Our last two chapters of this series were devoted principally to showing the relation of good works unto final salvation, this being both pertinent and needful, forasmuch as many of the "false prophets" of our day expressly repudiate all that we therein insisted upon. They dogmatically affirm that "believing the Gospel is all that is needed to ensure heaven for any sinner." And is it not so? Certainly not. First, it requires to be pointed out that there is an order in presenting the Gospel, and it is the business of those who preach to observe that order: unless they do so nothing but disorder will ensue and spurious converts will be the issue of their labors. If due attention be paid to the Word of God, it will not be difficult to discover what that order is: the proclamation and enforcing of the Divine Law precedes the publication of the Divine Gospel. Broadly speaking, the Old Testament is an exposition of the Law, while the New Testament sets forth the substance and benefits of the Gospel.
The Gospel is a message of "good news." To whom? To sinners. But to what sort of sinners? To the giddy and unconcerned, to those who give no thought to the claims of God and where they shall spend eternity? Certainly not. The Gospel announces no good tidings to them: it has no music in it to their ears. They are quite deaf to its charms, for they have no sense of their need of the Saviour. It is those who have their eyes opened to see something of the ineffable holiness of God and their vileness in His sight, who have learned something of His righteous requirements from them and of their criminal neglect to meet those requirements, who are deeply convicted of their depravity, their moral inability to recover themselves, whose consciences are burdened with an intolerable load of guilt and who are terrified by their imminent danger of the wrath to come, who know that unless an almighty redeemer saves them they are doomed, that are qualified to appreciate and welcome the Gospel. "They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick."
Now the natural man has no realization of the desperate sickness of his soul. He is quite unconscious of what spiritual health consists of, namely personal holiness. Never having sincerely measured himself by the Divine standard, he knows not how far, far short he comes of it at every point. God has no real place in his thoughts and therefore he fails to comprehend how obnoxious he is in His sight. Instead of seeking to glorify the One who made and sustains him, he lives only to please self. And what is the means for enlightening him? What is the sure "line and plummet" (Isa. 28:17) for exposing the crookedness of his character? The preaching of God's Law, for that is the unchanging rule of conduct and standard of righteousness. "By the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20)— its nature, as rebellion against God; its exceeding sinfulness as contrary to Divine holiness; its infinite evil, as deserving of eternal punishment.
"I had not known sin but by the law" (Rom. 7:7) declares one who formerly had prided himself on his integrity and righteousness. God's Law requires inward conformity as well as outward: it addresses itself to the motions of the heart as well as prescribes our actions, so that we are sinless or sinful just in proportion as we conform or fail to conform to the Law both internally and externally. Just so far as we have false ideas of God's Law do we entertain false estimates of our character. Just so far as we fail to perceive that the Law demands perfect and perpetual obedience shall we be blind to the fearful extent of our disobedience. Just so far as we realize not the spirituality and strictness of the Law, that it pronounces a lascivious imagination to be adultery and causeless anger against a fellow creature to be murder, shall we be unaware of our fearful criminality. Just so far as we hear nothing of the awful thunders of the Law's curse shall we be insensible to our frightful danger.
It has been rightly said: "The Gospel has such respect to the Law of God, and the latter is so much the reason and ground of the former, and so essential to the wisdom and glory of it, that it cannot be understood by him who is ignorant of the Law: consequently, our idea and apprehension of the Gospel will be erroneous and wrong just so far as we have wrong notions of God's Law" (S. Hopkins). The excellency of the Mediator cannot be recognized until we see that the Law demands flawless and undeviating obedience on pain of eternal damnation, and that such a demand is right and glorious, and consequently that sin is infinitely criminal and heinous. The essential work of the Mediator was to honor and magnify that Law and make atonement for the wrongs done to it by His people. And they who repudiate this Law, or who view it not in its true light, are and must be totally blind to the wisdom and glory of the Gospel, for while they never see sin in its real odiousness and true ill-desert they are incapable of realizing or perceiving their deep need of the Divine remedy.
That salvation which Christ came here to purchase for His people consists first in the gift of His Spirit to overcome their enmity against God's Law (Rom. 8:7) and produce in them a love for it (Rom. 7:22), and it is by this we may discover whether or not we have been regenerated. Second, to bring them to a cordial consent to the Law, so that each genuine Christian can say "So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God" (Rom. 7:25). Third, to deliver them from the curse of the Law by dying for their sins of disobedience against it, Himself bearing its penalty in their stead (Gal. 3:13). Consequently, they who are experientially ignorant of God's Law, who have never heartily assented to it as "holy, just and good," have never been sensible of sin in its true hideousness and demerits, have never been subject to a supernatural work of grace within them, are yet in nature's darkness, strangers to Christ, still in their sins, having felt neither the strength of sin nor the power of the Gospel.
Again: the order which is to be observed in the presentation of the Gospel is exemplified in the appointment of John the Baptist. He was the forerunner of Christ, going before to "prepare His way" (Isa. 40:3). John came "in the way of righteousness" (Matthew 21:32), crying "Repent ye" (Matthew 3:2). A saving faith in Christ must be preceded by and accompanied with a heart-felt sense of the true odiousness and ill-desert of sin. An impenitent heart is no more able to receive Christ than a shuttered window is able to let in the rays of the sun. None but the humbled, contrite, broken-hearted penitent is ever comforted by the Lord Jesus, as none but such will ever desire Him or seek after Him. This is the unchanging order laid down by Christ Himself: "repent ye and [then] believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15): ye "repented not afterward that ye might believe" (Matthew 21:32) was His solemn affirmation. First "repentance toward God, and [then] faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21) was what the apostle testified to Jews and Gentiles alike.
It has often been said that nothing more is required of the sinner than to come to Christ as an empty-handed beggar and receive Him as an all-sufficient Saviour. But that assertion needs clarifying and amplifying at two points lest souls be fatally misled thereby. To come to Christ empty-handed signifies not only that I renounce any fancied righteousness of mine, but also that I relinquish my beloved idols. Just so long as the sinner holds fast to the world or clings to any fond sin he cannot thrust forth an empty hand. The things which produce death must be dropped before he can "lay hold on eternal life." Furthermore, Christ cannot be received in part but only in the entirety of His person and office: He must be received as "Lord and Saviour" or He cannot be savingly received at all. There must be a submitting to His authority, a surrendering to His sceptre, a taking of His yoke upon us, as well as a trusting in His blood, or we shall never find "rest unto our souls."
"But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God" (John 1:12). This verse is often quoted by the self¬appointed "evangelists" of our day but it is rarely expounded. Instead of throwing all the emphasis on "received," attention rather needs to be directed unto "received Him." It is not "received it"—a mental proposition or doctrine—nor even received "His"—some gift or benefit—but "Him," in the entirety of His person as clothed with His offices, as He is proposed in the Gospel. Such a "receiving" as is here spoken of implies an enlightened understanding, a convicted conscience, renewed affections—the exercise of love, an act of the will—choice of a new Master, the acceptance of His terms (Luke 14:26, 27, 33). It is at this last point that so many balk: "why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46), and therefore is the inquirer bidden to "sit down first and count the cost" (Luke 14:28). The order is first the person of Christ and then His gifts (Rom. 8:32): thus God bestows and thus we receive.
Those, then, who declare that a bare believing of the Gospel is all that is needed to ensure heaven for any sinner are "false prophets," liars and deceivers of souls. It also requires to be pointed out that saving faith is not an isolated act but a continuous thing. When the apostle contrasted genuine saints with apostates, he described them as "them that believe to the saving of the soul" (Heb. 10:39): note well the tense of the verb—not "them that believed" one day in the past, but "them that believe" with a faith which is operative in the present. In this he was holding fast "the form of sound words" (2 Tim. 1:13) employed by his Master, for He too taught "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:15, and cf. 3:18, 36; 5:24). In like manner another apostle says, "If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious, to whom [not, ye "came," but] coming, as unto a living stone" (1 Pet. 2:4)—coming daily, as needy as ever.
Saving faith is not an isolated act which suffices for the remainder of a person's life, rather is it a living principle which continues in activity, ever seeking the only Object which can satisfy it. Nor is it a thing apart, but a productive principle which issues in good works and spiritual fruits. "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (Jas. 2:17). A faith which does not bring forth obedience to the Divine precepts is not the faith of God's elect. Saving faith is something radically different from a mere mental assent to the Gospel, believing that God loves me and that Christ died for me. The demons assent to the whole compass of Divine revelation, but what does it advantage them? Nor is the "faith" advocated by the false prophets of any more value or efficacy. Saving faith, my reader, is one which "purifieth the heart" (Acts 15:9). which "worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6), which "overcometh the world" (1 John 5:4). And such faith man can neither originate nor regulate. Has such a faith been Divinely communicated to you?
Now it is in their opposition to those aspects of the Truth we have been concerned with above that the false prophets may be identified. Not that their preaching is all cast in the same mould: far from it. As the servants of God are variously gifted—one to evangelize, another to indoctrinate, another to exhort and admonish—so Satan accommodates his emissaries to the different types of people they meet with. On the one hand, Romanists and other legalists teach that salvation is by obedience to the Law, that repentance and good works are meritorious; on the other hand, there are those who insist that the Law is entirely Jewish, that the Gentiles were never under it and have nothing to do with it. But just as the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Herodians differed widely the one from the other yet made common cause in antagonizing Christ, so the false prophets, though far from being uniform in their heterodoxy, nevertheless are one in opposing the Truth. Conversely, whatever be their distinctive gifts and spheres of service, the true ministers of God are always identifiable by their fidelity to the faith once for all, delivered to the saints.
It is particularly the more subtle and less suspected kind of false prophets we are here seeking to expose and warn against. For the last two or three generations "wolves in sheep's clothing" have appeared in circles from which it might be expected that they had been excluded. They have deceived multitudes by their very seeming soundness in the faith. They have denounced "Higher Criticism," and Evolutionism, Christian Science and Russellism. They have affirmed the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures and have made much of the mercy of God and the atoning blood of Christ. But they have falsified God's way of salvation. Christ bade His hearers "strive [agonize] to enter in at the strait gate" (Luke 13:24): these men declare such striving to be altogether unnecessary. He affirmed, "except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish": they say that sinners may be saved without repentance. Scripture asks, "If the righteous scarcely be saved" (1 Pet. 4:18): these men aver that salvation is easy for anyone. Scripture uniformly teaches that unless the believer perseveres in holiness he will lose heaven: these men insist that he will merely forfeit some "millennial crown."
As one of the Puritans quaintly yet truly expressed it, "The face of error is highly painted and powdered so as to render it attractive to the unwary." The false prophets, whether of the papist or the Protestant order, make a great show of devotion and piety on the one hand, and of zeal and fervour on the other, as did the Pharisees of old with their fasting and praying and who "compassed sea and land to make one proselyte" (Matthew 23:15). They are diligent in seeking to discredit those truths they design to overthrow by branding them "legal doctrines" and denouncing as "Judaizers" those who are set for the defence of them. "With good words and fair speeches they deceive the heart of the simple" (Rom. 16:18). They speak much about "grace," yet it is not that Divine grace which "reigns through righteousness" (Rom. 5:21), nor does it effectually teach men to deny "ungodliness and worldly lusts" (Titus 2:11, 12). With "cunning craftiness" they "lie in wait to deceive" (Eph. 4:14) souls who have never been established in the Truth and beguile with "enticing words" (Col. 2:4), making a great show of quoting Scripture and addressing their converts as "beloved brethren."
Many of the false prophets of Protestantism have popularized themselves by granting their deluded followers the liberty of preaching. As any reader of ecclesiastical history knows, it has been a favorite device of false prophets in all ages to spread their errors through the efforts of their converts, flattering their conceits by speaking of their "gifts" and "talents": by multiplying lay preachers they draw after them a host of disciples. Such incompetent novices are themselves ignorant of the very A B C of the Truth, yet in their egotism and presumption deem themselves qualified to explain the deepest mysteries of the Faith. A great deal safer, and more excusable, would it be to put an illiterate rustic into a dispensary to compound medicines Out of drugs and spirits he understands not and then administer the same unto his fellows, than for young upstarts with no better endowment than self-confidence to intrude themselves into the sacred office of the ministry: the one would poison men's bodies, but the other their souls.
"But such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel, for Satan himself is transformed into an angel, of light" (2 Cor. 11:13, 14). In all opposition to the Truth there is an agent at work which it belongs to the office of the Spirit of Truth to discover and unmask. If "another gospel" (Gal. 1:6) be preached rather than the Gospel of Christ, it is the fruit of satanic energy, the minds and wills of its promulgators being led captive by the Devil. Satan is the arch-dissembler, being the prince of duplicity as well as of wickedness. When he had the awful effrontery to tempt the Lord Jesus he came with the Word of God on his lips saying, "It is written" (Matthew 4:6)! Though Satan's kingdom be that of darkness, yet his craft is the mimicry of light, and thus it is that his agents work by deception. They claim to be the "apostles [or "missionaries"] of Christ," but they have received no call or commission from Him. Nor should we marvel at their pretence when we remember the hold which the father of lies has over men.
"Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works" (2 Cor. 11:15). They are "deceitful workers," for they pose as champions of the Truth and as being actuated by a deep love for souls. As sin does not present itself to us as sin nor as paying death for its wages, but rather as something pleasant and desirable, and as Satan never shows himself openly in his true colors, so his "ministers" put on the cloak of sanctity, pretending to be dead to the world and very self-sacrificing. They are crafty, specious, tricky, hypocritical. What urgent need, then, is there to be on our guard, that we be not imposed upon by every mealy-mouthed and "gracious" impostor who comes to us Bible in hand. How we should heed that injunction, "Prove all things" (1 Thess. 5: 21). Certain it is, my reader, that any preacher who rejects Gods Law, who denies repentance to be a condition of salvation, who assures the giddy and godless that they are loved by God, who declares that saving faith is nothing more than an act of the will which every person has the power to perform, is a false prophet, and should be shunned as a deadly plague.