The Great Change
"If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new!" 2 Corinthians 5:17
Some of our older readers may recall a book which made quite a stir in the religious world, especially the Arminian sections of it, some forty years ago. It was entitled, "Twice-born Men," and was written in a somewhat racy and sensational style by a well-known journalist, Edward Harold Begbie (1871-1929). It purported to describe some startling "conversions" of notorious profligates and criminals under the evangelistic efforts of the Salvation Army and City Missions. Whether or not the reader is acquainted with that particular book, he has probably read similar accounts of reformations of character. He may, as this writer, have personally heard the "testimonies" of some unusual cases.
We recall listening unto one in New York City some time ago: A man past middle age who had "spent twenty Christmas days in prison," who had been delivered from a life of crime, attributing his deliverance to the amazing grace of God and the efficacy of the redeeming blood of Christ, and who—to use one of his Scriptural quotations—had been given "beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness" (Isaiah 61:3).
Many, if not all, of those reformed characters testify that so thorough was the work of grace wrought in them that their old habits and inclinations had been completely taken away, that they no longer had the slightest desire to return to their former ways, that all longing for the things which once enthralled them was gone; declaring that God had made them new creatures in Christ, that old things were passed away, and all things had become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Personally, we do not deem ourselves competent to pass an opinion on such cases. Certainly, we would not dare assign any limit to the wonder-working power of God; nevertheless, we should need to be in close contact with such people for some considerable time and closely observe their daily walk—in order to be assured that their goodness was something less evanescent than "a morning cloud, and as the early dew," which quickly vanishes (Hosea 6:4).
On the one hand, we should keep in mind the miraculous transformation wrought in the fierce persecutor of Tarsus; and on the other hand, we would not forget Matthew 12:43-45 Matthew 12:43-45 "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation." .
But this we may safely affirm, that such cases as those alluded unto above, are not general or even common, and certainly must not be set up as the standard by which we should ascertain the genuineness of conversion—be it our own or another's. Though it is blessedly true that in His saving operations, God communicates subduing and restraining grace to the soul—to some a greater measure, to others a lesser—yet it is equally true that He does not remove the old nature at regeneration or eradicate "the flesh." Only One has ever trodden this earth who could truthfully aver "the prince of this world [Satan] is coming, and has no power over Me" (John 14:30). There was nothing combustible in Jesus—which Satan's fiery darts could ignite.
But the godliest saint who has ever lived had reason to join with the apostle in sorrowfully confessing: "When I would do good, evil is present with me" (Romans 7:21). It is indeed the Christian's duty and privilege to keep himself from all outward sins: "Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16); yet as the very next verse tells us, the flesh is there, operative, and opposing the spirit.
But we will go further. When such people as those referred to above, appropriate 2 Corinthians 5:17 to describe their "experience," no matter how well suited its language may seem to their case, they are making an unwarrantable and misleading use of that verse; and the consequence has been that many of God's dear children were brought into sad bondage. Countless thousands have been led to believe that if they truly received Christ as their personal Lord and Savior—such a radical change would be wrought in them; that henceforth, they would be immune from evil thoughts, foul imaginations, wicked desires, and worldly lusts.
But after they did receive Christ as their Lord and Savior, it was not long before they discovered that things inside them were very different from what they expected—that old inclinations were still present, that internal corruptions now harassed them, and in some instances, more fiercely than ever before. Because of the painful consciousness of "the plague of his own heart" (1 Kings 8:38), many a one has drawn the conclusion that he was never soundly converted, that he was mistaken in believing he had been born of God, and great is their distress.
Now one very important and necessary part of the work to which God has called His servants, is "take up the stumbling block out of the way of my people" (Isaiah 57:14 and compare Isaiah 62:10); and if he would faithfully attend unto this part of his duty—then he must make it crystal clear to his hearers—believers and unbelievers—that God has nowhere promised to eradicate indwelling sin from the one who truly believes the Gospel. He does save the penitent and believing sinner from the love, the guilt, the penalty, and the reigning power of sin; but He does not in this earthly life, deliver him from the presence of sin. The miracle of God's saving grace does indeed effect a real, a radical, and a lasting change in all who are the subjects of it—some being more conscious of the same and giving clearer evidence of it, and some (who previously led a moral, and perhaps a religious, life) less so; but in no single instance does He remove from the being of that person "the flesh" or evil principle, which he brought with him when he entered this world. That which was born of the flesh is still flesh—though that which was born of the Spirit is spirit (John 3:6).
Not that the minister of the Gospel must swing to the opposite extreme and teach, or even convey the impression, that the Christian can expect nothing better than a life of defeat while he is left in this scene; that his foes—both internal and external—are far too mighty for him to successfully cope with. God does not leave His dear child to cope with those foes in his own power—but strengthens him with might by His Spirit in the inner man. Yet he is required to be constantly on his guard, lest he grieve the Spirit and give occasion for Him to suspend His operations.
God tells the saint, "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12:9)—but that grace must be sought (Hebrews 4:16) and used (Luke 8:18); and if it is sought humbly and used aright—then "he gives more grace" (James 4:6), so that he is enabled to fight the good fight of faith. Satan is indeed mighty—but there is one yet mightier: "Greater is he who is in you, than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4); and therefore is the Christian called upon to "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might" (Ephesians 6:10); and though while severed from Christ, he can produce no fruit (John 15:5)—yet strengthened by Christ, he "can do all things" (Philippians 4:13). Christians are "overcomers" (1 John 2:13, 5:4; Revelation 2:7).
Thus we see once more that there is a balance to be preserved: Avoiding at the one extreme the error of sinless perfectionism, and at the other, that of spiritual defeatism. Truth is to be presented in its Scriptural proportions, and not dwelt unduly on either its gloomy or its bright side.
When one is regenerated, he is effectually called "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9); yet if an unconverted soul reading those words forms the idea that should God quicken him—that all ignorance and error will be immediately dispelled from his soul, he draws an unwarrantable conclusion and will soon discover his mistake!
The Lord Jesus promises to give rest unto the heavily-laden soul who comes to Him—but He does not thereby signify that such an one will henceforth enjoy perfect serenity of heart and mind. He saves His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21)—yet not in such a way that they will have no occasion to ask for the daily forgiveness of their transgressions (Luke 11:4). It is not that His salvation is an imperfect one—but that it is not completely experienced or entered into in this life—as such passages as Romans 13:11, 1 Peter 1:5 show. The "best wine" is reserved into the last. Glorification is yet future. "We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is!" 1 John 3:2
Above we have said that when such characters as those mentioned in the opening paragraph appropriate 2 Corinthians 5:17 to describe their "experience," they make an unwarrantable and misleading use of that verse. They are not the only ones who do so, and since many have been stumbled by failing to understand that verse aright, a careful exposition of it is called for. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
It must be admitted in all fairness that the sound of those words decidedly favors those who claim that such a miracle of grace has been wrought in them, that the old nature with its evil propensities was eradicated when they were born again. But in view of the very different experience of the vast majority of God's children of the last two thousand years—of whom we have any reliable knowledge—must we not pause and ask: Is that really the sense of the verse?
If so, how shall we account for the actual history of the most eminent Christians? And if not, what other meaning can we legitimately ascribe to that verse? Probably there are few of our readers who have not been perplexed by its language.
The careful student will observe that we have omitted the opening word of 2 Corinthians 5:17, which is done eight times out of ten by those who quote it; nor are we acquainted with any exposition that satisfactorily explains its force. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Obviously, that "therefore" is where we must begin in any critical examination of the verse. It indicates that a conclusion is here drawn from a foregoing premise, and tells us this verse is not to be regarded as a thing apart, complete in itself, but rather as intimately related to something preceding. On turning back to verse 16, we find that it, in turn, opens with "Therefore" (the same Greek word being used), which at once serves to classify the passage, indicating that it is a didactic or doctrinal one, wherein the apostle is presenting an argument, or a reasoned-out train of thought; and not a hortatory passage wherein a call unto duty is made, or a biographical passage in which an experience of the soul is delineated. Unless that key be used, the passage remains locked to us.
The key is hung upon the door by the presence of its introductory "therefore", and if it be ignored, and instead, we force the door, then its lock is strained, or its panels and hinges broken. In other words, the interpretation given to it will be a strained and unsatisfactory one. And such has indeed been the case with those who sought to explain its meaning without giving any due weight to using the very word on which the verse turns. Disregarding the opening "therefore," it has been commonly assumed that 2 Corinthians 5:17 is speaking of the miracle of regeneration and describing what is thereby effected in the one experiencing the same. But those who gave the verse that meaning at once felt themselves faced with difficulties, and were obliged to whittle down its terms or qualify its language—for it is an undeniable fact, a matter of painful consciousness to Christians, that though some of the "old things" which characterized them in their unregeneracy have "passed away," yet others of them have not done so, nor have "all things" yet become new within them.
In his commentary on 2 Corinthians, one otherwise excellent expositor tells us: "In the Old Testament [Isaiah 43:18-19; 65:17] the effects to be produced by the coming of the Messiah are described as a making all things new. The final consummation of the Redeemer's kingdom in Heaven is described in the same terms, 'he who sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new' (Revelation 21:5). The inward spiritual change in every believer is set forth in the same words, because it is the type and necessary condition of this great cosmic change. What would avail any conceivable change in things external, if the heart remained a cage of unclean birds? The apostle therefore says that if any man be in Christ, he experiences a change analogous to that predicted by the prophet, and like that which we still anticipate when earth shall become Heaven. 'Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new' (2 Corinthians 5:17). Old opinions, plans, desires, principles, and affections are passed away; new views of truth, new principles, new apprehensions of the destiny of man, and new feelings and purposes fill and govern the soul."
It is accrediting just such extravagant statements as the above—which is a fair example of those made by many other good men who have held influential positions in the churches—that have brought so many of God's little ones into cruel bondage, for they know full well that no such great change has been wrought in them as like unto that which will obtain on the new earth, concerning which God assures us, "there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defiles, neither whatever works abomination, or makes a lie," and where "there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Revelation 21:27, 4).
We make so bold as to say that the Christian experience of that expositor falsified his own assertions. "Old opinions and plans" many indeed pass away when a person is soundly converted; but it is not true that old "desires, principles, and affections" pass away—on the contrary, they remain, are active, and plague him to the end of his course; otherwise, there would be no corruptions for him to resist, no lusts which he is exhorted to mortify.
It is really surprising to find some excellent men—whose writings are generally most helpful, and whose memories we revere—uttering such absurdities when interpreting 2 Corinthians 5:17 (The explanation is that, like our self, they too were compassed with infirmity). Another of them wrote of the Christian: "He concludes that he is in Christ, because he is 'a new creature.' He finds 'old things passed away, and all things become new.' His old secure, benumbed, unfaithful conscience is passed away. His old perverse, stubborn, rebellious will; he has a new will. His old strong, sensual, corrupt, unbelieving, impenitent heart is gone . . . his old disordered, misplaced, inordinate affections . . . He has new thoughts, new inclinations, new desires, new delights, new employments."
True, he closes his paragraph by saying, "formerly carnal, but now in some measure spiritual; formerly worldly, but now in some degree has his conversation in Heaven; formerly profane, but now in part holy"—which not only virtually contradicts his previous sentences, but serves to illustrate what we said above about men creating their own difficulties when ignoring the key to a passage, and being obliged to tamper with its terms to make them fit their interpretations.
The Greek word for "passed away" is a very strong one, as may be seen from such passages as Matthew 5:18, 24:34; James 1:10; 2 Peter 3:10, and signifies (not from its etymology, but its usage) a removal, a making an end of. Whatever be the "old things" referred to in 2 Corinthians 5:17, they are not merely subdued, or temporarily put to sleep, only to waken again with fresh vigor, but are "passed away"—done with. Therefore, to define those "old things" as "old affections, old dispositions of Adam"—as still another theologian does—is utterly misleading, and one had supposed his own spiritual history had taught him better than to make such an assertion. An older writer is somewhat more satisfactory when he says, "By old things, he means all those corrupt principles, selfish ends, and fleshly lusts belonging to the carnal state, or the old man; all these are 'passed away,' not simply and perfectly, but only in part at present, and wholly in hope and expectation hereafter." The very fact that such a frittering of "passed away" was deemed necessary makes us highly suspicious of his definition of the "old things;" and should make us search for an alternative one.
To say that the "old things" which are "passed away" (2 Corinthians 5:17) when a person becomes a new creature in Christ refer to "old desires, principles, and appetites" is flatly contradicted by Romans 7:14-25. The old nature, the "flesh"—or evil principle—most certainly does not pass away, either wholly or in part, neither at the new birth, nor at any subsequent stage of his life while the Christian is left here on earth. Instead, the "flesh" remains in the saint, and "lusts against the Spirit" (Galatians 5:17), producing a continual conflict as he seeks to walk with and please the Lord.
That a real and radical change takes place in the soul when a miracle of grace is wrought within him is indeed blessedly true, but to describe that miraculous change as consisting of, or being accompanied by, the removal of the old sinful nature or indwelling corruption is totally unwarranted and utterly unscriptural. And it is just because so many have been confused by this error and sufficiently affected by it as to have their assurance undermined and their peace disturbed, that we are now writing upon the subject.
It should be carefully noted that 2 Corinthians 5:17 is not describing some exceptional experience which is attained unto only by a favored few from among the children of God, but rather it is postulating that which is common to the whole family: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." The "if any man" shows that we have here a proposition which is general, one which is of universal application unto the regenerate—as much so as though it said, "if any man be in Christ, his sins are pardoned." This at once assures the Christian that it is not through any fault of his that he comes short of such a standard as some would appear to measure unto. Nor is our verse giving an account of that which is gained as he reaches Christian maturity, still less that which will characterize him only when he reaches Heaven; instead, it predicates a present fact the moment one is vitally united to Christ. It is true that the substantive "he is" (or "there is"—Revised Version) is supplied by the translators, yet the legitimacy, or rather the necessity, of it is evident from what follows: "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
The opening "Therefore" bids us ponder the context. Upon turning to the verse immediately preceding, here is what we read: "Therefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yes, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him [so] no more" (2 Corinthians 5:16). We wonder how many of our readers understand that verse, or have even formulated any idea of what it is speaking about. If they consult the commentators, instead of finding help, they are likely to be the more perplexed—for no two of them are agreed as to its meaning, and some of them would have been more honest if they frankly owned they did not understand it, instead of darkening counsel by a multitude of meaningless words. Now is it not obvious that in order to a right perception of its significance, we must seek answers to the following questions: Whom was the apostle here instructing? Upon what particular subject was he writing? What required his taking up this subject? Or, in other words, What was his special design on this occasion? This alone will afford us the true perspective.
As we have pointed out before in these pages, it is necessary to know something of the circumstances which occasioned the writing of the Corinthian epistles, if we are to obtain an insight of many of their details. Soon after Paul departed from Corinth (Acts 18), false teachers assailed the saints there, seeking to undermine the apostle's influence and discredit his ministry. The result was that the believers became divided into opposing classes, engaged in disputes, and being guilty of carnal walking (1 Corinthians 1:11-12). Those who said, "I am of Paul; and I am of Apollos" were in all probability the Gentile converts; whereas those who boasted, "I am of Cephas; and I am of Christ" (glorying in a fleshly relation to Him which the Gentiles could not lay claim unto) were undoubtedly the converted Jews. Thus, the enemies of the Gospel had succeeded in sowing the seeds of discord in the Corinthian assembly, creating jealousies and animosities by an appeal to racial prejudices, seeking to perpetuate the ancient enmities of Semitism and anti-Semitism.
Those false teachers had come to Corinth with "letters of commendation" (2 Corinthians 3:1), issued most likely by the temple authorities. They were "Hebrews" (2 Corinthians 11:22), professing to be "ministers of Christ"—that is, of the Messiah (2 Corinthians 11:23); yet, in fact, they were "false apostles, deceitful workers," the ministers of Satan (2 Corinthians 11:13-15). They had attempted to Judaize the Gentile saints, insisting that such could not participate in the covenant blessings and privileges of God's people, unless they be circumcised and become the proselytes of the Mosaic religion. It was because of this the apostle had written to them, "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (1 Corinthians 7:19). That was indeed a startling thing to affirm, for it was God who had instituted circumcision (Genesis 17:10), and for many centuries, it had entailed peculiar privileges (Exodus 12:48). The Lord Jesus Himself had been circumcised (Luke 2:21). But now it was "nothing"—useless, worthless. Why so? Because of the great change which had taken place dispensationally in the kingdom or economy of God upon earth. Judaism had become effete, a thing of the past. Something new and better had displaced it.
Those false teachers had evidently denied that Paul was a true apostle of Christ, arguing (on the basis of what is recorded in Acts 1:21-22) that he could not be such, since he had not (as the Eleven) accompanied Him during the days of His flesh. This had obliged him to write unto the saints vindicating the Divine authority of his apostleship (1 Corinthians 9:1-3). That his first epistle had produced a beneficial effect upon them is clear from 2 Corinthians 1 and 2, yet it had neither silenced the "false apostles," nor completely established those whose faith they had shaken; hence, the need for his second epistle to them. On the one hand, the major part of the assembly had expressed the warmest affection for him (2 Corinthians 1:14; 7:7); but on the other, the boldness and influence of his adversaries had increased, and their false charges and determined efforts to repudiate his apostolic authority (2 Corinthians 10:2; 11:2-7, 12:15) moved him to indignation. Those two adverse elements at Corinth is what serve to explain the sudden change from one subject to another, and the noticeable variations of language in this second epistle.
In the third chapter of 2 Corinthians (to which we devoted an article in the November 1938 issue), the apostle vindicated his apostleship in a manner which demonstrated the irrelevancy and worthlessness of the objections of his detractors, and which placed the faith of his converts on an unshakeable foundation by affirming that God had made him and his companions "able [or "sufficient"] ministers of the new testament" (2 Corinthians 3:6)—or as it should be rendered, "of the new covenant." Therein, he struck the keynote to all that follows, for unto the end of the chapter, he proceeded to draw a series of contrasts between the old and new covenants, and exhibited the immeasurable superiority of the latter over the former. By so doing, he entirely cut away all ground from under the feet of those who were troubling the Corinthian saints—for what mattered it whether or no Paul had companied with Christ during the three and a half years of His public ministry, or whether his converts were circumcised or not, seeing that the old order of things, Judaism, had been "done away" (2 Corinthians 3:7)! Who would complain at the absence of the stars, when the sun was shining in its meridian splendor?
With unmistakable wisdom from on High, Paul wove into the texture of his personal vindication a lovely picture of the various respects in which Christianity excelled Judaism. The one was founded upon what was written on "the tables of stone" (Deuteronomy 9:9) and the ceremonial law which accompanied the same; the other is rendered valid and vital by "the Spirit of the living God" writing in "fleshy tables of the heart" (2 Corinthians 3:3). The one was "of the letter" which "kills;" the other "of the spirit" which "gives life" (2 Corinthians 3:6), those expressions denoting the leading characteristics of the two covenants or economies—compare Romans 7:6. Judaism is likened unto "the letter," because it was something external and objective, for it presented a rule of Divine duty, though it conveyed neither disposition nor power to obey; Christianity has to do with the soul and is made effectual—Romans 1:16. "The one was external, the other spiritual; the one was an outward precept, the other an inward power. In the one case, the law was written on stone; in the other, on the heart. The one was therefore letter, the other spirit" (Charles Hodge, 1797-1878).
In 2 Corinthians 3:7-11, the apostle contrasts the ministrations of the two dispensations or economies. It is not—as the Dispensationalists erroneously teach—that he here opposes Grace (a word never occurring in this chapter!) to the Moral Law, but that Christianity is set over against Judaism. It is a great mistake to suppose that Paul was here speaking of the Ten Commandments as such. Rather, it is the whole Mosaic system which he has in view—"when Moses is read" (2 Corinthians 3:15), the reference is primarily to the ceremonial law, wherein there was much that pointed forward to Christ and typified His work of redemption, but which, because of their carnality, the Jews discerned not. Judaism was a "ministration of death" (2 Corinthians 3:7)—the Moral Law is designed to slay all self-righteousness, for it condemns, and brings in the whole world guilty before God, thereby revealing the sinner's dire need of salvation. The ceremonial law with its priesthood and ritual likewise exhibited both the guilt and pollution of man, as well as the ineffable holiness and inexorable justice of God, so that without shedding of blood is no remission. The brazen altar in the outer court, where the sacrificial victims were slain, testified loudly to this fact that Judaism is "a ministration of death. "
Though the ministration of the old covenant was one of "death," nevertheless, it was "glorious" (2 Corinthians 3:7). Judaism was not of human invention, but of Divine institution. In it there was a solemn and yet glorious revelation of the moral perfections of God. In it there was a wondrous and blessed foreshadowing of the person, office, and work of the Redeemer. In it there was a wise and necessary paving of the way for the introduction and establishment of Christianity. That "glory" was adumbrated on the countenance of the mediator of that covenant (Deuteronomy 5:4-5, Gal 3:19) when he returned to the people after speaking with Jehovah in the mount, for the "skin of his face shone" (Exodus 34:29-30). That radiance of his features was emblematic of the glory pertaining to the old covenant—and that, in two noticeable respects.
First, it was only an external one; whereas a glorious work of grace is wrought within the beneficiaries of the new covenant.
Second, it was but a transient glory, as the quickly-fading brightness of Moses' face symbolized; whereas that connected with the new covenant is one that "fades not away" (1 Peter 1:4). Christians, beholding the glory of the Lord, "are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Any one who gives an attentive reading to 2 Corinthians 3 and 4 should have no difficulty at all in understanding what the apostle was referring to when he said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, "old things are passed away." First, he tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:7 that the glory connected with the old covenant "was to be done away." But he went further, saying, second, "For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious" (2 Corinthians 3:11)—the old economy and its ministry were but temporary and had even then been set aside. The sacrificing of bulls and goats was no longer valid now the Antitype had appeared. Third, in verse 13, he uses still stronger language: "That which is abolished" (2 Corinthians 3:13) or "destroyed." In the former epistle (1 Corinthians 13:10), Paul had laid down the maxim that "when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away;" so here, he declares the new covenant annulled the old, for that was never designed to have anything more than a transient existence. The "old things" which are "passed away" (2 Corinthians 5:17) are circumcision, the temple ritual, the Levitical priesthood, the whole of the ceremonial law; in a word, Judaism and all that marked it as a system.
In 2 Corinthians 4, the apostle continues the same subject. The "this ministry" of verse 1 is that of "the new testament" [or "covenant"] spoken of in 2 Corinthians 3:6 and termed, "the ministration of the spirit" and "of righteousness" (2 Corinthians 3:8-9). In 2 Corinthians 3:14, speaking of the great body of the Jewish nation, he said, "but their minds were blinded;" and in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, he declares, "but if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the God of this world [that is Satan, as the director of its religions] has blinded the minds of them which believe not." In 2 Corinthians 3:9-10, he affirmed that while indeed there was a "glory" connected with the old covenant, yet that of the new "excelled" it. Amplification of that is made in 2 Corinthians 4:6. The pillar of the cloud and of fire which guided Israel during their journeying was but external and temporary, but Jehovah has now "shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." That inward illumination abides in the believer forever—immeasurably superior are the "new things" which have displaced the old! In 2 Corinthians 4:8-18, the apostle mentioned some of the trials which a faithful discharge of his commission had entailed.
After a characteristic digression in which the apostle described the rich compensations God has provided for His servants—and His people in general (2 Corinthians 5:1-10)—he returns to the subject of his ministerial labors, making known the springs from which they issued (2 Corinthians 5:11-14). As in chapter 3, when vindicating his apostleship, he had interwoven important doctrinal instruction, so here. First, it should be carefully noted that Paul was still engaged in closing the mouths of his detractors, yes, furnishing his converts with material to silence them ( see 2 Corinthians 5:12), speaking of his adversaries as those who "glory in appearance, and not in heart."
In what follows, he adduces that which could not be gainsaid. "Because we thus judge [or "reason"] that if one died for all, then were all dead" (2 Corinthians 5:14)—a most misleading translation, which is corrected in the Revised Version: "One died for all, therefore all died." It is quite true that those for whom Christ died were spiritually dead, but that is not what is here referred to—their being unregenerate was a fact without Christ dying for them! Rather was Paul showing the legal effect, or what follows as the consequence of Christ's having died for them.
"Having judged this, that if one died for all, then the all died" (Bagster's Interlinear). The apostle there enunciates a theological axiom: it expresses the principle of federal representation. The act of one is, in the sight of the law, the act of all those on whose behalf he transacts. The whole election of grace "died" judicially in the death of their Surety. Christ's death—so far as the claims of the Divine Law or the end of the Divine government were concerned—is the same as though they had all personally died. "Died" unto what? The consequences of their sins, the curse of the Law? Yes, though that is not the main thing which is here in view. What then? This, rather that they had "died" to their old standing in the flesh: they no longer had any status in that realm where such distinctions as Jew and Gentile obtained. They had not only died unto sin, but unto all natural relations. Death levels all distinctions!
But that is only negative; the apostle goes further and brings in the positive side: "And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again" (2 Corinthians 5:15). "That they which live" does not here signify those quickened into newness of life by the Spirit, but those who lived legally when their Representative came forth from the tomb. It is premier "life" which is in view—that life which the Law awards unto those who have fulfilled all its requirements. It is the legal oneness of Christ and His Church on resurrection-ground. Having borne the curse, they are dead in law; living now through Christ's resurrection, they cannot but "live unto him" (Luke 20:38), because judicially, they are one with Him. His resurrection was as vicarious as His death, and the same individuals were the objects of both. The pertinency of this reasoning, this blessed truth and fact to the apostle's case should at once be apparent. Christ's own relation to Judaism terminated at His death, and when He came forth from the grave, it was onto resurrection—entirely new—ground; and thus it is with all those He legally represented.
What has just been pointed out above is made yet clearer in 2 Corinthians 5:16, where the apostle shows the conclusion which must be drawn from what he had just proved: "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yes, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him [so] no more." To know a man after the flesh is to own him according to his natural state, his racial distinction. To know Christ "after the flesh" was to approve Him as the "seed of David" (Romans 1:3), the Jewish Messiah. But the death of Christ annulled such relations: His resurrection brought Him a new and higher relationship.
Therefore, in the exercise of his ministry, Paul showed no respect to a man merely because he was a Jew, nor did he esteem Christ on account of His being the Son of David—rather did he adore Him as being the Savior of Jew and Gentile alike. Thus, the sinful partiality of those who were seeking to Judaize the Corinthian saints was conclusively exposed. 2 Corinthians 5:17 states the grand conclusion to be drawn from what has been established in the context.
"Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Familiar as are those words, simple and plain as their meaning appears to be; yet like almost every verse in the Epistles, this one can only be rightly understood by ascertaining its connection with the context. Nay, we go further: Unless this verse be interpreted in strict accord with its setting, we are certain to err in our apprehension of it. The very fact that it is introduced with "therefore" shows it is inseparably connected with what goes before, that it introduces an inference, or draws a conclusion therefrom; and if we ignore it, we reject the key which alone will open its contents. In our last, we took up the preceding verses, though we by no means attempted to give a full exposition of the same. Our design was simply to supply a sufficient explanation of their terms, as would enable the reader to perceive the apostle's drift. That required us to point out the general conditions prevailing in the Corinthian assembly (so that it might appear why Paul wrote to them as he did), and then to indicate the trend of what he said in chapters 3 and 4.
In 2 Corinthians 5:12, the apostle tells them, "For we commend not ourselves again unto you [see 2 Corinthians 3:1-2], but give you occasion to glory on our behalf, that you may have somewhat to answer them which glory in appearance, and not in heart." Those who gloried in appearance were the Judaizers, who boasted of their lineage from Abraham and of belonging to the Circumcision. In what follows, Paul furnishes his converts with arguments which the false teachers could not answer, employing language which set aside the exclusivism of Judaism. First, he pointed out that "if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). That thrice repeated "all" emphasized the international scope of Christ's federal work: He died as truly on the behalf and in the stead of God's elect among the Gentiles as for the elect Jews, and as verse 15 goes on to show, the one benefits therefrom as much as do the other. The cross of Christ effected and introduced a great change in the kingdom of God. Whatever peculiar position of honor the Jews had previously occupied, whatever special privileges had been theirs under the Mosaic economy, they obtained no longer. The glorious inheritance which Christ purchased was to be the portion of all for whom He endured the curse, and of all for whom He earned the reward of the Law.
Next, the apostle showed the logical inferences which must be drawn forth from what he had established in verses 14-15.
First, "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yes, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him [so] no more" (2 Corinthians 5:16). Notice first the words which we have placed in italics: they are time marks defining the revolutionary transition, calling attention to the great dispensational change, which the redemptive work of Christ had produced. That change consisted of the complete setting aside of the old order of things, which had held sway during the fifteen centuries preceding, under which a fleshly relation had predominated. Christ had ushered in an order of things, wherein such distinctions, as Jew and Gentile, bond and free, male and female, had no virtue and conferred no special privilege. For one who had been redeemed, it mattered nothing whether his brethren and sisters in Christ were formerly members of the Jewish nation or aliens from the commonwealth of Israel. He knew or esteemed no man according to his natural descent. The true Circumcision are they "which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh"—or their genealogy (Philippians 3:3).
Not only had the death and resurrection of Christ resulted in the setting aside of Judaism—which was based upon a fleshly descent from Abraham, and whose privileges could only be enjoyed by those bearing in their bodies the covenant sign of circumcision (Judaism being displaced by Christianity, which is based upon a spiritual relation to Christ, the privileges of which are enjoyed by those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the sign and seal of the new covenant)—but Christ Himself is now known or esteemed after a different and higher manner. It was as their promised Messiah He had appeared unto the Jews, and it was as such His disciples had believed on Him (Luke 24:21; John 1:41, 45).
Accordingly, He had bidden His apostles, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter you not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6)—contrast Matthew 28:19 after His resurrection! So far from knowing Christ as the Jewish Messiah, they worship Him as exalted above all principality and power. "Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision" (Romans 15:8), but He is now seated "on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens; A minister of the [heavenly] sanctuary" (Hebrews 8:1-2).
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, the apostle draws a further conclusion from what he had stated in verse 15: "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature"—yes, "any man," be he a Jew or Gentile. Before we can ascertain the force of "a new creature," we have to carefully weigh the opening word, for its absence or presence entirely changes the character of the sentence: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" is a simple statement of fact, but "therefore if" is a conclusion drawn from something preceding. That one consideration should be sufficient to show our verse is not treating of regeneration, for if it signified "any person who is vitally united to Christ has been born again," the "therefore" would be entirely superfluous—he either is or he is not a spiritually-quickened soul, and no reasoning, no inference can alter the fact. Or is there anything in the context from which regeneration can be deduced, for the apostle is not treating of the gift and operations of the Spirit, but of the judicial consequences of Christ's federal work. Instead of describing Christian experience in this 17th verse, Paul is stating one of the legal effects which necessarily results from what Christ did for His people.
In 2 Corinthians 5:13 and 14, Christ is set forth as the federal Head of His Church, first in death, then in resurrection. From that doctrinal statement of fact, a twofold inference is pointed. First and negatively (2 Corinthians 5:16), those whom Christ represented died in Him to their old status or natural standing, so that henceforth, they are no longer influenced by fleshly relationships.
Second and positively (2 Corinthians 5:17), those whom Christ represented rose in Him and were inducted into a new status or spiritual standing. Christ was transacting as the Covenant Head of His people, and He rose as the Head of the new creation (as Adam was the head of the old); and therefore, if I be federally in a risen Christ, I must legally be "a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), having judicially
"passed from death unto life" (John 5:24; 1 John 3:14). As Romans 8:1 declares, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus"—and why? Because being legally one with Him, they died in Him. In like manner, they are therefore new creatures in Christ—and why? Because being legally one with Him, they rose in Him: "Who is the beginning [that is of the new creation—compare Rev 3:14], the firstborn from the dead" (Colossians 1:18). Judicially, they are "risen with Christ" (Colossians 3:1).
Not only does the context and its opening, "therefore" preclude us from regarding 2 Corinthians 5:17 as describing what takes place in a soul at regeneration, but the contents of the verse itself forbid such an interpretation. It is indeed true that such a miracle of grace effects a most blessed transformation in the one who is the subject of it, yet not such as comes up to the terms here used. What is the principal thing which affects the character and conduct of a person before he is born again? Is it not "the flesh?" Beyond dispute it is. Equally indubitable is it that the old nature does not "pass away" when God quickens a spiritually dead soul. It is also true that regeneration is an entrance upon a new life, yet it certainly is not the case that "all things are become new," for he receives neither a new memory nor a new body. If verse 17 be describing some aspect of Christian experience, then it is glorification, for most assuredly its language does not suit regeneration.
"And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and has given to us [the ministers of the new covenant—2 Corinthians 3:6] the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18). This also is quite against the popular interpretation of the foregoing. Let it be duly noted that verse 18 opens with "And," which indicates it continues the same line of thought. "All ['the'—Greek] things" which are of God refer not to the universe as proceeding from Him, nor to His providential agency by which all events are controlled, but rather to those particular things spoken of from verse 13 onwards: All that Christ accomplished—the great dispensational change which has resulted from His death and resurrection, the preaching of the ministers of the new covenant—have God for their Author. The outcome of what Christ did is that those for whom He transacted are "reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20); and reconciliation, be it particularly noted, is like justification—entirely objective, and not subjective as is regeneration! Reconciliation is—as we have fully demonstrated in our articles on that doctrine—wholly a matter of relationship: God's laying aside His wrath and being at peace with us. "And has given to us [His ambassadors] the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world ['a world'—Greek] unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them" (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). From there to the end of 2 Corinthians 6:10, the apostle informs us what this "ministry" consisted of. First, it was that God "was in Christ, reconciling" not merely an apostate Judaism, but an alienated "world"—that is, the whole election of grace, the "all" of 2 Corinthians 5:14 and 15.
Then he states the negative side of "reconciliation"—namely, "not imputing their trespasses unto them," which again brings in the legal side of things. The positive side of reconciliation is given in verse 21: "That we might be made the righteousness of God in him," which is entirely objective and judicial, and in no sense subjective and experimental. How vastly different is that than if he had said, "reconciling a world unto Himself, imparting unto them a new nature" or "subduing their iniquities!" It is not what God works in His people, but what by Christ He has done for them, that the whole passage treats of.
Turning back again to verse 17, "Therefore:" In view of what has been established in the preceding verses, it necessarily follows that—"if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature"—he has a new standing before God; being representatively one with Christ, he has been brought onto resurrection ground, he is a member of that new creation of which Christ is the federal Head; and consequently, he is under an entirely new Covenant. This is the grand and incontrovertible conclusion which must be drawn: The "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new."
The natural and national distinctions which obtained under the old covenant find no place on resurrection ground: They were connected with the flesh; whereas, the relationship which obtains, and the privileges which are enjoyed under the new covenant are entirely spiritual. Once that was clearly apprehended and laid hold of by faith, it rendered nugatory the contentions of the Judaizers.
It is by no means easy for us at this late date to conceive of what that revolutionary transaction from Judaism to Christianity involved, to Jew and Gentile alike. It was the greatest change this world has ever witnessed. For fifteen centuries, God's kingdom on earth had been confined unto one favored nation, during which time all others had been left to walk in their own ways. The gulf which divided Judaism from Paganism was far more real and very much wider than that which exists between Romanism and orthodox Christianity. The divisive spirit between Jew and Gentile was more intense than that which obtains between the several castes in India. But at the Cross, the Mosaic economy "passed away," the middle wall of petition was broken down; and upon Christ's resurrection, the "Go not into the way of the Gentiles" (Matthew 10:5) gave place to "Go you into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). Fleshly relationships which had so markedly characterized Judaism, now gave place to spiritual ones; yet it was only with the greatest difficulty that converted Jews could be brought to realize that fact; and much in the New Testament is devoted unto a proving of the same.
The principal design of the entire epistle to the Hebrews was to demonstrate that "old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17)! In it, the apostle makes it manifest that the "old covenant" which Jehovah had entered into with Israel, at Sinai, with all its ordinances of worship and the peculiar privileges connected therewith, was disannulled, that it was superseded by a new and better economy. Therein, it is declared that Christ has "obtained a more excellent ministry" in proportion to His being "the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises" (Hebrews 8:6); and after quoting from Jeremiah 31, where the new covenant was announced, pointed out that the former one "which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away" (Hebrews 8:13). The transcendent superiority of the new above the old is brought out in many details: The former was but temporary, the latter is eternal; the one contained only the shadow of good things to come, the latter the substance. The Aaronic priesthood has been displaced by Christ's—an earthly inheritance by an heavenly. The blessed contrast between them is set forth most fully in Hebrews 12:18-24.
Not only did the converted Jews find it difficult to adjust themselves to the great change produced by the new covenant displacing the old, but unconverted Jews caused much trouble in the Christian assemblies, insisting that their descent from Abraham conferred special privileges upon them, and that Gentiles could only participate in them by being circumcised and becoming subject to the ceremonial law. Not a little in Paul's epistles is devoted to a refutation of such errors. That the Corinthians were being harassed by such Judaizers, we have already shown—further evidence is supplied by 2 Corinthians 11:18, where the apostle refers to "many glory after the flesh"—that is their natural lineage.
But all ground had been cut from under their feet by what he had declared in 2 Corinthians 3 and his unanswerable argument in 2 Corinthians 5:13-18. Christ's death and resurrection had caused "old things" to pass away: The old covenant, the Mosaic economy, Judaism, was no more. "All things are become new:" A new covenant, Christianity—with better relationships and privileges, a superior standing before God, different ordinances of worship—had been introduced.
The same is true of the epistle to the Galatians, wherein there are many parallels to what has been before us in Corinthians. The churches of Galatia were also troubled by teachers of error, who were seeking to Judaise them, and Paul uses much the same method in exposing their sophistries. "There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . bond nor free . . . for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28) is an echo of "henceforth know we no man after the flesh" (2 Corinthians 5:16). In several respects, the contents of Galatians 4:21-31 are similar to what is found in 2 Corinthians 3—for in both, the two covenants are contrasted; and in Galatians 4, under the allegory of Hagar and Sarah and their sons, the superiority of the latter is shown. "You that desire to be under the law" (Galatians 4:21) means under the old covenant. "Born after the flesh" in verse 23 signifies according to nature, "by promise" equals supernaturally.
"These are" means that "represent the two covenants" (Galatians 4:24). "Cast out the bondwoman and her son" of verse 30 has the force of act, in accordance with the fact that the old things are "passed away;" while the "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (the only other place in the New Testament that expression occurs!!) of Galatians 6:15 is enforcing the same truth as 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Once the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:16 be perceived, there is no place for any dispute as to the signification of what immediately follows. In the light of 2 Corinthians 5:12; 10:7; 11:18, it is unmistakably clear that the apostle was dissuading the Corinthian saints from a carnal and sinful partiality, namely, of regarding men according to "outward appearance," or fleshly descent; bidding them to esteem their brethren by their relation to Christ and not to Abraham, and to view Christ Himself not as "a minister of the circumcision" (Romans 15:8), but as "the mediator of a better covenant" (Hebrews 8:6) who has made "all things . . . become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). The old covenant was made with one nation only; the new covenant, with believers of all nations. Its sacrifices made nothing perfect; our Sacrifice has perfected us forever (Hebrews 10:1, 14). Circumcision was for the natural seed of Jacob; baptism is for the spiritual children of Christ. Only the Levites were permitted to enter the holy place, all the children of God have the right of immediate access to Him. The seventh day was the Sabbath under the Siniatic constitution; the first day celebrates the order of things introduced by a risen Christ. "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new!"
Those who have carefully read this magazine, if for only one year, must recognize that whatever be its faults and failings, it cannot fairly be charged with presenting a toned-down picture of a genuine Christian, or that we hail as "Brother and Sister" all who style themselves such. More and more during the last ten years have we sought to expose windy professors and sweep away the sandy foundations on which so many of them rest their worthless hopes. Yet that does not warrant us going to the opposite extreme and cutting off those who are entitled to enjoy a Scriptural assurance; and when we see some doing so themselves, we deem it a duty to stretch forth a helping hand. It was in that spirit we wrote the three articles (included in this booklet) which have already appeared under our present title, for we know some who have concluded that the language of 2 Corinthians 5:17 prohibits them from regarding themselves as regenerated souls; and though others of God's little ones do not go so far as that, yet its terms have much perplexed their minds.
Having endeavored to remove a stumbling-stone from the path of conscientious souls by showing that 2 Corinthians 5:13-21 does not describe the work of the Holy Spirit within God's people, but rather that which results legally from what Christ did for them, it seems needful that we should now seek to probe and search out a different class by considering what does take place in one who is supernaturally quickened. In other words, having dealt with the great dispensational change which the death and resurrection of Christ effected, we turn now to contemplate the great experimental change which, in due time, is wrought in each one of those for whom the Redeemer shed His precious blood. There are many in Christendom today who give no evidence that they have been made the subjects of such a change, who nevertheless are fully persuaded they are journeying heavenwards; while there are not a few souls perplexed because uncertain of what this great change consists of.
That which we now propose to treat of may perhaps be best designated "the miracle of grace." First, because it is produced by the supernatural operations of God. Second, because those operations are wholly of His sovereign benignity, and not because of any worthiness in those who are the favored subjects of it.
Third, because those operations are profoundly mysterious to human ken [knowledge]. Furthermore, that expression, "a miracle of grace," is sufficiently abstract and general as to include all such terms as being "born again," "converted," etc.—which really refer to only one phase or aspect of it. Moreover, it possesses the advantage of placing the emphasis where it properly belongs and ascribes the glory unto Him to whom alone it is due, for God is the sole and unassisted Author—whatever instruments or means He may or may not be pleased to use in the effectuation of the same—in a sinner's salvation. "It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy" (Romans 9:16). By "a miracle of grace," we include the whole of God's work in His people, and not simply His initial act of quickening them.
Nothing short of a miracle of grace can change a "natural man" (1 Corinthians 2:14) into a "spiritual" one (1 Corinthians 2:15). Only the might of Omnipotence is able to emancipate a serf of Satan's and translate him into the kingdom of Christ. Anything less than the operations of the Holy Spirit is incapable of transforming a child of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2) into a child of obedience (1 Peter 1:14). To bring one whose carnal mind is enmity against God into loving and loyal subjection to Him is beyond all the powers of human persuasion. Yet being supernatural, it necessarily transcends our powers to fully understand. Even those who have actually experienced it can only obtain a right conception thereof by viewing it in the light of those hints upon it, which God has scattered throughout His Word; and even then, but a partial and incomplete concept. As our eyes are too weak for a prolonged gazing upon the sun, so our minds are too gross to take in more than a few scattered rays of the Truth. We see through a glass darkly, and know but in part (1 Corinthians 13:12). Well for us when we are made conscious of our ignorance.
The very fact that the great change, of which we are here treating, is produced by the miracle-working power of God implies that it is one which is more or less inscrutable. All God's works are shrouded in impenetrable mystery, even when cognizable by our senses. Life, natural life, in its origin, its nature, its processes, baffle the most able and careful investigator. Much more is this the case with spiritual life. The existence and being of God immeasurably transcend the grasp of the finite mind; how then can we expect to fully comprehend the process by which we become His children? Our Lord Himself declared that the new birth was a thing of mystery: "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). The wind is something about which the most learned scientist knows next to nothing. Its nature, the laws which govern it, its causation, all lie beyond the purview of human inquiry. Thus it is with the new birth: it is profoundly mysterious, defying proud reason's diagnosis, insusceptible of theological analysis.
The one who supposes he has a clear and adequate comprehension of what takes place in a soul when God plucks him as a brand from the burning is greatly mistaken: "If any man think that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know" (1 Corinthians 8:2). To the very end of his earthly pilgrimage, the best instructed Christian has reason to pray, "That which I see not teach you me" (Job 34:32). Even the theologian and the Bible-teacher is but a learner and—like all his companions in the school of Christ—acquires his knowledge of the Truth gradually: "Here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10). He too advances slowly, as one great theme after another is studied by him and opened up to him, requiring him to revise or correct his earlier apprehensions and adjust his views on other portions of the Truth, as fuller light is granted him on any one branch thereof. Necessarily so, for Truth is a unit; and if we err in our understanding of one part of it, that affects our perception of other parts of it.
None should take exception to, nor be surprised at, our saying that even the theologian or Bible-teacher is but a learner and acquires his knowledge of the Truth gradually. "But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shines more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18). Like the rising of the sun, spiritual light breaks forth upon both preacher and hearer by degrees. The men who have been the most used of God in the feeding and building up of His people were not thoroughly furnished for their work at the outset of their careers, but only by dint of prolonged study did they make progress in their own apprehension of the Truth. Each preacher who experiences any real spiritual growth views most of his first sermons as those of a novice; and he will have cause for shame as he perceives their crudity and the relative ignorance which marked the production of them—for even if he was mercifully preserved from serious error, yet he will probably find many mistakes in his expositions of Scripture, various inconsistencies and contradictions in the views he then held, and which a fuller knowledge and maturer experience now enables him to rectify.
What has just been pointed out explains why the later writings of a servant of God are preferable to his earlier ones; and why in a second or third edition of his works, he finds it necessary to correct, or at least modify, some of his original statements.
Certainly this writer is no exception. Were he to re-write today some of his earlier articles and pieces, he would make a number of changes in them. Though it may be humiliating unto pride to have to make corrections, yet it is also ground for thanksgiving unto God for the fuller light given which enables him to do so.
During our first pastorate, we were much engaged in combating the error of salvation by personal culture and reformation; and therefore, we threw our main emphasis on the truth contained in our Lord's words, "You must be born again" (John 3:3, 5, 7), showing that something far more potent and radical than any efforts of our own were required in order to give admission into the kingdom of God; that no education, mortification, or religious adorning of the natural man could possibly fit him to dwell forever in a holy Heaven.
But in seeking to refute one error, great care needs to be taken lest we land ourselves into another at the opposite extreme—for in most instances, error is Truth perverted rather than repudiated, Truth distorted by failure to preserve the balance. Being "born again" is not the only way in which Scripture describes the great change effected by the miracle of grace: other expressions are used; and unless they be taken into due consideration, an inadequate and faulty conception of what that miracle consists of and effects will be formed. Our second pastorate was located in a community where the teaching of "Entire Sanctification" or sinless perfectionism was rife; and in combating it, we stressed the fact that sin is not eradicated from any man's being in this life, that even after he is born again, the "old nature" still remains within him. We were fully warranted by God's Word in so doing, though if we were engaged in the same task today, we should be more careful in defining what we meant by "the old nature" and more insistent that a regenerate person has a radically different disposition sin-wards from what he had formerly.
That a great change is wrought upon and within a person when God regenerates him is acknowledged by all His people—a change very different from that which is conceived of by many who have never personally experienced it. For example, it goes much deeper than a mere change of creed. One may have been brought up an Arminian, and later be intellectually convinced that such tenets are untenable; but his subsequent conversion to the Calvinistic system is no proof whatever that he is no longer dead in trespasses and sins. Again, it is something more radical than a change of inclination or taste. Many a giddy worldling have become so satiated with its pleasures as to lose all relish for the same, voluntarily abandoning them and welcoming the peace which he or she supposes is to be found in a covenant or monastery. So too it is something more vital than a change of conduct. Some notorious drunkards have signed the pledge and remained total abstainers the rest of their days, and yet never even made a profession of being Christians. One may completely alter his mode of living and yet be thoroughly carnal; forsake a life of vice and crime for one of moral respectability, and be no more spiritual than he was previously. Many are deceived at this point.
Let not the reader infer from what has just been said that one may be the subject of a miracle of grace, and yet it be unaccompanied by an enlightening of his understanding, a refining of his affections, or a reforming of his conduct. That is not at all our meaning. What we desire to make clear is that, that miracle of grace consists of something far superior to those superficial and merely natural changes which many undergo. Nor does that "something far superior" consist only in the communication of a new nature which leaves everything else in its recipient just as it was before: it is the person (and not simply a nature) who is regenerated or born again. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3) is an altogether different thing from saying, "Except a new nature be born in a man, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Any deviation from Scripture is fraught with mischief, and if we reduce that which is personal to something abstract and impersonal, we are certain to form a most inadequate—if not erroneous—conception of regeneration.
Those who have written upon God's work of grace in the soul, especially when treating of His initial act therein, have used a wide variety of terms—generally those most in vogue among the particular party to which they belonged. Each denomination has its own more or less distinctive nomenclature—determined by the portions of Truth, it is accustomed to emphasize—and even when dealing with doctrine which is held by all the orthodox, does so with a certain characteristic pronunciation or emphasis. Thus, in some circles, one would find, "effectual calling" the term most frequently employed; in other places, where "the new birth" is substituted, few would understand what is meant by "an effectual call;" while "a change of heart" is how a third group would describe it. Others, who are looser in their terminology, speak of "being saved," by which some signify one thing, and others something quite different. As a matter of fact, each of those expressions is justifiable, and all of them need to be combined if we are to form anything approaching an adequate concept of the experience itself.
The better to enable our feeble understandings to grasp something of the nature of the great change which takes place in each of God's people, the Holy Spirit has employed a considerable variety of terms—figurative in character, yet expressing spiritual realities—and it behooves us to diligently collate or collect the same, carefully ponder each one, and regard all of them as being included in "the miracle of grace." Probably we are not capable of furnishing a full list, but the following are some of the principal verses in which experimental salvation is described. "The LORD your God will circumcise your heart, and the heart of your seed, to love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 30:6): an operation painful to the soul, in removing its filth and folly—its love of sin—is necessary before the heart is brought to truly love God! This figure of circumcising the heart is found also in the New Testament: Romans 2:29; Philippians 3:3.
"Your people shall be willing in the day of your power" (Psalm 110:3): omnipotence must be exercised before the elect will voluntarily deny self and freely take Christ's yoke upon them. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:25-26). We are not concerned here with the prophetic or dispensational bearing of this statement, but with its doctrinal import. Nor can we here attempt a full exposition of it. In our judgment, those verses describe an essential aspect of that "miracle of grace" which God performs in His people. The "clean water" with which He sprinkles and cleanses them within is an emblem of His holy Word, as John 15:3 and Ephesians 5:26 make quite clear. The heart of the natural man is likened to one of "stone"—lifeless, insensible, obstinate.
When he is regenerated, the heart of man becomes one "of flesh"—quickened into newness of life, warm, full of feeling, capable of receiving impressions from the Spirit. The change effected by regeneration is no superficial or partial one, but a great, vital transforming, complete one.
"Make the tree good, and his fruit good" (Matthew 12:33): the Husbandman's method of accomplishing this is shown in Romans 11:17. "Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:3): to "be converted" is to experience a radical change, for pride to be turned into humility, and self-sufficiency into clinging dependence. "Of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace" (John 1:16): the life of the Head is communicated to His members, and every spiritual grace that is found in Him is, in measure, reproduced in them. "No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him" (John 6:44): to come to Christ is to receive Him as our Lord and Savior—to abandon our idols and repudiate our own righteousness, to surrender to His government and trust in His sacrifice; and none can do that except by the power of God.
"Purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9, and compare 1 Peter 1:23—"You have purified your souls in obeying the truth"): the Christian does not have two hearts, but one which has been "purified!" "Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken" (Acts 16:14): the door of fallen man's heart is fast closed against God until He opens it.
"I have appeared unto you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness . . . To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:16, 18). Here, we have still another description of that miracle of grace which God performs within His people, and wherein He is pleased to make use of the ministerial instrumentality of His servants. The faithful preaching of His Word is given an important place therein, though that preaching is only rendered effectual by the powerful operations of the Spirit. That miracle is here spoken of as the opening of our eyes, the reference being to the eyes of our understanding, so that we are enabled to perceive something of the spiritual meaning of the Gospel message and its bearing upon our own deep need. The soul which hitherto was engulfed in spiritual darkness is brought forth into God's marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9), so that we now discover the perfect suitability of Christ unto our desperate case. At the same time, the soul is delivered from the captivity of Satan, who is "the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53), and brought into a new relation with and knowledge of God, which produces faith in Him and issues in the forgiveness of sins.
Continuing our review of the numerous passages wherein the Holy Spirit has described His work of regeneration, and wherein He has used such a great variety of figures and terms the better to enable us to form something more than a one-sided conception thereof, we turn next to Romans 5:5, where we read, "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us." By nature, no man has any love for God. To those Jews who contended so vehemently for the unity of God and abhorred all forms of idolatry, and who—in their mistaken zeal—sought to kill the Savior because of "making himself equal with God," He declared, "I know you, that you have not the love of God in you" (John 5:18, 42). Not only loveless, the natural man is filled with "enmity against God" (Romans 8:7). But when a miracle of grace is wrought within him by the Holy Spirit, his heart experiences a great change Godwards, so that the One he formerly dreaded and sought to banish from his thoughts is now the Object of his veneration and joy, the One upon whose glorious perfections he delights to meditate, and for whose honor and pleasure he now seeks to live.
That great change which is wrought within the regenerate does not consist in the annihilation of the evil principle, "the flesh," but in freeing the mind from its dominion, and in the communication of a holy principle which conveys a new propensity and disposition to the soul: God is no longer hated, but loved. That freeing of the mind from the evil dominion of the flesh is spoken of in Ezekiel 36:26, as God's taking away "the stony heart;" and that shedding abroad of His love within the heart by His Spirit is termed giving them "an heart of flesh."
Such strong figurative language was used by the prophet to intimate that the change wrought is no superficial or transient one. Through regarding too carnally ("literally") the terms used by the prophets, dispensationalists and their adherents have created their own difficulty and failed to understand the purpose of the passage. It is not that an inward organ or faculty is removed and replaced by a different one, but rather that a radical change for the better had been wrought upon the original faculty—not by changing its essential nature or functions, but by bringing to bear a new and transforming influence upon it.
It ought not to be necessary for us to labor what is quite simple and obvious to the spiritually-minded, but in view of the fearful confusion and general ignorance prevailing, we feel that a further word (for the benefit of the perplexed) is called for.
Perhaps a simple illustration will serve to elucidate still further. Suppose that for a long time, I have cherished bitter animosity against a fellow creature and treated him with contempt, but that God has now made me realize I have been grievously wronging that person, and brought me to repent deeply of the injustice I have done him, so that I have humbly confessed my sin to him, and henceforth shall esteem him highly and do all in my power to amend the wrong I did him; surely no one would have any difficulty in understanding what was meant if I said that I had undergone a real "change of heart" toward that person, nor would it be misleading to say that a heart of "bitterness" had been removed from me and a heart of "good will" given to me.
Though we do not pretend to explain the process, yet something very much like that are the nature and effect of God's taking away the heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:26), or freeing the mind of enmity against God (Romans 8:7), and shedding abroad His love in the heart (Romans 5:5).
"But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you ["whereunto you were delivered"—margin]. Being then made free from [the guilt and dominion of] sin, you became the servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18). In this passage, the Holy Spirit is describing that wondrous transformation whereby the servants of sin become the servants of righteousness. That transformation is effected by their being delivered unto that form of doctrine which requires hearty obedience. To aid our feeble understanding, another similitude is used. "The truth which is after godliness" (Titus 1:1) is called "that form ["type or impress"—Young; rendered "fashion, pattern" in other passages] of doctrine" or "teaching:" the figure of a mold or seal being used wherein the hearts of the regenerate (softened and made pliable by the Holy Spirit) are likened to molten metal which receives and retains the exact impress of the mold into which it is poured; or as melted wax is cast into the impress of a seal, answering to it line for line, conformed to the shape and figure of it. The quickened soul is "delivered unto" (the Greek word signifies "given over to," as may be seen in Matthew 5:25; 11:27; 20:19) the Truth, so that it is made answerable or conformable unto it.
In their unconverted state, they had been the willing and devoted servants of sin, uniformly heeding its promptings and complying with its behests, gratifying their own inclinations without any regard to the authority and glory of God. But now they cordially yielded submission to the teaching of God's Word, whereunto they had been delivered or cast into the very fashion of the same. They had been supernaturally renewed into or conformed unto the holy requirements of Law and Gospel alike. Their minds, their affections, their wills had been formed according to the tenor of God's Standard. Thus, from still another angle, we are informed of what the great change consists: it is God's bringing of the soul from the love of sin to the love of holiness, a being transformed by the renewing of the mind—such a transformation as produces compliance with the Divine will. It is an inward agreement with the Rule of righteousness, into which the heart is cast and after which the character is framed and modeled; the consequence of which is an obedience from the heart—in contrast with forced or feigned obedience, which proceeds from fear or self-interest.
"For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died" (Romans 7:9). As the last-considered passage describes the positive side of the great change experienced in the child of God, this one treats more of its negative aspect. The commentators are generally agreed that in Romans 7:7-11, the apostle is narrating one of the experiences through which he passed at his conversion. First, he says, there had been a time when he was "without the law" (Romans 7:9)—words which cannot be taken absolutely. In his unregenerate days, he had been a proud Pharisee. Though he had received his training under the renowned rabbi, Gamaliel, where his chief occupation was the study of the Law; yet being totally ignorant of its spirituality, he was, vitally and experimentally speaking, as one "without" it—without a realization of its design, or an inward acquaintance of its power. Supposing that a mere external conformity unto its requirements was all that was necessary, and strictly attending to the same, he was well pleased with himself, satisfied with his righteousness, and assured of his acceptance with God.
Second, "but when the commandment came" (Romans 7:9): verse seven informs us it was the tenth commandment which the Holy Spirit used as the arrow of conviction. When those words, "you shall not covet" (Exodus 20:17) were applied to him, when they came in the Spirit's illuminating and convicting power to his conscience, the bubble of his self-righteousness was pricked and his self-delight was shattered. Like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, that Divine prohibition, "you shall not [even] desire that which is forbidden," brought home to his heart with startling force the strictness and spirituality of the Divine Law.
As those words, "you must have no self-will," pierced him, he realized the Law demanded inward, as well as outward, conformity to its holy terms. Then it was that "sin revived" (Romans 7:9): he was conscious of his lusts rising up in protest against the holy and extensive requirements of the Divine Rule. The very fact that God has said, "you shall not covet [lust]" only served to aggravate and stir into increased activity those corruptions of which previously he was unconscious; and the more he attempted to bring them into subjection, the more painfully aware did he become of his own helplessness.
Third, "and I died:" in his own apprehensions, feelings, and estimate of himself. Before he became acquainted with his inward corruptions and was made to feel something of the plague of his heart, living a morally upright life and being most punctilious in performing the requirements of the ceremonial law, the apostle deemed himself a good man. He was in his own opinion "alive"—uncondemned by the Law, having no dread of punishment and judgment to come. But when the tenth commandment smote his conscience, he perceived the spirituality of the Law and realized that hitherto, he had only a notional knowledge of it. Convicted of his inward depravity, of his sinful desires, thoughts and imaginations, he felt himself to be a condemned criminal, deserving eternal death. That is another essential element in the great change—which we should have introduced much earlier had we followed a theological order rather than tracing out the various references to it as recorded in the Scriptures. That essential element consists of a personal conviction of sin, of one's lost estate, and such a conviction that its subject completely despairs of any self-help and dies to his own righteousness.
"And such were some of you: but you are washed, but you are sanctified, but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11). The "such were some of you" refers to the licentious and wicked characters mentioned in verses nine and ten, of whom Matthew Henry (1662-1714) said they were "very monsters rather than men. Note, some that are eminently good after conversion have been as remarkable for wickedness before." What a glorious alteration does grace effect in reclaiming persons from sins so debasing and degrading! That grand transformation is here described by three words: "washed . . . sanctified . . . justified." It may appear very strange to some of our readers to hear that quite a number of those who regard themselves as the champions of orthodoxy, if they do not explicitly repudiate the first, yet give it no place at all in their concept of what takes place at regeneration. They so confine their thoughts to that which is newly created and communicated to the Christian, that any change and cleansing of his original being is quite lost sight of. God's children are as truly "washed," as they are sanctified and justified. Literally so? Yes; in a material sense? No, morally.
"But you are washed" was the fulfillment of that Old Testament promise, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you" (Ezekiel 36:25). Titus 3:5 makes it clear that the new birth consists of something more than the communication of a new nature, namely, "the washing of regeneration"—compare Ephesians 5:26. It is further to be noted that the "you are washed" is distinct from "justified," so it cannot refer to the removal of guilt. Moreover, it is effected by the Spirit, and therefore, must consist of something which He does in us. The foul leper is purged: by the Spirit's agency, he is cleansed from his pollutions, and his heart is made "pure" (Matthew 5:8). It is a moral cleansing or purification of character from the love and practice of sin. First, "washed;" then "sanctified," or set apart and consecrated to God, as vessels meet for His use.
Thereby, we obtain evidence of our justification—the cancellation of guilt and the imputation of righteousness to us. Justification is here attributed to the Holy Spirit, because He is the Author of that faith which justifies a sinner.
"But we all, with open [it should be "with unveiled"] face beholding as in a glass [better, "mirror"] the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18). In the "open [unveiled] face," there is a double reference and contrast. First, to the veil over the face of Moses (2 Corinthians 3:13), which symbolized the imperfection and transitoriness of Judaism: in contrast, Christians behold God as He is fully and finally revealed in the person and work of His Son. Second, to the veil which is over the hearts of unconverted Jews (2 Corinthians 3:15) in contrast with them, those who have turned to the Lord have the blinding effects of error and prejudice removed from them, so that they can view the Gospel without any medium obscuring it. The "glory of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18), the sum of His perfections, is revealed and shines forth in the Word, and more particularly, in the Gospel. As His glory is beheld by that faith which is produced and energized by the Spirit, its beholder is changed gradually from one degree to another into the "same image," becoming more and more conformed unto Him in character and conduct. The verb "changed" (metamorphoo) is rendered "transformed" in Romans 12:2, and "transfigured" in Matthew 17:2!
The "mirrors" of the ancients were made of burnished metals; and when a strong light was thrown on them, they not only reflected images with great distinctness, but the rays of light were cast back upon the face of one looking into them, so that if the mirror were of silver or brass, a white or golden glow suffused his or her countenance. The "mirror" is the Scriptures in which the glory of the Lord is discovered; and as the Spirit shines upon the soul and enables him to act faith and love thereon, he is changed into the same image. The glory of the Lord is irradiated by the Gospel; and as it is received into the heart, it is reflected by the beholder through the transforming agency of the Spirit. By the heart's being occupied with Christ's perfection, the mind's meditating thereon, and the will's subjection to His precepts, we drink into His spirit, become partakers of His holiness, and are conformed to His image. As our view of Christ is imperfect, the transformation is incomplete in this life: only when we "see him" face to face shall we be made perfectly "like him" (1 John 3:2).
"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). Had we been following a strictly logical and theological order, this is another aspect of our subject we should have brought in earlier, for the spiritual illumination of the understanding is one of the first works of God when He begins to restore a fallen creature.
By nature, he is in a state of complete spiritual ignorance of God, and therefore, of his own state before Him, sitting in "darkness" and "in the region and shadow of death" (Matthew 4:16). That "darkness" is something far more dreadful than a mere intellectual ignorance of spiritual things: it is a positive and energetic "power" (Luke 22:53) and evil principle, which is inveterately opposed to God; and with which the heart of fallen man is in love (John 3:19), and which no external means or illumination can dispel (John 1:5). Nothing but the sovereign fiat and all-mighty power of God is superior to it, and He alone can bring a soul "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).
As God commanded the light to shine out of that darkness which enveloped the old creation (Genesis 1:2-3), so He does in the work of new creation within each of His elect. That supernatural enlightenment consists not in dreams and visions, nor in the revelation to the soul of anything which has not been made known in the Scripture of Truth, for it is "the entrance of your words [which] gives light" (Psalm 119:130). Yes, the entrance; but before that takes place, the blind eyes of the sinner must first be miraculously opened by the Spirit, so that he is made capable of receiving the light: it is only in God's light we "see light" (Psalm 36:9). The shining of God's light in our hearts partially and gradually dissipates the awful ignorance, blindness, error, prejudice, and unbelief of our souls, thereby preparing the mind to (in measure) apprehend the Truth and the affections to embrace it. By this supernatural illumination, the soul is enabled to see things as they really are (1 Corinthians 2:10-12), perceiving his own depravity, the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the spirituality of the Law, the excellency of truth, the beauty of holiness, the loveliness of Christ.
We repeat: the Spirit communicates no light to the quickened soul which is not to be found in the written Word, but removes those obstacles which precluded its entrance, disposes the mind to attend unto the Truth (Acts 16:14), and receive it in the love of it (2 Thessalonians 2:10). When the Divine light shines into his heart, the sinner perceives something of his horrible plight, is made conscious of his guilty and lost condition, feels that his sins are more in number than the hairs of his head. He now knows that there is "no soundness" (Isaiah 1:6) in him, that all his righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and that he is utterly unable to help himself. But the Divine light shining in his heart also reveals the all-sufficient remedy. It awakens hope in his breast.
It makes known to him "the glory of God" (2 Corinthians 4:6) as it shines in the face of the Mediator, and the sun of righteousness now arises upon his benighted soul with healing in His wings, or [light] beams. Such knowledge of sin, of himself, of God, of the Savior, is not obtained by mental effort, but is communicated by the gracious operations of the Spirit. "(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). The apostle is here alluding to his ministry: its nature, difficulties, and success. He likened it unto a conflict between truth and error. The "weapons" or means he employed were not such as men of the world depended upon. The Grecian philosophers relied upon the arguments of logic, or the attractions of rhetoric. Mohammed conquered by the force of arms. Rome's appeal is to the senses.
But the ambassadors of Christ use nothing but the Word and prayer, which are "mighty through God" (2 Corinthians 10:4). Sinners are converted by the preaching of Christ crucified, and not by human wisdom, eloquence, or debate. The Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).
Sinners are here pictured as sheltering in "strongholds." By hardness of heart, stubbornness of will, and strong prejudices, they have fortified themselves against God and betaken themselves to a "refuge of lies" (Isaiah 28:17). But when the Truth is effectually applied to their hearts by the Spirit, those strongholds are demolished and their haughty imaginations and proud reasonings are cast down. They no longer exclaim, "I cannot believe that a just God will make one a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor," or "I cannot believe a merciful God will consign anyone to eternal torments." All objections are now silenced, rebels are subdued, lofty opinions of self cast down, pride is abased, and reverential fear, contrition, humility, faith, and love take their place. Every thought is now brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5): they are conquered by grace, taken captives by love, and Christ henceforth occupies the throne of their hearts.
Every faculty of the soul is now won over to God. Such is the great change wrought in a soul who experiences the miracle of grace: a worker of iniquity is made a loving and loyal child of obedience.
"My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you" (Galatians 4:19). In the past, the apostle had labored hard in preaching the Gospel to the Galatians, and apparently, his efforts had met with considerable success. He had plainly set before them "Christ . . . crucified" (Galatians 3:1) as the sinner's only hope; and many had professed to receive Him as He was offered in the Gospel. They had abandoned their idolatry, seemed to be soundly converted, and had expressed great affection for their spiritual father (Galatians 4:15). For a time, they had "run well," but they had been hindered (Galatians 5:7). After Paul's departure, false teachers sought to seduce them from the faith and persuade them that they must be circumcised and keep the ceremonial law in order to salvation. They had so far given ear unto those Judaizers that Paul now stood in doubt of them (Galatians 4:20), being fearful lest after all they had never been truly regenerated (Galatians 4:11). It is to be carefully noted that he did not take refuge in fatalism and say, If God has begun a good work in them, He will certainly finish it, so there is no need for me to be unduly worried. Very much the reverse.
No, the apostle was much exercised over their state and earnestly solicitous about their welfare. By this strong figure of speech, "I travail in birth again" (Galatians 4:19), the apostle intimated both his deep concern and his willingness to labor and suffer ministerially after their conversion, to spare no pains in seeking to deliver them from their present delusion and get them thoroughly established in the truth of the Gospel. He longed to be assured that the great change had taken place in them, which he speaks of as "Christ be formed in you" (Galatians 4:19). By which we understand that they might be genuinely evangelized by a saving knowledge of Christ. First, that by spiritual apprehension of the Truth, He might be revealed in their understandings. Second, that by the exercise of faith upon Him, He might dwell in their hearts (Ephesians 3:17): faith gives a subsistence and reality in the soul of that object on which it is acted (Hebrews 11:1). Third, that He might be so endeared to their affections that neither Moses nor any one else could be admitted as a rival. Fourth, that by the surrender of their wills, He might occupy the throne of their hearts and rule over them. Christ thus "formed in" us is the proof of His righteousness imputed to us.
"For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). In those words, the apostle completes the blessed declaration he had made in verses 8 and 9, thereby preserving the balance of Truth. Verses 8 and 9 present only one side of the Gospel and ought never to be quoted without adding the other side. None so earnest as Paul in proclaiming sovereign grace; none more insistent in maintaining practical godliness.
Has God chosen His people in Christ before the foundation of the world? It was that they "should be holy" (Ephesians 1:4). Did Christ give Himself for us? It was that "he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14). So here, immediately after magnifying free grace, Paul states with equal clearness the moral results of God's saving power, as they are exhibited with more or less distinctness in the lives of His people. Salvation by grace is evidenced by holy conduct: unless our lives are characterized by "good works," we have no warrant to regard ourselves as being the children of God.
"We are his workmanship:" He, and not ourselves, had made us what we are spiritually. "Created in Christ Jesus" means made vitally one with Him. "In Christ" always has reference to union with Him: in Ephesians 1:4, to a mystical or election union; in 1 Corinthians 15:22, to a federal or representative one; in 1 Corinthians 6:17 and 2 Corinthians 5:17, to a vital or living one. Saving faith (product of the Spirit's quickening us) makes us branches of the living Vine, from whom our fruit proceeds (Hos. 14:8). "Created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10) expresses the design and efficacy of God's workmanship, being parallel with "this people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise" (Isaiah 43:21). God fits the thing for which He creates it: fire to burn, the earth to yield food, His saints to walk in good works—God's work in their souls inclining and propelling thereunto. He creates us in Christ, or gives us vital union with Him, that we should walk in newness of life—He being the Root from which all the fruits of righteousness proceed. United to the Holy One, holy conduct marks us. Those who live in sin have never been savingly joined to Christ. God saves that we may glorify Him by a life of obedience.
"Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). Those words occur in the practical section of the epistle, being part of an exhortation which begins at verse 22, the passage as a whole being similar to Romans 13:12-14. Its force is, Make it manifest by your conduct that you are regenerate creatures, exhibiting before your fellows the character of God's children. That which most concerns us now is the particular description which is here given of the great change effected in the regenerate—namely, a "new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). With our present passage, it should be carefully compared with the parallel one in Colossians, for the one helps to explain and supplements the other. There we read,
"And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Colossians 3:10). In both, we find the expression "the new man," by which we are not to understand that a new individual has been brought into existence, that a person is now brought forth who previously had no being. Great care needs to be taken when seeking to understand and explain the meaning of terms which are taken from the material realm and applied to spiritual objects and things.
A regenerated sinner is the same individual he was before, though a great change has taken place in his soul. How different the landscape when the sun is shining than when darkness of a moonless night is upon it—the same landscape and yet not the same! How different the condition of one who is restored to fullness of health and vigor after being brought very low by serious illness—yet it is the same person. How different will be the body of the saint on the Resurrection morning from its present state—the same body which was sown in the grave, and yet not the same! So too with those saints alive on earth at the Redeemer's return: "Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Philippians 3:21). Thus it is, in measure, at regeneration: the soul undergoes a Divine work of renovation and transformation: a new light shines into the understanding, a new Object engages the affections, a new power moves the will. It is the same individual, and yet not the same. "Once I was blind, but now I see" is his blessed experience.
In Ephesians 4:24, we read of the new man "which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness;" while in Colossians 3:10, it is said "which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him," that is originally. By comparing the two passages, we understand the "which after God" to signify in conformity to Himself, for it is parallel with "after the image of him." That the new man is said to be "created" denotes that this spiritual transformation is a Divine work in which the human individual plays no part—either by contribution, cooperation, or concurrence. It is wholly a supernatural operation, in which the subject of it is entirely passive. The "which is renewed" of Colossians 3:10 denotes that it is not something which previously had no existence, but the spiritual quickening and renovating of the soul. By regeneration is restored to the Christian's soul the moral image of God, which image he lost in Adam at the fall. That "image" consists in "righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24) being imparted to the soul, or, as Colossians 3:10 expresses it, in the spiritual "knowledge" of God. God is now known, loved, revered, loyally served. It is now fitted for communion with Him.
"Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you will perform it" (Philippians 1:6). This verse contains a manifest warning, if an indirect or implied one, against our pressing too far the figure of a "new creation."
"Creation" is an act and not a "work," a finished or completed object, and not an incomplete and imperfect one. God speaks and it is done, wholly and perfectly done in an instant. The very fact that the Holy Spirit has employed such figures as "begetting" and "birth" to describe the saving work of God in the soul intimates that the reference is only to the initial experience of Divine grace. A new life is then imparted, but it requires nurturing and developing. In the verse now before us, we are informed that the great change produced in us is not yet fully accomplished, yes, that it is only just begun. The work of grace is called "good," because it is so in itself, and because of what it effects: it conforms us to God and fits us to enjoy God. It is termed a "work," because it is a continuous process, which the Spirit carries forward in the saint as long as he is left in this scene.
This good work within the soul is commenced by God, being wrought neither by our will nor our agency. That was the ground of the apostle's persuasion or confidence: that He who had begun this good work would perform or finish it—had it been originated by man, he could have had no such assurance. Not only did God initiate this good work, but He alone continues and perfects it—were it left unto us, it would quickly come to nothing. "Will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6) tells us it is not complete in this life. With that should be compared, "them that believe to the saving of the soul" (Hebrews 10:39): observe carefully, not "have believed" (a past act) to the salvation (a completed deliverance) of the soul, but "who believe [a present act] to the saving of the soul"—a continuous process. As Christ ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25), so the Spirit ever exercises an effectual influence within us. The verb for "finish" is an intensive one, which means to carry forward unto the end. "The LORD will perfect that which concerns me" (Psalm 138:8) enunciates the same promise.
"According to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:5-6).
If we followed our inclination, we should essay an exposition of the whole passage (verses 4, 7), but unless we keep within bounds and confine ourselves to what bears directly on our present theme, these articles will be extended too much to suit some of our readers. In this passage, we are shown how the three Persons of the Godhead co-operate in the work of salvation, and that salvation itself has both an experimental and legal side to it. Here we are expressly said to be "saved by" the effectual operations of the Holy Spirit, so that the Christian owes his personal salvation unto Him as truly as he does unto the Lord Jesus. Had not the blessed Spirit taken up His abode in this world, the death of Christ would have been in vain. It is by the mediation and merits of His redemptive work that Christ purchased the gift and graces of the Spirit, which are here said to be "shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior."
The will of the Father is the originating cause of our salvation, the worth of the Son's redemption, its meritorious cause; and the work of the Spirit, its effectual cause. Experimental salvation is begun in the soul by "the washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5), when the heart is cleansed from the prevailing love and power of sin and begins to be restored to its pristine purity. And by the "renewing of the Holy Spirit," that is, the renewing of the soul in the Divine image; or, more particularly, the renewing of the "mind" (Romans 12:2); or, more expressly still, being "renewed in the spirit of your mind" (Ephesians 4:23)—that is, in the disposition of it. The whole of which is summed up in the expression, God has given us "a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7), "an understanding, that we may know him" (1 John 5:20). The mind is renovated and reinvigorated, so that it is capacitated to spiritually discern the things of the Spirit, which the natural man cannot do (1 Corinthians 2:14), no matter how well he be educated or religiously instructed.
But that to which we would specially direct the attention of the reader is the present tense of the verbs: "the washing of regeneration, and renewing [not "renewal"] of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). Like 2 Corinthians 3:18 and Philippians 1:6, this is another verse which shows that the great change is not completed at the new birth, but is a continual process, in course of effectuation. The "good work" which God has begun in the soul—that washing and renewing of the Holy Spirit—proceeds throughout the whole course of our earthly life, and is not consummated until the Redeemer's return, for it is only then that the saints will be perfectly and eternally conformed to the image of God's Son. God says of His heritage, "I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment" (Isaiah 27:3): it is only by the continuous and gracious influences of the Spirit that the spiritual life is nurtured and developed. The believer is often conscious of his need thereof, and under a sense of it, cries, "Quicken me according to your word" (Psalm 119:154). And God does: for "though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16). That "inward man" is termed "the hidden man of the heart" (1 Peter 3:4).
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts" (Hebrews 8:10—quoted from Jeremiah 31:31-34). Without entering into the prophetic bearings of this passage (about which none should speak without humble diffidence), suffice it to say that by the "house of Israel," we understand "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16)—the whole election of grace—to be here in view. The "I will put" and "I will write" refer to yet another integral part of the great change wrought in God's people, the reference being to that invincible and miraculous operation of the Spirit which radically transforms the favored subjects of it. "God articles with His people. He once wrote His laws to them; now He writes His laws in them. That is, He will give them understanding to know and believe His laws, memories to retain them, hearts to love and consciences to revere them; He will give them courage to profess, and power to put them into practice: the whole habit and frame of their souls shall be a table and transcript of His laws" (Matthew Henry, 1662-1714).
"I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts" (Hebrews 8:10). We are here shown how rebels are made amenable to God. "God calls to us without effect, as long as He speaks to us in no other way than by the voice of man. He indeed teaches us and commands what is right, but He speaks to the deaf; for when we seem to hear aright, our ears are only struck by an empty sound, and the heart, being full of depravity and perverseness, rejects every wholesome doctrine. In short, the Word of God never penetrates into our hearts, for they are iron and stone until they are softened by Him; nay, they have engraved on them a contrary law, for perverse passions reek within, which lead us to rebellion. In vain, then, does God proclaim His Law by the voice of men, until He writes it by His Spirit on our hearts; that is, until He frames and prepares us for obedience" (John Calvin, 1509-1564).
"I will . . . write them in their hearts." The "heart," as distinguished from the "mind," comprises the affections and the will. This is what renders actually effective the former. The heart of the natural man is alienated from God and opposed to His authority. That is why God wrote the Ten Words upon tables of stone: not so much to secure the outward letter of them, as to represent the hardness of heart of the people unto whom they were given. But at regeneration, God takes away the heart of stone and gives "an heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26). Just as the tables of stone received the impression of the finger of God, of the letter and words wherein the Law was contained, so the "heart of flesh" receives a durable impression of God's laws, the affections and will being made answerable unto the whole revealed will of God and conformed to its requirements: a principle of obedience is imparted, and subjection to the Divine authority is wrought in us.
Here, then, is the grand triumph of Divine grace: a lawless rebel is changed into a loyal subject, enmity against the Law (Romans 8:7) is displaced by love for the Law (Psalm 119:97). The heart is so transformed that it now loves God and has a genuine desire and determination to please Him. The renewed heart "delights in the law of God" and "serves the law of God" (Romans 7:22, 25), it being its very "nature" to do so! Let each reader sincerely ask himself, Is there now that in me which responds to the holy Law of God? Is it truly my longing and resolve to be wholly regulated by the Divine will? Is it the deepest yearning of my soul and the chief aim of my life to honor and glorify Him? Is it my daily prayer for Him to work in me "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13)?
Is my acutest grief occasioned when I feel I sadly fail to fully realize my longing? If so, the great change has been wrought in me.
"According as his divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that has called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:3-4). That is more of a general description of experimental salvation than a delineation of any particular part thereof, yet since there be in it one or two expressions not found elsewhere, it calls for a separate consideration. The opening, "According as" should be rendered "Forasmuch as" or "Seeing that" (Revised Version)—for it indicates not so much a standard of comparison, as that verses 3 and 4 form the ground of the exhortation of verses 5 to 7. First, we have their spiritual enduement. This was by "divine power," or as Ephesians 1:19 expresses it, "the exceeding greatness of his power to us–ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power"—for nothing less could quicken souls dead in trespasses and sins, or free the slaves of sin and Satan.
That divine power "has given unto us [not merely offered them in the Gospel, but has graciously bestowed, actually communicated] all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3): that is, whatever is needful for the production, preservation, and perfecting of spirituality in the souls of God's elect. Yet, though the recipients be completely passive—yes, unconscious—of this initial operation of divine grace, they do not continue so—for second, their enduement is accompanied by and accomplished "through the knowledge of him that has [effectually] called us to glory and virtue" or "energy." That "knowledge of him" consists of such a personal revelation of Himself to the soul as imparts a true, spiritual, affecting, transforming perception of, and acquaintance with, His excellency. It is such a knowledge as enables its favored recipient in adoring and filial recognition to say, "I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye sees you" (Job 42:5). God has now become an awe-producing, yet a living and blessed, reality to the renewed soul.
Third, through that spiritual "knowledge" which God has imparted to the soul, all the gracious benefits and gifts of His love are received: "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers" (2 Peter 1:4), etc. The "whereby" has reference to His "glory and virtue"—or better, His "glory and energy" or "might." The "promises" are "given unto us" not simply in words, but in their actual fulfillment: just as the by His "glory and virtue [or might]" is the same thing as "his divine power" in the previous verse, so "are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature" corresponds with "has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness"—the one amplifying the other. The "exceeding great and precious promises" were those made in the Old Testament—the original (Genesis 3:15), fundamental, central, and all-pervading one being that of a personal Savior; and those made by Christ, which chiefly respected the gift and coming of the Holy Spirit, which He expressly designated as "the promise of the Father" (Acts 1:4).
Now those two promises—that of a divine Savior and that of a divine Spirit—were the things that the prophets of old ministered "not unto themselves, but unto us" (1 Peter 1:12); and they may indeed most fitly be termed, "exceeding great and precious promises" (2 Peter 1:4)—for they who are given this Savior and this Spirit do in effect receive "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (2 Peter 1:3)—for Christ becomes their Life; and the Spirit, their Sanctifier. Or, as the following verse expresses it, the end for which this knowledge (as well as its accompanying blessings) are bestowed is first "that by these [that is the promises as fulfilled and fulfilling in your experience] you might be partakers of the divine nature." Here we need to be on our guard against forming a wrong conclusion from the bare sound of those words: "Not the essence of God, but His communicable excellencies, such moral properties as may be imparted to the creature, and those not considered in their absolute perfection, but as they are agreeable to our present state and capacity" (Thomas Manton, 1620-1677).
That "divine nature"—or "moral properties"—is sometimes called "the life of God" (Ephesians 4:18), because it is a vital principle of action; sometimes "the image of him" (Colossians 3:10), because they bear a likeness to Him—consisting essentially of "righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24); or in 2 Peter 1:3, "life and godliness"—spiritual life, spiritual graces, abilities to perform good works. It is here called "the divine nature," because it is the communication of a vital principle of operation which God transmits unto His children. The second end for which this saving knowledge of God is given is expressed in the closing words: "Having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). Personally, we see no need for taking up this expression before "partakers of the divine nature," as that eminent expositor Thomas Manton did, and as did the most able John Lillie (1812-1867)—to whom we are indebted for part of the above—for the apostle is not here enforcing the human-responsibility side of things (as he was in Romans 13:12; Ephesians 4:22-24), but treats of the divine operations and their effects.
It is quite true that we must put off the old man before we can put on the new man in a practical way, that we must first attend to the work of mortification before we can make progress in our sanctification, but this is not the aspect of truth which the apostle is here unfolding. When the Gospel call is addressed unto our moral agency, the promise is "that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:15-16).
But where spiritual things are concerned, the unregenerate man never discharges his moral agency. A miracle of grace must take place before he does that; and therefore, God in a sovereign manner (unsought by us) imparts life, that he may and will believe (John 1:12-13; 1 John 5:1)—the "sanctification of the Spirit" precedes the saving "and belief of the truth" (2 Thessalonians 2:13)! In like manner, our becoming "partakers of the divine nature" precedes (not in time, but in order of nature and of actual experience, though not of consciousness) our escaping "the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4).
Let not the young preacher be confused by what has been pointed out in the last paragraph. His marching orders are plain: when addressing the unsaved, he is to enforce their responsibility, press upon them the discharging of their duties, bidding them forsake their "way" and "thoughts" in order to pardon (Isaiah 55:7), calling upon them to "repent" and "believe" if they would be saved (Mark 1:15; Acts 16:31; Rom 10:9). But if God be pleased to own his preaching of the Word and pluck some brands from the burning, it is quite another matter (or aspect of truth) for the preacher (and, later on, his saved hearer, by means of doctrinal instruction) to understand something of the nature of that miracle of grace which God wrought in the hearer, which caused him to savingly receive the Gospel. It is that which we have endeavored to deal with in the above paragraphs—namely, explain something of the operations of divine grace in a renewed soul, so far as those operations are described in 2 Peter 1:3-4.
"Having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4). First, by the divine operation, and then by our own agency—for it is ever "God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). Indwelling sin (depravity) is here termed, "corruption," because it blighted our primitive purity, degenerated our original state, and because it continues both in its nature and effects to pollute and waste.
That "corruption" has its source in, or is seated in, our "lusts"—depraved affections and appetites. This "corruption" is what another apostle designated as "evil concupiscence" (Colossians 3:5)—for it occupies in the heart that place which is due alone unto the love of God as the Supreme Good. "Lust" always follows the "nature:" as is the nature, so are its desires—if corrupt, then evil; if holy, then pure. All the corruption that is in the world is "through lust," that is through inordinate desire—lust lies at the bottom of every unlawful thought, every evil imagination.
The world could harm no man were it not for "lust" in his heart—some inordinate desire in the understanding or fancy, a craving for something which sets him a-work after it. The fault is not in the gold, but in the spirit of covetousness which possesses men; not in the wine, but in their craving to excess.
"But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust" (James 1:14)—the blame lies on us, rather than Satan! It is remarkable that when the apostle explained his expression, "all that is in the world," he defined it as "the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). Now of Christians, our passage says, "having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Peter 1:4)—and that, by the interposition of the divine hand, as Lot escaped from Sodom; yet not through a simple act of omnipotence, but by the gracious bestowments which that hand brings, by that holiness which He works in the heart, or, as a passage already reviewed expresses it: "By the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). We escape from the dominion of inward corruption by "the divine nature" in us, causing us to hate and resist our evil lusts.
Thus it is by adhering closely to the divine order of this passage that we are enabled to understand the meaning of its final clause. When we become "partakers of the divine nature"—that is, when we are renewed after the image of God—a principle of grace and holiness is communicated to the soul, which is called "spirit," because "born of the Spirit" (John 3:6) and that principle of holiness (termed by many "the new nature") is a vital and operating one which offers opposition to the workings of "corruption" or indwelling sin—for not only does the flesh lust against the spirit, but "the Spirit [lusts] against the flesh" (Galatians 5:17). The "divine nature" has wrought "godliness" in us, drawing off the heart of its recipient from the world to Heaven, making him to long after holiness and pant for communion with God. Herein lies the radical difference between those described in 2 Peter 1:3-4, and the ones in 2 Peter 2:20—nothing is said of the latter being "partakers of the divine nature!" Their escaping from "the pollutions of the world" was merely a temporary reformation from outward defilements and gross sins, as their turning again to the same makes clear (2 Peter 2:22).
"We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14). Here is set before us still another criterion by which the Christian may determine whether the great change has been wrought in him. First, let us point out that it seems to be clearly implied here (as in other places in this epistle—e.g. 1 John 2:3; 4:13) that the miracle of grace is not perceptible to our senses at the moment it occurs, but is cognizable by us afterward from its effects and fruits. We cannot recall a single statement in Scripture which expressly declares, or even plainly implies, that the saint is conscious of regeneration during the moment of quickening. There are indeed numbers (the writer among them) who can recall and specify the very hour when they were first convicted of sin, realized their lost condition, trusted in the atoning blood, and felt the burden of their hearts roll away. Nevertheless, they knew not when life was imparted unto their spiritually dead souls—life which prompted them to breathe, feel, see, hear and act in a way they never had previously. Life must be present before there can be any of the functions and exercises of life. One dead in sin cannot savingly repent and believe.
Now it is one of the designs for which the first epistle of John was written that the regenerate may have assurance that eternal life has been imparted to them (1 John 5:13), several different evidences and manifestations of that life being described in the course of the apostle's letter. The one specified in 1 John 3:14 is "love [for] the brethren." By nature, we were inclined to hate the children of God. It could not be otherwise: since we hated God—and that because He is holy and righteous—we despised those in whom the image of His moral perfections appeared.
Contrariwise, when "the love of God" was "shed abroad in our hearts" (Romans 5:5), and we were brought to delight ourselves in Him, His people became highly esteemed by us; and the more evidently they were conformed unto His likeness, the more we loved them. That "love" is of a vastly superior nature from any natural sentiment, being a holy principle. Consequently, it is something very different from mere zeal for a certain group or party spirit, or even an affection for those whose sentiments and temperaments are like our own. It is a divine, spiritual, and holy love, which goes out unto the whole family of God—not respect to this or that brother, but which embraces "the brethren" at large.
That of which 1 John 3:14 treats is a peculiar love for those saved by Christ. To love the Redeemer and His redeemed is congenial to the spiritual life which has been communicated to their renewed souls. It is a fruit of that holy disposition which the Spirit has wrought in them. It must be distinguished from what is so often mis-termed "love" in the natural realm, which consists only of sentimentality and amiability. The regenerate "love the brethren" not because they are affable and genial, or because they give them a warm welcome to their circle. They "love the brethren" not because they deem them wise and orthodox, but because of their godliness; and the more their godliness is evidenced, the more will they love them; and hence, they love all the godly—no matter what be their denominational connections. They love those whom Christ loves; they love them for His sake—because they belong to Him. Their love is a spiritual, unselfish, and faithful one which seeks the good of its objects, which sympathizes with them in their spiritual trials and conflicts, which bears them up in their prayers before the Throne of Grace, which unselfishly shows kindness unto them, which admonishes and rebukes when that be necessary.
But that to which we would here direct particular attention is the language employed by the Spirit in describing the great change, namely, "passed from death unto life" (1 John 3:14).
The same expression was used by our Lord in John 5:24, though there, its force is rather different: "Truly, truly, I say unto you, He who hears [with an inward or spiritual ear] my word, and [savingly] believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life [the very fact he so hears and believes is proof he has it], and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." The "shall not come into condemnation" brings in the forensic side of things; and therefore, the "passed from death unto life" (which, be it duly noted, is in addition to "has everlasting life" in the preceding clause) is judicial. The one who has had "everlasting life" sovereignly imparted to him—and who, in consequence thereof, "hears" or heeds the Gospel of Christ and savingly believes—has forever emerged from the place of condemnation, being no longer under the curse of the Law, but now entitled to its award of "life," by virtue of the personal obedience or meritorious righteousness of Christ being imputed unto him; for which reason, he is exhorted, "Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through [in] Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:11).
But 1 John 3:14 is not treating of the forensic or legal side of things, but the experimental, that of which God's elect are made the subjects of in their own persons. Here it is not a relative change (one in relation to the Law), but an actual one that is spoken of. They have "passed from" that fearful state in which they were born—"alienated from the life of God" (Ephesians 4:18): a state of unregeneracy. They have been supernaturally and effectually called forth from the grave of sin and death. They have entered "into life," which speaks of the state which they are now in before God as the consequence of His quickening them. They have forever left that sepulcher of spiritual death—in which by nature they lay—and have been brought into the spiritual sphere to "walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:4). And "love [for] the brethren" is one of the effects and evidences of the miracle of grace of which they have been the favored subjects. They evince their spiritual resurrection by this mark: they love the beloved of Christ; their hearts are spontaneously drawn out unto—and they earnestly seek the good of—all who wear Christ's yoke, bear His image, and seek to promote His glory. 1 John 3:14 is not an exhortation, but a factual statement of Christian experience.
Now let the reader most diligently note that in 1 John 3:14, the Holy Spirit has employed the figure of resurrection to set forth the great change, and that it also must be given due place in our thoughts as we endeavor to form something approaching an adequate conception of what the miracle of grace consists. Due consideration of this figure should check us in pressing too far that of the new birth. The similitude of resurrection brings before us something distinct, and in some respects, quite different from that which is connoted by "new creation," "begetting" (James 1:18), or "being born again" (1 Peter 1:23).
Each of the latter denotes the bringing into existence of something which previously existed not; whereas "resurrection" is the quickening of what is there already. The miracle of grace consists of far more than the communication of a new life or nature: it also includes the renovation and purification of the original soul. Because it is a "miracle," an act of omnipotence, accomplished by the mere fiat of God, it is appropriately likened unto "creation;" yet it needs to be carefully borne in mind that it is not some thing which is created in us: for "we [ourselves] are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:10). It is the person himself, and not merely a nature, which is born again.
We have now reviewed not less than twenty-five passages from God's Word, wherein a considerable variety of terms and figures are used to set forth the different aspects of the great change which takes place in a person when the miracle of grace is wrought within him; all of which passages, in our judgment, treating of the same. We have not sought to expound or comment upon them at equal length, but, following our usual custom, have rather devoted the most space in an attempt to explain those which are least understood, which present the most difficulty to the average reader, and upon which the commentators often supply the least help. A comparison of those passages will at once show that what theologians generally speak of as "regeneration" or "the effectual call" is very far from being expressed by the Holy Spirit in uniform language; and therefore, that those who restrict their ideas to what is connoted by being born again—or even on the other hand, "a change of heart"—are almost certain to form a very one-sided, inadequate, and faulty conception of what experimental salvation consists.
Regeneration is indeed a new birth, or the beginning of a new life; but that is not all it is—there is also something resurrected and renewed, and something washed and transformed!
The Bible is not designed for lazy people. Truth has to be bought (Proverbs 23:23), but the slothful and worldly-minded are not willing to pay the price required. That "price" is intimated in Proverbs 2:1-5: there must be a diligent applying of the heart, a crying after knowledge, a seeking for an apprehension of spiritual things with that ardor and determination as men employ when seeking for silver; and a searching for a deeper and fuller knowledge of the truth as men put forth when searching for hid treasures—persevering until their quest is successful—if we would really understand the things of God.
Those who complain that these articles are "too difficult" or "too deep" for them, do but betray the sad state of their souls and reveal how little they really value the truth; otherwise, they would ask God to enable them to concentrate, and reread these pages perseveringly until they made its contents their own.
People are willing to work and study hard and long to master one of the arts or sciences, but where spiritual and eternal things are concerned, it is usually otherwise.
"Search the Scriptures" (John 5:39), "comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Corinthians 2:13). That is what we sought to heed in the preceding articles. Therein twenty-five different passages were collated—all of which we are persuaded treat of some aspect or other of "the miracle of grace" or the great change—and in varying measure, engaged our attention. It will be observed that in some of them, it is the illumination of the understanding which is in view (Acts 26:18); in others, the searching and convicting of the conscience (Romans 7:9); and in others, the renovation of the heart (Ezekiel 36:26). In some, it is the subduing of the will (Psalm 110:3) which is emphasized; in others, casting down reasonings and bringing our thoughts into subjection (2 Corinthians 10:5); and in others, the writing of God's laws in our minds and hearts. In some, the miracle of grace appears to be a completed thing (1 Corinthians 6:11); in others, the great change is seen as a gradual process (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 1:6). In one, something is removed from its subject (Deuteronomy 30:6); while in another, something is communicated (Romans 5:5). In different passages, the figures of creation (Ephesians 2:10), of renewing (Titus 3:5), and of resurrection (1 John 3:14) are employed.
If it be asked, Why has it pleased the Holy Spirit to describe His work so diversely and use such a variety of terms and figures? several answers may be suggested. First, because the work itself, though one, is so many-sided. Its subject is a complex creature, and the process of salvation radically affects every part of his composite being. Just as sin has marred each part of our constitution and has corrupted every faculty the Creator gave us, so grace renews and transforms every part of our constitution and purifies every faculty we possess. When the apostle prayed, "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thessalonians 5:23), he was asking that God would graciously preserve and perfect that which He had already wrought in His people, and the terms he there used intimated the comprehensiveness and entirety of the grand miracle of grace. This is a gem possessing many facets, and our estimate of it is certain to be most faulty if we confine our view to only one of them.
Second, because God would thereby warn us from supposing that He acts according to a stereotyped plan or method in His saving of sinners. Variety rather than uniformity marks all the ways and workings of God, in creation, providence, and grace. No two seasons are alike—no field or tree yields the same crop in any two years. Every book in the Bible is equally the inspired Word of God, yet how different in character and content is Leviticus from the Psalms, Ruth from Ezekiel, Romans from the Revelation!
How varied the manner in which the Lord Jesus gave sight to different ones who were blind: different in the means used and the effect produced—one, at first, only seeing men as though they were trees walking (Mark 8:24)! How differently He dealt with religious Nicodemus in John 3 and the adulterous woman of John 4, pressing on the one his imperative need of being born again; convicting the other of her sins and telling her of "the gift of God" (John 4:10)! The great God is not confined to any rule, and we must not restrict His operations in our thoughts: if we do, we are certain to err.
Third, because God would thereby teach us that, though the work of grace be essentially and substantially the same in all its favored subjects, yet in no two of them does it appear identical in all its circumstantials—neither in its operations, nor manifestations. Not only does endless variety mark all the ways and workings of God, but it does so equally in His workmanship.
This is generally recognized and acknowledged in connection with the material world, where no two blades of grass or two grains of sand are alike. But in the spiritual realm, it is very far from being perceived and owned: rather is it commonly supposed that all truly regenerate persons conform strictly unto one particular pattern, and those who differ from it are at once suspected of being counterfeits. This should not be. The twelve foundations of the new and holy Jerusalem—in which are the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb—are all composed of "precious" stones, but how diverse is each! The first jasper, the second sapphire, the third a chalcedony, the fourth emerald, etc. (Revelation 21)—different in color, size, and brilliancy. Each Christian has his own measure of faith and grace "according to the measure of the gift of Christ" (Ephesians 4:7).
Fourth, because God would thereby make it easier for His children to recognize themselves in the mirror of the Word. Possessed of honest hearts and fearful of being deceived, some find it no simple matter to be thoroughly convinced that they have truly experienced the great change. So far from sneering at their trepidation, we admire their caution: where the eternal interests of the soul are concerned, only a fool will give himself the benefit of the doubt. But if a miracle of grace has been wrought in the reader, there is no good reason why he should long be in uncertainty about it. As in water, face answers to face, so the character of the renewed soul corresponds to the description of such furnished by the Word of Truth. That description, as we have seen, is given with considerable variety—sometimes one feature or aspect being made prominent, sometimes another. It is like a photographer taking a number of different pictures of the same person: one with his countenance in repose, another with him smiling; one a full-face view, another of his profile. One may appear to do him "more justice" than another, or be more easily "recognized," yet all are likenesses of himself.
Let then the exercised reader impartially scrutinize himself in the mirror of the Word, and see if he can discern in himself some of the marks of the regenerate, as those marks are there delineated. Observe well, we say "some of" those marks, and not all of them. Though you may not be sure that Ezekiel 36:26 has taken place in you, perhaps you know something of what is recorded in Acts 16:14 and Romans 5:5. Because your first conscious "experience" was not like that of Romans 7:9, perhaps it closely resembled that of Zaccheus who came down from the tree and "received him joyfully" (Luke 19:6). Commenting on the quickness of his conversion, George Whitefield (1714-1770) aptly said to those who queried whether any were genuine Christians who had not undergone some "terrible experience" of conviction or terror of the wrath to come, "You may as well say to your neighbor you have not had a child, for you were not in labor all night. The question is, whether a real child is born, not how long was the preceding pain!"
There is nothing in the sacred record to show that either Lydia or Zaccheus felt anything of the terrors of the Law before their conversion, yet from what is said of them in the sequel, we cannot doubt the reality of their conversion. Though you may not be sure whether God has put His laws into your mind and written them on your heart, yet you should have no difficulty in perceiving whether or no you "love the brethren" as such; and if you do, then you may be fully assured on the Word of Him that cannot lie, you have "passed from death unto life" (1 John 3:14). The fact that you are afraid to aver that God has renewed you after His image and created you "in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24) does not of itself warrant you inferring you are still in a state of nature. Test yourself by other passages, and see if you can discern in your soul some of their marks of regeneration—such as a grieving over sin, a hungering after righteousness, a panting for communion with God, a praying for fuller conformity unto Christ.
Has the world lost its charm, are you out of love with yourself, is the Lamb of God a desirable Object in your eyes? If so, you possess at least some of the distinctive marks of the regenerate.
Since we are seeking to write these articles for the benefit of young preachers, as well as the rank and file of God's people, let us point out that the nature of this great change may also be determined by contemplating it as the begun reversal of the Fall: "begun reversal," for what is commenced at regeneration is continued throughout our sanctification and completed only at our glorification. While it be true that those who are renewed by the Holy Spirit gain more than Adam lost by the Fall, yet we have clear Scripture warrant for affirming that the workmanship of the new creation is God's answer to man's ruination of his original creation. Great care needs to be taken in cleaving closely to the Scriptures in developing this point, particularly in ascertaining exactly what was the moral and spiritual condition of man originally, and precisely what happened to him when he fell. We trust that a patient perusal of what follows will convince the reader of both the importance and value of our discussion of these details at this stage—the more so since the children have sadly departed from the teaching of the fathers thereon.
Even those sections of Christendom which boast the most of their soundness in the faith are defective here. Mr. John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) and his followers hold that Adam was merely created innocent (a negative state), and not in (positive) holiness.
Mr. Joseph Charles Philpot (1802-1869) said: "I do not believe that Adam was a spiritual man, that is, that he possessed those spiritual gifts and graces which are bestowed upon the elect of God, for they are new covenant blessings in which he had no share" (Gospel Standard, 1861, page 155). One error ever involves another. Those who deny that fallen man possesses any responsibility to perform spiritual acts (love God, savingly believe in Christ) must, to be consistent, deny that unfallen man was a spiritual creature. Far different was the teaching of the Reformers and Puritans: "And where Paul treats of the restoration of this image (2 Corinthians 3:18), we may readily infer from his words that man was conformed to God not by an influx of His substance, but by the grace and power of His Spirit." And again, "As the spiritual life of Adam consisted in a union to his Maker, so an alienation from Him was the death of his soul" (John Calvin, 1509-1564, Institutes).
"Adam had the Spirit as well as we: the Holy Spirit was at the making of him and wrote the image of God upon his heart, for where holiness was, we may be sure the Spirit of God was too . . . the same Spirit was in Adam's heart to assist his graces and cause them to flow and bring forth, and to move him to live according to those principles of life given him" (Thomas Goodwin, 1600-1680, volume 6, page 54). And again, commenting on Adam's being made in the image and likeness of God, and pointing out that such an "image" imports a thing "permanent and inherent," he asked, "what could this be but habitual inclinations and dispositions unto whatever was holy and good, insomuch as all holiness radically dwelt in him" (page 202). So too Stephen Charnock (1628-1680): "The righteousness of the first man evidenced not only a sovereign power, as the Donor of his being, but a holy power, as the pattern of His work . . . The law of love to God, with his whole soul, his whole mind, his whole heart and strength, was originally writ upon his nature. All the parts of his nature were framed in a moral conformity with God, to answer His Law and imitate God in His purity" (volume 2, page 205).
In his Discourse on the Holy Spirit (chapter 4, His "Peculiar works in the first creation")—when treating of "the image of God" after which Adam was created (namely, "an ability to discern the mind and will of God," an "unentangled disposition to every duty," and "a readiness of compliance in his affections")—John Owen (1616-1683) said: "For in the restoration of these abilities unto our minds in our renovation unto the image of God in the Gospel, it is plainly asserted that the Holy Spirit is the imparter of them, and He does thereby restore His own work. For in the new creation, the Father, in the way of authority, designs it and brings all things unto a head in Christ (Ephesians 1:10), which retrieves His original work. And thus, Adam may be said to have had the Spirit of God in his innocency: he had Him in those peculiar effects of His power and goodness, and he had Him according to the tenor of that covenant whereby it was possible that he should utterly lose Him, as accordingly it came to pass."
The superiority of the new covenant lies in its gifts being unforfeitable, because secured in and by Christ.
"God has made man upright" (Ecclesiastes 7:29)—the same Hebrew word as in Job 1:8 and Psalm 25:8: "This presupposes a law to which he was conformed in his creation, as when anything is made regular or according to rule, of necessity the rule itself is presupposed. Whence we may gather that this law was no other than the eternal indispensable law of righteousness, observed in all points by the second Adam . . . In a word, this law is the very same which was afterwards summed up in the Ten Commandments . . . called by us the Moral Law, and man's righteousness consisted in conformity to this law or rule" (Thomas Boston, 1676-1732, Human Nature in its Fourfold State). "When God created man at first, He gave him not an outward law, written in letters or delivered in words, but an inward law put into his heart and con-created with him, and wrought in the frame of his soul . . . spiritual dispositions and inclinations, in his will and affections, carrying him on to pray, love God and fear Him, to seek His glory in a spiritual and holy manner" (Thomas Goodwin). The external command of Genesis 2:17, was designed as the test of his responsibility, and at the same time, it served to make manifest that his "uprightness" was mutable.
When Adam left the Creator's hand, the law of God was in his heart—for he was endowed with holy instincts and inclinations, which tended unto his doing that which was pleasing unto God, and an antipathy against whatever was displeasing to Him. That "law of God" within him was his original character or constitution of his soul and spirit—as it is the "law" or character of beasts to care for their young, and of birds to build nests for theirs. Should it be asked, Is there any other Scripture which teaches that God placed His law in the heart of unfallen Adam?—we answer, Yes, by clear and necessary implication. Christ declared, "your law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8), and Romans 5:14 tells us that Adam was "the figure of him that was to come."
Again, just as we may ascertain what grain a certain field bore from the stubble in it, so we may discover what was in unfallen man by the ruins of what is still discernible in fallen humanity: "The Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law" (Romans 2:14)—their consciences informing them that immorality and murder are crimes: there is still a shadow in his descendants of the character originally possessed by Adam.
But Adam did not continue as God created him. He fell, and terrible were the consequences. But it is only by adhering closely to the terms used in the Word that we can rightly apprehend the nature of those consequences; yes, unless we allow Scripture itself to interpret those terms for us, we are certain to err in our understanding of them. Possibly, the reader is ready to exclaim, There is no need to make any mystery out of it: the matter is quite simple—those "consequences" may all be summed up in one word—"death." Even so, we must carefully inquire what is meant there by "death." "Spiritual death," you answer. True, and observe well that presupposes spiritual life; and that, in turn, implies a spiritual person, for surely one endowed with spiritual life must be so designated. However, our inquiry must be pressed back a stage farther, and the question put, Exactly what is connoted by "spiritual death?" It is at this point so many have gone wrong and, departing from the teaching of Holy Writ, have landed in serious error.
It is to be most carefully noted that God did not say to Adam, "In the day that you eat thereof your spirit or your soul shall surely die," but rather "you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:17). It was not some thing in or some part of Adam which died, but Adam himself! That is very, very far from being a distinction without any difference: it is a real and radical difference, and if we tamper with Scripture and change what it says, we depart from the truth.
Nor is "death" an extinction or annihilation; instead, it is a separation. Physical death is the severance or separation of the soul from the body, and spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God. The prodigal son was "dead," so long as he remained in "a far country" (Luke 15:24), because he was away from his Father. 1 Timothy 5:6 tells us, "But she that lives in
pleasure is dead while she lives"—that is, she is spiritually dead, dead godwards, while alive and active in sin. For the same reason, "the lake which burns with fire and brimstone" is called "the second death" (Revelation 21:8), because those cast into it are "punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Man was created a tripartite being, composed of "spirit and soul and body" (1 Thessalonians 5:23). That is unmistakably implied in the divine account of his creation: "And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Genesis 1:26); the Triune God made man a trinity in unity! And when man fell, he continued to be a tripartite being: no part of his being was extinguished; no faculty was lost when he apostatized from God. It cannot be insisted upon too strongly that no essential element of man's original constitution was forfeited; no component part of his complex make-up was annihilated at the Fall—for multitudes are seeking to hide behind a misconception at this very point. They would gladly believe that man lost some vital part of his nature when Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, and that it is the absence of this part in his descendants which explains (and excuses!) all their failures. They console themselves that they are more to be pitied than blamed: the blame rests on their first parents; and they, forsooth, are to be pitied, because he deprived them of the faculty of working righteousness. Much preaching encourages that very delusion.
The truth is that fallen man today possesses identically the same faculties as those with which Adam was originally created: his accountability lies in his making a good use of those faculties, and his criminality consists in the evil employment of them. Others seek to evade the onus of man by affirming that he received a nature which he did not possess before the Fall, and all the blame for his lawless actions is thrown upon that evil nature: equally erroneous, and equally vain is such a subterfuge. No material addition was made to man's being at the Fall, any more than some intrinsic part was taken from it. That which man lost at the Fall was his primitive holiness, and that which then entered into his being was sin; and thus, sin has defiled every part of his person—but for that, we are to be blamed and not pitied. Nor has fallen man become so helplessly the victim of sin that his accountability is cancelled; rather does God hold him responsible to resist and reject every inclination unto evil, and will justly punish him because he fails to do so. Every attempt to negative human responsibility and undermine the sinner's accountability, no matter by whom made, must be steadfastly resisted by us.
It is by persuading men that the spirit died at the Fall—or that some concrete but evil thing was then communicated to the human constitution—that Satan succeeds in deceiving so many of his victims: and it is the bounden duty of the Christian minister to expose his sophistries, drive the ungodly out of their refuge of lies, and press continually upon them the solemn fact that they are without the vestige of an excuse for their own rebellion against God. In the day of his disobedience, Adam himself died—died spiritually—and so did all his posterity in him. But that spiritual death consisted not of the extinction of anything in them, but of their separation from God: no part of Adam's being was annihilated, but every part of him was vitiated [corrupted; made imperfect]. It was not the essence, but the rectitude [uprightness of character] of man's soul and spirit which sin destroyed. By the Fall, man relinquished his honor and glory, lost his holiness, forfeited the favor of God, and was severed from all communion with Him; but he still retained his human nature. All desire godwards, all love for his Maker, all real knowledge of Him was gone. Sin now possessed him; and to the love and exercise of it, he devoted himself. Such too is our natural condition.
Let none conclude from the last few paragraphs that we do not believe in the "total depravity" of man, or that we do so in such a manner as practically to evacuate that expression of any real meaning. Most probably, the writer believes more firmly in the utter ruin of fallen human nature than do some of his readers, and views the plight of the natural man as being more desperate than they do. We hold that the state of every unregenerate soul is such that he cannot turn his face Godward or originate a single spiritual thought, and that he has not even so much as the wish or will to do so. Nor let it be inferred from our preceding remarks that we deny the evil principle or "the flesh" as being existent and dominant in the natural man: we most emphatically believe—both on the testimony of the Word of truth, and from personal experience of its awful potency and horrible workings—that it is.
But we also hold that great care should be taken when seeking to visualize or define in our minds what "the flesh" consists of. It is a principle of evil and not a concrete or tangible entity. The moment we regard it as something material, we confuse ourselves.
It is because all of us are so accustomed to thinking in the terms of matter that we find it difficult to form a definite concept of something, which, though immaterial, is real. Nor is it by any means a simple task for one to express himself thereon, so that he will be coherent unto others. Man lost no part of his tripartite nature when he fell, nor was a fourth part then communicated to him. Instead, sin—which is not a material entity—entered into him, and vitiated and corrupted his entire being. He was stricken with a loathsome disease which defiled all his faculties and members, so that his entire spirit and soul became precisely like one whose body is thus described: "From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores" (Isaiah 1:6). A potato is still a potato even when frozen, though it is no longer edible. An apple remains an apple when decayed within. And man still retained his human nature when he apostatized from God, died spiritually, and became totally depraved. He remained all that he was previously, minus only his holiness.
When man fell, he died spiritually; and as we have shown, death is not annihilation, but separation. Yet that word "separation" does not express the full meaning of what is signified by "spiritual death." Scripture employs another term—"alienation;" and that, too, we must take fully into account. "Alienation" includes the thought of severance, but it also imports an opposition. A dear friend may be separated from me physically, but a cruel enemy is bitterly antagonistic to me.
Thus it is with fallen man: he is not only cut off from all communion with the Holy One, but he is innately and inveterately hostile to Him—"alienated" in his affections. We are not here striving about mere "words," but calling attention to a most solemn truth and fact. It is thus that the Scripture depicts the condition of fallen mankind: "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (Ephesians 4:18); yes, it solemnly declares that "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7), and "enmity" is not a negative and passive thing, but a positive and active one.
"Dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1) is the fearful diagnosis made of fallen man by the divine Physician. Yet though that language be true to fact and is no exaggeration, still it is a figure; and unless we interpret it in strict accord with Scripture, we shall falsify its meaning. It is often said that the spiritual state of the natural man is analogous to that of a corpse buried in the cemetery. From one standpoint, that is correct; from another, it is utterly erroneous. The natural man is a putrefying creature, a stench in the nostrils of the Holy One; and he can no more perform a spiritual act godwards than a corpse can perform a physical act man-wards. But there the analogy ends! There is a contrast between the two cases, as well as a resemblance. A corpse has no responsibility, but the natural man has! A corpse can perform no actions; far different is the case of the sinner. He is active—active against God! Though he does not love Him (and he ought!), yet he is filled with enmity and hatred against Him.
Thus, spiritual death is not a state of passivity and inactivity, but one of aggressive hostility against God.
Here then, as everywhere, there is a balance to be preserved; yet it is rarely maintained. Far too many Calvinists, in their zeal to repudiate the free-willism of Arminians, have at the same time repudiated man's moral agency; anxious to enforce the utter helplessness of fallen men in spiritual matters, they have virtually reduced him to an irresponsible machine. It has not been sufficiently noted that in the very next verse after the statement, "who were dead in trespasses and sins," the apostle added, "Wherein [that is that state of spiritual death] in time past you walked [which a corpse in the grave could not!] according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation ['conduct'] in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind" (Ephesians 2:1-3). So that in one sense, they were dead (that is Godward) while they lived (that is in sin); and in another sense, they lived (a life of self-seeking and of enmity against God), while dead to all spiritual things.
By the Fall, man both lost something and acquired something. Term that something a "nature" if you will, so long as you do not conceive of it as something material. That which man lost was holiness, and that which he acquired was sin; and neither the one nor the other is a substance, but rather a moral quality. A "nature" is not a concrete entity, but instead, that which characterizes and impels an entity or creature. It is the "nature" of gravitation to attract; it is the nature of fire to burn. A "nature" is not a tangible thing, but a power impelling to action, a dominating influence—an "instinct" for want of a better term. Strictly speaking, a "nature" is that which we have by our origin, as our partaking of human nature distinguishes us from the celestial creatures who are partakers of angelic nature. Thus we speak of a lion's "nature" (ferocity), a vulture's nature (to feed on carrion), a lamb's nature (gentleness). A "nature," then, describes more what a creature is by birth and disposition; and therefore, we prefer to speak of holiness or imparted grace as a "principle of good," and indwelling sin or "the flesh" as a principle of evil—a prevalent disposition which moves its subjects to ever act in accord with its distinguishing quality.
If it be kept in mind that, strictly speaking, a "nature" is that which we have by our origin, as partaking of human nature—which distinguishes us from the celestial creatures on the one hand, and from the beasts of the field (with their animal nature) on the other—much confusion of thought will be avoided.
Furthermore, if we distinguish carefully between what our nature intrinsically consists of and what it "accidentally" (non-essentially) became and becomes by virtue of the changes passing upon it at the Fall and at regeneration, then we should have less difficulty in understanding what is signified by the Lord's assuming our nature. When the Son of God became incarnate, He took unto Himself human nature. He was, in every respect, true Man, possessed of spirit (Luke 23:46), soul (John 12:27), and body (John 19:40): "in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren" (Hebrews 2:17)—otherwise, He could not be their Surety and Mediator. This does not explain the miracle and mystery of the divine incarnation, for that is incomprehensible, but it states the fundamental fact of it. Christ did not inherit our corruption, for that was no essential part of manhood! He was born and ever remained immaculately pure and holy; nevertheless, He took upon Him our nature intrinsically considered, but not as it had been defiled by sin; and therefore is denominated "the son of Adam" (Luke 3:38).
When, then, we say that by the Fall, man became possessed of a "sinful nature," it must not be understood that something comparable to his spirit or soul was added to his being; but instead, that a principle of evil entered into him which defiled every part of his being, as frost entering into fruit ruins it. Instead of his faculties now being influenced and regulated by holiness, they became defiled and dominated by sin. Instead of spiritual propensities and properties actuating his conduct, a carnal disposition became the law of his being. The objects and things man formerly loved, he now hated; and those which he was fitted to hate, he now desires. Therein lies both his depravity and his criminality. God holds fallen man responsible to mortify every inclination unto evil, to resist and reject every solicitation unto sin, and will justly punish him because he fails to do so. Nay more, God requires him and holds him accountable to love him with all his heart, and to employ each of his faculties in serving and glorifying Him: his failure so to do consists solely in a voluntary refusal—and for that, He will righteously judge him.
Now the miracle of grace is God's answer to man's ruination of himself, His begun reversal of what happened to him at the Fall.
Let us now establish that fact from the Scriptures and show this concept is no invention of ours. The very fact that Christ is denominated, "the last Adam," implies that He came to right the wrong wrought by the first Adam—though only so far as God's elect are concerned. Hence, we find Him saying by the Spirit of prophecy, "I restored that which I took not away" (Psalm 69:4). A lengthy article might well be written on those comprehensive words: suffice it now to say that He recovered both unto God and His people what had been lost by Adam's defection—to the One, His manifestative honor and glory; to the other, the Holy Spirit and holiness in their hearts. What Christ did for His people is the meritorious ground of what the Spirit works in them; and at regeneration, they begin to be restored to their pristine purity, or brought back to their original state. Therefore, it is that the great change is spoken of as the "renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5)—that is, a renovating and restoring of spiritual life to the soul.
"Lie not one to another, seeing that you have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him" (Colossians 3:9-10). Those to whom the apostle was writing had, by their profession and practice, "put off" or renounced "the old man," and by lip and life, had avowed and exhibited the new. That new man is here said to be "renewed in knowledge," which cannot be the obtaining of a knowledge which man never had previously, but rather, the recovery and restoration of that spiritual knowledge of God which he had originally. That is confirmed by what follows: "after the image of him that created him"—that is at the beginning. Man was originally made "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27), which imported at least three things: First, he was constituted a tripartite being by the Triune God; and this, he continued to be after the Fall. Second, he was created in His natural image, being made a moral agent, endowed with rationality and freedom of will; and this, too, he retained. Third, he was created in God's moral image, being "made upright," endued "with righteousness and true holiness;" and this, which was lost when man became a sinner, is restored to him by the miracle of grace.
That which takes place in the elect at regeneration is the reversing of the effects of the Fall. The one born again is, through Christ and by the Spirit's operations, restored to union and communion with God (1 Peter 3:18). The one who previously was spiritually dead, alienated from God, is now spiritually alive, reconciled to God. Just as spiritual death was brought about by the entrance into man's being of a principle of evil, which darkened his understanding and hardened his heart (Ephesians 4:18), so spiritual life is the introduction of a principle of holiness into man's soul, which enlightens his understanding and softens his heart. God communicates a new principle—one which is as real and potent unto good as indwelling sin is unto evil. Grace is now imparted, a holy disposition is wrought in the soul, a new temper of spirit is bestowed upon the inner man. But no new faculties are communicated unto him: rather are his original faculties (in measure) purified, enriched, elevated, empowered. Just as man did not become less than a threefold being when he fell, neither does he become more than a threefold being when he is renewed.
Nor will he in Heaven itself: his spirit and soul and body will then be glorified—completely purged from every taint of sin, and perfectly conformed unto the image of God's Son.
But is not a "new nature" received by us when we are born again? If that term (in preference to "another principle") be admitted and used, we must be careful lest we carnalize our conception of what is connoted by that expression. Much confusion has been caused at this point through failure to recognize that it is a person—and not merely a "nature"—who is born of the Spirit: "he is born of God" (1 John 3:9). The selfsame person who was spiritually dead Godwards (separated and alienated from Him) is now spiritually alive Godwards—reconciled and brought back into union and communion with Him. The same person whose entire being (and not merely some part of him!) was "dead in trespasses and sins," wherein he "walked according to the course of this world," according to the evil spirit who "now works in the children of disobedience," fulfilling the lusts of the flesh (Ephesians 2:1-3); his entire being is now alive in holiness and righteousness, and he walks according to the course of God's Word, according to the power and promptings of the Holy Spirit, who works in the children of obedience, moving them to fulfill the dispositions and develop the graces of the spirit or "new nature."
This must be so, or otherwise, there would be no preservation of the identity of the individual: we repeat, it is the individual himself who is born again, and not merely something in him. The person of the regenerate is constitutionally the same as the person of the unregenerate, each having a spirit and soul and body. But just as in fallen man, there is also a principle of evil which has corrupted each part of his threefold being—which principle may be styled his "sinful nature" (if by that, be meant his evil disposition and character), as it is the "nature" of swine to be filthy; so when a person is born again, another and new principle is introduced into his being, which may be styled a "new nature," if by it be meant a disposition which propels him in a new direction—Godwards. Thus, in both cases, "nature" is a moral principle rather than a tangible entity. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6)—spiritual and not material, and must not be regarded as something substantial, distinct from the soul of the regenerate, like one part of matter added to another; rather is it that which spiritualizes his inward faculties as the "flesh" had carnalized them.
When treating of regeneration under the figure of the new birth, some writers (ourselves included in earlier days) have introduced analogies from natural birth, which Scripture by no means warrants; and which, by its employment of other figures, it disallows. Physical birth is the bringing forth into this world of a creature, a complete personality, which, before conception, had no existence whatever. But the one regenerated by God had a complete personality before he was born again! To that statement, it may be objected, Not a spiritual personality. True, but keep steadily in mind that spirit and matter are opposites; and we only confuse ourselves if we think or speak of that which is "spiritual" as being something concrete. Regeneration is not the creating of a person who hitherto had no existence, but the spiritualizing of one who had—the renewing and renovating of one whom sin had unfitted for communion with God; and this, by the imparting to him of a principle, or "nature," or life, which gives a new and different bias to all his faculties. Ever beware of regarding the Christian as made up of two distinct personalities.
A century ago, a booklet was published in England purporting to prove that "a child of God cannot backslide," and many in a reputedly orthodox circle were evilly affected by it. Its author argued, "a regenerated man possesses two natures: an old man of sin, and a new man of grace; that the old man of sin never made any progress in the divine life nor ever can; consequently, he can never go back from that in which he had never made any advances. The new man of grace never sinned, nor ever can sin, so that he likewise can never go back or imbibe the least taint or particle of sin. How then can the child of God backslide?" A reviewer exposed this sophistry by mentioning a Papist in Germany who was a royal bishop that was very fond of hunting, and who was friendly admonished of the inconsistency of the chase with the mitre. His reply was, "I do not hunt as bishop, but as prince;" to which it was answered, "If the prince should break his neck while a-hunting and went to Hell, what would become of the bishop!" That was answering a fool according to his folly!
The "old man" and the "new man" indwell and belong to the same individual, and can no more be divorced from his person, than the bishop could be separated from the prince. It is not merely something in the Christian, but the Christian himself who backslides. What we have called attention to above is but the corollary—a carrying out to its logical conclusion of another error (equally mischievous and reprehensible, though not so fully developed): namely, wherein the "two natures" in the believer are made so prominent and dominant that the person possessing them is largely lost sight of, and his responsibility repudiated. Thus, it is just as much an idle quibble to reason that neither "the flesh" or old nature, nor "the spirit" or new nature, is capable of backsliding. It is the person possessing those two natures (or principles) who backslides; and for that, God holds him accountable and chastens him accordingly. Unless believers are much on their guard, they will eagerly snatch at any line of teaching which undermines their accountability and causes them to slur over the exceeding sinfulness of their sins, by finding a pretext for supposing they are more to be pitied than blamed.
The youth differs much from the infant, and the adult from the immature youth; nevertheless, it is the same individual, the same human person, who passes through those stages. Human beings we are; moral agents, responsible creatures we shall ever remain.
No matter what be the precise nature of the internal change we experienced at regeneration (nor how the character of that experience be defined or expressed), or whatever change awaits the body at resurrection: we shall never lose our essential personality or identity as God created us at the first. Let that be clearly understood and firmly grasped: we remain the same persons all through our history. Neither the deprivation of spiritual life at the Fall, nor the communication of spiritual life at the new birth, affects the reality of our being in possession of human nature. By the Fall, we did not become less than men; by regeneration, we do not become more than men—though our relation to God is altered. That which essentially constitutes our manhood was not lost, and no matter what be imparted to us at regeneration, our individuality and personal identity as a responsible being remains unchanged.
We will now endeavor to summarize all that has been set before the reader concerning the great change which takes place in one who is born again, renewed spiritually, resurrected, by the operations of the Spirit of God. Perhaps this can best be accomplished by making some epitomized statements, and then offering some further remarks on those against which certain of our readers may be most inclined to take issue. Negatively, that great change does not consist of any constitutional alteration in the make-up of our being, no essential addition being made to our persons. We regard it as a serious mistake to consider the natural man as possessed of but soul and body, and as only having a "spirit" communicated to him when he is regenerated. Again, it is a still worse error to suppose that indwelling sin is eradicated from the being of a born-again person: not only does Scripture contain no warrant to countenance such an idea, but the uniform experience of God's children repudiates it. Nor does the great change effect any improvement in the evil principle. The "flesh"—with its vile properties and lust, its deceiving and debasing inclinations, its power to promote hypocrisy, pride, unbelief, opposition unto God—remains unchanged unto the end of our earthly course.
Yet it would be utterly wrong for us to conclude from those negatives that regeneration is not entitled to be designated a "miracle of grace," or that the change effected in its subject is far from being a great one. A real, a radical, a stupendous, a glorious change is wrought, yet the precise nature of it can only be discovered in the light of Holy Writ. While it is indeed an experimental change, yet the subject of it must interpret the same by the teaching of Scripture, and not by either his own reason or feelings. Nor should that statement be either surprising or disappointing. The miracle of grace effects a great change godwards in the one who experiences it; and God is not an Object of sense, nor can He be known by any process of reasoning. We may then summarize by saying the great change, positively considered, consists first of a radical change of heart godwards.
God discovers Himself unto the soul, makes Himself a living reality unto it, reveals Himself both as holy and gracious, clothed with authority, and yet full of mercy. That personal and powerful revelation of God unto the soul produces an altered disposition and attitude toward Him: the one alienated is reconciled. The one who shrank from and was filled with enmity against Him, now desires His presence and longs for communion with Him.
Such a vital and radical change in the disposition and attitude of a soul godwards is indeed a miracle of grace, and cannot be described as anything less than a great change. It is as real and great as was the change when man apostatized from his Maker; as vivid and blessed a change spiritually as the resurrection will effect physically: when that which was sown in corruption, in dishonor, in weakness, shall be raised in incorruption, glory, and power; when our vile body shall be changed, "that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Philippians 3:21). For one who was a total stranger to the ineffably glorious God to now become experimentally and savingly acquainted with Him, for one who sought to banish Him from his thoughts to now find his greatest delight in meditating upon His perfections, for one who lived in total disregard of His righteous claims upon him to be made a loyal and loving subject, is a transformation which human language—with all its adjectives and superlatives—cannot possibly do justice unto. In the words of divine inspiration, it is a passing "from death unto life" (1 John 3:14), a being "called . . . out of darkness into his [God's] marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9), a being "created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Ephesians 2:10).
Second, that great change consists in a moral purification of the inner man. Though this be the most difficult aspect of it for us to understand, yet the teaching of the Word thereon is too clear and full to leave us in any uncertainty as to the same. Such expressions as, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you" (Ezekiel 36:25), "but you are washed, but you are sanctified" (1 Corinthians 6:11), "you have purified your souls in obeying the truth" (1 Peter 1:22) would be meaningless if there had been no internal transformation. Our characters are formed by the truth we receive: our thoughts are more or less molded, our affections directed, and our wills regulated by what we heartily believe.
Truth has a vital, effectual, elevating influence. Any man who professes to take the Word of God for his Guide and Rule and is not altered by it, both internally and externally, is deceiving himself. "The truth shall make you free" (John 8:32): from the dominion of sin, from the snares of Satan, from the deceits of the world. The tastes, the aims, the ways of a Christian are assimilated to and fashioned by the Word.
A radical change godwards, which is accompanied by a moral purification within, necessarily consists, in the third place, of a thoroughly altered attitude toward the divine Law. It cannot be otherwise. "The carnal mind is enmity against God" (Romans 8:7): it is completely dominated by ill will unto Him. The evidence adduced by the Spirit in demonstration of that fearful indictment is this, "for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be:" the one is the certain outcome of the other—hatred for the Lawgiver expresses itself in contempt for and defiance of His Law. Before there can be any genuine respect for and subjection to the divine Law, the heart's attitude towards its Governor and Administrator must be completely changed. Conversely, when the heart of anyone has been won unto God, His authority will be owned, His government honored, and his sincere language will be, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man"—that is the soul as renewed by the Spirit (Romans 7:22). Thus, while the unregenerate are denominated "the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2), the regenerate are called "obedient children" (1 Peter 1:14), for obedience is one of their characteristic marks, evidencing as it does the general tenor and course of their lives.
After all that has been said in previous articles, it ought not to be necessary for us to interrupt our train of thought at this point and consider a question which can only prove wearisome unto the well-taught reader; but others who have drunk so deeply from the foul pools of error need a word thereon. Are there not two "minds" in a born-again person: the one carnal and the other spiritual? Certainly not, or he would have a dual personality, and a divided responsibility. By nature, his mind was, spiritually speaking, deranged—how else can a mind which is "enmity against God" (Romans 8:7) be described? But by grace, his mind has been restored to sanity: illustrated by the demoniac healed by Christ, "sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind" (Mark 5:15); or as 2 Timothy 1:7 expresses it, "For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." It is true his original carnality ("the flesh") still remains, ever seeking to regain complete control of his mind; but divine grace suffers it not to so succeed that his mind ever becomes "enmity against God." There will be risings of rebellion against His providences, but a renewed person will nevermore hate God.
A real and radical change of heart godwards will, in the fourth place, be marked by a thoroughly altered attitude towards sin.
And again, we say, it cannot be otherwise. Sin is that "abominable thing" which God hates (Jeremiah 44:4); and therefore, that heart in which the love of God is shed abroad (Romans 5:5) will hate it too.
Sin is "the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4); and therefore, each one who has been brought to "delight in the law" (Romans 7:22) will detest sin and earnestly seek to resist its solicitations.
That which formerly was his native element has become repugnant to his spiritual inclinations. Sin is now his heaviest burden and acutest grief. Whereas the giddy worldling craves after its pleasures, and the covetous seek after its riches, the deepest longing of the renewed soul is to be completely rid of the horrible activities of indwelling sin. He has already been delivered from its reigning power, for God has dethroned it from its former dominion over the heart; but it still rages within him, frequently gets the better of him, causes him many a groan, and makes him look forward with eager longing to the time when he shall be delivered from its polluting presence.
Another important and integral part of the great change consists in the soul's deliverance from the toils of Satan. Where the heart has really undergone a radical change of disposition and attitude toward God, toward His Law, and toward sin, the great Enemy has lost his hold on that person. The devil's power over mankind lies in his keeping them in ignorance of the true God, in the scorning of His Law, in holding them in love with sin; and hence, it is that he "has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ . . . should shine unto them" (2 Corinthians 4:4). While God permits him to succeed therein, men are his captives, his slaves, his prisoners, held fast by the cords of their lusts. But it was announced of the coming Savior that He would "proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound" (Isaiah 61:1). Accordingly, when He appeared, we are told that He not only healed the sick, but also "all that were oppressed of the devil" (Acts 10:38). The regenerate have been delivered "from the power of Satan" (Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13) and each made "the Lord's freeman" (1 Corinthians 7:22). True, he is still suffered to harass and tempt them from without, but cannot succeed without their consent; and if they steadfastly resist him, he flees from them.
In those five aspects of the great change, we may perceive the begun reversal of what took place at man's apostasy from God.
What were the leading elements in the Fall? No doubt they can be expressed in a variety of ways, but do they not consist, essentially, of these?
First, in giving ear unto Satan and heed to the senses of the body, instead of to the Word of God. It was in parleying with the Serpent that Eve came under his power.
Second, in preferring the pleasures of sin (the forbidden fruit which now made such a powerful appeal to her affection—Genesis 3:6) rather than communion with her holy Maker.
Third, in transgressing God's Law by an act of deliberate disobedience (Romans 5:19).
Fourth, in the loss of their primitive purity: "And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons" (Genesis 3:7). Their physical eyes were open previously (!), but now they had a discovery of the consequences of their sin: a guilty sense of shame crept over their souls, their innocence was gone, they perceived what a miserable plight they were now in—stripped of their original righteousness, condemned by their own conscience.
Fifth, in becoming alienated from God: "And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day" (Genesis 3:8). And what was their response? Did they rejoice at His gracious condescension in thus paying them a visit? Did they welcome their opportunity to cast themselves upon His mercy? Or did they even fall down before Him in brokenhearted confession of their excuseless offence? Far otherwise. When the Serpent spoke, Eve promptly gave ear to and conferred with him; but now that the voice of the Lord God was audible, she and her guilty partner fled from Him. "And Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God" (Genesis 3:8). A guilty conscience warned them that it was the approach of that Judge whose Law they had broken; and they were terror-stricken at the prospect of having a face-to-face meeting with the One against whom they had rebelled. They dared not look upon Holiness incarnate, and therefore, sought to escape from His presence.
Thereby, they evidenced they had died spiritually—their hearts being separated and alienated from Him! Their understanding was "darkened" and their hearts in a condition of "blindness" (Ephesians 4:18); a spirit of madness now possessed them, as appears in their vain attempt to hide among the trees from the eyes of Omniscience.
Those then were the essential elements in the Fall, or the several steps in man's departure from God. A parleying with and coming under the power of the devil, sin's being made attractive in their sight, inclining unto the act of disobedience, resulting in the loss of their primitive purity and their consequent alienation from God. The attentive reader will observe those things are in the inverse order of those mentioned above as constituting the five leading characteristics of the great change wrought in those who are the favored subjects of the miracle of grace. Nor is the reason for that far to seek: conversion is a turning around, a right-about face, a being restored to a proper relation and attitude toward God. Let us employ a simple illustration. If I journey five miles from a place and then determine to return to it, must I not re-traverse the fifth mile before coming to the fourth, and tread again the fourth before I arrive at the third, and so on, until I reach the original point from which I departed? Was it not thus with the ragged and famished prodigal who had journeyed into the far country: he must return unto the Father's House if he would obtain food and clothing.
If the great change be the reversing of what occurred at the Fall, then the order of its constituents should necessarily be viewed inversely. First, being restored to our original relation unto God, which was one of spiritual union and communion with Him. That is made possible and actual by renewing us after His image, which consists of "righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24), a saving and experimental knowledge of His ineffable perfections; or in other words, by the renovation and moral purification of our souls, for it is only the "pure in heart" (Matthew 5:8) who see God as He actually is—our rightful Lord, our everlasting Portion. Only then does the divine Law have its due and true place in our hearts: its authority being owned, its spirituality esteemed, the fulfilling of its holy and just requirements being our sincere and resolute aim. Obviously, it cannot be until we have a right attitude toward God, until our hearts truly love him, until after His Law becomes the rule and director of our lives, that we can perceive the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and consequently loathe, resist, and mourn over it. And just so far as that be the case with us, are we morally delivered from the power of Satan: while the heart beats true to God, the solicitations of His enemy will be repellent to us, rather than attractive.
But let us point out once more that this great change is not completed by a single act of the Spirit upon or within the soul, but occurs in distinct stages: it is commenced at regeneration, continues throughout the whole process of our experimental sanctification, and is only consummated at our glorification. Thus, regeneration is only the begun reversing of what occurred at the Fall. The very fact that regeneration is spoken of as a divine begetting and birth at once intimates there is then only the beginning of the spiritual life in the soul, and that there is need for the growth and development of the same. "He which has begun a good work in you will perform [finish] it" (Philippians 1:6) is the plain declaration and blessed assurance of what is implied by the "birth;" and such statements as "the inward man is renewed day by day" (2 Corinthians 4:16) and our being "changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18) tell us something of the divine operations within the souls of the regenerate, while the great change is continued and brought, little by little, unto completion. That miracle of grace which was begun at regeneration is gradually carried forward in us by the process of sanctification, which appears in our growth in grace or the development of our graces.
If the reader desires a more detailed analysis and description of what that process consists of, how the great change is carried forward in us by sanctification, we may delineate it thus. First, by the illumination of the understanding which enables the believer to grow "in the knowledge of our Lord" (2 Peter 3:18), and gives him a clearer and fuller perception of His will. Second, by the elevation and refining of the affections, the Spirit drawing them forth unto things above, fixing them on holy objects, assimilating the heart thereto. Third, by the emancipation of the will, God working in the soul "both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13), giving us both the desire and the power to concur with Him, for He deals with us not as mere automatons, but ever as moral agents. Thus, it is our responsibility to seek illumination, to prayerfully study His Word for the same, to occupy our minds (by constant meditation) and exercise our hearts with spiritual objects, and to diligently seek His enablement to avoid everything which would hinder (and use all the means appointed for) the promotion of our spiritual growth.
As we do so, that process will issue and appear, fourth, in the rectification of our life.
From what has just been pointed out, it plainly appears that they err greatly who suppose that regeneration consists of nothing more than the communication of a new nature or principle to an individual, leaving everything else in him just as it was before. It is the person himself who is regenerated, his whole soul which is renewed, so that all its faculties and powers are renovated and enriched thereby. How can everything else in him be unchanged, how otherwise can we designate the blessed transformation which the miracle of grace has wrought in him, than by styling it "a great change"—a real, radical, and thorough one; since his understanding (which was previously darkened by ignorance, error, and prejudice) is now spiritually enlightened, since his affections (which formerly were fixed only on the things of time and sense) are now set upon heavenly and eternal objects, since his will (which hitherto was enslaved by sin, being "free from righteousness"—Romans 6:20) is now emancipated from its bondage, being "free from sin" (Romans 6:18). That glorious transformation, that supernatural change, is what we chiefly have in mind when we speak of "the moral purification" of the soul.
Just as the Fall introduced the principle of sin into man's being, which resulted in the death of his soul godwards—for death is ever the wages of sin—so in the reversing of the Fall, a principle of holiness is conveyed to man's soul, which results in his again being spiritually alive unto God. Just as the introduction of sin vitiated and corrupted all the faculties of the soul, so the planting of a principle of holiness within vitalizes and purifies all its faculties. We say again that man lost no portion of his original tripartite nature by the Fall, nor was he deprived of any of his faculties, but he did lose all power to use them godwards and for His glory, because they came completely under the dominion of sin and were defiled by it. And again, we say that man receives no addition to his original constitution by regeneration, nor is any new faculty then bestowed upon him, but he is now empowered (to a considerable degree) to use his faculties godwards and employ them in His service, because so long as he maintains communion with God, they are under the dominion of grace and are ennobled, elevated, and empowered by the renewing of the Spirit.
That which occasions the honest Christian the most difficulty and distress, as he seeks to ascertain whether a miracle of grace has been wrought within him, is the discovery that so much remains what it always was; yes, often his case appears to be much worse than formerly—more risings of opposition to God, more surgings of pride, more hardness of heart, more foul imaginations. Yet that very consciousness of and grief over indwelling corruptions is, itself, both an effect and an evidence of the great change. It is proof that such a person has his eyes open to see and a heart to feel evils, which previously he was blind unto and insensible of. An unregenerate person is not troubled about the weakness of his faith, the coldness of his affections, the stirrings of self within. You were not yourself so, while you were dead godwards! But if such things now exercise you deeply, if your eyes be open to and you mourn over that within, to which no fellow creature is privy, must you not be very different now from what you once were?
But, asks the exercised reader, if I have been favored with a supernatural change of heart, how can such horrible experiences consist therewith? Surely, if my heart had been made pure, there would not still be a filthy and foul sea of iniquity within me! Dear friend, that filth has been in you from birth, but it is only since you were born again that you have become increasingly aware of its presence. A pure heart is not one from which all sin has been removed, as is clear from the histories of Abraham, Moses, David. The heart is not made wholly pure in this life: as the understanding is only enlightened in part (much ignorance and error still remaining), so at regeneration, the heart is cleansed but in part. Observe that Acts 15:9 does not say, "purified their hearts by faith," but "purifying"—a continued process. A pure heart is one which is attracted by "the beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2) and longs to be fully conformed thereunto; and therefore, one of the surest proofs I possess a pure heart is my abhorring and grieving over impurity—as Lot dwelling in Sodom "vexed his righteous soul" by what he saw and heard there (2 Peter 2:8).
Then are we not obliged to conclude that the Christian has two "hearts"—the one pure, and the other impure? Perhaps the best way for us to answer that question is to point out what is imported by the "heart," as that term is used in Scripture. In a few passages, where it is distinguished from the "mind" (1 Samuel 2:35; Hebrews 8:10) and from the "soul" (Deuteronomy 6:5), the heart is restricted to the affections; but generally, it has reference to the whole inner man, for in other places it is the seat of the intellectual faculties too, as in "I gave my heart to know wisdom," etc. (Ecclesiastes 1:17)—I applied my mind unto its investigation. In its usual and wider signification, the "heart" connotes the one indwelling the body.
"The heart in the Scriptures is variously used: sometimes for the mind and understanding, sometimes for the will, sometimes for the affection, sometimes for the conscience. Generally, it denotes the whole soul of man and all the faculties of it" (John Owen, 1616-1683). We have carefully tested that statement by the Word and confirmed it. The following passages make it clear that the "heart" has reference to the man himself as distinguished from his body.
Its first occurrence is, "And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). "I had done speaking in mine heart" (Genesis 24:45) plainly means "within myself." It does so in "Esau said in his heart" (Genesis 27:41)—determined in himself. "Now Hannah, she spoke in her heart" (1 Samuel 1:13). "Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart" (Psalm 26:2)—my inner man. "With my whole heart [my entire inner being] have I sought you" (Psalm 119:10). In the New Testament, the "mind" often has the same force. On Romans 12:2, Charles Hodge (1797-1878) pointed out, "The word nous ['mind'] is used, as it is here, frequently in the New Testament (Romans 1:28; Ephesians 4:17, 23; Colossians 2:18, etc.). In all these and similar cases, it does not differ from the heart—that is, in its wider sense, for the whole soul." Ordinarily, then, the "heart" signifies the whole soul, the "inner man," the "hidden man of the heart" (1 Peter 3:4) at which God ever looks (1 Samuel 16:7).
Now "the heart" of the natural man (that is, his entire soul—understanding, affections, will, conscience) is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9), which is but another way of saying he is "totally depraved"—the whole of his inner being is corrupt. And therefore, God bids us, "Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart . . . wash your heart from wickedness [in true repentance from the love and pollution of sin], that you may be saved" (Jeremiah 4:4, 14). Yes, He bids men, "Cast away from you all your transgressions . . . and make you a new heart" (Ezekiel 18:31), and holds them responsible so to do. That man cannot effect this change in himself by any power of his own, is solely because he is bound by the cords of his sins: the very essence of his depravity consists in being of the contrary spirit. So far from excusing him, that only aggravates his case, and compliance with those precepts is as much man's duty and as proper a subject for exhortation as is faith, repentance, love to God. So in the New Testament, "purify your hearts, you double minded" (James 4:8).
"Make you a new heart" (Ezekiel 18:31). But, says the awakened and convicted sinner, that is the very thing which I am unable to produce: alas, what shall I do? Why, cast yourself upon the mercy and power of the Lord, and say to Him as the leper did, "If you will, you can make me clean" (Matthew 8:2). Beg Him to work in you what He requires of you. Nay, more, lay hold of His Word and plead with Him: You have made promise, "A new heart also will I give you" (Ezekiel 36:26), so "do as you have said" (2 Samuel 7:25). It is a most blessed fact that God's promises are as large as His exhortations; and for each of the latter, there is one of the former exactly meeting it. Does the Lord bid us circumcise our hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16)? Then He assures His people, I "will circumcise your heart" (Deuteronomy 30:6). Does He bid us purify our heart (James 4:8)? He also declares, "From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you" (Ezekiel 36:25). Are Christians told to cleanse themselves "from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1)? Then they are promised, "He which has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
God, then, does not leave the hearts of His people as they were when born into this world, and as they are described in Jeremiah 17:9. No, blessed be His name, He works a miracle of grace within them, which changes the whole of their inner man.
Spiritual life is communicated to them, divine light illumines them, a principle of holiness is planted within them. That principle of holiness is a fountain of purity, from which issue streams of godly desires, motives, endeavors, acts. It is a supernatural habit residing in every faculty of the soul, giving a new direction to them, inclining them godwards. Divine grace is imparted to the soul subjectively, so that it has entirely new propensities unto God and holiness, and newly created antipathies to sin and Satan, making us willing to endure suffering for Christ's sake, rather than to retain the friendship of the world. To make us partakers of His holiness is the substance and sum of God's purpose of grace for us, both in election (Ephesians 1:4), regeneration (Ephesians 4:24), and all His dealings with us afterwards (Hebrews 12:10). Not that finite creatures can ever be participants of the essential holiness of God, either by imputation or transubstantiation, but only by fashioning us in the image thereof.
It is the communication of divine grace—or the planting within us of the principle and habit of holiness—which both purifies the heart or soul, and which gives the death-wound unto indwelling sin. Grace is not only a divine attribute of benignity and free favor that is exercised unto the elect, but it is also a powerful influence that works within them. It is in this latter sense the term is used when God says, "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12:9), and when the apostle declared, "But by the grace of God, I am what I am" (1 Corinthians 15:10). That communicated grace makes the heart "honest" (Luke 8:15), "tender" (2 Kings 22:11), "pure" (Matthew 5:8). An honest heart is one that abhors hypocrisy and pretense, that is fearful of being deceived, that desires to know the truth about itself at all costs, that is sincere and open, that bares itself to the Sword of the Spirit. A "tender" heart is one that is pliant godwards: that of the unregenerate is likened unto "the nether millstone" (Job 41:24), but that which is wrought upon by the Spirit resembles wax—receptive to His impressions upon it (2 Corinthians 3:3). It is sensitive—like a tender plant—shrinking from sin and making conscience of the same. It is compassionate, gentle, considerate.
In addition to our previous remarks thereon, we would add that a heart (or "soul") which has been made inchoately, yet radically, pure—and which is being continually purified—is one in which the love of God has been shed abroad, and therefore, it loathes what He loathes; one wherein the fear of the Lord dwells, so that evil is hated and departed from. It is one from which the corrupting love of the world has been cast out. A pure heart is one wherein faith is operative (Acts 15:9), attracting and conforming it unto a Holy Object, drawing the affections unto things above. It is one from which self has been deposed and Christ enthroned, so that it sincerely desires and earnestly endeavors to please and honor Him in all things. It is one that is purged, progressively, from ignorance and error by apprehending and obeying the truth (1 Peter 1:22). A pure heart is one that makes conscience of evil thoughts, unholy desires, foul imaginations, which grieves over their prevalency and weeps in secret for indulging them. The purer the heart becomes, the more is it aware of and distressed by inward corruptions.
The Puritans were accustomed to say that at regeneration, sin receives its "death-wound." We are not at all sure what exactly they meant by that expression, nor do we know of any Scripture which expressly warrants it—certainly such passages as Romans 6:6-7, and Galatians 5:24, do not; yet we have no objection to it, providing it be understood something like this: When faith truly lays hold of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, the soul is for ever delivered from the condemnation and guilt of sin, and it can never again obtain legal "dominion" over him. By the moral purification of the soul, it is cleansed from the prevailing love and power of sin, so that the lusts of the flesh are detested and resisted. Sin is divested of its reigning power over the faculties of the soul, so that full and willing subjection is no longer rendered to it. Its dying struggles are hard and long, powerfully felt within us, and though God grants brief respites from its ragings, it breaks forth with renewed force and causes us many a groan.
In our earlier days, we rejected the expression, "a change of heart," because we confounded it with "the flesh." The heart is changed at regeneration, but "the flesh" is not purified or spiritualized, though it ceases to have uncontrolled and undisputed dominion over the soul. Indwelling sin is not eradicated, but its reign is broken and can no longer produce hatred of God. The appetites and tendencies of "the flesh" in a Christian are precisely the same after he is born again as they were before. They are indeed "subdued" by grace; and conversion is often followed by such inward peace and joy that it appears as though they were dead, but they soon seek to reassert themselves, as Satan left Christ "for a season" (Luke 4:13), but later renewed his assaults. Nevertheless, grace opposes sin, the "spirit" or principle of holiness strives against the flesh, preventing it from having full sway over the soul. As life is opposed to death, purity to impurity, spirituality to carnality, so there is henceforth experienced within the soul a continual and sore conflict between sin and grace, each striving for the mastery.
While, then, it be true that there are two distinct and diverse springs of action in the Christian, the one prompting to evil and the other unto good, it is better to speak of them as two "principles" than "natures." To conceive of there being two minds, two wills, or two hearts in him, is no more warrantable than to affirm he has two souls, which would mean two moral agents, two centers of responsibility, which would destroy the identity of the individual and involve us in hopeless confusion of thought. "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12) would be meaningless if the saint possessed two "hearts"—the one incapable of anything but unbelief, the other incapable of unbelief. The Christian is a unit, a person with one heart or soul; and he is responsible to watch and be sober, to be constantly on his guard against the workings of his corruptions, to prevent sin hardening his heart so that he comes under the power of unbelief and turns away from God.
"Incline my heart [my whole soul] unto your testimonies, and not to covetousness" (Psalm 119:36). This is another one of many verses which expose the error of a Christian's having two "hearts"—the one carnal and the other spiritual—and making them synonymous with "the flesh" and the "spirit." It would be useless by my asking God to incline "the flesh" (indwelling sin) unto His testimonies, for it is radically opposed unto them.
Equally unnecessary is it for me to ask God not to incline "the spirit" (indwelling grace) unto covetousness, for it is entirely holy. But no difficulty remains if we regard the "heart" as the inner man: "incline me unto your testimonies," etc. The saint longs after complete conformity unto God's will, but is conscious of much within him that is prone to disobedience; and therefore, he prays that the habitual bent of his thoughts and affections may be unto heavenliness, rather than worldliness: Let the reasons and motives unto godliness You have set before me in Your Word be made effectual by the powerful operations of Your Spirit.
The heart of man must have an object unto which it is inclined or whereto it cleaves. The thoughts and affections of the soul cannot be idle or be without some object on which to place them.
Man was made for God, to be happy in the enjoyment of Him, to find in Him a satisfying portion; and when he apostatized from God, he sought satisfaction in the creature. While the heart of fallen man be devoid of grace, it is wholly carried out to the things of time and sense. As soon as he is born, he follows his carnal appetites, and for the first few years, is governed entirely by his senses. Sin occupies the throne of his heart, and though conscience may interpose some check, it has no power to incline the soul godwards, and sin cannot be dethroned by anything but a miracle of grace. That miracle consists in giving the soul a prevailing and habitual bent godwards. The heart is taken off from the love of base objects and set upon Christ, yet we are required to keep our hearts with all diligence, mortify our lusts, and seek the daily strengthening of our graces.
Great as is the change effected in the soul by the miracle of grace, yet, as said before, it is neither total nor complete, but is carried forward during the whole subsequent process of sanctification—a process that involves a daily and lifelong conflict within the believer, so that his "experience" is like that described in Romans 7:13-25. The Christian is not the helpless slave of sin, for he resists it—to speak of a "helpless victim" fighting is a contradiction in terms. So far from being helpless, the saint can do all things through Christ strengthening him (Philippians 4:13). As a new object has won his heart, his duty is to serve his new Master: "Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Romans 6:13)—use to His glory the same faculties of soul as you formerly did in the pleasing of self. The Christian's responsibility consists in resisting his evil propensities and acting according to his inclinations and desires after holiness.
The great change in and upon the Christian will be completed when dawns that "morning without clouds" (2 Samuel 23:4), when the Day breaks "and the shadows flee away" (Song of Solomon 2:17). For then shall he not only "see the king in his beauty" (Isaiah 33:17), see Him "face to face," but he shall be made like Him, "fashioned like unto his glorious body" (Philippians 3:21), fully and eternally "conformed to the image of his [God's] Son" (Romans 8:29).