What a beautiful thing is the renovation of God upon a sinful heart!

A few weeks ago, our church hired a contractor to do some minor renovations to our sanctuary.  After agreeing upon the price, the church also agreed to pay him about 50% up front so that he would be able to purchase the materials he would need to complete the job.  After the job was done, the church paid him the remainder of the balance owed.

While this is not a perfect illustration of the believer’s relationship to God, it does help us to understand the place of grace in relation to the law.  This is what Marshall’s ninth direction points out.

We must first receive the comforts of the gospel, that we may be able to sincerely perform the duties of the law.

God grants his people some of the comforts of the gospel even before they have begun to sincerely obey His law.  Back in chapter 2, Marshall listed 4 endowments necessary for sanctification.  These endowments belong to a believer the moment they are united to Christ in the gospel and by faith.  They are:

1) An inclination and propensity of the heart to love God.

2) A persuasion of our reconciliation with God.

3) A persuasion of our enjoyment of everlasting happiness.

4) A persuasion of sufficient strength both to will and perform duties acceptably.

Now, since these 4 endowments belong by faith to the believer at the moment of their union with Christ, it necessarily follows that they would be spurred on to sincere and loving obedience because of them. 

Marshall writes, “Can we be persuaded of the love of God, of our everlasting happiness and our strength to serve God, and yet be without any comforts? Can the glad tidings of the gospel of peace be believed, and Christ and His Spirit actually received into the heart, without any relief to the soul from oppressing fear, grief, despair? Can the salvation of Christ be comfortless, or the bread and water of life without any sweet relish to those that feed on Him with hungering and thirsting appetites?”

These 4 endowments are effectively the down payment by which the believer is enabled to begin construction of a holy life.  This construction begins with the pursuit of peace, joy, and hope.  Marshall writes,

“Peace, joy, hope are recommended to us in Scripture as the spring of other holy duties; and fear and oppressing grief forbidden as hindrances to true religion: ‘The peace of God keeps our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 4:7). ‘Do not be sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength’ (Neh. 8:10). ‘Every man that has this hope in him, purifies himself, even as He is pure’ (1John3:3).  ‘Fear has torment: he that fears is not made perfect in love’ (1John 4:18). This is the reason why the apostle doubles the exhortation, to rejoice in the Lord always, as a duty of exceeding weight and necessity (Phil. 4:4). What are such duties, but comfort itself?”

This is the usual method in which scripture exhorts us to holy living, first the comfort, and then the abilities to fulfill requirements.  For example, we are exhorted to practice holy duties because:

1.  We are dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:11)

2.  Sin shall not have dominion over us, for we are not under the law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14)

3.  We are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, and God will quicken our mortal bodies by His Spirit dwelling in us (Rom. 8:9, 11)

4.  Our bodies are the members of Christ and the temples of the Holy Ghost (1Cor. 6:15, 19)

5.  God has made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2Cor. 5:21)

6.  God has promised that He will dwell in us, and walk in us, and be to us a Father, and we shall be to Him sons and daughters (2Cor. 6:18; 7:1)

7.  God has forgiven us for Christ’s sake, and accounts us His dear children; and Christ has loved us, and given Himself for us; and we, that were sometimes darkness, are now light in the Lord (Eph. 4:32; 5:1, 2, 8)

8.  We are risen with Christ and, when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:1, 4)

9.  God has said, ‘I will never leave you, nor forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5)

10.  God made many promises to us (2Cor. 7:1)

Take a moment and re-read through this list of 10 statements of fact about those who belong to Jesus Christ.  Every one of these statements contains a facet of how God’s grace works in the life of a sinner to transform the sinner – even before the sinner acts in obedience and love toward God.  Marshall writes:

“True it is that the law, which is the ministration of condemnation, obliges them to obedience; but our merciful god expects no sincere performance of His law from such impotent miserable wretches, in order to their salvation by Christ, till He has first delivered them, in some measure, from those discomforts, slavish fears and despondencies that hold them captive under the law of sin and death. We may require a strong healthy person first to work, and then to expect meat, drink and wages; but a fainting, famished person must first have food, or a reviving cordial, to strengthen his heart before he can work.”

This is the gospel!  The gospel is good news first, last, and in between.  How easy it is in reformed circles to get lost in the emphasis of our total depravity that we think we must convince sinners of their sin before they can trust Christ! 

This was the great error that the Scottish Presbyterians of the early 1700’s were embracing before the Marrow Men stood up and declared that there are no prerequisites in coming to Christ!  Christ is freely offered in the gospel to all who would accept Him. 

God does not require you to repent of your sins before you receive Christ.  And because of the joy, peace, and hope that the Gospel deposits into our souls when we are united to Christ, repentance becomes a time of blessed closeness to our Savior as he washes us clean.  Thus, repentance, rather than being a curse to our hearts, it is a blessing that enables us to discover the greatness of grace.

Just before Marshall concludes, he illustrates what happens to those who attempt the duties of obedience and holiness that God requires, but without the comforts of the gospel.  He writes, “Others labor a while in such a comfortless religion, with inward fretting and repining at the bondage of it, and at last grow weary, and throw off all religion, because they know none better.” 

I cannot help but think of the multitudes of people, especially in the baby boomer generation, that have tried religion and Christianity, and rather than finding peace for their souls, they found a burden to great to bear.  Whether they rejected the comforts of the gospel up front, or whether they were never taught of the gospel comforts I don’t know.  But the result is the same, people who want nothing to do with Christ.

In contrast to this, Marshal reminds us that when the angels announced the birth of Jesus they declared, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)  The announcement of the gospel was to be a great joy to those who received it.  Is the gospel a joy to you?  Is the prospect of living holy lives a delight to your soul?

Comments closed.