The Sermon On The Mount
"Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven." In the preceding chapter we sought to supply an exposition of this verse: explaining the meaning of its terms, pointing out its bearing upon the Jews of that day, and its application unto our own. On this occasion we propose to deal with it more in a topical manner. Obviously the theme of this verse is the inadequacy of a mere lip profession of Christian discipleship, and since so many are fatally deceived at this very point we deem it advisable to devote another chapter to the subject. We shall now endeavour to show something of the attainments possible to the formalist and how near he may come to the kingdom of Christ without actually entering it. It is the third class of professors, the deceived ones, that we have chiefly in view. We shall seek to examine and test them at four simple but essential points and show of each one wherein they come short of that which is the experience and portion of the regenerate.
1. Knowledge. It is plain from the teaching of Holy Writ that there are two distinct orders or types of knowledge of spiritual and Divine things, and that the difference between them is not merely one of degree but of kind, a radical and vital difference. There is a knowledge of God and of His Word which is a saving one, but there is also a knowledge of the same Objects which-though it may be accurate and extensive-is a non-saving one. Thus it is of vast importance that everyone who values his soul should be properly informed as to the essential differences between these two kinds of knowledge, so that he may diligently examine himself and ascertain which of them is his. That the above distinction is no arbitrary one, no imaginary one of ours, is evident from many passages. When the apostle declared that the Colossian saints "knew the grace of God in truth" (1:6) he was employing discriminating language, for there are others who know the grace of God only in theory. "This is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent" (John 17:3), which is a saving knowledge. "When they knew God they glorified Him not as God," but became idolators and were abandoned of Him (Rom. 1:21-24): that was a non-saving knowledge of God.
"Though I have the gift of prophesy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; . . . and have not charity, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2). Nor is that an altogether unlikely case. Far from it. It is possible for the natural man to acquire a much fuller and more intelligent grasp of the Truth than that which is possessed by the majority of genuine Christians. If he be endowed with a competent intellect, if he has received a good education, if he closely applies himself to the study of Scripture (as he might to one of the arts or sciences), then he may become expertly proficient in a letter knowledge and notional understanding of the same. By patient industry he may master the Hebrew and Greek languages in which they were originally written. By reading and rereading sound theological works he may secure a comprehension of the whole doctrinal system of Truth. By consulting able commentators he may obtain light upon perplexing passages. He may even arrive at an understanding of the "mysteries" of iniquity and of godliness, so that he is quite sound in the Faith. And if he be a fluent speaker, he may discourse upon Divine things so that none may legitimately take issue with his orthodoxy, yea, many may find his preaching instructive and helpful.
There are also very many unregenerate listeners who by waiting upon the ministry of the Word max' obtain a wide knowledge thereof. A considerable number are possessed with an insatiable curiosity, or appetite, for the acquisition of religious information, and, by regular attendance at church, close attention to what they hear and the aid of retentive memories, become well instructed in spiritual things, especially where this be supplemented by the reading of a considerable amount of devotional literature. Though unregenerate obtain clear views of the whole Gospel scheme and those gifted with clear minds often grasp more of the profounder aspects of Truth than many of God's own children are capable of understanding (for "not many wise men after the flesh" [1 Cor. 1:26] are among His elect), and dig more deeply into the mines of Truth and make greater discoveries than do the saved. They may apprehend things so clearly as to satisfy their judgment and express their notions so distinctly to others as to convince, yea, to defend their beliefs so tellingly and argue about the same to such effect as to silence any who differ from them.
Nor is this knowledge limited to the doctrinal side of the Truth. They may attain unto well-proportioned conceptions of the Divine character and perfections and correct views of the person and work of Christ, the office and operations of the Holy Spirit. By sitting under the faithful preaching of God's servants and by reading articles of a searching nature they may secure a good understanding of the experimental side of things. They may be quite clear upon the miracle of regeneration and be able to draw the lineaments of the new creature as true to life as though they had the image thereof in their own souls. They may be able to describe the work of grace as accurately as though they had an experience of it in their own hearts. They may depict the conflicts between the flesh and spirit as though such opposition were taking place within themselves. They may speak as glowingly of the Christian's graces as if they were the possessors of them. They may narrate the actings of certain graces under such and such a temptation as though they were recounting their own history. They may have the exact idea and true notion of all these things in their heads when there is nothing whatever of them in their hearts.
Yet in spite of all that we have predicated above of these unregenerate yet orthodox preachers and hearers, authors and readers, they are those who are "ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7), that is to say they do not and cannot arrive at the saving knowledge of it. And why is this so? Because they lack the necessary faculty for its entrance. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). A saving knowledge of the Truth is impossible unto the unregenerate. There must needs be a suitability between the instrument and its task, between the agent and that which is to be apprehended. An animal is incapable of entering into what the human intellect may comprehend, and one who has no spiritual faculty is unable to receive spiritual things in a spiritual way. The natural man may acquire theoretical and notional knowledge of things, but he cannot obtain a spiritual or saving knowledge of them, for he is totally devoid of spiritual life.
Let us now attempt to answer the question, What is the essential difference between these two kinds of knowledge, wherein does a natural and notional knowledge of Divine things come short of a spiritual and saving knowledge of them? Consider the following: "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee" (Job 42:5): we give not an exposition of those words, but use them illustratively of this contrast. One may listen for years to sermons but when the soul actually has Christ revealed in him (Gal. 1:16) he learns the tremendous difference there is between a hearsay knowledge of Him and a spiritual perception as He stands manifested to the soul as a living Reality. Let us endeavour still further to simplify by a human analogy. A child is born with such a filament over his eyes that he is quite blind. He receives a good education and loved ones seek to use their eyes on his behalf and take pains in describing to him some of the beauties and wonders of nature: by their word pictures he obtains clear concepts of many objects. But suppose a specialist performs a successful operation and vision is vouchsafed him: how vastly different his own sight of a glorious sunset from the previous notion he had formed of it!
No matter how carefully and accurately his friends have described a sunset to him, how vivid the contrast when he beheld one for himself! Equally real, equally radical, equally vivid is the difference between a second-hand knowledge of the Truth and a personal acquaintance and experience of its power. Following out the analogy a little farther: while blind, that man may have thought his friends exaggerated the grandeur of a sunset, but as soon as he has seen one for himself he knows that neither poet's tongue nor artist's brush could possibly do it justice. He may even have entertained doubts as to the thing itself, wondering if his friends were but drawing upon their imagination and seeking to amuse him with a fairy tale, but now all uncertainty is at an end. So with the regenerate soul and Christ: once his sin-blinded eyes are opened to behold the Lamb, he exclaims with one of old, "I know that my Redeemer liveth." A saving knowledge of Christ ravishes the soul and so draws the heart unto Him as to esteem all else as dross in comparison with the excellency of the knowledge of Him (Phil. 3:8).
A Laplander may have read about honey, but not until he has eaten some does he really know what it is like. Nor does the soul truly know the Lord until he has "tasted that He is gracious" (1 Pet. 2:3). The formalist knows God is omniscient, the Christian has an inward experience thereof, by His detecting to him the heart's deceitfulness and discovering secret sins. The former knows God is almighty, but the latter has felt His omnipotency working within him: enabling him to believe (Eph. 1:19), subduing his lusts, overcoming the world. The one kind of knowledge then is speculative, the other practical; the one is merely notional, the other experimental; the one is acquired second-hand, the other is communicated directly. He "hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). Natural knowledge puffs up, but spiritual humbles and makes the soul painfully conscious of its spiritual ignorance. Observe how in Psalm 119 David prays no less than eight times "teach me." Natural knowledge produces no spiritual fruit, and it is vain to boast of spiritual learning if it be not accompanied with a holy life.
2. Repentance. There are four principal acts and exercises in repentance: confession of sin, hatred of sin, sorrow for sin, resolution against sin; and each of these may be and has been performed by the unregenerate. Cain cried out at the weight and grievousness of his sin saying, "My punishment [or "iniquity"] is greater than I can bear" (Gen. 4:13). Pharaoh acknowledged his sin and condemned himself for it (Ex. 9:27), so did Israel when they had provoked the Lord (Num. 14:40), so did Saul (1 Sam. 15:14), so did Judas (Matthew 27:3). As to hatred of sin, Jehu detested the idols of Baal and destroyed them, yet his heart was not upright (2 Kings 10:26-28, 31). After their lengthy captivity in Babylon Israel were delivered from their love of idolatry, so that the Spirit said "thou that abhorrest idols" (Rom. 2:22). Many there are who hate injustice and oppression, unmercifulness and cruelty, lying and dishonesty. Concerning sorrow for sin: Israel mourned alter their worship of the golden calf (Ex. 33:4) and "mourned greatly" (Num. 14:39) after they had sorely provoked the Lord, and yet continued in their provocations (v. 44). Ahab expressed sore grief for his wickedness (1 Kings 21:27). As to resolution against sin, a strong case of such is seen in Balaam (Num. 22:18, 38).
If the unregenerate may go thus far in a way of repentance, wherein do they fall short? If theirs be not "repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18), where is it to be found? Saving repentance proceeds from sorrow for sin, whereas the sorrow of the formalist is defective at these points. First, they mourn not for sin itself, but over its consequences. Not as their deeds are contrary to God, a violation of His Law, opposed to His holy will, but because they involve unpleasant effects. Second, not for consequences in reference to God, but themselves: not because He is dishonored, His authority spurned, and the creature preferred above Him. If they mourn because of His displeasure, it is rather for the effects of His anger. They care nothing about Satan being gratified and the cause of Christ reproached so long as they are not afflicted in their persons or estates. Third, they mourn not for all its consequences in reference to themselves: not as it defiles the soul, keeps at a distance from God, hardens the heart and renders it more incapable of holy duties, but only as it deprives of mercies and produces miseries.
Their hatred of sin is defective. It is not extended to all sin: they cannot say, "I hate every false way." They may hate gross sins such as the state penalizes, but wink at lesser ones. They may hate open wickedness but not secret faults. They may abominate theft and uncleanness, yet make no conscience of pride and self-righteousness. They may hate those things which are cried down by people among whom they now live, and yet enter into the same heartily if they move to another part of the earth. They may hate an unprofitable sin, but refrain not from those which bring them in a revenue. They may hate a sin which is contrary to their peculiar temperament, but not that which is agreeable to their constitution. They may hate others' sin rather than their own, as Judas complained at the prodigality of Mary; but such hatred is directed rather against the persons than the sins of others. Their hatred is superficial. It is not with all their heart: it reaches not to the corruptions of their nature, nor is it accompanied with mortifying endeavors.
Their resolutions against sin are defective. In their rise. They issue not from a renewed heart, from a principle of holiness and love to Christ, but from apprehensions of unpleasant effects and future damnation. Or from the restraining power of God, which keeps them from purposing to sin rather than moves them to full resolution against it: so that their resolutions are negative rather than positive. Thus it was with Balaam, who said not "I will not" but "I cannot" (Num. 22;18, 38)-he had a mind to, but the Lord prevented him. In their continuance. Their good resolutions are not followed out to full execution, but are quickly broken. The cause from which they proceed is not constant, and therefore the effects are evanescent. They flow no longer when the spring from which they issue runs dry. That spring is but a momentary anguish or flash of fear, and when that vanishes their resolutions fail. Their goodness is but as "the morning cloud" and "early dew" (Hosea 6:4), which quickly disappear. David feared the danger of this when he prayed, "Keep this for ever in the imagination of the thoughts of the heart of Thy people, and prepare their heart unto Thee" (1 Chron. 29:18).
3. Faith. We read of those who "stay themselves [rely] upon the God of Israel" (Isa. 48: 2), yet it was "not in truth, nor in righteousness" (v. 1), for they were obstinate and their neck "as an iron sinew." There are those who have a faith so like unto a Justifying one that they themselves take it to be the very same and even Christians regard it as the faith of God's elect. Simon Magus, for example, "believed" (Acts 8:13), and gave such a profession of it that Philip and the local church received him into their fellowship and privileges. Those who received the Seed into stony ground did "for a while believe" (Luke 8:13), and according to its description it differed nothing from saving faith except in its root-the difference not being evident but lying underground. The unregenerate may have a faith which receives unquestionably the Bible as the Word of God, for the Jews entertained no doubts that the Scriptures were the very oracles of God. Agrippa believed in the veracity of the prophets and received their testimony without question (Acts 26:26, 27). They may have a faith which leads to the owning of Christ as their Lord and worshipping Him as such (Matthew 7:21). They may even have a faith which produces strong assurance: those who opposed Christ were quite sure they were "Abraham's seed" and not the slaves of Satan (John 8:33, 34).
Wherein does this faith come short of a saving one? Wherein is it defective? It is merely an intellectual assent to the letter of Scripture and not "with the heart" (Rom. 10:10), so as to bring Christ into it (Eph. 3:17), just as one may read and accredit a historical work and no spiritual effect be produced thereby. It is a faith which is "alone" (Jas. 2:17), for it is unaccompanied by other graces. whereas a saving faith has as its concomitants love, meekness, holiness, perseverance, etc. Such a faith consents not to take a whole Christ: it will embrace Him as a Saviour, but is not willing for Him to reign over them as King. Those with such a faith desire Christ's pardon but not His sceptre, His peace but not His yoke. They will accept Him to deliver them from hell, but not to sanctify and cast out of their temples whatever God abominates. They are not willing to subscribe to Christ's terms of discipleship, which are the denying of self, the taking up of the cross, and following Him whithersoever He leads: such terms they consider harsh and unnecessary.
The faith of the formalist and empty professor is a lifeless and barren one. "As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead" (Jas. 2:26). In that chapter the apostle points out. first, the worthlessness of a bare profession of charity. To give good words to a brother in need, bidding him, "Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled," yet withholding those things needful to him, is cruel hypocrisy (vv. 15, 16); equally so is such a faith a mockery if we say we believe in the Holy One and a day of judgment and yet live impiously (v. 17). Second, such a faith is inferior to that of the demons, for they "believe and tremble" (v. 19), whereas empty professors are not afraid to mock God. Third, such a faith is radically different from that possessed and exercised by the father of all who believe, for he rendered unreserved obedience unto the Divine commands (vv. 21-24). A faith which does not purify the heart (Acts 15:9), work by love (Gal. 5:6), overcome the world (1 John 5:4), and bring forth fruit acceptable to God, will not conduct anyone to heaven.
4. Good works. The unregenerate may make an exceedingly fair show on the practical side of religion, that is in their deportment, both in their addresses to God and dealings with men, in public and private alike. They may go far in their external conformity to the rule of righteousness and visible compliance with the revealed will of God, both as to moral and positive precepts. The outward carriage of the Pharisees, by Christ's own testimony, was "beautiful" (Matthew 23:27) and among their fellows they were esteemed as exceptionally holy men. Such may not only abstain from all gross sins but meet all the external requirements of morality and piety. Paul declares that, while unconverted, he was "blameless" as to his observance of the Law (Phil. 3:6), and the rich young ruler affirmed of the commandments, "all these have I kept from my youth up" (Luke 18:21), nor did Christ charge him with idle boasting. They may practice great austerities in order to mortify the flesh, as some of the Gnostics had for their rule, "Touch not, taste not, handle not" (Col. 2:21). A spirit of fanaticism may induce some of them to suffer martyrdom (1 Cor. 13:3).
Wherein lies the defectiveness of the works of the unregenerate? First, in the state of the persons performing them. They are not reconciled to God and how can He accept aught from His enemies? The individual must first be reconciled to God before He will receive anything at his hands: "the Lord had respect to Abel and to his offering" (Gen. 4:4). Second, in the root from which their actions proceed: their fruits are but the wild grapes of a degenerate vine: they must be renewed in the inner man before anything spiritual can be borne. Third, in the motive which prompts them, which is either servile fear or a spirit of legality rather than love; a dread of hell, or an attempt to gain heaven instead of from gratitude. Fourth, in the end which they have in view, which is a selfish one instead of seeking to promote the Divine honour: it is to pacify God rather than glorify Him. Fifth, in the absence of Christ's merits: their works are neither wrought for Christ's sake nor offered in His name, and since none may come unto the Father but by Him (John 14:6) all their works are refused, as Cain's offering was.