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  • Samuel at Gilgal

    This year I will be sharing brief excerpts from the articles, sermons, and books I am currently reading. My posts will not follow a regular schedule but will be published as I find well-written thoughts that should be of interest to maturing Christian readers. Whenever possible, I encourage you to go to the source and read the complete work of the author.

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Genuine Saving Faith

Unbelief continues to work in most people whom the way of God is proposed in the gospel. Some are under the power of darkness and ignorance, and so they apprehend not. Some are blinded by Satan since he is the god of this world. Their minds are filled with prejudice, and their hearts with the love of present things. Some would mix in their own works, ways, and duties. John Owen discusses this in the article below:

And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3 ESV)

The securing of the spiritual comforts of believers in this life is a matter of the highest importance unto the glory of God, and their own advantage by the gospel. For God is abundantly willing that all the heirs of promise should receive strong consolation, and he has provided ways and means for the communication of it to them; and their participation of it is their principal interest in this world, and is so esteemed by them. But their effectual refreshing enjoyment of these comforts is variously opposed by the power of the remainders of sin, in conjunction with other temptations. Hence, notwithstanding their right and title unto them by the gospel, they are often actually destitute of a gracious sense of them, and, consequently, of that relief which they are suited to afford in all their duties, trials, and afflictions. Now, the root whereon all real comforts do grow, whence they spring and arise, is true and saving faith,–the faith of God’s elect. Wherefore they do ordinarily answer unto, and hold proportion with, the evidences which any have of that faith in themselves; at least, they cannot be maintained without such evidences. Wherefore, that we may be a little useful unto the establishment or recovery of that consolation which God is so abundantly willing that all the heirs of promise should enjoy, I shall inquire, what are the principal acts and operations of faith, whereby it will evidence its truth and sincerity in the midst of all temptations and storms that may befall believers in this world?

And I shall insist on such alone as will bear the severest scrutiny by Scripture and experience. And,–The principal genuine acting of saving faith in us, inseparable from it, yea, essential to such acting, consists in the: choosing, embracing, and approbation of God’s way of saving sinners, by the mediation of Jesus Christ, relying thereon, with a renunciation of all other ways and means pretending unto the same end of salvation.

This is that which we are to explain and prove. Saving faith is our ‘believing the record that God has given us of his Son,’ 1 John 5:10, ‘And this is the record, that God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in his Son,’ verse 11. This is the testimony which God gives, that great and sacred truth which he himself bears witness unto,–namely, that he has freely prepared eternal life for them that believe, or provided a way of salvation for them. And what God so prepares he is said to give, because of the certainty of its communication. So grace was promised and given to the elect in Christ Jesus before the world began, 2 Tim.1:9; Tit.1:2. And that is so to be communicated unto them, in and by the mediation of his Son Jesus Christ, that it is the only way whereby God will give eternal life unto any; which is therefore wholly in him, and by him to be obtained, and from him to be received. Upon our acquiescence in this testimony, on our approbation of this way of saving sinners, or our refusal of it, our eternal safety or ruin does absolutely depend. And it is reasonable that it should be so: for, in our receiving of this testimony of God, we ‘set to our seal that God is true,’ John 3:33; we ascribe unto him the glory of his truth, and therein of all the other holy properties of his nature,–the most eminent duty whereof we are capable in this world; and by a refusal of it, what lies in us, we make him a liar, as in this place, 1 John 5:10, which is virtually to renounce his being. (“Evidences of the faith of God’s Elect”)

Sin And Future Fear

Archibald Alexander

Can sinners enjoy the kingdom of God? How then, can men of depraved habits and who never have sought the Righteous God, enjoy the perfect holiness of heaven? Such men could never endure the participation in of holy exercises there. Death, in and of itself, makes no radical changes in the moral character. Therefore, if you die unrepentant, you will never reach that high and holy place. Archibald Alexander provides us with his views on this topic:

“Do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? But because of your hardness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed. He will repay each one according to his works: eternal life to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but wrath and indignation to those who are self-seeking and disobey the truth, but are obeying unrighteousness; affliction and distress for every human being who does evil, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek. There is no favoritism with God. All those who sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all those who sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” (Romans 2:3-12)

The one thing needful is, to be fully persuaded that nothing is needful. If men are only informed that there will be no future reckoning, no condemnation of the wicked, no future punishment, they need know nothing else; and whether they believe it or not, all are in the safe way to heaven. . . .

This doctrine encourages men to continue in sin by removing all fear of future judgment and punishment. In this respect its tendency is as bad as atheism itself, for the most impious denial of a divine Being cannot promise more to its foolish votaries than exemption from judgment and future punishment. This species of Universalism is fraught with the very worst poison of atheism. It tells the sinner, that, let him act as wickedly as he will, or as he can, there is no fear of future misery. Indeed, it is in some respects worse than atheism, for it not only promises exemption from punishment, but the reward of eternal happiness to the impenitent sinner! It says to the atrocious murderer and cruel assassin, You need fear no evil hereafter; though you should die in the commission of the foulest deeds, heaven, with all its glory and happiness, is yours. Is not this shocking to every honest mind? And what must the effect be on profane, cruel, and abandoned profligates?

How pernicious its influence in the hour of temptation! Suppose an inexperienced youth in a place of trust to have imbibed this doctrine. An opportunity occurs of defrauding his employer of a vast sum of money, with the prospect of escaping detection. Well, what shall hinder him from enriching himself at once? If the belief of a future judgment were now to rise in his mind, he would be ready, like Joseph, to say, How can I do this great evil, and sin against God? But having no apprehension of any judgment to come, and sure of heaven, let him do what he will, he is led into temptation, and is deprived of every consideration which would lead him to resist it. Even the faint hope that there is no future punishment, has a powerful effect in leading corrupt men to commit atrocious crimes, although this hope is contrary to all that they have ever been taught; but who can calculate the influence of a persuasion that there is no future punishment for the greatest crimes, derived from men who pretend to be preachers of the gospel? Doubtless a large portion of the most abominable crimes that ever were perpetrated, owe their existence to a secret belief or hope of the truth of the very doctrine which Universalist preach.

It is a horrible consequence of this doctrine, that it puts it in the power of the sinner to blaspheme and defy Almighty God with impunity! The malignant, ungrateful wretch, instead of praising, may blaspheme the great Jehovah every day of his life, and may die with horrid blasphemies on his lips, and yet he shall be rewarded with everlasting happiness! Indeed, as all the punishment of sin is supposed to be in this life, when a sinner commits some horrible crime in the last moments of his life, as in a late case where a man first shot an innocent person, and then blew out his own brains, where or how will he receive his due punishment? His death is but the pang of a moment, and if there be no retribution for such crimes in the government of God, it cannot be believed that he is a righteous moral Governor. (Future Punishment: The Universalist Refuted)

The Universal Need

Christians understand that human nature is in the grip of sin. We learn in the Bible that “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” (Romans. 8:7). Man is a sinner who must be born again. We are all plagued with guilt which can only be removed by salvation. Claude Duval Cole explains why:

In the light of eternity salvation is the only need. In comparison all other needs fade into insignificance. All other needs are temporal; salvation is for eternity. All other blessings are for a season; salvation is an everlasting blessing. It is called everlasting life. The opposite of everlasting life is everlasting punishment in the lake of fire, called the second death.

Salvation covers every eternal need. It covers the housing problem, for in the Father’s house are many mansions. It covers the food problem, for Christ is the bread of life of which one may eat and never hunger. It covers the employment problem, for the saved will serve God day and night in His temple. It covers the social problem, for the saved of all the earth will sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God–all language and cultural barriers will vanish. It covers the health problem, for in the new heavens and the new earth there will be no more pain, for the former things are passed away. Moreover, God Himself shall dwell with His people, and will wipe away all tears from their eyes.

Salvation is a universal need, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Every normal person has a guilt complex. A New York preacher once announced as his subject, “How to Get Rid of Guilty Feelings.” He told the audience he would pause while all who were free of guilty feelings might leave the building. To his surprise nobody left. He said he would not have been surprised if it had been a small town congregation where everybody would be known to each other, but in New York where all were more or less strangers to one another, he had not expected all of them to acknowledge they were sinners. But that New York congregation were true to their feelings in this matter-every one of them had a guilt complex. This, in itself, is proof of the existence of God. Conscience testifies loudly to the fact that there is a God with whom we have to do.

The story of religion is made up of the efforts men make to get rid of guilty feeling. This is the explanation of what is called “conscience money;” the thief is trying to get rid of his guilty feelings by returning what he had stolen. This is why the Romanist goes to confessional; he is wanting to get something off his conscience. This is the explanation of Communism; the Communist rids himself of a guilty feeling, if and when he can persuade himself to believe there is no God to Whom he must give an account. The very fact that the atheist raves against the idea of God indicates that his own conscience gives him trouble on the question. This accounts for all heathen religions; people are striving to get rid of guilty feelings. It explains the faith of God’s elect; they are trusting Christ for acceptance with God and freedom from condemnation. (Definitions of Doctrine)

Hell Is No Longer Fashionable!

Archibald Alexander

There is no greater mischief done to men, than by spreading among them false opinions which remove beneficial restraints. I am writing here about those restraints which preserve men from indulging in sin, or relying on a false security. Those same false opinions persuade men to neglect that preparation which is necessary for death and judgment. One such false opinion may be more dangerous than all others to the good of men; it is the opinion that there is no Hell or future punishment. Archibald Alexander gives us more information to help our understanding of this matter:

“He, who believes on the Son, has everlasting life; and he, who believes not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36)

Here there is no room for any doubt on account of the import of particular terms. That the life here spoken of is life in a future state cannot be denied, for it is expressly called everlasting life; and it is expressly asserted that unbelievers shall not partake of this life. Now if they are deprived of life in the future world, they are deprived of happiness; there is no medium between life and death, happiness and misery. Unbelievers must therefore be miserable in the future world. And this seems to be asserted strongly in the last words quoted: “And the wrath of God abides on him.” These words do not merely signify that the unbeliever is under wrath while in this world, but that this is an abiding state. It is the contrast to the possession of eternal life. While the wicked are in this world, they are indeed under a sentence of wrath, but the execution of this wrath is reserved for a future state. The greatest sinners and most obstinate unbelievers live in ease and pleasure here, and do not suffer the wrath under the sentence of which they lie. But it will abide upon them, and the vials of this divine wrath will be poured out upon them to all eternity. . . .

Let us now attend to a few testimonies from the apostle Paul. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Rom. 6:23. Here the just rules of interpretation require us to consider death, as it stands in contrast with eternal life, to be eternal death.

“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction.” Phil. 3:18, 19. This destruction, which comes at the end of the sinner’s course, cannot be natural death; for all are subject to death—the friends as well as the enemies of the cross. It is certainly a destruction which is peculiar to the wicked, and as it is their end, must be future punishment, or the second death. (“Future Punishment: The Universalist Refuted” by Archibald Alexander)

Man’s Dependence Upon God For Salvation

Jonathan Edwards

We are dependent on God for our salvation. God is the author and fountain of it. Our pardon from sin; our deliverance from hell; the blessing of grace and holiness, as well as eternal life and glory – all these are the free gift of God. Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) writes on this marvelous subject:

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:28-31)

Man’s redemption is often spoken of as a work of wonderful power as well as grace. The great power of God appears in bringing a sinner from his low state, from the depths of sin and misery, to such an exalted state of holiness and happiness. “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (Eph. 1:19).

We are dependent on God’s power through every step of our redemption. We are dependent on the power of God to convert us, and give faith in Jesus Christ, and the new nature.

It is a work of creation: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17). “We are created in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:10). . . . Yea, it is a more glorious work of power than mere creation, or raising a dead body to life, in that the effect attained is greater and more excellent. That holy and happy being, and spiritual life which is reached in the work of conversion, is a far greater and more glorious effect, than mere being and life. And the state from whence the change is made, of such a death in sin, and total corruption of nature, and depth of misery, is far more remote from the state attained, than mere death or nonentity.

It is by God’s power also that we are preserved in a state of grace. “Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.” (1 Pet. 1: 5). As grace is at first from God, so it is continually from him, and is maintained by him, as much as light in the atmosphere is all day long from the sun, as well as at first dawning, or at sun rising.

Men are dependent on the power of God, for every exercise of grace, and for carrying on the work of grace in the heart, for the subduing of sin and corruption, and increasing holy principles, and enabling to bring forth fruit in good works, and at last bringing grace to its perfection, in making the soul completely amiable in Christ’s glorious likeness, and filling of it with a satisfying joy and blessedness; and for the raising of the body to life, and to such a perfect state, that it shall be suitable for a habitation and organ for a soul so perfected and blessed. These are the most glorious effects of the power of God that are seen in the series of God’s acts with respect to the creatures. (“God Glorified In Man’s Dependence”)

To See The Beauty Of Christ

Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards’s descriptive preaching clearly reveals a religion of the heart. Edwards believed it was his duty to raise the affections of his hearers as high as he could, provided that they were affected with nothing but the truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with. In Edward’s writing about the beauty of Christ, this style is very evident:

How excellent is that inner goodness and true religion that comes from [the] sight of the beauty of Christ! Here you have the most wonderful experiences of saints and angels in heaven. Here you have the best experience of Jesus Christ Himself. Even though we are mere creatures, it is a sort of participation in God’s own beauty. “Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature.” (2 Pet 1:4) “God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.” (Heb 12:10) Because of the power of this divine working, there is a mutual indwelling of God and His people. “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16)

This special relationship has to make the person involved as happy and as blessed as any creature in existence. This is a special gift of God, which he gives only to his special favorites. Gold, silver, diamonds, and earthly kingdoms are given by God to people who the Bible calls dogs and pigs. But this great gift of beholding Christ’s beauty, is the special blessing of God to His dearest children. Flesh and blood cannot give this gift: only God can bestow it. This was the special gift which Christ died to obtain for his elect. It is the highest token of his everlasting love, the best fruit of his labors, and the most precious purchase of his blood.

By this gift, more than anything else, the saints shine as lights in the world. This gift, more than anything else, is their comfort. It is impossible that the soul who possesses this gift should ever perish. This is the gift of eternal life. It is eternal life begun: those who have it can never die. It is the dawning of the light of glory. It comes from heaven, it has a heavenly quality, and it will take its bearer to heaven. Those who have this gift may wander in the wilderness or be tossed by waves on the ocean, but they will arrive in heaven at last. There the heavenly spark will be made perfect and increased. In heaven the souls of the saints will be transformed into a bright and pure flame, and they will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Amen.

The Road To God’s Kingdom

John Angell James

From the writings of John Angell James:

Earth is to its inhabitants, neither a paradise nor a desert. If it has not all the beautiful scenes and productions of a paradise—so neither has it all the dreariness and desolation of a desert. This world is called “a valley of tears,” but it is not less true that it is sometimes a valley without the tears. It often wears a smiling aspect, and reflects the light of God’s graciousness and bounty.

We know very well that man’s chief portion lies in the blessings of salvation, and the hope of eternal glory. These are so vast as almost to reduce all else to nothing. Full pardons of sin, and the hope of an eternity of pure and perfect felicity, are such amazing expectations, as might seem to render us absolutely indifferent alike to . . . .

• poverty and riches;

• pain and ease;

• obscurity and renown.

How little would it signify to him who was going to take possession of a kingdom and a throne, whether he traveled through a desert or a garden; or whether he dined meagerly or sumptuously; or whether he had all best accommodations and conveniences along the way. His thoughts would be so engrossed with the permanent scenes of greatness, grandeur, power, and wealth before him—as to be almost insensible to the privations or comforts along the way. So it is, with a Christian traveling to glory, honor, immortality and eternal life!

It is incumbent upon Christians to let their spirit and conduct be consistent with the hope of eternal glory, in that eminent spirituality and heavenliness of mind, which are manifested in a supreme, constant, and practical regard to divine and eternal things.

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