It is natural for those who have experienced the agitations which frequently attend upon conversion, and have felt the peace which flows from a hope of acceptance with God, to imagine that the conflict is over, the victory won, and the work of religion accomplished. This imagination is soon dissipated. Birth is not the whole of life; neither is conversion the whole of religion. A young mother may, in the fulness of her joy, forget for a moment the great duties of her vocation that lie before her; but when she looks upon her infant, so wonderful in its organization, and instinct with an immortal spirit, she feels that it is entirely dependent. An hour's neglect might prove its ruin. Thus the young Christian, although at first disposed to think that his work is finished, soon finds that the feeble principle of spiritual life needs to be watched and nourished with ceaseless care. If abandoned at its birth, it must perish as certainly and as speedily as an exposed infant.
Another mistake on this subject is made by those who suppose that religion is a fitful sort of life; an alternation of excitement and insensibility. Those who labor under this delusion, are religious only on certain occasions. They live contentedly far months in unconcern, and then, if they can be moved to tenderness or joy, they are satisfied with the prospect of another period of collapse. No form of life is thus intermittent. Neither plants nor animals thus live. Men do not, when in health, pass from convulsions to fainting, and from fainting to convulsions; nor does religion, when genuine, ever assume this form. It has, indeed, its alternations, as there are periods of health and sickness, of vigor and lassitude, in the animal frame; but just so far as it deserves the name of religion, it is steady, active, and progressive; and not a series of spasms.
It is a still more common error, to suppose that religion is rather an external than an internal service. There are multitudes who consider themselves to be religious, because they attend upon religious services; who suppose that a regular attendance upon public worship and the outward forms of religion is enough to entitle them to the character of Christians.
The Scriptures teach us that religion is a new, spiritual life. Its commencement is, therefore, called a new birth, a creation, a spiritual resurrection. It is, as to its principle or source, mysterious. No man can tell what life is. He sees its different forms in vegetables, in animals, and in the rational soul; but he cannot detect the secret spring of these different kinds of activity. The nature of spiritual life is not less inscrutable. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (Jn. 3.18) A new kind of activity manifests itself in the soul that is born of God; but whence that activity springs, and how it is maintained, are among the secret things of God. We cannot doubt, however, that there is some permanent cause of those new exercises. We know that the life of the body does not consist in the acts of seeing, hearing, tasting, etc.; nor does the soul consist of thought and volition; neither does spiritual life consist in the acts which manifest its existence. There is in regeneration a change effected in the state of the soul which accounts for its perceptions, purposes, and feelings being different from what they were before, and for their so continuing. The cause of this difference is sometimes called a new heart, a grace, or the spirit, or the new man, or the renewal of the inner man. All these terms are used to designate the principle of spiritual life, which manifests itself in the fruits of holiness. It is called life because it is thus permanent, or abiding. Those who for a time manifest a degree of ardor and activity in relation to religion, and then lose all interest in the subject, are like dead bodies on which electricity may for a while produce some of the appearances of animation, but which soon become insensible to all means of excitement. In such cases, there is no principle of life. Where religion is genuine, it has its root in a new heart, and is, therefore, permanent.
It is, moreover, characteristic of the life of sentient and rational creatures, to be spontaneous in its exercises. There are certain acts to which it prompts, and in which it delights. It is not by constraint that animals eat, or drink, or sport in the consciousness of strength; neither is it by compulsion that men exercise their minds in the reception and communication of ideas, and the reciprocation of feeling. To be so isolated from their fellow beings as to be prevented from giving vent to the force of intellectual and social life, is the severest of all condemnations. In like manner, reverence, gratitude, love, submission, are the spontaneous exercises of the renewed heart. They are the free, unbidden, unconstrained effusions of the soul. That religion which is reluctant, or forced, whether by fear or by stress of conscience, is spurious. Filial obedience, if rendered from a dread of punishment, or from mere regard to appearances, is very different from that which flows from respect and love; and unless the service we render to God flows from the heart, it is no evidence that we are his children. The Bible represents the People of God as delighting in the things of God. His word, his ordinances, his sanctuary, his presence, are their chief joy. When a man is ill, he takes little pleasure in the ordinary sources of enjoyment; and when the Christian is in a declining state, he knows little of the joy which belongs to religion. Still, whatever there is of spiritual life in any soul, will manifest itself in spontaneous exercises of piety.
Again, life, in all the forms in which we are acquainted with it, is progressive; feeble at the beginning, it advances gradually to maturity. It is thus in plants, in animals, and in the rational soul; and it is thus also in the spiritual life. There is a joy which attends the beginning of a religious life, which very often declines; a fact which may lead even the true Christian to think that religion itself is declining in his heart. Such joy, however, is a very uncertain criterion of the progress or decline of the spiritual life. The gambols of young animals show an exuberance of joy, which those that have reached maturity no longer experience. But how imperfect is the organization of these playful creatures! How small is their power of endurance, how little their serviceable strength, in comparison with that of those who know not half their joys! It is not unnatural, therefore, that young Christians should feel a glow of happiness from the exercise of feelings, delightful from their novelty as well as from their nature, which those more advanced may have ceased to experience, and in whom feeling has ripened into principle, and more joyful emotions have settled into a peace which passes all understanding.
Though joy is not the proper criterion of progress in the Divine life, it is as essential to its nature to be progressive as it is to the life of the body to increase in stature as it advances from childhood to maturity, or to that of the mind to gather strength in its progress from infancy to manhood. A man with the mind of an infant is an idiot; he is destitute of what belongs to a rational being. And a Christian who makes no progress in holiness must be essentially defective. The surest evidence of such progress is increase of strength, strength of faith, strength of purpose, strength of principle, strength to do right, to resist evil, and to endure suffering. The people of God go from strength to strength, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord.
True religion, then, is not an external service; nor is it a mere excitement of fear and sorrow succeeded by peace and joy; nor is it a fitful alternation of such exercises. It is a permanent principle of action, spontaneous in its exercises and progressive in its nature. These attributes are essential to its genuineness, but they do not constitute its whole character. It is a participation of the Divine nature, (1 Pet. 1.4) or the conformity of the soul to God. It is described as the putting off the old man with his deeds, and putting on the new man, "which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him"; (Col. 3.10) or a being renewed in the spirit of our mind, that we may "put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." (Eph. 4.23, 24) These two passages express the same truth. To be "renewed in knowledge," or rather, "unto knowledge," means to be renewed so as to know; and knowledge includes the perception, recognition, and approbation of what is true and good. This comprehensive sense of the word is not unusual in the Scriptures; and hence it is said, that to know God and Jesus Christ is eternal life. Such knowledge is the life of the soul; it is conformity to God in the perception and approbation of truth. No higher conception of moral excellence can be formed than that which resolves it into the harmony of the soul with God in judgment and will. This is what, in the parallel passage, the apostle calls righteousness and holiness of truth (that is, founded upon, or arising from truth). The same idea of sanctification is presented in Rom. xii. 2, when it is said, "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove " (or, approve) "what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." This is true religion, to approve what God approves, to hate what he hates, and to delight in what delights him.
It is obvious from this representation, that the whole man is the subject of this change. There are new perceptions, new purposes, and new feelings. The mind becomes more and more enlightened, the will more submissive to the rule of right, and the affections more thoroughly purified. The apostle in his Epistle to the Thessalonians says, "The very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Thess. 5.23) The body is the subject of sanctification in various ways. It is the temple of the Holy Ghost, (1 Cor. 6.19) and is, therefore, holy, as consecrated to the service, and hallowed by the presence of God. Our bodies are also members of Jesus Christ, and in virtue of this union, they partake of the benefits of redemption, and are hereafter to be fashioned like unto his glorious body. And still further, the influence of the body upon the soul is so manifold, for good or evil, and, in our fallen state, so predominantly for evil, that no small part of the work of sanctification consists in counteracting that influence. Paul says of himself, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." (1 Cor.9.27) And he declares it to be one of the conditions of life, that believers should, through the Spirit, mortify the deeds of the body. (Rom. 8.13) The body, therefore, is sanctified, not only by redeeming it from the service of sin and consecrating it to the service of God, but also by restraining its power over the soul, making it temperate in its demands, and submissive to the will of the renewed man.
As the work of sanctification extends to all our faculties, so the image of God which it is designed to impress upon the soul, includes all moral excellence. The different graces, such as love, faith, meekness, kindness, etc., are but different manifestations of one and the same principle of goodness. Not that justice and benevolence are the same sentiment or disposition, for they are distinct; but the same principle which makes a man just, will make him benevolent. Religion, or the principle of divine life, prompts to all kinds of excellence; and, in itself, as much to one as to another; just as the principle of life, in plants and animals and in the rational soul, leads to an harmonious development of the whole in all its parts. The root increases as the branches enlarge; the body grows as the several members increase in size; and judgment and memory gain strength as the other powers of the mind increase in vigor. Every thing depends upon this harmonious progress. If the arms retained their infantile proportions, while the rest of the body advanced to maturity, deformity and helplessness would be the result. Or if judgment and feeling gained their full force, while memory and conscience remained as in infancy, the mind would be completely deranged. The same law of symmetrical development is impressed upon the life of the soul. If it exists at all, it manifests itself in all the forms of goodness. There may be some kinds of excellence, where others are absent; but then such excellence has not its source in the Divine life, or in a new heart; for that, in its very nature, includes all moral excellence. We feel it to be a contradiction to say that he is a good man, who, though just, is unkind; because goodness includes both justice and benevolence. And it is no less a contradiction to say that a man is religious who is not honest, because religion includes honesty as well as piety. It is not simply intended that the word religion comprehends and expresses all forms of moral excellence, but that the thing meant by religion, or the new man, the principle of grace or of divine life in the heart, includes within itself all kinds of goodness. Reverence, love, submission, justice, benevolence, are but different exercises of one and the same principle of holiness. There can be no holiness without benevolence, none without reverence, none without justice. The man, therefore, who is renewed in the spirit of his mind after the image of God, is one who has that moral excellence which expresses itself, according to its different objects and occasions, in all the various graces of the Spirit. The Scriptures give special prominence to the love of God, as the most comprehensive and important of all the manifestations of this inward spiritual life. We are so constituted as to take delight in objects suited to our nature; and the perception of qualities adapted to our constitution, in external objects, produces complacency and desire. The soul rests in them as a good to be loved for its own sake; and the higher these qualities, the more pure and elevated are the affections which they excite. It is the effect of regeneration to enable us to perceive and love the infinite and absolute perfection of God, as comprehending all kinds of excellence, and as suited to the highest powers and most enlarged capacities of our nature. As soon, therefore, as the heart is renewed it turns to God, and rests in his excellence as the supreme object of complacency and desire.
Love to God, however, is not mere complacency in moral excellence. It is the love of a personal Being, who stands in the most intimate relations to ourselves, as the Author of our existence, as our Preserver and Ruler, as our Father, who with conscious love watches over us, protects us, sup plies all our wants, holds communion with us, manifesting himself unto us as he does not unto the world. The feelings of dependence, obligation, and relationship, enter largely into that comprehensive affection called the love of God. This affection is still further modified by the apprehension of the infinite wisdom and power of its object. These attributes are the proper objects of admiration; and, when infinite in degree and united with infinite goodness, they excite that wonder, admiration, reverence, and complacency, which constitute adoration, and which find in prostration and worship their only adequate expression. There is no attribute of religion more essential to its nature than this reverence for God. Whenever heaven has been opened to the view of men, its inhabitants have been seen with their faces veiled, and bowing before the throne of God. And all acceptable worship upon earth proceeds from the humble and contrite, who tremble at his word.
The exercise of these feelings of reverence and love is either (so to speak) casual, as the thoughts of God pass and repass through the soul during the busy hours of the day; or it is more prolonged, when the soul withdraws from the world, and sets itself in the presence of God, to adore his excellence, to thank him for his goodness, and to supplicate his blessing. The spirit of devotion which so pre-eminently distinguished the Redeemer, dwells in all his people. They are all devout; they all walk with God; they all feel him to be near and rejoice in his presence; and they all have communion with him in acts of private and public worship. There is no religion without this intercourse of the soul with God, as there is no life without warmth and motion in the body. And as the body rapidly decays when dead, so the soul perishes when not in communion with God.
This love of God will manifest itself in submission and obedience. The former is a humble acquiescence in the will of God, including the perception and acknowledgment that the commands of God concerning all things are right, and that his dispensations are all wise, merciful, and just. Even when clouds and darkness are round about him, religion forces upon us the conviction that "justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne." The renewed soul, filled with the assurance of the wisdom, power, and goodness of God, resigns itself into his hands, saying, "THY WILL BE DONE." When under the influence of this spirit, it is free from the discontent and misgivings which destroy the peace and aggravate the guilt of those who have no such confidence that the Judge of all the earth will do right.
Love to God must produce obedience, because it supposes a conformity of the soul to God in the perception and love of what is true and right; and obedience is only the expression or outward manifestation of this conformity; just as disobedience is the evidence of a contrariety between our will and the will of God. Whenever there is reconciliation to God, or the restoration of the Divine image, there must be conformity of heart and life to the will of God. It is a contradiction to say that a man is like God, or is a partaker of his nature, who does not love what God loves, and avoid what he hates. Obedience is but love in action. It is but the voice, and look, and carriage which affection, of necessity, assumes. For the love of God is not, as already said, mere love to excellence; it is the love of a heavenly Father; and, therefore, it secures obedience, not only because it supposes a congeniality of mind, if we may so speak, between the people of God and God himself, but also because it is his will that we should be obedient; it is what is pleasing to him; and love is no longer love if it does not lead to the purpose and endeavor to give pleasure to its object. "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them," said our Savior, "he it is that loveth me." (John 14.21) Obedience is not so much the evidence of love, as it is love itself made visible, or expressed. The habitual tenor of a man's life gives a more faithful exhibition of his state of heart, than any occasional ebullition of feeling, or any mere verbal professions; and where the tenor of the life is not in conformity with the will of God, there the heart must be in opposition to that will; and, on the other hand, wherever there is love, there must be obedience.
It would be out of analogy with the order of things as established by God, if the exercises of the spiritual life were not attended by peace and joy. Happiness is so intimately associated with these exercises, that the apostle says, "To be spiritually minded is life and peace." (Rom. 8.6) Excellence and enjoyment are blended in inseparable union; so that all right emotions and affections are pleasurable. And this pleasure is, in kind, if not in degree, proportionable to the dignity of the powers from whose exercise they flow. The senses afford the lowest kind of happiness; then, in an ascending scale, the social affections; then the intellectual powers; then the moral emotions; and then the religious affections. The kind of enjoyment which attends these latter is felt to be more pure and elevated, more satisfying and better suited to our nature, than that which flows from any other source. Hence the Scriptures ascribe to communion with God a joy that is unspeakable and full of glory, and a peace which passes all understanding. Joy, therefore, is one of the fruits of the Spirit; it is one of the accompaniments and evidences of spiritual life; it is a healthful affusion; it is the oil of gladness, which the Spirit pours over the renewed soul, to invigorate its exercises, to brighten its visage, and to make it active in the service and praise of God. As the image of God, after which the soul is renewed, consists in moral excellence, and as moral excellence means that state of mind which causes a man to feel and act aright under all circumstances, it is impossible that those who have correct views and feelings in regard to God, should not feel and act correctly in regard to their fellow men. Those whom the bible designates as good men, are benevolent and just, no less than devout. The comprehensive statement of our duty towards our fellow men is found in the command, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." The love here intended is that disposition which leads us to regard our neighbor with respect and kindness, and to seek to do him good. This love is long-suffering and kind; it does not envy the happiness of others, but rejoices, in their welfare. It is not proud, nor does it behave itself unseemly. It seeketh not its own. It rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. It beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things. (1 Cor. 13) Without this love, all professions of piety, all gifts, all outward acts of self-denial or charity, are worthless. It belongs essentially to the Christian character; for as self-love, prompting us to the pursuit of our own happiness, belongs to our nature as men, so benevolence, prompting us to seek the happiness of others, belongs to the nature of the new man. A new man means a good man, one who is like God, holy, just, benevolent, and merciful.
This meek, kind, trustful temper, which religion never fails to produce, is, of course, variously modified by the various characters of individuals, and by the relations of life. It is no part of the teaching of the Bible that we must regard all men with the same feelings. While it inculcates benevolence towards all men, it makes provision for the peculiar and closer relations in which men stand to each other, as members of one family, or of one society. And the same principle of religion which produces this general benevolence, secures the exercise of all the affections which belong to the various relations of life. It causes us to render obedience to whom obedience is due, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. It makes men, in their intercourse with their equals, respectful, considerate, and amiable; in their conduct to their inferiors, condescending, just, and kind.
It cannot be too well considered, that these social virtues are essential to true religion. The people of God are those who are like God. But God, as we have seen, is just, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth. Those, therefore, who are dishonest, unkind, proud, revengeful, or deceitful, are not his people; they do not bear the heavenly image, and have never been renewed in the spirit of their minds. Let no man deceive himself with the hope that, though a bad parent, son, or neighbor, he may be a good Christian. A Christian is like Christ.
Another form in which a renewed heart cannot fail to manifest itself is in self-denial. "If any man will come after me," said the Savior, "let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Mt. 16.24} The necessity of self denial arises partly from the fact, that the gratification of our own wishes is often inconsistent with the good of others; and partly from the fact, that so many of our desires and passions are inordinate or evil. The rule prescribed by the gospel is, that we are not to please ourselves, but everyone must please his neighbor, for his good to edification, even as Christ pleased not himself, but though be was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich.
The daily intercourse of life furnishes constant occasion for the exercise of this kind of self-denial. He who has the same mind that was in Christ, instead of being selfish, is ready to defer his own advantage to that of others, to give up his own gratification, and even his own rights, for the good of others. If meat causes his brother to offend, he will not eat meat while the world lasts.
To the Jews he becomes as a jew, that he may gain the Jews. To the weak he be comes as weak, that he may gain the weak. He does not live for himself. His own interest is not the main end of his pursuit. As a disinterested regard for the good of others pre-eminently distinguished the Redeemer, it characterizes all his followers: for God has predestinated them to be conformed to the image of his Son.
The call for self-denial arising from the corruption of our nature, is still more frequent. In consequence of the fall, the senses have attained an undue influence over the soul; they are incessant in their demands, and become more importunate the more they are indulged. It is inconsistent with reason to yield ourselves to the power of these lower principles of our nature; for reason itself teaches us, that if a man is governed by his body he is the servant of a slave. But if even a rational man feels bound to subject the body to the mind, the religious man cannot be sensual. They that are Christians have mortified the flesh with its affections and lusts; they keep their bodies in subjection.
What belongs to the body is, in a certain sense, external; the evil dispositions of the heart are in more intimate connexion with the soul. Pride, vanity, envy, malice, the love of self, are more formidable foes than mere bodily appetites. They are stronger, more enduring, and more capable of deceit. As these dispositions are deeply seated in our nature, the putting off the old man, which is corrupt, or the destruction of these unholy principles, is the most difficult of all Christian duties, and renders the believer's life a perpetual conflict. "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh," so that he cannot do those things that he would. In this conflict, however, the better principle is habitually, though not uniformly, victorious; for the children of God walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
It appears, then, even from this short survey, that true Christians are renewed after the image of God so as to be holy; they love God, they rest with complacency on his perfections, they acquiesce in his will, and rejoice in their relation to him as his creatures and children. They are habitually devout, and have fellowship with the Father of their spirits, and with Jesus Christ his Son. They are obedient children, not fashioning themselves according to their former lusts; but as he that called them is holy, so are they holy in all manner of conversation. As they bear the image of a just and merciful God, they are honest and benevolent towards their fellow men, not seeking their own, but the good of others. And as this victory over themselves and this conformity to the image of God cannot be obtained without conflict and self-denial, they keep up a constant opposition to the more subtle evils of the heart.
Some may be ready to say, that if this is religion, then no man is religious. It is certainly true, that "many are called, but few chosen." " Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."(Mt. 7.14) We must take our idea of religion from the Bible, and not from the lives of professors. It cannot be denied that the Bible makes religion to consist in love to God and man; nor can it be questioned that the love of God will manifest itself in reverence, devotion, and obedience, and the love of men in benevolence and justice. And our own conscience tell us, that no external forms, no outward professions, no assiduity in religious services, can entitle us to the character of Christians, unless we are thus devout and obedient towards God, thus just and benevolent towards our fellow men, and thus pure and self-denying as regards ourselves. But while it is certain that these traits are all essential to the Christian character, it is not asserted that all Christians are alike. There is as great diversity in their characters as Christians, as in their bodily appearance, their mental powers, or social dispositions. But as all men, in the midst of this endless variety, have the same features, the same mental faculties, and the same social affections; so all Christians, however they may differ in the strength or combination of the Christian graces, are all led by the Spirit, and all produce the fruits of the Spirit.
Having given this brief outline of the nature of true religion, it is proper to say a few words as to its necessity. It should be ever borne in mind, that the necessity of holiness is absolute. With regard to other things, some, though desirable, are not essential, and others, though essential under ordinary circumstances, are not universally and absolutely necessary. But holiness is necessary in such a sense that salvation, without it, is impossible, because salvation principally consists in this very transformation of the heart. Jesus is a Savior, because he sales his people from their sins. Those, therefore, who are not sanctified, are not saved. The doctrine, that a man may live in sin, and still be in a state of salvation, is as much a contradiction, as to say that a man may be ill when in health. A state of salvation is a state of holiness. The two things are inseparable; because salvation is not mere redemption from the penalty of sin, but deliverance from its power. It is freedom from bondage to the appetites of the body and the evil passions of the heart; it is an introduction into the favor and fellowship of God; the restoration of the Divine image to the soul, so that it loves God and delights in his service. Salvation, therefore, is always begun on earth. "Verify, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." (John 6.47) This is the language of our Savior. " To be spiritually minded is life:--to be carnally minded is death." (Rom. 8.6) There is no delusion more inexcusable, because none is more directly opposed to every doctrine of the Bible, than the idea that a state of grace is consistent with a life of sin. Without holiness no man can see God. (Heb.12.14) Whatever our ecclesiastical connexions may be, whatever our privileges or professions, if we are not holy in heart and life; if we are not habitually governed by a regard to the will of God; if we do not delight in communion with him, and desire conformity to his image; if we are not led by the Spirit, and do not exhibit the love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance which that Spirit always produces--then we are not religious men, nor are we in a state of salvation.
The Bible knows nothing of proud, selfish, covetous, impure Christians. Christians are partakers of a holy calling, they are washed, and sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God; they are saints, the sanctified in Christ Jesus; they mind spiritual things; they have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts; they are poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, merciful; they hunger and thirst after righteousness. Not that they have already apprehended, or are already perfect; but they follow after, if that they may apprehend that for which they are also apprehended of Christ Jesus; forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, they press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Their conversation is in heaven; from whence also they look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, "who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself." (Phil. 3.12-14, 20, 21)
Again, as God is holy, it is necessary that his people should be holy. There can be no communion without concord, or congeniality. If one loves what another hates, approves what another condemns, desires what another rejects, there can be no fellowship between them. "What concord hath Christ with Belial?" or "what communion hath light with darkness?" (2 Cor. 5.14, 15) So long, therefore, as we are what God disapproves, so long as we do not love what he loves, there can be no fellowship between him and us. Hence Christ says, "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.--That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."(Jn. 3.6-7) "The carnal mind is enmity against God,"(Rom. 8.7) and so long as this prevails, it is impossible that we should enjoy his presence. As God is the only adequate portion of the soul; as his favor and fellowship are essential to our happiness; as heaven consists in seeing, loving, and serving God; it is plain, that unless we are sanctified we cannot be saved; we cannot enjoy the society, the employments, or the pleasures of the people of God above, if we take no delight in them here. The necessity of holiness, therefore, arises out of the very nature of God, and is consequently absolute and unchangeable.
We know, also, that holiness is the end of redemption. Christ gave himself for his church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it, and that it should be holy and without blemish. He died the just for the unjust, that he might bring us unto God. The object of redemption is not attained in the case of those who remain in sin; in other words, they are not redeemed. It is, therefore, to subvert the whole gospel, and to make the death of Christ of none effect, to suppose that redemption and continuance in sin are compatible. The whole design and purpose of the mission and sufferings of the Savior would be frustrated if his people were not made partakers of his holiness; for the glory of God is promoted in them and by them only so far as they are made holy, and the recompense of the Redeemer is his bringing his people into conformity to his own image, that he may be the first-born among many brethren. Every child of God feels that the charm and glory of redemption is deliverance from sin, and conformity to God. This is the crown of righteousness, the prize of the high calling of God, the exaltation and blessedness for which he longs, and suffers, and prays. To tell him that he may be saved without being made holy, is to confound all his ideas of salvation, and to crush all his hopes. The nature of salvation, the character of God, the declarations of his word, the design of redemption, all concur to prove that holiness is absolutely and indispensably necessary, so that whatever we may be, or whatever we may have, if we are not holy, we are not the children of God, nor the heirs of his kingdom.
THE MEANS OF SANCTIFICATION
The attainment of holiness is often treated, even by Christian writers, as a mere question of morals, or at most, of natural religion. Men are directed to control, by the force of reason, their vicious propensities; to set in array before the mind the motives to virtuous living, and to strengthen the will by acts of self-restraint. Conscience is summoned to sanction the dictates of reason, or to warn the sinner of the consequences of transgression. The doctrines of the presence and providence of God, and of future retribution, are more or less relied upon to prevent the indulgence of sin, and to stimulate to the practice of virtue. Special directions are given how to cultivate virtuous habits, or to correct those which are evil.
As we are rational beings, and were meant to be governed by reason in opposition to appetite and passion, there is much that is true and important in such disquisitions on the practice of virtue. But as we are depraved beings, destitute of any recuperative power (Power to recover ourselves--M.B.) in ourselves, such rules, and the efforts to which they lead, must, by themselves, be ineffectual. God has endowed the body with a restorative energy, which enables it to throw off what is noxious to the system, and to heal the wounds which accident or malice may have inflicted. But when the system itself is deranged, instead of correcting what is amiss, it aggravates what would otherwise be a mere temporary disorder. And if by external means the evil is checked in one part, it reappears in another. Though you amputate a decaying limb, the remaining portion may soon exhibit symptoms of mortification. So long as the system is deranged, such means are mere palliatives, concealing or diverting the evil, but leaving the source of it untouched. It is no less true, that so long as the heart is unrenewed, all that reason and conscience can do is of little avail. They may obstruct the stream, or divert it into secret channels, but they cannot reach the fountain. As we retain, since the fall, reason, the power of choice, conscience, the social affections, a sense of justice, fear, shame, etc., much may be done, by a skillful management of these principles of action, towards producing propriety of conduct, and even great amiability and worth of character. But it is impossible, by these means, to call into existence right views and feelings towards God and our neighbor, or to eradicate the selfishness, pride, and other forms of evil by which our nature is corrupted. A man may be brought, by reason and conscience, to change his conduct, but not to change his heart. A sense of duty may force him to give alms to a man he hates, but it cannot change hatred into love. The desire of happiness may induce him to engage externally in the service of God, but it cannot make that service a delight. The affections do not obey the dictates of reason, nor the commands of conscience. They may be measurably restrained in their manifestations, but cannot be changed in their nature. They follow their own law. They delight in what is suited to the disposition of him who exercises them. Holding up to them what they ought to delight in, cannot secure their devotion.
It is not meant to depreciate reason and conscience, but it is necessary that their true province should be known, that we may not rely upon inadequate means in our efforts to become holy. Though Scripture and experience teach us that our own unaided powers are insufficient to bring us to the knowledge and love of God, the rules which reason suggests for the culture of moral excellence are, for the renewed man, far from being destitute of value. It is, no doubt, of importance, that we should be acquainted with the counsels of the wise on this subject, and that we should habituate ourselves to the vigilant use of all these subordinate means of improvement; remembering, however, that it is not by the strength of our own purposes, nor by the force of moral considerations, nor by any rules of discipline, that the life of God in the soul can be either produced or sustained.
While one class of men place their chief reliance for moral improvement upon reason and conscience, another, and perhaps a larger class, rely upon means which, though they have no tendency in themselves to produce holiness, are falsely assumed to have, in virtue of the appointment of God, an inherent efficacy for that purpose. Such are not only the absolutions, pilgrimages, and penances of the heathen, but the multiplied rites of corrupt Christian churches. Sprinkling the body with consecrated water, the repetition of forms of prayer, attendance upon religious services not understood, anointing with oil, the imposition of hands, receiving, though without faith, the holy sacraments--are supposed to convey grace to the soul. Great reliance is placed on retirement from the world; on praying at particular times or places, or in a particular posture, and on the whole routine of ascetic discipline. With what laborious and unavailing diligence these means of destroying sin have been employed, the history of the church gives melancholy evidence. Even in the days of the apostles, the disposition to rely on such means for attaining holiness had begun to manifest itself. There were even then men who commanded to abstain from meats, who forbade marriage, who said, "Touch not; taste not; handle not" "which things," says the apostle, " have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body," and yet only served to satisfy the flesh. (Col.2.21-23)
The Scriptures teach us a different doctrine. They teach, that believers are so united to Christ, that they are not only partakers of the merit of his death, but also of his Holy Spirit, which dwells in them as a principle of life, bringing them more and more into conformity with the image of God, and working in them both to will and to do, according to his own good pleasure. They teach, that so long as men are under the law--that is, are bound to satisfy its demands as the ground of their acceptance with God, and are governed by a legal spirit, or a mere sense of duty and fear of punishment, they are in the condition of slaves, incapable of right feelings towards God, or of producing the fruits of holiness. But when, by the death of Christ, they are freed from the law, in the sense above stated, their whole relation to God is changed. They are no longer slaves, but children. Being united to Christ in his death, they are partakers of his life, and in virtue of this union they bring forth fruit unto God. They are henceforth led by the Spirit which dwells in them; and this Spirit is a source of life, not only to the soul, but also to the body; for if the Spirit of him that raised Christ from the dead dwell in us, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken our bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in us. (Rom. 8.11) The doctrine of sanctification, therefore, as taught in the Bible, is, that we are made holy not by the force of conscience, or of moral motives, nor by acts of discipline, but by being united to Christ so as to become reconciled to God, and partakers of the Holy Ghost. Christ is made unto us sanctification as well as justification. He not only frees from the penalty of the law, but he makes holy. There is, therefore, according to the gospel, no such thing as sanctification without or before justification. Those who are out of Christ are under the power, as well as under the condemnation, of sin. And those who are in Christ are not only free from condemnation, but are also delivered from the dominion of sin.
The nature of the union between Christ and his people, on which so much depends, is confessedly mysterious. Paul having said, "We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones," immediately adds, " This is a great mystery." (Eph. 5.30,32) It is vain, therefore, to attempt to bring this subject down to the level of our comprehension. The mode in which God is present, and operates throughout the universe, is to us an impenetrable secret. We cannot even understand how our own souls are present and operate in the bodies which they occupy. We need not, then, expect to comprehend the mode in which Christ dwells by his Spirit in the hearts of his people. The fact that such union exists is clearly revealed; its effects are explicitly stated, and its nature is set forth, as far as it can be made known, by the most striking illustrations. In his intercessory prayer, our Savior said, " I pray--that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.--I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." (Jn. 17.21-23) "He that keepeth his commandments'' says the apostle John, "dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." (1 Jn. 3.24) "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his ;" but if Christ be in you, the body, adds the apostle, may die, but the soul shall live. (Rom. 8.9-11) "Know ye not," asks Paul, "that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own." (1 Cor. 6.19) And to the same effect, ''Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?"(1 Cor. 3.16)
The Scriptures are filled with this doctrine. The great promise of the Old Testament in connexion with the advent of the Messiah was, that the Holy Spirit should then be abundantly communicated to men. Christ is said to have redeemed us in order that we might receive this promised Spirit. (Gal. 3.13, 14) And the only evidence of a participation of the benefits of redemption, recognized by the apostles, was the participation of the Holy Ghost, manifesting itself either in the extraordinary powers which he then communicated, or in those lovely fruits of holiness which never fail to mark his presence.
The effects ascribed to this union, as already stated, are an interest in the merits of Christ, in order to our justification, and the indwelling of his Spirit, in order to our sanctification. Its nature is variously illustrated. It is compared to that union which subsists between a representative and those for whom he acts. In this view Adam is said to be like Christ, and Christ is said to be the second Adam; "for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Cor. 15.22) This idea is also presented whenever Christ is said to have died for his sheep, or in their place; or when they are said to have died with him, his death being virtually their death, satisfying in their behalf the demands of justice, and redeeming them from the curse of the law. It is compared to the union between the head and members of the same body. The meaning of this illustration is by no means exhausted by saying that Christ governs his people, or that there is a community of feeling and interest between them. The main idea is, that there is a community of life; that the same Spirit dwells in him and in them. As the body is everywhere animated by one soul, which makes it one, and communicates a common life to all its parts, so the Holy Ghost, who dwells in Christ, is by him communicated to all his people, and makes them, in a peculiar sense, one with him, and one among themselves, and imparts to all that life which has its seat and source in him. "As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body;-and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." (1 Cor. 12.12,13) Another illustration, but of the same import, is employed by Christ, when he says, " I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing." (Jn. 15.5) As the branches are so united to the vine as to partake of its life, and to be absolutely dependent upon it, so believers are so united to Christ as to partake of his life, and to be absolutely dependent on him. The Holy Spirit communicated by him to them, is in them the principle of life and fruitfulness.
Christ and his people are one. He is the Foundation, they are the building. He is the Vine, they are the branches. He is the Head, they are the body. Because he lives, they shall live also; for it is not they that live, but Christ that liveth in them. The Holy Spirit, concerning which he said to his disciples, "He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you," (Jn. 14.17) is to them not only the source of spiritual life, but of all its manifestations. They are baptized by the Spirit; (Lk.3.16) they are born of the Spirit; (Jn. 3.5) they are called spiritual, because the Spirit of God dwells in them; (1 Cor. 3.16) whereas, the unregenerate are called natural, or sensual, "having not the Spirit." (Rom. 8.14) Believers are sanctified by the Spirit; (1 Cor. 6.11) they are led by the Spirit; they live in the Spirit; (Gal. 5.25) they are strengthened by the Spirit; (Eph. 3.16) they are filled with the Spirit. (Eph. 5.18) By the Spirit they mortify sin; ((Rom. 8.13) through the Spirit they wait for the hope of righteousness; (Gal. 5.5) they have access to God by the Spirit; (Eph..2.18) they pray and sing in the Spirit.(Jn. 4.24; Jude 20) The Spirit is to them a source of knowledge, (Eph. 1.17) of joy, (Thess. 1.6) Of love, long-suffering, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. (Gal. 5.22) This doctrine of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is so wrought into the texture of the gospel as to be absolutely essential to it. It ceases to be the gospel if we abstract from it the great truth, that the Spirit of God, as the purchase and gift of Christ, is ever present with his people, guiding their inward exercises and outward conduct, and bringing them at last, without spot or blemish, to the purity and blessedness of heaven.
The secret of holy living lies in this doctrine of the union of the believer with Christ. This is not only the ground of his hope of pardon, but the source of the strength whereby he dies unto sin and lives unto righteousness. It is by being rooted and grounded in Christ that he is strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, and is enabled to comprehend the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the mystery of redemption, and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, and is filled with all the fulness of God. It is this doctrine which sustains him under all his trials, and enables him to triumph over all his enemies; for it is not he that lives, but Christ that lives in him, giving him grace sufficient for his day, and purifying him unto himself, as one of his peculiar people zealous of good works.
As union with Christ is the source of spiritual life, the means by which that life is to be maintained and promoted are all related to this doctrine, and derive from it all their efficacy. Thus we are said to be purified by faith, (Acts 15.9) l to be sanctified by faith, (Acts 26.18) to live by faith, (Gal. 2.20) to be saved by faith. (Eph.. 2.8) Faith has this important agency, because it is the bond of our union with Christ. It not only gives us the right to plead his merits for our justification, but it makes us partakers of his Holy Spirit. Christ has promised, that all, who come to him shall receive the water of life, by which the apostle tells us is meant the Holy Spirit. It is by faith, and in the persuasion of our consequent union with Christ, that we have confidence to draw near to God, and to open our souls to the sanctifying influence of his love, It is by faith that we receive of his fulness, and grace for grace. It is by faith that we look to him for strength to overcome temptations and to discharge our duties. It is by faith that we receive those exceeding great and precious promises, whereby we are made partakers of the Divine nature.
All Christians know from experience, that faith in Christ is the source of their holiness and peace. When beset with temptations to despondency or sin, if they look to him for support, they are conscious of a strength to resist, or to endure, which no effort of will and no influence of motives ever could impart. When they draw near to God as the members of Christ, they have freedom of access, and experience a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory. When pressed down by afflictions, if they remember that they are one with him who suffered for them, leaving them an example, they rejoice in their tribulations, knowing that if they suffer they shall also reign with him.
Moreover, as in virtue of union with Christ we receive the Holy Spirit as the source of spiritual life, to maintain that life we must avoid everything which may provoke the Spirit to withdraw from us. The Bible teaches us, that the Spirit may be grieved; that his influences may be quenched; that God, in judgment, often withdraws them from those who thus offend. Evil thoughts, unholy tempers, acts of transgression, are to be avoided not merely as sins, but as offences against the Holy Spirit. We must remember, that to defile the soul with sin, or the body by intemperance or impurity, is sacrilege, because we are the members of Christ, and our bodies the temples of the Holy Ghost. On the other hand, right thoughts, just purposes, holy desires, are to be cherished, not only as right in themselves, but as proceeding from that heavenly Agent on whom we are dependent for sanctification.
This is a very different thing from opposing sin and cultivating right feelings on mere moral considerations, and in dependence on our own strength. This may be what the world calls morality, but it is not what the bible calls religion. Such considerations ought to have, and ever will have, with the Christian, their due weight; but they are not his dependence in his efforts to become holy, nor is his reliance upon his own resources. The life which he leads is by faith in Jesus Christ; and it is by constant reference to the Holy Spirit, and dependence on him, that that life is maintained. For it is as inconsistent with the religion of the gospel, to suppose that we can make ourselves holy by our own strength, as that we can be justified by our own works.
It is principally through the efficacy of prayer that we receive the communications of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is not a mere instinct of a dependent nature, seeking help from the Author of its being: nor is it to be viewed simply as a natural expression of faith and desire, or as a mode of communion with the Father of our spirits; but it is also to be regarded as the appointed means of obtaining the Holy Ghost. "If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?" (Lk. 11.13) Hence we are urged to be constant and importunate in prayer, praying especially for those communications of Divine influence by which the life of God in the soul is maintained and promoted.
The doctrine that the Holy Spirit works in the people of God both to will and to do according to his own good pleasure, is not inconsistent with the diligent use of all rational and scriptural means, on our part, to grow in grace and in the knowledge of God. For though the mode of the Spirit's influence is inscrutable, it is described as an enlightening, teaching, persuading process, all which terms suppose a rational subject rationally affected. The indwelling of the Spirit, therefore, in the people of God, does not supersede their own agency. He acts by leading them to act. Thus we are commanded to do, and in fact must do, what he is said to do for us.
We believe, though faith is of the operation of God; we repent, though repentance is the gift of Christ; we love, though love, gentleness, goodness, and all other graces, are the fruits of the Spirit. The work of sanctification is carried on by our being thus led under this Divine influence to exercise right dispositions and feelings. For the law of our nature, which connects an increase of strength with the repeated exercise of any of our powers, is not suspended with regard to the holy disposition of the renewed soul. Philosophers say that the vibrations imparted to the atmosphere by the utterance of a word never cease. However this may be, it is certain every pious emotion strengthens the principle of piety, and leaves the soul permanently better. The good derived from that influence, or from those services which call our love, faith, or gratitude into exercise, is not transient as the exercises themselves. Far from it. One hour's communion with God produces an impression never to be effaced; it renders the soul for ever less susceptible of evil, and more susceptible of good. And as the Holy Spirit is ever exciting the soul to the exercise of holiness, and bringing it into communion with God, he thus renders it more and more holy, and better fitted for the unchanging and perfect holiness of heaven.
It is principally by the contemplation of the truth, the worship of God, and the discharge of duty that these holy exercises are called into being. All thought and affection suppose an object on which they terminate, and which, when presented, tends to call them forth. We cannot fear God, unless his holiness and power be present to the mind; we cannot love him, except in view of his excellence and goodness; we cannot believe, except in contemplation of his word, nor hope, unless in view of his promises. As these affections suppose their appropriate objects, so these objects tend to excite the affections. Were it not for our depravity, they never could be brought into view without the corresponding affection rising to meet them. And notwithstanding our depravity, their tendency, resulting from their inherent nature, remains, and as that depravity is corrected or removed by the Holy Spirit, these objects exert on the soul their appropriate influence. We are, therefore, said to be sanctified by the truth; (Jn. 17.19) to be made clean through the word of Christ; (Jn. 15) to be born again by the word of truth; (Ja. 1.18) to be changed into the image of God by beholding his glory. (2 Cor. 3.18)
It is most unreasonable to expect to be conformed to the image of God, unless the truth concerning God be made to operate often and continuously upon the mind. How can a heart that is filled with the thoughts and cares of the world, and especially one which is often moved to evil by the thoughts or sight of sin, expect that the affections which answer to the holiness, goodness, or greatness of God, should gather strength within it? How can the love of Christ increase in the bosoms of those who hardly ever think of him or of his work? This cannot be without a change in the very nature of things; and, therefore, we cannot make progress in holiness unless we devote much time to the reading, hearing, and meditating upon the word of God, which is the truth whereby we are sanctified. The more this truth is brought before the mind; the more we commune with it, entering into its import, applying it to our own case, appropriating its principles, appreciating its motives, rejoicing in its promises, trembling at its threatenings, rising by its influence from what is seen and temporal to what is unseen and eternal, the more may we expect to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, so as to approve and love whatever is holy, just, and good. Men distinguished for their piety have ever been men of meditation as well as men of prayer; men accustomed to withdraw the mind from the influence of the world with its thousand joys and sorrows, and to bring it under the influence of the doctrines, precepts, and promises of the word of God. Besides the contemplation of the truth, the worship of God is an important means of growing in grace. It not only includes the exercise and expression of all pious feelings, which are necessarily strengthened by the exercise, but it is the appointed means of holding communion with God, and receiving the communications of his grace. "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint." (Isa. 11.31) "Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. They go from strength to strength, every one of them in Zion appeareth before God."(Psa. 84.4, 7) This is a matter of experience as well as revelation. The people of God have ever found in the private, social, and public worship of the Father of their spirits, the chief means of renewing their spiritual strength. The sanctuary is the temple of God on earth, whose services are preparatory to those of the temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. It is here, too, that the sacraments, as means of grace, have their appropriate place. They are to us what the sacrifices and rites of the old dispensation were to the Israelites. They exhibit and seal the truth and promises of God, and convey to those who worthily receive them the blessings which they represent. The Christian, therefore, who is desirous of increasing in the knowledge and love of God, will be a faithful attendant on all the appointed forms and occasions of Divine worship, He will be much in his closet, he will be punctual in the sanctuary and at the table of the Lord. He will seek opportunities of fellowship with God, as a friend seeks intercourse with his friend; and the more he can enjoy of this communion, the better will he be prepared for that perfect fellowship with the Father of lights which constitutes the blessedness of heaven.
Finally, to be good, we must do good. It has been falsely said, that action is the whole of oratory, and as falsely supposed, that action is the whole of religion. There is no eloquence in action except as it is expressive of thought and feeling, and there is no religion in outward acts except as they are informed and guided by a pious spirit. It is only by maintaining such a spirit that external works can have any significance or value. It is, perhaps, one of the evil tendencies of our age, to push religion out of doors; to allow her no home but the street or public assembly; to withhold from her all food except the excitement of loud professions and external manifestations. This is to destroy her power. It is to cut her off from the source of her strength, and to transform the meek and holy visitor from heaven into the noisy and bustling inhabitant of the earth. It is so much easier to be religious outwardly than inwardly, to be active in church duties than to keep the heart with all diligence, that we are in danger of preferring the form of religion to its power. The same love of excitement and desire to be busy which make men active in worldly pursuits may, without changing their character, make them active in religious exercises. But if there is danger on this side, there is quite as much on the either. Although religion does not consist in outward acts, it always produces them. " Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (1 Jn. 3.17) The love of God can no more fail to produce obedience to his commands, than a mother's love can fail to produce watchfulness and care for her infant. That man's religion therefore, is vain, which expends itself in exercises that relate exclusively to his own salvation. And doubtless many Christians go halting all their days, because they confine their attention too much to themselves. It is only by the harmonious exercise of all the graces, of faith and love towards God, and of justice and benevolence towards men, that the health of the soul can be maintained or promoted. It is not merely because the exercise of benevolence strengthens the principle of benevolence that doing good tends to make men better, but God has ordained that he that watereth shall be watered also himself. He distills his grace on those who labor for the temporal and spiritual benefit of their fellow men, and who follow the example of the blessed Redeemer, walking with God while they go about doing good.
True religion, as we find it described in the Bible, is neither an external show, nor a fitful ebullition of feeling. It is a permanent, spontaneous, and progressive principle of spiritual life, influencing the whole man, and producing all the fruits of righteousness. It is not any one good disposition, but the root and spring of all right feelings and actions, manifesting itself in love and obedience towards God, in justice and benevolence towards man, and in the proper government of ourselves. This divine life can neither be obtained nor continued by any mere efforts of reason or conscience, or by any superstitious observances, but flows from our union with Christ, who causes his Holy Spirit to dwell in all his members. In order to promote this divine life, it is our business to avoid everything which has a tendency to grieve the Spirit of all grace, and to do everything by which his sacred influence on the heart may be cherished. It is by this influence that we are sanctified, for it leads us to exercise all holy dispositions in the contemplation of the truth, in the worship of God, and in the discharge of all our relative duties.