Justification 18, Humiliation 2

Last week we began looking at David Brainerd’s quote on the nature and necessity of a person’s being undone in himself which is necessary to a saving faith. As a reminder, we must remember that David Brainerd used these methods of evangelism as he went to unreached tribes of Native Americans. As he was close to death, he talked to many people who came to talk to him and it was in light of this that he discoursed on this subject repeatedly. Let us look at what this dying man thought was so vital to Christianity.

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)

If we take a man’s words as he is close to death and knows that he is close to death as those which he thinks are the most vital things, then we see what David Brainerd thought was the most vital thing for the Church. Notice that he also said that he “discoursed repeatedly” on this subject. In other words, this is what he wanted to talk about when people came to visit him. Over and over again he stressed this issue to those who came to see him for the last time as what he thought was most vital. Taking the statement as a whole, we can see that he believed that multitudes were perishing because they were taking up some self-righteous appearances of faith in Christ. Could this be what is happening today? Could it be that a vast number of people who are coming into the Church today are really taken up with some self-righteous appearance of faith? If people were deceived by the multitudes in Brainerd’s day, what are things like today?

Let us take a mind’s tour of evangelism and the doctrine of justification today. The doctrine of justification is hardly mentioned today and so clearly is grievously misunderstood. But if it is misunderstood, then the Gospel is misunderstood today as well. But there are teachings that are cropping up and sweeping many people away from any pretense to the truth. We have the New Perspective movement, the Auburn Avenue Theology group, the Emerging Church movement, and many others who wish to make justification out to be by baptism, works, or just plain being good. The Gospel is under siege by groups like those and others that want to distance themselves from theology and doctrine. However, if we are to look at what Brainerd says, then there is also a problem within orthodoxy.

Brainerd said that it was a “necessity” for a person to be utterly undone within himself because it “is necessary in order to a saving faith.” Can this possibly be true? Jesus said that a person must believe and that person would be saved. But Jesus also said that a person must be turned and become as a child in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1-4). Jesus also said that a person must be born from above in order to see and then enter the kingdom (John 3:3, 5). Jesus also taught that a person must repent or he would perish (Luke 13:1-5). Jesus taught multiple times that a person must deny himself in order to take up his cross and follow Christ (Luke 9:23-26) and even that one must hate his own life (Luke 14:25-33). Let us compare the teachings of Jesus with that of Brainerd.

Both Jesus and Brainerd taught that people must believe which is to have faith in order to be saved. However, people today do not think that Jesus taught that one must be undone within himself in order to be saved. But if we look at what true faith is and what accompanies it, things may appear different. What does it mean to be turned (passive) and become as a child in order to enter the kingdom? Does this contradict the other teachings of Christ where He said that men must believe? No, it shows what is necessary for true faith. For a man to believe in Christ alone without works that same man must be like a small child that receives all things without thinking that he is the one responsible for it. To be turned and to become as a small child defines one aspect of faith. Man must not be a proud person who seeks things only for himself, but is to be emptied of the pursuits of greatness. As the context teaches, the greatest is the most humble. Jesus gave this teaching when the disciples asked who the greatest was. First, you must be turned to be like a child to even enter. Then, the most humble is the greatest. Brainerd taught the same thing when he taught that a man must be emptied of himself and humbled in order to have faith.

Jesus taught that a man must repent or he would perish. Is faith something distinct from repentance or is repentance, as has been said before, the other side of the coin regarding faith? If one has faith, then one has repented. Yet, if one repents then one has faith. The essence of unbelief is pride and self-centeredness. To repent of unbelief is to turn from unbelief to belief. To repent of pride is to turn from pride to humility. To repent of self-centeredness is to repent of the idolatrous self and be turned to centeredness upon God. To be emptied of pride, then, is surely the self-emptiness and full conviction of being utterly undone that Brainerd talked about. What is this self-denial and hating of our own life if not some form of being emptied of self and being utterly undone within one’s self? As we look at the teachings of Jesus as a whole, He did teach that one must believe (have faith) in order to be saved. However, His teachings as a whole define and set out what that true faith is. David Brainerd was simply teaching what Jesus taught using different words. In order to have saving faith one must be humbled and broken from self-effort and pride. It is also true that a person must be broken from his own efforts at being broken from self-efforts and pride. These things come by grace in the Spirit working in the heart what is necessary for faith.

Let us look at the difference of how Brainerd (and Jesus) approached this with the way things are done in the modern day. The modern way of doing evangelism is to try to get a crowd by using virtually any means and then to give a short presentation or message and then ask for people to make a decision or to pray a prayer. The people are never really informed of anything regarding the doctrine of justification and are not really instructed about the cross or of imputed righteousness. They are not instructed of sin or of repentance which means that the nature of unbelief is not taught at all. Rather, people are simply told that Jesus died and all that they need to do is to pray a prayer and they will be saved. How does that fit with justification by faith alone without works? How does that fit with God justifying the ungodly and those who do not work for justification (Rom 4:2-6)? People are not even told enough about sin in order for people to know what they are saved from. They are not told that they are to be saved apart from anything they do and apart from their own strength in order that it may all be by grace. They are not told of what pride and unbelief really are and so how are they to repent of these things in truth?

The method that Brainerd used (and Jesus) was in accordance with justification. The doctrine of justification must inform us how to evangelize and what faith is as well as the nature of faith should inform us about justification. An evangelism that does not take the Gospel of justification by faith without works is not even a true evangelism since it does not demonstrate what a person is to be saved from and it certainly does not even tell of the Gospel or of what faith really is. In other words, we are living in a day in which the true Gospel has virtually been lost. The Gospel is a brilliant light that shines forth with the glory of God and saves sinners who cannot help themselves in any way. The Gospel is for those who are helpless apart from the life of God raising them from the dead. The Gospel is not about people making a choice to say a few words they call a prayer, the Gospel comes to those who are dead in sins and trespasses and tells them about how God saves sinners by justifying them by grace through faith apart from any works at all. If a person has not been emptied of self and of his own efforts, goodness, or works, he is not ready to believe the Gospel.

How many works can a sinner trust in that is declared just by God apart from works? If justification by faith apart from works is true, then we need to instruct sinners about how they should not trust in themselves or in anything they can do. It takes a full conviction that a person is utterly undone within himself in order to trust only in Christ. A heart that is full of pride and self is blinded to its pride and self by its own pride and self. It thinks that it can trust in Christ of itself. It thinks that it can empty self of enough self. It thinks that God would never send such a nice person to hell. The lost man never really sees just how lost he really is without understanding from the Word and the Spirit. The evangelism that does not take this into account is simply not teaching the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus taught that salvation is impossible for man (Luke 18:27) in response to the disciple’s question, “then who can be saved?” We would do well to understand that the Gospel should make men understand that it is impossible for them to be saved apart from the grace and only the grace of God found in Christ. They must understand that the Gospel is not about how they are to look to themselves, but how they are to be emptied of themselves in order to trust in Christ alone. That alone is consistent with the biblical teaching on justification.


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