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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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The Source of Divine Affections

A Christianity which is not built upon supernatural grounds and rests solely upon the conclusions of the natural uninspired man has nothing of true Christianity in it. William Law explains:

Now as no animal could begin to respire, or unite with the breath of this world, but because it has its beginning to breathe begotten in it from the air of this world, so it is equally certain, that no creature, angel or man, could begin to be religious, or breathe forth the divine affections of faith, love, and desire towards God, but because a living seed of these divine affections was by the Spirit or {sic} God first begotten in it. And as a tree or plant can only grow and fructify by the same power that first gave birth to the seed, so faith, and hope, and love towards God, can only grow and fructify by the same power, that begot the first seed of them in the soul. Therefore divine immediate inspiration and divine religion are inseparable in the nature of the thing.

Take away inspiration, or suppose it to cease, and then no religious acts or affections can give forth anything that is godly or divine. For the creature can offer, or return nothing to God, but that which it has first received from him; therefore, if it is to offer and send up to God affections and aspirations that are divine and godly, it must of all necessity have the divine and godly nature living and breathing in it. Can anything reflect light, before it has received it? Or any other light, than that which it has received?…

All that the natural or uninspired man does, or can do in the church, has no more of the truth or power of divine worship in it, than that which he does in the field, or shop, through a desire of riches. And the reason is, because all the acts of the natural man, whether relating to matters of religion or the world, must be equally selfish, and there is no possibility of their being otherwise. For self-love, self- esteem, self-seeking, and living wholly to self, are as strictly the whole of all that is or possibly can be in the natural man, as in the natural beast; the one can no more be better, or act above this nature, than the other. Neither can any creature be in a better, or higher state than this, till something supernatural is found in it; and this supernatural something, called in scripture the WORD, or SPIRIT, or INSPIRATION of God, is that alone from which man can have the first good thought about God, or the least power of having more heavenly desires in his spirit, than he has in his flesh. (“An Address to the Clergy” by William Law)

The Christian Religion

In the words of Alexander Hamilton:

“I have carefully examined the evidences of the Christian religion, and if I was sitting as a juror upon its authenticity I would unhesitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.”

The True Ground and Nature of all True Religion

The natural powers of men come from the one power of God. All that comforts, enlightens, blesses, gives peace and rest to man’s natural powers can come only from God’s immediate holy operation. William Law writes:

“The heavens,” saith David, “declare the glory of God”; and no creature, any more than the heavens, can declare any other glory but that of God. And as well might it be said, that the firmament shows forth its own handiwork, as that a holy divine or heavenly creature shows forth its own natural power.

But now, if all that is divine, great, glorious, and happy, in the spirits, tempers, operations, and enjoyments of the creature, is only so much of the greatness, glory, majesty, and blessedness of God, dwelling in it, and giving forth various births of his own triune life, light, and love, in and through the manifold forms and capacities of the creature to receive them, then we may infallibly see the true ground and nature of all true religion, and when and how we may be said to fulfill all our religious duty to God. For the creature’s true religion, is its rendering to God all that is God’s, it is its true continual acknowledging all that which it is, and has, and enjoys, in and from God. This is the one true religion of all intelligent creatures, whether in heaven, or on earth; for as they all have but one and the same relation to God, so though ever so different in their several births, states or offices, they all have but one and the same true religion, or right behavior towards God. Now the one relation, which is the ground of all true religion, and is one and the same between God and all intelligent creatures, is this, it is a total unalterable dependence upon God, an immediate continual receiving of every kind, and degree of goodness, blessing and happiness, that ever was, or can be found in them, from God alone. The highest angel has nothing of its own that it can offer unto God, no more light, love, purity, perfection, and glorious hallelujahs, that spring from itself, or its own powers, than the poorest creature upon earth. Could the angel see a spark of wisdom, goodness, or excellence, as coming from, or belonging to itself, its place in heaven would be lost, as sure as Lucifer lost his. But they are ever abiding flames of pure love, always ascending up to and uniting with God, for this reason, because the wisdom, the power, the glory, the majesty, the love, and goodness of God alone, is all that they see, and feel, and know, either within or without themselves. Songs of praise to their heavenly Father are their ravishing delight, because they see, and know, and feel, that it is the breath and Spirit of their heavenly Father that sings and rejoices in them. Their adoration in spirit and in truth never ceases, because they never cease to acknowledge the ALL of God; the ALL of God in the whole creation. This is the one religion of heaven, and nothing else is the truth of religion on earth. (“An Address to the Clergy”)

If We Forsake Truth, God Forsakes Us

We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Of course, I am referring to works that follow faith. There are some, however, that make their works an idol. Charles Hodge (1823-1886) writes:

[One] form of religion in which Christ fails to occupy his proper position is that which assumes God to be merely a moral governor, of infinite power and benevolence. Being infinitely benevolent, he desires the well being of his kingdom. To forgive sin without some suitable manifestation of his disapprobation of sin, would be inconsistent with a wise benevolence. Christ makes that manifestation in his sufferings and death. Then he retires; henceforth we have nothing to do with him; we have to deal with God on the principles of natural religion; we must submit to his authority, obey his commandments, and expect to be rewarded, not merely according to, but for, our works. . . .

They must merit, not forgiveness — for that is granted on account of what Christ has done — but the reward promised to obedience; justification is simply pardon. . . It is hard to see, according to this theory, in what sense Christ is our prophet, priest, and king; how He is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; what is meant by our being in him as the branch is in the vine; or, what our Lord meant when He said, “without me, ye can do nothing;” what was in Paul’s mind when he said, it is Christ for me to live, “it is not I that live, but Christ liveth in me,” and so on to the end. This is a different kind of religion from that which we find in the Bible and in the experience of the church. . . .

Others take the higher ground of theism, or of natural religion, and bring in considerations drawn from our relation to God as an infinitely perfect being, our creator and preserver and father, who has rightful authority over us, who has prescribed the rule of duty, and who rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. . . .

This is not the gospel. Christ is the only Savior from sin, the only source of holiness, or of spiritual life. The first step in salvation from sin is our reconciliation to God. The reconciliation is effected by the expiation made by the death of Christ (Rom. 5:10). It is his blood, and his blood alone, that cleanses from sin. As long as men are under the law, they bring forth fruit unto death; it is only when freed from the law, freed from its inexorable demand of perfect obedience and from its awful penalty, that they bring forth fruit unto God (Rom. 7:4-6).

Christ delivered us from the law as demanding perfect obedience, by being made under the law, and fulfilling all righteousness for us; and he redeems us from the curse of the law, by being made a curse for us — dying the just for the unjust, and bearing our sins in his own body on the tree. Being thus reconciled unto God by his death, we are saved by his life. He sends the Holy Spirit to impart to us spiritual life, and transforms us more and more into his own image. The Spirit reveals to us the glory of Christ and his infinite love. He makes us feel not only that we owe everything to him, but that he himself is everything to us — our present joy and our everlasting portion — our all in all. Thus every other motive to obedience is absorbed and sublimated into love to Christ and zeal for his glory. His people become like him, and as he went about doing good, so do they. . .

[One] important [fact is] to be held in mind. [T]he inward religious life of men, as well as their character and conduct, are determined by their doctrinal opinions. . . Therefore, any system of doctrine which assigns to Christ a lower position than that which he occupies in the New Testament, must, in a like degree, lower the standard of Christianity — that is, the religious life of those calling themselves Christians. . . It is . . . of the last importance to remember, that sound doctrine is, under God, our only security for true religion and pure morals. If we forsake the truth, God forsakes us. (“Christianity without Christ”)

The Idol of Benevolence

Many believe that conversion is a change which takes place when a person ceases to be selfish, and becomes benevolent. Such a person stops making his happiness the goal of life, and seeks to make others happy. Is this true Christianity? Charles Hodge (1823-1886) writes:

In painful contrast with the Christianity of the Bible and of the church, there is a kind of religion, very prevalent and very influential, calling itself Christianity, which may be properly designated Christianity without Christ. . . .

The lowest form of this kind of religion is that which assumes Christ to be a mere man, or, at most, merely a creature. Then, of course, He cannot be an object of adoration, of supreme love, of trust, and of devotion. The difference is absolute between the inward religious state of those who regard Christ as a creature, and that of those who regard him as God. If the one be true religion, the other is impiety.

The second form of this religion admits of higher views of the person of Christ, but it reduces Christianity to benevolence. And by benevolence is often meant nothing more than philanthropy. The gospel is made to consist in the inculcation of the command, Love your neighbor as yourself. All who approximately do this are called Christians. . . .

And hence, too, an avowed atheist is told, that if he sits up all night with a sick child, he is a Christian, whatever he may think. A popular poem — popular because of the sentiment which it teaches — represents the recording angel as placing at the head of those who love God, the name of the man who could only say; “Write me as one who loves my fellow-men.” The love of our fellow-men is thus made the highest form of religion. This is below even natural religion. It ignores God as well as Christ. Yet this is the doctrine which we find, variously sugared over and combined, in poetry, in novels, in magazines, and even in religious journals. . . .

Every Christian is benevolent; but his benevolence does not make him a Christian; his Christianity makes him benevolent. Throughout all ages the men who have labored most and suffered most for the good of others, have been Christians — men animated and controlled by Christ’s love to them, and by their love to Christ. It is evident that the spiritual life — the inward religious state — of the man to whom it is Christ to live, is very different from that of the man who lives for the happiness of the universe. (“Christianity without Christ”)

Libertines And Hypocrites

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:

And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:13 ESV)

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”)

The Preservation Of Civil Government

Quoting Fisher Ames:

The happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend on piety, religion, and morality.

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