Gospel of Grace Alone 32

Romans 4:16 For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,

Spurious repentance, the produce and expression of unbelief and self-righteousness, may be found previous to faith – just as all manner of evils abound in the soul before it believes. But when faith comes, it comes not as the result of this self-wrought repentance, – but in spite of it; and this so called repentance will be afterwards regarded by the believing soul as one of those self-righteous efforts, whose only tendency was to keep the sinner from the Savior. Horatius Bonar

Of course there is a spurious repentance and it comes from unbelief and self-righteousness, but this shows how men should be delivered from self-righteousness and the strength of self before they think they can believe. Anything that comes from the heart that is full of unbelief and self-righteousness will of course be the produce of pride and unbelief. But we must also beware that many people have a faith that is orthodox and moral and comes from a heart of pride and self-righteousness. Spurious repentance and spurious faith are common and all come from pride and unbelief. The unbelieving heart that thinks it believes can say that it believes by grace alone, which leaves people in a rather precarious position if one holds to the things Bonar does. How does one know if the “faith” that one has comes from self and unbelief or comes from a new heart?

The new heart is the key in this issue. Sinners should seek a new heart from God as it is the new heart that makes one a new creature and so one has a true and spiritual faith. Involved in this, if it can be spoken of in that way, is unity with Christ and the indwelling Christ. A true faith is not the same thing as simply believing certain facts as true, but it is what a person has that is united to Christ and has Christ living in him or her. The Scriptures do not give us instructions on how to see if we have faith, though it does tell us things that if we don’t have them we don’t have faith. But instead we are told to examine ourselves to see if Christ is in us and a whole book is written so that people can know if they have eternal life or not. Faith has one object and that is Christ. The whole job of faith, as seen from Romans 4:16 above, is to receive grace. The whole of the Gospel is by faith in order that it may be by grace. One huge issue with Bonar’s apparent position is that it rests upon a mere believing of the facts (though he would deny this elsewhere) as opposed to a belief that is given by grace alone and receives grace alone. Faith cannot see faith but instead it is to be fixed on Christ alone.

Bonar is worried that people will be deceived by a self-wrought repentance, but he does not seem as concerned about a self-wrought belief or faith. He is rightly concerned about that and is correct that a self-wrought repentance will later be seen by a believing soul as a self-righteous effort, but what if that person has a self-wrought belief? How will the person ever come to see that as a self-righteous effort? It seems to me that Bonar’s concern, and a right concern, is far more dangerous from his own position which leads people to a faith which comes from self-righteousness works hidden under the guise of orthodoxy. Bonar’s position does not allow for a true irresistible grace to work, but instead looks for an immediate faith which has all the dangers he is worried about when looking at other positions.

The Gospel of John has several people coming to a quick belief when they saw a miracle or simply believed what Christ had said. But if one traces out what happens to those groups of people, we will see that the vast majority of people who were said to have believed were later seen as lost. An immediate belief without the conviction of the Spirit and His humbling work in the soul is far more dangerous than the evangelistic practices of the Puritans and Edwards. An immediate belief that is joined to a moral life and an orthodox creed is far more dangerous than it is to be instructed to seek a new heart from God by grace alone. What Bonar thinks of a spurious repentance can simply be an unregenerate sinner being turned from his sin by the Spirit. The continuing repentance from outward sin to using the means of grace while seeking God for a new heart seems to have far less dangers than that of Bonar’s immediate belief system which is not biblical. The glorious Gospel of grace alone which starts the conversion of sinners by grace in convicting them of sin and humbling them before God is biblical.

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