First, I do not admit that the celebration of the Lord’s supper is a matter of obedience to a precept, nor of obedience at all, save as every right thing is obedience to God. And the difference is great, though I only note it without dwelling upon it.
Secondly, the tract confounds ministry and apostolic order. Apostolic order is lost, ministry is not. It is a common idea, but only an error. Ephesians 4 proves that ministry was to continue to the end. But gifts from Christ on high, labouring according to God’s calling in the unity of the body, are not elders appointed by apostolic authority in every city. Teachers, as Apohos, taught wherever they were, were elders nowhere; evangelists exercised their gifts in the world, were as such elders nowhere. Pastors were pastors in the unity of the whole body. The pastor of a church is a thing unknown to Scripture. Elders might have any of these gifts, but these did not make them elders. It was desirable, in addition to various moral and social qualifications, that they should be didaktikoi, not didaskaloi. Such as were are especially distinguished in 1 Timothy 5:17. Brethren admit that the apostles chose elders for the brethren in every city. But since the corruption of the church, already begun in the apostles’ days (see Jude, who shews that this was to continue to the end), we have not elders. Bishops and elders in Scripture are the same thing (Acts 20:17-28), the word overseer in the last being bishop (Titus 1:5, 7); but a bishop, priest, and deacon, is a form unknown to Scripture. Where are the elders in the Establishment? They might be also gifted ministers, but in Scripture ministry is a gift from on high, and woe be to him who has his talent and does not use it! And the word of Scripture is, “As everyone has received the gift, let him so minister the same, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” Nor is there a trace of consecration by man for it in Scripture: unless it be the apostolic conferring of gifts which the prelates of the Establishment pretend to imitate. It is never said that hands were laid on elders; but it is probable they were, as it was the usual sign of blessing, and it is said, “Lay hands suddenly on no man.”
The apostle declares that, after his decease, evil would come in, but he makes no provision for the continuance of order and elders; he tells Timothy to communicate doctrines to faithful men, without the smallest hint of consecration. As to ministry, we have the positive promise of its continuance in Ephesians 4. But men have substituted for elders (or bishops) and deacons, the Pope, cardinals, archbishops, diocesan bishops, archdeacons, priests, and deacons. The apostolic order has disappeared, the ministry has not. The professing church has invented a disordered system not found in Scripture; and the Brethren, in the midst of the ruin, accepting a ministry given of God, do not pretend to be apostles to restore scriptural order. They admit a visible society, but fallen into corruption and disorder. The inventing, not a ministry, nor order, but disorder, is on the part of those whom the writer approves. But the Brethren do believe in the presence of the Holy Ghost, of which not a word is said in the tract; and in the authority of Christ over His church, and His fidelity to it to the end.
But this confusion of ministry given from on high and regulated order, leads to another false point. It is said, “If the christian ministry has thus failed, the visible church of Christ must have failed with it.” The reason given is purely human; but the word of God declares that this visible church would fail, that in the last days perilous times would come, and there would be the form of piety, denying the power; it gives a description of it which answers, save two or three words, to what the apostle gives of Paganism in its worst corruption. He says too, expressly, that there would be a falling away before the man of sin was revealed. But he does more; he says that the mystery of iniquity was already at work, only there was a check upon it. Jude, as we have seen, says that the evil had entered, and John (1 John 2) that apostasy had already shewn itself, so that they knew it was the last time. Brethren believe then that there is a ministry of evangelists, pastors, and teachers, and that, according to Ephesians 4, they will continue to the end. Apostles and prophets (though the words, particularly the latter, are used more vaguely) are expressly stated in chapter 2 to be the foundation, which is not now to be laid. What is now called apostolic order is not only not found in Scripture, but is quite contrary to it, and the earliest tradition even does not recognise it. In the Epistle of Qement no trace is found of what is now called a bishop, either at Rome or Corinth, whereas elders are distinctly spoken of. That there was soon presiding elders is true, but Tertullian and Jerome give different accounts of their origin, the former attributing them to the apostle John, the latter to the common consent of the church to put an end to the party-spirit of the elders, each seeking to have the disciples under himself. Diocesan episcopacy, metropolitans, and the modern hierarchy date from Constantine’s time only, and followed the civil divisions of the empire. If the author has ever read others of the apostolic Fathers, as the Shepherd of Hermas, or even Barnabas, it will be impossible for him to deny the utter degradation, moral and doctrinal, into which “the church” had fallen a century after Christ. In two centuries its corruption was alike notorious and infamous. We have only to read Cyprian to know it.
As regards the separation from Mr. Newton, I have no wish, but quite the contrary, at this distance of time to bring up the name of one for whom I only desire every blessing; but as it is brought up, I must refer to it. Mr. Newton taught, printed and published, that Christ was further from God than Israel when they made the golden calf, and had to find His way to a point where God could meet Him, and that was in death. He taught, printed, and published, that in the final state the saints would be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent as God. We did break with this, though the evangelical world receives him, as far as I know, still. Who was right in this case, godly people will decide. The breach with what, from the name of a chapel, is called Bethesda (a Baptist cause) was because they received those who came from, and in some cases were imbued with, the teaching of Mr. Newton. There was no secession with Captain Hall; he went out, but had no followers. The rest of the vague accusations I leave as such. It seems to me that a gift for preaching, I add, or teaching, is better than preaching or teaching without a gift, or pretending, as the prelates do, to confer the Holy Ghost for a priest’s office. The system of clergy is geography, not grace. There are so many parishes, and they must have clergy for them. The crying evil of the Establishment is that the clergy, to maintain their position, continue, in contrast with Brethren, associated with the grossest false doctrine, the denial of inspiration, and infidelity. Popish errors are held by a vast mass of the clergy, and tolerated, because they cannot help it, by those who have a horror of these things, because if they did not tolerate them, they would break up the whole system which has become the nursery-cradle for Popery and infidelity. A humanly-composed creed these Christians called Brethren have not, but they hold fast to the faith once dehvered to the saints, as stated in the inspired word of God, and exercise the just discipline of God’s house, as there taught, on those who depart from it. I do not doubt they have failed in many things; I speak of the principles on which they walk.
The writer of the “Landmarks” then comes to the doctrines they teach. The writer does not attempt to charge them with any departure from foundation truths. Silence as to this is striking. The use of the Lord’s prayer, the state of soul as to repentance, or certainty of salvation, are all that the writer refers to. Without a human creed, unity of doctrine in fundamental truths is by God’s grace maintained. With three, the earliest of which (the Nicene) was three centuries after Christ, with thirty-nine articles to boot, fundamental doctrines are given up, and Popish doctrines and superstitions are wasting fiie vitals of the Establishment. As to the rule of life, the divine rule of life for a Christian is Christ. He that saith He abideth in Him, ought so to walk as He walked. Was Christ’s walk only the Old Testament rule, or was He not God manifest in the flesh? Grace was manifested in Him which we have to follow. “Be ye followers of God as dear children, and walk in love as Christ has loved us and given himself for us.” “Hereby know we love that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” I need hardly say it is not in expiation: but as a pattern of love it binds us. We are to grow up to Him, who is the Head, in all things. He that knows that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him seeing Him as He is, purifies himself as He is pure. And, beholding with open face the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord. He who can see nothing in Christ but the rule of the Old Testament has himself a very poor idea of Christ and of His spotless life of grace, full of divine instruction as the Old Testament is, and lovely as the expressions of obedience and faith which are found there, are. But there is a great principle which marks the difference. Christ’s life was divine grace, God Himself in grace as a man, and that the Old Testament could not give. It is to be found in One only. A path which the vulture’s eye hath not seen, but which has been traced for us by the footsteps of that blessed One—divine love and holiness in the midst of evil in a patience which went on, till it ceased to be exercised in the silence of death, and the blood and water told of a salvation accomplished for those who were His enemies. The example of Christ is the true rule of life for a Christian, which as presenting God in love went beyond the Old Testament, “Which thing is true in him and in you,” 1 John 2.
As regards the Lord’s prayer: its perfection no one denies, but as perfect it was suited to the time in which it was given; it was not in the name of Christ. “The Holy Ghost was not yet given.” Nor do we find a trace of its use afterwards. The superstition attached to its use is shewn by an effort in the received text to assimilate the words in Matthew and Luke, which no one acquainted with the fact denies. Each form is perfect in its place; but the fact of there being two bars its being an inspired form of words for us. For which form are we to use? When the disciples had not the Holy Ghost, the Lord graciously taught them how to ask and what to ask for. The contents are not only of course perfect, but as a summary full of instruction as to what we should desire. But I suspect were I to ask the author’s parishioners who repeat it by rote, what the Father’s kingdom is, they would find it hard to tell. The use of it may shew superstition, but I know no rule against its use, though it would certainly shew ignorance of divine order in Scripture, the Holy Ghost not being then given, and Christ’s name not being given as that in which the prayer is offered. He who would add it says the prayer is imperfect, which I do not.
I must say the charge as to repentance is not fairly put. There was, at the time that revivalism became common, looseness among some as to the meaning of repentance, not only among some called Plymouth Brethren, but others who were not among them. They met with the false Methodist doctrine of ‘first repentance,’ and then faith founded on the abuse of the passage, “repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”; forgetting it was to be preached in Christ’s name, and that it was absurd to talk of repentance if what was preached was not believed, that the truth by which men were called to repentance must be believed to produce the repentance. Two Plymouth Brethren, I judge, overstepped the mark in their statements, as did others more strongly; so that I myself wrote to rectify from Scripture, and the true force of the word, some statements put forth. This (though it was nothing peculiar to Brethren, but belonged to a movement in which some of them took part, and took place as to them as it did as to others in resisting a most mischievous doctrine) overstepped the truth on the other side, as poor human nature is apt to do. I notice this because the maintenance of sound apprehension as to repentance is of importance to all, and I judge that there is a tendency in all the revival movement, and much modern preaching, to superficiality in this respect, large as the blessing may have been which has accompanied it; and one or two of our brethren did not escape the snare, but I must add, when noticed, recognised and avoided it. But the passage of the tract quoted by the author of the “Landmarks,” and indeed the tract itself, if not carefully worded, affords no ground for the attack made. It is, on the contrary, a discussion on repentance, which is divided into two kinds, a division made by evangelicals before any of us were born, a division into legal and evangelical repentance. The tract is written to distinguish legal and gospel repentance; the way it is quoted conceals this, the word gospel losing its emphatic form by omitting the context. It is not my object to justify the expressions in the tract. This statement assumes and supposes repentance, and states that the things spoken of do not enter into gospel repentance. Godly sorrow works repentance, and therefore is not repentance itself. It is stated in the tract impugned, that sorrow for sin and the works that God works in us accompany salvation. The author says they are not parts of gospel repentance itself. I may like or dislike the way it is put; but the statement is not at all that repentance is not called for, but that gospel repentance is not of works, but of grace.
Two of the passages, quoted by the “Landmarks,” prove what they are cited to deny. The doctrine of the tract is that God meets us in our sins by setting forth Christ and His cross, and that thus His goodness leads us to repentance, but insists that all pretension to righteousness must be given up in coming. I do not think this to be logically exact, but it is ten thousand times more evangelical than the “Landmarks”; and it is not logic, but the gospel which saves souls.
The statements that sorrow and living to God are no parts of the gospel repentance are true, and the “Landmarks” prove it. According to them, the one precedes, the other follows it, and the third text, so far from speaking of carrying on, says it would have happened long ago. The tract insists on the difference of gospel repentance, which is lost sight of when quoted without its context. “It arises,” the commentary says, “out of sorrow,” and is not therefore the sorrow it produces— “the fruit of good works”: they are therefore no part of repentance itself, but a consequence of it. The third text cited does not bear out the statement, but the contrary. The next statement is entirely unfounded, and only proves that the writer does not believe in justification by faith.
There is such ignorance and confusion in the statement of the “Landmarks “on this point, that it is difficult to deal with. “If once,” it is said, “a man can say ‘I believe,’ he need no longer fear sin; all his past sins are already put away.” What not fearing sin has to do with his past sins being put away, it is hard to see; but, it is added, he need not fear punishment, he is already sure of salvation. The first statement has really no sense, but I shall take up the substance of the subject, not the manner of putting it. The author is, I suppose, ignorant that at the Reformation the universal doctrine was that personal certainty of one’s own salvation was alone justifying faith. I think they went too far, because they made it a faith about their own state, not in the Lord Jesus; but so it was. And it was generally affirmed in their confessions, and condemned in the Popish Council of Trent as the vain confidence of the heretics. I do not know whether the writer has read the Homilies of his own denomination; at any rate he has signed the declaration that they are sound doctrine, and there he will find the doctrine he condemns. It was the great doctrinal turning-point of the Reformation. I do not know whether he believes the Thirty-nine Articles; but if he reads the Seventeenth, he will find as wise a statement of the security of the believers in grace as I know penned by human hands.
But what is more important, let us turn to Scripture. I read, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God.” Can a man have peace with God if his sins are not already put away? And the blessed reason precedes: “He was delivered for our offences, and raised again for our justification.” “For if Christ be not risen, your faith is vain, ye are yet in your sins.” But if He is? And if this work of the blessed Lord on the cross has not put away the sins of those that believe in Him, what is to do it? For without shedding of blood there is no remission, and there is no more sacrifice for sin. This forgiveness is in contrast with the legal state under Moses. By Him all that believe are justified from all things; Acts 13. Repentance and remission of sins were to be preached in His name: was it to be believed? His precursor John the Baptist came to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins. “To him give all the prophets witness that through his name whosoever believeth on him shall receive remission of their sins.”
“Her sins,” says the Saviour, “which are many, are forgiven”; and to her He said: “Thy sins are forgiven, thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” But it will be said she loved much: no doubt, and repented deeply, and that was all right, but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. We believe with the apostle Peter that Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree, and that thus, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth no sin.” Does this blessing come on any? We read that “faith is imputed for righteousness”; which the writer may see rightly interpreted in his Thirty-nine Articles. Was “thy faith hath saved thee,” said exceptionally to the poor sinful woman, or written for our learning? See what is said in Hebrews. “How much more shall the blood of Christ who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your consciences from dead works to serve the living God?” The service of the living God is a consequence, note, of a purged conscience. And, as it is reasoned in the same chapter, inasmuch as without shedding of blood there is no remission, if it was not wholly done on the cross, Christ must have often suffered; but now He has been once offered to bear the sins of many, and to them that look for Him He shall appear the second time, without sin, unto salvation. He has obtained an eternal redemption.
Not only so; in consequence of this one sacrifice, worshippers have no more conscience of sins. He does not say conflict with the flesh, but of sins imputed to us on the conscience; because Christ has borne them. The Jewish priests were ever standing up offering new sacrifices: interesting figures, but which could not put away sins; but Christ, having offered one sacrifice for sins, for ever sat down. Why? For by one sacrifice He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. He has sat down on the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens, when He had by Himself purged our sins, and there He sits as the glorified Man, till His enemies be made His footstool.
And as God’s love and will was the source of this, and a divine work of atonement the ground of this, so a divine testimony assures us of it. The Holy Ghost is a witness, saying, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” Further it is written in Romans 8 that we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry “Abba Father”; that is we have the consciousness of being children, the Holy Ghost bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. So in Galatdans 3, “We are all the children [sons] of God by faith in Christ Jesus,” and (chap. 4) “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father.” And elsewhere, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” The Lord Himself tells His disciples in John 14 that when the Comforter should be come, in that day we should know that He was in the Father, and we in Him, and He in us. Hence in Romans 8 we learn that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Hence, according to Hebrews 10, instead of (as in Hebrews 9) there being a veil by which the Holy Ghost signified the way into the holiest was not made manifest, we have boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which He has consecrated, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and we are to draw near in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.
Does the author mean to deprive us of this, or dream that we can be in communion with God with an unpurged conscience? If so, he has never been really in His presence, for the thing is impossible. But I shall be told that we have to be humble: no safety without it. He resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. But nothing gives lowhness like the presence of God and communion with Himself. We feel, if we think of ourselves, our own nothingness, happy if this be so complete as to think of nothing but Him. But if the conscience be not purged, His presence, who is light, awakens it, brings the sense of the evil upon our souls, and confession is drawn out by confidence in His love. All this ministers to holiness, and there is no holiness without it. He makes us partakers of His holiness, even if He chasten us.
But to return. John wrote to all Christians: “I write unto you, children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake,” 1 John 2. What does this mean? and even the little children know the Father. As to being saved, I read: “He hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling.” Again in Ephesians 2:5, 9: “By grace ye are saved”; and this is not merely a principle: the word is in the perfect passive, which declares the actual and abiding fact. The principle is there, of course, but a great deal more.
1 John 1:8. No intelligent Christian says he has no sin, the flesh in which is no good thing is ever there; but for salvation, if the Spirit of God dwell in us, we are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, though the flesh be in us. But the words which precede are “The blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanseth us from all sin,” the divine answer to the flesh being there. Perhaps the author would reply, “Yes; if we walk in the light.” This, though a very common, is a totally false view. But, if so, it is “in the light” as “He [God] is in the light.” Now if we walked according to the light as God is in it, we should want no cleansing at all. Yet it is “If we walk in the light, as he is in it”; that is, the true full revelation of God who is light. (Compare chap. 2:8.) It is the Christian position, a reality. He walks in the true knowledge of God now revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. Failure is referred to in chapter 2:1, 2.
But the writer confounds the flesh in us, and the imputation of sin, guilt, before God. How can I fear punishment if Christ has borne my sins? The Judge before whom I appear is the Saviour that put them away. I speak of those who believe. And when he objects to being sure of salvation, the Christian is, because “He came to give the knowledge of salvation to his people by the remission of their sins.” Hebrews 6:4-6 speaks not of conversion nor forgiveness received at all, but of the enjoyment of all the privileges of Christianity, and open apostasy from it, which is finally and hopelessly fatal: he meets fiery indignation which devours the adversaries. And this is not only so in this passage, but in every place where falling away is spoken of in the Hebrews; it is final and fatal; it is apostasy. It is impossible to renew them.
Galatians 5:4 is a salutary warning against the doctrine of the author’s tract. The Galatians would add law to grace for justification, the apostle tells them they cannot be united, but that, if they look to the law for justification, they cannot have Christ for it. The law specified and required man’s righteousness for God most rightly and justly as a law, a perfect rule for a child of Adam, with a curse if he did not keep it, which none ever did (Christ of course excepted); so that as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse. For the law must be perfectly kept for righteousness under it. But in the gospel is the revelation of God’s righteousness for men, because they had none for God. There was none righteous, no not one. Men are justified freely by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.
Now these two things cannot go together, that is, my accomplishment of law for righteousness, and God justifying me freely through Christ by His own righteousness through faith, because I have not done so. I will speak of holiness, but you cannot at the same time have a man righteous by law-keeping, and righteous by grace through Christ’s work, because he has not kept it. If I make out righteousness by law, Christ is become of no effect to me, I have given up grace; for works of righteousness are not grace.
Nothing can be simpler than 1 Corinthians 9:27. The apostle lived as a godly watchful Christian, as well as preached, that he might not be a preacher to others, and a castaway himself. Quite right, and nothing simpler, and a warning to all who are engaged in such service.
1 Corinthians 10:19 is a most salutary warning too against light-minded presumption; but “thinketh he standeth” is nothing of “in Christ and Christ in us”; for such, there is no condemnation. Nor will you find in the New Testament any word of a man being in Christ, or quickened, and lost. But this phrase does not necessarily involve final ruin. Any of us may fall if we are not watchful, and are on the way to do so, if we do not watch and pray lest we enter into temptation. God forbid any of us should take up these things lightly.
Philippians 2:12 I will speak of by-and-by, because it has a different character.
I will now take up another aspect of Christian truth and privileges—eternal life. This has a double aspect, and is spoken of accordingly as is salvation also in two ways. We have it, a life in Christ. It is also spoken of as the full result in glory, “the end, everlasting life.” There it is according to the counsels of God, when we shall be conformed to the image of His Son that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. This, of course, I need not say, we have not got; we are not yet in glory. But eternal life we have. “This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” “He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son hath not life.” And John wrote that they might know that they had eternal life. God sent His only Son into the world that we might live through Him. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life,” John 3:36. Again chapters 5:34; 6:47-54, “Verily, verily, I say unto you: he that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation [judgment], but is passed from death unto life.” And again, “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 10:37, 38. And the Lord insists on His Father’s power and His interest in them.
I can conceive nothing clearer than these passages. John takes this side of divine truth, Christ came to be eternal life to us, Paul more of presenting us justified and accepted in Christ before God, though each speaks of both. Thus Paul says, “when Christ, who is our life,” etc. (Col. 3 and other passages.) “Christ liveth in me,” and “that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” But if the word of God be true, the believer is justified and has peace with God, and has everlasting life, and if sealed with the Holy Ghost, he knows he is in Christ, and Christ in him (John 14), has the witness in himself (1 John 4), has boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10)—boldness in the day of judgment, because as Christ is, so is he in this world (1 John 4:17), not surely in His personal perfection, how far from it! And I add the only Christian perfection is being like Christ in glory, but in His relative place with God. Christ is gone to His Father and our Father, to His God and our God. We have received, not the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry, “Abba, Father.” Nothing can be clearer or more positive than scripture on the subject; we are reconciled to God, we have peace with God. How, if our sins are not put away, it would be hard to tell if the fear of God be in our hearts.
The “fear of sin” has nothing to do with the possession of the forgiveness of sins, unless that this cleansing of the conscience produces it. For who would fear to dirty himself, one who was quite clean to pay a visit to a superior, or one that was dirty already? But the whole thing is a mistake. The true fear of sin is the spirit of holiness, not justification, not the dread of punishment because of God’s righteous wrath against sin, which in its place is just and useful, but because, as having now a holy nature as born of God, I hate it in itself and as displeasing to God. A fear of wrath is not a fear of sin but of its consequences, which, though right in its place, is a very different thing.
Practical righteousness is the just judgment of good and evil, according to God’s estimate of them, and acting on, and owning God’s authority, and our responsibility in respect of it; it is made good in the judicial acts of God, of which the measure, as regards us, is our duty to God and our neighbour. In this we have failed, and now in grace through faith are dependent on Christ’s work, not on ours; through that we rest on God’s righteousness. On this, blessed as the teaching of Scripture is on it, I do not now enter.
Holiness is the horror of evil, and delight in good, according to God’s estimate of it (though of course our thoughts are imperfect) for its own sake, and as displeasing to God. Supposing even there were no punishment at all, we must come by the first as sinners; but we get into the second, in principle, from the very beginning, but less sensibly till the conscience is purged, for we must come first as guilty sinners. But for this a new nature which does take God’s estimate of good and evil for its guide and rule, is necessary, and that new nature is a holy nature.54 But there is no development of it in the affections, or communion, till justification and peace with God is settled. Its first effect of taking God’s mind, His revelation of Himself in light, is to make us find out that we are guilty, unclean, and thus it works repentance. But for this, I must learn confidence enough in God to be willing to open my heart to Him. And He has revealed Himself in love in Christ who is also this light to us. I see what I am before God, first rather what I have done; but His love leads me to confession of it, as the woman in the city that was a sinner, or Peter in the boat, or the prodigal unfit for God, knowing it, yet going to Him because He has revealed Himself to us. And this is genuine gospel repentance, fruit of God’s quickening power, our being born of Him, and His revealing Himself.
The first impressions may be more characterised by fear, if light predominates on our coming to God; more gently attractive, if the love does. But, in all cases, in true repentance there are both, because God is both; and God has revealed Himself and quickened me to see things, at least in principle, as He sees them, and judge them by a new nature and will; and my responsibility towards Him is felt. Now the first need here is not holiness in the delight of it;55 there is the sense of the want of it. The new nature feels there ought to be holiness for God; it takes the character of not being accepted, because of that want. What we crave is justification, forgiveness, and righteousness. But it is not the question of holy affections and exercise, but the want of them pressing as guilt upon the soul. Now Christ’s work meets all our guilt. If it does not, we are lost for ever. God’s holy authority in righteousness must be maintained; but it has been, and glorified on the cross, and His love at the same time fully, divinely, displayed. A bad conscience cannot be in the exercise of loving affections. But the blood of Christ purges the conscience, makes it perfect with God; and the sense of divine love which gave Christ to do it, and in which He gave Himself, possesses the soul by the Holy Ghost, by which the believer is then sealed. He delights in such a God, knows Him as his Father, dwells on His love shed abroad in His heart by the Holy Ghost, knows he is in Christ and Christ is in him. Christ too is precious to him; His lowly, lovely, perfect path on earth is the manna he feeds on, above all His dying, and perfect love there; and now he sees Him by faith at the right hand of God, in glory unveiled, and is thus changed into the same image from glory to glory as by the Spirit of the Lord. He knows that when He shall appear, he will be like Him, seeing Him as He is, and he that hath this hope in Him purifieth himself even as He is pure.
Hohness in life is the consequence of salvation. “He hath saved us and called us with a holy calling.” “Being made free from sin and become servants to God, we have our fruit unto hohness.” I admit that being born of God, and having received Christ as life, the principle of hohness is there; as all human nature is in a child of an hour old, but its conscious development and practical exercise is when the question of justification is settled. Desires there will be before, but ending in sorrow of heart, because the desire is not satisfied, the heart is really under law; we must be holy, we feel, and we are not.
Now at peace with God, and knowing that He who bore our sins is at the right hand of God (surely not bearing them now on Him, but sat down there when He had by Himself purged our sins), we are sanctified by the truth, the Father’s blessed word, Christ having sanctified Himself, a man in glory, that we might be sanctified through the truth. Beholding with open face the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image from glory to glory. The affections of the heart are fixed on Christ as having so loved us, and given Himself for us, and He is received into the heart, and we are thus sanctified and grow up to Him, the Head, in all things, His walk being the only true measure of ours. And here it is that diligence of soul comes in, not in connection with redemption and justification. There is legal diligence as to that, but only to discover that we cannot succeed, not only that we are guilty, ungodly, which is the first thing, but that, even if to will is present with us, we cannot find how to perform that which is good; we first learn our sins in true repentance and then ourselves, a deeper exercise yet. The former is treated in Romans 1 to 5:11; the second in chapter 5:12, to end of chapter 8; in each part the answer of God in grace to our need being treated of. But supposing all this, there is still the working out our own salvation in fear and trembling.
Now it is perfectly evident that we cannot work out our redemption; we must, as the Psalm says, let that alone for ever. Christ has finished the work, and is as man at the right hand of God, because He has; and God has accepted it as complete. There is no more offering for sin. We have nothing to do with atonement, we cannot bear our sins, or we are lost for ever. If we have a place with God, it is because Christ has borne them. That is settled for ever. When He had made by Himself the purification of our sins, He sat down, and is there continually, because all is done. But, further, we are in Christ, if sealed by the Holy Ghost, that is, if real Christians, and we know it according to John 14. Now there is no condemnation for them that are in Christ Jesus.56 Also Christ is in us, found in Romans 8:10. Now as to Christ’s having wrought redemption, borne my sins, being in Him, and He, in me, there is no working out by me. Exercised and brought to repentance we are surely, if it be a real work so as to feel bur need, but then to believe in a finished work, and to know if we do that we are in Christ, and Christ in us, and so no possible condemnation for us. Scripture is plain. By one man’s obedience, the many are made righteous, and to him that worketh not but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Where then is the working out of salvation? The Christian is viewed in two ways in Scripture, as in Christ, and therefore, as Christ before God, forgiven all the flesh’s sins, no condemnation, boldness for the day of judgment, because as He (Christ) is, so are we in this world, and boldness to enter into the holiest now. But this supposes of course, and evidently, that his faith is genuine. Upon the basis of this, and the perseverance of such to the end, the Thirty-nine Articles are sufficiently clear: though being in Christ is not treated of. But as a fact, almost all (the exceptions are rare) Christians pass through a longer or shorter period of exercise and testing. They are men on the earth, even if ever so truly men in Christ. There is no doubt that, if they are really in Christ, Christ will keep them; they will never perish. None shall pluck them out of the Saviour’s hand. He will confirm them to the end, that they may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful by whom they were called. I have already said this is well and wisely put in the Seventeenth Article. Still they are tested and proved in their life down here, and, if ever so truly born of God, have much to learn, much to correct, much to learn of themselves, and of God’s tender and faithful love, and what it is to be dead with Christ to sin and to the world; much to learn of the fulness of Christ, and to grow up unto Him in all things. A child a day old has as much life as a man of thirty, and is just as much his father’s child, and the object of his tender affections, but evidently his state is very different.
Now the work of Christ completes our salvation as to redemption, and making us His own—all true believers will be like Christ in glory. On this Scripture leaves no shade of doubt. The perfection of His work is such, that while his conversion and faith were singularly bright, the thief with no time for progress could go straight to be Christ’s companion the same day in paradise. And we read in Colossians 1, “Giving thanks to the Father who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light”; but as a general rule, there is the race, the wilderness to cross, which makes part, not of the purpose, but in general of the ways of God. And this course being here below, salvation is spoken of as the full result in glory when Christ comes again, a salvation ready to be revealed, as well as the accomplished work of Christ at His first coming; and the Philippians always speak of salvation in the former sense.
There is very little doctrine in the Epistle, but a most full and blessed development of the life of one [Paul himself] living in the Spirit. Now in this our course here below, the proof of reality is just the seriousness which works out the final salvation with fear and trembling, for the snares and dangers are real on the way, though there be the promise of being kept through them. That does not hinder their being there. The force of the passage however is misapprehended. Paul, when present watched against and met the wiles of the enemy for them; he was now in prison. They were still in the conflict, and had -to fight the good fight for themselves. But if they had lost Paul, they had not lost God. It was He that worked in them to will and to do. But it was a solemn thing to be the scene of conflict between God working in them and the power of darkness, though the victory of Him who wrought might be certain. But He works in us; we are kept by the power of God through faith. Hence it is a moral process in the human soul; it is a testing, proving, sifting, teaching, helping; we learn ourselves and God, though the result in God’s hand be not uncertain. But it bears most precious fruit. It teaches and maintains dependence; it gives the experience of the sure faithfulness of God, of One who makes all things work together for good to them who love Him: we learn not only to glory in salvation, and in the hope of glory, but in tribulations, and finally in God Himself, whom we thus come to know, who withdraws not His eyes from the righteous.
It is not a question of righteousness. As to justifying righteousness, Christ is our righteousness; but God’s constant unfailing watchfulness over, and care of, the righteous. Further, so far as we have learnt of Him, we manifest the life of Christ in our mortal flesh; we are set as epistles of Christ. But how is it to be manifested if we have not got it? Let the author and any reader here remark that all duties flow from the place we are already in, and are measured by it. Child, wife, servant, whatever the relation, I must be in it to be responsible for the duties of it. To be responsible to walk as a child of God, I must be one, and moreover know it. The Christian, every true believer then, is redeemed and in Christ. There, there is no “if” But he is also in fact on the road to glory, and must reach the goal to have it. He has the promise of being kept, but is morally exercised along the road in dependence, in grace, in watchfulness and diligence, the true proof that it is a reality with him, that he knows himself and the God of love and the snares that surround him, a place that belongs to one who is redeemed, where he learns the ways of God, and His faithful unfailing love, and His holy government, and works out his salvation in fear and trembling. For he is ever in danger as to his daily path to glory, though he is dependent on, and counts on the faithfulness of Him who keeps him—grace sufficient for him, and strength made perfect in weakness.
54 This is connected with the recognition of God’s authority, and, in its application to the conscience, will be connected in each with what he has actually done and been.
55 So in Deuteronomy 16 the unleavened bread of the passover is the bread of affliction.
56 The last half of this verse is not genuine. It finds its proper place in verse 4, and if rightly translated would say exactly the contrary of the truth.