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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Gods Way of Holiness

Chapter 8 - The True Creed and the True Life Gods Way of Holiness by Bonar, Horatius

Index

The alphabet of gospel truth is that "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3). By this we are saved, obtaining peace with God, and "access...into this grace wherein we stand" (Romans 5:2).

But he who thus believes is also made partaker of Christ (Hebrews 3:14), partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), partaker of the heavenly calling (Hebrews 3:1), partaker of the Holy Ghost (Hebrews 6:4), partaker of His holiness (Hebrews 12:10). In the person of his Surety he has risen as well as died; he has ascended to the throne, is seated with Christ in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), his life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). That which he is to be in the day of the Lord's appearing, he is regarded as being now, and is treated by God as such. Faith, in one aspect, bids him look forward to the glory; in another, it bids him look back upon this weary land as if he had already finished his pilgrimage. "Ye are come unto mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Hebrews 12:22).

Surely, then, a Christian man is called to be consistent and decided, as well as joyful, not conformed to this world (Romans 12:2), but to that world to come, in which he already dwells by faith. "What manner of person ought [he] to be in all holy conversation and godliness" (2 Peter 3:11).

It has been matter of complaint once and again that some of those who were zealous for these "higher doctrines," as they have been called, were not so careful to "maintain good works," or so attentive to the "minor morals" of Christianity as might have been expected. They were not so large-hearted, not so openhanded, nor so generous, nor so humble, as many whose light was dimmer; also they were supercilious, inclined to despise others as dark and ill-instructed, given to display their consciousness of spiritual superiority in ungentle ways or words.

This will not do. Greater knowledge, lesser love! Higher doctrines, lower morals! Professing to be seated with Christ in heavenly places, yet walking in the flesh, as if proud of their elevation to the right hand of God! Speaking of the perfection of the new man in them, yet exhibiting some of the worst features of the old! Certainly, one who is "risen with Christ" ought to be like the Risen One. He will be expected to be meek and lowly, gentle and loving, simple and frank, kind and obliging, liberal and generous, not easily provoked or affronted, transparent and honest, not selfish, narrow, covetous, conceited, worldly, unwilling to be taught.

Scripture is wonderfully balanced in all its parts; let our study of it be the same, that we may be well-balanced men. The study of the prophetic word must not supersede that of the Proverbs, nor must we search the latter merely to discover the traces of the "higher doctrines" which may be found in that book. We must not overlook the homely, and the little, and the common; we must stoop to the petty moralities, courtesies and honesties of tamer life, not neglecting those parts of Scripture which treat of these, as vapid or obsolete, but bringing them to bear upon each step of our daily walk, and delighting in them as the wisdom of the God only wise. There is a vitiated literary taste, arising not so much from reading what is bad, as from exclusive study of one class of books, and these perhaps the more exciting. There is also a vitiated spiritual taste, not necessarily growing out of error or the study of unsound books, but arising from favoritism in the reading of Scripture, which shows itself both in the preference of certain parts to others, and in the propensity to search these others only for their references to certain favorite truths. Let the whole soul be fed by the study of the whole Bible, that so there may be no irregularity nor inequality in the growth of its parts and powers. Let us beware of "itching" ears and eyes. True, we must not be "babes," unable to relish strong meat, and "unskillful in the Word of righteousness" (Hebrews 5:13). But we need to beware of the soarings of an ill-balanced theology and an ill-knit creed. True Christianity is healthy and robust, not soft, nor sickly, nor sentimental; yet, on the other hand, not hard, nor lean, nor ill-favored, nor ungenial.

"Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit, in malice be ye children but in understanding be men" (1 Corinthians 14:20).

We want not merely a high and full theology, but we want that theology acted out in life, embodied nobly in daily doings, without anything of what the world calls "cant" or "simper." The higher the theology, the higher and the manlier should be the life resulting from it. It should give to the Christian character and bearing a divine erectness and simplicity; true dignity of demeanour, without pride, or stiffness, or coldness: true strength of will, without obstinacy, or caprice, or waywardness. The higher the doctrine is, the more ought it to bring us into contact with the mind of God, which is "the truth," and with the will of God, which is "the law." He who concludes that, because he has reached the region of the "higher doctrines," he may soar above the law, or above creeds, or above churches, or above the petty details of common duty, would need to be on his guard against a blunted conscience, a self-made religion, and a wayward life.

Though "set on high," we "regard the things that are lowly"; we prize the lofty teaching of the Epistles, but we prize no less "the law and the prophets." We listen to the apostolic doctrine, and learn to say, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Galatians 2:20); yet we do not turn away from the apostolic precepts as beneath us: "Put away lying"; "Speak every man truth with his neighbor"; "Let him that stole steal no more"; "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil-speaking be put away from you with all malice"; "Uncleanness and covetousness let it not be once named among you, neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting"; "Put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication"; "Lie not one to another, seeing ye have put off the old man with his deeds." If it seem strange to some to be told that a redeemed and risen man must be a doer of the law, does it not seem still more strange that one entrusted with the ministry should have such minute precepts as these enjoined: "Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre, not a brawler, not covetous"?

These are the commandments of the Holy Ghost, and they are law just as truly as that which was proclaimed in Horeb amid fire and darkness. And the true question with us (as we have seen) is not whether we are to obey this law or that law, but any law at all. If obedience to apostolic law be not legalism, then neither is obedience to the moral law; and if our oneness with Christ exempts or disjoins us from the moral law, it exempts and disjoins us from all law whatsoever, for everything in the shape of law, or precept, or commandment, contained in Scripture, is from the one Spirit of God, whether in the book of Exodus or the epistle to the Romans. We know, indeed, that what is merely ritual or ceremonial is gone, being exhausted and put away by Christ; but what is moral and spiritual remains, and must remain for ever; not one jot or tittle of it can fail. What was moral or immoral four thousand years ago is the same still. What was moral or immoral to the Jew is so to the Gentile still. An Old Testament and a New Testament saint rest on the same rock, are washed in the same blood, eat the same spiritual meat, and drink the same spiritual drink (1 Corinthians 10:3, 4), have put on the same Christ, are doers of the same law, are members of the same body, are heirs of the same crown (Matthew 8:11; 21:43; Luke 13:28; Romans 11:18; Hebrews 11:40; Revelation 7:9-15).

"The Law is good if a man use it lawfully," says the apostle, but according to some, the only lawful way of using it is not to use it at all. True, "the Law is not made for the righteous man but for unholy and profane, for murderers...manslayers" (1 Timothy 1:9), and as a traveler who keeps the middle of the way never comes into collision with the fences on either side, so a quiet citizen has no need to concern himself about the laws against murder. Man's law does not touch him who keeps it, but him who breaks it; yet it speaks to every one, it is a guide to every one, and the principles or moralities of law are wrought into every one, and wrought the most into those for whom it was "not made"; so that they who never come into collision with it are just those who are unconsciously, yet thoroughly, obeying it.

The higher life, then, is not a life against law, nor a life without law, nor a life above law, but a life like that of the great law-fulfiller, a life in which the law finds its fullest and most perfect development. It was so in Jesus; it is so in us, in so far as we resemble Him in spirit and in walk. It is a thoroughly conscientious, upright, honorable life. Some, indeed, seem to identify conscientiousness with bondage; but between the two there is no resemblance, save when the conscience is unenlightened, or has become diseased and weak. When the nervous system of the body falls into disorder, then does Satan often (through this inlet) enter the soul, and perplex the conscience, magnifying fancied sin, and palliating real sin, making men mistake a diseased for a tender conscience. But this ought not to lead to disparagement of thorough conscientiousness, in one who has died and risen with Christ; conscientiousness in little things as well as great. in business, in the ordering of our households, in the laying out of our time and our money, in fulfilling engagements, in keeping promises. in discharging duties, in bearing witness for Christ, in nonconformity to the world.

The man who knows that he is risen with Christ, and has set his affection on things above, will be a just, trusty, ingenuous, unselfish, truthful man. He will "add to [his] faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; and to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity" (2 Peter 1:5-7). He will seek not to be "barren nor unfruitful." "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report" (Philippians 4:8), these he will think upon and do.

For there is some danger of falling into a soft and effeminate Christianity, under the plea of a lofty and ethereal theology. Christianity was born for endurance; not an exotic, but a hardy plant, braced by the keen wind; not languid, childish, nor cowardly. It walks with firm step and erect frame; it is kindly, but firm; it is gentle, but honest; it is calm, but not facile; obliging, but not imbecile; decided, but not churlish. It does not fear to speak the stern word of condemnation against error, nor to raise its voice against surrounding evils, under the pretext that it is not of this world. It does not shrink from giving honest reproof lest it come under the charge of displaying an unchristian spirit. It calls sin "sin," on whomsoever it is found, and would rather risk the accusation of being actuated by a bad spirit than not discharge an explicit duty. Let us not misjudge strong words used in honest controversy. Out of the heat a viper may come forth; but we shake it off and feel no harm. The religion of both Old and New Testaments is marked by fervent outspoken testimonies against evil. To speak smooth things in such a case may be sentimentalism, but it is not Christianity. It is a betrayal of the cause of truth and righteousness. If anyone should be frank, manly, honest, cheerful (I do not say blunt or rude, for a Christian must be courteous and polite), it is he who has tasted that the Lord is gracious, and is looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God. I know that charity covereth a multitude of sins; but it does not call evil good, because a good man has done it; it does not excuse inconsistencies, because the inconsistent brother has a high name and a fervent spirit. Crookedness and worldliness are still crookedness and worldliness, though exhibited in one who seems to have reached no common height of attainment.

I know also that in this world we shall be evil spoken of, and that it is hopeless to attempt to answer every charge. But let us not suffer an accusation to lie upon us, under the pretext that God will take care of our good name, when perhaps the secret reason was that there was some foundation for the evil report against us, and that our good name had better not be brought to a too public test. Let us clear ourselves when the opportunity presents or the occasion demands. It is not wrong to be jealous of our good name, and to answer frankly the fair questionings of friend or foe. It will be time enough to suffer martyrdom when we are actually tied to the stake. It is foolish and feeble to try to become martyrs before the time. Paul met accusations bravely, and would not allow his good to be evil spoken of (Acts 28:17; 2 Corinthians 8:20, 21; 11:9; 12:18, 19). Our Reformers met their slanderers bravely and, though they could not stay the pen of the defamer, yet furnished materials for vindicating themselves and their cause most amply. There was only One who was dumb as a sheep before her shearers, who answered not a word; and He was silent because the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and to be made of "no reputation" was one part of the penalty He was enduring.

Yet let us know when to be silent, as well as when to speak. It is not always right or seemly to answer a fool according to his folly. Let us learn to bear and to forbear, "giving no offense in anything," nor letting "our good be evil spoken of," seeking the things which make for peace, and the things whereby we may edify one another, providing for honest things (2 Corinthians 8:21, things excellent or beautiful), not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of men, having a conscience void of offense toward God and towards men (Acts 24:16, 20). These are memorable words: "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men" (Romans 14:17, 18).

With many of us the Christian life has not gone on to maturity. "Ye did run well; who did hinder you?" (Galatians 5:7). It has been a work well begun, but left unfinished; a battle boldly entered on, but only half fought out; a book with but the preface written, no more. Is not thus Christ dishonored? Is not His gospel thus misrepresented, His cross denied, His words slighted, His example set at naught? Are sunsets such as we have too often witnessed the true endings of the bright dawns which we have welcomed? Must suns go down at noon? Must Ephesus leave her first love, Laodicea grow lukewarm, and Sardis cold? Are issues such as these inevitable and universal? Or shall we not protest against them as failures, perversions, crimes altogether inexcusable?

Did a holy life consist of one or two noble deeds some signal specimens of doing or enduring, or suffering we might account for the failure, and reckon it small dishonor to turn back in such a conflict. But a holy life is made up of a multitude of small things. It is the little things of the hour, and not the great things of the age, that fill up a life like that of Paul and John, like that of Rutherford, or Brainerd, or Martyn. Little words, not eloquent speeches or sermons, little deeds, not miracles, nor battles, nor one great heroic act or mighty martyrdom, make up the true Christian life. The little constant sunbeam, not the lightning, the waters of Siloah "that go softly" in their meek mission of refreshment, not "the waters of the river great and many" rushing down in torrent noise and force, are the true symbols of a holy life. The avoidance of little evils, little sins, little inconsistencies, little weaknesses, little follies, little indiscretions and imprudences, little foibles, little indulgences of self and of the flesh, little acts of indolence or indecision or slovenliness or cowardice, little equivocations or aberrations from high integrity, little touches of shabbiness and meanness, little bits of covetousness and penuriousness, little exhibitions of worldliness and gaiety, little indifferences to the feelings or wishes of others, little outbreaks of temper, or crossness, or selfishness, or vanity the avoidance of such little things as these goes far to make up at least the negative beauty of a holy life. And then attention to the little duties of the day and hour, in public transactions, or private dealings, or family arrangements; to little words, and looks, and tones; little benevolences, or forbearances, or tendernesses; little self-denials, and self-restraints, and seIf-forgetfulnesses, little plans of quiet kindness and thoughtful consideration for others; to punctuality, and method, and true aim in the ordering of each day these are the active developments of a holy life, the rich and divine mosaics of which it is composed. What makes yon green hill so beautiful? Not the outstanding peak or stately elm, but the bright sward which clothes its slopes, composed of innumerable blades of slender grass. It is of small things that a great life is made up; and he who will acknowledge no life as great save that which is built up of great things, will find little in Bible characters to admire or copy.

If we would aim at a holy and useful life, let us learn to redeem time. "I am large about redeeming time," says Richard Baxter in the Preface to his Christian Directory, "because therein the sum of a holy obedient life is included." Yes, let us redeem the time because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5). A wasted life is the result of unredeemed time. Desultory working, impulsive giving, fitful planning, irregular reading, ill-assorted hours, perfunctory or unpunctual execution of business, hurry and bustle, loitering and unreadiness these, and such like, are the things which take out the whole pith and power from life, which hinder holiness, and which eat like a Canker into our moral being, which make success and progress an impossibility, either as regards ourselves or others. There needs not to be routine, but there must be regularity; there ought not to be mechanical stiffness, but there must be order; there may not be haste, but there must be no trifling with our own time or that of others: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). If the thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing well, and in little things as well as great we must show that we are in earnest, There must be no idling, but a girding up of the loins, a running the race with patience, the warring of a good warfare, steadfastness and perseverance, "always abounding in the work of the Lord." The flowers are constant in their growing; the stars are constant in their courses; the rivers are constant in their flowing; they lose no time; so must our life be, not one of fits or starts or random impulses; not one of levity or inconstancy or fickle scheming, but steady and resolute the life of men who know their earthly mission, and have their eye upon the heavenly goal.

A holy life in man's estimation may be simply a life of benevolence, or of austerity, or of punctual devotion, or of kindly geniality, or noble uprightness, or liberal sympathy with all creeds, all sects, all truths, and all errors. But a holy life in God's estimation, and according to Bible teaching, must be founded upon truth, must begin personally, in conscious peace with God through the blood of the everlasting covenant, must grow with the increase of truth and deliverance form error, must be maintained by fellowship with God, in Christ Jesus, through the indwelling of the "Spirit of holiness." Error or imperfect truth must hinder holiness. Uncertainty as to our reconciliation with God must cloud us, straiten us, fetter us, and so prevent the true holiness, besides also fostering the false. Fellowship must be preserved unbroken, that the transmission of the heavenly electricity, in all its sanctifying, quickening power, may go on uninterrupted. Nothing must come between: not the world, nor self, nor the flesh, nor vanity, nor idols, nor the love of ease and pleasure.

The Word must be studied in all its fullness. Over its whole length and breadth we must spread ourselves. Above all theologies, creeds, catechisms, books and hymns, the Word must be meditated on, that we may grow in the knowledge of all its parts, and in assimilation to its models. Our souls must be steeped in it, not in certain favorite parts of it, but in the whole. We must know it, not from the report of others, but from our own experience and vision, else will our life be but an imitation, our religion second-hand, and therefore second-rate. Another cannot breathe the air for us, nor eat for us, nor drink for us. We must do these for ourselves. So no one can do our religion for us, nor infuse into us the life of truth which he may possess. These are not things of proxy or merchandise, or human impartation. Out of the book of God and by the Spirit of God must each one of us be taught, else we learn in vain. Hence the exceeding danger of human influence or authority. A place of influence in such a case becomes perilous alike to the possessor of the influence and to those over whom that sway is wielded. Even when altogether on the side of truth, its issue may be but an unfruitful formalism, a correct petrifaction an intelligent orthodoxy, and both they who possess the influence or are under its power ought to be greatly on their guard lest the human supplant the divine, and the fear of God be "taught by the precept of men (Isaiah 29:13), lest an artificial piety be the result, a mere facsimile religion, without vitality, without comfort, and without influence.

One who has "learned of Christ, who "walks with God, will not be an artificial man, not one playing a part or sustaining a character. He will be thoroughly natural in manners, words, looks, tones, and habits. He will be like that most natural of all creatures, a little child. Christianity becomes repulsive the moment that it is suspected to be fictitious. Religion must be ingenuous. No affectation, nor pedantry, nor conceit, nor set airs, nor what the world calls "whining," can serve the cause of Christ, or give weight to character, or win an adversary of the cross. The "epistles of Christ" to be "known and read of all men," must be transparent and natural. In living for Christ, we must follow Him fully, not copying a copy, but copying Himself; otherwise ours will be an imperfect testimony, a reflected and feeble religion, devoid of ease, and simplicity, and grace, bearing the marks of imitation and art, if not of forgery.