the doctrines of grace. Many great and good men, who were converted late in life, have had the whole web of their preceding ministry to unravel, and been under a necessity of reversing all they had been delivering for years before. But it is not the smallest of my distinguishing mercies that, from the very commencement of my unworthy ministrations, I have not had a single doctrine to retract, nor a single word to unsay. I have subscribed to the Articles, Homilies, and Liturgy, five separate times; and that from principle: nor do I believe those forms of sound words because I have subscribed to them: but I therefore subscribed them because I believed them. I set out with the gospel from the very first; and having obtained help from God, I continue to this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than Moses and the prophets, (Act 26:22) Jesus and his apostles, have said before me. And, in an absolute dependence on the divine power and faithfulness, I trust that I shall, to the end, be enabled to count neither health, wealth, reputation, nor life itself, dear to me, so I may finish my course with joy, and fulfill the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God (Act 20:24).

“Careless (myself a dying man”Of dying men’s esteem;”Happy if thou, O God, approve, “Though all beside condemn,”

If the most accomplished and respectable person of all heathen antiquity could declare that he “would rather obtain the single approbation of Cato than have a triumph voted to him by the senate,” much more will a Christian minister prefer the approbation of God to all the evanid eclats of an applauding universe.

I shall arm myself, this afternoon, with a two-fold weapon: with the Bible in one hand; and our Church-Articles in the other. I shall appeal at once, for all I have to say, to the authority of Gods unerring oracles; and to their faithful epitome, the decisions of the Church of England. They who, perhaps, set light by the Scriptures, may yet pay some decent deference to the Church; and they who, it may he, pay little attention to Church-determinations, will render implicit credit to the Scriptures. So that, between the Bible and the Thirty-nine Articles, I hope I shall be able to carry my point, and, as far as my subject leads me, enter a successful caveat against whatever things are contrary to sound doctrine. In attempting this, I shall fix my foot upon Arminianism; which, in its several branches, is the gangrene of the Protestant Churches, and the predominant evil of the day.

What think you,

I. Of conditional election? We have, indeed, some who deny that there is any such thing as election at all. They start at the very word, as if it were a spectre, just come from the shades, and never seen before. I shall waste no time on these men. They are out of the pale to which my allotted plan confines me at present. They cannot be Church of England men who proscribe a term that occurs so frequently in her offices and standards of faith; nor can they even be Christians at large who cashier, with affected horror, a word which, under one form or other, is to be met with between forty and fifty times, at least, in the New Testament only.

My business now is with those who endeavor to save appearances by admitting the word, while in reality they anathematize the things. These profess to hold an election: but then it is a conditional one, and founded, as they suppose, on some good quality or qualities foreseen in the objects of it. Thus bottoming the purposes of God on the precarious will of apostate men; an making that which is temporal the cause of that which was eternal. “The Deity,” say persons of this cast, “foreknowing how you and I would behave, and foreseeing our improvements and our faithfulness, and what a proper use we should make of our free-will, ordained us, and all such good sort of people, to everlasting life.”

Nothing can be more contrary to sound doctrine, and even to sound reason, than this. It proceeds on a supposition that man is beforehand with God in the business of salvation; and that the resolutions of Gods will are absolutely dependent on the will of his creatures: that he has, in short, created a set of sovereign beings, from whom he receives law; and that his own purpose and conduct are shaped and regulated according to the prior self-determinations of independent man. What is this but atheism in a mask? For where is the difference between the denial of a first cause and the assignation of a false one?

Quite opposite is the decision of inspiration (Rom 11:6); where the apostle terms Gods choice of his people an election of grace, or a gratuitous election: and observes, that if it be of grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace were no more grace: but if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise, work were no more work. Conditional grace is a most palpable contradiction in terms. Grace is no longer grace than while it is absolute and free. You might, with far greater ease, bring the two poles together, than effect a coalition between grace and works in the affair of election. As far, and as high, as the heavens are above the earth, are the imminent acts of God superior to a dependence on any thing wrought by sinful, perishable man.

Consult our seventeenth Article, and you will clearly see whether conditional election be the doctrine of the Church of England. “Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid. He hath constantly decreed, by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind; and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor.” Is there a word about conditionality here? On the contrary, is not election, or predestination unto life, peremptorily declared to be Gods own “everlasting purpose, decree, counsel, and choice?” The elect are said to be brought to salvation, not as persons of foreseen virtue and pliableness; but simply and merely “as vessels made to honor.” Add to this, that the article goes on to stile election a benefit, or gift; “Wherefore they that be endued with so excellent a benefit. “But how could predestination to blessedness be so termed, if it were suspended on the foresight of something to be wrought by the person predestinated? For a condition in matters of spiritual concern is analogous to a price in matters of commerce: and a purchased gift is just as good sense as conditional grace.

Our venerable reformers were too well acquainted with the Scriptures, and with the power of God, to err on a subject of such unutterable moment. Whence, in the article now cited, they took care to lay Gods absolute and sovereign election as the basis of sanctification; so far were they from representing sanctification as the groundwork of election. Our modern inverters of Christianity, the Arminians, by endeavoring to found election upon human qualifications, resemble an insane architect who, in attempting to raise an edifice, should make tiles and laths the foundation, and reserve his bricks and stones for the roof. Quot suni hominum virtntes, totidem sunt Dei dona, said the learned and excellent Du Moulin: and, if sanctification be God’s gift, men’s goodness could not possibly be a motive to their election: unless we can digest this enormous absurdity, viz. that Gods gifts may be conditional and meritorious one of another. Do you imagine that God could foresee any holiness in men which himself did not decree to give them? You cannot suppose it, without believing at the same time that God is not the author of all good; and that there are, or may be, some good and perfect gifts which do not descend from the Father of lights; and that the apostle was widely mistaken when he laid down this axiom, that it is God who, of his own good pleasure, worketh in us both to will and to do.

According to our Church, Gods election leads the van; sanctification forms the center; and glory brings up the rear (Act 17): “Wherefore, they that be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called, according to Gods purpose, by his Spirit working in due season: they, through grace, obey the calling; they be justified freely; they be made the sons of God by adoption.” Hitherto good works are not so much as mentioned. Why so? Because our reformers were Antinomians, and exploded or despised moral performances? by no means. Those holy? persons were, themselves, living confutations of so vile a suggestion. The tenor of their lives was as blameless as their doctrine. But they had learned to distinguish ideas, and were too judicious, both as logicians and divines, to represent effects as prior to the causes that produce them. They were not ashamed to betake themselves to the Scriptures for information, and to deliver out the living water of sound doctrine, pure and unmingled, as they had drawn it from the fountains of truth. Hence, election, calling, justification, and adoption, are set forth, not as caused by, but as the real and leading causes of, that moral change which, sooner or later, takes place in the children of God. For thus the article goes on: “They be made like the image of his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ; they walk religiously in good works; and, at length, by Gods mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.”

This, then, is the order: 1. Electron; 2. Effectual calling; 3. Apprehensive justification; 4. Manifestative adoption; 5. Sanctification; 6. Religious walking in good works; 7. Continuance in these to the end; which last blessing must, of necessity, be included, because the article adds that these elect, regenerate persons attain, at length, to everlasting felicity; which they could not do without final perseverance, any more than you or I, upon our departure from this Church, could arrive at our respective homes if we finally stop short of them by the way. Such, therefore, being the chain and process of salvation; how impious and how fruitless must any attempt be, either to transpose, or to put asunder, what God has so wisely and inseparably joined together!

Unless we take absolute election: into the account, we must either suppose that God saves no man whatever, or that those he saves, are saved at random and without design. But his goodness forbids the first; and his wisdom excludes the latter. Absolute election, therefore, must be taken into the account; or you at once, (ipso facto,) strike off either goodness or wisdom from the list of divine perfections. That scheme of doctrine must necessarily be untrue which represents the Deity as observing no regular order, no determinate plan, in an affair of such consequence as the everlasting salvation of his people. I cannot acquit of blasphemy that system which likens the Deity to a careless ostrich which, having deposited her eggs, leaves them in the sand, to be hatched, or crushed, just as chance happens. Surely He, who numbers the very hairs of his peoples heads, does not consign their souls and their eternal interests to precarious hazard! the blessings of grace and glory are too valuable and important to he shuffled and dealt out by the hand of chance. Besides, if one thing comes to pass, either without, or contrary to, the will of God, another thing, nay, all things, may come to pass in the same manner: and then good bye to providence entirely.

When Lysander, the Spartan, paid a visit to king Cyrus (at Corinth, if I mistake not), he was particularly struck with the elegance and order, the variety and magnificence, of Cyrus’ gardens. Cyrus, no less charmed with the taste and judgment of his guest, told him, with visible emotions of pleasure, “These lovely walks, with all their beauty of disposition and vastness of extent, were planned by myself; and almost every tree, shrub and flower, which you behold, was planted by my own hand.” Now when we take a view of the church, which is at once the house and garden of the living God; that church which the Father loved for which the Son became a man of sorrows and which the Holy Spirit descends from heaven, in all his plenitude of converting power, to cultivate and build anew; when we survey this living paradise and this mystic edifice, of which such glorious things are spoken, (Ps 87:3) and on which such glorious privileges are conferred; must we not acknowledge Thy sovereign hand, O uncreated love, drew the plan of this spiritual Eden! Thy hand, Almighty power, set every living tree, every true believer, in the courts of the Lords house. Thy converted people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land for ever, even the branches of thy planting, the work of thy hands, that thou mayest be glorified. (Isa 60:21)

Admitting election to be thus a complete, eternal, immanent act in the divine mind, and consequently irrespective of any thing in the persons chosen; then (may some say) “farewell to gospel obedience; all good works are destroyed.” If, by destroying good works, you mean, that the doctrine of unconditional election destroys the merit of good works, and represents man as incapable of earning or deserving the favor and kingdom of God, I acknowledge the force of the objection. Predestination does, most certainly, destroy the merit of our works and obedience, but not the performance of them: since holiness is. itself, one end of election (Eph 1:4), and the elect are as much chosen to intermediate sanctification, on their way, as they are to that ultimate glory which crowns their journeys end* and there is no coming at the one but through the other. So that neither the value, nor the necessity, nor the practice of good works, is superseded by this glorious truth; our acts of evangelical obedience are no more than marshaled, and consigned to their due place; restrained from usurping that praise which is due alone to the grace of God; and from arrogating that office which only the Son of God was qualified to discharge.

That election, as taught by the Scriptures (and thence by our reformers), not only carries a favorable aspect on universal piety and holiness, but even ensures the practice of both, is evident, among many other passages, from that of the apostle (2Th 2:13), We are bound to give thanks, always, to God, for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath, from the beginning, i.e. from everlasting, chosen you to salvation through [not for, but through] sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. How very opposite were St. Paul’s views of the tendency of this doctrine from those of the Pelagian and Arminian objectors to it! They are perpetually crying out, that it “ruins morality, and opens a ready door to licentiousness.” He, on the contrary, represents the believing consideration of it as a grand incentive to the exercise of our graces, and to the observance of moral duty. Let us, says he, who are of the day, who are enlightened into the knowledge of this blessed privilege, and can read our names in the book of life; let us, who are thus of the day, be sober; putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and, for a helmet, the hope of salvation: for God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (1Th 5:8, 9). Now, if election secures the performance of good works, and, upon its own plan, renders them indispensably necessary; I should be glad to know how good works can suffer by the doctrine of election? You may as well say that the sun which now shines into this Church is the parent of frost and darkness. No: it is the source of light and warmth. And you and I want nothing more than a sense of Gods peculiar, discriminating favor, shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given to us (Rom 5:5) to render us more and more fruitful in every good word and work. As an excellent person (Dr. Arrowsmith) observes, “that mans love to God will be without end, who knows that Gods love to him was without beginning.”

II. What think you of that fashionable tenet, so contrary to sound doctrine, concerning the supposed dignity and rectitude of human nature in its fallen state? A doctrine, as totally irreconcilable to reason and fact, as if an expiring leper should value himself on the health and beauty of his person; or a ruined bankrupt should boast his immensity of wealth.

As soon as we are born we go astray. Nay, I will venture, on Scripture authority, to carry the point higher still. All mankind are guilty and depraved before they are born. Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin did my mother conceive me (Ps 51.). A thunder-bolt to human pride, and a dagger in the very heart of natural excellence! Thus speaks the Bible; and thus experience speaks. Our own Church, likewise, delivers her judgment in perfect conformity to both.

ARTICLE IX.

Of Original or Birth-Sin.

“Original sin standeth not in the following” [or Imitation] “of Adam, as the Pelagians* do vainly talk but it is the fault” [by imputation], “and corruption [by internal, hereditary derivation] “of the nature of every man who naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam: whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is, of his own nature, inclined to evil; so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit. And therefore, in every person born into this world, it” [namely, original, or birth-sin] “deserveth Gods wrath and damnation.”

* In this Article express mention is made of the Pelagians; but nothing is, by name, said of the Arminians. The reason is plain. At the time when on the Articles passed the two houses of convocation, in the year 1562, Arminius, who was then only two years of age, for he was born A. D. 1560, had not begun to sow his tares: he was no more than a schismatic in embryo. Arminianism is a mushroom of later date than the re-establishment of the Church or England of Elizabeth. It was not until the latter end of her reign that Arminianism had any great footing even in Holland, the seat of its nativity. I say, in Holland; for there this grand corruption of the reformation began; and thence it found its way to England. It was a Dutch wind that blew Arminianism over to this island, many years after our Articles were re-settled as we now have them. Therefore it is, that only Pelagianism is mentioned. However, though Arminianism is younger, by about l200. years, than Pelagianism; its nature and tendency are much the same in fact. The seeming difference lies in little more than this: Pelagius spoke out; Van Harmin (commonly called Arminius) with more art, but less honesty, qualified and disguised the poison, that it might not be quite so alarming. Somewhat like what a good man remarked, long ago, concerning the leaven, or false doctrines of the Pharisees: “Christ,” says he, “compares the errors of the Pharisees to leaven. Why so? because of its secret mixture with the wholesome bread. You do not make your bread all of leaven; for then nobody will eat it: but you mingle it skillfully, and by that means, both go down together. Thus, our Lord intimates that the pharisees mixed their errors with some truths; and therefore he directs them to beware, lest with the truths they swallow the errors also” (Gurnalls Christian Armour; vol. i. p. 104. Octavo edition).

Now what becomes of those plausible, sophistical similes, which compare the natural mind of man to a sheet of white paper? or, to a pliant ozier, which you may bend, with ease, this way or that? Or to a balance in aequilibrio, which you may incline to either side, according as you throw more or less weight into the scale? Or to a wax tablet, on which you may stamp what impressions you please? Alas! the impression is already made. The thoughts and purposes of man’s heart, previous to regeneration, are (spiritually considered) only evil, and that continually (Gen 6:5). When converting grace lays hold of us, there is not only a heart of flesh to be given, but a heart of stone to be taken away (Eze 36:26). God must not only write his own law on the minds of his people; but must obliterate the law of sin and death, which has a prior footing in every man that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam. So much for the spiritual and moral rectitude of man while unregenerate. –

What think you,

III. Of conditional redemption? Another modish tenet; and no less contrary to reason and sound doctrine than the preceding. We are gravely told by some that “Christ did indeed die; but he did not die absolutely, nor purchase forgiveness and eternal life for us certainly: his death only puts us into a salvable state; making God placable, and pardon possible.” The whole efficacy of his sufferings, according to these persons, depends on our being towardly and complying: which if we are, we then come in for a share in the subsidiary and supplementary merits of Christ; having first qualified ourselves for his aid by a performance of certain conditions required on our part, and entitled ourselves to the favor and notice of God. According to this scheme (which is only the religion of nature spoiled; spoiled by an injudicious mixture of nominal Christianity), the adorable Mediator, instead of having actually obtained eternal redemption (Heb 9:12) for his people, and secured the blessings of grace and glory to those for whom he died; is represented as bequeathing to them only a few spiritual lottery-tickets, which may come up, blanks or prizes, just as the wheel of chance and human caprice happens to turn. Our own righteousness and endeavors must, first, make the scale of eternal life preponderate in our favor; and then, the merits of Christ are thrown in, to make up good weight. The Messiahs obedience and sufferings stand, it seems, for mere cyphers; until our own free-will is so kind as to prefix the initial figure, and render them of value. I tremble at the shocking consequences of a system which, (as one well observes) considers the whole mediation of Christ as no more than “a pedestal, on which human worth may stand exalted:” nay, (to use the language of another) which “sinks the Son of God how shall I speak it? into a spiritual huckster, who, having purchased certain blessings of his Father, sells them out afterwards to men upon terms and conditions!”

But, my brethren, I hope better things concerning you, even the things that accompany salvation. We have not, I trust, so learned Christ; or, rather, so mislearned him, and the work he came from heaven to accomplish. God forbid that we should be found in the number of those who adopt a principle so highly derogatory from the glory of divine grace, and so deeply dishonorable to the great Saviour of sinners. To the law and to the testimony. How speaks St. Paul? He avers that Jesus, by the one offering of himself hath perfected for ever the salvation of them that are sanctified (Heb 10:14). And our Lord expressly declared, in the most solemn prayer that ever ascended from earth to heaven, I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do (Joh 17:4). Who, then, art thou, O man, that darest to tack an imaginary supplement of thy own to the finished work of Christ? Such a conduct, were to charge incarnate truth with uttering a falsehood; and would be equivalent to saying, “No! Thou didst not finish the work of redemption which was given thee to do; thou didst indeed a part of it; but I myself must add something to it, or the whole of thy performance will stand for nothing.”

He appeared once in the end of the world, or at the close of the Jewish dispensation, to do what? to render sin barely pardonable, on the sinners fulfillment of previous terms? No: but actually to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Heb 9:26). The apostles expression is, that Christ appeared, unto the utter abolition of sin: so that, by virtue of his perfect oblation, sin should neither be charged upon, nor eventually mentioned to, those for whom he was offered up. The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve (Jer 50:20). In a word: either the death of Christ was not a real and perfect satisfaction for sin; or, if it was, then upon every principle of reason and justice, all that sin must be actually forgiven and done away, which his death was a true and plenary satisfaction for on the supposition that his redemption was not absolute, it vanishes into no redemption at all. Go over therefore fairly and squarely to the tents of Socinus; or believe that Christ is the Lamb of God who, in deed and in truth, beareth and taketh away the sin of the world (Joh 1:29).

How speaks the Church of England, concerning this important matter? I refer you to her 31st Article, “Of the one oblation of Christ, finished upon the cross.

“The offering of Christ, once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual: and there is no other sacrifice for sin, but that alone.”

Do not let that expression, the whole world, stumble you. You remember what our Te Deum says: “When thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, thou didst open the kingdom of Heaven to all believers.” So in the above article; – The oblation of Christ once made for all the sins of the whole world: i.e. the whole world of believers: for Gods elect are a world within a world. The whole world is a Scripture term, and the compilers of our articles did well in adopting it. But do you imagine that every individual of mankind is meant? surely, no; for, were redemption thus universal, salvation would and must he of equal extent: otherwise, either God the Father would be unjust, or the Mood-shedding of Christ could not be (what our articles affirm it to have been) a perfect satisfaction for all sin. Let unlimited redemption be once proved, and I will take upon myself to prove unlimited salvation.

There are many Scripture passages, where the phrases world, and whole world, are, and must be understood in a restricted sense. So, where St. Paul thus addresses the Roman converts: your faith is spoken of, or celebrated, throughout the whole world, i. e. throughout the whole believing world, or Christian Church: for none but believers would applaud and celebrate the Romans for their faith in Christ (Rom 1:8) – We are of God, says the apostle John, and the whole world lieth in the wicked one (1Jo 5:19). Where, if the whole world denote every individual of mankind, it would follow that both the apostle himself, and the Christians to whom he wrote, were, at that very time, in the wicked one; and consequently, that he was guilty of a self contradiction, in saying, we are of God. In the Book of Revelations Satan is styled the deceiver of the whole world (Rev 12:9), and the whole world are said to wander after the beast (Rev 13:3), meaning a considerable part of the world.

Nay, even in daily conversation, it is customary with us to make use of the word world in a limited signification. So, when we speak of the learned world, the busy world, the gay world, the polite world, the religious world; we do not mean that every man in the world is learned, busy, gay, polite, or religious; we only mean those in the world who are so.

To close this head. Upon the supposition of a random redemption, and a precarious salvation, St. Paul’s inference, “Who shall condemn? it is Christ that died;” might be easily answered and overthrown: since, if the Arminian hypothesis be true, millions of those for whom Christ died will be condemned; and what heightens the absurdity, condemned on account of those very sins for which Christ did die. A supposition exploded by the apostle as impossible. Surely Christ knew for what, and for whom, he paid the ransom-price of his infinitely precious blood! Nor would the Father purchase to himself a church of elect persons for his own peculiar residence; and then leave Satan to run away with as many of the beams and pillars as he pleases. Equally contrary to sound doctrine is,

IV. The Tenet of justification by works.

All human righteousness is imperfect: and to suppose that God, whose judgment always according to truth, will by a paltry commutation which he every where disclaims, and which the majesty of his law forbids, be put off with not only a defective but even a polluted, obedience, and justify men by virtue of such a counterfeit (at most a partial) conformity to his commandments; to imagine that the law accommodates itself to human depravation, and chameleon like, assumes the complexion of the sinners with whom it has to do; is antinomianism of the grossest kind. It represents the law as hanging out false colors, and insisting on perfection, while in fact it is little better than a formal patent for licentiousness; and degrades the adorable law-giver himself into a conniver at sin.

Add to this, that if God can consistently with his acknowledged attributes, and his avowed declarations, save guilty obnoxious creatures, without their bringing such complete righteousness as the law demands; it will necessarily follow that God, when his hand is in, may save sinners without any righteousness at all, since the same flexibility which (as the Arminians suppose) induces God to dispense with part of his law may go a step father, and induce him to set aside the whole. Moreover, if our persons may be justified, without a legal (i.e. a perfect) righteousness; it will follow, on the same principle, that our sins may be pardoned without an atonement: and then farewell to the whole scheme of Christianity at once.

There are two grand axioms which enter into the very foundation of revealed religion:

1. That the law will accept no obedience short of perfect, as the condition of justification; and,

2. That ever since Adams first offence, man has, and can have, no such obedience of his own.

What then must a sinner do to be saved? He must believe in and rest upon that Saviour who was, by gracious imputation, made sin for us, that we by a similar exchange, might be made the righteousness of God in him.(2Co 5) If this be the gospel scheme of salvation the apostles assertion will be incontestable: As many of you as are justified by the law, or seek justification on the footing of your own works, are fallen from grace, (Gal 5:4) revolted and apostatized from that gospel system which teaches that men are justified by the grace of God, flowing through Christ’s righteousness alone (Rom 5:21). Alas! how hardly are we brought to accept salvation as a gift of mere favor! We are for bringing a price in our hands, and coming with money in our sacks mouth: notwithstanding the celestial direction is, Buy wine and milk, without money and without price (Isa 55:1);i.e., take as absolute possession of pardon, holiness and eternal life, as if they were your own by purchase; but remember that you nevertheless have them grads, without any desert, nay, contrary to all desert of yours. We did not bribe God to create us; and how is it possible that we should pay him any thing for saving us?

Zeuxis, the celebrated Grecian painter used, towards the latter part of his life, to give away his pictures without deigning to accept of any pecuniary recompense. Being asked the reason, his answer was, “I make presents of my pictures because they are too valuable to be purchased. They are above all price.” And does not God freely give us a part in the book of life, an interest in his Son, and a title to his kingdom; nay, does he not make us a present of himself in Christ; because these blessings are literally above all price? too great, too high, too glorious, to be purchased by the works of man? because we cannot merit them, God is graciously pleased freely to bestow them.

It is equally sad and astonishing to observe the ingredients of that foundation on which self-justiciaries build their hopes of heaven. First, there is a stratum of freewill; then of good dispositions; then of legal performances: next a layer of what they term divine aids and assistances, ratified and made effectual by human compliances; then a little of Christ’s merits; then faithfulness to helps received; and to finish the motley-mixture, a perseverance of their own spinning. At so much pains is a Pharisee in going about to establish his own righteousness, rather than embrace the Bible-way of salvation by submitting to the righteousness of God the Son. (Rom 10:3):

Now, what says the Church of England concerning the cause and manner of our acceptance with the Father? Thus she speaks; and thus all her real members believe:

ARTICLE XI.

Of the Justification of Man.

“We are accounted righteous before God only for the merits of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” One would imagine this might have been enough to establish the point: but, utterly to preclude self-righteousness from all possibility of access, the Church immediately adds, “and not for our own works or deservings.”

Here the old question naturally recurs, “What then becomes of good works?” The plain truth is, that, until a man is justified by faith he can do no good works at all.

ARTICLE XIII.

Of Works done before Justification.

“Works done before the grace of Christ and the inspiration of his spirit, are not pleasant to God:” and if so, how is it possible that he should justify us on account of them? But why are they not pleasing to God? “Forasmuch,” adds the article, “as they spring not from faith in Jesus Christ.”

“Well, but,” may some say, “admitting that works done before justification do not properly recommend us to God, they may at least, qualify us for believing; and thereby be remotely a condition, of justification.” The Church will not even allow of this. For, treating in the above article, of works prior to justification, she adds: “neither do they make men meet to receive grace.” This clinches the nail; and cuts up self-righteousness root and branch. But does the Church stop here? No: to put the whole matter as far beyond doubt as words can place it, she closes her decision thus: “Yea, rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but that they have the nature of sin.” Now if works wrought previous to justification are sin, it is absolutely impossible that we should be justified by works; unless sin can be supposed to recommend us to Gods favor. Which to imagine, were Antinomianism outright. What think you,

V. Of the doctrine of uneffectual grace? A doctrine which represents Omnipotence itself as wishing and trying and striving to no purpose. According to this tenet, God, in endeavoring (for it seems it is only an endeavor) to convert sinners, may, by sinners, be foiled, defeated and disappointed: He may lay close and long siege to a soul, and that soul can, from the citadel of impregnable free-will, hang out a flag of defiance to God himself, and by a continual obstinacy of defense and a few vigorous sallies of free-agency, compel him to raise the siege. – In a word; the Holy Spirit, after having for years, perhaps, danced attendance on the will of man, may at last, like a discomfited general, or an unsuccessful petitioner, be either put to ignominious flight, or contemptuously dismissed, re infecta, without accomplishing the end for which he was sent.

Can then the Lord and giver of life; can he who, like the adorable Son, is God of God, and God with God; shall the Blessed Spirit of grace, who is in glory equal, and in majesty co-eternal, with the other two persons of the godhead, and has all power both in heaven and in earth; shall he who hath the key of David; who openeth and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth; (Rev 3:7) shall he knock at the door of the human heart, and leave it at the option of free-will to insult him from the window, and bid him go whence he came? Surely, mens eyes must be blinded indeed, before they can lay down such a shocking supposition for a religious aphorism; and even go so far as to declare, that unless God is vanquishable by man, “There can be no such thing as virtue or vice, reward or punishment, praise or blame!”

The main root of the error consists greatly in not distinguishing between the gospel of grace, and the grace of the gospel. The gospel of grace may be rejected; but the grace of the gospel cannot. Gods written message in the Scriptures, and his verbal message by his ministers, may or may not be listened to; whence it is recorded, All the day long have I stretched forth my hand to a disobedient and gainsaying people. (Rom 5:21) But when God himself comes, and takes the heart into his own hand; when he speaks from heaven to the soul, and makes the gospel of grace a channel to convey the grace of the gospel; the business is effectually done. If God makes a change who can turn him away (See the Marginal Translation of Job 11:10 and Ecc 3:14) Whatsoever he doth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doth it that men should feat before him, (2Co 4:7) and acknowledge, that the excellency of converting power is of him, and not of us (Isa 26:13).

A modern schismatic, now living, thought he both showed his wit and graveled his opponents in saying that, according to the doctrine of our Church, “The souls of men can no more vanquish the saving grace of God than their bodies can resist a stroke of lightning.” I would ask the objector, whether he ever knew of any lightning like that which flashed from the Mediators eye, when he turned and looked upon Peter? And something similar is experienced by every converted person. The Lord turns and looks upon a sinner, who then relents and cries out, with his whole heart, O Lord my God, other lords besides thee have had dominion over me; but now by thee, through the energy of thy renewing influence, will make mention of thy name only. Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of thee (Ps 73:25). When God says to the heart, Seek thou my face; the reply is, and cannot but be, Thy face Lord will I seek (Ps 27:8). For God, who in the beginning of the creation commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath, by an exertion of power equally invincible, and as certainly effectual, shined into our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of God, as it is manifested in the person and grace of Jesus Christ (2Co 6:6). Wherefore then do men say, We are lords, and we will come no more unto thee (Jer 2:31), except we ourselves choose it? Alas, alas! did the matter rest with us, we should never choose to come to God at all. If he did not first change our wills we should never even will that great change, that internal regeneration, without which no man can see the kingdom of heaven (Joh 3:3). God, I am bold to declare, would not have been Lord of any hearts, now under this roof, had he not by the constraining power of his own love effectually gained them over, and invincibly attached them to his blessed self. The glorious and independent Creator made us at first without our leave; and yet according to the modern system, he must ask and wait for our leave before he can make us anew!

Do you desire to know the judgment of the Church upon this point? You have it in her 17th Article; where, speaking of Gods elect people, she asserts that “they are called according to his purpose, by his Spirit working in due season,” and immediately adds, that “they, through grace, obey the calling.” Gods converting call therefore is such as produces obedience to it: i.e. it is triumphantly efficacious; and rendered successful, not by the will and towardliness of the person called, but by the power and grace of him that calleth. Nay, so far is the efficacy of divine influence from being suspended on any internal or external ability of the creature, that in our 10th Article, concerning free-will, the Church expresses herself thus: “The condition of man since the fall of Adam, is such that he cannot turn, nor” even “prepare himself by his own natural strength and good works, to faith and calling upon God.”

VI. What think you of Antinomianism?

By Antinomianism I mean that doctrine which teaches “That believers are released from all obligation to observe the moral law as a rule of external obedience: That in consequence of Christ’s having wrought out a justifying righteousness for us, we have nothing to do but to sit down, eat, drink, and be merry: that the Messiahs merits supersede the necessity of personal inherent sanctification; and that all our holiness is in him, not in ourselves: that the aboundings of divine grace give sanction to the commission of sin; and in a word that the whole preceptive law of God is not established, but repealed and set aside from the time we believe in Christ.” This is as contrary to sound doctrine, as it is to sound morals: and a man need only act up to these principles to be a devil incarnate. It is impossible that either the Son of God, who came down from heaven to perform and to make known his Fathers will; or that the Spirit of God. speaking in the Scriptures and acting upon the heart, should administer the least encouragement to negligence and unholiness of life. Therefore that opinion which supposes personal sanctification to be unnecessary to final glorification, stands in direct opposition to every dictate of reason, to every declaration of Scripture.

Indeed the very nature of election, of faith, and of all covenant grace whatever, renders holiness absolutely indispensable; forasmuch as, without a spiritual and moral resemblance of God, there can be no real felicity on earth, nor any future enjoyment of heaven. Suppose we appeal to experience? I speak now to you who know in whom ye have believed; to you who have received the atonement, and who have been sensibly reconciled to God by the death of his Son. If, at any time, ye have been off your guard, and suffered to lapse into sin: how have ye felt yourselves afterwards? Ye have gone with broken hearts and with broken bones (Ps 51). Ye have found it to be indeed an evil and a bitter thing to depart, though ever so little, from the Lord. Ye know, by dismal experience that the way of transgressors is hard; and that sin, like Ezekiel’s Roll, is written within and without with lamentation and mourning and woe. The gall of bitterness is inseparable from the bond of iniquity. Upon the principle therefore of mere self-interest (to go no higher), a true believer cannot help aspiring to holiness and good works.

Heaven must be brought down into the human soul ere the human soul can be fitted for heaven. There must, as the school-men speak, be “a congruity and similitude between the faculty and the object,” i.e., there must be an inward meetness for the vision and glory of God, wrought in you by his Holy Spirit, in order to render you susceptible of those exalted pleasures, and that fullness of joy which are in his presence and at his right hand for ever. Was thy soul, O unconverted sinner, to be this moment, separated from thy body, and even admitted into heaven (supposing it was possible for an unregenerate spirit to enter there), heaven would not be heaven to thee. You cannot relish the blessedness of the new Jerusalem, unless God in the meanwhile makes you partaker of a new nature. The Father chose his people to salvation; the Son purchased for them the salvation to which they were chosen; and the blessed Spirit fits and qualifies them for that salvation by his renewing influences: for as a dead man cannot inherit an estate, no more can a dead soul (and every soul is spiritually dead until quickened and born again of the Holy Ghost) inherit the kingdom of God. Yet sanctification and holiness of life do not constitute any part of our title to the heavenly inheritance, any more than mere animal life entitles a man of fortune to the estate he enjoys: he could not indeed enjoy his estate if he did not live; but his claim to his estate arises from some other quarter. In like manner, it is not our holiness that entitles us to heaven, though no man can enter heaven without holiness. Gods gratuitous donation, and Christ’s meritorious righteousness, constitute our right to future glory: while the Holy Ghost, by inspiring us with spiritual life (of which spiritual life, good works are the evidences and the actings) puts us into a real capability of fitness for that inheritance of endless happiness which otherwise we could never in the very nature of things either possess or enjoy.

“Let it be observed,” says one of the most learned and judicious writers of this age, “that Christ’s active obedience to the law for us, in our room and stead, does not exempt us from personal obedience to it, any more than his sufferings and death exempt us from corporal death, or from suffering for his sake. It is true indeed we do not suffer and die, in the sense he did, to satisfy justice, and atone for sin: so neither do we yield obedience to the law, in order to obtain eternal life by it. By Christ’s obedience for us we are exempted from obedience to the law, in this sense: but not from obedience to it, as a rule of walk and conversation, by which to glorify God, and express our thankfulness to him for his abundant mercies.” Travelers inform us, that in Turkey the partisans of the several denominations there are distinguished by the color of their shoes: so that if you meet any person in the streets, you need only look at his feet to know of what religion he is. And may not the truth of grace be discerned to at least a high degree of probability by the life and conversation of those who make a religious profession? The man who says that he knows God, and in works denies him; who calls Christ, Lord, Lord, but does not the things that he enjoins; whose voice indeed is Jacobs voice, but his hands are the hands of* Esau; resembles our Saviours persecutors and murderers of old, who bowed their knees and cried, Hail, King of the Jews! while they spit in his face, and smote him with the palms of their hands. The hypocrites profession is dark and opaque: but that of a real saint is pellucid and transparent. The rays of grace in a genuine believer pervade his whole behavior; and are transmitted through all the parts of his practical walk. Though every moral man is not therefore a Christian, yet every Christian is necessarily a moral man.

*A very capital painter in London, lately exhibited a piece, representing a Friar, habited in his canonicals, View the painting at a distance and you would think the Friar to be in a praying attitude: his hands are clasped together, and held horizontally to his breast; his eyes meekly demised, like those of the publican in the gospel; and the good man appears to be quite absorbed in humble adoration and devout recollection. – But take a nearer survey, and the deception vanishes: the book which seemed to lie before him, is discovered to be a punch bowl, into which the wretch is, all the while, in reality only squeezing a lemon. – How lively a representation of an hypocrite!

When Flaminius, the Roman general did, at the Isthmian games, announce freedom to Greece in the name of the Senate and people of Rome, the transported Greeks received the glorious news with such acclamations of gratitude, and thunder of applause, that some ravens which were flying over the Stadium, dropt down to the earth, stunned and senseless: the very games and exercises were neglected, and nothing but bursting clats of admiring joy engrossed the day.So when the Holy Spirit of consolation announces gospel-liberty and eternal redemption to the souls of the awakened, the love of sin, and the ravens of detested lusts, fall before his sacred influence. Both the toils and the pleasures of the world are regarded as insignificant when set in competition with the one thing needful. Holy wonder, love, and joy, quite engage the powers of the believers mind, during the spring-tide consolations of his first manifestative espousals; and a sure foundation is, from that moment, laid for the performance of all those good works which are the fruits of salvation by grace. While faith is in exercise, and a sense of divine favor is warm upon the heart, a child of God is as much steeled to the allurements of sin as Octavius was cool to the meretricious charms of Cleopatra.

Thus conscientious obedience, though neither the cause nor condition of our justification in the sight of God, nor of our admittance into his glory, is, nevertheless, an essential branch both of privilege and duty, as well as a necessary indication of our acceptance in the Beloved. This is the point of view in which our Church considers good works: viz. not as preceding conditions of salvation, but as subsequent testimonies and marks of salvation already obtained.

ARTICLE XII.

Of Good Works

“Albeit that good works, which are the fruits of faith, and follow after justification, cannot pet away our sins, and endure the severity of Gods judgment; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith: insomuch that by them a lively faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by its fruit.

VII. What think you concerning the tenet of sinless perfection? which supposes that the very in being of sin may on earth, be totally exterminated from the hearts of the regenerate; and that believers may here be pure as the angels that never fell, yea (I tremble at the blasphemy) holy as Christ himself. To hold this heresy is the very quintessence of delusion; but to imagine ourselves really in the state it describes were the very apex of madness. Yet many such there are; sonic such I myself have known.

Indwelling sin and unholy tempers do most certainly receive their deaths wound in regeneration: but they do not quite expire until the renewed soul is taken up from earth to heaven. In the mean time, these hated remains of depravity will, too often, like prisoners in a dungeon, crawl toward the window (though in chains) and show themselves through the grate. Nay, I do not know whether the strivings of inherent corruption for mastery be not frequently more violent in a regenerate person than even in one who is dead in trespasses: as wild beasts are sometimes the more rampant and furious for being wounded. A person of the amplest fortune cannot heap the harboring of snakes, toads, and other venomous reptiles on his lands; but they will breed and nestle and crawl about his estate, whether he will or no. All he can do is to pursue and kill them whenever they make their appearance; yet, let him be ever so vigilant and diligent, there will always be a succession of those creatures to exercise his patience and engage his industry. So is it with the true believer in respect of indwelling sin.

Would you see a perfect saint? you must needs go out of the world, then, – you must go to heaven for the sight: forasmuch as there only are the spirits of just men made perfect (Heb 12:23). This earth, on which we live, never bore but three sinless persons; our first parents in the short state of innocence; and Jesus Christ in the days of his abode below. Of the whole human race beside, it always was and ever will be true, that there is not a just man upon earth, who doeth good and sinneth not. The most forward and towering professors are not always the firmest and most solid Christians. Naturalists tell us that the oak is a full century in growing to a state of maturity: yet, though perhaps the slowest, it is one of the noblest, the strongest, and most useful, trees in the world. How preferable to the flimsy, watery, shooting willow!

Our Church enters an express caveat against the pestilent doctrine of Perfection in her 15th article, entitled “Of Christ alone without sin:” where she thus delivers her judgment:

“Christ in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only excepted, from which he was clearly void both in his flesh and in his spirit. He came to be a Lamb without spot, who by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world; and sin, as St. John saith, was not in him. But all we the rest (although baptized and born again in Christ) yet offend in many things: and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

So it is declared, about the middle of the 9th Article, that the “infection of nature doth remain; yea, in them that be regenerated.” Let me just mention,

VIII. One more particular, contrary to sound doctrine: I mean the assertion of some who would fain persuade us that it is impossible for us to receive knowledge of salvation by the remission of sin. Such a denial is very opposite to the usual tenor of Gods proceeding with his people in all ages. The best believers, and the strongest, may indeed have their occasional fainting fits of doubt and diffidence, as to their own particular interest in Christ; nor should I have any great opinion of that man’s faith who was to tell me that he never had any doubts at all. But still there are golden seasons when the soul is on the mount of communion with God; when the Spirit of his Son shines into our hearts, and gives us boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him (Eph 3:12); and when runt sine nube dies (LNW – the cloudless day) may be the Christians exulting motto. Moreover, a person who is at all conversant with the spiritual life knows as certainly whether he indeed enjoys the light of Gods countenance (Ps 89:15), or whether he walks in darkness; (Isa 50:10) as a traveler knows whether he travels in sunshine or in rain. And as a great and good man (Gurnall; vol. I. p. 127) observes, “It is no presumption to read what was Gods gracious purpose toward us of old, when he, as it were, prints his secret thoughts, and makes them legible in our effectual calling. In this case, we do not go up into heaven and pry into Gods secrets: but heaven comes down to us and reveals them.”

It may indeed be objected, that the Scripture doctrine of assurance when realized into an actual possession of the privilege, “may tend to foster pride, and promote carelessness.” It cannot lead to pride; for all who have tasted that the Lord is gracious know by indubitable experience (and one fact speaks louder than a hundred speculations), that believers are then lowest, at Gods footstool, when they are highest on the mount of assurance. Much indulgence from earthly parents may indeed be productive of real injury to their children; but not so are the smiles of God; for the sense of his favor sanctifies whilst it comforts. Nor can the knowledge of interest in his love tend to relax the sinews of moral diligence, or make us heedless how we behave ourselves in his sight. During those exalted moments, when grace is in lively exercise; when the disciple of Christ experiences.

“The souls calm sunshine, and the heart-felt joy,”

corrupt nature (that man of sin within), and every vile affection, are stricken as it were with a temporary apoplexy; and the believer can no more, for the time being, commit willful sin than an angel of light would dip his wings in mud. No: it is when we come down from the mount, and mix again with the world, that, like Moses, we are in danger of breaking the tables of the law. “But is it not enthusiasm to talk of holding intercourse with God, and of knowing ourselves to be objects of his special love?” No more enthusiastical (so we keep within Scripture-bounds) than it is for a favorite child to converse with his parents, and to know that they have a particular affection for him. Neither, in the strictest reason and nature of things, is it at all absurd to believe and expect that God can and does and will communicate his favor to his people, and manifest himself to them as he does not to world (Joh 14:21, 22) at large.

Yet, though God is thus graciously indulgent to many of his people (I believe to all of them at some time or other between their conversion and death); still, if they trespass against him he will not let their offences pass unnoticed nor uncorrected. Though grace itself is inadmissible, the comfort of it may he sinned away. Salvation is sure to. all the redeemed; but the joy of it may be lost (Ps 51:12). Great peace have they that love thy law; and they only. Holiness and consolation are wisely and intimately connected. In proportion as we are enabled to live near to God, to walk humbly and closely with him, and to keep our moral garments clean, we may hope for freedom of intercourse with him, and to assure our hearts before him (Joh 3:19): like the happy believers of old, concerning whom it is said, that they walked at once in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost (Act 9:31).

Let not, however, what has been observed concerning the blessing of assurance, stumble or discourage the feeble of Gods flock, on whom, for reasons wise and goods it may not hitherto have been his pleasure to bestow this unspeakable gift. The Scripture plainly and repeatedly distinguishes between faith; the assurance of faith; and the full assurance of faith: and the first may exist where the other two are not. I know some who have, for years together, been distressed with doubts and fears, without a single ray of spiritual comfort all the while And yet I can no more doubt of their being true believers than I can question my own existence as a man. I am sure they are possessed not only of faith in its lowest degree, but of that which Christ himself pronounces great faith (Mat 8:8, 10): for they can at least say, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only, and thy servant shall he healed. Faith is the eye of the soul, and the eye is said to see almost every object but itself: so that you may have real faith without being able to discern it. Nor will God despise the day of small things. Little faith goes to heaven no less than great faith; though not so comfortably, yet altogether as surely. If you come merely as a sinner to Jesus, and throw yourself, at all events, for salvation on his alone blood and righteousness, and the grace and promise of God in him, thou art as truly a believer as the most triumphant saint that ever lived. And amidst all your weakness, distresses and temptations, remember that God will not cast out nor cast off the meanest and unworthiest soul that seeks salvation only in the name of Jesus Christ the righteous. When you cannot follow the rock, the rock shall follow you; nor ever leave you for so much as a single moment, on this side the heavenly Canaan. If you feel your absolute want of Christ, you may, on all occasions, and in every exigency, betake yourself to the covenant love and faithfulness of God, for pardon, sanctification and safety; with the same fullness of right and title as a traveler leans upon his own staff, or as a weary laborer throws himself on his own bed, or as an opulent nobleman draws upon his own banker for whatever sum he wants… I shall only detain you farther while I warn you.

IX. Against another limb of Arminianism totally contrary to sound doctrine: I mean that tenet which asserts the possibility of falling finally from a state of real grace. God does not give, and then take away. He does indeed frequently resume what he only lent; such as health, riches, friends, and other temporal comforts: but what he gives, he gives for ever. In a way of grace, the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Rom 11:20): he will never repent of bestowing them; and every attribute be has forbids him to revoke them. The blessings of his favor are that good part which shall not be taken from those who have it (Luk 10:42).

A parent of moderate circumstances may give his children something to set up with in the world, and address them to this effect: “I have now done for you all that is in my power to do, and gone as far as my circumstances will allow: you must henceforward stand on your own feet, and be good husbands of the old stock. The preservation and improvement of what I have given you must he left to chance and yourselves.” In this very view does Arminianism represent the Great Father Almighty. But how does Scripture represent him? as saying, I will never leave thee or forsake thee (Heb 13:5): Even to your old age I am he; and even to hoary hairs will I carry you; I have made, and I will bear, even I will carry and will deliver you (Isa 46:4). My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither, shall any pluck them out of my hand.*

*Joh 10:28. True, said an Arminian schismatic, grown gray in the service of error, and who still goes up and down sowing his tares, seeking whom he may devour, and compassing sea and land to make proselytes: “True; Christ’s sheep cannot be plucked forcibly out of his hand by others: but they themselves -may slip through his bands, and so far (into hell and be eternally lost.” They may slip, may they? as if the Mediator in preserving his people, held only a parcel of eels by the tall I Is not this a shameless way of slipping through a plain text of Scripture? But I would fain ask the slippery sophister how we are to understand that part of the last cited passage which expressly declares, concerning Christ’s people, that they shall never perish since, perish they necessarily must and certainly would, if eventually separated from Christ; whether they were to be plucked out of his hands, or whether they were only to slip through them. I conclude then that the promise made to the saints, that they shall never perish, secures them equally against the possibility of being either wrested from Christ’s hand or of their own falling from it: since, could one or other be the case, perish they must, and Christ’s promise would fall to the ground.

In a word: if any of Gods people can be finally lost, it must be occasioned either by their departing from God, or by Gods departure from them. But they are certainly and effectually secured against these two, and these only possible, sources of apostasy. For thus runs the covenant of grace; I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me (Jer 32:40). Now if God will neither leave them, nor suffer them to leave him, their final perseverance in grace to glory must be certain and infallible.

Having greatly exceeded the limits I designed, I shall forbear to adduce the attestations of the Church of England to the doctrines of assurance and perseverance: especially seeing I have done this somewhat largely elsewhere (The Church of England vindicated from the charge of Arminianism). I must not however conclude without observing that irreversible justification on Gods part, and subjective assurance of indefectibility on ours, do by no means invest an offending Christian with immunity from sufferings and chastisement. Thus Nathan said to David, The Lord hath put away thy sin, thou shalt not die: yet was he severely scourged, though not disinherited, for his transgressions. The tenor of Gods immutable covenant with the Messiah, and with his people in him, is this: His seed will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake my law, and walk not in nay judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes: nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. I have sworn once for all, by my holiness, that I will not lie unto Jesus the Anti-typical David, by suffering any of his redeemed people to perish (Ps 89:20). Hence, as it is presently added, they shall be established for ever, as the moon; and as a faithful witness in heaven: nay, they shall stand forth and shine when the sun is turned into darkness, and the moon into blood; when the stars shall drop from their orbits, and the powers of heaven shall be shaken. As an excellent person somewhere observes, “Our own unbelief may occasionally tear the copies of the covenant given us by Christ, but unbelief cannot come at the covenant itself. Christ keeps the original deed in Heaven with himself, where it can never be lost.”

Upon the whole: are these things so? Then,

1. How great and how deplorable is the general departure from the Scripture doctrines of the Church of England, and the first principles of the reformation!

2. How blessed are the eyes that see, how happy are the hearts that feel, the propriety and the energy of these inestimable truths! And,

3. How ought such to demonstrate their gratitude by a practical glorification of God, in their bodies, and in their spirits, which are his! Resemble thunder in your boldness for God, and your zeal for truth: but let your lives shine as lightning, and flash conviction in the faces of those who falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ, and as falsely charge the doctrines of God with a licentious tendency. But let not your zeal be of the inflammatory kind: let it be tempered with unbounded moderation, gentleness, and benevolence; and shine forth as the sun, with healing in its wings. Remember who it is that hath made thee to differ from others; and that a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven (Joh 3:27).

Not unto us, therefore O Lord, not unto us, but to thy name alone, be the praise of every gift, and of every grace ascribed; for thy loving mercy, and for thy truths sake. Amen.

Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910): Sermons on Deuteronomy (1 of 2)

Sermons on Deuteronomy (1 of 2)
By
Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Sermons from the Book of Deuteronomy

Part One

Part Two

God’s Faithfulness (Deu 7:9)

The Eagle And Its Brood (Deu 32:11)

The Lesson Of Memory (Deu 8:2)

Their Rock And Our Rock (Deu 32:31)

The Eating Of The Peace-Offering (Deu 12:18)

God And His Saints (Deu 33:3)

Prophets And The Prophet (Deu 18:9 – 18:22)

Israel The Beloved (Deu 33:12)

A Choice Of Masters (Deu 28:47 – Deu 28:48)

‘At The Bush’ (Deu 33:16)

The Spirit Of The Law (Deu 30:11 – 30:20)

Shod For The Road (Deu 33:25)

God’s True Treasure In Man (Deu 32:9; Tit 2:14)

A Death In The Desert (Deu 34:5 – 34:6)

 

GOD’S FAITHFULNESS

Deuteronomy 7:9

 

 

‘Faithful,’ like most Hebrew words, has a picture in it. It means something that can be (1) leant on, or (2) builded on.

This leads to a double signification-(1) trustworthy, and that because (2) rigidly observant of obligations. So the word applies to a steward, a friend, or a witness. Its most wonderful and sublime application is to God. It presents to our adoring love-

I. God as coming under obligations to us.

A marvellous and blessed idea. He limits His action, regards Himself as bound to a certain line of conduct.

1. Obligations from His act of creation.

‘A faithful Creator,’ bound to take care of those whom He has made. To supply their necessities. To satisfy their desires. To give to each the possibility of discharging its ideal.

2. Obligations from His past self.

‘God is faithful by whom ye were called,’ therefore He will do all that is imposed on Him by His act of calling.

He cannot begin without completing. There are no abandoned mines. There are no half-hewn stones in His quarries, like the block at Baalbec. And this because the divine nature is inexhaustible in power and unchangeable in purpose.

3. Obligations from His own word.

A revelation is presupposed by the notion of faithfulness. It is not possible in heathenism. ‘Dumb idols,’ which have given their worshippers no promises, cannot be thought of as faithful. By its grand conception of Jehovah as entering into a covenant with Israel, the Old Testament presents Him to our trust as having bound Himself to a known line of action. Thereby He becomes, if we may so phrase it, a constitutional monarch.

That conception of a Covenant is the negation of caprice, of arbitrary sovereignty, of mystery. We know the principles of His government. His majestic ‘I wills’ cover the whole ground of human life and needs for the present and the future. We can go into no region of life but we find that God has defined His conduct to us there by some word spoken to our heart and binding Him.

4. Obligations from His new Covenant and highest word in Jesus Christ.

‘He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.’

II. God as recognising and discharging these obligations.

That He will do so comes from His very nature. With Him there is no change of disposition, no emergence of unseen circumstances, no failure or exhaustion of power.

That He does so is matter of fact. Moses in the preceding context had pointed to facts of history, on which he built the ‘know therefore’ of the text. On the broad scale the whole world’s history is full of illustrations of God’s faithfulness to His promises and His threats. The history of Judaism, the sorrows of nations, and the complications of national events, all illustrate this fact.

The personal history of each of us. The experience of all Christian souls. No man ever trusted in Him and was ashamed. He wills that we should put Him to the proof.

III. God as claiming our trust.

He is faithful, worthy to be trusted, as His deeds show.

Faith is our attitude corresponding to His faithfulness. Faith is the germ of all that He requires from us. How much we need it! How firm it might be! How blessed it would make us!

The thought of God as ‘faithful’ is, like a precious stone, turned in many directions in Scripture, and wherever turned it flashes light. Sometimes it is laid as the foundation for the confidence that even our weakness will be upheld to the end, as when Paul tells the Corinthians that they will be confirmed to the end, because ‘God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son’ (1Co 1:9). Sometimes there is built on it the assurance of complete sanctification, as when he prays for the Thessalonians that their ‘whole spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord’ and finds it in his heart to pray thus because ‘Faithful is He that calleth you, who will also do it’ (1Th 5:24). Sometimes it is presented as the steadfast stay grasping which faith can expect apparent impossibilities, as when Sara ‘judged Him faithful who had promised’ (Heb 11:11). Sometimes it is adduced as bringing strong consolation to souls conscious of their own feeble and fluctuating faith, as when Paul tells Timothy that ‘If we are faithless, He abideth faithful; for He cannot deny Himself’ (2Ti 2:13). Sometimes it is presented as an anodyne to souls disturbed by experience of men’s unreliableness, as when the apostle heartens the Thessalonians and himself to bear human untrustworthiness by the thought that though men are faithless, God ‘is faithful, who shall establish you and keep you from evil’ (2Th 3:2 – 2Th 3:3). Sometimes it is put forward to breathe patience into tempted spirits, as when the Corinthians are comforted by the assurance that ‘God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able’ (1Co 10:13). Sometimes it is laid as the firm foundation for our assurance of pardon, as when John tells us that ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins’ (1Jn 1:9). And sometimes that great attribute of the divine nature is proposed as holding forth a pattern for us to follow, and the faith in it as tending to make us in a measure steadfast like Himself, as when Paul indignantly rebuts his enemies’ charge of levity of purpose and vacillation, and avers that ‘as God is faithful, our word toward you is not yea and nay’ (2Co 1:18).

THE LESSON OF MEMORY

Deuteronomy 8:2

 

 

The strand of our lives usually slips away smoothly enough, but days such as this, the last Sunday in a year, are like the knots on a sailor’s log, which, as they pass through his fingers, tell him how fast it is being paid out from the reel, and how far it has run off.

They suggest a momentary consciousness of the swift passage of life, and naturally lead us to a glance backwards and forwards, both of which occupations ought to be very good for us. The dead flat upon which some of us live may be taken as an emblem of the low present in which most of us are content to pass our lives, affording nowhere a distant view, and never enabling us to see more than a street’s length ahead of us. It is a good thing to get up upon some little elevation and take a wider view, backwards and forwards.

And so now I venture to let the season preach to us, and to confine myself simply to suggesting for you one or two very plain and obvious thoughts which may help to make our retrospect wise and useful. And there are two main considerations which I wish to submit. The first is -what we ought to be chiefly occupied with as we look back; and secondly, what the issue of such a retrospect ought to be.

I. With what we should be mainly occupied as we look back. Memory, like all other faculties, may either help us or hinder us. As is the man, so will be his remembrance. The tastes which rule his present will determine the things that he likes best to think about in the past. There are many ways of going wrong in our retrospects. Some of us, for instance, prefer to think with pleasure about things that ought never to have been done, and to give a wicked immortality to thoughts that ought never to have had a being. Some men’s tastes and inclinations are so vitiated and corrupted that they find a joy in living their badnesses over again. Some of us, looking back on the days that are gone, select by instinctive preference for remembrance, the vanities and frivolities and trifles which were the main things in them whilst they lasted. Such a use of the great faculty of memory is like the folly of the Egyptians who embalmed cats and vermin. Do not let us be of those, who have in their memories nothing but rubbish, or something worse, who let down the drag-net into the depths of the past and bring it up full only of mud and foulnesses, and of ugly monsters that never ought to have been dragged into the daylight.

Then there are some of us who abuse memory just as much by picking out, with perverse ingenuity, every black bit that lies in the distance behind us, all the disappointments, all the losses, all the pains, all the sorrows. Some men look back and say, with Jacob in one of his moods, ‘Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life!’ Yes! and the same man, when he was in a better spirit, said, and a great deal more truly, ‘The God that fed me all my life long, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil.’ Do not paint like Rembrandt, even if you do not paint like Turner. Do not dip your brush only in the blackness, even if you cannot always dip it in molten sunshine.

And there are some of us who, in like manner, spoil all the good that we could get out of a wise retrospect, by only looking back in such a fashion as to feed a sentimental melancholy, which is, perhaps, the most profitless of all the ways of looking backwards.

Now here are the two points, in this verse of my text, which would put all these blunders and all others right, telling us what we should chiefly think about when we look back, and from what point of view the retrospect of the past must be taken in order that it should be salutary. ‘Thou shalt remember all the way by which the Lord thy God hath led thee.’ Let memory work under the distinct recognition of divine guidance in every part of the past. That is the first condition of making the retrospect blessed. ‘To humble thee and to prove thee, and to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep His commandments, or no’; let us look back with a clear recognition of the fact that the use of life is to test, and reveal, and to make, character. This world, and all its outward engagements, duties, and occupations, is but a scaffolding, on which the builders may stand to rear the true temple, and when the building is reared you may do what you like with the scaffolding. So we have to look back on life from this point of view, that its joys and sorrows, its ups and downs, its work and repose, the vicissitudes and sometimes contrariety of its circumstances and conditions, are all for the purpose of making us, and of making plain to ourselves, what we are. ‘To humble thee,’ that is, to knock the self-confidence out of us, and to bring us to say: ‘I am nothing and Thou art everything; I myself am a poor weak rag of a creature that needs Thy hand to stiffen me, or I shall not be able to resist or to do.’ That is one main lesson that life is meant to teach us. Whoever has learnt to say by reason of the battering and shocks of time, by reason of sorrows and failures, by reason of joys, too, and fruition,-’Lord, I come to Thee as depending upon Thee for everything,’ has wrung its supreme good out of life, and has fulfilled the purpose of the Father, who has led us all these years, to humble us into the wholesome diffidence that says: ‘Not in myself, but in Thee are all my strength and my hope.’

I need not do more than remind you of the other cognate purposes which are suggested here. Life is meant, not only to bring us to humble self-distrust, as a step towards devout dependence on God, but also to reveal us to ourselves; for we only know what we are by reflecting on what we have done, and the only path by which self-knowledge can be attained is the path of observant recollection of our conduct in daily life.

Another purpose for which the whole panorama of life is made to pass before us, and for which all the gymnastic of life exercises us, is that we may be made submissive to the great Will, and may keep His commandments.

These thoughts should be with us in our retrospect, and then our retrospect will be blessed: First, we are to look back and see God’s guidance everywhere, and second, we are to judge of the things that we remember by their tendency to make character, to make us humble, to reveal us to ourselves, and to knit us in glad obedience to our Father God.

II. And now turn to the other consideration which may help to make remembrance a good, viz., the issues to which our retrospect must tend, if it is to be anything more than sentimental recollection.

First, let me say: Remember and be thankful. If what I have been saying as to the standard by which events are to be tried be true; if it be the case that the main fact about things is their power to mould persons and to make character, then there follows, very plainly and clearly, that all things that come within the sweep of our memory may equally contribute to our highest good.

Good does not mean pleasure. Bright-being may not always be well-being, and the highest good has a very much nobler meaning than comfort and satisfaction. And so, realising the fact that the best of things is that they shall make us like God, then we can turn to the past and judge it wisely, because then we shall see that all the diversity, and even the opposition, of circumstances and events, may co-operate towards the same end. Suppose two wheels in a great machine, one turns from right to left and the other from left to right, but they fit into one another, and they both produce one final result of motion. So the moments in my life which I call blessings and gladness, and the moments in my life which I call sorrows and tortures, may work into each other, and they will do so if I take hold of them rightly, and use them as they ought to be used. They will tend to the highest good whether they be light or dark; even as night with its darkness and its dews has its ministration and mission of mercy for the wearied eye no less than day with its brilliancy and sunshine; even as the summer and the winter are equally needful, and equally good for the crop. So in our lives it is good for us, sometimes, that we be brought into the dark places; it is good for us sometimes that the leaves be stripped from the trees, and the ground be bound with frost.

And so for both kinds of weather, dear brethren, we have to remember and be thankful. It is a hard lesson, I know, for some of us. There may be some listening to me whose memory goes back to this dying year as the year that has held the sorest sorrow of their lives; to whom it has brought some loss that has made earth dark. And it seems hard to tell quivering lips to be thankful, and to bid a man be grateful though his eyes fill with tears as he looks back on such a past. But yet it is true that it is good for us to be drawn, or to be driven, to Him; it is good for us to have to tread even a lonely path if it makes us lean more on the arm of our Beloved. It is good for us to have places made empty if, as in the year when Israel’s King died, we shall thereby have our eyes purged to behold the Lord sitting on the Royal Seat.

‘Take it on trust a little while,

Thou soon shalt read the mystery right,

In the full sunshine of His smile.’

And for the present let us try to remember that He dwelleth in the darkness as in the light, and that we are to be thankful for the things that help us to be near Him, and not only for the things that make us outwardly glad. So I venture to say even to those of you who may be struggling with sad remembrances, remember and be thankful.

I have no doubt there are many of us who have to look back, if not upon a year desolated by some blow that never can be repaired, yet upon a year in which failing resources and declining business, or diminished health, or broken spirits, or a multitude of minute but most disturbing cares and sorrows, do make it hard to recognise the loving Hand in all that comes. Yet to such, too, I would say: ‘All things work together for good,’ therefore all things are to be embraced in the thankfulness of our retrospect.

The second and simple practical suggestion that I make is this: Remember, and let the memory lead to contrition. Perhaps I am speaking to some men or women for whom this dying year holds the memory of some great lapse from goodness; some young man who for the first time has been tempted to sensuous sin; some man who may have been led into slippery places in regard to business integrity. I draw a ‘bow at a venture’ when I speak of such things-perhaps some one is listening to me who would give a great deal if he or she could forget a certain past moment of this dying year, which makes their cheeks hot yet whilst they think of it. To such I say: Remember, go close into the presence of the black thing, and get the consciousness of it driven into your heart; for such remembrance is the first step to deliverance from the load, and to your passing, emancipated from the bitterness, into the year that lies before you.

But even if there are none of us to whom such remarks would specially apply, let us summon up to ourselves the memories of these bygone days. In all the three hundred and sixty-five of them, my friend, how many moments stand out distinct before you as moments of high communion with God? How many times can you remember of devout consecration to Him? How many, when-as visitors to the Riviera reckon the number of days in the season in which, far across the water, they have seen Corsica-you can remember this year to have beheld, faint and far away, ‘the mountains that are round about’ the ‘Jerusalem that is above’? How many moments do you remember of consecration and service, of devotion to your God and your fellows? Oh! what a miserable, low-lying stretch of God-forgetting monotony our lives look when we are looking back at them in the mass. One film of mist is scarcely perceptible, but when you get a mile of it you can tell what it is-oppressive darkness. One drop of muddy water does not show its pollution, but when you have a pitcherful of it you can see how thick it is. And so a day or an hour looked back upon may not reveal the true godlessness of the average life, but if you will take the twelvemonth and think about it, and ask yourself a question or two about it, I think you will feel that the only attitude for any of us in looking back across a stretch of such brown barren moorland is that of penitent prayer for forgiveness and for cleansing.

But I dare say that some of you say: ‘Oh! I look back and I do not feel anything of that kind of regret that you describe; I have done my duty, and nobody can blame me. I am quite comfortable in my retrospect. Of course there have been imperfections; we are all human, and these need not trouble a man.’ Let me ask you, dear brother, one question: Do you believe that the law of a man’s life is, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself’? Do you believe that that is what you ought to do? Have you done it? If you have not, let me beseech you not to go out of this year, across the artificial and imaginary boundary that separates you from the next, with the old guilt upon your back, but go to Jesus Christ, and ask Him to forgive you, and then you may pass into the coming twelvemonth without the intolerable burden of unremembered, unconfessed, and therefore unforgiven, sin.

The next point that I would suggest is this: Let us remember in order that from the retrospect we may gain practical wisdom. It is astonishing what unteachable, untamable creatures men are. They learn wisdom about all the little matters of daily life by experience, but they do not seem to do so about the higher. Even a sparrow comes to understand a scarecrow after a time or two, and any rat in a hole will learn the trick of a trap. But you can trick men over and over again with the same inducement, and, even whilst the hook is sticking in their jaws, the same bait will tempt them once more. That is very largely the case because they do not observe and remember what has happened to them in bygone days.

There are two things that any man, who will bring his reason and common-sense to bear upon the honest estimate and retrospect of the facts of his life, may be fully convinced of. These are, first, his own weakness. One main use of a wise retrospect is to teach us where we are weakest. What an absurd thing it would be if the inhabitants of a Dutch village were to let the sea come in at the same gap in the same dyke a dozen times! What an absurd thing it would be if a city were captured over and over again by assaults at the same point, and did not strengthen its defences there! But that is exactly what you do; and all the while, if you would only think about your own past lives wisely and reasonably, and like men with brains in your heads, you might find out where it was that you were most open to attack; what it was in your character that most needed strengthening, what it was wherein the devil caught you most quickly, and might so build yourselves up in the most defenceless points.

Do not look back for sentimental melancholy; do not look back with unavailing regrets; do not look back to torment yourselves with useless self-accusation; but look back to see how good God has been, and look back to see where you are weak, and pile the wall, higher there, and so learn practical wisdom from retrospect.

Another phase of the practical wisdom which memory should give is deliverance from the illusions of sense and time. Remember how little the world has ever done for you in bygone days. Why should you let it befool you once again? If it has proved itself a liar when it has tempted you with gilded offers that came to nothing, and with beauty that was no more solid than the ‘Easter-eggs’ that you buy in the shops-painted sugar with nothing inside-why should you believe it when it comes to you once more? Why not say: ‘Ah! once burnt, twice shy! You have tried that trick on me before, and I have found it out!’ Let the retrospect teach us how hollow life is without God, and so let it draw us near to Him.

The last thing that I would say is: ‘Let us remember that we may hope. It is the prerogative of Christian remembrance, that it merges into Christian hope. The forward look and the backward look are really but the exercise of the same faculty in two different directions. Memory does not always imply hope, we remember sometimes because we do not hope, and try to gather round ourselves the vanished past because we know it never again can be a present or a future. But when we are occupied with an unchanging Friend, whose love is inexhaustible, and whose arm is unwearied, it is good logic to say: ‘It has been, therefore it shall be.’

With regard to this fleeting life, it is a delusion to say ‘to-morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant’; but with regard to the life of the soul that lives in God, that is true, and true for ever. The past is a specimen of the future. The future for the man who lives in Christ is but the prolongation, and the heightening into superlative excellence and beauty, of all that is good in the past and in the present. As the radiance of some rising sun may cast its bright beams into the opposite sky, even so the glowing past behind us flings its purples and its golds and its scarlets on to the else dim curtain of the future.

Remember that you may hope. A paradox, but a paradox that is a truth in the case of Christians whose memory is of a God that has loved and blessed them whose hope is in a God that changes never; whose memory is charged with ‘every good and perfect gift that came down from the Father of Lights,’ whose hope is in that same Father, ‘with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.’ So on every stone of remembrance, every Ebenezer on which is graved: ‘Hitherto hath the Lord helped us,’ we can mount a telescope-if I may so say-that will look into the furthest glories of the heavens, and be sure that the past will be magnified and perpetuated in the future. Our prayer may legitimately be; ‘Thou hast been my help, leave me not, neither forsake me!’ And His answer will be: ‘I will not leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.’ Remember that you may hope, and hope because you remember.

THE EATING OF THE PEACE-OFFERING

Deuteronomy 12:18

 

 

There were three bloody sacrifices, the sin-offering, the burnt-offering, and the peace-offering. In all three expiation was the first idea, but in the second of them the act of burning symbolised a further thought, namely, that of offering to God, while in the third, the peace-offering, there was added to both of these the still further thought of the offerer’s participation with God, as symbolised by the eating of the sacrifice. So we have great verities of the most spiritual religion adumbrated in this external rite. The rind is hard and forbidding, the kernel is juicy and sweet.

I. Communion with God based on atonement.

II. Feeding on Christ.

What was sacrifice becomes food. The same Person and facts, apprehended by faith, are, in regard to their bearing on the divine government, the ground of pardon, and in regard to their operation within us, the source of spiritual sustenance. Christ for us is our pardon; Christ in us is our life.

III. The restoration to the offerer of all which he lays on God’s altar.

The sacrifice was transformed and elevated into a sacrament. By being offered the sacrifice was ennobled. The offerer did not lose what he laid on the altar, but it came back to him, far more precious than before. It was no longer mere food for the body, and to eat it became not an ordinary meal, but a sacrament and means of union with God. It was a hundredfold more the offerer’s even in this life. All its savour was more savoury, all its nutritive qualities were more nutritious. It had suffered a fiery change, and was turned into something more rich and rare.

That is blessedly true as to all which we lay on God’s altar. It is far more ours than it ever was or could be, while we kept it for ourselves, and our enjoyment of, and nourishment from, our good things, when offered as sacrifices, are greater than when we eat our morsel alone. If we make earthly joys and possessions the materials of our sacrifice, they will not only become more joyful and richer, but they will become means of closer union with Him, instead of parting us from Him, as they do when used in selfish disregard of Him.

Nor must we forget the wonderful thought, also mirrored in this piece of ancient ritual, that God delights in men’s sacrifices and surrenders and services. ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell thee,’ said the Psalmist in God’s name in regard to outward sacrifices; ‘Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?’ But he does ‘eat’ the better sacrifices that loving hearts or obedient wills lay on His altar. He seeks for these, and delights when they are offered to Him. ‘He hungered, and seeing a fig tree by the wayside, He came to it.’ He still hungers for the fruit that we can yield to Him, and if we will, He will enter in and sup with us, not disdaining to sit at the poor table which we can spread for Him, nor to partake of the humble fare which we can lay upon it, but mending the banquet by what He brings for our nourishment, and hallowing the hour by His presence.

WITH, BEFORE, AFTER

‘Enoch walked with God,’- Gen 5:22.

‘Walk before Me.’- Gen 17:1.

‘Ye shall walk after the Lord your God.’- Deu 13:4.

Deuteronomy 13:4

 

 

You will have anticipated, I suppose, my purpose in doing what I very seldom do-cutting little snippets out of different verses and putting them together. You see that these three fragments, in their resemblances and in their differences, are equally significant and instructive. They concur in regarding life as a walk-a metaphor which expresses continuity, so that every man’s life is a whole, which expresses progress, which expresses change, and which implies a goal. They agree in saying that God must he brought into a life somehow, and in some aspect, if that life is to be anything else but an aimless wandering, if it is to tend to the point to which every human life should attain. But then they diverge, and, if we put them together, they say to us that there are three different ways in which we ought to bring God into our life. We should ‘walk with Him,’ like Enoch; we should ‘walk before’ Him, as Abraham was bade to do; and we should ‘walk after’ Him, as the command to do was given to all Israel. And these three prepositions, with, before, after, attached to the general idea of life as a walk, give us a triple aspect-which yet is, of course, fundamentally, one-of the way in which life may be ennobled, dignified, calmed, hallowed, focussed, and concentrated by the various relations into which we enter with Him. So I take the three of them.

1. ‘Enoch walked with God.’

That is a sweet, simple, easily intelligible, and yet lofty way of putting the notion which we bring into a more abstract and less impressive shape when we talk about communion with God. Two men travelling along a road keep each other company. ‘How can two walk together except they be agreed?’ The companion is at our side all the same, though the mists may have come down and we cannot see Him. We can hear His voice, we can grasp His hand, we can catch the echoes of His steps. We know He is there, and that is enough. Enoch and God walked together, by the simple exercise of the faith that fills the Invisible with one great, loving Face. By a continuous, definite effort, as we are going through the bustle of daily life, and amid all the pettiness and perplexities and monotonies that make up our often weary and always heavy days, we can realise to ourselves that He is of a truth at our sides, and by purity of life and heart we can bring Him nearer, and can make ourselves more conscious of His nearness. For, brethren, the one thing that parts a man from God, and makes it impossible for a heart to expatiate in the thought of His presence, is the contrariety to His will in our conduct. The slightest invisible film of mist that comes across the blue abyss of the mighty sky will blot out the brightest of the stars, and we may sometimes not be able to see the mist, and only know that it is there because we do not see the planet. So unconscious sin may steal in between us and God, and we shall no longer be able to say, ‘I walk with Him.’

The Roman Catholics talk, in their mechanical way, of bringing down all the spiritual into the material and formal, about the ‘practice of the presence of God.’ It is an ugly phrase, but it means a great thing, that Christian people ought, very much more than they do, to aim, day by day, and amidst their daily duties, at realising that most elementary thought which, like a great many other elementary thoughts, is impotent because we believe it so utterly, that wherever we are, we may have Him with us. It is the secret of blessedness, of tranquillity, of power, of everything good and noble.

‘I am a stranger with Thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were,’ said the Psalmist of old. If he had left out these two little words, ‘with Thee,’ he would have been uttering a tragic complaint; but when they come in, all that is painful, all that is solitary, all that is transient, bitterly transient, in the long succession of the generations that have passed across earth’s scene, and have not been kindred to it, is cleared away and changed into gladness. Never mind, though you are a stranger, if you have that companion. Never mind, though you are only a sojourner; if you have Him with you, whatever passes He will not pass; and though we dwell here in a system to which we do not belong, and its transiency and our transiency bring with them many sorrows, when we can say, ‘Lord! Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations,’ we are at home, and that eternal home will never pass.

Enoch ‘walked with God,’ and, of course, ‘God took him,’ There was nothing else for it, and there could be no other end, for a life of communion with God here has in it the prophecy and the pledge of a life of eternal union hereafter. So, then, ‘practise the presence of God.’ An old mystic says: ‘If I can tell how many times to-day I have thought about God, I have not thought about Him often enough.’ Walk with Him by faith, by effort, by purity.

2. And now take the other aspect suggested by the other word God spoke to Abraham: ‘I am the Almighty God, walk before Me and be thou perfect.’

That suggests, as I suppose I do not need to point out, the idea not only of communion, which the former phrase brought to our minds, but that of the inspection of our conduct. ‘As ever in the great Taskmaster’s eye,’ says the stern Puritan poet, and although one may object to that word ‘Taskmaster,’ yet the idea conveyed is the correct expansion of the commandment given to Abraham. Observe how ‘walk before Me’ is dovetailed, as it were, between the revelation ‘I am the Almighty God’ and the injunction ‘Be thou perfect.’ The realisation of that presence of the Almighty which is implied in the expression ‘Walk before Me,’ the assurance that we are in His sight, will lead straight to the fulfilment of the injunction that bears upon the moral conduct. The same connection of thought underlies Peter’s injunction, ‘Like as He . . .is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation,’ followed immediately as it is by, ‘If ye call on Him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth’-as a present estimate-’according to every mail’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear’-that reverential awe which will lead you to be ‘holy even as I am holy.’

This thought that we are in that divine presence, and that there is silently, but most really, a divine opinion being formed of us, consolidated, as it were, moment by moment through our lives, is only tolerable if we have been walking with God. If we are sure, by the power of our communion with Him, of His loving heart as well as of His righteous judgment, then we can spread ourselves out before Him, as a woman will lay out her webs of cloth on the green grass for the sun to blaze down upon them, and bleach the ingrained filth out of them. We must first walk ‘with God’ before the consciousness that we are walking ‘before’ Him becomes one that we can entertain and not go mad. When we are sure of the ‘with’ we can bear the ‘before.’

Did you ever see how on a review day, as each successive battalion and company nears the saluting-point where the General inspecting sits, they straighten themselves up and dress their ranks, and pull themselves together as they pass beneath his critical eye. A master’s eye makes diligent servants. If we, in the strength of God, would only realise, day by day and act by act of our lives, that we are before Him, what a revolution could be effected on our characters and what a transformation on all our conduct!

‘Walk before Me’ and you will be perfect. For the Hebrew words on which I am now commenting may be read, in accordance with the usage of the language, as being not only a commandment but a promise, or, rather, not as two commandments, but a commandment with an appended promise, and so as equivalent to ‘If you will walk before Me you will be perfect.’ And if we realise that we are under ‘the pure eyes and perfect judgment of’ God, we shall thereby be strongly urged and mightily helped to be perfect as He is perfect.

3. Lastly, take the other relation, which is suggested by the third of my texts, where Israel as a whole is commanded to ‘walk after the Lord’ their God.

In harmony with the very frequent expression of the Old Testament about ‘going after idols’ so Israel here is to ‘go after God.’ What does that mean? Communion, the consciousness of being judged by God, will lead on to aspiration and loving, longing effort to get nearer and nearer to Him. ‘My soul followeth hard after Thee,’ said the Psalmist, ‘Thy right hand upholdeth me.’ That element of yearning aspiration, of eager desire to be closer and closer, and liker and liker, to God must be in all true religion. And unless we have it in some measure, it is useless to talk about being Christian people. To press onwards, not as though we had already attained, but following after, if that we may apprehend that for which also we are apprehended, is the attitude of every true follower of Christ. The very crown of the excellence of the Christian life is that it never can reach its goal, and therefore an immortal youth of aspiration and growth is guaranteed to it. Christian people, are you following after God? Are you any nearer to Him than you were ten years ago? ‘Walk with Me, walk before Me, walk after Me.’

I need not do more than remind you of another meaning involved in this same expression. If I walk after God, then I let Him go before me and show me my road. Do you remember how, when the ark was to cross Jordan, the commandment was given to the Israelites to let it go well on in front, so that there should be no mistake about the course, ‘for ye have not passed this way heretofore.’ Do not be in too great a hurry to press upon the heels of God, if I may so say. Do not let your decisions outrun His providence. Keep back the impatience that would hurry on, and wait for His ripening purposes to ripen and His counsels to develop themselves. Walk after God, and be sure you do not go in front of your Guide, or you will lose both your way and your Guide.

I need not say more than a word about the highest aspect which this third of our commandments takes, ‘His sheep follow Him’-’leaving us an example that we should follow in His steps,’ that is the culmination of the walking ‘with,’ and ‘before,’ and ‘after’ God which these Old Testament saints were partially practising. All is gathered into the one great word, ‘He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also so to walk even as He walked.’

PROPHETS AND THE PROPHET

Deuteronomy 18:9-22

 

 

It is evident from the connection in which the promise of ‘a prophet like unto Moses’ is here introduced that it does not refer to Jesus only; for it is presented as Israel’s continuous defence against the temptation of seeking knowledge of the divine will by the illegitimate methods of divination, soothsaying, necromancy, and the like, which were rampant among the inhabitants of the land. A distant hope of a prophet in the far-off future could afford no motive to shun these superstitions. We cannot understand this passage unless we recognise that the direct reference is to the institution of the prophetic order as the standing means of imparting the reliable knowledge of God’s will, possessing which, Israel had no need to turn to them ‘that peep and mutter’ and bring false oracles from imagined gods. But that primary reference of the words does not exclude, but rather demands, their ultimate reference to Him in whom the divine word is perfectly enshrined, and who is the bright, consummate flower of the prophetic order, which ‘spake of Him,’ not only in its individual predictions, but by its very existence.

A glance must be given to the exhaustive list of pretenders to knowledge of the future or to power of shaping it magically, which occurs in Deu 18:10 – Deu 18:11, and suggests a terrible picture of the burdens of superstition which weighed on men in these days of ignorance, as the like burdens do still, wherever Jesus is not known as the one Revealer of God, and the sole Lord of all things. Of the eight terms employed, the first three refer to different means of reading the future, the next two to different means of influencing events, and the last three to different ways of consulting the dead. The first of these eight properly refers to drawing lots, but includes other methods; the second is an obscure word, which is supposed by some to mean a ‘murmurer,’ and may refer rather to the low mutterings of the soothsayer than to the method of his working; the third is probably a general expression for an interpreter of omens, especially of those given by the play of liquid in a ‘cup,’ such as Joseph ‘divined’ by.

Two names for magicians follow, of which the former seems to mean one who worked with charms such as African or American Indian ‘medicine men’ use, and the latter, one who binds by incantations, or one who ties magic knots, which are supposed to have the power of hindering the designs of the person against whom they are directed. The word employed means ‘binding,’ and maybe used either literally or metaphorically. The malicious tying of knots in order to work harm is not dead yet in some backward corners of Britain. Then follow three names for traffickers with spirits,-those who raise ghosts as did the witch of Endor, those who have a ‘familiar spirit,’ and those who in any way consult the dead. It is a grim catalogue, bearing witness to the deep-rooted longing in men to peer into the darkness ahead, and to get some knowledge of the purposes of the awful unseen Power who rules there. The longing is here recognised as legitimate, while the methods are branded as bad, and Israel is warned from them, by being pointed to the merciful divine institution which meets the longing.

It is clear, from this glance at the context, that the ‘prophet’ promised to Israel must mean the order, not the individual; and it is interesting to note, first, the relation in which that order is presented as standing towards all that rabble of diviners and sorcerers, with their rubbish of charms and muttered spells. It sweeps them off the field, because it is truly what they pretend to be. God knows men’s longings, and God will meet them so far as meeting them is for men’s good. But the characteristics of the prophet are set in strong contrast to those of the diviners and magicians, and lift the order high above all the filth and folly of these others. First, the prophet is ‘raised up’ by God; the individual holder of the office has his ‘call’ and does not ‘prophesy out of his own heart.’ The man who takes this office on himself without such a call is ipso facto branded as a false prophet. Then he is ‘from the midst of thee, of thy brethren,’-springing from the people, not an alien, like so many of these wandering soothsayers, but with the national life throbbing in his veins, and himself participant of the thoughts and emotions of his brethren. Then he is to be ‘like unto’ Moses,-not in all points, but in his receiving direct communications from God, and in his authority as God’s messenger. The crowning characteristic, ‘I will put My words into his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him,’ invests his words with divine authority, calls for obedience to them as the words of God Himself, widens out his sphere far beyond that of merely foretelling, brings in the moral and religious element which had no place in the oracles of the soothsayer, and opens up the prospect of a continuous progressive revelation throughout the ages (‘all that I shall command him’). We mutilate the grand idea of the prophet in Israel if we think of his work as mainly prediction, and we mutilate it no less if we exclude prediction from it. We mutilate it still more fatally if we try to account for it on naturalistic principles, and fail to see in the prophet a man directly conscious of a divine call, or to hear in his words the solemn accents of the voice of God.

The loftiness and the limitations of ‘the goodly fellowship of the prophets’ alike point onwards to Jesus Christ. In Him, and in Him alone, the idea of the prophet is fully realised. The imperfect embodiments of it in the past were prophecies as well as prophets. The fact that God has ‘spoken unto the fathers by the prophets,’ leads us to expect that He will speak ‘to us in a Son,’ and that not by fragments of His mighty voice, but in one full, eternal, all-embracing and all-sufficient Word. Every divine idea, which has been imperfectly manifested in fragmentary and sinful men and in the material creation, is completely incarnated in Him. He is the King to whom the sins and the saintlinesses of Israel’s kings alike pointed. He is the Priest, whom Aaron and his sons foreshadowed, who perfectly exercises the sympathy which they could only feel partially, because they were compassed with infirmity and self-regard, and who offers the true sacrifice of efficacy higher than ‘the blood of bulls and goats.’ He is the Prophet, who makes all other means of knowing the divine will unnecessary, hearing whom we hear the very voice of God speaking in His gentle words of love, in His authoritative words of command, in His illuminating words of wisdom, and speaking yet more loudly and heart-touchingly in the eloquence of deeds no less than divine; who is ‘not ashamed to call us brethren,’ and is ‘bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh’; who is like, but greater than, the great lawgiver of Israel, being the Son and Lord of the ‘house’ in which Moses was but a servant. ‘To Him give all the prophets witness,’ and the greatest of them was honoured when, with Moses, Elijah stood on the Mount of Transfiguration, subordinate and attesting, and then faded away when the voice proclaimed, ‘This is My beloved Son, hear Him,’-and they ‘saw no one save Jesus only.’

A CHOICE OF MASTERS

Deuteronomy 28:47-48

 

 

The history of Israel is a picture on the large scale of what befalls every man.

A service-we are all born to obedience, to depend on and follow some person or thing. There is only a choice of services; and he who boasts himself free is but a more abject slave, as the choice for a nation is either the rule of settled order and the sanctities of an established law, or the usurpation of a mob and the intolerable tyranny of unbridled and irresponsible force.

I. The service of God or the service of our enemies.

Israel was the servant in turn of Egypt, Philistia, Edom, Assyria, Babylon, Syria, and Rome. It was every invader’s prey. God’s invisible arm was its only guard from these, and an all-sufficient guard as long as it leaned on Him. When it turned from Him it fell under their yoke. Its lawful Lord loved it; its tyrants hated it.

So with us. We have to serve God or enemies. Our lusts, our passions, the world, evil habits-in a word, our sins ring us round. God is the only defence against them.

The contrast between the one and the many-a king or an ochlocracy. The contrast of the loving Lord and the hostile sins.

II. A service which is honour or a service which is degradation.

God alone is worthy of our absolute submission and service. How low a man sinks when he is ruled by any lesser authority! Such obedience is a crime against the dignity of human nature, and the soul is not without a galling sense of this now and then, when its chains rattle.

III. A service which is freedom because it is rendered by love, or a service which is hard slavery.

‘With joy for the abundance of all things.’ How sin palls upon us, and yet we commit it. The will is overborne, conscience is stifled.

IV. A service which feeds the spirit or a service which starves it.

The soul can only in God get what it wants. Prison fare is what it receives in the other service. The unsatisfying character of all sin; it cloys, and yet leaves one hungry. It is ‘that which satisfieth not.’ ‘Broken cisterns which hold no water.’

V. A service which is life or a service which is death.

The dark forebodings of the text grow darker as it goes on. The grim slavery which it threatens as the only alternative to joyful service of God is declared to be lifelong ‘penal servitude,’ and not only is there no deliverance from it, but it directly tends to wear away the life of the hopeless slaves. For the words that follow our text are ‘and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee.’ That is dismally true in regard to any and every life that has shaken off the service of God which is perfect freedom, and has persisted in the service of sin. Such service is suicidal; it rivets an iron yoke on our necks, and there is no locksmith who can undo the shackles and lift it off, so long as we refuse to take service with God. Stubbornly rebellious wills forge their own fetters. Like many a slave-owner, our tyrants have a cruel delight in killing their slaves, and our sins not only lead to death, but are themselves death.

But there is a bright possibility before the most down-trodden vassal of sin. ‘The bond-servant abideth not in the house for ever.’ He is not a son of the house, but has been brought into it, stolen from his home. He may be carried back to his Father’s house, and there ‘have bread enough and to spare,’ if a deliverer can be found. And He has been found. Christ the Son makes us free, and if we trust Him for our emancipation we ‘shall be free indeed,’ ‘that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, should serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.’

THE SPIRIT OF THE LAW

Deuteronomy 30:11-20

 

 

This paragraph closes the legislation of this book, the succeeding chapters being in the nature of an epilogue or appendix. It sums up the whole law, makes plain its inmost essence and its tremendous alternatives. As in the closing strains of some great symphony, the themes which have run through the preceding movements are woven together in the final burst of music. Let us try to discover the component threads of the web.

The first point to note is the lofty conception of the true essence of the whole law, which is enshrined here. ‘This commandment which I command thee this day’ is twice defined in the section (vs. Deu 30:16, Deu 30:20), and in both instances ‘to love Jehovah thy God’ is presented as the all-important precept. Love is recognised as the great commandment. Leviticus may deal with minute regulations for worship, but these are subordinate, and the sovereign commandment is love. Nor is the motive which should sway to love omitted; for what a tender drawing by the memories of what He had done for Israel is put forth in the name of ‘Jehovah, thy God!’ The Old Testament system is a spiritual system, and it too places the very heart of religion in love to God, drawn out by the contemplation of his self-revelation in his loving dealings with us. We have here clearly recognised that the obedience which pleases God is obedience born of love, and that the love which really sets towards God will, like a powerful stream, turn all the wheels of life in conformity to His will. When Paul proclaimed that ‘love is the fulfilling of the law,’ he was only repeating the teaching of this passage, when it puts ‘to walk in His ways,’ or ‘to obey His voice,’ after ‘to love Jehovah thy God.’ Obedience is the result and test of love; love is the only parent of real obedience.

The second point strongly insisted on here is the blessedness of possessing such a knowledge as the law gives. Deu 30:11 – Deu 30:14 present that thought in three ways. The revelation is not that of duties far beyond our capacity: ‘It is not too hard for thee.’ No doubt, complete conformity with it is beyond our powers, and entire, whole-hearted, and whole-souled love of God is not attained even by those who love Him most. Paul’s position that the law gives the knowledge of sin, just because it presents an impossible elevation in its ideal, is not opposed to the point of view of this context; for he is thinking of complete conformity as impossible, while it is thinking of real, though imperfect, obedience as within the reach of all men. No man can love as he ought; every man can love. It is blessed to have our obligations all gathered into such a commandment.

Again, the possession of the law is a blessing, because its authoritative voice ends the weary quest after some reliable guide to conduct, and we need neither try to climb to heaven, nor to traverse the wide world and cross the ocean, to find certitude and enlightenment enough for our need. They err who think of God’s commandments as grievous burdens; they are merciful guide-posts. They do not so much lay weights on our backs as give light to our eyes.

Still further, the law has its echo ‘in thy heart.’ It is ‘graven on the fleshly tables of the heart,’ and we all respond to it when it gathers up all duty into ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,’ and our consciences say to it, ‘Thou speakest well.’ The worst man knows it better than the best man keeps it. Blurred and illegible often, like the half-defaced inscriptions disinterred from the rubbish mounds that once were Nineveh or Babylon, that law remains written on the hearts of all men.

A further point to be well laid to heart is the merciful plainness and emphasis with which the issues that are suspended on obedience or disobedience are declared. The solemn alternatives are before every man that hears. Life or death, blessing or cursing, are held out to him, and it is for him to elect which shall be realised in his case. Of course, it may be said that the words ‘life’ and ‘death’ are here used in their merely physical sense, and that the context shows (Deu 30:17 – Deu 30:18) that life here means only ‘length of days, that thou mayest dwell in the land.’ No doubt that is so, though we can scarcely refuse to see some glimmer of a deeper conception gleaming through the words, ‘He is thy life,’ though it is but a glimmer. We have no space here to enter upon the question of how far it is now true that obedience brings material blessings. It was true for Israel, as many a sad experience that it was a bitter as well as an evil thing to forsake Jehovah was to show in the future. But though the connection between well-doing and material gain is not so clear now, it is by no means abrogated, either for nations or for individuals. Moral and religious law has social and economic consequences, and though the perplexed distribution of earthly good and ill often bewilders faith and emboldens scepticism, there still is visible in human affairs a drift towards recompensing in the world the righteous and the wicked.

But to us, with our Christian consciousness, ‘life’ means more than living, and ‘He is our life’ in a deeper and more blessed sense than that our physical existence is sustained by His continual energy. The love of God and consequent union with Him give us the only true life. Jesus is ‘our life,’ and He enters the spirit which opens to Him by faith, and communicates to it a spark of His own immortal life. He that is joined to Jesus lives; he that is separated from Him ‘is dead while he liveth.’

The last point here is the solemn responsibility for choosing one’s part, which the revelation of the law brings with it. ‘I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse, therefore choose life.’ We each determine for ourselves whether the knowledge of what we ought to be will lead to life or to death, and by choosing obedience we choose life. Every ray of light from God is capable of producing a double effect. It either gladdens or pains, it either gives vision or blindness. The gospel, which is the perfect revelation of God in Christ, brings every one of us face to face with the great alternative, and urgently demands from each his personal act of choice whether he will accept it or neglect or reject it. Not to choose to accept is to choose to reject. To do nothing is to choose death. The knowledge of the law was not enough, and neither is an intellectual reception of the gospel. The one bred Pharisees, who were ‘whited sepulchres’; the other breeds orthodox professors, who have ‘a name to live and are dead.’ The clearer our light, the heavier our responsibility. If we are to live, we have to ‘choose life’; and if we do not, by the vigorous exercise of our will, turn away from earth and self, and take Jesus for our Saviour and Lord, loving and obeying whom we love and obey God, we have effectually chosen a worse death than that of the body, and flung away a better life than that of earth.

GOD’S TRUE TREASURE IN MAN

Deuteronomy 32:9 Titus 2:14

 

 

I choose these two texts because they together present us with the other side of the thought to that which I have elsewhere considered, that man’s true treasure is in God. That great axiom of the religious consciousness, which pervades the whole of Scripture, is rapturously expressed in many a psalm, and never more assuredly than in that one which struggles up from the miry clay in which the Psalmist’s ‘steps had well-nigh slipped’ and soars and sings thus: ‘The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup; Thou maintainest my lot,’ ‘The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’

You observe the correspondence between these words and those of my first text: ‘The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.’ The correspondence in the original is not quite so marked as it is in our Authorised Version, but still the idea in the two passages is the same. Now it is plain that persons can possess persons only by love, sympathy, and communion. From that it follows that the possession must be mutual; or, in other words, that only he can say ‘Thou art mine’ who can say ‘I am Thine.’ And so to possess God, and to be possessed by God, are but two ways of putting the same fact. ‘The Lord is the portion of His people, and the Lord’s portion is His people,’ are only two ways of stating the same truth.

Then my second text clearly quotes the well-known utterance that lies at the foundation of the national life of Israel: ‘Ye shall be unto Me a peculiar treasure above all people,’ and claims that privilege, like all Israel’s privileges, for the Christian Church. In like manner Peter (1Pe 2:9) quotes the same words, ‘a peculiar people,’ as properly applying to Christians. I need scarcely remind you that ‘peculiar’ here is used in its proper original sense of belonging to, or, as the Revised Version gives it, ‘a people for God’s own possession’ and has no trace of the modern signification of ‘singular.’ Similarly we find Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians giving both sides of the idea of the inheritance in intentional juxtaposition, when he speaks (Eph 1:14) of the ‘earnest of our inheritance . . . unto the redemption of God’s own possession.’ In the words before us we have the same idea; and this text besides tells us how Christ, the Revealer of God, wins men for Himself, and what manner of men they must be whom He counts as His.

Therefore there are, as I take it, three things to be spoken about now. First, God has a special ownership in some people. Second, God owns these people because He has given Himself to them. Third, God possesses, and is possessed by, His inheritance, that He may give and receive services of love. Or, in briefer words, I have to speak about this wonderful thought of a special divine ownership, what it rests upon, and what it involves.

I. God has special ownership in some people.

‘The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.’ Put side by side with those other words of the Old Testament: ‘All souls are Mine,’ or the utterance of the 100th Psalm rightly translated: ‘It is He that hath made us, and to Him we belong.’ There is a right of absolute and utter ownership and possession inherent in the very relation of Creator and creature; so that the being made is wholly and altogether at the disposal, and is the property, of Him that makes him.

But is that enough for God’s heart? Is that worth calling ownership at all? An arbitrary tyrant in an unconstitutional kingdom, or a slave-owner, may have the most absolute right of property over his subject or his slave; may have the right of entire disposal of all his industry, of the profit of all his labour; may be able to do anything he likes with him, may have the power of life and death; but such ownership is only of the husk and case of a man: the man himself may be free, and may smile at the claim of possession. ‘They may ‘own’ the body, and after that have no more than they can do.’ That kind of authority and ownership, absolute and utter, to the point of death, may satisfy a tyrant or a slave-driver, it does not satisfy the loving heart of God. It is not real possession at all. In what sense did Nero own Paul when he shut him up in prison, and cut his head off? Does the slave-owner own the man whom he whips within an inch of his life, and who dare not do anything without his permission? Does God, in any sense that corresponds with the longing of infinite love, own the men that reluctantly obey Him, and are simply, as it were, tools in His hands? He covets and longs for a deeper relationship and tenderer ties, and though all creatures are His, and all men are His servants and His possession, yet, like certain regiments in our own British army, there are some who have the right to bear in a special manner on their uniform and on their banners the emblazonment, ‘The King’s Own.’ ‘The Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.’

Well, then, the next thought is that the special relationship of possession is constituted by mutual love. I said at the beginning of these remarks that as concerns men’s relations, the only real possession is through love, sympathy, and communion, and that that must necessarily be mutual. We have a perfect right to apply the human analogy here; in fact, we are bound to do it if we would rightly understand such words as those of my text; and it just leads us to this, that the one thing whereby God reckons that He possesses a man at all is when His love falls upon that man’s heart and soaks into it, and when there springs up in the heart a corresponding emotion and affection. The men who welcome the divine love that goes through the whole world, seeking such to worship it, and to trust it, and to become its own; and who therefore lovingly yield to the loving divine will, and take it for their law-these are the men whom He regards as His ‘portion’ and ‘the lot of His inheritance.’ So that God is mine, and that ‘I am God’s,’ are two ends of one truth; ‘I possess Him,’ and ‘I am possessed by Him,’ are but the statement of one fact expressed from two points of view. In the one case you look upon it from above, in the other case you look upon it from beneath. All the sweet commerce of mutual surrender and possession which makes the joy of our hearts, in friendship and in domestic life, we have the right to lift up into this loftier region, and find in it the last teaching of what makes the special bond of mutual possession between God and man.

And deep words of Scripture point in that direction. Those parables of our Lord’s: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, in their infinite beauty, whilst they contain a great deal besides this, do contain this in their several ways; the money, the animal, the man belong to the woman of the house, to the shepherd, to the father. Each is ‘lost’ in a different fashion, but the most clear revelation is given in the last parable of the three, which explains the other two. The son was ‘lost’ when he did not love the father; and he was ‘found’ by the father when he returned the yearning of the father’s heart.

And so, dear brethren, it ever is; the one thing that knits men to God is that the silken cord of love let down from Heaven should by our own hand be wrapped round our own hearts, and then we are united to Him. We are His and He is ours by the double action of His love manifested by Him, and His love received by us.

Now there is nothing in all that of favouritism. The declaration that there are people who have a special relationship to the divine heart may be so stated as to have a very ugly look, and it often has been so stated as to be nothing more than self-complacent Pharisaism, which values a privilege principally because its possession is an insult to somebody else that has it not.

There has been plenty of Christianity of that sort in the world, but there is nothing of it in the thoughts of these texts rightly looked at. There is only this: it cannot but be that men who yield to God and love Him, and try to live near Him and to do righteousness, are His in a manner that those who steel themselves against Him and turn away from Him are not. Whilst all creatures have a place in His heart, and are flooded with His benefits, and get as much of Him as they can hold, the men who recognise the source of their blessing, and turn to it with grateful hearts, are nearer Him than those that do not do so. Let us take care, lest for the sake of seeming to preserve the impartiality of His love, we have destroyed all in Him that makes His love worth having. If to Him the good and the bad, the men who fear Him and the men who fear Him not, are equally satisfactory, and, in the same manner, the objects of an equal love, then He is not a God that has pleasure in righteousness; and if He is not a God that ‘has pleasure in righteousness,’ He is not a God for us to trust to. We are not giving countenance to the notion that God has any step-children, any petted members of His family, when we cleave to this-they that have welcomed His love into their hearts are nearer to Him than those that have closed the door against it.

And there is one more point here about this matter of ownership on which I dwell for a moment, namely, that this conception of certain men being in a special sense God’s possession and inheritance means also that He has a special delight in, and lofty appreciation of, them. All this material creation exists for the sake of growing good men and women. That is the use of the things that are seen and temporal; they are like greenhouses built for the great Gardener’s use in striking and furthering the growth of His plants; and when He has got the plants He has got what He wanted, and you may pull the greenhouse down if you like. And so God estimates, and teaches us to estimate, the relative value and greatness of the material and the spiritual in this fashion, that He says to us in effect: ‘All these magnificences and magnitudes round you are small and vulgar as compared with this-a heart in which wisdom and divine truth and the love and likeness of God have attained to some tolerable measure of maturity and of strength.’ These are His ‘jewels,’ as the Roman matron said about her two boys. The great Father looks upon the men that love Him as His jewels, and, having got the jewels, the rock in which they were embedded and preserved may be crushed when you like. ‘They shall be Mine,’ saith the Lord, ‘My treasures in that day of judgment which I make.’

And so, my brother, all the insignificance of man, as compared with the magnitude and duration of the universe, need not stagger our faith that the divinest thing in the universe is a heart that has learnt to love God and aspires after Him, and should but increase our wonder and our gratitude that He has been mindful of man and has visited him, in order that He might give Himself to men, and so might win men for Himself.

II. That brings me, and very briefly, to the other points that I desire to deal with now. The second one, which is suggested to us from my second text in the Epistle to Titus, is that this possession, by God, of man, like man’s possession of God, comes because God has given Himself to man.

The Apostle puts it very strongly in the Epistle to Titus: ‘The glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might purify unto Himself a people for a possession.’ Israel, according to one metaphor, was God’s ‘son,’ begotten by that great redeeming act of deliverance from the captivity of Egypt (Deu 32:6 – Deu 32:19). According to another metaphor, Israel was God’s bride, wooed and won for His own by that same act. Both of these figures point to the thought that in order to get man for His own He has to give Himself to man.

And the very height and sublimity of that truth is found in the Christian fact which the Apostle points to here. We need not depart from human analogies here either. Christ gave Himself to us that He might acquire us for Himself. Absolute possession of others is only possible at the price of absolute surrender to them. No human heart ever gave itself away unless it was convinced that the heart to which it gave itself had given itself to it.

And on the lower levels of gratitude and obligation, the only thing that binds a man to another in utter submission is the conviction that that other has given himself in absolute sacrifice for him. A doctor goes into the wards of an hospital with his life in his hands, and because he does, he wins the full confidence and affection of those whom he treats. You cannot buy a heart with anything less than a heart. In the barter of the world it is not ‘skin for skin,’ but it is ‘self for self’; and if you want to own me, you must give yourself altogether to me. And the measure in which teachers and guides and preachers and philanthropists of all sorts make conquests of men is the measure in which they make themselves sacrifices for men.

Now all that is true, and is lifted to its superlative truth, in the great central fact of the Christian faith. But there is more than human analogy here. Christ is not only self-sacrifice in the sense of surrender, but He is sacrifice in the sense of giving Himself for our redemption and forgiveness. He has not only given Himself to us, He has given Himself for us. And there, and on that, is builded, and on that alone has He a right to build, or have we a right to yield to it, His claim to absolute authority and utter command over each of us.

He has died for us, therefore the springs of our life are at His disposal; and the strongest motives which can sway our lives are set in motion by His touch. His death, says this text, redeems us from iniquity and purifies us. That points to its power in delivering us from the service and practice of sin. He buys us from the despot whose slaves we were, and makes us His own in the hatred of evil and the doing of righteousness. Moved by His death, we become capable of heroisms and martyrdoms of devotion to Him. Brethren, it is only as that self-sacrificing love touches us, which died for our sins upon the Cross, that the diabolical chain of selfishness will be broken from our affections and our wills, and we shall be led into the large place of glad surrender of ourselves to the sweetness and the gentle authority of His omnipotent love.

III. The last thought that I suggest is the issues to which this mutual possession points. God owns men, and is owned by them, in order that there may be a giving and receiving of mutual services of love.

‘The Lord’s portion is His people.’ That in the Old Testament is always laid as the foundation of certain obligations under which He has come, and which He will abundantly discharge. What is a great landlord expected to do to his estate? ‘What ought I to have done to my vineyard?’ the divine Proprietor asks through the mouth of His servant the prophet. He ought to till it, He ought not to starve it, He ought to fence it, He ought to cast a wall about it, He ought to reap the fruits. And He does all that for His inheritance. God’s honour is concerned in His portion not being waste. It is not to be a ‘garden of the sluggard,’ by which people who pass can see the thorns growing there. So He will till it, He will plough it, He will pick out the weeds, and all the disciplines of life will come to us, and the ploughshare will be driven deep into the heart, that ‘the peaceable fruit of righteousness’ may spring up. He will fence His vineyard. Round about His inheritance His hand will be cast, within His people His Spirit will dwell. No harm shall come near thee if thy love is given to Him; safe and untouched by evil thou shalt walk if thou walk with God. ‘He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of Mine eye.’ The soul that trusts Him He takes in charge, and before any evil can fall to it ‘the pillared firmament must be rottenness, and earth be built on stubble.’ ‘He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.’ ‘The Lord’s portion is His people,’ and ‘none shall pluck them out of His hand.’

And on the other side, we belong to God in Christ. What do we owe Him? What does the vineyard owe the husbandman? Fruit. We are His, therefore we are bound to absolute submission. ‘Ye are not your own.’ Life, circumstances, occupations, all-we hold them at His will. We have no more right of property in anything than a slave in the bad old days had in his cabin and patch of ground. They belonged to the master to whom he belonged. Let us recognise our stewardship, and be glad to know ourselves His, and all events and things which we sometimes think ours, His also.

We are His, therefore we owe absolute trust. The slave has at least this blessing in his lot, that he need have no anxieties; nor need we. We belong to God, and He will take care of us. A rich man’s horses and dogs are well cared for, and our Owner will not leave us unheeded. Our well-being involves His good name. Leave anxious thought to masterless hearts which have to front the world with nobody at their backs. If you are God’s you will be looked after.

We are His, therefore we are bound to live to His praise. That is the conclusion which one Old Testament passage draws. ‘This people have I formed for Myself; they shall show forth My praise’ (Isa 43:21). The Apostle Peter quotes these words immediately after those from Exodus, which describe Israel as ‘a people for God’s own possession,’ when he says ‘that ye should show forth the praise of Him who hath called you.’ Let us, then, live to His glory, and remember that the servants of the King are bound to stand to their colours amid rebels, and that they who know the sweetness of possessing God, and the blessedness of yielding to His supreme control, should acknowledge what they have found of His goodness, and ‘tell forth the honour of His name, and make His praise glorious.’ Let not all the magnificent and wonderful expenditure of divine longing and love be in vain, nor run off your hearts like water poured upon a rock. Surely the sun’s flames leaping leagues high, they tell us, in tongues of burning gas, must melt everything that is near them. Shall we keep our hearts sullen and cold before such a fire of love? Surely that superb and wonderful manifestation of the love of God in the Cross of Christ should melt into running rivers of gratitude all the ice of our hearts.

‘He gave Himself for me!’ Let us turn to Him and say: ‘Lo! I give myself to Thee. Thou art mine. Make me Thine by the constraint of Thy love, so utterly, and so saturate my spirit with Thyself, that it shall not only be Thine, but in a very deep sense it shall be Thee, and that it may be “no more I that live, but Christ that liveth in me.”

Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910): Sermons on Deuteronomy (2 of 2)

Sermons on Deuteronomy (2 of 2)
By
Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Sermons from the Book of Deuteronomy

Part One

Part Two

God’s Faithfulness (Deu 7:9)

The Eagle And Its Brood (Deu 32:11)

The Lesson Of Memory (Deu 8:2)

Their Rock And Our Rock (Deu 32:31)

The Eating Of The Peace-Offering (Deu 12:18)

God And His Saints (Deu 33:3)

Prophets And The Prophet (Deu 18:9 – 18:22)

Israel The Beloved (Deu 33:12)

A Choice Of Masters (Deu 28:47 – Deu 28:48)

‘At The Bush’ (Deu 33:16)

The Spirit Of The Law (Deu 30:11 – 30:20)

Shod For The Road (Deu 33:25)

God’s True Treasure In Man (Deu 32:9; Tit 2:14)

A Death In The Desert (Deu 34:5 – 34:6)

THE EAGLE AND ITS BROOD

Deuteronomy 32:11

 

 

This is an incomplete sentence in the Authorised Version, but really it should be rendered as a complete one; the description of the eagle’s action including only the two first clauses, and (the figure being still retained) the person spoken of in the last clauses being God Himself. That is to say, it should read thus, ‘As an eagle stirreth up his nest, fluttereth over his young, He spreads abroad His wings, takes them, bears them on His pinions.’ That is far grander, as well as more compact, than the somewhat dragging comparison which, according to the Authorised Version, is spread over the whole verse and tardily explained, in the following, by a clause introduced by an unwarranted ‘So’ – ’the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.’

Now, of course, we all know that the original reference of these words is to the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt, and their training in the desert. In the solemn address by Jehovah at the giving of the law (Exo 19:4), the same metaphor is employed, and, no doubt, that passage was the source of the extended imagery here. There we read, ‘Ye know what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself.’ The meaning of the glowing metaphor, with its vivid details, is just that Jehovah brought Israel out of its fixed abode in Goshen, and trained it for mature national life by its varied desert experiences. As one of the prophets puts the same idea, ‘I taught Ephraim to go,’ where the figure of the parent bird training its callow fledglings for flight is exchanged for that of the nurse teaching a child to walk. While, then, the text primarily refers to the experience of the infant nation in the forty years’ wanderings, it carries large truths about us all; and sets forth the true meaning and importance of life. There seem to me to be three thoughts here, which I desire to touch on briefly: first, a great thought about God; then an illuminating thought about the true meaning and aspect of life; and lastly a calming thought about the variety of the methods by which God carries out our training.

I. Here is a great thought about God.

Now, it may come as something of a shock if I say that the bird that is selected for the comparison is not really the eagle, but one which, in our estimation, is of a very much lower order-viz. the carnivorous vulture. But a poetical emblem is not the less fitting, though, besides the points of resemblance, the thing which is so used has others less noble. Our modern repugnance to the vulture as feeding on carcasses was probably not felt by the singer of this song. What he brings into view are the characteristics common to the eagle and the vulture; superb strength in beak and claw, keenness of vision almost incredible, magnificent sweep of pinion and power of rapid, unwearied flight. And these characteristics, we may say, have their analogues in the divine nature, and the emblem not unfitly shadows forth one aspect of the God of Israel, who is ‘fearful in praises,’ who is strong to destroy as well as to save, whose all-seeing eye marks every foul thing, and who often pounces on it swiftly to rend it to pieces, though the sky seemed empty a moment before.

But the action described in the text is not destructive, terrible, or fierce. The monarch of the sky busies itself with tender cares for its brood. Then, there is gentleness along with the terribleness. The strong beak and claw, the gaze that can see so far, and the mighty spread of wings that can lift it till it is an invisible speck in the blue vault, go along with the instinct of paternity: and the fledglings in the nest look up at the fierce beak and bright eyes, and know no terror. The impression of this blending of power and gentleness is greatly deepened, as it seems to me, if we notice that it is the male bird that is spoken about in the text, which should be rendered: ‘As the eagle stirreth up his nest and fluttereth over his young.’

So we just come to the thought that we must keep the true balance between these two aspects of that great divine nature-the majesty, the terror, the awfulness, the soaring elevation, the all-penetrating vision, the power of the mighty pinion, one stroke of which could crush a universe into nothing; and, on the other side, the yearning instinct of Fatherhood, the love and gentleness, and all the tender ministries for us, His children, to which these lead. Brethren, unless we keep hold of both of these in due equipoise and inseparably intertwining, we damage the one which we retain almost as much as the one which we dismiss. For there is no love like the love that is strong, and can be fierce, and there is no condescension like the condescension of Him who is the Highest, in order that He may be, and because He is ready to be, the lowest. Modern tendencies, legitimately recoiling from the one-sidedness of a past generation, are now turning away far too much from the Old Testament conceptions of Jehovah, which are concentrated in that metaphor of the vulture in the sky. And thereby we destroy the love, in the name of which we scout the wrath.

‘Infinite mercy, but, I wis,

As infinite a justice too.’

‘As the vulture stirreth up his nest,’-that is the Old Testament revelation of the terribleness and gentleness of Jehovah. ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wing?’-that is the New Testament modification of the image. But you never could have had the New unless you first had had the Old. And you are a foolish man if, in the name of the sanctity of the New, you cast away the teaching of the Old. Keep both the metaphors, and they will explain and confirm each other.

II. Here we have an illuminating thought of the meaning of life.

What is it all for? To teach us to fly, to exercise our half-fledged wings in short flights, that may prepare us for, and make it possible to take, longer ones. Every event that befalls us has a meaning beyond itself; and every task that we have to do reacts upon us, the doers, and either fits or hinders us for larger work. Life as a whole, and in its minutest detail, is worthy of God to give, and worthy of us to possess, only if we recognise the teaching that is put into picturesque form in this text-that the meaning of all which God does to us is to train us for something greater yonder. Life as a whole is ‘full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,’ unless it is an apprenticeship training. What are we here for? To make character. That is the aim and end of all-to make character; to get experience; to learn the use of our tools. I declare it seems to me that the world had better be wiped out altogether, incontinently, unless there is a world beyond, where a man shall use the force which here he made his own. ‘Thou hast been faithful in a few things; behold I will make thee ruler over many things.’ No man gets to the heart of the mystery of life or has in his hand the key which will enable him to unlock all the doors and difficulties of human experience, unless he gets to this-that it is all meant as training.

If we could only carry that clear conviction with us day by day into the little things of life, what different things these, which we call the monotonous trifles of our daily duties, would become! The things may be small and unimportant, but the way in which we do them is not unimportant. The same fidelity may be exercised, and must be brought to bear, in order to do the veriest trifle of our daily lives rightly, as needs to be invoked, in order to get us safely through the crises and great times of life. There are no great principles for great duties, and little ones for little duties. We have to regulate all our conduct by the same laws. Life is built up of trifles, as mica-flakes, if there be enough of them, make the Alpine summits towering thousands of feet into the blue. Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones. So, life is meant for discipline, and unless we use it for that, however much enjoyment we get out of it, we misuse it.

III. Lastly, there is here a calming thought as to the variety of God’s methods with us.

‘As the eagle stirreth up his nest.’ No doubt the callow brood are much warmer and more comfortable in the nest than when they are turned out of it. The Israelites were by no means enamoured with the prospect of leaving the flesh-pots and the onions and the farmhouses that they had got for themselves in Goshen, to tramp with their cattle through the wilderness. They went after Moses with considerable disinclination.

Here we have, then, as the first thing needed, God’s loving compulsion to effort. To ‘stir up the nest’ means to make a man uncomfortable where he is;-sometimes by the prickings of his conscience, which are often the voices of God’s Spirit; sometimes by changes of circumstances, either for the better or for the worse; and oftentimes by sorrows. The straw is pulled out of the nest, and it is not so comfortable to lie in; or a bit of it develops a sharp point that runs into the half-feathered skin, and makes the fledgling glad to come forth into the air. We all shrink from change. What should we do if we had it not? We should stiffen into habits that would dwarf and weaken us. We all recoil from storms. What should we do if we had them not? Sea and air would stagnate, and become heavy and putrid and pestilential, if it were not for the wild west wind and the hurtling storms. So all our changes, instead of being whimpered over, and all our sorrows, instead of being taken reluctantly, should be recognised as being what they are, loving summonses to effort. Then their pressure would be modified, and their blessing would be secured when their purpose was served.

But the training of the father-eagle is not confined to stirring up the nest. What is to become of the young ones when they get out of it, and have never been accustomed to bear themselves up in the invisible ether about them? So ‘he fluttereth over his young.’ It is a very beautiful word that is employed here, which ‘flutter’ scarcely gives us. It is the same word that is used in the first chapter of Genesis, about the Spirit of God ‘brooding on the face of the waters’; and it suggests how near, how all-protecting with expanded wings, the divine Father comes to the child whose restfulness He has disturbed.

And is not that true? Had you ever trouble that you took as from Him, which did not bring that hovering presence nearer you, until you could almost feel the motion of the wing, and be brushed by it as it passed protectingly above your head? Ah, yes! ‘Stirring the nest’ is meant to be the precursor of closer approach of the Father to us; and if we take our changes and our sorrows as loving summonses from Him to effort, be sure that we shall realise Him as near to us, in a fashion that we never did before.

That is not all. There is sustaining power. ‘He spreadeth abroad his wings; he taketh them; beareth them on his wings.’ On those broad pinions we are lifted, and by them we are guarded. It matters little whether the belief that the parent bird thus carries the young, when wearied with their short flights, is correct or not. The truth which underlies the representation is what concerns us. The beautiful metaphor is a picturesque way of saying, ‘In all their afflictions He was afflicted; and the Angel of His presence saved them.’ It is a picturesque way of saying, ‘Thou canst do all things through Christ which strengtheneth thee.’ And we may be very sure that if we let Him ‘stir up our nests’ and obey His loving summons to effort, He will come very near to strengthen us for our attempts, and to bear us up when our own weak wings fail. The Psalmist sang that angels’ hands should bear up God’s servant. That is little compared with this promise of being carried heavenwards on Jehovah’s own pinions. A vile piece of Greek mythology tells how Jove once, in the guise of an eagle, bore away a boy between his great wings. It is foul where it stands, but it is blessedly true about Christian experience. If only we lay ourselves on God’s wings-and that not in idleness, but having ourselves tried our poor little flight-He will see that no harm comes to us.

During life this training will go on; and after life, what then? Then, in the deepest sense, the old word will be true, ‘Ye know how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to Myself’; and the great promise shall be fulfilled, when the half-fledged young brood are matured and full grown, ‘They shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.’

THEIR ROCK AND OUR ROCK

Deuteronomy 32:31

 

 

Moses is about to leave the people whom he had led so long, and his last words are words of solemn warning. He exhorts them to cleave to God. The words of the text simply mean that the history of the nation had sufficiently proved that God, their God, was ‘above all gods.’ The Canaanites and all the enemies whom Israel had fought had been beaten, and in their awe of this warrior people acknowledged that their idols had found their lord. The great suit of ‘Jehovah versus Idols’ has long since been decided. Every one acknowledges that Christianity is the only religion possible for twentieth century men. But the words of the text lend themselves to a wider application, and clothe in a picturesque garb the universal truth that the experience of godless men proves the futility of their objects of trust, when compared with that of him whose refuge is in God.

I. God is a Rock to them that trust Him.

We note the singular frequency of that designation in this song, in which it occurs six times. It is also found often in the Psalms. If Moses were the singer, we might see in this often-repeated metaphor a trace of influence of the scenery of the Sinaitic peninsula, which would he doubly striking to eyes accustomed to the alluvial plains of Egypt. What are the aspects of the divine nature set forth by this name?

(1) Firm foundation: the solid eternity of the rock on which we can build.

Petra: faithfulness to promises, unchanging.

(2) Refuge: ‘refuge from the storm’; ‘my rock and my fortress and my high tower.’

(3) Refreshment: rock from which water gushed out; and

(4) Repose: ‘shadow of a great rock’; ‘shadow from the heat.’

Trace the image through Scripture, from this song till Christ’s parable of the man who ‘built his house on a rock.’

II. Every man’s experience shows him that there is no such refuge anywhere else.

We do not assert that every man consciously comes to that conclusion. All we say is that he would do so if he rightly pondered the facts. The history of every life is a history of disappointment. Take these particulars just stated and ask yourselves: What does experience say as to the possibility of our possessing such blessings apart from God? There is no need for us to exaggerate, for the naked reality is sad enough. If God is not our best Good, we have no solid good. Every other ‘rock’ crumbles into sand. Else why this restless change, why this disquiet, why the constant repetition, generation after generation, of the old, old wail, ‘Vanity of vanities, all is vanity’? Why does every heart say Amen to the poet and the dramatist singing of ‘the fever and the fret,’ the tragic fare of man’s life?

Our appeal is not to men in the flush of excitement, but to them in their hours of solitary sane reflection. It is from ‘Philip drunk to Philip sober.’ We each have material for judging in our own case, and in the cases of some others. The experiment of living with other ‘rocks’ than God has been tried for millenniums now. What has been the issue? You know what Christianity claims that it can do to make a life stable and safe. Do you know anything else that can? You know what Christian men will calmly say that they have found. Can you say as much? Let us hear some dying testimonies. Hearken to Jacob: ‘The God which hath fed me all my life long unto this day, the Angel which redeemed me from all evil.’ Hearken to Moses: ‘The Rock, His work is perfect, for all His ways are judgment, a God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is He.’ Hearken to Joshua: ‘Not one good thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake.’ Hearken to David: ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.’ Hearken to Paul: ‘The Lord stood by me and strengthened me, and I was deliveredthe Lord will deliver me from every evil work and will save me unto His heavenly kingdom.’ What man who has chosen to take refuge or build on men and creatures can look backward and forward in such fashion?

III. Every man’s own nature tells him that God is his true Rock.

Again I say that here I do not appeal to the surface of our consciousness, nor to men who have sophisticated themselves, nor to people who have sinned themselves, into hardness, but to the voice of the inner man which speaks in the depths of each man’s being.

There is the cry of Want: the manifest want of the soul for God.

There is the voice of Reason.

There is the voice of Conscience.

IV. Yet many of us will not take God for our Rock.

Surely it is a most extraordinary thing that men should be ‘judges,’ being convinced in their deepest consciousness that God is the only Foundation and Refuge, and yet that the conviction should have absolutely no influence on their conduct. The same stark, staring inconsequence is visible in many other departments of life, but in this region it works its most tragic results. The message which many of my hearers need most is-follow out your deepest convictions, and be true to the inward voice which condenses all your experience into the one counsel to take God for the ‘strength of your hearts and your portion for ever,’ for only in Him will you find what you need for life and strength and riches. If He is ‘our Rock,’ then we shall have a firm foundation, a safe refuge, inexhaustible refreshment and untroubled rest. Lives founded on aught beside are built on sand and will be full of tremors and unsettlements, and at last the despairing builder and his ruined house will be washed away with the dissolving ‘sandbank and shoal of time’ on which he built.

GOD AND HIS SAINTS

Deuteronomy 33:3

 

 

The great ode of which these words are a part is called ‘the blessing wherewith Moses blessed the children of Israel before his death.’ It is mainly an invocation of blessing from Heaven on the various tribes, but it begins, as the national existence of Israel began, with the revelation of God on Sinai, and it lays that as the foundation of everything. It does not matter, for my purposes, in the smallest degree, who was the author of this great song. Whoever he was, he has, by dint of divine inspiration and of his own sympathy with the inmost spirit of the Old Covenant, anticipated the deepest things of Christian truth; and these are here in the words of our text.

I. The first thing that I would point out is the Divine Love which is the foundation of all.

‘He loved the people.’ That is the beginning of everything. The word that this singer uses is one that only appears in this place, and if we regard its etymology, there lies in it a very tender and beautiful expression of the warmth of the divine love, for it is probably connected with words in an allied language which mean the bosom and a tender embrace, and so the picture that we have is of that great divine Lover folding ‘the people’ to His heart, as a mother might her child, and cherishing them in His bosom.

Still further, the word is in a form in the Hebrew which implies that the act spoken about is neither past, present, nor future only, but continuous and perpetual. Thus it suggests to us the thought of timeless, eternal love, which has no beginning, and therefore has no end, which does not grow, and therefore will never decline nor decay, but which runs on upon one lofty level, with neither ups nor downs, and with no variation of the impulse which sends it forth; always the same, and always holding its objects in the fervent embrace of which the text speaks.

Further, mark the place in this great song where this thought comes in. As I said, it is laid as the beginning of everything. ‘We love Him because He first loved us’ was the height to which the last of the Apostles attained in the last of his writings. But this old singer, with the mists of antiquity around him, who knew nothing about the Cross, nothing about the historical Christ, who had only that which modern thinkers tell us is a revelation of a wrathful God, somehow or other rose to the height of the evangelical conception of God’s love as the foundation of the very existence of a people who are His. Like an orchid growing on a block of dry wood and putting forth a gorgeous bloom, this singer, with so much less to feed his faith than we have, has yet borne this fair flower of deep and devout insight into the secret of things and the heart of God. ‘He loved the people’- therefore He formed them for Himself; therefore He brought them out of bondage; therefore He came down in flashing fire on Sinai and made known His will, which to know and do is life. All begins from the tender, timeless love of God.

And if the question is asked, Why does God thus love? the only answer is, Because he is God. ‘Not for your sakes, O house of Israel… but for Mine own name’s sake.’ The love of God is self-originated. In it, as in all His acts, He is His own motive, as His name, ‘I am that I am,’ proclaims. It is inseparable from His being, and flows forth before, and independent of, anything in the creature which could draw it out. Men’s love is attracted by their perception or their imagination of something loveable in its objects. It is like a well, where there has to be much work of the pump-handle before the gush comes. God’s love is like an artesian well, or a fountain springing up from unknown depths in obedience to its own impulse. All that we can say is, ‘Thou art God. It is Thy nature and property to be merciful.’

‘God loved the people.’ The bed-rock is the spontaneous, unalterable, inexhaustible, ever-active, fervent love of God, like that with which a mother clasps her child to her maternal breast. The fair flower of this great thought was a product of Judaism. Let no man say that the God of Love is unknown to the Old Testament.

II. Notice how, with this for a basis, we have next the guardian care extended to all those that answer love by love.

The singer goes on to say, mixing up his pronouns, in the fashion of Hebrew poetry, somewhat arbitrarily, ‘all His saints are in Thy hand.’ Now, what is a ‘saint’? A man who answers God’s love by his love. The notion of a saint has been marred and mutilated by the Church and the world. It has been taken as a special designation of certain selected individuals, mostly of the ascetic and monastic type, whereas it belongs to every one of God’s people. It has been taken by the world to mean sanctimoniousness and not sanctity, and is a term of contempt rather than of admiration on their lips. And even those of us, who have got beyond thinking that it is a title of honour belonging only to the aristocracy of Christ’s Kingdom, are too apt to mistake what it really does mean. It may be useful to say a word about the Scriptural use and true meaning of that much-abused term. The root idea of sanctity or holiness is not moral character, goodness of disposition and of action, but it is separation from the world and consecration to God. As surely as a magnet applied to a heap of miscellaneous filings will pick out every little bit of iron there, so surely will that love which He bears to the people, when it is responded to, draw to itself, and therefore draw out of the heap, the men that feel its impulse and its preciousness. And so ‘saint’ means, secondly, righteous and pure, but it means, first, knit to God, separated from evil, and separated by the power of His received love.

Now, brethren, here is a question for each of us: Do I yield to that timeless, tender clasp of the divine Father and Mother in one? Do I answer it by my love? If I do, then I am a ‘saint,’ because I belong to Him, and He belongs to me, and in that commerce I have broken with the world. If we are true to ourselves, and true to our Lord, and true to the relation between us, the purity of character, which is popularly supposed to be the meaning of holiness, will come. Not without effort, not without set-backs, not without slow advance, but it will come; for he that is consecrated to the Lord is ‘separated’ from iniquity. Such is the meaning of ‘saint.’

‘All His saints are in Thy hand.’ The first metaphor of our text spoke of God’s bosom, to which He drew the people and folded them there. This one speaks of His ‘hand.’ They lie in it. That means two things. It means absolute security, for will He not close His fingers over His palm to keep the soul that has laid itself there? And ‘none shall pluck them out of My Father’s hand.’ No one but yourself can do that. And you can do it, if you cease to respond to His love, and so cease to be a saint. Then you will fall out of His hand, and how far you will fall God only knows.

Being in God’s hand means also submission. Loyola said to his black army, ‘Be like a stick in a man’s hand.’ That meant utter submission and abnegation of self, the willingness to be put anywhere, and used anyhow, and done anything with. And if I by my reception of, and response to, that timeless love, am a saint belonging to God, then not only shall I be secure, but I must be submissive. ‘All His saints are in Thy hand.’ Do not try to get out of it; be content to let it guide you as the steersman’s hand turns the spokes of the wheel and directs the ship.

Now, there is a last thought here. I have spoken of the foundation of all as being divine love, of the security and guardian care of the saints, and there follows one thought more:-

III. The docile obedience of those that are thus guarded.

As the words stand in our Bible, they are as follow:-’They sat down at Thy feet; every one shall receive of Thy words.’ These two clauses make up one picture, and one easily understands what it is. It represents a group of docile scholars, sitting at the Master’s feet. He is teaching them, and they listen open-mouthed and open-eared to what he says, and will take his words into their lives, like Mary sitting at Christ’s feet, whilst Martha was bustling about His meal. But, beautiful as that picture is, there has been suggested a little variation in the words which gives another one that strikes me as being even more beautiful. There are some difficulties of language with which I need not trouble you. But the general result is this, that perhaps instead of ‘sitting down at Thy feet’ we should read ‘followed at Thy feet.’ That suggests the familiar metaphor of a guide and those led by him who, without him, know not their road. As a dog follows his master, as the sheep their shepherd, so, this singer felt, will saints follow the God whom they love. Religion is imitation of God. That was a deep thought for such a stage of revelation, and it in part anticipates Christ’s tender words: ‘He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.’ They follow at His feet. That is the blessedness and the power of Christian morality, that it is keeping close at Christ’s heels, and that instead of its being said to us, ‘Go,’ He says, ‘Come,’ and instead of our being bid to hew out for ourselves a path of duty, He says to us, ‘He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’ They follow at His feet, as the dog at his master’s, as the sheep at their shepherd’s.

They ‘receive His words.’ Yes, if you will keep close to Him, He will turn round and speak to you. If you are near enough to Him to catch His whisper He will not leave you without guidance. That is one side of the thought, that following we receive what He says, whereas the people that are away far behind Him scarcely know what His will is, and never can catch the low whisper which will come to us by providences, by movements in our own spirits, through the exercise of our own faculties of judgment and common-sense, if only we will keep near to Him. ‘Be ye not as the horse or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose mouths must be held in with bit and with bridle, else they will not come near to thee,’ but walk close behind Him, and then the promise will be fulfilled: ‘I will guide thee with Mine eye.’ A glance tells two people who are in sympathy what each wishes, and Jesus Christ will speak to us, if we keep close at His heels.

They that follow Him will ‘receive His words’ in another sense. They will take them in, and His words will not be wasted. And they will receive them in yet another sense. They will carry them out and do them, and His words will not be in vain.

So, dear brethren, the peace, the strength, the blessedness, the goodness, of our lives flow from these three stages, which this singer so long ago had found to be the essence of everything, recognition of the timeless tenderness of God, the yielding to and answering that love, so that it separates us for Himself, the calm security and happy submission which follow thereon, the imitation of Him in daily life, and the walking in His steps, which is rewarded and made more perfect by hearing more distinctly the whisper of His loving, commanding voice.

ISRAEL THE BELOVED

Deuteronomy 33:12

 

 

Benjamin was his father’s favourite child, and the imagery of this promise is throughout drawn from the relations between such a child and its father. So far as the future history of the tribes is shadowed in these ‘blessings’ of this great ode, the reference of the text may be to the tribe of Benjamin, as specially distinguished by Saul having been a member of it, and by the Temple having been built on its soil. But we find that each of the promises of the text is repeated elsewhere, with distinct reference to the whole nation. For example, the first one, of safe dwelling, reappears in Deu 33:28 in reference to Israel; the second one, of God’s protecting covering, is extended to the nation in many places; and the third, of dwelling between His shoulders, is in substance found again in Deu 1:31, ‘the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son.’ So that we may give the text a wider extension, and take it as setting forth under a lovely metaphor, and with a restricted reference, what is true of all God’s children everywhere and always.

I. Who are the ‘beloved of the Lord’?

The first answer to that question must be-all men. But these great blessings, so beautifully shadowed in this text, do not belong to all men; nor does the designation, ‘the beloved of the Lord,’ belong to all men, but to those who have entered into a special relation to Him. In these words of the Hebrew singer there sound the first faint tones of a music that was to swell into clear notes, when Jesus said: ‘If a man love Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him.’ They who are knit by faith and love to God’s only-begotten and beloved Son, by that union receive ‘power to become the sons of God,’ and share in the love which is ever pouring out from the Father’s heart on ‘the Son of His love.’

II. What are their blessed privileges?

The three clauses of the text express substantially the same idea, but with a striking variety of metaphors.

1. They have a sure dwelling-place.

There is a very slight change of rendering of the first clause, which greatly increases its ‘force, and preserves the figure that is obscured by the usual translation. We should read ‘shall dwell safely on,’ rather than ‘by, Him.’ And the effect of that small change in the preposition is to bring out the thought that God is regarded as the foundation on which His beloved build their house of life, and dwell in security and calm. If we are sons through the Son, we shall build our houses or pitch our tents on that firm ground, and, being founded on the Rock of ages, they will not fall when all created foundations reel to the overthrow of whatever is built on them. It is not companionship only, blessed as that is, that is promised here. We have a larger privilege than dwelling by Him, for if we love His Son, we build on God, and ‘God dwelleth in us and we in Him.’

What spiritual reality underlies the metaphor of dwelling or building on God? The fact of habitual communion.

Note the blessed results of such grounding of our lives on God through such habitual communion. We shall ‘dwell safely.’ We may think of that as being objective safety-that is, freedom from peril, or as being subjective-that is, freedom from care or fear, or as meaning ‘trustfully,’ confidently, as the expression is rendered in Psa 16:9 {margin}, which is for us the ground of both these. He who dwells in God trustfully dwells both safely and securely, and none else is free either from danger or from dread.

2. They have a sure shelter.

God is for His beloved not only the foundation on which they dwell in safety, but their perpetual covering. They dwell safely because He is so. There are many tender shapes in which this great promise is presented to our faith. Sometimes God is thought of as covering the weak fugitive, as the arching sides of His cave sheltered David from Saul. Sometimes He is represented as covering His beloved, who cower under His wings, ‘as the hen gathereth her chickens’ when hawks are in the sky. Sometimes He appears as covering them from tempest, ‘when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall,’ and ‘the shadow of a great rock’ shields from its fury. Sometimes He is pictured as stretching out protection over His beloved’s heads, as the Pillar of cloud lay, long-drawn-out, over the Tabernacle when at rest, and ‘on all the Glory was a defence.’ But under whatever emblem the general idea of a covering shelter was conceived, there was always a correlative duty on our side. For the root-meaning of one of the Old Testament words for ‘faith’ is ‘fleeing to a refuge,’ and we shall not be safe in God unless by faith we flee for refuge to Him in Christ.

3. They have a Father who bears them on His shoulders.

The image is the same as in Deu 1:1 – Deu 1:46 already referred to. It recurs also in Isa 46:3 – Isa 46:4, ‘Even to hoar hairs will I carry you, and I have made and I will bear, yea, I will carry, and will deliver’; and in Hos 11:3, ‘I taught Ephraim to go; I took them on My arms.’

The image beautifully suggests the thought of the favourite child riding high and happy on the strong shoulder, which lifts it above rough places and miry ways. The prose reality is: ‘My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’

The Cross carries those who carry it. They who carry God in their hearts are carried by God through all the long pilgrimage of life. Because they are thus upheld by a strength not their own, ‘they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint,’ and though marches be long and limbs strained, they shall ‘go from strength to strength till every one of them appears before God in Zion.’

‘AT THE BUSH’

Deuteronomy 33:16

 

 

I Think this is the only reference in the Old Testament to that great vision which underlay Moses’ call and Israel’s deliverance. It occurs in what is called ‘the blessing wherewith Moses, the man of God, blessed the children of Israel before his death,’ although modern opinion tends to decide that this hymn is indeed much more recent than the days of Moses. There seems a peculiar appropriateness in this reference being put into the mouth of the ancient Lawgiver, for to him even Sinai, with all its glories, cannot have been so impressive and so formative of his character as was the vision granted to him when solitary in the wilderness. It is to be noticed that the characteristic by which God is designated here never occurs elsewhere than in this one place. It is intended to intensify the conception of the greatness, and preciousness, and all-sufficiency of that ‘goodwill.’ If it is that ‘of Him that dwelt in the bush,’ it is sure to be all that a man can need. I need not remind you that the words occur in the blessing pronounced on ‘Joseph’-that is, the two tribes which represented Joseph-in which all the greatest material gifts that could be desired by a pastoral people are first called down upon them, and then the ground of all these is laid in ‘the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush.’ ‘The blessing-let it come on the head of Joseph.’

So then here, first, is a great thought as to what for us all is the blessing of blessings-God’s ‘goodwill.’ ‘Goodwill’-the word, perhaps, might bear a little stronger rendering. ‘Goodwill’ is somewhat tepid. A man may have a good enough will, and yet no very strong emotion of favour or delight, and may do nothing to carry his goodwill into action. But the word that is employed here, and is a common enough one in Scripture, always carries with it a certain intensity and warmth of feeling. It is more than ‘goodwill’; it is more than ‘favour’; perhaps ‘delight’ would be nearer the meaning. It implies, too, not only the inward sentiment of complacency, but also the active purpose of action in conformity with it, on God’s part. Now it needs few words to show that these two things, which are inseparable, do make the blessing of blessings for every one of us-the delight, the complacency, of God in us, and the active purpose of good in God for us. These are the things that will make a man happy wherever he is.

If I might dwell for a moment upon other scriptural passages, I would just recall to you, as bringing up very strongly and beautifully the all-sufficiency and the blessed effects of having this delight and loving purpose directed towards us like a sunbeam, the various great things that a chorus of psalmists say that it will do for a man. Here is one of their triumphant utterances: ‘Thou wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt Thou compass him as with a shield.’ That crystal battlement, if I may so vary the figure, is round a man, keeping far away from him all manner of real evil, and filling his quiet heart as he stands erect behind the rampart, with the sense of absolute security. That is one of the blessings that God’s favour or goodwill will secure for us. Again, we read: ‘By Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong.’ He that knows himself to be the object of the divine delight, and who by faith knows himself to be the object of the divine activity in protection, stands firm, and his purposes will be carried through, because they will be purposes in accordance with the divine mind, and nothing has power to shake him. So he that grasps the hand of God can say, not because of his grasp, but because of the Hand that he holds, ‘The Lord is at my right hand; I shall not be greatly moved. By Thy favour Thou hast made our mountain to stand strong.’ And again, in another analogous but yet diversified representation, we read: ‘In Thee shall we rejoice all the day, and in Thy favour shall our horn be exalted.’ That is the emblem, not only of victory, but of joyful confidence, and so he who knows himself to have God for his friend and his helper, can go through the world keeping a sunny face, whatever the clouds may be, erect and secure, light of heart and buoyant, holding up his chin above the stormiest waters, and breasting all difficulties and dangers with a confidence far away from presumption, because it is the consequence of the realisation of God’s presence. So the goodwill of God is the chiefest good.

Now, if we turn to the remarkable designation of the divine nature which is here, consider what rivers of strength and of blessedness flow out of the thought that for each of us ‘the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush’ may be our possession.

What does that pregnant designation of God say? That was a strange shrine for God, that poor, ragged, dry desert bush, with apparently no sap in its gray stem, prickly with thorns, with ‘no beauty that we should desire it,’ fragile and insignificant, yet it was ‘God’s house.’ Not in the cedars of Lebanon, not in the great monarchs of the forest, but in the forlorn child of the desert did He abide. ‘The goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush’ may dwell in you and me. Never mind how small, never mind how sapless, never mind how lightly esteemed among men, never mind though we make a very poor show by the side of the ‘oaks of Bashan’ or the ‘cedars of Lebanon.’ It is all right; the Fire does not dwell in them. ‘Unto this man will I look, and with him will I dwell, who is of a humble and a contrite heart, and who trembleth at My word.’ Let no sense of poverty, weakness, unworthiness, ever draw the faintest film of fear across our confidence, for even with us He will sojourn. For it is ‘the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush’ that we evoke for ours.

Again, what more does that name say? He ‘that dwelt in the bush’ filled it with fire, and it ‘burned and was not consumed.’ Now there is good ground to object to the ordinary interpretation, as if the burning of the bush which yet remains unconsumed was meant to symbolise Israel, or, in the New Testament application, the Church which, notwithstanding all persecution, still remains undestroyed. Our brethren of the Presbyterian churches have taken the Latin form of the words in the context for their motto-Nec Tamen Consumebatur. But I venture to think that that is a mistake; and that what is meant by the symbol is just what is expressed by the verbal revelation which accompanied it, and that was this: ‘I AM THAT I AM.’ The fire that did not burn out is the emblem of the divine nature which does not tend to death because it lives, nor to exhaustion because it energises, nor to emptiness because it bestows, but after all times is the same; lives by its own energy and is independent. ‘I am that I have become,’-that is what men have to say. ‘I am that I once was not, and again once shall not be,’ is what men have to say. ‘I am that I am’ is God’s name. And this eternal, ever-living, self-sufficing, absolute, independent, unwearied, inexhaustible God is the God whose favour is as inexhaustible as Himself, and eternal as His own being. ‘Therefore the sons of men shall put their trust beneath the shadow of Thy wings,’ and, if they have ‘the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush,’ will be able to say, ‘Because Thou livest we shall live also.’

What more does the name say? He ‘that dwelt in the bush’ dwelt there in order to deliver; and, dwelling there, declared ‘I have seen the affliction of My people, and am come down to deliver them.’ So, then, if the goodwill of that eternal, delivering God is with us, we, too, may feel that our trivial troubles and our heavy burdens, all the needs of our prisoned wills and captive souls, are known to Him, and that we shall have deliverance from them by Him. Brethren, in that name, with its historical associations, with its deep revelations of the divine nature, with its large promises of the divine sympathy and help, there lie surely abundant strengths and consolations for us all. The goodwill, the delight, of God, and the active help of God, may be ours, and if these be ours we shall be blessed and strong.

Do not let us forget the place in this blessing on the head of Joseph which my text holds. It is preceded by an invoking of the precious things of Heaven, and ‘the precious fruits brought forth by the sun. . . of the chief things of the ancient mountains, and the precious things of the lasting hills, and the precious things of the earth and the fulness thereof.’ They are all heaped together in one great mass for the beloved Joseph. And then, like the golden spire that tops some of those campaniles in Italian cities, and completes their beauty, above them all there is set, as the shining apex of all, ‘the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush.’ That is more precious than all other precious things; set last because it is to be sought first; set last as in building some great structure the top stone is put on last of all; set last because it gathers all others into itself, secures that all others shall be ours in the measure in which we need them, and arms us against all possibilities of evil. So the blessing of blessings is the ‘goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush.’

In my text this is an invocation only; but we can go further than that. You and I can make sure that we have it, if we will. How to secure it? One of the texts which I have already quoted helps us a little way along the road in answer to that question, for it says, ‘Thou, Lord, wilt bless the righteous. With favour wilt thou compass him as with a shield.’ But it is of little use to tell me that if I am ‘righteous’ God will ‘bless me,’ and ‘compass me with favour.’ If you will tell me how to become righteous, you will do me more good. And we have been told how to be righteous-’If a man keep My commandments My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.’ If we knit ourselves to Jesus Christ, and we can all do that if we like, by faith that trusts Him, and by love, the child of faith, that obeys Him, and grows daily more like Him-then, without a doubt, that delight of God in us, and that active purpose of good in God’s mind towards us, will assuredly be ours; and on no other terms.

So, dear brethren, the upshot of my homily is just this-Men may strive and scheme, and wear their finger-nails down to the quick, to get some lesser good, and fail after all. The greatest good is certainly ours by that easy road which, however hard it may be otherwise, is made easy because it is so certain to bring us to what we want. Holiness is the condition of God’s delight in us, and a genuine faith in Christ, and the love which faith evokes, are the conditions. So it is a very simple matter You never can be sure of getting the lower good You can be quite sure of getting the highest. You never can be certain that the precious things of the earth and the fulness thereof will be yours, or that if they were, they would be so very precious; but you can be quite sure that the ‘goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush’ may lie like light upon your hearts, and be strength to your limbs.

And so I commend to you the words of the Apostle, ‘Wherefore we labour that, whether present or absent, we may be well-pleasing to Him.’ To minister to God’s delight is the highest glory of man. To have the favour of Him that dwelt in the bush resting upon us is the highest blessing for man. He will say ‘Well done! good and faithful servant.’ ‘The Lord taketh pleasure’-wonderful as it sounds-’in them that fear Him, in them that hope in His mercy,’ and that, hoping in His mercy, live as He would have them live.

SHOD FOR THE ROAD

Deuteronomy 33:25

 

 

There is a general correspondence between those blessings wherewith Moses blessed the tribes of Israel before his death, and the circumstances and territory of each tribe in the promised land. The portion of Asher, in whose blessing the words of our text occurs, was partly the rocky northern coast and partly the fertile lands stretching to the base of the Lebanon. In the inland part of their territory they cultivated large olive groves, the produce of which was trodden out in great rock-hewn cisterns. So the clause before my text is a benediction upon that industry-’let him dip his foot in oil.’ And then the metaphor naturally suggested by the mention of the foot is carried on into the next words, ‘Thy shoes shall be iron and brass,’ the tribe being located upon rocky sea-coast, having rough roads to travel, and so needing to be well shod. The substance, then, of that promise seems to be-strength adequate to, and unworn by, exercise; while the second clause, though not altogether plain, seems to put a somewhat similar idea in unmetaphorical shape. ‘As thy days, so shall thy strength be,’ probably means the promise of power that grows with growing years.

So, then, we have first that thought that God gives us an equipment of strength proportioned to our work,-shoes fit for our road. God does not turn people out to scramble over rough mountains with thin-soled boots on; that is the plain English of the words. When an Alpine climber is preparing to go away into Switzerland for rock work, the first thing he does is to get a pair of strong shoes, with plenty of iron nails in the soles of them. So Asher had to be shod for his rough roads, and so each of us may be sure that if God sends us on stony paths He will provide us with strong shoes, and will not send us out on any journey for which He does not equip us well.

There are no difficulties to be found in any path of duty, for which he that is called to tread it is not prepared by Him that sent him. Whatsoever may be the road, our equipment is calculated for it, and is given to us from Him that has appointed it.

Is there not a suggestion here, too, as to the sort of travelling we may expect to have? An old saying tells us that we do not go to heaven in silver slippers, and the reason is because the road is rough. The ‘primrose way’ leads somewhere else, and it may be walked on ‘delicately.’ But if we need shoes of iron and brass, we may pretty well guess the kind of road we have before us. If a man is equipped with such coverings on his feet, depend upon it that there will be use for them before he gets to the end of his day’s journey. The thickest sole will make the easiest travelling over rocky roads. So be quite sure of this, that if God gives to us certain endowments and equipments which are only calculated for very toilsome paths, the roughness of the road will match the stoutness of the shoes.

And see what He does give. See the provision which is made for patience and strength, for endurance and courage, in all the messages of His mercy, in all the words of His love, in all the powers of His Gospel, and then say whether that looks as if we should have an easy life of it on our way home. Those two ships that went away a while ago upon the brave, and, as some people thought, desperate task of finding the North Pole-any one that looked upon them as they lay in Portsmouth Roads, might know that it was no holiday cruise they were meant for. The thickness of the sides, the strength of the cordage, the massiveness of the equipment, did not look like pleasure-sailing.

And so, dear brethren, if we think of all that is given to us in God’s Gospel in the way of stimulus and encouragement, and exhortation, and actual communication of powers, we may calculate, from the abundance of the resources, how great will be the strain upon us before we come to the end, and our ‘feet stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.’ Go into some of the great fortresses in continental countries, and you will find the store-rooms full of ammunition and provisions; bread enough and biscuits enough, as it seems, for half the country, laid up there, and a deep well somewhere or other in the courtyard. What does that mean? It means fighting, that is what it means. So if we are brought into this strong pavilion, so well provisioned, so massively fortified and defended, that means that we shall need all the strength that is to be found in those thick walls, and all the sustenance that is to be found in those gorged magazines, and all the refreshment that is to be drawn from that free, and full, and inexhaustible fountain, before the battle is over and the victory won. Depend upon it, the promise ‘Thy shoes shall be iron and brass.’ means, ‘Thy road shall be rocky and flinty’; and so it is.

And yet, thank God! whilst it is true that it is very hard and very difficult for many of us, and hard and difficult-even if without the ‘very’-for us all, it is also true that we have the adequate provision sufficient for all our necessities-and far more than sufficient! It is a poor compliment to the strength that He gives to us to say that it is enough to carry us through. God does not deal out His gifts to people with such an economical correspondence to necessities as that. There is always a wide margin. More than we can ask, more than we can think, more than we can need is given us.

If He were to deal with us as men often deal with one another, asking us, ‘Well, how much do you want? cannot you do with a little less? there is the exact quantity that you need for your support’-if you got your bread by weight and your water by measure, it would be a very poor affair. See how He actually does-He says, ‘Child, there is Mine own strength for you’; and we think that we honour Him when we say, ‘God has given us enough for our necessities!’ Rather the old word is always true: ‘So they did eat and were filled; and they took up of the fragments that remained seven baskets-full,’ and after they were satisfied and replete with the provision, there was more at the end than when they began.

That suggests another possible thought to be drawn from this promise, namely, that it assures not only of strength adequate to the difficulties and perils of the journey, but also of a strength which is not worn out by use.

The ‘portion’ of Asher was the rocky sea-coast. The sharp, jagged rocks would cut to pieces anything made of leather long before the day’s march was over; but the travellers have their feet shod with metal, and the rocks which they have to stumble over will only strike fire from their shoes. They need not step timidly for fear of wearing them out; but, wherever they have to march, may go with full confidence that their shoeing will not fail them. A wise general looks after that part of his soldiers’ outfit with special care, knowing that if it gives out, all the rest is of no use. So our Captain provides us with an inexhaustible strength, to which we may fully trust. We shall not exhaust it by any demands that we can make upon it. We shall only brighten it up, like the nails in a well-used shoe, the heads of which are polished by stumbling and scrambling over rocky roads.

So we may be bold in the march, and draw upon our stock of strength to the utmost. There is no fear that it will fail us. We may put all our force into our work, we shall not weaken the power which ‘by reason of use is exercised,’ not exhausted. For the grace which Christ gives us to serve Him, being divine, is subject to no weariness, and neither faints nor fails. The bush that burned unconsumed is a type of that Infinite Being who works unexhausted, and lives undying, after all expenditure is rich, after all pouring forth is full. And of His strength we partake.

Whensoever a man puts forth an effort of any kind whatever-when I speak, when I lift my hand, when I run, when I think-there is waste of muscular tissue. Some of my strength goes in the act, and thus every effort means expenditure and diminution of force. Hence weariness that needs sleep, waste that needs food, languor that needs rest. We belong to an order of being in which work is death, in regard to our physical nature; but our spirits may lay hold of God, and enter into an order of things in which work is not death, nor effort exhaustion, nor is there loss of power in the expenditure of power.

That sounds strange, and yet it is not strange. Think of that electric light which is made by directing a strong stream upon two small pieces of carbon. As the electricity strikes upon these and turns their blackness into a fiery blaze, it eats away their substance while it changes them into light. But there is an arrangement in the lamp by which a fresh surface is continually being brought into the path of the beam, and so the light continues without wavering and blazes on. The carbon is our human nature, black and dull in itself; the electric beam is the swift energy of God, which makes us ‘light in the Lord.’ For the one, decay is the end of effort; for the other, there is none. ‘Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.’ Though we belong to the perishing order of nature by our bodily frame, we belong to the undecaying realm of grace by the spirit that lays hold upon God. And if our work weary us, as it must do so long as we continue here, yet in the deepest sanctuary of our being, our strength is greatened by exercise. ‘Thy shoes shall be iron and brass.’ ‘Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.’ ‘Stand, therefore, having your feet shod with the preparedness of the Gospel of peace.’

But this is not all. There is an advance even upon these great promises in the closing words. That second clause of our text says more than the first one. ‘Thy shoes shall be iron and brass,’ that promises us powers and provision adapted to, and unexhausted by, the weary pilgrimage and rough road of life. But ‘as thy days, so shall thy strength be,’ says even more than that. The meaning of the word rendered ‘strength’ in our version is very doubtful, and most modern translators are inclined to render it ‘rest.’ But if we adhere to the translation of our version, we get a forcible and relevant promise, which fits on well to the previous clause, understood as it has been in my previous remarks. The usual understanding of the words is ‘strength proportioned to thy day,’ an idea which we have found already suggested by the previous clause. But that explanation rests on, or at any rate derives support from, the common misquotation of the words. They are not, as we generally hear them quoted, ‘As thy day, so shall thy strength be,’-but ‘day’ is in the plural, and that makes a great difference. ‘As thy days, so shall thy strength be,’ that is to say: the two sums-of ‘thy days’ and of ‘thy strength’-keep growing side by side, the one as fast as the other and no faster. The days increase. Well, what then? The strength increases too. As I said, we are allied to two worlds. According to the law of one of them, the outer world of physical life, we soon reach the summit of human strength. For a little while it is true, even in the life of nature, that our power grows with our days. But we soon reach the watershed, and then the opposite comes to be true. Down, steadily down, we go. With diminishing power, with diminishing vitality, with a dimmer eye, with an obtuser ear, with a slower-beating heart, with a feebler frame, we march on and on to our grave. ‘As thy days, so shall thy weakness be,’ is the law for all of us mature men and women in regard to our outward life.

But, dear brethren, we may be emancipated from that dreary law in regard to the true life of our spirits, and instead of growing weaker as we grow older, we may and we should grow stronger. We may be and we should be moving on a course that has no limit to its advance. We may be travelling on a shining path through the heavens, that has no noon-tide height from which it must slowly and sadly decline, but tends steadily and for ever upwards, nearer and nearer to the very fountain itself of heavenly radiance. ‘The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more till the noon-tide of the day.’ But the reality surpasses even that grand thought, for it discloses to us an endless approximation to an infinite beauty, and an ever-growing possession of never exhausted fulness, as the law for the progress of all Christ’s servants. The life of each of us may and should be continual accession and increase of power through all the days here, through all the ages beyond. Why? Because ‘the life which I live, I live by the faith of the Son of God.’ Christ liveth in me. It is not my strength that grows, so much as God’s strength in me which is given more abundantly as the days roll. It is so given on one condition. If my faith has laid hold of the infinite, the exhaustless, the immortal energy of God, unless there is something fearfully wrong about me, I shall be becoming purer, nobler, wiser, more observant of His will, gentler, liker Christ, every way fitter for His service, and for larger service, as the days increase.

Those of us who have reached middle life, or perhaps gone a little over the watershed, ought to have this experience as our own in a very distinct degree. The years that are past ought to have drawn us somewhat away from our hot pursuing after earthly and perishable things. They should have added something to the clearness and completeness of our perception of the deep simplicity of God’s gospel. They should have tightened our hold and increased our possession of Christ, and unfolded more and more of His all-sufficiency. They should have enriched us with memories of God’s loving care, and lighted all the sky behind with a glow which is reflected on the path before us, and kindles calm confidence in His unfailing goodness. They should have given us power and skill for the conflicts that yet remain, as the Red Indians believe that the strength of every defeated and scalped enemy passes into his conqueror’s arm. They should have given force to our better nature, and weakening, progressive weakening, to our worse. They should have rooted us more firmly and abidingly in Him from whom all our power comes, and so have given us more and fuller supplies of His exhaustless and ever-flowing might.

So it may be with us if we abide in Him, without whom we are nothing, but partaking of whose strength ‘the weakest shall be as David, and David as an angel of God.’

If for us, drawing nearer to the end is drawing nearer to the light, our faces will be brightened more and more with that light which we approach, and our path will be ‘as the shining light which shines more and more unto the noon-tide of the day,’ because we are closer to the very fountain of heavenly radiance, and growingly bathed and flooded with the outgoings of His glory. ‘As thy days, so shall thy strength be.’

The promise ought to be true for us all. It is true for all who use the things that are freely given to them of God. And whilst thus it is the law for the devout life here, its most glorious fulfilment remains for the life beyond. There each new moment shall bring new strength, and growing millenniums but add fresh vigour to our immortal life. Here the unresting beat of the waves of the sea of time gnaws away the bank and shoal whereon we stand, but there each roll of the great ocean of eternity shall but spread new treasures at our feet and add new acres to our immortal heritage. ‘The oldest angels,’ says Swedenborg, ‘look the youngest.’ When life is immortal, the longer it lasts the stronger it becomes, and so the spirits that have stood for countless days before His throne, when they appear to human eyes, appear as-’young men clothed in long white garments,’-full of unaging youth and energy that cannot wane. So, whilst in the flesh we must obey the law of decay, the spirit may be subject to this better law of life, and ‘while the outward man perisheth, the inward man be renewed day by day.’ ‘Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall; but they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength.’

A DEATH IN THE DESERT

Deuteronomy 34:5-6

 

 

A fitting end to such a life! The great law-giver and leader had been all his days a lonely man; and now, surrounded by a new generation, and all the old familiar faces vanished, he is more solitary than ever. He had lived alone with God, and it was fitting that alone with God he should die.

How the silent congregation must have watched, as, alone, with ‘natural strength unabated,’ he breasted the mountain, and went up to be seen no more! With dignified reticence our chapter tells us no details. He ‘died there,’ in that dreary solitude, and in some cleft he was buried, and no man knows where. The lessons of that solitary death and unknown tomb may best be learned by contrast with another death and another grave-those of the Leader of the New Covenant, the Law-giver and Deliverer from a worse bondage, and Guide into a better Canaan, the Son who was faithful over His own house, as Moses was ‘faithful in all his house, as a servant.’ That lonely and forgotten grave among the savage cliffs was in keeping with the whole character and work of him who lay there.

‘Here,-here’s his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form,

Lightnings are loosened,

Stars come and go! Let joy break with the storm,

Peace let the dew send!

Lofty designs must close in like effects;

Loftily lying,

Leave him-still loftier than the world suspects,

Living and dying.’

Contrast that grave with the sepulchre in the garden where Jesus lay, close by a city wall, guarded by foes, haunted by troops of weeping friends, visited by a great light of angel faces. The one was hidden and solitary, as teaching the loneliness and mystery of death; the other revealed light in the darkness, and companionship in the loneliness. The one faded from men’s memory because it was nothing to any man; no impulses, nor hopes, nor gifts, could come from it. The other forever draws hearts and memories, because in it was wrought out the victory in which all our hopes are rooted. An endured cross, an empty grave, an occupied throne, are as the threefold cord on which all our hopes hang. Moses was solitary as God’s servant in life and death, and oblivion covered his mountain grave. Christ’s ‘delights were with the sons of men.’ He lived among them, and all men ‘know his sepulchre to this day.’

I. Note, then, first, as a lesson gathered from this lonely death, the penalty of transgression.

One of the great truths which the old law and ordinances given by Moses were intended to burn in on the conscience of the Jew, and through him on the conscience of the world, was that indissoluble connection between evil done and evil suffered, which reaches its highest exemplification in the death which is the ‘wages of sin.’ And just as some men that have invented instruments for capital punishment have themselves had to prove the sharpness of their own axe, so the lawgiver, whose message it had been to declare, ‘the soul that sinneth it shall die,’ had himself to go up alone to the mountain-top to receive in his own person the exemplification of the law that had been spoken by his own lips. He sinned when, in a moment of passion {with many palliations and excuses}, he smote the rock that he was bidden to address, and forgot therein, and in his angry words to the rebels, that he was only an instrument in the divine hand. It was a momentary wavering in a hundred and twenty years of obedience. It was one failure in a life of self-abnegation and suppression. The stern sentence came.

People say, ‘A heavy penalty for a small offence.’ Yes; but an offence of Moses could not be a small offence.’ Noblesse oblige! The higher a man rises in communion with God, and the more glorious the message and office which are put into his hands, the more intolerable in him is the slightest deflection from the loftiest level. A splash of mud, that would never be seen on a navvy’s clothes, stains the white satin of a bride or the embroidered garment of a noble. And so a little sin done by a loftily endowed and inspired man ceases to be small.

Nor are we to regard that momentary lapse only from the outside and the surface. One little mark under the armpit of a plague-sufferer tells the physician that the fatal disease is there. A tiny leaf above ground may tell that, deep below, lurks the root of a poison plant. That little deflection, coming as it did at the beginning of the resumption of his functions by the Lawgiver after seven-and-thirty years of comparative abeyance, and on his first encounter with the new generation that he had to lead, was a very significant indication that his character had begun to yield and suffer from the strain that had been put upon it; and that, in fact, he was scarcely fit for the responsibilities that the new circumstances brought. So the penalty was not so disproportionate to the fault as it may seem.

And was the penalty such a very great one? Do you think that a man who had been toiling for eighty years at a very thankless task would consider it a very severe punishment to be told, ‘Go home and take your wages’? It did not mean the withdrawal of the divine favour. ‘Moses and Aaron among his priests. Thou wast a God that forgavest them, though Thou tookest vengeance of their inventions.’ The penalty of a forgiven sin is never hard to bear, and the penalty of a forgiven sin is very often punctually and mercifully exacted.

But still we are not to ignore the fact that this lonely death, with which we are now concerned, is of the nature of a penal infliction. And so it stands forth in consonance with the whole tone of the Mosaic teaching. I admit, of course, that the mere physical fact of the separation between body and spirit is simply the result of natural law. But that is not the death that you and I know. Death as we know it, the ugly thing that flings its long shadows across all life, and that comes armed with terrors for conscience and spirit, is ‘the wages of sin,’ and is only experienced by men who have transgressed the law of God. So far Moses in his life and in his death carries us-that no transgression escapes the appropriate punishment; that the smallest sin has in it the seeds of mortal consequences; that the loftiest saint does not escape the law of retribution.

And no further does Moses with his Law and his death carry us. But we turn to the other death. And there we find the confirmation, in an eminent degree, of that Law, and yet the repeal of it. It is confirmed and exhausted in Jesus Christ. His death was ‘the wages of sin.’ Whose? Not His. Mine, yours, every man’s. And because He died, surrounded by men, outside the old city wall, pure and sinless in Himself, He therein both said ‘Amen’ to the Law of Moses, and swept it away. For all the sins of the world were laid upon His head, He bore the curse for us all, and has emptied the bitter cup which men’s transgressions have mingled. Therefore the solitary death in the desert proclaims ‘the wages of sin’; that death outside the city wall proclaims ‘the gift of God,’ which is ‘eternal life.’

II. Another of the lessons of our incident is the withdrawal, by a hard fate, of the worker on the very eve of the completion of his work.

For all these forty years there had gleamed before the fixed and steadfast spirit of the sorely tried leader one hope that he never abandoned, and that was that he might look upon and enter into the blessed land which God had promised. And now he stands on the heights of Moab. Half a dozen miles onwards, as the crow flies, and his feet would tread its soil. He lifts his eyes, and away up yonder, in the far north, he sees the rolling uplands of Gilead, and across the deep gash where the Jordan runs, he catches a glimpse of the blue hills of Naphtali or of Galilee, and the central mountain masses of Ephraim and Manasseh, where Ebal and Gerizim lift their heads; and then, further south, the stony summits of the Judaean hills, where Jerusalem and Bethlehem lie, and, through some gap in the mountains, a gleam as of sunshine upon armour tells where the ocean is. And then his eye falls upon the waterless plateau of the South, and at his feet the fertile valley of Jordan, with Jericho glittering amongst its palm trees like a diamond set in emeralds, and on some spur of the lower hill bounding the plain, the little Zoar. This was the land which the Lord had promised to the fathers, for which he had been yearning, and to which all his work had been directed all these years; and now he is to die, as my text puts it, with such pathetic emphasis, ‘there in Moab,’ and to have no part in the fair inheritance.

It is the lot of all epoch-making men, of all great constructive and reforming geniuses, whether in the Church or in the world, that they should toil at a task, the full issues of which will not be known until their heads are laid low in the dust. But if, on the one hand, that seems hard, on the other hand there is the compensation of ‘the vision of the future and all the wonder that shall be,’ which is granted many a time to the faithful worker ere he closes his eyes. But that is not the fate of epoch-making and great men only; it is the law for our little lives. If these are worth anything, they are constructed on a scale too large to bring out all their results here and now. It is easy for a man to secure immediate consequences of an earthly kind; easy enough for him to make certain that he shall have the fruit of his toil. But quick returns mean small profits; and an unfinished life that succeeds in nothing may be far better than a completed one, that has realised all its shabby purposes and accomplished all its petty desires. Do you, my brother, live for the far-off; and seek not for the immediate issues and fruits that the world can give, but be contented to be of those whose toil waits for eternity to disclose its significance. Better a half-finished temple than a finished pigstye or huckster’s shop. Better a life, the beginning of much and the completion of nothing, than a life directed to and hitting an earthly aim. ‘He that soweth to the spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting,’ and his harvest and garner are beyond the grave.

III. Again, notice here the lesson of the solitude and mystery of death.

Moses dies alone, with no hand to clasp his, none to close his eyes; but God’s finger does it. The outward form of his death is but putting into symbol and visibility the awful characteristics of that last moment for us all. However closely we have been twined with others, each of us has to unclasp dear hands, and make that journey through the narrow, dark tunnel by himself. We live alone in a very real sense, but we each have to die as if there were not another human being in the whole universe but only ourselves. But the solitude may be a solitude with God. Up there, alone with the stars and the sky and the everlasting rocks and menacing death, Moses had for companion the supporting God. That awful path is not too desolate and lonely to be trodden if we tread it with Him.

Moses’ lonely death leads to a society yonder. If you refer to the thirty-second chapter you will find that, when he was summoned to the mountain, God said to him, ‘Die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered to thy people.’ He was to be buried there, up amongst the rocks of Moab, and no man was ever to visit his sepulchre to drop a tear over it. How, then, was he ‘gathered to his people’? Surely only thus, that, dying in the desert alone, he opened his eyes in ‘the City,’ surrounded by ‘solemn troops and sweet societies’ of those to whom he was kindred. So the solitude of a moment leads on to blessed and eternal companionship.

So far the death of Moses carries us. What does the other death say? Moses had none but God with him when he died. There is a drearier desolation than that, and Jesus Christ proved it when He cried, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’ That was solitude indeed, and in that hour of mysterious, and to us unfathomable, desertion and misery, the lonely Christ sounded a depth, of which the lawgiver in His death but skimmed the surface. Christ was parted from God in His death, because He bore on Him the sins that separate us from our Father, and in order that none of us may ever need to tread that dark passage alone, but may be able to say, ‘I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me’-Thou, who hast trodden every step in its rough and dreary path, uncheered by the presence which cheers us and millions more. Christ died that we might live. He died alone that, when we come to die, we may hold His hand and the solitude may vanish.

Then, again, our incident teaches us the mystery that wrapped death to that ancient world, of which we may regard that unknown and forgotten sepulchre as the visible symbol. Deep darkness lies over the Old Testament in reference to what is beyond the grave, broken by gleams of light, when the religious consciousness asserted its indestructibility, in spite of all appearance to the contrary; but never growing to the brightness of serene and continuous assurance of immortal life and resurrection. We may conceive that mysteriousness as set forth for us by that grave that was hidden away in the defiles of Moab, unvisited and uncared for by any.

We turn to the other grave, and there, as the stone is rolled away, and the rising sunshine of the Easter morning pours into it, we have a visible symbol of the life and immortality which Jesus Christ then brought to light by His Gospel. The buried grave speaks of the inscrutable mystery that wrapped the future: the open sepulchre proclaims the risen Lord of life, and the sunlight certainty of future blessedness which we owe to Him. Death is solitary no more, though it be lonely as far as human companionship is concerned; and a mystery no more, though what is beyond is hidden from our view, and none but Christ has ever returned to tell the tale, and He has told us little but the fact that we shall live with Him.

We rejoice that we have not to turn to a grave hid amongst the hills where our dead Leader lies, but to an open sepulchre by the city wall in the sunshine, from whence has come forth the ever-living ‘Captain of our salvation.’

IV. The last lesson is the uselessness of a dead leader to a generation with new conflicts.

Commentators have spent a great deal of ingenuity in trying to assign reasons why God concealed the grave of Moses. The text does not say that God concealed it at all. The ignorance of the place of his sepulchre does not seem to have been part of the divine design, but simply a consequence of the circumstances of his death, and of the fact that he lay in an enemy’s land, and that they had had something else to do than go to look for the grave of a dead commander. They had to conquer the land, and a living Joshua was what they wanted, not a dead Moses.

So we may learn from this how easily the gaps fill. ‘Thirty days’ mourning,’ and says my text, with almost a bitter touch,’ so the days of mourning for Moses were ended.’ A month of it, that was all; and then everybody turned to the new man that was appointed for the new work. God has many tools in His tool-chest, and He needs them all before the work is done. Joshua could no more have wielded Moses’ rod than Moses could have wielded Joshua’s sword. The one did his work, and was laid aside. New circumstances required a new type of character-the smaller man better fitted for the rougher work. And so it always is. Each generation, each period, has its own men that do some little part of the work which has to be done, and then drop it and hand over the task to others. The division of labour is the multiplication of joy at the end, and ‘he that soweth and he that reapeth rejoice together.’ But whilst the one grave tells us, ‘This man served his generation by the will of God, and was laid asleep and saw corruption,’ the other grave proclaims One whom all generations need, whose work is comprehensive and complete, who dies never. ‘He liveth and was dead, and is alive for evermore.’ Christ, and Christ alone, can never be antiquated. This day requires Him, and has in Him as complete an answer to all its necessities as if no other generation had ever possessed Him. He liveth for ever, and for ever is the Shepherd of men.

So Aaron dies and is buried on Hor, and Moses dies and is buried on Pisgah, and Joshua steps into his place, and, in turn, he disappears. The one eternal Word of God worked through them all, and came at last Himself in human flesh to be the Everlasting Deliverer, Redeemer, Founder of the Covenant, Lawgiver, Guide through the wilderness, Captain of the warfare, and all that the world or a single soul can need until the last generation has crossed the flood, and the wandering pilgrims are gathered in the land of their inheritance. The dead Moses pre-supposes and points to the living Christ. Let us take Him for our all-sufficing and eternal Guide.

John Calvin (1509-1564): Fifth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (07/36)

Fifth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (07/36)
By
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Fifth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

And Jesus stood before the governor: and the governor asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And Jesus said unto him, Thou sayest. And when he was accused of the chief priests and elders, he answered nothing. Then said Pilate unto him, Hearest thou not how many things they witness against thee? And he answered him to never a word; insomuch that the governor marvelled greatly. Now at that feast the governor was wont to release unto the people a prisoner, whom they would. And they had then a notable prisoner, called Barabbas. Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.Mat 27:11-26

We have already seen by the preceding verses that our Lord Jesus so offered Himself of His own will as a sacrifice to make reparation for all our iniquities by His obedience and He was willing to be condemned to wipe them out. That is why it is said that He did not answer at all the accusations that were raised against Him. He had enough wherewith to answer, but He was silent, as is also mentioned by the Prophet Isaiah. That was not only to show his patience, but in order to acquire for us liberty to be able today to glory in being righteous and innocent before God (indeed, notwithstanding that our conscience accuses us and condemns us), knowing that God has received us in mercy, and that all our faults are abolished by the perfection which was found in our Lord Jesus Christ. That, then, is how the Son of God acquired for us the liberty to be able to glory boldly that we are the children of God and reputed righteous before Him, that is, when He willed to offer no reply to show His integrity. Besides, one might at first find it strange that He is thus captured and nevertheless responds that He is King of the Jews. For these things seem contradictory; but Saint John proceeds still further, and says that He declared that His Kingdom was not of this world, and then He declared also that He was Son of God, indeed, He protested that He had come into the world to maintain the truth. But all this agrees easily. For our Lord Jesus surely had to declare Himself to be King of the Jews, unless He wished to reject the Prophecies. Also He had to be declared Son of God. But that did not lead to His absolution. It was rather that there might not be a long drawn-out trial, but that He might be condemned. Let us note well, then, when the silence of Jesus Christ is spoken of, that it was inasmuch as He did not wish to offer any excuse. As for His person, He kept His mouth closed. However, He did not cease to make such confession as He had to make. That is also why Saint Paul says that He made a good confession before Pontius Pilate (1Ti 6:13). For if it had been a matter of Jesus Christ’s entering into His own self-defense, already the judge was persuaded of His integrity. He could, then, easily have won His case by speaking. That is what amazes Pilate. Yet our Lord Jesus Christ did not cease to render such testimony as God had committed to Him — not tending to instruct (for this was not the place) but to confirm and ratify the doctrine to which He had previously borne witness.

However, we have to note on the one hand that the crime which troubled the Jews most was that He had stirred up trouble and prevented them from paying tributes to the Emperor of Rome. That also was to irritate the Governor, a pagan man who was sent there by the Emperor. Now it is very certain that our Lord Jesus had declared Himself to be King, but not an earthly king. As, in fact, we see that when the Jews wish to crown Him, He withdraws Himself and hides on the mountain. Still further He dulls the edge of that calumny, because it would have been a slander against the Gospel, if He had perverted the order and law-enforcement of the world. For He Who has come to call us all to the heavenly Kingdom and to make us sharers in it did not wish to abolish earthly kingdoms, since even they are sustained by Him and in His power. The Gospel, then, need not be blamed, saving that Jesus Christ had come to usurp any power or worldly authority. That is why He said to Pilate especially that His kingdom is not of this place.

In fact, what would happen if the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ were earthly? What would we gain by hoping in Him, since our condition is so miserable in the world? Unbelievers have a much better lot than we, concerning the afflictions which we must endure. True it is that the chastisements of God have effect everywhere and that those who wish it as much as they possibly can do not cease to be subject to many miseries and afflictions. But all the same let us always be ready for more rigid discipline. For God must begin His chastisements in His house and in His Church. If, then, our Lord Jesus were an earthly King, it would seem that we might be entirely alienated from Him. Further, suppose we had everything easy in this world and that by means of the Son of God we had here, as it were, a paradise, yet our life is only a shadow. Our happiness, then, would be very brief and frail. So we must surely know and be entirely persuaded that the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus is heavenly, in order that we may reach the life everlasting to which we are called. That, then, is how the Kingdom of Jesus Christ is perpetual, because it does not consist in anything which is of this world, here where everything is corruptible.

Let us learn, then, to bear patiently our adversities, knowing that they neither diminish nor impair at all the grace which was acquired for us by our Lord Jesus Christ. For indeed, these are aids to our salvation, as St. Paul shows in Rom 8:28. When we are despised and mocked by the world, that we have to suffer many reproaches, that we are hungry and thirsty, that our wings are clipped, that we are harassed from all sides; we must consider “So it is that God accepts us.” That is as if He said to us. “Look on high. Do not set your minds on what is in this world.” That, in summary, is what we have to observe. In fact, it is not without cause that our Lord Jesus wished to add as a confirmation that He was born and came into the world to speak the truth. Whoever has clearly heard it stops at the sound of His voice. By this we see that it is a doctrine of importance to know that the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ is not from this world. For if it had been a trivial sentence, He might have passed it quickly. But when He pronounced that He had come into the world to speak the truth, it is as if He wished to render us attentive, and that each one should meditate in his heart, and apply well his study to this doctrine. That is, that we be withdrawn from the world and from all creatures, in order to come to this heavenly King, and to seek in Him the spiritual benefits which are here communicated to us, in order that we might enjoy them according to the measure which He knows to be useful to us for our salvation. Indeed in all that we see to be of the summary of the Gospel, let us note particularly this word: that Jesus Christ came into the world to speak the truth, in order that we may come to the conviction from it, when we are attentive to His doctrine that we shall not be at all disappointed, since it is an entirely sure and certain thing that what He has promised He will bring to pass. When David wishes to be assured against all temptations, he says that the Word of God is as silver purified seven times and which has been well tried by fire. So as often as we shall enter into doubt about the promises of our Lord Jesus Christ, and as we shall be troubled and molested (as the devil also uses such craftiness in order to dishearten us and to make us lose courage), let us return to this testimony, that in any case our Lord Jesus appeared in the world in order to be to us a faithful witness. Let us wait today for Him to show in effect that it is not in vain that He gave us all these promises, because they are infallible. That, then, in summary, is what we have to remember.

Besides, when Pilate says, “What is truth?” let us note that it was not, as it were, through a desire to learn that he asked such a question, but it was, as it were, through spite and in mockery, as today this vice is seen in many. When we speak of the truth of God, we mean the doctrine of the Gospel. Saint Paul (in Ephesians 1) attributes to it this title in order that we may be able to distinguish it from all other knowledge. To be sure, if someone gives us all account of something which has happened, it is truth; but when God calls us to Himself, and He wishes to withdraw us from this world in order that we may arrive at the heavenly life, that is a truth which ought to be put in sovereign position and by comparison all the rest should be nothing. Now let us notice how the world bears reverence toward the doctrine of the Gospel. The wisest men in the world (who are considered to be such) are so blinded by presumption that when it is spoken of to them, “How now?” they say, “Have we lived such a long time in the world, and we should know the Gospel only and nothing else that exists. All of them, then, will be scandalized when it is said to them that the truth of God has been buried and that it is now necessary to guard it more closely. We hear how they scoff at that idea. So it was with Pilate. For inasmuch as he was sent by the Emperor to be his lieutenant in the country of Judea, it seemed to him that a great wrong was done to him when a truth was spoken of which was unknown to him. “And how so? Must we, then, act like idiots? Is there nothing but lies in us? Can we not discern between good and evil? And I who am appointed to office, who take the place of the Emperor, representing his person, must you reproach me just because I have not known what truth is?” This, then, is the intention of Pilate. He is inflated with pride like a frog and he does not wish to have the reputation of not knowing the difference between good and evil. In fact, we do not see that he waits for the answer of our Lord Jesus, but he throws in this word as if in spite, and leaves the place. Since it is so, then, let us be advised. If today there are many Pilates who refuse to be taught in the school of God and become teachable, as if they were already wise enough, may we not be hindered from placing ourselves under the obedience of faith, in order to accept what our Lord shows and proposes to us; that is, knowing that the truth does not grow in our minds, inasmuch as there is only vanity and falsehood there and we are plunged in darkness until our Lord draws us out of it. Let us recognize, then, that the truth surpasses all our senses and faculties and God must surely be our Master to keep us in it; also that we are little to receive what He shows us. May we hold this truth so precious that, when we shall have circled the heaven and the earth, and it seems that we have learned everything, we may know that it is only smoke and that it will prove ephemeral until we are founded upon this Word, Who is certain and immutable. That, then, in summary, is what we have to remember.

Now it is said, “As Pilate was seated upon his throne his wife commanded him not to condemn Jesus Christ, because she had been tormented by many dreams.” There is no doubt that God wished to testify to the innocence of Jesus Christ in many ways; as even by the mouth of Pilate (as already we have mentioned and as we shall see still more fully), not that God had not already concluded what ought to be done by His Only Son. So, since He willed that He be the Sacrifice to wipe out the sins of the world, Scripture had to be fulfilled. Yet our Lord Jesus also had to be proved righteous and innocent, in order that we might know all the better that He suffered the condemnation which was due to us and which we deserved, and that we might always look at our faults and sins in everything that is here told us of the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whereupon it is said, “Pilate desires to be able to acquit our Lord Jesus.” For although he had sovereign authority beyond appeal, still he was in a foreign country and with a mutinous people, though he had a garrison in the city, the sedition troubled him. That is why he wished to proceed by subtle and amiable means, in order that the people might be appeased. It is then said that he presents what was his custom, “At the feast of the Passover he released a prisoner whom the people willed.” He allows them to choose either Jesus Christ or Barabbas, who was (as says Saint John) a robber. The other Gospel-writers say that he was a well-known malefactor, who had even been a murderer, and had stirred up sedition and trouble in the city. He is a pest who should be detestable to everyone. Yet, nevertheless, the people cry, “Let us have Barabbas, and let him be pardoned, and let Jesus Christ be crucified.”

As for this custom of releasing a prisoner at the Passover, we see where men are led by their foolish devotions. For it surely seemed that the feast was so much better kept by delivering a prisoner, and that it was a service of God. Nevertheless, all that was only an abomination. For it is said that he who justifies the malefactor is just as blameworthy before God as he who punishes the innocent. There must, then, be a sense of equity in those whom God sent and established upon the throne of justice. For in arming them with His sword, He has not said to them, “Do what seems good to you.” He surely wishes that they have a fatherly care over the people and that they guard well against rising in cruelty to do wrong to others by abusing their credit and authority, but rather that they be humane and pitiful. However, evil-doers must be chastised, and so God commands it. But what do men do? They imagine they are keeping the feast of the Passover, when they are offending God and they are transgressing openly His Word. By that we ought to be admonished not to follow our fancies when it is a matter of honoring God, but to please His will in everything and by everything. So then, let us not conjure up any devotion according to what seems good to us, but let us be satisfied to do what God orders us to do and what He approves. We even see what this custom is, which men make law today, that everything that is received as a common statute seems to be lawful. Though that may be, God does not fail to condemn it. We see the abuse that took place, that this corruption brought about — that Barabbas was preferred to the Son of God.

Also at first, one might find it strange that our Lord Jesus is thus cried down and that a robber and murderer is more privileged than He, that he finds more favor among men, and that Jesus Christ has received such shame and disgrace. For was it not enough that the Son of God be crucified and that He endured a kind of death full of opprobrium and that furthermore there were great torments? For death by the cross was, as it were, the punishment of robbers. It was not only like the gallows would be today, but like the wheel. Would it not have been enough, then, that Jesus Christ, after having been whipped and spat upon in the face, should be plunged into the depths, with its being necessary by comparison to show Him to be execrable to all the world? For if we judge by our senses and we do not look beyond what appears, surely we shall be confounded, but we must raise our eyes higher by faith and come to what we have previously mentioned: namely, that God governs all this by His counsel. Let us not stop then with what the people did with Pilate, but let us contemplate this immutable decree of God: that to better humble us He willed that His Son be plunged into complete confusion and that He be put even below all the malefactors of the world, as He was crucified between two robbers, as we shall see later. That, then, is what we have to observe when it is here said that Barabbas had to be set free and Jesus Christ put there, as it were, the most detestable man in the world.

Pilate, even after all that, tries to make our Lord Jesus escape, but by a devilish means: namely, he whips Him (what was then called “chastise”) and wished to release Him after having thus chastised Him, as one who had committed some fault. For by that he pretended to quiet the people. Now if our Lord Jesus had thus escaped, what would have become of the Gospel, what would have become of the salvation of the world? For this “correction” as Pilate called it, might forever have been a mark of shame, as if the Gospel had been a wicked doctrine, since the judge of the country condemned it, and our Lord Jesus in His person would have been entirely rejected. Meanwhile we would have perished, since there was no other means to reconcile us to God, except by the death of His only Son. This, then, is the overture of life — the death of our Lord Jesus. So we see that the devil exerted himself very greatly that our Lord Jesus might not die at all. Yet who drove the Priests and their kind to pursue Jesus Christ to death, unless the devil? It is true, for he works, as it were, like a madman. According as we see that God sends a spirit of disturbance and of frenzy upon all wicked men so that they contradict themselves and are like waves of the sea which beat upon one another, so the devil was carried away when he tried to abolish the memory of our Lord Jesus on the one hand and then, however, wished to prevent the redemption of mankind. But God so worked that He willed that the innocence of His Son might have witness through the very mouth of the judge; however, He also willed nevertheless that He should die in order to make the sacrifice for our salvation and redemption. God has only a single and simple will, but it is admirable to us, and He has such strange ways of proceeding that we must bow our heads in awe and yet recognize that our Lord Jesus suffered, not at all according to the desire of men, but because we had to have such a gage of the infinite love of our God, and Jesus Christ had to declare it to us to show how precious our souls are to Him and how dear is the salvation of them to Him. Let us, then, consider all these things.

Besides, it is said at the end by St. John, although Jesus Christ had been whipped, the people strive still more by crying that He be put to death. Then Pilate questions Him again; indeed, because he heard that Jesus made Himself the Son of God, and this word touches him, and he is more frightened by it than before. That is why he asks Him, “Where are You from?” When Jesus Christ does not answer at all, “Do You not know says he, that I have power to release You or power to condemn You?” Now here we see why the Jews bring such an accusation against our Lord Jesus Christ. It is true that the crime which could better move the Governor of the country was having attributed to Himself kingdom and dominion; but when they see that their malice is discovered, and that Pilate well understands that they are only trumped-up lies, thereupon they say, “We have the law by which He ought to die.” For that privilege had been reserved for them, in order that they might not have any religious disputes. For the Romans, who were profane people and who served their idols only through ceremony, wished to maintain their empire by means of letting each one do according to his religion.

Whereupon they say, “He made Himself the Son of God and thereby He blasphemed.” It is true that, if our Lord Jesus had not been the Redeemer of the world, it would have rendered Him subject to the death penalty to make Himself the only Son of God. For we are all children of God when He has adopted us through His grace. That is the common manner of speaking of it in Holy Scripture. Those who have received some special grace are called “Sons of God” in still another manner, as Princes and Magistrates. With greater reason, then, Jesus Christ, Who was supremely anointed with graces and powers by the Holy Spirit, might well be called “Son of God.” But if He had not been Redeemer of the world at all and called Himself “Only Son of God” par excellence, that would truly have been a mortal crime. But how is it that the Jews accuse Him of that? It is first of all by ignorance of the Scripture, inasmuch as they do not know that He Who should be the Redeemer should be the living God manifest. Since, then, they did not have the real understanding of Scripture, and they were not trained in it, but they were made brutish by their indifference, that is why they are so bold to condemn Jesus Christ. Now we see a like temerity in all ignorant people. Today when they cry “Heretic” it is not that the proofs are on hand, but the most block-headed people are driven by such a rage that they wish to be zealots to honor God, and they know neither why nor how. Further, it was necessary to investigate whether Jesus was Christ the Messiah or not. But the Jews rejected Him without making any inquiry. Let us learn by that, if we wish to have a zeal which God approves, we must be ruled by true knowledge and be taught by His Word. For we may be able to skim the surface, but it will be only by wild arguments of Satan, if we do not speak as scholars of God’s truth; because He is the only competent Judge, and He reserves to Himself the office of showing us what is His will. Since it is so, then, let us follow the Word of God with simplicity, and also let us be peaceable. Then may our zeal be ruled by that. That is what we must observe in the first place.

But when it is said that Pilate feared more than ever to hear the Son of God spoken of, here we see in the person of a poor Pagan some semblance of religion which moves him, and stings him, and speaks to his conscience, so that he does not know which way to turn. There stands Jesus Christ entirely disfigured and with the marks of the whipping still upon Him. He had previously suffered so much reproach and ignominy, so many drops of spit, so many blows on the head which had been given to Him in the house of Caiaphas. Briefly, here is a man who is despised and rejected by everyone. Yet, nevertheless, the name of God moves Pontius Pilate and arouses in him fright and astonishment. What of us, then, when we behave like savage beasts? And when one wishes to speak to us of God, if we are not held in check at all, must not the example of Pilate condemn us even to the last day? We see today mockers, people full of the devil. If one proposes to them, “Look what God shows us,” if one declares to them His Word, if one wishes to prove what they reject; one thing is as good as another to them. They stop up their ears, they bind up their eyes, they are entirely preoccupied in their natural senses, and they are so proud that they would not even consider giving any audience. For they are satisfied as they are. “We have ordained it,” they say, “and so it must be done.” Indeed? However, here is Pilate who had never heard a single word of the doctrine of God, even the Law was to him in disdain, so that everything that the Jews do he considers to be something trumped-up, and he adores his idols. Yet the name “God” affects him, and he is held back when it is spoken of. Is it on account of some majesty or some pomp which he sees in Jesus Christ? Not at all. It is only the name “God” which draws him to reverence. How much, then, some people will be condemned by this fear of Pilate, when they follow their beaten path and no progress can be made among them, although the name “God” is spoken of to them, and not only as a word in passing, but offering to teach them and to show them with the finger the testimonies of Scripture! If they condescend neither to think about nor to apply themselves with any diligence, must not the devil possess them entirely? Must they not know that they are as it were monsters, who have abolished every germ of religion, inasmuch as they have made themselves obstinate against God, as it were, defying all nature? That, then, is what we have to remember.

Though that may be, on the contrary we also see that all the fears which men have, and all sentiment and apprehension they have to honor God, will be, as it were, only a flash of lightning which passes before their eyes and immediately vanishes. For how did Pilate fear God? We see that it does not grip him at all, that he only shows such a great pride, that it seems to him that God is no longer anything. That, then, is how all those who are not governed by the Spirit of God will have on the one hand some fears by which they are seized, so that they will humble themselves for a time before God, but they do not cease to raise their horns, then to forget, and to dull their consciences to do evil. As we see in Pharaoh that sometimes he is quite astonished. “And pray to God for me,.” he says. And when he sees the power of God so apparent, “Oh, it is the finger of God,” he says, “one must be subject to Him.” But soon after he is worse than ever. Thus, then, it was with Pilate. This admonishes us not to have any fears of God like gusts of wind, but to have a good root which remains firm in our hearts. For how is it that Pilate feared God? It is only to render him more inexcusable. That is why God awakens the sleeping consciences, which wish to reject every yoke, and He brings them back and incites them to think of themselves more closely, so that in spite of themselves they must recognize their poverty and feel their vices, although they wish to sleep in them. All the scruples, then, which condemners of God and all wicked men have — these are to be regarded as summonses which God issues to take away from them every excuse of ignorance. But then they slacken the reins, they throw themselves with abandon, and so they are in no wise held back — as we see in Pilate. At the beginning he is quite astonished, but soon afterwards he goes back to his natural self. “And do you not know,” he says to Jesus Christ, “that I have power to release you or to condemn you.” Here let us note first of all, if He had been a robber, nevertheless, he would not have been able to move a finger unless God had given him the power. How is it, then, that Pilate dares to assume such unbounded license as to condemn and to set free according to his desire and by virtue of his position? For it would be better that the check be released from all robbers and that they had liberty to exercise their cruelty in the forests than for people to sit on such an honorable throne — people who take pleasure in power without thinking of their consciences and meanwhile throwing the world into entire confusion. Here we see (as I have shown) that there was no living root in Pilate, but only a gust of wind. So then, let us learn to so fear God that there may be a firm constancy in us to walk in His obedience, and that we may fight virtuously against everything that could turn us aside, and that always this check may hold us back: that it is not fitting to provoke the wrath of Him Who has all power over us. That, in summary, is what we have to remember.

However, also there is to consider how the glory which Pilate attributes to himself is nevertheless a great shame upon him. For his enemies could have reproached him no worse than this: namely, that he wishes to he held and reputed to have no discrimination between good and evil. Nevertheless he boasts of it. We see, then, inasmuch as the despisers of God imagine themselves to be raised, they must always feel themselves to be further cast down in confusion. God puts in them such a sense of disapproval that they boast of their iniquities in order to render themselves detestable both in heaven and on earth. What, then, is to be done? Let us learn to glory in the good, and let us consider what is lawful for us. For those who glory in their greatness, it is certain that they provoke God, inasmuch as they have often acquired their riches and their credit by unlawful means, by excess, by cruelty, and all kinds of extortion’s. When, then, they glory in that, it is, as it were, by defying God. He who has plundered from all parts will say, “I have done well.” And there is the blood of poor people which he has sucked. He will say, “I have acquired it.” And how? By frauds, wicked practices, pillaging one, gobbling up another, and having perverted all order. The other through ambition and unlawful means will have arrived at some dignity. Whereupon he wishes to be held in awe. This is manifestly to defy God.

Let us learn, then, (as I have already said) to glory in what God approves. It is true that although there might be some good in us, it is not lawful to usurp the praise which God reserves to Himself, and on account of which we must pay Him homage, inasmuch as He has given us everything. It is not proper, then, here to glory in ourselves, as if what God gives us belonged to us. But I say we must glory only in that it pleased God to adopt us for His children, and inasmuch as He gives us grace to walk in fear of Him, inasmuch as He gives us power to abstain from evil. In that we must glory. Then, if we are little and contemptible according to the world, let us pray that He may give us patience, and that we may prefer to be in such an estate than to be raised and meanwhile to enjoy ourselves like worldly people do, who make merry in such a way that nothing can restrain them. This, in summary, is how we have to glory, that is, that we may not wish to be more than God allows us, and that we may despise everything He disapproves of, although the world may applaud those who exercise tyranny and who practice every evil to excess. Let us leave, then, easily and willingly all such glories, not seeking anything else except to be recognized and confessed before God as His children. That, in summary, is what we still have to remember.

In conclusion it is said, “Pilate, seeing that he was gaining nothing and that the tumult among the people was increasing, washes his hands and says, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this man.’” We have already declared that the innocence of our Lord Jesus had to be proved and it was testified to through the mouth of the judge himself. For when it is said that Jesus Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate and that He was condemned, it is not enough to have heard the account, but we must be fully aware that Jesus Christ not only is innocent, but that He is the fountain of all holiness and perfection. Why, then, is He condemned? There are here two different things, it seems. It is said that He is the Lamb of God without spot. Since He is the Lamb of God, He must be condemned for the sacrifice. The word “Lamb” implies that He is to be offered. And what does the Law pronounce of sacrifices? That they stand for sins and curses. That is why it is said that our Lord Jesus was accursed for our sakes, that is, that He received the curse which was due to our sins. This, then, is the quality and condition under which He is condemned, since God appointed Him as a lamb which must be offered in sacrifice. But also He had to be known without any blemish, and His purity had to come before our eyes, in order that we might understand our sins, as far as we have known that Jesus Christ is the mirror of all perfection; and that we might enter into examination of our faults to be displeased with them and to pass condemnation, which was prepared for us unless we had been delivered by Him. Now when Pilate took the basin and the water to wash his hands, it was far too frivolous a ceremony, as if he could be acquitted before God by that. But it was not to make his excuse before God when he tried to appease the fury of the people. For he did not protest before God that he was innocent, but he only said to the people, “Look to yourselves. As for me, I am innocent.” As if he said, “You force me to this.” But all that (as I have said) is not to excuse him. Also he is not performing at all the office of judge. For he ought sooner to die a hundred times than to swerve from his office. When he saw all the troubles of the world, he ought to have this magnanimity to do what he knew to be good and just. But when he sees the people to be so inflamed, he lets himself be carried away. However, it had to be, cursed as it was, that he testifies to the innocence of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that from his own mouth he justifies Him. Nevertheless, that does not excuse him from condemnation, but in that rests our consolation. For we know that if we should be brought before God today to appear before His throne, it would not be to receive condemnation; but since the fact that the blood of our Lord Jesus was spilled is the true purging of our souls, He receives us as pure and clean.

There, then, is where we. must have our recourse. However, we see the word which is pronounced by the Jews. For they are flung headlong in such a way by Satan that they say, “His blood be upon us and upon all our children.” Now they were the heritage of God, the people elected and chosen from among all the nations of the earth. Yet they renounce this dignity, and all the promises of salvation, this sacred alliance which God had established with their line. They are, then, deprived of all the benefits that God had previously distributed to them, inasmuch as they were descended from the race of Abraham. And the blood of our Lord Jesus had to fall upon them, indeed, to the confounding of them and all their descendants. As also He had previously declared to them,

“Your iniquity must come to the full, and the blood of the Martyrs, from Abel the righteous even to Zacharias son of Barachias, who was murdered not long ago, must be brought upon you, and you must see that you were always murderers of the Prophets, and by this means you have fought against God and against His Word.” (Mat 23:34-36, Luk 11:49-51, 2Ch 36:15-16.) That, then, is how the blood of our Lord Jesus, which ought to be the salvation of all the world, and indeed especially of the Jews, since the birthright belonged to them, cried vengeance against them. But now let us learn to look deep inside ourselves, and to pray to God that it may come upon us in another manner, both upon us and, in particular, upon our children; namely, may we be washed and cleansed, seeing that we are abominable before God on account of our sins until we are washed and we suffer that the blood which was once poured out for our Redemption come upon us and that thereby we are sprinkled by the power of the Holy Spirit (1Pe 1:2) (so says Saint Peter in his Canonical letter) and may we be careful not to reject the grace which is offered to us by God, of which the Jews have been deprived because of their ingratitude, and have done nothing but provoke more and more His vengeance. May we, then, today be disposed to receive the purging of our Lord Jesus Christ, which cannot be apprehended except by faith. May we pray to God that we may not have received this washing in vain, but from day to day may we be purified from all our blemishes. May it please our God to make the most of this purity which was acquired by our Lord Jesus Christ until we have arrived in His Kingdom, where we shall be freed from all corruption’s of our vices.

Now we shall bow in humble reverence before the majesty of our God.

John Calvin (1509-1564): Fourth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (06/36)

Fourth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ (06/36)
By
John Calvin (1509-1564)
Copyright: Public Domain

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Fourth Sermon on the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee? Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee. But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest. And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth. And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man. And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee. Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly. When the morning was come, all the chief priests and elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: And when they had bound him, they led him away, and delivered him to Pontius Pilate the governor. Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him that was valued, whom they of the children of Israel did value; And gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.Mat 26:67-75, Mat 27:1-10

As Saint Paul says that the preaching of the Gospel is odor of life to those whom God calls to salvation and odor of death to all reprobates who perish, also we have two noteworthy examples who are here proposed to us to show that the death and passion of the Son of God was to the salvation of one and pushed another into condemnation. For in the fall of Peter is seen the need which he had of being drawn out of the pit in which he was trapped. For while he was there he was banished from the Kingdom of heaven, he was alienated from all hope of salvation and cut off from the Church, as a rotten member. Nevertheless the death of our Lord Jesus did not fail to benefit him, although he may not have been worthy of it. As for Judas, it is said that, seeing that Jesus Christ is condemned, he is seized with despair. Now in this condemnation of our Lord Jesus (as we have said) one must take courage to hope in God. For we are absolved by virtue of the fact that our Lord Jesus was condemned. But it was necessary that we had here these two mirrors in order that we might be able so much the better to know that unless we are by special grace called to be sharers of the fruit of the death and passion of the Son of God, it will be useless to us. It is not enough, then, that our Lord Jesus Christ has suffered, but the good which He acquired for us must be communicated, and we must be put in possession of it. That is done when we are drawn to Him by faith.

But to better understand all this let us follow the thread of the history which is here narrated to us. It is said that our Lord Jesus was treated with every shame in the house of Caiaphas, that they spit in His face, that He was insulted and made fun of by calling Him “Prophet,” indeed in disgrace. Now that was in order that we might know that what He suffered in His person was to deliver us before God and before His Angels. For no one needs to spit in our face in order for us to bear many spots and blemishes before God. All of us are not only disfigured by our sins, but full of infection, and abominable. Besides, here is the Son of God, Who is His living image, where His glory and majesty shine, Who suffered such shames, in order that in His name now we can appear before God to obtain grace and that He may know us and own us as His children, and that all our stains and spots may be wiped away. That (I say) is what we have to consider in the first place.

Now we come to the fall of Peter. It is said, “A chambermaid, seeing him, accused him of being a disciple of Jesus. He denies it.” Another chambermaid returns. He denies it again. Then, more press him and make quite an issue of it. Then he begins to swear, and even to curse, and to use the form of execration. As if he said, “May I be damned, may I perish, may the earth swallow me up if I know Him.” There, then, is the fall of Saint Peter, and not one, but three which are so heavy and so enormous that we surely ought to be frightened reading this history. Now we know the zeal which was in him. Moreover, he had been praised by our Lord Jesus Christ, and the name of Peter had been given to him to note the firmness and constancy of his faith; he had been taught in such a good school. He had heard this doctrine: “Whoever will renounce Me before men, him will I also renounce before God My Father to disavow him from Me.” Yet we see how he stumbles. Each one, then, ought surely here to have occasion to tremble. For unless we are sustained from on high, the weakness of Peter was no greater than ours. So, in the first place, we see how frail men are as soon as God has let go with His hand. For this is not spoken of some mocker, of some profane man, of someone who had never heard a particle of the Gospel, who had no fear of God, and who had borne no reverence to our Lord Jesus Christ. It is entirely the contrary. For there were already some excellent gifts in Peter. It had been said to him from the mouth of the Son of God, “Flesh and blood have not revealed to you these things, but My Father.” It is, then, the Spirit of God which dwells in Peter. Yet how little he resists renouncing our Lord Jesus! A chamber-maid! If a man had assailed him, or if it had been some honorable person who had assailed him, there might have been some excuse. But we see that it required only a chamber-maid to make him give up hope of life and of salvation.

Let us contemplate, then, in the person of Peter, that it is very necessary that God strengthen us each minute of time. For it is impossible to persevere otherwise. Although we may have tried to draw near to God, and though we may have done many deeds of virtue, all the same at the least little turning of the hand we shall be entirely changed unless God continues to give us invincible constancy. Let us learn, then, to practice the admonition of Saint Paul, “Let him who stands take heed lest he fall.” It is true that we cannot maintain ourselves. But let us have recourse to Him Who has the means. However, let us walk in all humility. As Saint Paul says in the other passage.

“Since it is God Who gives the will and the deed and He does it by His good pleasure, be advised (says he) to work out your salvation in fear and trembling.” (Php 2:13; Php 2:12 b.) As if he said that all presumption surely ought to be beaten down, and indeed all indifference. When we see what necessity we have to be helped by God, and in so many ways, is it not right that we be on our guard, indeed that we do not presume at all on our own strength, but that we be solicitous to call upon God evening and morning, and to put ourselves in His keeping and leading?

That, then, is what we have to observe in the first place. It is even very necessary for us to assume that the temptations, although they may not be large, will have soon overwhelmed us, unless God by His grace works on it and He remedies it. And those who imagine themselves to be the most hardy, when they are far from blows, find themselves, as it were, lost if there is only a little wind that blows. It is true that if God assists us, we shall persevere, however great storms arise. For we know the figure of speech that our Lord Jesus Christ drew: that a building with a good foundation and built of good material, although there comes a great torrent, always remains whole; but what is built upon sand will soon go away in decay. So then, when we shall be founded upon our God and He will extend to us His strong hand, we shall surely be able to sustain great and very rough alarms. But although there may not be any enemy who fights us, yet we shall be conquered immediately when God withdraws from us or lets go of our hand, as we see in Peter.

But it is still worse that it is not only once that he denies the Lord Jesus. But he repeats it as many times as he is questioned. We see that it did not matter at all to him that he was going from bad to worse, even until he adds execration, as it were, asking that God may curse him and swallow him up. When we see that, let us know that he who has fallen, instead of wanting to be raised soon, will plunge himself ever more deeply into ruin, until he completely perishes in it, unless God remedies it. This is the condition of men. From the beginning they make themselves believe that they are marvels in their own power. Yet our Lord shows by experience that it is nothing, and that only a little wind blows, and they are beaten down. Still they are persuaded that they can stand up again. But on the contrary they only augment their evil, adding fault upon fault, overflowing still more with preposterous deeds. If Saint Peter had been tempted a hundred times in a day, he would have renounced Jesus Christ a hundred times, and a thousand besides. That is where he would have been unless God had had pity on him. But He spared him, and did not wish to prove him further. Yet the three falls mentioned here are enough to show a dreadful example, and it ought to make our hair stand up on end when we see that for the third time Peter so forgot himself and that he was as senseless as a brute to renounce his salvation. Besides, we must always observe that if still other temptations had come upon him, he would have resisted them no better and he would have been put into the most profound depths unless God had spared him that much.

That, then, is how we have to profit from this doctrine. Now we do not hear these things in order to judge Peter and to condemn his cowardice. To be sure, we cannot do it justly, but if it is necessary in the first place to receive instruction, may we know our weakness, may we even know that we can do nothing at all, may we not be inflated with pride, attributing to ourselves by foolish opinion some virtue. However, may we also know, since the devil has so many means to plot our ruin, he would soon put an end to us, since St. Peter fell without his making any appearance. Then finally, let us know that our Lord Jesus has pity on us when He does not permit us to be tempted without limit. For it is certain that always so much more evil would be uncovered, and that there would be no end, unless we were held back by His goodness. These are all the things we have here to observe.

However, it is said, “Peter, after having heard the cock crow (as St. Luke tells) after Jesus Christ looked at him, went outside and wept bitterly.” By this conclusion it is shown us (as I have already mentioned) that the death and passion of our Lord Jesus has already produced its effect and its power in that Peter has been raised from such a horrible fall. For is it not a miracle that God had pity on him and that he still obtained mercy after having committed such a detestable fault? We have declared that he could not have the excuse of ignorance, as if his fault of having renounced Jesus Christ were small. For it had been said and pronounced to him that if he did not make confession of his faith and give testimony before men he would deserve to be entirely cut off before the Angels of God and that his name be erased from the book of life. However it does not matter to him that he sells this miserable and frail life by so villainous and so strange a renunciation. Indeed, he is not yet even led before the judges. He is not questioned to the limit. There is only a chamber-maid who speaks to him. When they might already have been rude to him, and well so, he had fought only as a poor ill-starred creature. Nevertheless, he did not forget all fear of God. When, then, we see that, let us think how much more necessary it was for us that God displayed the infinite treasures of His goodness, when He still made Peter sharer of the fruit of the death and passion of His Son.

It is, then, a miracle which ought to enrapture us, that Peter obtained remission for such a great offense, indeed, as it appears, by his repentance. For it is certain that if a man is touched to the quick, after having failed, and he moans and wails before God to obtain pardon, it is a sign that God has already received him, and that He has reconciled him to Himself. For also repentance is a peculiar gift proceeding from the Holy Spirit, Who shows us that God has pity on us and that He does not will that we perish. But He draws us to Himself. Now we see that in Peter. It follows, then, that already the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ was profitable to him, indeed, in a marvelous way, as I have already said. But in the first place let us note that St. Peter always remained sleepy and stupid until he received the sign of which our Lord Jesus Christ has warned him, that is, that the cock would not crow until he renounced Him three times, or better, that the cock would not crow for the second time unless Peter had already made his renunciations. Since it is so, then, that if he had not been warned by our Lord Jesus Christ he would have remained there in his sin and he would be forever plunged into perdition, let us know that we need to be solicitous after we have committed some fault. For if we were deprived of the grace of God and He did not exhort us to return to Him, it is certain that we would be preoccupied by Satan and all our senses would be brutalized so that we would have neither any scruple nor good movement to return to the way of salvation.

That, then, is what we must contemplate further in the person of Peter. But when Saint Luke tells that Jesus Christ looked at him, through that we are so much better taught that it is not sufficient to be stung and that someone tug on our ears to make us return to God, but Jesus Christ must cast His glance and His look upon us. Now it is true that it is here spoken of only the look of the eyes. However our Lord Jesus does not converse with us in a visible manner. Yet it is certain that until He has cast His glance upon us we shall always be blockheaded dullards in our faults and we shall never think to moan and wail, although we may have provoked the wrath of God. Although He may have His bow bent and His sword unsheathed, we shall always remain in our indifference until our Lord Jesus has made us feel that He has not forgotten us and that He is not willing that we perish, but wishes to draw us back to Himself. And that it may be so, we hear daily sermons, by which we are exhorted to repentance. And how are we touched by them? There are as many admonitions as there could be. Does not all creation incite us to come to God? If our senses are well ruled so as to have some particle of prudence, when the sun rises in the morning, does it not call us to adore our God? After that, if we notice how the earth and all elements perform their offices, the beasts and the trees, that shows us that we must draw up to our God, in order that He may be glorified in us, and that we may not think of doing otherwise. The cock, then, has well crowed, and not only the cock, but God makes all his creatures above and below to crow to exhort us to come to him. What is more, He surely deigns to open His sacred mouth through the Law, through His Prophets, and through the Gospel, to say, “Return to me.” However, it is seen, as it were, that we are dull-witted. Such a stupidity is seen in us that we are, as it were, monsters. It is very necessary, then, that our Lord Jesus regard us in pity, as He did Peter, in order to draw from us true wailing’s to give testimony of our penitence. For when it is said that Peter wept bitterly, it is to note the sorrow of which Saint Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians, when he says that it works toward salvation (2Co 7:9-10) and that we ought not to flee it but that we even ought to seek it. Although naturally we wish to enjoy ourselves and not to experience any nuisance, yet we must have some melancholy. As when God touches us with anguish, we must be tormented in our hearts after having offended Him. For such unrest is to lead us to real rest and such sorrow is to make us rejoice both before God and before Angels.

Soon we shall well see that Judas repented, but it is in another and diverse fashion. But as for Peter, he wept to show that he was greatly displeasing in his sin and he has fully returned to Jesus Christ. Let us note also that “he went out to weep.” It is true that it still proceeded from his weakness, that he feared to show his repentance before the crowd. But though that may be, when he, weeps alone, he well shows that he is touched by his fault and offense. For he does not seek men to witness his repenting, but being alone, he weeps before God. That is also how we must do it. For if we weep only before men, by that we show our hypocrisy. But when each one has collected his thoughts, and he examines his faults and sins, if he is then touched with anguish, it is a sign that there is no make-believe in him, and that he knew his Judge, and that he is there to ask pardon, and he well knew that it is the office of God to draw back from the depths those who are already, as it were, damned and lost. That, then, in summary, is what we have to remember from the account here given of the fall of Peter, and concerning these three renunciations, by which he had deserved to be cut off from the Kingdom of God, unless Jesus Christ had already displayed the power of His death and passion in order to draw him to repentance, as we see that it came to pass.

Next it is said, “The priests and governors took counsel to condemn Jesus.” But because that was not in their power, they led Him bound and tied to the governor who had jurisdiction over the country, that is, Pontius Pilate. After that the Gospel tells that Judas repented, seeing that Jesus Christ was condemned, and threw down the money which he had received as the price and payment for his betrayal and completely confessed his fault. However the Priests are not willing to receive the money, but it buys a potter’s field, where there had been some tile-making so that the field was useless and could be neither cultivated nor seeded. They buy, then, this field to bury passers-by. Indeed, they do it under cover of some devotion. For they said that it was not lawful that this money be put with the offerings of the Temple. Whereupon the Gospel-writer says what was said by the Prophet was fulfilled, that the thirty denarii, by which God had been appraised by the people of Israel, could be used for the pottery. We have here to consider what was already begun, that is, that the death and passion of our Lord Jesus does not bear fruit in all men, because it is a special grace that God gives to His elect when He touches them by His Holy Spirit. Although they have fallen, He raises them. Although they have gone astray like wandering sheep, He corrects them and extends to them His hand to bring them back to His fold. For there is Judas who is entirely cut off from the number of the children of God. It is even necessary that his condemnation appear before men and that it be entirely obvious.

So let us learn (following what I have already mentioned) to know in everything and by everything the inestimable goodness of our God. For as He declared His love toward mankind when He spared not His Only Son but delivered Him to death for sinners, also He declares a love which He bears especially toward us when by His Holy Spirit He touches us by the knowledge of our sins and He makes us wail and draws us to Himself with repentance. The entrance, then, that we have to come to our Lord Jesus Christ does not proceed from us, but it is inasmuch as God governs us and it pleased Him to show His election. And these circumstances are good to note. Behold Judas who had been a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ. He had done miracles in His Name. Yet what is the issue of it? May we, then, learn to fear and to walk in solicitude, casting ourselves entirely upon our God; and may we pray that He may not permit us to fall into such confusion as this miserable wretch. And even when we have fallen, that He may raise us again by His power, and that we may return to Him; not with such a repentance as that of Judas, but with a true and right confession. For the wicked mock God as much as they can. They are pleased in their sins. They even take glory in them, and in the end they become as shameless as prostitutes, as it is said by the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Besides, in the end God makes them feel their sins, and they are in such fright that they fret and cry “alas!” But it is not in order to conceive some hope and to present themselves to God. Rather it is a fury which drives them. They flee as far as possible and they would like to pull down God from His throne. It is only a matter of fretting and of gnashing their teeth in complete rebellion against Him.

Now we surely must come to another kind of repentance; that is, not that we be frightened, seeing that we cannot escape the judgment and the hand of God; but that we confess our sin, and detest it; and next that we do not cease to draw near to God, indeed, being summoned before Him without being drawn to Him by force; but that of our own good pleasure we come to do Him homage, and to confess that we deserve to perish; nevertheless, being assured that although we deserve a hundred thousand deaths, He will not, however, cease to have pity on us. That was the repentance of Peter. But that of Judas ought to show us that it is not sufficient to have some feeling of our faults and some scruple, but we must be fully converted to God. This is very noteworthy, because we see how many, and nearly all, flatter themselves. When they have made confession in a word of their faults, however grievous they are, it seems to them that they are free and clear, as if all they had to do was to wipe their mouths. And even if some instance is mentioned to them, they imagine that they are done a great wrong. “Why?” they say, “Have I not recognized my fault? Have I not done penitence?” That is all the payment they make, as if God were a little child Who was appeased by some laughter, even a false laughter which is full of hypocrisy and lying. But since it is common among men that they wish to appease God I do not know how all, so it is said that Judas repented. Let us fear, then, when God admonishes us and He makes us feel our faults, but let us not stop everything there. For that is not properly repentance. But here is the test by which we can know whether we are truly repentant or not. It is when of our free will we seek complete accord with God and we do not flee being judged by Him, indeed, provided that He receives us in mercy. This is what He will do after we plead guilty. For he who will judge himself in order to plead guilty before God, before Angels, and before men will be justified and absolved, since he asks only that God may be favorable toward him. That then, in summary, is what we have to observe.

Now this confession of Judas had to be made in order to render the Priests all the more inexcusable. Also the Gospel-writer gives this account so that we may contemplate so much the better the blindness that Satan had put into all these reprobates, and that each one may think of himself. When God proposes to us such examples of His wrath and of His vengeance and He shows that men are, as it were, mad, that they are depraved of sense and of reason, that they are (briefly) brutish to fling themselves with an infernal fury; it is in order that each one of us may bow his head and that each one of us may know that we could often come to that, unless we were preserved by the goodness and grace of our God. However, let us be advised not to fight against our own consciences as the Priests did. For all those who so harden themselves against God in the end will fall into such a reprobate condition that they will no longer have any reason in them. Even after being thus undone before God, they will also cease to be at all ashamed before men. For it is a good thing that their baseness is shown to all and that they be put in such disgrace that everyone may be horrified by their villainy.

That, then, is why the Gospel-writer has here related to us that when Judas came to pay back the money, the Priests were not at all moved by it. It is true that they do say that it is not lawful to put it into the coffer of the treasury, but that it is the price of blood. That is how hypocrites always guard well I do not know what appearances to make a shadow and a covering for their iniquities. But this in only mocking God. For they never come in integrity and openness to Him. For what is there to say? “Oh, we shall not put this money with the sacred oblations, because it is the price of blood.” Then this money, had it been stolen? It is known that the Priests lived on the oblations of the Temple. As today in the Papacy those who are called Prelates and people of the Church gobble up the oblations and do not care for what purpose they apply them. Although the Priests had drawn from the oblations of the Temple the money which they had given to Judas, it does not matter to them; they have no regard. Now they make an issue of putting this money back into the coffer of the oblations. By which means they repulse Judas, as it were, by mockery, and as if they said, “Perhaps this wicked man has betrayed his master. We have only to determine whether be has done good or evil. Yet in order that we may not be sharers in his offense on our part, and in order to keep our hands clean (since they had used this money for such a purpose) we shall buy with it a field for the burial of strangers.” Indeed, to say that they have surely satisfied God and that He might not know how to ask more, though there was some fault in what they did.

That is how hypocrites will always have their satisfactions, thinking to buy their way out, but this is only child’s play. Yet let us know that this is recited to us in order that we may learn when we have fallen to recognize our faults in truth and not to make circuits from one side or from another, but in everything and by everything to frankly bear condemnation. That, then, is what is shown to us. Meanwhile, let us pray to God that He remove from us the blindfold Satan is trying to put on in order that we may not croak on our flatteries, wishing to excuse evil, but that more and more we may take the trouble to examine well all our vices to condemn them and to make an upright confession of them. Besides, we see also how God overthrows the opinion of hypocrites, that in the end they remain frustrated by what they had pretended. For the Priests had surely wished to erase their fault and that no one might ever mention it. That is why they pretend when they buy a field for the burial of strangers. But God turns that entirely to the contrary of their intention. For this field must be called “field of blood” or “field of murder.” That memorial must be perpetual and it remains forever on the mouths of men, women and little children, so that this detestable crime which had been thus committed by the Priests is daily known and manifest, and they say, “Behold, the field of blood, that is, the field that was bought with the price of betrayal. And who did it? The Priests and the chiefs of all the people.” So then, we see when hypocrites try to hide themselves in their crimes and to disguise themselves, that God uncovers their villainy all the more and causes their shame to be known by all men and that everyone hold them in detestation. That is why I have said it is all the more necessary that we be advised to come to God and there to uncover all our offenses, in order that it may please Him to bury them before Him, before His Angels, and before all the world, when we have thus recognized them on our part.

Finally the Gospel-writer cites a passage from the Prophet to show that this is not recited only on account of the sin of Judas, or on account of the devilish obstinacy of the Priests, but on account of the condemnation of all people in general. He says, then, “What was written by the prophet has been fulfilled, that God was appraised at thirty denarii and that was applied on a potter’s field.” Now Zechariah, from whom this passage is drawn, compares our Lord Jesus Christ to a Shepherd, and says that wishing to govern the Jewish people, He had taken His staff, or His shepherd’s crook, which was called “Beauty,” in order to say that He had a condition so well ordered that it was possible among those people, indeed, that He might be allowed to be led by the hand of God. For is there anything more desirable? And that it may be so, where is our sovereign joy and bliss, unless God cares for our salvation and He performs the office of shepherd among us? That, then, was a government of God in those people, when it is spoken of this rod, not of a staff which is to strike and break everything, but to lead and govern peaceably the sheep which become docile. Now it is said that again He took a second rod. As in fact, when the people have been returned from the captivity of Babylon, God has then gone back to His position as shepherd. After such a horrible dissipation as had existed previously, He gathers in the people to govern them peaceably under His hand. But in the end there was such villainous ingratitude that God had to quit everything. So He says, “Oh, I see what it is; I need not lose My time or My trouble with you.” He speaks here in the common fashion of men. “Let us get on the march at once. Pay me, that I may go away.” Whereupon they brought Him thirty denarii. “What?” says He, “is this the reward and the payment I get from you?” For when He speaks of thirty denarii, He considers the oblations which they made in the Temple. They were (since they used them in hypocrisy without faith and without repentance) only vain ceremonies which, nevertheless, the Priests and the Jew’s prized highly. As today the Papists, when they have done many “holies” and all their beautiful devotions, it seems to them that God is almost indebted to them. Now God says all that is only rubbish. “How,” says He, “have I gained from your having gone through it? Perhaps that is the payment for a shepherd, I am much obliged to you. Oh, oh, no! I have nothing to do with it. Go, throw that in the pottery, and may you decorate the mouths and handles of your pots with it! Go! I am leaving you. Use that in your tile.” As if He said, “If it rains in your Temple, fix it yourselves. As for Me, I no longer have any part or portion with you. I wish you would go away. And do not think to appease Me here by bringing Me, as it were, the payment of a scoundrel. I do not approve at all of any of it.” That, then, is what the Prophet, in summary, has intended.

Now we know that what was predicted of our God then, was fulfilled in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is our true God manifest in the flesh. So it was necessary that in a visible manner this passage be verified, and that Jesus Christ was appraised at only thirty denarii, that is, that the people showed such villainous ingratitude toward Him, Who was the Eternal Shepherd, Whom God had established over His people. It is certain that since the people had left being governed by God, also our Lord Jesus always performed the office of Mediator, indeed, although He had not yet appeared in human flesh. We must remember this well, in order that we may learn on our part, if God has exercised the grace to receive us, as it were, under His hand, and we are His flock, and He gives us our Lord Jesus Christ for a Shepherd, not to sting Him so that His Spirit is saddened and wearied by our acts of rebellion and ingratitude. Also may we not throw Him any bouquets of flowers (as they say in common proverb), but since He gives Himself to us, may we cling to Him as our God and King, may we dedicate our whole lives to Him, and may we not bring Him a payment that He rejects; but may we present to Him both our souls and our bodies. For it is also very right that He should have all preeminence over us and that He possess us entirely, when we see that He seeks only our salvation. 

Now to end it and come to the conclusion, it is said, “Our Lord Jesus having been led before Pilate answered nothing. Pilate asked him, saying, ‘Do you not speak at all? Do you not see the witnesses they have brought here against you?’ And he held his peace, so that the judge marveled greatly.” In the first place we have to keep in memory, when our Lord Jesus Christ is judged before, an earthly judge, that it was in order that we might be exempt and absolved from the condemnation which we deserved before the heavenly Judge. We know that we cannot escape what is written by the Prophet Isaiah, that every knee must bow before God. (Isa 45:23.) Since God is the Judge of the world, how can we subsist before His face and before His majesty? There is not one of us who is not constrained to condemn himself a hundred thousand times. When we have lived only a year in the world, there are already a hundred thousand faults, by which we deserve to be condemned. There is no one who has not this testimony engraved upon his heart, and who is not convinced of it. Now God, Who sees much more clearly than we, how will He not condemn us when each one is constrained to condemn himself, indeed, in so many ways? But here our Lord Jesus is subjected to this extremity of being accused before an earthly judge, even before a profane man, before a man who was pushed only by his greed and his ambition. When, then, the Son of God is humiliated to that extent, let us know that it is in order that we may be able to come with heads raised before God, and that He may receive us, and that fear may no longer cause us to draw back from His judgment-seat, but that we may dare to approach it boldly, knowing that we shall be received there in mercy. We even know that Jesus Christ acquired authority and power and sovereign dominion to be Judge of the world. And when He is thus condemned by Pilate, it is in order that today we may come boldly to Him, indeed, knowing that power is given to Him to judge us. Since He stood there, may we know that He wished to bear our condemnation and that He did not intend a trial to justify Himself, also knowing well that He had to be condemned, indeed, in our person. For although He was without spot or blemish, He bore all our sins upon Himself. We need not be astonished, then, that He stood there as if He had been convicted. For otherwise He could not have performed the office of Mediator except by accepting sentence and confessing that in our persons He had deserved to be condemned. That, then, is what the silence of our Lord Jesus Christ implies, in order that today we can call upon God with full voice, and that we can ask Him for pardon for all vices and offenses.

Now let us bow in humble reverence before the majesty of our God.