Sermon 13. The State of Salvation Seasons - Epiphany

"That ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." Ephes. iv. 24.

[Note 1] {178} THESE words express very strongly a doctrine which is to be found in every part of the New Testament, that the Gospel covenant is the means of introducing us into a state of life so different from that in which we were born, and should otherwise continue, that it may not unfitly be called a new creation. As that which is created differs from what is not yet created, so the Christian differs from the natural man. He is brought into a new world, and, as being in that new world, is invested with powers and privileges which he absolutely had not in the way of nature. By nature his will is enslaved to sin, his soul is full of darkness, his conscience is under the wroth of God; peace, hope, love, faith, purity, he has not; nothing of heaven is in him; nothing spiritual, nothing of light and life. But in Christ all these blessings are given: the will and the {179} power; the heart and the knowledge; the light of faith, and the obedience of faith. As far as a being can be changed without losing his identity, as far as it is sense to say that an existing being can be new created, so far has man this gift when the grace of the Gospel has its perfect work and its maturity of fruit in him. A brute differs less from a man, than does man, left to himself with his natural corruption allowed to run its course, differ from man fully formed and perfected by the habitual indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Hence, in the text, the Apostle speaks of the spiritual state which Christ has bought for us, as being a "new creature in righteousness and true holiness." Elsewhere he says, "If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things are become new. Elsewhere, "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind." Elsewhere, "Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." Elsewhere, "We are buried with Him by baptism into death; that, like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life." [2 Cor. v. 17. Rom. xii. 2. Col. iii. 3. Rom. vi. 4.]

What then is this new state in which a Christian finds himself, compared with the state of nature? It is worth the inquiry.

Now, first, there ought to be no difficulty in our views about it so far as this: that there is a certain new state, and that a state of salvation; and that Christ came to bring into it all whom He had chosen out of the world. Christ "gave Himself for our sins (says St. Paul), that {180} He might deliver us from the present evil world." He "hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son." He came "to gather together in one the children of God, which are scattered abroad." "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God." [Gal. i. 4. Col. i. 18. John xi. 52; i. 12.] This is most clear. There can be no doubt at all that there is a certain state of grace now vouchsafed to us, who are born in sin and the children of wrath, such that those who are to be saved hereafter are (to speak generally) those, and those only, who are placed in that saving state here. I am not going on to the question, whether or not there is a visible Church; but I insist only on this, that it has not seemed fit to Almighty God to transplant His elect at once from this world and from a state of nature to the eternal happiness of heaven. He does not suffer them to die as they were born, and then, on death, change them outwardly and inwardly; but He brings them into a saving state here, preparatory to heaven;—a state which the Catechism calls a "state of salvation;" and which St. Luke denotes, when he says, "The Lord added daily to the Church such as should be saved;" [Acts ii. 47.] that is, persons called to salvation, placed in a saving state.

No one ought to deny this; though in this day, when all kinds of error abound, some persons seem to have taken up a notion that the world was fully reconciled all at once by Christ's death at the very time of it, and wholly transferred into a state of acceptance; so that there is no new state necessary now for those who shall {181} ultimately be benefited by it; that they have but to do their duty, and they will be rewarded accordingly; whereas it does certainly appear, from such texts of Scripture as have been quoted, that there is a certain state, or kingdom of Christ, into which all must enter here who shall be saved hereafter. We cannot attain to heaven hereafter, without being in this new kingdom here; we cannot escape from the miseries and horrors of the Old Adam, except by being brought into this Kingdom, as into an asylum, and there remaining.

And further, this new state is one of "righteousness and true holiness," as the text speaks. Christ brings us into it by coming to us through His Spirit; and, as His Spirit is holy, we are holy, if we are in the state of grace. Christ is present in that heart which He visits with His grace. So that to be in His kingdom is to be in righteousness, to live in obedience, to breathe, as it were, an atmosphere of truth and love.

Now it is necessary to insist upon this also: for here again some men go wrong; and while they go so far as to acknowledge that there is a new state, or kingdom, into which souls must be brought, in order to salvation, yet they consider it as a state, not of holiness and righteousness, but merely or mainly of acceptance with God. It has been maintained by some persons, that human nature, even when regenerate, is not, and cannot be, really holy; nay, that it is idle to suppose that, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit, it can do any thing really good in any degree; that our best actions are {182} sins; and that we are always sinning, not only in slighter matters, but so as to need pardon in all we do, in the same sense in which we needed it when we were as yet unregenerate; and, consequently, that it is vain to try to be holy and righteous, or, rather, that it is presumptuous.

Now, of course it is plain, that even the best of men are full of imperfections and failings; so far is undeniable. But, consider, by nature we are in a state of death. Now, is this the state of our hearts under the Gospel? Surely not; for, while "to be carnally minded is death," "to be spiritually minded is life and peace." I mean, that the state of salvation in which we stand is not one in which "our righteousnesses are" what the prophet calls "filthy rags," but one in which we can help sinning unto death,—can help sinning in the way men do sin when left in a state of nature. If we do so sin, we cease to be in that state of salvation; we fall back into a state resembling our original state of wrath, and must pass back again from wrath to grace (if it be so), as we best may, in such ways as God has appointed: whereas it is not an uncommon notion at this time, that a man may be an habitual sinner, and yet be in a state of salvation, and in the kingdom of grace. And this doctrine many more persons hold than think they do; not in words, but in heart. They think that faith is all in all; that faith, if they have it, blots out their sins as fast as they commit them. They sin in distinct acts in the morning,—their faith wipes all out; at noon,—their faith still avails; and in the evening,—still the same. Or they remain {183} contentedly in sinful habits or practices, under the dominion of sin, not warring against it, in ignorance what is sin and what is not; and they think that the only business of a Christian is, not to be holy, but to have faith, and to think and speak of Christ; and thus, perhaps, they are really living, whether by habit or by act, in extortion, avarice, envy, rebellious pride, self-indulgence, or worldliness, and neither know nor care to know it. If they sin in habits, they are not aware of these at all; if by acts, instead of viewing them one and all together, they take them one by one, and set their faith against each separate act. So far has this been carried, that some men of name in the world have, before now, laid it down as a great and high principle, that there is no mortal sin but one, and that is want of faith; and have hereby meant, not that he who commits mortal sin cannot be said to have faith, but that he who has faith cannot be said to commit mortal sin; or, to speak more clearly, they have, in fact, defined a state of salvation to be nothing more or less than a state in which our sins are forgiven; a state of mere acceptance, not of substantial holiness. Persons who hold these opinions, consider that the great difference between a state of nature and a state of salvation is, that, in a state of nature when we sin, we are not forgiven (which is true); but that, in a state of salvation, when we sin, our sins are forgiven us, because we are in that state. On the other hand, I would maintain from scripture, that a state of salvation is so far from being a state in which sins of every kind are forgiven, that it is a state in which there are not sins of every kind to forgive; and that, if {184} a man commit them, so far from being forgiven by his state, he falls at once from his state by committing them; so far from being justified by faith, he, for that very reason, has not faith whereby to justify him. I say, our state of grace is a state of holiness; not one in which we may be pardoned, but in which we are obedient. He who acts unworthily of it, is not sheltered by it, but forfeits it. It is a state in which power is given us to act rightly, and therefore punishment falls on us if we act wrongly.

This is plain, from Scripture, on many reasons; of which I will here confine myself to one or two.

1. Let us first consider such Parables of our Lord as speak of the Christian state, to see what its characteristics are. These will be found not to recognise at all the case of instable, variable minds, falling repeatedly into gross sins, and saved by that state of grace in which they have been placed. The Christian state does not shelter a man who sins, but it lets him drop. Just as we cannot hold in our hands a thing in flames, but however dear it be to us, though it be a child, we are forced at length to let it go; so wilful sin burns like fire, and the Church drops us, however unwillingly, when we sin wilfully. Not our faith, not our past services, not God's past mercies, avail to keep us in a state of grace, if "we sin wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth." [Heb. x. 26.] Now I say, agreeably with this, we shall find our Saviour's parables divide Christians into two states, those who continue in God's favour, and those who lose it; and those who continue in it are said {185} to be, not those who merely have repentance and faith, who sin, but ever wash out their sins by coming for pardon, but those who do not sin;—not those whose one great aim is to obtain forgiveness, but those who (though they abound in infirmities, and so far have much to be forgiven) yet are best described by saying that they aim at increasing their talents, aim at "laying up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold of eternal life." [1 Tim. vi. 19.]

For example, in our Saviour's first parable, who is he who builds his house upon a rock? not he who has faith merely, but he, who having doubtless faith to begin the work, has faith also strong enough to perfect it; who "heareth and doeth."

Again, in the parable of the Sower, the simple question considered is, who they are who profit by what they have received; what a Christian has to do is represented as a work, a process which has a beginning, middle, and end; a consistent course of obedience, not a state in which we have done nothing more at the end of our lives than at the beginning, except sin the oftener, according to its length. In that parable one man is said not to admit the good seed; a second admits it, but its root withers; a third goes further, the seed strikes root, and shoots upwards, but its leaves and blossoms get entangled and overlaid with thorns. The fourth takes root, shoots upwards, and does more, bears fruit to perfection. This then is the Christian's great aim, viz. not to come short after grace given him. This forms his peculiar danger, and his special {186} dread. Of course he is not secure from peril of gross sin; of course he is continually defiled with sins of infirmity; but whereas, how to be forgiven is the main inquiry for the natural man, so, how to fulfil his calling, how to answer to grace given, how to increase his Lord's money, how to attain, this is the great problem of man regenerate. Faith gained him pardon; but works gain him a reward.

Again, the Net had two kinds of fish, good and bad, just and wicked; they differ in character and conduct; whereas men allow themselves to speak as if, in point of moral condition, the saved and the reprobate were pretty much on a level; the real difference being, that the one have faith appropriating Christ's merits, and a spiritual conviction of their own perishing state, and the other have not. And so I might go on to the parables of the Ten Virgins, the Talents, and others, and show in like manner that the state of a Christian, as our Lord contemplates it, is one in which he is, not lamenting the victories of sin, but working out salvation; beginning, continuing, and at last perfecting, a course of obedience.

2. This being the doctrine of the Gospels, we shall understand why it is that so little is said in the Epistles of the sins of Christians. Indeed, no one can be sufficiently aware, till he inquires into the subject, how very few texts can be produced from the Apostles' writings containing a promise of forgiveness when Christians sin [Note 2] And yet this apparent omission is not difficult to explain. They had sins before they {187} were Christians; they were forgiven that they might not sin again. St. Paul and his brethren never pray that Christians' sins may be pardoned, but that they may fulfil their calling. Their description of the state of the Church is almost like an account of Angels and the spirits of the just. "Our conversation is in heaven," says St. Paul, thus summing up in few words what almost all his Epistles testify to us. We hear of their "glorying in tribulations," their being "alive from the dead," their "joy and peace in believing," their being "fruitful in every good work," their "increasing in the knowledge of God," their "work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope." This is a picture of those whom the Apostle acknowledges as true Christians; as if in the case of true Christians gross transgression were impossible. They were far beyond that; what they had to avoid was shortcoming in the end. They were day by day to lessen the distance between themselves and their goal. They were to produce something positive, and they were gifted with the grace of the Holy Spirit for this purpose. There was nothing generous, nothing grateful, nothing of the high temper of faith, in sitting at home and merely praying for pardon. This might be well enough, it was all that they could do, while they were in a state of unassisted nature, in the house of bondage, with fetters upon them, and the iron entering into them. But their chains had been struck off; they could work, they could run; and they had a work to do, a road to journey. If they wilfully transgressed, they left the road, they abandoned the work. Then they were like Demas, who {188} went back, and they had to be restored; to be pardoned, not in the state of grace, but, if I may so say, into it.

3. Let us now turn our thoughts to St. John's description of the Christian state. For instance, in his first Epistle he expressly tells us, "Whosoever is born of God sinneth not, but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not." [1 John v. 18.] Such is the state of the true Christian; he is not only born again, but is born of God. All who are baptized, indeed, are born of God, as well as born again; but those who fall into sin, though they cannot undo what once has been, and are still born again, yet they are born again to their greater condemnation, and, therefore, not born again of God any longer, but, till they repent, born again unto judgment. But he in whom the divine birth is realized, "sinneth not, but keepeth himself," and what is the consequence? "that wicked one toucheth him not:" why? because he is in the kingdom of God. Satan cannot touch any one who keeps within that kingdom. God has "translated us from the power of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son." It is by seducing us out of that kingdom that Satan destroys us; but while we continue within the sheepfold, the wolf cannot harm us. And hence the prophecy, which belongs to all Christ's followers in their degree as well as to our Lord Himself, "He shall give His Angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways." "He shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunter, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall defend thee under His wings, and thou shalt be {189} safe under His feathers. There shall no evil happen unto thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. Thou shalt go upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou tread under thy feet." [Ps. xci. 11, 3, 10, 13.] The serpent can but tempt, he cannot harm us, while we are in the paradise of God. This, I repeat, is the state of salvation, of which the Catechism speaks, and St. John assures us that they only are thus kept from the touch of that wicked one, who are so born of God as not to sin.

Again, "Whosoever is born of God, doth not commit sin, for His seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." Again He says, "He that saith he abideth in Him, ought himself also so to walk even as He walked." Again, "If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall abide in you, ye also shall abide in the Son and in the Father." What is this but to say, that if it did not, they were no longer in grace? "Whosoever abideth in Him, sinneth not." Again, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." [1 John iii. 9; ii. 6, 24; iii. 6, 14.]

And on the other hand the same Apostle plainly declares, that they who do sin are not in a state of grace. For instance, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now." Again, "Whosoever committeth sin, transgresseth also the law, for sin is the transgression of the law … Whosoever sinneth, hath not seen Him, neither known {190} Him." "He that committeth sin is of the devil." "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God." [1 John i. 6; ii. 9; iii. 4, 6, 8. 2 John 9.]

You see here are two states distinctly mentioned, and two states only; a state of grace, and a state of wrath; and he who sins in the state of grace, falls at once into the state of wrath. There is no such person under the Gospel as a "justified sinner," to use a phrase which is sometimes to be heard. If he is justified and accepted, he has ceased to be a sinner. The Gospel only knows of justified saints; if a saint sins, he ceases to be justified, and becomes a condemned sinner. Some persons, I repeat, speak as if men might go on sinning, and sinning ever so grossly, yet without falling from grace, without the necessity of taking direct and formal means to get back again. They can get back, praised be God, but still they have to get back, and the error I am speaking of is forgetfulness that they have fallen, and have to return.

4. That they who sin fall into a hopeless state,—that is hopeless while they continue in it, so that they can only gain hope by leaving it,—is shown more forcibly still in St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews. For instance, the inspired writer says, "If we sin wilfully, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour" or eat "the adversaries." [Heb. x. 27.] Here it is expressly said that wilful sin against knowledge does not leave us as it found us. We cannot receive pardon {191} as we received it at the first, freely and instantly, merely on faith, we are thrown out of grace; and though our prospects are not at once hopeless, yet our state is hopeless, tends to perdition, nay, in itself, is perdition, one in which, while we are in it, we are lost. Hence all through this Epistle St. Paul, equally with St. John, speaks of but two states, a state of grace and glory in the heavenly Jerusalem, a communion with God, Christ, Angels, saints departed, saints on earth; and, on the other hand, a state of wrath; and he warns his brethren that they cannot sin without falling into the state of wrath. "We are not of them that draw back unto perdition, but of them that believe to the saving of the soul." [Heb. x. 39.] He does not speak of sin and sinners tenderly; he does not merely say, "If you sin, you are an evidence of human frailty; you are inconsistent; you ought to keep from sin from gratitude; you should be deeply humbled at your sins; you should betake yourselves to the atonement of Christ if you sin." All this is true, but it would be short of the real state of the case; and St. Paul, therefore, says much more: "If you sin wilfully, you throw yourselves out of God's kingdom; you by the very act disinherit yourselves, you bring yourselves into a dreadful region;" and he leaves it to them to draw the inference what they ought to do to get back again. He urges against them "the terrors of the Lord." He bids them not deceive themselves, for sinners have no inheritance in the kingdom. Accordingly he warns them "to look diligently, lest any man come short of the grace of God;" and to "fear, lest a promise {192} being left us of entering into His rest, any of them should seem to come short of it." [Heb. xii. 15; iv. 1.]

Such is the new state of "righteousness and true holiness," in which Christians are created, and such is the state of those who draw back from it; and if any one asks whether St. Paul does not say that "by faith we stand?" I answer, as I have already answered, that doubtless faith does keep us in a state of grace, and is the means of blotting out for us those sins which we commit in it. But what are those sins which we do commit? Sins of infirmity;—all other sins faith itself excludes. If we do commit greater sins, we have not faith. Faith we cannot use to blot out the greater sins, for faith we have not at all, if we commit such. That faith which has not power over our hearts to keep us from transgressing, has not power with God to keep Him from punishing.

To conclude. This is our state:—Christ has healed each of us, and has said to us, "See thou sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee." [John v. 14.] If we commit sin, we fall,—not at once back again into the unredeemed and lost world; no, but at least we fall out of the kingdom, though for a while we may linger on the skirts of the kingdom. We fall into what will in the event lead us back into the lost world, or rather into what is worse, unless we turn heavenward, and extricate ourselves from our fearful state as speedily as we can. We come into what may be called the passage or vestibule of hell; a place full of those unclean spirits who "seek rest and find none," and rejoice in getting possession {193} of souls, from which they were once cast out. We are no longer in the light of God's countenance, and though (blessed be His Name) doubtless we can through His help get back into it, yet we have to get back into it;—and then the whole subject becomes an anxious and serious one. Yes, it is indeed very serious, considering how the common run of Christians go on. If wilful sin throws us out of a state of grace, and if men do sin wilfully, and then forget that they have done so, and years pass away, and they merely smooth over what has happened by forgetting it, and assume that they are still in a state of grace, making no efforts by true repentance to be put into it again, only assuming that they are in it; and then go about their duties as Christians, just as if they were still God's children in the sense in which Baptism made them, and were not presumptuously intruding without leave, and not by the door, into a house whence they have been sent out; and if they so live and so die, what are we to say about them? Alas! what a dreadful thought it is, that there may be numbers outwardly in the Christian Church, nay, who at present are in a certain sense religious men, who, nevertheless, have no principle of growth in them, because they have sinned, and never duly repented. They may be under a disability for past sins, which they have never been at the pains to remove, or to attempt to remove. Alas! to think that they do not know their state at all and esteem themselves in the unreserved enjoyment of God's favour, when, after all, their religion is for the most part but the reflection from without upon their surface, not a light within them, or at least but the remains of grace {194} once given. O dreadful thought, if we are in the number! O most dreadful thought, if an account lies against us in God's books, which we have never manfully encountered, never inquired into, never even prayed against, only and simply forgotten; which we leave to itself to be settled as it may; and if at any time some sudden memory of it comes across us, we think of it without fear, as if what has gone out of our minds had been forgotten of God also!—or even, as the way of some is, if when we recollect any former sins of whatever kind, we palliate them, give them soft names, make excuses, saying they were done in youth or under great temptation, or cannot be helped now, or have been forsaken. May God give us all grace ever to think of these things; to reflect on the brightness of that state in which God once placed us, its purity, its sweetness, its radiance, its beauty, its majesty, its glory: and to think, in contrast of the wretchedness and filthiness of that load of sin, with which our own wilfulness has burdened us: and to pray Him to show us how to unburden ourselves,—how to secure to ourselves again those gifts which, for what we know, we have forfeited.

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1. Epiphany.
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2. Vide of these Sermons, Vol. iv. Serm. vii.
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