H. P. Barker
5 Peace with God
6 The Forgiveness of Sins
8 Meetness for Heaven
10 The Inspiration of the Bible
12 The Second Coming of the Lord
The "Bible Dialogues" contained in this little volume were held during a course of special gospel meetings in a large marquee pitched in the city of Kingston, Jamaica. Hundreds heard them, and many were the testimonies to the help and blessing received.
Issued, first of all, in Simple Testimony, a monthly magazine, they reached a wider circle. They are now offered to the reader in a more permanent form.
They aim at presenting, in the simplest possible manner, for the help of converts and young Christians, some of the fundamental truths of our holy faith. They are sent forth with the prayerful hope that God may graciously use them for the confirmation and establishment of the lambs of Christ's flock.
Harold P. Barker.
Questions by O. Lambert.
The subject we have chosen for our first dialogue is one of prime importance, for faith is the great principle upon which God bestows His blessing.
When the question, "What must I do to be saved?" rang from the agonised lips of the prison warder at Philippi, the inspired answer did not bid him pray, or strive, or make vows, or anything of that sort. He was told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. Nothing that he could do could secure God's salvation. The doing had all been done by Christ. All that is left for the sinner is the appropriation of the results of His mighty work by simple faith.
What is Faith?
Faith is a thing which people exercise in a hundred ways every day of their lives. When that lady entered the tent just now, and sat down on that chair, it was an act of faith. She trusted the chair and committed herself to it. When I removed my hat and hung it upon yonder hook, that again was an act of faith. I trusted the hook, and depended upon it to hold my hat. The faith of which the Bible speaks is just as simple as that. Christ is its object, and to have faith in Him is to rely on Him, or count upon Him for that which our souls need. The same thing is expressed in other ways in Scripture: "Look," "Come," "Take," "Receive"—all these mean very much the same as "Trust" or "Believe."
If, from your heart, you can say —
"Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on Thee,"
you are one that has faith in Him.
Can a man believe of his own accord?
When the Lord Jesus told the man with the withered hand to stretch it forth, the man did not ask, "How can I?" He might have said, "Lord, I have not been able to move this arm for years. It is paralysed and helpless. I cannot be expected to raise it." But he simply did as he was bidden. From this we learn that when God commands He gives power to obey.
Now it is His commandment that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ (see 1 John 3:23). Left to ourselves, it is not likely that we should desire to trust in Him. Our hearts are naturally so depraved and hard that there is no room for Christ there, that God has His ways of producing what He seeks, and it is not for us to reason as to our ability or inability to believe, but to remember that we are commanded to do it. The best thing is to be simple about it. We can trust one another without question. It ought not to be more difficult to trust the Saviour.
Why is it said that faith is the "gift of God"?
It means, I think, that not only does blessing come to us freely from God, but that the means of appropriating that blessing is provided by Him.
Suppose that a friend comes to you and says, I have placed a large sum of money to your account at the Colonial Bank. Here is a chequebook for you. When you wish to draw any money, fill in a cheque and present it, and you will get what you want.
Your friend thus makes a twofold provision for you. First, he provides a sum of money for you to draw upon. Secondly, he furnishes you with the means to draw upon that amount. But it would be useless for you to say, "Very well, then, all I have to do is to fold my arms and wait till the money comes to me." You would for ever remain without the money if you were to act in that way.
You would have to use diligence in availing yourself of the means provided. You would have to fill in and sign the cheques, and present them at the bank for payment.
Now faith is like the cheque-book. It is the gift of God, and is the means by which you may freely avail yourself of all the blessing which Christ has won for sinners by His work upon the cross. The effect of it should be to exercise you, and make you diligent in applying for the offered blessing.
Will believing that I am saved, save me?
No more than a pauper would become a millionaire by believing that he is one! We sometimes hear it said, "All you have to do is to believe that you are saved, and you are saved." One might as well go to the bedside of a man down with typhoid fever and say, "All that you have to do is to believe that you are quite well, and you are quite well." It is worse than useless for a man to believe that he is saved, until he really is saved through faith in Christ.
What must a man believe in order to be saved?
I would rather say, "Whom must a man believe?" for it is not a fact, but a Person, that is set forth as the object of faith. In 2 Timothy 1:12 the apostle says, "I know whom I have believed."
In order to be saved, we are not told to believe about the Lord Jesus Christ, but to believe on Him; that is, to trust in Him.
A lady once came to a friend of mine after an earnest gospel preaching and said, "Will you please point me to some text in the Bible which I am to believe in order to be saved?" The preacher replied, "Madam, you may believe any text, or all the texts in the Bible, and yet not be saved. Believing the Bible never yet saved a soul."
"Well," said the lady, "if I believe that Christ died for sinners, will that save me?"
"No, madam," was the reply, "for that would only be the belief of a fact. A very blessed fact, I grant you, but still only a fact, and believing a fact, however true, never yet saved a soul."
"I suppose," said the lady, "that you mean that I must make it a more personal matter, and believe that Jesus died for me."
"Madam," replied my friend, "it is an unspeakably precious fact that Jesus died for you. He died for the ungodly, and therefore for you. But that is only a fact, and let me repeat that believing a fact never yet saved a soul."
"Christ is a living Saviour, mighty, through the work that He has accomplished, to save. Trust Him to save you. He is willing; He is able; rely on Him."
I could not put the matter more simply than my friend did in his conversation with the lady. It is a living, loving Saviour in glory that we are bidden to trust.
Is faith the only condition of salvation?
I hardly like to speak even of faith as a "condition of salvation." When Queen Elizabeth I was about to pardon one of her nobles who had offended against the laws of the realm, she wished to make certain conditions.
"Your Majesty," said the offending courtier, "grace that has conditions is no grace at all."
The Queen saw the truth of this, withdrew the conditions, and freely set the nobleman at liberty.
To speak to the Queen as he did, he must have trusted her. He had faith in her clemency and grace, but this was not a condition of his pardon.
Now God's grace is as free and unconditional as was Queen Elizabeth's. It has no conditions. If faith is the principle on which God blesses, it is in order "that it might be by grace" (Rom. 4:16).
This is important, I am sure, for many people regard faith as something that they have to take to God as the price of their salvation, just as they would take a fee to their doctor. Faith is the simple appropriation of what God freely offers.
But, probably, Mr. Lambert, in asking this question, has in his mind something that always goes hand-in-hand with true faith, and that is repentance. These two are twin sisters. When one really turns to the Lord in faith, one always turns away from self with loathing, and that is what I understand by repentance. I am rather sceptical as to the so-called "faith" of people who have never been before God in self-judgment about their sins.
How may I know whether my faith is of the right kind or not?
The great point is, does it rest upon the right object? If so, though it may be weak and small, yet it is faith of the right kind. For instance, suppose that I am sick with influenza. I may have great faith in a certain medicine to cure me. Repeated doses, however, produce no result, and I come to the conclusion that my confidence, great though it was, was misplaced, because the medicine in which I trusted had no efficacy. On the other hand, a remedy of proved value is recommended to me. I have little faith in it, however, and can hardly be persuaded to try it. But when at length I begin to take it, I find myself much benefited. My faith in it was small, but it was the right kind of faith, because the medicine I took was efficacious.
In like manner, one may have strong faith in prayer, or in happy experiences, or in dreams, but such faith is faith of the wrong kind. One's faith in Christ may be very small, but if it is indeed faith in Him alone, it is faith of the right kind.
How may one get to have strong faith?
If a person is untrustworthy, the better one knows him the less one confides in him; but if a person is trustworthy, one's confidence increases as one gets to know him better. The more we learn of the Lord Jesus, the deeper our personal acquaintance with Him goes; the more we explore the heights and depths of the grace of God, the stronger our faith in Him becomes. Every fresh lesson learned of Him strengthens our faith.
Suppose a man's faith is always weak, will he yet be saved?
It goes without saying that it is good to be like Abraham, who was "strong in faith, giving glory to God." It has been truly said, however, that while strong faith brings heaven to us, weak faith (so long as it is faith in Christ alone) will bring us to heaven.
I was once travelling by train in England to the city of Birmingham. Two ladies were in the same compartment. One was evidently accustomed to travelling, and, having ascertained that she was in the right train, sat quietly in her corner, reading a book till she arrived at Birmingham.
The other was an elderly lady, whose great concern seemed to be that, after all, she might not reach her destination. At nearly every station at which we stopped she put her head out of the window, and inquired of some railway official whether she was in the right train. All their assurances seemed powerless to set her mind at ease.
Let me ask you a question. Which of those two ladies do you think got to Birmingham first? Both, of course, got there at precisely the same moment. Their arrival did not depend on the amount of their faith, or the lady with the doubts and misgivings would have been left far behind. Their arrival depended on the fact of their both being in the train that was bound for Birmingham.
In the same way two persons may have committed themselves to Christ, and taken His precious blood as the only hope of their souls. One is filled with holy boldness and calm assurance, the other is the victim of torturing doubts. But there is no better likelihood of the one reaching heaven than the other! Both are sure to get there, because the One in whom they have trusted has pledged His word never to let any of His sheep perish.
Suppose a man tries his best to believe, what more can he do?
For anyone to talk about "trying to believe" shows that he is entirely mistaken as to the nature of faith. If you came to me and said, "I live at No. 10, in such-and-such a street," and I were to say, "Well, I will try to believe you," how would you feel? You would draw yourself up, and with an indignant tone you would say, "What? Try to believe me? Do you think, then, that I would tell you a lie?" Your indignation would be natural. Yet people talk of "trying" to believe in Christ! Is He, then, of such doubtful trustworthiness? Is He not rather the one Person in the universe whom we should find it the easiest to trust?
Do not let us get occupied with our faith. Like everything else about us, it is disappointing, and no amount of "trying" will improve it. Let us look right away from self to Christ. We cannot trust ourselves, but, thank God, we can fully trust Him.
Is there not such a thing as "believing in vain"?
Indeed there is, and the apostle Paul speaks of it in his first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 15. But this is only another way of expressing what we have already spoken of, namely, faith in an unworthy object. The apostle was showing the Corinthians that the resurrection of Christ has proved Him to be an Object worthy of our fullest trust. If He had not risen it would have proved that the load of our sins was too great for Him to bear. Faith in Him would in that case have been in vain. But He is risen from the dead, proving thus that His work of atonement is complete. He sits in heaven a mighty Saviour. None who trust in Him will trust in vain.
Must not faith go hand in hand with works?
Faith without works is dead, but it is faith that saves, not faith and works. The works come in as the evidence of the reality of the faith, and very important they are. I am suspicious of the man who tells me that he believes in Christ and yet is not "zealous of good works."
If you see smoke coming out of a chimney you know there is a fire inside. You cannot see the fire, but the smoke is evidence of its existence. But it is the fire, not the fire and smoke, that gives warmth. Faith is like the fire; works are like the smoke. They do go hand in hand, but not in securing salvation. No works that we could do could add to the value of the work done by Christ on our behalf. Faith rests upon His work, and shows itself in works which are done by the saved ones out of gratitude to Him.
"By grace are ye saved through faith," we read. "Not of works, lest any man should boast." But in the very next verse we are told that we are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2:8-10).
Do we, when we believe in Christ, exercise faith once for all, or is it a continuous thing?
In trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for pardon and salvation, we trust Him to give us what we seek once for all. From the judgment which our sins deserve, from the hell towards which we were hastening, from the wrath that hung over our heads, we trust Him to deliver us once for all. In trusting Him thus we find that the question of our eternal future is divinely settled, once for all.
But in saying this I do not mean that there will ever be a time, throughout the whole period of our earthly life, when faith should not be in lively exercise. We do indeed believe in the Lord Jesus Christ once for all, but we never cease to trust Him.
Moreover, there are other things than the salvation of the soul that call for the constant exercise of faith. Salvation itself is viewed in more aspects than one. Besides being the present portion of the believer, it is looked at as something which, in its fulness, yet awaits us, and which will be "revealed in the last time." For this, according to 1 Peter 1:5, we are kept by the power of God, not as mere machines, but through faith.
Then there are a hundred things, great and small, connected with our pathway here, each one of which calls for the exercise of faith. For even the smallest temporal mercy we are dependent upon the goodness of God, and in connection with such, as well as in reference to those higher things to the enjoyment of which we are called, we need from day to day to exercise faith in God.
Here our first dialogue ends. May each and all know what it is to lay hold of Christ by faith for salvation, and for all the blessings that God's grace has stored in Him for us.
Questions by A. Miller.
Every householder in this city claims the right to say who shall cross his threshold and who not. Now the right that we claim for ourselves we must surely allow to the Lord Jesus Christ. In Matthew 18:3 He distinctly tells us that some shall not enter His kingdom. Unless a man is converted it is useless for him to expect it. We read: "Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."
This shows the immense importance of conversion. We do well to devote an evening to this subject. Apart from conversion, there can be no blessing, no lasting joy, no heaven for anyone.
Will you please explain what is meant by Conversion
We cannot do better than turn to Scripture for an answer. Look first at 1 Corinthians 6. After mentioning many awful vices prevalent amongst the heathen, the apostle says, in verse 11: "Such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified." That is a lovely definition of conversion. Turn now to Ephesians 2:13: "Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." That is how the apostle puts it to the believers at Ephesus. Then look at 1 Peter 2:25: "Ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." All these passages show very clearly what conversion is, but I do not know any that puts it more beautifully than 1 Peter 2:9: "Called .… out of darkness into His marvellous light."
These scriptures make it very plain that conversion is a vital and radical change affecting the soul—a transference from darkness, danger, and distance to light, salvation, and nearness to God.
The other evening I had occasion to go into my bedroom to change my coat. It was dark, but knowing where my other coat hung, the change was easily effected without a light. An outward change was thus brought about. I had laid aside an old coat for a better one, but all the time I remained in the dark! A similar thing often takes place in the history of men. They become religiously impressed, they forsake their evil companions, sinful habits are dropped, and efforts are made to live a better life. Instead of frequenting the rum-shop they attend a place of worship, and become sober and respectable citizens. All this and much more is true of them, yet all the while they remain in darkness. No heavenly light, revealing a Saviour full of love and power, dawns upon their souls. An outward change, desirable in every way, has taken place, but their souls have not been brought from danger to safety and from darkness to light. We cannot be too emphatic in saying that such reformation is not conversion. Turning over a new leaf is not the same thing as being made nigh to God by the blood of Christ.
Some people seem to think that if they have had remarkable dreams or exhilarating experiences and religious feelings, it amounts to conversion. But conversion is a far deeper reality than anything of this kind; it is nothing short of a passing from death unto life (John 5:24).
Do those who have been baptised and never committed any gross sin need to be converted?
There is no sin that is not gross sin in God's sight. Men are accustomed to regard some sins as heinous and some as trivial, but every sin is abhorrent to God. The slightest sin as effectually bars heaven's gate against the one who commits it as the sin of murder, and it calls as loudly for atonement by the blood of Christ.
But it is not only because of what we have done that conversion is such a necessity, but because of what we are. And in this respect there is no difference; all are sinners, all must plead guilty, all are exposed to judgment. Scripture declares most decidedly that "there is no difference." The baptised, educated, refined, amiable, religiously-inclined lady must be converted if she wishes to go to heaven, just as truly as the swearer, the drunkard, and the thief.
Can we be converted just when we please?
God never gives a sinner the choice of times; His time is always the present. "Now is the day of salvation," and "to-day if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts." If a man puts the matter off, he does so at his own most terrible risk. He may never have another chance. I do not say he will not, for God's longsuffering is great, and His grace lingers over many; but it would be safer to play with the forked lightning than to trifle with His mercy or the pleadings of His Spirit.
How long does it take to get converted?
Last Friday evening we read a note from a young friend here, who says that in less than a minute she received the blessing which, as a guilty sinner, she sought. Her tale could be echoed by many. How long did it take the dying thief to get converted? How long for the bitter persecutor on the Damascus road to be stricken down and the cry of "Lord!" to be wrung from his lips? How long was it before the leather-hearted, gospel-hating jailer at Philippi, when awakened by the earthquake, got an answer to his question—"What must I do to be saved?"
No doubt there are usually many exercises of soul that accompany conversion, and these may be spread over weeks or years. But I believe there is a definite moment when the exercises reach their climax, when the soul puts its confidence, once for all, in the Saviour and His precious blood, and is pardoned and cleansed. It is not a long process; it is the act of a moment.
If any converted person falls into sin, does he need to be converted over again?
That is a question asked, in one form or another, by thousands. I venture to say, however, that the question would never occur if we really understood that when a sinner is converted he is also justified from all things, becomes a child of God, and by the gift of the Spirit is made a member of Christ's body. If all this needs to be repeated whenever a believer falls into sin, then it needs to be repeated twenty times a day in the case of many. But one passage of Scripture will put such a notion to flight. We read, "Whatsoever God does, it shall be for ever" (Ecc. 3:14). When a soul is saved, it is God that saves it, and "it shall be for ever." When a sinner is justified through faith in Christ, "it is God that justifies," and "it shall be for ever."
No earthly parent can sever the relationship that exists between himself and his child. So is it with the heavenly and eternal relationship formed between God and the believing soul. If one of His children falls into sin, He may chastise him and subject him to various kinds of discipline, but disown him? Never! Such a one needs to be restored to communion and to the right path, but he cannot be converted over again.
In saying this I do not forget Luke 22:32. Peter was a truly converted man ever since that memorable scene when he owned himself a sinful man, yet clung to the Saviour's feet, if not before. But he grievously fell, and denied his Lord with curses. The Lord, however, tells him that He has prayed for him, and even before his fall looks on to his restoration. "When thou art converted," He says, "strengthen thy brethren." It would be better translated, "When thou art restored," for it refers not to the conversion of a godless sinner, but the restoration of a backsliding saint.
Let me give you an illustration which I borrow from a friend. A man enlists as a soldier. After a time he grows weary of a soldier's life, and, seizing an opportunity, he runs away. He is now a deserter, and lives in constant fear of detection. By-and-by he resolves to return to the army. His regiment has been ordered to the front, and he would like to rejoin it. How is he to get into its ranks again? He cannot re-enlist as if he had never worn the King's uniform: not as a recruit, but as a deserter, he must return. His proper course is to report himself to his colonel, and submit to any penalties that the latter may see fit to impose.
So with an erring child of God. He is a deserter from the ranks, and he cannot enlist as a recruit. As a wanderer he must return, not to seek acquittal by a judge, but pardon from a Father. Let such remember that God's restoring grace is as great as His saving grace. If the guilty sinner is welcomed, so the wandering child will be, but it is as a child he must return, needing not conversion, but restoration, and he will assuredly obtain it through the advocacy of Christ.
Is conversion all that is needed to make one a Christian?
If it were, there would have been no need for Jesus to come down from heaven and die upon the cross. That mighty work was necessary before anyone could become a Christian. But perhaps Mr. Miller is thinking of a notion that is current in certain quarters that no one can properly call himself a Christian until, at the end of life's journey, he prepares to pass from earth to heaven. Ask one who believes thus, "Are you a Christian?" and the reply will be, "I am trying to be one."
Now, no amount of trying has ever made anyone a Christian. A man does not become a soldier by trying to behave like one, but by enlisting. The moment he enlists he is as much a soldier of the King as the commander-in-chief. The one has never set foot upon a battlefield, and the other may be the veteran of a hundred fights, but both are soldiers of the King.
What are the marks of a converted person?
There were four marks most noticeable in the converts at Thessalonica. You will find them in 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10.
1. They had turned to God. This is the first mark of a converted person. Instead of fearing God, he is at peace with God; instead of hiding from Him, he says, "Thou art my hiding-place"; instead of regarding God as a stern taskmaster or severe judge, he knows Him as his loving Father.
2. They had turned from idols. Others amongst us, besides coolies and Chinamen, have had idols. Anything that is allowed to usurp God's place in the soul is an idol; anything of self that one bases a hope of future bliss upon is an idol. Are you hoping for God's favour because of your moral living, or your praying, or your vows? Then these things are your idols. They stand between you and God's blessing. A mark of a converted person is that he has flung to the winds all that he previously built his hopes upon—his own efforts and resolutions, everything that stood between him and God.
3. They were now serving the living and true God. An unconverted man serves self and Satan, a converted man seeks to serve God in all the details of his life. Everything under his control becomes converted, too, as it were. If he is a draper, he is careful to give thirty-six inches to the yard, if a milk-seller, he sees to it that his milk is milk, and not milk and water. Everything about him bears witness that he is now a servant of God.
4. They were waiting for God's Son from heaven. Popularity, fame, success, wealth, are not objects of ambition to the really converted man. He knows Jesus as his Deliverer from wrath to come, and his hopes are fixed upon that bright world where God's Son is the Centre of all. He looks for Him, and his dearest wish will be gratified when he finds himself in His presence for ever. Oh that these four marks might be more visible in each of us!
Can every converted person tell for certain the exact date of his conversion?
A great many can. They can put their fingers upon a certain day in the almanac and say, "That is my spiritual birthday." But all cannot do that, and I don't think any should be troubled on that account. If you are sure that you are converted, that you have been brought out of the shadowland of sin into the sunshine of grace and liberty, it is enough. There is no need to be anxious because you cannot tell the precise moment of your conversion.
Is conversion always accompanied by deep sorrow for sin?
I am exceedingly doubtful of any conversion in which there is not a measure of self-judgment and sorrow for sin. It is no pleasing sight to see a person "receive the word with joy," as did those of whom we read in Luke 8:13. The next thing recorded of them is that they "have no root," only believe "for a while," and soon "fall away." I have seen people profess conversion and immediately get down on their knees and pray for their friends, for the preachers of the gospel, for the soldiers in South Africa, for those exposed to danger by sea, for the Jews, and I know not what else. They seem to have no sense of the seriousness of their sins, which needed such a sacrifice as that of Christ to atone for them. There is no deep ploughing up of their consciences, no distress over their hardness of heart. For my own part I love to see tears of contrition on the cheeks of a repentant sinner, and to hear the heart-broken cries of the prodigal as he turns to the Father. I think God values it too.
"God loves to hear the contrite cry,
He loves to see the tearful eye,
To read the spirit's deep-felt sigh.
But it is a true saying that "still waters run deep." Often those who feel most are the slowest to give expression to their feelings. But one looks that there should be some indication of a broken and contrite state of soul, and some realisation of the seriousness and awfulness of sin.
Why do we see so few conversions nowadays, compared with what we read of in bygone times?
It may be traced to more causes than one. Perhaps it is due in no small measure to the fact that in many quarters conversion is no longer looked upon as a necessity. Sermons are delivered without mentioning it in any way. People are exhorted to "follow Christ" and "walk in His steps" without being told that in order to do so they must begin by being converted.
No doubt another cause is the lamentable coldness and indifference among us evangelical Christians, who do believe in the necessity of conversion.
When David wandered from the Lord, he ceased to have any influence for good over others. In Psalm 51 we see him penitent. Listen to his words: "Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit: then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee." While David's heart was cold there was a dearth of conversions.
The restoration of his joy would be the means of blessing to others besides himself. Sinners would be converted. Brethren, we should not have to mourn over the fewness of conversions if only our hearts were warmer and more responsive to God's mighty love.
If a man says: "I want to be converted, but I don't know how to set about it," how would you advise him?
I should turn him to Acts 3:19: "Repent, and be converted." I should urge him, in true repentance, to turn to the Saviour. I should also read Acts 16:31 to him: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." A repentant sinner, who truly believes in Jesus and trusts Him for salvation, is converted. He has turned to the Lord from his sins.
Our dialogue is ended. It is now my turn to ask a question, and I want everyone here to answer it honestly, as in the presence of God. Are YOU converted?
My ardent desire is that you should seek a personal interview with the Saviour. Acknowledge your guilt. Make no excuses. Keep nothing back. Then put your trust in Him. He will save you and bless you. Then you will be able to say, "Thank God, I am converted."
Questions by P. Brown.
Sometimes in seeking a correct definition the force of a thing is lost. I fear it is so, very often, with Repentance.
I remember hearing a preacher of the gospel mention a visit which he paid to a certain man.
"I have only one message for you," he said, "and it is that you must repent."
"And, pray, what is repentance?" asked the man.
"Well," replied the preacher, "when you think of your guilty life, and the necessity of your meeting God by-and-by, if you don't know what repentance is, I can't tell you!"
Still, I will try to make its meaning clear. Briefly, the word signifies a change of mind, but it is a change of mind that affects a man's moral being to its deepest depths. It is a change of mind that causes him to turn from his sins with loathing, and to hate himself for having committed them. A repentant sinner thus takes sides with God against himself.
Suppose a man has not committed any very dreadful sin, is there the same necessity for repentance in his case?
Before we speak of what would be necessary for such a man, produce him! The fact is that all sin is dreadful in God's sight, and there is not an individual living who has not sinned. Hence the need for repentance is universal. God "now commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30).
I suppose you could hardly find a man freer from the grosser excesses of sin than Job was. God Himself bare record that there was "none like him in the earth," and that he was "a perfect and an upright man" (i.e. in his outward conduct), "one that fears God and eschews evil."
If any man could be supposed not to need repentance, surely Job was that man. He could truthfully say of himself: "I put on righteousness, and it clothed me: my judgment was as a robe and a diadem. I was eyes to the blind, and feet was I to the lame. I was a father to the poor" (Job 29:14-16).
Dear, noble, kind-hearted, charitable man! Did he need to repent? Let him answer for himself. While speaking of his outward life and character he could rightly claim pre-eminence in goodness, but when he refers to his state and condition before God, listen to his words: "Behold, I am vile. Mine eye sees Thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and REPENT in dust and ashes" (Job 40:4 42:5-6).
We sometimes hear of "death-bed repentance." What is meant by that?
There are those who live all their life careless and Christless. If the importance of their soul's welfare is pressed upon them, they say they will consider the matter "some day," and thus they put it off again and again, and go on with their sins and their pleasures. At last, when they find themselves upon the brink of the grave, they become alarmed and begin to cry to God for mercy, and make a profession of faith in Christ. That, I suppose, is what is called a "death-bed repentance."
But death-bed repentances are very unsatisfactory things. I am far from denying that a man, even at the eleventh hour of life, if he really turns to the Saviour and puts his trust in His precious blood, will find mercy. The grace of God is infinite, and I have no doubt many will be in heaven who were saved upon a dying bed.
But in many cases persons who thought that they were dying, and professed to be repentant, have recovered. With renewed health came a renewed love of sin. Their impressions wore off, their alarm vanished, and their so-called repentance proved to be unreal, the mere result of terror at the thought of death.
It is easy to see that the folly of putting off repentance to one's dying hour is great indeed. Even if permitted to have a death-bed (which is by no means certain), can it be the best time to think of one's soul when the body is racked with pain and the mind enfeebled by continued suffering?
Besides, does it not seem a very mean thing to devote all one's best years to the service of sin and self, and then when strength is failing and life ebbing away to turn to God because one can no longer pursue one's own way?
What is the difference between repentance and remorse?
In remorse there is no real loathing of sin. A man may be full of remorse for what he has done without having much sorrow for the sin itself. In such a case the soul turns in upon itself in bitterness. There is no turning to God in self-judgment.
Judas was full of remorse for his sordid treachery when he beheld its awful results. But there was no true repentance, no real turning away from sin and self to God. In the bitterness of his soul he went and hanged himself.
The truly repentant soul is affected by the love and goodness of God. It does not plunge into the darkness of despair, but feels that, in spite of its terrible sin and depravity, it must cling to Christ. Like Peter in Luke 5, the sinner who is truly repentant feels that he is unworthy to be noticed by the Saviour, and cries, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord," and yet at the same time casts himself at Jesus' feet.
How may one know when one has repented enough?
I strongly suspect that anyone asking that question is making a saviour of repentance.
He thinks perhaps that the sincerity of his repentance will induce God to be gracious to him. Now it cannot be too much emphasised that when God blesses a sinner it is not on account of the depth of his repentance or the strength of his faith, but because of the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
Repentance is never as deep as it should be; but if a repentant sinner turns from self to Christ, then his repentance has taken the right direction. He need not further be occupied with it, but will find peace and blessing in putting his confidence in Christ, and resting upon His finished work for salvation.
If God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance, why does He allow men to die without repenting?
God never forces His blessings upon men, or treats them as if they were mere machines. It is the "longing soul" that He satisfies. The gospel offer of salvation is made to all, and all are commanded to repent. But if a man wilfully closes his ears to the call of grace, and turns his back upon God's mercy, he has no one to blame but himself, if he miserably perishes in his sins. All that divine love could give has been freely given for him; all that divine righteousness claimed has been freely offered; all that was necessary to be done has been fully accomplished. What more can a man expect?
What would you look for in a man who says that he has repented?
I should expect him to "bring forth fruits worthy of repentance." It is useless for anyone to say that he repents of his sins while he continues in them. A man that is genuinely repentant not only confesses his sins, but forsakes them (Prov. 28:13).
Amongst other signs of true repentance we shall observe a willingness to make restitution to anyone who has been wronged.
We see this in the case of Onesimus. He had wronged his master, Philemon, by running away. After his conversion he seeks to make compensation, as far as he can, by going straight back to his master. In Zaccheus we have another instance of this. When the Lord Jesus responded so graciously to his desire to see Him, and brought salvation to his house, Zaccheus said, "If I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold" (Luke 19:8). That is a case of bringing forth fruits worthy of repentance.
Is there anyone that you have wronged? Anyone whom you defrauded long years ago by a bit of sharp practice that has never been discovered from that day to this? Anyone you have wronged with your tongue, whose character you have damaged by slander and gossip? Is there such a person? Don't tell me that you are repentant, then, unless you are willing to do what you can to make amends.
A lady who was converted at one of our tent meetings had been employed, in her younger days, in a draper's store. She had bought a new hat, and needed some ribbon to trim it. Not having the necessary money, she was tempted to take a yard from her employer's shop. No one was the wiser; the ribbon was never missed.
When that lady was converted the circumstance recurred to her mind. Taking her pen, she wrote to the forewoman of the shop somewhat like this:
"Dear -, While an assistant at Mr. -'s, I am sorry to say that I stole a yard of pink ribbon of the value of -. I am now a Christian, by the grace of God, so I enclose the amount in stamps, and beg that you will accept this expression of my sincere regret."
That is the sort of thing we expect to see when anyone professes repentance.
If a man says, "I should like to repent, but I feel that my heart is so hard, and I don't grieve over my sins as much as I should," how would you help him?
I should tell him that I was very glad to hear that he felt the hardness of his heart so much, and that he was so grieved because he didn't grieve as much as he should. How often it is that we find people in a state like that, sorry because they are not more sorry, grieving because they don't grieve more. But what lies at the bottom of all that is self-occupation. Now, never yet has a sinner been turned away from the Saviour because his feelings were not deep enough about his sins. Nor has a sinner ever been received and saved because his heart was sufficiently melted and his grief sincere.
If there is anyone troubled because his heart is so hard, I would say to him, "The hardness of your heart is another reason why you should go to Jesus at once. He can soften it." If the man protests that his grief over his sins is not deep enough, I should say, "All the more reason why you should lose no time in turning to the Saviour. Trust in Him, think of His dying love upon the tree, and if that does not cause you to grieve over your sins, no brooding over your own condition ever will."
When the jailer at Philippi asked, "What must I do to be saved?" why did not Paul and Silas say anything to him about repenting?
Because it was as a repentant sinner that he asked the question. Note the change that had been wrought in him during the course of a few short hours. From a brutal, hard-hearted man he had been transformed into an anxious inquirer for salvation. What had made the difference? Terror, no doubt. But there was another influence at work, which seems to have touched his heart and produced a measure of repentance. What influence was that? The goodness of God.
When, in desperation, that jailer was about to take his own life a loud voice fell upon his ear "Do thyself no harm." That voice revealed to him the fact that there was someone who cared for him. The care and interest which Paul and Silas showed for their cruel keeper was the echo of the interest and love of God Himself. It was a revelation of God's goodness to the man's soul, and it broke him down and wrung from his lips the cry of a repentant sinner, "What must I do to be saved?" Repentance was there; all that was needed now was that he should be pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ as the One whom he might trust for salvation.
If a man dies unrepentant, will there be any chance of his repentance after death?
It is the goodness of God that leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4). When a man dies in his sins he passes for ever out of the sphere where God's goodness is active. There may be remorse in the regions of the lost, but no repentance. On the contrary, the weeping and the wailing is accompanied by "gnashing of teeth," which is a very different thing from repentance. There is nothing in hell to change a man's heart. Scripture is clear that "now is the day of salvation." It is in this life that our eternal destinies must be fixed.
In Luke 16 the rich man in hell is represented as desiring that his brethren should be warned. He says, "If one went unto them from the dead, they will repent." But he never says such a thing as "I will repent." The lost in hell realise that the day for their repentance is gone for ever.
You say it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance. But are not men ever induced to repent by fear?
I have no doubt that the fear of coming judgment has been the means of awakening many. Some of the most richly blessed servants of God have seen hundreds turn to Him as they shook their audience over hell. Different men are affected in different ways. Some can be gently drawn, others need to be driven. With some the "still small voice" carries most weight, others are more moved by the peal of thunder and the crash of the tempest. Some hearts are melted under the sweet story of God's love; some are broken under the awful warnings of death and judgment. The Lord's servants have to deal with men differently, and they must ever keep near to their Master, that they may know how to speak. But God's goodness is seen as much in the messages of warning as in the messages of grace. It is His mercy that warns. So in that way it always remains true that the goodness of God leads to repentance.
What is meant by the Scripture in 2 Corinthians 7, which says that "godly sorrow works repentance to salvation"?
The repentance and salvation spoken of there are the repentance and salvation of Christians. The believers at Corinth had grievously erred, and the apostle Paul had written a letter of faithful remonstrance. This letter (the First Epistle to the Corinthians) had produced the desired effect. Godly sorrow had taken the place of shameless glorying in evil, and this sorrow for their sin had wrought repentance in that it had led the Corinthian believers to turn from their evil course and clear themselves from the wrong that they had countenanced. Thus repenting, they were saved from going further down the hill of declension. In this way "repentance to salvation" was wrought by their godly sorrow. It shows that when a believer sins, his repentance should be as real and as practical as one expects a sinner's repentance to be at the first. It is a good thing to be so anxious to be clear of sin, and to be kept from grieving the Holy Spirit, that it can be said of us, as of the Corinthians: "Ye sorrowed after a godly sort. What carefulness it wrought in you; yea, what clearing of yourselves; yea, what indignation; yea, what fear; yea, what vehement desire; yea, what zeal; yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (2 Cor. 7:11).
Questions by S. W. Royes.
The subject about to engage us is of great importance. We may trust in the Lord Jesus as our Saviour, and derive a certain amount of comfort from thinking of His precious blood and its power to cleanse from all sin. But until the soul knows what it is to be justified, there can be no solid peace.
As for those who are not believers, it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the matter in their case. For justification lies at the very threshold of all true blessing. None can enter heaven save those who are justified from their guilt. Let me therefore bespeak the earnest attention of all to the questions asked and the replies given.
What sort of people are they whom God justifies?
I have no doubt that many would say, "Good people," or "People who do their best." But we would discard human opinions, and turn to God's Word for light. The apostle Paul speaks of God under a very sweet title in Romans 4:5: "Him that justifies the ungodly." The ungodly, then, are the people whom God is prepared to justify.
An illustration of this is found in the case of two men who went up to the temple to pray. One was religious, and his religion greatly affected his life and conduct. It kept him from many an act of extortion, injustice, and immorality. Eight times in every month he observed a rigid fast. He regularly tithed his income, and devoted large sums to the service of God.
The other did not belong to the religious class. A sinner indeed he was, and he made no secret of it. Even as he ventured into the temple he felt his unfitness to be there, and standing afar off, he hung down his head in evident shame.
Which of these two men, think you, was more likely to be justified? The Lord Jesus, speaking of the latter, the irreligious, ungodly sinner, says, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other" (Luke 18:14).
Yes, it is the guilty, the sinful, and the vile whom God justifies when they acknowledge their condition and turn to Him. Those who imagine themselves to be "just persons, which need no repentance," remain unjustified and unblessed.
What is the difference between justification and forgiveness?
Forgiveness is the removal of the penalty of our sins, justification is the removal of the very charge of guilt that once lay at our door.
We shall understand the difference better if we pay an imaginary visit to a court of justice. Two prisoners are being tried for theft. The first has many witnesses to prove that he was miles away when the offence was committed. His innocence is completely established. In acquitting him the judge says, "The prisoner leaves the court without a stain upon his character." In other words, being innocent, he is justified.
Not so the other. But there are extenuating circumstances. He is young, it is his first offence, and others seem to have drawn him into the act against his better judgment. The judge addresses a few serious words of warning to the prisoner and discharges him. No penalty is inflicted, and he leaves the court a free man. In a word, he is forgiven. But, though forgiven, he is not cleared of the charge.
Now that illustration will help us to see the difference between justification and forgiveness. But we must remember that amongst men only the innocent can be justified and the guilty forgiven. Solomon realised this when praying at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8). In verse 32 he prays: "Hear Thou in heaven, and do, and judge Thy servants, condemning the wicked, … and justifying the righteous." Then in verse 34 he prays again: "Hear Thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of Thy people Israel."
Mark that! Justification for the righteous and forgiveness for those who sin.
But the glory of the gospel is that it shows how God can do what is impossible amongst men. He can justify the ungodly, and that when there are no extenuating circumstances. He can take a vile, depraved sinner, and not only forgive him, but clear him of every charge so completely that the challenge may be rung out and be for ever unanswerable: "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifies" (Rom. 8:33).
If it is God that justifies, why is it said that we are justified by faith?
Faith is simply the principle upon which God justifies. If God declares Himself ready to justify ungodly sinners, it stands to reason that He must state the principle upon which He will do it, and the principle must be one that makes it clear to all that it is of grace from first to last. This is why it is "by faith," or why, in the words of Romans 3:26, God is the justifier of "him which believes in Jesus."
It is thus "faith," and not works, or vows, or prayers, that is counted for righteousness, but it is God who counts it as such. It is His act altogether.
We read that Christ "was raised again for our justification." What has the resurrection of Christ to do with our being justified?
Everything! It is the hinge on which the whole matter hangs. Suppose that I were convicted of some offence and sentenced to pay a fine of twenty pounds. Utterly unable to find the money, imprisonment stares me in the face. A friend, however, steps forward and undertakes to pay the fine for me. But until the money is forthcoming, either my friend or myself must be detained. My friend, having taken upon himself my liability, remains until a messenger can arrive from the bank with the twenty pounds, and I am allowed to go out.
Anxiously I pace up and down in front of the court-house. Presently the messenger arrives from the bank and enters the building. In a few minutes my friend himself joins me. At once my anxiety is over. The fact of his reappearance proves that every claim of the court has been met. I am now a free man indeed, because my substitute is free.
It is hardly necessary to point out the application of this little parable. You and I are the offenders, subject to the judgment of God. Christ has offered Himself as our Substitute, and upon the cross He met the claims of justice on our behalf. He paid the fine for us. Was His payment sufficient? Did God accept it as a full discharge of all our liabilities? Before He died He cried, "It is finished." He gave His all, His life, His blood but was it enough?
Out from the grave He came on the morning of the third day. The question was answered. It was enough. The One who had taken our sins upon Him was free! Then we are free also!
Thus the resurrection of Christ lies at the basis of our justification. Of course, when I say "our," I mean believers. "He was raised again for our justification."
In Romans 3:28 it says that "a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law." How do you reconcile that with James 2:24, where we read that "by works a man is justified, and not by faith only"?
The two passages do not need reconciling. Sometimes people imagine that they have discovered contradictory statements in Scripture, but the flaw is in their own brains, not in the Word of God.
In the present case the difficulty disappears when it is seen that in Romans it is justification before God that is spoken of, while in James the subject is justification before men. The two things are placed in contrast in Romans 4, and in verse 2 emphasis is laid upon the fact that justification by works is "not before God."
God takes note of the believer's faith, and reckons it to him for righteousness. But faith is invisible to the eyes of men. If they challenge us as to our ground for professing to be pardoned and saved, children of God and heirs with Christ, we cannot simply reply, "We have faith." We must justify ourselves for the place that we take otherwise than by words. Zophar once asked, "Should a man full of talk be justified?" (Job 11:2). No, indeed. Not good talkers, but good walkers are justified in the sight of their fellowmen. Not by lip, but by life; not by words, but by works, can we carry conviction to others that we are what we say we are.
With this side of the truth James deals. Paul, too, in some of his epistles, notably that to Titus, lays much weight upon the importance of good works, not as an auxiliary means to our justification before God, but as a testimony to men, and for the sake of "adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour."
Let no one, however, begin to talk about good works before he is sure that he is justified from all things, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
We read of being "justified by grace" (Rom. 3:24), "justified by faith" (Rom. 3:28), and "justified by His blood" (Rom. 5:9). Are we to conclude that a man needs to be justified three times?
By no means. The three expressions convey different thoughts, but they all refer to the same act. The grace of God is the source of our every blessing, the blood of Christ is the channel by means of which it reaches us, while faith is simply the appropriation of it all to ourselves.
Let me illustrate what I mean. This city is supplied with water from the river that comes flowing down from the mountains yonder. There is an abundant supply there for the whole place. Pipes are laid, leading to the houses of the people, and when anyone wants water, all he has to do is to turn on the tap.
The river, containing an inexhaustible supply of water, is like grace. God's grace is the spring and source of all blessing. In this sense we are "justified by His grace."
The pipes are the means by which the water is brought to our doors, just as the blood of Christ is the means by which God's grace is made available for sinners. We are thus "justified by His blood."
And what is "justified by faith"? Faith is coming with the empty vessel and turning on the tap. It is the appropriation to one's self of the blessing which originates in the grace of God, and is made possible for us by the blood of Jesus.
Bildad the Shuhite asked: "How can man be justified with God?" How would you answer that question?
The first thing is to cease justifying one's self. "Ye are they which justify yourselves," said the Lord Jesus to the Pharisees, and as long as a man does that God will not justify him. When we cease trying to justify ourselves, we justify God in His judgment upon us because of sin. "The publicans justified God," we read, and this was the very opposite of what the Pharisees did. Condemning one's self and justifying God thus go hand in hand. We take sides with God against ourselves, and acknowledge the truth of His verdict upon us as guilty, vile, hell-deserving sinners. That is the first step.
Besides this, we have to look right away from ourselves to Christ. To believe in Jesus is to be justified from all things (Rom. 3:26 Acts 13:39). When we learn what His death has accomplished for us, and how His resurrection clears us from every charge, we understand what it is to be justified, and "peace with God" is the blessed result (Rom. 5:1).
Christians, alas! are sometimes very inconsistent in their walk. Do such Christians continue to be justified people?
If none were justified but those in whose conduct there are no flaws, you would have to search a long time before you could discover a justified man.
But let us see how the Christians at Corinth were spoken of. Their conduct was far from perfect. They had laid themselves open to rebuke upon matters connected with the first principles of morality. Nevertheless, in the most unqualified way, the apostle Paul could say of them, "But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified" (1 Cor. 6:11). Notice that these words are addressed to them immediately after a scathing rebuke for their contentiousness. True, they were reminded that they were washed, sanctified, and justified in order that they might flee the things from which they had been washed. But they are not told, in view of their sin, that they had to be washed again, sanctified again, and justified again. Their justification is spoken of as a thing that was completed once for all, and that fact is the basis upon which an appeal for a consistent, godly walk can be framed.
How may anyone know for certain that he is justified?
A scripture that we have already referred to supplies a full and clear answer. Turn to Acts 13:39, and you will read these words: "By Him" (that is Jesus) "all that believe are justified from all things." I don't think any words of mine could make it plainer than that.
Do not regard these words merely as a saying of Paul's. They are God's words, recorded in God's Book for the blessing of our souls.
Now WHAT is it that God says in this verse? That all who believe ARE JUSTIFIED FROM ALL THINGS,
OF WHOM is it said that they are justified from all things? Of ALL THAT BELIEVE.
In view of this wonderfully clear and simple statement, clothed as it is with all the authority of God Himself, let me ask everyone here a question: Are you justified from all things?
If you stand within the circle of "all that believe," you can truly say, "Thank God, I am."
And if anyone should ask you how you know it, you can reply, "God says that 'all that believe' are justified. I am one of those of whom He speaks, a believer in Jesus, so I am justified." How happy when one is simple and childlike enough to take God at His word
How can God, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, be righteous in justifying an ungodly sinner?
That is a problem indeed! But, thank God, the solution is to be found in the cross of Christ. The demands of justice were fully satisfied by His blood, and the way opened for God to justify and bless ungodly sinners without compromising His character as a God of holiness and truth.
God's object, from the world's foundation, was the blessing of man, and this object has been attained, not by minimising in the least degree His judgment against sin, but by One being provided who was able to bear that judgment, in all its severity, and exhaust it,
No one, in view of Calvary, can say that sin is a light matter in God's sight. He has made it clear to the universe that He has an infinite abhorrence of evil, and that He does not, and cannot, bless men apart from the claims of justice being satisfied. The blessing that He offers is offered righteously. The work of Christ has glorified God in such a way that He is just, as well as gracious, in justifying the ungodly sinner who believes in Jesus.
For how long is a believer justified?
For as long as Christ is on the throne of God. The believer's justification will last until Christ goes back to the cross of Calvary and undoes the work which He did there. And when will that be? Never! That work remains in all its abiding efficacy. The One who performed it has been raised from the grave and seated at God's right hand. As long as He is there, and as long as His work retains its efficacy, for so long will the weakest believer in Him be "justified from all things." No change in us, no failure in our conduct, no coldness of heart, no feelings of despondency can either displace Him from the throne or diminish the value of His work. Then, thank God, they cannot impair our justification. Notwithstanding our failures and our shortcomings, we are as clear of our sins before the eye of God as Christ is.
Subject: Peace with God.
Questions by W. E. Powell.
It is the happy privilege of every true believer in Christ to enjoy peace with God. Not that every believer does enjoy it; but it is possible for each one of us to have solid, settled peace with God as to our sins. Is not the thought of it enough to make every heart burn with ardent desire to possess and enjoy this great blessing? May the Lord help us in our consideration of the subject.
We sometimes hear of "true peace" and "false peace." What do these terms mean?
It is to be feared that a large number of people in this city are spending their lives in false peace, that is, a peace which is born of indifference. They dwell in a fool's paradise, and pass on heedless of their souls and ignorant of their awful danger. Lulled to sleep by the devil's opiates, they dream their days away, absorbed with their business, their duties, their pleasures, their friends, their cares, and their sins.
True peace, divine peace, peace with God is a very different thing. It is the result, not of ignorance or indifference, but of knowing that one is beyond the reach of danger. The one who has peace with God has faced his own condition in God's presence. He has seen the enormity of his sins, and owned himself a guilty, hell-deserving rebel. He has believed the glad tidings which tell of Christ dying for sinners, and being raised from the dead for their justification.
If you ask him where his sins are, he can reply, "They are gone. They were all laid upon Christ, and He made expiation for them by His blood. To-day He is in glory. The One who had my sins on Him has them on Him no longer. He is free from the load He bore at Calvary, and because He is free, I am free also!"
Are you able to speak like that? It is the language of one who has true peace.
Is it possible to have peace with regard to some things and not as to others?
I believe it is. I was visiting a poor man the other day who, through an accident, had lost his situation. He was in great poverty, and hardly knew where the next meal was to come from. But his confidence in God's goodness was unshaken. "I do not worry," said he, "I leave my troubles to God. He will bring me through." The man could in that way rest in peace as to his cares and his needs.
A little further conversation, however, revealed the fact that he was not at peace with regard to his sins and his state before God. While acknowledging God's goodness, he mourned over his own lack of goodness, and sometimes feared that he would never get to heaven. He did not understand that his acceptance with God depended not on the state of his heart, important as that is in its place, but upon the work which Christ did. Hence he was a stranger to real peace with God. As to his troubles and cares, he could be calm and peaceful, looking to God to keep him; but as to his sins and his state before God, he was full of unrest.
This man's case is by no means uncommon. There are many who can pass through the storms of life in peace, with a sense of God's goodness in their hearts, who have never yet learned the secret of peace with God, through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Is "peace with God" the same as assurance of salvation?
Hardly. The fact is, there is not very much said in the Bible as to "assurance of salvation," for the very simple reason that in the days of the apostles, when the gospel was preached in its unadulterated simplicity, those who received it, and believed in Christ, were saved and, as a matter of course, knew it. But in our days a very different state of things exists. Owing to the distorted way in which the gospel is often presented, mixed with law and Jewish principles, thousands are found who in a measure trust in Christ and build all their hopes upon His precious blood, but who cannot speak with certainty of their salvation. Hence the need nowadays of pressing assurance, and of showing how it comes, through simply taking God at His word. Take, for example, that well-known verse Acts 13:39, "By Him all that believe are justified from all things." What an efficient weapon such a scripture is for putting doubts and fears to flight!
But peace with God goes further than keeping doubts and fears at bay by the help of some precious passage of Scripture. It is the result of knowing what has been accomplished through Christ's death and resurrection for the believer. Through that work all our sins have been put away; we have been justified from every charge. In other words, the disturbing element has been removed, and peace with God is the blessed consequence.
Let me make my meaning clear. Some months ago I was living in a house surrounded by pastures in which a large number of cattle were kept. The path from the house to the neighbouring village led through these pastures. There was no other way of getting there.
One afternoon I was walking to the village with a lady who was very much afraid of cows. When she saw that our path led right through a herd of these animals she became extremely nervous, and wished to turn back. I did my best to reassure her. I told her that I had passed that way numbers of times, and had never observed any signs of ferocity in the cows; that they were perfectly harmless, and would be more likely to run away from her than run after her. At length my friend gained confidence and proceeded on her way, not at first without some misgivings, but with increasing boldness. She believed my word when I assured her that there was no danger, and banished her fears when she found that there really was no cause for alarm. In this way she got assurance.
On returning from the village, later in the evening, we found that all the cows had been driven into another section of the estate. Not a hoof or a horn remained.
My companion's face broke into a smile as she exclaimed, "Why, the cows are all gone!"
"Yes," I replied, "but you would not be afraid to pass near them again, would you?"
"No," said the lady; "I know they would not hurt me and that my fears are foolish and groundless, but I am glad that they are gone, for all that."
Now I think this illustrates the difference between assurance of salvation and peace. Emboldened and assured by God's own Word, we may proceed on our way knowing that fears are foolish and groundless. But when we see that all that we feared is gone, that our sins have been put away, the judgment that was due to us endured, the claims of divine justice fully satisfied then it is that we have peace indeed. The source of our fear has been removed. And this is just what the work of Christ has accomplished for us.
Why are not all believers in the enjoyment of peace with God?
Multitudes lack settled peace because they are unbelieving believers. When the Lord Jesus joined the two wanderers on the road to Emmaus, He found them, true disciples though they were, full of unbelief. "O fools," He said to them, "and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken."
Many today are in just the same condition. They trust in the Lord Jesus as their Saviour, and build all their hopes of future bliss upon His precious blood, but they are slow to believe what the gospel assures them is the result of His death and resurrection. They do not see that as a consequence of His work all their sins have been eternally put away, and that they are righteously cleared by God Himself from every charge.
Most of us are familiar with the story of David's conquest of Goliath. An Israelite, seeing the fearless youth advance towards the haughty giant, might exclaim, "I trust in that young man. I know him to be a man of God, and I have every confidence that by his means God will give deliverance to Israel this day."
The man who speaks thus is manifestly a believer in David. He builds his hopes of deliverance upon his ability to overcome Goliath.
But by-and-by, when shouts of triumph rend the air, and David returns to the camp with the giant's head in his hands, that selfsame man is sitting in his tent with an anxious look upon his face. Why does he not share in the joy, and help to swell the song of gratitude? Because he does not know the significance of those shouts. He does not realise that the giant is slain. The moment he comprehends, not only that David is a trustworthy deliverer, but that he has actually accomplished the work of deliverance, and that the foe is gone, peace and joy will be his.
It is thus that many are kept from the enjoyment of peace. They have faith in Christ as a trustworthy Deliverer, but do not comprehend the full result of the work that He has accomplished. Perhaps it has never been set before them. As soon as it dawns upon them peace will be the blessed result.
Self-occupation is another cause of unrest. Worldly-mindedness, too, is a great hindrance to the enjoyment of peace.
Is it ever too late for a sinner to begin to make his peace with God?
In every case too late—nineteen centuries too late. In fact, it is an utter impossibility for a sinner to set matters right between himself and God. Nor need he despair on that account, for Christ has done the necessary work, and peace is to be obtained, not by the sinner doing anything, but by his enjoying the results of Christ's work.
Christ has made peace, once for all, by the blood of His cross (Col. 1:20). He has laid the broad foundations of our blessing. We have neither part nor lot in the doing of the work.
To get "peace with God," then, let the sinner cease from trying to make it, and let him, through faith in Christ, appropriate the results of His death and resurrection. It is never too late, while life remains, for that.
We read in Psalm 119:165: "Great peace have they which love Thy law." What does that mean?
It is not exactly "peace with God" that is referred to there. The "law" in this passage is a much wider thing than the Ten Commandments. It was the revelation of God's ways (so far as He saw fit to make them known in those days), and indicated the way of wisdom, righteousness, and peace for man. Those whose hearts were influenced by it enjoyed the blessing inseparable from the knowledge of God and His ways, however partial that knowledge necessarily was.
In our day, the starlight of Old Testament times has given place to the glorious sunlight of the full revelation of God. God has made Himself known, and has given His Holy Spirit to lead our hearts along the line of His revelation.
If we are subject to that blessed Holy Spirit, and allow Him to direct our hearts into what God has revealed for our blessing, great peace will assuredly be our portion, just as it was the portion of the saints, in David's day, who loved the things of God.
And therefore we read, in Romans 8:6, that "the minding of the Spirit is life and PEACE" (see margin).
But such peace must not be confounded with the peace of Romans 5:1, which is the result of our being justified. It is a peace which is the opposite of that morbid state of self-dissatisfaction which is often the fruit of brooding over our own coldness and sinfulness.
What does "peace with God" depend upon?
If you will turn to Romans 4:25, and connect it with the first verse of the following chapter, you will have an answer in the very words of Scripture. "Jesus our Lord," we read, "was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification. Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Peace with God immediately flows from the fact of our being justified, and that depends, as we were seeing on the last occasion, upon the death and resurrection of Christ. In this way the claims of divine justice have all been met, and peace is ours in consequence.
What is the difference between "peace with God" and the "peace of God," of which we read in Philippians 4:7?
"Peace with God" has reference to our sins and our state of guilt before Him, and is the result of what He makes known to us.
The "peace of God" has reference to the circumstances of life, circumstances of difficulty and trial, and is the result of our making known to Him our requests.
Care is a thing that grinds the brightness out of many a Christian's life. Peace with God, as to his sins, he has; but in order to pass through this world of trial and sorrow, he needs to cultivate the habit of taking everything to God in prayer.
The result will be that his heart and mind shall be kept in peace. God's own peace, which passes all understanding, shall reign within. He will accept every circumstance as ordered by the One that makes all things work together for our good, and instead of worrying and murmuring, he will be kept in calm confidence and peace.
That is what the passage in Philippians 4 means.
What did the Lord Jesus mean by saying that He left His peace with His disciples in John 14:27?
The thought is very much akin to that of which we have just spoken. But the trials and troubles of life are common to all—the unconverted as well as the children of God, though only the latter have the "peace of God" to keep their hearts in the midst of them.
But there are certain things which only Christians have to contend with, such as persecution for Christ's sake and the suffering of loss through faithfulness to Him. These things, the result of Christ's rejection here and absence from us, were foreseen by Him, and He warned "His own," whom He was leaving behind, that they must expect to be opposed, reviled, persecuted, and evil spoken of. But in the midst of all that they should suffer for His name's sake, they should taste the sweetness of heavenly peace, His own peace. If earth was to be a place of rejection and sorrow for them, a place in the "many mansions" above would be prepared for them. If He was leaving them a legacy of suffering, a precious legacy of peace accompanied it. It was a peace that the world could never give, and a peace that the world could never take away.
We have spoken of four different kinds of peace.
1. Peace with God, as to our sins and guilty state, the result of our being justified on account of Christ's death and resurrection (Rom. 5:1).
2. Peace inwardly, in contrast to morbid self-disappointment, the result of the "minding of the Spirit" (Rom. 8:6). It is a peace that depends not so much upon our faith in Christ as upon our daily occupation with Christ, through the Holy Ghost.
3. The peace of God, which keeps the hearts and minds of those who cast their cares upon Him amid the ordinary burdens and perplexities of life (Phil. 4:7).
4. The peace of Christ, the precious portion of those who are left here to represent Him in His absence, and who often have to bear reproach and persecution for His name's sake.
Subject: The Forgiveness of Sins.
Questions by E. D. Kinkead.
In order to introduce the subject I will read a verse of Scripture: "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7).
This passage shows very clearly that there were some who could say, and who were encouraged by the apostle Paul to say, "We have the forgiveness of our sins."
No doubt a good many are accustomed to repeat, Sunday after Sunday, the words, "I believe in the forgiveness of sins." By the grace of God some of us can go further and say, "I believe in the forgiveness of my own sins." Can you say that? If not, I beg your earnest attention to the matter we are about to consider.
Must a sinner lay all his sins upon Jesus before he can be forgiven?
Not one of us could remember all our sins. As we scan the coast-line of our past lives no doubt there are some sins that stand out like promontories, the memory of which will abide with us to our last hour on earth. But multitudes of our sins, little sins as men would style them, have been forgotten. Yet each one of them calls for expiation, each one must be answered for. Christ's work is sufficient to answer for them all, but if, before we could get the benefit of that work, we had to bring our sins and lay them upon Jesus, we should be in a sorry plight indeed. The thought of the forgotten sins would be for ever haunting us. "What shall we do about them?" would be the question that would rob us of our peace.
But there is another reason why we could never lay all our sins upon Jesus, and that is because Jesus is in glory to-day. Do you think He can take sins upon Him where He is? Naught that defiles shall ever enter there. How, then, can a sinner cast his polluting sins upon Jesus, the exalted and glory-crowned Lord? Impossible!
The time for sin-bearing was when He was upon the cross. And mark this: If your sins were not laid upon Jesus then, they never will be. Now it is certain that you could not have laid your sins upon Him at Calvary. You had no existence then. The truth is, that God laid the sins of all who believe upon Jesus. "The Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all."
What must a sinner do to show that he is worthy to be forgiven?
A sinner could never do anything to show himself worthy of forgiveness. The ground on which God forgives sinners is not their worthiness, or anything that they can do or be. It is altogether for Christ's sake, and on account of what He has done. You will see this very clearly stated in Ephesians 4:32: "God for Christ's sake has forgiven you." So also in 1 John 2:12: "Your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake."
Suppose that a poor man is presented with a cheque by some kindly disposed person, and told to present it for payment at the Colonial Bank. As he wends his way in that direction he begins to have certain misgivings as to whether he will receive the money or not. His clothes are so threadbare, his poverty so evident, his name so unknown! Summoning up courage, however, he steps up to the counter and hands in the cheque. The clerk takes it and looks at—what? The man's ragged appearance? No, he looks at the name on the cheque. It is that of one of the bank's best customers. Because of that name the clerk hands the money without a question to the bearer.
So with the sinner when he approaches God through the Lord Jesus Christ. God does not take the sinner's worthiness or unworthiness into account. It makes no difference whether the applicant for blessing bear a good character for honesty and respectability, or whether he be known as a depraved outcast. He may have his name inscribed upon the membership roll of a fashionable church, or it may be written upon the conviction list of the police court. God does not make any difference in His treatment of the returning sinner because of things of that sort. What He looks at is the name which the sinner brings as his only plea. If that name be the precious name of Jesus, there is no blessing too great for God to bestow upon the one who seeks it. He will instantly forgive the sins of a lifetime for the sake of that name.
When a sinner trusts in Christ, are all his sins forgiven, or only his past sins?
I suppose it is only natural for people to divide their sins into past, present, and future, but it is certain that God does not so divide them. He sees our life, from its earliest moment to our last hour on earth, spread out before Him. Our sins, too—those forgotten long ago and those not yet committed—He sees as one whole, a series of black deeds, and words, and thoughts.
More: He not only sees our sins thus, as one whole, but He saw them thus nineteen centuries ago. All our sins were future then, but God saw them all, and laid them upon Christ. If there is a single sin that you have ever committed, or may yet commit, which was not laid upon Christ, that sin must remain for ever unatoned for, and there can be no heaven for you. Thank God, the believer has reason to know that every sin of his life was borne by his Saviour at Calvary, and that as a necessary consequence every sin of his life, from cradle to coffin, was blotted out when he trusted in Christ. As a child of God he may sin, and will need forgiveness as such from his Father. But never again will he have to approach God as one who needs forgiveness as a guilty criminal under the sentence of eternal doom.
Is it right for anyone to pray for the forgiveness of his sins?
I understand your question to be, not was it ever right, but is it right now for anyone to pray for forgiveness?
Someone has said that Scripture is as eloquent in what it omits as in what it reveals. We certainly must number amongst its omissions any direction to pray for forgiveness since Christ's work of atonement was accomplished. We find many references which show that the forgiveness of sins was enjoyed as a known thing by the early Christians, and that provision was made in the case of Christians who sinned, but we search in vain for any exhortation to pray for this great blessing.
How can we pray for a thing that we already have? Would not such a prayer be the prayer of unbelief? if we as Christians sin, forgiveness is assured to us if we confess our sins, not if we pray for forgiveness. There is a great difference between confessing our sins and praying for forgiveness, and of this we shall have more to say presently.
With regard to unsaved sinners the case is, of course, different. But even such are never told to pray for forgiveness. God is revealed as the One who offers it to all freely through Christ (Acts 13:38), and sinners are exhorted to receive it.
In saying that none are bidden to pray for forgiveness, I do not forget that the Lord Jesus taught His disciples to pray "Forgive us our trespasses"; but that was before the work of atonement was accomplished. Those to whom that prayer was taught were not in the position into which we, who live since that mighty work was done, have been brought. Though privileged to be the companions of the Lord Jesus on earth, they were in the position of Old Testament believers until He died, and rose again, and the Holy Ghost came down to take up His abode here. Since that time, none are taught to pray in the way that was right and proper before.
Do we need to be forgiven more than once?
By "we" I suppose you mean believers. Yes, we do need forgiveness, as often as we sin. We have already seen that the forgiveness of sins which accompanies salvation (see Luke 1:77) is received once for all. It is a blessing which is always ours. But if we, the children of God, sin, our communion with Him is interrupted, and forgiveness, leading to the restoration of that communion, is needed. And God, our Father, is so ready to grant that forgiveness! If we are exhorted to forgive an offending brother until seventy times seven, we may be sure that He will never tire of forgiving us unto seventy thousand times seven.
Will not the fact of God being so ready to forgive encourage carelessness as to sin?
Rightly understood, it should have the very opposite effect. A verse in Psalm 130 supplies an answer to this question: "There is forgiveness with Thee, that Thou mayest be feared." Mark those words: "that Thou mayest be feared." The forgiving grace with which the contrite confession of the erring one is always met, produces in the soul of the forgiven one such a sense of God's goodness, and withal such a sense of the seriousness of sin, that he fears again to grieve such a loving, patient, gracious One. Such fear is not the fear that has torment. It is a godly, wholesome fear of sin. No doubt a fear of punishment often acts as a restraint upon men. But how much better when a fear of sin is produced! And this is the result of the forgiving grace of our God. It makes one delight to walk in His fear and seek to please Him in word and work.
What should Christians do when they sin?
That question can be answered in the very words of Scripture: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
Notice, it does not say, "If we ask for forgiveness." It is easy to say, "O God, pray forgive me for Jesus' sake," but to confess one's sin is a far deeper thing. It means that we are to pour out the story of our sin in God's ear; to say, "O my God and Father, I have dishonoured Thee by telling a lie," or, "O my God and Father, I have given way to my wicked temper again." Whatever the particular sin may be, we have to confess it in true self-judgment. Following upon this we receive God's free forgiveness.
And here let me give a word of counsel to my dear young fellow-believers. Keep short accounts with God. Do not leave the sins of the day to be included in a general confession at night, but as soon as ever you find yourself overtaken with a fault, confess it. If you are in a place where you cannot get alone and kneel down, just lift up your heart and say silently, "Father, I have sinned; I have done such and such a thing." Forgiveness is the assured result.
What does our forgiveness, as children of God, depend upon?
Upon the advocacy of the Lord Jesus. Of course, His atoning work upon the cross is the basis of all our blessing, and is the ground upon which our eternal forgiveness is secured. But He who died there is alive again. No longer as the Sin-bearer, but as the Advocate for His people, He lives in glory.
This is what we learn from 1 John 2:1: "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
As soon as a believer sins he becomes an object of special concern to his blessed Advocate. As a result he is led to judge himself for his sin, and go to his Father in humble confession. As a further result, forgiveness is granted, and he is cleansed from all unrighteousness.
How full of gratitude should we be for the services of our Advocate! He is as much for us in glory to-day as He was when suffering as our Substitute at Calvary, and He maintains us in all the abiding efficacy of His wondrous work of atonement. In Him there is ever present to the eye of the Father a ground upon which He can forgive us, and when we confess our sins He is faithful and just towards Christ in forgiving them.
Is the "cleansing from all unrighteousness" the same as the forgiveness of our sins?
I think it is a further thing. A child is told by his father not to go out and play in the yard. In spite of the prohibition he does go out, and falls down in the mud, covering himself and his clothes with dirt. That child now stands in need of two things. He needs forgiveness because he is disobedient, and he needs cleansing because he is dirty.
If he is truly sorry for his disobedience, and confesses it, his father forgives him at once. But the cleansing process takes longer. It needs the application of soap and water.
Now, it is just the same with the believer. When he sins he is not only disobedient, but defiled. On confession he is at once forgiven, but before his communion with God can be fully restored he must be cleansed from the defilement he has contracted. This, too, is a result of the advocacy of Christ.
How is this cleansing brought about?
I think we may gather from Psalm 119:9 what the means are which God uses.
"Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy Word." The Word of God is that which has cleansing power for the believer. Bear in mind that we are not now speaking of that cleansing which, as guilty sinners, we get when we come to Christ. At that time we were cleansed in a very different way, even by the precious blood of Christ. But as believers we need the continuous washing, not of blood, but of "water by the word" (Eph. 5:26).
Some precious portion of God's Word is applied in power to the soul, and once again we can look up with joy into the face of our Father. It is not that we doubted Him, we knew all the while that He is our Father, and that in confessing our sin we had received His forgiveness. But, still, there was an uneasy feeling—a feeling of distance. The application of the Word removes that, and communion is fully restored.
How is it that so many of God's dear people live without the assurance of their being forgiven for ever?
I suppose it is because they do not see that all their sins were laid upon Jesus, and that God is too righteous ever to charge them with the sins with which He charged their Substitute. And they do not in simple faith rest upon such precious statements of God's Word as those that we have already mentioned, such as "God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you."
It seems to be ingrained into the minds of many that their forgiveness is in some way connected with their worthiness, and finding themselves full of unworthiness, they hesitate to rank themselves with the forgiven and saved. To all such the blessed words of Jesus are full of import: "Thy sins are forgiven … thy faith has saved thee go in peace" (Luke 7:48, 50).
If Jesus died for all, and bore the sins of all, must it not follow that all must be forgiven and saved?
In saying that Jesus "died for all," we are using the very words of the Bible (see 2 Cor. 5:15). But if we say He bore the sins of all, we are overstepping the bounds of Scripture.
It is a blessed truth that Jesus died for all. He died to open the way to heaven for "whosoever will." His death has provided a platform from which God may righteously call to all men in grace, and offer salvation to all.
But we cannot say to just everyone we meet, "Christ bore your sins upon the cross." Those whose sins Christ bore will never have to bear them themselves. But many will have to bear their own sins for ever in hell.
The truth is that while Christ made propitiation for all, He was only the Substitute of those who believe. We can say that He "bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24).
It is indeed a necessary result of Christ's having borne our sins that we are forgiven and saved, but this applies only to those who believe.
May God grant that all here may believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and receive the remission of their sins!
Questions by E. C. Mais.
Sometimes men divide the truths of divine revelation into "essentials" and "non-essentials." By these terms they mean truths that are essential to salvation and those that are not. But this is a very selfish way of looking at things. Surely the fact that God has made a communication to us regarding any subject shows that He considers the matter as essential to His own glory and to our blessing. We really cannot afford to be indifferent to any divine truth, whether or not we see its immediate bearing upon ourselves. Certainly sanctification is a subject that we cannot neglect without being great losers.
What is it to be sanctified?
The meaning of the word is, to be separated or set apart for a purpose. There is a verse in Psalm 4 which conveys the thought: "The Lord has set apart him that is godly for Himself."
It is important that we should bear this in mind, for many look on sanctification as a process of betterment by which people are gradually made holier, and fitted to dwell in heaven.
An examination of the passages of Scripture which speak of the subject will show the falsity of this idea. For example, in Deuteronomy 15:19 we find that young bullocks and sheep were sanctified. This certainly cannot mean that they were improved and made holier; it simply means that they were set apart for a purpose.
In Isaiah 66:17 wicked men are said to have sanctified themselves to do evil. That is, they set themselves apart for the accomplishment of their wicked purpose.
In John 17:19 the Lord Jesus says: "For their sakes I sanctify Myself." It cannot possibly be that He needed to be improved and made holier, for He was ever perfect and spotlessly holy. But for the sake of "His own" He was about to separate Himself from earth, and the things into the midst of which He had come, and was going back to heaven. He would thus set Himself apart, to serve His people as their Advocate and Intercessor.
These passages clearly show the true meaning of sanctification.
Who are the people who are sanctified?
It is clear from the New Testament that all true believers in Christ are sanctified. With the forgiveness of sins goes "inheritance among them which are sanctified" (Acts 26:18).
Writing to the believers at Corinth, the apostle says: "Ye are washed … ye are sanctified" (1 Cor. 6:11).
The word "saint" simply means a sanctified person; and this was the usual name by which all God's people in those early days were known. They were called "disciples," "brethren," "Christians," "friends," "believers," but the name most commonly used was "saints." And this name was not applied merely to certain holy and devoted men, but to all true Christians.
Nowadays the word has well-nigh dropped out of use, and if we happen to speak of having been to see some of the "saints," we are stared at as if we had been holding intercourse with the spirits of the dead! The truth is, that poor bedridden Elizabeth B-, in the next street, is as much a saint as St. Peter himself; and old Thomas J-, who breaks stones by the roadside, has as much claim to the title as St. Paul the apostle.
Peter and Paul were not saints because of their zeal, and holiness, and devotion. They were saints because they were cleansed from their sins by Christ's precious blood, and that is what has made every true believer a saint, or a "sanctified person."
Are even those believers who are full of imperfections entitled to regard themselves as sanctified?
If only those who had got rid of their imperfections were sanctified, we should have to search a long time before we found them. Even the best amongst us is full of imperfection, and those who live in closest communion with God feel their own imperfections most.
But sanctification does not depend upon what we are in ourselves. Every Christian has what Scripture calls "the flesh" in him; and "the flesh," whether in a saint or an unconverted sinner, is hopelessly, irremediably bad. It is evident, then, that what constitutes our sanctification is not an improvement of "the flesh."
In 1 Corinthians 1:2 we see that it is in Christ Jesus that we are sanctified, not in ourselves. And in verse 30 of the same chapter we are told that Christ Jesus (not a holier or more perfect state) "is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification."
Let me here explain that as Christians we must learn to think of ourselves in two entirely different ways. First as we actually are here in this world, with "the flesh" still in us, with temptations and trials around, and our bodies still bearing Adam's likeness. As such, our history will end when we leave this world. Secondly as we are in Christ, standing in all the value of His finished work, and set before God to enjoy His favour, without a spot, or blemish, or imperfection. The latter is what we shall actually be when in heaven, but God sees us thus already in Christ, and faith reckons as He reckons.
As men in "the flesh," children of Adam, God cannot derive pleasure from us. He has declared that man after that order will not do for Him. His purposes of grace and blessing must be secured in Another, even in Christ, and as newly created after Christ's order, God can have pleasure in us. Hence it is that our sanctification (or being set apart for God's pleasure) must be in Christ. No imperfections in us can possibly affect our position in Him, nor touch what we have in Him.
It may not be easy for souls to grasp this point all at once. But it is so important that I have dwelt upon it, and I ask for it the careful consideration of all present.
When is a believer sanctified?
Scripture speaks of our sanctification in connection with more than one period of time.
1. Before the world was, in the mind and purpose of God.
2. At the cross, when Jesus died, nineteen centuries ago.
3. When, through the Holy Spirit, the gospel is brought home to us in power, and we receive it.
Let me use a homely illustration to show how this can be.
One Monday morning a lady is doing some shopping at one of the large stores in Harbour Street. While making her purchases a very pretty hat catches her eye. She thinks "What a charming hat!" and is disappointed not to find enough money in her purse to buy it there and then. But she makes a mental note of that hat, and determines to secure it at the earliest opportunity.
On Tuesday the lady is again at the store. She asks for the hat, pays for it, and becomes its owner. It is now her hat, to do with it as she pleases. "Lay it on one side," she says, "and I will send for it to-morrow."
On Wednesday the lady sends her servant. The maid enters the store, states her errand, mentions her mistress's name, and returns with the bag containing the hat.
Now let me ask you, When did the lady sanctify, or set apart, that hat for her own use?
On Monday, so far as her mind and purpose went, on Tuesday, in securing it by the payment of the price, on Wednesday, by sending her servant for it, by which means the hat was actually taken from the store to the lady's house.
Now this illustration will at least serve to make it clear when we were sanctified or set apart by God for His own purposes.
First of all, long ago in the past eternity, God predestinated us to be His sons. He said as it were, "They shall be Mine for My heart to delight in and My hand to bless." So in purpose God set us apart, or sanctified us, before the world began (see Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13).
Then, when Jesus died, the price of our redemption was paid. Every obstacle which sin had raised to our being God's for all eternity was removed, and the way opened for the accomplishment of His gracious purpose. We were thus set apart by the payment of the heavy price by which He bought us and made us His (see 1 Cor. 6:20). So that besides being sanctified by God's purpose and will, "we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10:10).
Lastly, when, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, our hearts are opened to receive the gospel, we are actually and personally brought to Him. We are separated from our sins, we are no longer a part of this world that is hurrying on to judgment. We are effectually set apart for God, This aspect of our sanctification is referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2:13: "God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto He called you by our gospel."
Is there no such thing as a process of sanctification going on from day to day in the believer's life?
Indeed there is. We have not yet touched upon this practical side of the subject, because I wanted everyone to be quite clear as to our being sanctified once for all by the purpose of God, the work of Christ, and the operation of the Holy Spirit.
But the practical aspect of sanctification is also of immense importance. In 1 Thessalonians 5:23 the apostle prays that the God of peace may wholly sanctify the believers to whom he writes. What does he mean?
Let us revert once more to the illustration of the lady and her hat. After she has bought it, and the servant has fetched it, is that the end of its history? By no means. Now that it has actually become the lady's property, it is from day to day set apart for her own use; that is, she wears it. No one else uses it. It is set apart for the sole use of its possessor.
Now God having purposed our blessing, and Christ having died to secure it, and the Holy Spirit having wrought in us effectually so that we have been brought to God—is that the end of the matter? Not at all. The Holy Spirit continues His work in us, detaching us more and more from the timings of this world, separating us from the lusts of the flesh, the evil ways in which once we walked, in this way promoting our practical sanctification.
This is not brought to pass, mark, by the sinful nature within us being gradually rooted out, or the flesh improved, but by our being led into the blessed secret of liberty from the galling yoke of sin, victory over the power of evil within, and joy in the Holy Ghost. As our hearts get more and more attached to Christ, we turn with increased loathing from all that is of self, and the result is that in our walk and ways we are "holiness to the Lord," truly separated unto Him.
What is it that God uses to promote our practical sanctification?
He may, and doubtless does, work by means of many things. The application of the truth to our souls is one of the most effectual means. When the Lord Jesus was praying for us, in John 17, He said: "Sanctify them through Thy truth: Thy Word is truth."
I trust all those who have so lately been converted will become diligent students of God's Book. If you don't feed on the sincere milk of the Word, your souls will starve. As you read, God will bless it to you, and it will have a separating or sanctifying effect upon you. As you become more familiar with its wonderful truths, you will the better discern what is of God and what is of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Many things in which you now see no harm will be exposed to you by the truth which you will learn, and in that way you will be separated from them. You will learn that your Lord and Saviour has no place on earth, He is rejected here, and has been driven away from the world. Tell me, won't the thought of that separate you, heart and soul, from the scene where He was refused?
Another thing which God uses is the wrath and persecution of wicked men. We have an instance of this in John 9. The blind man had been healed by Jesus, and had boldly confessed His name. This was too much for the Jewish leaders. It was intolerable that a man should stand up for the One whom they hated. So after reviling the man who confessed Him, they cast him out.
Do you not think that their action would have a very powerful effect upon that man, detaching his heart from the system of things in the midst of which he had been brought up, and entwining his affections around Christ? I am sure that his excommunication by the religious leaders of his day greatly helped towards his sanctification.
"Blessed are ye," said the Lord Jesus, "when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake" (Luke 6:22).
Why is it necessary for us to be sanctified?
In order that we might be practically suited for God's purpose, and meet for the Master's use. See what is said in 2 Timothy 2:21 about the vessel that is "sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work."
Does not that strike a chord of desire within your heart, dear fellow-believer? Do you not ardently wish to be a vessel meet for the Master's use? You may be one, but in order that you may be suited for His use, you must be practically separated from all that is not of Him, your heart weaned from the world, your soul emancipated from the bondage of sin and the flesh. In a word, you must be set apart, by the effectual working of the Holy Spirit in you, for Christ.
You were speaking just now about the means God uses for our practical sanctification. Is not affliction one of these?
Yes, God has to discipline us and pass us through tribulation, but it is always for our good, that what is of God in us may be developed, and that we may be increasingly suited for God's pleasure.
The word "tribulation" comes to us from the Latin tribulum, which was a kind of triple flail with which the Romans used to thresh wheat. The tribulum separated the husk from the wheat, and that is what tribulation does for us. There is a great deal of "husk" about us which needs to be got rid of. Hence God's discipline of His children. He purges us that we may bring forth more fruit.
Is not the hope of the Lord's coming another means of practical sanctification?
Yes. We read that "every man that has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).
It is easy to see how this is so. If we are expecting the Lord's return at any moment we shall be careful about what we do and say. We shall not wish Him to come and find us reading doubtful books, or keeping bad company, or sitting in places of worldly amusement, or saying anything we would not like Him to hear. The thought of His coming, if kept before our minds, and cherished as a hope in our hearts, is bound to have a marked effect upon us, purifying us from what is not of Him, and sanctifying, or separating, us more and more to Himself.
Does the word "sanctify" in every case mean "separate"?
I do not say that the two words can always be used interchangeably, but generally speaking they can. Certainly the usual meaning of the word as employed in Scripture is "set apart" for some divine purpose.
But we are too apt to confine our thoughts of the matter to what we are sanctified FROM. It is a happy thing to understand somewhat of what we are sanctified FOR.
Subject Meetness for Heaven.
Questions by O. Lambert and others.
Our subject is "Meetness for heaven." A wonderful thing it is, that people like you and me, full of failures and shortcomings, can be made meet for heaven, even while living here on earth. But this is what the grace of God is able to do for us.
In Revelation 21:27 we read that nothing that defiles can enter the Holy City. How, then, can we be made fit to dwell there?
The efficacy of the precious blood of Christ is so great that it can completely remove the defilement. It can cleanse away the sins of a lifetime in a moment, and wash the sinner white as snow.
If anyone felt that his sins were as black as hell itself, and more in number than the grains of sand upon the sea-shore, we could still point him to the blood that cleanses from all sin, that makes the guilty, defiled sinner white, and pure, and fit for God's bright glory-home.
Do taking the sacrament, doing penance, and attending strictly to all religious duties help anyone to become fit for heaven?
If such things as these can in any way help to fit our souls for the skies, it is strange beyond measure that the Bible does not tell us so! On the contrary, we find that "works," though they have their place in connection with the Christian's life on earth, have no place whatever in connection with his salvation, or in fitting him for the skies. Salvation is distinctly said to be "NOT OF WORKS, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:9); and if God has saved His people, it is "NOT BY WORKS of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy" (Titus 3:5),
There are many, however, who would energetically disown and denounce the doctrine of salvation by works, who yet cherish the idea that it depends upon themselves in some way or other to fit their souls for heaven. So they sing:
"A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save, and fit it for the sky."
It is true that the Lord has committed a charge to His people, but that charge is certainly not to save their souls and fit them for the sky. His finished work is the only thing that can do that. Nothing can possibly add to the value of what Christ has done for us, or make more perfect that spotless robe of righteousness with which the grace of God has arrayed us.
Is being made fit for heaven the same as having a title to go there?
Hardly. I might receive an invitation to attend a levee at King's House from His Excellency the Governor himself. That would give me a clear title to go there. But as I stand here I am not fit to attend a brilliant function like that. I am not suitably clad. I should need a complete change of attire before my fitness for the Governor's company would be recognised. On the other hand, my dress might be in every respect suitable, but that would not give me a title to go. In the one case I should have a title, but no fitness. In the other I should be fit, but have no title. Now, through the grace of God both a title to heaven and a perfect fitness for that holy place are provided for all who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. His precious blood makes us as perfectly fit for heaven as our sins had made us fit for hell.
But our meetness does not consist merely in the fact of our sins being washed away. Christ Himself is the measure of our meetness. We are so linked up with Him that God sees us in Him, decked with all His comeliness, and meet for the presence of God even as He is meet. Our title, too, though based upon the precious blood of Christ, lies in the fact that He Himself has entered heaven for us. We have a right to be there because He, our Substitute, our Saviour, and our exalted Head, is there.
Suppose it were possible for a sinner to be taken to heaven in his sins, what would be the result?
I suppose that such a one would feel utterly miserable. With a nature wholly unsuited to God's presence, and without any fitness for a place of light and holiness, it would be unbearable to him. His cry would be, "Let me get away from this place!"
I heard once of a betting-man on his way to some horse-races who, by mistake, went on board the wrong steamer. He found himself amongst a lot of Christians bound for a conference. In the saloon, on deck, everywhere, hymns were being sung, and conversations going on, of which the things of Christ were the topic. The man felt completely out of place, and his discomfiture ended in his offering the captain a good round sum of money to be put down at the nearest landing-place.
People talk easily enough about going to heaven when they die, but they forget that unless they have been made fit for the place, and have received a nature that can enjoy the things of God, they would be as miserable in heaven as that betting-man was amongst the Christians on the steamer. If an hour in their company was unbearable, what would an eternity in the very presence of God be to an unregenerate sinner?
Where in the Bible do we read of being made fit for heaven?
In Colossians 1:12-14. Let me read the passage: "Giving thanks unto the Father, which has made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son: in whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins."
Ought we to pray to God to make us meet to be partakers of the heavenly inheritance?
If you will glance at the chapter from which we have just read, you will see that from the ninth verse to the eleventh we read of various things which as Christians we can PRAY for. We should earnestly pray, for instance, that we might be filled with the knowledge of God's will, and walk worthy of the Lord, and be fruitful in every good work, and so on. But verses twelve to fourteen mention things that we can GIVE THANKS for. Now, we pray for things we want, but we give thanks for what we have already received. You will note that meetness for the inheritance above is one of the things we are to give thanks for, and not One of the things we are to pray for. That is very clear from verse twelve. It is something which, by the grace of God, is ours already.
We were speaking the other evening of that golden little word "has." How many have been enabled to bid farewell to all their doubts by seeing that "has" implies present possession! The same word is used here with reference to our meetness for heaven: "Giving thanks unto the Father, which HAS made us meet." Oh, let us give thanks indeed to Him for this great gift!
Who are the "us" referred to in that passage?
The fourth verse of the chapter will answer that question: "Since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus." They were people who had come to Christ and believed in Him as their Saviour. The apostle does not refer to unbelievers or mere professors. They are not made meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. This great blessing is the portion only of those who have trusted in Christ.
Are not believers left on earth for the purpose of being made more and more fit for heaven by the grace of God and the influence of the Holy Spirit?
One might answer that question by asking another: Can anything wrought in our souls, or produced in our lives by God's grace and the Holy Spirit, add to the value of the precious blood of Christ? Surely not.
God has most assuredly left us on earth for a purpose, but that purpose is not that we might be made more meet for heaven.
I am aware that some good people cherish the thought that Christians are gradually ripening for the skies, just as an orange, under the influence of the sun's rays, becomes sweet and mellow, and fit to be plucked and eaten. Whatever other aspect of a Christian's blessing that orange may illustrate, it certainly does not show how he is made fit for heaven.
Why, if from the day of your conversion to the day when you bid farewell to earth, you could live a life of holy zeal and devotedness in the Master's service; if by continual prayer and the study of His Word you became a giant in spiritual knowledge, you would be no more meet for heaven at your last moment than when, as a poor sinner, you first trusted in Christ. Growth there would be, in many respects—in knowledge, in experience, in devotedness, in zeal; but there would and could be no growth in meetness for heaven
Is there not a place where souls are sent, after death, to be finally fitted for heaven?
Such a place exists only in the imagination of men's minds. The Bible is not only silent as to there being such a place, but its testimony is dead against it.
I know that a good many present with us this evening have been accustomed to hear of what is called purgatory, and the same thing has been mooted in rationalistic quarters under the name of "Aeonian fire." But will anybody tell me that any sufferings through which I might pass can accomplish what the sufferings through which my Saviour passed for me could not? Would my sufferings be more efficacious to fit my soul for heaven than His sufferings were? Impossible
Oh no, thanks be unto God, my Saviour has won for me by His finished work, not a place in purgatory, but in the Father's house. His work is all that is needed to fit the believing sinner for that place, and we are only waiting till He comes to enter the place He has made us fit for. If called to die, it will not be to undergo a further process of purification by purgatorial fire, but "to be with Christ; which is far better" (Phil. 1:23). To depart and to be with Christ is a very different thing from departing to be in purgatory, is it not?
There were some Christians at Corinth who were not going on in the right way, and in consequence many fell asleep. What about them?
Their case in no way invalidates the truth we are insisting on. The apostle Paul himself said to those same Christians: "But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." The place that they were not fit for was Corinth. Instead of living for God's glory, and being bright and shining witnesses for Christ, their discreditable conduct was bringing reproach upon His name and making Christianity a byword among the heathen. It was for this reason that God intervened and removed them from the earth by death.
There is all the difference in the world between being "meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light," and being "meet for the Master's use" (2 Tim. 2:21). Many are fit for glory who are very far from being fit vessels for the Master to use here on earth. So God has to chasten them, and discipline them, and sometimes to take them away from earth altogether.
Is the case of those Corinthian believers an instance of the "sin unto death"?
Yes, I think so. If God has made Himself known to us in grace, we must not conclude that He ceases to be a wise and just Governor. He cannot allow sin to go on amongst His people unchecked. But even though the sin be of such a nature that God sees necessary to check it by the removal of the one who sins, yet that one, if a believer in Jesus, is removed to heaven.
We will suppose that a father, as he sits in his house, hears his son's voice mingling with the voices of some bad, rough lads in the street. He is shocked to hear the language that comes from his own boy's lips. Opening the window, he calls: "George, come here!" George turns round, and his father continues: "I have seen how you have been misconducting yourself. I cannot trust you out there any longer. Come in at once!"
Thus he calls the boy away from the street, where he was bringing discredit upon his father's name, but where does he call the boy to? He calls him home.
That is what God has sometimes to do with His children. Their sin is a sin unto death. God removes them from earth (the place they are not fit for) to heaven (the place that, through the blood of Jesus, they are fit for).
Is there any other instance in the Bible illustrating the same principle?
Yes, the case of Moses. A wonderful servant of God he was, but he sinned in disobeying God's directions on one occasion, and failed to maintain God's honour in the eyes of the people. For this God said to him: "Get thee up into this mountain Abarim … and die in the mount whither thou goest up" (Deut. 32:49-50). Moses was not allowed to lead God's people into the promised land. His service was given to Joshua, and God called him away from earth.
If anyone asks, "But how do you know that after his failure Moses went to heaven?" I reply, "Because when the Lord Jesus was transfigured upon the mount, Moses was one of His companions who appeared in glory with Him" (Luke 9:30-31).
Moses' fitness for heaven did not depend on his faithfulness, or he never would have got there. His continuance as God's chosen servant on earth did depend upon his faithfulness, and because he failed he was called away. So with us. If unfaithful, we are not "meet for the Master's use," and God will have to deal with us as He sees fit. But our meetness for glory depends upon something the value of which no failure on our part can ever diminish, THE PRECIOUS BLOOD OF CHRIST.
In saying that, are you not setting forth very dangerous doctrine?
It is enough for me that it is the doctrine of Scripture. But after all, do its practical effects strike you as so very bad? Are those who are assured that Christ's precious blood is all that is needed to make them fit for heaven such very careless and dreadful people? As a matter of fact, it is the other way round, and in real life full confidence in the power of Christ's blood to cleanse, and the assurance that through it we are made fit for glory, are found to go hand in hand with a godly walk and a concern for God's glory on earth.
Does not the case of the dying thief illustrate how a sinner is made fit for heaven without any works on his part?
It does indeed. Poor man! with his hands made fast to the cross, what manner of work could he do? He could only turn to the Lord in all his vileness and helplessness. This he did, and was blessed at once with the promise, "To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise." It matters little what men say or think as to what or where "paradise" was. The point is that he was there and then made fit for the company of Christ, and had the assurance of being with Him.
Why did Christ institute the sacrament if, as you say, it does not help to make us fit for heaven?
I am not in any way implying that the Lord's Supper, or the sacrament, as you call it, is unimportant. I take it myself, when possible, every Sunday. But in doing so I have not the remotest thought of being made more fit for heaven thereby. If you wish to know why the Lord Jesus instituted the Supper, you have only to turn to the Scriptures for the reason. It is stated distinctly enough. See Luke 22:19. He Himself said: "This do in remembrance of Me." That is a very different thing from saying, "This do in order to be made more fit for heaven."
The truth is, that the bread and wine are given to us that we might be constantly reminded of our absent Lord, in His death. He desires that we should not forget Him, as the butler forgot Joseph, and instituted the Supper as a simple means of remembrance. There is no hint anywhere in the Bible of its being a "means of grace," or of its having any virtue in it for helping to make us meet for heaven. Only those who know that they are saved, and made fit for heaven through Christ's precious blood, can rightly take the Supper, for they only are able to remember Him as His own loved ones, who owe all their blessing to His death.
Questions by P. Brown.
It is a very solemn subject that is to engage our attention on this occasion. I believe that most, if not all, Christians know what it is to backslide. I do not mean that they have fallen into open sin. One may conduct himself in the most exemplary manner, and yet all the while be a "backslider in heart." Many of us, I am sure, have to mourn over times when we have consciously slidden back from communion with God, and when our souls have been chilled and beclouded. Let us pray, therefore, that God will help us in our consideration of the subject.
What is the cause of backsliding?
In order to answer this question, I must point out that backsliders are of two kinds. There are those who have never got beyond a mere profession of Christianity. Brought under religious influences, they have taken the place of believers in Christ, and in all sincerity imagine that they are on the way to heaven. But there has been no divinely wrought conviction of sin in their souls; their consciences have never been ploughed up by the power of God's Word; to true repentance and saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ they are entire strangers. In spite of their profession they are what they always were, unregenerate sinners. Sooner or later, perhaps, the religious life upon which they have entered becomes irksome to them. They feel that they cannot live up to the profession that they have made. Old tastes and desires reassert themselves, and little by little they slide back into their former manner of life and are looked upon, by those who once believed them to be real Christians, as backsliders. Like the sow of which we read in 2 Peter 2:22, their washing did not go deeper than the surface; outwardly reformed, they had never been transformed into Christ's sheep, and their turning again to the mire of sin is only what might be expected.
The other class consists of those who have been genuinely converted. As hell-deserving but repentant sinners, they have put their whole soul's trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning work. Their sins are forgiven and they are Christ's for ever.
Alas that we should have to say it, but it is only too true, that even such may backslide, and grow cold in heart, and fall into sin.
Many causes may contribute to bring about the declension of a Christian. Perhaps one of the most frequent is self-confidence. We are so prone to forget that we cannot get on for a single hour unless we lean upon the strong arm of Christ for support. We are sometimes foolish enough to fancy that the wonderful blessings we have received are enough to keep us going on without constant dependence on the Blesser. We shall do well to remember what happened in the case of Jacob. On that memorable night by the ford Jabbok he was wonderfully blessed. God changed his name, and most significantly it is added, "the sun rose upon him." But the very next thing we read of Jacob is that "he halted upon his thigh." Darkness had given place to sunshine, doubt and misgiving had been replaced by confidence, the blessing of God had been freely bestowed, but Jacob was left as weak and helpless in himself after it all as he had been before. He still needed to lean for support upon something outside himself. And long years afterwards the same necessity existed (Heb. 11:12).
The same thing is true, in a spiritual way, of every child of God. Constant and hourly dependence is the only way to be kept from backsliding, and this will be so to our last moment on earth. To forget this and to trust in any way to our own power of continuance is to ensure failure and defeat.
If one who is truly a child of God backslides, does he need to be saved over again?
I might answer this question by asking another: If a boy were to run away from home, does he need to be made his father's son over again? No, indeed; he may need chastisement, and when repentant he will need forgiveness and restoration to his place in the home circle, but the bond of relationship between him and his father is one which no misdeeds on his part can sever.
Now the bond that is formed between the believer and God is an everlasting bond. It is God Himself who has formed it, and "whatsoever God does, it shall be for ever" (Ecc. 3:14). God has saved him, and made him His own dear child. He has sealed him with His Spirit, and assured him that he shall never perish. Moreover, he has become a member of Christ's body, and an object of the special love and care of Christ Himself. Can all that be compromised, and God's work undone, and a sheep plucked from the Shepherd's hand? To a thoughtful mind, and one who comprehends what is implied in a soul being saved, to ask such questions is to answer them.
Is there not such a thing as being blotted out of the book of life
You refer, I suppose, to what is said in Revelation 3:5. But we must remember that in the city of Sardis there were some who had, as it were, written their own names in the record of the living ones. They had a name to live, as verse 1 tells us, but in reality they were dead. Now if God writes anyone's name in the book of life, it is because that one is truly alive, having been quickened by God Himself. And if God writes a name in that book, He will never blot it out. But if anyone takes the place of being a living one, without ever having "passed from death unto life," it is as if he had inscribed his own name where it has no right to be, upon the pages of the book of life. And all such names God will assuredly blot out. But they are the names, not of backsliding saints, but of false and lifeless professors.
Did not the apostle Paul fear that after all he might possibly become a castaway?
If he did, he must have doubted the truth of what he himself constantly taught! But Scripture says no such thing as your question supposes. The passage that is in your mind is 1 Corinthians 9:27, which, you will observe, does not mention such a thing as becoming a castaway, though the possibility of being a professor, and even a preacher, and yet after all being nothing but a poor unconverted castaway, is clearly recognised.
But for an explanation of this and similar passages which appear to teach the possibility of a true believer being ultimately lost I must refer you to a helpful little book called "Fallen from Grace; or, Castaway," where the matter is gone into more exhaustively than time will permit us to do on this occasion.
Why does God permit His children to backslide?
We cannot speak of our backslidings as being by God's permission. It is true, of course, that He has power to keep us from backsliding, but it is not His way to treat us as mere inanimate machines. He has made all His stores of grace and power available for us, so that if we wander and stray, we have no one to blame for it but ourselves. And God uses our failures and falls to impress upon us the lesson that we are slow to learn—that of our own utter weakness and incompetence.
But in order that we may be preserved from stumbling and erring, God has given us a living Saviour in heaven to be our great and mighty Intercessor. He knows our weakness and our need, and He lives to meet it with His grace and power.
We have also the Holy Ghost dwelling within us to be our Guide and Comforter, to make the things of God real to us, and to control us on behalf of Christ.
Then, too, we have the priceless treasure of God's Word to act upon the conscience and point out the way of truth.
With such resources as these there is no excuse for backsliding. It is only when we neglect the wonderful provision that God has made, and try to walk in our own strength, that we are overtaken with spiritual disaster.
If a Christian sins, is he in every case to be considered a backslider?
Hardly for in that case who amongst us would not be a backslider? We must distinguish between the one who persists in sin and the one who is "overtaken in a fault," though even the latter needs restoration (Gal. 6:1).
If you watch a column of smoke you will often see it driven to and fro by the passing gusts of wind. Yet its main direction is upward, in spite of everything. So with the Christian. He is liable to be influenced by passing things, and through lack of watchfulness to be overtaken in a fault. But if his main direction is upward, and if he continues in that course, mourning his failures and pressing on in spite of all, he is not to be regarded in the same light as one who goes on for days, or weeks, or months without getting into God's presence in self-judgment and confessing his sin and seeking grace to enable him to turn from it.
What do you mean by a "backslider in heart"?
The term is a scriptural one, as you will see if you turn to Proverbs 14:14. We have an example of what is meant in the case of the saints at Ephesus. They were what many would doubtless have regarded as a model company. Their zealous labours, their faithfulness in repudiating false teachers, their endurance for Christ's sake, were well-known. Nevertheless, He who reads the heart had something against them: they had left their first love (see Rev. 2:2-4). Outwardly they were all that could be desired, but their love to Christ had ceased to burn with its former brightness, the ardour of their first affection for Himself had cooled; they were backsliders in heart.
How many of us have to confess that the same thing is true of us. And how evident it is, from the case of these Ephesian believers, that activity and zeal in the Lord's service, even when coupled with uncompromising fidelity to true doctrine, are no remedy for a departure from "first love."
How can a backsliding child of God be restored?
If thorough restoration is sought, there must be a thorough going to the bottom of one's sin and declension in the presence of God. No mere expression of sorrow and prayer for forgiveness will suffice. There must be real self-judgment, and a retracing of one's steps to the point of departure.
I remember that once, while sitting in my lodging, a little mouse came out of its hole and began to gambol about in the room. Some motion of my foot, however, soon startled it, and away it ran, and vanished into its hole. A few minutes afterwards it reappeared, this time coming from a hole on the opposite side of the room.
Let every backsliding Christian mark this. You cannot do as that mouse did! It ran into one hole and came out at another, but that is impossible for you. You have got into some dark hole, away from the light of your Saviour's presence, away from the joy of communion with God. And if you are to be restored you will have to come out at the same hole as that into which you went.
What I mean is that you will have to retrace, in God's presence, that piece of your soul's history that lies between the moment of your departure and the present time. With the Lord's help you can do this and to confess the first wrong step, and judge yourself for having taken it, is a great point gained.
Bear in mind, all the while, that the blessed Lord looks upon you with eyes of unchanging love. All your sinful wanderings have not produced the smallest diminution of His faithful love for you. Think of this. Turn the thought over in your mind, "He loves me, notwithstanding all," and with the thought of that true, strong, tender, eternal love, carry your confession into the presence of God. "Take with you words, and turn to the Lord," and He will heal your backsliding and fill your heart with joy once more.
But be sure you offer no excuses for your declension. When the German Emperor despatched a contingent of soldiers to aid in quelling the Boxer insurrection in China, he bade them remember that their foes were cruel and merciless. "Give them no quarter whatever," he said.
Your greatest foe is yourself, and in turning to the Lord you will do well to follow the advice given by the German Emperor to his soldiers, and give yourself no quarter whatever.
In confessing your sin thus, you may rest assured that you are forgiven. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." You may not, and probably will not, experience any sudden relief, or any immediate dispersion of the clouds, but forgiven you most certainly are the moment you pour out the sad story of your sin in your Father's ear.
Then, through the advocacy of Christ, restoration ensues. He will bring His word to bear upon you; He will speak to your heart in a way that will melt you, and deepen within you the sense of His love and faithfulness and your own folly and unworthiness. Then, distrusting your own wisdom and strength, you will seek to go on in the power of His grace.
When a backslider turns thus to the Lord, is his restoration immediate?
Not usually, I believe, though his forgiveness is instantaneous the moment confession is made. But restoration is a further thing than forgiveness, and is not brought about so speedily. The returning wanderer is made to feel that his sin is no slight matter, and that the privilege of communion with God is not a thing that can be cast aside and then resumed at pleasure.
In saying this, I have in my mind a passage in Hosea 5:15, and 6:1-2, which, though primarily referring to Israel, states the principle that I am seeking to explain.
The Lord withdraws Himself in chapter 5:15. "I will go and return to My place," says He, "till they acknowledge their offence, and seek My face." The effect of this is that the people exhort one another. "Come," they say, "and let us return unto the Lord: for He has torn, and He will heal us; He has smitten, and He will bind us up. After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up." A period of time is thus anticipated between the turning of their souls to the Lord and the revival and raising up that will come from Him. This period of time allows of the soul passing through exercise, and of its reality being tested. But if its attitude of true contrition and self-judgment is maintained, the restoration is as certain as the forgiveness; and we may be sure that God will not keep one waiting a longer time than is sufficient for the needful lessons to be learnt.
Restoration, let me add, does not usually come in the shape of a sudden burst of ecstasy, or anything of that kind; but is brought to pass by our having our thoughts diverted from ourselves to Christ. The Holy Spirit directs our hearts to His love, and in being engaged with Himself, the blessedness we longed for is ours once more.
Subject: The Inspiration of the Bible.
Questions by W. E. Powell.
In our previous dialogues we have spoken of many wonderful things that are found in the Bible. On this occasion we are to speak of the Bible itself, and the claim that it has upon our obedience. I trust that as a result our reverence for God's holy Book may be increased, and a desire for a deeper acquaintance with its teachings may be implanted in our hearts.
What makes the Bible different from every other book?
The Bible comes to us with a claim that no other book in the world, worthy of serious attention, makes. I need not refer to the Koran, nor to the sacred books of the Hindus and other Oriental nations, nor to the vapourings of Mormons and Swedenborgians. Inspiration may be claimed for them by their adherents, but no one here would be disposed to attach any weight to such a pretension.
Setting aside these products of fanaticism and paganism, if we compare the Bible with other good and useful books, we find that it stands upon immeasurably higher ground than even the best of them. Books written by devoted men of God are helpful and profitable to read, and their writers may have had the assistance of the Holy Spirit as they penned their words. But, for all that, the words of such books are the words of their writers, not the very words of God. With the Bible it is different. Its words are divinely given. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16). That is, the Bible was written, not through good and holy thoughts being suggested by God's Spirit to the writers (such as may happen nowadays), but by the very words being divinely inspired so as to preclude the possibility of mistake or imperfection. The Holy Scriptures, as given at first, are like their Divine Author—perfect. This is the truth for which, by the grace of God, I desire to stand.
How can you prove that the Bible is inspired?
The Christian who knows and loves his Bible will find in its wonderful excellencies, and in the way it speaks to his heart and affects his conscience, a sufficient proof of its divine origin.
If you stood in the street yonder to-morrow at midday, you would need no man to prove to you that the sun shone. You would feel its warmth, and that would suffice for you. Nor, if you received a sharp cut from a razor, would you need further proof that its edge was keen. In like manner, when one's heart is warmed through reading this blessed Book, as only divine love can warm it and when the conscience is affected, as only the voice of divine authority can affect it—one has proof of the inspiration of Scripture.
External evidences are poor things to rest one's faith upon. Yet in the case of the Bible they are by no means lacking.
The marvellous and detailed fulfilment of its prophecies; the perfect harmony between its various parts, indited as they were under varying circumstances and at different epochs; the utter failure of its critics to substantiate their charges of imperfection; the impossibility of the human mind, trained and cultured though it be, to fathom and exhaust its teachings—all these, and many other facts, testify to the divine authorship of the Bible.
How does the divine inspiration of the Bible accord with the fact that its various parts were written by men?
Men were used to inscribe the words, and for this purpose writers were selected whose character, position, or history suited them in a special way to communicate the revelation given to them. But the words by means of which they made their respective communications were just as truly the words of God Himself as if His own finger had penned them.
Let me illustrate what I mean. When Moses was summoned to the mountain-top he received the law engraved upon two tables of stone, "written with the finger of God" (Ex. 31:18). Without employing any human instrument whatever, God Himself had written the words. "And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables" (Ex. 32:16).
But when Moses came down from the mount and found the people shouting and dancing in honour of a calf of gold, in righteous anger he shattered the divinely given tablets into fragments.
Upon this, Moses was again called to the mountain-summit that the tablets might be renewed. But in this case Moses was to prepare the materials (Ex. 34:1), and though God again undertook to write His words upon them, it was with the hand of Moses He would write them. "The Lord said unto Moses, write thou these words" (v. 27). Yet, though the hand of Moses, on this occasion, penned the words, they were just as truly the words of God Himself as when His own finger had written them; so Moses could say, "These are the words which, the Lord has commanded" (Ex. 35:1).
This will help us to understand how words, written upon humanly manufactured materials, by the fingers of men, may yet be the very sayings of God. Such are the words of the Bible.
If you will turn to Acts 1:16, you will see that the words of Scripture are thus described. The apostle Peter, quoting from the Old Testament, calls the quotation a scripture "which the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David, spake." So also, in Acts 28:25, Paul exclaims, "Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet."
Some people claim to have found contradictions and mistakes in the Bible. What do you say to that?
It is generally easy to prove that the mistakes exist in the minds of the critics, and not in the Bible. Take, for instance, the alleged discrepancy between the teaching of Paul and that of James on the subject of justification. The one says we are justified by faith, the other that we are justified by works. But on examination we find that the justification of which Paul speaks is justification in the sight of God; whereas James treats of justification before men, a totally different thing. Thus the accusation of error recoils upon the critic's head, and he is found guilty of superficiality and lack of discernment.
Take another example. In Matthew's Gospel the so-called "Sermon on the Mount" is said to be delivered upon a mountain, where the Lord Jesus sat and taught His disciples. "But," says the critic, "in Luke's Gospel this same sermon is said to have been delivered while our Lord stood, and that, too, not on a mountain, but in the plain" (Luke 6:17). And this instance is brought forward as a conclusive proof of one gospel writer contradicting another!
I should have thought that it is a conclusive proof of nothing but the blindness of the would-be Bible critic. For even supposing that the sermon recorded by Matthew and that given by Luke were exactly the same, word for word (which they are far from being), it does not follow that there is any contradiction between the two accounts. Wherever the Lord went, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, He had the same message to proclaim, and would very probably enunciate the same truths, in the same or similar terms, in different localities. What is there to prevent our believing that on one occasion the Lord uttered the words in Matthew seated upon a mountain-side, and upon another occasion the words in Luke standing in the plain? This appears to have been the case.
So far from it being an instance of imperfection, in the Bible, it is another example of its wonderful and detailed perfection. For in Matthew the Lord is presented as the long-looked-for Messiah of the Jews, the Shiloh to whom the gathering of the people was to be. The great burden of His message as thus presented was "Come unto Me." How suitable therefore is the picture which Matthew draws of the Lord seated upon the mountain, and His followers gathered around Him.
But in Luke He is presented as the Son of Man, come down in heavenly grace to meet the need of sinful men. The burden of the gospel message in Luke is not so much "Come unto Me," as "I have come to you." "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost." Hence His descent to the plain to utter the sermon is the incident selected for portrayal by the pen of Luke, in beautiful harmony with the purport of his gospel.
So much for the critics.
A microscopist, or chemist, however skilful, can never satisfy his hunger by the dissection or analysis of the plate of food that is before him. Nor shall we, if we sit in the critic's chair, thrive by our study of God's Word. In a humble, childlike spirit we should feed on what God has given for the nourishment of our souls, and leave fault-finding to those who wish to remain lean and famished all their days.
Are there not many things in the Bible very hard for young Christians to understand?
Yes; undoubtedly; but, on the other hand, there is much that the simplest believer can understand and upon which he can feed. There is a story told of an old lady who likened the reading of the Bible to eating a plate of fish. "When I come to a bone," she said, "I am not troubled because I can't digest it. I just lay it on one side, and go on eating that part of the fish which I can manage. And when I read the Word of God, if I come across anything that is beyond my poor comprehension, I do not worry over it, I just leave it till such time as the Lord may please to give me better understanding, and, meanwhile, I turn my attention to the abundance of precious truth which is simple enough for me to understand, and I get many a good meal for my soul from it."
That old lady was wise, and I should advise all young Christians to read their Bibles on the same principle. What they find difficult to understand they may leave for future consideration, or they may seek the help of some spiritually minded Christian who is more advanced in the things of God than themselves.
Is there not a danger of young Christians wrongly interpreting the Bible, and thus doing themselves spiritual damage?
There is not only a danger, but a certainty, of our wrongly interpreting Scripture if we trust to our own understanding in the study of it. There is only one Person on earth that can rightly interpret to our souls the blessed teachings of God's Word. I refer to the Holy Ghost. But He is here, amongst other reasons, for the express purpose of illuminating our souls with the knowledge of the truth. It was He who, in the first instance, indited the words of the Bible, and He can make their meaning plain to us. He is the Divine Interpreter of the Divine Book.
Thank God, we are not left to private judgment for the interpretation of Scripture, nor are we dependent upon the decisions of learned doctors, or the pronouncements of any self-constituted human authority, papal or otherwise. We have the Holy Ghost Himself to be our Teacher and Guide. He who reads his Bible in simple and earnest dependence upon His teaching will not be disappointed. He will be kept from many an error, and be fed with the finest of wheat.
If a young Christian were to say, "I would like to study my Bible, but I don't know how to begin," how would you advise him?
That is a rather difficult question to answer, for so much depends upon the degree of familiarity which one has with the Scriptures.
One might begin by studying the wonderful parables given to us in Luke's Gospel, which set forth in so striking a manner the grace of God. Such parables, I mean, as the prodigal son, the great supper, and the good Samaritan.
Then, too, one might search the Scriptures to find what they say as to any particular subject that may be exercising one's mind.
But I would particularly recommend all young Christians to read over for themselves the portions of Scripture that come before us in our public meetings, those from which the gospel is set forth, or which may be chosen as the subject of a Bible-reading or an address. Such portions are often selected with special reference to the spiritual needs of young believers, and should be studied in private after being considered at the meetings.
What is the difference between the Roman Catholic and the Protestant Bibles?
The Roman Catholics include within the covers of their Bible the books commonly known as "The Apocrypha." These books were never received as canonical by the Jews; they do not afford the internal evidences of divine inspiration as do the books of "the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets"; they are never quoted either by the Lord Himself or the apostles: so that we have very good reasons for not regarding them as divinely given, however authentic as histories some of them may be.
Another point is that the Roman Catholic versions are never issued without "notes" at the foot of each page. Needless to say, these notes are human productions, and far from being merely explanatory. They often distort the plain meaning of the text so as to make it teach what is most manifestly contrary to its real import.
Besides the inclusion of the Apocryphal books, and the addition of these baneful notes, various passages in the Roman Catholic versions are grossly mistranslated, evidently with the view of giving support to some of the erroneous doctrines of Popery.
For instance, Job 5:1 reads: "Call now if there be any that will answer thee, and turn to some of the saints." Genesis 3:15 reads: "She shall crush thy head." Hebrews 11:21 reads: "By faith Jacob dying blessed each of the sons of Joseph and adored the top of his rod."
It is easy to see that in this way texts of Scripture are made to lend colour to the doctrines of saint-worship, Mariolatry, and veneration of images.
Then, in no less than forty-six passages, for the word "atonement," the Romish version has "prayer of the priest," an inexcusable perversion of the Word of God. Other defects might be pointed out. But we may rejoice that such passages as John 3:16, John 5:24, Acts 13:38-39, 1 Tim. 1:15, are faithfully translated, and have proved to be the means of blessing to many readers of the Romish version.
Are there any non-essentials in the Bible?
It seems hardly likely that God would have gone to the trouble of making a revelation to us of things which we may regard with indifference. We too often resemble the old astronomers who regarded the earth as the centre of the universe, and reasoned accordingly. We are apt to regard ourselves as the central figure of God's wonderful plan, and to reckon anything of which we do not see the immediate bearing upon our own blessing to be a "non-essential." But this is a grievously selfish way of looking at the matter. The fact is that it is Christ who is the central object of all God's purposes and plans, and what is revealed is in view of His glory. We may not see how any particular truth affects us, but if it is in any way connected with the glory of Christ, can any loyal heart call it a "non-essential"?
We may be sure, then, that everything in the Bible is essential—essential to Christ's glory and the completeness of God's revelation, and if we attempt to dispense with any part of it we shall be losers in consequence.
Would you advise an unconverted man to read the Bible?
Certainly, for its words are words of life. I do not mean by this that a man can be saved through Bible-reading. One may read through the Bible and be able to repeat chapter after chapter of it by heart, and yet remain unsaved.
But numberless instances are on record of souls to whom the voice of God has come in quickening power through the page of Scripture. Some passage is brought home to the conscience by the Holy Spirit, and is thus the means of awakening and blessing. Even infidels, studying the Bible with a view to finding fault with it, have been aroused and led to Christ through what they have found therein; heathens, in localities where the living voice of the preacher has never been heard, have obtained copies of God's Word, and found life and blessing in Christ through its means.
Are you in favour of teaching the Bible to children?
Most decidedly. Christian parents neglect a most important duty if they do not endeavour to store the minds of their little ones with the truths of God's Word. It is true that for those truths to be effectual there must be a work of the Holy Spirit in the soul; but if the mind is stored with Scripture while young, there is material that the Holy Spirit can use at any subsequent time. How many there are who, during mature life, have had some passage of Scripture which they learned in the days of their childhood brought powerfully before their souls in such a way that conversion has been the result! So that even if we have to wait many days, or years, for the seed to spring up, it is well to sow it in the minds of our children. We may be sure that if we do not instil into their minds the teachings of God's Book, Satan will be ready enough to take advantage and plant his evil thoughts there. By all means, then, teach your children, and let them be taught, the truths of God's holy Word,
Questions by S. W. Royes.
Is there any special reason why you have chosen the subject of Prayer to immediately follow our dialogue on the Holy Scriptures?
Yes. In the spiritual life of the believer the two things—the Word of God and prayer—must go hand in hand, or shipwreck will be the result. In Luke 10:39 we find Mary sitting at Jesus' feet, hearing His word. She is commended for the good part she chose, and we learn from her case how right it is that we should desire to know the Lord's word. But immediately following upon this an incident is recorded from which we learn the importance of prayer; and we see from the close conjunction in which the two scenes are placed on the sacred page how intimately connected the two things—the Word of God and prayer—are.
In order to keep a fire burning, a constant supply of both fuel and air is necessary. Deprived of either, the fire would die away. In the same way, two things are needed if the fire of joy and communion is to be kept burning bright in the believer's soul — a constant application of the Word to his heart, and the constant exercise of prayer.
To whom should prayer be addressed?
To God, and to Him alone. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a trace of any such thing as prayer being addressed to the Virgin Mary or the saints. It seems rather late in the day to have to press this, and fight the battle of the Reformation upon this point again. Yet, alas! the practice of invoking the dead is becoming prevalent in circles which were once avowedly Protestant. God is thus robbed of the honour which belongs to Him alone; creatures are exalted at the expense of the Creator; dead men and women are adored and invoked instead of the living God.
Of course, in speaking of God as the only One to whom our prayers should be addressed, I do not for a moment mean that we must not pray to the Lord Jesus. He is God, equally with the Father, and equal honour belongs to Him (John 5:23). We find Stephen praying to the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit. Paul, too, prayed to Him concerning his thorn in the flesh.
We cannot define, in any cut-and-dried way, the occasions when prayer should be addressed to the Father and when to the Son. Generally speaking, we turn to God our Father with reference to our needs as His children here on earth; we turn to the Lord Jesus in connection with His service in which He graciously permits us to engage.
It only remains to be said that the Holy Ghost, the third Person of the blessed Trinity, is never presented as the object of either prayer or praise. He is on earth, dwelling within us, to indite, not to receive, our prayers and praises.
Has God promised always to give us what we ask for?
He is too wise a Ruler and too loving a Father for that. What earthly parent would undertake to grant every thoughtless request that his child might prefer? There are many precious promises, gleaming upon the page of Scripture, which assure the believer that his prayers, under certain conditions, will be heard. But whether God, in His love and wisdom, sees fit to grant any particular request or not, there is one thing upon which we may always count. Turn to Philippians 4:6-7, and you will see what I mean. God pledges His word that in every case His own peace shall keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Infinite love may deny us the thing which we ask for, but this boon, the keeping of our hearts in the serene atmosphere of God's own peace, will never be refused to the one who brings his requests to Him.
What conditions are there that ensure prayer being answered?
We will turn to the Scriptures and see. Look first at Psalm 66:18. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." If we would have our prayers answered we must be right with God in secret. Our private life must tally with our public profession. Sin concealed, like a serpent in the bosom, takes all vitality from prayer. A bad conscience is a certain barrier in the way of our petitions being granted. God will not pour His blessings into unclean vessels. So the first condition for prevailing prayer is a good conscience.
Now read James 4:3. "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts." From this we learn that those who ask anything of God for a selfish reason will assuredly be disappointed. God will not be a party to self-gratification. The prayers recorded in Scripture, to which such wonderful answers were given, were prayers on behalf of others, or prayers that had God's glory in view in connection with those who uttered them. A second condition, then, is a pure motive.
Then see James 1:6-7. "Let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord." Unwavering confidence is necessary, then, if we would have our prayers answered. To doubt is to dishonour God, and to deal a death-blow at our own petitions.
Look now at 1 John 3:22. "Whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight." Obedience on our part is another condition. We are not left in ignorance as to what things are pleasing to the Lord. But it is not enough to know them. We must do them if we desire to receive of Him the things we ask.
Once again, turn to John 16:23. "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you." Here is a fifth condition. If prayer is in Christ's name it will be answered. What is it to pray in His name? It certainly does not mean to pray about any and every thing that we please, and then wind up by saying, "All this we ask in the name and for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ." It means that what we ask for must be something to which the name of Christ can truly be attached, something which He would ask for were He in our circumstances. This calls for spiritual discernment, which can only be acquired in nearness to the Lord. So asking for any thing in His name implies that we are in close communion with Him.
Since God knows all our needs, why should we pray to Him about them?
It surely is enough to know that God would have us pray. Scores of scriptures might be cited to show that prayer is acceptable to God.
Nobody imagines that we pray in order to inform God of what He does not know. Nor do we pray in order to secure His interest or His love. The saint who prays intelligently realises that he is speaking to One who knows his every need far better than he does himself, whose interest in all that concerns His people is unbounded, and whose love could not possibly be greater than it is. The object of prayer is that dependence upon God might be expressed, and that our souls might be brought into touch with Him about what we pray for; that in waiting upon Him we might learn His mind; that utterance might be afforded for desires which the Holy Ghost has wrought within us, and that when the answer comes we might be conscious that it is indeed from God that it comes.
Should we pray for a thing more than once?
No definite rule can be laid down with regard to such a matter. In some cases we are made to feel that our petition, for some wise reason, will not be granted, and that we are not at liberty to continue asking. Instances of this may be rare, but most assuredly they occur. Moses, when he prayed that he might be allowed to enter Canaan, was forbidden to repeat the request (Deut. 3:26).
On the other hand, sometimes when asking the Lord for a special thing, an overwhelming sense that one is heard, and that the petition is granted, comes upon one, and one feels that to ask again would be presumptuous.
But these are exceptional cases, and generally speaking, the Lord would have us go on praying for a thing that is upon our hearts. He often keeps us waiting for months, and even for years, before giving an answer, in order to test the reality of our desire and to prove our faith. He would have us importunate about what we seek of Him, and thus show that we are really in earnest. This is the lesson conveyed to us in the parable of the traveller who applied to his friend for bread at midnight (Luke 11). He was heard because of his importunity. Another parable—that of the injured widow (Luke 18)—enforces the same truth, that men ought not to faint or grow weary in prayer.
It is not that God is a hard and unwilling Giver, but that importunity is a test of earnestness and faith.
Is it desirable to have stated times for private prayer?
Most certainly it is for the great majority of Christians. Anything that is left for odd moments is often neglected altogether, and I am persuaded that the lack of having regular times is the reason why there is so little prayer amongst us. The saints of old had stated times. "Evening, and morning, and at noon," said David, "will I pray, and cry aloud: and He shall hear my voice" (Ps. 55:17).
Daniel, too, cultivated the same habit, and nothing could prevent him from kneeling down in his chamber three times a day and praying and giving thanks before his God (Dan. 6:10). Alas! what trivial things we permit to rob us of our time for prayer!
Call the practice "legal" if you will, but I wish there were much more of such legality abroad. I earnestly commend to every young believer the habit of reserving a certain time every day for private intercourse with God. Early in the morning is the best of times, and immediately before retiring at night.
But besides having regular times for prayer, of which nothing should be allowed to deprive us, we should seek always to be in a prayerful, dependent spirit, ready at a moment's notice to turn to the Lord about any difficulty, or in any emergency. We have a charming instance of this in Nehemiah. He was the king's cup-bearer, and while in the performance of his duty he was suddenly asked a question by his royal master which he felt utterly unable to answer without reference to the Lord. Divine guidance was urgently needed, but the king's question must have an immediate reply. The immediate reply was forthcoming, but in the hardly perceptible interval between the asking and the answering,
Nehemiah was able to turn to the Lord in prayer. "I prayed to the God of heaven, and I said unto the king" (Neh. 2:4-5). Would that we were always near enough to the Lord to be able to consult Him and seek wisdom and guidance at His hands as readily as Nehemiah did!
Would you recommend any special form of prayer?
I would not. The Holy Ghost is here to form our thoughts and desires on the lines of God's will, and He lays upon our hearts the right subjects for prayer, and enables us to present them before the Lord. We are thus exhorted to pray "with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit," and to pray "in the Holy Ghost" (Eph. 6:18; Jude 20).
It is true that, left to ourselves, "we know not what we should pray for as we ought," but in the Holy Spirit we have the best of teachers, and we may safely leave it to Him to control and direct us in our prayers.
Do you believe in long prayers?
Yes, so long as they are uttered in private and really come from the heart. We cannot be too much or too long upon our knees in secret. The Lord Jesus on one occasion continued a whole night in prayer, but the mere fact of a man continuing long in prayer does not secure him a hearing. No one is heard for his much speaking. Reality and deep reverence should mark us in addressing God.
But perhaps your question has reference to public prayers. If you will look up the prayers recorded in the Bible you will find that the longest of them—that uttered by Solomon at the dedication of the temple took less than ten minutes, however slowly and reverently pronounced. It has been well said that when one really wants anything very few words will suffice to convey his request. It is when one has nothing in particular to ask for that the prayer takes twenty or five-and-twenty minutes.
The Lord Jesus was omnipotent, and was the Creator of all things. Why, then, was there any need for Him to pray?
It is true that the Lord Jesus was what you say. He was "over all, God blessed for ever." But He came to earth to tread the path way of a dependent Man, and everything that God looked for in a man was found to perfection in Him. Obedience, truth, righteousness, confidence, dependence—all these were seen in Christ. And it was as a Man, in the lowly pathway into which His grace had brought Him, that we find Him again and again in prayer. In all this He has left us a bright example. May we follow faithfully in His steps!
Subject: The Second Coming of the Lord.
Questions by S. W. Royes.
It is well to remind one another that what the Bible presents to us is not theories or opinions, but facts. And if anyone were to say to me, "What are the principal facts connected with Christianity?" I should reply that three of the most astounding facts are these:
1. The throne of Deity is occupied by a Man.
2. God the Holy Ghost is a Resident upon this planet.
3. The Lord Jesus Christ has a peculiar treasure in the world, and is about to come personally to transfer that treasure from earth to heaven.
It is with the last of these three that we are concerned on this occasion. It is a fact that Jesus is coming again, as truly a fact as that He has already been here for thirty-three years, and died upon the cross.
Before Mr. Royes commences his questions, I will ask you to open your Bibles and read three striking passages, in which the second coming of the Lord is spoken of as a fact, first by an apostle, then by an angel, and thirdly by the Lord Himself.
First turn to 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17.
"For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the Coming of the Lord shall not prevent [or "go before"] them which are asleep.
"For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
"Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord."
Now look at Acts 1:11, where we have angelic testimony to the same truth:
"This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven."
The third passage I ask you to read is John 14:3, where the Lord Himself, while yet on earth, distinctly promises to return for the purpose of receiving His people to His Father's house.
"and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also."
These three passages suffice to show that the truth of the Lord's second coming is an integral part of Christian doctrine. But, remember, it is not a mere doctrine, it is a fact; and as a fact we shall consider it.
When you speak of the Lord's coming, do you refer to death?
Indeed I do not. Nobody who carefully reads the three passages I have pointed out could fall into the mistake of confounding the two things. When a believer dies, does the Lord descend with a shout? Does He come in like manner as they saw Him go? Are the sleeping saints called from their graves and summoned to meet the Lord in the air? Nothing of the kind takes place.
Let me try to show you, by a simple illustration, what death is for the Christian.
A gentleman enters one of the country railway stations and asks for a first-class ticket to Kingston. The train not being due for twenty minutes, he walks into the comfortable first-class waiting-room and sits down. While there, another man enters the station. To judge by his appearance, he is a working man, and not very well off in this world's goods. He, too, is bound for Kingston, and asks for a third-class ticket. He, like the first comer, has to wait for the train, but he may not use the first-class waiting-room. He must be content with the uncomfortable, draughty, crowded third-class room.
But mark this, the man in the first-class room and the man in the third-class room are both waiting for the same train.
In the same way there are two classes of believers bound for glory, and waiting for the Lord's coming to take them there. There are those of us who are still alive, waiting in this dreary, uncomfortable third-class waiting-room of a world, surrounded by trials, subject to temptations, and beset with sin. Others there are who have, as it were, passed into the first-class waiting-room. They rest in a scene of unclouded peace, with neither sin, nor care, nor sorrow to mar their happiness. They are "with Christ," but their bodies are in the grave. They have not yet entered into the fulness of resurrection life. They are still waiting—waiting for the very same thing that we are waiting for, namely, the coming of the Lord.
Death, therefore, for the Christian, far from being the fulfilment of his hope, is merely the servant that ushers him into the first-class waiting-room, where he will be "absent from the body, present with the Lord" until the day when Jesus comes.
Does not the Christian often experience the coming of Christ to his heart?
Yes, undoubtedly; but that is not what we are talking about just now.
I remember speaking to an old lady about the Lord's coming. As I spoke, her face lit up with joy, and laying her hand upon her heart she exclaimed, "Oh, He often comes to me! Hardly a day passes without His coming."
The dear old lady was right. Jesus does come to His people's hearts in a spiritual way. But that is a very different thing from the coming of which we have read together.
You will see the two things if you will turn to John 14:23: "If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him."
Contrast this with what we have already read in verse 3 of the same chapter. Verse 23 speaks of a spiritual coming of Christ and the Father to us; verse 3 speaks of the future, personal, actual coming of Christ for us. The one is what we may enjoy daily; the other is what we yet hope for.
Will the end of the world take place when the Lord comes?
No, indeed. Scripture is full of promises and prophecies which show that the world is to be the scene of wonderful blessing under the rule of Christ for a thousand years. Men shall beat their swords into ploughshares and live in harmony. Restored Israel shall be the centre from which blessing will radiate to the uttermost parts of the earth (Isa. 2:3). Even the animal creation will share the joy of that age—the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Satan shall be bound, and righteousness shall reign. All this takes place after the Lord comes, so the end of the world will be at least a thousand years subsequent. The Lord's coming is the preliminary to a long course of events. He is about to take possession of the kingdoms of earth, and reign with His saints and assume His rights in the place where He has been rejected. But before He comes forth for that purpose, He comes to take possession of that which is already His—His own peculiar treasure, His pearl of great price—His blood-bought Church.
With it the Lord will return as the rightful Heir to subdue the earth and reign in peace and justice, so that there will be a long period of time between His coming and the end of the world.
What will happen when Jesus comes?
If you will carefully read those verses in 1 Thessalonians over again, and compare them with 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, you will find a very clear answer to that question. The living saints will be changed, the sleeping ones will be raised, and together they will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Those who are not Christ's, whether dead or living, will be left behind.
You know what a magnet is, do you not? Suppose that upon this table I had a mixture of steel filings and chaff. I bring the magnet nearer and nearer to the table. What happens?
Suddenly all the steel filings fly up and stick to the magnet. And what of the chaff? It is left upon the table unmoved.
That is just what will happen when the Lord comes. He has, indeed, been a magnet to these hearts of ours, charming and attracting them. When He comes, those with whom He has a link—the steel filings, the true believers—will by His power be gathered up to Him in the air. And what of those who know Him not—the chaff? They will for the time be left alone, but their career will soon be over: "He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12).
Will there be no chance of salvation for those who are left behind?
For those who have heard the gospel and refused it there will be none. They will be judicially blinded and hardened. Let Scripture speak as to this. Read the solemn words of 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12: "They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
The door of mercy, now open so wide, will then be irrevocably closed. "When once the Master of the house is risen up, and has shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us; and He shall answer and say unto you, I know not whence ye are: then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in Thy presence, and Thou hast taught in our streets. But He shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity" (Luke 13:25-27).
These awfully solemn words answer your question clearly and decisively. No, there will be no salvation for those who refuse it now.
Will you make the distinction clearer between the Lord's coming for His people and His subsequent coming with them?
A friend of mine was once taking me for a stroll around Newcastle-on-Tyne. "Do you see that hill yonder?" he asked, pointing to a considerable eminence on the further side of the river.
"Yes," I replied. "Is there anything noticeable about it?"
"It is called Sheriff's Hill," he said, "and the reason is this. In the olden days, when the circuit judges came from Durham to hold the assizes at Newcastle, the sheriffs of the city used to go out as far as that hill to meet them. Having met them there, they accompanied the judges back to the city to open the assizes.
Now this will, perhaps, help in making clear the distinction between the Lord's coming for His people and His subsequent coming with them. You get both referred to in Scripture. First, "I will come again and receive you unto Myself." That is His coming for us. Then, in Jude 14, "Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment." He is coming to hold the assizes, as it were, to visit the ungodly with His displeasure and "throughly purge His floor." In this He will be accompanied by His saints, as the judges in coming from Durham to Newcastle were accompanied by the sheriffs of the latter place. But in order that this may be so, His people will be summoned from earth to meet Him in the air. Then they will return with Him when He comes forth in conquering might. See Revelation 19:11-14. It is this latter event that is referred to again and again in the Old Testament. In the New Testament it is often spoken of as His appearing, or His manifestation in glory, as contrasted with His more secret coming for His people, or "rapture," as it is sometimes called.
What will happen between the Lord's coming for His Church and His appearing in power?
It would take me a very long while to give even an outline of the course of events indicated in the prophetic scriptures as happening in that period. We cannot even refer to the passages that speak of them. But I may briefly say that a careful study of Scripture would lead us to believe that as soon as the Church is taken to heaven, wickedness will increase in the world with rapid strides, and will culminate in the "man of sin," who, under the direct influence of Satan, will head a most fearful apostasy. God will meanwhile be working in and through some of His ancient people, the Jews, gathering them again to the land of their fathers, and preparing them, amid unheard-of sufferings, to be channels of blessing to the whole world. At the same time remarkable developments will take place in the political sphere. The Roman Empire, revived in the form of ten confederate kingdoms, will support its head, the "beast," who is in close alliance with the "antichrist," or "man of sin." Corrupt Christendom will at first be the governing influence, but infidelity will gain the ascendency, and the apostate church, spued out of Christ's mouth, will fall a miserable prey to the powers of the world, whose favours she has sought so long.
Then after many heavy strokes from God's rod have fallen upon the earth, suddenly Christ will appear, with His saints, bringing swift destruction to the wicked one (antichrist) and his associates. But in order to trace out all these points in Scripture, a careful study of the whole scope of prophecy is necessary, which is quite beyond the limits of our present subject.
Can any date be fixed for the coming of the Lord?
We are told in Mark 13:35 to watch, because the hour of His coming is unknown. How could anyone watch for the Lord to come, if it were known that He would not come until a certain time? The exhortation to watch implies upon the face of it uncertainty as to the time.
I am well aware that many attempts have been made to fix dates for the Lord's return. The only result of such attempts is to bring discredit upon "that blessed hope," and cause it to be associated in people's minds with folly and fanaticism.
Much confusion has arisen through people failing to see that the present time is an interval in the line of God's dealings with men. When Christ was slain by the Jews, God suspended His dealings with them as a nation. From that day onward He has been occupied in saving by His grace those who compose the Church. When the Church is complete, the Lord will come and remove her from earth. Then God will take up the thread, so to speak, which He has dropped; and then the history of His earthly people will recommence and dates and times and seasons will again have a place. But no dates are connected with the present interval. At any moment we may hear the home-call. How sweet for those who are ready! Dear fellow-believer, think of it! Another moment, and you may hear the voice of the Beloved of your soul. Another moment, and you may feel the embrace of those everlasting arms! Another moment, and you may be at home—your home because it is His home; and you are His and He is yours!
Have we anything besides watching to do in view of the Lord's coming?
Yes. We have to go out to meet Him (Matt. 25:6). Out from everything that we should not like Him to find us mixed up with; out from slothful ease; out from sinful habits; out from unholy associations.
Then we are told to occupy till He comes (Luke 19:13). We are to be engaged in looking after His interests during His absence, intent on serving Him.
If you read the New Testament you will be surprised to find how often the thought of the Lord's return is brought in a practical way, to enforce various admonitions. To cherish this blessed hope and to live in daily expectation of the Lord's return is to be a very practical Christian. "Every man that has this hope in Him purifies himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3).
May it be ours, dear fellow-Christians, not only to "live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world," but to look for "that blessed hope" and also for what will follow, "the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:12-13).
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