Words From Machen (Law And Gospel)

As it was then, so also it will be today: the companionship of Jesus is indeed a gracious thing for burdened souls; but it is a terrible thing for those who have any trust in a righteousness of their own. No man can call Jesus friend who does not also call Him Lord; and no man can call Him Lord who could not say first: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” At the root of all true companionship with Jesus, therefore, is the consciousness of sin and with it the reliance upon His mercy; to have fellowship with Him it is necessary to learn the terrible lesson of God’s law.

Finally, men seek to come to Christ through the desire for a worthy ideal; indeed that way is just now the most commonly followed of all. “I may not be very orthodox,” says many a modern man, “but I am a Christian because I believe that the principles of Jesus will solve all the problems of my life and also all the problems of society.”
The most obvious objection to this way of approach to Jesus is that it will not work; an ideal is quite powerless to a man who is under the thraldom of sin; and the real glory of Jesus is that He breaks that thraldom, and instead of giving merely guidance, as an ideal would do, gives also power.

There is, however, also another objection. Jesus, it is said, can be taken as the supreme and perfect ideal for humanity. But is He really a perfect ideal? There is one difficulty which modern men find about taking Him as such—the difficulty due to His stupendous claims. There can be no real doubt, in the mind of a historian who examines the facts, but that Jesus of Nazareth regarded Himself as the Messiah; and there can also be no real doubt but that He regarded Himself as the Messiah not merely in some lower meaning of the term, but in the lofty meaning by which it designated the heavenly Son of Man, the glorious figure who appears in the seventh chapter of Daniel in the presence of the Ancient of Days. This Jesus of Nazareth, in other words, who is to be taken as the supreme moral ideal of the race, actually believed, as He looked out upon His contemporaries, that He was one day to sit upon the throne of God and be their Judge and the Judge of all the earth! Would not such a person have been, if not actually insane, at least unbalanced and unworthy of the full confidence of men?

There is only one way of overcoming this difficulty—it is to accept the lofty claims of Jesus as sober truth. If the claims are denied, then—argue as men will—the Galilean prophet ceases to be a supreme and perfect ideal. But the claims can be accepted as true only when one takes the same view of Jesus’ mission as that which Jesus took, only when one regards Him as the divine Redeemer who came voluntarily into the world to save mankind from the guilt and power of sin. If Jesus is only an ideal, He is not a perfect ideal; for He claimed to be far more: but if He is the Saviour from sin, then He is the perfect Example that can never be surpassed. But He can be accepted as the Saviour from sin only by those who hold the same view of sin as that which He held; and that view can be held only by those who have learned the lesson of the law.

The fact is, then, that there is no other way of coming to Christ except the old, old way that is found in the conviction of sin. The truth of Christianity cannot be established by the intellect unless an important part of the argument is based upon the fact of sin which is revealed by the law of God; the beauty of Jesus, which attracts the gaze of men, cannot be appreciated without a knowledge of the holiness upon which it is based; the companionship of Jesus is possible only to those who say first, in deep contrition: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord”; the example of Jesus is powerless to those who are in the bondage of evil habit, and it is not even a perfect example unless He be the divine Redeemer that He claimed to be. The true schoolmaster to bring men to Christ is found, therefore, now and always in the law of God—the law of God that gives to men the consciousness of sin.

A new and more powerful proclamation of that law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law. As it is, they are turning aside from the Christian pathway; they are turning to the village of Morality, and to the house of Mr. Legality, who is reported to be very skillful in relieving men of their burdens. Mr. Legality has indeed in our day disguised himself somewhat, but he is the same deceiver as the one of whom Bunyan wrote. “Making Christ Master” in the life, putting into practice “the principles of Christ” by one’s own efforts—these are merely new ways of earning salvation by one’s own obedience to God’s commands. And they are undertaken because of a lax view of what those commands are. So it always is: a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace. Pray God that the high view may again prevail; that Mount Sinai may again overhang the path and shoot forth flames, in order that then the men of our time may, like Christian in the allegory, meet some true Evangelist, who shall point them out the old, old way, through the little wicket gate, to the place somewhat ascending where they shall really see the Cross and the figure of Him that did hang thereon, that at that sight the burden of the guilt of sin, which no human hand could remove, may fall from their back into a sepulchre beside the way, and that then, with wondrous lightness and freedom and joy, they may walk the Christian path, through the Valley of Humiliation and the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and up over the Delectable Mountains, until at last they pass triumphant across the river into the City of God.*
*Machen, J. G. (1925). What Is Faith? (pp. 138–142). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

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About lalvin1517

I'm married with two children and pastor McCall Baptist Church in McCall, Idaho.
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