Human Depravity and Divine Mercy
“And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.” — Genesis viii. 21.
PETER tells us that Noah’s ark and baptism are figures of salvation. He puts the two together as pictures of the way by which we are saved. Noah was not saved by the world’s being gradually reformed and restored to its primitive innocence, but a sentence of condemnation was pronounced, and death, burial, and resurrection ensued. Noah must go into the ark and become dead to the world; the floods must descend from heaven, and rise upward from their secret fountains beneath the earth, the ark must be submerged with many waters— here was burial; and then after a time, Noah and bis family must come out into a totally new world of resurrection life. It is the same in the figure of baptism: the person baptized, if he be already dead with Christ, is buried; not purified and improved, but buried beneath the wave; and when he rises he professes that he enjoys newness of life. Baptism is setting forth just what Noah’s ark sets forth, that salvation is by death and burial. You must be dead to the world; the flesh must be dead with Christ, buried with Christ — not improved, not made better, but utterly put aside as unimprovable, as worthless, dead, a thing to be buried and to be forgotten; and we must come forth in resurrection life, feeling that above us there is a new heaven, and beneath us a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, seeing that we are new creatures in Christ Jesus.
It would be very instructive to dwell upon each point of the resemblance between Noah’s deliverance and the salvation of every elect soul. Noah enters into the ark: there is a time when we distinctly enter into Christ and become one with him. Noah teas shut in the ark so that he could never come out again till God should open the door: there is a time when every child of God is shut in, when faith and full assurance give him an evidence that he is indissolubly one with Christ Jesus; grasped in Christ’s hand so that none can pluck him thence, hidden in Christ’s loins so that none can separate him from the love of God. Then comes the flood: there is a season in the Christian’s experience when he discovers his own depravity; he is saved, he is in the ark, he is however still a sinner, still the subject of imbred lusts: on a sudden all these corruptions break up, they beat upon his ark, they assail his faith, they endeavour if possible to drown his soul in sin, but he is not destroyed by them all, for by the grace of God he is where other men are not, he is where he cannot be drowned by sin, he is in Christ Jesus. He mounts as the floods deepen; the more he feels the depth of his depravity, the more he admires the fulness of the atoning sacrifice, the more terrible the temptation the more joyous is his consolation in Christ Jesus; and so he rises in holy communion towards his God. Then comes the wind: typical of the breath of the sacred Spirit by which the floods of corruption are assuaged and peace reigns within, and the soul sings, “Therefore being justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then the tops of the mountains appear: sanctification takes place upon a part of the man; there are some bright graces which glisten out of the general flood of corruption, there are some points of his new-born nature which delight him with their beauty. His ark has grounded and settled: he no longer floats, so to speak, tossed about with a struggling faith, and contending unbelief, but he feels that as Christ Jesus is for ever seated 1 firmly at the right hand of God, so he, in Christ Jesus, has entered into rest. The ark grounded on the top of Ararat: so does the believer’s experience come to a settled condition; he is no more moved about with fears and questioning, but he rejoices in hope of the glory of God. He sends forth his thoughts in search after evidence of his complete salvation, and probably he sends out some of his own ignorant carnal expectations, just as Noah sent out the raven; these ignorant imaginations of what the work of the Spirit is, go forth and they never return because no unclean child of the old Adam can be a discerner of the new world. Then he sends out the dove— holy desires, earnest prayers go to and fro; by and bye they come back with a token for good, some choice mercy from the hand of God, an olive branch of assured peace, and the believer surely knows not only that he is in Christ, not only that he is grounded in Christ, but that all the waters are assuaged, all sin is gone, all danger removed, all death destroyed. Then occurs a period wherein God opens the door; Christ had been as a sort of prison to the Christian up till then, the cross had been a burden, he did not rejoice in liberty; but God the Father now comes with the blessed Spirit and opens the door, and the believer is fully at liberty in the new world.
The saved soul’s first act is, like Noah, to build an altar unto God and, as a priest, to offer sacrifice, which as it rises to heaven, is accepted because it is a memorial of Christ. The Lord smells a sweet savour, and though the believing man is still full of sin and from his youth up has evil imaginings, yet he hears the covenant voice which says, “I will no more curse, I will no more smite;” he hears the covenant promise which confirms for ever the faithfulness of God, and he rejoices to inherit, like Noah, a new world wherein dwelleth righteousness.
I do not lay any stress upon these interpretations, but I know the apostle says concerning Hagar and Sarah, “which things are an allegory,” and I believe that the book of Genesis is a book of dispensational truth, and if it were rightly read, not by the eye of curiosity, but by the heart of the student who has been made wise to see the deep things of God, very much of divine and holy teaching would be discoverable in it. But now I come to the text itself.
We have here, first, a very sad and painful fact, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth;” we have, secondly, God’s most extraordinary reasoning, “I will not again curse the ground for man’s sake, for the imagination of man’s heart is evil;” then, thirdly, we have some inferences less extraordinary but practical to ourselves from the text.
I. To begin then with the text, we have here A MOST PAINFUL FACT, that man’s nature is incurable, — “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.
You will remember, before the flood, in the fifth verse of the sixth chapter, it is written, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” After the flood it is just the same. The description in the sixth chapter belonged to all the antediluvian race. You might have hoped that after so terrible a judgment when only a few, a picked and peculiar few, that is eight, were saved by water, that then as man began anew with a better stock, the old branches that were sere and rotten being cut away, — that now the nature of man would be improved. It is not one whit so; the same God who, looking at man, declared that his imaginations were evil before the flood, pronounces the very same verdict upon them afterwards. Oh God! how hopeless is human nature! How impossible is it that the carnal mind should be reconciled to God! How needful is it that thou shouldst give us new hearts and right spirits, seeing that the old nature is so evil that even the floods of thy judgments cannot cure it of its evil imaginations! I would have you studiously notice the words used in both these passages, — the antediluvian and the postdiluvian verdict of God. Look at the fifth verse of the sixth chapter, — God - saw not only outward sin — that was great and multiplied, and cried to him for vengeance; he saw sin in the sons of men, the descendants of Cain; worse still, he saw treachery and departure from God in the sons of the chosen one, the sons of Seth had gone astray also. The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair, and the two races became mingled so as to produce monsters of iniquity. But, worse than that, he saw that the thoughts of men’s hearts were evil: man could not think without being evil; nay, more, the substratum which underlies actual thought, unformed, unfashioned thought, the eggs, the embrios of thought, called here the imagination of the thought, the first conception, the infant motions of the soul, all these he found to be evil. But observe, he says they were “only evil.” Not one trace of good, no gold amidst the dross, no light amidst the darkness — they were “only evil.” And then he adds that word “continually.” What! never any repentance? Never any yearning towards the right? No pure drops of holiness now and then? No, never. “Every imagination”— notice that word. The whole verse is most clear, a besom that sweeps man clean of all boasted good. “Every imagination”— when he was at his best, when he stood at God’s altar, when he tried to be right, even then his thoughts had evil in them. Dr. Dick says, “All man’s thoughts, all his desires, all his purposes are evil, expressly or by implication; because the subject of them is avowedly sinful, or because they do not proceed from a holy principle, and are not directed to a proper end. It is not occasionally that the human soul is thus under the influence of depravity; but this is its habit and state. It seems impossible to construct a sentence which should more distinctly express its total corruption than this.” Look at this other passage which is our text; you will see it gives a different phase of the self-same evil, but it does not abate one jot or tittle of it; — it is still “the imagination of man’s heart,” it is still the inward character, the medulla, the pith, the marrow of mankind which God is dealing with. It is not the stream which comes from man that is foul, but the fountain of man, the innermost source of the fountain,— the imagination of his heart is evil: and we are told here what we are not told in the other text, that his thoughts are evil from his youth, that is to say, from his earliest childhood; and it would not be evil from his childhood in every case if there were not certain seeds of evil sown before that, and therefore we can go further, and in the words of holy Scripture, we can confess with sorrowful truthfulness — “ Behold I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” From the very earliest imaginable period in which human nature exists it is a defiled, tainted thing, and only worthy of God’s utter abhorrence; and were it not that he smells a sweet savour in the sacrifice of Christ, he would say, as he did say in the sixth chapter, “He repented that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth.”
I have thus brought out distinctly, I hope, before you, this painful fact. It is true both before and after the flood. If you want any proof of its being true now, turn to the scores of passages of scripture which all prove it. I think, however, if our time were limited as it is this morning, I should prefer to mention the third chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It is the most sweeping description of the universality of human depravity that could possibly have been penned. I will read from the ninth to the nineteenth verse, What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues have they used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: destruction and misery are in their ways: and the way of peace they have not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” Jonathan Edwards says upon this passage, “If the words which the Apostle uses here (Rom. iii. 10— 19) do not most fully and determinately signify a universality, no words ever used in the Bible, or elsewhere, are sufficient to do it. I might challenge any man to produce any one paragraph in the Scripture, from the beginning to the end, where there is such a repetition and accumulation of terms, so strongly, and emphatically, and carefully to express the most perfect and absolutely universality, or any place to be compared to it. What instance is there in the Scripture, or indeed any other writing, when the meaning is only the much greater part, where this meaning is signified in such a manner by repeating such expressions, “ They are all,” “ they are all,” “ they are all-together,” “ every one,” “ all the world;” joined to multiplied negative terms, to show the universality to be without exception; saying, “ There is no flesh,” “ there is none, there is none, there is none, there is none,” four times over; besides the addition of “no, not one—no, not one,” once and again…. So that if this matter [universal depravity] be not here set forth plainly, expressly, and fully, it must be because no words can do it; and it is not in the power of language, or any manner of terms and phrases, however contrived and heaped one upon another, determinately to signify any such thing." I may add that to make it more telling, the apostle insists upon it that the pollution is not of a part of a man, but he sums up the different parts and powers of the body, intending thereby to indicate the passions and qualities of the soul; you have the “feet,” “mouth,” “eyes,” “hands,” all depraved, all filthy, all vile. Truly if we cannot see the doctrine here, it is probable we never shall see it anywhere; and we have in ourselves, in our own blindness, a sure proof of how true it is. Such passages as these may tend to strengthen your minds, where Job says, in the fourteenth chapter, fourth verse, " Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one;” and again, “What is man, that he should be clean? and he which is born of a woman, that he should be righteous?” The fount from which we spring is evidently sinful. We have none of us perfect mothers or perfect sires, and how can we expect that a clean thing shall be brought out of an unclean thing? David says in the fourteenth Psalm, “The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” You know his own description of himself in the fifty-first Psalm, and therefore I need scarcely refer to it. His son, the mighty preacher Solomon says of men in Ecclesiastes ix. 3, “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live.” You have not forgotten the mournful description in the first chapter of Isaiah, “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it: but wounds and bruises, and putrifying sores.” That passage in Jeremiah also stands out very prominently; “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” And our Saviour has put in very strong language, his own view of the human heart in Matthew xv. 19: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” Perhaps, after all, one of the strongest is that of Paul, where he says, “The carnal mind is enmity against God (is not reconciled to God), neither indeed can be.” And James, the practical James says, “The Spirit which is in us lusteth to envy.” I have only culled one or two passages, as it were, out of the great teeming mass. If any man is determined to turn Scripture upside down and pervert the truth, he may escape from the doctrine of the total depravity of the human race; but surely if we take the Bible as it stands, we may boldly say that if it does not teach that man is evil, thoroughly evil, then it does not teach anything at all, the book is without meaning of any kind. Man is thoroughly evil; the heart is bad through and through to its very core, it is infected with sin and hatred of God in its centre and essence.
Let us remember the confessions of God’ s people. You never heard a saint on his knees yet tell the Lord that he had a good nature, that he did not need renewing. Saints, as they grow in grace, are made to feel more and more acutely the evil of their old nature. You will find that those who are most like Christ have the deepest knowledge of their own depravity, and are most humble while they confess their sinfulness. Those men who know not their own hearts may be able to boast, but that is simple ignorance, for if you will take down the biographies of any persons esteemed among us for holiness and for knowledge in the things of God, they will find them frequently crying out under a sense of inward carnality and sin. If I may return to scripture I cannot help quoting David, “Behold I was born in sin and shapen in iniquity.” It is a most villainous thing that some persons try to slander David’s mother, and to suppose that there was something irregular about his birth, which made him speak as he has done, whereas there cannot be the slightest imputation upon that admirable woman. David himself speaks of her with intense respect, and says, “Save the son of thine handmaid” as though he felt it no discredit to be the son of such a woman. She was, doubtless, one of the excellent of the earth, and yet, excellent as she was, it could not but be otherwise that in sin her son was conceived. Let us not at all attempt to escape from the force of what David says. He is using no hyperbolical expressions; there is no indication of hyperbole throughout the whole Psalm; he is a broken-hearted man on his knees; he is confessing his own sin with Bathsheba, and is not likely either to bring an accusation against his own mother, or to use exaggerated terms. Beloved it is so; we all of us, the best of us, still have to bear about with us the marks of the unclean thing from which we sprang. Take Paul again— was there ever a man who knew more of what sanctity of nature means, or who was brought nearer to the image of Christ, and yet he cries out, “Oh, wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death;” and finds no joy, until he can say, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Still I think we have another proof, namely, our own observation, We have lived long enough to observe with our own eyes, and by our reading, that sin is the universal disease of manhood. Is it not certain, according to observation, that man’s heart is evil? They used to tell pretty tales about the charming innocence of men dwelling in the sylvan bowers of primeval forests, untainted by the vices of civilization, unpolluted by the inventions of commerce and art. The woods of America were searched, and no such sweet babes of grace were discovered. The ferocity and cruelty of the Indians justify me in saying that they were hateful and hating one another. The blood-red tomahawk might have been emblazoned as the Red-man’s coat of arms, and his eyes glaring with revenge, might be taken as the true index of his character. Travellers have penetrated of late into the centre of Africa, where we may expect to see nature in its primitive excellence, and what is the report that is brought back to us? Why, it is nature in its primitive devilry, that is all. Let such abominable tyrants as Messrs. Grant and Speke describe to us, indicate to us what man is when he is left in his primeval state, untainted by civilization: — he is simply a greater devil, — he is naked and he is not ashamed; in this only is he like our unfallen parents. Again, try the mildest races. There is the mild Hindoo. You look into his gentle face, and you cannot suppose him capable of cruelty. Trust well that mild Hindoo, subdued by British arms so speedily, and so cheerfully bowing his neck to the yoke; but you may as well trust the sleek and cunning tiger from his jungle; let the story of the Sepoy rebellion of a few years ago show us the gentleness of the mild Hindoo; live among the mild Hindoos, and, if you dare read the first chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, remember that it is a decent account of what in ordinary life is practised among the Hindoos, but which could not be more clearly described, because the mouth of modesty would refuse to speak it, and the ears of modesty would tingle at the hearing of it. The life of the most respectable Hindoo is tainted with vices too vile to mention. “Yes, but still,” says one, “we must look at children, because sin may enter into us through education— let us look at children.” Very well, I am willing to look at children, and I am unwilling that anybody should say a word that is harsh or severe against children’s nature; but I will say that any man who declares children to be born perfect never was a father; for if he would only watch his own child, not merely when that child has its toys around it and is pleased and happy, but when its little temper is ruffled, he would soon perceive evil nestling there. Your child without evil! — you without eyes, you mean!! If you will only look and listen you will soon discover, if no other fault, this one, “they go astray from the womb; speaking lies,”— one of the earliest vices of children which needs to be corrected with most constant and wise rigour is the tendency towards falsehood. It is all very pretty for people to talk about the innocence of children, but I would like them to have to keep one of the nursery schools like those at Manchester, where the children are left while the mothers are at work in the mills, and they would soon discover in their pulling one another’s hair, and scratching at one another’s eyes, and such like pretty little diversions and innocent freaks, that they are not altogether the sweet babes of innocence they are supposed to be. “Well,” says one, “still human nature may have some spiritual good in it. Look at the men who make illustrious the page of history, — look at Socrates, for instance— religion did nothing for Socrates, but yet what a fine character he was.” Who told you that? I will venture to say that the philosopher’s character would not bear description in a decent assembly. We know from undoubted authority that the purest philosophers at times indulged in bestiality and filth. Solon and Socrates were no exceptions. When infidels hold up these sages as being such patterns of what human nature might become, they have history dead against them.
"The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint; there is no soundness in it.” And this, be it remembered, is without an exception in the long history of humanity, say six thousand years; there is not one that has escaped contamination, not one who has come into the world clean, not one who dares go before his Maker’s bar, and say, “Great God, I have never sinned, but have kept thy law from my youth up.”
II. Now I want you to notice, in the second place, a most extraordinary thing— when I noticed it yesterday I was surprised and overwhelmed with grateful admiration— that is, GOD’S EXTRAORDINARY REASONING.
Good reasoning, but most extraordinary. He says, “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Strange logic! In the sixth chapter he said man was evil, and therefore he destroyed him. In the eighth chapter, he says man is evil from his youth, and therefore he will not destroy him. Strange reasoning! Strange reasoning! to be accounted for by the little circumstance in the beginning of the verse, “The Lord smelled a sweet savour.” There was a sacrifice there; that makes all the difference. When God looks on sin apart from sacrifice, Justice says, “Smite! Smite! Curse! Destroy!” But when there is a sacrifice God looks on sin with eyes of mercy, and though Justice says, “Smite,” he says, “No, I have smitten my dear Son; I have smitten him, and will spare the sinner.” Mercy looks to see if she cannot find some loophole, something that she can make into an excuse why she may spare mankind. Is then natural depravity an excuse for sin? Does God use it as such? No, beloved: that our heart is vile is rather an aggravation of the vileness of our action than any excuse for it. Yet there is this one thing, we are born sinners, and God sees there, I will say, a sort of loophole. Rightly upon the terms of Justice, there is no conceivable reason why he should have mercy upon us, but grace makes and invents a reason. O may I be helped, while I try to show you where I think the ground of mercy here lies. Devils fell separately; we have every reason to believe that every alien angel sinned on his own account, and fell, and it is very likely that on this account there was no possibility, as we know of, of their restoration; every separate fallen spirit was given up for ever to chains, and darkness, and flames of five. But men! Men did not fall separately and individually. Our case is a somewhat different one from that of fallen angels. We all of us fell without our own consent, without having, in fact, any finger in it actually. We fell federally in our covenant head; it is in consequence of our falling in Adam, that our heart becomes evil from our youth. Now it looks to me as if God’s mercy caught that. He seemed to say, “These my creatures have according to my arrangement of federation, fallen representatively; then I can save them representatively. They perished in one Adam, I will save them in another. They fell not by their own overt act, though indeed their own overt acts have added to this and deserved my wrath, but their first fall was not through themselves; they are sinful from their very infancy. Therefore says he “I will deliver them by another as they fell by another.” I do not know whether I can make it clear. I do not think that this was any reason before the bar of justice why God should save us, for I believe that he might justly have condemned the whole race of Adam on account of Adam’s sin and their own guilt, but I do think that this was a blessed loophole through which his mercy could as it were come fairly to the sons of men. “There,” says he, “I made them not distinct individuals but a race; they fell as a race, they shall rise as an elect race. — ‘As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’— ‘As by the transgression of one many were made sinners, so by the righteousness of one shall many be made righteous.’” I think you will see the drift of it, then. Man’s being sinful, is in the logic of justice, a reason for punishment; man’s being sinful from his youth by inheritance from his federal head, becomes through mercy a reason why sovereign grace should light upon men while fallen angels are left to perish for ever. Oh! I bless God that I did not fall first of all myself. I do bless the day now that I fell in Adam, for it may be if I had never fallen in Adam I should have fallen in myself, and then I must have been like fallen angels shut out for ever from the presence of God in the flames of hell. One of the old divines used to say of Adam’s sin, “Beata culpa,” “Happy fault!” I dare not say that, but in one sense I will say, blessed fall that renders it possible for me to rise! Blessed way of ruin which renders it possible for the blessed way of salvation to be brought about— salvation by substitution, salvation by sacrifice; salvation by a new covenant head, who for us is offered up that God may smell a sweet savour and may deliver us!
I hope nobody will misconstrue what I have said, and make out that I teach that human depravity is an excuse for sin— God forbid! It is only in the eye of grace that it becomes the door of mercy. You know if your child has offended you do not want to chastise him, and yet you feel he deserves it. How you do try, if you are a loving parent, to find some reason why you may let him go. There is no reason, you know that. If you deal with him in terms of justice, there is no reason why having sinned he should not smart for it. But you keep casting about you for an excuse, perhaps it is his mother’s birthday, and you let him off for that; or else there was some little circumstance which softened the offence for which you may have him excused. I do not know whether the story is true, but it is said of Queen Victoria when she was just queen — quite a girl— she was asked to sign a death warrant for a person who, by court martial, had been condemned to die, and she said to the Duke, “Cannot you find any reason why this man should be pardoned?” The Duke said, “No, it was a very great offence, he ought to be punished.” “But was he a good soldier?” The Duke said he was a shamefully bad soldier, had always been noted as a bad soldier. “Well, cannot you invent for me any reason?” " Well,” he said, “I have every reason to believe from testimony that he was a good man as a man, although a bad soldier.” “That will do,” she said, and she wrote across it, “pardoned,” — not because the man deserved it, but because she wanted a reason for having mercy. So my God seems to look upon man,' and after he has looked him through and through and cannot see anything, at last he says, “He is evil from his youth,” and he writes “Pardoned.” He smells the sweet savour first, and his heart is turned towards the poor rebel; then he turns to him with mercy and blesses him.
III. But now, thirdly, by your leave and patience, I shall have to lead you to a few needful inferences from the doctrine of the depravity of man. If the heart be so evil, then it is impossible for us to enter heaven as we are. We cannot suppose that those holy gates shall enclose those whose imaginations and thoughts are evil, only evil continually. No, if that be the place into which shall not enter anything that defileth, then no man being what he was in his first birth can ever stand there. Another step; then it is quite dear that if I am to enter heaven no outward reform will ever do, for if I wash my face, that does not change my heart; and if I give up all my outward sins, and become outwardly what 1 ought to be, yet still, if it be true that my heart is the villainous thing which Scripture says it is, then my outward reformation cannot touch that, and I am still shut out of heaven; if inside that cup and platter there is all this filthiness, I may cleanse the outside, but I have not touched that which will shut me out of heaven. I go then a little farther, and I observe that I must have a new nature — not new practice only, but a new nature— not new thoughts or new words, but a new nature, so as to become a totally new man. And when I draw the inference, I have Scripture to back me at once, for what says Jesus to Nicodemus? “Ye must be born again.” But what is to be born again? To my first birth, I owe all I am by nature; I must get a second birth to which I am to owe all I am as I enter heaven. Multitudes of persons have been saying, “What is Regeneration?” Here they have been writing hundreds of pamphlets, and no two of them agree upon what Regeneration is, except that they say that a man may be regenerated and not converted. Here is an extraordinary thing! an unconverted man who is regenerated! one who is an enemy to God and yet he has in himself a new nature! has been born again and yet is not converted to God. Oh what a Regeneration that does not convert, a regeneration, in fact, that leaves men just where they were before! But to every babe in Christ the word regenerate is as plain as possible— he wants no definition, no description. “To be born again, why,” says he, “I comprehend that it is to be made over again, a new creature in Christ Jesus. My first birth makes me a creature, my second birth makes me a new creature, and I become what I never was before.” I must remember that what is wanted in me is not to bring out and develope what is good in me, for, according to God’s Word in the sixth of Genesis, there is nothing good, it is evil only. Grace does not enter to educate the germs of holiness within me, for there is no germ of good in man at all, he is “evil continually,” and every imagination is “only evil.” I must then die to sin; my old nature must be slain, it cannot be mended; it is too bad, too rotten to be patched up— that must die; by the death of Jesus it must be destroyed; it must be buried with Christ, and I must rise in resurrection life to conformity with my Lord Jesus. Well then, advancing one step further,, it is clear if I must be this before I can enter heaven, that I cannot give myself a new nature. A crab tree cannot transform itself into an apple tree; if I am a wolf I cannot make myself a sheep; water can rise to its own proper level, but it cannot go beyond it without pressure. I must have then, something wrought in me more than I can work in myself, and this indeed is good scriptural doctrine. “That which is born of the flesh”— what is it? When the flesh has done its very best what is it? — “that which is born of the flesh is flesh” — it is filthy to begin with and filth comes of it— only “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit— marvel not that I said unto you ye must be born again.” My soul must come under the hand of the Spirit; just as a piece of clay is on the potter’s wheel and is made to revolve and is touched by the fingers of the potter and moulded into what he wishes it to be, so must I lie passively in the hand of the Spirit of God, and he must work in me to will and to do of his own good pleasure, and then I shall begin to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling, but never, never till then. I must have more than nature can give me, more than my mother gave me, more than my father gave me, more than flesh and blood can produce under the most favourable circumstances. I must have the Spirit of God from heaven. Then comes this inquiry, “Have I received it? What is the best evidence of it?” The best evidence of it is this: Am I resting upon Christ Jesus alone for salvation? You generally find on potters’ vessels that there is a certain mark so that you can know who made them; I want to know whether I am a vessel fit for the Master’s use, moulded by his hand, and fashioned by his Spirit. Now, every single vessel that comes out of God’s hands has a cross on it. Hast thou the cross on thee? Art thou resting upon Christ’s bloody atonement made on Calvary? is he to thy soul thy one rock of refuge, thy one only hope? Canst thou say this morning: —
“Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling:
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Black, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Saviour, or I die?”
Then, my brother, you have a new heart and a right spirit, you are a new creature in Christ Jesus, for simple faith in Christ is what the old Adam never could attain; a simple faith in Jesus is the great, sure mark of a work of the Holy Spirit in your soul by which you are made to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Dost thou believe that Jesus is the Christ? Dost thou take him to be God’s anointed to thee? Dost thou trust thyself to him to plead for thee, to work for thee, to fulfil the law for thee, to offer atonement for thee? If so, if Jesus is the Christ to thee, thou art born of God. The Spirit which is in thee now will drive out the old nature, slay it utterly, cut it up root and branch, and thou shalt one day bear the image of the heavenly, even as thou hast till now borne the image of the earthly. May God bless these words of mine to your souls’ good.
“Eternal Spirit, we confess
And sing the wonders of thy grace;
Thy power conveys our blessings down
From God the Father and the Son.
Enlighten’d by thine heavenly ray,
Our shades and darkness turn to day;
Thine inward teachings make us know
Our danger and our refuge too.
Thy power and glory works within,
And breaks the chains of reigning sin,
Doth our imperious lusts subdue,
And forms our wretched hearts anew.
The troubled conscience knows thy voice,
Thy cheering words awake our joys;
Thy words allay the stormy wind,
And calm the surges of the mind."