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Friday, October 28, 2016

Except Ye Repent # 9

Except Ye Repent # 9

Repentance From Dead Works

In the remarkably difficult passage warning against apostasy, the the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, there is an expression that may well claim our serious attention. In setting forth the "word of the beginning of Christ", which we are exhorted to leave in order to press on to the full revelation of the Gospel, which is denominated "perfection", in contrast to the law, which made nothing perfect, we find the couplet, "of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God" (v. 1). Because we are exhorted not to lay again this foundation, we are not to suppose that we are called upon to ignore the earlier principles in order to enhance the importance of the new. God's truth has been imparted to man gradually, but no later truth demands the spurning of that which has gone before.

By the term "the word of the beginning of Christ" I understand the testimony of the Law and the Prophets right on through the ministry of the last of them all, John the Baptist, and the added instruction of our Lord Himself in the days of His flesh. All this constitutes the foundation upon which the later revelation rests. It is noticeable that this foundation is given in three couplets. In addition to the one already mentioned, and which I propose to deal with at some length, we have "a doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands," and in the third place, "of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment." All of these six principles were dealt with in, and formed part of, the earlier messages of God to His people Israel and to the world at large.

There is no doctrine of baptisms, or washings, in the Christian system. The reference is to Jewish ceremonial washings which sanctified to the purifying of the flesh. The laying on of hands refers not to ministerial ordination, as some have imagined, but to the laying on of hands upon the sacrificial victims, which identified the offerer with his offering, thus typifying the believer laying hold in faith upon the finished work of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ. This has been beautifully expressed by Isaac Watts when he wrote:

"My faith would lay her hand
On that blest head of Thine,
While like a penitent I stand
And there confess my sin."

The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment runs all through Scripture. Paul refers to it as part of the hope of Israel, for believing which he stood condemned (Acts 24:15). It is almost needless to remind my reader, if instructed in Christian truth, that we have an interesting advance upon this, however, both in the four Gospels and in Paul's Epistles; for there we learn of resurrection from the dead, the first resurrection unto life, as distinguished from a second resurrection unto judgment.

But now we turn to consider the first pair of doctrines in this double trilogy referred to. Here we note the order as elsewhere in Scripture, repentance first, then faith. We have already seen that Paul preached "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." This is the full-orbed Christian message. In Hebrews it is repentance from, not toward, something. From what? From that in which every legalist puts all his confidence - dead works.

In Scripture we have three kinds of works: good works, evil works, and dead works. Good works are the fruit of the new life, and in our dispensation of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Of all who are unsaved we read, "There is none that doeth good, no, not one." Disciples of Christ, on the other hand, are exhorted so to walk and speak that men may see their good works and glorify their Father which is in heaven. We are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Well has the hymn writer declared:

"I would not work my soul to save,
That work my Lord has done;
But I would work like any slave
For love of God's dear Son."

Good works are life works - inwrought by the Lord Himself, who works in us - both the willing and the doing of His good pleasure. Evil works are the wicked ways of the unregenerate man. They are but the manifestation in outward behavior of the evil nature that is estranged from God and can only bring forth bad fruit. The world hated Jesus because He testified of it that its works were evil. He showed the source of all this to be the heart, out of which sin proceeds as foul water from a polluted fountain. Good resolutions, attempted reformation, pious intentions, are alike powerless to change this. The prophet asks: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil" (Jeremiah 13:23). The trouble is too deep seated for human effort to change it. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately [or incurably] wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). Until the sinner receives a new heart his works can only be evil continually.

But in our text we read of "dead works." What is meant by this expression, so strange to our ordinary way of thinking and speaking? Dead works are "law" works. They are the vain efforts of the natural man to win God's salvation by obedience to law, whether human or divine. But because the man himself is viewed by God as dead in trespasses and in sins, his attempts to produce a righteousness suitable to merit eternal life and salvation are likewise looked upon as dead works. When God gave the Law He proclaimed, "The man which doeth those things shall live by them." But no man was ever found who could keep this holy Law, and the penalty for violation of its precepts was death. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." This sentence was passed upon all men. "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:19-20).

This is what God Himself has declared, but few there are who accept it as true. "They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Romans 10:3). This was true of Israel after the flesh. It is just as true of millions of Gentiles, who, ignoring the solemn testimony of God's Word regarding man's utterly lost condition, still persist in trying to work out a righteousness of their own, deceived by the Adversary into believing that they can in some way placate an offended God and put Him in their debt so that they can earn His salvation. Isaiah tells us that "we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away" (Isaiah 64:6). It is just this attempt to work out a human, legal righteousness that God's Word dominates "dead works."

What then is meant by "repentance from dead works"? It is a complete change of mind, whereby the convicted sinner gives up all thought of being able to propitiate God by effort of his own and acknowledges that he is as bad as the Word has declared him to be. He turns right about face. Instead of relying on his own fancied merits he turns to the Lord for deliverance and seeks for mercy through the Saviour God has provided.
  In Old Testament times the legal code with its attendant forms and ceremonies was given, not as a measure of justifying righteousness, but as a test of obedience. It was as true then as now that the righteous requirement of the Law was only fulfilled (and that of course but in measure) in those who were already regenerated. God has never had two ways of saving people, but different stewardships, or dispensations, have been committed to His people as standards of living, in the various ages. No one was ever saved by law-keeping or by sacrificial observances. To trust in these things would never avail. Not sacrifices, nor offerings, but a broken and a contrite heart, was acceptable to God. All outward forms or legal efforts, apart from faith, were but dead works, from which the prophets were constantly calling upon men to repent.

A personal experience may make this clear and help to impress it upon the reader's mind. On one occasion, upon being asked to preach in a country church, I dropped into a Bible class conducted by a kindly, earnest man, whose knowledge of Scripture, however, was distressingly limited. In the course of the discussion he put the question, "How were people saved before Jesus came into the world to die for our sins and to redeem us to God?" Timidly, a lady replied, "By keeping the law of Moses." "Exactly," said the teacher. "If they kept the commandments they received eternal life."

No one demurring, I felt impelled to ask, "What, then, do you make of Galatians 3:11, 'But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them? And again in verse 21 of the same chapter we are told, 'If there had been a law  given which have given life verily righteousness should have been by the law.' Do not these passages, to which many more might be added, show clearly that one must have divine life before he can do what the Law commands, and that no one was ever justified by keeping it?"

For a moment the leader seemed confused, then he responded graciously, "I think our visitor is right. We had overlooked these passages. Who else can suggest a way whereby people could be saved before Christ came?" Another ventured to inquire, "Would it not be by animal sacrifices? If they broke the Law, did they not make an animal sacrifice? If they broke the Law, did they not make an atonement for their offense by bringing a sin-offering?" This quite satisfied the teacher. "I think that makes it perfectly plain, does it not?" he declared.

But the visitor had to object again, "What do you understand by the solemn words of Hebrews 10:4, "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins?" Candidly he confessed, "That is a difficulty. What, then, would you say, sir?"

In reply I endeavored to show that in all ages men were saved when they turned to God as repentant sinners and believed His testimony. Of this Abraham is the outstanding example. He believed in the Lord and He counted it unto him for righteousness. And David shows that forgiveness was granted and sin covered when one owned his guilt before God and trusted His grace, as set forth in Psalm 32. They were saved as truly as we are by the atoning work of Christ Jesus, only they looked forward to the Cross while we look backward to it. Romans 3:24-26 makes this very plain: "Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."

I pointed out, what every careful student of Scripture knows, that the expression used in verse 25, "sins that are past," refers not to our past sins prior to our conversion, but to sins committed by believers in past ages, before Christ died to put them away. The clause might be rendered 'to declare his righteousness in the pretermission of sins.' Then in the next verse comes the present application of the work of the Cross, "To declare, I say, of this time his righteousness," in justifying ungodly sinners through faith in Jesus.

It was most interesting to see how eagerly that little company drank in the truth and with what joy they seemed to apprehend it.

Dead works, then, are works of the flesh, but works performed with intent to earn God's salvation. Of old it might be the effort to keep implicitly the Ten Commandments and to fulfill all the requirements of the ceremonial law. But if the man himself had no life, his works were all dead and could not be accepted of God. In fact, he needed to repent from such dead works, to recognize the folly of trying to win salvation by deeds of the Law. From all such dead works he needed cleansing, as truly as from his manifold iniquities. And all this has been provided in the Cross. In Hebrews 9:13 we read: "For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh  [Note this, for it was as far as the Law could go. It gave outward cleansing not inward]: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"

This is the Gospel revealed to Saul of Tarsus and which changed him into Paul the Apostle. His "dead works" are enumerated in Philippians 3:4-6: "Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath were of he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an  Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the Law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." But from these he repented when he turned from self to Christ, and, casting away all confidence in legal righteousness, he could exclaim: "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."

When Moody and Sankey were having their stirring evalgelistic campaigns in England, Mr. Sankey used the hymn a great deal which is an answer to the question "What must I do to be saved?"

"Nothing either great or small,
Nothing, sinner, no;
Jesus died and did it all
Long, long ago.

When He from His lofty throne,
Stooped to do and die,
Everything was fully done,
Harken to His cry -

It is finished!" yes, indeed,
Finished every jot,
Sinner, this is all you need,
Tell me, is it not?

Till to Jesus' work you cling
By a simple faith,
Doing is a deadly thing,
Doing ends in death.

Cast your deadly doing down,
Down at Jesus' feet.
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Gloriously complete."

James Anthony Froude, the noted essayist, declared this hymn to be "absolutely immoral." To him it left no place for ethical behavior in the plan of salvation. But he was wrong. It is when men repent from dead works and put their faith in God, resting in the redemptive work of His blessed Son, that they really begin to live unto Him and to manifest in their ways the good works which are the natural result of the impartation of a new nature received when they are born from above and so made members of that new creation of which the Risen Christ is the Head.

"What must Ido? has oft been asked
Eternal life to gain;
Man anxious seems for any task
If this he may obtain.

But all the doing has been done,
As God has clearly shown,
When by the offering of His Son,
His purpose He made known.

He laid on Him the sinner's guilt
When came the appointed day.
And by that blood on Calvary spilt
Takes all our guilt away."

Happy is the man who sees the end of all flesh in the Cross of Christ, and, giving up all pretension to human merit, turns from dead works of every kind and description and rests solely upon the finished work of Jesus. "It is finished", repeated a dying saint, and then added, "Upon that I hang my eternity."

Repentance from dead works," then, implies the giving up of all confidence in the flesh, the recognition that I am not able to do one thing to retrieve my fallen estate. As a dead sinner I cannot do one thing to merit the divine favor. My prayers, my tears, my charity, my religiousness, all count for nothing, so far as earning salvation is concerned. I am lost and need a Saviour. I am sick and need a Physician. I am bankrupt and need a Kinsman-Redeemer. I am dead and need Him who is the Resurrection and the life. All I need I find in Christ, for whom I count all else but dross.

~Harry Ironside~

(continued with # 10 - Repentance In the Apocalypse

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Except Ye Repent # 8

Except Ye Repent # 8

Repentance Not to Be Repented Of

In any discussion of the nature and importance of repentance it would be a great mistake to overlook the fact that children of God may have as much occasion to repent as any one else. For we should never forget that, after all, saints are sinners. This may seem to be a strange paradox, but both Scripture and experience attest its truthfulness. The closer a believer walks with God, the more he will realize the incurable corruption of his Adamic nature. New birth is not a change of this nature, nor is sanctification a gradual process whereby this nature is purified. New birth is the impartation of a new nature altogether, and practical sanctification is produced by the indwelling Holy Spirit, through the cleansing power of the Word of God, bringing the whole man into conformity to Christ. By the Spirit's power, in the yielded Christian, the old nature is kept in the place of death.

But through the infirmity of the flesh we do fail again and again - yea, will always fail if we turn the eyes of our hearts away from Christ. Hence the need of daily, and constant, self-judgment which, we have seen, is the true meaning of sincere repentance.

Failure, too, may be collective as well as individual, and thus will call for collective repentance. So God of old sent His prophets to Israel and Judah to show His people their sins and summon them to national repentance. In the same way, in the New Testament, He calls upon churches to repent, when failure and sin have marred their testimony. We shall see this in the letters to the seven assemblies in Asia, as recorded in the Apocalypse, a section of Holy Writ which we will examine in a separate chapter. At the present time I would ask the reader to consider with me the case of the church of God in Corinth.

We learn from Paul's first letter to this group of believers that it was a church that came behind in no gift, a church characterized by great activity and zeal, but sadly divided by party spirit. Human leaders were being unduly exalted one against another. Sectarianism was rife. This had not led to actual separation into opposing denominations as today, but in the one assembly there were conflicting schools of thought. Heresies abounded, and Christ was being dishonored.

We are not surprised that there followed, in the wake of all this carnality and worldliness, positive indifference to moral evil which had found a lodgment in the church itself. One man among them, and he in all likelihood a person of some prominence, had flaunted the laws of common decency and had entered upon an incestuous relationship with his father's wife, that is, of course, with his stepmother. Thus the grace of God was being turned into lasciviousness. The adulterer's course was condoned and his evil life exonerated on the specious plea of the liberty of the dispensation of grace.

The infection was spreading through the church, like leaven in a lump of dough. Others were being contaminated by this vicious example. Instead of dealing with the matter as a grave offense against the Christian moral code, the Corinthians actually gloried in their tolerance and the evil-doer was permitted to sit unrebuked at the sacred table of the Lord. It was a condition calling for drastic action, but so blind were the members of Christ's body to the affront thus offered to their Head, that they did not even pray that the wicked man might be taken away from among them.

Are there not many churches today similarly affected? Is it not sadly true that in many places discipline in the house of God is practically unknown? Are not adulterers, drunkards, extortioners, profane persons, and blasphemers permitted to retain membership in Christian churches and to defile the assemblies of saints by partaking of the communion feast unchallenged? Is not this one of the main reasons why it is becoming increasingly difficult to reach the unsaved with the Gospel? While it is no valid excuse for any man to offer as a reason for rejecting Christ, yet is it not a fact that these hypocrites are everywhere stumbling blocks in the way of the unregenerate? What need there is of a call to repentance being sounded out in the church, as well as in the world!

In the particular case before us, when news of the unholy condition prevailing in Corinth reached the Apostle Paul, he wrote an indignant letter of protest calling upon them to judge the matter in their local assembly and to purge out the old leaven by putting away from among themselves the wicked person. There probably were intimate friends and others linked with this man who might attempt to shield him, but there must be no temporizing. The evil would not admit of delayed action. Something must be done at once to cleanse the church of its leprous state.

When we turn to the second letter we are relieved to learn that something was done, and done immediately, after receiving the first Epistle. The adulterer was excommunicated, but not in any spirit of self-righteousness on the part of his brethren. The whole company, with very few exceptions, bowed before God and owned the sinfulness of their former indifference to the evil, and judged themselves for abetting in any degree the gross violation of decency that they had tolerated so long.

It is heart moving to read the Apostle's stirring words regarding their action and its result. In chapter 2 he opens up his very soul to them and shows them how deeply he had been exercised in this matter and how hard he found it to be obliged thus to censure his own children in the faith. He was no cold, legal judge. He wrote as a broken-hearted father whose anxiety was great lest he might wound more deeply where he meant to heal. Hardly had the first letter gone forward until he had such serious misgivings that he almost regretted sending it (2 Corinthians 7:8); but he rejoiced to know that they had taken it in good part and had acted resolutely upon it.

The offender had been disciplines, and proving refractory and unwilling to end his unholy relationship, had been put out of the fellowship of the local church. Now in the outside place, shunned by his former associates as a veritable moral leper, he had come to his senses. He was literally convulsed with sorrow over his wicked ways, and had manifested sincere repentance, turning from his sinful life and walking again in rectitude before God. Now, writes the Apostle, "Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many; so that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him" (2 Corinthians 2:6-8). As Christ's representative, he assures them that, if they now see their way clear to forgive their erring brother, they may be certain that he joins as heartily in that forgiveness as before he was intensely in earnest in demanding his excommunication (2:9-10).

Church discipline should always have in view the restoration of the sinner. It is not simply a question of keeping the good name of the church free from reproach, or of maintaining the honor of the Lord; the real object is the recovery of the on who has gone astray. How often we forget this! We either condone evil by failing to take proper disciplinary measures, or we become so severe and self-righteous that we drive the disciplined one further away instead of solicitously  looking for evidence of his repentance in order that we may restore him to fellowship.

The way in which the Spirit of God wrought in the souls of these Corinthians is brought out clearly in chapter 7. Note the Apostle's words, as we read verses 9-12: "Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. Wherefore, though I wrote unto you, I did it not for his cause that had done the wrong, nor for the cause that suffered wrong, but that our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you."

What an insight all this gives us into the real condition brought about by the reading of Paul's letter. And how it emphasizes the reality of their repentance. In fact, the more we weigh each word and study carefully these strong expressions, the more we will be able to fathom the depths of the self-judgment produced in the hearts and consciences of these early Christians. Theirs was indeed a complete change of attitude as a result of hearing the Word of God and being searched through and through by it.

In an earlier chapter, when we were attempting to point out the distinction between penitence and repentance we referred to 2 Corinthians 7:10. Let us note it more particularly. "Godly sorrow," we are told, "worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of." This is sorrow produced by the Spirit of God, as distinguished from the sorrow of the world which is simply remorse because of the dire consequences following upon evil ways. It is sorrow according to piety, the penitence that a pious person feels when aware of having grieved the God whom he loves, and whom he desires above all things to please.

Note the terms used to depict this exercise. He tells them they "sorrowed after a godly sort," because they entered into the mind of God in regard to the sin that had so defiled His house. "What carefulness is wrought in you," exclaims Paul. Like the Israelites who searched their houses for every possible bit of leavened bread in order that they might put it away and properly keep the feast of the Lord, so they had looked into this question with most meticulous care, dealing with it in the spirit of men who would have everything now suited to God's holy eye, that fellowship with Him might be renewed.

"Yea, what clearing of yourselves!" Heretofore they had been tacitly condoning the offense, thus linking the Name of the Lord with sin and permitting that to continue among them which rendered His dwelling place unclean.For the assembly of God is in His house, and He has said, "I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me." He is the Holy and the True, and, if He is to manifest His gracious presence in the midst of His church, it is our responsibility to so  behave ourselves as to make him feel at home among us. Have we not all sinned terribly here, and does not our failure explain why the testimony of the churches generally is so powerless and so little is accomplished in the way of winning the lost to Christ?

"Yea, what indignation!" In Ephesians 4:26 we read, "Be ye angry, and sin not." An old Puritan, commenting on this command, wrote, "I am determined so to be angry as not to sin; therefore to be angry at nothing but sin." The enormity of the sin had so impressed the minds of the Corinthian believers that they looked now with utter detestation and abhorrence upon that which previously they had weakly excused as though as though after all it were a matter of small concern one way or another. Low thoughts of sin come from low thoughts of God's holiness and righteousness. Sin seen in the light of what He is will fill the soul with indignation and horror. Nor will it be indignation against some particular person, but against the sin itself and against ourselves that we should ever have thought lightly of it.

"Yea, what fear!" We are warned against the fear of man that bringeth a snare. On the other hand, the fear of the Lord is to hate evil and every evil way. This reverential, not slavish, fear had laid hold upon these saints. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." Hence they now put away folly and iniquity and undertook to clean house, as we say, in order that God might be glorified in their assembly.

"Yea, what vehement desire!" Another translation renders this, "Yes, what intense yearnings!" meaning, yearning to do the will of God. Where this is found He will unquestionably make known His mind and guide aright.

"Yea, what zeal!" In this they but imitated Him who could say, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up." To be zealously affected in a good thing is commendable and pleasing to God, as lethargy in regard to spiritual responsibilities is most offensive in His sight.

"Yea, what revenge!" It was not that they were intent upon wreaking vengeance upon the wretched man and his guilty paramour who had brought such dishonor on the Name of the Lord, but they visited upon the offender that retribution which God had commanded by His Apostle, that he should be delivered "unto satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." It was love, not revengefulness, that so dealt with him, for things had come to such a pass that temporizing would only have bolstered him up in his iniquity and would have been the ruin of their Christian fellowship and testimony. Put outside, back as it were into that world that lieth in the wicked one, he was in a place where he could realize the dreadful state into which he had fallen. Sifted, like Peter, in satan's sieve, the chaff would be separated from the wheat and eventually his soul restored.

Thus in all things they had approved themselves to be clear in this matter. Their repentance was deep and real, and their behavior manifested it. Oh, if similar repentance were but characteristic of our churches today, what might God yet do, in the way of revival and blessing among His own and the awakening of a lost world!

The first step toward such a repentance would be our facing conditions, as they prevail on all sides, in the light of the unerring Word of God. Instead of sitting in judgment on that Word, we should let it judge us. This would in turn produce that godly sorrow which results in repentance not to be repented of. Then indeed would come that revival for which many have been praying, and others debating about, but which cannot be looked for until we "search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord." We cannot expect blessing so long as He has to say to us, as to Israel of old, "I have written to him the great things of my law, but they were counted as a strange thing" (Hosea 8:12).

In the history of God's people of old we read of many dark days when the Word was forgotten, the house of the Lord neglected, and idolatry had displaced the worship of Jehovah. But time after time God granted revival to His people. In every instance this was the effect of a return to His Word, producing individual and national repentance, apart from which there could be no revival. These things were written for our learning. May we have grace given to take the lesson to heart and, wherein we have sinned, to confess and judge our evil ways, and to turn again to the Lord, who "delighteth in mercy," and is waiting to hear the cry of a repentant church.

~Harry Ironside~

(continued with # 9 - Repentance From Dead Works

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Except Ye Repent # 7

Except Ye Repent # 7

The Ministry of Paul

In reading the Epistles of the great apostle to the Gentiles one can hardly help noting his peculiar use of the terms, "my gospel," and "the gospel which I preached." He makes it clear that he did not receive it of men, neither was he taught it by those that were in Christ before him. It came as a distinct revelation from heaven when he received his divinely given commission to the apostolate. Yet when he went up to Jerusalem to see Peter and in brotherly conference laid before him and others of the Twelve the Gospel he preached among the Gentiles, we are told they recognized it as of God, and added nothing to it, but gave to him and to Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, commending them to the grace of God as they continued evangelizing the nations. In fact, a rather definite pact was made, an agreement that Peter should go to the circumcision and Paul to the uncircumcision.

Surely this does not mean, as some have contended, that the Gospel of the circumcision differed in subject matter from the Gospel of the uncircumcision. So to hold is to ignore Paul's own declaration that there is but one Gospel. Was he pronouncing a curse on Peter when he said, "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8-9)? He knew no other gospel. The mixture of law and grace taught by some in that day, he declared, was a different gospel but not another.

Why then the distinction between Peter's evangel and his own? The difference was in the manner of approach, not in the body of doctrine. He defines "his" gospel as follows: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This is exactly what Peter and the rest proclaimed from the beginning, as we have already seen.

Only recently I noticed the statement in print that, while repentance was connected with the Gospel of the circumcision, it had no place in connection with Paul's Gospel of the uncircumcision. Passing strange in the face of his own declarations, which I now propose to examine, for he has told us in no uncertain terms just what position he took on this great subject.

In his own conversion we see repentance illustrated in the clearest possible way. At one moment he was a self-righteous, bigoted Pharisee who actually thought that he ought to do many things contrary to the Name of Jesus of Nazareth. But in another instant all this was altered. He heard the challenging voice from Heaven declaring, "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." Broken in spirit, and convicted of sin, he cried out, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" It was the question of a sincerely repentant man whose entire attitude was changed when he realized that in opposing the Gospel of the Nazarene he was fighting against God. The depth of the work wrought in his soul was manifest in his new life and behavior. Soon we see him preaching the faith that once he sought to destroy. We have no more definite evidence of repentance anywhere in our Bible.

And his own conversion was the model for all others. That which had become so real to him was what he proclaimed to Jew and Gentile alike in all the years of his ministry. It was not that he invariably used the actual terms "repent" or "repentance." Probably it was oftener that he did not. But his preaching was of the character that was designed to move his hearers to consider their ways, to face their sins before God, to own their lost estate, and so to avail themselves in faith of the divinely given remedy.

When he stood on Mars Hill in Athens, addressing the intelligentsia of the city, he used the very word that we are tracing out. After dwelling on the personality and power of the "unknown God" and man's responsibility to obey His voice, he contrasted the present age with the "times of this ignorance God winked at" by declaring that He "now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31). To the Philippian jailer he gave no such message, for the man's whole attitude bespoke the repentance already produced in his soul. Therefore for him, as for every sinner who owns his guilt, the word was simply, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." But these proud, supercilious scoffers of the Areopagus were not ready for the message of pure grace. They needed to realize their true state before God. To them the all came, 'Change your minds! Your whole attitude towards these questions is wrong. Repent and heed the voice of God!'

He who would be a wise dealer with souls cannot do better than follow his example. The fallow ground must first be broken up before it is ready for the good seed of the Gospel.

The moral order of all this comes out vividly when the same Apostle meets the little group of John's disciples at Ephesus.He shows that John's baptism of repentance was but the prelude to the full-orbed evengel of the new dispensation. And this principle abides everywhere. (Acts 19:1-6).

But more positive witness is yet to be adduced, as to his constant endeavor to bring men to repentance in order that they might be saved. In Acts 20 we read of his calling the elders to Ephesus down to Miletus for a farewell interview. To them he rehearsed the story of his labors among them and of the general character of his ministry. He says, "I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but ... have taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Imagine anyone declaring in the face of words like these that Paul's message had no place for repentance, and that the call to repent is for the Jew but not for the Gentiles!

Paul saw nothing incongruous in linking together repentance and faith and in the order given. A new attitude toward God would lead to personal trust in the Saviour He had provided. He who sees himself in the light of God's infinite holiness can never be at peace again until he finds rest in Christ through believing the Gospel. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1).

In his masterly defence before King Agrippa, Paul explains how he met the risen Christ and received from Him the commission to go forth as "a minister and a witness," and he tells how the Lord sent him to the nations "to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me" (Acts 26:18). This is the model for all Gospel preachers. Our first business is to open men's eyes ... to turn them from darkness to light; for the great majority who need Christ as Saviour, do not realize that need. Alert enough to the main chance, as men say, wide-awake to the things of this life, bent upon acquiring wealth and fame, avidly seeking after the vain pleasures of the world, they rush heedlessly on, caring nothing for the things of supreme importance. They need an awakening message, that which will arouse and alarm, that they may realize something of their guilt and their danger. Till this has been achieved the preacher's sweetest Gospel proclamation will be a matter of supreme indifference; or at the best the prophet of the Lord will be to them, like Ezekiel of old, "as a lovely song" and as one that playeth well upon an instrument.

McCheyne expresses well the experience of thousands in his spiritual song:

"I once was a stranger to grace and to God,
I knew not my danger, I felt not my load;
Though friends spoke in rapture of Christ on the tree,
Jehovah-Tsidkenu was nothing to me."

It was only when free grace awoke him to sense of his real condition that he was eager to avail himself of the righteousness of God in Christ.

Our Apostle tells the Ephesian elders that, in obedience to the heavenly vision, he had ever followed this order. In Acts 26:20 we read that he "shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." Is there not some mistake here? None whatever! Can this be the Apostle of grace who so speaks? Unquestionably. Is he not contradicting the very principles he sets forth in Romans and Ephesians? Not at all. He is simply insisting on the importance of the sick man recognizing and acknowledging the incurableness of his terrible disease, so far as human help is concerned, in order that he may cast himself in faith upon the skill of the Great Physician. This is why in the Roman letter he devotes nearly three chapters to the elucidation of man's ruin, before he opens up the truth as to God's remedy. And in Ephesians 2 the order is the same. There is no confusion here. All is perfect harmony.

In fact, the more carefully one studies these two great basic Epistles, the more evident does this become; yet both view the sinner from opposite standpoints, though with no contradiction whatever. In Romans man is seen as alive in the flesh, a guilty culprit, who is without excuse because sinning against light, and who stand exposed to the righteous judgment of God. Whether ignorant heathen as in chapter 1, cultured philosopher as in chapter 2:1-6, or legal-minded Jew as in the balance of the second chapter, there is "no difference: for all have sinned,and come short of the glory of God." Nevertheless, God visits man in mercy, lavishing daily evidence of His goodness upon him, all designed to lead to repentance (2:4), but alas, so sordid and sinful is the natural heart that until awakened by the Spirit of God neither His goodness, as here, nor His wrath, as in Revelation 16:11, will produce repentance. Therefore the need of "the foolishness of preaching." God's truth proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit produces that exercise - if not resisted - which results in repentance. This is why the Apostle dwells so definitely on man's lost condition before opening up the glorious Gospel of grace, as in the next part of the Roman Epistle.

In Ephesians man is viewed as morally and spiritually dead; alive enough to the course of this age, but without one pulse beat toward God. From this death condition he is quickened together with Christ, and that altogether apart from human merit. But this new life is imparted, as we know, through the Word, and that Word first slays and then makes alive.

Bunyan's pilgrim was not conscious of the load upon his back until he began to read in the Book. The more he read, the heavier the burden became, until in response to his pitiable plea for deliverance he was directed to the Wicket Gate, which speaks of new birth. Even then he did not find complete deliverance until he beheld the empty cross. Then he could sing:

"Blest Cross; blest sepulchre;
Blest rather be the Man who'
There was put to shame for me."

To cry, 'Believe! believe!' to men who have no sense of need is folly. None plowed deeper than Paul before urging men to decision for Christ. His example may well be imitated by others who are anxious to see souls saved and established in the truth. In his last letter to Timothy he warns against false teachers, and exhorts the younger preacher not to waste his time arguing with them, but urges him to proclaim the Word faithfully,counting on God to use that Word to produce a change of attitude in his opponents. Note his exhortation, as recorded in 2 Timothy 2:24-26: "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." Again we are reminded that repentance is not a meritorious work,as penance is supposed to be, but it is an inward state produced by God's Holy Spirit, and by none else.

Some may object, 'Then you tell men they are commanded to repent, yet you very well know they cannot repent unless God produces that change within which leads them to Himself.' Is this really a valid objection? Is it not equally true of believing? Are not men commanded to "believe the gospel"? Are they not responsible to exercise faith in Christ? Yet we know that faith is the gift of God as certainly as all else connected with salvation.

In what sense is this true? "Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." If men refuse to hear the report that He sends to them, they must die in their sins. He has said, "Hear, and your soul shall live." The faithful preaching of the Gospel and the emphatic declaration of man's needy condition are designed to produce "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." If men refuse to heed, if like Israel they "always resist the Holy Spirit," they will be given up to hardness of heart and must be judged accordingly. But if they receive the testimony it will do its own work in their souls, for life is in the Word.

One thing must not be left unsaid - there is nothing that is more calculated to produce repentance than uplifting Christ and calling upon men to behold Him dying for their sins upon the shameful tree. For nowhere do we get such an understanding of our guilt as in the light of that Cross. One may well exclaim,

"O how vile my lost estate,
Since my ransom was so great."

It was when John Newton "saw One hanging on the tree" for him that his proud, haughty will was subdued and he fell adoring at the Saviour's feet. Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God. The message of the Cross will break the hardest heart, if men will but hear it. Alas, it is quite possible to listen with the outward ear and never really hear the Gospel story at all. And it is possible so to tell that story that Christless men will admire and applaud the preacher while rejecting the message. Therefore the need of constant dependence on God that one may preach "not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power," in order that the faith of our hearers "should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

One would not decry human eloquence, for we are told that Apollos was an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures. But we need to remember that eloquence is not power. It is the man whose lips have been touched with a coal of fire from the altar who is prepared to preach in such a way as to bring men to repentance. Paul actually feared that natural ability might get in the way of the Spirit of God, and so he restrained his inherent powers of persuasion in order that his hearers might trust in God's Word, and not in his personal attractiveness as a public speaker. Like John the Baptist he could say, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

~Harry Ironside~

(continued with # 8 - Repentance Not To Be Repented Of

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Except Ye Repent # 6

Except Ye Repent # 6

The Ministry of Peter

When the Lord Jesus, in the days of His earthly ministry, sent forth the twelve apostles to go throughout the land of Israel heralding His word, He evidently commanded them to emphasize the same message that John the Baptist preached and which He Himself proclaimed; for we are told in Mark 6:12 that "they went out, and preached that men should repent."

After His atoning death and glorious resurrection, when He commissioned the eleven to go out into all the world and make known His gospel among all nations, we find Him again stressing the same solemn truth. We read in Luke 24:46 that He "said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that  repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." The rending of the veil had ended the old dispensation; His triumph over death introduced the new one; but the call for men to repent was unrepealed. The Gospel of the grace of God did not set this to one side, nor ignore it in the slightest degree. Men must still be called upon to change their attitude toward God and the sin question if they would receive forgiveness of sins.

True, forgiveness is by faith, but there can be no faith without repentance, and no repentance without faith. What God hath joined together let no men put asunder.

We are quite prepared, therefore, when we con the pages of the book of the Acts, to see the large place given to repentance. Ordinarily we speak of this book as The Acts of the Apostles. But a closer examination of its twenty-eight chapters shows us that it is occupied largely with the ministry of two apostles, and those are Peter, one of the Twelve, and Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles who came in afterwards to complete the Word of God. Very few of the other apostles are even mentioned by name. We may say, then, that in Acts 1-12 we have The Acts of Peter, and in chapters 13-28 The Acts of Paul. I propose at this time to see what place repentance has in the preaching of Peter.

In the great Pentecost chapter we find Peter as the chief spokesman of the Twelve, Matthias being now numbered with them, addressing the multitudes of Jews and devout men, proselytes of the gate, from every nation under heaven. With marvelous clearness and spiritual power and insight he links the significant happenings of that day to Joel's prophecy of the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit in the last days. He does not exactly say that Joel's prophecy was at that time being literally fulfilled, but he explains the power manifested as identical with that predicted by the prophet. "This is that," he declares. That is, this power, this outpouring, this divine manifestation, is the same as that spoken of by Joel.

Then he undertakes to show that, after long years of waiting on the part of Israel, Messiah had appeared in exact accord with the prophecies going beforehand. But the Jews had fulfilled their own Scriptures in rejecting Jesus. "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it" (Acts 2:23-24). It was true, God had sent Him into the world to die for sinners, but they were nevertheless terribly guilty who stretched forth their hands against Him and treated Him with such shame and ignominy. They dishonored Him. God had glorified Him and had commissioned them to bear witness that He "hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (v.36).

This  declaration brought sharp and pungent conviction. They were "pricked in their heart." As the awfulness of their crime burst upon them they realized the terrible position in which they stood. How could they extricate themselves from this? In other words, how could they dissociate themselves from the guilty majority over whom the judgment of God hung like a Damocles sword and might fall in fearful vengeance at any moment? They "said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Do not confound this question with that of the Philippian jailer, who asked, "What must I do to be saved?" He was a godless Gentile, suddenly awakened to a sense of his lost condition, and he was eagerly seeking deliverance from that unhappy state.

But these Israelites were men of the covenant. They had looked expectantly for Messiah. Peter showed them that He had come, and gone! The chosen nation of which they formed a part had rejected Him. Because of that God had set them aside as a people under condemnation. In His righteous government He was about to visit them with His wrath to the uttermost, as Paul afterwards explained to the Thessalonians. If these awakened men, who fully believed Peter's testimony, were to escape that doom, what was their responsibility? What could they do to dissociate themselves from the crime of the guilty nation? The answer came clear and plain: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:38-39). Surely all this is plain and perfectly appropriate, as we might expect, for Peter was a divinely directed messenger. The call to repent was as though he had said, "Change your attitude! The nation has rejected Jesus. You must receive Him. The nation has crucified Him. You must crown Him. Attest your repentance by baptism in His Name. By doing this you, so to speak, identify yourself with the Messiah, as your fathers were identified with Moses, owning him as their leader when baptized in the cloud and in the sea."

John's baptism was with a view to the remission of sins. So with this. It was not that there was saving merit in baptism. The merit was in the One they confessed. Governmentally, however, they passed out from their place in the nation that rejected Christ by thus identifying themselves with Him. That this was clearly his meaning comes out in the next verse, "With many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation." They could not save themselves from their sins. Only the blood of Christ could do that. But they could save themselves from the doom hanging over the nation by taking sides, in repentance and faith, with the One the nation refused to own as the Anointed of the Lord. He had said ere He went to the Cross, "Your house is left unto you desolate." Those who believed Peter's message were to leave the desolate house and go forth unto Him, bearing His reproach. 

Nor was this responsibility and blessing only for those who that day heard the message. It is still the responsibility of every believing Jew in all the world, and in a wider sense of the Gentile too - of "all that are afar off." In Ephesians we learn that we who once were "afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." The repentant man, whether of Israel or the nations, judges the world and turns from it to the Christ that the world has spurned. In so doing he finds eternal blessing, though he may suffer now for his confession of the Lord Jesus as His Saviour.

In the third chapter of Acts we have another wonderful scene. After the healing of the lame man who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, Peter preached to the wondering and excited multitude who thronged Solomon's Porch, telling again the same story of the coming of Messiah, only to be "denied" and "killed," but whom God had raised from the dead, the efficacy of whose Name had given the once lame beggar soundness of limbs in the presence of them all. The inspired Apostle went on to declare that, though they had ignorantly done this dreadful thing, there was a city of refuge into which they might flee from the avenger of blood. Dramatically he exclaimed, "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when (or, so that) the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; and he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heavens must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:19-21).

Observe here, that Peter did not proclaim the eventual salvation of all men,  as the Universalists and other teachers would have us believe. There is no absolute universal restoration predicted here. What he did proclaim was the restoration of all things of which the prophets had spoken. Beyond that limit he does not go. This restoration is still future and depends upon the repentance of Israel. When they shall turn to the Lord, His saving health shall be known among all nations.

But Peter called upon his hearers that day to take the course the nation will take later on, and that in view of the promised return of Messiah, to repent and be converted. It is as though he commanded, 'Change your attitude toward this wondrous Prince of Life. Turn right about face, and take the very opposite ground to that of the representatives of the nation who in answer to the question, "What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" had vehemently demanded His death, crying "Away with him! Crucify him! Crucify him!" By thus turning to, stead of turning from Him, they would receive forgiveness of sins and so be ready to welcome Him upon His return in power and glory. This was exactly the attitude taken by a dying Jew in modern times, who was heard to exclaim, "Not Barabbas, but this man!" He had reversed the sentence of his people.

Throughout the entire ministry of Peter we see the same dominant note. On every occasion where he is found preaching the Word he exalts the risen Christ and drives home to the people their great wickedness in spurning the One sent of Jehovah to turn them away from their iniquities. Always in no uncertain tone he calls for self-judgment, for the recognition and acknowledgment of their sins, and for personal faith in the Lord Jesus as the only means of deliverance. "This," he cries, "is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:11-12).

Surely no sane, thoughtful reader of the record can escape the conclusion that repentance, while in no sense meritorious, is nevertheless a prerequisite to saving faith.An unrepentant man can never, in the very nature of things, lay hold of the Gospel message in appropriating faith, thus receiving the Lord Jesus as his own personal Saviour.

Why, then, should any preacher of the Gospel be hesitant about calling men to repentance today? If it be objected that the grace of God was not yet revealed in Peter's ministry, I would remind the objector that in his inspired First Epistle he tells us distinctly why he wrote it. In verse 12 of chapter 5 he says, "I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand." How does this differ from the testimony of Paul in Romans 5:2, "We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God"?

If others object on the ground that Peter was the Apostle of the circumcision and that there is a distinction to be drawn between the message to the Jew and that to the Gentile, I would  point to the fact that, in the house of Cornelius with a Gentile audience before him, his message is of exactly the same character as when he is preaching to his Jewish brethren after the flesh, excepting that there is no occasion to call for immediate separation from a nation exposed to judgment, and so the stress is put upon the responsibility to believe the Gospel. But he proclaims, as before, the story of the anointed Jesus, of His death of shame, of His resurrection by omnipotent power, and of the fact that He is ordained of God to be judge of living and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:43). Undoubtedly, he was addressing a truly repentant group, as Cornelius' attitude clearly attested. And in a moment the Gospel finds lodgment in their hearts, and they believe the Word and are baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ and sealed with the Spirit of adoption as the sons of God.

That this surmise is correct is evidenced from what is said by the brethren in Judea, when Peter later on explains why he went in to uncircumcised Gentiles (11:3), in violation of Jewish prejudices. When his brethren heard the whole story "they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (v. 18). This explains the readiness of Cornelius and his friends to receive the Word in faith.

Only recently the statement was made by one who should have known better: "Repentance is Jewish. Jews could repent because they were in covenant relation with God and had violated that covenant. But Gentiles have never known such a relationship. They are dead sinners. Therefore they cannot repent until after they are born of God." This is a choice bit of ignorant exposition that would be laughable were it not so dangerous. The Gentiles to whom Peter preached were granted repentance unto life. They did not receive life that they might repent, but through the preached Word they were led to change their attitude and to believe the Gospel. Like other Gentiles, they "turned to God from idols," and through faith in Christ were saved. How this confirms what we have seen to be the general teaching of Scripture, namely, that repentance is not a meritorious act or  a wrought-up temperamental or emotional experience, but a new attitude definitely taken toward sin and God which results in a readiness to receive with meekness the engrafted word  which is able to save the soul.

It is God who gives repentance unto life, but we may say that repentance comes, like faith itself, by hearing the Word of God. Therefore man is responsible to heed that Word, to face it honestly, and thus allow it to do its own work in the heart and conscience. It is this that brings one to an end of himself and prepares the soul to trust alone in the finished work of Christ and so be saved by free, unmerited grace.

To say that because a sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, is dead toward God, therefore he cannot repent, is to misunderstand the nature of that death. It is a judicial, not an actual, death. The unsaved man is identified with sinning Adam by nature and practise,and so is viewed by God as dead in trespasses and sins. He is spiritually dead, because sin has separated him from God. But actually he is a living, responsible creature to whom God addresses Himself as to a reasoning personality, "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18). An examination of the previous verses will show that these words of grace follow a very definite call to a change of attitude, to the bringing forth of works meet for repentance.

It is not incongruous to call dead sinners to repent. It is the preacher's bounden duty so to do, and it is man's responsibility to obey.

I recognize the fact that the age-long questions concerning the divine sovereignty and human responsibility are involved in this discussion. But why need anyone attempt to explain that which it is above the capacity of the mind  of man to grasp? God has said, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways ... As the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your ways,and my thought than your thoughts." Scripture clearly teaches that God is Sovereign and "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." It just as plainly shows us that man is a responsible creature, who has the power of choice and is called upon  by the Lord to exercise that power and to turn to Himself. "Turn ye, O, turn ye ... for why will ye die?" Choose ye this day whom ye will serve." "Whosoever "will", let him take the water of life freely." To those who refused His testimony the Saviour sadly said, "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life."

The truth of God's electing grace does not come into conflict with that of man's responsibility. Mr. Moody used to say in his downright, sensible, matter-of-fact manner, "The elect are the whosoever wills; the nonelect are the whosoever won'ts." What theologian could put it more clearly?

"Sovereign grace o'er sin abounding!
Ransomed souls the tidings swell.
'Tis a deep that knows no sounding,
Who its breadth and length can tell?
On its glories
Let my soul forever dwell."

~Harry Ironside~

(continued with # 7 - The Ministry of Paul

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Except Ye Repent # 5

Except Ye Repent # 5

Christ's Call to Repent

"The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Notice that combination - grace and truth. Men must face facts if they would enjoy grace. Surely there never was a more insistent call to repentance than that put forth by Him of whom it could be said, "Grace is poured into thy lips."

From the moment He began to preach, His message, like that of His forerunner, John, was, "Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." There is something intensely solemnizing in this. God had come down to earth and was speaking in His Son. He came with a heart filled with love and compassion for men, so bruised and ruined by sin; but He had to wait upon them; He had to press home to them their sad plight; He had to call upon them to acknowledge their guilt and their ungodliness ere He could pour into their hearts the balm of His grace. For God must have reality. He refuses to gloss over iniquity. He insists upon self-judgment, upon a complete right-about-face, a new attitude, ere He will reveal a Saviour's love.

With this principle the arrangement of the four Gospels is in perfect harmony. In the Synoptics the call is to repent. In John the emphasis is laid upon believing.  Some have thought that there is inconsistency or contradiction here. But we need to remember that John wrote years after the older evangelists, and with the definite object in view of showing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, we might have life through His Name. He does not simply travel over ground already well trodden. Rather, he adds to and thus supplements the earlier records, inciting to confidence in the testimony God has given concerning His Son. He does not ignore the ministry of repentance because he stresses the importance of faith. On the contrary, he shows to repentant souls the simplicity of salvation, of receiving eternal life, through trusting in Him who, as the true light, casts light on every man, thus making manifest humanity's fallen condition and the need of an entire change of attitude toward self and toward God.

To tell a man who has no realization that he is lost, that he may be saved by faith in Christ, means nothing to him, however true and blessed the fact is in itself. It is like throwing a life preserver to a man who does not realize he is about to be engulfed in a maelstrom. When he sees his danger he will appreciate the means of deliverance offered. So when the message of the Synoptics has made a profound impression on the soul of a man, he will be ready for the proclamation of eternal life and forgiveness through faith in Christ alone.

When they came to Jesus and told him of certain Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices as his Roman legions quelled a Jewish uprising, and again when they reported the falling of a tower in Siloam as a result of which many were killed, He solemnly declared: "Think ye that these were sinners above all others? I tell you, nay, but except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish." Whether men are taken away by violence, by accident, or, as we say, by natural death, their doom is the same unless they have turned to God in repentance. We perhaps think of such occurrences as those referred to, as signal instances of the divine judgment against wickedness. But God's holy eye discerns the sinfulness of every heart and calls upon all to take sides with Him against themselves. Until this is done, saving faith is an impossibility. This is not to limit grace. It is to make way for it. And be it remembered, repentance is not a state automatically produced. It is the inwrought work of the Holy Spirit effected by faithful preaching of the Word. But how seldom today do we hear the cry, "Except ye repent."

When our Lord looked on to the  day of manifestation He declared: "The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here." Could He have made it clearer that grace is for the repentant soul, and there can only be judgment without mercy for him who persists in hardening his heart against the Spirit's pleading?

And so, when He upbraided the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, He prophesied their doom because they would not repent. Bethsaida, Chorazin, Capernaum are but ruins today because, although the testimony given was of such character that if it had been vouchsafed to Tyre and Sidon they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes, the people in these cities were unmoved. The stones of these Galitean cities are today crying out of the dust and ashes. "Repent ye, and believe the gospel." But how few there are with ears to hear and hearts to understand!

It has often been noticed with wonder by thoroughly orthodox theologians that, whereas many cultured preachers, whose Gospel testimony is unimpeachably correct, see few or no converts, some fervent evangelist who does not seem to proclaim nearly so clear a Gospel, but who drives home to men and women the truth of their lost condition and vehemently stresses the necessity of repentance, wins souls by the scores or even hundreds. It was so with Sam Jones, with D. L. Moody, with Gypsy Smith, with Billy Sunday, with W. P. Nicholson, with Mel Trotter, and many more. Is not the explanation simply this, that, when men truly face their sins in the presence of God, their awakened and alarmed consciences make them quick to respond to the slightest intimation of God's grace to those who seek Him with the whole heart? This is not to set a premium upon ignorance, nor to glorify a half-Gospel, for undoubtedly where the full clear announcement of salvation by faith alone in a crucified, risen, and exalted Christ follows the call to repentance, the converts will be much better established than where they have to grope for years after the truth that sets them free from all doubt and confusion of mind. The evangelists cited above all came themselves to a better understanding of grace in their maturity than in their early years. But those years were nevertheless wonderfully fruitful in the turning of many from sin to righteousness and from the power of satan unto God.

And is it not marvelously significant that, in the three Gospels which were first circulated throughout the ancient world, the call goes forth to Jew and Gentile insisting that no unrepentant soul will ever find favor with God? Then, as the Christian testimony was better known, the sweet and precious unfoldings of light, life, and love were given in the Gospel of John. Of course, in the actual testimony of the Lord, the two were ever intermingled, for "grace and truth" are never to be separated.

Our Lord was the master soul-winner, and we who would be used of God in winning our fellows to a knowledge of Himself may well learn His ways and copy His methods, so far as human frailty will permit.

How easily He might have declared to the rich young ruler, who came running to Him asking, "Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" that there was nothing to do, "only believe and live." Had He done so it would have been actually true. But He did not so say. Instead He undertook to probe the conscience of the young man by using the stern precepts of the Law, and He put a test upon him that only real faith would have led him to meet. "One thing thou lackest." What was that? The young man had never realized his need of a Saviour. Self-satisfied and self-contained, he honestly prided himself on his goodness. The test, "sell what thou hast, and give to the poor," was not putting salvation on the ground of human merit; but it was intended to reveal to the young man the hidden evil of his heart and to show him his need of mercy.

To the Samaritan woman He did not give the living water until He had uncovered her life of sin, so that she exclaimed, "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet." This was tantamount to saying, 'I perceive that I am a sinner.' And after she believed in Him as Saviour and Messiah her own testimony was, "Come, see a man who told me all things that ever I did: Can this be the Christ?"

Rutherford complained in his day that there were so few professed believers who had ever spent a sick night for sin. And if this was true then, it is doubly true today.

When our Lord answered the complaining legalists who objected that He received sinners and ate with them, He related the threefold parable of Luke 15. There we see the entire Trinity concerned in the salvation of a sinner. The Saviour seeks the lost sheep. The woman with the light, illustrating the Holy Spirit's work, seeks the lost piece of silver. And all heaven rejoices when the lost one repents.

The eager father welcomes back the returning prodigal. But we should not overlook the fact, that it was when the ungrateful youth "came to himself" and took the position of self-judgment because of his wicked folly, and actually turned his face homeward, that the father ran to him, tough twill a great way off, and fell on his neck and kissed him. He did not wait for his boy to ring the door bell or knock in fear and anxiety upon the gate. But, on the other hand, he did not offer him the kiss of forgiveness while he was down among the swine. He hastened to meet him when in repentance he turned homeward with words of confession in his heart.

Does all this becloud grace? Surely not. Rather does it magnify and exalt it. For it is to unworthy sinners who recognize and acknowledge their dire condition that God finds delight in showing undeserved favor.

The weeping harlot in the seventh of Luke, kneeling at the feet of Jesus and washing them with her tear's while she dries them with her hair - and a woman's hair is her glory - illustrates, as perhaps nothing else can, the relation of repentance to saving faith. Her tears of contrition told out the grief of her heart as she mourned over her sins and judged her unclean life in the light of Christ's purity. His words of grace, "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven," no sooner had fallen upon her ears than she believed His testimony, and she went away knowing she was clean. True, He had not yet died for her sins, but faith laid hold of Him as the one only Saviour who had power on earth to forgive. Her weeping, her washing of His feet, her humiliation had nothing meritorious in them. The merit was all His. He who said to another of like character, "Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more," had remitted all her iniquities and won here heart forever.

"It is not thy tears of repentance or prayers,
But the blood that atones for the soul:
On Him then, who shed it thou mayest at once
Thy weight of iniquities roll."

When Bernard of Clairvaux was dying the monks praying by his pallet spoke of his merits. He cried out in Latin words which translated into English mean, "Holy Jesus, Thy wounds are my merits." Only a repentant man would so speak.

And as our Lord tells us that "there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance." There, where they know what a soul is really worth, every saint and angel rejoices with the Good Shepherd when a lost sheep is reclaimed from its wanderings.

~Dr. Harry Ironside~

(continued with # 6 - The Ministry of Peter