“You have a name that you live, and are dead.”–Rev. 3:1
The reader, possessing a taste and an eye for the fine arts, must often have stood entranced before a picture of natural still-life, in which, with masterly genius, the artist had portrayed the subject with such vivid effect as to invest it with all the charm and power of reality. So successful is the illusion, and so intense the feeling produced, it would seem, while gazing upon the painting, that the fawn must bound from the canvas, the purple flow from the grape, and the perfume breathe from the rose. And yet, with all this appearance and glow of animation, it is but–a picture of still-life.
In the passage which suggests the leading thought of this chapter we find a striking analogy to this. It is the picture of spiritual still-life, or false conversion, sketched by the hand of a Divine Artist–“you have a name that you live, and are dead.” This delineation of spiritual still-life–in other words, this description of the New Birth in profession and appearance only–is perfect. Here is conversion in all but its reality! Here is spiritual life–but it is the appearance of life only. Here is spiritual death–and it is a solemn fact. The one is an illusion, a fiction, a counterfeit; the other a grim, stern, cold reality. The very life itself is–death! Such is the spiritual state we are about to delineate in the present chapter–such the portrait for which thousands might stand as the original. And can the sanctified imagination conceive a state more sad or appalling? To believe that we are born again, to assume the exterior, and claim the privileges of the truly converted, while yet dwelling in the region and shadow of spiritual death, is of all spiritual conditions the most dangerous and fatal.
In a treatise devoted to an exposition of the nature and evidences of the New Birth, it is proper that we take first the NEGATIVE bearings of the subject, showing what is not real conversion. We need scarcely bespeak the reader’s solemn and prayerful consideration of this subject, for it bears upon its surface the impress of infinite importance. Surely, if apart from the New Birth there is no state of grace here, and no state of glory hereafter, the question must come home to every thoughtful bosom with irresistible impressiveness and power. “Is mine a real or a false conversion? Am I truly born again?” Instructed by the Divine Spirit, we propose to assist you in this momentous inquiry, by showing how far you may advance in a profession of Christianity, in the appearance of the New Birth, and not be born again–having a name to live, and yet dead!
1. And, first, let us remark that a spiritually-enlightened understanding, or a mere intellectual acquaintance with Divine truth, is not of itself the New Birth. Light is not life. We may admit through the window the morning’s roseate beams in all their brilliancy and power into the chamber of death, but the corpse around which they play remains, pulseless and lifeless, a corpse still. The body is bathed with the light, the pallid countenance is illumined with its radiance, and the shroud is fringed with its hues, but all still is death. The sun has not quickened into life a solitary throb!
And thus there may exist in the religion of an individual an enlightened understanding, much intellectual acquaintance with Divine things, a sound judgment, and an intelligent mind, yet entirely dissevered from spiritual life. We may accept the Bible as wholly true–a great concession this!–may believe in it historically, understand it intellectually, and expound it ably, and not be born again–substituting speculative knowledge, or a theoretical acquaintance with Divine truth, for the kingdom of God in the heart–religious light in the understanding, for spiritual life in the soul.
But the truth as it is in Jesus demands more than the mere assent of the understanding. It does not, indeed, bypass the province of reason, nor set aside the aid of the intellectual powers of man; but, while it appeals to this tribunal, and exacts its homage and its belief–carrying triumphant the noblest and loftiest powers of the soul–it enters the HEART, and there puts forth its mightiest power, achieves its greatest triumph, receives its profoundest love and conviction, claiming and securing the affections for Christ.
Believe me, my reader, your theology may be biblical, your creed orthodox, your mind well-furnished and fortified with Christian evidence, and yet all this may be accompanied with no more spiritual life than is produced by the moonbeams falling in cold, silvery luster upon an alpine peak.
2. Religious emotion is not the New Birth. You may be the subject of deep, intense, religious feeling; the conscience, brought into close contact with solemn truth, may be aroused; the sensibilities, appealed to, may be excited; the mind, reasoned with, may assent–and yet death in the soul maintain its gloomy scepter. A description of Christ’s sufferings may dissolve you to tears, a picture of heaven’s glory may entrance you with hope, a delineation of hell’s woe may paralyze you with fear, and spiritual death still reign within your soul. No subject moves our natural feelings like religion. To nothing does our emotional nature so quickly and deeply respond as this. Hence how easy and how soon are those sensibilities of our being wrought upon which may assume all the resemblance and actings of life, and yet be spiritually dead. It is life, but, alas! it is still-life.
Real conversion does not petrify the natural or the moral feelings. Far from it. There is no real conversion apart from feeling, often the most profound and intense. A true spiritual conviction of sin will sometimes stir the soul to its lowest depths. It was so with the tax-collector, and thus was it with the Philippian jailer. There is nothing so startling, so appalling, so overwhelming, as a spiritual sight of the heart’s depravity. Who can have an insight into this dark, mysterious chamber of imagery, this seat of all iniquity, as unfolded by the Holy Spirit, and not shudder, and tremble, and weep, exclaiming, “What must I do to be saved? Lord, save! or I perish.”
But, in all faithfulness we must add that, intense sensibility, deep religious feeling, and great alarm may co-exist with spiritual death in the soul–it may be found apart from real conversion. The stony-ground hearer received the word with joy. Herod heard John preach the gospel with gladness. The devils believe and tremble. Thus the opposite emotions of joy and fear may exist apart from a spiritual change of heart. Beware, then, of this deception!
3. Mere religious conviction is not real conversion. There may be in the subject some intelligent knowledge and insight of sin, some vivid apprehension of its existence and guilt, attended with pungent conviction and mental distress, springing from its present and remote consequences, without any spiritual sense of sin, as sin, against the holy Lord God. While there is no real conversion without the conviction of sin, mere natural conviction alone, unaccompanied with a spiritual renewal of the heart, cannot be denominated real conversion. An individual may for months and years be what is termed “under conviction of sin,” and his soul yet remain without very decided evidence of spiritual life.
But, if these convictions which you have are of the Holy Spirit’s producing, if they arise from the effectual work of Divine grace in your soul, they will, they must, before long, eventuate in your real conversion to God. If the result of animal excitement only, the mere emotional part of your nature stirred–if but a transient flash of thought, a sigh, a tear, a passing feeling–it will all evaporate, subside, and vanish as the foam upon the billow, as the morning cloud and as the early dew. There is, indeed, the appearance of life; but, alas! it is spiritual still-life. “You have a name that you live, but are dead.”
4. Nor does real conversion resolve itself into the mere possession and exercise of spiritual gifts. The history of the Church of God affords lamentable proof of the existence of the most splendid and powerful spiritual gifts not in alliance with one atom of converting grace. The Corinthian Church supplies a sad chapter to this history. If God endows an individual with great and brilliant parts, and that endowment is in connection with a religious profession–it may be the holy office of the Christian ministry–the inference is not necessarily logical and true that the individual so furnished and installed is spiritually and thoroughly and truly converted.
Our adorable Lord–that great Prober of the human heart–He who only knew what was in man–forewarned us of this. “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name? and in Your name have cast out devils? and in Your name have done many wonderful works?” And what is the solemn, the inevitable result? “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you–depart from me, you that work iniquity.” Oh you who are endowed with popular gifts, who plume yourselves with your brilliant attainments, who walk amid the golden candlesticks, distinguished lights and brilliant orbs, tremble, lest in the deep treachery of the heart you should be found substituting these meretricious ornaments, these tinsel garnishings of the Christian profession, for that spiritual renewal of the heart which leads its possessor to walk holily and humbly with God. How easy the deception! how woeful the result! We may speak with the entrancing eloquence of men, or with the soft music of angels, without one spark of real love to God glowing upon the lifeless, flameless altar of the heart.
We shudder to think how far human intellectualism and eloquence may pass current in the office of the Christian ministry, with those who fill and with those who worship it, totally dissevered from all spiritual life. These are grand weapons of Satan and of Error. Availing themselves of human learning, an acute intellect, and brilliant attainments, the eloquence of speech, and the fascination of address, those united foes of Christ and the Church–Satan and Error–seek to upheave the foundations of truth and righteousness, and to sow the seeds of “damnable heresies,” consigning men’s souls to everlasting perdition.
Great giftedness, disunited from great grace, has ever been the bane of the professing Church. The Lord lead us into solemn self-examination, and give us to prize one grain of real grace above all the most splendid gifts of nature, the most polished attractions of art, the noblest attainments of the schools that ever endowed and adorned the human intellect. To walk holily and humbly with God, to lie as a sinner at the feet of Jesus, to be living day by day upon the blood and righteousness of Christ, and to do the Lord’s work in the spirit of self-abnegation, lowliness, and love, has more of holiness and heaven in it, and brings more honor and glory to God, than the most costly gifts and the most brilliant achievements ever possessed–apart from the grace that empties us of self, sanctifies our hearts, and fills us with the mind and temper of Christ.
5. A high standard of morality may exist apart from true conversion. The ungodly and unconverted world furnishes many and marvelous examples illustrating this thought. Men of integrity and uprightness in all the relations of domestic, social, and commercial life; who can walk among their peers with dignity and honor, who yet are living in the region of spiritual unregeneracy and death. True, most true, there is no vital religion without morality, but there may be morality of a high and commanding order without vital religion. The minor morals of life may bud and blossom upon human character and conduct separate from the root of grace in the soul, and the soul’s vital engrafting into Christ. It is fruit, but not the fruit of righteousness, nor the result of faith and love. It is life, but not the life that is hid with Christ in God.
It is at best but a negative righteousness, such as the proud, vaunting Pharisee wrapped around him when, with supercilious disdain, he looked down from the height of his self-sufficiency upon his humble fellow-worshiper in the temple, who, meekly standing afar off, smote upon his breast, and exclaimed, “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
You may be able to dignify and adorn all the relations of life, be a man of virtue and honesty, benevolence and integrity, and yet not be born again of the Spirit. Your morality may have much of the appearance, attraction, and fascination of real holiness, but it is mere morality still; and mere morality is no passport, signed and sealed by the Great King, to a heaven of glory. It may look like the engrafting and the fruit of spiritual life, but it is life in alliance with death, cold, inanimate death, death in all but the name. “You have a name that you LIVE and are DEAD.” Yet more pointed and solemn the testimony of Him who spoke these solemn words, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
6. Nor can religious activity and usefulness be regarded as either a substitute for, or a valid evidence of, real conversion to God. And yet we know not of a more specious and fatal danger than this. In a Christian age like the present, distinguished for its religious spirit and enterprise–an age in which the romance of pious zeal seems to have reached its highest culture, there exists a great and fatal temptation of substituting spiritual still-life for spiritual quickened-life, Christian activity for Christianity, and Christianity for Christ; the spasmodic throes and convulsions of religious zeal and excitement, for real, vital religion, the name to live while nothing really lives but–death!
Christian energy and success are, at best, but negative and dubious data upon which to predicate the actual existence of spiritual life in the soul. That an individual perfunctorily engaged in religious work may be useful in guiding the steps of others, as the sign-post planted midway between two diverging roads may direct correctly the doubtful footsteps of the traveler, itself remaining stationary, numberless cases testify. We may point the pious pilgrim the right way to heaven, we may lead the anxious inquirer to Jesus–we may, in various ways, be employed in the cause of truth and in the kingdom of Christ–in praying and exhorting and preaching; in instructing the ignorant, in reforming the vicious, in reclaiming the wanderer–and the vineyard of our own soul remain untilled by one solitary act of spiritual culture–not a seed, or bud, or flower, or fruit of grace and holiness, relieving its barrenness, or evidencing its spiritual life.
Doubtless, the antediluvians were useful in aiding righteous Noah to construct the Ark for the saving of his house, while they themselves perished in the flood, clinging, perhaps, to the sides or clutching the keel of the vessel as it floated serenely on its way. The scaffolding is useful in the erection of the building, but, constituting no essential part of the structure, is removed when the edifice is complete. How delusive and unsafe, then, the evidence we glean from Christian activity and usefulness that we are personally born again, are truly converted to Christ. Such is the danger of becoming ourselves insensible to what we recommend and enforce, or assume that we possess it when in reality we do not.
We are overwhelmed with the apprehension that in a day of unexampled religious activity and stir, of enterprise and excitement, when association after association starts up, each demanding and each receiving a new host of volunteers, offering not only their wealth and influence, but their talents and time to the work, numbers may be beguiled into the belief that all this is saving religion, that all this is real conversion! Never doubting that they must experimentally know what they theoretically teach, and must spiritually love what they earnestly commend, they pause not to examine their own hearts as to their personal acquaintance with these things. In proportion, also, as these associations multiply, and with their multiplication the rate of activity and excitement increases, does the necessity of pausing for self-examination exist.
The increased magnitude and consequent velocity and din of the machinery of Christian activity must necessarily lessen the opportunity and the desire for a quiet converse with our own soul. The necessity, therefore, of special self-examination increases precisely at the same rate with the energy employed in promoting the spiritual well-being of others. Let it not be supposed that no individual can be employed in advancing the kingdom of grace who himself lives without grace; that we cannot promote the holiness of others without the possession of holiness ourselves; that we cannot be spiritually useful to others while we yet ourselves remain in an unrenewed state. He has studied the history of the Christian Church but to little advantage who has not learned that God has often employed unholy agencies for the accomplishment of His will and purpose; and that, when in His sovereignty He has so employed, He can in His sovereignty destroy them. “For the scripture says unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth,” (Rom. 9:17.) How should this truth, then, lead us to dive into our own hearts, bring our souls to the unerring touchstone of God’s Word, drive us out of every subterfuge, and allow nothing–the most fair and plausible and good–to come between our hearts and their true, thorough conversion to Christ.
7. With many the idea is not less false and fatal, that a diligent and externally-devout attendance upon the means of grace and ordinances of God’s Church constitute the great spiritual change of which the Bible speaks as essential to salvation. As though God would or could accept, in lieu of the heart spiritually renewed, divinely loving and holy–the mere externals of the Christian faith, the empty signs and symbols of Christianity! But, my reader, we must endeavor to dislodge this fatal delusion from your mind. You may be punctual in your attendance at the house of God, be externally a serious and devout worshiper; you may go to and fro with gilded Bible and Prayer-book in your hands, you may remain, when the great congregation is dispersed, and join the few who approach the solemn symbols of the Savior’s dying love, and with all this still continue unregenerate, unborn again, living in the distant region and dark shadow of spiritual death.
“We ate and drank in Your presence,” will be the plea, earnestly but vainly urged, in the great day when no plea for admittance within the pearl gate that expands to admit the Bride to the marriage banquet of the Lamb will avail but the new birth. The only response to that appeal will be, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Oh yes! you may descend to the shades of endless despair–from the house of God–where judgment must first begin–from the table of the Lord, your lips moist with the dreadful symbols of a Redeemer’s dying love, with no more valid hope of salvation than the deluded felon who stands beneath the fatal drop clasping the adored crucifix to his breast–another victim to the long, gloomy procession of lost souls, who presumed to substitute the lifeless forms of religion– “Devotion’s every offering but the heart”– for the great spiritual change of the new birth; having a name to live, and yet dead. Examine yourselves, prove your own selves in this matter.
8. Among the most plausible yet most fatal errors is, the substitution of denominational religion for the religion of the renewed heart. And yet how common is this delusion! To what an alarming extent does it denominationalism divide all classes of religionists! An individual may be a fiery partisan, a stern bigot, a martyr for his creed, a holocaust upon the altar of his Church, and vainly imagine that this is all that Jesus meant when He thundered with reiterated force those solemn words upon the ears of the Jewish ruler, “You must be BORN AGAIN.”
But zeal for a denomination, love to a Church, a wedded attachment to an ecclesiastical system, may exist, and in numberless cases does exist, in alliance with a nature entirely unrenewed by the Holy Spirit, with a heart totally destitute of the love of God. We have known individuals who have sacrificed health, substance, and even life itself in the arena of ecclesiastical warfare, closing their deluded and melancholy history unrelieved with one solitary ray of true Christian hope. What is this religion better than that of the Mohammedan, the Hindoo, or the Papist? There is nothing in it of spiritual vitality, nothing of Jesus, nothing of God, nothing of eternity. It may enable its partisan to pass muster with his peers, it may give him high position and great renown in his denomination, it may enthrone him upon the highest pinnacle of the temple, the demigod of his party. But, when the hour, the solemn, the appalling hour comes, to meet, whose tremendous reality, denominationalism, and ecclesiasticism, and priestlyism–systems, creeds, and sacraments–must all retire from the scene and give place to a foundation more real, to a religion more vital, to hope more substantial, what, oh what will this ‘baseless fabric’ of a denominational religion do for us then!
Reader, with all your denominational love, your party zeal, your earnestness and devotion and sacrifice to promote the ecclesiastical branch to which you belong, you must be born again, or share the fate that awaits all mere sects and systems, forms and ceremonies, rituals, creeds, and Churches. “O Lord, save us from so subtle, so dangerous, so fatal a delusion! Allow us not, in a matter of such infinite importance, to substitute a dream for a reality, a system for Christ, a lying fiction for a good hope of eternal life. Give us the reality and the earnestness and the vigilance of Divine grace to make sure work for eternity. Create in us a clean heart, and renew in us a right spirit!”
9. By how many is the fatal delusion fostered that, afflictions, adversity, and sorrow are, of themselves, valid evidences of the new birth! Were this a reality and not a phantom, the truth and not a lie, it would follow that this world, all enshrouded with the winding-sheet of woe, groaning and travailing in the throes and convulsions of suffering, sorrow, and death, is thronged with new-born and regenerate beings, temples of the Spirit, and heirs of the kingdom! We hasten to dispel the delusion.
There are both judicial and the parental judgments of the Most High God with the children of men. His afflictive dispensations with the ungodly are those of a Judge; with the righteous, they are those of a parent. And, although the season of adversity, the hour of sorrow, is ofttimes, in the purpose and arrangement of God, the period of the new birth–the occasion of the translation of the soul from darkness to light, from death to life–the rod of affliction driving the man from his shattered idols, his blighted hopes, his false dependences, to the Savior; yet, there is not necessarily a solitary link between the darkest adversity, the most crushing affliction, the profoundest sorrow–and that spiritual new birth indispensable to a state of grace on earth, and a state of glory in heaven; nothing but a wide, dark chasm, which can only be spanned by Divine, sovereign, and regenerating grace.
Shall I suppose you, my reader, an illustrative case? God, perhaps, has afflicted you heavily. Wealth, hard earned and stored, has disappeared like Alpine frost beneath the burning rays of a meridian sun. Health, rosy and robust, has waned and drooped as a mid-summer day dissolving into the twilight shades of evening. Death has invaded the sanctuary of your home, sundering some fond tie, withering some beauteous flower, snapping some strong stem of domestic bliss, leaving its deep, dark shadow still lingering upon that spot of verdure, sunshine, and joy. And what is the effect? What the position of your smitten and bleeding spirit? Is it not that of sullen, gloomy, cold, involuntary resignation? You had no power to avert the catastrophe, no skill to ward off the blow, and now that it has fallen upon you, and fallen with an irresistible and crushing effect–you bow your head, but not your heart; you surrender your idol, but not your idolatry; you relinquish your treasure, but not your will; you are submissive, but not resigned to the dealings and government of God.
Perhaps the affliction has had, for the moment, a subduing and humbling effect. Your heart is softened, your pride is mortified, your lofty spirit is laid low, and the subject and the ordinances of religion, for a season, engage your thoughts, rouse your interest, and command your attention. While the heavy hand of God is upon you, you seem to lie in the dust at His feet. You read your Bible, repair to God’s house, retire from the haunts of worldly gaiety and from the scenes of sensual pleasure, and even suspend, for the time, the cares and anxieties of business.
But is this conversion? is this true religion? is this the dawn of grace? is this the spiritual birth of the soul? The RESULT shall supply the answer. The stunning effects of the blow are subsiding, your sorrow is lessening, your tears are drying, the deep shadows of your night of woe are dissolving into the morning’s dawn of sunshine, and you have returned to the engagements and the cares of life–the mart of business and the haunts of pleasure–as indifferent to religion and the claims of your soul and the solemnities of eternity as if the hand of God had not touched you, and His voice had not uttered the admonition in your ears, “Turn! turn! why will you die?” And thus you supply another solemn confirmation of the truth that an individual may pass through all the stages of adversity and yet remain unregenerate, unsanctified, unsaved.
But has no precious visitation continue? no fearful responsibility incurred? does no solemn account remain? Yes! emphatically yes! God rode in that chariot-storm, spoke from that cloud of thunder, commissioned that crushing sorrow. He designed to humble you, to instruct you, to subdue you to repentance, and win you to faith and love. And while the cloud was upon your tabernacle, and the thunder of His power rolled above you, and the grief lay heavy upon your heart, you were awed and softened, thoughtful and mute. But, alas! the affliction passed away, the tempest subsided, health has taken the place of sickness, the dead are forgotten, and you are yet unborn again. Be not deceived! Do not think that because you have been chastened and afflicted of the Lord, that therefore you are a favorite of the Lord’s. That, having drunk of the cup of sorrow at His hand, you have therefore tasted that He is gracious.
There is nothing essentially converting in the nature or power of affliction. Far from it. The furnace does not transmute base metal into gold, it burns and destroys it. And while the brass, the tin, and the lead, the wood, the hay, and the stubble, are consumed and perish, the gold, the silver, and the precious stones, by the same fire, are purified, refined, and saved.
But, blessed, thrice blessed, are they who by the storm are driven to Jesus, the Refuge and the Hiding-place; who, when God cuts up all earthly hopes by the roots, blasts the human gourd, dries the creature spring, are led by the Spirit in the dark hour of adversity to discover that they have nothing to take hold of but Christ; that, knowing their sinfulness and condemnation and emptiness, are led to see the Lord Jesus Christ to be just the all-sufficient, able, willing, precious Savior that they need–and so, as amid the fire, and as by the fire, are saved from the worm that never dies and the fire that is never quenched. Oh, what countless harpers tread the gold-paved streets of glory, chanting the praises of ‘sanctified trial’, and testifying that, but for the fire, the whirlwind, and the earthquake of affliction, suffering, and adversity, they would never have basked in heaven’s sunshine, nor bathed them in its sea of bliss!
10. It is important, in presenting the negative aspect of our subject, that we should give emphatic utterance to the truth that, an external and avowed profession of Christ is not real conversion. This, among all we have specified, forms, perhaps, the most popular, as the most plausible and fatal error. There is something in an avowed profession of Christianity so religious and holy in appearance, so apparently genuine and true, so like the actual and the real; and, added to this, there is with it a feeling of self-complacency so strong and deceptive, it is no marvel that multitudes should be ensnared by the delusion, that a Christian in profession is a Christian in principle, that a believer in name is a believer in reality; that nominal religion is vital religion, and that the external clothing of the sheep is all that is necessary to authenticate love to, and union with, the Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the flock.
How few will be found in society who are not ‘professors of religion’. The great mass wear the distinctive external clothing of heaven, the uniform of the Christian, the holy and sacred name of Christ. And yet it is one of the most appalling reflections how few will be found among these religious professors who are really savingly converted to God, being truly born again. The Word of God is solemn in its instances of this fearful and fatal delusion. Simon Magus was a religious professor, yet was in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity. Demas was a religious professor, yet loved this present evil world. Judas Iscariot was a professor and an apostle, yet betrayed his Lord and Master. These men were types of a class the most popular and numerous in this professing age of the world–those who have a name to live, and are dead.
11. It follows that the ordinances of God’s house–the institution of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, of which all religious professors are partakers–possess of themselves no converting, sanctifying, saving efficacy. Those who maintain that Baptism is an essentially converting rite, or that the Lord’s Supper is a saving ordinance, contravene the direct teaching of God’s Word, argue against the existence of facts the most incontrovertible and solemn. The ‘automatic grace’ principle, as maintained by a certain school holding semi-Romanist views–with which, alas! so many professing Protestants secretly sympathize–is an unblushing denial and blasphemous ignoring of the official work of the Holy Spirit in the new birth, reducing conversion–the divinest, most essential, and momentous change that can possibly revolutionize the soul–to the mere observance of an external rite, as destitute of its significance as of vitality and power. If this sacramental notion of the Romanized school of theology be true, then the teaching of the Bible on the subject of the new birth is false–for the two views are diametrically opposed the one to the other–a conclusion at which we shudder to arrive.
But let God be true, and every man who would contravene His word a liar. But what says the Scripture? The following declarations, because they cut from beneath us all ordinances as coming into competition with, and as substitutes for, vital godliness, cover the entire question, and are as applicable to Christian institutions as to any Jewish rite whatever–“In Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a NEW CREATURE,” (Gal. 6:15.) “The kingdom of God” (that is, the kingdom of grace in the soul) “is not food and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the holy Spirit,” (Rom. 14:17.)
The order here observed by the Spirit is most impressive. First, the righteousness of Christ forming the foundation of the believing sinner’s acceptance; then, peace, the effect of righteousness; and then joy, a higher order of peace–peace in its bolder range. Righteousness, peace, joy in the Holy Spirit. And shall we reduce this great spiritual change, apart from which there is no salvation–no grace here, and no glory hereafter–to a mere submission to a rite, a symbol, a sign? This were to believe that thousands are regenerate, sanctified, and saved, and when they die will die the death of the righteous, who, once baptized, are now living in all the enmity of the carnal mind against God–the captives of Satan and the servants of sin! In view of this appalling conclusion, we hesitate not to pronounce the Romish dogma of sacramental grace–the Papistical doctrine of baptismal regeneration–to be the pre-eminent lie of Satan–the most subtle and fatal weapon which this arch-foe of our race ever forged for the destruction of men’s souls in perdition.
With the deepest earnestness and solemnity of feeling we address you as holding this fatal error. We appeal to your sober judgment as to the truth of what we say. If baptism be the new birth in the Scripture sense, then whatever the Bible teaches concerning the expressions regeneration, born again, or created anew, will hold true of baptism. In this light read the following passage, substituting the word ‘baptized’ instead of the phrase ‘born of God’, and see how it sounds–“Every one that is BAPTIZED sins not; but he that is BAPTIZED keeps himself pure, and the evil one touches him not.” Is this true? Who will dare affirm that it is? And yet, to be consistent with your notion of baptismal regeneration, you must believe it to be true. Does baptism produce such a spiritual change in its subject as that “old things have passed away, and all things have become new?” This is true of all who are born again. But we drop the argument. We appeal to your conscience, to your condition as a sinner, to your feeling as a dying man, to your prospect for eternity.
Do not build your hope of glory upon your baptism. You are lost to all eternity if you do. You must be born again if ever you enter the kingdom of heaven. If you are not born again of the Spirit, you have not the least ground of hope. Not a solitary bright ray trembles upon the dark cloud that enshrouds your future. Plunge into eternity, clutching the airy fiction, the fatal notion, that you passed from death into life in your baptism–that in baptism you were regenerated, adopted, justified, made holy and saved–and you have staked your eternal happiness upon the most fatal lie!
But yet there is hope. Feeling your lost and ruined condition as a sinner, quickened into spiritual life by the Holy Spirit, and by that same Spirit secretly led to a believing acceptance of the blood and righteousness of the Lord Jesus, you may, you must, you shall be saved. With a soul-loving, yearning heart, we entreat you to pause, examine, and reflect. You lose nothing by relinquishing your delusion of baptismal regeneration–you imperil everything by holding it. Abandon it, then, at once and forever. Seek a baptism more vital, a religion more saving, a foundation more sure, a hope more true. Implore the Holy Spirit to teach you the good and the right way; to breathe into your soul the breath of life; to reveal the Lord Jesus to you as He who died for us that we might live through Him; and from your spiritual ruin, corruption, and death you will emerge a beauteous, holy, living temple of God through the Spirit, filled with His love, reflecting His glory, and hymning His praise through eternity.
12. We recur again to the thought, that a mere profession of Christianity, a submission to rites, an observance of ordinances, constitutes not the New Birth. What! is this all that Jesus meant in His memorable conversation with Nicodemus? Is this all the Bible means when it declares that, “If any man be in Christ, he is a NEW CREATURE?” My reader, be warned, be instructed, be entreated. Stake not your eternal well-being upon a lie so false and fatal as this. Attempt to keep this base, this spurious coin–bearing neither the image of Christ nor the superscription of the Holy Spirit–and yours will be the just and the terrible doom of the most daring, the most guilty, and the most fearfully condemned of all counterfeiters–the counterfeiter of a lying and spurious conversion!
13. We must limit our negative view of the question to but one more illustration. A calm, tranquil, peaceful death cannot safely be regarded as affording a valid evidence of that great, spiritual change which our Lord taught as indispensable to admission into heaven. “He died so peacefully, so calmly, so lamb-like,” is the exclamation of many who dismiss the departed to the realms of bliss with no more authentic passport, no more assured hope than this! But what is the language of God’s Word? “I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death–but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.”
How many pass out of this world wrapped in the profound stupor of spiritual insensibility, which, with those not enlightened of the Holy Spirit, passes for the tranquillity of ‘divine peace’, for the hope of real conversion, for the holy slumber of a sleep in Jesus! Alas! it is but the fatal security, the false repose, the spiritual insensibility of spiritual death. They pass out of spiritual death into natural death, and out of natural death into eternal death. But be not deceived! Because you have no fear of death, experience a composure in view of its dreadful solemnities, unruffled by a fear, undisturbed by a shudder, deem not yourself therefore really converted! It is a distinctive mark of the truly regenerate that, “through fear of death they are all their lifetime subject to bondage.” It is a distinctive mark of the unregenerate that, “they have no bands in their death.”
How unsafe, then, to rest our evidence of the New Birth upon a foundation so dubious and slender. You may, indeed, die a lamb-like death, at peace with yourself and with all mankind, and yet, with the untamed heart of the lion, at enmity against God, His Christ, and His truth. The death of the regenerate is truly a peaceful death. “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright–for the end of that man is peace.” And again, “The righteous has hope in his death.” But it is not the peace of spiritual insensibility, nor is it the hope of the self-righteous. It is the tranquil, peaceful, hopeful death of him who, while he lived, lived unto the Lord, and when he dies, dies unto the Lord, and going hence, he is ever with the Lord. No false peace is that, no spurious hope, which springs from faith, reposes on the blood and righteousness of Christ. Life’s last hour may bring its momentary conflict and cloud, its rippled sea and shaded pathway; but this will only test the reality of the work of grace in the soul, and render all the more illustrious and precious the atonement of Jesus on the cross. But we must bring this chapter to a close.
This state of spiritual still-life which we have endeavored to portray is eminently perilous in many points of view. It is so, because it tends deeply to foster the fatal spirit of self-deception. So long as we have a name to live, while yet we are dead, we cherish the delusion that all is right with our soul. The very deception feeds and strengthens itself. And of all deceptions self-deception is the most fearful! To pass current for a true Christian, deceiving those who have recognized us as such, is most solemn; but to go down to the grave dreaming that we are truly converted, while yet the heart has known nothing of a sense of sin, faith in Jesus, and love to God, is more solemn still!
Such a state is perilous, also, because once it becomes fixed and permanent it is the most difficult of all states to remove. The Gospel proclaimed to the heathen mass completely ignorant of the existence and the very name of conversion would be a more hopeful task. The long-cherished delusion at length comes to be regarded as a reality; the fiction a fact; the profession of spiritual life for life itself. And so, all arguments and persuasions to the contrary, the unhappy victim of the delusion passes away, in many instances, undeceived until the deception is too late to rectify. Awake, then, to the conviction of your real state as having only a name to live while yet dead. Compare the state of your soul with that revealed and unerring Word which is to confront and judge you at the last day, and in its divine and searching light see and know it as it really is, concerning the great, the solemn, the essential change–the change of the New Birth.
In conclusion, we must remark that the New Birth doubtless involves each and all these negatives in its nature and actings. While false conversion may exist with them, real conversion does not exist without them. In false conversion they are but counterfeit resemblances of the real, in true conversion they appear in all their genuineness and harmony. Thus far may we travel in a religious life, and yet stop short of real and vital religion. Having a name to live, we yet may be dead. Carrying the oil-less vessel with the untrimmed, unlit lamp of an outward Christian profession, we dream that all is safe until the startling summons to meet the Bridegroom awakes us to consciousness, to conviction, to despair!
But let no trembling soul close this chapter in hopeless despondency. If the Lord has given you a holy fear of self-deception, a deep, earnest, solemn dread of false conversion, and has set you upon the task of examining your foundation for eternity, and looking well to the state of your soul, we think you may safely accept your experience as an evidence that the work within you is true and genuine–even the work of God’s Spirit in your heart. Look afresh from off yourself to Jesus. Lay your doubt, and fear, and trembling down at His cross, and then look up, and rest your believing eye upon the sin-atoning Savior; and that close, believing look at Jesus will resolve doubt into certainty, melt cloud into sunshine, and calm fear into perfect peace and repose.
Did He from that cross ever dismiss a soul unblest? Look at that empaled body! gaze upon that purple stream! peer into those gaping wounds! Do they seem as though Christ could reject one true, penitent sinner who came to Him? Settle it, then, in your mind that no poor sinner ever descended from that cross into the shades of outer darkness in whose breast dwelt the holy fear that perhaps now trembles in your own. The spiritual impartation of the New Birth is not without its throes and pangs. The period may be protracted and painful. Many doubts and fears, many conflicts and despondencies may attend it, but the issue is certain, the advent glorious; and angelic strains, chiming sweetly with those which broke upon the plains of Bethlehem at the birth of the infant Savior, will ring the glad tidings through the bowers of heaven, “An heir of glory born!”