Justification 19, Humiliation 3

For the last two weeks we have been 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. David Brainerd used these methods as the basis of his evangelism and for determining true conversion 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. This week we want to look at the part of the statement where he says that there is an “extreme difficulty of being brought to this.” As a reminder, we are looking at justification as the big picture and are trying to see what the biblical teaching of faith will bring to light on this issue.

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 look at the New Testament and have it as our authority, we can know that salvation is far harder than many let on. True enough the New Testament teaches that the moment a person has faith that person has Christ and eternal life. But if a person must have humiliation, self-emptiness, and be utterly undone within himself in order to have faith, then the hard part is clear. Jesus taught that one must “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Here is a teaching that many in our day do not know what to do with other than dismiss it. There is a broad way that leads to destruction and there are many that enter through it. Surely, from the context, the majority of people go by the wide gate and the broad way. Whatever else the text teaches, it teaches us that people want the easy way to heaven, though in reality there is no easy way. Then the text teaches us that the gate to life is small and the way is narrow and there are few who find it. Who knows for sure the percentage of people today who have even a modicum of interest in true salvation, but among that percentage it is only a few who actually find it. Surely, then, Brainerd is correct when he says that it is only with extreme difficulty that people are brought to this.

Jesus also taught the same principle in another teaching just a few verses down from the text above. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'” (Matthew 7:22-23). Notice that there are many who will have the correct theology in some sense in that they called Jesus “Lord.” These people preached (prophesied) in His name. These people cast out demons and performed miracles. Yet, whatever else they did, they practiced lawlessness. One can even think of their very actions listed in the text (calling Jesus “Lord,” preaching, casting out demons and performing miracles) as also being lawlessness. This would line up with Isaiah 64:6 which tells us that even our righteous deeds are as filthy garments. Or, in the words of David Brainerd, they were not brought to the point of self-emptiness and the conviction of being utterly undone in themselves. They were simply going around doing these things and yet were not emptied of self.

We can see from another related teaching of Jesus that many people make concerted efforts to be saved. “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). Many will even seek and strive to enter, but they will not be able. Again, this points to the extreme difficulty of entering the kingdom. But, it might be argued, justification is by faith without works and so how can it be extremely difficult to enter the kingdom since it is all by Christ? That is a good point. However, let us listen to Jesus once more. “Then who can be saved? 26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:25-26). Salvation is not only difficult to obtain, but is impossible with human beings. Let those words sink into our ears as Jesus said about another of His teachings. Salvation is impossible for human beings.

The doctrine of justification by faith apart from works is not contrary to the teachings of Jesus. David Brainerd did not teach that we are saved by working hard, but that it is hard for a person to give up on self and trust in Christ alone. If I believe that it is my act of faith that saves me, then I have misunderstood the Gospel and have not been humbled, broken from self, and its strength and pride so that I may trust in Christ alone. The person that comes to Christ and trusts in Him alone must of necessity be one as described by Paul in Romans 4: “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works” (Rom 4:5-6). This text, then, sheds great light on the subject of the person that trusts in Christ alone. This person must be one that does not work at all for justification (v. 5).This person believes in God who justifies and does not trust in any work or works that he does or is capable of. This person is one that is ungodly in and of himself (v. 5). This person and this person alone is the one that God credits righteousness apart from works. Why is that? Because this person has no trust in his own work or works and does not trust in himself at all. In Brainerd’s words, this person has been brought to a full conviction that he is utterly undone in himself. This person is humbled and has reached the recognition of his own self-emptiness.

Now if it is true that a person must reach the point of humiliation and self-emptiness and being utterly undone within himself in order to have faith, then it is clear that a person must also reach that point in order to be justified. It is not a system of works that a person goes through to empty himself that saves, but it is the grace of God humbling a person and bringing the person to see how impossible salvation and justification are to his own efforts and works. It is God working to bring the person off of faith and trust in himself to a point where the person is able to trust in Christ alone. It is the teaching of Jesus in Luke 9:23-26 that anyone that wished to follow Him must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Him. One must deny self and the many facets of self in order to follow Christ. In other words, a person must desire to follow Christ badly enough to deny self. If a person really wants to follow Christ, self must be denied. This is simply another way to say what Brainerd has been saying.

But why is it so difficult to be brought to this? Why is there an extreme difficulty in this? Clearly, the self that must be denied is loved and pampered by many and so they will not deny self. The self that must be denied is the very self that is blinded by pride and the desire for honor. The self that must be denied is the very self that wants to exalt itself instead of deny itself. The self that must be denied is the very self that is at enmity with God and does not want to submit to Him in all things. The self that must be denied is the very self that thinks highly of itself and all of its own works. The self that must be denied is the very self that has a very strong sense of protection of self. When all of these things are looked at in this way, self is a very formidable foe and is incredibly tough to deny in all of its facets. Self hides itself even in good actions and even very religious actions. Self is hidden from itself by pride. Self does not see its own pride because of its pride. Self does not see anything wrong with itself and so does not want to admit the depths of ungodliness that is in the heart of self. Another way to look at it is that self does not want to put its eternal destiny entirely in the hands of God. That is against its independence, its pride, and its self-seeking ways in its own wisdom and strength.

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (I Cor 1:18-21). This text and the following text sets out the extreme difficulty of being brought to the point of being entirely undone within one’s own self. “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise” (I Cor 3:18). The major reason that this is impossible for man to do himself is because a proud man will not become foolish in the eyes of others in order to have true wisdom. Another main reason is that a proud and independent man will not become weak in order to have true strength. Man wants to do it himself or at least have something to do himself in order that he may have the smallest thing to boast about. But the Gospel leaves men with nothing to boast about other than the cross of Jesus Christ. Justification by faith without works requires a man to be emptied of himself which he cannot do. This is one reason why faith is the work of God and not man. Man cannot empty himself of self. Self-love will not cast out self-love. God must cast out self in order for there to be faith in Christ alone.

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