Sermon Sunday – George Whitefield – The Almost Christian

October 9, 2011 at 6:30 am | Posted in Sermon Sunday | Leave a comment
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The Almost Christian


by


George Whitefield


(1714-1770)

Acts 26:28 – “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.”

The chapter, out of which the text is taken, contains an admirable account which the great St. Paul gave of his wonderful conversion from Judaism to Christianity, when he was called to make his defense before Festus a Gentile governor, and king Agrippa. Our blessed Lord had long since foretold, that when the Son of man should be lifted up, “his disciples should be brought before kings and rulers, for his name’s sake, for a testimony unto them.” And very good was the design of infinite wisdom in thus ordaining it; for Christianity being, from the beginning, a doctrine of the Cross, the princes and rulers of the earth thought themselves too high to be instructed by such mean teachers, or too happy to be disturbed b such unwelcome truths; and therefore would have always continued strangers to Jesus Christ, and him crucified, had not the apostles, by being arraigned before them, gained opportunities of preaching to them “Jesus and the resurrection.” St. Paul knew full well that this was the main reason, why his blessed Master permitted his enemies at this time to arraign him at a public bar; and therefore, in compliance with the divine will, thinks it not sufficient, barely to make his defense, but endeavors at the same time to convert his judges. And this he did with such demonstration of the spirit, and of power, that Festus, unwilling to be convinced by the strongest evidence, cries out with a loud voice, “Paul, much earning doth make thee mad.” To which the brave apostle (like a true follower of the holy Jesus) meekly replies, I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.” But in all probability, seeing king Agrippa more affected with his discourse, and observing in him an inclination to know the truth, he applies himself more particularly to him. “The king knoweth of these things; before whom also I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him.” And then, that if possible he might complete his wished-for conversion, he with an inimitable strain of oratory, addresses himself still more closely, “King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest them.” At which the passions of the king began to work so strongly, that he was obliged in open court, to own himself affected by the prisoner’s preaching, and ingenuously to cry out, “Paul, almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Continue Reading Sermon Sunday – George Whitefield – The Almost Christian…

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Sermon Sunday – Johnathan Edwards – How to Know If You’re A Real Christian

August 21, 2011 at 8:33 pm | Posted in Sermon Sunday | Leave a comment
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How to Know if You are a Real Christian

by

 Jonathan Edwards
 (1703-1758)

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder.” [James 2:19]

How do you know if you belong to God? We see in these words what some people depend on as an evidence of their acceptance with God. Some people think that they are all right before God if they are not as bad as some evil person. Other people point to their family history or church membership to show that God approves of them. There is an evangelism programme in common use that asks people certain questions. One of the questions is, “Suppose you were to die today. Why should God let you into his heaven?”  A very common response is, “I believe in God.” Apparently the apostle James knew people who said the same thing: I know I am in God’s favor, because I know these religious doctrines.

Of course James admits that this knowledge is good. Not only is it good, but it is also necessary. Nobody can be a Christian who doesn’t believe in God; and more than that, the One True God. This is particularly true for those who had the great advantage of actually knowing the apostle, someone who could tell them of his first-hand experience with Jesus, the Son of God. Imagine the great sin of a person, who knew James, and then refused to believe in God!  Certainly this would make their damnation greater. Of course, all Christians know that this belief in the One God is only the start of good things because “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Heb. 11:6.)

However, James is clear that although this belief a good thing, it is definitely not proof that a person is saved. What he means is this: “You say you are a Christian and you are in God’s favor. You think God will let you into heaven, and the proof of it is, you believe in God. But that is no evidence at all, because the demons also believe, and they are sure to be punished in hell.”

The demons believe in God, you can be sure of that! They not only believe that He exists, but they believe that God is a holy God, a sin-hating God, a God of truth, who has promised judgments, and who will carry out his vengeance upon them. This is the reason the demons “shudder” or tremble–they know God more clearly than most human beings do, and they are afraid. Nevertheless, nothing in the mind of man, that devils may experience as well, is any sure sign of God’s grace in our hearts.

This reasoning may be easily turned around. Suppose demons could have, or find within themselves, something of God’s saving grace-proof they would go to heaven. This would prove James wrong. But how absurd! The Bible makes it clear that demons have no hope of salvation, and their believing in God does not take away their future punishment. Therefore believing in God is not proof of salvation for demons, and it is safe to say, not for people, either.

Demons Have a Knowledge of God.

This is seen even more clearly when we think about what demons are like. They are unholy: anything that they experience, cannot be a holy experience. The devil is perfectly wicked. “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (1 John 3:8 ) Therefore the demons are called evil spirits, unclean spirits, powers of darkness, and so on. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12)

So it is plain that anything in the minds of demons cannot be holy, or lead to true holiness by itself. The demons clearly know many things about God and religion, but they do not have a holy knowledge. The things they know in their minds may make impressions in their hearts- indeed we do see that the demons have very strong feelings about God; so strong, in fact, that they “shudder.” But they are not holy feelings because they have nothing to do with the work of the Holy Spirit. If this is true of the experience of demons, it is also true of the experience of men.

Notice this, that it does not matter how genuine, sincere, and powerful these thoughts and feelings are. Demons, being spiritual creatures, know God in a way that men on earth cannot. Their knowledge of God’s existence is more concrete than any man’s knowledge could be. Because they are locked in battle with the forces of good, they have a sincerity of knowledge as well. On one occasion Jesus cast out some demons. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” (Mat 8:29) What could possibly be a more clear-cut experience than this? However, while their thoughts and feelings are genuine and powerful, they are not holy.

Also we can see that the holy objects of their thoughts doesn’t make their thoughts and feelings holy. The demons know God exists! Matthew 8:29 shows they know more about Jesus than many people do! They are thoroughly that Jesus will judge them some day, because He is holy. But it is clear that genuine, sincere, and powerful thoughts and feelings about holy, spiritual things, is no proof of God’s grace in the heart. Demons have these things, and look forward to eternal punishment in hell. If men have no more than what the demons have, they will suffer in the same way.

Knowledge of God alone is no proof of salvation.

We may make several conclusions based on these truths. First, that no matter how much people may know about God and the Bible, it is no sure sign of salvation. The devil before his fall, was one of the bright and morning stars, a flame of fire, one excelling in strength and wisdom. (Isa. 14:12, Ezek. 28:12-19) Apparently, as one of the chief angels, Satan knew much about God. Now that he is fallen, his sin has not destroyed his memories from before. Sin does destroy the spiritual nature, but not the natural abilities, such as memory. That the fallen angels do have many natural abilities may be seen from many Bible verses, for example Eph 6:12 “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” In the same way, the Bible says that Satan is “more crafty” than other created beings. (Gen 3:1, also 2 Cor. 11:3, Acts 13:10)

Therefore we can see that the Devil has always had great mental ability and is able to know much about God, the visible and invisible world, and many other things. Since his job in the beginning was to be a chief angel before God, it is only natural that understanding these things has always been of first importance to him, and that all his activities have to do with these areas of thoughts, feelings, and knowledge.

Because it was his original employment to be one of the angels before the very face of God, and sin does not destroy the memory, it is clear that Satan knows more about God than just about any other created being. After the fall, we can see from his activities as a tempter, etc., (Matt 4:3) that he has been spending his time increasing his knowledge and its practical applications. That his knowledge is great can be seen in how tricky he is when tempting people. The craftiness of his lies shows how clever he is. Surely he could not manage his deceit so well without an actual and true knowledge of the facts.

This knowledge of God and his works is from the very beginning. Satan was there from the Creation, as Job 38:47 shows: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. . .while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” So he must know much about the way God created the world, and how He governs all the events in the universe. Furthermore, Satan has seen how God has worked his plan of redemption in the world; and not as an innocent bystander, but as an active enemy of God’s grace. He saw God work in the lives of Adam and Eve, in Noah, Abraham, and David. He must have taken a special interest in the life of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of men, the Word of God incarnate. How closely did he watch Christ? How carefully did he observe his miracles and listen to His words? This is because Satan has set himself against Christ’s work, and it is to his torment and anguish that Satan has watched Christ’s work unfold successfully.

Satan, then, knows much about God and God’s work. He knows heaven first-hand. He knows hell also, with personal knowledge as its first resident, and has experienced its torments for all these thousands of years. He must have a great knowledge of the Bible: at the least, we can see he knew enough to try tempting our Saviour. Furthermore, he has had years of studying of the hearts of men, his battlefield where he fights against our Redeemer. What labours, exertions, and cares the Devil has used over the centuries as he has deceived men. Only a being with his knowledge and experience of God’s working, and the human heart, could so imitate true religion and transform himself into an angel of light. (2 Cor 11:14)

Therefore we can see that there is no amount of knowledge of God and religion that could prove a person has been saved from their sin. A man may talk about the Bible, God, and the Trinity. He may be able to preach a sermon about Jesus Christ and everything He has done. Imagine, somebody might be able to speak about the way of salvation and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of sinners, perhaps even enough to show others how to become Christians. All these things might build up the church and enlighten the world, yet it is not a sure proof of the saving grace of God in a person’s heart.

It also may be seen that for people to merely agree with the Bible is no sure sign of salvation. James 2:19 shows that the demons really, truly, believe the truth. Just as they believe there is one God, they agree with all the truth of the Bible. The devil is not a heretic: all the articles of his faith are firmly established in the truth.

It must be understood, that when the Bible talks about believing that Jesus is the Son of God, as a proof of God’s grace in the heart, the Bible means not a mere agreement with the truth, but another kind of believing. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (1 John 5:1) This other kind of believing is called “the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.” (Titus 1:1) There is a spiritual holding to the truth, which will be explained later on.

Religious experiences are no proof of salvation.

Some people have strong religious experiences, and think of them as proof of God’s working in their hearts. Often these experiences give people a sense of the importance of the spiritual world, and the reality of divine things. However, these, too, are no sure proof of salvation. Demons and damned human beings have many spiritual experiences which have a great effect on their heart attitudes. They live in the spiritual world and see first-hand what it is like. Their sufferings show them the worth of salvation and the worth of a human soul in the most powerful way imaginable. The parable in Luke chapter 16 teaches this clearly, as the suffering man asks that Lazarus might be sent to tell his brothers to avoid this place of torment. No doubt people in hell now have a distinct idea of the vastness of eternity, and of the shortness of life. They are completely convinced that all the things of this life are unimportant when compared to the experiences of the eternal world.

People now in hell have a great sense of the preciousness of time, and of the wonderful opportunities people have, who have the privilege of hearing the Gospel. They are completely aware of the foolishness of their sin, of neglecting opportunities, and ignoring the warnings of God. When sinners find out by personal experience the final result of their sin there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 13:42) So even the most powerful religious experiences are not a sure sign of God’s grace in the heart.

Demons and damned people also have a strong sense of God’s majesty and power. God’s power is most clearly displayed in his execution of divine vengeance upon his enemies. “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath-prepared for destruction?” (Rom 9:22) Shuddering, the devils await their final punishment, under the strongest sense of God’s majesty. They feel it now, of course, but in the future it will show to the greatest degree, when the Lord Jesus “is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” (2 Thess 2:7) On that day, they will desire to be run away, to be hidden from the presence of God. “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him.” (Rev 1:7) So everyone will see him in the glory of His Father. But, obviously, not all who see him will be saved.

Objection #1- People are different from demons.

Now it is possible that some people might object to all this, saying that ungodly men in this world are quite different from demons. They are under different circumstances and are different kind of beings. An objector might say, “Those things that are visible and present to demons are invisible and future to men. Besides, people have the disadvantage of having bodies, which restrain the soul, and keep people from seeing these spiritual things first-hand. Therefore, even if demons do have a great knowledge and personal experience of the things of God, and have no grace, the conclusion does not apply to me.” Or, put another way: if people have these things in this life, it may very well be a sure sign of God’s grace in their hearts.

In reply, it is agreed that no man in this life has ever had the degree of these things as the demons have them. No person has ever shuddered, with the same amount of fear that the demons shudder with. No man, in this life, can ever have the same kind of knowledge that the Devil has. It is clear that demons and damned men understand the vastness of eternity, and the importance of the other world, more than any living person, and so they crave salvation all the more.

But we can see that men in this world can have experiences of the same kind as those of demons and damned people. They have the same mental outlook, the same opinions and emotions, and the same kind of impressions on the mind and heart. Notice, that for the apostle James it is a convincing argument. He claims that if people think believing in one God is proof of God’s grace, it is not proof, because demons believe the same. James is not referring to the act of believing only, but also to the emotions and actions that go along with their belief. Shuddering is an example of emotions from the heart. This shows that if people have the same kind of mental outlook, and respond from the heart in the same way, it is no sure sign of grace.

The Bible does not state how much people in this world may see God’s glory, and not have God’s grace in their hearts. We are not told exactly to what degree God reveals himself to certain people, and how much they will respond in their hearts. It is very tempting to say that if a person has a certain amount of religious experience, or a certain amount of truth, they must be saved. Perhaps it is even possible for some unsaved people to have greater experiences than some of those who have grace in their hearts! So it is wrong to look at experience or knowledge in terms of amount. Men who have a genuine work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts have experiences and knowledge of a different kind.

Objection #2- People can have religious feelings that demons cannot.

At this point, someone might answer these thoughts by saying, “I agree with you. I see that believing in God, seeing His majesty and holiness, and knowing that Jesus died for sinners is not proof of grace in my heart. I agree that demons can know these things as well. But I have some things they don’t have. I have joy, peace, and love. Demons can’t have them, so that must show that I am saved.”

Yes, it is true that you have something more than a demon can have, but it is nothing better than a demon could have. A person’s experience of love, joy, etc., may not be because they have any cause in them different from a demon, but just different circumstances. The causes, or origins, of their feelings are the same. This is why these experiences are no better than those of demons. To explain further:

All the things that were discussed before about demons and damned people, arise from two main causes, natural understanding and self-love. When they think about themselves, these two things are what determine their feelings and response. Natural understanding shows them that God is holy, while they are wicked. God is infinite, but they are limited. God is powerful, and they are weak. Self-love gives them a sense of the importance of religion, the eternal world, and a longing after salvation. When these two causes work together, demons and damned men become aware of the awesome majesty of God, whom they know will be their Judge. They know that God’s judgment will be perfect and their punishment will be forever. Therefore, these two causes together with their senses will bring about their anguish on that judgment day, when they see the outward glory of Christ and His saints.

The reason many people feel joy, peace, and love today, while demons do not, may be more due to their circumstances, rather than any difference in their hearts. The causes in their hearts are the same. For example, the Holy Spirit is now at work in the world keeping all of mankind from being as wicked as they could be (2 Thess 2:17). This is in contrast to demons, who are just as wicked as they can be all the time. Furthermore, God in his mercy gives gifts to all people, such as the rain for crops (Matt 5:45), heat from the sun, etc. Not only that, but often people receive many things in life to bring them happiness, such as personal relationships, pleasures, music, good health, and so on. Most important of all, many people have heard news of hope: God has sent a Saviour, Jesus Christ, who died to save sinners. In these circumstances, the natural understanding of people can cause them to feel things that demons never can.

Self-love is a powerful force in the hearts of men, strong enough without grace to cause people to love those who love them, “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners  love those who love them.” (Luke 6:32) It is a natural thing for a person who sees God being merciful, and who knows that they are not as bad as they could be, to therefore be sure of God’s love for them. If your love for God comes only from your feelings that God loves you, or because you have heard that Christ died for you, or something similar, the source of your love to God is only self-love. This reigns in the hearts of demons as well.

Imagine the situation of the demons. They know they are unrestrained in their wickedness. They know God is their enemy and always will be. Although they are without any hope, still they are active and fighting. Just think, what if they had some of the hope that people have? What if demons, with their knowledge of God, had their wickedness restrained? Imagine if a demon, after all his fears about God’s judgment, was suddenly led to imagine that God might be his Friend? That God might forgive him and let him, sin and all, into heaven? Oh the joy, the wonder, the gratitude we would see! Would not this demon be a great lover of God, since, after all everybody loves people who help them? What else could cause feelings so powerful and sincere? Is it any wonder, that so many people are deceived this way? Especially since people have the demons to promote this delusion. They have been promoting it now for many centuries, and alas they are very good at it.

True Spiritual experiences have a different source.

Now we come to the question, if all these various experiences and feelings come from nothing more than demons are capable of, what are the kinds of experiences that are truly spiritual and holy? What do I have to find in my own heart, as a sure sign of God’s grace there? What are the differences that show them to be from the Holy Spirit?

This is the answer: those feelings and experiences which are good signs of God’s grace in the heart differ from the experience of demons in their source and in their results.

Their source is the sense of the overwhelming holy beauty and loveliness of the things of God. When a person grasps in his mind, or better yet, when he feels his own heart held captive by the attractiveness of the Divine, this is an unmistakable sign of God’s working.

The demons and damned in hell do not now, and never will experience even the tiniest bit of this. Before their fall, the demons did have this sense of God. But in their fall, they lost it, the only thing they could lose of their knowledge of God. We have seen how the demons have very clear ideas about how powerful God is, his justice, holiness, and so on. They know a lot of facts about God. But now they haven’t a clue about what God is like. They cannot know what God is like any more than a blind man can know about colors! Demons can have a strong sense God’s awesome majesty, but they don’t see his loveliness. They have observed His work among the human race for these thousands of years, indeed with the closest attention; but they never see a glimmer of His beauty. No matter how much they know about God (and we have seen that they know very much indeed) the knowledge they have will never bring them to this higher, spiritual knowing what God is like. On the contrary, the more they know about God, the more they hate Him. The beauty of God consists primarily in this holiness, or moral excellence, and this is what they hate the most. It is because God is holy that the demons hate Him. One could suppose that if God were to be less holy, the demons would hate Him less. No doubt demons would hate any holy Being, no matter what He was like otherwise. But surely they hate this Being
all the more, for being infinitely holy, infinitely wise, and infinitely powerful!

Wicked people, including those alive today, will on the day of judgment see all there is to see of Jesus Christ, except His beauty and loveliness. There is not one thing about Christ that we can think of, that will not be set before them in the strongest light on that brilliant day. The wicked will see Jesus “coming in clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:26) They will see his outward glory, which is far, far greater than we can possibly imagine now. You know the wicked will be thoroughly convinced of all who Christ is. They will be convinced about His omniscience, as they see all their sins replayed and evaluated. They will know first-hand Christ’s justice, as their sentences are announced. His authority will be made utterly convincing when every knee will bow, and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord. (Phil 2:10,11) The divine majesty will be impressed upon them in quite an effective way, as the wicked are poured into hell itself, and enter into their final state of suffering and death (Rev 20:14,15) When that happens, all their knowledge of God, as true and as powerful as it may be, will be worth nothing, and less than nothing, because they will not see Christ’s beauty.

Therefore, it is this seeing the loveliness of Christ that makes the difference between the saving grace of the Holy Spirit, and the experiences of demons. This sight or sense is what makes true Christian experience different from everything else. The faith of God’s elect people is based on this. When a person sees the excellence of the gospel, he senses the beauty and loveliness of the divine scheme of salvation. His mind is convinced that it is of God, and he believes it with all his heart. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Cor 4:34, “even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” That is to say, as was explained before, unbelievers can see that there is a gospel, and understand the facts about it, but they do not see its light. The light of the gospel is the glory of Christ, his holiness and beauty. Right after this we read, 2 Cor 4:6 “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Clearly, it is this divine light, shining into our hearts, that enables us to see the beauty of the gospel and have a saving belief in Christ. This supernatural light shows us the superlative beauty and loveliness of Jesus, and convinces us of His sufficiency as our Saviour. Only such a glorious, majestic Saviour can be our Mediator, standing between guilty, hell-deserving sinners such as ourselves, and an infinitely holy God. This supernatural light gives us a sense of Christ that convinces us in a way nothing else ever could.

A true spiritual experience transforms the heart.

When a most wicked sinner is caused to see Christ’s divine loveliness, he no longer speculates why God should be interested in him, to save him. Before, he could not understand how the blood of Christ could pay the penalty for sins. But now he can see the preciousness of Christ’s blood, and how it is worthy to be accepted as the ransom for the worst of sins. Now the soul can recognize that he is accepted by God, not because of who he is, but because of the value God puts on the blood, obedience, and intercession of Christ. Seeing this value and worth gives the poor guilty soul rest which cannot be found in any sermon or booklet.

When a person comes to see the proper foundation of faith and trust with his own eyes, this is saving faith. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.” (John 6:40) “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.” (John 17:6-8) It is this sight of the divine beauty of Christ that captivates the wills and draws the hearts of men. A sight of the outward greatness of God in His glory may overwhelm men, and be more than they can endure. This will be seen on the day of judgment, when the wicked will be brought before God. They will be overwhelmed, yes, but the hostility of the heart will remain in full strength and the opposition of the will continue. But on the other hand, a single ray of the moral and spiritual glory of God and of the supreme loveliness of Christ shone into the heart overcomes all hostility. The soul is inclined to love God as if by an omnipotent power, so that now not only the understanding, but the whole being receives and embraces the loving Saviour.

This sense of the beauty of Christ is the beginning of true saving faith in the life of a true convert. This is quite different from any vague feeling that Christ loves him or died for him. These sort of fuzzy feelings can cause a sort of love and joy, because the person feels a gratitude for escaping the punishment of their sin. In actual fact, these feelings are based on self-love, and not on a love for Christ at all. It is a sad thing that so many people are deluded by this false faith. On the other hand, a glimpse of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ causes in the heart a supreme genuine love for God. This is because the divine light shows the excellent loveliness of God’s nature. A love based on this is far, far above anything coming from self-love, which demons can have as well as men. The true love of God which comes from this sight of His beauty causes a spiritual and holy joy in the soul; a joy in God, and exulting in Him. There is no rejoicing in ourselves, but rather in God alone.

Genuine spiritual experiences have different results.

The sight of the beauty of divine things will cause true desires after the things of God. These desires are different from the longings of demons, which happen because the demons know their doom awaits them, and they wish it could somehow be otherwise. The desires that come from this sight of Christ’s beauty are natural free desires, like a baby desiring milk. Because these desires are so different from their counterfeits, they help to distinguish genuine experiences of God’s grace from the false.

False spiritual experiences have a tendency to cause pride, which is the devil’s special sin. “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” (1 Tim 3:6) Pride is the inevitable result of false spiritual experiences, even though they are often covered with a disguise of great humility. False experience is enamored with self and grows on self. It lives by showing itself in one way or another. A person can have great love for God, and be proud of the greatness of his love. He can be very humble, and very proud indeed of his humility. But the emotions and experiences that come from God’s grace are exactly opposite. God’s true working in the heart causes humility. They do not cause any kind of showiness or self-exaltation. That sense of the awesome, holy, glorious beauty of Christ kills pride and humbles the soul. The light of God’s loveliness, and that alone, shows the soul its own ugliness. When a person really grasps this, he inevitably begins a process of making God bigger and bigger, and himself smaller and smaller.

Another result of God’s grace working in the heart is that the person will hate every evil and respond to God with a holy heart and life. False experiences may cause a certain amount of zeal, and even a great deal of what is commonly called religion. However it is not a zeal for good works. Their religion is not a service of God, but rather a service of self. This is how the apostle James puts it himself in this very context, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that-and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless ?” (James 2:1920) In other words, deeds, or good works, are evidence of a genuine experience of God’s grace in the heart. “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1 John 2:34) When the heart has been ravished by the beauty of Christ, how else can it respond?

The sight of Christ’s beauty- God’s greatest gift!

How excellent is that inner goodness and true religion that comes from this sight of the beauty of Christ! Here you have the most wonderful experiences of saints and angels in heaven. Here you have the best experience of Jesus Christ Himself. Even though we are mere creatures, it is a sort of participation in God’s own beauty. “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature.” (2 Pet 1:4) “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” (Heb 12:10) Because of the power of this divine working, there is a mutual indwelling of God and His people. “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16) This special relationship has to make the person involved as happy and as blessed as any creature in existence. This is a special gift of God, which he gives only to his special favorites. Gold, silver, diamonds, and earthly kingdoms are given by God to people who the Bible calls dogs and pigs. But this great gift of beholding Christ’s beauty, is the special blessing of God to His dearest children. Flesh and blood cannot give this gift: only God can bestow it. This was the special gift which Christ died to obtain for his elect. It is the highest token of his everlasting love, the best fruit of his labours and the most precious purchase of his blood.

By this gift, more than anything else, the saints shine as lights in the world. This gift, more than anything else, is their comfort. It is impossible that the soul who possesses this gift should ever perish. This is the gift of eternal life. It is eternal life begun: those who have it can never die. It is the dawning of the light of glory. It comes from heaven, it has a heavenly quality, and it will take its bearer to heaven. Those who have this gift may wander in the wilderness or be tossed by waves on the ocean, but they will arrive in heaven at last. There the heavenly spark will be made perfect and increased. In heaven the souls of the saints will be transformed into a bright and pure flame, and they will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Amen.

Originally titled True Grace Distinguished from the Experience of Devils by Jonathan Edwards, 1752. This modern language version is Copyright 1994 by William Carson. Permission is granted for reproduction, so long as this file is not altered, this notice is included in any reproduction, and it is not sold for profit.

Genesis 15

August 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Posted in Bible Study | Leave a comment
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After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” Abram said, “O Lord GOD, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” Then behold, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. And He said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it.” He said, “O Lord GOD, how may I know that I will possess it?” So He said to him, “Bring Me a three year old heifer, and a three year old female goat, and a three year old ram, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, and laid each half opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds. The birds of prey came down upon the carcasses, and Abram drove them away. Continue Reading Genesis 15…

Sermon Sunday – Samuel Davies – The Nature and Author of Regeneration

June 19, 2011 at 6:30 am | Posted in Sermon Sunday | Leave a comment
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The Nature and Author of Regeneration

by Samuel Davies

“Marvel not that I said unto you: You must be born again.” John 3:7

Those doctrines are not strange to a well-informed mind, which are most wondered at in the ignorant world. Ignorance is apt to wonder, where knowledge discovers nothing amazing or unaccountable. My present purpose is to look into the doctrine of Regeneration, or the New Birth.

Nicodemus comes to Christ with a conviction of his high character as a Teacher from God, who attested his commission by the strong and popular evidence of miracles. From such a Teacher, he expects sublime instructions; and from his own improvements in Jewish learning, he, no doubt, flatters himself he shall be able to comprehend them; but when, instead of gratifying his curiosity by telling him strange and great things of the kingdom of the Messiah—as a secular prince, and a mighty conqueror, as he and his countrymen expected, or discoursing like a Rabbi on the Jewish law; I say, when, instead of this, Jesus opens the conference by a solemn and authoritative declaration of the necessity of something under the name of another birth—how is Nicodemus surprised!

This he cannot understand. This seems strange, new doctrine to him; and he has an objection ready against it, as an absurdity and an impossibility: “But how can anyone be born when he is old? Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born?” This objection, which was altogether impertinent, and founded upon a gross mistaken notion of the doctrine, may serve as a specimen of all the objections that have been made against this doctrine ever since; they have all proceeded from ignorance, or from gross mistaken notions of an evident truth; and hence men have imagined, like this master of Israel, that they reasoned strongly against it, when in reality they were saying nothing at all to the purpose, and did not so much as understand the case!

Our condescending Lord took a great deal of pains to give Nicodemus right notions of this doctrine. For this purpose he presents it before him in various views. He tells him, he did not mean a second natural birth—but a birth of water and of the spirit; a birth that renders a man spiritual, and consequently fit for that spiritual kingdom he was about to erect; and that the free and Sovereign Spirit of God, the Author of this new birth, operated like wind, which blows where it wills. Nicodemus still continues gazing at him, and wondering what he means. He is puzzled, after all, and asks, “How can these things be?” Jesus tells him the wonder did not lie in the doctrine—but in his ignorance of it, when he was a teacher of the law; “Are you a master in Israel, and know not these things?”

The connection of my text is this: “That which is born of the flesh—is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit—is spirit; therefore, marvel not that I said unto you, You must be born again.” That is to say, “The doctrine you are so much surprised at, is not at all absurd, so as to make you wonder to hear it from my mouth. You cannot but know, that all mankind are born of the flesh; that is, propagated in a way that communicates a depraved nature to them; and hence, they are flesh; that is, corrupt and carnal; and therefore wholly unfit to be admitted into my kingdom, which is pure and spiritual. But that which is born of the Spirit—is spirit; that is, spiritual and holy; and therefore fit for that spiritual and holy kingdom, which I have come to set up. Now, if if this is the case, you have certainly no need to marvel at this doctrine: can it seem strange to you, that impure unholy creatures must be changed, before they can be fit members of so holy a society? Can you marvel at this? No! you would have more reason to marvel at the contrary.

It is one part of my design today to inquire, Whether the doctrine of the new birth is indeed such a strange, absurd, or impossible thing in itself, as to deserve that amazement, and indeed contempt, which it generally meets with in the world; or whether it be not rational, necessary, and worthy of universal acceptance? But before I enter upon this, it will be proper to inquire:

1. What the new birth is?

2. Who is the author of it?

3. And in what way does he generally produce it?

Remove your prejudices, my hearers, against this doctrine, suspend your disbelief, and cease to wonder at or ridicule it, until these points are explained, lest you be found to speak evil of the things you know not.

1. Let us inquire—WHAT it is to be born again?

To gain your attention to this inquiry, I need only put you in mind, that whatever be meant by the new birth, it is not an insignificant speculation, not the disputed peculiarity of a party, not the attainment of a few good men of the first class—but it is essential to every godly man, and absolutely necessary to salvation. You cannot doubt of this, if you look upon Jesus Christ as a person of common veracity, and worthy of credit in his most solemn declarations; for he has declared, over and over again, with the utmost solemnity, that “No one can see the kingdom of God—unless he is born again. John 3:3, 5, and 7. Attend, then—if you think your eternal salvation worthy of your attention.

The phrase, to be born again, like most other expressions used upon divine subjects, is metaphorical, and brings in natural things with which we are familiarly acquainted, to assist our conceptions of divine things, which might otherwise be above our comprehension. We all know what it is to be born; and our knowledge of this may help us to understand what it is to be born again. As by our first birth we become men, or partake of human nature—so by our second birth, we become Christians, and are made partakers of a divine and spiritual nature. As our first birth introduces us into this world, and into human society, so our second birth introduces us into the church of Christ, and makes us true members of that holy society. As by our first birth we resemble our parents, at least in the principal lineaments of human nature, so by our second birth we are made partakers of the divine nature; that is, we are made to resemble the blessed God in holiness: or, as Paul expresses it, we are renewed after his image—in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness. Ephesians 4:24; Col. 3:10. The effect is like its cause; the child like the parent. That which is born of the flesh—is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit—is spirit. This is according to the established laws of generation, by which everything begets its like.

In our first birth—we are endowed with child-like and filial dispositions towards our human parents; and when we are born of God—we are inspired with a child-like and filial temper towards him, as our heavenly Father.

By our natural birth we are placed in an imperfect—but growing state. We have all the powers of human nature, though none of them in perfection; but from that time they grow and improve, until they at length arrive to maturity. In like manner, in our second birth, all the principles of virtue and grace are implanted; but their growth and improvement is the work of the Christian life: and from that time they continue gradually growing, though with many interruptions, until at death they arrive at maturity and perfection.

In our natural birth we pass through a very great change. The infant that had lain in darkness, breathless and almost insensible, and with little more than a vegetative life, enters into a new state, feels new sensations, craves a new kind of nourishment, and discovers new powers. In like manner, in the second birth, the sinner passes through a great change: a change as to his view of divine things: as to his temper, his practice, and his state; a change so great, that he may with propriety be denominated another man, or a new creature.

As I shall adjust my discourse to the narrow limits of an hour, I must pass over, or but slightly touch upon all the particulars suggested by the metaphor in my text, except the last, which is the most comprehensive and instructive: namely, that the new birth implies a great change in the views, the temper, the practice, and the state of the sinner; and under this head, sundry of the other particulars may be reduced.

The various forms of expression, which the Scripture uses to represent what is here called a second birth, all conspire to teach us, that it consists in a great change. It is represented as a resurrection, or a change from death to life: “You has he quickened,” says Paul, “who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Ephesians 2:1.

It is represented as a new creation: “If any man be in Christ,” says the same inspired author, “he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Put on,” says he, “the new man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Ephesians 4:24.

These and like expressions signify a very great change, and such forms of speech are very commonly used in the same sense; which shows they are so far from being ridiculous, that they are agreeable to the common sense of mankind. When we see a man that we once knew, look, and speak, and act as he used to do, it is customary to say, “He is the old man still.” But if we see a great alteration in his appearance, his temper, or behavior, we are apt to say, “He is a new man “or, “He is quite another creature.” When we see a rugged, boisterous man become meek and inoffensive, we are apt to say, “He is become a mere child.” These forms of speech are so significant and popular, that they have even passed into proverbs, and that in various countries and languages; and hence they are used in the Scriptures as plain and familiar representations of this great truth. And hence we are bold to use them, in spite of that senseless ridicule and contempt, which some would cast upon them; but which rebounds upon themselves, for censuring modes of expression that are not only sacred—but agreeable to common sense.

Now, since it is evident the new birth signifies a great change; you are impatient, by this time, I hope, to know more particularly WHAT it is. It is the change of a thoughtless, ignorant, hard-hearted, rebellious sinner—into a thoughtful, well-informed, tender-hearted, dutiful servant of God. It is the implantation of the seeds or principles of every grace and virtue in a heart that was entirely destitute of them, and full of sin.

The sinner that was accustomed to have no practical affectionate regard for the great God—is now made to revere, admire, and love him as the greatest and best of Beings; to rejoice in him as his supreme happiness, and cheerfully to submit to him as his Ruler. Formerly his temper and conduct would better agree to the infidelity of an atheist, than to the faith of a Christian: but now, he thinks, and speaks, and acts, as one that really believes there is a God; a God who inspects all his ways, and will call him to an account.

The heart that was accustomed to spurn the holiness of the divine law, and murmur at the strictness of its precepts—now loves it; loves it for that very reason for which it was accustomed to hate it; namely, because it is so holy. This was the temper of the Psalmist: “Your Word is very pure; therefore (that is, on that very account) your servant loves it!” Psalm 119:140; and of Paul, “the law is holy, and the commandment holy”—and what follows? “I delight,” says he, “in the law, after the inward man. And I consent unto the law that it is good.” Romans 7:12, 16, 22.

The haughty, stubborn, deceitful heart—is now made humble, pliable, simple, and honest, like that of a little child. Hence Christ says, “Except you are converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whoever shall humble himself as a little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt, 18:3, 4. This was also the temper of David: “LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or awesome for me. But I have stilled and quieted myself, just as a small child is quiet with its mother. Yes, like a small child is my soul within me.” Psalm 131:1, 2.

The heart that used to have no delight in communion with God—but lived as without God in the world—now feels a filial desire to draw near to him, and address him with the humble boldness and freedom of a child. “Because you are sons,” says Paul, “God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father,” Galatians 4:6. That is, “Father, Father!” the repetition of so tender a name intimates the greatest endearment and affectionate freedom.

The heart that had no realizing, affecting views of the future eternal state—now feels the energy of that doctrine, and looks upon heaven and hell as indeed the most important realities!

The heart that was once earthly and sensual, eagerly set upon things below, as its vain pursuit—is now taught to aspire to heaven; in heaven is its treasure, and there it will be. The thoughts that were once scattered among a thousand trifles—are now frequently collected, and fixed upon the great concerns of piety.

Now also the heart is remarkably altered towards the Lord Jesus: formerly it seemed sufficient to wear his name, to profess his religion, to believe him to be the Savior of the world, to insert his name in a prayer now and then, and to give a formal attendance upon the institutions of his worship; but oh! now he appears in a more important and delightful light. Now the sinner is deeply sensible that Jesus is indeed the only Savior, and he most eagerly embraces him under that endearing character, and entrusts his eternal all into his hands. Now he appears to him all lovely and glorious, and his heart is forever captivated with his beauty. Now he prays, and longs, and languishes for him, and feels him to be all in all. Oh! now the very thought of being without Christ, kills him. Thus, God, who first commanded light to shine out of darkness, has shined into his heart, to give him the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ; 2 Corinthians 4:6, in that face where it shines with the fairest beams.

Now also the man has very different views of himself: he sees himself to be a guilty, depraved, vile creature, all overrun with sin, and destitute of all goodness—except as it is wrought in him by divine grace! How different is this from the proud, self-righteous estimate he was accustomed to form of himself!

His views of SIN are also quite different from what they used to be: he used to look upon it as a slight, excusable evil, except when it broke out into some gross acts. But now he sees sin to be unspeakably vile and base, in every instance and degree. An evil thought, a corrupt motion of desire, an indisposed heart towards God, appears to him a shocking evil, such as nothing but the infinite mercy of God can forgive, and even that mercy, upon no other account but that of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He sees that sin does most justly deserve everlasting punishment; and he is often lost in wonder that the gospel should open a door of hope even for him, who has been so deeply guilty. It breaks his heart to think that he indulged so base a thing for so long; and he can never be fully reconciled to himself, while he feels the remains of sin within him.

His REPENTANCE now takes a new turn. Formerly he was entirely under the influence of self-love, and therefore, when he had any concern for his sin, it entirely proceeded from the servile principle of fear; fear of the punishment, and not hatred of the crime. But now his soul is ennobled with more sincere principles. Now he can mourn over sin, as a base, ungrateful evil, even when he has no thoughts of the punishment. Now he can mourn over sin as against God, and not only as against a sin-punishing God—but as against a sin-pardoning God. Now he mourns with sincere sorrow over pardoned sin; and God’s being so good as to forgive him, is so far from lessening the evil of sin in his view, that this very consideration peculiarly affects him. Oh! that he should be so base as to sin against a God who is so gracious as to forgive him after all! This thought breaks his heart; and God’s forgiving him, is a reason why he can never forgive himself.

The heart has also a new temper in the duties of religion: it can no more indulge in habitual coldness or lukewarmness in them—but exerts its powers to the utmost; and when it has a languishing interval, it cannot be easy in that condition—but tries to rouse itself again. Experience teaches that it is good to draw near to God; and the ordinances of the gospel are not tiresome formalities, as they were accustomed to be—but the means of life and refreshment; and they are its happiest hours which are spent in attending upon them.

Now the gospel is not that dull, stale, neglected tale it once was—but the most joyful tidings that ever came from heaven! As a new-born babe, the regenerate soul desires the sincere milk of the Word, that it may grow thereby, 1 Peter 2:2, and it is esteemed more than necessary food.

Now the careless, secure soul, that was always cautious of over-doing in religion, and flattering itself there is no need of being so much in earnest—is effectually roused, and strives in earnest to enter in at the strait gate, convinced both of the difficulty and necessity of entering! Now religion is no longer a trifling matter—but a serious business; and everything that comes in competition with it must give way to it. The man is resolved to save his soul at all hazards; and this, he is now convinced, is no easy work.

To sum up the whole, for I can only give a few specimens of particulars, the regenerate soul is changed universally in every part. I do not mean the change is perfect in any part. Alas! no—sin still lives, and sometimes makes violent struggles, though crucified—the old man dies hard! But I mean, the change does really extend to every part. The soul is in no respect the same it was accustomed to be, as to the concerns of religion. It has new views, new sensations, new joys, new sorrows, new inclinations and aversions, new hopes and fears. In short, as the apostle tells us, all things are become new, 2 Corinthians 5:17; and according to his inspired prayer, the whole man, soul, body, and spirit, is sanctified. 1 Thess. 5:23.

By way of confirmation, let me add a few characters of a regenerate man, which are expressly Scriptural. “Every one who loves—is born of God,” says John, 1 John 4:7. That is, every new-born soul is possessed with a sincere love to all mankind, which prompts it to observe the whole law in its conduct towards them, (for love is the fulfilling of the whole law,) and restrains it from doing them any injury: (for love works no evil to his neighbor,) Romans 13:10. This love extends not only to friends—but also to strangers, and even to enemies. It is a friendship to human nature in general; it spreads over the whole earth, and embraces the whole race of man. But as the righteous are the more excellent ones of the earth, it terminates upon them in a peculiar degree: and the reason is obvious; they are, in a peculiar sense, the saints’ brethren, the children of the same heavenly Father; and they bear a resemblance to him: and if he loves the Original—he must also love the copy. Thus, says John, “everyone who loves the Father—loves his children, too.” 1 John 5:1.

Another character of regeneration the same apostle gives you, 1 John 5:4, 5, and that is, victory over the world by faith. “Whoever is born of God, overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.” That is, whatever temptations may arise from the riches, honors, or pleasures of the world, or from the society of mankind, the man who is born of God has such believing views of eternal things, as constrains him to conflict with them, and overcome them. He has not such a base, dastardly soul, as to yield to opposition. He is enabled by divine grace, to brave dangers, and encounter difficulties in so good a cause: he dares to be wise and holy, though all the world should turn against him. Oh what a change is this from his former temper!

Another distinguishing characteristic of the new birth, is, universal holiness of practice, or a conscientious observance of every known duty, and an honest, zealous resistance of every known sin. There is no known DUTY, however unfashionable, disagreeable, or dangerous—but what the true convert honestly endeavors to perform! And there is no known SIN, however customary, pleasing, or gainful—but what he honestly resists, and from which he labors to abstain.

This necessarily follows from what has been said; for when the principles of action are changed within—then the course of action will be changed too. When the heart is made holy, it will infallibly produce habitual holiness of practice. A good tree must bring forth good fruit. This John asserts in the strongest manner, and in various forms. “You know,” says he, “that every one that does righteousness;” that is, that habitually practices righteousness, “is born of God,” 1 John 2:29.

“We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin;” that is, he does not sin habitually, so as to be denominated a sinner by way of distinction; “but he who is begotten of God, keeps himself;” that is, keeps himself from the infection of sin; and that wicked one touches him not. 1 John 5:18.

“Little children,” says he, “let no man deceive you: he who does righteousness is righteous—but he who commits sin is of the devil. Whoever is born of God does not commit sin;” that is, as I explained it before, he does not habitually sin in the general tenor of his practice, so as to make his sin his distinguishing character; “for his seed remains in him;” that is, the principles of grace, implanted in him in regeneration, are immortal, and will never allow him to give himself up to sin, as formerly. And he cannot continue to practice sin—because he is born of God: his being born of God happily disables him forever from abandoning himself to sin again. “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are;” that is, this is the grand distinguishing characteristic existing between them, “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God.” 1 John 3:7-10.

You see, then, a holy practice is one of the most certain signs of regeneration; and, therefore, in vain do such pretend to it, or boast of high attainments in inward experimental religion, who are not holy in their practice, and do not live righteously, soberly, and godly in the world.

By this time, I hope, my friends, you understand what it is to be born again. And now, upon a review of the subject, there are several things of importance, which I would submit to your consideration:

First, I leave you now to consider, whether baptism is the same thing with regeneration, or the new birth in the Scripture sense. I grant that baptism is a sacramental sign of regeneration, just as the Lord’s Supper is a sacramental sign of the body and blood of Christ; and, therefore, baptism may be called regeneration, by the same figure which Christ uses when he says of the bread, “This is my body.” In this metonymical sense, this method of speaking has been used by many great and good men: and when they call baptism regeneration, they only mean, that it is an outward sign of it, just as the sacramental bread, for the same reason, is called the body of Christ. Were it always used in this sense, it would hardly be worth while to take notice of it as an impropriety; though I must confess, I cannot find the same form of speech indisputably used concerning baptism in the Bible.

But when men are taught that the whole of that regeneration, or new birth, which the Scripture requires as absolutely necessary to salvation, means no more than just being baptized; and when they who have been baptized, begin to think that they have no more to do with the new birth, the error is too dangerous to be passed over in silence! I shall just lead you into a track of thought, by which you may easily make yourselves judges in this controversy.

If baptism is regeneration in the Scripture sense, then, whatever the Scripture says concerning people regenerated, born again, or created anew—will also hold true concerning people baptized. This is so plain a principle, that it is hard to make it plainer; for if baptism is the same with regeneration, the new birth, or the new creation—then the same things may be said of it. Proceeding upon this obvious principle, let us make the trial in a few instances.

It may be truly said of him who is born of God, in the Scripture sense, that he does not habitually sin, etc. Now substitute baptized, instead of born of God, and consider how it will read, “Every one that is baptized sins not; but he who is baptized keeps himself; and the evil one touches him not.” Has this statement any appearance of truth? Do not all of you know so much of the conduct of many who have been baptized, as to see that this statement is most notoriously false! For where can we find more audacious sinners upon earth, than many who have been baptized!

Let us make another trial. Whoever is born of God, in the Scripture sense, overcomes the world. But will it hold true, that whoever is baptized, overcomes the world?

If any man be in Christ, in the Scripture sense, he is a new creature; old things are passed away, and all things are become new. But how will it sound if you read, If any man be baptized—he is a new creature: old things are passed away, and all things are become new? Does baptism universally make such a change in the subject, as that it may, with any tolerable propriety, be called a new creation? I might easily make the same experiment with many other passages of Scripture; but these may suffice as a specimen.

And now, must it not be as evident as any mathematical demonstration, that regeneration, or the new birth, in the Scripture sense, is something else, something more divine, more intrinsic, more transformative of the whole man, than baptism? That man must labor to be deceived, who can work up himself to believe, after such a representation of the case, that if he has been baptized, he has all that regeneration which is necessary to his admission into the kingdom of heaven!

I know no absurdity parallel to it, except the doctrine of transubstantiation, the characteristic absurdity of the church of Rome. Because Christ, in the distribution of the elements in the Eucharist, said of the bread, “This is my body,” putting the sign for the thing signified, therefore Papists conclude, the bread is substantially the very same with the body of Christ signified by it, though it still retains all the sensible properties of bread.

Some Protestants have fallen into the same error as to the other sacrament of baptism, and that with less plausibility. I can find no Scripture that says of baptism, “This is regeneration:” and yet they insist upon it that it is the very thing; and make the sign—and the thing signified one and the same. Let me borrow a very plain and popular—and yet substantial, argument from Limborch. “The great design of Christ’s coming into the world was, to renew and regenerate men; this is a work worthy of his own immediate hand.” And yet we are told, Jesus baptized not—but his disciples. John 4:2. A plain evidence that he made a distinction between baptism and regeneration. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says, “I thank God that I have baptized none of you—but Crispus and Gaius.” 1 Corinthians 1:14. But if baptism be regeneration, his meaning must be, I thank God that I regenerated none of you.

But is this cause of thanksgiving? Could he give thanks to God that he had not regenerated any of them? Christ, says he, sent me not to baptize. But can we think Christ did not send the chief of the apostles to promote the great work of regeneration? He elsewhere calls himself their spiritual father, for, says he, in Christ Jesus I have begotten you, through the gospel. 1 Corinthians 4:15. But if baptism is the new birth, he could not have been their father, or begotten them, unless he had baptized them. From which it is evident that Paul made a great difference between baptism and regeneration.”

Therefore, let no man deceive you with vain words. Baptism is an ordinance of Jesus Christ, which you should think highly of; but do not put it out of its place, by substituting it for quite another thing. Believe me, this is not that kind of regeneration which you must be the subjects of, if you would enter into the kingdom of God!

Another thing which I would now leave to your consideration is, whether regeneration, or the new birth, in the sense I have explained it—be not a rational, noble thing? And whether so great a change in a man’s temper and conduct may not emphatically be called a new birth? When a man is born again—the ruins of his nature are repaired, and every noble and divine grace and virtue are implanted in his heart. His heart is made capable of sincere sensations; his understanding has suitable views of the most interesting and sublime objects; and his temper and behavior are rightly formed towards God and man. In short, the base, depraved, earth-born creature—is made an infant-angel! Nay, Peter tells you, he is “made partaker of the divine nature!” 2 Peter 1:4. What a glorious and surprising change is this! Should you see a clod of earth rising from under your feet, and brightening into a sun—it would not be such a glorious a transformation. This change gives a man the very temper of heaven, and prepares him for the enjoyments and employments of that sacred region.

“Therefore, do not be amazed that I told you—that you must be born again!” Do not gaze and wonder at me, as if I told you some strange, new, absurd thing—when I tell you, you must be regenerated in the manner I have explained, if ever you would enter into the kingdom of heaven. Consult your own reason and experience, and they will tell you, that as heaven is the region of perfect holiness, and as you are indisputably corrupted, depraved creatures, you must be so changed, as to be made holy; or, in other words, you must be born again, before you can enjoy the happiness of that holy place!

Or consult the Bible, which you must own to be true—or own yourselves to be the most gross hypocrites in professing the Christian religion; consult your Bible, I say, and you will find the absolute necessity of being born again asserted in the strongest terms. Need I remind you of the solemn asseveration of Christ in my context, “Truly, truly, I say unto you, except a man be born again—he cannot see the kingdom of heaven!” The same blessed lips have assured us, that “Except we be converted, and become as little children, we cannot enter into his kingdom.” Matt, 18:2. Paul speaks in the same strain: “If any man be in Christ,” as we all must be before we can be saved by him, “he is a new creature!” “We are his workmanship,” says he, “created in Christ Jesus to good works!” Ephesians 2:10. “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision—but a new creature.” All external forms of religion, whether Jewish or Christian, are of no avail, without this new creation. Galatians 6:15.

This is also more than intimated in that comprehensive promise of the Old Testament. “I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances!” Ezekiel 36:25-27.

And are not these repeated declarations sufficient to convince you of the necessity of this great change? Will you any more marvel, when you are told that you must be born again? No; rather marvel to hear the contrary! It may indeed astonish you, to be told, that an unholy sinner, without any change—is fit for the presence of a holy God, fit to relish the holy enjoyments of heaven: and capable of being happy in what is directly contrary to his nature. This would be strange, absurd doctrine indeed! and wherever you hear it, you may justly wonder at it, and despise such nonsense!

Now if this is true, that “Except a man be born again, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” then it will follow, that just as many people in this assembly as have been born again—that just so many are in a state of favor with God, and prepared for the happiness of heaven. And, on the other hand, just as many as are unregenerate, that just so many lie dead in sin, under the wrath of God, and liable to everlasting misery. Let each of you particularly admit this conviction: “If I am not born again, I have not the least ground to hope for happiness in my present state!”

Upon this follows another inquiry, of the utmost importance; and that is: Whether you have ever experienced the blessed change of the new birth? Have your views, your dispositions, and your conduct been changed in the manner described? And can you lay claim to those distinguishing characters of a regenerate soul, which have been mentioned? Pause, and think seriously; recollect your past experiences; look into your own hearts; observe the tenor of your practice; and from the whole, endeavor to gather an honest answer to this grand question, “Have I ever been born again?”

If you can answer this in your favor, Peter will tell you the happy consequence; and I shall only desire you to read those most comfortable verses, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to be distressed by various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ!” 1 Peter 1:3-7

But if, on the other hand, you find that you have never been born again, what is to be done? Must you lie still in that condition? or should you try to get out of it? I am sure my design in endeavoring to let you see your condition, is, that you may escape out of it and be eternally happy; and if you are so kind to yourselves as to concur with me in this design, I hope, through divine grace, we shall succeed. This introduces the next inquiry, namely,

II. Who is the AUTHOR of this divine change, called the new birth?

The change is so great, so noble, and divine, that from thence alone we may infer it can be produced only by divine power. And the nature of man, in its present state, is so corrupt and weak, that it is neither inclined nor able to produce it. The new birth is uniformly ascribed to God in the sacred writings. The regenerate soul is repeatedly said to be born of God; “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man—but of God.” John 1:13. “All things are become new,” says Paul, “and all things (that is, all these new things) are of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17, 18. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth,” James 1:17-18. The Spirit is repeatedly mentioned as the author of the new birth, in the chapter where my text lies. This may suffice for the truth of so plain a point.

Here then, sinners, you see to whom you must look for this blessing. You can no more regenerate yourselves—than you could beget yourselves at first. And this you must be deeply sensible of. But HE who made you at first—is able to new-make you, and to repair his own workmanship, which you have demolished. And it is he who has actually changed many a heart in our guilty world. Here the next inquiry comes in very seasonably, namely,

III. In what WAY does this divine agent produce this change?

He is pleased to use such a variety, as to circumstances, that I cannot take time to describe them. But as to the substance of the work, which is the same in all—he generally carries it on in the following manner:

The first step is, to convince the sinner of his need of this change, by revealing to him his guilt and danger, and particularly the universal corruption of his nature. He is roused out of a state of stupid security by an affecting view of the holiness of God, of the purity of his law, of the terror of its penalty, of the great evil of sin, and of his own exposedness to the divine displeasure upon the account of it.

Upon this, he becomes sad and serious, uneasy in his mind, and anxious about his spiritual condition. He endeavors to reform his life; he prays, and uses the other means of grace with earnestness unknown before. And when he has gone on in this course for some time, he begins perhaps to flatter himself, that now he is in a safe condition. But alas! he does not yet know the worst of himself!

Therefore the Holy Spirit opens his eyes to see the inward universal corruption of his whole soul, and that a mere outward reformation is far from being a sufficient cure of a disease so inveterate.

Hereupon the awakened sinner betakes himself to the use of the means of grace with redoubled vigor and earnestness, and strives to change the principles of action within. But alas! he finds his heart is a stubborn thing, and altogether unmanageable to him; and after repeated strivings to no purpose, he is effectually convinced of his own inability, and the absolute necessity of the exertion of divine power to make him truly holy. Therefore he lies at the throne of grace, as a poor, anxious, helpless sinner—entirely at God’s mercy, and unable to relieve himself.

It would take up more time than I can allow, to describe the various exercises, the anxious fears, and eager pantings, the strong cries and tears of a soul in this condition! What I have hinted at, may put such of you in mind of them, as have never been the subjects of them.

While the sinner lies in this desponding situation, it pleases God to pity him. Now the important hour is come, when the old man must be crucified; when the divine and immortal principles must be implanted in a heart full of sin; and when the dead sinner must begin to live a holy and divine life! The great God instantaneously changes the whole soul, and gives it a new, a heavenly turn. In short, now is wrought that important change, which I have already described, which is called the new birth, and denominates the man as ‘a new creature’.

Here again you may furnish yourselves with materials for self-examination. If you have been born again, you have thus felt the pangs of a new birth, and seen your guilty, sinful, and dangerous condition in a true light. And can you put your hand upon your heart, and say, “Here is the heart that has been the subject of this operation!”

Hence also may be gathered some helpful DIRECTIONS for such as are in a state of nature, as to how to attain the new birth:

Endeavor to be thoroughly acquainted with the corruption of your nature: it is from this, that the necessity of a new birth proceeds.

Be fully convinced of the indispensable necessity of this change to your salvation.

Break off from and forsake whatever tends to obstruct the new birth; as excessive worldly cares, bad company, and in short, all sin.

Seriously use all the means of grace; as, earnest prayer, attentive hearing of the Word, etc.

Persevere in so doing, until your endeavors are crowned with success. And particularly, do not grow impatient of those anxieties and fears which will at first attend your pursuit.

These short hints may suffice by way of direction, if you are sincerely desirous of being directed. And what do you determine to do? Will you not resolve to seek after this important change, upon which your eternal all depends? Oh! let us part today fully determined upon this—that we will implore the power and mercy of God to create in us clean hearts, and renew within us right spirits.

Sermon Sunday – Jonathan Edwards – Christian Cautions

June 12, 2011 at 6:30 am | Posted in Sermon Sunday | Leave a comment
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Christian Cautions

or

The Necessity of Self-Examination

by

 Jonathan Edwards
 (1703-1758)

Dated September 1733.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” — Psalm 139:23, 24


INTRODUCTION

Subject: Persons should be much concerned to know whether they do not live in some way of sin.

This psalm is a meditation on the omniscience of God, or upon his perfect view and knowledge of everything, which the psalmist represents by that perfect knowledge which God had of all his actions, his downsitting and his uprising; and of his thoughts, so that he knew his thoughts afar off; and of his words, “There is not a word in my tongue,” says the psalmist, “but thou knowest it altogether.” Then he represents it by the impossibility of fleeing from the divine presence, or of hiding from him. So that if he should go into heaven, or hide himself in hell, or fly to the uttermost parts of the sea, yet he would not be hid from God. Or if he should endeavor to hide himself in darkness, yet that would not cover him. But the darkness and light are both alike to him. Then he represents it by the knowledge which God had of him while in his mother’s womb, Psa. 139:15, 16, “My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret; thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect; and in thy book all my members were written.” Continue Reading Sermon Sunday – Jonathan Edwards – Christian Cautions…

Peace on Earth

January 8, 2011 at 2:11 am | Posted in Christianity | Leave a comment
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The Christmas season is winding down (for me it really isn’t over til after the new year) and, in an effort to keep from completely ruining your Christmas joy, I’ve held onto this until after the holiday was over. I also wanted to see what everyone said during the week leading up to Christmas. I have been thinking more (wait! don’t go yet…) and there have been a few loose threads that I’ve been following. Oddly enough, when I began to think about the threads, they all seem to be interconnected. I’m going to go through them and would love to hear your thoughts on these different topics.

One of the things that I’ve been thinking about comes from the songs that I’ve heard played over the Christmas holiday season. Things that talk about goodwill, peace on earth, and kindness. One that I heard very often throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas was the song Do They Know It’s Christmas Time At All. In case you haven’t heard it (although there are a number of remakes on Youtube), here is the original:

Continue Reading Peace on Earth…

Genesis 3:8-13

November 15, 2010 at 9:42 pm | Posted in Bible Study | Leave a comment
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They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” Continue Reading Genesis 3:8-13…

Ecumenism

October 6, 2010 at 6:30 am | Posted in Christianity | 5 Comments
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Everyone has a cause or number of causes that they are passionate about. We seek out others of like mind to band together and make our voices heard. Depending on the cause, we may or may not agree with everything said and we weigh the causes based on this. Recently, Glenn Beck held a rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that drew 300,000 – 400,000 people. The rally was labeled as a religious one and not a political one. Among those gathered were Muslims, Mormons, Evangelicals, Catholics, and other faiths. Throughout the day, the group was encouraged to turn to God and to rule themselves. This brings me to a question that I think that the church needs to consider very carefully. Continue Reading Ecumenism…

Genesis 1:14-19

September 13, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Posted in Bible Study | Leave a comment
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This week, we continue our look at the week of Creation. Today, we’ll be looking at the fourth day of Creation:

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for light in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. Continue Reading Genesis 1:14-19…

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