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by Daniel Shanks
"We have not fully preached a free gospel. We've been afraid of making it too free, lest men should be led into licentiousness; as if it were possible to preach too free a gospel, or as if its freeness could lead men into sin. It is only a free gospel that can bring peace, and it is only a free gospel that can make men holy."
- Horatius Bonar
Come, whosoever will, nor vainly strive to mend;
Sinners are freely welcome still, to Christ, the Sinner's friend.
The gospel table's spread, and richly furnished too,
With wine and milk, and living bread, and dainties not a few.
The guilty, vile, and base, the wretched and forlorn,
Are welcome to the feast of grace, though goodness they have none.
No goodness he expects; he came to save the poor;
Poor helpless souls he ne'er neglects, nor sends them from his door.
His tender, loving heart, the vilest will embrace;
And free to them will impart, the riches of his grace.
Today, as in every other day, a mixture of law and gospel is preached to the lost, to the confusion of many poor souls, leaving them with the impression that they have something to do in order to be justified before God. More often than not, when the question is posed: "What shall we do that we might work the works of God?" the reply is found to be a mixture of faith and works, self and Saviour, law and grace; rather than the 'pure gospel' answer that Christ gave: "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:28,29). Conditions and qualifications are thrown in the sinner's way, and presented as necessary prerequisites to saving faith. Thus, coming sinners feel obliged to bring something with them, a coin of acceptance in their hand -whether this be in the form of prayers, tears, reformations, remorse, etc. They are struggling to get up something of their own to offer, instead of standing before Calvary to receive mercy FREELY, as utterly ruined in themselves and destitute of all good.
Such legal teaching that points men in the direction of self-righteous reformation, or to repentance as a necessary `stepping stone' to faith, rather than directly to Christ, carries with it the implication that justification is built upon sanctification, and that grace is conditioned upon something the sinner does. Such a conditional gospel is a denial that man is nothing and has nothing before God; thus demands are placed upon him prior to justification that he cannot possibly meet, because, "Without me," Christ says, "ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). The purity of justification by faith is being polluted; conviction of sin and gospel repentance are being confused; sheep are being tormented by stringent efforts to keep the goats out; and there is a refusal to `freely give' what has been `freely received.' Instead of displaying the compassion of the Prodigal's father toward undone sinners, what is being evidenced to a great degree, is rather, the harsh character of the Prodigal's brother.
Pains have been taken in the following pages to show the entire uselessness of all such self-righteous efforts in man to present something to God - that He asks nothing from the coming sinner, that we are simply the receivers, and He alone is the Giver. "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also FREELY give us all things?" (Rom 8:32). Valuable insight from various writers has been included to strengthen as well as enhance this vital area of study.
An introductory paragraph of Horatius Bonar fits well here: "In the following chapters there are some things which may appear repetitious. But this could not easily be avoided, as there were certain truths as well as certain errors that necessarily came up at different points and under different aspects. I need not apologize for these, as they were, in a great measure, unavoidable. They take up very little space, and I do not think they will seem at all superfluous to anyone who reads for profit and not for criticism."
The following words of Robert Traill best express the substance of these pages:
"We glory in any name of reproach of Christ that is cast upon us for asserting the absolute boundless freedom of the grace of God, which excludes all merit, and everything like it: the absoluteness of the covenant of grace, for the covenant of redemption was plainly and strictly a conditional one and the noblest of all conditions was in it. The Son of God's taking on him man's nature, and offering it in sacrifice, was the strict condition of all the glory and reward promised to Christ and his seed (Isa 53:10,11), wherein all things are freely promised, and that faith that is required for sealing a man's interest in the covenant is promised in it, and wrought by the grace of it (Eph 2:8). That faith at first is wrought by, and acts upon, a full and absolute offer of Christ, and of all his fulness; an offer that hath no condition in it, but that native one to all offers, acceptance: and in the very act of this acceptance, the acceptor doth expressly disclaim all things in himself, but sinfulness and misery...We proclaim the market of grace to be free (Isa 55:1-3). It is Christ's last offer and lowest (Rev. 22:17). If there be any price or money spoken of, it is no price, no money. And what of terms and conditions? If we be forced to call them so, we must say, that they look more like a renouncing, than a boasting of any qualifications or conditions. Surely the terms of the gospel bargain are: GOD'S FREE GIVING, and OUR FREE TAKING and RECEIVING."
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Several years ago, I read a gospel tract by a modern-day (sovereign grace) writer, who was giving "directions to the unconverted." One of his directions was: "Until a man is thoroughly sick of sin and hates his own sin, he cannot come to Christ." At that time I didn't think too much about it. However, since then, God has graciously seen fit to give a measure of `gospel' light on the subject; and such statements like this given to the unconverted, I no longer look at with either approval or indifference; I now view these teachings as opposed to the gospel of the free grace of God. "Those who mingle," Charles Spurgeon says, "their 'ifs' and 'buts,' and insist upon 'you must do this, and feel that, before you may accept Christ,' frustrate the grace of God in a measure, and do damage to the glorious gospel of the blessed God." The gospel arrow points directly to Christ; while those 'directions' point the sinner to himself, to evaluate personal preparedness, and to judge whether he be 'fit' to come to Christ or no. By this, I see men hindering sinners. I see men putting sinners off. I see men setting sinners upon searching for some soul-deluding 'good' thing about themselves before they may safely trust in that worthy name of Jesus. The gospel invitation, though, is not put upon the ground of anything of which we can be a judge. This is where preachers are guilty of doing the greatest injustice to the coming sinner. Such conditions thrown in the way of a depraved man leaves him with a legitimate excuse not to close with Christ immediately. Unless he `fits the bill', this preacher has told him he can't come to Christ. He must "hate his own sin," or the Saviour will not accept him. "Hating sin" implies a new nature! "Men love darkness rather than light" (John 3:19). We don't come to Christ because we have been saved from the love of sin; we come to Christ to be saved from such slavery! He is our salvation! On this, Ralph Erskine had these fitting words:
"Here also is an antidote against ignorant preachers of the gospel, that confound the marks of faith with the ground of faith, or the evidences of faith with the warrant of faith, or the condition of the covenant with the qualities of the covenanted, as if the gospel call were only to saints, or to sinners so and so qualified; and so leading men in to themselves for a ground of faith, instead of leading them out of themselves to Christ, exhibited to them in a word of salvation sent to them. The gospel-method of salvation is the reverse of all the legal schemes in the world. The legal strain supposes some good quality about the sinner, before he be allowed to meddle with the word of salvation; and so shuts the door of the gospel, which it pretends to open. But the gospel-strain brings the word of salvation freely to every sinner's door, and supposes him to be destitute of all good qualities whatsoever, and leaves no room for any sinner to say, I am not allowed to come in."
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In Luke 7:36-50, we have a story of the Saviour and "a sinner." Verses 31-35 show the setting to be that of Matthew 11:16-19, which is followed with this grand invitation, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Can you see this woman? miserable in herself, having spent years in sin and unfulfilled lusts, having gone from one lover to another, unable to quench her inward thirst, unable to satisfy that longing within. See her making her way into the crowded street as she eases into the gathering of publicans and sinners to hear the Master: "Why do you spend money for that which is not bread? and why do you labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken unto me and eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear and your soul shall live" (Isa 55:1-3). Immediately her attention is won. She presses forward to catch those words that are full of music; she hears a gospel with a melody sweeter than the birds can sing - "The Son of man is come to seek and to save the lost. Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters. Come now, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow" (Luke 19:10; Isa 1:18). The willingness of Christ to save echoes through every word. She knows he's telling her story: sins as scarlet, thirsty and lost. Her heart witnesses to the truth. She becomes oblivious to everything around her. This man and his message is all that's important now. It's strange, but suddenly she finds herself all alone; yet she's still in the midst of a crowded street. Her heart's been taken captive; the moment has seized her. The message of the gospel comes home to her very soul as a word of salvation. "Faith cometh by hearing" (Rom 10:17). What a mystery, but it's real. "Hear and your soul shall live" (Isa 55:3). The water now streams down her face; joy and peace flood her soul as those precious words of promise are laid hold of. She's fastened upon his gracious invitation.
Out there that afternoon, she received pardon and forgiveness immediately by faith. Sometime later in Simon's house, the Lord said to her, "Thy sins are forgiven" (v48). This, however, was but a verbal confirmation of an already present reality. Before ever speaking a word to her, he had already told Simon, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven" (v47). She had been a forgiven soul from the very moment she believed. Peace, pardon, and forgiveness accompany the reception of the gospel by faith. It was done in the street; it was confirmed in the house. It was the same way with that woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5. When she "touched his garment...she was healed of that plague" (v29); then a little later she came and fell down before him, "knowing what was done in her" (v33), to hear these words from Christ, "Be whole of thy plague" (v34). But it was already "done in her." So, here too, the Saviour verbally confirms that which had already taken place. The key to both is faith; to this one, "Thy faith hath made thee whole," and to the other, "Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace" (Luke 7:50). She was "saved" immediately "through faith" (Eph 2:8) out in the street the moment she believed. And what we witness happening in Simon's house with this humble penitent, with her tears, and the washing, and the kissing, and the anointing with ointment - these are happy signs of grace, the sure evidences of love, the outworkings of "faith which worketh by love" (Gal 5:6). She had "received the Spirit by the hearing of faith" (Gal 3:2,14), and "the love of God was shed abroad" in her heart "by the Holy Ghost" which was given unto her (Rom 5:5).
An all-important gospel observation here is that `personal character' is no hindrance to coming sinners. This woman was a public shame and disgrace; she was a woman "which was a sinner" (v37). She was a well-known sinner, for Simon declared, "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner" (v39). Her ill-fame had branded her! Her way of life was the common talk of the town. Decent persons wouldn't associate with her. She was cut off from all respectable society. She was like a leper of old put outside the camp of social life. How could it be that the gospel was good news to such a one of ill-repute, to such a slave to sin? How was it that the gospel was such sweet music to this woman of shame and disgrace? The answer lies in the very nature of the gospel itself - "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price." Christ "gives of the fountain of the water of life freely." "If any man thirst," he says, "let him come unto me and drink." "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Isa 55:1-3; John 7:37; Rev 21:6; 22:17). The drawing power of the gospel is its freeness and fulness. She was drawn by the cords of love from a willing Saviour who delights in saving "sinners."
"Did ever any come to Jesus for a cure," John Mason asked, "and go away without it? You would find something in yourself, but you find nothing but what you have reason to be ashamed of; but let not that hinder, but further your coming. Come as you are; come poor, come needy, come naked, come empty, only come, only believe. His heart is free, his arms are open; 'tis his joy and his crown to receive you. If you are willing, he never was otherwise."
Approach the fountain head of bliss, that's open like the
The buyers that are moneyless, to poorest beggars free.
Incline your ear, and come to me; hear and your soul shall live:
For mercies sure as well as free, I bind myself to give.
Needy sinners have nothing to offer to the Saviour, nothing to bring. No goodness or merit of their own will procure any favor or open any door. Good resolutions will not help their case. Promises to do better are to no avail. Reformation of life, whether great or small, is altogether worthless. Why? because the natural man is a guilty, polluted, lost, sin-sick soul. "When we were yet without strength...Christ died for the ungodly." Sinners are without strength! They are without strength to obey God's law, "for the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." They are without strength to please God in any way, "for they that are in the flesh cannot please God." They are without strength to love God, "for the carnal mind is enmity against God." They are without strength to do even one single-solitary good thing in God's holy sight, "for there is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom 3:12; 5:6; 8:7,8).
Christ brings this very truth before us with the force of these words, "And when they had NOTHING TO PAY, he frankly forgave them both" (v42). That's the gospel! He's illustrating on this occasion to Simon the Pharisee that whether we feel we owe a great debt to God, or not-so-great a debt, it doesn't matter; still the fact remains that every sinner is in debt head-over-heels with "nothing to pay." This is a universal dilemma. We have nothing! Be you whoever you may be; you have nothing in the sight of God to offer! Be you of noble blood or of peasant's stock - nothing! This describes all of your assets in the sight of heaven - nothing! Moral or immoral - nothing! Religious or irreligious - nothing! "And when they [both of them!] had nothing to pay" - penniless paupers in the sight of God! This is the gospel our Saviour preached. The coming sinner doesn't have anything to give, to bring, to plead, to show, to offer - Nothing at all!
Nothing good have I whereby thy grace to claim,
I'll wash my garments white in the blood of Calvary's Lamb.
Lay hold of this word "nothing." One of the primary reasons sinners do not come to the Saviour is because they do not believe they're that bad off, in that bad of shape, bereft of all goodness, yea, bankrupt before God. They don't think their need is as desperate as the Bible declares. They still feel that they can do something to qualify themselves, fit themselves in some way to come to Christ. They fancy that they are able to meet some supposed demands in order to measure up to a standard of acceptance. They stand aloof from Christ fooled by a belief that surely they can perform the proper preparatives, or fulfill the conditions, or meet some imagined terms that they feel are required in the gospel, that they can in some way contribute something - perhaps by their sorrow and tears, maybe by their mourning and brokenness, or surely by their promises and repentance. They refuse to receive the message that they have nothing, are nothing, can do nothing, and can contribute nothing! They have never felt the force of the word "nothing"; thus they cannot sing with all their hearts:
Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I
Naked, look to thee for dress, helpless, come to thee for grace;
Black, I to the fountain fly; wash me, Saviour, or I die.
The gospel is suited to those with "no money" in the market of salvation, to those "without strength" with "nothing to pay." This truth is the great leveler of the sons of men. "There is no difference: for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." "God hath shut them all up together, that he might have mercy upon all" (Rom 3:22,23; 11:32 marg.). This truth recognizes the fallen and deplorable condition of all men. Any "big I--little you" notions in men's minds are swept away by plain declarations of Scripture - "Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually" (Gen 6:5); "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom 8:7); "There is none that doeth good, no, not one" (Rom 3:12). The aim of the gospel is to qualify the sinner, not to direct the sinner to qualify himself. And the gospel qualifies the sinner simply by showing him that the only gospel qualification for salvation is the fact that he is a sinner. He's qualified! God has already qualified every son of Adam! This is the beauty and fitness of the gospel in that it totally does away with any and all supposed distinctions in its hearers! They're all qualified! And this is not because of anything within themselves, but because of God's declaration! - "There is no difference: for all have sinned."
Sinners have no business looking within themselves to judge whether they be qualified for Christ's call. "The gospel" says Spurgeon, "is that you believe in Christ Jesus; that you get right out of yourself, and depend alone in him. Do you say, `I feel so guilty'? You are certainly guilty, whether you feel it or not; you are far more guilty than you have any idea of. Come to Christ because you are guilty, not because you have been prepared to come by looking at your guilt. Trust nothing of your own, not even your sense of need...Jesus wants nothing from you, nothing whatsoever, nothing done, nothing felt; he gives both work and feeling. Ragged, penniless, just as you are, lost, forsaken, desolate, with no good feelings, and no good hopes, still Jesus comes to you, and in these words of pity he addresses you, `Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out'." Sinners are born qualified to come to Christ; we're conceived in sin, shapen in iniquity, and brought forth speaking lies (Psa 51:5; 58:3). We don't need anything else to fit us for the Saviour; we don't need to do anything; we don't need to feel anything; he stands ready to receive us as we are. We don't stand at the Cross to be washed because we've `repented'; we don't stand at the Cross to be washed because we've `bowed to the lordship of Christ'; we're there to be washed as a sinner, and nothing but a sinner. It's not because of anything we've done or experienced; it's because of "what we are! "God be merciful to me the sinner!" (Luke 18:13).
`Twas for sinners that he suffer'd, agonies
Canst thou doubt thou art a sinner? If thou canst - then hope farewell.
But, believing what is written - `All are guilty' - `dead in
Looking to the Crucified One, hope shall rise thy soul within.
There are two reasons men refuse to come to the Saviour: there are those who think that they are in a measure good and righteous; then, there are those who think that they need to be somewhat good and righteous. These are the only two camps that men are in who refuse to come to the Lord. Both are deluded in their imaginations. Christ speaks to both groups with these words: "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matt 9:13). "Sinners" is the central word of this discourse. It answers both classes of hearers. It shows how the first group of men effectually shut the door on themselves by supposing that they possess a righteousness; yet, on the other hand, this word "sinners" swings wide the door for those who feel themselves excluded on the basis of their unrighteousness. Christ assures these, who see themselves wretched, of a hearty reception without one good qualification. The others, seeing themselves as `worthy,' refuse to accept God's testimony that all their "righteousness is as filthy rags" (Isa 64:6); thus, they reject this `sinner's gospel.' It is nonetheless preached freely, and accessible for all who will hear it.
"This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). The apostle declares that the gospel is worthy of acceptance by all! It should be received immediately by all sinners who hear it. Whosoever will look to this word of salvation, will find it looking to them, whoever he may be. It's a gospel for all, for all sinners; and the Scriptures don't categorize and qualify these sinners with such terms as "sensible sinners," "exercised sinners," "feeling sinners," "humble sinners," or "penitent sinners." The Scriptures know nothing of such adjectives in the proclamation of the gospel; it just speaks of sinners! "Christ Jesus came to save sinners." The door of mercy is open to all, and no man has any right to bar it with any restrictions or limitations in any way.
"Hence we may learn," Erskine says, "how culpable they are that straiten the door and hamper the call of the gospel, instead of compelling sinners to come in. The erroneous and legal teachers drive men in to themselves, instead of bringing them in to Christ. They say, in effect, there is no room for such and such sinners in Christ's house; no room for you that are not humble and penitent, and so and so qualified; no room for the poor, the maimed, the halt, the blind, the vagrant sinner. How contrary is that strain of preaching to the very design of the gospel, which is to compel those very sinners to come in. `To you is the word of salvation sent' (Acts 13:26): to you, O sinner, is the door of salvation opened. Whatever straitens this door; whatever doctrines you hear, that hamper or limit the gospel-offer, and tend to make you suppose, that there is no room for you, no access for you, you may suspect that to be either no gospel-doctrine, or that has such a legal mixture accompanying it, as you ought to shun like the devil; because it would keep you at a distance from Christ and salvation."
The publican in the temple did not say, "God be merciful to me a penitent sinner" (Luke 18:13). He was a penitent sinner, but he did not plead his penitence; and if you are ever so penitent and convinced of sin, do not mention it as an argument, lest you be accused of self-righteousness. Come as you are, as a sinner, and as nothing else. Exhibit your wounds. Bring your spiritual poverty before God, and not your supposed wealth. If you have a single penny of your own, get rid of it. Perfect poverty alone will discharge you from your bankruptcy. You must be nothing and nobody if Christ is to be your all in all.
Let our debts be what they may, however great or small,
As soon as we have nought to pay, our Lord forgives us all.
'Tis perfect poverty alone, that sets the soul at
While we can call one mite our own, we have no full discharge.
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Faith in Christ is our duty! It is the command of God given to `every creature' that we should believe on his Son for life eternal (1 John 3:23). This is our sure warrant of faith; none can be wrong in obeying God's command. Our sense and feeling is not to be followed, but the very word of God. Confusion arises when men heed the gospel too little. Instead, they lend their ears to what the law, sin, the devil, and conscience says; and because sin and guilt is in their hearts, they cannot escape the sense of coming judgment upon their souls. This is to set the word of God aside.
Suppose a certain man had committed treason against his king; but for so much as the king had compassion on him, he sent him, by the hand of a faithful messenger, a pardon under his own hand and seal. But in the country where this poor man dwelt, there were also many that sought to trouble him, by often reminding him of his treason, and of the law that was to be executed on the offender. There was only one thing for this man to do in order to shield himself from all the clamors of his enemies - believe the hand-writing, which was the king's pardon.
Even so it is with us. Our crimes are treason against the King of heaven. We had no right to rebel, no reason to revolt. A God of light had showered us with love, yet we, damnable traitors, chose the powers of darkness. But our God is one who "delights in mercy," "pardons iniquity," and "passes by transgression" (Micah 7:18), yea, "abundantly pardons!" (Isa 55:7). And he, in pure grace, and through the gospel of Christ, has issued a general proclamation of pardon to all, "that whosoever believeth in his Son should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:15). And his word of exhortation is: "See that ye refuse not him that speaketh from heaven"; for, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Heb 2:3; 12:25). So, though our crimes be heavy, and the constant clamors of conscience roar, with the law, and the devil; let us not be daunted by our enemies and their terrible voices, but find shelter from them all, in the WORD of the King, sealed with his own heart's blood. We have but to believe and receive, the pardon and forgiveness, and stand fast upon his word.
A captain was brought before an Asiatic prince for execution; the guillotine already being raised over his head, when, impressed by intolerable thirst, he asked for water. A cup was handed him. He held it, as if apprehensive, lest the guillotine would fall while he was in the act of drinking. `Take courage!' said the prince. `Your life will be spared till you drink this water.' That instant, he dashed the cup of water to the ground! Standing in the shadows of death, and with a grave already dug, a flash of light in a word from a prince passed his way; he seized upon it for all he was worth! The faith of that barbarian captive saved him that day. The WORD of a prince was enough! Liberty was immediately granted; he rode off a free man.
In like manner, the guillotine of God's justice hangs over the head of every sinner, with the broken law crying out, `Execute him!' "The wages of sin is death!" "The soul that sinneth, it shall die!" (Rom 6:23; Ezek 18:4). By nature, we're born under the sentence of death. But, there is a Prince, a Prince of Peace, who "hath made peace through the blood of his cross" (Isa. 9:6; Col 1:20); a Prince of Life "who hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (Acts 3:15; 2 Tim 1:10); and the word from heaven has gone forth, "Deliver him from going down into the pit: I've found a ransom!" (Job 33:24). A word of life now is sent to the ear of every sinner on death row, "He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (John 11:25,26). No surer word of promise has ever been published! The WORD of the Prince has gone forth! "And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Pet 1:25). "To you, O men, do I call; and my voice is to the sons of men" (Prov. 8:4). "To you is the word of this salvation sent" (Acts 13:26). Life and liberty resides in that word, and our receiving, and laying hold of it! That's good, solid ground for faith to rest in. It's the word of God, a God that cannot lie, ratified by his own oath, sealed with his own blood, and attested to by the Three that bear record in heaven.
Someone may object by saying, `But God has no purpose or design of mercy toward all; and therefore, how can I apply this word of salvation to myself?' The answer is that God has not made his secret purpose the rule of your faith, but his word; and you may and shall know his merciful purpose, if once you take his word, and believe his promise in Christ. While Capt. Hedly Vicars was waiting in Canada in November, 1851, for the arrival of a brother-officer in his room, as he idly turned over the leaves of the Bible, his eye caught the well-known words, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). Closing the book, he said, `If this be true for me, henceforth I will live, by the grace of God, as a man should live who has been washed in the blood of Jesus Christ.' Even so, every soul should take God at his word, and in simple child-like faith, receive the promises. There's no surer ground to stand on!
Standing on the promises I now can see,
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me.
When the question was posed in Edward Fisher's Marrow of Modern Divinity, "But, sir, hath such a one as I any warrant to believe in Christ?" the evangelist replied, "I beseech you, consider, that God the Father, as he is in his Son Jesus Christ, moved with nothing but his free love to mankind lost, hath made a deed of gift and grant unto them all, that whosoever of them all shall believe in his Son, shall not perish, but have eternal life. And hence it was, that Jesus Christ himself said unto his disciples, Mark 16:15, `Go and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven': that is, Go and tell every man without exception, that here is good news for him; Christ is dead for him; and if he will take him, and accept of his righteousness, he shall have him."
Thomas Boston, in his notes on the Marrow, said,"Mr. Fisher's words are not to be understood with reference to the extent of Christ's death; but rather, his meaning is to discover the warrant sinners have to believe in Christ, namely, that the offer of Christ is general, the deed of gift or grant is to every man. This necessarily supposeth Christ crucified to be the ordinance of God for salvation, to which lost mankind is allowed access, and not fallen angels, for whom there is none provided: even as the city of refuge was the ordinance of God for the safety of the manslayer, who had killed any person unawares, Num 35:16; and the brazen serpent for the cure of those bitten by a serpent, Num 21:8. Therefore he says not: Tell every man Christ died for him; but: Tell every man `Christ is dead for him'; that is, for him to come to, and believe on; a Saviour is provided for him; there is a crucified Christ for him, of which, in the use-making he may be saved; even as one had said of old, Tell every man that hath slain any person unawares, that the city of refuge is prepared for him, namely, to flee to, that he may be safe; and every one bitten by a serpent, that the brazen serpent is set up on a pole for him, namely, to look unto, that he may be healed.
"This deed of gift or grant is the authentic gospel offer for the pardon of all our sins. Such a thing, among men, is called the king's pardon, though, in the mean time, none have the benefit of it but such as come in upon it being proclaimed, and accept it; and why may not it be called the King of heaven's pardon? The holy Scripture warrants this manner of expression. `He that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son' (1 John 5:10,11); in which life, without question, the pardon of all our sins is included: `Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins' (Acts 13:38). The preaching of the gospel is the proclaiming of pardon to condemned sinners. But pardon of sin cannot be preached or proclaimed, unless, in the first place, it be granted, even as the king's pardon must be, before one can proclaim it to the rebels."*
*[It was during Boston's first pastoral charge, in the village of Simprin, Scotland, that a copy of Fisher's Marrow came into his hands. This book was to have a profound effect upon him. He wrote, 'I rejoiced in it as a light which the Lord had seasonably struck up to me in my darkness.' Up to this time, Boston had felt a certain inhibition in proclaiming the free and universal offer of Christ to men. This inhibition arose from the supposed antinomy between the decree of election and the indiscriminate offer of salvation to all men. But once he had grasped the formula, according to the theology of the Marrow, that 'Jesus Christ is the Father's deed of gift and grant unto all mankind lost,' his inhibition faded away, and he began to preach with a fulness and freeness he had hitherto not known. His parishoners could not fail to recognize the deep transformation in their pastor and his ministrations. He wrote, 'As to any distinct uptakings of the doctrine of the gospel I have, such as they are, I owe them to that book.']
On this subject errors creep in and objections are raised because of the tendency to view people as either `elect' or `reprobate.' In the proclamation of the gospel, such distinctions should never enter the minds of either the preacher nor his hearers. God has sent the gospel to men as `sinners' universally, without any distinction. The gospel is suited for `sinners,' is sent to `sinners,' and will be received only by `sinners' - "The whole need not a physician." "Christ came into the world to save sinners." "God the Father," says Bunyan, "and Jesus Christ his Son, would have all men whatever, invited by the gospel to lay hold of life by Christ, whether elect or reprobate; for though it be true, that there is such a thing as election and reprobation, yet God, by the tenders of the gospel in the ministry of his word, looks upon men under another consideration, to wit, as sinners; and as sinners invites them to believe, lay hold of, and embrace the same. He saith not to his ministers, Go preach to the elect, because they are elect; and shut out others because they are not so: but, Go preach the gospel to sinners as sinners; and as they are such, go bid them come to me and live. And it must needs be so, otherwise the preacher could neither speak in faith, nor the people hear in faith...To offer Christ and grace to man elect, as simply so considered, administers to him no comfort at all, he being here no sinner; and so engageth not the heart at all to Jesus Christ; for that comes in, and is effected on them as they are sinners.
"The grace that is offered to sinners as sinners, without respect to this or that person, is a sufficiency of righteousness, pardoning grace, and life, laid up in the person of Christ, held forth in the exhortation and word of the gospel, and promised to be theirs that receive it; yea, I say, in so universal a tender, that not one is by it excluded or checked in the least, but rather encouraged, if he hath the least desire to life; yea, it is held forth to beget both desires and longings after the life thus laid up in Christ, and held forth by the gospel."
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Maintaining an equal view of God is essential if we would maintain an equal ministry. I refer now to the `sovereignty' of God's grace in salvation, and his expressed desire and readiness to save sinners. Both of these truths are revealed with equal clarity in Scripture, and must be held with a careful balance in the hands of him who would speak for God. Our view of the Divine character is distorted when we fail to see either of these truths, or when we obscure them in any way from the pulpit.
In view of the tendency of some ministries to overemphasize God's sovereignty in salvation, the objective before us now is to focus upon God's willingness to save. Our noble attempts to magnify and exalt the glory of God's `sovereign' grace too often causes our hearers to view him as insensitive and indifferent toward lost souls. An excessive usage of Romans 9:15, that he "will have mercy on whom he will," cannot help but create such an austere image. Yet Scripture is clear throughout, God is both compassionate and earnest as he beckons unworthy sinners to be saved: "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters" (Isa 55:1). "All day long have I stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people"; "I called and ye refused; I stretched out my hand and no man regarded" (Rom 10:21; Pro 1:24). "Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof; behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you; I will make known my words unto you" (Pro 1:20-24).
In our zeal to prove to people that they are wholly `in God's hands,' absolutely dependent upon his grace, many times we refuse to let them see a God who declares that he "is plenteous in mercy" (Psa. 103:8), that he "delights in mercy" (Micah 7:18). The very "Name of the Lord" is "merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (Exo 34:5-7); but we seem hesitant to picture for them a Saviour who stands `ready' to receive returning wanderers from the fields of sin.
One of the great portraits Christ left for us to admire is the prodigal's father looking out the window with desire and longing in his heart: "But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). Here, a God of love is shown to be, not only willing, but anxious to receive wayward sinners. The Eternal Father, himself, in the infinity of his love, goes forth in haste to meet a returning child. The father leaves his home to meet this one, who has companied with harlots, and grovelled among swine, who comes back to him in disgraceful rags, and disgusting filthiness. We become so entangled in our own spirits to where we don't know God is. He patiently waits with forgiveness in his heart, yearning over lost souls, with bowels of mercies and longings of love. "Therefore, will the Lord wait, that he may be gracious unto you" (Isa 30:18). To the vilest wretch, he promises that "he will have mercy upon him!" "He will abundantly pardon!" (Isa 55:7). The Lord is "ready to pardon, gracious, and merciful" (Neh 9:17). Be done with all those harsh and stern images that you've had of him; and believe his Word! He's looking out the window! He has "good will toward men!" (Luke 2:14). "Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee" (Psa 86:5). That's a promise to be believed; he will receive you! He stands `ready' to forgive you! Your guilt feelings keep you at a distance from the Saviour, because you don't think he could be `good' to someone like you; but he says, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways" (Isa 55:8,9).
The Lord has left "exceeding great and precious promises" for our faith (2 Pet 1:4). Before John Bunyan was converted, he would tremble for whole days at a time, with his mind shaking under fear of eternal judgment. He felt sometimes as though his "breastbone would split asunder." He thought of all the sins ever committed - of David's, and Solomon's, and Manasseh's, and even Judas'; and concluded his sin was worse than all put together. "Alas! what must God think of me!" At last, he remembered that text in Isaiah, "I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee" (Isa 44:22). It was a word from heaven! He laid hold of it! That's why the promises are in the Word, to be latched on to. He was enabled to take his eyes off of his sins, and fix them upon God's redemption, and his promise to receive him for Christ's sake.
The enemy will always limit the goodness and grace of God, and seek to shut the door of hope upon the sinner. Another time as Bunyan was walking in the country, he said that the devil led him to doubt: "What if the day of grace be past?" The Tempter brought to his mind "those good people of Bedford," and suggested that "being converted already, they were all that God would save in those parts," and that he had come too late! He began to cry out in distress, "Oh, that I had turned sooner!" And, "scarce able to take one step more," these words broke in upon him, "Compel them to come in...yet there is room." Those were "sweet words!" Bunyan said. He began to see the truth of Jeremiah 29:11, "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end."
God commands us to preach glad tidings "to every creature"; yea, he says, "Compel them to come in!" (Mark 16:15; Luke 14:23). Samuel Rutherford said, "God saith to reprobates, `Believe in Christ and ye shall be saved'." He called this truth "a deep and special mystery of the gospel." "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live." "God swears first," Spurgeon says here, "to show his deep sincerity that he has no joy in a sinner's death, and then turns to entreaty" - "turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, for why will ye die?" (Ezek 18:23,32; 33:11). "We are ambassadors for Christ," Paul said, "as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:19,20). God "beseeching"? and could it be "every creature"? `But I thought he was sovereign, with decrees, and all that stuff.' Does this sound like a God who is indifferent toward the multitudes who hear the gospel, to whom the "word of reconciliation" comes? "It is God himself," says John Owen, "who invites, exhorts, and persuades you to accept...And excuse us if we are little in earnest with you in this matter. Alas! our utmost that we can, by zeal for his glory or compassion unto your souls, raise our thoughts, minds, spirits, words, comes infinitelyshort of his own pressing earnestness herein."
When we lose sight of a God who is earnest, compassionate, and sincere in his call to sinners, without question, our own ministry will soon suffer in these vital areas. Some of the clearest and most beautiful passages of Scripture will become `strange' to us; and we'll either avoid them all together, or explain them all away. We cannot escape the fact that we emulate him whom we see! Passion for the lost and pleading with dying souls will become a thing of the past; and our preaching will diminish into merely delivering facts about the gospel, instead of lifting up our voices to proclaim `glad tidings of good things' personally to `every one' to whom we speak, earnestly encouraging them to receive and embrace Christ!
"We are often in the dark," says Spurgeon, "and puzzled about difficulties, but do you know half the difficulties in the Bible spring from a cold state of mind: but when the heart gets right, the head seems to get right too, in great measure. I remember a person puzzling himself fearfully with the passage in Scripture about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. He went and looked at Dr. Gill about it, he went to Thomas Scott about it, and he went to Matthew Henry about it; and these good divines all puzzled him as much as they could, but they did not seem to clear up the matter. The good man did not understand how Jesus Christ could say as he did, `How oft would I have gathered thee, but thou wouldest not!' One day he received more grace, and got a love for souls, and then the old skin of narrow mindedness which had been large enough for him once, began to crack and break, and he went to the passage then, and said, `I can understand it now; I do not know how it is consistent with such and such doctrine, but it is very consistent with what I feel in my heart."
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TULIP is the popular acronym for the Doctrines of Grace, of which, I hold dear. My sentiments are those of C. H. Spurgeon: "I love to proclaim those strong old doctrines nicknamed Calvinism, which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus."
Where these truths are taught, though, there are pitfalls we can easily topple into, when our eyes are fixed on that which God must do, instead of that which we should do. Our own reasoning and assumptions will always lead into error. We can escape these snares only by heeding the Word of God. When we mingle the doctrine of the sovereignty of God with logical deductions, it lands us in strange situations. May the Lord deliver us from our small-mindedness, and foolish attempts at squeezing divine truths into a box no bigger than a man. Those who become engrossed in divine sovereignty, will find themselves entangled in a doctrinal dilemma, to the point that they are unable to see and receive the simplest of truths. The following are a few illustrations.
It's alarming to hear the misconceptions people have in our churches concerning the initial step of the sinner into salvation. How many times have we heard sinners told to `Beg God'? The gospel is not `beg'; it's believe! "He that believeth on him is not condemned" (John 3:17). Salvation is not the result of pulling and tugging at the divine coat-tail by `begging' in order to overcome God's reluctance to give. He's more ready to give than we are to receive! The only bar to a sinner being reconciled to God is his own aversion to reconciliation. God is pressing his salvation upon sinners, and declaring his infinite willingness to bless them at this very moment! We've gotten this whole thing of salvation turned around to where we picture `depraved' sinners willing and desiring to be saved and made holy, and God is not willing that they should be. A hesitant Saviour! This is an absolute slander from the enemy upon the goodness of God; and nothing could be further from the truth! "If you knew the gift of God," Christ said, "you would have asked, and he would have given" (John 4:10).*
*[Through the deceitfulness of the human heart, many who do not believe, imagine that they desire to be delivered from sin. But if the power of sin in the heart be such as the Scriptures uniformly assert; if men are completely under its dominion - ungodly, and without strength, till Christ sets them free; and if he only that believes is thus delivered by Christ, then it is absurd to suppose that any unbeliever truly desire salvation." - James Haldane]
"Beloved," Spurgeon says, "there is nothing that so delights Jesus Christ as to save sinners...You misjudge him if you think he wants to be argued with and persuaded to have mercy; he gives it as freely as the sun pours forth light." Go from one end of the book of Acts to the other and show me where any apostle ever told a sinner to `beg God' to save him. Never! "Believers [not beggars!] were the more added to the Lord...Whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins...By him all that believe are justified from all things" (Acts 5:14; 10:43; 13:38).
Another erroneous `doctrinal deduction' that often appears in our minds is the idea of requesting God to quicken us. `O God, regenerate me!' is not the gospel. `Look and live' is the command (Isa 45:22). Right now, embrace Christ: his blood as your only cleansing, his righteousness as your only hope. The immediate duty of the sinner, is not to pray, but to believe. How foolish for anyone to go about praying in unbelief! Yes, the apostle did say that "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved"; however, faith is absolutely essential to a right calling upon the Lord - "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?" (Rom. 10:13,14). Those who would find the new birth must trust in Christ, and take their eyes off of heaven and miracles, and fix their attention upon the promises in the Word - "He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11:25). Even someone dead in trespasses and in sins Christ promises shall live by believing. Sinners are not born again by lying in their corruption, and crying for a new nature. Faith in Christ and regeneration go hand-in-hand. Christians are "begotten through the gospel" (1 Cor. 4:15); that is, through a hearty reception of Christ in the gospel. We are new creatures, "being born again by the word of God" (1 Pet 1:23); we're begotten "with the word of truth" (James 1:18); "whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God" (1 John 5:1). Those that receive Christ by believing, and those only, are the sons of God, which are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:12,13).
Another fanciful notion, that's always been popular with unbelievers, is for them to be solemnly directed to `Wait on the Lord.' They love that refuge. Don't give it to them; it's not the gospel. Believe! Nothing pleases them more than just to "lay" around the pool "waiting for the moving of the water" (John 5). But the command of Christ to impotent sinners "without strength" is, "Rise, take up thy bed and walk!" Quite trying to understand just how it's all going to take place; the strength will come as the command is obeyed - Trust Christ! Sinners only prove that they're opposed to God's way of salvation, when they do not immediately trust in the ability and willingness of Christ to save them. "In the name of Jesus Christ," Peter said, "rise up and walk" (Acts 3:6). The channel, through which the strength will come, is believing in the name of Jesus Christ. This man didn't sit there and try to figure it all out; nor did he rationalize, and say to Peter, "I believe, and just as soon as I feel `something wonderful' happening to me, I'm going to get up." If he had, he never would have walked. God only works through faith. No sooner than he and Peter joined hands (which showed he truly believed), God's miracle was there! "And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength."
The command of Christ is to be obeyed, nothing doubting. To those ten lepers who cried for mercy, all Jesus said was, "Go show yourselves unto the priests" (Luke 17:14). Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? The priests had already pronounced them "unclean." The priests couldn't help them. The only reason to go there, was if they were already cleansed. It doesn't matter how much these lepers believe in the miraculous power of Christ, they will never see it, until they go against all reason, and start walking. "And it came to pass, that as they went, they were cleansed." Do you see it? Where wine was wanting at a marriage in Cana, Mary said to those servants, "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it" (John 2:5). After filling six pots with water, as instructed, they looked at the Master; and all Jesus said was, "Draw out now, and bear to the governor of the feast" (v7,8). Without a moments hesitation, they drew out that water, and started walking; and as they were in the way, that is, in the way of obedience, the water was made wine. The miracle would never have been wrought, had they `waited' for it to happen, and then, bear it to the governor. Sinners who wait upon the Lord, are waiting in vain. God demands the "obedience of faith" (Rom 16:26). His word has gone forth - "Believe in Christ!" The miracle waits upon you. Nowhere are the unconverted ever told to `wait on the Lord.' "NOW is the accepted time; behold, NOW is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:2). "Come NOW...though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow" (Isa 1:18). "TODAY if you will hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Heb 3:7). "The message," Spurgeon says, "is not, `Wait for feelings', it's `Believe and live.' I find Jesus Christ says nothing to sinners about waiting, but very much about coming."
Then, too, the gospel is not: `Believe the Doctrines of Grace'; it's "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved!" In some churches, it seems that a `doctrine' is being pointed at, rather than a Person. You're received into fellowship with open arms if you've got the `password' - a `5-Point' profession. A system has been equated with a Saviour! The tulip patch planted in the soil of sovereignty suffers from those who trample it in the ground! How many precious truths are left unattended, while the Doctrines of Grace seem to swallow up a ministry? The fragrance of the tulip seems to hold a spell on unwary travelers through divine fields.
Do you see what's happening? God's realm in the salvation of a sinner has been so overemphasized that we've lost our common sense. We've become so `indoctrinated' with God's business in conversion that we can't see straight. Even in your wildest imagination, can you picture that woman in Luke 7 standing out there in the street praying that God would `regenerate' her? It's too ludicrous to even think about! Can you see Peter and John, as zealous `defenders of the faith,' running over to quiz her on `the five points of Calvinism'? Nonsense! Far fetched??? It was only recently while visiting in another town that I witnessed a new `Calvinist convert' give this very testimony to the church. I wrote down exactly what he said: "God put it into my heart to pray for faith...God showed me that he wasn't going to regenerate me when I wanted him to." Neither one of these things came from God. He never commands a sinner to `pray for faith'; why? because, "This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 3:23); and God's never revealed anything about his will and timing in quickening sinners - "Thou canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth" (John 3:8). We all know why this man is so messed up in his thinking. He's been drenched in the `sovereignty of God in salvation' until the most basic and simple truths of the gospel cannot even be seen - "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" (John 3:36). That woman in Luke 7 wasn't standing around `praying for faith'; she laid hold of the promises by faith! Our heads are so full of the `deep things of God' that we've looked right past the most precious jewel of the gospel - a willing, loving, and compassionate Saviour, and childlike faith in him: "This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them" (Luke 15:2).
Do you see what I'm talking about? Intruding into areas that don't belong to our sphere at all has become the norm - "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us" (Deut 29:29). The field that God's given us to enjoy is his `revealed will'; the `secret things' are his. We cannot help but stray from the path of immediate duty, when we wander into those fields that belong to the Lord alone.
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Often `the gospel of the grace of God' is preached in such a timorous and guarded fashion, with so many conditions, terms, and reservations, that by the time it's stated, there's no `good news' left. But the Bible knows of no such reservations in the proclamation of "glad tidings of great joy to all people" (Luke 2:10). Salvation in Christ is FREE - "without price," set forth to sinners "without money." God's "water of life" is offered "freely," is to be preached "freely," and to be received "freely." This is one of the trademarks of the apostles; they "preached the gospel of God freely" (2 Cor. 11:7); for Christ commanded them - "eely ye have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8). "We have not fully preached a free gospel," Bonar said. "We've been afraid of making it too free, lest men should be led into licentiousness; as if it were possible to preach too free a gospel, or as if its freeness could lead men into sin. It is only a free gospel that can bring peace, and it is only a free gospel that can make men holy." Bunyan says, "Salvation is a free gift, arising from the tender-heartedness of God. We are `justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus...through faith in his blood.' How are men to reckon it theirs? upon the same terms on which God doth offer it, which is freely, as they are worthless and undeserving creatures, as they are without all good, and also unable to do any good. This, I say, is the right way of applying the merits of Christ to thy soul; for they are freely given to thee, a poor sinner, not for anything that is in thee, or done by thee, but freely as thou art a sinner, and so standeth in absolute need thereof."
We must not "make a mingle-mangle of the gospel," Spurgeon said - "I mean this: when we preach the gospel we have only to say, `Sinners, you are guilty; you never can be anything else but guilty in and of yourselves: if that sin of yours be pardoned, it must be through an act of sovereign grace, and not because of anything in you, or that can be done by you. Grace must be given to you because Jesus died, and for no other reason; and the way by which you can have that grace is simply by trusting Christ. By faith in Jesus Christ you shall obtain forgiveness.' This is pure gospel. If the man turns round and inquires, `How am I warranted to believe in Christ?' If I tell him he is warranted to believe in Christ because he feels a law-work within, or because he has holy desires, I have made a mess of it. I have put something of the man into the question and marred the glory of grace. My answer is, `Man, your right to believe in Christ lies not in what you are or feel, but in God's command to you to believe, and in God's promise which is made to every creature under heaven, that whosoever believeth in Jesus Christ shall be saved.' This is our commission, `Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' If you are a creature, we preach that gospel to you. Trust Christ and you shall be saved. Not because you are a sensible sinner, or a penitent sinner, or anything else, but simply because God of his free grace, with no consideration rendered to him on your part, but gratis and for nothing, freely forgives all your debts for the sake of Jesus Christ. Now I have not mangled the gospel; there it is, with nothing of the creature about it but the man's faith, and even that is the Holy Spirit's gift. Those who mingle their `ifs,' and `buts,' and insist upon `you must do this, and feel that, before you may accept Christ,' frustrate the grace of God in a measure, and do damage to the glorious gospel of the blessed God."
The gospel is not to be hedged about by conditions and terms that sinners supposedly should meet in order to receive it. The gospel offer is not to cleaned-up sinners or conditioned sinners in any way; it is to be received by sinners as sinners - helpless, hopeless, and without strength. The warrant for these sinners to believe the gospel resides totally in the command of Christ, not in what they feel, what they are, or what they are not. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. He that believeth not shall be damned." "Certain preachers," says Spurgeon, "assure us that a man must be regenerated before we may bid him believe in Jesus Christ; some degree of a work of grace in the heart being, in their judgment, the only warrant to believe. This is false. It takes away a gospel for sinners and offers us a gospel for saints...Brethren, the command to believe in Christ must be the sinner's warrant, if you consider the nature of our commission, it is `to every creature.' It ought to read, according to the other plan, `preach the gospel to every regenerate person, to every convinced sinner, to every sensible sinner.' But it is not so; it is to `every creature'...`Ah! well,' saith one, `still I do not feel that I may.' You say you will not do what God tells you, because of some stupid feelings of your own. You are not told to trust Christ because you feel anything, but simply because you are a sinner...In effect, you are saying, `I can trust my own feelings, but I cannot trust God's appointed Saviour.' What is this but to make a god out of your feelings, and a saviour out of your inward griefs?"
When we deny such a universal warrant, applicable to all, and claim, instead, that Scripture only addresses invitations to specific people - to the penitent, to the `heavy laden', to the convicted sinner, and so on - the eyes of men are turned within, searching subjective experiences, rather than to the promises of the Word: "He that believeth on him is not condemned." The gospel would not be glad news to all people, if any were excluded due to some unfitness. The word of salvation is sent to all sinners who hear it, whatever their condition. When Bunyan preached from Acts 2:38, "Repent and be baptized every one of you," he said: "One man might have stood up in the crowd and said, `But I helped to hound him to the cross!' `Repent and be baptized every one of you.' `But I drove the nails into his hands!' saith one. `Every one of you,' says Peter. `But I pierced his side.' `Every one of you,' says Peter. `But I was one of them that did spit in his face!' `Every one of you!' says Peter. `And I put my tongue into my cheek and stared at his nakedness, and said, `If he be the Son of God, let him come down from the cross!' `Every one of you!' said Peter. Oh! what a blessed `every one of you,' is here! How willing was Peter (and the Lord Jesus, by his ministry) to catch these murderers with the word of the gospel, that they might be monuments of the grace of God!"
I refuse to injure, hinder, discourage, or obstruct in any way any sinner whose got his mind on the salvation from sin in Jesus Christ. Here is hope for the vilest of the vile - "Christ died for the ungodly"; and here we must come in the name of Jesus, standing on no other ground, pleading no other plea than this, `Christ died on the cross for the ungodly, and I trust in him.' "But God commendeth his love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom .5:8). He looked at us and there was not a solitary beauty spot on us; we were covered with "wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores," (Isa 1:6); with nothing about us to commend us to God's favor: only distortions, defilements, and pollutions; and yet for all that, Christ loved us, and shed his life's blood for us.
"What peace," Bonar says, "for the stricken conscience is there in the truth that Christ died for the ungodly! That it is of the ungodly that the righteous God is the Justifier! The righteous grace, thus coming to us through the sin-bearing work of the `Word made flesh,' tells the soul, at once and forever, that there can be no condemnation for any sinner upon earth, who will only consent to be indebted to this free love of God, which, like a fountain of living water, is bursting out freely from the foot of the cross: Just, yet the Justifier of the ungodly! What glad tidings are here! Here is grace - God's free love to the sinner - divine bounty and good will, altogether irrespective of human worth or merit. For this is the Scriptural meaning of that often misunderstood word `grace'."
Let nothing in your mind and heart drive you beyond the door of mercy, since it's not locked nor bolted up against you in any way. See Christ in John chapter 5, being "persecuted by the Jews," who "sought to slay him" (v16); and further on, "they sought the more to kill him" (v18); yet it is in the very heart of his discourse to such who hate him with a passion, and who would instantly kill him if they could, that he says, "These things I say unto you, that ye might be saved" (v34). Tell me: Is this not written that none of us might despair of hope in him? Paul was "a blasphemer, a persecutor, an injurious person" - yea, "the chief of sinners"; but his testimony was, "I obtained mercy" (1 Tim 1:13). A Manasseh found mercy; a Mary Magdalene found mercy; to say nothing of the thief on the cross. They obtained mercy; Christ willingly received them. And what about all of those murderers around Jerusalem? Christ's killers, every one of them! The first sermon preached after the ascension of Christ was preached to those that were the very murderers of the Son of God; for these words are part of that sermon: "Ye have taken him, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts 2:23). The next sermon, and the next, and also the next, was preached to these same murderers, to the end that they might be saved (Acts 3:13-16; 4:10,11; 5:30; 7:52). To these wretches who had killed the Prince of Life, the gospel was preached indiscriminately, regardless of their acts of villainy! And, behold, thousands of them were saved by grace.
"To believe in Christ," Hugh Binning says, "is simply this: I, whatsoever I be, ungodly, wretched, polluted, desperate, am willing to have Jesus Christ for my Saviour; I have no other hope or help, if it be not in him. It is, I say, to lean the weight of thy soul on this Foundation-stone, laid in Zion, to embrace the promises of the gospel...to make Christ welcome, to say, `Even so, Lord Jesus, I am content in my soul that thou be my Saviour, to be found in thee, not having my own righteousness, but thine; I am well pleased to cast away my own as dung, and find myself none other than an ungodly man."
Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind - Sight, riches, healing
of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find - O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
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A lost man should not be `halted' at the open door of mercy and told to look within himself to see whether he has certain qualifications to fit him for forgiveness and pardon. A sinner is fit to receive the gospel, not by his own fitness, but by God's declaration that he is a sinner, and that the gospel is directed to such. "No other qualification," says Erskine, "is required of him to come to Christ, and receive him, but just that he is a lost, sinful, miserable person. Some will offer Christ upon such and such terms, saying, you must be so and so humbled, so and so penitent, before Christ can be offered to you; so that a man that finds himself a lost, sinful, unhumbled, impenitent, wretched creature, can never come to their hand, or meddle with what they offer; just like a man holding out a cup of excellent wine to his friend, and offering him a drink, but in the mean time he hath made the wine scalding hot on the fire, so as the man, to whom it is offered, dare not touch it with his lips. Even so, many offer Christ, and hold forth the cup of salvation to the people, but they heat their gospel liquor, as it were red hot upon the fire of the law; I mean, with so many legal terms, conditions, and qualifications, that the poor soul that finds himself a lost sinner, every way sinful, destitute of all good qualifications, dare not come near, and thinks he may not, yea, that he ought not to come near with his lip to taste it. We need be at no pains to hinder sinners from coming to Christ, to receive the offer, for they are unwilling enough of themselves. Besides that, they will never have a good qualification till they come to him and receive him, and all good in him, all grace and glory, all holiness and happiness."
"That is a legal and old covenant spirit," says Bunyan, "that secretly persuades the soul, that if ever it will be saved by Christ, it must first be fitted for Christ, by getting a good heart and good intentions to do this and that for Christ; that when coming, it may not be rejected, or turned off. When in deed and in truth this is the very way for the soul to turn itself from Jesus Christ, instead of turning to him; for such a soul looks upon Christ rather to be a painted Saviour or a cypher, than a very and real Saviour.
"Friend, if thou canst fit thyself, what need hast thou of Christ? If thou canst get qualifications to carry to Christ, that thou mightst be accepted, thou dost not look to be `accepted in the Beloved.' tell thee, thou art as if a man should say, `I will make myself clean, and then I will go to Christ that he may wash me'; or like a man possessed, that will first cast the devil out of himself, and then come to Christ for cure from him.
"But if thou wilt lay hold of Christ, so as not to be rejected by him, I say, thou must come to him, as the basest in the world, more fit to be damned, if thou hadst thy right, than to have the least smile, hope, or comfort from him. Come with the fire of hell in thy conscience! Come with thy heart hard, dead, cold, full of wickedness and madness against thy own salvation! Come as renouncing all thy tears, prayers, watchings, fastings; come as a blood-red sinner! Do not stay from Christ till thou hast a greater sense of thy own misery, nor of the reality of God's mercy; do not stay until thy heart is softer, and thy spirit in a better frame; but go against thy mind, and against the mind of the devil and sin; throw thyself down at the foot of Christ, with a halter about thy neck, and say, `Lord Jesus, hear a sinner, a hard-hearted sinner, a sinner that deserveth to be damned, to be cast into hell; and resolve never to return, or to give over crying unto him, till thou do find that he hath washed thy conscience from dead works with his blood virtually, and clothed thee with his own righteousness, and made thee complete in himself. This is the way to come to Christ."
"If I refer to the preaching," says Spurgeon, "of a great many Calvinistic divines, they say to a sinner, `Now, if you feel your need of Christ, if you have repented so much, ifyou have been harrowed by the law to such and such a degree, then you may come to Christ on the ground that you are an awakened sinner.' I say that is false. No man may come to Christ on the ground of his being an awakened sinner; he must come to him as a sinner...Many a score letters have I received from poor troubled consciences who have said, `I would venture to believe in Christ to save me if I had a tender conscience; if I had a soft heart - but oh my heart is like a rock of ice which will not melt. I cannot feel as I would like to feel, and therefore I must not believe in Jesus.' Oh! down with it, down with it! It is a wicked anti-Christ; it is flat Popery! It is not your soft heart that entitles you to believe. You are to believe in Christ to renew your hard heart, and come to him with nothing about you but sin."*
*["Mr. Roger, Mr. Sheppard, Mr. Flavel, and several other excellent divines, in the Puritanic age, and especially Mr. Baxter, used to give descriptions of what a man must feel before he may dare to come to Christ. Now I say in the language of good Mr. Fenner, another of those divines, who said he was but a babe in grace when compared with them - 'I dare to say it, that all this is not Scriptural. Sinners do feel these things before they come, but they do not come on the ground of having felt it; they come on the ground of being sinners, and on no other ground whatever'...All this preaching to sinners that they must feel this and feel that before they trust in Jesus, is just self-righteousness in another shape...Phariseeism is mixed with Hyper-Calvinism more than with any other sect in the world." - Spurgeon
"Hyper-Calvinism is all house and no door; Arminianism is all door and no house." - John Duncan]
"Although sinners will never come to Christ," says Thomas Boston, "till they see their need of him, yet this I will ever preach, that all, under pain of damnation, are obliged to come to him, and that they shall be welcome on their coming, be their case what it will; that such as are willing to come ought not to stop on a defect of their sensibleness, but come to him, that they may get a true sense of sin unto repentance; for he is `exalted a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel, and remission of sins' (Acts 5:31). He is to come, not stand and wait, till `folly bring repentance with it'."
"This I say again," Bunyan says, "a man must not make his good doings the lowest round of the ladder by which he goeth to heaven. That is, he that will and shall go to heaven, must wholly and alone, without any of his own things, venture his precious soul upon Jesus Christ and his merits.
"Question. `What! and come to Christ as a sinner?'
"Answer. Yea, with all thy sins upon thee, even as filthy as ever thou canst.
"Question. `But is not this the way to make Christ loathe us? You know when children fall down in the dirt, they do usually, before they go home, make their clothes as clean as they can, for fear their parents should chide them; and so I think should we.'
"Answer. This comparison is wrongly applied, if you bring it to show us how we must do when we come to Christ. He that can make himself clean hath no need of Christ; for the whole, the clean and the righteous, have no need of Christ, but those that are foul and sick. Physicians, you know, if they love to be honored, will not bid the patients first make themselves whole, and then come to them; no, but bid them come with their sores running on them, as the woman with her bloody issue (Mark 5), and as Mary Magdalene full of devils, and the lepers all scabbed; and that is the right coming to Jesus Christ."
Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed
And that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
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"It is this legal principle," Erskine said, "that makes believers themselves think it cannot be that they are accepted as righteous, perfectly righteous in the sight of God, through the righteousness of Christ imputed; why, because they want a feeling of that righteousness in themselves, which the legal heart is ready to make the foundation of pardon and acceptance; but, as Luther said, `We must not feel, but believe that we are thus righteous'; yea, it is this hidden principle of self-righteousness that will make a minister preach Christ alone for righteousness, as if he were as much for exalting Christ, as any that ever preached; and yet, before ever you know well where you are, you will find him bringing in some legal duty or qualification in order to your being justified, that will spoil all; just like an untoward milch-cow, that will let down a good deal of milk very well, but then, with an unhappy kick of her foot, she will tumble all down to the ground when she hath done; even so, the sincere milk of the word of life, and justification through Christ's righteousness alone, may be let down abundantly, that you would think the man as evangelical as Paul himself, or anybody that ever preached the gospel; but, behold, of the sudden the legal foot gives it a kick, and spills all when he hath done, or else the law sets her foot in the midst of the milk; I mean, mixes some dirty righteousness and qualification of our own, with the fair and clean milk of Christ's righteousness, so as the poor soul loaths to take a drink of it. `Why, I thought this milk was for me, and this righteousness of Christ was for me; but there came in a qualification, that, before ever I could be justified, I must be so and so humbled, and penitent, and am sure I lack such a qualification, and therefore all is lost to me.' But, poor soul, whatever come in this way, tending to make you look within yourself, and stand off from Christ, you may know that it is but a switch of the law of works; slight it and set it off, if it hinder you from thinking of Christ as your ALL, and from buying and drinking his wine and milk, without money and without price."
Did Christ come to call "repentant sinners" or "sinners to repentance"? (Matt 9:13). If it's "repentant sinners," then none are called but those who attempt to meet this qualification in some way by working up a repentance. But the call of Christ is universal to "sinners" as sinners. The very setting where our Saviour uttered these words attest to this truth. Matthew, a publican, had responded to the gracious call; and the upset Pharisees couldn't stand all those publicans and sinners eating with Jesus, and that, in `wicked' Matthew's house! "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" (v11). My question is: Was Matthew qualified for Christ's call? Someone says: `Surely when the Saviour passed by he saw Matthew somewhat changed, trying to run an honest business, quitting all his cheating and laying excessive customs, levy and taxes on the people. Surely he had ceased to be so greedy, covetous and outright thieving!' No. Jesus passed by and beheld a wicked sinner in need of his salvation, and that's all. Otherwise, Matthew could glory that there was something about him that fit him for the call and secured his welcome. If that be the case, would he not be among the number who stand in the temple and boast: "I'm not as other men are" (Luke 18:11)? "It is not sound doctrine," says John Colquhoun, "to teach that Christ will receive none but the true penitent, or that none else is warranted to come by faith to him for salvation. The evil of that doctrine is that it sets needy sinners on spinning repentance, as it were, out of their own bowels, and on bringing it with them to Christ, instead of coming to him by faith to receive it from him. If none be invited but the true penitent, then impenitent sinners are not bound to come to Christ, and cannot be blamed for not coming."*
*"'What,' saith one, 'can you mean it, that I, an unfeeling, impenitent wretch, am bidden to come at once and believe in Jesus Christ for everlasting life?' I mean just that. I do not mean to send you round to that shop for repentance, and to the other shop for feeling, and to a third store for a tender heart, and then direct you to call on Christ at last for a few odds and ends. No, no, but come to Christ for everything." - Spurgeon]
The gospel pharmacy is for the sick. "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick" (v12). This is the qualification for coming to the Physician: we're sin-sick souls. The gospel is not a prize for health, but a medicine for sickness; therefore, to meet all cases, it views us at our worst, and like the good Samaritan with the wounded traveler, it comes to us "where we are" (Luke 10:33). "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The salvation which we preach is glad tidings for the guilty. Salvation by grace implies that men are guilty. Salvation is not the reward of the righteous, but the cleansing of the unrighteous. Salvation is meant for the lost, the ruined, the undone. "The whole need not a physician"; the physician has his eye upon the sick. Alms are for the poor, bread is for the hungry, pardon is for the guilty. The gospel is especially, definitely, and distinctly addressed to sinners.
Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and
Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, love and power.
Come, ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the
If you tarry till you're better, you will never come at all.
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When we require from would-be converts a `broken heart' as a qualification for believing, we are requiring a discernment from sinners for which Scripture does not ask. The truth is that individuals under conviction are unable to understand themselves, and it's common for those who are most burdened to fear that they have no true sense of sin at all. This was Spurgeon's own confession, "There I was year after year, afraid to come to Christ because I thought I did not feel enough; and I used to read that hymn of Cowper's about being insensible as steel: `If aught is felt, tis only pain, to find I cannot feel.' When I believed in Christ, I thought I did not feel at all. Now when I look back I find that I had been feeling all the while most acutely and intensely, and most of all because I thought I did not feel."
The Holy Spirit is indeed given to convict of sin, but Scripture says nothing about him assuring the convicted of their convictions prior to faith. "Few things," says Bonar, "are more dangerous to the anxious soul than the endeavors to get convictions, and terrors, and humiliations, as preliminaries to believing the gospel. They who would tell a sinner that the reason of his not finding peace is that he is not anxious enough, nor convicted enough, nor humbled enough, are enemies to the cross of Christ. They who would inculcate a course of prayer, and humiliation, and self-examination, and dealing with the law, in order to believing in Christ, are teaching what is the very essence of popery; not the less poisonous and perilous because refined from Romish grossness, and administered under the name of gospel."
When the storm clouds of conscience arise, the natural tendency in the minds of men is to do exactly what God forbids - run into the City of Repentance, rather than, into Christ, the City of Refuge. "There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Pro 16:25). They who run in this way of repentance "shall eat of the fruit of their own way" (Pro 1:31). Woe be unto us if we assist them to their own destruction, by ill advising and misdirecting eternity-bound sinners! How many indeed are pacified with a make-shift peace through reformations, duties, prayers, and devotions! These lie down to sleep on the pillow of carnal security, refusing to believe that any of the dreadful threatenings in Scripture against impenitent sinners belong to them. No wonder Augustine said, "Repentance damns more than sins do." This is simply the normal way for the natural man to `make things right.'
"When men come to be convinced of sin and rebellion," says Erskine, "and of their lost state, by reason of their having trampled the divine authority under foot, offended his Majesty, violated his law, provoked his anger; then, as if Christ were the most needless and useless thing in heaven or earth, they run to their repentance for an atonement, as Papists to their penances, and Pagans to their sacrifices, to atone their offended deities; as if there were no Daysman, no Mediator betwixt God and man to make atonement; Christ the Propitiation is altogether slighted; they hope to make atonement, and pacify God, by repenting seriously, and lamenting bitterly; and so they fall to work, praying, fasting, mourning, confessing with an absolute neglect of Christ; and, upon the back of all their legal fears, confessions and bitter lamentations, their awakened consciences are pleased and pacified. The storm that was raised there, is turned into a calm; a false peace takes place, not founded upon Christ, or his atoning blood, but upon their confessions, tears, prayers, whereby they think to disgorge and vomit up all the sins of their life, and to save themselves from them, and from the wrath that follows them. When people are under any fearful apprehension of the wrath to come upon them for their sins, they flee to their repentance instead of fleeing to Christ, and that effectually destroys and ruins them."
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When these extra-Biblical adjectives are used so as to measure the fitness and thus qualify would-be comers, such as: repentant sinners, awakened sinners, grieving sinners, alarmed sinners, convicted sinners - these without question keep poor troubled souls away from Christ. They lead to confusion and legalism. Coming sinners stay aloof from Christ because of a fear that they have not experienced conviction to some acceptable degree. On the other hand, there are those who imagine they can produce certain preliminary requirements, thus running headlong into avenues of self-righteousness they stray further and further from the gospel way - which is FAITH. The apostle said: "Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). If everything prior to "faith" is displeasing to God, tell me, why should sinners be set upon any course of `action' before believing? "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom 14:23). "We know," Bunyan says, "that where faith in Jesus Christ is wanting, there can be neither good principle nor good endeavour, for faith is the first of all graces, and without it there is nothing but sin...Faith is the mother-grace, the root-grace, the grace that hath all others in the bowels of it, and that from which all others flow; yea, it is that which gives being to all our other graces, and that by which all the rest do live." "Whatsoever a man thinketh, purposeth, or doeth," Calvin says, "before he be reconciled to God by faith in Christ, it is accursed, and not only of no value to righteousness, but of certain deserving of damnation." "Whosoever," says Luther, "goeth about to please God with works going before faith, goeth about to please God with sin; which is nothing else but to heap sin upon sin, to mock God, and to provoke him to wrath. Nay, if thou be without Christ, thy wisdom is double foolishness, thy righteousness is double sin and iniquity."
Faith is the key whereby we open the door of salvation, and enter in. The illustration is given of a silly servant who was bidden to open a door, who set his shoulder to it and began pushing, and pushing, and pushing; but the door stirred not, and he could not enter. Another came with a key, and easily unlocked the door, and entered in readily. There are those who go about feverishly trying to `surrender to the claims of King Jesus,' and `bow to the lordship of Christ,' who've been told that this is `the gateway into the kingdom of God.' While it may have a noble ring to it from the pulpit, such a statement as this can be dangerously misleading to the lost.*
*["We shall never obey Christ as a Lawgiver until we receive him as a Saviour. He is a saving Lord; trust in him first to save you from the guilt and power of sin, and dominion of Satan, and to give you a new spiritual disposition; then, and not till then, the love of Christ will constrain you to resign yourself heartily to live to him that died for you (2 Cor. 5:14)." - Walter Marshall
"When we speak of faith merely as it is justifying, we maintain against all the subtle Popery in the world, that it respects Christ only as a Priest, as a sacrifice and propitiation; but not Christ as a King. For, to make that act of faith, that receives Christ as Lord, to be the justifying act of faith, is the very soul of Popery, that builds justification upon sanctification, or upon sanctifying faith; whereas it is the receiving of Christ as a Priest, that alone justifies before God.
"It is true, faith in Christ as a Saviour and a Lord, go hand in hand together; they are inseparably connected; even as the eye and the ear are both joined together in one head; yet it is not the office of the eye to hear, or the ear to see; no, but it is the office of the eye to see, and of the ear to hear; even so, though faith in Christ as a Jesus and as a Lord go together in one and the same believer, and at one and the same time, yet they have their different offices; Christ, as a King and Lord, is not the object of justifying faith, but only Christ as a Priest a Saviour.
"It is not Christ as the Lord, subduing my sin, that is the matter of my justification before God, but Christ, as a Priest, paying all my debt; it is not my personal righteousness, even in my gracious subjection to Christ as a Lord, that can be the ground of justification; but it is the righteousness of Christ alone as a Priest, his doing and dying, that is the ground of justification. And therefore it is not faith dealing with Christ as a Lord that justifies, but faith's dealing with Christ as a Preist, a Saviour, and a complete Righteousness.
"This is the doctrine of the word; which, when our Reformers began to publish, they were branded as enemies to holiness and good works; and if something like this be not at the root of many reproaches in our day, I know not what it is; and if this be the ground of these reproaches, we may gladly bear them as our glory." - Ralph Erskine
"Although the soul that in truth receiveth Christ, receiveth him wholly, and entirely as Christ, and not as chopped, and pulled in pieces, yet I distinguish between the act of faith, which layeth hold on Christ for my justification from the curse before God, and the consequences of that act, which are to engage me to newness of life. And indeed, as it is impossible for a man to be a new man, before he be justified in the sight of God, so it is as impossible, but that when faith hath once laid hold on Christ for life, it should also follow Christ by love." - John Bunyan]
Without question, salvation and surrender are inseparably connected together in Scripture - Christ saves none but those that are brought to resign themselves sincerely to the obedience of his royal authority. If Jesus Christ is not your Lord and King, he is not your Redeemer and Saviour. Yet, it is crucial, in giving directions to the unconverted, that we "hold fast the form of sound words." For if sinners are left with the impression that if they yield, and bow, and strive enough, that their entrance will be surely secured - then we've done them great harm. Such are silly servants pushing and pushing ever so hard; but the door stirs not. An entrance is not gained by anything the sinner can DO - "We have access by faith" (Rom 5:2), which is a ceasing from doing - "To him that WORKETH NOT, but BELIEVETH on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Rom 4:5). Christ says, "Enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able" (Luke 13:24). "Why can they not enter?" Luther asks, "because they know not what this narrow gate is; for it is FAITH, which altogether annihilates or makes a man appear as nothing in his own eyes." Christ says, "FEW there be that find it" (Matt 7:14), and then follows: "MANY will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?" (v22). These are but silly servants pushing and pushing all their days expecting an entrance by their having "DONE many wonderful works," and that, `in the name of the Lord'; but the way is shut, bringing to pass the saying, "The rich he hath sent empty away" (Luke 1:53), never recognizing their poverty-stricken, penniless, bankrupt state. They cry, "Lord, Lord, open to us" (Matt 25:11) only to hear, "I know you not; depart from me." "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief...Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone" (Heb 3:19; Rom 9:32).
The following lines by Spurgeon illustrate how the thinking of even the most choice Christians can be muddled to where they confuse and steer in the wrong direction gospel inquirers:
"What is it to preach the gospel? To preach the gospel is toexalt Jesus Christ. This is the best answer. I am sorry to see very often how little the gospel is understood even by some of the best Christians. Some time ago there was a young woman under great distress of soul; she came to a very pious Christian man, who said, `My dear girl, you must go home and pray.' Well I thought within myself, that is not the Bible way at all. It never says, `Go home and pray.' The poor girl went home; she did pray, and she still continued in distress. Said he, `You must wait, you must read the Scriptures and study them.' That is not the Bible way; that is not exalting Christ. I find a great many preachers are preaching that kind of doctrine. They tell a poor inquiring sinner, `You must go home and pray, and read the Scriptures; you must attend the ministry,' and so on. Works, works, works - instead of `By grace are ye saved through faith.' If one such comes to me and asks, `What must I do to be saved?' I would say, `Christ must save you - believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.' I would neither direct to prayer, or reading of the Scriptures, nor attending God's house; but simply direct to faith, naked faith on God's gospel. Not that I despise prayer - that must come after faith. Not that I speak a word against searching the Scriptures - that is an infallible mark of God's children. Nor that I find fault with attendance on God's word - God forbid! I love to see people there. But none of those things are the way of salvation. It is nowhere written - `He that attendeth chapel shall be saved'; or `He that readeth the Bible shall be saved'; or `He that prayeth and is baptized shall be saved' ; but `He that believeth' - he that has a naked faith on the `Man Christ Jesus' - on his Godhead, on his manhood, is delivered from sin. To preach that `faith alone' saves, is to preach God's truth. Nor will I for one moment concede to any man the name of a gospel minister, if he preaches anything as the plan of salvation except faith in Jesus Christ; faith, faith, nothing but faith in his name. But we are, most of us, very much muddled in our ideas. We get so much work stored into our brain, such an idea of merit and of doing, wrought into our hearts, that it's almost impossible for us to preach justification by faith clearly and fully; and when we do, our people won't receive it. We tell them, `Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.' But they have a notion that faith is something so wonderful, so mysterious, that it is quite impossible that without doing something else they can ever get it. Now, that faith which unites to the Lamb is an instantaneous gift of God, and he who believes on the Lord Jesus is that moment saved, without anything else whatsoever."
The story is told of one who was in deep bitterness of spirit, who set himself to work and pray, in order to get peace. He doubled the amount of his devotions, saying to himself, `Surely God will give me peace.' But the peace did not come. He set up family worship, saying, `Surely God will give me peace.' Again the peace did not come. At last he thought of having a prayer-meeting in his house, as a certain remedy; he fixed the night, called the neighbors, and prepared himself for conducting the meeting by writing a prayer and learning it by heart. As he finished the operation of learning it, preparatory to the meeting, he threw it down on the table, saying, `Surely that will do; God will give me peace now.' In that moment a still small voice seemed to speak in his ear, saying, `No, that will not do; but Christ will do.' Straightaway the scales fell from his eyes, and the burden from his shoulders. Peace poured in like a river. `Christ will do,' was his watchword ever after.
Luther sought rest for his troubled breast in like manner through self-denial, and retirement as a monk, but did not find it. In 1510, he started as a delegate for Rome, hoping to find relief from his burden there. As he came in sight of the city, he fell on his knees, exclaiming, `Holy Rome, I salute thee.' He was disappointed and shocked at the wickedness which he found there. The people said to him, `If there is a hell, Rome is built over it.' At last, he turned to ascend Pilate's staircase, thronged by the superstitious crowd, upon his knees. He toiled from step to step, repeating his prayers at every one, till a voice of thunder seemed to cry within him, `The just shall live by faith.' Instantly he arose, saw the folly of his hope of relief through works of merit. A new life followed his new light. Seven years later, he nailed his `95 Theses' to the doors of the Wittenberg Church, and inaugurated the Reformation.
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The gospel not only calls for "faith in our Lord Jesus Christ," but it also sets forth the duty of "repentance toward God" (Acts 20:21). God "now commandeth all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30). There is no salvation apart from repentance. It is an indisputable fact, pledged by Divine faithfulness, that the sinner that does not turn from his sins will perish. Either his iniquities or his soul must go. Without true repentance, salvation is impossible; damnation is inevitable. "God is angry with the wicked every day. If he turn not, he will whet his sword; he hath bent his bow, and made it ready" (Psa 7:11,12). As has often been stated to sinners: `Repent or Perish!' `Turn or Burn!'
While the necessity of repentance cannot be overemphasized, the means of evangelical repentance must not be ignored. As we stand in the pulpit calling upon sinners to repent, we must understand the desperate dilemma the sinner is in. His heart is so wedded to his sins that he cannot possibly turn from them of himself (Jer 13:23). "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jer 17:9). The word "desperate" here is "incurable" (Hebrew anash; see 15:18; 30:12,15). He's a slave to his lusts, bound in the prison-house of sin, incurably wicked! How can we demand that he forsake his sins, without leaving him stranded in a quandary of hopelessness?
When repentance is set forth in a `legal' fashion as though it's something that must be attained unto, prior to faith in Christ - it becomes a `perplexing snare' entangling the souls of men, who cannot find how to unshackle themselves from sin's clutches. Thus, being falsely persuaded that none but the true penitent have a right to trust in gospel promises, the offers from a compassionate Saviour and the hope of a great salvation only serve to torment them. John Colquhoun asks, "Are you caught up in trying to exercise repentance in order to qualify you for believing in Christ?...Know this, I entreat you, that this preposterous and self-righteous course will but sink you the deeper in unbelief, impenitence, and enmity to God...The longer you try in this manner to seek for evangelical repentance in your heart and life, the further you'll be from finding it."
Generally at this point, there are two common OBJECTIONS that arise:
First objection: Those who teach that Christ will receive none but the true penitent, admit that while it is true, the sinner in and of himself cannot forsake his sins, yet by the power and operation of the Spirit of God working in him through the process of `conviction,' he is enabled to repent, turn from sin, and break with his iniquity.
Answer:This line of thinking is answered in the next chapter: The Withering Work.
Second objection: There are those who feel that under this head we are separating two things that should not, and cannot be divided: repentance and faith. It is said that these are `twin graces' given simultaneously by the grace of God to the sinner, and they cannot be severed; that they are like two sides of the same coin, and that every true penitent is a true believer, and that every true believer is a true penitent.
Answer: To this, we whole-heartedly agree. In principle, there can be no such thing as an impenitent believer, or a penitent unbeliever. Both of these spiritual graces are implanted in the soul at the moment of regeneration, together and at once in respect of time. They are inseparable; and "what God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Mark 10:9). Separating the two, though, is one thing; distinguishing the nature of each, is quite another. In this discussion, we are not implying in any way any type of time sequence as respecting repentance and faith. We are distinguishing now between the principle of a thing, and the practice of a thing. The `acting' of saving faith and the `exercise' of true repentance is our present focus. An order of time is not in view, rather, an order of nature.
"That repentance not only always follows faith," says Calvin, "but is produced by it, ought to be without controversy. Those who think that repentance precedes faith instead of flowing from, or being produced by it, as the fruit by the tree, have never understood its nature, and are moved to adopt that view on very insufficient grounds. But when we attribute the origin of repentance to faith, we do not dream of some period of time in which faith is to give birth to it: we only wish to show that a man cannot seriously engage in repentance unless he knows that he is of God. But no man is truly persuaded that he is of God until he has embraced his offered favor."
When speaking of distressed souls under a sense of sinfulness and of the wrath of God, who dare not venture to trust steadfastly on Christ, Walter Marshall said,"They think it necessary to repent before they believe on Christ for their salvation, because repentance is absolutely necessary to salvation: `Unless you repent you shall all likewise perish' (Luke 13:3), and Christ places the duty of repentance before faith: `Repent and believe the gospel' (Mark 1:15). But we are to know that Christ requires repentance first as the end to be aimed at, and faith in the next place, as the only means of attaining it, and though the end is first in intention, yet the means are first in practice and execution, though both are absolutely necessary to salvation. For what is repentance, but a hearty turning from sin unto God and his service? And what way is there to turn to God, but through Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life, without whom none can come to the Father? (John 14:6). And what way is there of coming to Christ but by faith? Therefore, if we would turn to God in the right way, we must first come to Christ by faith, and faith must go before repentance, as the great instrument afforded us by the grace of God for the effectual performance of it. Repentance is indeed a duty which sinners owe naturally to God, but the great question is, `HOW SHALL SINNERS BE ABLE TO PERFORM IT?' This question is resolved only by the gospel of Christ: `Repent and believe.' The way to repent is to begin with believing. Therefore the great doctrine of John, in his baptism on repentance, was `that they should BELIEVE ON HIM that should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus' (Acts 19:4)."
"What saith Christ himself from heaven," asked Goodwin, "when he gave Paul his commission? `I send thee to open the eyes of the Gentiles, to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified' (Acts 26:17,18). Will not all this do? Will not turning unto God from self-love, to loving God and being sanctified, serve to save us under the gospel? No; read the next words: it must all be, says Christ, `through faith that is in me.' Christ saith it from heaven, this is his commission, and he declares that, under the gospel, remission of sins and turning to God, forgiveness of sin and sanctification, were all through faith in him." Bunyan affirms this truth: "Departing from iniquity must be with the mind and affections, or with the heart; yet, nothing can purify the heart but faith, Acts 15:9, `purifying their hearts by faith.' The heart must first be sanctified and made holy; for an unsanctified mind cannot depart from iniquity no more than the Ethiopian can change his skin (Jer 13:23). Nothing can make a man depart from iniquity where faith is wanting." "Faith breeds union with Christ," Thomas Watson says, "and there can be no separation from sin till there be union with Christ."*
*[That this is the historic position is without question: "Saving repentance is an (Zech. 12:10) Acts 11:18) evangelical grace, whereby a person, being by the Holy Spirit made sensible of the manifold evil of his sins, doth, BY FAITH IN CHRIST, humble himself for it (Ezek. 36:31; 2 Cor. 7:11) with goldy sorrow, destestation of it, and self-abhorency." - 1689 Cnfession of Faith (emphasis mine)]
"Faith is the receiving grace," says Erskine, "and other graces are received by it; it fetches them out of Christ's fulness; it brings out repentance, and then it is a penitential faith; gospel-repentance is in it, and with it, and after it, but not before it...For maintaining the faith of our forefathers," he said, "we were charged with bringing in new schemes of doctrine" in opposition to, what he called "strange opinions that were never before heard tell of in this church, such as gospel repentance before faith and justification; a new scheme and principle that may be charged with not holding the Head, Jesus Christ, and faith in him, as the head of all other gospel graces."
The story of Abraham sending his chief servant to find a bride for his son, Isaac, affords us with a clear picture of these truths (Gen. 24). After traveling many days and many miles, the good providence of God brought Eleazer to Rebekah. In her family's home, and after he had told the story and explained his errand, the question is put to her, "Wilt thou go with this man?" (v58). Rebekah was suddenly invited to forsake all - old ways, old faces, old places, old customs, father, mother, home, relations, friends, all were to be abandoned; and she was to start out on this long and wearisome journey, to be the bride of one she had never seen. Before there was any possibility of Rebekah being prevailed upon to leave her father's house, and join this caravan on such a passage through an unknown country, she had to be fully persuaded, not only, that there was such a person as Isaac, but that all the good things spoken about him were true (v35,36). She believed. Everything and everyone must be forsaken, traveling with strangers had to be faced, enduring the elements, the dangers, and all the unexpectancies of that wide-open country, and going into a strange land with different people, with different customs, and a different dialect. She said, "I will go." Her glory, and the glory of her family, was overshadowed by a greater glory, that she entered into by faith. She overcame all obstacles by faith. Her own pursuits were put aside and forgotten, through believing in the glory of Isaac. There's no other way that she would have left, had she not believed.
All true repentance, forsaking of sin, leaving worldly pursuits, turning from darkness to light, and turning from the power of Satan unto God, Christ says, is "by faith that is in me." All godly sorrow, mourning over sin, hatred of sin, conquering passions and pride, comes through a believed gospel. Leaving of houses and lands, family and friends, turning from the glory of self to the glory of God, overcoming this world, is accomplished through faith in Jesus Christ. "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" We've got a wilderness to face, mountains to cross, great obstacles in front of us; but we've got the promise, "All things are possible to them that believe." "This is the victory," John says, "even our faith!" (1 John 5:4,5).
Rebekah's faith that there was an Isaac, and that all was true concerning him enabled her to break every tie at once. It enabled her to place herself completely in the hands of Abraham's servant. It enabled her to endure all those many miles on the back of those camels. She believed in Isaac. "I had fainted," David said, "unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord" (Psa 27:13). What can possibly pull Moses away from the treasures in Egypt? He saw "greater riches" in Christ (Heb 11:26,27) - "By faith, Moses forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible." Every day on that long journey Rebekah saw Isaac. She saw him when she awoke in the morning; she saw him when she lay down to sleep at night. She saw him in that glorious story that Eleazer had told of him, how the Lord had blessed Abraham, his master, and how he had become great, and how he was rich beyond measure, in camels and asses, in flocks and herds, in silver and gold, in menservants and maidservants; and how his master had only one son, that his wife bare when she was old, and how he loved him so, "and unto him hath he given all that he hath" (Gen 24:35,36; see John 3:35). The gospel is not DO; it's believe. Eleazer didn't want Rebekah to DO anything. Why? because he had absolute confidence in the message; and if she believed it, everything was taken care of. He wouldn't have to tell her to do anything. He wouldn't be wondering which way she'd be going. He wouldn't be wondering if she'd give this up, or give that up. He already knew, if she believed - her heart, her life, her future, her everything, would belong to Isaac! She'd give it all up; and she did. Everything became a "labour of love" for her (1 Thess 1:3). Isaac, "whom having not seen, she loved" (1 Peter 1:8).
Rebekah didn't do all those things in order to go to Isaac. She went to Isaac by faith, and then she did all those things, through faith in his promise. This is why God does not ask for, nor will he accept anything from a sinner prior to faith. There's no use in Rebekah doing one thing, until she's embraced the promise, and given consent. Why? because "if you believe not the record that God hath given of his Son," John says, you're "calling God a liar" (1 John 5:10). You've insulted God by doubting his word! Do what you will, "without faith, it's impossible to please God!" (Heb 1:6). You've scoffed at his promise, you've ignored his offered favor, but worst of all, you've despised his Son, his only Son. This is the reason that until the `glad tidings' are believed and embraced, everything sinners DO is only sin and worthless in the sight of God. Not to believe in Christ is the crowning, damning sin; and this, the Holy Spirit aims at first in conviction: "When he is come," Christ said, "he will convince the world of sin, because they believe not on me" (John 16:8,9). He who believes not on the Son of God does despite to the grandest display of God's love, rejects God's mercy, holds in contempt his unspeakable gift, and tramples on the blood of Christ.
Rebekah wasn't called upon to show her sincerity by deeds of any kind. She didn't first have to prove herself by going 20 miles on the back of a camel, to show she was sincere, in order to be accepted as the bride for Isaac. Why? It was a message of FREE GRACE. Eleazer knew the outcome if the message was believed. Why? because of the glory of Isaac - "unto him hath he given all that he hath" - security beyond measure, wealth untold. The story must have rang in her ears as the love of a prince. O yes, if she believes, the outcome is certain! We are not to set sinners upon doing this and doing that; because when they embrace "the man Christ Jesus," the fruits of faith will be seen, as the glory of God's Son in the gospel is believed (2 Cor 4:6). "Faith is the mother of all graces," Goodwin says, "it is that grace that sets all other graces a-work, that sets all wheels a-going." "Wilt thou go with this man?...she said, I will go."
"Men try to get away from believing in Christ," Spurgeon said, "by expecting an actual conversion to be manifest in them before they will trust the Saviour. Now, understand that Christ has wrought salvation in no man who is unconverted. There must be a perfect turning round of us - a complete conversion from sin to holiness. But that is salvation, and not a preparation for salvation...Why, you poor wretched sinner, you say, `I am not a saint. I cannot be saved.' Who said you were a saint? It is Christ's work to make you into a saint. `Oh, but I do not repent as I should.' It is Christ's work to make you repent as you should, and to him you must come for repentance. `Oh, but my heart won't break.' It is Christ who is to break your heart - not you who are to break it, and then come to him with it ready broken. Come to Jesus just as you are, with your hard, stony, senseless heart, and trust that and everything else to his saving power...Repentance is a grace. Some people preach it as a condition of salvation. Condition of nonsense! There are no conditions of salvation...Christ is a Saviour that begins the alphabet of mercy at A. He does not ask you to get as far as B, C, D, and promise then to meet you; but he begins at the beginning...Do not look for conversion first, but expect it as the result of faith."
"In coming to some souls, and in asking them how they do," Bunyan says, "they will tell you presently, that they are so bad that it is not to be expressed. If you bid them believe in Jesus Christ, they will answer, that they cannot believe; if you ask them, why they cannot believe, they will answer, because their hearts are so hard, so dead, so dull, so backward to good duties; and if their hearts were but better, if they were more earnest, if they could pray better, and keep their hearts more from running after sin, then they could believe; but should they believe with such vile hearts? and presume to believe in Christ, and be so filthy?
"Now, all this is because the spirit of the law still ruleth in such a soul, and blinds them so that they cannot see the terms of the gospel. To clear this, take the substance of the drift of this poor soul, which is this: `If I was better, then, I think, I could believe; but being so bad as I am, that is the reason that I cannot.' This is just to DO something that I may believe; to work, that I may have Christ; to do the law, that I may have the gospel; or thus, to be righteous, that I may come to Christ. O man! Thou must go quiet back again; thou must believe, because thou canst not pray, because thou canst not do; thou must believe, because there is nothing in thee (naturally) that is good, or desireth after good. Or else thou wilt never come to Christ as a sinner; and if so, then Christ will not receive thee; and if so, then thou mayst see, that to keep off from Christ, because thou canst not do, is to keep from Christ by the law.
"Many poor souls in these days also think they must be saved alone by the Saviour, yet they think there is something to be done on their parts, for the obtaining of the good will of the Saviour, such as, their humiliation for sin, their turning from the same, their promises and vows, and resolutions, and what not; and thus they, bringing this along with them, as a means to help them, fall short of eternal salvation.
"See Romans 9:30-32. The apostle saith here, that they that sought not, did obtain; when they that did seek, fell short. `What shall we say then,' saith he, `that the Gentiles, which sought not after righteousness have attained to righteousness, (yea) even the righteousness of faith.' And what else? `But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.' How came that to pass? `Because,' saith he, `they sought it not by faith, but as it were,' mark, he doth not say, altogether; no; but as it were; that is, because as they sought, they did a little, by and by, lean upon the works of the law.
"And let me tell you, that this is such a hard thing to beat off, that though Paul himself did take the work in hand, he did find enough to do touching it. How he is fain to labour, in the first ten chapters of Romans, for the establishing of those that did even profess largely in the doctrine of grace! And also in that epistle to the Galatians, and yet lost many, do what he could.
"Now, the reason why the doctrine of grace doth so hardly go down, even with professors, in truth, effectually is because there is a principle naturally in man that doth argue against the same, and that thus: `Why,' saith the soul, `I am a sinner, and God is righteous, holy, and just; his holy law, therefore, having been broken by me, I must by all means, if ever I look to be saved, in the first place, be sorry for my sins; secondly, turn from the same; thirdly, follow after good duties, and practice the good things of the law, and ordinances of the gospel, and so hope that God for Christ's sake may forgive all my sins'; which is not the way to God as a Father in Christ, but the way, the very way, to come to God by the covenant of works or the law, and thus, fall short of eternal salvation."
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Doctrinal pitfalls are unavoidable when `conviction of sin' and the `exercise of repentance' are not properly distinguished. Again, we are not speaking of the `principle' or `root' of repentance, but the exerciseof repentance is our present focus. It is also important to understand that we are not now referring to any type of counterfeit repentance - `natural' or `legal.'
It's common for the natural man to be filled with sorrow and self-condemnation, because he's conscious of having done wrong. When he considers his actions, and the disagreeable consequences caused toward himself and others, a `natural' sense of regret will follow. There is also regret produced in the `legalist' due to his breaking of God's law, and especially from his gross sins which expose him to eternal danger. He's extremely sorry; but this sorrow arises, not from love toward the God against whom he has sinned, but through the knowledge of sure punishment. His love of sin and his hatred of holiness continue with all their strength, even in the midst of such regret, sorrow, and repentance. Consider Pharaoh: "I have sinned this time: the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked" (Exo. 9:27). Legal repentance also attempts to buy God off and earn his favor by not committing certain evils, and through the performance of certain decent, moral, or religious acts. See the Pharisee in the temple (Luke 18:11,12). Such sham repentance is not what we are now speaking of, rather, true, gospel repentance is in view - turning to God from the love and practice of all iniquity, to the love and practice of true holiness.
When we confound conviction of sin with true repentance, by failing to see the true place and office of each, serious error and confusion are sure to follow. Consider:
(1) When repentance is confused with conviction, as that which the Spirit works within the sinner in a pre-justified state, the implication is that justification is built upon sanctification. The exercise of repentance is comprised in sanctification. No man can repent unless he hate sin and love holiness. None can hate sin and turn from it, except he be sanctified. In actual sanctification, the believer dies more and more to sin, and lives to righteousness. When this is presented as that which must accompany conviction, prior to faith in Christ, biblical order is turned up-side-down. "Justification," says Watson, "is the very hinge and pillar of Christianity; and an error about justification is dangerous, like a crack in the foundation, or an error in the first concoction. Justification by Christ is a spring of the water of life; and to have the poison of corrupt doctrine cast into this spring is damnable."
(2) God not only commands, but is very pleased with the exercise of true repentance; however, it cannot be pleasing to God if it precedes, in any degree, our receiving Christ by faith; for "without faith, it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6). "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom 14:23). "Without me," says Christ, "ye can do nothing." "The branch cannot bear fruit of itself...I am the vine, ye are the branches" (John 15:4,5). A sinner can do nothing spiritually `good' in the sight of God separate from Christ, that is, apart from vital union with him; therefore, he that is not `in Christ' by faith cannot possibly exercise spiritual repentance.
(3) One of the chief consequences of mingling conviction and repentance is that it tends to keep the unconverted standing afar off from Christ, looking within for those things that are to be had only through union with Christ, e.g., a sincere hatred of all sin accompanied with earnest resolves and endeavors to forsake it.
Confession of sin, hatred of sin, and turning from sin, are all `good' things in the sight of God. These are "things that accompany salvation" (Heb 6:9) - fruits of faith that will surely be evidenced through union with Christ. In the convicting work of the Spirit, God's purpose is not to bring the sinner to the performance of `good' things at all; rather, his goal is to expose how wretched, rotten, and `bad' the person really is. These convictions are humbling, tending to make the sinner despair of help in himself, or in God out of Christ.
Learn this: In conviction, the Spirit is not out to make you `better,' as it were; but `worse.' Contrary to what you may think, his intention is not to get you to quit this and quit that, nor is he directing you into moral or religious exercises whatsoever. His purpose is to reveal you to yourself in all of your guilt and pollution, as one destitute without Christ. The aim of the Spirit is to destroy every confidence you've ever had, that you might see the Cross as your only hope. "It is this conviction alone," says John Owen, "which puts the soul upon a flight unto the mercy of God in Christ, to be saved from the wrath to come - `fled for refuge' (Heb. 6:18)."
Man by nature stands before God under the covenant of works, seeking to be justified by the law. The purpose of God's Spirit is to blast every hope that the sinner has of ever standing righteous before a holy God on such a basis. He effectually shuts the door of hope by the law. The apostle said in Romans 7:9, "I was alive without the law once"; that is, before the Spirit of God got aholt of him, he was ignorant to the spirituality of the law, and its true demands, and how it requires heart-holiness before God (see v7,8); therefore, he says he was "alive" in his hopes of being accepted on the basis of that law. The Lord didn't leave him in that deluded state, though; something happened: "when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died"; that is, by the withering work of the Spirit, he "died" to all fleshly hopes of ever being accepted in the sight of God by anything he could ever do. God's convicting Spirit brought Saul to the end of hope in Saul, that he might see Christ alone as his only hope.
The Spirit's work is not to make us godly and holy, in order that we may be forgiven, but to bring us to the Cross, where forgiveness is found by the unholy and the "ungodly" (Rom. 4:5; 5:6). His aim is to slay us, that we might find life in Christ; and to bruise us, that we might apply to the Great Physician. The law lays open the wound; it is Christ in the gospel that heals. The law in the hands of the Spirit "strips a man, wounds him, and leaves him half dead"; the Saviour "binds up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine" (Luke 10:30,34). "Thus saith the Lord, "I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal" (Deut 32:39).
This is why in that great message of Spurgeon's on conviction, entitled, The Withering Work of the Spirit, he was careful to show that the Spirit of God in conviction does not aim to bring the sinner to holy and good performances in any way; rather his purpose is to bring a man to see that he is nothing but sin, with no hope of help in himself apart from Christ; his hopes in self are destroyed as he is led to see Christ as his whole salvation. He said, "The Spirit of God, like the wind, must pass over the field of our souls, and cause our beauty to be as a fading flower. He must so convince us of sin, and so reveal ourselves to ourselves, that we shall see that the flesh profiteth nothing, that in the flesh dwelleth no good thing, that our fallen nature is corruption itself, and that `they who are in the flesh cannot please God'...So wherever the Spirit of God breathes on the soul of man, there is a withering of everything that is of the flesh, and it is seen that to be carnally minded is death...Wherever the Spirit of God comes, he destroys the goodliness and flower of the flesh; that is to say, our righteousness withers as our sinfulness, our beauty fades as a leaf...When visited by the Spirit, we find that even when the will is present with us, how to perform that which we would we find not; yea, and we discover that our will is averse to all that is good...when the withering wind of the Spirit moves over the carnal mind, he reveals the death of the flesh in all respects, especially in the matter of power towards that which is good. We then learn that word of our Lord: `Without me ye can do nothing.'...It is a great mercy for a man when God sweeps right away all his own righteousness and strength, when he makes him feel that he is nothing and can be nothing, and drives him to confess that Christ must be all in all...Let the hand of the Spirit lay bear to me myself at my very worst, that I may be driven to self-despair, and may fall back upon the free mercy of God, and receive it as a poor, guilty, lost, helpless, undone sinner, who casts himself into the arms of sovereign grace, knowing that God must give all, and Christ must be all."
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The CROSS of our Lord Jesus Christ is that wonder-working rod that brings water out of the rock! The stubborn hearts of the sons of men are conquered at Calvary. It is written, "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him" (Zech 12:10). True brokenness over sin is found when a sinner sees Christ suffering in his stead. The eye of faith looks on mercy and that thaws the heart. Faith persuades of the love of God, and that love sets us to weeping. The summit of `glad tidings' to sinners is the Cross of Christ. To see a Saviour laying down his life for the hopeless and the helpless, is welcome news to the lost, the ungodly, the hard-hearted, the insensible, the lame, the blind, the halt, and the maimed. Calvary is the key to conviction and conversion. There are too many souls waiting on the Holy Spirit to convict their hearts; but true conviction comes not by waiting, but by looking - looking to him whom your sins have crucified! "They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn." It is not, they shall mourn and look, but they shall look and mourn.
Law and terrors do but harden, all the while they work
But a sense of blood-bought pardon, soon dissolves a heart of stone.
While I view thee, wounded, grieving, breathless on the
Lord, I feel my heart believing that thou suffered there for me.
In the immortal words of John Bunyan, from Pilgrim's Progress, we have a glorious picture painted of this wonder-working miracle flowing through a glimpse of Calvary, "Now I saw in my dream that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall is called Salvation. Up this way therefore did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back. He ran thus till he came to a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a Cross, and a little below in the bottom, a Sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the Cross his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back; and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the Sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.
"Then was Christian glad and lightsome, and said with a merry heart, `He hath given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death.' Then he stood still awhile, to look and wonder; for it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the Cross should thus ease him of his burden. He looked therefore, and looked again, even till the springs that were in his head sent the waters down his cheeks. Now as he stood looking and weeping, behold three Shining Ones came to him and saluted him with `Peace be to thee.' So the first said unto him, `Thy sins be forgiven'; the second stripped him of his rags, and clothes him with change of raiment; the third also set a mark in his forehead, and gave him a roll with a seal upon it, which he bid him look on as he ran, and that he should give it in at the Celestial Gate. So they went their way. Then Christian gave three leaps for joy, and went on singing:
"Thus far did I come loaden with my sin;
Nor could aught ease the grief that I was in,
Till I came hither: What a place is this!
Must here be the beginning of my bliss?
Must here the burden fall from off my back?
Must here the strings that bound it to me, crack?
Blest Cross! blest Sepulchre! blest rather be,
The Man that there was put to shame for me."
What better example could we find to greater illustrate the substance of this entire paper than that of Spurgeon's own conversion? Due to a snowstorm on that December morning in 1849, he slipped into a small Methodist chapel, with only one thing on his mind - he said, "I wanted to know how I might be saved." A simple man, whom Spurgeon referred to as `really stupid', stood in the pulpit and read the text: "LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH" (Isa 45:22). The preacher began: "This is a very simple text indeed. It says `Look.' Now lookin' don't take a great deal of pain. It ain't lifting your foot or your finger; it's just `Look.' Well, a man needn't go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn't be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But the text says, `Look unto Me.' Ah! many of ye are lookin' to yourselves, but it's no use lookin' there. You'll never find any comfort in yourselves...Some of ye say, `We must wait for the Spirit's workin.' You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, `Look unto Me'."
After the good man managed to spin out about ten minutes or so on Christ's death, burial, and resurrection, Spurgeon says: "He was at the end of his tether; then he looked at me under the gallery...just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, `Young man, you look very miserable...and you will always be miserable - miserable in life and miserable in death - if you don't obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.' Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, `YOUNG MAN, LOOK TO JESUS CHRIST. LOOK! LOOK! LOOK! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO DO BUT LOOK AND LIVE! I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said - I did not take much notice of it - I was so possessed with that one thought...I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, `Look!' what a charming word it seemed to me. Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. Then and there the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I felt I could have sprang from my seat that instant and sang with the most enthusiastic of those Methodist brethren of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before! - `Trust Christ, and you shall be saved'."
"E'er since by faith I saw the stream, thy flowing wounds
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die."
Up to this time, preachers had failed to present the gospel to young Spurgeon in a clear and direct manner - `Look to Christ!' This young boy had labored for quite a long time with the deluded notion that he had something "to do" - yea, he said, "fifty things to do!" - and all the while, `There was life in a look at the Crucified One.' "Oh, that somebody had told me this before!" This experience in his younger days challenged him throughout his whole ministry to tell sinners in every sermon, and in a most forthright and understandable way, how to be saved. He was consistent, too. Even when preaching one his strongest messages on repentance, Turn or Burn, he directed men's eyes to the Cross. For following the true nature of repentance, and it's absolute necessity, he came to his third and last point - the means of repentance. He said, "Now, allow me to make this sermon of some purpose, under God, by its conclusion. Sinner! thou art so desperately set on sin, that I have no hope thou wilt ever turn from it of thyself. But listen! He who died on Calvary is exalted on high `to give repentance and remission of sin'." Where did Spurgeon go from here? - straight to the Cross. He told his own story of how in that little Methodist chapel his eyes were turned away from himself, to `Behold the Lamb of God'; and he closed his sermon with these words, `Oh! if one such should be here this morning! Where art thou chief of sinners, thou vilest of the vile?...`Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.' He was careful not to point the sinner to repentance, then to Christ; rather, the sinner is pointed, in good-gospel fashion, away from himself to Christ, and believing in him as the only hope of true repentance.
This is the reason Paul's message never swerved from "Jesus Christ, and Him Crucified" (1 Cor 2:2). There's no other object of faith! Salvation is totally wrapped up in Jesus Christ Himself! Christ is the whole of man's happiness, the Sun to enlighten him, the Physician to heal him, the Pearl to enrich him, the Ark to support him, the Rock to sustain him under the heaviest pressures, "As an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest, as rivers of waters in a dry place, and as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Isa 32:2). The Holy Spirit, Christ said, "shall not speak of himself...he shall testify of Me...he shall glorify Me...he shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 15:26; 16:13,14). "If you want to get a man to Christ," Spurgeon says, "the best way is bring Christ to the man."
The glory of Christ, and the glory of the Cross, is to be the constant theme of every minister of the gospel. The preacher's principal business, yea, perhaps his only business, is to cry, "Behold the Lamb of God!" (John 1:36). John the Baptist can be the most eloquent preacher of repentance, the most earnest declaimer against the sins of the times; yet if he remembers not to cry, "Behold the Lamb of God," he's missed his life's work. His chief errand was to herald the Messiah, to bear witness to the Son of God. While he dealt hard with sin, and laid the sword of repentance to its throat; he still knew that nothing could be done unless he pointed out the Lamb of God, by whom the sin of the world is taken away. When repentance is the sermon, Jesus must be the text and substance of the discourse. He puts life, power, and energy into what else would be but a dead moral essay. "Christ Crucified" is THEmessage whereby needy sinners find peace, pardon, life, and liberty - "For other foundation can no man lay [either for justification or sanctification] than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. :23; 3:11).
The gift of salvation is not purchased, earned, nor worked for in any way by the sinner; it is simply received, as surely as the sunshine is received: free and complete. Grace flows to us through the work and merits of the Saviour, not through anything we could ever do, or endure. Life and peace are not to be claimed on the ground of fitness or goodness, but of need and unworthiness, of poverty and emptiness. The eye of faith is merely to behold Him who cried, "It is finished!" and receive the life, the healing, and all the benefits of that death by FREE GRACE.
Looking to Christ is not a work; it is a resting in the Saviour, and in all that he accomplished. The gospel does not command us to do anything in order to obtain life, but offers us life by that which another has done. Like Naaman, the natural man would rather "do some great thing" (2 Kings 5:13); but believers give all the glory to Christ, saying, "This is the Lord's doing; and it's marvellous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:23). He did it all! The law says, `This do, and live.' The gospel says, `Believe and live!' This is the only possible way for life to come to those who have broken the law, and are condemned by it. Salvation is of `faith' that it might be by grace (Rom 4:16). Faith has been described as `the venture of a perishing soul upon Christ.' If you can say to the Lord Jesus: `All my trust on thee is stayed, all my help from thee I bring,' that is faith; and Jesus testifies, "Thy faith hath saved thee" (Luke 7:50). We are "justified by faith" (Rom 3:28), but faith does not justify as a work of goodness, but simply as a recipient of promised mercy. Watson said, "If a man had a precious stone in a ring that could heal, we should say the ring heals; but properly it is not the ring, but the precious stone in the ring that heals. Thus faith saves and justifies, but it is not any inherent virtue in faith, but as it lays hold on Christ it justifies."
The office of faith is not to work, but to cease from working. The gospel message to the unconverted is to cease from every effort, and look away to Christ; in essence, - "Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord" (Exo 14:13). Israel's looking to the brazen serpent was a ceasing from all remedies, and letting health pour itself into the body by the eye. When we look upon an object, we're not `giving' at all, but simply `receiving' the image in view. The eye of faith is not a giver, but a receiver; it receives Christ and all his saving benefits. To him alone belongs all the glory; we have done nothing. Faith is but the instrument, the medium; Christ alone is the satisfaction and the merit. Our first business does not have to do with faith, but with Christ; otherwise, we've turned faith into some great thing that we do, that is, into a `work.' Salvation comes not by doing, but by receiving - receiving a work already done, a work effected and finished two thousand years ago by Him who "was made sin for us, who knew no sin: that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Cor. 5:21).
Look not at your believing. You say, `I feel I cannot believe.' You will never believe if you look first at your believing. We are not inviting people to faith, but to Christ. What's the difference? If you say that you would `like to believe a thing' - you never will. The first thing that we are to do is ask: `What is this thing I am to believe?' Then will faith come as the result of that search. Fix your eyes upon him who "suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). See him, who upon that cursed tree, "redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us" (Gal 3:13). Look unto him "who was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom 4:25). Gaze for awhile at that One who "made peace through the blood of his cross" (Col 1:20). Take your place at the foot of the Cross looking for a Substitute. That's where salvation is. Make your way to Mt. Calvary, and camp out right there under the Cross, till you can say:
"I stand amazed in the presence, of Jesus the
And wonder how he could love me, a sinner condemned unclean.
Alas, and did my Saviour bleed, and did my Sovereign
Would he devote that sacred head, for such a worm as I?
Was it for crimes that I have done, he groaned upon the
Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree!"
When Moses lifted up the serpent of brass on that pole, those Israelites were to cease completely from doing anything; their eyes were to be totally directed away from themselves. The promise was, "Every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live" (Num 21:8). That was their sole instruction: just look! Nothing else. They were not to calculate the size of the serpent to determine the extent of the venom. They were not to lance the wound, and go about sucking out the poison. They were not to take any anti-venom, or antibiotics of any kind; they were not to apply a tourniquet, not to dress it, or to wrap it; they were not to watch the swelling, apply an ice pack, or consider the discoloration of their flesh; they were not to call for help from their kinsmen, the doctor, or the priest; they were not even so much as to cast another glance at the wound - there was nothing for them but just to Believe God, and cease from all their doing, and all their efforts, and all their anxieties, and Look Away! "If a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld...he lived." He lived! "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14,15). True faith is not a giver, but a receiver. It's not an actor, but an onlooker. It's not a builder, but a beholder.
"Not saved are we by trying, from self can come no
Tis on the blood relying, once for our ransom paid.
Tis looking unto Jesus, the holy One and Just;
Tis His great work that saves us; it is not try, but trust.
No deeds of ours are needed, to make Christ's merit
No frames of mind or feelings, can add to His great store;
Tis simply to receive Him, the holy One of and Just,
Tis only to believe Him, it is not try, but trust."
About The Article
"The greatest condition, laid down for a poor soul to do, as to salvation, is to believe that his sins be forgiven him for Jesus Christ's sake, without the works of righteousness of the law, on his part, to help forward. 'To him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness' (Rom. 4:5). There is never a condition in the gospel that can be fulfilled by an unbeliever; and therefore, whether there be conditions, or whether there be none, it makes no matter to thee, who art without the faith of Christ; for it is impossible for thee in that state to do them, so as to be ever the better as to thy eternal state. Therefore, lest thou shouldst split thy soul upon the conditions laid down in the gospel, as thou wilt do, if thou go about to do them only with a legal spirit; I say, to prevent this, see if thou canst fulfill the first condition, that is, to believe that all thy sins are forgiven thee, nor for any condition that hath been, or can be done by thee, but merely for the Man's sake that did hang on Mt. Calvary, between two thieves some sixteen hundred years ago and odd. And I say, see if thou canst believe that at that time he did (when he hanged on the cross) give full satisfaction for all thy sins, before thou in thy person committed ever a one." - John Bunyan
The author of this work is a missionary/publisher, founder of METROPOLITAN PRESS in the West Indies, P. O. Box 2028, Roseau, Dominica, W. I.
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