If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart, one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.”
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
John’s readers live in a worldly culture which makes sin seem normal and righteousness appear strange.
The focus of the revelation John received from God is how the church is to conduct itself in the midst of an ungodly world.
Believers are faced with the choice of lining [up] their lives and conduct…with one perspective or the other, and their eternal destiny depends on that choice.
Believers are always facing the threat of compromise in one form or another. They must submit to the message as John has brought it, or face God’s judgment.
As such, the message of the letter is of relevance and value to all believers of all ages, which is why the vision was given to John.
Our way of witness to and suffering for the gospel parallels that of our Lord. Beale explains this truth this way,
The analogy of a chess game is also appropriate. The sacrificial move of Christ at the cross puts the devil in checkmate (deals him a mortal wound); the devil continues to play the game of rebellion, but his defeat is assured.
This is an important theme of John’s vision, which seeks to assure believers going through difficult circumstances that God is with them and will faithfully bring them through to final victory.
The church is identified also with Christ as a priest and now exercises its role as priests by maintaining a faithful witness to the world and willingness to suffer for Christ. It defeats the strategies of the enemy even while suffering apparent defeat, yet still ruling in a kingdom (as Christ did on the cross).
Beale also explains how he understands the book. He says,
In Rev. 1:1, John deliberately uses the language of “signify” from Dan. 2:45 portray that what God has been showing him is likewise symbolic. Most of the things that are about to unfold are not to be taken literally (lions, lambs, beasts, women, etc.), but each refers symbolically to another reality or set of realities….The reader is to expect that the main means of divine revelation in this book is symbolic.
We believe the Redemptive – Historical Idealist view is substantially correct but must be modified in light of the fact that parts of Revelation do definitely refer to future end – time events concerning the return of Christ, His final defeat of the enemy, and the establishment of His heavenly kingdom.
There is great comfort to be had from the book of Revelation. In fact, the book itself says,
Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. Revelation 1:3(English Standard Version)
Whether we “Build Back Better” or “Keep America Great,” God is sovereign and will lead His people through the trials ahead. Our duty is to witness openly and not compromise with the world in the face of suffering.
If thou, O God! should mark iniquities …Should God determine to deal with us according to the strict demands of his law, and to summon us before his tribunal, not one of the whole human race would be able to stand… “All the children of Adam,” he [essentially] says, “from the first to the last, are lost and condemned, should God require them to render up an account of their life.” …Further, …since no man can stand by his own works, all such as are accounted righteous before God, are righteous in consequence of the pardon and remission of their sins. In no other manner can any man be righteous in the sight of God.
But with thee there is forgiveness. …How few are persuaded of the truth …that the [unmerited favor which they] need shall [be given to] them? …The consequence of this [lack] of hope [within] men …is an indifference about coming into the Divine presence to [ask] for pardon.
When a man is awakened with a lively sense of the judgment of God, he cannot fail to be humbled with shame and fear. Such self-dissatisfaction would not however suffice, unless at the same time there were added faith, whose office it is to raise up the hearts which were cast down with fear, and to encourage them to pray for forgiveness…
“As soon as I think upon You,” [the psalmist] says in [effect], “Your clemency also presents itself to my mind, so that I have no doubt that You will be merciful to me, it being impossible for You to divest Yourself of Your own nature: the very fact that You are God is to me a sure guarantee that You will be merciful ” [This unmerited favor] of God… enables the sinner to conclude with certainty, that as soon as he seeks God he shall find him ready to be reconciled towards him. …The first step to the right serving of God unquestionably is, to submit ourselves to Him willingly and with a free heart.
What does God say of the forgiven Man?
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, on Thursday evening, November 5, 1874, C. H. Spurgeon delivered a sermon titled: “Eyes Opened” (No. 3117) In it, he drew lessons for his congregation (and us) from the text in Second Kings.
Spurgeon’s first observation was: “The natural eyes are blind to heavenly things.”
Man boasts that he can see, but he cannot. He sees natural things and he often sees them very clearly.
…For natural things, the natural eyes are sufficient but, as the natural man understands not the things of the Spirit of God, seeing that they are spiritual and must be spiritually discerned, so the natural eyes discern not spiritual things.
…The natural man can go through the world and not see God at all. Yes, and he will even have the audacity to deny that God is there! And he may go further, still, and say that there is no God at all! David says that such a man is a fool, but the modern name for him is, “philosopher.”
…So blind is man that in addition to not seeing his God, he does not see the Law of God…The great reason why men do not comprehend the high spirituality of the Law, its exceeding breadth and wondrous severity, is because they are blind.
Being thus blind to God and to His Law, they are also blind to their own condition. He who has his eyes opened but for a moment will perceive that his soul is as full of sin… He sees that every action he performs is stained with sin and that he is so guilty before God that condemnation has already passed upon him—so guilty that he can never make any atonement for the past and that nothing he can do or suffer can ever save him!
He must feel, if once his eyes have been opened, that he is lost, ruined and undone by nature and by practice, too—and that only a supernatural act of Divine Grace can deliver him from the danger into which he has brought himself and the guilt into which he has plunged himself!
…In-as-much as men are not able to see their sin, and to see their danger, therefore they do not see the way of salvation. They…will not understand it unless their eyes are opened by a miracle which only the Holy Spirit can work. …[They are] not in a position to see the wondrous scheme by which [they are] delivered from that danger through the Grace of God, by the atoning Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ, through the effectual working of the ever-blessed Spirit!
The next Truth of God is: “God alone can open men’s eyes.”
We may lead blind men to Jesus, but we cannot open their eyes. We can, in a measure, indicate to them what spiritual sight is and we may explain to them what their own sad condition is—but we cannot open their eyes! Neither can anyone, but God alone, open their eyes…
Why [is it] that God alone can open men’s eyes? It is because to open the eyes of blind souls is an act of creation. The faculty to see is gone from the fallen spirit—the eyes have perished—the optical nerve has died out through sin. God will not merely clean the dust out of old eyes or take cataracts away from them—but old things must pass away and all things must become new! He gives new eyes to those who have totally lost all power of sight. The act of creating a soul anew is as much a work of God’s Omnipotence as the making of a world!
…We must remember, too, that man is willfully blind. Our old proverb says, “There are none so deaf as those that won’t hear, and none so blind as those that won’t see.” It is not merely that man cannot come to Christ, but he will not come to Christ that he may have life! It is not merely that he cannot see the Truth of God, but that he loves darkness rather than light and does not want to see! You cannot convince a man who is resolved not to be convinced. If sinners were only willing to see, they would soon see, but their will itself is in bondage and utterly estranged from God. And, therefore, it is that only a Divine Power—the will of God—can overcome the desperately wicked will of man!
Thirdly, Spurgeon said, “Though we cannot open the eyes of the blind, we can pray for them that their eyes may be opened.”
This is what Elisha did for his servant. The young man could not see the horses and chariots of fire and Elisha could not make him see them, but he offered this prayer for him, “Lord, I pray You, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw.”
…While teachers or parents entertain the belief that there is some innate power in themselves with which they can do God’s work, they are not on the right track, for God will not work through those who believe in their own self-sufficiency.
But when you say, “I can no more save a soul than I can open the eyes of a man born blind, I am utterly helpless in this matter,” then it is that you begin to pray. And beginning to pray, you are taught how to act—and God uses you as His instrument and eyes are opened—yes, opened by you, instrumentally, but God has all the Glory!
Now, when should you specially pray for those who are blind? I think this narrative teaches us that we should do so whenever we see them in trouble. This young man said to Elisha, “Alas, my master!” So that was the time for Elisha to pray for him, “Lord, I pray you, open his eyes, that he may see.”
…It is also a good time to pray for sinners when we hear them enquiring. This young man said to Elisha, “What shall we do?” Be always ready, when you hear them asking, “What shall we do?” or, “How shall we do?” to point them at once to Jesus and also to take their case to Jesus in prayer.
It is also a good time to pray for them when we ourselves have had a clear sight of the things of God. You ought, by the very clearness of the vision which you have enjoyed, to pity those who still sit in darkness, and to pray that they may be brought into the Light. Elisha had himself seen the horses and chariot of fire and, therefore, he prayed for his servant, “Lord, I pray you, open his eyes, that he may see.”
When it is well with you, speak to Christ on behalf of poor sinners. When you have good times, yourselves, remember those who are starving away from the banquet—and pray the Master of the feast to give you the Grace to “compel them to come in.”
It is well to pray for sinners, too, when their blindness astonishes us. I know that, sometimes, you are quite amazed that people should be so ignorant about Divine things. It surprises you that intelligent people should have such mistaken notions concerning the very simplest Truths of God’s Word. Even if you are astonished, do not be vexed at them, but pray earnestly for them.
…Let us also remember, dear Friends, that when we received our spiritual eyesight, it was mainly because others had been praying for us. Most of us can probably trace our conversion to the intercession of a godly father, or mother, or teacher, or friend. Then let us repay those prayers which were offered for us, in years gone by, by pleading for others who still are blind—
“Pray that they who now are blind, Soon the way of Truth may find.”
…Make this the burden of your daily approach to God for anyone in whom you are specially [concerned], “O Lord, I pray You, open his eyes, that he may see!”
Fourthly, he said: “There is this blessed fact…that God does open men’s eyes.”
God can do it and, according to this [description], He has done it in an instant A moment before, this young man could see no horses or chariots of fire, but as soon as Elisha’s prayer was registered in Heaven, his servant could see what was before invisible to him! …The soul is dead, and it is made alive in a single moment!
…My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, pray fervently that the blind may have their eyes opened, seeing that God can do it, and can do it at once!
And Spurgeon’s last remark was: “even those persons who can see need more sight.”
We all need to see more in the Scriptures. Each of us needs to pray to the Lord, “Open You my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your Law.”
…We also need to have our eyes opened as to the great Doctrines of the Gospel.
…We also need to have our eyes opened with regard to Providence.
…Oftentimes we need to have our eyes opened to see ourselves.
…We need to have our eyes opened with regard to temptation, for we may think that we are not being tempted at the very moment when we are in the greatest danger from temptation.
…We need to have our eyes opened as to what is most desirable, for we often aspire after the high places when the lowest are the best— and seek wealth when poverty would be the better soil for the growth of Grace—
…We need to have our eyes opened that we may see a great deal more of our Savior. The strangest thing of all is that though the Lord has opened our eyes and we have seen Jesus as our Savior, we know so little of Him after all.
And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
Sometimes appearances deceive us. Or could it be that they almost always do? As I grow older, I’m not sure. Take, for instance, this vignette from the first book of the Bible:
In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. Genesis 4:3-5English Standard Version (ESV)
If we look only at the externals, we might ask: “Why did God accept one, but not the other? Was it the type of sacrifice each offered?” One, an animal sacrifice, reminiscent of the animals slain when God made garments of skins for Adam and Eve. The other, a grain offering, which was someday to symbolize the food offering described in Leviticus. “Was the grain not prepared correctly or, perhaps, not the first of the crop?”
Our best answer always results when scripture explains scripture. In the Letter to the Hebrews, the writer says:
By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. Hebrews 11:4(ESV)
By faith Abel offered, etc. The Apostle’s object in this chapter is to show, that however excellent were the works of the saints, it was from faith they derived their value, their worthiness, and all their excellences; and hence follows what he has already intimated, that the fathers pleased God by faith alone.
Now he commends faith here on two accounts, — it renders obedience to God, for it attempts and undertakes nothing, but what is according to the rule of God’s word, — and it relies on God’s promises, and thus it gains the value and worth which belongs to works from his grace alone. Hence, wherever the word faith is found in this chapter, we must bear in mind, that the Apostle speaks of it, in order that the Jews might regard no other rule than God’s word, and might also depend alone on his promises.
Then, more specifically to the Genesis passage, he says:
…Abel’s sacrifice was for no other reason preferable to that of his brother, except that it was sanctified by faith: for surely the fat of brute animals did not smell so sweetly, that it could, by its odor, pacify God. The Scripture indeed shows plainly, why God accepted his sacrifice, for Moses’s words are these, “God had respect to Abel, and to his gifts.” It is hence obvious to conclude, that his sacrifice was accepted, because he himself was graciously accepted. But how did he obtain this favor, except that his heart was purified by faith.
Going on, Calvin explains what the writer meant:
God testifying, etc. He confirms what I have already stated, that no works, coming from us can please God, until we ourselves are received into favor, or to speak more briefly, that no works are deemed just before God, but those of a just man: for he reasons thus, — God bore a testimony to Abel’s gifts; then he had obtained the praise of being just before God.
Next, he addresses the issue of external appearances:
This doctrine is useful, and ought especially to be noticed, as we are not easily convinced of its truth; for when in any work, anything splendid appears, we are immediately rapt in admiration, and we think that it cannot possibly be disapproved of by God: but God, who regards only the inward purity of the heart, heeds not the outward masks of works. Let us then learn, that no right or good work can proceed from us, until we are justified before God.
And, Calvin concludes:
By it he being dead, etc. To faith he also ascribes this, — that God testified that Abel was no less the object of his care after his death, than during his life: for when he says, that though dead, he still speaks, he means, as Moses tells us, that God was moved by his violent death to take vengeance. When, therefore, Abel or his blood is said to speak, the words are to be understood figuratively. It was yet a singular evidence of God’s love towards him, that he had a care for him when he was dead; and it hence appears, that he was one of God’s saints, whose death is precious to him.
What’s the quality of our friendships? Do you share yourself unreservedly with others? Do you communicate with vulnerability, even after long periods of absence, without missing a beat? If the truth be told, many of us fall short of this ideal. Some of us don’t have even one person with whom we can be this intimate. Perhaps we chalk this up to our fast-paced lifestyles. Could the crowd we run with not be the types with whom we have that much in common? Or, maybe, we’ve been burned before and haven’t even tried for such friendships.
There once walked a Person who, though he was highly exalted, did not count His high honor as something to hold on to, but gave up all privilege, becoming like one of us; in fact, becoming our servant, He walked among us, ate with us, and cried with us and for us. And, as one of us, yet righteous in all His ways, He humbled himself by suffering, in place of us, the ignominious punishment that is our due. This One said:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:12-15English Standard Version (ESV)
OUR Lord Jesus Christ is beyond all comparison the best of friends…”You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” That is the point by which your friendship shall be tested — “If you are obedient you are My Friends.” …You must, my Brothers and Sisters, yield obedience to your Master and Lord and be eager to do it, or you are not His bosom friends …This is the one essential which Grace, alone, can give us. Do we rebel against the request? Far from it! Our joy and delight lie in bearing our Beloved’s easy yoke.
Next, he describes what obedience our Lord himself requests:
From those who call themselves His friends. True friends are eager to know what they can do to please the objects of their love. Let us gladly listen to what our adorable Lord now speaks to the select circle of His chosen. He asks of one and all obedience. None of us are exempted from doing His commandments. However lofty or however lowly our condition, we must obey. If our talent is but one, we must obey and if we have [ten], still we must obey. There can be no friendship with Christ unless we are willing, each one, to yield Him hearty, loyal service.
The smallest command of Christ may often be the most important and I will tell you why. Some things are great, evidently great and, for many reasons even a hypocritical professor will attend to them. But the test may lie in the minor points, which hypocrites do not take the trouble to notice, since no human tongue would praise them for doing them. Here is the proof of your love. Will you do the smaller thing for Jesus as well as the [weightier] matter?
…When we refuse to obey, we refuse to do what the Lord, Himself, commands! When the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Redeemer, is denied obedience, it is treason! How can rebels against the King be His Majesty’s friends? The precepts of Scripture are not the commandments of man nor the ordinances of angels, but the Laws of Christ and how dare we despise them! We are to act rightly because Jesus commands us and we love to do His pleasure—there can be no friendship without this. Oh, for Grace to serve the Lord with gladness!
To close this first point, it appears that our Lord would have us obey Him out of a friendly spirit. Obedience to Christ as if we were forced to do it under pains and penalties would be of no worth as a proof of friendship. Everyone can see that. He speaks not of slaves, but of friends. He would not have us perform duties from fear of punishment or love of reward. That which He can accept of His friends must be the fruit of love. His will must be our Law because His Person is our delight. Some professors need to be whipped to their duties. They must hear stirring sermons and attend exciting meetings and live under pressure. But those who are Christ’s friends need no spur but love.
Spurgeon, then posits: “those who do not obey him are not friends of his.”
…He who is truly Christ’s friend delights to honor Him as a great King, but he who will not yield Him His sovereign rights is a traitor and not a friend. Our Lord is the Head over all things to His Church and this involves the joyful submission of the members. Disobedience denies to Christ the dignity of that holy Headship which is His prerogative over all the members of His mystical body and this is not the part of a true friend. How can you be His friend if you will not admit His rule? It is vain to boast that you trust His Cross if you do not reverence His crown! He who does not do His commandments cannot be Christ’s friend because he is not of one mind with Christ—that is evident. Can two walk together unless they are agreed?
He, next, explores the thesis: “those who best obey Christ are on the best of terms with him.”
…There is no feeling of communion between our souls and Christ when we are conscious of having done wrong and yet are not sorry for it. If we know that we have erred, as we often do, and our hearts break because we have grieved our Beloved and we go and tell Him our grief and confess our sin, we are still His friends and He kisses away our tears, saying, “I know your weakness. I willingly blot out your offenses. There is no breach of friendship between us. I will still manifest Myself to you.”
When we know that we are wrong and feel no softening of heart about it, then we cannot pray, we cannot speak with the Beloved and we cannot walk with Him as His friends. Familiarity with Jesus ceases when we become familiar with known sin.
Search the Scriptures for yourselves, each one of you, and follow no rule but that which is Inspired. Take your light directly from the sun! Let holy Scripture be your unquestioned rule of faith and practice and, if there is any point about which you are uncertain, I charge you by your loyalty to Christ, if you are His friends, try and find out what His will is. And when you once are sure upon that point, never mind the human authorities or dignitaries that oppose His Law. Let there be no question, no hesitation, no delay. If He commands you, carry out His will though the gates of Hell thunder at you! You are not His friends, or, at any rate, you are not His friends so as to enjoy the friendship unless you resolutely seek to please Him in all things!
Finally, Spurgeon defends the statement: “the [friendliest] action a man can do for Jesus is to obey him.”
…If a man should give all the substance of his house for love it would utterly be [scorned]. Jesus asks not lavish expenditure, but ourselves. He has made this the token of true love—”If you do whatever I command you.” “To obey is better than sacrifice and to listen than the fat of rams.” However much we are able to give, we are bound to give it and should give it cheerfully. But if we suppose that any amount of giving can stand as a substitute for personal [obedience] we are greatly mistaken. To bring our wealth and not to yield our hearts is to give the casket and steal the jewels. How dare we bring our sacrifice in a leprous hand? We must be cleansed in the atoning blood before we can be accepted, and our hearts must be changed before our offering can be pure in God’s sight.
The practical outcome of it all is this—examine every question as to duty by the light of this one enquiry — “Will this be a friendly action to Christ? If I do this, shall I act as Christ’s friend? Will my conduct honor Him? Then I am glad. If it will dishonor Him, I will have nothing to do with it.” Set each distinct action, as far as you are able, in the scales and let this be the weight—is it a friendly action towards your Redeemer? I wish that we all lived as if Jesus were always present, as if we could see His wounds and gaze into His lovely countenance. Suppose that tomorrow you are brought into temptation by being asked to do something questionable? Decide it this way—if Jesus could come in at that moment and show you His hands and His feet, how would you act in His sight?
Behave as you would act under the realized Presence of the Well-Beloved. You would not do anything unkind to Him, would you? Certainly, you would not do anything to grieve Him if you saw Him before your eyes! Well, keep Him always before you.
Obedience will gladden you with the blissful Presence of your Lord and, in that Presence, you shall find fullness of joy. You shall be the envied of all wise men, for you shall be the beloved of the Lord. And your pathway, if it is not always smooth, shall always be safe, for Jesus never leaves His friends and He will never leave you! He will keep you even to the end. May this be my happy case and yours. Amen.
Lifelong slavery, whether it is political, economic, or social is unjust and oppressive. Walter E. William’s, in his foreword to Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, the condensed version, defines slavery as: the forcible use of one person to serve the purposes of another. Humans worldwide have fought over the centuries for freedom from this recurring scourge.
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. Hebrews 2:14-15 English Standard Version (ESV)
Forasmuch then as the children, etc., or, since then the children, etc. …[This] passage deserves special notice, for it not only confirms the reality of the human nature of Christ, but also shows the benefit which [therefore] flows to us. “The Son of God,” he says, “became man, that he might partake of the same condition and nature with us.” What could be said more [suited] to confirm our faith?
Here [is] his infinite love towards us…; but its [overabundance is seen] in this — that he put on our nature that he might thus make himself capable of dying, for as God he could not undergo death.
And though he refers but briefly to the benefits of his death, yet there is in this brevity of words a singularly striking and powerful representation, and that is, that he has so delivered us from the tyranny of the devil, that we are rendered safe, and that he has so redeemed us from death, that it is no longer to be dreaded…
And deliver them who, etc. This passage expresses in a striking manner how miserable is the life of those who fear death, as they must feel it to be dreadful, because they look on it apart from Christ; for then nothing but a curse appears in it: for [where does] death [come] but from God’s wrath against sin?
Hence is that bondage throughout life, even perpetual anxiety, by which unhappy souls are tormented; for through a consciousness of sin, the judgment of God is ever presented to [those persons’] view.
But if any one cannot pacify his mind by disregarding death, let him know that he has [little understanding of what] faith [in] Christ [means]; for [since] extreme fear is [due] to ignorance [of] the grace of Christ, so it is a certain evidence of unbelief.
Death here does not only mean the separation of the soul from the body, but also [eternal] punishment which is inflicted on us by an angry God…; for where there is guilt before God, there immediately hell shows itself.
And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11English Standard Version (ESV)
…First, …The Comforter, when he comes effectually to work upon a sinner, not only convinces him of the sin of his nature, the sin of his life, [and] of the sin of his duties…
But there is a fourth sin, of which the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul, and which alone (it is very remarkable) our Lord mentions, as though it was the only sin worth mentioning; for indeed it is the root of all other sins whatsoever: it is the reigning as well as the damning sin of the world. And what now do you imagine that sin may be? It is that cursed sin, that root of all other evils, I mean the sin of unbelief. Says our Lord, verse 9. “Of sin, because they believe not on me.”
…Perhaps you may think you believe, because you repeat the Creed, or subscribe to a Confession of Faith; because you go to church or meeting, receive the sacrament, and are taken into full communion. These are blessed privileges; but all this may be done, without our being true believers.
…Ask yourselves, therefore, whether or not the Holy [Spirit] ever powerfully convinced you of the sin of unbelief? …Were you ever made to cry out, “Lord, give me faith; Lord, give me to believe on thee; O that I had faith! O that I could believe!” If you never were thus distressed, at least, if you never saw and felt that you had no faith, it is a certain sign that the Holy [Spirit], the Comforter, never came into and worked savingly upon your souls.
…We have seen how the Holy [Spirit] convinces the sinner of the sin of his nature, life, duties, and of the sin of unbelief; and what then must the poor creature do? He must, he must inevitably despair, if there be no hope but in himself…
Secondly, what is the righteousness, of which the Comforter convinces the world?
…O the righteousness of Christ! It so comforts my soul, that I must be excused if I mention it in almost all my discourses. I would not, if I could help it, have one sermon without it. Whatever infidels may object, or Arminians sophistically argue against an imputed righteousness; yet whoever know themselves and God, must acknowledge, that “Jesus Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, (and perfect justification in the sight of God) to everyone that believes,” and that we are to be made the righteousness of God in him.
This, and this only, a poor sinner can lay hold of, as a sure anchor of his hope. Whatever other scheme of salvation men may lay, I acknowledge I can see no other foundation whereon to build my hopes of salvation, but on the rock of Christ’s personal righteousness, imputed to my soul.
…When therefore the Spirit has hunted the sinner out of all his false rests and hiding-places, taken off the pitiful fig-leaves of his own works, and driven him out of the trees of the garden (his outward reformations) and places him naked before the bar of a sovereign, holy, just, and sin-avenging God; then, then it is, when the soul, having the sentence of death within itself because of unbelief, has a sweet display of Christ’s righteousness made to it by the Holy Spirit of God. Here it is, that he begins more immediately to act in the quality of a Comforter, and convinces the soul so powerfully of the reality and all-sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness, that the soul is immediately set a hungering and thirsting after it.
Now the sinner begins to see, that though he has destroyed himself, yet in Christ is his help; that, though he has no righteousness of his own to recommend him, there is a fullness of grace, a fullness of truth, a fullness of righteousness in the dear Lord Jesus, which, if once imputed to him, will make him happy for ever and ever.
…If you were never thus convinced of Christ’s righteousness in your own souls, though you may believe it doctrinally, it will avail you nothing; if the Comforter never came savingly into your souls, then you are comfortless indeed…
Whitefield then proceeds:
Thirdly, …the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul of judgment.
“Of judgment (says our Lord) because the Prince of this world is judged;” the soul, being enabled to lay hold on Christ’s perfect righteousness by a lively faith, has a conviction wrought in it by the Holy Spirit, that the Prince of this world is judged. The soul being now justified by faith, has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and can triumphantly say, “It is Christ that justifies me, who is he that condemns me?”
The strong man armed is now cast out; my soul is in a true peace; the Prince of this world will come and accuse, but he has now no share in me: the blessed Spirit which I have received, and whereby I am enabled to apply Christ’s righteousness to my poor soul, powerfully convinces me of this: why should I fear? Or of what shall I be afraid, since God’s Spirit witnesses with my spirit, that I am a child of God…
But, if we do not find ourselves thus convinced, Whitefield appeals to us once more to be reconciled to Christ:
Though of myself I can do nothing, and you can no more by your own power come to and believe on Christ, than Lazarus could come forth from the grave; yet who knows but God may beget some of you again to a lively hope by this foolishness of preaching, and that you may be some of that world, which the Comforter is to convince of sin, or righteousness, and of judgment?
Poor Christless souls! Do you know what a condition you are in? Why, you are lying in the wicked one, the devil; he rules in you, he walks and dwells in you, unless you dwell in Christ, and the Comforter is come into your hearts. And will you contentedly lie in that wicked one that devil? What wages will he give you? Eternal death.
O that you would come to Christ! The free gift of God through him is eternal life. He will accept of you even now, if you will believe in him. The Comforter may yet come into your hearts, even yours…
In conclusion, we briefly quote Augustine on these same verses:
Let men, therefore, believe in Christ, that they be not convicted of the sin of their own unbelief, whereby all sins are retained;
let them make their way into the number of believers, that they be not convicted of the righteousness of those, whom, as justified, they fail to imitate;
let them beware of that future judgment, that they be not judged with the prince of the world, whom, judged as he is, they continue to imitate.
For the unbending pride of mortals can have no thought of being spared itself, as it is thus called to think with terror of the punishment that overtook the pride of angels.
Where were you when that dumpster exploded on Saturday, the 17th of September, 2016, at about 8:30 PM, between 6th and 7th Avenues on 23rd Street in Manhattan? Witnesses reported an event that shook buildings around the epicenter. Windows were blown out, and those on the street were injured. It didn’t look like terrorism initially (it was,) but the neighborhood was shaken up.
Something similar happened in first century Philippi, in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, Greece. This time it was an earthquake that shook up the neighborhood. Doors to cells in the local prison were opened, and the jailer, no doubt shaken from sleep, supposed his life was forfeit because his charges had escaped. One of the prisoners, the Apostle Paul, called to the jailer not to harm himself; they were all still there. The jailer, trembling with fear, rushed to Paul and his companion, Silas, and:
…He brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Acts 16:30English Standard Version (ESV)
Paul and Silas “spoke the word” to the jailer and his household. As a result, he and his household all believed in God. John Calvin comments on this verse here.
This same Apostle Paul concisely addressed the nature of this belief:
…If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9-10(ESV)
But, how are we to believe this? Is it by strength of will or a leap into the dark? Stepping back a bit, Calvin says we must first have faith to believe. What, then, is the nature of this faith? To this, the author of the letter to the Hebrews says:
…Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6(ESV)
Calvin explains the second clause of this verse this way:
…We ought to be fully persuaded that God is not sought in vain; and this persuasion includes the hope of salvation and eternal life.
And, it behooves us to recognize that God freely grants us this faith by His unmerited favor (i.e., grace) so that we might believe in Him:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9(ESV)
I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
I believe in the Holy Ghost:
I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
The forgiveness of sins:
The resurrection of the body:
And the life everlasting. Amen.
After controversies over God’s nature, a creedal statement, attributed to Athanasius of Alexandria and rooted in Augustine’s On the Trinity (415 AD), was formulated that encompassed right belief on the matter. The gist of the Athanasian creed is:
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic [i.e., all-embracing or universal] faith;
And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Nicene creed (381 AD) appears to combine significant elements of the prior two creeds:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen
And the Lord had respect unto Abel, etc. …Notice the order Moses [observes]; for he does not simply state that the worship which Abel had paid was pleasing to God, but he begins with the person of the offeror; by which he signifies, that God will regard no works with favor except those the doer of which is already previously accepted and approved by him.
And no wonder; for man sees things which are apparent, but God looks into the heart, (1 Samuel 16:7) therefore, he estimates works no otherwise than as they proceed from the fountain of the heart.
Whence also it [follows], that he not only rejects but abhors the sacrifices of the wicked, however splendid they may appear in the eyes of men. For if he, who is polluted in his soul, by his mere touch contaminates, with his own impurities, things otherwise pure and clean, how can that but be impure which proceeds from himself?
…Now seeing that in another place, the Spirit testifies, by the mouth of Peter, that ‘hearts are purified by faith,’ (Acts 15:9) and seeing that the purity of the holy patriarchs was of the very same kind, the apostle does not in vain infer, that the offering of Abel was, by faith, more excellent than that of Cain.
Calvin then draws two conclusions with consequences. The first conclusion and consequence are:
Therefore, in the first place, we must hold, that all works done before faith, whatever splendor of righteousness may appear in them, were nothing but mere sins, being defiled from their roots, and were offensive to the Lord, whom nothing can please without inward purity of heart.
I wish they who imagine that men, by their own motion of freewill, are rendered [fit] to receive the grace of God, would reflect on this. Certainly, no controversy would then remain on the question, whether God justifies men gratuitously, and that by faith? For this must be received as a settled point, that, in the judgment of God, no respect is had to works until man is received into [his] favor.
And the second conclusion is harder still:
…Since the whole human race is hateful to God, there is no other way of reconciliation to divine favor than through faith. Moreover, since faith is a gratuitous gift of God, and a special illumination of the Spirit, then it is easy to infer, that we are [enabled to life] by his mere grace, just as if he had raised us from the dead.
In which sense also Peter says, that it is God who purifies the hearts by faith. For there would be no agreement of the fact with the statement, unless God had so formed faith in the hearts of men that it might be truly deemed his gift…
Calvin’s observations remind us of the apostle Paul’s words in his letter to the Ephesian church:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10(ESV)