The Christian's True Character

 •  9 min. read  •  grade level: 7
If you had all the world attending churches and chapels -persons walking soberly and in a decent, orderly way otherwise -what universal rejoicing over the improved state and prospects of Christendom! And what would all this be in the sight of God? I have not the slightest hesitation in saying, that, if there were no more, it would only be "a fair show in the flesh." What we, as Christians, are entitled to look for, and what we ought never to be satisfied without is, that souls pass from death unto life—that souls should be delivered from the power of Satan and be translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. Until they have passed the boundary, from the regions of men into the presence of God, what has been done that could be a positive ground of Christian joy and thankfulness?
It is not a question now merely of society or the world. We know that the world is under condemnation, that ever since the cross of Christ, judgment has been impending, as decidedly as after a criminal has been tried and found guilty, as he is waiting in his condemned cell for the sentence to be executed—such is man's condition. Do Christians realize it? Most imperfectly. If they did, could they be upon common ground with the world? Could a person go into the convict's cell and talk to him as if nothing were the matter? We must think such a speaker destitute of all right feeling. So it is in a far more awful way than the execution of a single criminal. We know well that in the day which is coming, there will be no escape then nor for eternity.
"As it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day
when the Son of man is revealed." God looks that all His children should bear their testimony in the world that they know from Himself that all hangs on the uncertainty of a thread, that judgment is suspended over it, that Christ is ready to judge the quick and the dead. He awaits the will of His Father. All simply turns upon that. But we are told and know that He is coming, and coming shortly; and we wait for this. Yet in the midst of this scene of a condemned world, with the Lord coming to execute judgment upon it, there is such a thing as a number of souls who have passed through the faith of Christ into life everlasting, and who know it—at least, who ought to know it. They belong to Him who is going to judge, not to the scene that is going to be judged.
What is the effect of all this? They have in spirit abandoned the circumstances in which men are striving to keep up a vain show; they have repented toward God; they have bowed down to the Savior, the Lord Jesus, and have found eternal life and peace in Him. All is settled between their souls and God. With Christ the light, the truth, the life, the fair show has vanished. And while this great transaction is going on, a large part of the world seek to be as religious as they can; that is, to reconcile religion with the world. And as the effect of this strategy of the enemy, and of their own unwatchfulness, very many of God's children descend to it, because great names are there, appearances are there, and even the Word of God may be quoted to show that it is right to walk there. This is commonly done by taking what God says to Israel, who were God's people after the flesh, governed by the law, and applying it to those who are God's people now, called to walk under grace and Christ alone, who have the Holy Ghost that they may walk in the Spirit, and not yield to anything of the flesh. The mingling of the two things beguiles Christians into what is, after all, only the religion of the flesh. They think that an earthly system of religious forms must be right now, because it had His sanction in the Old Testament. They see that God acknowledged "a worldly sanctuary" once, and they reason thence for all times and places. Thus they get drawn into the "fair show in the flesh"—the more easily, as it habitually entails an absence of persecution, nay, credit with the world.
People are sensible that you cannot raise the world to walk with you above its own level of sight and reason. But the moment you come down to meet the world, you are off Christian ground. A new nature is required. Faith is indispensable. The world has not this. You must descend to the world's path, if you will take common action with the world. It is not that the world becomes Christian thereby, but that Christians thus become worldly. Such is the only issue of the attempt to join Christians with those that are not Christians in the service and worship of God.... They want you to submit to religious forms. The reason is that they dread suffering for Christ. The cross is the term of the old world, where the flesh was acknowledged, and the introduction of the new state of things where nothing but what is of the Holy Ghost is of value in the sight of God. He shows that selfishness, after all, is at the bottom. When persons are walking with the world, there is never an easy conscience. Nothing so pleases the world as to get real Christians to walk with them. How humbling is the success of Satan in this.
What God called out Christians for is to manifest a people happy in Christ, and yet having nothing but tribulation in the world. I am not speaking now of our common, everyday trials. If saints do foolish things and suffer from them like others, they have their share of the results of their own folly. But there are trials that come upon a Christian because he is a Christian—to be despised and rejected, evil spoken of and calumniated, because he walks with God and has taken the side of God against the world; because he is a sharer of Christ's cross and waits for His glory, refusing therefore not only the world's bad, but its best things. This it is that the world is so angry at. They may talk about the faults of Christians, but if the same faults were committed by the world, how soon and easily they would be got over! But where it is a Christian, there is that which which makes them feel that, though the person may be weak and foolish, yet there is something above the world; and it is really this which makes them uneasy.
If the Christians [in Galatia] would only have submitted to be circumcised! But anyone could be circumcised, even if unconverted. Only take a pledge with a worldly man, and he will be pleased, because you come down to a level that he can occupy with you. I am not meddling with the world's trying to reform the world; but I have much to say about the sin and the shame of Christians joining with the world in their efforts to stay the plague by means of man's promises and vows. It is altogether false ground and contrary to the gospel, which starts upon. the utter badness of man's nature. Whereas the moment you do a work to improve that nature, which the worldly man can equally do (and he can sign the pledge as well as you), it is plain that you have reached ground where the Christian gives up Christ as his one divinely tempered weapon for dealing with man in the flesh, and is gone back to the bow and arrows, if I may so say, of moral restraint. Indeed, I cannot but view it as a lower thing even than circumcision, which was the type of a most blessed truth—the entire putting away of the flesh. But when Christ died, all that had been merely types, and had utterly failed as adequate remedies, were buried in His grave; and now He is risen and there is a new life in resurrection, which has nothing to say to the old, save to mortify it. The reality of life has come out, and this is what the Christian has to do with now. Christ has become his life and his object too.
It is the great aim of the devil to get Christians to write some other name along with Christ on God's children: so that no matter what it is, whether you take circumcision as a type of spiritual blessing, or the mere natural moral restraints of the present day, it is altogether a mistake as to the object for which God has called us out in this world. The Christian is outside that sphere; he is called into the place of grace. The magistrate's place is not one of grace, but of government, which of course calls for the punishment of evil. That is not grace. Grace is not law, but "Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." There would be an end of all justice if magistrates were to attempt to act thus. But while the Christian has no business out of the place of grace, he is bound to respect the government, and never to speak loweringly of dignities in the world. The better he knows his own privileges, the more he can afford to maintain the honor of the magistrate. He owns it so much the more, because he does not covet it himself. He has a much better place himself; but if he knows the secret of his own joy and liberty in this world, let him at the same time acknowledge the higher powers which God has ordained in earthly rule. When persons are in the same sphere, there may be more or less rivalry; for men prefer to rule others rather than to be ruled themselves. But when a soul is entirely delivered from the world, he can the more heartily own what is of God here below, and see the wisdom of His order there. It is on this ground that the Holy Ghost always presses the Christian's obedience of the law [of the land], and honor to the king or other governor he may be under.