Article of the Month
by Horatius Bonar
“To him that worketh not, but believeth,” says the apostle, speaking of the way in which we are reckoned just before God.
Does he by this speech make light of good works? Does he encourage an unholy walk? Does he use a rash word, which had better been left unspoken?
No, truly. He is laying the foundation of good works. He is removing the great obstacle to a holy life, viz. the bondage of an unforgiven state. He is speaking, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the words of truth and soberness. The difference between working and believing is that which God would have us to learn, lest we confound these two things, and so destroy them both. The order and relation of these two things are here very explicitly laid down, so as to anticipate the error of many who mix up working and believing together, or who make believing the result of working, instead of working the result of believing.
We carefully distinguish, yet we as carefully connect the two. We do not put asunder what God has joined together; yet we would not reverse the divine order, nor disturb the divine relation, nor place that last which God has set first.
It was not to depreciate or discourage good works that the apostle spoke of “not working, but believing”; or of a man being “justified by faith, without the deeds of the law”; or of God “imputing righteousness without works” (Rom 3:28; 4:6). It was to distinguish things that differ; it was to show the true use of faith, in connecting us, for justification, with what another has done; it was to stay us from doing anything in order to be justified. In this view, then, faith is truly a ceasing from work, and not a working; it is not the doing of anything in order to be justified, but the simple reception of the justifying work of Him who “finished transgression and made an end of sin”: for THE ONE JUSTIFYING WORK was completed eighteen hundred years ago, and any attempt on our part to repeat or imitate this is vain. The one cross suffices.
Nor was it to undervalue good works that our Lord gave, what many may deem such a singular answer to the question of the Jews, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” “This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent” (John 6:29). They wanted to work their way into the favor of God. The Lord tells them that they may have that favor without waiting or working; by accepting at once His testimony to His only-begotten Son. Till then, they were not in a condition for working. They were as trees without a root; as stars whose motions, however regular, would be useless, if they themselves were unlighted.
To say to a groping, troubled spirit, You must first believe before you can work, is no more to encourage ungodliness or laxity of walk, than to say to an imprisoned soldier, You must first get out of your dungeon before you can fight; or to a swimmer, You must throw off that millstone before you can attempt to swim; or to a racer, You must get quit of these fetters before you can run the race.
Yet these expressions of the apostle have often been shrunk from; dreaded as dangerous; quoted with a guarding clause, or rather cited as seldom as possible, under the secret feeling that, unless greatly diluted or properly qualified, they had better not be cited at all. But why are these bold utterances there, if they are perilous, if they are not meant to be as fearlessly proclaimed now as they were fearlessly written eighteen centuries ago? What did the Holy Spirit mean by promulgation of such “unguarded” statements, as some seem disposed to reckon them? It was not for nothing that they were so boldly spoken. Timid words would not have served the purpose. The glorious gospel needed statements such as these to disentangle the great question of acceptance; to relieve troubled consciences, and purge them from dead works, yet at the same time to give to works their proper place.
Perhaps some of Luther's statements are too unqualified; yet their very strength shows how much he felt the necessity of so speaking of works, as absolutely and peremptorily to exclude them from the office of justifying the sinner. He saw and testified how the Papacy, by mixing the two things together, had troubled and terrified men's consciences, and had truly become a “slaughter-house of souls.”
In another's righteousness we stand; and by another's righteousness are we justified. All accusations against us, founded upon our unrighteousness, we answer by pointing to the perfection of the righteousness which covers us from head to foot, and in virtue of which we are unassailable by law, as well as shielded from wrath.
Protected by this perfection, we have no fear of wrath, either now or hereafter. It is a buckler to us, and we cry, “Behold, O God, our shield; look upon the face of Thine Anointed”; as if to say, Look not on me, but on my Substitute; deal not with me for sin, but with my Sin-bearer; challenge not me for my guilt, but challenge Him; He will answer for me. Thus we are safe beneath the shield of His righteousness. No arrow, either from the enemy or from conscience, can reach us there.
Covered by this perfection, we are at peace. The enemy cannot invade us; or if he try to do so, we can triumphantly repel him. It is a refuge from the storm, a covert from the tempest, a river of water in a dry place, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. The work of righteousness is peace; and in the Lord we have righteousness and strength.
Beautified with this perfection, which is the perfection of God, we find favour in His sight. His eye rests on the comeliness which He has put upon us; and as He did at viewing the first creation, so now, in looking at us as clothed with this divine excellency, He pronounces it “very good.” He sees “no iniquity in Jacob, and no transgression in Israel.” “The iniquity of Jacob may be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found” (Jer 50:20). This righteousness suffices to cover, to comfort, and to beautify.
But there is more than this. We are justified that we may be holy. The possession of this legal righteousness is the beginning of a holy life. We do not live a holy life in order to be justified; but we are justified that we may live a holy life. That which man calls holiness may be found in almost any circumstances,—of dread, or darkness, or bondage, or self-righteous toil and suffering; but that which God calls holiness can only be developed under conditions of liberty and light, and pardon and peace with God. Forgiveness is the mainspring of holiness. Love, as a motive, is far stronger than law; far more influential than fear of wrath or peril of hell. Terror may make a man crouch like a slave and obey a hard master, lest a worse thing come upon him; but only a sense of forgiving love can bring either heart or conscience into that state in which obedience is either pleasant to the soul or acceptable to God.
False ideas of holiness are common, not only among those who profess false religions, but among those who profess the true. For holiness is a thing of which man by nature has no more idea than a blind man has of the beauty of a flower or the light of the sun. All false religions have had their “holy men,” whose holiness often consisted merely in the amount of pain they could inflict upon their bodies, or of food which they could abstain from, or of hard labor which they could undergo. But with God, a saint or holy man is a very different being. It is in filial, full-hearted love to God that much of true holiness consists. And this cannot even begin to be until the sinner has found forgiveness and tasted liberty, and has confidence towards God. The spirit of holiness is incompatible with the spirit of bondage. There must be the spirit of liberty, the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. When the fountain of holiness begins to well up in the human heart, and to fill the whole being with its transforming, purifying power, “We have known and believed the love that God has to us” (1 John 4:16) is the first note of the holy song, which, commenced on earth, is to be perpetuated through eternity.
We are bought with a price, that we may be new creatures in Christ Jesus. We are forgiven, that we may be like Him who forgives us. We are set at liberty and brought out of prison, that we may be holy. The free, boundless love of God, pouring itself into us, expands and elevates our whole being; and we serve Him, not in order to win His favour, but because we have already won it in simply believing His record concerning His Son. If the root is holy, so are the branches. We have become connected with the holy root, and by the necessity of this connection are made holy too.
Forgiveness relaxes no law, nor interferes with the highest justice. Human pardons may often do so: God's pardons never.
Forgiveness doubles all our bonds to a holy life; only they are no longer bonds of iron, but of gold. It takes off the heavy yoke, in order to give us the light and easy.
The love of God to us, and our love to God, work together for producing holiness in us. Terror accomplishes no real obedience. Suspense brings forth no fruit unto holiness. Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this. It is this certainty that melts the heart, dissolves our chains, disburdens our shoulders, so that we stand erect, and makes us to run in the way of the divine commandments.
Condemnation is that which binds sin and us together. Forgiveness looses this fearful tie, and separates us from sin. The power of condemnation which the law possesses is that which makes it so strong and terrible. Cancel this power, and the liberated spirit rises into the region of love, and in that region finds both will and strength for the keeping of the law,—a law which is at once old and new: old as to substance (“Thou shalt love the Lord with all thy heart”); new as to mode and motive. “The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus bath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2); that is, The law of the life-giving spirit which we have in Christ Jesus has severed the condemning connection of that law which leads only to sin and death. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh (i.e. unable to carry out its commandments in our old nature), God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh; that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit” (Rom 8:3,4).
The removal of condemnation is the dissolution of legal bondage, and of that awful pressure upon the conscience which at once enslaved and irritated; disenabling as well as disinclining us from all obedience; making holiness both distasteful and dreadful, to be submitted to only through fear of future woe.
Sin, when unforgiven, oppresses the conscience and tyrannizes over the sinner. Sin forgiven in an unrighteous way, would be but a slight and uncertain as well as imperfect relief. Sin righteously and judicially forgiven, loses its dominion. The conscience rises up from its long oppression, and expands into joyous liberty. Our whole being becomes bright and buoyant under the benign influence of this forgiving love of God. “The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come” (Song 2:11,12).
Condemnation is the dark cloud that obscures our heavens. Forgiveness is the sunshine dissolving the cloud, and by its brilliance making all good things to grow and ripen in us.
Condemnation makes sin strike its roots deeper and deeper. No amount of terror can extirpate evil. No fear of wrath can make us holy. No gloomy uncertainty as to God's favour can subdue one lust, or correct our crookedness of will. But the free pardon of the cross uproots sin, and withers all its branches. The “no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” is the only effectual remedy for the deadly disease of an alienated heart and stubborn will.
The want of forgiveness, or uncertainty as to it, are barriers in the way of the removal of the heart's deep enmity to a righteous God. For enmity will only give way to love; and no suspense, however terrible, will overcome the stout-hearted rebelliousness of man. Threats do not conquer hearts; nor does austerity win either confidence or affection. They who would trust to law to awaken trust, know nothing either of law or love; nor do they understand how the suspicions of the human heart are to be removed, and its confidence won. The knowledge of God simply as Judge or Lawgiver will be of no power to attract, of no avail to remove distrust and dread.
But the message, “God is love,” is like the sun bursting through the clouds of a long tempest. The good news, “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins,” is like the opening of the prisoner's dungeon-gate. Bondage departs, and liberty comes. Suspicion is gone, and the heart is won. “Perfect love has cast out fear.” We hasten to the embrace of Him who loved us; we hate that which has estranged us; we put away all that caused the distance between us and Him; we long to be like one so perfect, and to partake of His holiness. To be “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), once so distasteful, is henceforth most grateful and pleasant; and nothing seems now so desirable as to escape the corruptions that are in the world through lust.
We undergo many false changes, which look like holiness, but which are not really so. The poison-tree drops its leaves, yet remains the same. The sea of Sodom glistens in the sunshine with surpassing splendor, yet remains salt and bitter as before. Time changes us, yet does not make us holy. The decays of age change us, but do not break the power of evil. One lust expels another; frailty succeeds to frailty; error drives out error; one vanity pails, another comes freshly in its room; one evil habit is exchanged for a second, but our old man remains the same. The cross has not touched us with its regenerating power; the Holy Spirit has not purified the inner sources of our being and life.
Fashion changes us; the example of friends changes us; society changes us; excitement changes us; business changes us; affection changes us; sorrow changes us; dread of coming evil changes us; yet the heart is just what it was. Of the numerous changes in our character or deportment, how many are deceitful, how few are real and deep! Only that which can go down into the very depths of our spiritual being can produce any change that is worthy of the name.
The one spell that can really transform us is THE CROSS. The one potent watchword is, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). The one physician for all our maladies is He who died for us, and the one remedy which He applies is the blood that cleanseth from all sin. The one arm of power that can draw us out of the horrible pit and the miry clay, is “the Spirit of holiness.”
“For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (John 17:19). Christ presents Himself as the Holy One, Consecrated One, to God, that His people may partake of His sanctification, and be like Himself, saints, consecrated ones, men set apart for God by the sprinkling of the blood. Through the truth they are sanctified, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
“By one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb 10:14); 50 that the perfection of His saints, both as to the conscience and as to personal holiness, is connected with the one offering, and springs out of the one work finished upon Calvary. “By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). Here again the sanctification is connected with the offering of the body of Christ. Whatever place “the power of His resurrection” may hold in our spiritual history, it is the cross that is the source of all that varied fullness by which we are justified and purified. The secret of a believer's holy walk is his continual recurrence to the blood of the Surety, and his daily intercourse with a crucified and risen Lord.
Nowhere does Scripture, either in its statements or doctrines or lives of the saints, teach us that here we get beyond our need of the blood, or may safely cast off the divine raiment that covers our deformity. Even should we say at any time, “I am free from sin,” this would be no proof of our being really holy: for the heart is deceitful above all things, and there may be ten thousand sins lurking in us; seen by God, though unseen by ourselves. “I know nothing of myself' says the apostle; i.e. I am not conscious of any failure; “but,” he adds, “I am not hereby justified”; i.e. this my own consciousness is no proof of my sinlessness: for “He that judgeth me is the Lord”; and the Lord may condemn me in many things in which I do not condemn myself.
Let me say to one who thinks he has reached sinlessness, “My friend, are you sure that you are perfectly holy? For nothing but absolute certainty should lead you to make so bold an affirmation regarding your freedom from all sin. Are you sure that you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul? For unless you are absolutely sure of this, you have no right to say, I am perfectly holy; and it will be a perilous thing for you to affirm, I have no longer any need of the blood, and I refuse to go to the fountain for cleansing, seeing my going thither would be mockery. For the cross, the blood, the fountain, are for the imperfect, not for the perfect; for the unrighteous, not for the righteous; and if your self-consciousness is correct, you are no longer among the imperfect or the unrighteous. My friend, do you never sin, in thought, or in word, or in desire, or in deed? Have you never a wandering thought? Is your heart as warm and are your affections as heavenly as you could possibly desire them to be? What! not one stray thought from morn to night, from night to morn? Not one wrong word, nor look, nor tone? What! no coldness, no want of fervor, no flagging of zeal, no momentary indulgence of self and sloth? What! no error (for error is sin), no false judgment, no failure of temper, no improper step, no imperfect plan; nothing to regret, nothing to wish unsaid or undone in the midst of a world like ours, with all its provocations, its crosses, it worries, its oppositions, its heated atmosphere of infectious evil? And art thou sure, quite sure, that all this is the case; and that thy conscience is so perfectly alive, so divinely sensitive, that the faintest expressions of evil in the remotest corner of thy heart would be detected? If so, thou art an extraordinary man, far above him who was less than the least of all saints; above him who said, `The good that I would, that I do not; and the evil that I would not, that I do'; and one whose history will require to be written by some immortal pen, as that of the man who, after a few years believing, ceased to require any application to the cross, or to be indebted to the blood for cleansing, who could look at altar, and laver, and mercy-seat as one who had no longer any interest in their provisions; nay, as one to whom a crucified Christ was a thing of the past, of whom he had now no need as a Sin-bearer; or High Priest, or Advocate, or Intercessor, but only as a companion and friend.”
God's processes are not always rapid. His greatest works rise slowly. Swiftness of growth has been one of man's tests of greatness; not so is it with God. His trees grow slowly; the stateliest are the slowest. His flowers grow slowly; the brightest are the slowest. His creatures grow slowly, year by year; man, the noblest, grows the most slowly of all. God can afford to take His time. Man cannot. He is hasty and impatient. He will have everything to be like Jonah's gourd, or like one of those fabled oriental palaces, which magicians are said to call up by a word or a stamp, out of the sand. He forgets how slowly the palm tree and the cedar grow. They neither spring up in a night nor perish in a night. He forgets the history of the temple: “Forty and six years was this temple in building.” He insists that, because it is God's purpose that His saints should be holy, therefore they ought to be holy at once.
It is true that our standard is, and must be, perfection. For our model is the Perfect One. But the question is, Has God in Scripture anywhere led us to expect the rapidity of growth, the quick development of perfection in which some glory, and because of the confessed lack of which in others they look down on these others as babes or loiterers?
Is there in Scripture any instance of a perfect man, excepting Him who was always and absolutely without sin? If Christians were perfect, where is the warfare, and the adversary, and the sword, and the shield? Are angels exposed to this warfare when they visit earth? Or is it not our imperfection that in great measure produces this? And are we anywhere in Scripture led to believe that we are delivered from “the body of this death,” from the battle of flesh and spirit, from the wrestling with principalities and powers, till death sets us free, or our Lord shall come?
Yet we are called with a holy calling (2 Tim 1:9); and as so called, are bound to take the highest standard for our model of life. The slowness or swiftness of the progress does not alter the standard, nor affect our aiming at conformity to it.
This progress, rapid or gradual, springs from the forgiveness we have received, and the new life imparted by the Holy Spirit. Our life is to be fruit-bearing; and the fruitfulness comes from our ascertained acceptance, our being “rooted and grounded in love.” We taste and see that the Lord is good; that in His favour is life; that the joy of the Lord is our strength; and so we move on and up, rising from one level to another. “We know and believe the love that God hath to us”; and we find in this the source of goodness, no less than of gladness and liberty.
The life of the justified should be a peaceful one. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God,—the God of peace, and the God of all grace. The world's storms have not been stilled, nor our way smoothed, nor our skies brightened, nor our enemies swept away; but the peace of God has come in and taken possession of the soul. We are cheered and comforted. God is for us, and who can be against us? The name of the Lord is our strong tower; we run into it, and are safe. No evil can happen to us; no weapon that is formed against us can prosper.
The life of the justified should be a holy one, all the more because of the extent of previous unholiness. “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). All that these marvelous and mysterious words “holy” and “holiness” imply, is to be found in the life of one who has been “much forgiven.” There is no spring of holiness so powerful as that which our Lord assumes: “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). Free and warm reception into the divine favour is the strongest of all motives in leading a man to seek conformity to Him who has thus freely forgiven him all trespasses. A cold admission into the paternal house by the father might have repelled the prodigal, and sent him back to his lusts; but the fervent kiss, the dear embrace, the best robe, the ring, the shoes, the fatted calf, the festal song,—all without one moment's suspense or delay, as well as without one upbraiding word, could not but awaken shame for the past, and true-hearted resolution to walk worthy of such a father, and of such a generous pardon. “Revellings, banquetings, and abominable idolatries,” come to the abhorrence of him round whom the holy arms of renewed fatherhood have been so lovingly thrown. Sensuality, luxury, and the gaieties of the flesh have lost their relish to one who has tasted the fruit of the tree of life.
The life of the justified should be a loving one. It is love that has made him what he is, and shall he not love in return? Shall he not love Him that begat, and him also that is begotten of Him? The deep true spring of love is thus revealed to us by the Lord Himself: “A certain creditor had two debtors; the one owed five hundred pence, the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, HE FRANKLY FORGAVE THEM BOTH. Tell me therefore, which of them will LOVE him most?” (Luke 7:41,42). Thus love produces love. The life of one on whom the fullness of the free love of God is ever shining must be a life of love. Suspense, doubt, terror, darkness, must straiten and freeze; but the certainty of free and immediate love dissolves the ice, and kindles the coldest spirit into the warmth of love. “We love Him because He first loved us.” Love to God, love to the brethren, love to the world, spring up within us as the heavenly love flows in. Malevolence, anger, envy, jealously, receive their death-blow. The nails of the cross have gone through all these, and their deadly wound cannot be healed. They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts. Sternness, coldness, distance, depart; and are succeeded by gentleness, mildness, guilelessness, meekness, ardor, long-suffering. The tempers of the old man quit us, we know not how; and in their place comes the “charity which suffereth long, and is kind, which envieth not, which vaunteth not itself, which is not puffed up, which doth not behave itself unseemly, which seeketh not her own, which is not easily provoked, which thinketh no evil, which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, which beareth all things, which believeth all things, which never faileth” (1 Cor 13:4-8). Gentle and loving and simple should be the life of the justified; meek and lowly should they be, who have been loved with such a love.
The life of the justified should be an earnest one. For everything connected with his acceptance has been earnest on the part of God; and the free forgiveness on which he has entered, in believing, nerves, and cheers, and animates. It is a spring of courage, and hardihood, and perseverance. It makes the coward brave; it says to the weak, Be strong; to the indolent, Arise; making the forgiving man ready to face danger, and toil, and loss; arming him with a new-found energy, and crowning him with sure success. “Ready to spend and be spent” is his motto now. “I am debtor” is his watch-word , debtor first of all to Him who forgave me; after that, to the church of God, redeemed with the same blood, and filled with the same Spirit; and then after that to the world around, still sunk in sin and struggling with a thousand sorrows, under which it has no comforter, and of whose termination it has no hope. How thoroughly in earnest should be the life of one thus pardoned,—pardoned so freely, yet at such a cost to Him who “gave His life a ransom for many!”
The life of the justified should be a generous one. All connected with his justification has been boundless generosity on the part of God. He spared not His own Son, and will He not with Him also freely give us all things? The love of God has been of the largest, freest kind; and shall this not make us generous? The gifts of God have been all of them on the most unlimited scale; and shall not this boundless liberality make us liberal in the highest and truest sense? Can a justified man be covetous, or slow to part with his gold? God has given His Son; He has given His Spirit; He has given us eternal life; He has given us an everlasting kingdom. And shall these gifts not tell upon us? shall they not expand and elevate us? or shall they leave us narrow and shriveled as before? Surely we are called to a noble life; a life far above the common walk of humanity; a life far above that of those who, disbelieving the liberality of God, are trying to merit His favour, or to purchase His kingdom by moral goodnesses or ceremonial performances of their own. Not unselfish merely, but self-denying men, we are called to be; not self-pleasers, nor man-pleasers, nor flesh-pleasers, nor world-pleasers; but pleasers of God, like Enoch (Heb 11:5), or like a greater than Enoch, as it is written, “Even Christ pleased not Himself” (Rom 15:3). “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and NOT TO PLEASE OURSELVES; let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification,” i.e. to the edification or building up of the body of Christ (Rom 15:2). Selfishness, self-love, self-seeking, have been in all ages the scandal of the church of God. “All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's” (Phil 2:21), was the sad testimony of the apostle to the Philippian church, even in early days: so little had God's marvelous love told even upon those who believed it; so obstinate was the contraction of the human heart, and so unwilling to yield to the enlarging pressure of an influence which men in common things deem irresistible. To love warmly, to give largely, to sympathize sincerely, to help unselfishly; these are some of the noble fruits to be expected from the belief of a love that passeth knowledge. Self-sacrifice ought not to seem much to those for whom Christ has died, and whom He now represents upon the throne. Generous deeds and gifts and words ought to be as natural as they are becoming in those who have been so freely loved, so abundantly pardoned, and so eternally blest. Narrow hearts are the fruits of a narrow pardon, and of an uncertain favour; poor gifts are the produce of stinted and grudging giving; but large-heartedness and open-handedness may surely be looked for from those whom the boundless liberality of God has made partakers of the unsearchable riches of Christ, and heirs of the kingdom which can not be moved.
The life of the justified should be a lofty one. Littleness, and meanness, and earthliness, do not become the pardoned. They must mount up on wings as eagles, setting their affection on things above. Having died with Christ and risen with Him, they sit with Him in heavenly places (Eph 2:6). In the world, and yet not of it, they rise above it; possessed of a heavenly citizenship (Phil 3:20), and expecting an unearthly recompense at the return of Him who has gone to prepare a place for them. High thoughts, high aims, high longings, become them of whom Christ was not merely the substitute upon the cross, but the representative upon the throne,—the forerunner, who has entered within the veil, and ever liveth to intercede for us. Shall he who has been freely justified grovel in the dust, or creep along the polluted soil of earth? Shall such a justification as he has received not be the source of superhuman elevation of character, making him unworldly in his hopes, in his tastes, in his works, in the discharge of his daily calling? Shall not such a justification act upon his whole being, and pervade his life; making him a thoroughly consistent man in all things; each part of his course becoming his name and prospects; and his whole man symmetrical, his whole Christianity harmonious?
The life of the justified is a decided one. It does not oscillate between goodness and evil, between Christ and the world. The justifying cross has come between him and all evil things; and that which released him from the burden of guilt has, in so doing, broken the bondage of sin. Even if at any time he feels as if he could return to that country from which he set out, the cross stands in front, and arrests his backward step. Between him and Egypt rolls the Red Sea, now flowing in its strength, so that he cannot pass. At the door of the theatre, or the ballroom, or the revel-hall, stands the cross, and forbids his entrance. The world is crucified to him, and he unto the world, by the saving cross. His first look to the cross committed him. He began, and he cannot go back. It would be mean as well as perilous to do so. There is henceforth to be no mistake about him. His heart is no longer divided, and his eye no longer roams. He has taken up the cross, and he is following the Lamb. He has gone in at the strait gate, and is walking along the narrow way; and at the entrance thereof stands the cross barring his return. Over his entrance there was joy in heaven; and shall he at any time turn that joy into sorrow by even seeming to go back?
The life of the justified is a useful one. He has become a witness for Him who has thrown over him the shadow of His cross. He can tell what the bitterness of sin is, and what is the burden of guilt. He can speak of the rolling away of the stone from the sepulchre of his once dead soul, and of the angel sitting on that stone clothed in light. He can make known the righteousness which he has found, and in finding which he has been brought into liberty and gladness. Out of the abundance of his heart, and in the fullness of his liberated spirit, his mouth speaketh. He cannot but speak of the things which he now possesses, that he may induce others to come and share the fullness. He is bent on doing good. He has no hours to throw away. He knows that the time is short, and he resolves to redeem it. He will not waste a life that has been redeemed at such a cost. It is not his own, and he must keep in mind the daily responsibilities of a life thus bought for another. As one of the world's lights, in the absence of the true light, he must be always shining, to lessen in some degree the darkness of earth, and to kindle heavenly light in souls who are now excluding it. As one of the sowers of the heavenly seed, he must never be idle, but watching opportunities,—making opportunities for sowing it as he goes out and in; it may be in weakness, it may be in tears.
The life of the justified is the life of wisdom and truth. He has become “wise in Christ”; nay, “Christ has been made unto him wisdom” as well as righteousness. It is thus that he has become “wise unto salvation,” and he feels that he must hold fast the truth that saves. To trifle with that truth, to tamper with error, would be to deny the cross. He by whom he is justified is Himself THE TRUTH, and every man who receives that truth becomes a witness for it. By THE TRUTH he is saved; by THE TRUTH he is made free; by THE TRUTH he is made clean; by THE TRUTH he is sanctified; and therefore it is precious to him, every jot and tittle. Each fragment broken off is so much lost to his spiritual well-being; and each new discovery made in the rich field of truth is so much eternal gain. He has bought the truth, and he will not sell it. It is his life; it is his heritage; it is his kingdom. He counts all truth precious, and all error hateful. He dreads the unbelief that is undermining the foundations of truth, and turning its spacious palaces into the chaos of human speculations. He calls no truth obsolete or out of date; for he knows that the truths on which he rests for eternity are the oldest of old, and yet the surest of sure. To introduce doubt as to the one sacrifice on which he builds, is to shake the cross of Calvary. To lay another foundation than that already laid, is to destroy his one hope. To take the sacrificial element out of the blood, is to make peace with God impossible, because unrighteous. To substitute the church for Christ, or the priest for the herald of pardon, or the rite for the precious blood, or the sacrament for the living Christ upon the throne, or the teachings of the church for the enlightenment of the Holy Ghost,—this is to turn light into darkness, and then to call that darkness light. Thus taught by that Spirit who has led him to the cross, the justified man knows how to discern truth from error. He has the unction from the Holy One, and knows all things (1 John 2:20); he has the anointing which is truth, and is no lie (1 John 2:27); and he can try the spirits, whether they are of God (1 John 4.1).
Want of sensitiveness to the difference between truth and error is one of the evil features of modern Protestantism. Sounding words, well-executed pictures, pretentious logic, carry away multitudes. The distinction between Gospel and no Gospel is very decided and very momentous; yet many will come away from a sermon in which the free gospel has been overlaid, not sensible of the want, and praising the preacher. The conversions of recent years have not the depth of other days. Consciences are half-awakened and half-pacified; the wound is slightly laid open, and slightly healed. Hence the want of spiritual discernment as to truth and error. The conscience is not sensitive, else it would at once refuse and resent any statement, however well argued or painted, which encroached in the slightest degree upon the free gospel of God's love in Christ; which interposed any obstacle between the sinner and the cross; or which merely declaimed about the cross, without telling us especially how it saves and how it purifies. We need sensitive but not morbid consciences to keep us steadfast in the faith, to preserve our spiritual eyesight unimpaired, remembering the apostle's words, “He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off and bath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (2 Pet 1:9). Censoriousness is one thing, and spiritual discernment is quite another. To avoid the first we do not need to give up the second: though the “liberality” of modern times would recommend us to be charitable to error, and not very tenacious of any Bible truth, seeing that nothing in an age of culture can be received but that which has been pronounced credible by philosophy or science, and which the “verifying faculty” has adjudged to be true!
The life of the justified must be one of praise and prayer. His justification has drawn him near to God. It has opened his lips and enlarged his heart. He cannot but praise; he cannot but pray. He has ten thousand things to ask for; he has ten thousand things for which to give thanks. He knows what it is to speak in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in his heart to the Lord (Col 3:16).
The life of the justified is one of watchfulness. Forgiveness has altered all his circumstances and hopes. It has brought him into a new world, from which are shut out things he was formerly familiar with, and into which are introduced things which he knew not. He sees and hears what he never saw nor heard before; and he ceases to see and hear what but lately he delighted in. He expects changes, and wishes that they were come. The present has become less to him, the future more; and in that future the one absorbing object is the reappearing of Him, whom not having seen he loves. That the future should be a mere repetition of the present,—with a few scientific and political improvements,—is quite enough for the worldly man. But the man who, by his new connection with the cross, has been transported into a new region, is not content that it should be so. He wants a better future, and a more congenial world; he desires a state of things in which the new object of his love shall be all. And learning from Scripture that such a new condition of things is to be expected, and that of that new state Christ is Himself to be the first and last, he looks eagerly out for the fulfillment of these hopes. Learning, moreover, that the arrival of this King and of His kingdom is to be sudden, he is led to wait and watch; all the more because everything here, in the world's daily history of change, and noise and revelry, is fitted to throw him off his guard. His justification does not lull him asleep. His faith does not make him heedless of the future. It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. It says, Let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober: watch, for ye know neither the day nor the hour when the Son of man cometh. Many a trial of her watchfulness has the church had, many a disappointment has her faith sustained; but she does not despond nor give way, remembering the promise, “He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.” Her faith keeps up her vigilance, and her vigilance invigorates her faith. In the darkest hour faith says, “I am my Beloved's, and my Beloved is mine”; and hope adds, “Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of spices.”
The church watches because of present evil, and coming good; that she may be kept undefiled from the one, and may attain unto the other. Danger from enemies, and the prospect of speedy victory over them, keep her awake. Fear of losing sight of the cross, and so again walking in darkness; suspicion both of the good and the evil things of earth,—its flatteries and its menaces, it toils, its cares, its amusements, its pleasures; anxiety about keeping her garments unspotted and her conscience clean; the sight of the sleeping millions around, and the knowledge that it is upon a sleeping world that the Lord is to come;—these things act powerfully as stimulants, and bid her be watchful. To be among the foolish virgins, without oil and with a dying lamp, when the midnight cry goes forth; to be near the door, and yet shut out; to hear the announcement, “The marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready,” and yet not be ready; to be summoned to the festival, and yet to be without the bridal and festal dress; to love, and then to fall from love; to draw the sword, and then in faint-heartedness to sheath it; to run well for a while, and then to slacken speed; to war against Satan as the prince of darkness, and yield to him as an angel of light; to set out with condemning the world, and then to mingle with it; to cleave like Demas to the saints, and then to forsake them; to be among the twelve for a season, then to be a traitor at the last; to be lifted up, like Capernaum, to heaven, and then to be thrust down to hell; to be among the sons of light, and then to fall from heaven like Lucifer, son of the morning; to sit down in the upper chamber with the Lord, and then to betray the Son of man with a kiss; to put on a goodly garment of fair profession, and then to walk naked in shame;—these are the solemn thoughts that crowd in upon the justified man, and keep him watchful.
They who know not what it is to be “accepted in the Beloved,” and to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God,” may fall asleep. He dare not; he knows what he is risking, and what one hour of slumber may cost him; and he must be wakeful. He does not make election his opiate, and say, I am safe; but this only makes me doubly vigilant, that I may not dishonor Him who has saved me; and even though I may not finally fall away, I know not how much I may lose by one day's slothfulness, or how much I may gain by maintaining that watchful attitude to which, as the expectant of an absent Lord, I am called, “Blessed is he that watcheth”; and even though I could not see the reason for this, I will act upon it, that I may realize the promised blessedness. He who has called me to vigilance can make me a partaker of its joy. He can make my watch-tower, lonely and dark as it may seem, none other than the house of God, and the very gate of heaven.
Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). In 1853 Bonar earned the Doctor of Divinity degree at the University of Aberdeen.
He entered the Ministry of the Church of Scotland. At first he was put in charge of mission work at St. John's parish in Leith and settled at Kelso. He joined the Free Church at the time of the Disruption of 1843, and in 1867 was moved to Edinburgh to take over the Chalmers Memorial Church (named after his teacher at college, Dr. Thomas Chalmers). In 1883, he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland.
He was a voluminous and highly popular author. He also served as the editor for “The Quarterly journal of Prophecy” from 1848 to 1873 and for the “Christian Treasury” from 1859 to 1879. In addition to many books and tracts wrote a number of hymns, many of which, e.g., “I heard the voice of Jesus say” and “Blessing and Honour and Glory and Power,” became known all over the English-speaking world. A selection of these was published as Hymns of Faith and Hope (3 series). His last volume of poetry was My Old Letters. Bonar was also author of several biographies of ministers he had known, including “The Life of the Rev. John Milne of Perth” in 1869, - and in 1884 “The Life and Works of the Rev. G. T. Dodds”, who had been married to Bonar's daughter and who had died in 1882 while serving as a missionary in France.
This article is Chapter 10 of Bonar's The Everlasting Righteousness.
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