This week's 'thought' comes to you from one of my favorite authors -- Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). Few people I've ever read have had such an insightful grasp of the Gospel and its power to transform the human soul. This book is religious and theological psychology at its best -- explaining how Gospel grace, freely offered and received, is God's intended means for changing the hearts of even the worst of sinners. This particular quote comes from his book, "God's Way of Holiness."
It is taken from chapter three, which speaks of the root and soil from which true holiness, and not just outward moral compliance, grows. To follow it you need to know that he is chastising those Christians who feel that its morally dangerous to offer the Gospel of God's free love and free forgiveness to sinners without adding numerous guards, conditions and stipulations -- so many conditions, in fact, that by the time they are done, the Gospel has ceased to be free, and thus ceased to be the Gospel. For a Gospel whose benefits are conditioned on our first changing, or promising to change, and then waiting to see if we really do, is not the biblical Gospel. After all, how could we possibly say we are preaching the same Gospel as Paul if we are never (like Paul) accused (even though unfairly) of preaching that we should, "sin all the more that grace may abound" (Rom. 6:1). Enjoy.
The Free Love and Forgiveness of God
"The divine order, then, is first pardon, then holiness [not the withholding of the assurance of pardon until there are signs of holiness]. It is first peace with God, and then conformity to the image of that God with whom we have been brought to be at peace. For as likeness to God is produced by beholding His glory (II Cor. 3:18), and as we cannot look upon Him until we know that He has ceased to condemn us; and as we cannot trust Him until we know that He is gracious; so we cannot be transformed into His image until we have received pardon at His hands. Reconciliation is indispensable to resemblance. Personal friendship must begin a holy life...
The apostles evidently had great confidence in the Gospel. They spoke it out in all its absolute freeness, as men who could trust it for its moral influence, as well as for its saving power, and who felt that the more speedily and certainly its good news were realized by the sinner, the more that moral influence would come into play. They did not hide it, nor trammel it, nor fence it round with conditions, as if doubtful of the policy of preaching it freely... They had no misgivings as to its bearings on morality, nor were they afraid of people believing too soon, or getting too immediate a relief from it. The idea does not seem to have entered their minds that men could betake themselves of Christ too soon, or too confidently, or without sufficient preparation...
Though some would say it is very dangerous for a sinner to be persuaded too soon that he is loved and forgiven, I confess I do not see how my being thoroughly persuaded that a holy God loves me with a holy love, and has forgiven me all my sins, has a tendency to evil. It seems, of all truths, one of the likeliest to make me holy, to kindle love, to stimulate me to good works, and to abase all pride; whereas uncertainty in this matter enfeebles me, darkens me, bewilders me, incapacitates me for service, or, at the best, sets me striving to work my way into the favor of God under the influence of a subordinate and mercenary class of motives which can do nothing but keep me dreading and doubting all the days of my life, and leave me, perhaps at the close, in hopeless darkness... "However, to him who does not work, but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is counted for righteousness' (Rom. 4:5), is a bold statement. It's the statement of one who had great confidence in the gospel which he preached, and had no misgivings that it would lead to unholy tendencies...
The gospel is the proclamation of free love; the revelation of the boundless charity of God. Nothing less than this will suit our world. Nothing else is so likely to touch the heart, or to go down to the lowest depths of depraved humanity, as the assurance that the sinner has been loved -- loved by God, loved with a righteous love, loved with a free love that makes no bargain as to merit, or fitness, or goodness. 'Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us!' As the lord of the vineyard, after sending servant upon servant (prophet upon prophet) to the laborers in vain, sent at last his 'one and only well-beloved son' (Mark 12:6), so, law having failed, God has dispatched to us the message of His love as that which is by far likeliest to secure His ends.
With nothing less than this free love will He trust our fallen race. He will not trust them with the Law, or judgment, or terror (though these are well in their place), but He will trust them with His love! Not with a stinted or conditional love, with half pardons or an uncertain salvation, or a tardy peace, or a doubtful invitation, or an all but impractical amnesty. Not with these does He cheat the heavy laden or mock the weary sons of men. He wants them to be holy, as well as safe, and He knows that there is nothing in heaven or earth so likely to produce holiness, under the teaching of the Spirit of holiness, as the knowledge of His own free love.
It is not law, but 'the love of Christ' that constrains us. The strength of sin is the law (I Cor. 15:56), so the strength of holiness is deliverance from the law (Rom. 7:6)... While the preaching of a guarded gospel may lead to no backslidings, it will accomplish no awakenings... The whole Galatian church had lapsed into error and sin. How does the apostle cure the evil? By fencing or paring down the gospel and making it less free? NO! But by reiterating its freeness and stating it more freely than ever!"
To the end that you might be changed through seeing how truly free the Gospel is, and all its promised benefits of pardon, forgiveness, adoption, divine acceptance and irrevocable love. That you may believe, and by believing, discover yourself to have been miraculously and mysteriously changed, Pastor Jeff