Comfort in Affliction
See all of Meditation 4, pp. 62-79, here are some excerpts:
“He that cometh to Me, I will in no wise cast out”
…he is apt to think that something must be done by him, before he is warranted to embrace the offer of the Gospel, or to trust Christ as his Savior. Hence, encouraged, on the one hand, by the possibility of his being saved, and distracted, on the other, by the supposed necessity of fulfilling certain conditions before he is warranted to take God’s invitation to himself, he derives little or no immediate comfort from the simple message of the Gospel, and remains for a time at a distance from Christ, or only fearfully looking to Him as one that may ultimately be his Savior. To an inquirer in these circumstances, nothing can be more useful than to set before him a clear view of the warrant of faith, or of the ground on which he is encouraged at once, and without any delay, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and to come to Him for pardon and peace.
1. The first ground on which the most disconsolate inquirer may be encouraged to return to God, through Christ, without delay, is the character of God, as it is revealed in his Word. That character is set forth in Scripture in a variety of aspects, which are all fitted to conciliate the love, and to secure the confidence of sinners. Let every serious inquirer consider the testimony of God in this matter:
‘The Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with Moses there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands,’ [Ex. 34:5]
it follows, indeed,
‘that He will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation.’
How far the last words of this sublime passage should affect the faith and hope of a sinner under the Christian dispensation, will be considered hereafter; meanwhile, let us give due weight to the former part of the passage, in which God’s love and mercy are declared with a fulness and variety of expression which leave no room for unbelieving doubt or suspicion. His very name is ‘the Lord God merciful and gracious;’ He is declared to be ‘abundant in goodness;’ He is said to be ‘keeping mercy for thousands.’ Nor is this a solitary passage, different from the general tenor of God’s Word: his character is delineated in the same way in so many places, that our chief difficulty consists in making a selection of the most striking and impressive proofs…
‘As I live, says the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.’ [Eze. 33:11]
If we look to the Evangelists, we see there recorded the words of Christ Himself:
‘God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.’ [John 3:17]
‘And this is the will of Him that sent me, that everyone which sees the Son and believes on Him, may have everlasting life.’
And finally, let us hear the testimony of the Apostles: ‘God is love,’ [1 John 4:8] says John; ‘God is rich in mercy,’ [Eph. 2:4] says Paul; ‘the Lord is very pitiful and of tender mercy,’ [James 5:11] says James; ‘the Lord is long-suffering to us-ward,’ says Peter, ‘not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.’ [2 Pet. 3:9] Thus the unanimous testimony of the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets of the Old Testament, the Evangelists, and the Apostles of the New, bears witness to God’s character, as a Being of manifold mercies, whose very name is love; and a clear apprehension and cordial belief of this great truth, would do much to remove all the scruples and fears which prevent many an anxious inquirer from coming to Him for life and salvation… The proper effect of such a character, when seen in all its glorious excellency, is to banish distrust and suspicion, and to awaken admiring love, and childlike confidence. The kindness or benignity of an earthly friend produces these feelings, and his very character is regarded as a sufficient warrant for our going to Him in a time of straits, and frankly laying before him our difficulties and wants, in the assurance, that his kindness will prompt him to listen to our request, and to take an interest in our case. Why is it otherwise with us when God is concerned, unless it be that we either do not sufficiently understand the benignity of his nature, or are suspicious of the sincerity of his kindness? Did we really believe God to be so very gracious and merciful a Being as his Word declares Him to be; did we realize his infinite love, and were we assured that his love is perfectly sincere… The evil is, that even when the grace and mercy of God are not formally called in question, there often remains in the heart an undefined and vague suspicion of his sincerity, or an idea that his love is wavering and uncertain, if not capricious, in its exercise; and hence, all the cheering influence which the light of his love might exert on us, is destroyed by the intervention of our own dark unbelief, just as the rays of the sun are intercepted, and their influence diminished, by the dense vapors and thick clouds of the sky.
II. God’s declared satisfaction with the redemption of Christ, affords a warrant and encouragement to the sinner, such as should banish all the fears which even a correct and scriptural sense of God’s holiness and justice may have awakened in his mind…
..for am I not guilty? and if He will by no means clear the guilty, what avails it me that He is merciful and gracious? I am irrecoverably ruined and undone…
..lest the peculiar heinousness of any man’s sins should discourage him, He has given forth that gracious declaration, ‘the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin.’
III. Remembering, then, God’s gracious and merciful character, and his declared satisfaction with Christ’s redemption as the ground of pardon, let us consider the language in which He now speaks to sinners from the mercy-seat, and we shall find in his invitations a full warrant for confidence and trust. Both God and Christ invite sinners to draw near in such terms as leave no room and no apology for refusing. These invitations are frequently repeated, and given in every variety of form, the best fitted to remove our doubts, and secure our confidence. They are addressed to sinners as such, and to all sinners, without exception, to whom the gospel is sent, insomuch that it may well be said, that if there be a man on earth who is not a sinner, to him only are they not applicable; but to every man that is a sinner, and just because he is a sinner, they are addressed. Let us listen, then, to the gracious terms in which God speaks to sinners from the mercy-seat, and let us listen to them as if God spoke to us alone.
‘Ho! everyone that thirsts, come ye to the waters, and he that has no money: come ye, but and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money, and without price.’ [Isa. 55:1]
‘Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.’ [Isa. 55:3]
‘Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon Him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.’ [Isa. 55:6]
‘Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live? Say unto them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?’ [Eze. 33:11]
‘Come unto me,’ says Christ Himself, ‘all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ [Matt 11:28]
‘In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any many thirst let him come unto me and drink.’ [John 7:37]
‘And the Spirit (the Holy Ghost) and the bride (the Church universal) say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.’ [Rev. 22:17]
One might think that these plain and express Scriptures should banish all unbelieving doubt and suspicion; for in them God speaks, Christ speaks, the Church speaks, and all say, Come; but as if a mere permission or invitation were not enough, the apostle represents God as beseeching or entreating us to come.
‘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 unto God.’ [2 Cor. 5:20]
Now let me ask my doubting spirit, What reason can justify your refusal to come to God in Christ, or what excuse can be offered, when so plain a warrant is given, for hesitation or delay? Thou art a sinner, true; but if you were not a sinner, you would not need to be saved, the Gospel would not have been addressed to you. You are a great sinner, be it so; but is not Christ a great Savior too? You know not whether you name be written in the book of life, true; but God speaks to you in his Word; and unless you are prepared to avow a suspicion of God’s sincerity, you know that He has invited you to draw near; and if, notwithstanding, you refuse, what other account can be given of you, than that which the Lord gave of the unbelieving Jews, ‘Ye are not willing to come to me that ye might have life?’
IV. Besides the revealed character of God, and his declared satisfaction with the Redeemer’s work, and his free and affectionate invitations to sinners, another ground of encouragement may be found in the assurance which he has given of success, confirmed, as that assurance is, by the recorded experience of all who have ever put God’s faithfulness to the proof…
Ask any Christian friend, Had you any special revelation; were you told that your name was in the book of life; or, what encouraged you to come to Christ? and he will answer, I had no revelation, but that which is in your hands; I had no insight into the secrets of God’s decrees; but I read the Bible; I heard God speaking to sinners in the Word, I knew myself to be a sinner, and that God spoke to me; I believed his Word, because I judged Him faithful that had promised; I came to Him on the warrant of his own invitation, and I have found, in my blessed experience, that ‘there failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken, all came to pass.’
Such will be the testimony of every child of God. It is true, indeed, that even when the warrant is clear, the sinner may find that there is something in the state of his own mind that hinders him from complying with the gracious invitation…
V. Finally, if we be still in doubt as to our warrant to come to Christ at once, and without delay, let us consider, that this is not only in Scripture the matter of permission and of encouragement, but the subject of an express command. It is not a mere privilege which we are at liberty to enjoy; it is a duty which we cannot neglect or trifle with, without incurring guilt and condemnation. It is given in the shape of a precept, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved;’ and, lest this should be regarded as partaking more of the nature of an advice than of an injunction, it is expressly called a commandment, ‘This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son, Jesus Christ.’ That this commandment imposes an imperative obligation on every sinner, appears from the word which is frequently used in Scripture to denote the reception of the Gospel message; it is called obeying the Gospel, or the obedience of faith; and that guilt is incurred by trifling with that message, or refusing to comply with is, appears from our Lord’s solemn statement,
‘He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he has not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.’
He who reflects on such passages, should need little urgency to be persuaded as to his warrant to go to Christ without delay. He may well say, this is no light matter, it is a matter of life or death: if God had only invited me to come to Him, that might have been sufficient; but when He commanded me, there is no room left for hesitation. I might have felt, had He only given a general permission, that it would have been presumption in so great a sinner as I am, to close with it, or to plead it at his throne; but if it would have been presumption to take his gracious promises to myself, is there not greater presumption in setting myself against his positive command, in refusing to believe when He makes it a matter of express duty? There is now no room for hesitation or delay. He has spoken graciously to me, He has invited me to draw near, He has commanded me to seek his face, He has charged me, at the peril of condemnation, to betake myself to Christ as my Savior; and I will venture, ‘Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.’
Oh! when the poor sufferer, stunned and confounded by the heavy strokes of providence, or lacerated by the keener strokes of conviction in his soul, is almost distracted by the terrors of the Lord, is it not a comfort to him in his affliction, that Jesus Himself has said, ‘Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest;’ and, ‘him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out?’ He calls us to come to Him with our burden, let it be the burden of guilt, or the burden of sorrow, or the burden of fear, to come and lay it down at the foot of his cross; and, lest the disconsolate spirit should fear that he will not be made welcome, Jesus assures him, that ‘He will IN NO WISE cast him out.” Oh! how sweet and consoling that invitation, and this assurance, to those who are sensible of their condition as sinners and as sufferers; and how should we respond to it, if not in the language of the apostle, ‘To whom, Lord, can we go but unto thee? thou has the words of eternal life.’
The Office and Work of the Holy Spirit,
p.45, Banner of Truth edition
Of every man who reads or hears the Gospel, it may be affirmed that there is nothing betwixt him and salvation, except his own unwillingness to be saved. ‘Ye are not willing to come to me, that ye might have life,’ – that is the Savior’s charge and complaint. ‘Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely,’ – that is the Savior’s call and invitation. The warrant of every sinner top believe in Christ to the saving of the soul is clear, it is written as with a sunbeam in Scripture: it [the legal warrant] lies wholly in the Word, which is the Spirit’s message and not at all in the Spirit’s witness in the heart. The warrant of the Word is ample; but if any feels that, even with this warrant in his hand [the gospel having been preached in his ears], there is something within which keeps him back – a depraved heart, a rebellious will, a reluctant spirit – oh! let him acknowledge his own helplessness, and cast himself, with the simplicity of a little child, on the grace of the Spirit of God!
Chapter 5, The Work of the Spirit in Convincing the Conscience, p. 138-140, 1842 edition
Even in the case of men who are never savingly converted, conviction of sin may not be the mere fruit of natural conscience, but the effect of a common work of the Spirit on their minds. Many seem to suppose that the Spirit of God never operates except where He accomplishes the whole work of conversion; but there are not a few passages in Scripture which seem to imply, that souls which are never converted, may nevertheless be the subjects of His convincing power. They are convinced and reproved, not only be the light of natural conscience, not only by the outward light of God’s Word, but by the inward application of that truth to their consciences by the power of the Spirit of God. It is surely not unreasonable to believe that the Spirit of God may operate on their minds in the same way and to the same extent, although for a very different end, as Satan does, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience; presenting the truth even as Satan presents falsehood, applying the motives of conversion even as Satan urges the allurements of sin, while the sinner’s mind is left to make its choice. Accordingly we read of unrenewed men, who under a common work of the Spirit, were once ‘enlightened, and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,’ [Heb. 6:4] who, nevertheless, were not renewed unto repentance, or thoroughly converted to God, of some ‘who sin willfully after they have received the knowledge of the truth,’ and who, on that account, are described as ‘doing despite unto the Spirit of grace.’ [Heb. 10:29] Such persons were not savingly converted, for none who have been renewed and sanctified by the grace of the Spirit, will ever fall away, or come into condemnation; but they did share, notwithstanding, in that work of the Spirit which is ordinarily preparatory to conversion, they may have had some knowledge, some conviction, some impressions from the Spirit of grace, and these are in their own nature good and useful, having a tendency and fitness as a means to prepare their minds for a greater change; and if they fail to subdue their wills to the obedience of Christ, they will serve, at least, to make it manifest, that nothing but their own willingness stood in the way of their being saved. When such convictions decay and die without saving fruit, it is because they are not suitably improved or submissively followed; for it is the law of Christ’s kingdom, that one talent suitably improved, procures another, while the neglect of it incurs its forfeiture, for
‘to him that has shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly; but from him that has not, shall be taken away that which he has.’ [Matt 25:29]
‘For the earth which drinks in the rain that comes oft upon it, and brings forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receives blessing from God; but that which bears thorns and briers is rejected, and is near unto cursing, whose end is to be burned.’ [Heb. 6:8]
It appears, then, that the minds of unconverted men may be the subjects of conviction, of which the Spirit of God Himself is the author; and that they are responsible, not only for the light of natural conscience, nor only for the light of God’s Word, but for that light and those convictions which the Spirit may awaken in their souls. And if this common operation of the Spirit stops short of conversion, it is not because the same motives are not presented to their minds, as to those of other men who are savingly changed, but from their own stubbornness in resisting these motives, and because their will stands out against the work of the Spirit. Here lies the radical difference betwixt the converted and the unconverted: both may be subjects of a convincing work of the Spirit; but in the one the will is stubborn and refuses to yield, while in the other, the will is by God’s sovereign grace effectually subdued, so as to concur with his holy design; so that a real willingness to be renewed and sanctified is the characteristic mark of a new creature. Hence those in whom the conscience is convinced, while the will is unsubdued, are thus described,
‘But they rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit; therefore He was turned to be their enemy, and He fought against them.’ [Isa. 63:10]
‘Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost.’ [Acts 7:51]
And the apostle warns even the professing followers of Christ, in these solemn words,
‘Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.’ [Eph. 4:30]
‘Quench not the Spirit.’ [1 Thess. 5:19]
IV. The word of conviction may be carried on in various ways, and may differ greatly in different cases, but in some degree it is necessary in all to a saving work of conversion. It may be commenced and carried on in various ways. Sometimes it comes on a hardened sinner… his ingratitude for mercies, his inattention to the voice of judgment or of mercy… or a vivid view of God’s justice or of the Savior’s love; in any one or all of these various ways, sound conviction may be wrought in the conscience.
With one class, conviction of sin stops short of thorough conversion. Such conviction was salutary in itself, and had a tendency to lead the sinner onward to a happy change; but its power is resisted, its suggestions stifled, its voice drowned by the clamor of unruly passions. Such convictions are like the startling of a man in sleep, who quickly turns himself back on his pillow, and sinks again into lethargy; or like a sudden flash of lightning, exciting momentary awe and terror, but quickly passing, and leaving all in darkness as before. They may continue for a longer or a shorter period, and may recur at intervals through a long life, but they are ever treated in the same way, and produce no greater effect, they arouse the conscience, but do not conquer the will, they alarm the fears, but do not subdue the heart, they make sin dreadful, but they do not make it hateful to the soul. It loves sin, and hates its convictions; and, therefore, the former is cherished, while the latter are suppressed. Oh! it is a fearful case, when God comes so near to the heart, and the heart is thus willfully closed against Him, and such convictions can neither be resisted without incurring guilt, nor stifled without leaving behind them, like a fire that has been kindled and quenched, the black traces of their power, in their withering and hardening influence on the heart.
An Address to Convinced Sinners, page 155
…the uniform tenor of Scripture, which speaking to you as a sinner, nay, as they very chief of sinners, calls, invites, and entreats you to believe and be saved.
6. Let the convinced sinner acquaint himself more fully with the complete remedy that is proposed to him in the Gospel, for all that is really evil in his present condition.
7. Let the convinced sinner seek a sure personal interest [legal right] in that remedy, by closing [sealing the agreement] with the free offer of the Gospel. Every sinner to whom the Gospel is preached, may be said to have a certain interest in it [that is, legal warrant], as it is presented, exhibited, offered to all, without exception. But a saving personal interest in it depends on its being embraced, accepted, received. The general interest which every sinner has in it, and of which no man can deprive him (for it is given by God Himself), is a sufficient warrant [legal grounds] for his seeking this more peculiar and saving interest; in other words, every sinner who is invited to believe, is warranted and encouraged to believe to the saving of his soul. And he who can so far trust God as to take Him at his word, and to rest in the assurance of his faithfulness and sincerity in making this offer, need not fear, that when he embraces it, it will be withdrawn, or left unfulfilled. But let him not rest in this general persuasion, let him act upon it; and, by a deliberate exercise of mind, and in the most resolute manner let him take Christ as his own Savior, and give up his soul into Christ’s hands; and, ’emboldened by the free invitation which warrants him to take the waters of life freely, let him put in his claim to take Christ home in his person, merit, power, and love, as his own.’ This explicit and distinct closing with Christ, by which the sinner takes him in all the fulness of his offices and benefits, to be pardoned, sanctified, and saved by Him, is the decisive act by which a convinced sinner may secure his safety, and arrive at peace and joy in believing.
Chapter 6, The Work of the Spirit in Renewing the Heart, p. 165
For this preparatory work of instruction and conviction may issue in very different results. Whether it be considered as the fruit of a man’s natural faculties exercised on the truth’s of God’s Word, or as the fruit of a common work of the Spirit on his mind, it is clear that, while it is good and useful in itself, as having a tendency, a fitness as a means in order to conversion, it does nevertheless fall frequently short of it, and terminates without effecting a saving change. The grace of the Holy Spirit has usually been considered and treated of under distinct heads, ‘as preparing, preventing, working, so-working, and confirming.’ [Footnote: ‘[from John] Owen’] And difficult as it may be to assign the reason why the Spirit’s grace is more effectual in some than in others, there can be no difficulty in understanding the cause which render his grace ineffectual in the case of many who are convinced without being converted.
Oh! it is a fearful case, the case of a man, thus enlightened in his understanding, thus convinced in his conscience, thus brought on in the way which leads to conversion, and yet deliberately stopping short willfully turning aside, resolutely resisting all the teaching of God’s Word and Spirit; but it is one which will make it plain on the last day, that, if he perish, it is not because he had no knowledge, and no conviction, but because he has stifled both. To that man may God Himself say, ‘What more could I have done for my vine that I have not done for it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?’ [Isa. 5:4] Even as now, the same God is saying to every such sinner, ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that he turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye; why will ye die, O house of Israel?’
III. Conversion properly consists in a sinner being brought actually, intelligently, and cordially, to close and comply with God’s revealed will on the subject of his salvation.
Some conviction of sin being wrought in the conscience, and some knowledge of God’s truth imparted to the understanding, the sinner is, at the time of his conversion, brought to the point; he comes to a final decision, a decision which implies at once a firm assent of the understanding, in an act of faith, and a full consent of the will, in an act of deliberate choice. He surrenders himself to the power of God’s truth. He submits to God’s revealed will in the matter of his salvation. Convinced that he is a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior… a Savior exhibited and proposed to every sinner in the general doctrines of the Gospel, and declaring his own free and unutterable love in its universal calls and invitations, the sinner, taking that Gospel as his warrant, comes to Christ, closes with Him, embraces Him in all the fullness of his offices, and surrenders himself without reserve into the Savior’s hands, to be washed, and justified, and sanctified according to the terms of the everlasting covenant.
This decisive act of closing with Christ, and complying with God’s revealed will in the matter of our salvation…
The danger of his present state should urge him to pray, and seek, and knock; while the gracious promise of the Holy Spirit should encourage him. That promise is indefinite, and is exhibited and proposed in the general doctrines, and calls, and invitations of the Gospel, so as to afford a sufficient warrant for faith to every sinner in drawing near to God.
…our Lord command, that this doctrine should be preached among all nations, beginning at JERUSALEM. Beginning at Jerusalem! the city of his murderers, the same city whose streets had but recently resounded with the cry, ‘Crucify him! crucify him!’ the city that had called forth his tears, when He wept over it, and said, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but ye would not,’ [Matt 23:37] ‘Oh! that thou hadst known, even thou, in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace, but now they are hid from thine eyes,’ the city, which besides being washed with his tears, was now stained by his blood, that same city, guilty, devoted as it was, was yet to receive the first announcement of the remission of sins, and the Lord’s command was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, when Peter freely proclaimed repentance and the remission of sins even to the very men whom he charged as the murderers of his Lord. To them without exception and without reserve, he proclaimed a full and free salvation; and in this one fact we have a conclusive proof of the perfect freeness of the Gospel, for where is the man now under the Christian ministry whose case is worse than that of the thousands who then received the joyful sound?
Viewing it in this light, John Bunyan, the able author of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ makes a felicitous and powerful application of this part of the Gospel narrative, to remove all the doubts and scruples of those who think themselves too guilty to be saved, or who do not sufficiently understand the perfect freeness of this salvation. He supposes one of those whom Peter addressed, exclaiming, ‘But I was one of those you plotted to take away his life: is there hope for me?’ Another, ‘But I was one of those who bare false witness against Him; is there grace for me?’ A third, ‘But I was one of those who cried out, ‘Crucify him! crucify him!’ can there be hope for me?’ A fourth, But I was one of those that did spit in his face, when he stood before his accusers, and I mocked him when in anguish he hung bleeding on the tree: is there hope for me? A fifth, But I was one who gave him vinegar to drink: is there hope for me? And when, in reply, Peter proclaims, ‘Repent and be baptized EVERY ONE OF YOU for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost; for the promise is unto you and to your children,’ Bunyan thus applies it to the conscience of every sinner: ‘Wherefore, sinner be ruled by me in this matter; feign not thyself another man, if thou hast been a vile sinner. Go in thine own colors to Jesus Christ. Put thyself amongst the most vile, and let him alone, to put thee among the children. Thou art, as it were, called by name, to come for mercy. Thou man of Jerusalem, hearken to the call,’ say, ‘Stand aside, devil, Christ calls me. Stand away, unbelief! Christ calls me. Stand away, all my discouraging apprehensions, for my Savior calls me to receive mercy.’ ‘Christ, as He sits on the throne of grace, points over the heads of thousands directly to such a man, and says, Come, wherefore, since He says come, let the angels make a lane, and all men make room, that the Jerusalem sinner may come to Christ for mercy.’
The Doctrine of Justification
The only warrant of Faith is the Word of God, and that Word is sufficient, not only to entitle every sinner to receive and rest upon Christ for his personal salvation, but to make it his duty to do so without delay.
The question in regard to the warrant of Faith,—or what that is which entitles us to receive and rest upon Christ as our own Saviour,—may be answered, in general terms, by saying that it is the truth revealed. It does not relate to the ground of belief in the Scriptures as the Word of God, or the evidence by which their divine authority is established; that is a previous question, and it is one of primary importance; but it relates, more specially, to the right, or rather the duty, of every one to whom the Gospel is sent, to receive and rest upon Christ for his own salvation. (Appendix 8) His doing so will depend, of course, on his views of the claims of Scripture to be regarded as a revelation of God’s mind and will; and it is to be feared that some remaining doubt on this point lies at the root of that diffidence and distrust which many feel in regard to their warrant to ‘believe and live;’ —but even after that point has been established, and when it is clearly understood that Faith, considered as the belief of divine truth on divine authority, can have its ground and reason only in the Word of God, not a few of the hearers of the Gospel are found to have confused or erroneous ideas as to what that is which entitles them, at once and without any delay, to receive and rest upon Christ as their own Saviour. This generally arises from one or other of two distinct causes;—either from some miserable perversion of the doctrine of Election, which leads them to suppose that, since none but the elect will be saved, they are not entitled to rely on Christ for salvation, until they know that they belong to the number of His people;—or from some equally injurious misapplication of the truth in regard to the great spiritual change which is involved in saving conversion, as if it implied the necessity of certain moral qualifications in the sinner, before he is warranted to receive Christ as his own Savior. Whereas the doctrine of Election,—although it is revealed in Scripture, and should, therefore, be submissively believed, as a truth contained in God’s Word, —has no relation whatever to the warrant of faith, simply because it makes known nothing more than the fact that there is an election according to grace,’ but gives no information in regard to the individuals who belong to it; while ‘the word of the truth of the Gospel’ is addressed, not to any one class of men, but to sinners, as such, and to all sinners without exception, to whom it is sent as the ‘word of salvation.’ That word imposes on every one an immediate and imperative obligation to receive Christ, and to rely upon Him for his own salvation,—an obligation which does not depend in the least on his knowing ‘the secret things which belong to the Lord our God,’ but only and entirely on his knowing ‘the things which are revealed, and which belong to us, and to our children.’ So far as the doctrine of Election is concerned, we have the same warrant of faith on which any one ever believed to the saving of his soul; for, without an immediate personal revelation, such as was vouchsafed to Abraham and to Paul, with special reference to their peculiar vocation to the prophetic or apostolic office, no one needed to know his individual election before he believed, although he might afterwards come to be assured of it,—and, therefore, it was not the secret purpose of God, but the promise of His word, that was regarded as the sole warrant of faith in all ages of the Church. With regard, again, to the spiritual change which is involved in saving conversion, it is not denied,—either that such a change is indispensably necessary,—or that it may not be preceded by a preparatory work of the Spirit in convincing men of sin, and bringing them to feel their need of a Savior; but it is denied that either the one, or the other, is the warrant of faith; for all are warranted to believe, and, for that reason, all are responsible for unbelief, to, whom the Gospel comes; and while it is true that none will actually believe, until they are convinced of sin, so as to feel their need of salvation, and are effectually enabled and persuaded to receive and rest on Christ for it, yet it is the free call, and express command, of the Gospel,—and not anything in themselves, even though it be wrought by the Spirit of God,—which entitles, and even obliges, them to rely at once on Christ, as He is freely offered to them in the inspired Word.
It is not necessary, nor would it be consistent with fact, to deny, that some of the calls and invitations of the Gospel are specially addressed to those who have been convinced of their sin and misery, and have begun to feel their need of a Savior; for there is a peculiar propriety in their being singled out for special encouragement since they are apt, under deep convictions of sin, to ‘write bitter things against themselves,’ and to fall into dejection or despair. Accordingly, some of the most precious passages of Scripture relate to them,—such as these ‘Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden;’ —and ‘whosoever is athirst, let him come unto me and drink.’ But while this specialty is still preserved, the call is nevertheless addressed to sinners universally,—as when it is said, ‘Let the wicked man forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him;’ and when ‘the Spirit and the Bride say, Come,’—with a certain specification, in the first instance—’ whosoever is athirst, let him come,’ but more universally, in the second —and ‘whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.’ The Gospel offer is made to all sinners without any exception; the Gospel promise is made absolutely to ‘all them that believe.’ If their faith may be said to be a condition in order to their final salvation, it is not a condition in order to their warrant to receive and rest upon Christ for salvation; for that warrant consists in the free calls,—the gracious invitations, —and the express commands, of the Gospel, which speaks to sinners, as such, and to every sinner individually, saying, as Paul said to the Philippian gaoler, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and THOU SHALT be saved.’
Appendix, Note 18 for p. 188, on p. 466
That we have given a correct account, in substance, of the nature of that assurance for which the ‘Marrow’ divines [of the early 1700’s] contended as being involved in the essence of faith, and that their doctrine was, in this respect, in harmony with that of the first Reformers, appears from their own explicit statement. They say that ‘the Assembly had in effect excluded from faith that act by which a person appropriates to himself what before lay in common in the Gospel offer, and thereby turned it into ” that general and doubtsome faith ” abjured in our [Scotland’s] National Covenant [of 1638];’ and they state their belief, that ‘receiving and resting upon Christ for salvation implies that assurance, by which it—bad been customary for divines to describe the fiducial act, or appropriating persuasion of faith; and that the Confession doth not exclude all assurance from the essence of faith, but speaks of that kind of assurance which is complex, and contains not only what is included in the direct act of faith, but also what arises from spiritual sensation and rational argumentation.’