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What concern have we in the sins of the day wherein we live? – John Owen

March 27, 2011 Comments off

Discourse III

Question. What concern have we in the sins of the day wherein we live?

Answer. All sins may be referred to two heads:— First, Irreligion. Secondly, Immorality.

First. Irreligion; and that may be reduced to two heads, — atheism and false worship: you may add, also, particularly, the contempt of all instituted worship. It takes up much of the sins against the first table; however, at present I shall only speak of the first of them:— As to atheism, then, it may be no age can parallel that wherein we live, considering all the ways whereby the atheism of man’s heart may discover itself. For, take it absolutely, and in the seat of it, it is found only in the heart of man; unless some one or other prodigious instance breaks out sometime, as we have had in our days: but otherwise, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” The heart is the seat of atheism. But we consider the ways whereby this atheism may and doth manifest itself:—

(1.) By horrid, cursed, blasphemous swearing; which is a contempt of the name of God. And when did it ever more abound in this nation?

2.) By reproaching of the Spirit of God. Perhaps this is the peculiar sin of the nation at this day; and that the like hath not been known or heard of in any nation under the sun.

(3.) By scoffing at all holy things; — at the Scriptures, — at every thing that carries a reverence and fear of God; so that a man who dares profess a fear of God in what he doth, makes himself a scorn.

(4.) Contempt of all God’s providential warnings is another proof of atheism. Never had a nation more warnings from God’s providence, nor ever were they more despised. These things, brethren, are not done in a corner; they are perpetrated in the face of the sun. The steam of them darkens the whole heaven, and they abound more and more every day.

Secondly. Shall we go to the other head, — namely, Immorality, — and see how it is there? It would be an endless thing, to go over the sins that reign among us: oppression, blood, uncleanness, sensuality, drunkenness, — all to the height, raging and reigning in the nation. I mention these things as a matter to be bewailed before the Lord by us this day; and we ought to be affected with the consideration of them.

Unto this great prevalency and predominancy of sin in the whole nation, there is added a strange and unspeakable security. The truth is, men were a little awakened one while in the nation. When the judgments of God — the pestilence, the fire, the sword, and the year after, another warning from heaven — were upon us, then there was a little awakening, like a man out of a dead sleep, that lifts up his head, and rubs his eyes for a time. But I can say this, that it is now towards forty years since God enabled me to observe something in the world; and, to my knowledge, I never observed this nation in that state of security wherein it is at this day. For, even in former times, there were warnings continually that God had a controversy with the nation; and those that had any fear of God spake one to another about it; and we saw and found their warnings were not in vain.

But here is now a general security. Men complain of straits, want, poverty, and the like; but as to any thing wherein God hath to do with the world, either my observation doth greatly deceive me, or I never saw, I think, so general a security as at this day in this nation. And this security hath reached us all, — even the churches of God themselves.

These things are matter of fact. The whole question is, Whether we are greatly to be concerned in these things or not? “They are the sins of wicked men, and they are the sins of the persecutors of God’s people, and the like; and what have we to do with them?”

The psalmist of old said, that “rivers of waters ran down his eyes, because men did not keep the law of God.” And you know that God doth set a special mark upon those, not that are free from the abominations of the age, but upon those that mourn for the abominations that are in the midst of us. It will not be enough for us, that we are free from those abominations, unless we are found to mourn for them. Brethren, our own hearts know we are guilty in this matter, and that we had need seek the face of God this day to give us a deeper sense of these things than we have obtained.

The name of God is blasphemed, the Spirit of God reproached, a flood of iniquity spreads itself over the nation, the land of our nativity, over the inheritance of Christ, over a nation professing the reformed religion; — all things go backward, — every thing declines. Indeed, brethren, if you will not, I do acknowledge here before you, and to my own shame, I have great guilt upon me in this matter, that I have not been sensible of the abominations of the nation, so as to mourn for them and be humbled for them, as I ought to have been. And you will do well to search your hearts, and consider how it is with you; — whether indeed you have been affected with these things; or whether you have not thought all is well, while all hath been well with yourselves and families, and, it may be, with the church, that may have no trouble upon that account. The security that is upon the nation is dismal; and, I may say, I see no way or means whereby the nation should be freed from this security. The conduct of the ministry, which they are under generally, is not able to free them from this security; nor the dispensation of the word: [so] that it seems to be a security from God to lead on the nation to judgment; the means for the removal of it and the awakening of us being laid aside.

And if it comes this way, or that way, any way, though we see not the morning of it, you will find yourselves concerned in it. — “Who may abide the day of his coming?”

We may do well, brethren, to consider the state of the church of God in the world, among ourselves, and our own condition. I need not tell you how it is in the world; but this I can say, that to my apprehensions, the interest of Christ and the gospel was never so fast going down in the world since it came into it, as at this day. I will give you my reason of what I say: When the gospel was first planted and brought into the world, the devil was not able to bring the church into its apostasy, under six, or seven, or eight hundred years, and that by degrees. Since the time of the Reformation, the church was progressive for about seventy years; it stood at a stay about the same proportion of time; and ever since, it hath been going backward, straitened in all places: the power of it decays, and the peace of it is taken away, and destruction everywhere seems to lie at the door.

Many, indeed, are in great misery and distress: some I have heard of lately sold for slaves, for the testimony of their conscience. How is it with the church of Christ in this nation? Truly, some [are] in great poverty, in great affliction, in great distress; and I am afraid we and others have not hearts to relieve them, as we ought to do, in a due manner: however, let us help them with our prayers.

And that which is worst of all, there seems to me, I must acknowledge it, to be a very great decay in all churches of Christ in the nation, especially among those of us who have had most peace, most prosperity. That which we call zeal for God is almost quite lost among us. Some of us have almost forgot whether there be such a thing as the cause and interest of Christ in the world. We who have cried and prayed about it, and had it upon our hearts, have sat down in our narrow compass, and almost forgot there is such a thing as the interest of Christ in the world, so as to have an active zeal for the ordinances of God according to rule, as God requires of us. Our primitive love, — how is it decayed! Value of the ordinances of Christ, and the society of his people for edification, — how cold are we grown in these things! How little is the church society upon our hearts, which some of us remember when it was the very joy of our souls! Truly we have reason to lift up our cry to God, that he would return and visit the churches, and pour out a new, fresh, reviving spirit upon them, that we fall not under the power of these decays till we come to formality, and God withdraws himself from us, and leaves us; which he seems to be at the very point of doing.

Then, brethren, let us remember our own church; that God would in an especial manner revive the spirit of life, power, and holiness among us; that he would be pleased to help the officers of the church to discharge their duty, and not suffer them to fall under any decay of grace or gifts, unfitting of them to the discharge of their office to the edification of the church; that he would give them also to beware and take heed of formality as to the exercise of gifts in their administration; and that he would take care of us, since we are apt to fall under these things. Let us pray that we may be acted by the Spirit of God, and enlivened by the grace of God, in all things we do.

Have any of us any particular occasions in reference to temptations, trials, and troubles? — we may bear it upon our hearts to the Lord this day. This is much better than by multiplying a company of formal bills. The Lord help us to know the plague of our own hearts, and to be enabled to plead with the Lord, upon this opportunity, for grace and mercy to help us in every time of need!

Source: Several practical cases of conscience resolved

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The old man must be killed, not “rehabilitated” – Philpot

March 19, 2011 Comments off

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John 3:6

There is no promise made that we shall be set free in this life from the in-being and the in-working of sin. Many think that they are to become progressively holier and holier, that sin after sin is to be removed gradually out of the heart, until at last they are almost made perfect in the flesh. But this is an idle dream, and one which, sooner or later in the case of God’s people, will be rudely and roughly broken to pieces. Nature will ever remain the same; and we shall ever find that the flesh will lust against the spirit. Our Adam nature is corrupt to the very core. It cannot be mended, it cannot be sanctified, it is at the last what it was at the first, inherently evil, and as such will never cease to be corrupt till we put off mortality, and with it the body of sin and death. All we can hope for, long after, expect and pray for, is, that this evil nature may be subdued, kept down, mortified, crucified, and held in subjection under the power of grace; but as to any such change passing upon it or taking place in it as to make it holy, it is but a pharisaic delusion, which, promising a holiness in the flesh, leaves us still under the power of sin, whilst it opposes with deadly enmity that true sanctification of the new man of grace, which is wrought by a divine power, and is utterly distinct from any fancied holiness in the flesh, or any vain dream of its progressive sanctification.

Eze. 18:21-24 – Calvin commentary

January 23, 2011 Comments off

Eze 18:21  But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. Eze 18:22  All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live. Eze 18:23  Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live? Eze 18:24  But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doeth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doeth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die.

Eze 18:21  In this sentence God proposes the hope of pardon, and invites and exhorts to penitence all the transgressors of his law. But this doctrine is specially worthy of notice, that God extends his arms, and is prepared to meet and receive all who betake themselves to good fruits: for despair hurls us into madness, and then hardens our hearts by abandoned obstinacy. Hence it is necessary that God should extend his hand towards us, and animate us to penitence. This is the meaning of this passage of the Prophets, as soon as the impious is turned away from his impiety, God will be at peace with him. Now we see that no excuse remains for us if this humane invitation of God does not stir us up when he bears witness that he is propitious to us when we heartily desire to be reconciled to him. But he here requires serious repentance when he says, if the impious has turned away from his impiety, and has kept my statutes, and done justice and judgment, he shall live, says he. For a sort of half conversion is discerned in many who think that in this way they are safe before God, but they are greatly deceived; for many mingle virtues with vices, and imagine their guilt blotted out, if they can only bring forward something as worthy of praise. But this is just as if any one should offer muddy will to his master, because he had mixed it not only with dregs, but even with filth: so are all the works of those who do not put away all depraved desires, and strive to free themselves from all the corruption’s of the flesh. Thus what is here taught is worthy of notice, namely, that the beginning of conversion is, when any one renounces himself and his own lusts. But it is necessary to add another part of duty, that when any one bids farewell to his vices, he must devote himself obediently to God. The Prophet joins the two together, therefore, since one cannot be separated from the other. Hence the Spirit here shortly defines what true and legitimate conversion is. He says, that when any one is thus converted, that his life is prepared for God, since God will forget all his sins. This is a confirmation of the doctrine; for God cannot be entreated as long as he imputes our sins to us: hence, that we may determine him to be propitious to us, he promises, as soon as we repent, that all our sins shall be buried, and no longer come into remembrance. But this is the incomparable goodness of God, since he deigns to forget all our sins as soon as he sees us earnestly desirous of returning to him. On the whole, Ezekiel pronounces that all the penitent pass at once from death to life, since God blots out all their transgressions by voluntary oblivion. It afterwards follows —

Eze 18:24  As in the last lecture the Prophet offered to sinners a sure hope of pardon if they heartily repented, and promised that God would be propitious to them as soon as they shall seek reconciliation with him: so now, on the other hand, he pronounces, if the just shall decline from his justice, whatever he has hitherto done, shall not come into the account before God. He urged sinners to repentance when he assured them that God was prepared to pardon them: but he now frightens those who profess for the occasion to be pure and sincere worshipers of God, if they fall back in the midst of their course: as Paul says, Let him who stands take heed lest he fall. (1Co_10:12.) Besides, we gather from this passage, as Christ teaches, that those only are happy who persevere, (Mat_24:13;) since a temporary righteousness will never profit those apostates who afterwards turn aside from God. We see, then, how these two clauses unite together, namely, that God invites all who are in danger of perdition with extended arms, and promises them salvation if they heartily return to him. Again, that he may restrain within the bounds of duty those who have made some progress, and correct their sloth and stir up their anxiety, he threatens, that unless they pursue the course of a holy and pious life to the end, their former righteousness will not profit them. But here a question arises, Can a truly just person deflect from the right way? for he who is begotten of God is so free from the tyranny of sin that he devotes himself wholly to righteousness: and then if any do turn aside, they prove that they were always strangers to God. If they had been of us, says John, they would never have gone out from us. (1Jo_2:19.) And regeneration is an incorruptible seed: so we must determine that the faithful who are truly regenerate never fall away from righteousness, but are retained by God’s unconquered power: for God’s calling in the elect is without repentance. (Rom_11:29.) Hence he continues the course of his grace even to the end. Nor are they to be listened to, who, in contradiction to Scripture, teach that faith is extinct in the elect, when, through its barrenness, they bring forth no fruit. In what sense, then, does Ezekiel mean that the just fall away? That question is easily answered, since he is not here treating of the living root of justice, but of the outward form or appearance, as we commonly say. Paul reminds us that God knows us, but adds, that this seal remains. (2Ti_2:19.) God therefore claims to himself alone the difference between the elect and the reprobate, since many seem to be members of his Church who are only outwardly such. And that passage of Augustine is true, that there are many wolves within, and many sheep without. (227) For before God demonstrates his election, the sheep wander, and seem altogether strangers to the hope of salvation. Meanwhile many hypocrites make use of the name of God, and openly boast themselves pre-eminent in the Church, but inwardly they are wolves. But because it often happens that some make the greatest show of piety and justice, the Prophet very properly says, that if such fall away, they cannot boast of their former righteousness before God, since its remembrance will be blotted out. In fine, we see that the word righteousness is referred to our senses, and not to God’s hidden judgment; so that the Prophet does not teach anything but what we perceive daily: for those who seem to excel others desert their calling, shake off every yoke, and cast away the fear of God, and sometimes rush on with diabolical fury. When this result occurs we hear what the Spirit pronounces by the mouth of the Prophet, that none of their righteousness shall be taken into account. But weight is added to his words when he says, if you have turned aside from righteousness, and done according to all the abominations of the impious, (or wicked,) shall he live? For the Prophet separates those who desert God and rush into every wickedness from those who fall through infirmity or want of thought, and from those also who would fall headlong into ruin, unless God preserved them, yet do not utterly cast off his fear, and the desire of living piously and righteously. For example: every one is occasionally off his guard; and hence, in numberless ways, we offend God through error: and hence David exclaims, Who can understand his faults? (Psa_19:12.) We fall of our own accord, since we are often conquered by temptations, even when our consciences accuse us; so that, although sanctified, we decline from the path of uprightness through ignorance, and depart from duty through infirmity. But what is far worse, the saints sometimes rush headlong, as though utterly desperate. For the example of David shows that the elect, although regenerated by God’s Spirit, not only sin to a small extent, but, as I have said, plunge into the very lowest abyss. David became a perfidious homicide, and a traitor to the army of God; then that wretched king fell into a series of crimes: yet he failed in only one thing, and showed that God’s grace was only suffocated within him, and not altogether extinguished. For as soon as Nathan reproves him, he confesses that he had sinned, and is prepared to undergo any punishment which God may inflict. Since, therefore, the saints sometimes fall, the Prophet here stretches forth his hand, lest they should despair, and bears witness that God does not reject them unless they turn aside from their righteousness and commit all the abominations which the impious do. By these words, as we see, he expresses a complete revolt, and he so mitigates the severity of the sentence, lest the minds of those who had only partially relapsed should despond. Now we see the meaning of this language: If he has done according to all the abominations of the wicked, shall he live? says he; all the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered, because he shall perish. Here the Prophet shows that: a mere temporary righteousness will not profit us unless we persevere unto the end in the fear of God. Here again the contrast is worthy of notice, because it enables us to refute a fiction which is current in the schools of the papacy. They say that guilt is remitted by God, but the punishment is retained. Now what says our Prophet? If the impious turn away from his impiety, I will no longer remember any of his iniquities. Here the papists thrust for-ward the foolish distinction, that God does not remember them as to their guilt, but he does as to their punishment. But what follows a little afterwards? If the just turn away from his justice, his justice shall not be taken into account. But if they do not come into the account as to merit, and yet do as to reward, what is the meaning of the passage? how will the Prophet’s meaning stand? But it is necessary thus to receive what the Prophet says; because, if the distinction of guilt and punishment avails, that of merit and reward will avail also. Hence it will follow, that as to merit God forgets all acts of righteousness; but as far as reward is concerned, they are remembered since they are not abolished. Since, then, it is sufficiently clear that the righteousness of the backslider is not taken into account, so as to lead him to hope for reward, it follows, on the other hand, that his sins are abolished not only as to guilt, but also as to punishment. It now follows — (227) Augustine. Comment, in Joh_10:16.

Self-righteous John Bunyan meets “three or four poor women talking about the things of God”.

January 14, 2011 Comments off

35. Another thing was my dancing; I was a full year before I could quite leave that; but all this while, when I thought I kept this or that commandment, or did, by word or deed, anything that I thought was good, I had great peace in my conscience; and should think with myself, God cannot choose but be now pleased with me; yea, to relate it in mine own way, I thought no man in England could please God better than I.

36. But, poor wretch as I was, I was all this while ignorant of Jesus Christ, and going about to establish my own righteousness; and had perished therein, had not God, in mercy, showed me more of my state of nature.

37. But upon a day, the good providence of God did cast me to Bedford, to work on my calling; and in one of the streets of that town, I came where there were three or four poor women sitting at a door in the sun, and talking about the things of God; and being now willing to hear them discourse, I drew near to hear what they said, for I was now a brisk talker also myself in the matters of religion, but now I may say, I heard, but I understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach, for their talk was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature; they talked how God had visited their souls with His love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil. Moreover, they reasoned of the suggestions and temptations of Satan in particular; and told to each other by which they had been afflicted, and how they were borne up under his assaults. They also discoursed of their own wretchedness of heart, of their unbelief; and did contemn, slight, and abhor their own righteousness, as filthy and insufficient to do them any good.

38. And methought they spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said, that they were to me as if they had found a new world, as if they were people that dwelt alone, and were not to be reckoned among their neighbours (Num. 23.9).

39. At this I felt my own heart began to shake, as mistrusting my condition to be  naught; for I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation, the new birth did never enter into my mind, neither knew I the comfort of the Word and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart. As for secret thoughts, I took no notice of them; neither did I understand what Satan’s temptations were, nor how they were to be withstood and resisted, etc.

40. Thus, therefore, when I had heard and considered what they said, I left them, and went about my employment again, but their talk and discourse went with me; also my heart would tarry with them, for I was greatly affected with their words, both because by them I was convinced that I *wanted the true tokens of a truly godly man, and also because by them I was convinced of the happy and blessed condition of him that was such a one.

41. Therefore I should often make it my business to be going again and again into the company of these poor people, for I could not stay away; and the more I went amongst them, the more I did question my condition; and as I still do remember, presently I found two things within me, at which I did sometimes marvel, especially considering what a blind, ignorant, sordid, and ungodly wretch but just before I was; the one was a great softness and tenderness of heart, which caused me to fall under the conviction of what by Scripture they asserted; and the other was a great bending in my mind to a continual meditating on it, and on all other good things which at any time I heard or read of.

42. By these things my mind was now so turned, that it lay like a horse leech at the vein, still crying out, Give, give (Prov. 30.15); yea, it was so fixed on eternity, and on the things about the kingdom of heaven, that is, so far as I knew, though as yet, God knows, I knew but little; that neither pleasures nor profits, nor persuasions, nor threats, could loosen it, or make it let go his hold; and though I may speak it with shame, yet it is in very deed a certain truth, it would then have been as difficult for me to have taken my mind from heaven to earth, as I have found it often since to get it again from earth to heaven.

* “want” = “lack”

Source: Grace abounding to the chief of sinners

True grace may ebb and flow, but never die – Joseph Caryl

July 18, 2010 Comments off

Job’s complaint ended in the former chapter: in this a hot dispute began. Job having cursed his day, as was indeed a wounding, such as almost at every word, drew blood; and was not only a rod upon his back, but a sword at his heart. Job was wounded first by Satan, he was wounded a second time by his wife, a third time he was wounded (not as it is spoken in the prophet, “in the house of friends, but) in his own house by his friends. these last wounds are judged by all good physicians, in soul afflictions) his deepest and sorest wounds.

Everyone who faileth or declineth or falleth off from what formerly was,or held forth, is therefore an hypocrite or hat his graces are false, and but pretences; there may be many declining’s and failings, many breaches and backsliding’s, and yet the spirit upright. Indeed, falling away and quite falling off, are an argument of insincerity and hypocrisie.; for true grace is everlasting grace, true holiness, endures forever. Therefore we are here to consider whence these failing were occasionined in Job, and how a failing maybe exprest, and continue so, as to conclude insincerity or hypocrisy.

First, it was from a sudden perturbation, not for a settled resolution. Job was not resolvedly thus impatient and unruly: an unexpected storm hurried his spirit so violently, that he was not master of his own actions; Job had not his affections at command, they got the bridle (as it were) on their necks, and away they carried him with such force, that he was not able to stop or stay them.

Secondly, it came from the smart and sense of pain in his flesh, not for the perverseness of his spirit. If the taint had been in his spirit, then Eliphaz, had a ground, a certain ground to have argued thus against him.

Thirdly, Job’s graces were hid and obscured, they were not lose or dead; the acts were suspended, the habits were not removed; when grace which hath been shewed, is quite lost, that grace was nothing but a shew of grace, painted fear, and painted confidence; but in Job’s case there was only a hiding of his graces or a vail cast over them.

Last we must not say, he falls from grace who falleth into sin; nor must it be concluded that he hath no grace who falls into a great sin: it follows not, that grace is false or none, because it doth not work like itself, or because it doth not sometimes work at all. True grace works not always uniformly; though it be always the same in itself, yet is is not always the same in its effects; true grace is always alive, yet it doth not always act, it retains life when motion is undiscerned Wherefore they who not work like themselves, or do not work at all (for a time) in gracious ways, are not to be concluded as having no grace, or nothing but a shew of grace.

Vol 2 Chaptaer 1

The spiritual feelings of believers and hypocrites compared

March 22, 2010 Comments off

Ralph Erskine

The Difference between the Pleasant Spiritual Impressions peculiar to true Believers, and those which Hypocrites may have in the Ways of Religion.

1. True and saving impressions are sociable; they accompany one another and go hand in hand together: for example holy fear does not cast out love nor love cast out fear: holy triumph in the Lord does not take away trembling at his presence; nor holy trembling take away triumph: joy does not destroy godly sorrow for sin; nor godly sorrow remove spiritual joy: faith does not destroy repentance; nor repentance destroy faith: the man’s humility does not destroy his boldness before God; nor his boldness of access destroy humility. His low thoughts of himself does not destroy his high thoughts of Christ; nor his high thoughts of Christ destroy his low thoughts of himself: his self-diffidence does not destroy his holy confidence; nor his holy confidence destroy self-diffidence. Nay, instead of destroying one another, they advance and harmoniously help and forward one another.—Whereas the hypocrite’s joy destroys his sorrow; his faith and false confidence destroys and excludes his repentance; his fear destroys his love; and his pretended love to God destroys his fear of him: one good impression he has, destroys another; they cannot keep company together. Whereas spiritual impressions in believers excite and quicken one another.

2. True and saving impressions are unlimited and unstinted; the good frames of hypocrites stinted and limited; insomuch that they rest satisfied without their attainments: so far they go, and reckon they need go no farther, if they think they have so much as will keep them out of hell, or bring them to heaven.

But true believers have restrained measures of grace: whatever holy impressions are made upon them, they still desire more, and more, and more; pressing after consummate perfection: “I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” Phil. 3:13.3. True and saving impressions are habitual impressions; they are like the believer’s daily bread: though a man be not always eating or drinking, yet the taking of food for the nourishment of the body, is a man’s daily habitual activity: so though the believer be not always under a divine impression, or in a spiritual frame of mind, but has his variations, yet he is habitually in this activity; and if any days pass wherein he is destitute of these meals, they are to him as days of famine, and spiritual scarcity; his soul pines and languishes, and is uneasy for the lack of what it would be according to his desires. Whereas hypocrites can be quite easy in the lack of these things, without ever giving a longing look towards the Lord for his returning to them. But the believer dies when he experiences penury and deprivation: these are his melancholy days, his sighing days, till he recover all again, by the Spirit of the Lord returning, and reviving his heart, and restoring his soul. It is true, the established believer learns, in the absence of perceptible enjoyments, to live by faith on the Son of God— indeed, but still that faith gives many a long look for the Lord’s returning to its sweet and sensible embraces.

4. These impressions, in believers, are not only habitual, but natural. If the hypocrite can have any such impressions, they are not natural to him, they are not his element; he has no new nature corresponding thereto: and therefore he cannot endure to be long under any good and spiritual impressions because his carnal unrenewed recoils against it. His carnal mind, being enmity against God, and he is content that the impressions be gone. But to a child of God, these impressions are natural: they are his new nature, his element; they are like the very breath of his new nature; natural to his sanctified part, as breath is to his body: yea, so natural to him, that they are like a part of his life, and the removal of them is like death to him: and hence, when under these sweet and heavenly impressions, he is disposed to give, as it were, a charge to all the world, to beware of disturbing him, and bereaving him of his joy: “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that you stir not up nor awake my Love till he please,” Song 2:7.

In a word, the hypocrite and the godly differ in their motions and affections, as the motion of a clock differs from the sun; the one moves by art, the other by nature: the hypocrite’s motions and impressions are like artificial clockwork, under the influence of the common operations of the Spirit, working upon him by some outward means and providences: but the impressions of believers are natural, under the influence of the Spirit dwelling in them: and whatever secondary purposes outward providences and ordinances may have for advancing them, yet they are the fruits of the special operation of the Spirit that is in him, “as a well of water springing up to eternal life.” So that their impressions differ as much as a land flood, that quickly dries up, being only maintained with rain from the clouds, differs from a living spring, which is never altogether dried, even when the flood is abated.

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What Is A Biblical Christian?

December 29, 2009 Comments off

by Albert N. Martin

There are many matters concerning which total ignorance and complete indifference are neither tragic nor fatal. I am sure that there are few of us who can explain all the processes by which a brown cow eats green grass and gives white milk but we can still enjoy the milk! Many of us are totally ignorant of Einstein’s theory of relativity, and if we were pressed to explain it we would really be in difficulty. And not only are we ignorant of Einstein’s theory but most of us are quite indifferent; yet our ignorance and indifference are neither tragic nor fatal.

There are some matters, however, concerning which ignorance and indifference are both tragic and fatal. One such matter is the answer to the question, “What is a biblical Christian?” In other words, according to the Scriptures, when does a man, woman, boy or girl have the right to the name “Christian”?

One must not make the assumption lightly that he or she is a true Christian. A false conclusion at this point is tragic and fatal. Therefore I want to set before you four strands of the Bible’s answer to the question, “What is a biblical Christian?”

1. According to the Bible, a Christian is a person who has faced realistically the problem of his own personal sin.

One of the many things which distinguishes the Christian faith from the other religions of the world is that Christianity is essentially and fundamentally a sinner’s religion. When the angel announced to Joseph the approaching birth of Jesus Christ, he did so in these words, “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15, “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” The Lord Jesus Christ himself says in Luke 5:31-32, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” A Christian is one who has faced realistically the problem of his own personal sin.

When we turn to the Scriptures, we find that each one of us has a two-fold personal problem in relation to sin. On the one hand, we have the problem of a bad record and, on the other hand, the problem of a bad heart. If we start in Genesis 3 and begin with the tragic account of man’s rebellion against God and his fall into sin, then trace the biblical doctrine of sin all the way through to the Book of the Revelation, we see that it is not oversimplification to say that everything that the Bible teaches about the doctrine of sin can be reduced to these two fundamental categories -the problem of a bad record and the problem of a bad heart.

What do I mean by “the problem of a bad record”? I am using that terminology to describe what the Scriptures set before us as the doctrine of human guilt because of sin. The Scriptures tell us plainly that we obtained a bad record long before we had any personal existence upon the earth: “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

When did the “all” sin? We all sinned in Adam. He was appointed by God to represent all of the human race. When he sinned, we sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression. That is why the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” Man was created without sin in the Garden of Eden; but from the moment Adam sinned, we too were charged with guilt. We fell in him in his first transgression and we are part of a race that is under condemnation.

Furthermore, the Scriptures teach that after we are born, additional guilt accrues to us for our own personal transgressions. The Word of God teaches that, “There is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20); and every single sin incurs additional guilt. Our record in heaven is a marred record. Almighty God measures the totality of our human experience by a standard which is absolutely inflexible. This standard touches not only our external deeds but also our thoughts and the very motions of our hearts -so much so, that the Lord Jesus said that the stirring of unjust anger is the very essence of murder, and the look with intention to lust is adultery (Matthew 5:22,28).

God is keeping a detailed record. That record is among “the books” which will be opened in the day of judgment (Revelation 20:12). In those books are recorded every thought, every motive, every intention, every deed, and every dimension of human experience that is contrary to the standard of God’s holy law, either failing to measure up to its standard or transgressing it. We have the problem of a bad record -a record according to which we are guilty. We have real guilt for real sin committed against the true and the living God. This is why the Scriptures tell us that the entire human race stands guilty before Almighty God (Romans 3:19).

Has the problem of your own bad record ever become a burning, pressing, personal concern? Have you faced the truth that Almighty God judged you guilty when your father Adam sinned, and holds you guilty for every single word you have spoken contrary to perfect holiness, justice, purity and righteousness? He knows every object you have touched and taken contrary to the sanctity of property. He knows every word spoken contrary to perfect, absolute truth. Has this ever broken in upon you, so that you have awakened to the fact that Almighty God has every right to summon you into his presence and to require you to give an account of every single deed contrary to his law which has brought guilt upon your soul?

But this problem of a bad record is not our only problem. We have an additional problem -the problem of a bad heart. The Bible teaches that the problem of our sin arises not only from what we have done, but from what we are. When Adam sinned, he not only became guilty before God, he also became defiled and polluted in his nature.

This defilement is described in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” Jesus describes it in Mark 7:21: “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts”; and then he names all the various sins that can be seen in any newspaper on any given day -murder, adultery, blasphemy, pride. Jesus said that these things rise out of an artesian well of pollution, the human heart. Notice carefully that he did not say, “For from without, by the pressure of society and its negative influences, come forth murder and adultery and pride and theft” That is what our so-called sociological experts tell us. They say it is “the condition of society” that produces crime and rebellion; Jesus says it is the condition of the human heart.

Each of us by nature has a heart that the Scriptures describe as “desperately wicked,” a fountain of all forms of iniquity. Romans 8:7 asserts, “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Paul does not say that the carnal mind, that is, the mind that has never been regenerated by God, has some enmity; he calls it enmity itself: “The carnal mind is enmity against God.” The disposition of every human heart by nature can be pictured as a clenched fist raised against the living God. This is the inward problem of a bad heart -a heart that loves sin, a heart that is the fountain of sin, a heart that is enmity against God.

Has the problem of your bad heart ever become a pressing personal concern to you? I am not asking in theory whether you believe in human sinfulness. You might agree that there are such things as a sinful nature and a sinful heart. My question is, have your bad record and your bad heart ever become matters of deep, inward, pressing concern to you? Have you known anything of real, personal, inward consciousness of the awfulness of your guilt in the presence of a holy God? Have you seen the horrible ness of a heart that is “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked”?

A biblical Christian is a person who has in all seriousness taken to heart his own personal problem of sin. The degree to which we may feel the awful weight of sin differs from one person to another. The length of time over which a person is brought to the consciousness of his bad record and his bad heart differs. There are many variables, but Jesus Christ as the Great Physician never brought his healing virtue to anyone who did not know himself to be a sinner. He said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). Are you a biblical Christian -one who has taken seriously your own problem of sin?

2. A biblical Christian is one who has seriously considered the divine remedy for sin.

In the Bible we are told again and again that Almighty God has taken the initiative in doing something for man, the sinner. The verses some of us learned in our youth emphasize God’s initiative in providing a remedy for sinful man: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son”; “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”; “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us” (John 3:16; 1 John 4:10; Ephesians 2:4).

A unique feature of the Christian faith is that it is not a religious self-help scheme where you patch yourself up with the aid of God. Just as surely as it is a unique tenet of the Christian faith that Christ is the only Savior for sinners, so it is also a unique tenet of the Christian faith that all of our true help comes down from above and meets us where we are. We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; God in mercy breaks in upon the human situation and does something which we could never do for ourselves.

When we turn to the Scriptures, we find that God’s divine remedy has at least three simple but profoundly wonderful focal points:

(a) First of all, God’s remedy for sin is bound up in a Person. Anyone who begins to take seriously the divine remedy for human sin will notice in the Scriptures that the remedy is not in a set of ideas, as though it were just another philosophy, nor is it found in an institution, but it is bound up in a Person: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son”; “And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (John 3:16; Matthew 1:21). Jesus himself said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The divine remedy for sin is bound up in a Person, and that Person is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ -the eternal Word who became man, uniting a true human nature to his divine nature, Here is God’s provision for man with his bad record and his bad heart; a Savior who is both God and man, the two natures joined in the one Person for ever. If your personal problem of sin is ever to be remedied in a biblical way, it will be remedied only as you have personal dealings with the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Such is the unique strand of the Christian faith: the sinner in all his need, united to the Savior in all the fullness of his grace; the sinner in his naked need, and the Savior in his almighty power, brought directly together in the Gospel. That reality is the glory of God’s Good News to sinners!

(b) Secondly, God’s remedy for sin is center in the cross upon which Jesus Christ died. When we turn to the Scriptures we find that the divine remedy in a unique way is centered in the cross of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist uses the Old Testament image of the sacrificial lamb when he points to Jesus and says, “Behold! The Lamb of God who take. away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus himself said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

True preaching of the Gospel is so much centered in the cross that Paul says it is the word or message of the cross. The preaching of the cross is “foolish ness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). When Paul came to Corinth -a center of intellectualism and pagan Greek philosophy -he did not follow their prescribed patterns of rhetoric but said that he “determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

The cross is not to be thought of as an abstract idea or a religious symbol; the meaning of the cross is what God declares it to mean. The cross was the place where God, by imputation, heaped the sins of his people upon his Son. On that cross there was substitutionary curse-bearing. In the language of the apostle Paul, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13), and “He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The cross is not a nebulous, indefinable symbol of self- ; on the contrary, the cross is the monumental display of how God can be just and still pardon guilty sinners. At the cross, God, having imputed the sins of his people to Christ, pronounces judgment upon his Son as the representative of his people. There on the cross God pours out the vials of his wrath unmixed with mercy until his Son cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46).

At Calvary, God is demonstrating in the visible world what is happening in the invisible, spiritual world. He shrouds the heavens in total darkness to let all mankind know that he is plunging his Son into the outer darkness of the hell which your sins and my sins deserve. Jesus hangs on the cross in the posture of a guilty criminal; for him society has but one verdict: “Away with him” “Crucify him” “Hand him over to death” -and God does not intervene. In the theater of what men can see, God is demonstrating what he is doing in the realm where we cannot see. He is treating his Son as a criminal. He is causing Jesus to feel in the depths of his own soul all of the fury of the wrath that should be vented upon us.

(c) Thirdly, God’s remedy for sin is adequate for all men, and it is offered to all men without discrimination. Before we have any felt consciousness of our sin, it is very easy to think that God can forgive sinners. But when you and I begin to have any idea at all of what sin is, our thoughts are changed. We see ourselves as little worms of the dust, creatures whose very life and breath are held in the hands of the God in whom “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

We begin to take seriously that we have dared to defy the God who consigned angels to everlasting darkness when they rebelled against him. We con fess that this holy God sees the effusions of our foul, corrupt human hearts. Then we say, “0 God, how can you be anything other than just? If you give me what my sins deserve, there is nothing for me but wrath and judgment! How can you forgive me and still be just? How can you be a righteous God and do anything other than consign me to everlasting punishment with those angels that rebelled?” When we begin to feel the reality of our sin, forgiveness becomes the most stubborn problem with which our mind has ever wrestled. It is then that we need to know that in a Person, and that Person crucified, God has provided a remedy adequate for all men and offered to all men without discrimination.

If any conditions were placed on the availability of Christ we would say, “Surely I don’t meet the conditions; surely I don’t qualify.” The wonder of God’s provision is that it comes in these unfettered terms: “Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” Isaiah 55:1); “The one who comes to me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37).

See the beauty of the free offer of mercy in Jesus Christ. We do not need God to step out of heaven and tell us that we, by name, are warranted to come; we have the unfettered offer of mercy in the words of his own Son, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

3. A biblical Christian is one who has wholeheartedly complied with the terms for obtaining God ‘s provision for sin.

The divine terms are two: repent and believe. Of Jesus’ earliest ministry it is recorded, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). After his resurrection Jesus told his disciples that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). The apostle Paul testified “to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

What are the divine terms for obtaining the divine provision? We must repent, and we must believe. Although it is necessary to discuss these as separate concepts, we must not think that repentance is ever divorced from faith or that faith is ever divorced from repentance. True faith is permeated with repentance, and true repentance is permeated with faith. They inter-penetrate one another in such a way that, whenever there’s a true appropriation of the divine provision, you will find a believing penitent and a penitent believer.

What is repentance? The definition of the Shorter Catechism is an excellent one: “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension (that is, laying hold) of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.”

Repentance is the Prodigal Son coming to his senses in the far country. Rather than remain at home under his father’s rule, he had asked to receive his inheritance early and left home for a far country, where he squandered it. Reduced to misery through his sins, he came to himself and said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants'” (Luke 15:17-19).

When the Prodigal Son recognized his sin he did not sit there and think about it, write poetry about it, or send telegrams home to Dad. The Scripture says, “And he arose and came to his father” (v 20). He left those companions who were his friends in sin; he abhorred everything that belonged to that life-style and turned his back on it. What was it that drew him home? It was the confidence that there was a gracious father with a large heart and with a righteous rule for his happy, loving home. He did not write saying, “Dad, things are getting rough down here; my conscience is giving me fits at night. Won’t you send me some money to help me out, or come and pay me a visit and make me feel good?” Not at all! He did not need just to feel good; he needed to become good. So he left the far country.

It is a beautiful stroke in our Lord’s picture when he says, “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (v 20). The Prodigal did not come strutting up to his father, talking about making a decision to come home.

There is a notion today that people can walk up an aisle, pray a little prayer, and do God a favor by making their decision. This has nothing to do with true conversion. True repentance involves recognizing that I have sinned against the God of heaven, who is great and gracious, holy and loving, and that I am not worthy to be called his son. Yet when I am prepared to leave my sin, turn my back upon it and come back meekly, wondering if indeed there can be mercy for me, then -wonder of wonders! -the Father meets me, and throws his arms of reconciling love and mercy about me. I say, not in a sentimental way but in all truth, that he smothers repenting sinners in forgiving and redemptive love.

But the father did not throw his arms around the Prodigal when he was still in the hog pens and in the arms of harlots. Do I speak to some whose hearts are wedded to the world and who love the world’s ways? Perhaps in your personal life, or in relation ship to your parents, or in your social life where you take so lightly the sanctity of the body, you show what you really are.

Maybe some of you are involved in fornication, or in heavy petting, or in looking at the kind of stuff on television and in the movies that feeds your lust, and yet you name the name of Christ. You live in the hog pens and then go to a house of God on Sunday. Shame on you! Leave your hog pens and your haunts of sin. Leave your patterns and practices of fleshly and carnal indulgence. Repentance is being sorry enough to quit your sin. You will never know the forgiving mercy of God while you are still wedded to your sins.

Repentance is the soul’s divorce from sin, but it will always be joined to faith. What is faith? Faith is the casting of the soul upon Christ as he is offered in the Gospel. “But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name” (John 1:12). Faith is likened to drinking of Christ, for in my soul-thirst I drink of him. Faith is likened to looking to Christ, and following Christ, and fleeing to Christ. The Bible uses many analogies and the sum of all of them is this: in the nakedness of my need I cast myself upon the Savior, trusting him to be to me all that he has promised to be to needy sinners. Faith brings nothing to Christ but an empty hand, by which it takes Christ and all that is in him. What is in Christ? Full pardon for all my sins! His perfect obedience is put to my account. His death is counted as mine. The gift of the Spirit is in him. Adoption, sanctification and ultimately glorification are all in him; and faith, by taking Christ, receives all that is in him. “You are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God -and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

What is a biblical Christian? A biblical Christian is a person who has wholeheartedly complied with the divine terms for obtaining the divine provision for sin. Those terms are repentance and faith. I like to think of them as the hinge on which the door of salvation turns. The hinge has two plates, one that is screwed to the door and the other that is snowed to the jamb. They are held together by a pin, and on that hinge the door turns. Christ is that door, but none enters through him who does not repent and believe.

There is no true hinge made up only of repentance. Repentance that is not joined to faith is a legalistic repentance. It terminates on yourself and on your sin. Likewise, there is no true hinge made up only of faith. Professed faith that is not joined to repentance is a spurious faith, for true faith is faith in Christ to save me not in but from my sin. Repentance and faith are inseparable, and “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). The unbelieving are named among those who “shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

4 A biblical Christian is a person who manifests in his life that his claims to repentance and faith are real.

Paul preached that men should repent and turn to God and do works consistent with repentance (Acts 26:20). God intends that there should be such works: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Paul says in Galatians 5 that faith works by love. Wherever there is true faith in Christ, genuine love to Christ will be implanted. And where there is love to Christ there will be obedience to Christ. “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me…He who does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:21,24). We are saved by trusting Christ, not by loving and obeying Christ, but a trust that does not produce love and obedience is not true saving faith.

True faith works by love, and that which love works is not the ability to sit out on a beautiful starlit night and write poetry about how exciting it is to be a Christian. True faith works by causing you to go back into your home and to obey your father and your mother, or to love your husband or wife and children as the Bible tells you to do, or to go back to your school or to your job to take a stand for truth and righteousness against all the pressure of your peers.

True faith makes you willing to be counted as a fool and crazy -willing to be considered out dated -because you believe that there are eternal, unchangeable moral and ethical standards. You are willing to believe in chastity and the sanctity of human life and to take your stand against premarital sex and the murdering of babies in mothers’ wombs. For Jesus said, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

What is a biblical Christian? It is not merely one who says, “Oh, yes, I know I am a sinner, with a bad record and a bad heart. I know that God’s provision for sinners is in Christ and in his cross, and that it is adequately and freely offered to all. I know it comes to all who repent and believe.” That is not enough.

Do you repent and believe? And if you profess to repent and believe, can you make that profession stick -not by a life of perfection, but by a life of purposeful obedience to Jesus Christ?

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, “Jesus said, “but he who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). In Hebrews 5:9 we read, “He be came the author of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” 1 John 2:4 says, “He who says, ‘I know him,’ and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him”

Can you make your claim to be a Christian stick from the Bible? Does your life manifest the fruits of repentance and faith? Do you possess a life of attachment to Christ, obedience to Christ, and confession of Christ? Is your behavior marked by adherence to the ways of Christ? Not perfectly -no! Every day you must pray, “Forgive me my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me.” But at the same time you can also say, “For me to live is Christ” or, in the words of the hymn,

Jesus I my cross have taken All to leave and follow thee.

A true Christian follows Jesus. How many of us are true, biblical Christians? I leave you to answer in the deep chambers of your own mind and heart.

But remember, answer with an answer that you will be prepared to live with for eternity. Be content with no answer but one that will find you comfort able in death, and safe in the day of judgment.

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