THE CHRISTIAN (chapters
1 to 15)
By William S. Plumer, 1878
1. THE CHRISTIAN NAME
The word 'Christian' is found but three times in all the
Scriptures. The places where it occurs are Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; and 1
Peter 4:16. These read as follows: "And the disciples were called Christians
first at Antioch." "Then Agrippa said unto Paul—you almost persuade me to be
a Christian." "Yet if any man suffers as a Christian, let him not be
ashamed, but let him glorify God on this behalf."
The chronology of some of the events recorded in the Acts
is not entirely certain, but it seems pretty clear that the followers of our
Lord were not called Christians until ten or twelve years after our Savior's
ascension to heaven.
I once heard a sermon on Acts 11:26, in which it was
assumed that the name Christian, like that of Puritan or Methodist, was
first given in reproach, and by enemies; and was afterward adopted by the
disciples of our Lord, as a name which they were willing to bear. And it
cannot be denied that in every age odious epithets have been heaped upon the
godly. It is also certain from the history of the trial and martyrdom of
Polycarp, that for a long time the enemies of the Cross employed the term to
revile and accuse. But this does not prove that bad men first gave the name.
These things seem to be clear:
1. Christian is a very fit name for all the followers of
Christ. They are in Christ. They love and adore Christ. They are ready to
die for Christ. He is their Savior and Redeemer. They are not ashamed of
Him, and He is not ashamed of them. They are the friends, followers, and
redeemed of Jesus Christ. He is all in all to them. They are precious to
Him. He says so (Isa. 43:4).
2. Christian is a very appropriate name. It well
designates God's people, and in itself sums up the whole matter. Other names
are given to God's people, and some of them are very appropriate, but none
is more fitting than this.
3. It was foretold by the evangelical prophet that in the
latter days the Church should receive a new appellation: "The Gentiles shall
see your righteousness, and all kings your glory: and you shall be called by
a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name" (Isa. 62:2). This
passage no doubt indicates the great blessing arising from the altered state
and prospects of the Gospel Church. But may it not also be interpreted as
having been literally fulfilled in the bestowment of the name Christian?
Many have so thought.
4. Nor were there lacking in the primitive Church, people
by whom the Lord could fitly change the name of His people; for in immediate
connection with the historic statement that "the disciples were called
Christians first at Antioch," it is added, "prophets came down from
Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and predicted
by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine throughout the Roman
world. This took place during the time of Claudius" (Acts 11:26-28). There
were inspired men who were able to make known the mind of God and to speak
by His authority.
5. The people of God have ever since, and without
hesitation, borne the name of Christians. The inspired historian, Luke, says
nothing against it. Peter speaks of it approvingly. Evidently godly men have
long accepted it as if it were from the Lord.
Someone may ask, WHAT IS IN A NAME? The answer is, that
there is a great deal in a name; and in giving a name, one exercises high
authority. It is recorded as one of the acts of the intelligence and
authority of Adam that he gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the
air, and to every beast of the field (Gen. 2:20). Jehovah Himself asserts
His prerogative in giving and changing names as He pleases. Thus He changed
the names of Abraham, Jacob, and Sarah. Thus He directed that the name of
His incarnate Son should be called Jesus. Names are things when properly
applied. They are indeed often borne unworthily, often misapplied. But it
would shock our pious feelings if the ancient Church had received her names
from Cain, or Canaan, or Korah, or any notoriously bad man, instead of being
called Jacob, Israel, Joseph, Abraham's seed, and spoken of in other like
terms indicative of glory and virtue.
In the Christian name is so much that is precious, that
nothing could persuade godly men to give it up. Even bad men love to have
the epithet 'Christian' bestowed upon their loved ones who have left this
Reader, are you a Christian; a real, living, firm,
consistent Christian? You have the name, but are you worthy of it? Is your
union with Christ close and vital? Do you live in Him? Do you live for Him?
Do you live to Him? Do you wish to live and reign with Him? Have you duly
considered the import of the name you bear? It means much more than being
born in a Christian land. Worthily to bear the name of a Christian, is the
greatest honor and the greatest happiness ever attained on earth.
A Christian is the highest style of man.
2. THE CHRISTIAN PROFESSION
In the New Testament the same Greek verb is rendered both
confess and profess. In these places it is rendered confess, namely,
Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8; John 1:20; 9:22; 12:42; Acts 23:8; 24:14; Rom. 10:9;
Heb. 11:13; 1 John 1:9; 4:2-3, 15; and 2 John 7. In the following places the
same verb is rendered profess, namely, Matt. 7:23; 1 Tim. 6:12; Titus
1:16. In like manner the noun is sometimes rendered profession, as in 1 Tim.
6:12; and in the very next verse it is rendered confession.
If there is any difference between a confession and a
profession, it is that the former is made in the face of danger, while the
latter is a mere setting forth of our belief and practice. Each is an avowal
of one's convictions or of one's belief. Each is a declaration of what is
supposed to be truth.
A Christian profession is called for—
1. By the very nature of the case, Christ's kingdom is
both spiritual and voluntary. If men consent not to serve Him, they are His
enemies. If they bow to His yoke, how can they more fitly declare that fact
than by avowing their love to Him? If none of Christ's friends declare for
Him, He will soon have no friends in this world.
2. A proper and becoming profession of love to Christ is
useful to others. It emboldens timid disciples. It confirms the faltering.
It awakes the dull and inattentive. It makes men feel that there is a
reality in religion. Very few things are more potent for good, than a solemn
profession of Christ's religion. Many a man has been stout and hardened
until he saw his wife, or child, or brother, standing up to take upon them
the Christian profession. It was proof of desperate wickedness in the chief
priests and elders that when even the publicans and harlots believed John,
and these officials saw it, they repented not afterward that they might
believe (Matt. 21:32).
3. A Christian profession is commended in the Word of
God. It is called "a good profession" (1 Tim. 6:12). It is in itself right,
lovely, beautiful, excellent, as the Greek word signifies.
4. A Christian profession is commanded by Him who has all
authority in the case. His word and providence unite in saying: Who is on
the Lord's side? Come out from among them. Be separate, says the Lord.
Choose you this day whom you will serve.
5. Very glorious promises are annexed to a right
Christian profession, and very awful threatenings are uttered against those
who refuse to own the Redeemer. Hear the Savior, who shall be our final
Judge: "Whoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess
also before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before
men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Matt.
10:32-33). Compare Luke 12:8-9; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Rom.10:9-10.
But what is implied in a Christian profession? It is
plainly to own the whole truth of God as made known to us. To profess any
error or falsehood cannot but be dishonoring to God. A good profession
clearly implies an adherence to the truth of God. And no lie is of the
truth. It is also a declaration of a purpose to observe all God's statutes
and ordinances. There is no piety where there is no keeping of the
Commandments. A good profession is always followed by walking in the ways of
the Lord, following His example, and framing our doings to please Him and
serve His people. And all this is with humble subjection to Christ in all
A Christian profession must be—
1. Sincere and hearty. Not only must it not
be basely hypocritical, but in it there must not be even self-deception. It
must be honestly made. In it must be no reserves, no relentings. A
profession of love without love is offensive to every right mind.
2. It must be humble, not vainglorious and
ostentatious. Jehu called on men to witness his zeal for the Lord. He was a
poor, vain creature.
3. A Christian profession must be open and
public. Christ made no secret of His love to us. Why should we make a
secret of our love to Him? "Let your light so shine before men that they may
see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16).
4. Our profession should also be bold and
fearless. We should not seem to be asking pardon for being followers of
Jesus Christ. Paul says: "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it
is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16).
There is an apologetic way of avowing truth which seems to provoke
opposition. We must stand up for Jesus, cost what it may. The life of the
truth is more important than the life of any man upon earth. We must resist
even unto the shedding of blood, if necessary.
5. A Christian profession is permanent—until
death. In this war there is no discharge. "If any man draws back, My soul
shall have no pleasure in him," says God (Heb. 10:38). In this work we have
great encouragement. "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without
wavering; for He who promised is faithful." (Heb. 10:23). How faithful He
is, the saints of all ages can testify. His faithfulness never fails. It
reaches to the heavens. It is unto all generations.
3. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
When we speak of the Christian life, we may refer either
to the gracious principle implanted in the heart of the regenerate, or to
the ordinary methods of its manifestation. Let us look at both.
The life of God in the soul of a believer is a great
mystery. In any case life is somewhat unknown to us. But the life of a
child of God is very far removed from the cognizance of the careless.
Believers themselves are God's hidden ones. They are fed and nourished by
the hidden manna. The secret of the Lord is with them. He shows them His
covenant. Their life is hid with Christ in God. True, when Christ, who is
their life, shall appear, then shall they also appear with Him in glory. But
now they are unknown to the world, except as their light shines in the
The Christian life is supernatural. It is
something far above the powers of the carnal man. That the blind should see,
the deaf hear, the lame man leap as a deer, and the dead live—can be
accounted for only on the ground that it is the work of God. We are all dead
in trespasses and sins, until Divine grace makes us new creatures. Over our
mind, dense clouds of smoke and thick darkness from the bottomless pit have
settled. We have eyes, but we see not. Our imaginations are vain. Our
memories are polluted. Our ingenuity devises mischief and foolish evasions
and excuses. Our wills are perverse and stubborn. Our daring in sin is
frightful. To think of our state might well make one to shudder. Our enmity
to God is mortal. If such are changed from hatred to love, from sin to
holiness—it must be by God's power, His mighty power.
This Christian life is the gift of the Holy Spirit,
and no man knows the way of the Spirit. "The wind blows where it wills, and
you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it comes nor where it
goes; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." It is but vanity and
presumption for us poor worms to claim to comprehend the ways of God.
The Christian life is to the soul that experiences it,
a new life. Old things have passed away. All things are become new. Like
all new life, it is full of wonders. Everything pertaining to it is fresh
and suited to rejoice the heart.
And so it is a happy life. The joy of the Lord has
great strength in it. The buoyancy of the soul that is stayed on God is
often amazing, and always mighty.
This life is also abiding. It is not always
equally strong, but it is fed by new supplies of strength until the last.
Of course the Christian life is a great mercy. So
says the apostle of the circumcision: "Blessed be the God and Father of our
Lord Jesus Christ, who, according to His abundant mercy, has begotten us
again unto a lively hope," etc. So says the apostle of the Gentiles: "God,
who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we
were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ," etc. The
Christian life manifests itself—
1. By healthful and regular pulsations. The child of God
has a heart, and its throbbings are not spasmodic and occasional. Because
Christ lives in them, the life of Christians is constant.
2. The Christian life manifests itself by cries—cries
that enter the ears of the Lord Almighty. As soon as Paul was renewed, it
was said of him, "Behold, he prays." No Christian lives without prayer.
3. The Christian life manifests itself by a relish for
suitable food. Even the newborn babe desires the sincere milk of the Word
that it may grow thereby. After a while, the strong meat of God's Word is
required, and it is relished also.
4. Wondrously, too, does the child of grace enjoy the
pure and heavenly atmosphere of the Church and ordinances of God's house,
and the sweet moments of the communion of saints in prayer and praise, in
supplication and thanksgiving.
5. Such Christians will grow—will grow up into more and
more stability, heavenly-mindedness, constancy, courage, love, faith, and
hope. Of some, Paul says their faith grew exceedingly.
6. The Christian life will show itself by activity. There
will sooner or later be motion where there is life. In due time the renewed
man will walk, and leap, and praise God. When one said to an ancient
philosopher, "There is no such thing as motion," the sage said not a word,
but arose and walked across the room. That was answer enough. So if any say
there is no Christian life in the world, let us, by walking in all the
commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly, prove that they are
There is a reality, there is a power in heartfelt piety.
On this earth nothing is more powerful. But for true piety, the world would
soon come to an end—the cries of its wickedness perpetually calling for
vengeance. But as ten righteous men would have saved the cities of the
plain, so for the elect's sakes the day of vengeance is shortened and the
day of grace prolonged.
4. THE CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE
The word doctrine is found more than fifty times in the
Scriptures. It has shades of meaning, but it commonly has the idea of
knowledge, instruction, teaching. Our present business is with Christian
The prophets, Christ, and His Apostles did teach
something coherent and harmonious. There is a system of truth. It differs
from Paganism, Mohammedanism, Deism, Judaism. Christian doctrine embraces
the truths of the Gospel. In general it consists in the instruction given us
in all God's Word. In particular it is made up of those great principles
urged by Christ and His Apostles as expository of the Old Testament, and as
declaring the mind and will of God.
There is such a thing as Christian doctrine in opposition
to anti-Christian error. Truth is opposed to falsehood. Both Solomon and
Paul speak of "good doctrine." Four times does Paul speak of "sound
doctrine," which is the same as good doctrine. All true and sound doctrine
is good whether it pleases or offends men. In Scripture it is called "the
doctrine of God," "the doctrine of the Lord," "the doctrine of God our
Savior," "the doctrine of Jesus," "the doctrine of Christ," "the doctrine of
the Apostles," "the doctrine which is according to godliness." In Scripture
it is synonymous with "truth," "the truth in Christ," "the truth as it is in
Jesus," "the truth of God," and "the word of truth." It is elsewhere called
the "form of sound words," and "sound speech that cannot be condemned."
Christian doctrine is just the opposite of what the Bible
calls "strange doctrines," "the doctrines and commandments of men,"
"philosophy and vain deceit," "the doctrines of devils," "the traditions of
men," "damnable heresies."
So that it cannot be denied that there is such a thing as
sound doctrine, just as there is unsound doctrine; there is good doctrine,
and there is evil doctrine; there is doctrine according to godliness, and
there is doctrine contrary to piety; there is a word that nourishes men up
in faith, and there is a word that eats as a canker. Christian doctrine is
always good, safe, edifying.
We are bound to discriminate between Christian doctrine
and all its opposites. The Word of God requires us to prove all things, and
to hold fast that which is good; to try the spirits, and not to believe
every spirit; to judge of religious teachers by their doctrines. This can be
done. Many have done it. We can know the truth. "The doctrine of the
Pharisees" and "the doctrine of the Sadducees" never did accord with the
doctrine of Christ. "The doctrine of Balaam" and "the doctrine of the
Nicolaitans" always were at war with truth and righteousness, always were
abhorred by godly men, and always did subvert those who lent a willing ear
to them. Light and darkness are not more opposite than truth and error.
Arsenic and flour look very much alike; but one kills while the other
nourishes. All are bound to distinguish between Christian doctrine and
Christian doctrine is not the product of earth. Man is
not its author. All saving truth is heaven-born. Christ so taught: "My
doctrine is not Mine, but His that sent Me." The consent of all men cannot
transmute a lie or a fable, into the truth. Holy men of God spoke as they
were moved by the Holy Spirit. If God says anything, it is true. If He says
it not, it is either not true, or it concerns not our salvation.
Christian doctrine must be known, loved, and embraced. It
is essential to right views of God's nature, government, and worship. Before
one believes that he needs a Savior, he must believe that he is a sinner.
Men reject the truth from pride, or prejudice, or the lack of right
affections. The Scripture warrants us in saying that men hold false doctrine
because they have "not received the love of the truth," and that proves a
wicked state of mind. All but ungodly men love the truth. Our salvation
depends upon our receiving the Christian verity. "He who believes not is
condemned already." "If you believe not that I am He, you shall die in your
sins." "Sanctify them through Your truth; Your word is truth." These are a
few specimens of what God's Word says, to teach us how essential a hearty
reception of the very doctrines of Scripture is to our securing eternal
life. Error may lead to bigotry, blasphemy, or superstition—but never to
False doctrine dishonors God at every step. It defiles
the conscience, corrupts the heart, blinds the mind, and makes vain our
imaginations. On the other hand, truth leads to godliness. When inspired men
would stir up God's people to courage, constancy, humility, benevolence,
adoration, and holiness, they never present old wives' fables, but the great
truths of Scripture. Nor are God's friends at liberty to hold back any
portion of the truth. The rejection of some of the doctrines of God will
bring utter ruin on the soul. To believe a lie in religion is a very
alarming symptom. "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a
gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally
condemned!" (Gal. 1:8).
We must not only hold the Christian doctrine, but we must
hold it to the rejection of opposite errors. The Pharisees held considerable
truth, but they made it all vain by their traditions.
And we must hold the Christian doctrine at all cost and
at all hazards. "Buy the truth, and sell it not." Myriads have laid down
their lives for the testimony of Jesus; and they acted wisely in so doing.
By thus losing their lives, they made sure eternal life. It would not be
difficult to show that all the truths of religion, and all the civil and
religious liberty on earth, are the fruit of the sufferings of men, who
hazarded their lives for Christian doctrine.
5. THE CHRISTIAN CHARACTER— AN EXAMPLE
The word character is often taken in the sense of
reputation; but when used more precisely, it refers to the principles and
affections which control a man. It is the stamp on the mind, the impress on
the heart, the sum of the effects produced on the soul by all the influences
brought to bear upon it.
There is such a thing as Christian character. Otherwise
there is no difference between Christians and unbelievers. Even infidels
have confessed the difference between Christian servants and the profane in
The epithets bestowed on men in the Word of God clearly
show that there is a radical difference between them. Some are called wise,
and others foolish; some are just, and others unjust; some are righteous,
and others unrighteous; some are godly, and others ungodly; some are the
friends of God, and others are His enemies; some are the servants of God,
and others are the servants of sin; some are the children of God, and others
are the children of the Devil. Christians are strangers and pilgrims, and
others are men of the world. There is a radical difference between men's
characters. The Bible says so. All this is very reasonable, for—
1. God's grace has done much more for some men than for
others. See what a difference it made between Paul and Nero, both bloody
persecutors; between Zaccheus and the young ruler whom Jesus loved, both
greedy worldlings; between the two thieves on the Cross, both deserving
death for their crimes. Every Christian has received of the Lord pardon for
all his sins, acceptance in the Beloved, the blessing from the Lord, and
righteousness from the God of his salvation. He has also been renewed in the
spirit of his mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. He has received a new
heart. The law of God has been written upon his heart. He has been made a
new creature. It would be monstrous for such a one to be, to live, and to
act like one who had never been thus blessed.
2. The Christian has seen more than the wicked. He has
had his eyes opened to behold wondrous things out of God's law. Christ has
been revealed in him, and to him. He has by faith seen Him, who is
invisible. He has caught amazing glimpses of the glorious character of the
incorruptible God. How can such a one be, live, or behave like the poor,
blinded sinner, who cannot see afar off?
3. The Christian has heard more than the wicked. His ears
have been circumcised. He has so heard that he has lived. Like Lazarus in
the grave, he has heard the Son of God saying, "Come forth," and he has had
strength to obey. He has heard the voice of Love. He has heard the tender
calls of bleeding mercy. Surely such a man will be different from those who
are strangers to such things.
4. The Christian has felt more than the sinner. His heart
has been circumcised. His soul has been filled with pleasure at things which
the wicked care not for. Many a time his heart has burned within him at
things which never moved the wicked. The Lord has opened his heart to attend
unto the things which concern salvation. In his heart he thinks far
differently from what he ever thought before.
5. The Christian has sincerely and devoutly promised to
live unto God, and not unto himself. The vows of God are upon him. He has
sworn that he would keep the statutes of the Lord. The man of the world has
never heartily made any such engagements. Whatever promises he has made, if
not grossly hypocritical, were at least without any gracious purpose to
glorify God. Ease soon revokes vows made under terrors of conscience, the
pangs of affliction, or the apprehension of death. It would be marvelous if
the Christian, with all his good intentions, solemn vows, and settled
purposes—had not a character quite decided and vastly different from that of
the sinner. He may be slow to engage in some good things, but his hand once
put to the plow, he looks not back.
6. The Christian really and earnestly expects more and
greater things than all the sinners in the world. They have transient and
vain expectations, based on their own self-righteousness, and on mistaken
views of the character of God. But the Christian is warranted in every hope
he indulges, built upon the Word of God. All his expectations are awakened
by truth and the spirit of truth. None of his hopes shall perish. His
supports in future conflicts and in the last struggle shall be greater than
he had been able to think. The crown of life shall be more glorious than he
ever anticipated. It therefore cannot be otherwise than that he shall be a
peculiar manner of person in all holy living and godliness, looking for and
hastening unto the coming of the day of God. He perfects holiness in the
fear of God. He lives soberly, righteously, and godly in this present evil
world. His character is different from that of all the enemies of God. The
wicked take knowledge of him—that he has been with Jesus. His brethren in
the Lord are drawn to him. He lives before God. His very death is precious
in the sight of the Lord.
AN EXAMPLE IN REV. WM. PRESTON, D.D.
About the beginning of this century there was born in
Connecticut a child, which grew and waxed strong, and in due time reached a
vigorous manhood. After careful preparation he was inducted into the sacred
office. His ecclesiastical relations were with the Protestant Episcopal
Church. He twice served the Master as pastor of the flock in Columbus, Ohio,
and twice, and for a longer period, he labored in Pittsburgh, Pa. In this
latter field he spent in all about thirty of the best years of his life.
Like many other people of God whom I have known, he left this world on
Sabbath morning. It was the 25th of April. When the churches he had served,
and the thousands of Israel were assembling in houses built with hands, he
was for the first time joining in the hallelujahs of the temple on high.
When Christian and Hopeful entered the heavenly city, Bunyan says: "Then I
heard in my dream that all the bells in the city rang again for joy, and
that it was said unto them, 'Enter into the joy of your Lord.'"
The day of his death was the greatest Sabbath ever
enjoyed by Dr. Preston. To all such as he the day of one's death is better
than the day of one's birth. He entered this world with a cry as of
distress. He entered heaven with a shout of "Salvation unto God and the
Lamb!" Here he had tears and sorrows, known only to his Savior and himself;
but in the Church above he shall sorrow no more, for there the Lord God
wipes away all tears from off all faces.
Dr. Preston was a lovely man. He was naturally amiable,
and grace had sweetened all his nature. Who ever heard him say a hard or
harsh thing of a fellow creature? He loved God's people of every name. His
soul was warmed with charity that hoped and believed and endured all that
godly men are commonly called to hope and believe and endure. Neither by
nature, nor in principle, nor in practice was Dr. Preston a bigot. He
abhorred those narrow views and feelings which believed moral excellence was
found chiefly in his own denomination. Often did he walk to the house of God
in company with brethren of other churches, and mingle his voice with theirs
in prayer and praise. I have never heard more tender or evangelical
extemporaneous prayers in large assemblies than I have heard from him, when
he was the only Episcopalian perhaps in all the congregation.
Dr. Preston greatly loved the doctrines of grace. He was
a firm believer in those doctrines as taught by Paul, by Augustine, by
Calvin, and by the best English reformers. On these subjects his trumpet
gave no uncertain sound. His faith was grounded and settled. He never
attempted nor pretended to make any new discoveries in theology. He took
good heed to the Word of the Lord as given by the prophet Jeremiah, "Stand
in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and
walk therein, and you shall find rest for your souls."
One truly says of him: "The ministers and Christian
people of this city, indeed the whole community, mourn the death of a
devoted servant of Christ, a pastor of stainless reputation, and a
warm-hearted gentleman and Christian friend." This witness is true.
The friendship between Dr. Preston and myself was of more
than twenty years' standing. I found him always as kind as a woman, as firm
as a rock, as fearless as a lion, and as true as steel. We had often
communed together of the things of the kingdom. I never heard from him a
doubtful sentiment. I never knew him to quail under clamor. He was valiant
for the truth. He hated every false way.
The death of such men as Dr. Preston has a real power in
making us willing to die. The society of which he is now a member is
composed of the elite of the universe. Every choice spirit that has
passed away from earth belongs to that blessed company who worship before
the throne in a world where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary
are at rest. Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.
6. THE CHRISTIAN'S SIMPLICITY
In our English Bible and in common parlance, to be
simple is often the same as to be stupid, silly, credulous, easily
deceived by appearances. In this case it is the opposite of wisdom. Thus: "A
prudent man foresees the evil and hides himself: but the simple pass on and
are punished" (Prov. 22:3). "Ephraim is like a silly dove without heart" (Hos.
7:11), describes a like character. It is a bad thing to be a natural fool.
It is worse to be made a fool by wicked men and wicked inclinations. Such
simplicity is never commended. This is the worst kind of simplicity, because
it is both the fruit and the cause of wickedness.
Sometimes a simple man is one who is weak,
uninstructed, perhaps deceived, but honest, a seeker of truth. Thus to the
great feast prepared by wisdom the invitation is sent forth: "Whoever is
simple, let him turn in hither" (Prov. 9:4).
One of the words rendered simplicity often denotes
health, soundness, freedom from disease. Thus a single eye is a good eye,
giving clear vision (Matt 6:22; Luke 11:34). The noun is rendered singleness
of heart in Eph. 6:5 and Col. 3:22, where it means soundness or integrity of
Again, simplicity is the opposite of
penuriousness, stinginess—and so implies goodness, gentleness, liberality.
Thus, in Rom. 12:8, "He who gives—let him do it with simplicity." In 2 Cor.
8:2 the same word is rendered liberality, and in 2 Cor. 9:11, bountifulness.
Lastly, to be simple is to be inoffensive, free
from bad intention, inexpert in wickedness, harmless—as where Paul says, "I
would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil"
(Rom. 16:19). The same word is used by our Lord when He says, "Be wise as
serpents, and harmless as doves;" and by Paul, when he says, "Do all things
without murmurings and disputings: that you may be blameless and harmless,
the sons of God, without rebuke."
What is it, then, to be simple concerning evil? It is
something wholly consistent with being wise unto that which is good.
It is not natural foolishness. Yet to carnal men it often looks like folly,
because it readily incurs natural evils rather than run into sinful ways.
The arts of wicked men are not known to such. They are "so wise as not to be
deceived, and yet so simple as not to be deceivers." In malice they are
children, in understanding they are men. It is no credit to any godly man to
be an adept in the arts and chicanery of the deceitful world. It was by one
of the ancients pronounced a reproach to a king or philosopher to dance
well. So it is a shame for a Christian to be expert in the devices of carnal
men for gaining influence and promoting selfish or base designs.
The simplicity of the Gospel is near of kin to godly
sincerity (2 Cor. 1:12). It abhors duplicity. It carries its heart in its
hand. It has no crooked ways. "It is fair, it is candid, it is honest, it is
upright in all things."
And it is as loving as it is fair. It bears no malice.
Its tongue is not defiled with slander, nor its hands with wrong. Its steps
are not stained with blood. It curses not, but it blesses largely. It is
manly, not cowardly. It is humble, but not servile. It is bold, but not
fierce. It devises liberal things, but loves to do good unseen. It is not
boastful nor ostentatious, and yet it refuses not to do good for fear it
might be found out.
Call on one possessed of this excellent quality to deny
himself, and nothing seems easier. Present to him the temptations which
master most men and they seem powerless. Their chief effect is to drive him
nearer to God, closer to the mercy-seat, quite into the bosom of the Good
Shepherd. This quality is gracious. It should be cultivated. It may be much
strengthened by prayer, by the Word of God, by practice, by hating every
false way, by associating with men of pure minds and simple hearts. In
nothing is example more potent than in learning lessons of simplicity.
Because great attainments in this excellence are not
often made, we ought the more earnestly to labor and pray for it. The more
we are tempted to any course inconsistent with this simplicity, the more
should we resist the devil, that he may flee from us.
For a pattern we have One that excels all others—our Lord
Jesus Christ. Often He declined to commit Himself to others, for He knew
what was in man. But never did any put themselves in His power or under His
control, but to be blessed thereby. When He gave, it was with all
bountifulness. When He reproved, it was with all gentleness. When He
invited, it was with superhuman kindness. His eye was single. His heart was
single and sincere and loving. His mind was pure and upright. Oh, be like
7. THE CHRISTIAN'S WAY
"For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin." Psalm 1:6
Every man has his way. Conduct is an index to character.
Manners make the man. Behavior before God and man tells where one is going.
The way of sinners is evil, is false, is hard, is wicked,
is dangerous, is ruinous. It leads to hell. It leads nowhere else. In the
end it will cause the bitterest lamentations ever heard. There is no madness
equal to that of sinning against God.
But the Christian has his way too. Indeed, believers are
more than once called men of the way. In Acts 9:2, we translate it
"any of this way." But scholars know that it should be any of the
way. So also in Acts 19:9, it is said some "spoke evil of that way." It
means they spoke evil of the way, that is, the way of God, the way of godly
men. In the Old Testament the word way sometimes has the same general
In an important sense Christ Himself is the way of
believers. So He teaches: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no man
comes unto the Father but by Me" (John 14:6). The soul enters on its upward
and glorious career through Christ alone (John 10:1, 7). In the same manner
it continues its heavenly course. As men have received Christ the Lord, so
do they walk in Him. Paul's great wish was that he might be "found in
Christ." The same is true of all who are clearly on their way to glory and
The Christian's way is the way of truth. Inspired men so
call it (2 Pet. 2:2). It is the true way. There is no mistake in it. It
deceives no one. It disappoints no one. It is not built on fables and
fictions. It is built on truth, more lasting than the mountains.
There is no foolishness in it. It is wise. It is often
called the way of understanding. No man acts wisely until he walks in it. No
man has any wisdom above this. To forsake this way is to choose death.
The Christian's path is the way of righteousness (2 Peter
2:21). It is the way of justifying righteousness. Only thus is any man
pardoned. Only thus is any man accepted as righteous. It is the way of
personal righteousness. It is the good and the right way (1 Sam. 12:23). It
is the way of holiness. So the evangelical prophet spoke of it: "An highway
shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the
unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring
men, though fools, shall not err therein" (Isa. 35:8).
No marvel, then, that the course of the Christian is
called the way of God (Acts 18:26); and the way of the Lord (Ps. 27:11). It
is the way God chooses, appoints, and loves. He honors it with His presence
and His smiles. He who walks in it, walks with God. God is his friend, his
guide, his shepherd, his father, his exceeding joy.
No wonder, then, that Zacharias, when filled with the
Holy Spirit, called it the way of peace (Lk. 1:79). It brings peace to the
heart and the conscience. It secures peace with God, and leads to peace with
just men. It inspires pure and friendly sentiments to all.
It is also the way of life, and of salvation (Prov. 6:23;
15:24; Jer. 21:8; Acts 16:17). All who walk not in this way are dead in
trespasses and in sins. They are out of the right way. They are stalking to
ruin. But they who are in this way shall, in the highest sense, live. They
belong to Christ. Because He lives, they shall live also. They are even here
delivered from the curse and displeasure of God. In the best and highest
sense of the term, they have salvation.
This way is strait, narrow, difficult (Matt. 7:14). Men
cannot walk in it carelessly. They cannot carry with them their vices and
lusts. They must learn and practice the laws of self-denial. They must not
be restive. They must not rebel under powerful restraints. The righteous are
This way is also straight. It is not crooked. Sin is
always tortuous. But a godly man hates every false way. He is not
double-tongued, nor double-minded. He means what he says, and he says what
he means. He speaks the truth in his heart. He walks in uprightness.
This is also a living way (Heb. 10:20). It is not dead
and dull; but lively, and full of animation. It inspires the best hopes, on
the most solid grounds.
Though in a sense it is difficult, requiring the utmost
care and sobriety, yet it is pleasant (Prov. 3:17). By Divine grace it is
made easy. It is the way of transgressors that is hard. They are under cruel
bondage. But the righteous serve a good Master. He carries the heavy end of
every cross. His yoke is easy, and His burden light.
The way of the Christian is often hidden. His resources
are secret, and his motives are not seen. His heart is the best part of him.
If he could have his way, he would be done with sin and temptation forever.
Often calumny, prejudice, poverty, or tribulation covers him. Yet his way is
not hidden from the Lord, nor his judgment passed over from his God. In due
time Jehovah will bring forth His righteousness as the light, and His
judgment as the noonday.
This way is also plain. An honest heart under Divine
teaching never misses it. God reveals its glorious mysteries to babes and
sucklings. Simple folk with honest hearts are sure to find the truth.
This is no new way. This path has been trodden by the
saints of all ages. In it were found Abel, and Enoch, and Job, and Daniel,
and Paul, and John, and all the martyrs and confessors. One of the sins and
follies of every age, is an attempt to show, or to find some new way. But
God reproves such a spirit. Hear Him: "Thus says the Lord, Stand in the ways
and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and you
shall find rest for your souls" (Jer. 6:16).
The way of the saints is one, and not many. No one need
perplex himself on account of seeming diversities. For there are not many
ways of salvation. In the very place where God promises one heart to His
people, He also promises them one way (Jer. 32:39).
The whole way of the Christian is marked out in God's
Word, and is called the way of His precepts, the way of His commandments,
the way of His statutes, the way of His judgments (Ps. 119:27, 32-33; Isa.
26:8). Sad indeed is the case of those whose fear toward God is taught by
the precepts of men (Isa. 29:13).
The way of the Christian often seems long, but let him
not repine. Life's toils and sorrows will soon be over—over forever.
The way of godly men habitually increases in radiance. It
shines more and more unto the perfect day (Prov. 4:18). The reason is, it is
the only perfect way (Ps. 101:2). This is the course which the Psalmist
calls the way everlasting. It shall not be broken up.
8. THE CHRISTIAN'S TEMPTATIONS
The words tempt and temptation have in
Scripture different meanings according to the connection in which they are
1. When it is said God did tempt Abraham (Gen. 22:1), the
meaning is that God did test and prove Abraham. He has and He exercises His
right thus to evince the real principles of His creatures. He subjected
angels to probation. God does not thus seek to inform Himself, for He knows
men perfectly; but He thus shows to His people, and even to His foes, the
power of holy principles in the heart (Job 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:6-7). In Scripture,
saints are called upon to count it all joy when they fall into such trials
(James 1:2-3). God can and will carry His servants through such trials, and
thus strengthen their good habits and principles. They shall come out as
gold (Job 23:10).
2. Men are said to tempt, try, or prove God when they
unbelievingly call upon Him to manifest His presence, power, or kindness.
This is a freak of wicked caprice. In this sense the Israelites tempted,
proved, and provoked God in the desert (Ex. 17:2-7; Ps. 95:8-9; Heb. 3:9).
When God is doing for us all we really need, we have no right to call upon
Him to do more; nor may we prescribe to Him when or how He shall deliver us.
Men also tempt God when they presume on a miraculous preservation, and rush
unbidden into dangers (Matt. 4:6-7). They also tempt Him, that is, they
unwarrantably prove Him, when, casting His cords asunder, they sin without
stint, as if to see whether He will punish them or bring on them threatened
evils (Mal. 3:15).
3. Satan tempts men, and men tempt one another, by
endeavoring to seduce them from truth, from right, from piety to error,
pride, or wickedness. In this sense God tempts no man (James 1:13). God
abhors iniquity. He seduces no one, and is seduced by no one.
4. Sometimes temptation means a successful seduction.
"Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed"
(James 1:14). Thus men are tempted, when in them there is somewhat congenial
to the seduction, and they yield to it.
In no sense are godly men compelled to sin. God always
provides a way of escape. That way may be through a burning fiery furnace,
through a lion's den, through a shower of stones, through death itself; but
it is still a way of escape. It is not wicked to die. In his design to prove
Job a hypocrite, Satan was entirely baffled. In his attempt to bring to
naught the work of redemption, he wholly failed. The Son of God was more
than a match for him. The three great means of preserving us from falling
under the power of any temptation are these:
1) A deep sense of our own weakness. No part of the
Lord's Prayer suits our case better than this: "Lead us not into
temptation." The meaning is, Let us not be tempted beyond our strength, and
when tempted, let us not fall into the snare of the wicked one. Blessed is
the man that fears always. Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he
fall. Consider yourself, lest you also be tempted.
2) It is a great thing to have the Word of God ready for
every occasion. In sophistry the enemy often exceeds our power of reasoning;
but the Word of God is too keen for him. When tempted, our Savior did not
moralize or philosophize on the matter. He simply quoted Scripture, saying:
"It is written, it is written, it is written."
3) Watchfulness and prayer must be constantly used. I
unite them because the Scripture unites them, and because, when genuine and
holy, they are never separated. Our Lord said: "Watch and pray, that you
enter not into temptation." Compare Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:33; 14:38; Col.
The great deliverer from temptation is God Himself (2
Pet. 2:9). The apostle says: "The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of
temptations." This is as if he had said, God's resources are infinite. He is
never at a loss for wisdom, love, or power. He has often and marvelously
rescued His saints. He never fails when He undertakes their cause.
To the tempted people of God the sympathy and
intercession of our Lord Jesus Christ are held forth for their
encouragement. "In that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able
to help those who are tempted." "We have not a high priest which cannot be
touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted
like as we are, yet without sin." "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired
to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for you, that
your faith fail not." No wonder the saints triumph. Their Lord triumphed
before them. By Him they can do all things. He is mighty to save.
Are these things so? Then let us come boldly to the
throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of
need. Let us be of good courage. Distrust is a great foe to peace and
victory. Omnipotence never labors, and is never baffled.
9. THE CHRISTIAN'S VICTORY OVER
It almost startles one to hear the apostle James saying,
"My brethren, count it all joy [regard it as matter of very great joy] when
you fall into divers temptations. . . . Blessed is the man that endures
[patiently endures, with constancy bears up under] temptation." But when we
search God's Word, we find the doctrine abundantly supported and
Take the case of our Blessed Lord. He was long and sorely
tempted of the devil—tempted as no man ever was. Yet see the happy
consequences immediately following: "Behold, angels came and ministered unto
Him." While His temptation lasted, they stood at a distance to let it appear
that Christ could conquer by His own power and holiness. But when the battle
was fought and the victory won, they rejoiced in such a Lord; they brought
Him food; they comforted Him, as they often strengthen and comfort His
tempted people. If Satan was allowed to assail Him, angels were sent to
adore Him, and serve Him. Thus, He was prepared and encouraged to go boldly
on in His great work of destroying the works of the devil and in setting up
the kingdom of God.
A like result is reached when the saints endure
temptation. The trying of their faith works patience, constancy, heavenly
heroism; and patience works experience; and experience hope; and hope makes
not ashamed: because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the
Holy Spirit, who is given unto us. So uniformly and so wonderfully does the
Lord bless temptation to the edification of His people, that the great and
good Luther said: "One Christian well tempted is worth a thousand." Another
of his sayings was: "Three things make a good theologian—meditation,
temptation, and prayer."
Like testimonies have been borne by others. Fenelon said:
"Temptations, as a file, rub off much of the rust of our self-confidence."
Dr. Samuel Clarke says: "Bearing up against temptations and prevailing over
them is the very thing wherein the whole life of piety consists. It is the
trial which God puts upon us in this world, by which we are to make evidence
of our love and obedience to Him, and of our fitness to be made members of
How ill-prepared would David have been for the conflicts
of his riper years had he not fought with the lion and the bear and the
giant of Gath when young! Oh, it is good for a man that he bear the yoke in
his youth. It makes a man of him. "Let him sit alone in silence, for the
Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be
hope." Lamentations 3:28-29. All great characters are formed more or less in
the school of trial—even sharp trial.
The difference between Daniel going into Babylon—and
Daniel beholding the fall of the Chaldean monarchy—was as great as could
well be imagined. Hardly any two pious men were less alike than were the
young Israelite—who later became the old prophet pronouncing sentence of
death on Lucifer (the son of the morning) when he was about to be cast down
Compare the young Saul of Tarsus, crying, "Lord, what
will You have me to do?" with such an one as Paul the aged. How great the
contrast! What made the difference? Chiefly his experience in trials and
afflictions and temptations.
The little child Moses in the rushes—and the old man
Moses, with his eye undimmed and his natural force unabated at the age of
one hundred and twenty years, were not so unlike in appearance of body as
they were in strength and excellence of character.
Everlasting bliss will bear a proportion to what men have
endured for Christ and His cause on earth. Mordecai once wore a crown of
gold; and our Savior once wore a crown of thorns; but in the world to come,
the saints shall wear different crowns. "Blessed is the man who endures
temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which
the Lord has prepared for those who love Him." So spoke James. Paul says: "I
am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have
fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." Peter says:
"When the Chief Shepherd shall appear, you shall receive a crown of glory
that fades not away." Oh, what a crowning that will be: life, righteousness,
glory all in one day—all for nothing—all by grace—and all for eternity!
10. THE CHRISTIAN'S VIEWS OF SIN
Moral evil is the worst of all evils. Nothing can compare
with it. It is worse than the plague. It is unspeakably hateful. God calls
sin, horrible and abominable. Godly men in every age lament it—lament it
much in others, most in themselves. The worst thing that can be said of sin
is—not that it digs every grave and wrings out every sigh and wail from
earth and hell—but that it is "exceeding sinful."
A man's views of sin give a complexion to all his
character. If he regards it as a trifle, he will laugh at it, when he should
weep over it. He will make a mock of it. He will dally with it. He will take
his fill of it. He will have low thoughts of God, and low estimates of
salvation. He will despise Jesus Christ.
If, on the other hand, he considers sin as very dreadful
and very hateful, he will hate every false way. He will long for holiness.
He will hunger and thirst after righteousness. He will not walk in the
counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat
of the scornful. He will loathe and abhor himself on account of sin. He will
be filled with horror because of the wicked, who keep not God's law. He will
have exalted thoughts of the being, perfections, word, and government of
God. To him Christ will be most precious, the chief among ten thousand, and
Some ask, How far does a sense of sin enter into a
genuine Christian experience? To some extent, and in some minds, this is a
difficult question. The difficulty may arise in part from the fact that some
make all religious experience to refer to the earlier exercises of a newborn
soul. But the truth is, that first religious views and feelings are but a
small part of what the child of God practically learns. In all the three
accounts of the conversion of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, not a word
is said of his sense of sin at that time in anything but in opposing
Christ's cause. But the work of grace in his heart only then began. In
Romans 7:7-9, he tells us of subsequent experiences: "I would not have known
sin if it were not for the law. For example, I would not have known what it
is to covet if the law had not said, Do not covet. And sin, seizing an
opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind.
For apart from the law sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from the law, but
when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died."
The meaning of the Apostle seems to be this: "I would
never have understood the real nature of sin, the enormity of my guilt, or
the number of my transgressions but for the Ten Commandments." If one would
know the uncleanness of a neglected apartment, he must let in the light. Dr.
Watts notices the growing sense of sin in Paul once saying, "I am not fit to
be called an Apostle." Later in life he says, "I am less than the least of
all saints." In one of his later epistles, he says, "I am the chief of
sinners." Evidently he had to the last a growing sense of sin.
Sometimes when we speak of a sense of sin, men think we
are speaking of great terror of conscience or horror of mind. These things
may indeed accompany a sense of sin; but they are wholly diverse from it,
and are in nowise essential to it. Paul never had less terror than when he
was near the end of his life, and had a very deep sense of sin.
But such a sense of sin as makes the Gospel good news to
the sinner, would seem to be required by many things in the Scriptures. Our
Lord said, "those who are whole need not a physician, but those who are
sick." One of the darkest signs in the state of the Church at Laodicea was
that she said she was rich and increased with goods, and had need of
nothing—but knew not that she was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and
blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17).
Job's sense of sin was vastly increased by the great
discoveries he had of God's majesty and glory: "I have heard of You by the
hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and
repent in dust and ashes." Increased views of God's glory had the same
effect on Isaiah, and made him cry out, "Woe is me! for I am undone" (Job
42:5-6; Isa. 6:5).
The deeper one's sense of sin is, the livelier is his
gratitude for pardon and saving mercy. So taught our Lord: "Her sins, which
are many, are forgiven, for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven,
the same loves little" (Luke 7:47).
In like manner the deeper one's sense of sin, the
profounder will be his humility; and humility is the King's highway to
holiness and happiness and heaven.
If these things are so, then he is a good preacher, and
that is a good book that increases our just sense of sin. One of the best
books John Owen ever wrote was on "Indwelling Sin." It is well suited to
show men the fountain of iniquity that is in their hearts. For the same
reason we may safely commend Flavel's "Keeping the Heart," Guthrie's "Trial
of a Saving Interest in Christ," and many of the Puritan writings of the
But above all, "By the law is the knowledge of sin."
Luther said that if for a day he failed to compare his heart with the Ten
Commandments, he was sensible of a decline in his pious feelings. One of the
best manuals of self-examination is the Westminster Assembly's exposition of
the law of God. Let any serious man honestly read the answers there given to
the question, What are the sins forbidden? in each of the precepts; and if
he is not blind and stupid, his self-abhorrence must be increased.
But any view of ourselves that leads us to despair, is
injurious. The true and fair inference from a sense of sickness, is that one
needs a physician. A proper sense of sin should lead us more and more to
look to Jesus, and to pray that He may be made unto us wisdom and
righteousness, and sanctification and redemption. Thanks be unto God for His
It is, therefore, common for Christians to admit that
there is no little sin. It is easy for men to perplex themselves, and talk
foolishly concerning that which is infinite. But to us all that is
illimitable, immeasurable, fathomless, endless, may safely be styled
infinite. Is sin, then, an infinite evil?
If sin be not an infinite evil, it must be because God's
majesty, glory, and authority are not infinite, for against these is all sin
If sin be not an infinite evil, it could not require an
infinite atonement; a limited satisfaction is all that could be fairly
required for a finite offense; a measurable compensation is all that can be
justly demanded for a crime that can be fully estimated. If sin be not an
infinite evil, can it be proven to be any evil at all? God has all claims,
all rights, all sovereignty, or He has none at all. Our obligations to Him
are boundless, interminable, infinite, or they are not real. If He is such a
One as we are, He is no God at all. The reason why false gods may and should
be treated with contempt, is because they are vanities. They are matters of
God's presence is infinite; His power is infinite; His
nature is infinite; His existence is infinite; and so to sin against Him
must be an infinite insult and wrong. If sin is not an infinite evil, we
must yet admit that the punishment threatened against it is, in at least one
sense, infinite—it is boundless in duration; yes, it is shoreless,
fathomless, and terrible as hell.
More than once does God call sin "horrible." It is that
abominable thing which He hates. It cannot be shown that God hates toads,
serpents, hyenas, or anything that He has made. But He hates sin with
It is bad when one can truly say of an act that it is
unprofitable, dangerous, or vile; but sin is the perfection of vileness; it
is more perilous than the flights of the aeronaut; it is so unprofitable
that when one commits it, he sows the wind to reap the whirlwind; he loves
God's Word acknowledges that sin is great, because God is
great. "If a man sins against his neighbor, the judge shall judge him; but
if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?"
Francis Spira said: "Man knows the beginnings of sin, but
who can tell the bounds thereof?"
"Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death."
"The wages of sin is death."
11. THE CHRISTIAN'S BESETTING SINS
Sins are variously classified. We speak of original sin
and of actual sin; of sins of omission and sins of commission; of secret
sins and open sins, sins of infirmity, presumptuous sins, unnatural sins,
and besetting sins.
Sins are besetting from various causes. Some are
constitutional. Many people are irritable, contentious, addicted to
levity or despondency from their natural temperament.
Some sins prevail in the land where men live and so beset
everybody. Thus, for hundreds of years—from the days of Epimenides to the
time of Paul—the Cretans were terribly fierce, gluttonous, and given to
lying. Then sometimes a tidal wave of iniquity rolls over a people, and it
seems as if all were beset with the same sins. An old prophet describes such
a state of things when he says of his people: "The best of them is a
brier—the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge" (Micah 7:4).
Other sins are besetting from education. Thus,
gossiping is taught by example to whole families. The same is true of many
sins of the tongue. Official station leads some to sins to which they were
formerly but little inclined. Office is apt to beget imperious tempers. Many
fall into sins from prejudices which were strong and unreasonable. I
have known a man to commit more folly from a dislike to seeing apple
dumplings on a dinner table than from any other cause.
Besetting sins are many—as various as human character and
occupation. They gain strength by habit, just as do all the vices. Sometimes
one person has several of them. Sins live in families. Seldom, if ever, is a
sin found alone.
How may we put away besetting sins? This is a very
weighty question. It deserves the most serious attention. Without exhausting
the subject, the following suggestions are offered:
1. Obtain and retain a deep and just sense of sin, as an
evil and bitter thing, terribly offensive to God, very hateful in itself,
and utterly ruinous to the soul. No man ever excessively hated or dreaded
sin. The worst thing ever said of sin was, that it is "exceeding sinful."
2. Learn what your besetting sins are. This will not be
easily done. Yet it is possible to gain some clear knowledge of them.
Sometimes your friends give you good hints. They say, perhaps very tenderly,
that it is a fault in your character that you are harsh, or severe, or vain,
or proud, or worldly-minded. Are they not right? Perhaps your enemies speak
more plainly, and tell you in unpleasant tones that you are obstinate,
self-conceited, covetous, unkind, or ungenerous. Is there any truth in what
they say? What does Nathan the prophet (your minister) say in preaching that
touches conscience? What is it that comes up in such power when you are
melancholy, when you are in affliction? What causes failure in so many of
your attempts to do good and get good?
3. Remember that sin, like the serpent, dies hard. This
is true of all sin, especially of a besetting sin. Therefore make a business
of exterminating sin. It will kill you if you do not kill it. Your eternal
well-being is at stake. Use every means in your power. Some sins go out only
by fasting and prayer. Try those means. If your besetting sin is love of the
world, see what you can do in mastering it by some noble secret act of
charity, or of contribution to the spread of the Gospel. If you are inclined
to carry grudges, daily pray that the same mercies may descend on those you
dislike as on yourself, and early embrace or create an opportunity to do
them a service.
Never shun the cross. If you find it lying in your way,
take it up and bear it with constancy. "Despise not little duties; they have
been to many a saved man an excellent discipline of humility. Despise not
little trials; rightly met they have often nerved the character for some
fiery trial. And despise not little crosses; for when taken up and lovingly
accepted at the Lord's hand, they have made men fit for a great crown, even
the crown of righteousness and life, which the Lord has promised to them
that love Him."
4. Put a high estimate on holiness. It is moral
excellence. It is very beautiful. It makes one to be like God. Nothing
unholy will stand the test of perfect holiness in the fear of God. This is
the will of God concerning you, even your sanctification. "Be holy, for I am
holy, says the Lord."
5. In subduing corruptions, some have found it well to
devote special attention for a while to some one besetting sin. In some
cases this may be well. But let us not forget that one sin always argues the
presence of others sins, and that while we are watching one thief, others
may be close behind us.
6. Watch against occasions of indulging in your besetting
sin. If in speaking you are likely to exaggerate, or to adorn the story with
a fabrication, then do not often or needlessly tell stories. If in trading
you are apt to cry up what you have for sale, or to cry down what you buy,
then make as few bargains and with as few words as possible.
7. When you gain an advantage against a corruption,
follow it up. Sin dies not except under many lusty blows. And when you think
it dead, it is perhaps only asleep. Do your work thoroughly.
8. Seek the constant aid of the Holy Spirit. He searches
all things. He hates iniquity. He loves all purity. His indwelling will do
more than a guard of angels in driving out sin. He is the Spirit of
holiness. He is its author. "It is not by might, nor by power, but by My
Spirit, says the Lord."
9. Think much of Christ. Highly prize His honor. Let His
name be an ointment poured forth. Walk in Him, walk with Him, live unto Him,
die for Him. Draw strength and motives from His teachings, His example, His
death, His resurrection, His ascension to heaven, His sitting at God's right
hand, and His everlasting kingdom.
12. THE CHRISTIAN'S SENSE OF
God is independent and sovereign. Man is dependent and
responsible. Every sane man knows he must give account to God. Man's nature
and relations to God make it fit that he should act under moral law, and be
It is not possible for any man to entertain too solemn
views of the fact that he must at last stand or fall, according to the deeds
done in the body. Every man is every day doing things which will affect his
destiny to all eternity.
Man has immortal rationality, and of course he will ever
be responsible. Suffering will not end it. Happiness will not destroy it. In
God's government there is no statute of limitation. Nor has man or angel the
power of returning to non-existence. Some have denied that responsibility
will be endless.
But if responsibility be not everlasting, then the
relations of God and man may cease or change. They cannot cease, because God
cannot deny Himself. They cannot cease, because whether man shall be under
law is not a question submitted to his choice or decision.
Neither can the relations of God and man change. A change
must be for the better or for the worse. If they could change for the
better, they would not now be perfectly right and holy. If they should
change for the worse, they would cease to be perfectly right and holy.
If responsibility be not everlasting, then an intelligent
creature may sin away his obligations and accountability.
If responsibility be not everlasting, then sin works its
own cure, at least so far as not to be any longer punishable. It would lose
its guilt by its enormity or inveteracy.
If responsibility be not everlasting, then there is a
world or a state where God may be insulted with impunity. If this is so,
retribution in any case is wholly arbitrary, and is not required by
If retribution be not everlasting, then sin is either an
evil which in the long run becomes unmanageable, and God at length connives
at it, because He does not know how to deal with old transgressors; or else
the evil now declared to belong to unrighteousness is an exaggeration, and
who will dare to say that?
If responsibility be not everlasting, then it will not be
so bad to offer insults to God in some other worlds or states as it is in
this world, or in the present state.
If responsibility be not everlasting, it must be that
God's moral government shall by and by be impaired or fail in some respects.
If responsibility be not everlasting, then by parity of
reasoning the fact that one lie is justly punishable does not show that many
lies shall be punished.
If responsibility be not everlasting, then righteousness
may cease to be righteousness, both in the Judge of all the earth and in
some of His creatures, especially those who offend atrociously.
There is no such thing as a creature being rounded out in
good or evil in any sense that renders further growth impossible. Where is
there any ground for such belief? It is not found in God's Word. Give us
chapter and verse. They cannot be found. The reverse is taught in the
oracles of God: "They proceed from evil to evil;" "Evil men and seducers
shall wax worse and worse." When the Scriptures speak of our being held
accountable for the deeds done in the body, they warn us that our
responsibility is begun in this life. We are now acting under law. We are
now under moral government. So that it is a solemn thing to live. But God's
Word no where says or hints that our obligations to God, or our
accountability to Him, will terminate when we leave this world and pass to
another. Is not moral government in its very nature universal and endless,
because it is righteous, and because God changes not? His kingdom is an
everlasting kingdom, and His dominion is without end. Is not this sound
speech that cannot be condemned? Let God be glorified; let man be abased.
13. THE CHRISTIAN'S FAITH
The Word of God says: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ
and you shall be saved." That seems to be a very simple way—this way of
faith in the Redeemer. It well suits my case. I am foolish and ignorant;
Christ is the wisdom of God. I am very sinful and guilty; Christ is the Lord
our Righteousness. He is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone
that believes. I am very weak; I am without strength; Christ is the power of
God unto salvation. I have no cloak for my sin. But the merits of Christ are
the linen white and clean with which my poor soul may be beauteously
arrayed. My tears cannot wash away my sins; but the blood of Jesus Christ
cleanses from all sin. In Him sinners boast the possession of greater
blessings than angels have—even redeeming love and redeeming grace!
I am not required to bring any price in my hand. By the
Gospel, salvation is without money and without price. It is well for me that
I am not required to pay for salvation. If I were, I would be forever lost.
I am a poor sinner—as poor as my sins can make me. I have nothing to commend
me to a just and holy God. I deserve all the eternal punishment He has
denounced against me. I am guilty. I am all unworthiness; but Jesus is
worthy! I rely on Jesus. I take Jesus for my Savior. He is all my desire and
all my salvation. He has borne all my curse. He has died, the just for the
unjust, the innocent for the guilty. He is the Lamb of God who takes away
the sin of the world. By His stripes we are healed.
One said: "I am no scholar, sir; I have taught myself the
last fifteen years, and now I can read a good bit of the Bible; but I can't
make out all the big words, you know, sir. Ah! sir, that word 'believe,'
that is a great word with me: it is everything to me; and, as far as I
can make out, there is no other way of getting to Jesus. He says: 'Come unto
Me;' and, thank God, I am very happy in coming to Him, by believing on Him."
Oh, yes! no one can rely on Christ too much. He bids us
do that great work—that work of God—believing on the Lord Jesus. To believe
on Him with the heart is always unto righteousness. It is to look unto Him.
It is to come unto Him. It is to receive Him to all the ends and purposes of
a complete salvation. It is to reject all other plans and accept the Gospel
plan. It is to refuse all other physicians and accept the one great
Nor is there any danger of being rejected if we come to
Christ. He says so: "Him who comes unto Me, I will never cast out." Ever
since men began in faith to call upon Him, He has never spurned any from His
presence. The penitent thief, the trembling jailer, and millions on millions
have looked to Him and were saved. In all the annals of time can be found no
record of a sinner believing with the heart, and then perishing in his sins.
Moreover, Christ's atonement is enough. He has satisfied.
He has done enough. He has suffered enough. He has shed enough blood. His
undertaking is a glorious undertaking; and it will appear more and more
glorious to all eternity. His merits are all-sufficient.
"If all the sin that men have done
In will, in word, in thought, in deed,
Since worlds were made, and time begun,
Were laid on one poor sinner's head;
The blood of Jesus Christ alone
Could for this mass of sin atone,
And sweep it all away!"
Who dare say there is any limit to the sufficiency of
Christ's atonement? I have never seen nor heard of any godly man attempting
so presumptuous a sin.
Then the door is so open: "Behold, I have set before you
an open door." And every needed preparation is made: "Behold, all things are
ready." And the Lord is so earnest: "As I live, says the Lord, I have no
pleasure in the death of the wicked; but [I have pleasure] that the wicked
turn from his way and live; turn, turn you from your evil ways; for why will
you die, O house of Israel?" And I am in such need of help, of just such
help as is offered me in Christ Jesus. "Look unto Me, and be saved, all the
ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else." Of God, Jesus is
made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.
He is all and in all. It is only by faith in Christ that we enter into
rest—a blessed rest, that shall last forever.
"Rest, weary soul;
The penalty is borne, the ransom paid,
For all your sins full satisfaction made.
Strive not yourself to do what Christ has done.
Take the free gift, and make the joy your own.
No more by pangs of guilt and fear distressed,
Rest, sweetly rest."
Such is the faith of the weak believer; such is the faith
of the strong believer. Its essence is reliance on the person and work of
the Redeemer. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.
14. WHY DO I REST CONFIDENTLY IN CHRIST?
This question has been sent me by a friend. I willingly
answer it. I begin by saying that if we repose any confidence in Christ at
all, the more firmly we do it, the better. Weak faith may be both genuine
and saving; but the stronger our faith is, the more is God glorified, and
the greater is our peace.
Boasting in an arm of flesh, or relying on an arm of
flesh, is very foolish. But we never act so wisely as when we make our boast
in the Lord. To glory in the Cross of Christ is lawful, yes, praiseworthy. A
strong confidence in the Son of God removes mountains of sorrow and
difficulty. Faith cannot be too strong. Confidence becomes presumption only
when it is not warranted by Scripture. The more fully and unhesitatingly I
credit every word that God has spoken, the more do I act in accordance with
sound wisdom. Here are some reasons:
1. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is God over
all—blessed forever. All the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily.
He is the true God and eternal life. He has all the perfections of Jehovah.
He knows all my wants and weaknesses, all my sin and misery. He knows the
malice of my enemies, and the foolishness of my heart. He is of power to
subdue my whole nature to Himself, and to defeat the wiles and machinations
of my foes. His grace is all-sufficient. His love is infinite. His wisdom
cannot be defeated, nor His power resisted. He is God. I cannot trust Him
excessively. I rest confidently in Him because He is God, and is fitly
adored in heaven and on earth.
2. I rest confidently in Christ because He is man. He has
my whole nature, sin only excepted. He has the heart of a brother. He has a
feeling of my infirmity. He drank the cup of sorrow to the dregs. He tasted
the bitterness of death. He knows what it is to be rejected of men and
deserted by God. I have no sorrow to which He is a stranger. He sympathizes
with me in all my innocent joys and tastes, as well as in my sufferings and
temptations. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize
with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just
as we are--yet was without sin." Hebrews 4:15
3. I rest confidently in Christ because God the Father
approves Him and trusts Him. He prepared Him a body. He gloriously anointed
Him, and set Him apart to His work. Twice by an audible voice He declared:
"This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." He stood by Him in all
His undertaking. He raised Him from the dead. He set Him at His own right
hand. He has committed all judgment to His Son. He is the delight of His
Father. It cannot but be safe and wise in me to rest in Him, in whom His
4. I rest confidently in Christ because He has never
failed to save and support any and everyone that has fled to Him for
salvation. Of all who have come short of the heavenly rest, not one put his
trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. The men who tire and faint and turn away
from the holy commandment, never saw the real glory that is in Christ Jesus.
To them He never was the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely.
They may have said that all their desire and all their hope were in Christ,
but they were deceived. Hear the beloved disciple on such people: "They went
out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would
no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made
manifest that they were not all of us" (1 John 2:19).
5. I rest confidently in Christ because He has given me
every assurance that I can desire. By word and by deed, by His painful
death, and by His present glorious life, I am persuaded He will do all that
is for the good of His believing people. Hear Him: "Because I live, you
shall live also" (John 14:19). Hear Paul: "He who spared not His own Son,
but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give
us all things?" (Rom. 8:32). The promises are great and precious, and almost
countless. I know no man who has ever numbered them. "For every one of God’s
promises is "Yes" in Him." Nor are they burdened with impracticable
conditions. To every humble soul He says: "I will never leave you, nor
6. I rest confidently in Christ because I have had a
blessed experience of His grace and compassion. Once I was a poor lost
sinner, ready to perish. My guilt was fearful. He passed by and said, "Live,
for I have ransomed you!" I found pardon and acceptance in His blood and
righteousness. I was all defiled, and had an evil heart of unbelief. He took
away the heart of stone, and gave me a heart of flesh. I was blind. I saw no
beauty in holiness or in Jesus Christ. He anointed my eyes, and I saw His
glory, full of grace and truth. I once was afraid of the Almighty, but
Christ has given me His spirit, so that I cry, Abba, Father. I once loved
sin, some forms of it very much; but by His grace I hate vain thoughts and
every false way. I abhor that which is evil. Left to myself I was weak as
water. I had no might to do good. But by His grace I can do all things,
because He strengthens me. My experience surprises me and delights me.
7. I rest confidently in Christ Jesus because He could
not reject any that came to Him without refusing the only reward ever
promised Him for all His work and sufferings. That reward was seeing poor
lost sinners returning from their sins and wanderings to the Great Shepherd
and Bishop of souls. The Scripture clearly teaches that Christ's reward
should be that "He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the
pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands;" that "the ransomed of the
Lord shall return and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their
heads;" and that for all His sufferings God "will divide Him a portion with
the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong." Surely I ought to
be ready to rely on a Redeemer who has done and suffered all required of Him
for my salvation. Having loved His own, He loved them to the end. Will He
now cast away the souls He has bought at so great a price? I think not.
8. I rest confidently in Christ, because He is King on
the holy hill of Zion, wields a scepter of righteousness, has many crowns
upon His head, is actually subduing all His enemies, and is Lord of all to
the glory of God the Father; because He is still the Great Prophet, and the
way of life, saying: "Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly;" and because He
is my Great High Priest, who ever lives to make intercession for me. Him the
Father hears always. And so He is able to save them to the uttermost, all
who come unto God by Him.
For these and many similar reasons I rest confidently in
Christ. Nor shall I be disappointed. I look to Him alone. Angels cannot save
me. My brother cannot pay to God a ransom for me. I cannot save myself. To
whom can I go but to Jesus only? He has the words of eternal life. I will
rest in Him only. I will rest in Him confidently and forever, and in Him my
rest shall be glorious.
Of course such a one wholly renounces self-righteousness.
I was riding across the State of New Jersey on the old
Camden and Amboy Railroad. Just before reaching the eastern terminus we were
detained some minutes on a part of the route where the land is very sterile.
I had no friend with me. Most of the passengers seemed to be without
companions. Various remarks were made as if for the ears of all. At length
one gentleman, looking out on the white sands, said, "How is this land like
self-righteousness?" Someone replied, "Because the more of it one has, the
poorer he is." I thought the riddle good, and the answer excellent. The more
self-righteousness one has, the poorer he is.
It strikes me as true, that the poorer one is in moral
good, the more self-righteousness he has. In other words, the farther one
goes in sin, the harder it is to lead him to a right view of his sins. For
more than fifty years I have, as I had opportunity, visited prisons, and
conversed freely with their inhabitants. I have attended several unhappy men
to their public execution. In all this time I have never heard one frank and
full confession of crime. One man admitted that he had killed his wife; but
he seemed to excuse himself by saying that he was drunk when he did it. I
have never seen a convict who admitted the fairness of his trial, the
veracity of the witnesses, and the impartiality of the judge. This is an
amazing record. I am greatly surprised at it. Like the lawyer mentioned in
Luke 10:29, everyone was "willing to justify himself."
How is this? It may be safely answered that crimes
against both person and property terribly harden the heart. But it is also
true that the more men sin—the less sense of sin have they, unless
God's Spirit very much quickens the conscience. The more men sin, the
blinder they are. The farther a man goes into a dark cave, the more dim are
15 THE CHRISTIAN'S HOPE
"Hope in God." Why should I not? I need just such
a friend. He has all power and strength, and I am very weak. I cannot
even think a good thought of myself. Nor do I know how to pray as I ought.
If the Lord does not help my infirmities, I shall do nothing aright. But I
can do all things if He will gird me with strength. I will hope in God.
He has, too, all the knowledge to understand my whole
case, and all the wisdom necessary to direct everything concerning me. He
makes no mistakes. He is never deceived. He is never outsmarted. He knows
all things. He knows my weaknesses. He knows my sorrows. He knows my heart.
And He is so wise that He takes the cunning in their own craftiness. His
wisdom never fails. He is never confounded or perplexed.
He has as much mercy and kindness as I need. His
loving-kindness is so great that human belief has never seen to the top or
the bottom, to the length or the breadth of it. The ocean of the Divine love
is boundless and inexhaustible. God's love is strong. It passes the love of
women. It is infinite. It produces the most amazing results. It fills all
pious hearts with joy. It fills heaven with hallelujahs. Oh, I will hope in
Nor could I desire more truth and faithfulness than are
found in God. They are unchangeable and immeasurable. They reach unto the
clouds, yes, above the heavens. They are unto all generations. God is not a
man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should repent. Has He
said, and shall He not do it? He has never broken covenant with any of His
creatures. His mercies are rich and free. That is a blessed truth, but it
would be powerless if we could not also say that His mercies are sure. Oh, I
must and will hope in God.
If I hope not in God, I will be apt to look to myself—and
I am a fool and a sinner, a worm and blind, crushed before the moth, and
unworthy of the very least of God's mercies. Who has at any time trusted in
himself that he was righteous, or wise, or strong, and has not come to
shame? I dare not lean to my own understanding, nor rely on my own wisdom,
nor put any hope in my own righteousness. Lord God Almighty—Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit, give me grace to hope in You.
Nor dare I look to any man for help. All bad men are
fools and sinners; all godly men have said that they are not worthy of any
weighty trust. The best of them cry, out, "I am undone," "I am a sinful
man," "Oh, wretched man that I am." I dare not look to such for any
effectual aid. I must hope in God.
Nor dare I make angels the objects of my hope. They have
no wisdom, goodness, or power, except what they derive from the Lord. Left
to themselves, they would utterly fail. They are not clean in God's sight,
and He charges them with folly. As God's servants they may minister to me,
and by His power and at His command help me. But it is of the Lord's
mercies, not of the mercies of angels, that we are saved. I cannot worship
angels. I hope in God.
I would hope confidently. My heart is in this matter. I
would not falter here. I am ashamed that I am so slow to cast my anchor here
and nowhere else. I will set my hope in God.
Hoping in God—I shall never be disappointed. All will
come out right in the end. Mercies may be long delayed, but they will
come at the very nick of time, the very best time, the time chosen by
infinite wisdom and goodness. Look at the generations of old and see if
any did ever trust in the Lord and were disappointed. All the saints in
glory are unanimous in saying that God fulfilled to them all the engagements
He ever made. I will hope in His truth, His mercy, and His power.
Nor is it presumptuous in me to hope in God. He has
bidden me to do it. It is always safe and right to obey the will of the Lord
and to hearken to His commands. This is in itself a very pleasant duty
enjoined on me. If I were bidden to despair of help from God, the very
thought of such a thing would freeze my soul with horror. I may lawfully
come to God with boldness. I may come even to His mercy seat. I may fill my
mouth with arguments. I may call Him my God, my Father, my Shepherd, my
Rock, my Friend, my Portion, my exceeding Joy, my everlasting All. Oh, I
will hope in God, if He will but help me to do so.
HOPE ON, HOPE EVER!
"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
"Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
"You fearful saints, fresh courage take:
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
"His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
"Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan His works in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain."
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who according to His abundant mercy, has begotten us again unto a living
hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."—Peter.
"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in
believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy
"It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait
for the salvation of the Lord."—Jeremiah.
"Remember the word unto Your servant, upon which You have
caused me to hope. Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in You. I have hoped
for Your salvation and done Your commandments."—David.