Justification, Part 16

David Brainerd was a man that died young but was used a lot for God. He was a man that was a missionary to the Indians (Native Americans today) that had never heard the Gospel. Jonathan Edwards thought so highly of Mr. Brainerd that he published his biography and journals. The writings that Edwards published have been published in many forms, but the life and labors of Brainerd inspired a vast number of missionaries over the years. We have been looking at justification in general and faith in particular the past several weeks. This week we will be looking at what David Brainerd thought was necessary for a person to be converted which means to come to Christ in faith. His thoughts on this issue were those that helped and encouraged many missionaries and were also in line with the thinking of Jonathan Edwards. We could do worse for our mentors. I will be using the 1949 Moody edition of The Life and Diary of David Brainerd. Mr. Brainerd was in Boston shortly before his death and quite ill at the time. He had many visitors who came to him asking his opinion on certain issues. This man was used of God to reach many people with the Gospel was dying and knew that he was dying. What he gives us is his last view of the essence of true Christianity.

But the third day of my illness, and constantly afterwards for four or five weeks together, I enjoyed as much serenity of mind, and clearness of thought, as perhaps I ever did in my life. I think my mind penetrated with so much ease and freedom into divine things, as at this time. I never felt so capable of demonstrating the truth of many important doctrines of the gospel as now. And as I saw clearly the truth of those great doctrines, which are justly styled the doctrines of grace; so I saw with no less clearness, that the essence of religion consisted in the soul’s conformity to God, and acting above all selfish views, for His glory, longing to be for Him, to live to Him, and please and honor Him in all things…Thus I saw, that when a soul loves God with a supreme love, he therein acts like the blessed God Himself, who most just loves Himself in that manner. So when God’s interest and his are become one, and he longs that God should be glorified and rejoices to think that He is unchangeably possessed of the highest glory and blessedness, herein also he acts in conformity to God. In like manner, when the soul is fully resigned to, and rests satisfied and contented with, the divine will, here it is also conformed to God.

I saw further that as this divine temper, whereby the soul exalts God and treads self in the dust, is wrought in the soul by God’s discovering His own glorious perfections in the face of Jesus Christ to it, as His own work.

If Mr. Brainerd was right about what true religion is, then justification and the nature of faith and conversion must fit or correlate with what true Christianity is. This is utterly vital to recognize. If true Christianity consists in being conformed to God and acting above all selfishness and self-centered things, then the nature of conversion must correlate with that. If true Christianity is discovered and lived by the soul exalting God and treading self in the dust so that God may discover His own glorious perfections in the face of Jesus Christ in the image of our souls, then the nature of conversion must correlate with that too. Clearly justification as a work of God is linked and tied with whatever God does in the soul and that includes sanctification and glorification (Rom 8:29-30).

Let us reflect on this for a few moments. True Christianity does not consist in works and the exaltation of self. It does not mean that the more a person loves him or herself that the more a person will love others. It does not mean that Christianity is some path to financial success or self-realization. No, it means that Christianity is about treading self-centeredness, selfishness, and self-love in the dust so that the glory of God would shine through. God’s glory does not dwell and shine through people who are full of self, but in people who are empty of self. God’s glory does not help people to some form of higher self-actualization or self-esteem, but that glory only dwells where it has no rivals for the glory.

One might wonder where all of this is going since we are ostensibly discussing justification and faith. One, I am trying to set out what the life of true Christianity is so that we can better see what flows from a justified believer. Two, I am trying to set out what true Christianity is so that we can see that the kind of salvation that flows through faith must in some way teach or inform us of what it takes to have true faith. If Christianity consists in the glory of God dwelling in a person through faith to the degree that self is trod in the dust, then saving faith must be something that is consistent with treading self in the dust as well. To put it another way, a faith that saves must be the same type of faith that is seen later on (Col 2:6). The kind of faith that is clearly consistent with Christianity in a mature believer is the kind of faith (though in a different degree) that God will use in order to justify a person.

A few weeks ago I tried to show that all men are born in sin and that means that humans are born in pride and full of confidence in themselves in one way or another. In order to trust Christ, therefore, a person must be brought to the point of not trusting in him or herself. This is exactly what David Brainerd appears to be teaching as well. The soul must be fully resigned to and content with God in order to be conformed to God. However, Ephesians shows us that the same thing is true regarding salvation. “That, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:22-24). This text shows that man is to lay aside the old self and put on the new self. One can easily see that one must put of the old self in order to put on the new self. The new self is created in “righteousness and holiness of the truth.”

Let us reflect back to the teaching of the new birth. A person must be born from above (again) in order to see or enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5). This new birth is described in Ephesians as being in God (or in the likeness of God) and being in righteousness and holiness of the truth. Now if the new birth in some way is of truth, then the old self of error and darkness must be done away with. If the new birth in some way is in righteousness, then in some way the old self that lives and loves unrighteousness (suppresses the truth in unrighteousness, Rom 1:18) must die to that unrighteousness. If the new birth includes holiness, then sinful actions which are non-holy must be in the process of being done away with.

It might be thought that teaching people that they should refrain from sin in seeking God is works. However, it is God using means to prevent the hardening of the heart in sin. Refraining from sin and non-holiness keeps the heart from greater hardness. A heart that is hardened in pride is the opposite of humility and faith. It should be imperative; then, that we tell people that to come to faith they must be humbled. Matthew 18:3 is so clear that a person must be turned and become like little children in order to enter the kingdom of God. The next verse (v. 4) tells us that the greatest in the kingdom is one who is humbled as “this child.” If a person must be turned and humbled in order to enter the kingdom which is by faith, then certainly a person must be humbled and turned in order to have faith. No one will ever have saving faith in Christ who has not been humbled from his pride and broken from his self-righteousness and independence. By simple definition faith cannot exist where pride reigns. Brokenness and humility must be in the heart where faith is found.

This may sound like this is putting something between sinners and Christ. No, it is removing something which is already there. Next week we will look at a statement of Brainerd’s that will shock most modern people of how a person must be utterly undone within himself in order to be saved. He sounds just like Luther. But back to this week where we have seen that true Christianity is really when the soul has given up on itself and is resigned to and content with God so that it may be conformed to Him. Yet this is all through faith. Humility is necessary for there to be growth in faith. We have also seen that a person that is born from above must be turned and humbled for this to happen. But again, a person is justified before faith. We must also note that pride and self-centeredness are the opposite of faith since faith is trusting in Christ. Can we honestly believe that a person can come to faith in Christ apart from being humbled and broken in heart? David Brainerd and Jonathan Edwards believed strongly that a man must be broken from himself before he could trust in Christ alone. The verses given above also teach that. If a person has to be humbled and broken from self in order to trust Christ, then we see that a person must be broken from self in order to see self as ungodly and not trust in the works of self (Rom 4:2-5). Can it be that Brainerd believed that a person must be humbled in the dust and broken from any work at all to be justified? Yes, that is what he believed. Is that works? No, it is God’s method of delivering us from trusting in works. God humbles the heart through means in order that it may be broken from trust in self and its works to trust Christ alone and so be justified by God.

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