Justification 17, Humiliation 1

Last week we looked at the idea that saving faith must be of the same kind (though not in strength) as the faith of a faithful and growing believer. We saw from David Brainerd “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.” A little later, Brainerd said that “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.” Now if true religion is seen in the person that is resigned to and contented with the divine will, then surely true saving faith must be in some way like that from the beginning. If that is correct, we must never think that saving faith is apart from turning from a trust in ourselves. This requires a humiliation of soul in which man is humbled to the point that he trusts in nothing of himself. This is required in order to trust in Christ and in Christ alone. This is not an intellectual only belief; this must come from the deepest part of man. There must be a deep humiliation of soul which is being utterly undone in regards to self.The next quote from Brainerd (as promised last week) shows that he firmly believed this. Remember, we are not departing from a discussion from justification at all. But while we are focusing on faith at the moment we are also trying to set out the nature of justification by looking at what faith really is. It is vital to understand something of the nature of faith if a person is declared just if and only if a person has true faith. We deny that a person is converted if a person is way off in his understanding of justification, but surely a person is also unconverted if he is way off with his understanding of faith that justifies. It is also true that a person must have a biblical view of faith in order to have a biblical view of justification. For example, we can imagine a person having a correct view of justification according to a creed. But we can also imagine that a person is so far off in his thinking on faith that of necessity he cannot understand justification in truth. This would be a person that believes that faith is something that he has to work up in order to be saved. He does not really see faith as a gift of God, but as something that is more like a work and he has to work it up himself. One can hold pretty close to an orthodox understanding of justification in a sense and still believe that faith is a work.

While Brainerd was in Boston close to death, he had many visitors that he discussed religion with. He was “peculiarly disposed and assisted in distinguishing between the true and false religion of the times.” His way of doing this is seen from his own words in what he said he discoursed about:

Especially, I discoursed repeatedly on the nature and necessity of that humiliation, self-emptiness, or full conviction of a person’s being utterly undone in himself, which is necessary in order to a saving faith, and the extreme difficulty of being brought to this; and the great danger there is of persons taking up with some self-righteous appearances of it. The danger of this I especially dwelt upon, being persuaded that multitudes perish in this hidden way; and because so little is said from most pulpits to discover any danger here; so that persons being never effectually brought to die in themselves are never truly united to Christ, and so perish. (1949 Moody edition of The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, p. 354)

The above statement is an indictment on our generation and our way of doing evangelism and that is an indictment on the way we treat justification by faith alone without works. A person must really and truly trust in Christ alone for justification and not in anything of himself. Yet in evangelism, which is necessarily connected with justification in reality, men are constantly told of what they must do without telling them that they must not trust in what they do in the slightest. Yet, we are told by many, that if we require people to be humbled and broken so that they will not trust in themselves, we are requiring works. Why is it that the same people who believe that faith is a gift of God think that humility and brokenness which are necessary for faith cannot be gifts of God? Doesn’t it make more sense to think that if faith is a gift of God then the brokenness and humility that precede faith are also His gifts? Pride and faith cannot go together, so if God gives faith as a gift then the humbling of the soul must also be His gift as well. Matthew 18:1-4 still stands firmly against all who would try to say that people do not need to be humbled in order to believe. That is like saying that a person can retain all of his pride and unbelief in his faith. Sorry, but Scripture says that God fights the proud but gives grace to the humble (I Peter 5:1-6). Part of God’s work in the soul to bring it to faith is His gracious work in humbling the soul of its pride that it may trust in Christ alone.

Before we deal with this quote from Brainerd, we must ask just how many people have agreed with him. The majority of Puritans believed it. It was the standard belief until the middle part of the 19th century. Jonathan Edwards was a big proponent of what Brainerd said as was Solomon Stoddard and the early preachers in New England like Thomas Hooker and Thomas Shepherd. Let us turn back to the quote from Brainerd. The first thing that we see here is that he spoke on the nature of “that humiliation, self- emptiness, or full conviction of a person’s being utterly undone in himself, which is necessary in order to a saving faith.” Surely he would have spoken of what those things are, but he also spoke of the necessity of those things as well. It is not just that those things were good and that believers were to obtain them at some point, but he said that these things were a “necessity” and that “which is necessary in order to a saving faith.” Either David Brainerd was wrong about this (as well as Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans) or modern evangelism and therefore the way of looking at justification has departed from the truth in this area.

Let us look at this yet another way. Let us imagine a man that has been evangelized and not told that he must be humbled, broken, and even convicted to the point of being utterly undone within himself. What will that man believe concerning justification? What does he believe about faith and the source of true faith? If he is not utterly undone within himself, he will believe (regardless of what he says) that it is coming from him and he will be right. He has yet to see anything in reality about the Gospel in its spiritual nature because he is still dead in sin and is an enemy of God. A self-centered person that is full of pride and a prideful person that is full of self will not believe the Gospel of the glory of God because he hates the glory of God that shines from the true Gospel. A prideful person that is told about the true Gospel will hate it. A person of necessity must be humbled in order to even see the nature of the Gospel itself. A person that is still full of pride and self cannot love God or anyone else further than his love for himself and that is not the love from God.

As we think of the person above meditating on justification, we cannot imagine that person understanding what it means to believe in Christ and Christ alone for salvation. God is the One who must raise sinners from the dead if they are going to be and give them life. God is the One who must humble the heart of proud sinners or they will never have true faith. God must break the hearts of the proud or those hearts will never trust Christ alone for justification. A proud and self-centered person will never trust Christ alone though he may adhere to the words of the doctrine. Can a person that is not totally undone within himself of himself trust in Christ alone and not himself? Surely that is nonsense. No one will ever truly trust in Christ alone for justification as long as he trusts in himself for something. Men and women will never love God as long as they are full of pride in their soul. No man will ever trust Christ alone for all things until he has been delivered from trust in himself for anything at all.

Let me be a little bold and controversial for just a moment. Are we preaching the Gospel of the glory of God in the face of Christ if we do not teach men that in order to trust in Christ alone they must be undone within themselves in order to be delivered from all trust and hope in self? Frankly, I don’t think we are. We can be as orthodox as a person can be in the doctrine of justification according to words and yet not be orthodox with our teachings that relate to justification. We must teach people that they must be humbled and broken in order to believe in Christ alone or it is likely that we are not teaching the people how to be justified by faith alone apart from works. The justification that is apart from works is apart from any work of man at all. A man that is not undone within himself through the humbling and breaking work that is done by the grace of God through the law is not believing in Christ apart from any and all of his own works.

My space is almost up, but we will continue this thought for a few more weeks. For the moment, however, I would like to focus on two parallel statements: 1. Justification by faith apart from any and all works of man. 2. A person being utterly undone in himself through humility and brokenness as necessary for true faith. As we look at these two statements, we can easily see the parallel. For a person to be truly justified that person must be justified apart from any and all works that he can do. However, until the person is delivered from his pride and self-sufficiency and is utterly undone in himself, he is not able to trust in Christ apart from any trust in himself. I believe with Brainerd that to really believe the Gospel of justification by faith alone one must be broken from the pride of self through humility and brokenness. Can it be any other way?

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