Archive for the ‘Self-examination’ Category

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


What are the most certain evidences and pledges that we have cordially and sincerely received Christ, and returned unto God? – John Owen

March 20, 2010 Comments off

Discourse II

Question. Seeing the act of closing with Christ is secret and hidden, and the special times and seasons of our conversion unto God are unknown unto most, what are the most certain evidences and pledges that we have cordially and sincerely received Christ, and returned unto God?

Answer. I do acknowledge the inquiry is very large, and such as we may be straitened in, through the abundance of it. I shall only speak plainly some few things that to me are an evidence of a sincere closing with Christ, and receiving of Christ, — such as I know have been of use unto some.
First. When there is a permanency and abiding in the choice we have made of Christ, notwithstanding opposition against it that we shall be sure to meet withal. I do not speak to the nature of the choice, or the means of it, — how the mind is prepared for it; but I speak unto the poorest, the weakest of the flock, that may be inquiring whether they have made a sincere choice of Christ or not: I say, they may try it by the permanency and abiding in their choice against opposition.
And there are two sorts of oppositions that will try us and shake us, as to our choice, as I have found it, if I have had any experience of these things — 1. Opposition from charges of the guilt of sin and the law. 2. Opposition from temptations unto sin:—
1. There will, even after sincere believing and closing with Christ, be many a heavy charge brought against a soul from the law, and the guilt of sin in the conscience. Now, in such a case, the inquiry is, What the soul abides by when it is shaken? Why, truly, if a man go only upon mere convictions, on such shaking impressions of the guilt of sin, he will be very ready and inclined in his own mind to tack about to some other relief. He puts out fair for his voyage, — the storm arises, — the ship will not carry him; — he must tack about for another harbour. I have known it so with some; and experienced, when the wind hath set very strong that way with myself, — when the guilt of sin hath been charged with all its circumstances, — the soul hath been very hardly able to keep its hold, yet notwithstanding resolved, “I will trust to Christ:” but it hath been tacking about to self again, — “I must remedy this, — have relief for this from myself; I cannot abide by it, and live wholly upon Christ; and when the storm is over, then I will out to sea again.” I say, this is no good sign to me when things are so; but when a soul in all those charges that sometimes come upon it abides the issue, — “Here I will trust upon Christ, let the worst come upon me;” — this I call a permanency in our choice against opposition. I hope you have experience of it.
2. There must be a permanency in our choice of Christ against temptations unto sin, as well as against the charges from sin. Truly, the former — of abiding with Christ against the charges from sin — is our daily work: it is sometimes more high and pressing, but it is our daily work. But there are also temptations unto sin, — it may be to the neglect of our duty, or to a compliance in any evil way (which we are subject unto while in the body); and perhaps great sins. Here Joseph’s reply, applied to Christ, is that which doth argue our choice of Christ to be sincere, — “How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” When the soul can draw a prevailing argument from that, “How shall I do this, and relinquish my Lord Christ?” — “I will not do this against him whom I have chosen,” — this is a good argument, if frequently reiterated, that our choice of Christ is sincere.
Secondly. Growing up in a love unto the person of Christ is a great evidence to me of a sincere choice of Christ. It is a blessed field that is before me, but I shall but hint things unto you. When the soul hath received Christ, it cannot but study Christ; and though it is no argument against the sincerity of a man’s faith and grace, that he doth principally regard the offices and graces of Christ, and the benefits we have by him, yet it is an argument against the thrift and growth of it: for a thriving faith and grace will come to respect principally the person of Christ. I mean this; — when the soul studies the person of Christ, — the glory of God in him, — of his natures, the union of them in one person, — of his love, condescension and grace; and the heart is drawn out to love him, and cry, “Doubtless I count all things but loss and dung for the excellency of Christ Jesus my Lord.” “What is thy beloved more than another beloved?” “My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand; he is altogether lovely.” To see an excellency, a desirableness in the person of Christ, so as to grow in admiration and love of him, is to me an evidence that, when all fails besides, will greatly support the soul, and persuade it that its choice is true. Nay, it is one of the most spiritual evidences; for I much question whether an unregenerate man can love Christ for his own sake at all. But it is a good sign of growth, when our love to the person of Christ grows, when we meditate much upon it, and think much about it. I could show you wherein the beauty of Christ’s person doth much consist; but I have not time now to do it.
Thirdly. Another evidence to me of the soul’s having made a sincere choice of Christ is, when it continues to approve, judge well of, and every day more and more to see, the glory, the excellency, the holiness, the grace, which is in the way of salvation by Jesus Christ; approves of it as not only a necessary way, — a way it has betaken itself to, because it must unavoidably perish in any other way, — but when it approves of it to be a most excellent way, in pardoning sin freely through the atonement he hath made, and the imputation of his righteousness unto us, — while the righteousness, the holiness, and the grace of God in all this is glorified. Saith the soul, “What a blind, wretched creature was I, that I did not see an excellency in this way before! It is better than the way of the law and the old covenant. I approve of this way with all my heart. If all other ways were set before me, and made possible, I would choose this way, of going to God by Jesus Christ, as the best way, — that brings most glory to God and most satisfaction unto the creature, and is most suited to the desires of my heart, I would have no other way. ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life,’ says Christ; and this I will abide by, whatsoever becomes of me,” replies the soul; “though I should perish, I will abide by it, since God hath given me such a discovery of the glory of saving sinners by Christ, that is inferior to nothing but the glory of heaven. I see that glory to God in it, — that exaltation to Christ, whom I would love, — that honour to the Holy Spirit, and safety to my own soul, — that I will abide by it.” A growing in the approbation of this way gives some assurance that we have made a true and sincere choice of Christ.
Give me leave to add this one thing more:—
Fourthly. That a delight in obedience unto God by Christ, in the ways of his own appointment, is a great evidence that we have chosen Christ, and he us; — chosen him as our king, prophet, and priest. The ways of the worship of God in his church and ordinances, are the ways and worship of God in Christ, which he hath appointed. Take these things abstractedly and in themselves, and we should be apt to say of them, as was said of Christ, “There is no beauty in them, nor glory, that they should be desired.” There is much more outward beauty and glory in other ways, that Christ hath not appointed. But if we love the ways Christ hath appointed, because he hath appointed them, then we choose those ways because we have chosen him to be our king; and that is it which gives them beauty and life. And when the ways of Christ’s appointment grow heavy and burdensome to us, we are weary of them, and are willing to have our neck from under the yoke, — it is a sign we grow weary of him who is the author of them; and this is a great sign that we never made a right and sincere choice of him.
Many other things might be offered as evidences of sincere closing with Christ; but these are some which have been of use to me: and I hope they may be so unto some of you.


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.


The necessity of marks and signs of grace

November 29, 2009 Comments off

Wherefore, friend Antinomista, if either you, or any man else, shall, under a pretence of your being in Christ, exempt yourselves from being under the law of the ten commands, as they are the law of Christ, I tell you truly, it is a shrewd sign you are not yet in Christ; for if you were, then Christ were in you; and If Christ were in you, then would he govern you, and you would be subject unto him. I am sure the prophet Isaiah tell us, that the same Lord, who is our Saviour, “is also our King and Lawgiver,” (Isa 33:22); and, truly, he will not be Jesus a Saviour to any but only to those unto whom he is Christ a Lord; for the very truth is, wheresoever he is Jesus a Saviour, he is also Christ a Lord; and, therefore, I beseech you, examine yourself whether he be so to you or no.

Ant. Why then, sir, it seems that you stand upon marks and signs?

Evan. Yea, indeed, I stand so much upon marks and signs, that I say unto you in the words of the apostle John, (1 John 3:10), “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil; whosoever does not righteousness, is not of God.” For says Luther, “He that is truly baptized, is become a new man, and has a new nature, and is endowed with new dispositions; and loveth, liveth, speaketh, and does far otherwise than he was wont, or could before.” For says godly Tindal, “God worketh with his word, and in his word: and bringeth faith into the hearts of his elect, and looseth the heart from sin, and knitteth it to God, and giveth a man power to do that which was before impossible for him to do, and turneth him into a new nature.” [1] And, therefore, says Luther in another place, “Herein works are to be extolled and commended, in that they are fruits and signs of faith; and, therefore, he that hath no regard how he leadeth his life, that he may stop the mouths of all blamers and accusers, and clear himself before all, and testify the he has lived, spoken, and done well, is not yet a Christian.” How then, says Tindal again, “dare any man think that God’s favour is on him, and God’s Spirit within him, when he feels not the working of his Spirit, nor himself disposed to any good thing?” [2]

Evan. Indeed, I must needs confess with Mr. Bolton and Mr. Dyke, that in these times of Christianity, a reprobate may make a glorious profession of the gospel, and perform all the duties and exercises of religion, and that, in outward appearance, with as great spirit and zeal as a true believer; yea, he may be made partaker of some measure of inward illumination, and have a shadow of true regeneration; there being no grace effectually wrought in the faithful, a resemblance whereof may not be found in the unregenerate. And therefore, I say, if any man pitch upon the sign, without the thing signified by the sign, [3] that is, if he pitch upon his graces [or gifts rather] and duties, and conclude assurance from them, as they are in him, and come from him, without having reference to Jesus Christ, as the root and fountain of them; then are they deceitful marks and signs: [4] but if he look upon them with reference to Jesus Christ, then are they not deceitful, but true evidences and demonstrations of faith in Christ. And this a man does, when he looks upon his outward actions as flowing from the inward actions of his mind, and upon the inward actions of his mind as flowing from the habits of grace within him, and upon the habits of grace within him as flowing from his justification, and upon his justification as flowing from his faith, and upon his faith as given by and embracing Jesus Christ: thus, I say, if he rests not till he comes to Christ, his marks and signs are not deceitful, but true. [5]

Ant. But, sir, if an unbeliever may have a resemblance of every grace that is wrought in a believer, then it must be a hard matter to find out the difference: and therefore I conceive it is best for a man not to trouble himself at all about marks and signs.

Evan. Give me leave to deal plainly with you, in telling you, that although we cannot say, every one that hath a form of godliness hath also the power of godliness, yet we may truly say, that he who hath not the form of godliness, hath not the power of godliness; for though all be not gold that glitters, yet all gold doth glitter. And therefore, I tell you truly, if you have no regard to make the law of Christ your rule, by endeavouring to do what is required in the ten commandments, and to avoid what is there forbidden, it is a very evil sign: and, therefore, I pray you consider of it.


[1] That is, makes him a new man.

[2] Namely, habitually.

[3] Namely, Christ in the heart.

[4] Because all true grace and acceptable duty flow from Jesus Christ, dwelling in one’s heart by his Spirit; and whatsoever comes not that way, is but a show and semblance of these things, (Rom 8:9), “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”—(John 15:5), “Without me ye can do nothing,”—(1:16), “And of his fullness have we all received, and grace for grace.”—(Gal 2:20), “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”—”The cause of good works we confess to be, not our free-will, but the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who, dwelling in our hearts, by true faith, bringeth forth such works as God has prepared for us to walk in.” Old Confess. art. 13—”So good works follow as effects of Christ in us possessed by faith.” Mr. John Davidson’s Cat. p. 30.

[5] Here is a chain, serving to lead a child of God unto assurance, that he is in the state of grace; wherein duties and graces, being run up unto their true spring, do so shine after trial of them, as one may conclude assurance from them, as the author phrases it. And here it is to be observed, that these words, “outward actions—actions of the mind—habits of grace—justification—faith —embracing of Christ,” are, in the progress of the trial, to be taken in their general notion, agreeing both to what is true, and what is false, in each particular; as faith feigned and unfeigned, justification real and imaginary, grace common and saving, &c. For the special nature of these is still supposed to be undetermined to the person under trial, until he come to the end of trial. This is evident from the nature of the thing: and from the author’s words too, in the sentence immediately preceding, where he says, “If he pitch upon his graces, or gifts rather”; the which correction he makes, because the former word is ordinarily restricted to saving grace, the latter not so. And hence it appears that the author was far from imagining that a man must have the assurance he speaks of, before he can conclude it from his graces or duties.

The links of this chain are five. The first, Outward actions, or works materially good, flowing from the inward actions of the mind: otherwise they are but pieces of gross dissimulation, as was the respect and honour put upon Christ by the Herodians and others, when they asked him, if it was lawful to give tribute unto Caesar. (Matt 22:16-18) The second, These actions of the mind, flowing from the habits of grace, within the man; otherwise they are but fair flowers, which, “because they have no root, wither away,” (Matt 13:6); like the Israelites, their seeking, returning, inquiring after, and remembering God, when he slew them, (Psa 78:34-37). The third, Those habits of grace within the man, flowing from his justification; otherwise they are but the habits of common grace, or of mere moral virtues, to be found in hypocritical professors, and sober heathens. The fourth, The man’s justification flowing from his faith; otherwise it is but as the imaginary justification of Pharisees, Papists and legalists, who are they which justify themselves. (Luke 16:15) The fifth, His faith given by Christ, and embracing Christ: otherwise it is but feigned faith, which never knits the soul to Christ, but leaves the man in the case of the fruitless branch, which is to be “taken away,” (John 15:2).

This chain is not of our author’s framing, but is a Scriptural one. (1 Tim 1:5), “Now (1.) the end of the commandment is charity, (2.) out of a pure heart, (3.) and of a good conscience, (4.) and of faith, (5.) unfeigned.”—”Wherein the apostle teacheth, that the obedience of the law must flow from love, and love from a pure heart, and a pure heart from a good conscience, and a good conscience from faith unfeigned; thus he maketh the only right channel of good works.” Practical Use of Saving Knowledge; tit. “The third thing requisite to evidence true faith, is, that obedience to the law run in the right channel, that is through faith in Christ.”

If one examines himself by this infallible rule, he cannot safely take his obedience for a mark or evidence of his being in the state of grace, until he run it up unto his faith, embracing Christ. But then finding that his faith made him a good conscience, and his good conscience a pure heart, and his pure heart produced love, from whence his obedience followed; in that case, his obedience is a true mark of the unfeignedness of his faith; from whence he may assuredly conclude, that he is in the state of grace. Our author’s method being a copy of this, the objections against it must affect both.

Let us suppose two men to put themselves on a trial of their state, according to this method, and to pitch upon some external duties of theirs, or some graces which they seem to discern in themselves, as to the substance thereof; though, as yet, they know not the specific nature of the same, namely, whether they be true or false.

The one finds, that his eternal duties proceeded not from the inward actions of his mind; or if they did, that yet these actions of his mind did not proceed from habits of grace in him; or if they did proceed from these, yet these flowed not from his justification, or, which is the same, followed not upon the purging of his conscience; or if they did, that yet his justification, or good conscience, such as they are, proceeded not from his faith; or if they did proceed from it, that yet that faith of his did not embrace Christ, and consequently was not of the special operation of God, or given him by Christ in him, by his Spirit. In all, or any of these cases, it is plain that the external duties, or the [so called] graces, which he pitched upon, can be no true marks from which he may conclude himself to be in a state of grace.

The other finds that his external duties did indeed flow from the inward actions of his mind, and these from habits of grace in him, and these again from his justification or good conscience, and that from his faith, and that his faith embraced Christ. Here two things are observable: (1.) That neither the duties nor graces pitched upon, could be sure marks to him, before he came to the last point; in regard of the flaw that possibly might still be found in the immediate or mediate springs of them. And therefore the looking, mentioned by the author, is indeed a progressive knowledge and discovery, but still unclear and uncertain, till one comes to the end, and the whole evidence is put together; even as it is in searching out some abstruse point, by observation of the dependence and connection things have one with another. Wherefore our author does by no means suppose, that I must know certainly that I am in Christ and justified, and that my faith is given me by Christ, before these duties or graces can be true marks or evidences to me. (2.) That the man perceiving his embracing of Christ, as to the substance of the action, is assured of the saving nature of it, [namely, that it is a faith uniting him to Christ, and given him by Christ in him] by the train of effects he sees to have followed it, according to the established order in the covenant of grace: (1 Tim 1:5). From which effects of his faith embracing Christ, that which might have deceived him, was all along gradually removed in the progress. Thus he is indeed sent back to the fruits of his faith, for true marks and evidences of it; but he is sent back to them, as standing clear now in his regress, though they were not so in his progress. And at this rate he is not left to run in a circle, but has a comfortable end of his self-examination, being assured by his duties and graces, the fruits of his faith, that his faith is unfeigned, and himself in the state of grace.

Source: The marrow of modern divinity, by Edward Fisher