We are often led to believe that Great Britain is in a post-Christian era and that the country is now largely secular. Some recent research shows that as much as seventy-one percent of the British still regard themselves as Christian, despite the fact that fewer than a million attend any place of worship, with these figures dropping fast. In view of this, the Churches ought to be asking themselves why this anomaly. Despite all their efforts at offering 'contemporary worship' and discarding much that is traditional in order to be more appealing, the ebbing away of congregations continues apace. There are, however, some even more pressing questions to be posed. What do those calling themselves Christian think that it means to be a Christian? Also, how does their understanding compare with what it really means to be a Christian and how can anyone know for sure what a Christian is?

 

THE GOSPEL OF GOD'S GRACE

The Will of God and the Will of Man

 

“O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23)

 

We should be very clear: our understanding of redemption must be as comprehensive as the extent of human sin. Christ has a claim upon all men and all things. The whole of creation is under the curse, so the message of redemption is addressed to the whole world.
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)
Within the context of the salvation of the world, God loved and sent His only begotten Son to save it. What Christ came to do on behalf of those who believe was to bring an escape from eternal death and to reinstate favour with God.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)


Knowing our need, recognizing our helplessness

 

People today are largely ignorant of the Christian Gospel and only have a very vague sense of any kind of spiritual need. In the Gospel there is an outward offer of salvation but there is also an accompanying inward work of the Holy Spirit bringing with it regenerating power. When men see the need to escape from eternal death through the preaching of the Gospel, they will also at the same time see that Christ has supplied their need. Christ finds them, but they first need to become new creatures before they will see this as a fact.

Many of those professing Christian belief think they have a sound understanding of what they need, but in fact not one of us by nature is fully aware of his or her need. On the contrary, unless God opens the inward eyes, all sit in complete ignorance of their own true state: dead in trespasses and sins and therefore subject to the wrath of God.
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Ephesians 2:1-3)
“And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thessalonians 1:10)

When we preach Christ as an escape from the wrath to come, the message falls largely on deaf ears as outdated, irrelevant and superseded, not at all what is needed. Yet it stands to reason that a God who is righteous and good will and must oppose and destroy all that is unrighteous and evil. Often the greatest opposition to this message comes not from rank outsiders, but from those professing to be Christians and of whom one would have expected better things. It must be said that the Gospel does offer something already in this life as well as in the life to come. Many feel attracted to a message that speaks of our present life, but at the same time they fail to recognize that they are objects of God’s wrath.

It is not the Gospel for a preacher to tell his congregation that he has what the sinner needs. Those without God neither understand this nor do they believe it. What the sinner may well be prepared to admit is that he has not lived up perfectly to his own ideal of what it is to be good and he fears the possible consequences. He has perhaps some vague notion that reality visits ‘sin’ with its own punishments. He may welcome something to alleviate ‘original sin’ as he understands it. He may even ask how he can be rid of his guilt complex. But feelings of guilt are common and widely distributed over the whole of the human race.

We may go to the doctor when we sense there is something amiss. We may not believe there is much wrong, perhaps just a few minor headaches. Then the doctor diagnoses a deadly disease that will eventually kill us. It is terminal if untreated. There is, however, a treatment available to cure it, should we be prepared to submit to it. We know nothing of the cure until we meet the doctor and allow him to examine us and tell us our need. Indeed, we only have a very vague understanding of our sickness before this point of time. We know nothing about the cure for sin until we meet Christ, not before. However, the reality is far worse, we are not just sick but born already dead to all that is spiritual. We do not hear, we do not see, we do not move, we can do absolutely nothing to respond to anything. That is what it is like being dead. So we remain, until God gives us life.  “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).

Before this we have only a very vague and often misleading understanding of what it means to be a sinner. Everyone gives their own meaning to sin and evil, that is, if they believe that they exist at all. The German philosopher, Emanuel Kant, spoke of ‘radical evil’ in man; Sigmund Freud, of ‘the utter corruption of the race’; Martin Heidegger saw being as ‘being unto death’. None sees sin and wickedness as being against God and His revealed will which fully deserves eternal death. Only the Holy Spirit can convince anyone of what is really wrong. The Gospel brings a quite different meaning to sin, for which there is no way of escape except in repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. This cure is beyond all human ability. The sinner needs the Son of God and His death on the cross to remove his guilt. He is by nature a child of eternal damnation. Christ redeems from this.

The sinner has no real understanding of his dire state or of what it is to be a sinner. This the Holy Spirit must make clear to him through hearing or reading the Word of God. There is something more: when by God’s grace it does eventually dawn on him what is wrong, if he is to find his way to God then the sinner must also be brought to realize his own impotence and inability to do anything to change what he is. This cannot be sufficiently stressed. Furthermore, no one can do anything to induce God to save him or to merit His grace. God is under no obligation towards anyone. As things stand, we cannot initiate anything that will make any change.

The reason for all this is, first of all, that we are each and every one undeserving and can make no claim against God. We can bring nothing to God that will justify us before Him or oblige Him to act generously towards us. And in such a situation, assuming God has already opened our eyes to it, we can do little more than throw ourselves only upon His love, mercy and grace, to which He will not fail to respond. The parable told by the Lord Jesus is telling:
“ And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
(Luke 18:9-14)
We should note that this response by a penitent sinner presumes that God has already been at work in his heart. Left to ourselves, we cannot and will not understand our need, still less will we acknowledge our impotence, nor respond in any way appropriately.

In view of what has just been pointed out, it is a matter of some regret that the way the Christian Gospel is presented today is all too often an obstacle rather than a help. The call from the pulpit too readily diverts from the cure instead of leading men to it. Many claiming to preach a biblical Gospel are less consistent than one would have expected. The nub of the issue is: to what extent those outside Christ are able to accept or reject the Gospel. Many have moved some considerable distance away from, if they were ever near them, the more thoroughly biblical views expressed at the Reformation and by many godly men since. What then of the natural man and his ability to accept or refuse the Gospel when it is put to him? Does this decision rest ultimately with him or with God? Is the answer that the decision is partly with God, or even largely with God, but also to an equal degree with man?

Those who are part of the theological drift away from the teaching of the Bible will for the most part answer that the human will does to a degree have some measure of ultimate power against the call of the Gospel. They will emphasize the sovereignty of God’s grace up to a point, but also a final power of veto or ultimate resistance against God’s call. If man says no, God can do nothing. In reply, it is a very good thing that this is not the case or none would find Christ. A consistently biblical view will say that the will of the individual is not stronger than God either to accept or to reject the Gospel. The grounds for saying this lie in the fact that acceptance or rejection of the Gospel does not take place in a vacuum, but in relation to and dependence upon the all-embracing counsel of God. No one in the end can resist the power of God’s grace. This is a vital Bible truth; those err from the plain statements of Scripture who deny it.

There are many objections raised against this teaching. For example, if men cannot decide, if God’s will is so inflexible, then prayer has little meaning. Can we not change God’s mind? Knowing that God’s will always prevails then quite the opposite is true. We can actually pray that God will save knowing that the salvation of those for whom we pray is in God’s hands rather than their own and that He can readily overcome any resistance they may offer. We can pray knowing that “… the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1). This knowledge ought to drive us more to prayer not deter us from it. If God is not strong to save then we must rely upon our own resources and powers of persuasion in the hope that we might win them, a forlorn hope indeed. Our hope must be placed in God’s ability to overcome and not in man’s ability to refuse or accept Him, especially when we recognize that left to himself man will always refuse the biblical Gospel. Our prayers, we can know, are always enclosed within the perfect will of God and form an integral part of bringing others to a knowledge of the Saviour. What a wonderful privilege that is!

Another objection might be that if we can do nothing will this not discourage those seeking after God and to despair of ever finding salvation? Not in the least. Rather we must see that any desires for Christ and His salvation will not have come from within ourselves, but are evidence that God is already work drawing us to Himself. Should we discover the faintest movement of God within our own hearts convincing us of our lost condition, showing us Christ as the cure for sin, we can rejoice in knowing what God has begun He will complete, granting His grace, enabling us to trust Christ alone for salvation. This good work will continue until its completion.
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
It is the strength of His powerful working that will carry us through and nothing else.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Were our will to have the power to refuse or reject the Gospel, there would be no room left for the work of God. To ascribe to the human will such powers is to give it powers only God possesses. The will to embrace the Gospel, to want not to sin against God, belongs solely to the gift of God and all these things are His work alone. When such powers are attributed to the human will, even in part, this amounts to self-salvation in which things that are eternal and incomprehensible are attributed to human powers. What the Bible says God alone does, and is manifestly beyond human powers, is applied by many to human capability and the work of God’s Spirit is excluded in part or in whole. There is no choice between these two alternative pathways when one is closed to us.

A second reason why men neither see their own need nor are they able to do anything about their condition is that the proverbial man-in-the street is opposed in principle to God. Every aspect of his being is polluted with rebellion and sin. He will not accept the overtures of God’s grace because he cannot; he cannot because he will not. He will even be irritated by those who do seek to serve God according to the Scriptures and will do all in his power to make life difficult for them. Only when, being dead, he is made spiritually alive will he respond to God’s grace. If he is going to seek after God, it will be in his way and on his terms not God’s.

We are not inclined by nature to respond positively to the Gospel. Our depraved will is impotent in any matter concerning our own salvation. This assertion so often enrages opponents of the Gospel: the very idea that there is something over which they can exercise no control. But who can indeed change his own heart and life?
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23)
No one can change himself, and all who try by their own efforts will be shown up as hypocrites just like the Pharisee in Luke 18. A monkey may think he is a lion, but the truth may dawn upon him when he is eaten up by a real lion should he meet up with one. The truth will then be clear, but too late for the poor monkey! It is far better that we see now what we truly are. Only those who fear God, only those whose heart has been regenerated by God’s Spirit can know a change to what is natural to them. Only they will believe the Gospel. Only they will know themselves loved of God. The rest will not believe it and will perish with blasphemy on their tongues right to the very end.
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good. God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Psalm 53:1-3)

Those who hide from God, deny even that He exists, are utter fools. The evidence of their folly is all around us. God laughs at them, as indeed He must (Psalm 2:4; 37:13). There is little point entering into discussion with people like that on their own terms as no one can talk sense with fools. One would achieve more success teaching Einstein’s physics or Wittgenstein’s philosophy in a monkey house.

There are of course also those who seek to serve God in their own way and not according to the truth. Although externally they may seek to live according to the will of God, may be very religious, try to follow a moral and upright pattern of life, desire and promote the good of his fellow-men, but they will despite all this, under no circumstances admit their sinful condition and submit to God. They will not accept the full implication of their sinful state or their utter inability to do anything about their lost condition. Nevertheless, deep down all men acknowledge the claims God makes upon them when they hear the Gospel. This is what makes them so angry.
“Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”
(Romans 1:32)

The Gospel preached by many is doomed to failure from the start by not speaking the language of repentance and unquestioning submission to God through Christ. Were they spoken to in this way godless men would recognize immediately what they know are Christ’s legitimate claims over them. Instead, hearers are presented with a ‘choice’ instead of an ultimatum; a ‘decision’ is called for in the place of a call for submission to Christ and the authority of His Word. The words of the Gospel in Scripture must come as the authoritative voice of God. There can not even a hair’s breadth be given to the thought that there is any legitimacy to the claims made by a fallen human reason or will with respect to their own competence in spiritual matters.

Having come this far, we now face the question: if we can do nothing from our side, how then do we find our way to God? Many and varied are the answers. There are those who believe that if they strive hard enough, employ the proper means ― submit to baptism, attend Church and participate in its sacraments, live a good life to the best of their ability, or show proper repentance for sins of the past, or do whatever they can to gain the mercy of God, this will in the end gain the favour of God. Some seem to glide in without any real recognition of personal sin or need. God is loving and kind, so they reason, and consequently will not turn them away. When they are good enough God will accept them. The Scriptures say no such thing. Search from Genesis to Revelation you will find nothing remotely like that in the Bible. To encourage anyone along this road is highly irresponsible. What the Word of God clearly says is that the wrath of God abides on every single person.  Furthermore, it goes on to say that there is absolutely nothing anyone of us can do for our part to remove it. Whether trendy modern preachers or liberal theologians like or not, this is at the heart of the Christian Gospel: the wrath of God hangs over us because of our sin, the cure lies completely outside and beyond us. We can neither provide nor apply the cure; nor do we have within us the strength to receive it. No amount of striving on our part will do anything to gain God’s mercy.

No one comes to faith in Christ by any merit or effort of their own, but by the mercy and love of God. Having once come, all are exhorted to persevere in the faith so they are not cut off. This declares not what they are able to do, but rather what they ought to do.
“Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5)
“Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?”( Isaiah 45:9)
“Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand.”(Jeremiah 18:6)
We are entirely in God’s hands, and we are in no position to prevent God’s afflictions coming upon us.

If we are to find God, puzzling though it seems, we must recognize this truth: we are utterly impotent; we can do absolutely nothing to bring forward our own salvation. The extent to which we can change our lot is precisely zero. An acknowledgment of this is the first step along the road. Those who say otherwise mislead us, even lie to us. Unless we have grasped this, we remain in darkness concerning the Christian Gospel, and certainly we ought not to call ourselves Christian believers. Until I recognize what I am able or not able to accomplish, I shall never find what God has done and can do for me. It is “God which worketh all” (1 Corinthians 12:6). All means all, nothing less. Let us not change the plain meaning of Scripture. Does God choose me or do I choose Him? Is it my decision to follow Christ; is it an exercise of my will or of God’s? What part do I play in my own salvation, if anything at all? Unless I can give a biblical answer to these questions, I know nothing of God; and if I do not know God, I cannot worship Him.

To find an answer to these questions, we must return to the Bible teaching that God knows all things from beginning to end, that nothing happens by chance, but that God purposes all things according to His immutable, infallible and eternal will. His will is like this because this is what God is like; it is His nature. This does not make God the cause of all things. He whose nature is wholly good cannot be the cause of that which is evil. This is to imply a contradiction in the being of God. Consequently, we cannot blame God for the sinful condition in which we find ourselves.
“Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” (Romans 9:20-21)
The immutable, unchanging will of God is not something to be enquired into, still less questioned. It is to be accepted and God glorified as the only wise and just God. Such is the attitude of those who truly fear Him. This humbles our pride and will ultimately bring us into a knowledge of the grace of God and salvation.

Nothing happens or exists outside His will. Our personal salvation cannot be initiated by a decision on our part in any guise or form. We cannot and will not desire that which is good in God’s eyes. It is simply not in our make-up to do so. Would we be reconciled with God, would we know His salvation? We must first see that all efforts on our part are more than useless, that the exercise of our so-called ‘freewill’ will not bring salvation to us. We are totally undone, totally lost, completely and eternally and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it ourselves. If we were able to do the least to save ourselves, then we could hardly be said to be lost.


Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfil Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

From the hymn by
Augustus Montague Toplady (1740-1778)
Rock of Ages Cleft for Me



Once having reached this point, we need to be most careful. All too often in contradiction to all that has been said thus far, sinners are told there is actually something they can do! After a presentation of what is thought to be the Gospel, the impression is conveyed to the congregation that everything is now up to them, as though within them they have the ability to ‘decide’ for Christ when this is patently untrue. They are given the last word in their own eternal destiny. Such invitations are a massive stumbling block to those seeking peace with God and lead to abortive professions of faith. Anyone who has worked for any time in these circles will know this to be true. People are sent off in the wrong direction. What should be impressed upon them is their totally hopeless and lost condition: and their complete inability to do anything to change this state of affairs. Many for years afterwards, who believe quite sincerely that they are Christians as a result of such a ‘decision’ or by ‘asking Christ into their life’, are left resting on a false hope rooted in an act of will on their part, a totally disastrous mistake to make. It may be a delusion they carry with them to their deathbed only to be lost at the end. Both of the above expressions are not found in the Scriptures and they are quite alien to them in their ethos and teaching. The deep tragedy is that such people drift along imagining all is well when the opposite applies and sadly Churches today are stuffed full of such people. They would be very different places were this not so.

Loud and long are the objections to what has just been outlined. In an attempt to let in by the backdoor what is touted as our ‘freewill’, it is claimed that God knows in advance what we will do and that consequently is His will. By way of reply, we must first insist that God’s will can never be made dependent upon the actions of men, or upon any circumstance occurring outside Himself in some kind of autonomous or neutral sphere. Such things do not exist. Then, God cannot foreknow against His will; nor can His will operate in prior ignorance and blindness. God does not have to wait and see what will happen or what anyone will do. Apart from this, there is here an illogical contradiction. How could God’s foreknowledge otherwise be certain were it not bound within His eternal purpose? How can He know in advance that which is uncertain to happen, that which could go one way or the other because of our ‘freewill’? If it is ‘free’ then it must also be uncertain. God foreknows all things; but were something to happen by chance or outside God’s determinate counsel, it could not be known beforehand by God or by anyone else, none the least because of its uncertainty. If then it is that God knows in advance what men will do, He can only know it because it is certain to happen. If it is certain, then it is because He has determined beforehand that it shall be so.
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” (Ephesians 1:4)

To us it may at times appear that events mirror our own changeability and are contingent. However, as far as God is concerned, they are both necessary and immutable. Nothing can prevent or hinder His will in the least even down to the last detail. God does not work according to change or chance, nothing catches Him unawares. This immediately excludes all possibility of any hope of salvation by the exercise of an imagined ‘freewill’ operating outside the eternal purpose of God. We cannot escape the plain words of Scripture.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

If we are to speak of ‘freewill’ in any true sense, it can only rightly be used of God for He and He alone does exactly as He pleases.
“Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.” (Psalm 135:6)
“Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” (Psalm 115:2-3)
Were men to have this ability, they too would be as God.

Those who approach God in truth do so utterly unconscious of any ‘freewill’ of their own. Instead they despair of themselves, they cry out to God, conscious only of their need of His grace, knowing they deserve only His wrath.

A third reason why men do not seek salvation according to the Scriptures is that not only do they not recognize their need or spiritual inability but salvation is an eternal matter beyond the scope of fallen human mind to comprehend. How will a man seek something that is beyond his comprehension?
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.”
(1 Corinthians 2:9-10)

No human heart is in a position to understand these things unless the Holy Spirit first illumines the heart. In fact, the more exalted the minds, the more ridiculous these things will appear to them to be.
“At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him.” (Matthew 11:25-27)
“Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:18)
“And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” (Acts 26:24-25)

 Only when we completely give up on ourselves, only when we despair of ourselves, does the realization dawn upon us that salvation is in every way beyond our powers to obtain. It is entirely of God. For as long as we are persuaded that there is the least thing that we can contribute in gaining salvation, we shall not find it.

We must be humbled before God in this way, for when we are so inclined God has already begun His work. Only those who then depend upon His goodwill, waiting upon Him to work within, who prayerfully seek a Saviour to trust in the Scriptures, only such are anywhere near to experiencing the grace of God and salvation. Only they will cry out instinctively as did blind Bartimaeus: “Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me”. When told to keep quiet, he only cried the louder. That soul, when in desperation, cries out even more loudly: Thou Son of David, have mercy on me. Bartimaeus’ cry caused Jesus to stand still. God ‘stands still’, as it were, when He hears the desperate cries of needy sinners and grants their requests. Bartimaeus needed no persuading of his helpless plight, he recognized in Jesus, the Messiah, the King, the Saviour of men. He was persuaded of His goodness and mercy. His was a cry of despair but not without hope, also of implicit faith towards Christ (see Mark 10:46-52). Even in the very moment he called out, he knew the Lord Jesus could and would assist him.

Finally, as our salvation is completely dependent upon the working of God alone, this means that apart from Him what we do is not good but is intrinsically evil and is of no help whatever in salvation. It is true that there are many kind and loving folk about, many of whom make no profession of faith in Christ. It is surely true that it must be better that we are all honest rather than dishonest, all kind rather than cruel, and so on. Despite this, whilst we should not diminish the relative goodness many demonstrate, these good works or ‘righteousnesses’, positive though they may appear, are of no help in making us acceptable to God. This is because we can produce nothing that will make us righteous before God or even contribute to it. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). This clear teaching of Scripture is overlooked, even denied, but it must be shouted from the housetops. Only those will be saved who despair of themselves and are brought to nothing, whose confidence and faith rests in Christ alone for salvation. Those who balk at, those who rail against this teaching, will have experienced nothing of God’s grace for it comes only to those who have given up on themselves. Why otherwise would they be in need of God’s grace? What other meaning can we give to grace?
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”
(Romans 11:6)
It can only be the self-righteous who object because they condemn self-desperation and hope to have something left for themselves to do, but in so doing they demonstrate their own reprobation and ignorance of the Gospel. They remain proud enemies of God’s free grace. There is one clear reason for insisting on this teaching and it is that those who fear God, being humbled, might call upon God and receive His grace and salvation through faith in His Son ― thus the glory may be God’s and no mere man may think to share in it.

No one commits sin against his own will and inclination, but he does it spontaneously. This desire to remain a rebel, this willing sinfulness cannot be eradicated by us. We cannot even move in another direction without a prior work of God. Even if outward circumstances constrain us to do the contrary to what we would have done, the craving remains and rises in anger against that which has prevented us having our way. This anger will only disappear after a radical change within. The human will cannot change itself. Instead, the more it is resisted the stronger and more agitated its motions become. If the will were ‘free’, this would not happen. Those whose desires and inclinations are fixed upon one thing are hardened against all persuasion. They do not willingly give way.

When God works in us to bring new life where before was death, things operate very differently. The will has been transformed by the Holy Spirit. It responds willingly. Its direction changes and that which it once craved, it now hates; and that which it once hated, it now desires. It remains unshaken by all opposition to its new stance. The more those touched by God’s Spirit are opposed, yet more it drives them to desire to do that which is righteous before God. As any fading and dying embers in a fire are blown into life by a gentle breeze, in the same way the driving, all-consuming compulsion now within is fanned into a living flame by the wind of opposition.

 

The purpose of God’s Law and the folly of the merit of good works

All men are under the Law of God as found in the Scriptures and are utterly condemned by it. All are accounted as guilty before God, as not understanding, as not seeking after God. All have gone out of the way and become unprofitable. How can anyone who is ignorant of God and neither regards nor seeks after God strive towards that which is good? What is it to be unrighteous, but at the same time for the heart and mind, therefore the will and reason, to be also unrighteous? Contrary to the teaching of Aquinas reason does not seek that which is good. Human reason proposes only that which emerges from the depths of its own darkness, blindness and ignorance. God looks down from heaven and cannot find a single person that seeks after Him, or even attempts it. None means exactly that.
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans 3:10-12)
The impotency of all men shows the need of grace for all men. If they could get things moving themselves, what then is their need of grace?
“Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Romans 3:19).
How can every mouth be stopped, if we still have power to do something about our state? The argument before God would be: there is at least something within me you cannot damn, something you yourself gave, the power to do something about my situation. But, the whole world is guilty.

Even as all are guilty, even as all are impotent, equally no one can be justified by the deeds of the Law.
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin”
(Romans 3:20).
Attempting to gain salvation by keeping the Ten Commandments is a futile exercise. The apostle Paul condemns all who here are devoted to an observance of the Law and good works as a means of obtaining favour with God. Those relying on their own strength, even when assisted by the Law of God, remain unjustified and impious. Those who keep the Law, or try to, those who ignore it, are all alike condemned by it. The works of the Law do not justify, but only show those trying to keep it to be ungodly. Works of the Law leave them still guilty and still meriting the wrath of God.
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10)
Nevertheless, we need the Law, it is good and God gave it for a reason. “For by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). We are so blind that we are not even able to recognize what is sin, so we need the law to be our teacher. How can anyone think of doing anything at all towards dealing with his own sin, who is not even able to recognize his own sin or know what it is, but needs the Law to show him?

Intelligent, bright and well-meaning though some of us may be, we all naturally hate and persecute the righteousness of God preached in the Gospel and brand it error. However, the real error is to boast of one’s own works which are in reality sin. All those outside Christ actually love their sin and live comfortably with it; they enjoy it and are reluctant to let it go. Therefore sin is shown for what it is by the Law of God where previously there was just ignorance.

God gives us His Law in the Scriptures, a Law we cannot keep. God does not do this to mock us, but to make us aware of our sin.
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)          
“Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” (Romans 5:20)
“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. … Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:19 & 24)

Being unendingly proud, most people are only prepared to countenance that which supports the belief in their own ability to achieve almost anything. To remedy pride and ignorance God uses the Law. The Law does not assume our ability to keep it. Quite the contrary, it lights up the blindness and stubbornness of the human heart and mind. When God says, “thou shalt not”, the godless human heart replies, “O yes I shall”. Like rebellious offspring, men disobey precisely because God forbids. The Law brings God-given light to the darkness of the human mind. The Law does not show us our strength or goodness, but our sin and infirmity. The whole purpose of the Law is to demonstrate to us that we are lost sinners and to drive us to Christ for help. So, if we are to find our way to God, we need to know our sin, and also relinquish any reliance upon our own supposed strength.
“Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made.” (Galatians 3:19)

The Law was given to show us our sin, but strange as it may seem, also to cause transgressions to increase so that the true nature of the human condition is exposed. “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound” (Romans 5:20). Where sins remain unrevealed, unexposed, no need for a remedy will be seen. No one goes to a physician who believes himself to be whole and healthy. The Law is necessary in order to give the knowledge of sin so that he who is proud and whole in his own eyes is humbled to a knowledge of the iniquity and greatness of his sin, and is then moved to go after that which is offered in Christ in the Gospel.
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead” (Romans 7:7-8)

If we have no real knowledge of the sin within us into which we are born, live, move and exist and now reigns in us, how otherwise can we know anything about any righteousness which is beyond us? Another light other than the Law is necessary and that is the Gospel revealing Christ as the Deliverer. Seeing ourselves in the light shed by our own fallen reason without God’s Law we will as likely as not see ourselves as being well and healthy.

The spiritually blind man is not only unaware of his blindness, unaware that he is bound, a captive, and sick, instead he imagines a lie, that he is free, happy, powerful and whole.
“Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)
Once men become enlightened by God’s Spirit as to their miserable condition, they will stay not one minute in the Kingdom of Darkness. God responds immediately to this self-knowledge of misery and calamity. He draws close to the contrite heart, but so long as men are unaware of their misery and incapacity, they will assume they can do everything God asks of them. The work of the Law is to show all men precisely the opposite, namely, that they cannot do the slightest thing God asks of them. The purpose of the Law is to uncover this misery, to bruise and confound us, to prepare us in God’s grace and send us to Christ to be saved.

When God says we are to love Him with all our heart and mind, does this mean we are able to do it? By no means. The voice of the Law comes to those who neither feel nor know their sins. Where there is first no knowledge of personal hopelessness and sin, there can be no awareness of any need of Christ. Those who claim it is possible to simply ‘know Jesus’ where there has never been any mention of personal sin nor any reference to the wickedness of heart, we can be certain that there is no knowledge of Christ.

The word of God’s grace in the Gospel comes only to those who have been first made aware of their dreadful and sinful guilt and pitiful state and who are distressed and desperate.
“Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord GOD: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23)
If man through his own exertions is perfectly able to achieve what God requires of him, what need is there then for God’s grace? This verse implies that the we all will go on to yet further impenitency if not arrested by the Spirit of God. The promise of grace is in itself evidence that left to its own devices and desires the human will can only become even yet more hardened. Indifference will lead to the denial and ultimately the irredeemable defiance of Pharaoh who railed at Moses: “And said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice?” (Exodus 5:2). The announcement in Ezekiel is that God does not desire the death of the sinner, but instead quite the opposite, shows clearly that left to himself the sinner will only go on to sin yet more. This is a proclamation of mercy, but only those will receive it who are distressed by sin and exercised with great fear of eternal death, the Law having done its work in bringing them to a knowledge of sin. Those who have not reached this point will continue to despise the promises of God’s Word. God does not desire our death, so it stands to reason that if we do die, then it is because we have chosen that route for ourselves. He desires all men to be saved, because the word of the Gospel is preached to all men. If anyone is lost the fault must lie clearly with them and not with God.

If what is commanded is not within the power of men to comply with, of what use then are all the threatening reproofs? The Law of God tells us what we ought to do; it does not tell us what we can do. If I can do all that is demanded by God by my own powers, of what use then is grace, why do I need Christ? Are not the tears of Christ over Jerusalem useless, if they cannot respond? Here God says, I would but ye would not.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37)

Christ was sent that He should provide all things necessary for salvation, although He offends many and many are hardened.

When it comes to our eternal salvation there can be no thought whatever of gaining it by merit or reward, of God doing something for us because of anything we may do. This contradicts the very meaning of the word ‘grace’. A proposed reward can never be viewed as merited, deserved or earned. It proves nothing more than saying, if you do this or that the result will be as follows. The point is not what reward is given, but whether or not we can do those things that bring the reward. “I will render to the man according to his work” (Proverbs 24:29). The natural result of remaining under water is that you will drown, but if you swim to the surface you will be saved. But, can you swim? We are speaking of consequences rather than ability or worthiness. Worthiness means reward or merit. If the human will wills only the good by grace then there can be no question of merit. The merit lies alone in the grace given.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
(Matthew 25:34)
How can anyone merit something that was prepared for them before they came into being? The consequence of the reward is not worthiness of merit. If the will can do anything, then the precepts and promises are vain.

Why does God not do as He wishes without Scripture, without the Law, if the human will cannot respond to it anyway? It has pleased God not to give the Holy Spirit without the Word. Those who these days talk a lot about the Spirit of God for some strange reason known best to themselves say much less about the Word of God. Yet, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God(Matthew 4:4). God alone works all things in us by His Holy Spirit. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). God works in us by His Spirit and declares His Word to the whole world so that the power may be seen to be of Him and our impotency and sinfulness may be evident: “…that no flesh should glory in his presence”  (1 Corinthians 1:29).

It is important that we recognize that those who find Christ do so, not by virtue of their own strivings, but in spite of themselves.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
“(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”
(Romans 9:11-16)
What is spoken of here is not the merits of one child above another, but of God who shows mercy. Everything was decided long before they were born, before either of them had done anything right or wrong. The younger brother overcame the older, not through his own strength, but by God’s favour.

Trying to find acceptance with God by keeping His commandments, His Law, divides men into two classes with no middle ground. There are those who live after the Spirit and those who work after the flesh, trying to achieve acceptance with God by keeping His commandments in their own natural, fleshly energy without the Spirit.
“Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:2)
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested.” (Romans 3:21)
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28)

The Spirit is set in opposition to all the works of the Law. All good done outside the Gospel contributes nothing of value. It is of the flesh and therefore, according to Scripture, intrinsically evil. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Whatever it is, however excellent and relatively good it may be, devoid of the Holy Spirit it is flesh and therefore damnable. Those most devoted to the works of the Law are furthest from fulfilling it because they lack the Spirit of God who alone is the fulfiller of the Law. The many attempts they make in their own strength achieve precisely nothing.

 

The flesh and the Spirit

Wherever the Word of God is preached, the more unbelieving men hear it and resist it, the more hardened they become. Each hearing makes acceptance that much more difficult.
“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” (John 3:19-20)
The flesh represents ungodliness; it is all that we are by nature in this present world. All men are flesh. For this reason the human will can do nothing else but sin. Everything it does falls under God’s condemnation. When the Spirit of God moves among those who resist Him, calling and teaching them, their dire state only becomes yet worse.

Without a new birth within —regeneration, there can be no alternative but rule over us by the flesh. That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). This verse describes the deep conflict between all that is spiritual and all that is of the flesh. Nevertheless, the flesh will remain part of us for as long as we live in this world, which is also under the condemnation of God. These are the words of the Lord Jesus and of the apostle Paul:
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.” (Romans 8:5)
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6)
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (Romans 8:9)
Those who are not in the Spirit are necessarily in the flesh. Those in the flesh cannot please God.
“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:6-8)
The flesh cannot please God, is enmity against God, is not and cannot be subject to God. We do not just speak and do evil, but we cannot speak or do good.

The apostle John says much the same:
“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” (John 1:5)
“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” John 1:10-11
In these verses the ‘world’ signifies collectively all those not born of the Spirit, the whole race of men, including that which is the most excellent found among men. All of what we are by nature is fallen including our will; therefore we cannot and will not choose God as long as we remain untouched by God’s grace. The world does not know the light of the truth. The world hates Christ and all who belong to Him. The world neither knows nor sees the Spirit of God. It is settled in enmity.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:15-16)
“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:18-19)
“The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.” (John 7)

The accusation in the following passage by the apostle Paul is that some professing believers in the Church at Corinth were living like rank unbelievers and the evidence of this was their way of life.
“For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Corinthians 3:3)
The flesh is everything about us that is contrary to the Spirit and profits nothing. “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63).
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8)
“I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21)
“And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5)
What God is saying here is that men are perpetually wicked and so He would not again bring a flood as He did in Noah’s day. Men are always evil; every thought of the human heart is nothing else but evil. Man living in the flesh produces nothing but evil throughout his whole life, He cannot will nor do anything except it be evil. An evil tree brings forth nothing but evil fruit.
“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18)
God admonishes and instructs that men may come to an understanding of their own evil then find grace and salvation. When they come to this point, when they truly recognize their lost condition, then this itself can only have been a work of God.

Those who believe are born of God and made sons of God, new creatures. Unbelievers view the flesh as that which is most excellent in man, believers as that which is most reprehensible. The whole of the human race is born in the flesh and is sin-soaked. There are no exceptions, all their powers, works, vices and virtues, wisdom and folly, righteousness and unrighteousness. All live short of God’s glory. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8)
He is ungodly who is without the Spirit of God.
“Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (John 3:3-6)
Everything that is flesh is ungodly and is under the condemnation and wrath of God. The highest virtues of all the nations, the perfections of the philosophers, the greatest gifts among men, our civilization, our culture, all that may appear virtuous and good in the sight of men, in the sight of God they amount to flesh and are therefore sacrilegious, ungodly and in every sense evil.

If we are able to some extent to do something to forward our own salvation, it means consequently that what we are, ‘flesh’, is only partly fallen, only partly evil. In such circumstances, we are in need of a Saviour only for the worst part of us and not for the whole. This means for the other part we need no Saviour. The implication is that we are to that extent as ‘gods’ and not in need of God’s grace in that part. If our will is to that extent truly free, we need not be submitted to Christ there either. In that part we are free to operate as we will. There we need no salvation. We are our own saviour to our best part. We take care of the better part and Christ only of the worst. Christ is then but a partial Saviour, having a partial sacrifice for it is not needed for every part. There can also be no total submission to God in Christ. This is where the teaching of Aquinas leads us.

The flesh and the Spirit are described in Scripture as two entities that are at war with each other. He who is not regenerate by the working of God’s Spirit is totally flesh. He who is regenerate is no longer essentially flesh, but only inasmuch as he has remaining within him the remnants of the flesh which still war against the Spirit and will do so until the believer passes from this scene.

 

Right with God, but without our own works

Our right standing with God is not established by our own exertions, nor even by that which God works in us, what we may become, but by that which He has done for us in Christ, apart from us and our behalf. Righteousness exists without the works of the Law, how much more then without the exertions of our will? This demolishes all moral work as being of standing before God or contributing in any way to our relationship with God.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

Not only do we as Christian believers receive pardon for sins on the basis of what Christ has done by shedding His blood, in addition we receive by faith as a gift the righteousness of Christ accounted to us in the place of our own filthy rags of righteousness. It is the work of Christ on the cross objectively and His righteousness objectively, not our own works that we have done, not even the righteousness that God works in us , but Christ’s own righteousness apart from us that He puts to our account that justifies us before Him. All is a gift of His grace; all comes to us by faith. Not only can we never meet God’s righteous demands, there is no need for us to even attempt to do so. Christ has done all that is necessary for us on our behalf.

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;  To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
(Romans 3:20-28)
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Anything except that which comes by faith is not righteousness before God, and if it is not by faith then it is sin. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). It is sin because it is generated by the flesh. There can be no neutral ground between righteousness and sin. No exception – all have sinned, even those who strive by freewill to do good. The efforts of the human will do not please God, they are not of faith are therefore sin. There is no such thing as accumulated merit that we can bring to God; all who are justified are justified freely by His grace. What shall we say then of a salvation that comes to us through a ‘decision’ for Christ that is made as a function of our assumed ‘freewill’? It cannot be of faith alone and is therefore sin. This is why there are so many abortive ‘conversions’ to Christ. This is why so many Churches are stuffed with ‘converts’ who show little evidence of a real change of life. No one was ever saved on the basis of a decision of the will. They have effectively made themselves Christians by exercising their own will. All that the human will can produce is sinful because it is an operation of the flesh. Let us not try to make the Bible say anything other than it does say. It is very clear: “not of blood”, not by human parentage; “nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man”, not by exercise of the human will. In this passage, the flesh and the human will stand together. We receive Christ, we receive a new, a spiritual birth, we become thereby ‘sons’ of God, but only of God.
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

It is not in man to hear the Word of God and to will the good. Can freewill then attain to eternal salvation when it cannot even change a hair on our head, or by taking thought add to its stature (Matthew 6:27)? If we have so little power over the created world, we have still less over the Creator. The issues become more serious when applied to eternal issues as the deception is that much greater.
“Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God”
(Romans 8:26-27).
He who prays genuine and effective prayers does so by the Holy Spirit who is within us and not according to the efforts of his own will and desires.
“John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:27).
“Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3).
“I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
‘Nothing’ here cannot be made to read ‘a little’ or ‘something’. Nothing plus nothing always equals nothing. There is nothing that is good that can be read into the flesh.
“Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18).
We contribute nothing whatever to our own creation and existence, nothing towards our own preservation, all is subject to the will of God. How then can we imagine that we can have anything to do with our own spiritual rebirth and salvation? All is the work of God. Where grace is needed there is no place for so-called freewill and grace is needed everywhere. An autonomous will is something that has been assumed, but its proper name is rebellion. How can anyone choose that which is right, choose God, or believe, when he is still in rebellion, still opposed to Christ? Impossible! It is a contradiction.

This verse indicates a general sentence of God against all men.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).
All are under the wrath of God; all merit His wrath and punishment. They accomplish nothing other than that which merits this wrath and punishment. ‘Freewill’ in this situation must be included; ‘choice’ or a ‘decision’ also merits the wrath of God for there can be no good in it. The so-called freewill of the unbeliever will always work against the grace of God not for it.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
The Gospel of the power of God is to be preached that men in believing might be saved from the wrath of God. Everyone, even those who excel in their righteousness, in the Law of God, who believe in freewill, there is no difference, all are destitute and in need of the power of God. All men and all that they are, the philosophers (here the Greeks), the righteous (the Jews), all are under God’s wrath. At the same time, all men need to believe, need to come to faith in Christ, if they will be saved. Even the most exalted merit the wrath of God. There is no middle way. Those who believe are under salvation, the rest are under wrath. The righteousness of God is revealed in the Gospel that it might be of faith. Freewill can achieve no righteousness before God; it does not even know what it is.

Only by setting aside all that we originate ourselves and by trusting completely and utterly in the merits of our faithful Saviour alone can we be saved.

The whole mass of mankind is ungodly, unrighteous, and ignorant of true faith. They cannot do, nor can they even will, any good thing before God. Ignorant of the righteousness of salvation, under wrath and damnation, and no one can extricate themselves from it. Most do not even try it. How can you try, if you do not know what it is you are seeking or how to obtain it? It never came into the mind of man.
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him”
(1 Corinthians 2:9).
“For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him” (Isaiah 64:4).
To whose mind did it ever occur that the way of righteousness to salvation would be to believe on Him who is both God and man, who died for the sins of men and rose again, who sits at the right hand of God the Father that He might still the wrath of God the Father?

What ideas did philosophers ever have of God? Did they ever mention the wrath to come? The Jews with all their advantages, the prophets, the miracles of Christ done in their midst, did the way of righteousness and salvation ever cross their minds? They did not receive it, but hated it! How come that in all the great nations of the world no one has ever cultivated their will and all its powers in order to follow the way of righteousness, but instead have taken off in the opposite direction? They did not know it, but when they did hear of it, they thrust it from them. 
“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness.”
(1 Corinthians 1:23)

The doctrine of freewill understood and preached by many today is the greatest enemy to righteousness and salvation. Many strive to find God with all the powers of their will yet in the end they will achieve nothing but are shown to be at war with grace. So-called freewill and grace rule each other out as routes to God. To those taking comfort in freewill, in a decision coming from their own will, to them goodness and salvation by God’s free grace are a stumbling block, are foolishness and even offensive and often makes them really angry.
“But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God”
(1 Corinthians 1:24)

There is a strong line to be drawn between believers and unbelievers. The human will is worst when it is best, the stronger it becomes the worse it is.
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. …
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;  Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”
(Romans 3:10-12 & 20-24).
God looking down from heaven pronounces sentence upon all men.
“The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one”
(Psalm 14:2-3)

We all lie under the same condemnation. ‘All’ excludes no one. It is our own sin. Original sin permits no other power in our will but that of being able to sin and going on to damnation. The apostle Paul continually uses words like: all, none, not one. It cannot be claimed that this does not apply to everyone, that some are not gone out of the way, that some are not sinners, that there is still something within us. All these ‘nones’ contradict any notion of being able to come to God through an independent decision of our own will.


Saved by the grace of God alone

Why does God justify one person and leave another to damnation? The reason is quite straightforward. It is because being justified by grace alone leaves no room for respect of persons.
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.”
(Romans 11:6)
“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.” (Romans 4:4)
If we are justified without our own works then all works are condemned: great or small, there are no exceptions. It is no more grace if it is sought by works. We may still attempt to ascribe something to ourselves, but this is ruled out by the words ‘without works’.

From His side, God is only unjust in choosing some and leaving others if He owes us salvation; or from our side, if there is a question of earned merit. But because all men are the same before God, all sold under sin, there can be no question of favouring one above another.
“For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:2-3)
Here we see the two-fold righteousness of Abraham: one of moral and civil works, but this relative goodness does not justify us before God, even if it justifies us before men. Whilst he had ‘whereof to glory’ before men, he was still without the glory of God. There are many wicked people about, but there are also many who do good and kind things. This ‘goodness’, however, is not of a kind that contributes anything towards our salvation, nor can it. This is hard for us to take, but it would then mean our salvation was a matter of reward or merit. God would have to choose between us and salvation would no longer be a matter of His free and unconditional grace.

Abraham was not justified by his good works, many though they were. We are left in our sin, despite the good we may have done, unless we are clothed in another righteousness ― that is, the righteousness of faith. This righteousness consists not in our own works, but is a righteousness that comes by the favour and imputation of God. It comes through grace by which God accounts us as righteous before Him, although that righteousness is not intrinsically our own but that of Another, namely Christ.
“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”
(Romans 4:4-8)

In this chapter the word ‘impute’ occurs more than ten times where its meaning becomes clear when used alongside the word ‘reckon’. There is the man who works and offers this to God; there is the man who offers no such works as a contribution to his salvation.  Righteousness is imputed not to him that worketh but to him that worketh not. It is imputed to us, reckoned to us, not infused into us to become ours. Our imagined ‘freewill’ is on the side of him that works for salvation and so righteousness is not imputed. Those who seek to be accepted by God on the grounds of what they do will find them counted as sinful by God and of no use.

God’s Law was given in grace. Grace was even promised before God gave the Law. This being so, then grace does not come by works of the Law otherwise it would not be promise. Faith would not be needed were our works a valuable contribution to our salvation. Abraham was justified before the Law was even given simply because he lived before Moses received it. The Law of God is the strength of sin because it reveals it rather than takes it away. The Law brings guilt to the conscience before God: “because the law worketh wrath(Romans 4:15). Righteousness does not come by the law, therefore not by our own efforts.

And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace(John 1:16). Grace is received by us out of the fullness of Christ.
“But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. “(Romans 5:15)
Grace is not won or merited after any effort on our part, but for the grace of another, that is, the Lord Jesus. We receive either the grace of Christ or we receive salvation through our own efforts, but both cannot be true. Those who advocate the value of individual free choice, imply acceptance with God by works, by an act of the will on our part, and thereby deny grace. How can they believe that Christ intercedes before God and obtains grace for us by His blood?

Christ is the judge of all men, and rightly so, for they turn their backs on Him, the Mediator and merciful Saviour and account His blood as of less value than their own efforts.
“He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
(John 3:18)
Unbelief is the chief motive seated and ruling on the throne of will and reason. Unbelieving is to deny God and make him a liar.
“He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.” (1 John 5:10)
How can a power that is contrary to God and which makes Him a liar strive after that which is good? If man is telling the truth then the Scriptures are untrue. The wrath of God abides upon him including his affections and his will.
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36)
“John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.” (John 3:27)
“He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all.” (John 3:31)
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44)
Works and all our own efforts will bring us nothing. The ungodly man will not come to Christ by an act of his own will, even when he hears or reads the Word of God, unless the Father draws by His Holy Spirit. Christ is held forth in Scripture by the illumination of the Holy Spirit whereby a man is drawn to Christ with the sweetest of all drawing, he is passive while God speaks, teaches, and draws rather than seeking or running for himself.

God has taken my salvation outside the way of my will and taken it under His own will, and has promised to save me, not according to my efforts, decisions, or good works (excellent though they may appear to be), but according to His grace and mercy. He is faithful and will not lie. No adversaries shall destroy Him or pluck me out of His hand.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-8)         
If we are all to be saved by our own efforts and exertions, then we all shall perish. We are saved not by our own merits but by the favour of His mercy promised to us. The cry of Bartimaeus was absolutely the right one to obtain the ear of the Saviour: “Thou Son of David, have mercy on me” (Mark 10:47). We may have sought Christ night and day. We went to Church, listened to the Word of God being preached. We gave ourselves to prayer. But nothing happened until the moment it dawned upon us that Christ has died for us, there was nothing for us to do, nothing we could do, but cry to Him for mercy knowing and believing that He will receive all who call upon Him. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). To cry out to God to have mercy upon us is in itself the cry of faith as we have already recognized the saving power of Christ.

Is it difficult to defend the mercy and justice of God? Is God then unjust damning those who are born in iniquity and cannot by any means prevent themselves from being ungodly and remaining so, and are compelled by the necessity of nature to sin and perish?
“Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Ephesians 2:3)
God is rather to be honoured and revered as being most merciful towards those whom He justifies and saves despite their unworthiness. It is to be ascribed to His wisdom and mercy that He causes any single one of us to believe Him. He is therefore just even where it appears to us to that He is unjust. Were His righteousness to be considered as righteousness according to human judgement, then it would no longer be divine righteousness, but no different from any human righteousness. He is the one true God, incomprehensible, inaccessible to human reason, it is necessary that his righteousness should be incomprehensible.
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33)
His ways would not be past finding out were we able to see how they were righteous. What is man compared to God or our power compared to His? God remains just even if He only saves some, simply because all have sinned. He need save no one. Are we then unjust in our judgement because He is good to some and not to others? If we make God govern this world according to human reason and judgement we must say either there is no God or that God is unjust.

 

The Word of God’s Grace

“But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many. “(Romans 5:15)

Given our own position of helplessness and impotence, there can only be any reconciliation between God and man if God brings about our salvation. In Christ’s coming to earth it was God’s intention that He should bring us back to God. It therefore follows on from this that if salvation can only be a work of God, the Lord Jesus Himself had to be truly God. “Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). The Christian Church has always confessed Him to be “very God of very God”. Only cultists and propagators of heresy have denied this. As the second Person of the holy Trinity, the Lord Jesus is fully equal with the Father. Calling Christ the ‘second Person’ can also in no way imply ranking.
“And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.” (Exodus 3:13-14)
“Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself? Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad. Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham? Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am. Then took they up stones to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.” (John 8:53-59)
It was certainly clear to the Jews of His day as who Jesus was claiming to be for they took up stones to stone Him for blasphemy. His personal identification with the God of the Old Testament and the name ’I AM’ is unmistakeable.

In the incarnation God the Son assumed a fully human nature. He did so without laying aside His divine nature. He was not a divine-human person but remained one person with a divine and a human nature. These two natures were not intermingled into one. Even as he lay as a babe in Bethlehem’s manger, Christ remained a divine person but took to Himself a human nature in close union with the divine. The Creed of Chalcedon (AD 451) has hardly been bettered as a statement of the biblical teaching. The creed states that in Christ the divine and the human are so related as to be “two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation.” It is a real union without being intermingled, human and divine. As the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Lord Jesus shares all the attributes of the Godhead with the Father and the Holy Spirit. In the incarnation the eternal and temporal are not commingled in any way. The eternal is independent and prior to the temporal.

There is a close and organic relationship between what Christ does for us, on our behalf and outside us, and what He does within us. What Christ has done for us must now be applied to us. There is little point in having salvation at our side as it were, unless it can be applied to us. Sin within us being such as it is we do not even have the power to reach out the hand and take it. We are dead in trespasses and sins and dead men are not known for being able to do very much. A life-imparting medicine placed next to your coffin is of little use to you! It certainly will not bring you back to life standing there and you are beyond helping yourself to it. The application or the receiving of salvation is not something we can either initiate or undertake for ourselves. The remedy must be applied by someone other than us. It is the Holy Spirit who takes of the things of Christ and gives them to us. For Christ’s work to be personally effective the Holy Spirit must also do His work. This is why the Lord Jesus made it clear to His disciples on His departure from them that it was necessary for Him to ascend into heaven. Only then would the Holy Spirit come and complete that which He had begun on earth.

The Holy Spirit is also a member of the ontological Trinity. He must be so that salvation remains the work of God alone. His work is to apply to us that which Christ has accomplished on our behalf.  The alternative to this would be that at some juncture man would take the initiative in receiving His own salvation. The implication here is that we are able to frustrate the work of God in giving us salvation. Suppose then that no one would be prepared to accept salvation ― and this would most certainly be what would happen were we left to ourselves to take up the offer. This would essentially mean that all that Christ has done for us would have been in vain. God’s purposes would be thwarted and His will brought to nothing by mere man. If we say in any sense that we are able to accept or reject to Gospel, to decide for or against Christ, we make the eternal, omnipotent God dependent on us mortal, finite men. It is a contradiction of all that we know of the nature and attributes of God from the pages of the Bible. It simply is not possible. The temporal and the eternal are not confused at creation, God is not created, not part of His own creation, not on a level with it. There is no mixture of the divine and the human, eternal and temporal in the incarnation of Christ. Equally, there can be no mixing, no commingling of human effort, of the temporal, with the eternal and divine in the provision and application to us of salvation.

 

The righteousness of God

Any suggestion that salvation can be in the least based on personal merit must be emphatically rejected. It is gross error and contrary to the teaching of the Bible. Such a proposition will generally begin with a faulty understanding of the real nature of the human will.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” (Titus 3:5)

The Gospel of Christ throughout Scripture is the proclamation of the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, merited and procured alone through His death.
“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”
(1 Peter 2:24)

Through the death of Christ things are turned around for all who believe in Him. Once we were dead in trespasses and sins, now we are dead to sins. Not simply is it that we have pardon for sin, but we are made to be before God as though we never ever had any sins at all. Why should we try to cobble together our own righteousness to bring before God, when God also puts Christ’s perfect righteousness to our account? It is an insult to God. Furthermore, being already made acceptable before God by virtue of Christ’s work, now relieved of the need to produce our own righteous works, yet we have the potential not to continue in sin but to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

The Bible is not a book that gives us lots of laws to follow in our own strength, doing the best we can so that we may accumulate works sufficient to become righteous. It proclaims the grace of God that comes to us freely apart from merit of our own, it tells how the Lord Jesus has taken our place, dying for our sins making full satisfaction for them before God, cancelling them and who by His own works justifies and saves us. Christ is our Saviour and through faith in Him apart from any works of our own we are justified and saved.

Whilst there are many kind and well-meaning people within the Roman Catholic Church, judging the Church itself by its own teaching, we are forced to the conclusion that Roman Catholicism is a degraded form of Christianity. So much so that it can really hardly be any more called Christian at all. Its claims must be taken seriously because Rome professes to follow Christ and most certainly it will be held to those claims and judged accordingly by Christ Himself. It is not simply one branch of the Christian Church or another form of Christian profession, but fundamentally distorts the teaching of Christ and the apostles.

In contrast to the doctrines of the Bible, the Roman Catholic Church along with many other professing Christian Churches, as we have already noted, follow the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. He taught that man after the Fall (Genesis 3) is still essentially good despite an inherent tendency within towards evil. Furthermore, this essential goodness enables a man to love God because he has not lost his freewill. To have fellowship with God we must mount up to God, says Aquinas, rather than as throughout the whole of Scripture where God comes down to us. “Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned” (Lamentations 5:21). Medieval theologians spoke of a ‘ladder of merit’ by which it was possible to climb up to God. Martin Luther hit back hard, calling it rather ‘a ladder of speculation’. Such a ladder exists only in the darkened minds of those who seek to use it. It is a non-existent dead-end that leads nowhere. It is certainly futile and unnecessary to attempt to climb up to God where Christ has come down and rescued us from sin by His death on the cross. He has established fellowship with those whose faith is in Him by bearing away their sin.

Speculative mental gymnastics are born out of pride and a refusal to admit our own lost and helpless state. It is a self-deception of the most tragic kind to imagine for a moment that we could possibly reach up to God by our own exertions. There is no other way to God other that through faith in the Christ revealed in the Scriptures.
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
According to Aquinas, an infusion of grace enables a will freed from the constraints of sin to motivate the soul, including its affections. Thus equipped, it is now possible to climb the staircase up to God through an elaborate system of merit. Salvation is awarded when sufficient merit has been accumulated. The underlying principle was that there must be some effort on the part of the ‘believer’ after which God out of divine generosity would respond with a gift of merit by His grace.

‘Justification’ within the system of Thomas Aquinas takes on a quite different meaning than that of Scripture. It has now become a simultaneous act whereby God’s infused or poured-in grace enables the recipient inwardly to break with sin and become in and of himself righteous and acceptable to God. This is in contrast to the Bible where righteousness is imputed, reckoned or accounted to us not inwardly but outside us and before God. Rather than being accepted with God on the basis of righteousness that is within us, we are accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s righteousness external to us but reckoned to us.

The idea that faith co-operates with grace, that justification comes not by faith alone, that it is not instantaneous but a lifelong process whereby the soul itself is made increasingly righteous and acceptable before God in its own right is not a Scriptural concept, but is opposed to all that the Bible teaches. According to the Scriptures justification is a crisis not a process. It has reference to our standing before God in the basis of Christ’s righteousness reckoned, imputed, to us and not because of earned personal merit and infused righteousness, of grace poured in. Our situation is hopeless, we can never meet God’s required standard, only Christ can. Such a system as that of Rome can be nothing less than a never-ending wild goose chase. In Roman Catholicism baptism provides remission of original sin, but there can be certainly no salvation until the end of life. The human will, according to this teaching, is able to do good in and of itself, even achieving heartfelt sorrow for sin. This means that God comes under an obligation to grant the Christian His grace, progressing to the point where God would forgive him all his sins. However, grace earned is a terminological contradiction: grace cannot be grace if it is merited. The truth is quite different, only after the recognition of our personal unworthiness and utter inability to save ourselves can the sufferings and atonement of Christ have any value for us.

The consequence of the false teaching of Aquinas is clear. Because it is a self-earned, self-merited righteousness it will give rise to a delusional spiritual pride and hypocrisy. The Scripture leads no one to imagine for a second that anyone can raise himself up to God in part or wholly by his own efforts, by works or by any act of his own will. We have no innate ability to respond to God, none whatever. We can do nothing to prove ourselves worthy of God’s grace, compelling Him to respond, quite the opposite is true. As many who have sincerely sought God in this way will testify, their experience has been one of deepening despair. It is quite impossible to love God in our own strength. No honest seeker has ever nor can ever find salvation and peace of soul by this route. Justification is by faith alone and without human works or merit.

The teaching of the Bible is that the power of God is exerted immediately upon the human soul to bring salvation ― without the ministrations of the Church or a human intermediary of any kind. God alone is the Saviour upon whom all must call, if they are to be saved. God’s saving grace is not given indiscriminately to all, but has been given only to those alone who are trusting, not any merits of their own, but alone in the merits of Christ. The saving grace of God does not simply make a provision for all to access or refuse as they will, but it actually saves specific individuals.
“For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10).

 

Knowing the love of God

 “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
(John 17:3)
Knowing God in this verse is more than intellectual cognition; it speaks of salvation. The natural man in and of himself is not able to comprehend or to accept Christian truth. He is  devoid of spiritual life. He is insensible to the realities of the spiritual world and is in no position to receive the things of God.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
Eternal life is light and knowledge. Godlessness is darkness and ignorance. This knowledge comes as the effect of regeneration within the soul, when translated from darkness to light. We need a new heart and mind, if we are to understand anything spiritual.
“In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
“We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.” (Colossians 1:3)
The whole soul ― mind, emotion, and will all need regeneration.

Every single natural birth is preordained by God, as is every spiritual birth. Every single event in history, in fact, is an enactment of the eternal counsel of God. This does not mean in any sense that as a result God treats us like a block of stone. Quite the contrary, what God desires above from us above all else is our unfettered and unconditional love. The great end of all His work of grace is that He might have a people for Himself who understand and reciprocate His love for us. Love is not something that is obtained by cold coercion.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
(I John 4:10)
God has first demonstrated His love towards us in that He who was God and was with God from the beginning (John 1:1) in unfathomable love dies for us individually on the cross.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
God longs to see that day when His love in us, then fully perfected, shall be glorified in us.
“The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:5-6)

God knows from eternity into whom His light will shine, who will be the recipients within of His grace and love. We were never unknown to God, only discovered with the passage of time and then assessed as to whether we were worthy or unworthy of His grace. That is not the way God works. God does not stand before us as would a stranger. He created and ordained each and every one. He knows us altogether, better than we know ourselves.
“O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.”
(Psalm 139:1-6)

The work of God’s grace is eternal in character. The day of our natural birth, the day of our new and spiritual birth is also known to Him. It is not that God has neglected us between these two events. Quite the reverse, He has gently led us, watched over and cared for us each step of the way, provided for us, protected us until that moment we should find Him. Whilst His countenance may have been previously hidden from us, there He is is in the hour of His grace revealing Himself to us.

The salvation of the individual soul is an act of God’s grace within His eternal counsel that reaches its fulfilment and completion in our glorification before the throne of our Saviour.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”
(1 John 31-2)

The preparation of God’s grace is not uncertain. God’s grace does not have a vague or unknown goal or outcome.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (Ephesians 1:3-5)
He chose us in Christ before we were, so that we would then come into being, and having come into being, He would lead us to Christ. Even when living in rebellion against Him and He was forced to turn His back on us, yet His hand still led us until we found a Saviour.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
(Romans 8:28-29)
This is nothing cold and distant, but an act of love shedding itself abroad in our hearts. Passing over many obstacles and much resistance and opposition this love that does not stop until it pours itself out in our heart. It is not our love, but His through His grace He makes us understand and brings us to drink and taste of that love.

 

Justification by faith alone

Sadly these days, fed on a diet of fluffy entertainment, empty emotionalism, and pop-style ‘worship’ ― all stones in the place of the bread of life― congregations are left ignorant of the basics of the faith. Serious Bible teaching on such matters as justification by faith has become almost extinct. Doctrine is perceived as divisive rather than edifying.  As a consequence, church members are left unable to identify error, apostasy, and left dangerously exposed to the enticement of alliances with the Roman Church. Those insisting upon sound doctrine are labelled inflexible, negative, even unloving and schismatic, although the Bible is full of doctrine from Genesis to Revelation. Professed conversion is often based on little more than misleading and meaningless expressions that have no basis in Scripture: ‘Let Jesus come into your heart’ or ‘Accept Christ as your personal Saviour.’

The apostle Paul pronounced an anathema on all who sought to pervert the Gospel.
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:6-9)
By way of contrast, the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent (1547) proclaimed an anathema upon all those preaching and believing faith in Christ alone is necessary for salvation, effectively excluding genuine believers from its communion. At the time of the outbreak of the Reformation, there could still be found a believing remnant within the institutional Church of those whose trust was in Christ alone, who believed that “grace is not conferred from the work which has been worked (ex opera operato) but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices to obtain grace.” In using these precise words that have never been rescinded, the Council of Trent pronounced their anathema. Such differences cannot be overlooked. Error does not just lead down a blind alley but is the sure pathway to hell itself.

The biblical teaching about justification by faith answers the question as to how a holy God, who demands perfection and holiness in His creatures, is able to allow guilty sinners into His presence to have fellowship with Him.
“Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
“But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16)

First of all, the penalty for our sin and guilt must be paid in full. Second, God’s demand for perfect obedience and holiness must be met. What ought to be clear to us all is that we can do neither of these things. We need not only pardon for sin but also to stand as righteous before God if we are to receive the reward of eternal life. With respect to the penalty for sin, it is the expiatory death of our Saviour on the Cross that delivers the believing sinner from the punishment for sin we all justly deserve. With respect to our standing before God, it is the perfect obedience and righteousness of the Lord Jesus that God sees and not our own, bringing to us eternal life. At the moment of faith in Christ, God declares the sinner to be righteous and free from the penalty of sin on account of Christ.

Justification is not something that happens within us to change us. Nor is it a process that God begins within us to make us gradually more righteous. It is a judicial declaration by God that on the basis of Christ’s sacrificial death and perfect obedience believers are declared righteous. It is a serious error to imagine that justification is an operation God works in us; it is not. The Council of Trent perfectly describes the Roman Catholic teaching held to this day that justification is “not remission of sins merely, but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man, through the voluntary reception of grace and gifts by which an unrighteous man becomes righteous.” This process, it is taught, may even continue after death in purgatory.
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

The word ‘justify’ means to declare righteous not to make righteous. A judge does not make a criminal guilty, he only declares him to be so. Equally, he does not make him innocent, but declares him to be innocent. Something similar applies to our justification. God declares us righteous. There is no question here of soul being purified or of righteousness being poured in or infused such as is taught in the Roman Church. Justification is external to us and has nothing to do with making us subjectively righteous, making us thereby accepted with God. Rather than an infusion of righteousness, the Bible speaks of imputation, an important and significant difference. Sometimes the Bible also says negatively that a person’s sins are not imputed to him:
“Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity” (Psalm 32:2).
“To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”
(2 Corinthians 5:19)

The apostle Paul writes of Abraham’s faith, where Christ’s righteousness is accounted to him:
“And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Romans 4:22-24)
The removal of guilt and the imputation of righteousness happen at the same moment. Imputation means that God reckons the believing sinner as perfectly righteous on the basis of Christ’s righteousness even although he is not personally righteous. This is shown clearly by the fact that God declares the ungodly to be righteous.
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)
If ungodly men are regarded as righteous, it cannot be on the grounds of their personal character. It is also clear that justification does not consist of making anyone inherently holy as it is the ungodly who believe that are justified for Christ’s sake.
“Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.   Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
(Romans 3:24-26)

Justification is not being made righteous because no one can be saved by his own works or by keeping God’s Law. In addition, justification is also an instantaneous event not a process over many years. When a person believes he has eternal life.
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” (John 3:36)
“Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
Justification is something God does on His own. He removes the guilt of sin and clothes everyone who believes with Christ’s perfect righteousness.

Justification comes to us through faith. Faith is not the ground of justification. It is the means or route by which that which Christ has already accomplished for us comes to us. Faith is not something virtuous in itself causing God to justify us. We are not accepted by God because of our faith, but through or by means of faith. The Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are full of passages dealing with being justified by faith.
“Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)
“For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”
(Romans 1:17)
“Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
(Romans 3:22-28)
“Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)
“But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11)
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“ And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.” (Philippians 3:9)

Faith is the instrument laying hold of the Lord Jesus and His merits. Men are enabled to believe by God through His regenerating power. Receiving the gift of faith the person is enabled to believe in Christ and receiving all His benefits. Regeneration, or the gift of the new birth, comes alone from God. Faith, on the other hand, is not an act of God. God does not believe in Christ for salvation for us; we believe as sinners. However, it is of His grace that we are thus enabled to believe, but faith is something we do whereby we rest solely upon Christ for salvation. Nevertheless, faith cannot be construed as a meritorious work of man it is the gift of God. We are accepted with God not because of our faith, but because of the Lord Jesus. He is the object of our faith. We are saved by believing not for believing. True faith always looks away to the Lord Jesus alone. We are saved as we cry out to Him for mercy, believing He will save us. That cry itself has been enabled by God. The conviction that we know God saves in Christ likewise has been given by God.

There are many who consider themselves Christians, but they have no real understanding of the biblical meaning of faith. Without doubt, most who call themselves ‘Christians’ know little or nothing of saving faith. Some think of faith as a leap in the dark, not knowing what lies on the other side. Others see it as believing something that cannot be proven by reason, is absurd or illogical. Yet another view sees faith as mental assent to something that may or may not be true ― faith is a risk. Biblical faith knows nothing of probability only certainty.
“For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”
(Job 19:25-26)
“I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.” (2 Timothy 1:12)
Biblical faith is assurance, certitude, confidence.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

This verse means that genuine Christians believe implicitly what they read in the Scriptures although they have not seen anything of the historical events or miracles described there. Some try to draw a distinction between believing in the person of Christ and His written word. This is, of course, doesn’t make any sense. If we trust and believe in Christ, we shall also believe every word He has given. Faith in the Word of God is faith in Christ. We believe Jesus to be the Christ because God has given testimony in Scripture that this is who He is. We believe the promises in Scripture and in God’s ability to perform them; we believe everything He has revealed about Christ and His work.

Not everyone who claims he ‘believes in Jesus’ has saving faith. There are many who believe in a Christ who does not exist, who is a figment of their own imagination, is not the Christ of the Scriptures. Those who deny the doctrine of Christ as taught in Scripture worship another Jesus, believe another Gospel, have a misdirected faith and such faith cannot save. Another Christ is no Christ at all, no Saviour.
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9)
There are those who confess the Lord Jesus with their lips, but deny Him by their actions. From the epistle of James it is clear that faith that does not demonstrate its reality by godly works afterwards is no faith.
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? … Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
(James 2:14, 17)

Dead faith also presents itself as cold orthodoxy, accepting a series of doctrinal statements as being true. Demons possess this kind of knowledge and belief in the truth of the Gospel, but they certainly have no personal and saving trust in Christ.
“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” (James 2:19)
Demons know and believe the truth, but hate Christ. This kind of faith accepts that the Scriptures are true, but knowledge or mere intellectual assent is not trust. Many go through the motions, but do not really believe. Ask them whether they are Christians and they will say they are, but by the way they live they deny everything they confess with their lips.

There are many who start well, full of enthusiasm, excited about hearing the Gospel and trusting Christ, but then their faith trails off and dies.
“They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.”
(Luke 8:13)
These types go to Church, get involved, but after a time they return to their old sinful ways’. Maybe they give up after some difficulty or problem presents itself. Everything they profess is superficial, unreal, they are not genuine believers.
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19)
Such ‘faith’ comes from a still unregenerate heart.
“Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.”
(Hebrews 3:12)

The faith that saves, although we are told in Scripture it is an act of man, comes to us as a direct consequence of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. That which is worked by the Holy Spirit cannot fail. Reading the Word of God brings about conviction of sin as the Holy Spirit illumines its pages. Convinced of the truth of Scripture and the Gospel in particular, he will place his trust in the Christ revealed in Scriptures.
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
Saving faith does not come about as a result of the persuasive words of men, philosophical argument, historical or scientific proofs, but alone from the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit.

 Saving faith presumes some knowledge of the Gospel as revealed in Scripture. No trust can be placed in a Christ, in a Gospel of which one knows nothing.
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? … So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:14, 17)
Can a person believe when he or she does not know what is meant by God, or Christ being the Son of God? Can they believe when definitions of God, Christ, sin, salvation, and much more are based on human speculation instead of the Christian Scriptures? There are those who ask how little it is necessary to know in order to believe and view doctrine as off-putting and not significant. Instead of asking how little teaching is necessary we ought to be expounding the Gospel as broadly as we can. Instead of winding people up with emotion in Christian gatherings so that they hardly know to what they are committing themselves, there ought to be good and straightforward preaching of the Word of God.

Knowledge on its own is not sufficient. Many have a good grasp of the Gospel and the Bible, but do not believe. Many who been brought up on the Gospel have rejected it. Saving faith believes the Word of God implicitly. But neither is it simply a mental acceptance of the truth of the Gospel revealed in Scripture. Saving faith drives us to rely with total confidence upon Christ alone in the sure hope of salvation, relying upon His meritorious work and nothing of our own works, receiving His gracious promises, knowing that He is ours and we are His. The focus must be on Christ and not upon our faith, He it is who saves us.

“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”(Jeremiah 29:13)

 

Finally

 

There is still much in the world that is good and beautiful. Not everyone is as wicked as they could be, many are kind and do brave and selfless deeds. Human depravity is not absolute but it is total in its extent; it pervades everything, spoils everything. To whatever heights we may rise, everything is to a greater or lesser degree marred by sin. This does not mean we cannot thank God for the good and the beautiful we do see around us. It reminds us too of the restraining hand of God, who does not permit things to sink to an impossible level, but sustains the world He has made that men may seek and find Him. There are many things in our culture and civilization we can and should enjoy as gifts of God, although marred by human sin and the curse: in music, art, the discoveries of science and much more. What we must ever remember, however, is that this present world is not as God intends it to be. Much that God has given us has been taken by wicked men and perverted, used to their own ends. Much in our culture, in music, in literature, whilst it may stir us, we may admire God’s gifts there, underlying it all is a strain of godlessness. Our culture and civilization stands under the curse and wrath of God because of sin. It will one day disappear to be replaced by “a new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13).

As we have seen, God demonstrates His grace towards the human race in two ways: as conserving grace, but also as regenerating grace. Theologians speak of ‘common’ and ‘special’ grace. However, we need to be very careful about the use of such terminology. Originating as it does with scholasticism and therefore Aristotle, in this context it is dualistic. The implication is that common or general grace is for natural human life and special grace is for the inner or spiritual life. God’s grace is one. God’s conserving work of grace acts upon the temporal world, preserving its order by limiting the consequences and destructive power of sin. Were God’s grace not active right now in the world, things would be very much worse than they currently are. The family, the state, marriage relationships amongst others, having been given by God are now preserved by Him even in the absence of regenerating grace. A marriage between two unbelievers is still a valid marriage. A God-denying state is still a God-given authority. Even where men deny God, His goodness enables them to behave with relative goodness, love each other, and demonstrate social virtues. Apostate culture is able to unfold and develop only because of God’s grace.

When speaking of God’s regenerating grace, we are speaking of that work of God in Christ whereby He radically changes the life of the sinner, placing him in Christ and renewing his whole life. There is no grace of God in this sinful world at all apart from the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is the source of all blessings and is the Saviour of the world. God’s one grace operates in a twofold manner but does so throughout the entire sphere of human life. Life is not divided into two spheres. The Christian does not live in one ‘spiritual’ sphere separated from the rest of mankind living in another. The only valid dividing line is between the sin that God restrains and that which He forgives. All this is to the one end that the Kingdom or rule of Christ may come as it surely will in due course. God in Christ through the Holy Spirit restrains sin by His conserving grace. His renewing grace works wherever the guilt of sin is removed and sins are forgiven.

The written Word of God aims at nothing less than the domination of the whole world, bringing all men to acknowledge Christ. This spiritual domination of the world will indeed be realized at the return of the Lord Jesus. Those who now refuse to submit to Scripture or to believe it will one day be judged by it. We ought to encourage our fellowmen to live according to the Scriptures. We should defend and promote godliness in every sphere of life and condemn that which is ungodly. Christian views of marriage between one man and one woman must be taught and preached; relationships condemned by Scripture must be condemned by us. Rulers and magistrates should be reminded that they should rule according to the one true Law revealed in the Christian Scriptures. We must do this for two reasons. One, because the Law of God reveals the will of God, this is how God expects us to live. Two, in holding forth this Law, men may then be convicted of their own sin and guilt and be persuaded to turn to Christ the only Saviour of men for help and salvation. These two elements are necessary in Gospel preaching: preaching what we ought to be but are not that we may be convicted of our sin; preaching Christ, who alone can bring us into a right standing with God and make it possible for us to live according to the will and pleasure of God to His glory.

Our Lord in His earthly ministry summarized for us in a few words the sum total of the Law of God:
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)          
We should note that these two stand together: we shall not love our fellowmen as we ought unless first we love God as we ought. Furthermore, it should not escape us that love cannot be legislated. We can be commanded to love those we hate, whether this be God or man, the power to do so comes alone through the Gospel we have been considering in these pages.

It may well be, and it certainly seems to be so, that matters have now deteriorated beyond the point of all possible reformation or change. The point will come when with Ezekiel (Ezekiel 24:17) we must ‘forbear to cry or make mourning for the dead’. One, such weeping becomes a burden we are not expected to carry; or two, such sympathy for the enemies of God can only be seen as treachery. No one willingly gives up sin without first being worked upon by God’s Spirit. What is true of each of us as individuals is also true of our nation. Nothing will change in Britain save that God grant us to see many turning to God. What are we then to do? As believing people to us has been given the word of reconciliation. Without the preaching of the authentic, biblical Gospel nothing can change. This task been charged to us, yet it would seem the trumpet is giving an uncertain sound or has been lost altogether.
“And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”
(2 Corinthians 5:18-21)

Without the preaching of the Gospel no one is saved. Without the preaching of the Gospel there can be no hope for our nation. Shall it be true of us as was said of the prophets of Israel by Ezekiel?
“Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD.” (Ezekiel 13:5)
Must we weep, must we mourn, because there is no one who has the courage or the calling to stand in the gap?
“And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.”
(Ezekiel 22:30)
My friends, where are those who cannot forbear, for whom the Gospel is a raging fire within?
“For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the LORD was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” (Jeremiah 20:8-9)
Who will cry with the apostle Paul?
“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!”
(1 Corinthians 9:16)

There was such a man, born in Scotland in 1815, William Chalmers Burns died in China in 1868 taking the Gospel to his fellow men. This was not a man of idle words and a theoretical religion. He was a man consumed with a passion that drove him to seek the salvation of all with whom he came into contact. The following well-known story may be apocryphal, who can tell? Despite this, it certainly conveys with some accuracy the spirit of the man. The Burns family lived in the quiet town of Kilsyth. On one occasion, Burns would have been about seventeen years old at the time, he and his mother went on a shopping trip to the large city of Glasgow. Suddenly his mother noticed he was missing. Going back the way she had come she found him in an alleyway, tears streaming down his face. He seemed to be in agony. "Willie my boy, what ails you? Are you ill?" With broken cries he replied, “Oh, mother, mother - the thud of these Christless feet on the way to hell breaks my heart!” Here was a man soaked in the traditions of reformation theology, yet someone with a heart broken for the lost and dying. He was at times more on his knees than on his feet: fervent in prayer, fearless in preaching. His message was urgent and intense, the results God gave his ministry were lasting and extraordinary.

Where, I ask, where are such men today? Search and you will hardly find them. Consumed not with the things of God, professing believers spend their time in pursuit of stones and not bread, who give little to their own spiritual well-being let alone that of others. Who will go? Who will stand in the gap? Who will boldly bring the truth of the Gospel to our desperate and needy generation?

 

David W. Norris

 

Taken from David’s book WHAT IT REALLY MEANS TO BE A CHRISTIAN. See publications page.