Do, do examine yourself. Exercise godly jealousy over your own
state. Never forget that nothing short of the new birth will save you. "Except a
man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,"
John 3:5. "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away;
behold, all things are become new," II Cor.5:17. The heart must be changed,
entirely changed. We must be renewed in the spirit of our mind. There must be
a superhuman, a divine, a total alteration of disposition. Our views and
tastes, our pains and pleasures, hopes and fears, desires and pursuits, must be
changed. We must be brought to love God supremely for His holiness and justice,
as well as for his mercy and love in Christ – to delight in Him for his
transcendent glory, as well as for His rich grace; we must have a perception of
the beauties of holiness, and love divine things for their own excellence; we
must mourn for sin, and hate it for its own evil nature, as well as its
dreadful punishment; we must feel delight in the salvation of Christ, not only
because it delivers us from Hell, but makes us like God, and all this in a way
that honors and glorifies Jehovah; we must be made partakers of true humility
and universal love, and feel ourselves brought to be of one mind with God in
willing and delighting in the happiness of others; we must be brought to feel
an identity of heart with God’s cause, and to regard it as our honor and
happiness to do any thing to promote the glory of Christ in the salvation of
sinners; we must feel a longing desire, a hungering and thirsting after
holiness, as well as a disposition to put away all sin, however gainful or
pleasant; we must have a tender conscience that shrinks from, and watches
against little sins, secret faults, and sins of neglect and omission, as well
as great and scandalous offences; we must love the people of God for God’s
sake, because they belong to Him and are like Him; we must practise the self-denying
duty of mortification of sin, as well as engage in the pleasing exercises of religion.
This is to be born again; it is no mere transient impression upon the imagination,
but it is a permanent renewal of the disposition; it is not an occasional impulse, but
an abiding character: the subject of it may not be violently agitated, but
he is lastingly altered; his passions may not be powerfully moved, but his
principles, tastes, and pursuits are engaged on the side of true holiness. He
is now a spiritual man, whereas he was a carnal one, and all things are by him
spiritually discerned. Nothing short of this entire change of heart, this
complete renovation, must satisfy you; for nothing less than such a view of
Christ in His glorious mediatorial character, and such a dependence by faith
upon His blood and righteousness for salvation, as changes the whole heart and
temper and conduct, and throws the world as it were into the background, and
makes glory hereafter, and holiness now, the supreme concern, is religion.
2. Inquirers are often in error on the subject of their immediate
obligation to believe, and go to Christ; and are waiting, as they say, for a day
of power at the pool of ordinances. They are seeking and praying, but they have no idea
that it is their present duty, without waiting another hour, to give themselves to Christ.
They are expecting some sensible impression or impulse upon their mind to make known to
them when it is their duty to believe, and also enable them to believe. They suppose it
will be made clear to them, as it was to the cripples by the troubling of the waters, that
they are no longer to wait, but then to descend into the pool of salvation.
Now this is a most grievous and injurious error, and keeps many minds
for a long period in great distress, and actually prevents some from coming to Christ at all.
I must first tell you, that it is an unwarrantable use of Scripture to consider the pool of
Bethesda as an emblem of the healing of sinners by the work of Christ, and the situation of
the diseased persons waiting for the healing visit of the angel, as descriptive of the duty
of sinners to wait for some impulse or power from above, before they believe. The fact was
related to show the power and glory of Christ in working a miraculous cure. Where in all
he New Testament are sinners told to wait till some future time before they believe?
Where is it said, Believe, but not now; hope, but not now; wait for some power or impulse to
enable you to believe? On the contrary, is it not said, "To-day if ye will hear his
voice, harden not your hearts: now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation?"
Is not God willing to pardon you this moment; Christ willing to save you this moment; the Spirit
waiting to renew and sanctify you this moment? Are not all the promises true
now, all the blessings of salvation ready and waiting for your acceptance now?
What then are you waiting for, or why should you wait at all? Could a voice
from Heaven, or any impulse in your own heart, make it more certain than the
word of God makes it, that Christ is willing to save you? Look steadily at this promise,
"Come unto me, all ye that labor, and I will give you rest."
Is that the language of Christ? Yes. Is it true? Yes. Does it say any thing
about waiting for impulse? No. What then are you hesitating about? It is as
true this moment as it ever will or can be, and if you wait for any thing else
but the word of Christ, you will spend all your time in waiting, and die
deceived at last. True, you need the influence of the Spirit to assist you to
believe; but the Spirit is as ready to sanctify, as Christ is to receive you.
But say others, "We are waiting to be more deeply convinced
of sin." Are you convinced that you are under the condemnation of the law; such a
sinner as to be totally depraved in your nature, as well as guilty of innumerable actual
sins, and deserving of Hell? Is this clear to your judgment, and really felt by your conscience;
then what are you waiting for? If you say, For more sorrow of heart, more pungent convictions,
I would ask again, How deep do you suppose your convictions must be, before you believe in
Christ and hope for mercy? Can you fix on any standard on this subject? Besides, do you suppose
that if your convictions were ten times as deep as they now are, these feelings of yours
would be your warrant to go to Christ, or render you more welcome to Him, or be in any
measure your ground of hope? Are you not wishing for deep convictions, to take comfort in
them instead of Christ? Has Christ anywhere said He will not receive you till your
convictions have attained to a certain depth? The question is, are you really convinced?
not how deeply are you convinced. And then, as to godly sorrow, this will be promoted by
faith. "They shall look on me whom they have pierced, and mourn,"
says the Lord Jesus concerning the Jews, Zech.12:10. The belief of God’s love to
us in Christ, the sweet hope of his mercy, will melt the heart to tenderness. I
wish you to dwell upon this. It is the hope, the sense of God’s love, that
warms and thaws the cold and frozen heart of man. As you gaze upon a crucified
Redeemer by faith; as you hear God say, "I, even I, am He that blotteth
out thy sins by the blood of my Son; I will forgive thee all, notwithstanding
thy rebellion and thy too great lukewarmness," your soul will dissolve in
ingenuous grief and love. In keeping back from Christ, in waiting for deeper emotions
before you come to Him, you are defeating your own purpose. The more and sooner you
trust in Christ, the more and the sooner will you mourn for sin. Every fresh view you
take of His cross, trusting in His mercy, will deepen your emotions of sorrow, and your
convictions of the evil of sin. All the sensibilities of your heart will be moved by the
amazing spectacle; and that very scene which conveys to your soul the sense of pardon, will
convey also a sense of the bitterness of transgression. Wait no longer then; believe,
believe now; commit your soul at once to the Saviour, and rejoice in hope of salvation.
Others are waiting for more holiness, for some preparatory process,
before they rest upon Christ for eternal life. A preparatory process indeed
there is, and must be carried on in the heart, before the sinner will go to
Christ. But what is that process? Nothing which is to prevent his soul for a
moment, when he is anxious about salvation, from depending upon Christ. It is
the work of the Holy Spirit giving him a sense of his sin, and a desire to flee
from the wrath to come. With such a sense of sin and coming wrath, what further
preparatory work is necessary in order to believe in Christ?
But what is meant by those who talk thus is, that there must
be a long course of conviction, a production and growth of holy affections, a series
of holy actions, an expansion of religious knowledge; and that then, and not till then,
sinners are encouraged to trust in Christ and hope for salvation. Now it is
very true that every sinner, in coming to Christ by faith, must be prepared and
ready to give up every sin; he must be willing to sacrifice sins that may be
pleasant as a right eye, and dear as a right hand; he must be willing to take
up his cross and follow Christ to bonds, imprisonment, and death; he must
consider himself as "called unto holiness:" and what more in the way
of preparation for pardon does he need? Is not a man prepared to trust in
Christ as soon as he is convinced of his transgression? If a father promise
pardon to an offending child as soon as he confesses his fault, has that child
any need to say, "I will prepare myself for pardon by a long course of
future good conduct?" His father is ready to forgive him, and he of course
is ready to be forgiven, upon the very first moment of true penitence. If God
had said He would not pardon us till months or years of good conduct had taken
place, it would have been only mocking us; for what good conduct can we perform
till He has received us into His favor, and bestowed upon us His Spirit? The
first concern of a sinner should be to receive Christ as his righteousness by
faith. It is a radical error to suppose that sanctification goes before
justification. We must be justified, or we never can be sanctified. Mark this
well. I repeat it, that you may notice and weigh its import:
We must be justified, or we cannot be sanctified.
We are justified by faith, and without faith we cannot please God;
consequently, till we believe, we can perform no good works; and when we
believe, we are accepted of God. Faith, then, is immediately our duty, without
waiting for any preparatory process. But perhaps this will be made still more
plain by a reference to examples. Take then the conversions, or at least some of them, recorded in Scripture.
Take the case of the penitent thief. Luke 23:40-43. What preparatory process went on
in this man’s mind and heart and conduct, beyond the work of the Spirit, in convincing
him of sin? He appears to have thought of his sin, and repented for the first time, when he
was crucified; and almost the same moment believed in Christ, and entertained a hope of mercy.
Read the account of the three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost.
Acts 2. Up to the time when they heard Peter’s sermon they were the
murderers of Christ; by that sermon they were convinced of sin, and they were
immediately found rejoicing in the assurance of pardon. Now what preparatory
process was carried on in their hearts, beyond the work of the Spirit in convincing them of sin?
Consider the conversion of the Apostle Paul,
Acts 9, who was a bloody persecutor; and a day or two after, not only a
pardoned sinner, a baptized believer, a rejoicing Christian, but a consecrated
apostle. What preparatory process in the way of long cherished convictions, or
holy actions, was there in him?
Consult the narrative of the Philippian jailer.
Acts 16:25-34. In the same night he was convinced of sin; he believed in
Christ; he was filled with peace, and was baptized. When in agony of soul he cried out,
"What shall I do to be saved?" his heaven-inspired teacher replied,
"Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
The apostle did not speak to him of any preparatory process, any long course
of prescribed duties, any training for his reception by Christ, but simply
said, "Believe;" and he meant, of course, believe now; and so the
trembling penitent understood him, for he believed at once, and entered into peace.
I bring forward these instances – and almost all the other cases of conversion spoken of
in the New Testament are of a similar nature – not to prove that all conversions are
equally striking and remarkable, but to prove this one point, that no other preparation in the
sinner’s mind is necessary, in order that he should believe and be justified, but a real
conviction of sin. As soon as a man knows he is a lost sinner, that is, is truly convinced
of his state of condemnation, he is to believe in Christ, and to hope for pardon; he is then
in a state, a fit state to receive it; and moreover, he would not be, and could not be, more fit
by waiting ten years in the most agonizing convictions, or the most sacred performance of duty.
The sinner is condemned, and is any moment after conviction in a state to be reprieved; and he
can never begin to perform the acts of a good citizen till he is justified. The acceptance of
Christ by faith, accompanied by the renunciation of all righteousness of our own in true
repentance for sin, is the very beginning of all evangelical obedience which any one can render
to God. We never can be holy till we believe in Christ; and therefore all ideas of preparation
for coming to Christ by making ourselves better are erroneous, arise from mistaken views of the
way of a sinner’s acceptance with God, and are generally to be traced to a principle of
self-righteousness. This, perhaps, is the case with many who will read these pages: they want
to be more prepared, either by convictions or by holiness, for coming to Christ; that is, they
want something of their own in which to glory; something to give them courage and confidence in
approaching the Saviour; something to render them less dependent on free, sovereign grace;
something to entitle them, if not to salvation, at least to the righteousness of Christ as the
meritorious cause of it. Anxious inquirer, you know not the secret workings of pride and
self-righteousness in your soul; you are not yet acquainted with the deceitfulness of the human
heart; you are ignorant of the artifices of Satan, or you would detect in those longings after
some preparatory process, a scheme of the enemy of souls to keep you from Christ –
yes, it is a veil to hide from your view the glory of His cross, and a stumbling-block to hinder
you from approaching the fountain of life. Wait no longer; "If you tarry till you're
better, You will never come at all," It is of infinite consequence for you to remember
that you are received, not as worthy, but as unworthy; not as favorites, but as those who have
been enemies; not as deserving life by your convictions, but as sentenced to death for your
transgressions. "To him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the
ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness," Rom. 4:5. Mark that expression,
there is a vast comprehension of subject in it; it is the key to a correct knowledge of
justification – "believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly." We are
justified, so far as we are concerned, under the character of "ungodly." If then
we seek to make ourselves godly before we come to Christ, and wish to come under that character,
we are shutting ourselves out from the blessing of justification; for this is granted only to
them who consider themselves ungodly.
3. Another mistake into which inquirers fall, is to indulge a
misplaced solicitude about the evidences of personal religion. I know that the sacred
writers speak much and often on the subject of evidences of personal religion. But a person
must have religion before he can possess the evidences of it; and at present your solicitude
should be rather to be a Christian, than to know you are such. It is, however, a very common
case for persons, as soon as they begin to be anxious about religion, to begin also to be
anxious to find out the marks of salvation in themselves. Hence they are ever microscopically
analyzing all their feelings, watching their motives, reviewing their conduct; sometimes
hoping when they see, or think they see, a good mark; but more generally desponding, as the
result of seeing so much that is positively wrong, or really defective in the state of their
hearts. I wish you to attend to this remark, that "inquirers after salvation should be
much more occupied in looking to Christ, than in looking into their own hearts; and
that when they do look into themselves, it should be for conviction, and not for consolation."
Consider the case of the Israelites when bitten by the fiery serpents in the wilderness,
Num.21:7-9. Moses, you know, was ordered to make a brazen serpent and elevate it upon a pole,
and whosoever looked upon the brazen figure lived. "Look and live," was the mandate
and promise: Now cannot you fancy you see the poor poisoned creatures straining their very eyes
in gazing upon the object appointed for their healing? Do you think they spent all their time,
or much of their time, or any of it, in examining the wounds to see if they were healing? Were
they so foolish as to look off from the means of cure, to ascertain their progress in recovery? No.
They would not have taken their eye from the brazen serpent to look at a second sun, if it had been
at that time kindled in the firmament. Their eye was fixed; and as they looked, they felt their
pain assuaged, their fever cooled, their health returning: if they looked off, they felt in danger
of relapse; and in this way they recovered. Thus should it be with the sinner; he should look to
Jesus: healing is there; and is obtained, not by looking to see if it is come, or is coming.
The more the mind is fixed on Christ, the more clear its views are of His
mediatorial work; the more steady and fixed the eye of faith is on the cross of Him who was
"lifted up, that whosoever believeth should not perish, but have eternal life,"
the firmer will be the consciousness of the soul that it does believe, and the more abundant will
be all the fruits and evidences of faith. The Israelite had no doubt of his healing as long as
he looked to the brazen serpent, for he felt it going on; nor will the soul doubt of its acceptance
with God, so long as it looks to Christ. "He that believeth hath the witness in himself,"
not only of the truth of Christianity, but of his own personal religion. The way to have
evidences increased, is to have faith increased; and the way to have faith increased, is not
by looking into ourselves, who are the subjects of faith, but out of ourselves to Christ, who is
the object of faith. Faith is the main-spring and regulator of all the graces: our joy, our love,
our hope will all be in proportion to our faith; and our faith can never be strengthened by an
anxious and constant poring over the feelings of our hearts. Nor can our faith be strengthened
merely by determining to be strong in faith, but by an intelligent and increasingly clear view
of the person and work of Christ. "How long," said David, "shall I take
counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily?" He tells us almost immediately
after how he got rid of his grief, even by looking away from himself to God: "I have
trusted in thy mercy, my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation," Psa.13:2,5. The peace
of mind that true faith brings into the soul, the relief which it affords from the burden of sin,
and the fruits of holiness in a godly life, are evidences that faith is genuine; but there can
be neither peace nor holiness without faith. Many, I apprehend, are greatly deceived in their
supposed object in seeking for marks of conversion: it is not evidences of faith they are seeking
after, but matter of faith – not evidences that they have received the righteousness of Christ,
but evidences out of which they make a righteousness of their own; they want comfort, and instead
of looking for it in Christ, they are looking for it in themselves. Hence, when they have found,
or think they have found a good mark in themselves, they rejoice in it as those that have found great spoil.
Doubting, dejected, and anxious sinner, thou hast been reading, thinking,
hearing, praying, striving, examining, consulting books of evidences and lists of marks of salvation,
inquiring of others how they feel and what they conclude to be evidence of a work of grace, and yet
thou art as far from any satisfactory conclusion as to thy state as ever; like the beast in the
mire, all thy striving serves but to sink thee deeper and deeper. Now then take another plan,
since thine own has failed, and instead of a constant search for evidences, look to Christ; keep
thine eye fixed on Him; meditate upon the divinity of His person, the sufficiency of His atonement,
the perfection of His righteousness, the riches of His grace, the universality of His invitations. Look
at the object of faith, the grounds of faith, the warrant of faith: the more thou doest this, the
stronger thy faith will become; and the stronger thy faith is, the greater thy peace will be. Instead of
laboring to love Christ, and becoming dejected that thou dost not love him more, take another course, and
dwell upon the love of Christ to thee. Meditate on His amazing grace, His most wonderful compassion,
not only to the world in general, but to thee, as part of the world; labor and pray to be able to comprehend,
with all saints, "what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ,
which passeth knowledge." This, this is the way to grow in love to Him; for if we love Him,
it is because He first loved us, I John 4:19. It is a great principle, which I am anxious to impress upon
you that religion in us, is produced and sustained by fixing the mind on objective religion, or the
facts and doctrines of the word of God. Neither evidences nor comfort should be sought directly, or
on their own account, or as separate things, but as the result of faith. Take this as an important
sentiment, that the subject of evidences belongs more to the believer than to the inquirer – to
the Christian who professes to be already in the way, and not to the anxious seeker after the way.
4. But there is another mistake which inquirers are apt to make, which,
though nearly allied to what I have already stated, is sufficiently distinct to justify a separate
consideration, and that is, confounding faith and assurance. Faith is such a cordial belief
that Christ died for sinners, as leads to a dependence upon Him for salvation; assurance, as the
word is usually understood in religious discourse, means a persuasion that I do so believe and
am in a state of salvation: faith means a belief that Christ is willing to receive me; assurance
means conviction that He has received me, that, in short, I am a Christian. Now it is manifest that
these two are different from each other; one of them, that is, faith, signifying the performance of
an action or coming into a certain state; and the other the consciousness that I have come into that
state. It is also equally evident that faith must precede assurance. We must first believe
that Christ died for sinners, and trust in Him, before we can know that we have believed. The first
simple act of faith is a belief that Christ died for all sinners, for the whole world; the next,
as arising out of it, if it be not indeed included in it, is, that he died for us as a part of the
world. I believe, says the sinner who is coming with confidence to Christ, that "God so
loved the world as to give his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish,
but have everlasting life:" then, as I am a part of the world, I believe he loved me and
is willing to save me; I trust in Him as my atoning sacrifice and my all: this is faith. The soul
then feels joy and peace in believing, love to God, gratitude to Christ, hatred of sin, subjugation
of the world, fellowship with the righteous; now says the person, "I know I believe, I am
conscious both of the act of believing and also of its gracious effects:" this is assurance.
I may illustrate this by referring again to the rebellious subjects and their
gracious sovereign. A ringleader of the revolt can scarcely persuade himself that he can be included
in the act of amnesty; he reads the proclamation again, which runs thus: "The king, pitying his
deluded subjects, and filled with clemency, will grant a gracious pardon to all, whosoever they be,
who will lay down their arms by such a day." Having examined the proofs of the authenticity of
the act, and being satisfied on that point, he says, "It is really true, and I believe that
the king is willing to pardon all that submit; and as he has made no exception against any, but
says, whosoever will lay down his arms shall be forgiven, I believe that there is mercy for me."
Thus far faith goes; and even before he reaches the scene of pardon, or takes a step towards it, his
mind is at rest; the proclamation itself, as soon as it is understood and believed, gives him comfort;
he has no doubt of his being accepted. He goes and lays down his arms, and now he is assured he is
safe; he is conscious he has done what the monarch required, and he feels he has what the monarch
promised. In his case, however, you perceive that there would not be much solicitude about assurance.
Faith and compliance with the monarch’s demand would be all that he would concern himself about.
Assurance would follow upon faith and action. So should it be with anxious inquirers after salvation:
their business is to believe – what? that they are Christians? no; for a belief that I am a
Christian, is not faith, but assurance – but to believe the gospel, which is God’s
proclamation of mercy and pardon to his rebel subjects. They are to feel persuaded that God has
loved them in common with other sinners, has invited them, has promised to receive them; and availing
themselves of this revelation of mercy, to commit themselves and their eternal all to Him. Then,
from the peace-giving effect of this upon their conscience, and the purifying effect of it upon
their hearts, they may be assured they have believed, and have passed from death unto life.
Faith then is not assurance, but the cause of it.
Now, inquirer, are you not aware you have confounded these two; and have
been consequently walking in great perplexity? You are dejected, and find no peace. Why?
"Oh," you say, "my faith is so weak; indeed I am afraid I have no faith."
Now, what do you mean by having no faith? "I am afraid I am not a Christian. I fear I do n
ot believe. I am full of unbelief." And let me tell you that you never can be delivered
from distress in this way, for you are wanting to know you are a Christian before you are one;
you are striving to know you are a believer before you believe; you wish to be assured you are
accepted of Christ, in order that you may go to him for acceptance.
Faith is not believing that you are a Christian, but believing that Christ died for sinners,
and trusting in Him; and unbelief is not doubting that you are a Christian, but doubting Christ's
willingness to save you, and thus rejecting Him. My advice to you then is, to leave assurance, as
a first matter, out of consideration. Your business at present is with faith: you are to believe;
you are to commit your soul to the atonement of Christ; you are to be persuaded that He died for
sinners, died for you, and is willing to save you. This is the assurance you are to seek; and this
is what the apostle means by the full assurance of faith: an unhesitating confidence that the Lord
Jesus is able and willing to save to the uttermost; and therefore able and willing to save you. Get
your mind full of conviction of the truth of this; let your soul be thrown, as it were, wide open to
admit this delightful persuasion, that Christ is mighty to save, delighted to save, waiting to save
all – you among the rest, you as willingly as any of the rest – and cast your soul upon
Him; then will this truth give you such peace, and exert such a power over your heart, as to prove
to you the existence and reality of your faith, and you shall have the blessed assurance at once of
God’s love in Christ, and of your acceptance in him.