Sermon Sunday – J.C. Ryle – The Fallibility of Ministers

October 2, 2011 at 6:30 am | Posted in Sermon Sunday | Leave a comment
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Warning #6 to the Church

The Fallibility of Ministers

by

J. C. Ryle

(1816-1900)

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.  But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.

The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their  hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.  When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I  said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you  live like a Gentile and not like a Jew.  How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”

We who are Jews by birth and not “Gentile sinners” know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.  (Galatians 2:11-16)

Have we ever considered what the Apostle Peter did at Antioch?  It is a question that deserves serious consideration.

What the Apostle Peter did at Rome we are often told, although we have hardly a jot of authentic information about it.  Legends, traditions, and fables abound on the subject.  But unhappily for these writers, Scripture is utterly silent upon the point.  There is nothing in Scripture to show that the Apostle Peter ever was at Rome at all!

But what did the Apostle Peter do at Antioch?  This is the point to which I want to direct attention.  This is the subject from the passage from the Epistle to the Galatians, which heads this paper.  On this point, at any rate, the Scripture speaks clearly and unmistakably.

The six verses of the passages before us are striking on many accounts.  They are striking, if we consider the event which they describe: here is one Apostle rebuking another!  They are striking, when we consider who the two men are: Paul, the younger, rebukes Peter the elder!  They are striking, when we remark the occasion: this was no glaring fault, no flagrant sin, at first sight, that Peter had committed!  Yet the Apostle Paul says, “I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.”  He does more than this–he reproves Peter publicly for his error before all the Church at Antioch.  He goes even further–he writes an account of the matter, which is now read in two hundred languages all over the world.

It is my firm conviction that the Holy Spirit wants us to take particular notice of this passage of Scripture.  If Christianity had been an invention of man, these things would never have been recorded.  An impostor would have hushed up the difference between two Apostles.  The Spirit of truth has caused these verses to be written for our learning, and we shall do well to take heed to their contents.

There are three great lessons from Antioch, which I think we ought to learn from this passage.

I. The first lesson is, “That great ministers may make great mistakes.”

II. The second is, “That to keep the truth of Christ in His Church is even more important than to keep peace.”

III. The third is, “That there is no doctrine about which we ought to be so protective about as justification by faith without the deeds of the law.”

I. The first great lesson we learn from Antioch is, “That great ministers may make great mistakes.”

What clearer proof can we have than that which is set before us in this place?  Peter, without doubt, was one of the greatest in the company of the Apostles.  He was an old disciple.  He was a disciple who had had peculiar advantages and privileges.  He had been a constant companion of the Lord Jesus.  He had heard the Lord preach, seen the Lord work miracles, enjoyed the benefit of the Lord’s private teaching, been numbered among the Lord’s intimate friends, and gone out and come in with Him all the time He ministered upon earth.  He was the Apostle to whom the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given, and by whose hand those keys were first used.  He was the first who opened the door of faith to the Jews, by preaching to them on the day of Pentecost.  He was the first who opened the door of faith to the Gentiles, by going to the house of Cornelius, and receiving him into the Church.  He was the first to rise up in the Council of the fifteenth of Acts, and say, “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?”  And yet here this very Peter, this same Apostle, plainly falls into a great mistake.

The Apostle Paul tells us, “I opposed him to his face.”  He tells us “because he was clearly in the wrong.”  He says “he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.”  He says of him and his companions, that “they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.”  He speaks of their “hypocrisy.”  He tells us that by this hypocrisy even Barnabas, his old companion in missionary labors, “was led astray.”  What a striking fact this is.  This is Simon Peter!  This is the third great error of his, which the Holy Spirit has thought fit to record!  Once we find him trying to keep back our Lord, as far as he could, from the great work of the cross, and severely rebuked Him.  Then we find him denying the Lord three times, and with an oath.  Here again we find him endangering the leading truth of Christ’s Gospel.  Surely we may say, “Lord, what is man?”  Let us note, that of all the Apostles there is not one, excepting, of course, Judas Iscariot, of whom we have so many proofs that he was a fallible man.

(Note: It is curious to observe the shifts to which some writers have been reduced, in order to explain away the plain meaning of the verses which head this paper.  Some have maintained that Paul did not really rebuke Peter, but only faked it, for show and appearance sake!  Others have maintained that it was not Peter the Apostle who was rebuked, but another Peter, one of the seventy!  Such interpretations need no remark.  They are simply absurd.  The truth is that the plain honest meaning of the verses strikes a heavy blow at the favorite Roman Catholic doctrine of the primacy and superiority of Peter over the rest of the Apostles.)

But it is all meant to teach us that even the Apostles themselves, when not writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were at times liable to err.  It is meant to teach us that the best men are weak and fallible so long as they are in the body.  Unless the grace of God holds them up, any one of them may go astray at any time.  It is very humbling, but it is very true.  True Christians are converted, justified, and sanctified.  They are living members of Christ, beloved children of God, and heirs of eternal life.  They are elect, chosen, called, and kept unto salvation.  They have the Spirit.  But they are not infallible.

Will not rank and dignity confer infallibility?  No, they will not!  It matters nothing what a man is called.  He may be a Czar, an Emperor, a King, a Prince.  He may be a Preacher, Minister, or Deacon.  He is still a fallible man.  Neither the crown, nor the anointing oil, nor the laying on of hands, can prevent a man making mistakes.

Will not numbers confer infallibility?  No, they will not!  You may gather together princes by the score, and ministers by the hundred; but, when gathered together, they are still liable to err.  You may call them a council, or an assembly, or a conference, or what you please.  It matters nothing.  Their conclusions are still the conclusions of fallible men.  Their collective wisdom is still capable of making enormous mistakes.

The example of the Apostle Peter at Antioch is one that does not stand alone.  It is only a parallel of many a case that we find written for our learning in Holy Scripture.  Do we not remember Abraham, the father of the faithful, following the advice of Sarah, and taking Hagar for a wife? Do we not remember Aaron, the first high priest, listening to the children of Israel, and making a golden calf?  Do we not remember Solomon, the wisest of men, allowing his wives to build their high places of false worship?  Do we not remember Jehosaphat, the good king, going down to help wicked Ahab?  Do we not remember Hezekiah, the good king, receiving the ambassadors of Babylon?  Do we not remember Josiah, the last of Judah’s good kings, going forth to fight with Pharaoh?  Do we not remember James and John, wanting fire to come down from heaven?  These things deserve to be remembered.  They were not written without cause.  They cry aloud, “No infallibility!”

And who does not see, when he reads the history of the Church of Christ, repeated proofs that the best of men can err?  The early fathers were zealous according to their knowledge, and ready to die for Christ.  But many of them advocated ritualism, and nearly all sowed the seeds of many superstitions.  The Reformers were honored instruments in the hand of God for reviving the cause of truth on earth.  Yet hardly one of them can be named who did not make some great mistake.  Martin Luther held tightly to the doctrine of consubstantiation [believing that during communion the bread and the wine became the actual body and blood of Christ].

Melancthon was often timid and undecided.  Calvin permitted Servetus to be burned.  Cranmer recanted and fell away for a time from his first faith.  Jewell subscribed to Roman Catholic Church doctrines for fear of death.  Hooper disturbed the Church of England by demanding the need to wear ceremonial vestments [priestly type garments] when ministering.  The Puritans, in later times, denounced Christian liberty and freedoms as doctrines from the pit of Hell.  Wesley and Toplady, last century, abused each other in most shameful language.  Irving, in our own day, gave way to the delusion of speaking in unknown tongues [babble].  All these things speak with a loud voice.  They all lift up a beacon to the Church of Christ.  They all say, “Do not trust man; call no man master; call no man father [spiritually] on earth; let no man glory in man; He that glories, let him glory in the Lord.”  They all cry, “No infallibility!”

The lesson is one that we all need.  We are all naturally inclined to lean upon man whom we can see, rather than upon God whom we cannot see.  We naturally love to lean upon the ministers of the visible Church, rather than upon the Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd and High Priest, who is invisible.  We need to be continually warned and set on our guard.

I see this tendency to lean on man everywhere.  I know no branch of the Protestant Church of Christ which does not require to be cautioned upon the point.  It is a snare to the Scottish Christians to pin their faith on John Knox.  It is a snare to the Methodists in our day to worship the memory of John Wesley.  All these are snares, and into these snares how many fall!

We all naturally love to have a pope of our own.  We are far too ready to think, that because some great minister or some learned man says a thing,  or because our own minister, whom we love, says a thing, it must be right, without examining whether it is in Scripture or not.  Most men dislike the trouble of thinking for themselves.  They like following a leader.  They are like sheep, when one goes over the hill all the rest follow.  Here at Antioch even Barnabas was carried away.  We can well fancy that good man saying, “An old Apostle, like Peter, surely cannot be wrong.  Following him, I cannot err.”

And now let us see what practical lessons we may learn from this part of our subject.

(a) For one thing, let us learn not to put implicit confidence in any man’s opinion, merely because he lived many hundred years ago.  Peter was a man who lived in the time of Christ Himself, and yet he could err.  There are many who talk much in the present day about the voice of the early Church.  They would have us believe that those who lived nearest the time of the Apostles, must of course know more about truth than we can.  There is no foundation for any such opinion.  It is a fact, that the most ancient writers in the true Church of Christ are often at variance with one another.  It is a fact that they often changed their own minds, and retracted their own former opinions.  It is a fact that they often wrote foolish and weak things, and often showed great ignorance in their explanations of Scripture.  It is vain to expect to find them free from mistakes.  Infallibility is not to be found in the early fathers, but in the Bible.

(b) For another thing, let us learn not to put implicit confidence in any man’s opinion, merely because of his office as a minister.  Peter was one of the very chief Apostles, and yet he could err.

This is a point on which men have continually gone astray.  It is the rock on which the early Church struck.  Men soon took up the saying, “Do nothing contrary to the mind of the minister.”  But what are ministers, preachers, and deacons?  What are the best of ministers but men–dust, ashes, and clay–men of like passions with ourselves, men exposed to temptations, men liable to weaknesses and infirmities?  What does the Scripture say?  “What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe–as the Lord has assigned to each his task” (1 Corinthians 3:5).

Ministers have often driven the truth into the wilderness, and decreed that to be true which was false.  The greatest errors have been begun by ministers.  Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of the high-priest, made religion to be abhorred by the children of Israel.  Annas and Caiaphas, though in the direct line of descent from Aaron, crucified the Lord.  It is absurd to suppose that ordained men cannot go wrong.  We should follow them so far as they teach according to the Bible, but no further.  We should believe them so long as they can say, “Thus it is written, thus says the Lord,” but further than this we are not to go.  Infallibility is not to be found in ordained men, but in the Bible.

(c)  For another thing, let us learn not to place implicit confidence in any man’s opinion, merely because of his learning.  Peter was a man who had miraculous gifts, and could speak with the (then valid) gift of tongues, and yet he could err.

This is a point again on which many go wrong.  This is the rock on which men struck in the middle ages.  Men looked on Thomas Aquinas, and Peter Lombard, and many of their companions, as almost inspired.  They gave epithets to some of them in token of their admiration.  They talked of “the indisputable” preacher, “the angelic” minister, “the incomparable” pastor, and seemed to think that whatever these ministers said must be true!  But what is the most learned of men, if he is not taught by the Holy Spirit?  What is the most learned of all divines but a mere fallible child of Adam at his very best?  Vast knowledge of books and great ignorance of God’s truth may go side by side.  They have done so, they may do so, and they will do so in all times.  I will engage to say that the two volumes of Robert McCheyne’s Memoirs and Sermons, have done more positive good to the souls of men, than any one folio that Origen or Cyprian ever wrote.

I do not doubt that the one volume of Pilgrim’s Progress, written by a man who knew hardly any book but his Bible, and was ignorant of Greek and Latin, will prove in the last day to have done more for the benefit of the world, than all the works of the schoolmen put together.  Learning is a gift that ought not to be despised.  It is an evil day when books are not valued in the Church.  But it is amazing to observe how vast a man’s intellectual attainments may be, and yet how little he may know of the grace of God.  I have no doubt the Authorities of Oxford in the last century, knew more of Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, than Wesley or Whitefield.  But they knew little of the Gospel of Christ.  Infallibility is not to be found among learned men, but in the Bible.

(d) For another thing, let us take care that we do not place implicit confidence on our own minister’s opinion, however godly he may be.  Peter was a man of mighty grace, and yet he could err.

Your minister may be a man of God indeed, and worthy of all honor for his preaching and example; but do not make a pope of him.  Do not place his word side by side with the Word of God.  Do not spoil him by flattery.  Do not let him suppose he can make no mistakes.  Do not lean your whole weight on his opinion, or you may find to your cost that he can err.

It is written of Joash, King of Judah, that he “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD all the years of Jehoiada the priest” (2 Chronicles 24:2).  Jehoiada died, and then died the religion of Joash.  Just so your minister may die, and then your religion may die too.  He may change, and your religion may change.  He may go away, and your religion may go.

Oh, do not be satisfied with a religion built on man!  Do not be content with saying, “I have hope, because my own minister has told me such and such things.”  Seek to be able to say, “I have hope, because I find it thus and thus written in the Word of God.”  If your peace is to be solid, you must go yourself to the fountain of all truth.  If your comforts are to be lasting, you must visit the well of life yourself, and draw fresh water for your own soul.  Ministers may depart from the faith.  The visible Church may be broken up.  But he who has the Word of God written in his heart, has a foundation beneath his feet which will never fail him.  Honor your minister as a faithful ambassador of Christ.  Esteem him very highly in love for his work’s sake.  But never forget that infallibility is not to be found in godly ministers, but in the Bible.

The things I have mentioned are worth remembering.  Let us bear them in mind, and we shall have learned one lesson from Antioch.

II. I now pass on to the second lesson that we learn from Antioch.  That lesson is, “That to keep Gospel truth in the Church is of even greater importance than to keep peace.”

I suppose no man knew better the value of peace and unity than the Apostle Paul.  He was the Apostle who wrote to the Corinthians about love.  He was the Apostle who said, “Live in harmony with one another; live in peace with each other; the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”  He was the Apostle who said, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (Romans 12:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:13; Philemon 3:16; Ephesians 4:5; 1 Corinthians 9:22).  Yet see how he acts here!  He withstands Peter to the face.  He publicly rebukes him.  He runs the risk of all the consequences that might follow.  He takes the chance of everything that might be said by the enemies of the Church at Antioch.  Above all, he writes it down for a perpetual memorial, that it never might be forgotten, that, wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, this public rebuke of an erring Apostle might be known and read of all men.

Now, why did he do this?  Because he dreaded false doctrine; because he knew that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, because he would teach us that we ought to contend for the truth jealously, and to fear the loss of truth more than the loss of peace.

Paul’s example is one we shall do well to remember in the present day.  Many people will put up with anything in religion, if they may only have a quiet life.  They have a morbid dread of what they call “controversy.” They are filled with a morbid fear of what they style, in a vague way, “party spirit,” though they never define clearly what party spirit is.  They are possessed with a morbid desire to keep the peace, and make all things smooth and pleasant, even though it be at the expense of truth.  So long as they have outward calm, smoothness, stillness, and order, they seem content to give up everything else.  I believe they would have thought with Ahab that Elijah was a troubler of Israel, and would have helped the princes of Judah when they put Jeremiah in prison, to stop his mouth.  I have no doubt that many of these men of whom I speak, would have thought that Paul at Antioch was a very imprudent man, and that he went too far!

I believe this is all wrong.  We have no right to expect anything but the pure Gospel of Christ, unmixed and unadulterated; the same Gospel that was taught by the Apostles; to do good to the souls of men.  I believe that to maintain this pure truth in the Church men should be ready to make any sacrifice, to hazard peace, to risk dissension, and run the chance of division.  They should no more tolerate false doctrine than they would tolerate sin.  They should withstand any adding to or taking away from the simple message of the Gospel of Christ.

For the truth’s sake, our Lord Jesus Christ denounced the Pharisees, though they sat in Moses’ seat, and were the appointed and authorized teachers of men.  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites,” He says, eight times over, in the twenty-third chapter of Matthew.  And who shall dare to breathe a suspicion that our Lord was wrong?

For the truth’s sake, Paul withstood and blamed Peter, though a brother. Where was the use of unity when pure doctrine was gone?  And who shall dare to say he was wrong?

For the truth’s sake, Athanasius stood out against the world to maintain the pure doctrine about the divinity of Christ, and waged a controversy with the great majority of the professing Church.  And who shall dare to say he was wrong?

For the truth’s sake, Luther broke the unity of the Church in which he was born, denounced the Pope and all his ways, and laid the foundation of a new teaching.  And who shall dare to say that Luther was wrong?

For the truth’s sake, Cranmer, Ridley, and Latimer, the English Reformers, counseled Henry VIII and Edward VI to separate from Rome, and to risk the consequences of division.  And who shall dare to say that they were wrong?

For the truth’s sake, Whitefield and Wesley, a hundred years ago, denounced the mere barren moral preaching of the clergy of their day, and went out into the highways and byways to save souls, knowing well that they would be cast out from the Church’s communion.  And who shall dare to say that they were wrong?

Yes! Peace without truth is a false peace; it is the very peace of the devil.  Unity without the Gospel is a worthless unity; it is the very unity of hell.  Let us never be ensnared by those who speak kindly of it.  Let us remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34)  Let us remember the praise He gives to one of the Churches in Revelation, “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false” (Revelation 2:2).  Let us remember the blame He casts on another, “You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess” (Revelation 2:20).  Never let us be guilty of sacrificing any portion of truth on the altar of peace.  Let us rather be like the Jews, who, if they found any manuscript copy of the Old Testament Scriptures incorrect in a single letter, burned the whole copy, rather than run the risk of losing one jot or tittle of the Word of God.  Let us be content with nothing short of the whole Gospel of Christ.

In what way are we to make practical use of the general principles which I have just laid down?  I will give my readers one simple piece of advice.  I believe it is advice which deserves serious consideration.

I warn then every one who loves his soul, to be very selective as to the preaching he regularly hears, and the place of worship he regularly attends.  He who deliberately settles down under any ministry which is positively unsound is a very unwise man.  I will never hesitate to speak my mind on this point.  I know well that many think it a shocking thing for a man to forsake his local church.  I cannot see with the eyes of such people.  I draw a wide distinction between teaching which is defective and teaching which is thoroughly false; between teaching which errs on the negative side and teaching which is positively unscriptural.  But I do believe, if false doctrine is unmistakably preached in a local church, a Christian who loves his soul is quite right in not going to that local church.  To hear unscriptural teaching fifty-two Sundays in every year is a serious thing.  It is a continual dropping of slow poison into the mind.  I think it almost impossible for a man willfully to submit himself to it, and not be harmed.

I see in the New Testament we are plainly told to “Test everything” and “Hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  I see in the Book of Proverbs that we are commanded to “Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge” (Proverbs 19:27).  If these words do not justify a man in ceasing to worship at a church, if positively false doctrine is preached in it, I do not know what words can.

–Does any one mean to tell us that to attend your local denominational church is absolutely needful to a person’s salvation?  If there is such a one, let him speak out, and give us his name.

–Does any one mean to tell us that going to the denominational church will save any man’s soul, if he dies unconverted and ignorant of Christ?  If there is such a one, let him speak out, and give us his name.

–Does any one mean to tell us that going to the denominational church will teach a man anything about Christ, or conversion, or faith, or repentance, if these subjects are hardly ever named in the denomination church, and never properly explained?  If there is such a one, let him speak out, and give us his name.

–Does any one mean to say that a man who repents, believes in Christ, is converted and holy, will lose his soul, because he has forsaken his denomination and learned his religion elsewhere?  If there is such a one, let him speak out, and give us his name.

For my part I abhor such monstrous and extravagant ideas.  I do not see a speck of foundation for them in the Word of God.  I trust that the number of those who deliberately hold them is exceedingly small.

There are many churches where the religious teaching is little better than Roman Catholicism.  Ought the congregation of such churches to sit still, be content, and take it quietly?  They ought not.  And why? Because, like Paul, they ought to prefer truth to peace.

There are many churches where the religious teaching is little better than morality.  The distinctive doctrines of Christianity are never clearly proclaimed.  Plato, or Seneca, or Confucius, could have taught almost as much.  Ought the congregation in such churches to sit still, be content, and take it quietly?  They ought not.  And why? Because, like Paul, they ought to prefer truth to peace.

–I am using strong language in dealing with this part of my subject: I know it.

–I am trenching on delicate ground: I know it.

–I am handling matters which are generally let alone, and passed over in silence: I know it.

I say what I say from a sense of duty to the Church of which I am a minister.  I believe the state of the times, and the position of the congregation require plain speaking.  Souls are perishing, in many churches, in ignorance.  Honest members of the church are disgusted and perplexed.  This is no time for smooth words.  I am not ignorant of those magic expressions, “order, division, schism, unity, controversy,” and the like.  I know the cramping, silencing influence which they seem to exercise on some minds.  I too have considered those expressions calmly and deliberately, and on each of them I am prepared to speak my mind.

(a) The denominational church is an admirable thing in theory.  Let it only be well administered, and worked by truly spiritual ministers, and it is calculated to confer the greatest blessings on the nation.  But it is useless to expect attachment to the denomination, when the minister of the denominational church is ignorant of the Gospel or a lover of the world.  In such a case we must never be surprised if men forsake their denomination, and seek truth wherever truth is to be found.  If the denominational minister does not preach the Gospel and live the Gospel, the conditions on which he claims the attention of his congregation are virtually violated, and his claim to be heard is at an end.  It is absurd to expect the head of a family to endanger the souls of his children, as well as his own, for the sake of “the denomination.”  There is no mention of denominations in the Bible, and we have no right to require men to live and die in ignorance, in order that they may be able to say at last, “I always attended my local denominational church.”

(b)  Divisions and separations are most objectionable in religion.  They weaken the cause of true Christianity.  They give occasion to the enemies of all godliness to blaspheme.  But before we blame people for them, we must be careful that we lay the blame where it is deserved.  False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism.  If people separate themselves from teaching which is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved.  In such cases separation is a virtue and not a sin.  It is easy to make sneering remarks about “itching ears,” and “love of excitement;” but it is not so easy to convince a plain reader of the Bible that it is his duty to hear false doctrine every Sunday, when by a little exertion he can hear truth.

(c)  Unity, quiet, and order among professing Christians are mighty blessings.  They give strength, beauty, and efficiency to the cause of Christ.  But even gold may be bought too dear.  Unity which is obtained by the sacrifice of truth is worth nothing.  It is not the unity which pleases God.  The Church of Rome boasts loudly of a unity which does not deserve the name.  It is unity which is obtained by taking away the Bible from the people, by gagging private judgment, by encouraging ignorance, by forbidding men to think for themselves.  Like the exterminating warriors of old, the Catholic Church of Rome makes a solitude and calls it peace.  There is quiet and stillness enough in the grave, but it is not the quiet of health, but of death.  It was the false prophets who cried “Peace,” when there was no peace.

(d) Controversy in religion is a hateful thing, It is hard enough to fight the devil, the world and the flesh, without private differences in our own camp.  But there is one thing which is even worse than controversy, and that is false doctrine tolerated, allowed, and permitted without protest or molestation.  It was controversy that won the battle of Protestant Reformation.  If the views that some men hold were correct, it is plain we never ought to have had any Reformation at all!  For the sake of peace, we ought to have gone on worshipping the Virgin, and bowing down to images and relics to this very day! Away with such trifling!  There are times when controversy is not only a duty but a benefit.  Give me the mighty thunderstorm rather than the deadly malaria.  The one walks in darkness and poisons us in silence, and we are never safe.  The other frightens and alarms for a little while.  But it is soon over, and it clears the air.  It is a plain Scriptural duty to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3).

I am quite aware that the things I have said are exceedingly distasteful to many minds.  I believe many are content with teaching which is not the whole truth, and fancy it will be “all the same” in the end.  I am sorry for them.  I am convinced that nothing but the whole truth is likely, as a general rule, to do good to souls.  I am satisfied that those who willfully put up with anything short of the whole truth, will find at last that their souls have received much damage.  There are three things which men never ought to trifle with: a little poison, a little false doctrine, and a little sin.

I am quite aware that when a man expresses such opinions as those I have just brought forward, there are many ready to say, “He is not faithful to the Church.”  I hear such accusations unmoved.  The day of judgment will show who were the true friends of the Church and who were not.  I have learned in the last thirty-two years that if a minister leads a quiet life, leaves alone the unconverted part of the world, and preaches so as to offend none and edify none, he will be called by many “a good pastor.”

And I have also learned that if a man studies Scriptures, labors continually for the conversion of souls, adheres closely to the great principals of the Reformation, bears a faithful testimony against Romanism, and preaches powerful, convicting sermons, he will probably be thought a firebrand and “troubler of Israel.”  Let men say what they will.  They are the truest friends of the Church who labor most for the preservation of truth.

I lay these things before the readers of this paper, and invite their serious attention to them.  I charge them never to forget that truth is of more importance to a Church than peace.  I ask them to be ready to carry out the principles I have laid down, and to contend zealously, if needs be, for the truth.  If we do this, we shall have learned something from Antioch.

III. But I pass on to the third lesson from Antioch.  That lesson is, that “There is no doctrine about which we ought to be so jealous as justification by faith and not by observing the law.”

The proof of this lesson stands out most prominently in the passage of Scripture which heads this paper.  What one article of the faith had the Apostle Peter denied at Antioch?  None.  What doctrine had he publicly preached which was false?  None.  What, then, had he done?  He had done this.  After once keeping company with the believing Gentiles as “heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:6), he suddenly became shy of them and withdrew himself.  He seemed to think they were less holy and acceptable to God than the circumcised Jews.  He seemed to imply, that the believing Gentiles were in a lower state than they who had kept the ceremonies of the law of Moses.  He seemed, in a word, to add something to simple faith as needful to give man an interest in Jesus Christ.  He seemed to reply to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” not merely “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” but “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and be circumcised, and keep the ceremonies of the law.”

Such conduct as this the Apostle Paul would not endure for a moment.  Nothing so moved him as the idea of adding anything to the Gospel of Christ.  “I opposed him,” he says, “to his face.”  He not only rebuked him, but he recorded the whole transaction fully, when by inspiration of the Spirit he wrote the Epistle to the Galatians.

I invite special attention to this point.  I ask men to observe the remarkable jealousy which the Apostle Paul shows about this doctrine, and to consider the point about which such a stir was made.  Let us mark in this passage of Scripture the immense importance of justification by faith and not by keeping the law.

(a) This is the doctrine which is essentially necessary to our own personal comfort.  No man on earth is a real child of God, and a saved soul, till he sees and receives salvation by faith in Christ Jesus.  No man will ever have solid peace and true assurance, until he embraces with all his heart the doctrine that “we are counted righteous before God because of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ [on the cross], by faith, and not for our own works and goodness.”  One reason, I believe, why so many professors in this day are tossed to and fro, enjoy little comfort, and feel little peace, is their ignorance on this point.  They do not see clearly justification by faith without their own “good works.”

(b) This is the doctrine which the great enemy of souls hates, and labors to overthrow.  He knows that it turned the world upside down at the first beginning of the Gospel, in the days of the Apostles.  He knows that it turned the world upside down again at the time of the Reformation.  He is therefore always tempting men to reject it.  He is always trying to seduce Churches and ministers to deny or obscure its truth.  No wonder that the Council of Trent [Roman Catholic Council that established their present doctrines] directed its chief attack against this doctrine, and pronounced it accursed and heretical.  No wonder that many who think themselves learned in these days denounce the doctrine as theological jargon, and say that all “serious minded people” are justified by Christ, whether they have faith or not!  The plain truth is that the doctrine is all bitterness and poison to unconverted hearts.  It just meets the wants of the awakened soul.  But the proud unhumbled man who knows not his own sin, and sees not his own weakness, cannot receive its truth.

(c) This is the doctrine, the absence of which accounts for half the errors of the Roman Catholic Church.  The beginning of half the unscriptural doctrines of Catholicism may be traced up to rejection of justification by faith.  No Catholic teacher, if he is faithful to his Church, can say to an anxious sinner, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”  He cannot do it without additions and explanations, which completely destroy the good news.  He dare not give the Gospel medicine, without adding something which destroys its effectiveness, and neutralizes its power.

Purgatory, penance, priestly absolution [confession], the intercession of saints, the worship of the Virgin, and many other man-made services of Roman Catholicism, all spring from this source.  They are all rotten props to support weary consciences.  But they are rendered necessary by the denial of justification by faith.

(d) This is the doctrine which is absolutely essential to a minister’s success among his people.  Obscurity on this point spoils all.  Absence of clear statements about justification will prevent the utmost zeal doing good.  There may be much that is pleasing and nice in a minister’s sermons, much about Christ and union with Him, much about self-denial, much about humility, much about love.  But all this will profit little, if his trumpet gives an uncertain sound about justification by faith without the attendant “good works.”

(e) This is the doctrine which is absolutely essential to the prosperity of a Church.  No Church is really in a healthy state, in which this doctrine is not prominently brought forward.  A denomination and/or church may have good forms and regularly ordained ministers, but a denomination and/or church will not see conversion of souls going on under its pulpits, when this doctrine is not plainly preached.  Its schools may be found in every town.  Its church buildings may strike the eye all over the land.  But there will be no blessing from God on that denomination and/or church unless justification by faith is proclaimed from its pulpits.  Sooner or later its candlestick will be taken away.

Why have the Churches of Africa and the East fallen to their present state?  Did they not have Ministers?  They had.  Did they not have forms and ceremony?  They had.  Did they not have councils?  They had.  But they cast away the doctrine of justification by faith.  They lost sight of that mighty truth, and so they fell.

Why did our own Church (Church of England) do so little in the last century, and why did the Independents and Baptists do so much more?  Was it that their system was better than ours?  No.  Was it that our Church was not so well adapted to meet the wants of lost souls?  No.  But their ministers preached justification by faith, and our ministers, in too many cases, did not preach the doctrine at all.

Why do so many English people go to dissenting churches in the present day?  Why do we so often see a splendid Gothic local church as empty of worshipers as a barn in July, and a little plain brick building, called a Meeting House, filled to suffocation?  Is it that people in general have any abstract dislike of formal worship, the Prayer-book, and the establishment?  Not at all!  The simple reason is, in the vast majority

of cases, that people do not like preaching in which justification by faith is not fully proclaimed.  When they cannot hear it in the local church they will seek it elsewhere.  No doubt there are exceptions.  No doubt there are places where a long course of neglect has thoroughly disgusted people with the Church, so that they will not even hear truth from its ministers.  But I believe, as a general rule, when the local church is empty and the meeting-house full, it will be found on inquiry that there is a cause.

If these things be so, the Apostle Paul might well be jealous for the truth, and oppose Peter to his face.  He might well maintain that anything ought to be sacrificed, rather than endanger the doctrine of justification in the Church of Christ.  He saw with a prophetical eye coming things.  He left us all an example that we should do well to follow.  Whatever we tolerate, let us never allow any injury to be done to that blessed doctrine–that we are justified by faith without any of our own “good works.”

Let us always beware of any teaching which either directly or indirectly obscures justification by faith.  All religious systems which put anything between the heavy burdened sinner and Jesus Christ the Savior, except simple faith, are dangerous and unscriptural.  All systems which make out faith to be anything complicated, anything but a simple, childlike dependence, the hand which receives the soul’s medicine from  the physician, are unsafe and poisonous systems.  All systems which cast discredit on the simple Protestant doctrine which broke the power of Roman Catholicism, carry about with them a plague-spot, and are dangerous to souls.

Baptism is a sacrament ordained by Christ Himself, and to be used with reverence and respect by all professing Christians.  When it is used rightly, worthily and with faith, it is capable of being the instrument of mighty blessings to the soul.  But when people are taught that all who are baptized are as a matter of course born again, and that all baptized persons should be addressed as “children of God,” I believe their souls are in great danger.  Such teaching about baptism appears to me to overthrow the doctrine of justification by faith.  They only are children of God who have faith in Christ Jesus.  And all men do not have faith.

The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament ordained by Christ Himself, and intended for the edification and refreshment of true believers.  But when people are taught that all persons ought to come to the Lord’s table, whether they have faith or not; and that all alike receive Christ’s body and blood who receive the bread and wine, I believe their souls are in great danger.  Such teaching appears to me to darken the doctrine of justification by faith.  No man eats Christ’s body and drinks Christ’s blood except the justified man.  And none are justified until they believe.

Membership in the local church is a great privilege.  But when people are taught that because they are members of a church, they are as a matter of course members of Christ, I believe their souls are in great danger.  Such teaching appears to me to overthrow the doctrine of justification by faith.  They only are joined to Christ who believe.  And all men do not believe.

Whenever we hear teaching which obscures or contradicts justification by faith, we may be sure there is a screw loose somewhere.  We should watch against such teaching, and be upon our guard.  Once let a man turn away from justification by faith alone, and he will bid a long farewell to comfort, to peace, to lively hope, to anything like assurance in his Christianity.  An error here is decay at the root.

(1) In conclusion, let me first of all ask every one who reads this paper, to arm himself with a thorough knowledge of the written Word of God.  Unless we do this we are at the mercy of any false teacher.  We shall not see through the mistakes of an erring Peter.  We shall not be able to imitate the faithfulness of a courageous Paul.  An ignorant congregation will always be the curse of a Church.  A Bible reading congregation may save a Church from ruin.  Let us read the Bible regularly, daily, and with fervent prayer, and become familiar with its contents.  Let us receive nothing, believe nothing, follow nothing, which is not in the Bible, nor can be proved by the Bible.  Let our rule of faith, our touchstone of all teaching, be the written Word of God.

(2) In the next place, let me entreat all who read this paper to be always ready to contend for the faith of Christ, if needful.  I recommend no one to foster a controversial spirit.  I want no man to be like Goliath, going up and down, saying, “Give me a man to fight with.”  Always feeding upon controversy is poor work indeed.  It is like feeding upon bones.  But I do say that no love of false peace should prevent us striving jealously against false doctrine, and seeking to promote true doctrine wherever we possibly can.  True Gospel in the pulpit, true Gospel in the books we read, true Gospel in the friends we keep company with, let this be our aim, and never let us be ashamed to let men see that it is so.

(3) In the next place, let me entreat all who read this paper to keep a jealous watch over their own hearts in these controversial times.  There is much need of this caution.  In the heat of the battle we are apt to forget our own inner man.  Victory in argument is not always victory over the world or victory over the devil.  Let the meekness of Peter in taking a reproof, be as much our example as the boldness of Paul in reproving.  Happy is the Christian who can call the person who rebukes him faithfully, a “dear brother” (2 Peter 3:15).  Let us strive to be holy in all manner of conversation, and not least in our tempers.  Let us labor to maintain an uninterrupted communion with the Father and with the Son, and to keep up constant habits of private prayer and Bible-reading.  Thus we shall be armed for the battle of life, and have the sword of the Spirit well fitted to our hand when the day of temptation comes.

(4) In the last place, let me entreat all members of a church who know what real praying is, to pray daily for the Church to which they belong.  Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may be poured out upon it, and that its candlestick may not be taken away.  Let us pray for those churches in which the Gospel is now not preached, that the darkness may pass away, and the true light shine in them.  Let us pray for those ministers who now neither know nor preach the truth, that God may take away the veil from their hearts, and show them a more excellent way.  Nothing is impossible.  The Apostle Paul was once a persecuting Pharisee; Luther was once an unenlightened monk; Bishop Latimer was once a bigoted Catholic; Thomas Scott was once thoroughly opposed to evangelical truth.  Nothing, I repeat, is impossible.  The Spirit can make ministers preach that Gospel which they now labor to destroy.  Let us therefore be urgent in prayer.

I commend the matters contained in this paper to serious attention.  Let us ponder them well in our hearts.  Let us carry them out in our daily practice.  Let us do this, and we shall have learned something from the story of Peter at Antioch.

Transcribed by

Tony Capoccia

Bible Bulletin Board

All Scripture references are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL

VERSION (C) 1978 by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of

Zondervan Bible Publishers.

This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted (C)1998 by Tony Capoccia.

All rights reserved.

Sermon Sunday – J.C. Ryle – Freedom

July 3, 2011 at 6:30 am | Posted in Sermon Sunday | Leave a comment
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Freedom
by
J. C. Ryle
(1816-1900)

___________________________________________________________________

© Copyright 2001 by Tony Capoccia. This updated file may be freely copied, printed out, and distributed as
long as copyright and source statements remain intact, and that it is not sold. All rights reserved.

Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION © 1978
by the New York Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

A copy of this sermon, Preached by Tony Capoccia, is available
on Audio Tape Cassette or Audio CD at www.gospelgems.com
___________________________________________________________________

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”–John 8:36

The subject before us today deserves our attention. It should ring in the ears of every person like the voice of a trumpet. We live in a land which is the very cradle of freedom. But are we ourselves free?

The question is one which demands special attention during the present state of public opinion. The minds of many are absorbed in politics. Yet there is a freedom, within the reach of all of us, which few, I am afraid, ever think of–a freedom independent of all political changes–a freedom which neither the prevailing government, nor the cleverest politician can bestow. This is the freedom about which I speak today. Do we know anything of it? Are we free? Continue Reading Sermon Sunday – J.C. Ryle – Freedom…

Sermon Sunday – Jonathan Edwards – The Way of Holiness

June 26, 2011 at 6:30 am | Posted in Sermon Sunday | Leave a comment
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The Way of Holiness

by

 Jonathan Edwards
 (1703-1758)

“And an highway shall be and a way, way, it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.” —  Isaiah 35:8

This Book of Isaiah speaks so much of Christ, gives such a particular account of the birth, life, miracles and passion, and of the gospel state, that it has been called a fifth Gospel. In this chapter is contained a glorious prophecy of the evangelical state:

 

  1. We have a description of the flourishing state of Christ’s kingdom in the two first verses, in the conversion and enlightening of the heathen, here compared to a wilderness, and a desert, solitary place:

    The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.

     

  2. The great privileges and precious advantages of the gospel, in the five following verses wherein the strength, the courage, the reward, the salvation, the light and understanding, comforts and joys, that are conferred thereby, are very aptly described and set forth:Strengthen ye the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert , And the parched ground Shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.

     

  3. The nature of the gospel, and way of salvation therein brought to light. First, the holy nature of it, in the eighth and ninth verses:

     

    1. And an highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for those the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there. 
    2. The joyful nature of it, “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” [v.10].

Observations

 

  1. Observe in our text the subject spoken, that is, the way to salvation: “An highway shall be there, and a way.” This highway is the common and only way to heaven, for the way to heaven is but one. There is none ever get to heaven except they walk in this way some men don’t get to heaven one way and others another, but it i. one highway that is always traveled by those that obtain heaven.It is the same narrow way that Christ tells us of. Some don’t go to heaven in a broad way, and others in a narrow; some in an easy and others in a difficult way; some in a way of self­denial and mortification, and others in a way of enjoyment of their lusts and sinful pleasures; some up hill and others down: but the way to heaven is the same, and it is the highway here spoken of. There is only one highway or common road, and no by-paths that some few go to heaven in, a’ exceptions from the rest.

    If we seek never so diligently, we shall never find out an easier we, to heaven than that which Christ has revealed to us. We cannot find a broader way, but if we go to heaven, the way is so narrow that we must rub hard to get along and press forward. The kingdom of heaven must suffer violence; it must be taken by force, or else it never will be taken at all. If we don’t go by the footsteps of the flock, we shall never find the place where Christ feeds, and where he makes his flock to rest at noon.

    It appears that the way here spoken of is the way of salvation, by the last verse of the chapter. When speaking of this way, it is said, “the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion,” etc. “Zion” is the common appellation by which, in the Old Testament, the church both militant and triumphant is signified.

     

  2. In the words observe the holy nature of this way described: first, by the name by which it is called, “the way of holiness”; “and it shall be called the way of holiness.” Secondly, the holiness of those that travel in it, and its purity from those that are unclean, or unholy; “the unclean shall not pass over it.” No wicked person shall ever travel in this way of holiness. To the same purpose is the next verse, “No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there.” That is, none of the wicked men of this world, which are like lions or ravenous beasts more than like men: in their eager raging and lustful appetites and evil affections, or by their insatiable covetousness, are like hungry wolves, are violently set upon the world and will have it, whether by right or by wrong. Or make themselves like ravenous beasts by their proud, invidious, malicious dispositions, which is directly contrary to a Christian spirit and temper. They are more like wild beasts than Christians, that are wrongful and injurious, are all for themselves and the satisfying their own appetites, and care nothing for the welfare of others, their fellowmen that are of the same blood, make a god of their bellies, and therein resemble tigers and wolves.”Now,” says the Prophet, “none such shall go upon this highway to Zion; such unclean and ravenous beasts shall not be found there. No, but the redeemed shall walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion.” This way is a way of holiness and not to be defiled by wicked persons. That in Rev. 21:27 will serve well for an explication of these words: “And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie, but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

     


    DOCTRINE

    Those only that are holy are in the way to heaven.

    Many are not sensible enough of the necessity of holiness in order to salvation. Everyone hopes for heaven, but if everyone that hoped for heaven ever got there, heaven by this time would have been full of murderers, adulterers, common swearers, drunkards, thieves, robbers,, and licentious debauchers. It would have been full of all manner of wickedness and wicked men, such as the earth abounds with at this day. There would have been those there that are no better than wild beasts, howling wolves, and poisonous serpents; yea, devils incarnate, as Judas was.

    What a wretched place would the highest heavens have been by this time if it were so: that pure, undefiled, light and glorious place, the heavenly temple, would be as the temple of Jerusalem was in Christ’s time, a den of thieves; and the royal palace of the Most High the holy metropolis of the creation, would be turned into a mere hell. There would be no happiness there for those that are holy. What a horrible, dreadful confusion would there be if the glorious presence of God the Father; the glorified Lamb of God; and the Heavenly Dove, spirit of all grace and original of all holiness; the spotless, glorified saints; the holy angels; and wicked men, beasts and devils were all mixed up together!

    Therefore, it behooves us all to be sensible of the necessity of holiness in order to salvation; of the necessity of real, hearty and sincere inward and spiritual holiness, such as will stand by us forever and will not leave us at death, that sinners may not be so foolish as to entertain hopes of heaven, except they intend forthwith to set about repentance and reformation of heart and life. Wherefore, this is what we are now upon: to show the necessity of holiness, and this we shall do in these three things.

     


 

  1. Show what holiness is. 
  2. That those that have it not are not in the way to heaven. 
  3. The reasons why it must needs be so.

 


 

  1. What is holiness? I shall answer to this question in three things which fully comprehend the nature of holiness, which are not in themselves distinct as so many parts of holiness, but the same thing in three different lights, to give us the fuller understanding of it. 
    1. Holiness is a conformity of the heart and the life unto God. Whatever outward appearance men may make by their external actions, as if they were holy, yet if it proceeds not from a most inward hearty and sincere holiness within, it is nothing. Amaziah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart all that he did was not acceptable to God, who searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of the children of men, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.And whatever holiness they may pretend to have in their hearts, whatever hypocritical pangs of affection they may have had, it is all to no purpose except it manifest itself in the holiness of their lives and conversations: Jas. 1: 26­27, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” And in the second chapter, eighteenth verse: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” And in the nineteenth and twentieth verses, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” So that there must be a conformity of both heart and life to God, in order to true holiness.

      Holiness is the image of God, his likeness, in him that is holy. By being conformed unto God is not meant a conformity to him in his eternity, or infinity, or infinite power. These are God’s inimitable and incommunicable attributes; but a conformity to his will, whereby he wills things that are just, right, and truly excellent and lovely; whereby he wills real perfection, and goodness; and perfectly abhors everything that is really evil, unjust, and unreasonable. And it is not only a willing as God wills, but also a doing as he cloth: in acting holily and justly and wisely and mercifully, like him. It must become natural thus to be, and thus to act; it must be the constant inclination and new nature of the soul, and then the man is holy, and not before.

       

    2. It is a conformity to Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus is perfectly conformed unto God, for he is God. He is his express image. Now Christ is nearer to us in some respects than God the Father, for he is our Mediator and is more immediately conversant with us; John 1:18, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Jesus Christ, he has been with us in the flesh and as one of us he appeared in the form of a servant, and we have seen his holiness brightly shining forth in all his actions. We have seen his holy life; we have a copy drawn, and an example set for us.Now holiness is a conformity unto this copy: he that copies after Jesus Christ, after that copy which he has set us and which is delivered to us by the evangelists, is holy. He that diligently observes the life of Christ in the New Testament need not be at a loss to know what holiness is. Christ commands us to follow his example: Matt. 11 l :29, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

      Have you ever read the four Gospels, and did you not observe in the life of Christ wonderful instances of humility, love to God, love to religion; wonderful instances of zeal for God’s glory, steadfastness in resisting temptations, entire trust and reliance on God, strict adherence to all his commands; astonishing instances of condescension, humility, meekness, lowliness, love to men, love to his enemies, charity and patience? Why, this is holiness. When we imitate Christ in these things, then are we holy, and not till then.

       

    3. Holiness is a conformity to God’s laws and commands. When all God’s laws without exception are written in our hearts, then are we holy. If you can go along with David in Psalm 119, where he speaks of his love and delight in God’s law, in your own experience; when a man feels in some good measure what David declares concerning himself towards the law of God, then may God’s law be said to be written in his heart. By God’s law I mean all his precepts and commands, especially as they are delivered to us in the gospel, which is the fulfillment of the law of God. If you feel Christ’s Sermon upon the Mount engraver on the fleshly tables of your hearts, you are truly sanctified.The new covenant is written in the hearts of those that are sanctified, of which the prophet Jeremiah speaks, 31:31,33, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. This shall be my covenant, that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

      The commands and precepts which God has given us are all pure, perfect, and holy. They are the holiness of God in writing, and, when the soul is conformed to them, they have holiness of God upon their hearts; 11 Cor. 3:3, “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart.” When the soul is molded and fashioned according to the image of God, the example of Christ and the rules . gospel, then it is holy, and not else.

     

  2. Those that have not this holiness are not in the way to heaven. Those that are not thus conformed to God, to Christ, and God’s commands, are not in the way to heaven and happiness; they are not traveling that road; the road they are in will never bring them there. Whatever hopes and expectations they may have, they will never reach heaven to eternity except they alter their course, turn about, and steer [towards] another point; for the way is a way of holiness, and the unclean shall not pass over it. Christ said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into heaven, but yet he left it absolutely possible with God that it might be; but he said positively and without exception that except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. None but those that are holy are in the way to heaven, whatever profession they may make, whatever church they may be in: for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.Whatever external acts of religion they may perform, however they may be constant attendants on the public or family worship, and live outwardly moral lives; yea, what is more, if they speak with the tongues of men and angels, though they could prophesy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though they have faith that they can remove mountains; though they bestow all their goods to feed the poor, and though they give their very bodies to be burnt: yet if they have not charity or holiness ­ which is the same thing, for by charity is intended love to God as well as man ­ though they have and do all those things, yet they are nothing; they are as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal (see I Cor. 13). It is good that we should be thoroughly convinced of the most absolute and indispensable necessity of a real, spiritual, active and vital yea, immortal ­ holiness.

     

  3. We shall now, in the third place, give the reasons why none that are not holy can be in the way to heaven, and why those who never are so can never obtain the happiness thereof. 
  4. ‘Tis contrary to God’s justice, to make a wicked man eternally happy. God is a God of infinite justice, and his justice (to speak after the manner of men) “obliges” him to punish sin eternally; sin must be punished, the sins of all men must be punished. If the sinner retains his sin, and it is not washed off by the blood of Christ, and he purified and sanctified and made holy, it must be punished upon him. If he is sanctified, his sin has been already punished in the passion of Christ, but if not, it still remains to be punished in his eternal ruin and misery; for God has said that he is a holy and jealous God, and will by no means clear the guilty. It is reckoned amongst the rest of God’s attributes which he proclaims in Ex. 34:7 and Num. 14 18. 
  5. ‘Tis impossible by reason of God’s holiness, that anything should be united to God and brought to the enjoyment of him which is not holy. Now is it possible that a God of infinite holiness, that is perfect and hates sin with perfect hatred, that is infinitely lovely and excellent, should embrace in his arms a filthy, abominable creature, a hideous, detestable monster, more hateful than a toad and more poisonous than a viper? But so hateful, base, and abominable is every unsanctified man, even the best hypocrite and most painted sepulchers of them all.How impossible is it that this should be, that such loathsome beings, the picture of the devil, should be united to God: should be a member of Christ, a child of God, be made happy in the enjoyment of his love and the smiles of his countenance, should be in God and God in them? It is therefore as impossible for an unholy thing to be admitted unto the happiness of heaven as it is for God not to be, or be turned to nothing. For it is as impossible that God should love sin as it is for him to cease to be, and it is as impossible for him to love a wicked man that has not his sin purified, and it is as impossible for him to enjoy the happiness of heaven except God love him, for the happiness of heaven consists in the enjoyment of God’s love.

     

  6. It would defile heaven and interrupt the happiness of the saints and angels. It would defile that holy place, the Holy of Holies, and would fright and terrify the sanctified spirits, and obstruct them in their delightful ecstasies of devotion, and his praise would quite confound the heavenly society. How would one unsanctified person interrupt their happiness, and fill those regions all over with the loathsome stench of his sin and filthiness! 
  7. The nature of sin necessarily implies, misery. That soul that remains sinful must of a necessity of nature remain miserable, for it is impossible there should be any happiness where such a hateful thing as sin reigns and bears rule. Sin is the most cruel tyrant that ever ruled, seeks nothing but the misery of his subjects; as in the very keeping of God’s commands there is great reward, so in the very breaking of them there is great punishment.Sin is a woeful confusion and dreadful disorder in the soul, whereby everything is put out of place, reason trampled under foot and passion advanced in the room of it, conscience dethroned and abominable lusts reigning. As long as it is so, there will unavoidably be a dreadful confusion and perturbation in the mind; the soul will be full of worry, perplexities, uneasinesses, storms and frights, and thus it must necessarily be to all eternity, except the Spirit of God puts all to rights. So that if it were possible that God should desire to make a wicked man happy while he is wicked, the nature of the thing would not allow of it, but it would be simply and absolutely impossible.

    Thus I have given some reasons of the doctrine, why it must needs be that those that are not holy cannot be in the way to heaven. Many more reasons might be offered, which the time will not allow to take notice of at this time; but these alone would have been enough to certify us that none but those who are holy ever attain to a crown of glory, if God had not expressly said that without holiness no man should see the Lord.

 


APPLICATION

We shall apply this doctrine in three uses:

 

  1. of inference; 
  2. of trial or self­examination; 
  3. of exhortation.

 


 

  1. Use of Inf. If it be so that none but those that are holy are in the way to heaven, how many poor creatures are there that think they are in the way to heaven who are not? There are many that think that they are undoubtedly in the way to heaven, and without question shall enter there at last, that have not the least grain of true holiness, that manifest none in their lives and conversations, of whom we may be certain that either they have no holiness at all, or that which they have is a dormant, inactive sort which is in effect to be certain that there is none. There are a great many others that are not so distinctly and plainly perceived, that have nothing but what is external, the shell without the kernel. Vast multitudes are of these two kinds.What a pitiable, miserable condition are they in: to step out of this world into an uncertain eternity, with an expectation of finding themselves exceeding happy and blessed in the highest heaven, and all at once find themselves deceived, and are undeceived, finding themselves sinking in the bottomless pit!

     

  2. Use of Trial. If none are in the way to heaven but those that are holy, let us try and examine ourselves by this doctrine to see whereabouts we are, and see whether or no we are in the way to heaven. To know which way we are going, whether towards Canaan or Egypt, whether towards heaven or hell; for if we think ourselves in the road to heaven, and are going to the place of torment all the while, and continue deceived, without doubt fire and brimstone will undeceive us. If we find ourselves in the broad way to destruction, how dare we stir a step further? If we would know whether we are holy or no, let us try ourselves by these five following things: 
    1. Meditate on the holiness of God, and see if you cannot see a conformity, a likeness in your mind. There is no likeness or comparison in degree-we speak not of that-but yet there is a likeness in nature between Cod and the soul of the believer. The holy soul, when it thinks and meditates upon God’s nature, finds a pleasure and delight, because there is an agreeableness in his new nature to the divine perfections. If those that think themselves in the way to heaven, that are unholy in the meantime in their hearts, would compare themselves and their nature to the holy nature of God, such a glorious light as the holiness of God would quickly discover their rottenness and unsoundness. 
    2. See if you can see any resemblance in your life to the life of Christ. It is not supposed that ever any copy comes near to this original, nor ever will; but yet they may perceive whether the same spirit, the same temper and disposition, in a lesser degree be in them, that was manifested by the life and conversation of Jesus Christ. 
    3. Is there an agreeableness between your souls and the Word of God? The Bible is the epistle of Christ that he has written to us now, if the same epistle is also written in our hearts that is written in the Scriptures, it may be found out by comparing. Have you love to all God’s commands and a respect to them in your actions? Is it your delight to obey and hearken to the will of God? Do you obey them of choice? Is it what you would choose to do if God had not threatened to punish the breach of them? 
    4. Do you find by a comparison a likeness and agreeableness between your hearts and lives, and the hearts and lives of those holy men that we are assured were such by the Word of God? Do you walk with God as Enoch did, or distinguish yourselves by your piety in the midst of wicked examples as Noah did? And when you read the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the prophets, wherein holiness is drawn to the life, you may viewing so exact a picture discover whether you have not the root of the matter in you, though it be much obscurer in you than in them. When we read the Psalms of David, we may clearly see what David’s holiness was by that spirit that is breathed there; when we read the Epistles of the apostles, we may know what is a truly evangelical spirit, and whether such a spirit reigns in our souls. 
    5. Do you in a measure imitate the saints and angels in heaven? They spend their duration to the glory of God; they love him above all things, are delighted with the beauties of Jesus Christ, entirely love one another, and hate sin. And those that are holy on earth have also a resemblance and imitation of them: they are of an heavenly temper, of heavenly lives and conversations.

     

  3. Use of l Exhortation. Exhort all to holiness. You have heard what holiness is and of the necessity of it, the absolute necessity in order to escaping hell; what we must have or die forever, must be forever forsaken Now, nothing is so necessary to us as holiness; other things may be necessary to discover this life, and things that are necessary men will strive for with all their might, if there is a probability of obtaining of them. How much more is that to be sought after, without which we shall fare infinitely worse than die ten thousand deaths!This is motive enough without any other; for what can be a greater motive than necessity? But besides that, if it were not necessary, the amiable and excellent nature of it is enough to make it worthy the most earnest seeking after.

Holiness is a most beautiful, lovely thing. Men are apt to drink in strange notions of holiness from their childhood, as if it were a melancholy, morose, sour, and unpleasant thing; but there is nothing in it but what is sweet and ravishingly lovely. ‘Tis the highest beauty and amiableness, vastly above all other beauties; ’tis a divine beauty, makes the soul heavenly and far purer than anything here on earth-this world is like mire and filth and defilement [compared] to that soul which is sanctified-’tis of a sweet, lovely, delightful, serene, calm, and still nature. ‘Tis almost too high a beauty for any creature to be adorned with; it makes the soul a little, amiable, and delightful image of the blessed Jehovah. How may angels stand with pleased, delighted, and charmed eyes, and look and look with smiles of pleasure upon that soul that is holy!

Christian holiness is above all the heathen virtue, of a more bright and pure nature, more serene, calm, peaceful, and delightsome. What a sweet calmness, what a calm ecstasy, cloth it bring to the soul! Of what a meek and humble nature is true holiness; how peaceful and quiet. How cloth it change the soul, and make it more pure, more bright, and more excellent than other beings.

The Way of Holiness

by

 Jonathan Edwards
 (1703-1758)

“And an highway shall be and a way, way, it shall be called the way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.” —  Isaiah 35:8

This Book of Isaiah speaks so much of Christ, gives such a particular account of the birth, life, miracles and passion, and of the gospel state, that it has been called a fifth Gospel. In this chapter is contained a glorious prophecy of the evangelical state:

  1. We have a description of the flourishing state of Christ’s kingdom in the two first verses, in the conversion and enlightening of the heathen, here compared to a wilderness, and a desert, solitary place:

    The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.

  2. The great privileges and precious advantages of the gospel, in the five following verses wherein the strength, the courage, the reward, the salvation, the light and understanding, comforts and joys, that are conferred thereby, are very aptly described and set forth:Strengthen ye the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not; behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert , And the parched ground Shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
  3. The nature of the gospel, and way of salvation therein brought to light. First, the holy nature of it, in the eighth and ninth verses:
    1. And an highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way o holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it, but it shall be for those the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein. No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there.
    2. The joyful nature of it, “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” [v.10].

Observations

  1. Observe in our text the subject spoken, that is, the way to salvation: “An highway shall be there, and a way.” This highway is the common and only way to heaven, for the way to heaven is but one. There is none ever get to heaven except they walk in this way some men don’t get to heaven one way and others another, but it i. one highway that is always traveled by those that obtain heaven.It is the same narrow way that Christ tells us of. Some don’t go to heaven in a broad way, and others in a narrow; some in an easy and others in a difficult way; some in a way of self­denial and mortification, and others in a way of enjoyment of their lusts and sinful plea sures; some up hill and others down: but the way to heaven is the same, and it is the highway here spoken of. There is only one highway or common road, and no by-paths that some few go to heaven in, a’ exceptions from the rest.

    If we seek never so diligently, we shall never find out an easier we, to heaven than that which Christ has revealed to us. We cannot find a broader way, but if we go to heaven, the way is so narrow that we must rub hard to get along and press forward. The kingdom of heaven must suffer violence; it must be taken by force, or else it never will be taken at all. If we don’t go by the footsteps of the flock, we shall never find the place where Christ feeds, and where he makes his flock to rest at noon.

    It appears that the way here spoken of is the way of salvation, by the last verse of the chapter. When speaking of this way, it is said, “the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion,” etc. “Zion” is the common appellation by which, in the Old Testament, the church both militant and triumphant is signified.

  2. In the words observe the holy nature of this way described: first, by the name by which it is called, “the way of holiness”; “and it shall be called the way of holiness.” Secondly, the holiness of those that travel in it, and its purity from those that are unclean, or unholy; “the unclean shall not pass over it.” No wicked person shall ever travel in this way of holiness. To the same purpose is the next verse, “No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there.” That is, none of the wicked men of this world, which are like lions or ravenous beasts more than like men: in their eager raging and lustful appetites and evil affections, or by their insatiable covetousness, are like hungry wolves, are violently set upon the world and will have it, whether by right or by wrong. Or make themselves like ravenous beasts by their proud, invidious, malicious dispositions, which is directly contrary to a Christian spirit and temper. They are more like wild beasts than Christians, that are wrongful and injurious, are all for themselves and the satisfying their own appetites, and care nothing for the welfare of others, their fellowmen that are of the same blood, make a god of their bellies, and therein resemble tigers and wolves.”Now,” says the Prophet, “none such shall go upon this highway to Zion; such unclean and ravenous beasts shall not be found there. No, but the redeemed shall walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion.” This way is a way of holiness and not to be defiled by wicked persons. That in Rev. 21:27 will serve well for an explication of these words: “And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination or maketh a lie, but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

    DOCTRINE

    Those only that are holy are in the way to heaven.

    Many are not sensible enough of the necessity of holiness in order to salvation. Everyone hopes for heaven, but if everyone that hoped for heaven ever got there, heaven by this time would have been full of murderers, adulterers, common swearers, drunkards, thieves, robbers,, and licentious debauchers. It would have been full of all manner of wickedness and wicked men, such as the earth abounds with at this day. There would have been those there that are no better than wild beasts, howling wolves, and poisonous serpents; yea, devils incarnate, as Judas was.

    What a wretched place would the highest heavens have been by this time if it were so: that pure, undefiled, light and glorious place, the heavenly temple, would be as the temple of Jerusalem was in Christ’s time, a den of thieves; and the royal palace of the Most High the holy metropolis of the creation, would be turned into a mere hell. There would be no happiness there for those that are holy. What a horrible, dreadful confusion would there be if the glorious presence of God the Father; the glorified Lamb of God; and the Heavenly Dove, spirit of all grace and original of all holiness; the spotless, glorified saints; the holy angels; and wicked men, beasts and devils were all mixed up together!

    Therefore, it behooves us all to be sensible of the necessity of holiness in order to salvation; of the necessity of real, hearty and sincere inward and spiritual holiness, such as will stand by us forever and will not leave us at death, that sinners may not be so foolish as to entertain hopes of heaven, except they intend forthwith to set about repentance and reformation of heart and life. Wherefore, this is what we are now upon: to show the necessity of holiness, and this we shall do in these three things.


  1. Show what holiness is.
  2. That those that have it not are not in the way to heaven.
  3. The reasons why it must needs be so.

  1. What is holiness? I shall answer to this question in three things which fully comprehend the nature of holiness, which are not in themselves distinct as so many parts of holiness, but the same thing in three different lights, to give us the fuller understanding of it.
    1. Holiness is a conformity of the heart and the life unto God. Whatever outward appearance men may make by their external actions, as if they were holy, yet if it proceeds not from a most inward hearty and sincere holiness within, it is nothing. Amaziah did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart all that he did was not acceptable to God, who searcheth the hearts and trieth the reins of the children of men, and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.And whatever holiness they may pretend to have in their hearts, whatever hypocritical pangs of affection they may have had, it is all to no purpose except it manifest itself in the holiness of their lives and conversations: Jas. 1: 26­27, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” And in the second chapter, eighteenth verse: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works.” And in the nineteenth and twentieth verses, “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” So that there must be a conformity of both heart and life to God, in order to true holiness.

      Holiness is the image of God, his likeness, in him that is holy. By being conformed unto God is not meant a conformity to him in his eternity, or infinity, or infinite power. These are God’s inimitable and incommunicable attributes; but a conformity to his will, whereby he wills things that are just, right, and truly excellent and lovely; whereby he wills real perfection, and goodness; and perfectly abhors everything that is really evil, unjust, and unreasonable. And it is not only a willing as God wills, but also a doing as he cloth: in acting holily and justly and wisely and mercifully, like him. It must become natural thus to be, and thus to act; it must be the constant inclination and new nature of the soul, and then the man is holy, and not before.

    2. It is a conformity to Jesus Christ. Christ Jesus is perfectly conformed unto God, for he is God. He is his express image. Now Christ is nearer to us in some respects than God the Father, for he is our Mediator and is more immediately conversant with us; John 1:18, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Jesus Christ, he has been with us in the flesh and as one of us he appeared in the form of a servant, and we have seen his holiness brightly shining forth in all his actions. We have seen his holy life; we have a copy drawn, and an example set for us.Now holiness is a conformity unto this copy: he that copies after Jesus Christ, after that copy which he has set us and which is delivered to us by the evangelists, is holy. He that diligently observes the life of Christ in the New Testament need not be at a loss to know what holiness is. Christ commands us to follow his example: Matt. 11 l :29, “Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

      Have you ever read the four Gospels, and did you not observe in the life of Christ wonderful instances of humility, love to God, love to religion; wonderful instances of zeal for God’s glory, steadfastness in resisting temptations, entire trust and reliance on God, strict adherence to all his commands; astonishing instances of condescension, humility, meekness, lowliness, love to men, love to his enemies, charity and patience? Why, this is holiness. When we imitate Christ in these things, then are we holy, and not till then.

    3. Holiness is a conformity to God’s laws and commands. When all God’s laws without exception are written in our hearts, then are we holy. If you can go along with David in Psalm 119, where he speaks of his love and delight in God’s law, in your own experience; when a man feels in some good measure what David declares concerning himself towards the law of God, then may God’s law be said to be written in his heart. By God’s law I mean all his precepts and commands, especially as they are delivered to us in the gospel, which is the fulfillment of the law of God. If you feel Christ’s Sermon upon the Mount engraver on the fleshly tables of your hearts, you are truly sanctified.The new covenant is written in the hearts of those that are sanctified, of which the prophet Jeremiah speaks, 31:31,33, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah. This shall be my covenant, that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

      The commands and precepts which God has given us are all pure, perfect, and holy. They are the holiness of God in writing, and, when the soul is conformed to them, they have holiness of God upon their hearts; 11 Cor. 3:3, “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in the fleshly tables of the heart.” When the soul is molded and fashioned according to the image of God, the example of Christ and the rules . gospel, then it is holy, and not else.

  2. Those that have not this holiness are not in the way to heaven. Those that are not thus conformed to God, to Christ, and God’s commands, are not in the way to heaven and happiness; they are not traveling that road; the road they are in will never bring them there. Whatever hopes and expectations they may have, they will never reach heaven to eternity except they alter their course, turn about, and steer [towards] another point; for the way is a way of holiness, and the unclean shall not pass over it. Christ said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into heaven, but yet he left it absolutely possible with God that it might be; but he said positively and without exception that except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. None but those that are holy are in the way to heaven, whatever profession they may make, whatever church they may be in: for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.Whatever external acts of religion they may perform, however they may be constant attendants on the public or family worship, and live outwardly moral lives; yea, what is more, if they speak with the tongues of men and angels, though they could prophesy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though they have faith that they can remove mountains; though they bestow all their goods to feed the poor, and though they give their very bodies to be burnt: yet if they have not charity or holiness ­ which is the same thing, for by charity is intended love to God as well as man ­ though they have and do all those things, yet they are nothing; they are as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal (see I Cor. 13). It is good that we should be thoroughly convinced of the most absolute and indispensable necessity of a real, spiritual, active and vital yea, immortal ­ holiness.
  3. We shall now, in the third place, give the reasons why none that are not holy can be in the way to heaven, and why those who never are so can never obtain the happiness thereof.
  4. ‘Tis contrary to God’s justice, to make a wicked man eternally happy. God is a God of infinite justice, and his justice (to speak after the manner of men) “obliges” him to punish sin eternally; sin must be punished, the sins of all men must be punished. If the sinner retains his sin, and it is not washed off by the blood of Christ, and he purified and sanctified and made holy, it must be punished upon him. If he is sanctified, his sin has been already punished in the passion of Christ, but if not, it still remains to be punished in his eternal ruin and misery; for God has said that he is a holy and jealous God, and will by no means clear the guilty. It is reckoned amongst the rest of God’s attributes which he proclaims in Ex. 34:7 and Num. 14 18.
  5. ‘Tis impossible by reason of God’s holiness, that anything should be united to God and brought to the enjoyment of him which is not holy. Now is it possible that a God of infinite holiness, that is perfect and hates sin with perfect hatred, that is infinitely lovely and excellent, should embrace in his arms a filthy, abominable creature, a hideous, detestable monster, more hateful than a toad and more poisonous than a viper? But so hateful, base, and abominable is every unsanctified man, even the best hypocrite and most painted sepulchers of them all.How impossible is it that this should be, that such loathsome beings, the picture of the devil, should be united to God: should be a member of Christ, a child of God, be made happy in the enjoyment of his love and the smiles of his countenance, should be in God and God in them? It is therefore as impossible for an unholy thing to be admitted unto the happiness of heaven as it is for God not to be, or be turned to nothing. For it is as impossible that God should love sin as it is for him to cease to be, and it is as impossible for him to love a wicked man that has not his sin purified, and it is as impossible for him to enjoy the happiness of heaven except God love him, for the happiness of heaven consists in the enjoyment of God’s love.
  6. It would defile heaven and interrupt the happiness of the saints and angels. It would defile that holy place, the Holy of Holies, and would fright and terrify the sanctified spirits, and obstruct them in their delightful ecstasies of devotion, and his praise would quite confound the heavenly society. How would one unsanctified person interrupt their happiness, and fill those regions all over with the loathsome stench of his sin and filthiness!
  7. The nature of sin necessarily implies, misery. That soul that remains sinful must of a necessity of nature remain miserable, for it is impossible there should be any happiness where such a hateful thing as sin reigns and bears rule. Sin is the most cruel tyrant that ever ruled, seeks nothing but the misery of his subjects; as in the very keeping of God’s commands there is great reward, so in the very breaking of them there is great punishment.Sin is a woeful confusion and dreadful disorder in the soul, whereby everything is put out of place, reason trampled under foot and passion advanced in the room of it, conscience dethroned and abominable lusts reigning. As long as it is so, there will unavoidably be a dreadful confusion and perturbation in the mind; the soul will be full of worry, perplexities, uneasinesses, storms and frights, and thus it must necessarily be to all eternity, except the Spirit of God puts all to rights. So that if it were possible that God should desire to make a wicked man happy while he is wicked, the nature of the thing would not allow of it, but it would be simply and absolutely impossible.

    Thus I have given some reasons of the doctrine, why it must needs be that those that are not holy cannot be in the way to heaven. Many more reasons might be offered, which the time will not allow to take notice of at this time; but these alone would have been enough to certify us that none but those who are holy ever attain to a crown of glory, if God had not expressly said that without holiness no man should see the Lord.


APPLICATION

We shall apply this doctrine in three uses:

  1. of inference;
  2. of trial or self­examination;
  3. of exhortation.

  1. Use of Inf. If it be so that none but those that are holy are in the way to heaven, how many poor creatures are there that think they are in the way to heaven who are not? There are many that think that they are undoubtedly in the way to heaven, and without question shall enter there at last, that have not the least grain of true holiness, that manifest none in their lives and conversations, of whom we may be certain that either they have no holiness at all, or that which they have is a dormant, inactive sort which is in effect to be certain that there is none. There are a great many others that are not so distinctly and plainly perceived, that have nothing but what is external, the shell without the kernel. Vast multitudes are of these two kinds.What a pitiable, miserable condition are they in: to step out of this world into an uncertain eternity, with an expectation of finding themselves exceeding happy and blessed in the highest heaven, and all at once find themselves deceived, and are undeceived, finding themselves sinking in the bottomless pit!
  2. Use of Trial. If none are in the way to heaven but those that are holy, let us try and examine ourselves by this doctrine to see whereabouts we are, and see whether or no we are in the way to heaven. To know which way we are going, whether towards Canaan or Egypt, whether towards heaven or hell; for if we think ourselves in the road to heaven, and are going to the place of torment all the while, and continue deceived, without doubt fire and brimstone will undeceive us. If we find ourselves in the broad way to destruction, how dare we stir a step further? If we would know whether we are holy or no, let us try ourselves by these five following things:
    1. Meditate on the holiness of God, and see if you cannot see a conformity, a likeness in your mind. There is no likeness or comparison in degree-we speak not of that-but yet there is a likeness in nature between Cod and the soul of the believer. The holy soul, when it thinks and meditates upon God’s nature, finds a pleasure and delight, because there is an agreeableness in his new nature to the divine perfections. If those that think themselves in the way to heaven, that are unholy in the meantime in their hearts, would compare themselves and their nature to the holy nature of God, such a glorious light as the holiness of God would quickly discover their rottenness and unsoundness.
    2. See if you can see any resemblance in your life to the life of Christ. It is not supposed that ever any copy comes near to this original, nor ever will; but yet they may perceive whether the same spirit, the same temper and disposition, in a lesser degree be in them, that was manifested by the life and conversation of Jesus Christ.
    3. Is there an agreeableness between your souls and the Word of God? The Bible is the epistle of Christ that he has written to us now, if the same epistle is also written in our hearts that is written in the Scriptures, it may be found out by comparing. Have you love to all God’s commands and a respect to them in your actions? Is it your delight to obey and hearken to the will of God? Do you obey them of choice? Is it what you would choose to do if God had not threatened to punish the breach of them?
    4. Do you find by a comparison a likeness and agreeableness between your hearts and lives, and the hearts and lives of those holy men that we are assured were such by the Word of God? Do you walk with God as Enoch did, or distinguish yourselves by your piety in the midst of wicked examples as Noah did? And when you read the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the prophets, wherein holiness is drawn to the life, you may viewing so exact a picture discover whether you have not the root of the matter in you, though it be much obscurer in you than in them. When we read the Psalms of David, we may clearly see what David’s holiness was by that spirit that is breathed there; when we read the Epistles of the apostles, we may know what is a truly evangelical spirit, and whether such a spirit reigns in our souls.
    5. Do you in a measure imitate the saints and angels in heaven? They spend their duration to the glory of God; they love him above all things, are delighted with the beauties of Jesus Christ, entirely love one another, and hate sin. And those that are holy on earth have also a resemblance and imitation of them: they are of an heavenly temper, of heavenly lives and conversations.
  3. Use of l Exhortation. Exhort all to holiness. You have heard what holiness is and of the necessity of it, the absolute necessity in order to escaping hell; what we must have or die forever, must be forever forsaken Now, nothing is so necessary to us as holiness; other things may be necessary to discover this life, and things that are necessary men will strive for with all their might, if there is a probability of obtaining of them. How much more is that to be sought after, without which we shall fare infinitely worse than die ten thousand deaths!This is motive enough without any other; for what can be a greater motive than necessity? But besides that, if it were not necessary, the amiable and excellent nature of it is enough to make it worthy the most earnest seeking after.

Holiness is a most beautiful, lovely thing. Men are apt to drink in strange notions of holiness from their childhood, as if it were a melancholy, morose, sour, and unpleasant thing; but there is nothing in it but what is sweet and ravishingly lovely. ‘Tis the highest beauty and amiableness, vastly above all other beauties; ’tis a divine beauty, makes the soul heavenly and far purer than anything here on earth-this world is like mire and filth and defilement [compared] to that soul which is sanctified-’tis of a sweet, lovely, delightful, serene, calm, and still nature. ‘Tis almost too high a beauty for any creature to be adorned with; it makes the soul a little, amiable, and delightful image of the blessed Jehovah. How may angels stand with pleased, delighted, and charmed eyes, and look and look with smiles of pleasure upon that soul that is holy!

Christian holiness is above all the heathen virtue, of a more bright and pure nature, more serene, calm, peaceful, and delightsome. What a sweet calmness, what a calm ecstasy, cloth it bring to the soul! Of what a meek and humble nature is true holiness; how peaceful and quiet. How cloth it change the soul, and make it more pure, more bright, and more excellent than other beings.

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…

Sermon Sunday – George Whitefield – Christ, the Believer’s Husband

June 5, 2011 at 8:34 am | Posted in Sermon Sunday | Leave a comment
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Christ the Believer’s Husband
by
George Whitefield
(1714-1770)

Isaiah 54:5 – “For thy Maker is thy Husband.”

Although believers by nature, are far from God, and children of wrath, even as others, yet it is amazing to think how nigh they are brought to him again by the blood of Jesus Christ. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of any man living, fully to conceive, the nearness and dearness of that relation, in which they stand to their common head. He is not ashamed to call them brethren. Behold, says the blessed Jesus in the days of his flesh, “my mother and my brethren.” And again after his resurrection, “go tell my brethren.” Nay sometimes he is pleased to term believers his friends. “Henceforth call I you no longer servants, but friends.” “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth.” And what is a friend? Why there is a friend that is nearer than a brother, nay as near as one’s own soul. And “thy friend, (says God in the book of Deuteronomy) which is as thy own soul.” Kind and endearing applications these, that undoubtedly bespeak a very near and ineffably intimate union between the Lord Jesus and the true living members of his mystical body! But, methinks, the words of our text point out to us a relation, which not only comprehends, but in respect to nearness and dearness , exceeds all other relations whatsoever. I mean that of a Husband, “For thy Maker is thy husband; the Lord of Hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel, the God of the whole earth shall he be called.” Continue Reading Sermon Sunday – George Whitefield – Christ, the Believer’s Husband…

What has Jesus done for me? (long)

April 22, 2011 at 11:08 am | Posted in Christianity | Leave a comment
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It seems that more and more these days people are asking one simple question. It may take a few different forms, but at it’s root, it’s all the same: “What has Jesus done for me?”. Sometimes it comes out in the attitudes, sometimes in actual words but it’s there none the less. Man’s pride puts himself at the top of the pyramid with everything else beneath him. Even family and friends are often under self. Some that ask this question, do so because they can’t see how Jesus has done anything for them. They think that they are responsible for their own success. Ironically, they always seem to blame God for their failures. Continue Reading What has Jesus done for me? (long)…

Sermon Sunday – George Whitefield

April 10, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Posted in Sermon Sunday | Leave a comment
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The Duty of searching the Scriptures
by
George Whitefield
(1714-1770)

John 5:39 – “Search the Scriptures.”

When the Sadducees came to our blessed Lord, and put to him the question, “whose wife that woman should be in the next life, who had seven husbands in this,” he told them “they erred, not knowing the scriptures.” And if we would know whence all the errors, that have over-spread the church of Christ, first arose, we should find that, in a great measure, they flowed from the same fountain, ignorance of the word of God.

Our blessed Lord, though he was the eternal God, yet as man, he made the scriptures his constant rule and guide. And therefore, when he was asked by the lawyer, which was the great commandment of the law, he referred him to his Bible for an answer, “What readest thou?” And thus, when led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil, he repelled all his assaults, with “it is written.”

A sufficient confutation this, of their opinion, who say, “the Spirit only, and not the Spirit by the Word, is to be our rule of action.” If so, our Savior, who had the Spirit without measure, needed not always have referred to the written word.

But how few copy after the example of Christ? How many are there who do not regard the word of God at all, but throw the sacred oracles aside, as an antiquated book, fit only for illiterate men? Continue Reading Sermon Sunday – George Whitefield…

Persecution Friday: Nepal

April 8, 2011 at 9:11 am | Posted in VOM Fridays | Leave a comment
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For more news on what’s really happening to Christians around the world go to the Voice of the Martyrs website: www.persecution.com

Nepal: Evangelism Ban?

As Nepal continues its transition from a monarchal Hindu Kingdom to a democratic secular state, Christians are becoming concerned that the country’s new constitution may limit or even ban evangelism.

The draft proposal includes a seemingly liberal religious freedom clause that states, “Every person shall have the freedom to profess, practice or preserve his or her own religion in accordance with his or her faith, or to refrain from any religion.” However, an explanatory note adds that while every person has the freedom to “convert on his or her will … no person shall be entitled to … convert a person from one religion to another.” Christians fear that the explanatory note could be used as a means of restricting evangelism.

The potential ban on evangelism seems to have raised no concerns among parliament members; the religious freedom provision is listed under “Areas of Agreement” on the Centre for Constitutional Dialogue website. Several parliament members told Compass Direct News that they were unaware of the religious freedom provision’s implications. One member of the Nepali Congress political party said, “Perhaps the words, ‘force, inducement and coercion’ should be inserted to prevent only unlawful conversions.”

Under terms of the Interim Constitution that has been in place since 2007, the new constitution is to take effect this year by May 28. A Constituent Assembly is now condensing drafts from 11 parliamentary committees into a final draft constitution, negotiating with the committees to create a document that represents the many interests of the vying political parties.

Nepal was a Hindu nation until 2006, when the Maoists, a communist popular movement, helped push the king from power and establish a democracy. Currently, three leading political parties, the Maoists, the Unified Marxist Leninists and the Nepali Congress, control the government through a majority.

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