by John Angell James, 1834
There is scarcely anyone point to which the attention of anxious inquirers should be more earnestly and carefully directed, than the necessity of an accurate understanding of the plan of salvation, and the fundamental doctrines of the Scripture. You must endeavor to have clear ideas, correct views, precise and intelligent notions. The concern of many people is nothing more than an ignorant concern to be religious; they have scarcely one definite idea what religion is. Others are a little better informed than this, but still have no notion of piety, but as either a state of excited feeling, or a course of external religious observances. It is important that you should perceive that the whole superstructure of personal godliness rests on knowledge. True conversion is emphatically called, "coming to the knowledge of the truth." Your impressions will be easily effaced, and your concern will soon subside, if you do not give yourself time, and use means to become acquainted with the truth. There is much to be learned and known--as well as to be felt and done--and you cannot either feel or act aright, unless you do learn it. The reason why so many turn back, and others go on so slowly, is, because they do not study to make themselves acquainted with Divine truth.
Suppose a man were traveling through a strange country, could he get on without consulting his map? Would it be of any service to wish he could travel faster, and get on better, if he never looked at his map of roads? How can you get on in the way to heaven, without studying the Bible, which is the map of the road? Or, changing the illustration, suppose you were in financial difficulties, and some friend had told you not only how to extricate yourself from your perplexities, but also how to acquire great wealth; and in order to guard you from error, had given you long written directions. What would you do? Sit down, and wish and long for success, and immediately set out in a great bustle to realize the promised advantages? No. You would say, "My success depends upon knowledge, upon my making myself accurately acquainted with the particulars of my friend's written directions. I will read them, therefore, with the greatest care, until I have everyone of his ideas in my mind; for it is quite useless to exert myself, if I do not know how my exertions are to be directed."
This you confess is quite rational; and is it not quite as necessary for you to be acquainted with the subject of religion, in order to be truly pious? Knowledge, knowledge, my friends, is indispensable. True religion is repentance towards God; but can you repent if you do not know the character of the God whom you have offended, the law you have broken, and the sin you have committed? True religion is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ; but can you really believe, if you do not know whom and what you are to believe? True religion is the love of God; but can you love a being whom you do not know? You must give yourself, therefore, time and opportunity for reflection; you must bring your understanding to the business; you must study religion as a science to be known, as well as a passion to be felt, or a rule to be observed. It is of great consequence that, at this stage of your progress, you should clearly understand, that it is an obvious law of the human mind, that neither faith nor feeling of any kind can be produced by any other means than that of knowledge. Suppose you want to believe a person, or love him, or rejoice in him--can you work up yourself to do so unless you have some reason for it? No; you must know some grounds on which you can credit him, and some excellencies which render him worthy of your affection, and some facts which are a just cause of joy. No passion or affection can be called into exercise but by the knowledge of something that is calculated to excite it. You may try as long as you please to work upon your mind otherwise, but the thing is manifestly impossible.
Hence, then, the importance of growing in knowledge of Divine things. The way to have your faith increased, is to increase in the knowledge of what is to be believed—and if you would be rooted and grounded in love, you must be first rooted and grounded in the knowledge of what you are to love. The order of nature is, first to know, then to feel, then to act; and grace follows the order of nature. I deduce, therefore, this inference, that in the whole business of religion, the eye of the inquirer must be much fixed on objects out of himself, on those that are presented in the word of God. If you ask what are the subjects which you should endeavor to understand, I place before you the following—
1. The moral character of GOD.The knowledge of God is the basis of true religion. God is a Spirit, as to his nature; almighty, all-knowing, and everywhere present; searching the hearts and trying the thoughts of men. As to his moral attributes, it is said, "God is love," and "God is light;" by which we are to understand, that he is both benevolent and holy. Yes; so holy, that the very heavens are unclean before him. He is also so inflexibly just, as to be compelled, by the infinite perfection of his nature, to reveal his wrath against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men; and, at the same time, he is a God who cannot lie, but will fulfill every word of promise or threatening. Oh, my reader, dwell upon this view of the divine character; infinite hatred and opposition to sin; infinite purity, immutable justice, inviolable truth. Pause and ponder! Can you lift up your eyes, and bear the sight of this glorious God, when the cherubim veil their faces with their wings, as they stand before the great white throne, and say one to another, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!" When the prophet filled with terror, fell prostrate, exclaiming, "Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips!" Oh the deep depravity, the utter sinfulness of man before this holy God!
2.You must understand the MORAL LAW. You must know the SPIRITUALITY of the law, by which I mean, that it demands the obedience of the mind and heart; and is made for the soul's innermost recesses, as well as for the actions of the life. God sees and searches the mind, and therefore demands the perfect obedience of the heart, and forbids its evil dispositions. By the law of God, as interpreted by Christ, even sinful anger is murder, and unchaste thoughts are adultery. The law demands from every human being sinless, perfect obedience, from the beginning to the end of life, in thought, word, and deed; it abates nothing of its demands, and makes no allowances for human weakness, Matt. 5:17-48; James 2:10, 11. The perfection of the law is a tremendous subject; it is an awful mirror for a sinful creature to look into.
You must also understand the DESIGN of the law; it is not given to save us, but to govern us and condemn us; to show us what sin is, and to condemn us for committing it, Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10. You can know nothing if you do not know the law. "Sin is the transgression of the law;" but how can you know sin if you do not know the law? Oh, inquirer, how many, how great are your transgressions, if every departure from this law, in feeling as well as in action, is a sin! Nor is this all; for to fall short of the law is sin, no less than to oppose it. Read what our Lord has said; "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Alarming representation! Have you thus loved God, and your neighbor? Confounding and overwhelming question! What a state of sin have you been living in! Your whole life has been sin, for you have not loved God; and not to love God, is all sins in one. Who can think of greater sin than not loving God? To love the world, to love trifles, to love even sin--and not to love God!
3.But this leads me to remark, that it is necessary you should understand the evil of SIN. Men think little of sin—but does God? What turned Adam and Eve out of paradise? Sin! What drowned the old world in the flood? Sin! What destroyed God's own city, and scattered his chosen people as vagrants over the face of the earth? Sin! What brought disease, accidents, toil, care, war, pestilence, and famine into the world? Sin! What has converted the world into one great burying-place of its inhabitants? Sin! What lights the flames of hell? Sin! What crucified the Lord of life and glory? Sin! What then must sin be? Who but God, and what but his infinite mind, can conceive of its evil nature?
Did you ever consider that it was only one sin that brought death and all our woes into the world? Do you not tremble, then, at the thought that this evil is in you? Some will attempt to persuade you that sin is a trifle; that God does not take much account of it; that you need not give yourself much concern about it. But what says God himself, in his word, in his providence, in the torments of the damned, in the crucifixion of his Son? You have not only sin enough in yourself to deserve the bottomless pit, and to sink you to it, unless it be pardoned; but sin enough, if it could be divided and distributed to others, to doom multitudes to perdition.
4.But it is not enough to know your actual sins, you must also clearly understand your original and inherent depravity of heart. There is the sin of your nature, as well as the sin of your conduct. Our Lord has told us that "those things which proceed out of the mouth, come forth from the heart, and they defile the man; for out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies." The heart is the polluted fountain from whence all the muddy streams of evil conduct flow! The heart is the great storehouse of iniquity! Men sometimes make excuse for their evil deeds, by saying, that they have good hearts at bottom; this, however, is an awful mistake, for every man's heart, not excepting the most wicked, is really worse than his conduct.
Why do not men seek, serve, and love God? Because the carnal mind is enmity against him. Why do sinners go on in sin? Because they love sin in their hearts. This was not the original condition of man, for God created Adam in his own image; that is, in righteousness and true holiness; but, by disobeying God in eating the forbidden fruit, our first parent fell into a state of sin, and we, having descended from him, since the fall, inherit his corruption, Rom. 5:12-21. It is of vast consequence for you to know, that you are thus totally corrupt in your very nature, and through all your faculties; for without this knowledge you will be taken up with a mere outward reformation, to the neglect of an entire, inward renovation. If you saw a man, who had a bad and loathsome disease of the skin, merely applying outward lotions and fomentations, you would remind him, that the seat of the disorder was in his blood, and admonish him to purify that by medicine. You must first make the tree good, said our Lord, for good fruit cannot be borne by a bad tree. So your heart must be renewed, or you can never perform good works. You not only need the pardon of actual sin, but you need also the removal of original sin. You must have a new heart, a right spirit, or you cannot be saved. Read Psalm 51; 53; John 3:1-8; Gal. 5:19-25; Ephes. 4:17-24.
5.You must endeavor at once to gain clear and distinct notions of the precise design of CHRIST'S mediatorial office and work. All will be confusion in your ideas, and unrelieved distress in your souls, if you do not understand this subject. It is not enough to know in a general way, that Christ died to save sinners. Did it ever occur to you to ask the questions--Why did God save sinners in this way? Why was it necessary for his Son to become incarnate, suffer and die upon the cross, for their salvation? Why was it not enough that they should repent and reform, in order to their being pardoned? What precise end was to be accomplished by the death of Christ?
I will show you this design as it relates to GOD. Is not God holy, and does he not abhor sin? Yes! with a perfect hatred! Is he not the righteous Governor of the universe, and has he not given a law, to which he demands perfect obedience; and has he not threatened death upon all who break this law? Certainly! Have not all men broken this law and incurred its penalty? Yes! Suppose, then, that upon the sinner's mere sorrow for his sinful life, that God were to receive him back to his favor--and suppose he was to do this in every case. Where would God's truth be--in threatening to follow sin with punishment; and how would his holiness or hatred of sin appear, or his justice in punishing it? Would it not seem a light thing to sin against God; would not the law be destroyed, and God's moral government be set aside? Could any government, human or Divine, exist with an indiscriminate dispensation of pardon to all offenders upon their sorrow for the offences they have committed?
But you say perhaps, What is to be done? Is not sorrow for the sins committed, all that the sinner has to offer? I reply--Is sorrow for sin all that God is bound to require or accept? Besides, it is not all that the sinner has to give--for he can also suffer the penalty. Convinced and anxious sinner, I put it to your own conscience and feelings, do you not begin to see the holiness of God and the evil of sin; and do you think you could ever be at rest, if you had nothing but your sorrow to offer? No, you have tried it. You have left off many sins, and begun many neglected duties; you have read, and prayed, and wept, and watched; but are you at peace? No you are as far from it as ever! Why? Because you know that God is true, and holy, and just, and yet you cannot see how he can be holy, true, and just, if your sins are forgiven upon your mere sorrow and reformation.
True; and your conscience will ever be as the sword of the cherubim, frightening and driving you back from God as long as you have nothing but tears, and prayers, and doings of your own to bring. Yes, there is a testimony to God's holiness and justice in your conscience. "For no flesh will be justified in His sight by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now, apart from the law, God's righteousness has been revealed--attested by the Law and the Prophets--that is, God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as an atoning sacrifice through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:20-26) "The Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all." "He died, the just for [in place of] the unjust, to bring us to God."
So far as God is concerned, then, this is the precise design of Christ's death, not to render him merciful, for the gift of Christ is the fruit of Divine love; but that he might appear what he is, a holy God in hating sin, a righteous God in punishing it, and a merciful God at the same time in forgiving it. The death of Christ is intended to be a display of holy love; that is, the union of abhorrence to the sin--and compassion to the sinner; the union of a just regard to his own character, law, and government--and a merciful regard to the sinful and miserable children of men. Take an illustration—Zaleucus, king of the Locrians, had promulgated a law to his subjects, threatening anyone who should be guilty of the crime of adultery, with the loss of his eyes. His own son was the first convicted under the law. The 'kingly' and 'parental' character seemed to struggle for predominance—if the prince is freely pardoned, the law would be violated. If the son is punished and exuecuted, how great a calamity would the father endure in the affliction of the son! What was to be done? The father determined that he would lose one of his eyes, and the son one of his. It was done. Here was punishment and pardon united. Atonement was made to the offended law, as effectually as if the son had lost both of his eyes. The letter of the law was not complied with, but the spirit of it was exceeded. The case is not adduced as a perfect parallel to the atonement of Christ, but simply as an illustration of its principles, as tending to show that atonement may be as effectually made by substitution, as by the suffering of the real offender.
Concerned sinner, dwell upon Christ--he is your hope, your joy, your life. Behold the Lamb of God bearing the sins of the world, and yours among the rest. Think of the dignity of the Sufferer, the extremity of his sufferings, and the consequences of his atoning sacrifice. Could the law ever be more honored than by the obedience of such a Person? Could justice be more displayed even by the everlasting punishment of all the human race? Tremble not to approach God through Christ. He has made provision for the manifestation of his own glory--as well as for the salvation of your soul. God is upon a throne of grace—the blood of atonement has been shed and sprinkled; the hand of mercy holds forth the blessing of salvation—fix your eye upon Jesus the Mediator; rest all your hope upon his sacrifice; plead his atonement, and then life eternal is yours!
6.But you must also be instructed in the design of Christ's death in reference to YOURSELF. This is immensely important; it is often but partially understood by the inquirer, amidst the throbbing solicitude of his spirit, and the first alarms of conscious guilt. With the avenger of blood pursuing him, he is apt to think of little else than safety from vengeance. But there is another enemy he has to fear besides hell, and that is sin! And could he be delivered from hell, without being delivered from sin, he would find no heaven!
When man was created, he was created holy--and consequently happy. He was not only placed in a paradise which was without sin--but he was blessed with a paradise within him. His perfect holiness was as much the Eden of his soul, as the garden which he tilled was the Eden of his bodily senses--it was in the inward paradise of a holy mind that he walked in communion with God. The 'fall' cast him out of this heaven upon earth--his understanding became darkened, his heart became corrupted, his will became perverted, his nature became earthly, sensual, and devilish.
Not only was his conscience laden with guilt, but, as a necessary consequence, his imagination was full of terror and dread of that holy God, whose voice and presence formerly imparted nothing but transport to his soul. He became afraid of God, and unfit for him. His whole soul became the seat of fleshly appetites and sinful passions.
In his former innocence he had loved God supremely. He had been united to God by a feeling of dependence and devotedness. But now he was cut off from both these feelings, and came under the domination of an absorbing and engrossing selfishness. Such is the sinful nature he has transmitted to all his posterity. They are not only guilty--but depraved; not only under the wrath of God--but robbed of His image; not only condemned by God--but alienated from Him.
True it is, that hell will be some place set apart for the wicked, where the justice of God will consign them to the misery which their sins have deserved. But what is that misery? An eternal abandonment of them to themselves, with all their vices in full maturity! Hell is not only the wrath of God suffered, but that wrath coupled with an eternal endurance of all the tyranny of sin! Hence, then, the design of the death of Christ is not only to deliver us from the penalty of sin, but also from the polluting consequences of sin.
Now the death of Christ is intended as a deliverance from the power of sin. "His name is Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins;" not in them. "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." "Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it, with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." And hence it is said to be the profession of believers in their baptism, to be under obligation to a conformity to the ends and designs of Christ's death.
Do then, my dear friends, take up at once right views of the design of the work of Christ. You are to look to him for salvation—but what is salvation? Not only pardon; not only absolution from punishment; not merely deliverance from the bottomless pit; these blessings are, I admit, a part, but they are only a part of it—salvation means the crucifixion of your flesh, with its affections and lusts; the mortification of your corrupt nature. The salvation which the gospel offers is not only a future deliverance from hell--but a present deliverance from sin; not only a rescue from the punishment of sin--but a restoration to not only to the favor of God, but also to his image. Christ died to raise you to the seat of Adam before his fall, that is, to a holy state. The end of all God's dealings in a way of mercy to the sinner, is to restore the dominion of holy principles in his nature. The whole manifestation of holy love in the gospel, is designed to change the stubborn, selfish, worldly, wicked heart of the fallen creature--into God's holy likeness; and thus by making him a partaker of the Divine nature, to fit him for communion with God.
Now let every concerned inquirer consider this; let him ask what it is he needs, as a fallen, sinful creature. Is it not the deliverance of his soul from the power of sin--as well as the punishment of sin? Is he not painfully conscious to himself, not only of wrath coming down upon him from God for his sins, but of a spring of misery within himself in the existence of those very sins? And is it not for this he should look to Christ? Could he be saved at all, if not saved from his body of flesh, his corrupt nature? And can anyone save him from this but Christ? Poor troubled tormented sinner, look to Christ! In him is all you need—the Son of God will be "made unto you wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption."
7.Connected with this, is the momentous subject of the JUSTIFICATION of a sinner in the sight of God. You must soon be at the tribunal of God for judgment, and if you are not justified now, you must be condemned then. Yes, if you are not yet justified, which it is to be presumed you are not, you are now in a state of condemnation—"for he that believes not, is condemned already; the wrath of God abides on him." Everyone who has not yet received Christ is under the curse of the law; he is a dead man in law, a sinner doomed to die; condemned by God, condemned to eternal death. Well may you tremble at your situation; and like the man, who, after condemnation at the court of his country's justice, has been removed to await in his cell the execution of his sentence, ask the question, "How shall I escape?"
At this stage of your experience, then, it is infinitely desirable you should be clearly instructed in the nature of justification. It is a subject of immense consequence to the sinner, and is therefore frequently mentioned, and treated at great length in the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians. Attend to the meaning of the word. Justification is the opposite of condemnation, as is evident from the following passage, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?" Fix this simple idea in your mind, that justification is the opposite of condemnation, for things are sometimes easily and impressively learned by their contraries.
The justification of an innocent person is pronouncing him just, on the ground of his own conduct. But how can a sinner, who is confessedly guilty of innumerable transgressions, be justified? Now you will see at once that the term, in reference to him, is a little different, and signifies, not that he is righteous in himself, but is 'treated as if he had been, through the righteousness of Christ imputed to him'. "Justification," says the Assembly's larger Catechism, "is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts them as righteous in his sight, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone." In justification, God acts as a judge, in absolving the sinner from punishment, and restoring him to all the privileges of a citizen of the heavenly community.
Justification means not merely pardon, but something more. Pardon would only restore the sinner to the state of Adam before he fell, when he was not yet entitled to the reward of obedience, which, indeed, he never obtained. Justification is 'pardon' connected with a 'title to eternal life'. Justification takes place but once; pardon may be frequently repeated. Justification is that great change which is made in the sinner's relation to God, when he is delivered from condemnation, and is brought, from being an enemy, to be a child. If a king were to save a condemned criminal, and immediately adopt him as a child, this would resemble justification. And his frequent forgiveness of his after offences, when standing in the relation of a son, would resemble God's fatherly love in forgiving the sins of his children. Justification, then, is God's act in taking off the sentence of a sinner's condemnation by the law, restoring him to his favor, and granting him a title to eternal life in heaven.
But how can a righteous God, who has respect for his holy law, justify a sinner? I answer, on the ground of Christ's righteousness. The law is thus honored, because justification proceeds on the ground of a righteousness which meets and satisfies its demands. This is what is meant by the imputed righteousness of Christ--that the sinner is accepted to the Divine favor out of regard to what Christ did and suffered on his behalf. This judicial act of God, in justifying the sinner, takes place when and as soon as he believes in Christ; because by that act of faith he is brought into union with the Savior, and becomes legally one with him, so as to receive the benefit of his mediatorial undertaking.
8. In connection with this, it may be well to show the nature ofSANCTIFICATION, and how these two blessings are related to each other. Sanctification signifies our being set apart from the love and service of sin and the world, to the love and service of God; it is our being made holy; and a saint, or a sanctified person, means a holy one. Justification is the result of Christ's work for us; sanctification is the Holy Spirit's work in us.
Conceive of a criminal in jail under sentence of death, and at the same time infected with a fatal disease. In order to his being saved, he must be both pardoned and cured. For if he is only pardoned, he will soon die of his disease. And if he is only cured, he will soon be executed. Such is the emblem of the sinner's case; by actual sin he is condemned to die, by inherent depravity he is infected with a spiritual disease. In justification he is pardoned; in sanctification he is cured; and the two blessings, although distinct, are always united, and are both necessary to salvation. Thus you see justification changes our relation to God; but sanctification changes our spiritual condition. And regeneration, or the new birth, means our first entrance upon a sanctified state.
Reader, diligently attend to these things; fix your mind upon them; labor to understand them! A knowledge of these two blessings, justification and sanctification--is a key to the whole Bible. Oh blessed, infinitely blessed state! to be delivered from the condemnation of our sins, and from their domineering and defiling power! this is a present salvation.
9.You should also be well instructed in the nature and necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit, in renewing and sanctifying the sinner's heart. It is an important lesson, and one that should be learned at the very beginning of your pious course, that the work of the Holy Spirit in the sinner, is as necessary to his salvation as the work of Christ for him. As we are all corrupt by nature, in consequence of our descent from Adam since his fall, we grow up and remain without any true religion, until it is implanted in the heart by Divine grace. True holiness is something foreign to our corrupt nature; and the whole business of the gospel, from first to last, is carried on in the heart by the Spirit of God. There is not a truly holy thought, feeling, purpose, word, or action--but is the result of Divine influence upon the human mind.
Our regeneration, or new birth, is ascribed to the Spirit—hence it is said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Our right knowledge of God's word is traced up to the Spirit; hence David prayed, "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law." Paul also prayed for the illumination of the Spirit, on behalf of the Ephesians, 1:17, 18. Sanctification is entirely the work of the Spirit; see 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2. Believers are said to "live in the Spirit," "to walk in the Spirit;" "to walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit;" "to be led by the Spirit," "to mortify the deeds of the body by the Spirit," "to be sealed by the Spirit," "to have the Spirit bearing witness with their spirit that they are the children of God," "to enjoy the indwelling of the Spirit," and to "bring forth the fruits of the Spirit." Now from all these passages, and many more that might be quoted, it is evident that the work of genuine religion is, from first to last, carried on in the soul by the Holy Spirit. This is his department, so to speak, in the economy of our redemption. The Father is represented as originating the plan of salvation; the Son as executing it; the Spirit as applying it. But in order that your mind may not be perplexed, as is sometimes the case, by this doctrine, I will make one or two remarks on the subject of 'Divine influence'.
The design of the Spirit's influence is not to give new mental faculties, but a proper exercise of those we already possess. This great work is intended to create a new heart in the sinner, which means a new and holy disposition. Man by nature is so depraved that he cannot love God; that is, he is so desperately wicked, that he is not in a mind to love him, and never will be--until God changes his mind.
The work of the Holy Spirit upon the mind is very mysterious, and we ought not to spend time in endeavoring to comprehend it, nor to indulge in any speculations about it. Our Lord declares it to be a great mystery, where he says to Nicodemus, "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell whence it comes, and where it goes—so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." We see the effects of the wind, but we cannot account for the changes in the atmosphere; so it is in the conversion of a sinner. It will greatly arrest the progress of the inquirer to engage in any speculations about this, or any other mystery of Divine truth.
The work of the Spirit is not intended to supersede the use of our faculties, but to direct them aright. He does not work without us, but by us. He does not change, and convert, and sanctify us, by leaving us idle spectators of the work, but by engaging us in it. Hence the admonition of the apostle to the Philippians—"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you--both to will and to do of his good pleasure." The exhortation, you perceive, does not say, Since it is God that works, there is nothing for you to do, and you may therefore sit still. No! On the contrary, it is--you must work, for God works in you. God's working in us is a motive for our working. God's working is the breeze that wafts the ship along, but then the mariner must hoist his sail to catch it. God's working is the rain and sunshine that cause the seed to germinate and grow, but the farmer must plough and sow; for though the seed cannot grow without the influence of the heavens, so neither can it grow without the sowing of the farmer.
We cannot usually distinguish between the influence of the Spirit and the operations of our own faculties, nor is it necessary we should. We cannot tell where man ends, and God begins--nor ought we to trouble or perplex ourselves about the matter. Hence, instead of waiting for any sensible or ascertainable impulse of the Spirit, either before we begin to attend to religion at all, or before we engage in any particular exercise of it, we are immediately to engage all our faculties in it, in a spirit of entire dependence upon God. We are to fix our attention, to deliberate, to purpose, to resolve, to choose, just as we would in worldly matters. But we are to do all this with a feeling of reliance upon God, and in the very spirit of prayer.
It is our obvious duty to repent and to believe, and also to do this at once, and not only merely to desire to do it, or attempt to do it. But such is the depravity of our nature, that we never shall do it until God powerfully influences us. What we have to do, therefore, is immediately to obey the command to repent and believe; and to obey in the very language and feeling of that prayer, "Lord, help my unbelief." We must obey, not only believing that it is our duty to obey, but believing also that we shall be assisted to obey.
Hence the very essence of religion seems to be a spirit of vigorous exertion--blended with a spirit of unlimited dependence upon God in earnest prayer. An illustration may be borrowed from the case of the man with the withered arm, as recorded Matthew 12:10-13. Our Lord commanded him to stretch forth his hand, and he did not say, Lord, I cannot, it is dead; but, relying on His power who gave the injunction, and believing that the command implied a promise of help, if he were willing to receive it--he stretched it forth; that is, he willed to do it, and he was able. So it must be with the sinner; he is commanded to repent and believe, and he is not to say, I cannot for I am dead in sin; but he is to believe in the promised aid of grace, and to obey in a dependence upon Him, who works in men to will and to do.