Our entire confidence in our acceptance before God is based solely upon the fact that Jesus was our legal representative in His sinless life and obedient death.
You may have a very stubborn heart, which has stood against our Lord Jesus Christ for many years; and yet in you our Lord can work repentance. Charles H. Spurgeon writes:
When our Lord Jesus was exalted, He not only gave us repentance by sending forth the Holy Spirit, but by consecrating all the works of nature and of providence to the great ends of our salvation, so that any one of them may call us to repentance, whether it crow like a cockerel for Peter, or shake the prison like the jailer’s earthquake. From the right hand of God our Lord Jesus rules all things here below, and makes them work together for the salvation of His redeemed. He uses both bitters and sweets, trials and joys, that He may produce in sinners a better mind toward their God. Be thankful for the providence which has made you poor, or sick, or sad; for by all this Jesus works the life of your spirit and turns you to Himself. The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our hearts on the black horse of affliction. Jesus uses the whole range of our experience to wean us from earth and woo us to Heaven. Christ is exalted to the throne of Heaven and earth in order that, by all the processes of His providence, He may subdue hard hearts unto the gracious softening of repentance.
Besides, He is at work at this hour by all His whispers in the conscience, by His inspired Book, by those of us who speak out of that Book, and by praying friends and earnest hearts. He can send a word to you which shall strike your rocky heart as with the rod of Moses, and cause streams of repentance to flow forth. He can bring to your mind some heartbreaking text out of Holy Scripture which shall conquer you right speedily. He can mysteriously soften you, and cause a holy frame of mind to steal over you when you least look for it. Be sure of this, that He who is gone into His glory, raised into all the splendor and majesty of God, has abundant ways of working repentance in those to whom He grants forgiveness. He is even now waiting to give repentance to you. Ask Him for it at once.
Observe with much comfort that the Lord Jesus Christ gives this repentance to the most unlikely people in the world. He is exalted to give repentance to Israel. To Israel! In the days when the apostles thus spoke, Israel was the nation which had most grossly sinned against light and love, by daring to say, “His blood be on us and on our children.” Yet Jesus is exalted to give them repentance! What a marvel of grace! If you have been brought up in the brightest of Christian light, and yet have rejected it, there is still hope. If you have sinned against conscience, and against the Holy Spirit, and against the love of Jesus, there is yet space for repentance. Though you may be as hard as unbelieving Israel of old, softening may yet come to you, since Jesus is exalted, and clothed with boundless power. For those who went the furthest in iniquity, and sinned with special aggravation, the Lord Jesus is exalted to give to them repentance and forgiveness of sins. Happy am I to have so full a gospel to proclaim! Happy are you to be allowed to read it! (All of Grace)
Jesus is exalted to be a King and a Savior, that He may give all that is needed to accomplish the salvation of all who come under His rule. Charles H. Spurgeon writes:
Some truths which it is hard to explain in words are simple enough in actual experience. There is no discrepancy between the truth that the sinner believes, and that his faith is wrought in him by the Holy Spirit. Only folly can lead men to puzzle themselves about plain matters while their souls are in danger. No man would refuse to enter a lifeboat because he did not know the specific gravity of bodies; neither would a starving man decline to eat till he understood the whole process of nutrition. If you, my reader, will not believe till you can understand all mysteries, you will never be saved at all; and if you allow self-invented difficulties to keep you from accepting pardon through your Lord and Savior, you will perish in a condemnation which will be richly deserved. Do not commit spiritual suicide through a passion for discussing metaphysical subtleties. . . .
You are not asked to trust in a dead Jesus, but in One who, though He died for our sins, has risen again for our justification. You may go to Jesus at once as to a living and present friend. He is not a mere memory, but a continually existent Person who will hear your prayers and answer them. He lives on purpose to carry on the work for which He once laid down His life. He is interceding for sinners at the right hand of the Father, and for this reason He is able to save them to the uttermost who come unto God by Him. Come and try this living Savior, if you have never done so before.
This living Jesus is also raised to an eminence of glory and power. He does not now sorrow as “a humble man before his foes,” nor labor as “the carpenter’s son”; but He is exalted far above principalities and power and every name that is named. The Father has given Him all power in Heaven and in earth, and he exercises this high endowment in carrying out His work of grace. Hear what Peter and the other apostles testified concerning Him before the high priest and the council:
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins (Acts v. 30, 31).
The glory which surrounds the ascended Lord should breathe hope into every believer’s breast. Jesus is no mean person—He is “a Savior and a great one.” He is the crowned and enthroned Redeemer of men. The sovereign prerogative of life and death is vested in Him; the Father has put all men under the mediatorial government of the Son, so that He can quicken whom He will. He openeth, and no man shutteth. At His word the soul which is bound by the cords of sin and condemnation can be unloosed in a moment. He stretches out the silver scepter, and whosoever touches it lives.
It is well for us that as sin lives, and the flesh lives, and the devil lives, so Jesus lives; and it is also well that whatever might these may have to ruin us, Jesus has still greater power to save us. (All of Grace)
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Fear cannot abound in a man’s heart when he knows that Christ is with him and will strengthen him in the face of evil and temptation to do evil. Christ has you firm in His grip. Andrew Bonar writes:
“It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17: 11).
“There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat” (Exod. 25: 22).
Dear reader, we affectionately urge this matter upon you; for we believe it nearly concerns your own salvation, your own peace and holiness. If my warrant to be assured of salvation depended upon the measure of my attainments, how could I ever be assured of salvation? How could I ever be assured that I had attained such a measure as would secure my acceptance, and my deliverance from the hand of my enemies, that I might serve God without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of my life? How could the jailer have been safe in rejoicing in Christ, the same hour of the night? How could the eunuch have been warranted in going on his way rejoicing?
But, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord.” Blessed be God, it is not a peradventure, left in uncertainty until after death or judgment, on which I am pleaded with to rest my eternal all. It is a work devised for sinners, undertaken for sinners, wrought out for sinners, finished for sinners, and accepted by God for sinners, whereof He hath given assurance unto all men, in that He hath raised Him from the dead. And we have not to go to the uttermost parts of the earth to seek it. O reader! that finished work, that immediate acceptance and salvation, is nigh thee in thy hand in thy mouth in thy heart! “Hearken unto Me, ye stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness; behold! I bring near My righteousness!” (Isaiah 46. 12, 13). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16. 31).
But is there, then, no hope that we are in Christ unless we possess this full assurance? We do not say so, though we believe that this question has often been used as a refuge from the guilt of not resting with full confidence on the blood of Christ. By reason of the weakness of their faith, and the strength of corruption within, the holiest of men are often found walking in darkness; but what we plead for is this, that if a child of God be not kept in peace as regards his acceptance, it is not for the want of something in Christ, but because of his own want of faith, to take freely what has been so freely given; and that all such doubts and fears regarding the fullness of Christ whatever be the humbled and exercised look they may assume while they are the believer’s misery, are no less truly the believer’s sin.
And this is the true way of holiness. The same apostle who proclaims salvation “to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly,” beseeches us, by those very mercies of God, to present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. The same sprinkled blood which speaks peace to the sinner, proclaims to that sinner continually, “Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6. 20). (“The Mercy Seat”)
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Very few people in this culture are willing to take a stand for their Christian beliefs. Their pride is addicted to the praise of men and therefore they fear ridicule as if it could cause them to loose their imaginary high social standing in the community. This is a fear of men. Will we ever overcome our sins with such ideas hindering us? Charles H. Spurgeon tells us:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 ESV)
Personally, I could never have overcome my own sinfulness. I tried and failed. My evil propensities were too many for me, till, in the belief that Christ died for me, I cast my guilty soul on Him, and then I received a conquering principle by which I overcame my sinful self. The doctrine of the cross can be used to slay sin, even as the old warriors used their huge two-handed swords, and mowed down their foes at every stroke. There is nothing like faith in the sinner’s Friend: it overcomes all evil. If Christ has died for me, ungodly as I am, without strength as I am, then I cannot live in sin any longer, but must arouse myself to love and serve Him who hath redeemed me. I cannot trifle with the evil which slew my best Friend. I must be holy for His sake. How can I live in sin when He has died to save me from it?
See what a splendid help this is to you that are without strength, to know and believe that in due time Christ died for such ungodly ones as you are. Have you caught the idea yet? It is, somehow, so difficult for our darkened, prejudiced, and unbelieving minds to see the essence of the gospel. At times I have thought, when I have done preaching, that I have laid down the gospel so clearly, that the nose on one’s face could not be more plain; and yet I perceive that even intelligent hearers have failed to understand what was meant by “Look unto me and be ye saved.” Converts usually say that they did not know the gospel till such and such a day; and yet they had heard it for years. The gospel is unknown, not from want of explanation, but from absence of personal revelation. This, the Holy Ghost is ready to give, and will give to those who ask Him. Yet when given, the sum total of the truth revealed all lies within these words: “Christ died for the ungodly.” I hear another bewailing himself thus: “Oh, sir, my weakness lies in this, that I do not seem to keep long in one mind! I hear the word on a Sunday, and I am impressed; but in the week I meet with an evil companion, and my good feelings are all gone. My fellow workmen do not believe in anything, and they say such terrible things, and I do not know how to answer them, and so I find myself knocked over.” I know this
Plastic Pliable very well, and I tremble for him; but at the same time, if he is really sincere, his weakness can be met by divine grace. The Holy Spirit can cast out the evil spirit of the fear of man. He can make the coward brave. Remember, my poor vacillating friend, you must not remain in this state. It will never do to be mean and beggarly to yourself. Stand upright, and look at yourself, and see if you were ever meant to be like a toad under a harrow, afraid for your life either to move or to stand still. Do have a mind of your own. This is not a spiritual matter only, but one which concerns ordinary manliness. I would do many things to please my friends; but to go to hell to please them is more than I would venture. It may be very well to do this and that for good fellowship; but it will never do to lose the friendship of God in order to keep on good terms with men. “I know that,” says the man, “but still, though I know it, I cannot pluck up courage. I cannot show my colours. I cannot stand fast.” Well, to you also I have the same text to bring: “When we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” If Peter were here, he would say, “The Lord Jesus died for me even when I was such a poor weak creature that the maid who kept the fire drove me to lie, and to swear that I knew not the Lord.” Yes, Jesus died for those who forsook him and fled. Take a firm grip on this truth—“Christ died for the ungodly while they were yet without strength.” This is your way out of your cowardice. Get this wrought into your soul, “Christ died for me,” and you will soon be ready to die for Him. Believe it, that He suffered in your place and stead, and offered for you a full, true, and satisfactory expiation. If you believe that fact, you will be forced to feel, “I cannot be ashamed of Him who died for me.” A full conviction that this is true will nerve you with a dauntless courage. Look at the saints in the martyr age. In the early days of Christianity, when this great thought of Christ’s exceeding love was sparkling in all its freshness in the church, men were not only ready to die, but they grew ambitious to suffer, and even presented themselves by hundreds at the judgement seats of the rulers, confessing the Christ. I do not say that they were wise to court a cruel death; but it proves my point, that a sense of the love of Jesus lifts the mind above all fear of what man can do to us. Why should it not produce the same effect in you? Oh that it might now inspire you with a brave resolve to come out upon the Lord’s side, and be His follower to the end! (All of Grace)
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You must look to Christ and He will give you repentance. The Holy Spirit turns us to Christ and thereby turns us from sin. Look to Christ and He will save you. Charles H. Spurgeon writes:
Hold you on to this one fact—“In due time Christ died for the ungodly.” This truth will not require from you any deep research or profound reasoning, or convincing argument. There it stands: “In due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Fix your mind on that, and rest there. . . .
According to the Scriptures it is a revealed fact, that in due time Christ died for the ungodly when they were yet without strength. You have heard these words hundreds of times, maybe, and yet you have never before perceived their meaning. There is a cheering savior about them, is there not? Jesus did not die for our righteousness, but He died for our sins. He did not come to save us because we were worth the saving, but because we were utterly worthless, ruined, and undone. He came not to earth out of any reason that was in us, but solely and only out of reasons which He fetched from the depths of His own divine love. In due time He died for those whom He describes, not as godly, but as ungodly, applying to them as hopeless an adjective as He could well have selected. If you have but little mind, yet fasten it to this truth, which is fitted to the smallest capacity, and is able to cheer the heaviest heart. Let this text lie under your tongue like a sweet morsel, till it dissolves into your heart and flavors all your thoughts; and then it will little matter though those thoughts should be as scattered as autumn leaves. Persons who have never shone in science, nor displayed the least originality of mind, have nevertheless been fully able to accept the doctrine of the cross, and have been saved thereby. Why should not you?
I hear another man cry, “Oh, sir my want of strength lies mainly in this, that I cannot repent sufficiently!” A curious idea men have of what repentance is! Many fancy that so many tears are to be shed, and so many groans are to be heaved, and so much despair is to be endured. . . .
Remember that the man who truly repents is never satisfied with his own repentance. We can no more repent perfectly than we can live perfectly. However pure our tears, there will always be some dirt in them: there will be something to be repented of even in our best repentance. But listen! To repent is to change your mind about sin, and Christ, and all the great things of God. There is sorrow implied in this; but the main point is the turning of the heart from sin to Christ. If there be this turning, you have the essence of true repentance, even though no alarm and no despair should ever have cast their shadow upon your mind.
If you cannot repent as you would, it will greatly aid you to do so if you will firmly believe that “in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” Think of this again and again. How can you continue to be hard-hearted when you know that out of supreme love “Christ died for the ungodly”? (All of Grace)
Andrew Bonar preached from the whole Bible, the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation. When one of his friends remarked on his originality in finding subjects for preaching, and wondered where he got all his texts, he just lifted up his Bible. He did not ignore any part of it, but explained it all. Bonar provides the proud with an excellent dose of medicine in the following excerpt:
“It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17: 11).
“There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy-seat” (Exod. 25: 22).
Is it true that the greatness of your sins need be no hindrance to your acceptance, if only you are now willing, with all your heart, to turn from sin to God? Yes; it is true. It was for sinners, the mercy-seat was made. It was for sinners the blood was shed. “This is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many, for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26. 28). “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick . . . I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matt. 9. 12, 13).
When, at any time, you have heard Christ in all His fullness pressed upon your acceptance – when you have been invited, without delay, to draw near with a true heart; is it not true that secretly you may have been raising some such difficulty as this: “Oh, but I am such a sinner. I cannot expect to be received just as I am. I must wait till I have mended my life, and then I will come. I must wait till I have prayed longer, and then I will come. I must wait till I have had deeper convictions of sin, and then I may hope that the Lord will receive me if I come”
Is this your view of the way of salvation? If it be, you are surely all in the wrong. Is it not just as if you were to say, “I cannot go to God just now, for I am a poor, vile, guilty sinner, with no good thing about me at all – a poor beggar, who has nothing to give for salvation. But I shall wait till I have something to recommend me, and then I shall go.” Dear reader, would this be a free salvation? You want to pay for salvation; but God offers you salvation without money and without price. . . .
But, moreover, supposing it had been required that you should bring some good thing with you when you came to the mercy-seat, how vain would have been your hopes? He, who for a moment cherishes such a thought, has evidently never been brought to feel the total and utter depravity of his nature that in him, that is, in his flesh, dwelleth no good thing (Rom. 7. 18). When a sinner is once truly awakened by the Spirit of God to see the awful ruin of his condition, he then feels that, so far from its being a comfort to him, the very thing that is the likeliest to drive him to despair would be to tell him that he must wait till he find some good thing in him to recommend him before he could hope for pardon from an angry God. (“The Mercy Seat”)
The following is from a sermon by Charles H. Spurgeon:
All the filth and loathsomeness that ever offended eye and nostril, is sweetness itself compared with sin. The foulest and most detestable thing in the whole universe is sin!
Sin is that which keeps the fire of hell burning as God’s great sanitary necessity. Well may God cause the fiery flames of eternal torment to go up for ever and ever, for it is only by such terrific punishment that the plague of sin can be at all restrained within bounds.
Sin is a horrible evil, a deadly poison; and yet, sinner, though you be as full of sin as an egg is full of meat, and as reeking with sin as the foulest piece of noxious matter can be reeking with foul smell — yet the infinite mercy of God in Christ Jesus can lift you from this utmost degradation, and make you to shine as a star in his kingdom at the last!
To know that my Beloved is mine, and that I am his, and that he loved me and gave himself for me, this is far better than to be heir-apparent to a score of empires! (“From the Dunghill to the Throne” No. 658)
The following is from Jonathan Edwards:
Holy and humble Christian love is a principle of wonderful power to give ineffable quietness and tranquility to the soul. It banishes all disturbances, and sweetly composes and brings rest to the spirit, and makes all divinely calm and sweet and happy. In that soul where divine love reigns and is in lively exercise, nothing can cause a storm, or even gather threatening clouds. (“Charity and its Fruit”)
God is so infinite in wisdom that all things are naked to His eyes. Nothing stirs in the world except God knows its intent, purpose, and eventual outcome. Thomas Watson (1620-1686) discusses what this means concerning men’s hearts:
If the secrets of our hearts are unveiled and unmasked, walk as in the eye of God. Methinks that of Hagar should be a Christian’s motto, Thou God seest me. And David’s prospect should be ever in our eye, Psalm 16.8. ‘I have set the Lord always before me:’ some set their bags of money always before them, others set the fear of men always before them; but a wise Christian will set God, and judgment, and eternity always before him. If indeed God’s eye were at any time off from us, we might take the more liberty; but if all things be naked, and open to his eye, we cannot sin but in the face of our Judge. Oh then reverence this eye of God. . . .
The eye of God should be ever in our eye; this would be as a counter poison against sin: nor is it enough to prune sin, viz. to cut off the external acts, but kill the root. Crucify complexion sins; let not thy heart sit brooding upon sin. Again, let God’s omniscience deter thee from hiding sin. . . . Men think to walk in the dark, and to carry their sins under a canopy, that no eye shall see them: as those that have bad eyes think that the sky is ever cloudy, whereas the fault is not in the sky, but in their eyes; so when the prince of the world hath blinded men’s eyes, because there is darkness within, they think it is dark abroad too, and now the sky is cloudy, God cannot see: but remember, all things are naked: do not go about to hide sin: confess, confess, it is a work proper for the day. Confession doth that to the soul which the surgeon doth to the body; it opens a spiritual vein, and lets out the bad blood. The only way to make God not see sin, is to see it ourselves, but not with dry eyes; point every sin with a tear. . . .
It is a whetstone to duty. O thou Christian that art much in private, that settest hours apart for God, (a sign he hath set thee apart) thou sheddest many tears in thy closet: the world takes no notice; but remember, God’s eye is upon thee, thy prayers are registered, thy tears are bottled up, ‘and he that sees in secret will reward thee openly.’ How should this add wings to prayer, and oil to the flame of our devotion? (“God’s Anatomy upon Man’s Heart”)
Christ knew how bitter His cup was to be. He understood how unworthy and hateful the wickedness and corruption of mankind could be. Yet His love won the victory. Jonathan Edwards explains further.
And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)
The strength of Christ’s love more especially appears in this, that when he had such a full view of the dreadfulness of the cup that he was to drink, that so amazed him, he would notwithstanding even then take it up, and drink it. Then seems to have been the greatest and most peculiar trial of the strength of the love of Christ, when God set down the bitter portion before him, and let him see what he had to drink, if he persisted in his love to sinners; and brought him to the mouth of the furnace that he might see its fierceness, and have a full view of it, and have time then to consider whether he would go in and suffer the flames of this furnace for such unworthy creatures, or not. This was as it were proposing it to Christ’s last consideration what he would do; as much as if it had then been said to him, ‘Here is the cup that you are to drink, unless you will give up your undertaking for sinners, and even leave them to perish as they deserve. Will you take this cup, and drink it for them, or not? There is the furnace into which you are to be cast, if they are to be saved; either they must perish, or you must endure this for them. There you see how terrible the heat of the furnace is; you see what pain and anguish you must endure on the morrow, unless you give up the cause of sinners. What will you do? is your love such that you will go on? Will you cast yourself into this dreadful furnace of wrath?’ Christ’s soul was overwhelmed with the thought; his feeble human nature shrunk at the dismal sight. It put him into this dreadful agony which you have heard described; but his love to sinners held out. Christ would not undergo these sufferings needlessly, if sinners could be saved without. If there was not an absolute necessity of his suffering them in order to their salvation, he desired that the cup might pass from him. But if sinners, on whom he had set his love, could not, agreeably to the will of God, be saved without his drinking it, he chose that the will of God should be done. He chose to go on and endure the suffering, awful as it appeared to him. And this was his final conclusion, after the dismal conflict of his poor feeble human nature, after he had had the cup in view, and for at least the space of one hour, had seen how amazing it was. Still he finally resolved that he would bear it, rather than those poor sinners whom he had loved from all eternity should perish. (“Christ’s Agony”)
This excerpt from the writings of Thomas Goodwin reminds me of these verses:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:5-7 ESV)
Let us now read what Goodwin has to say on the matter:
O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? (Jeremiah 4:14 ESV)
The vanity and sinfulness of the mind appears in a loathness to enter into holy thoughts, to begin to set itself to think of God, and the things belonging unto our peace; even as loath they are to this as schoolboys are to their books, or to busy their minds about their lessons, their heads being full of play; so loath are our minds to enter into serious considerations, into sad, solemn thoughts of God or death, etc. Men are as loath to think of death as thieves of the execution; or to think of God, as they are of their judge. So to go over their own actions, in a review of them, and read the blurred writing of their hearts, and to ‘commune with them,’ at night in the end of the day, (as David did, Ps. lxxvii. 6,) men are as loath to do this as schoolboys are to parse their lesson; and the false Latins they have made. Job xxi. 14, ‘Depart from us;’ say they in Job unto God; from their thoughts they meant it, for it follow; ‘we desire not the knowledge of thy ways.’ They would not think of him, or know him, by their good wills. And therefore our mind; like a bad stomach, are nauseated with the very scent of good things, and soon cast them up again: Rom. 1. 28, ‘They like not to retain the knowledge of God.’. . .
The vanity and sinfulness of the mind appears in the godly, that though they entertain good thoughts, yet the mind is not, will not, be long intent on them. Some things there are which we are and can be intent upon, and accordingly dwell long upon them; and therefore, in Job xvii. 11, the thoughts are called the ‘possessions of the heart,’ – so it is in the original and noted in the margin. Such thoughts as are pleasing, the heart dwells on them; yea, so intent are we often, that they hinder our sleep: as it is said of wicked men, ‘They cannot sleep for multitude of thoughts,’ Eccles. v. 12; so, ‘to devise froward things,’ Solomon says, Prov. xvi. 30, that ‘a man shuts his eyes,’ that is, is exceeding attentive, poreth upon his plots; for so a man doth use to do, to shut his eyes when he would be intent, and therefore it is so expressed. But now let the mind be occupied and busied about good things, and things belonging to our peace, how unsteady is it! Which things should yet draw out the intention of the mind; for the more excellent the object is, the stronger our intention should be. God is the most glorious object our minds can fasten on, the most alluring: the thoughts of whom therefore should swallow up all other, as not worthy to be seen the same day with him. But I appeal to all your experiences, if your thoughts of him be not most unsteady, and are, that I may so compare it, as when we look upon a star through an optic glass, held with a palsy-shaking hand. . . . So when we are hearing the word, how do our minds ever and anon run out of the church, and come in again, and so do not hear half what is said! So when we are at our callings, which God bids us to be conversant about with all our might, Eccles. ix. 10; yet our minds, like idle truants, or negligent servants, though sent about never so serious a business, yet go out of the way to see any sport, run after the hares that cross the way, fellow after butterflies that buzz about us. And so when we come to pray, Christ bids ‘watch to prayer,’ Mark xiii. 33; that is, as if we were at every door to place a guard, that none come in and disturb and knock us off. But how oft doth the heart nod, and fall asleep, and run into another world, as men in dreams do! Yea, so natural are distractions to us, when we are busied about holy duties, that as excrements come from men, when very, weak and sick, ere they are aware of it, so do worldly thoughts from him; and we are carried out of that stream of good our mind was running in, into some by-creek, ere we are aware of it. (“The Vanity of Thoughts”)
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
Let us . . . consider the different BEHAVIOR of these two worshipers. Behold the Pharisee. “He stood and prayed thus with himself.” Observe this: he went to some conspicuous part of the temple, where he could stand alone near the altar, separate from the rest of men, that all might see what a devout man he was, and not lose sight of him in the crowd. He stood “with himself,” not among the congregation, lest he should be defiled by touching them; he was too good for them. We do not read of anything like humility here; we do not learn that he even bowed his head, as a mark of respect to his Creator—but there he stood erect, like one who felt that he had done all that God required of him, that he had no sin to repent of, that he had a right to expect a blessing as a profitable servant.
Turn now to the tax collector. “Standing afar off, he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven—but smote upon his bosom.” He stood afar off probably in the outward court, as one who did not feel himself worthy to come beyond the threshold of Him whose name is Holy. “He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven.” He felt the remembrance of his sins so grievous and the burden of them so intolerable, that, like a child who has offended its father, he dare not look his Almighty Maker in the face. “He smote upon his bosom.” He could not control the feelings that arose in his mind: he recollected the mercies he had received and his own neglect of them, the life he had led and the God he had despised; and, like those who saw Jesus hanging on the cross, “he smote his bosom,” in sorrow, self-abasement and godly fear. Beloved, the posture of the body and the expression of the face are certainly not always sure signs of the state of a man’s heart—but you may rest assured that a truly humble and devout worshiper will generally be distinguished by his conduct in the house of God.
He who is duly sensible of his own guilt, and is ever coming to Jesus as his Advocate; he who is acquainted with the sinfulness of sin and the devices of Satan, and the value of the means of grace and the necessity of using them if he would save his soul—such a one will never show any lack of reverence, any levity or carelessness of manner, when he has entered any place where prayer is accustomed to be made and the gospel preached, and Christ Himself is standing in the midst. But if a person comes to church with an air of indifference, as if he did the minister a favor by coming and cared not if he never came again, and does not join in the prayers, and looks as if he would be ashamed if any one thought he did, and does not listen to the word of God, and does not pay attention to the sermon; if he employs himself with looking at other people’s dress—or deliberately goes to sleep—or talks to his neighbors—or makes plans for the next week—he may have his own reasons for coming here—but it is pretty clear to me that he does not come in the way that Jesus loves, as a miserable sinner who sees nothing but evil in himself, nor in the spirit that Jesus loves, that is in the spirit of the tax collector. (“Self-Righteousness”)
Because of man’s fallen nature, he often tries to use religion as a mask to cover his sins. The counterfeit Christian is therefore good in show so that he may have freedom in his secret sins. How strange it is that a man may feel he can avoid the eyes of God. Thomas Watson (1620-1686) makes some interesting observations about this condition:
The profane libertine, that fancies to himself a God made up of mercy; and therefore he engulfs himself in sin, he is upon the spur to go to hell, as if he were afraid hell would be full before he could get thither. Doth not he say, ‘God shall not see?’
The religious libertine, that sins because grace abounds; that saith, God sees no sin in his people, and therefore what need we see it? After we are in Christ, we cannot sin; therefore repentance is out of date. . . .
[We need] repentance after we are in Christ: for though sin in a believer be covered, yet it is not perfectly cured. There are still some remainders of corruption; and certainly, as long as there is an issue of sin open, there must be an issue of sorrow kept open.
Every sin, after we are in Christ, is a sin of unkindness, the sin of a spouse; and if any thing will melt and break the heart, this will. The sins of the regenerate do wound Christ’s heart deeper than others. Hath not Christ suffered enough already? Wilt thou wound him whom God hath wounded? Will you give him more vinegar to drink? O rather ‘Give wine to him that is of an heavy heart;’ cheer him with thy tears: look on a bleeding Christ with a bleeding heart. . . .
[H]ypocrites are like turning pictures, which have on one side the image of a lamb, on the other side a lion: so they are on their outside saints, but their inside devils. Hypocrites may be compared to trumpets that make a great sound, but within they are hollow. Do these believe the all-seeing eye? The hypocrite turns all religion into mere compliment; he walks with a dark lantern, saying, No eye shall see . . . The hypocrite takes more care to make a covenant, than to keep it; and is more studious to enter into religion, than that religion should enter into him. . . . (“God’s Anatomy Upon Man’s Heart”)
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