SERMON 3 (cont.)
If the right construction has been put on your question,
"How can a man be born when he is old?" if that question indicates, as I have
supposed it to do, a sense of some great change, like that from age to infancy,
being much to be desired and longed for, ah! should you not welcome as the best
of all good news the authentic information that such a change, nay, one
infinitely better, is within your reach! And when one whom you yourself
acknowledge as a teacher come from God tells you of a divine Person, the
blessed Spirit, who will be in you the agent for producing this change -
imparting a new spiritual nature and beginning a new spiritual life - ah! why
are you so slow to apprehend a statement so fitted to meet what, as your own
inmost consciousness should teach you and is teaching you even now, is the
deepest want of your soul?
And if thus I find you so unable to understand and un-willing to admit such truths as these - truths that might find an echo in your own bosom as you muse on all your earthly life, in its inner sources as well as in its outward flow; truths which your spirit, weary of sin's restlessness and longing for pure peace, should eagerly welcome and embrace as the only elixir of real and immortal youth and joy - how can I hope to carry you along with me, intelligently, believingly, sympathisingly, in the discoveries I have to make to you of heavenly things! Things having nothing at all in common with any earthly consciousness or earthly experience! Things which eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have they entered into the heart of man - things which God has purposed and prepared in the unsearchable counsels of his own sovereign mind and will - things which you would need to be able to ascend up into heaven if you would discover them for your-selves! Things which you must receive, not for any corroboration or corresponding attestation which earth's history, or your own earthly knowledge and feeling, may afford, but solely and exclusively on the testimony of him who came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven? (ver. 13.)
The lifting up of the Son of man, as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness; the love of God in sending his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish but have everlasting life; the blessed power of faith in him to deliver from condemnation; the terrible danger and doom of unbelief - these are not earthly things at all, in the sense of there being anything in earth's ongoings, within or without yourselves, to explain them, to account for them, to facilitate your acceptance of them. No. They are altogether and only heavenly. They have their seat in the heart of the Eternal; in the bosom of God, where his only begotten Son dwells evermore. When the Son tells you of these heavenly things - of his own all-healing Cross, and of his Father's world-wide love, and of the free gospel-call, and the tremendous responsibility which it entails - he has nothing earthly to which he can appeal as throwing any light upon, or giving any confirmation to, the great mystery of godliness, or as fitted in the very least to make it more intelligible, more probable, more credible, than it is in his own simple declaration of it. Therefore he may well express a fear that if you will not receive his testimony on a matter of which your own hearts may at least partially have experimental knowledge, you may refuse him credit when he speaks of what he alone can know - the great loving heart of the Eternal Father giving his own Son to be the propitiation for sin, and so reconciling the world unto himself.
Observation and experience may confirm this view, if you have the spiritual mind to discern spiritual things. Look around and say, who are they who are the most unintelligent and practically unbelieving as regards the heavenly things: the doctrine or fact of redemption in its reality and issues? Who are they who are at a loss to see why so great a work should be made about the forgiveness of sin? Why it should cost so vast an expenditure of the divine resources to secure their not perishing, or being finally condemned? Are they not the very men who are equally, or still more, at a loss to see why so great a change of nature must be wrought in them before they are fit for heaven? Why it should be a change so radical as to be at all like a new birth or a new creation? Show me a man who does not feel his need of being so thoroughly renewed, whose notion is that with some repentances and confessions, some reformations and amendments, such as, with a little help from above, he hopes to effect before he dies, his character may become good enough to pass muster in the crowd: show me that man, and I will answer for it that he is one who is equally unable to comprehend why, without shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin; why God cannot save the lost without his own Son dying in their stead.
Yes; let us be well assured that slight and superficial views as to the change which needs to be wrought in us will carry with them slight and superficial views as to the work which needed to be done for us. The less I feel what the Spirit has to do in me, the less I feel what the Son had to do for me; for my sense or apprehension of my sin, as inferring guilt needing to be atoned for, turns largely on my sense or apprehension of my sin as so vitiating my whole inner man, that nothing short of a new birth, or a new creation, can make my heart right with God. If I think lightly of the hurt of my soul as regards the state of my affections towards the holy God and his holiness, if I think of it as a hurt to be slightly healed, and indulge myself in the dream that I am not so utterly wrong, so thoroughly carnal and ungodly, as to be unable through penitence and prayer to right and reform myself tolerably and sufficiently; how will you ever convince me that there is any extraordinary exercise of mercy on the part of God in granting me pardon so far as I need it? How will you ever hinder me from reckoning on forgiveness almost as a matter of course, if not a matter of right?How will you ever persuade me that there is in my sin such a deep dye of criminality as only the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can wash out? How will you ever get me to take in the amazing love of God in his giving his only begotten Son, "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life?"
Therefore let me look within. Let me see to it that I have some adequate sense of the deep and deadly corruption of my nature, the entire and thorough estrangement of my heart from God, as being such that I must be born again if I am to see and enter into his kingdom, if I am to be at home with him. I sometimes wonder that I am so little affected and impressed by the great love of God in the gift of his Son to be the propitiation for my sin, that I am so slow to take in all the terror and all the glory of that amazing substitution; the eternal Son taking my nature and my place under the law which I have broken, made sin, and made a curse for me. I may not question the reality of the transaction, but somehow I find myself little alive, less than I used to be, to its awful meaning and dread necessity. I am beginning again to ask why there should be so much ado about my deliverance and my safety, and consequently to see less and feel less of the love passing knowledge that prompts and pervades the whole gracious plan. Is it so with me now? Ah I it is a sad sign of declension, a most alarming symptom of unbelieving unankfulness, that must surely and swiftly harden my heart. me be startled at once; let me thoroughly search and try self~ and instantly ask God to search and try me; and let very specially on this precise point, that I search myself and ask God to search me, the state of my conscience, and its conviction of indwelling sin; the corruption of my nature, and my inveterate, because inborn, carnality.
May there not be creeping over me a growing insensibility to that sore evil, in some one or other of the forms in which it must continue to meet me, as long as the war of the flesh against the Spirit lasts? Alas I may not that warfare itself be slackening in its energy, if not inclining to a truce? May not that explain the melancholy mystery of my lessening warmth of gratitude to God for his unspeakable gift? For let me be well assured that all through my spiritual life, from its first beginning in the new birth to its final consummation in perfected holiness, the principle involved in the Lord's question must I apply: "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe if I tell you of heavenly things?" Having told us earthly things, the Lord intimates that, whether we believe them or not, he must go on to tell us of heavenly things; and there are several good and sufficient reasons why he must do so.
1. He must do so for the sake of those who do believe the earthly things, of whom Nicodemus probably came are long to be one. This view follows up and supplements the view which I have just been giving. The case I put now is the converse of the case I have been putting. I suppose now a man thoroughly awakened by the Spirit to a real and deep apprehension of that inborn depravity in him which renders the new birth necessary. He is undergoing some such experience as Paul describes in IRomans vii. His sin, in that aspect of it chiefly which regards its bearing on his whole inner man, is finding him out. He has no difficulty in believing the earthly things about it; that it is, as the Lord has been telling Nicodemus, in itself and in its malignant poison as vitiating his entire nature, such as no power of his can deal with. He looks at himself in the light of the law. His very inmost self he thus looks into: for the Spirit is bringing home to him the law in a new light, as not outward and formal merely, but intensely spiritual; not disliked and dreaded, but approved and loved; not complained of as irksome and grievous and severe, but felt to be holy and just and good. The man is in earnest. But the more he is in earnest the more pitiable does his case become. "The law is spiritual, but I am carnat sold under sin. When I would do good, evil is present with me." Ah! is he not in the very position and the very frame of mind to welcome the assurance that for him, and such as he is, there is provision made for a new birth, for a change so radical and complete that he comes forth from it a new man, with a new heart a heart that can love, and can cease from lusting.
Yes, truly this teaching about the Spirit, that one may be born of the Spirit, is seasonable and acceptable. But the Spirit himself who has brought the man thus far in this sore but salutary exercise of soul, knows that at this stage he needs something else and something more. For the insight which the Spirit has been giving him into his sin and its exceeding sinfulness; as so defiling and destroying his whole nature that he cannot make himself such as he now fain would be, a loving and obedient child of God, that very insight opens his eye to that other and most appalling aspect of sin which brings in the fatal element of guilt. The man as from a troubled sleep, to find himself a criminal in chains, in the arms of justice, under the doom of law. And m he now cannot but acknowledge, not only really, but condemned. What avails any prospect of a change for the better in him if that inevitable, irrevocable sentence of Judgment is to lie upon him?
2. Is it not here that the heavenly things so opportunely blessedly come in? For the Spirit is of one mind first in this matter He will not leave a poor Nicodemus, and all but despairing Paul, at his wits end under the terrible and crushing discovery which he gives of the earthly things. In the nick of time, at the very moment they are needed, be will bring to remembrance the heavenly things of which Christ has to tell every miserable sinner as he told Nicodemus - the Son of man lifted up on the cross; the free call; the faithful saying; the world-wide "whosoever" - so that the very cry forced from lips of penitential anguish, "0 wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death" shall issue in the glad and grateful exclamation, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" "There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit." mind not earthly things, and he next goes on to tell us of the heavenly things, in that, whether we believe or not, he must complete the discovery which he has to make to us of the Father; so as to do full justice to the Father's love, in his purpose and plan of salvation; and leave us, if we continue unbelieving, altogether unpardonable.
What could I have done more for you that I have not done saith the Lord. I have sent my Son; will they not hear him, when my Spirit commends him to them. Light is come into the world. If it is to be light, saving on the one hand, and condemning on the other, as it must be if it is the light of God ; it must be the whole light of God. It must be light that brings out the whole counsel of God. Such it can he only when, having revealed the earthly, it reveals also the heavenly. For thus only the light of the Father's love shines forth in all its glory; the glory of its consummated grace; its double grace, in regeneration and redemption; so as to leave all men, of all conditions, absolutely without excuse. For what apology can any sinner now have for not coming to the light that shines upon and in him? No doubt the light will make manifest his deeds, his doings, his dispositions. And if he is bent on them being all still on the side of evil, he must shun the light of God's pure truth, and court the darkness of guile. But why should he do so? If the bent of his mind is toward the truth, why should he hesitate about coming to the light ,for, be it what it may, at the very worst, the light shows him his case completely met. Yes ; it is met, thoroughly and efficaciously met, in both of the aspects in which it seems so hopeless. You must he born again. You must undergo a change of nature which it is beyond any power of your own to effect.
Does that offend you? Does it seem to you to make your case desperate! It should not do so. It need not do so. For, not only have you the assurance of the Spirit's unseen agency being available for working this necessary change within. You are told of what, irrespectively of any inward consciousness, may minister immediate relief. Jesus tells you of heavenly things. And the Spirit carries home to you what he tells you of heavenly things. It summons you to deal with them; to deal with them now; instantly and immediately; and deal with them as they are in themselves, without the slightest regard to the earthly things, or to any experience of yours about the earthly things. For that is the glorious gospel of the free grace of God. The Son of man, lifted up on the cross, is set forth before your eyes. Look to him simply as you would have looked to the serpent lifted up by Moses in the wilderness. Look to now, just as you are. Look to him and be saved. Do not wait for any sense or consciousness of the new or of any work of the Spirit regarding it, as if that be to be your warrant for looking to the Son of man lifted up on the cross. No: your warrant is just what had the Israelites of old; the real and actual lifting up of the Son of man,
As the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness. It is the wide and free proclamation, whosoever believeth shall be saved. Surely if on that warrant, the warrant of an infinitely sufficient atonement, and a gracious, gratuitous invitation, with a sovereign command grounded thereupon, you will not believe; the fault is not God's but yours. "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." "I would but ye would not." "Your blood be on your own heads."
There is yet another reason to be given for the Lord's going on to tell of heavenly things, even though the earthly things he has been telling are but little apprehended and realised. His discovery of the heavenly things may be the very means used by the Spirit for making me alive to the earthly. Yes, what the Lord tells, as none else could tell, of his Father's love and his own cross, may be turned to account by the Spirit, and made to smite me with a sense of my deep need of a very thorough change. That God has been so loving me while I have been so hating him; that his heart has been so turned towards me, while my heart has been so turned away from him; that he has caused his own Son to be lifted up for me on the expiatory altar of the cross, while I have been living on as if I had no sin that needed expiation at all;
Is not that a thought that might well convince me of my own heart being harder than the nether millstone, and make me seek a new heart from God. Ah! It may well be so. If Christ is telling me of these heavenly things, and the Spirit is bringing home to me Christ's telling me of them; if, with eye opened by the Holy Ghost, I get but a glimpse of that love in which the whole plan of redemption originates, and of which even it is an inadequate expression; if thus taught of God, I see into the heart of God, and obtain some faint idea of the longing of that heart for the world s salvation, and for mine; if I am divinely moved to apprehend that it is that very love that the great Father reveals to me, and presses on my acceptance, in his dear Son, beseeching me to be to him what his Son is, and to let him be to me what he is to him. Ah I if thus I am made to see the great Father in heaven loving me with a love like that; providing for me an atoning sacrifice that satisfies highest justice and expiates deepest guilt; and so reconciling me to himself, fully, freely, in his Son; may not such a discovery of what God is to me open my eyes to what I am to him? May it not convince me that I do indeed need to be born again, if I am to know and believe such love as that? Ah, sinner I wilt thou not be moved by that love now? Wilt thou not contrast what is in God's heart towards thee with what is in thy heart towards God? Wilt thou not be filled with shame and grief when thou thinkest how dead and insensible thou hast been when such love as that has been set before thee and pressed upon thee? Wilt thou not cry out in earnest, "Create in me a clean heart, 0 God, and renew within me a right spirit?" Fulfil thine own promise. "A new heart will I give thee and a right spirit will I put within thee, and I will put my Spirit within thee." Yes; 0 Lord God, gracious and loving Father. Purge me with byssop and I shall be clean. Take not thy Holy Spirit from me."
Home | Biography | Literature | Letters | Links | Photo-Wallet