The Plan of Salvation - Part II (Autosoterism)
by Benjamin B. Warfield
THERE ARE fundamentally only two doctrines of salvation: that salvation is from God, and that salvation is from ourselves. The former is the doctrine of common Christianity; the latter is the doctrine of universal heathenism. "The principle of heathenism," remarks Dr. Herman Bavinek, "is, negatively, the denial of the true God, and of the gift of his grace; and, positively, the notion that salvation can be secured by man's own power and wisdom. 'Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven, and let us make us a name.' Gen. 11:4. Whether the works through which heathenism seeks the way of salvation bear a more ritual or a more ethical characteristic, whether they are of a more positive or of a more negative nature, in any case man remains his own saviour; all religions except the Christian are autosoteric. . . And philosophy has made no advance upon this: even Kant and Schopenhauer, who, with their eye on the inborn sinfulness of man recognize the necessity of a regeneration, come in the end to an appeal to the will, the wisdom and the power of man."
It was quite apposite, therefore, when Jerome pronounced Pelagianism, the first organized system of self-salvation taught in the Church, the "heresy of Pythagoras and Zeno." It was in effect the crystallization in Christian forms of the widely diffused Stoic ethics, by which the thought of men had been governed through the whole preceding history of the Church. Around the central principle of the plenary ability of the human will, held with complete confidence and proclaimed, not in the weak negative form that obligation is limited by ability, but in the exultant positive form that ability is fully competent to all obligation, Pelagius, no mean systematizer, built up a complete autosoteric system. On the one side this system was protected by the denial of any "fall" suffered by mankind in its first head, and accordingly of any entail of evil, whether of sin or mere weakness, derived from its past history. Every man is born in the same condition in which Adam was created; and every man continues throughout life in the same condition in which he is born. By his fall Adam at most has set us a bad example, which, however, we need not follow unless we choose; and our past sins, while of course we may be called to account for them and must endure righteous punishment on their account, cannot in any way abridge or contract our inherent power of doing what is right. "I say," declares Pelagius, "that man is able to be without sin, and that he is able to keep the commandments of God." And this ability remains intact after not only Adam's sin but any and every sin of our own. It is, says Julian of Eclanum, "just as complete after sins as it was before sins." At any moment he chooses, therefore, any man can cease all sinning and from that instant onward be and continue perfect. On the other hand, this round assertion of entire ability to fulfill every righteousness is protected by the denial of all "grace," in the sense of inward help from God. As such help from God is not needed, neither is it given; every man in the most absolute sense works out his own salvation: whether with fear and trembling or not, will depend solely on his particular temperament. To be sure the term grace" is too deeply imbedded in the Scriptural representations to be altogether discarded. The Pelagians therefore continued to employ it, but they explained it after a fashion which voided it of its Scriptural pregnancy. By "grace" they meant the fundamental endowment of man with his inalienable freedom of will, and along with that, the inducements which God has brought to bear on him to use his freedom for good.
The Pelagian scheme therefore embraces the following points. God has endowed man with an inalienable freedom of will, by virtue of which he is fully able to do all that can be required of him. To this great gift God has added the gifts of the law and the gospel to illuminate the way of righteousness and to persuade man to walk in it; and even the gift of Christ to supply an expiation for past sins for all who will do righteousness, and especially to set a good example. Those who, under these inducements and in the power of their ineradicable freedom, turn from their sins and do righteousness, will be accepted by the righteous God and rewarded according to their deeds.
This was the first purely autosoteric scheme published in the Church, and it is thoroughly typical of all that has succeeded it from that day to this.
In the providence of God the publication of this autosoteric scheme was met immediately by an equally clear and consistently worked-out assertion of the doctrine of "grace," so that the great conflict between grace and free will was fought out for the Church once for all in those opening years of the fifth century. The champion of grace in this controversy was Augustine, whose entire system revolved around the assertion of grace as the sole source of all good in man as truly and as completely as did that of Pelagius around the assertion of the plenary ability of the unaided will to work all righteousness. The reach of Augustine's assertion is fairly revealed by the demands of the Council of Carthage of A. D. 417-418, which refused to be satisfied by anything less than an unequivocal acknowledgment that "we are aided by the grace of God, through Christ, not only to know but also to do what is right, in each single act, so that without grace we are unable to have, think, speak, or do anything pertaining to piety." The opposition between the two systems was thus absolute. In the one, everything was attributed to man; in the other, everything was ascribed to God. In them, two religions, the only two possible religions at bottom, met in mortal combat: the religion of faith and the religion of works; the religion which despairs of self and casts all its hope on God the Saviour, and the religion which puts complete trust in self; or since religion is in its very nature utter dependence on God, religion in the purity of its conception and a mere quasi-religious moralism. The battle was sharp, but the issue was happily not doubtful. In the triumph of Augustinianism it was once for all settled that Christianity was to remain a religion, and a religion for sinful men, needing salvation, and not rot down into a mere ethical system, fitted only for the righteous who need no salvation.
But, as we have been told that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, so the Church soon found that religion itself can be retained only at the cost of perpetual struggle. Pelagianism died hard; or rather it did not die at all, but only retired more or less out of sight and bided its time; meanwhile vexing the Church with modified forms of itself, modified just enough to escape the letter of the Church's condemnation. Into the place of Pelagianism there stepped at once Semi-pelagianism; and when the controversy with Semi-pelagianism had been fought and won, into the place of Semi-pelagianism there stepped that semi-semi-pelagianism which the Council of Orange betrayed the Church into, the genius of an Aquinas systematized for her, and the Council of Trent finally fastened with rivets of iron upon that portion of the church which obeyed it. The necessity of grace had been acknowledged as the result of the Pelagian controversy: its preveniency, as the result of the Semi-pelagian controversy: but its certain efficacy, its "irresistibility" men call it, was by the fatal compromise of Orange denied, and thus the conquering march of Augustinianism was checked and the pure confession of salvation by grace alone made forever impossible within that section of the Church whose proud boast is that it is semper eadem. It was no longer legally possible, indeed, within the limits of the Church to ascribe to man, with the Pelagian, the whole of salvation; nor even, with the Semi- pelagian, the initiation of salvation. But neither was it any longer legally possible to ascribe salvation so entirely to the grace of God that it could complete itself without the aid of the discredited human will-its aid only as empowered and moved by prevenient grace indeed, but not effectually moved, so that it could not hold back and defeat the operations of saving grace.
The gravitation of this Synergistic system is obviously downward, and therefore we cannot be surprised to learn that it easily fell away into that express Semi-pelagianism which, despite its official condemnation by the Church, seems to have formed the practical faith of most men throughout the Middle Ages, and in which the determining act in salvation is assigned, not to the grace of God conveying salvation, but to the consent of the will, giving to the almighty grace of God its efficacy. Here is a work-salvation as truly though not as grossly as in pure Pelagianism itself; and accordingly, throughout the Middle Ages, Legalism reigned supreme, a legalism which wrought precisely the same effects as are so vividly described by Heinrich Weinel, as manifesting themselves in the Jewish circles from which the Apostle Paul sprung. "He only can be happy under a dispensation of law," says Weinel, "who can live a life-long lie. . . . But proud, downright, consistent natures cannot be put off with a lie. If they are unable to resist, they die of the lie; if they are strong, it is the lie that dies. The lie inherent in the law was the presumption that it could be fulfilled. Every one of Paul's associates understood that the commandment could not be kept, but they did not own it to themselves. The elder behaved in presence of the younger as if it could be kept; one believed it on the strength of another, and did not acknowledge the impossibility to himself. They blinded themselves to their own sin by comparing themselves with other just men, and had recourse to remote ages to Enoch and Noah and Daniel, in order to produce advocates for their souls. They hoped God would allow the good works of the saints to cover their deficiencies, and they did not forget occasionally to pray for mercy, yet, on the whole they kept up the lie and went on as if they were well."
This is a true picture of the Middle Ages. Men knew very well that they could not earn for themselves salvation even under the incitement of the grace of God; they knew very well that they failed in their "good works," at every stage; and yet they kept the ghastly fiction up. Were there no strong men "to kill the lie"? Strong men rose here and there, a Gottschalk in the ninth century, a Bradwardine, a Wyclif in the fourteenth, a Huss in the fifteenth, a belated Jansen in the seventeenth; but, despite their protests, the lie still lived on until at last the really strong man came in Martin Luther, and the lie died. The Augustianianism that had been repressed in the Church of Rome could not be suppressed. The Church had bound itself in that it might not contain it. There was nothing for it then but that it should burst the bounds of the Church and flow out from it. The explosion came in what we call the Reformation. For the Reformation is nothing other than Augustianianism come to its rights: the turning away from all that is human to rest on God alone for salvation.
Accordingly, nothing is more fundamental in the doctrine of the Reformers than the complete inability of man and his absolute need of divine grace;" and against nothing do the Reformers set their faces more firmly than the ascription to man of native power to good. To Luther, Pelagianism was the heresy of heresies, from the religious point of view equivalent to unbelief, from the ethical point of view to mere egotism. It was "for him the comprehensive term for all that which he particularly wishes to assault in the Catholic Church." His treatise De Servo Arbitrio written against Erasmus' Pelagianising exaltation of human ability, was esteemed by him the only one of his books, except the Catechism, in which he could find nothing to correct. "As to the doctrine of free will as preached before Luther and other Reformers appeared," writes Calvin, "What effect could it have but to fill men with an overweening opinion of their own virtue, swelling them out with vanity, and leaving no room for the grace and assistance of the Holy Spirit." "When we tell a man," he writes again, "to seek righteousness and life outside of himself, that is in Christ only, because he has nothing in himself but sin and death, a controversy immediately arises with reference to the freedom and power of the will. For if man has any ability of his own to serve God, he does not obtain salvation entirely by the grace of Christ, but in part bestows it on himself. Though we deny not that man acts spontaneously and of free will when he is guided by the Holy Spirit, we maintain that his whole nature is so imbued with depravity that of himself, he possesses no ability to act aright."
It was not long, however, before, even in these circles of realized Augustinianism, in which the ascription of salvation to God alone was something like a passion, the old leaven of self-salvation began to work again. It was in no less a person than Philip Melanchthon that this new "falling from grace entered into the thought of the Reformation, though in his teaching it made but little progress. Three periods are distinguishable in the development of his doctrine. In the first of these he was as pure an Augustinian as Luther or Calvin himself. In the second, commencing in 1527, he begins to go to school to Aristotle in his general doctrine of the will. In the third, from 1532 on, he allows the will of man, though only as a purely formal power, some place in the very process of salvation: it can put the spiritual affections created solely by the Holy Spirit in chains or on the throne. From this beginning, synergism rapidly took form in the Lutheran Church. It met with opposition, it is true: the old Lutherans, an Amsdorf, a Flacius, a Wigand, a Brenz were all fully convinced Augustinians. But the opposition was not as hearty as it might have been had the controversy with the Calvinists not been at its height. Even Brenz permitted Strigel to taunt him at the Weimar Disputation with his predestinationism, without boldly taking the offensive. And so Andrea could corrupt Luther's doctrine at the Conference at Mompelgard, 1586, without rebuke; Aegidius Hunnius could teach openly the resistibility of grace; and John Gerhard could condition election on the foresight of faith. When Melanchthon toyed with such ambiguous phrases as "God draws the willing to him," "Free will is man's power to apply himself to grace, he was playing with fire. A hundred years later the Saxon theologians, Hoe van Hohenegg and Polycarp Leyser at the Leipzig Conference of March 1631 could confidently present as Lutheran doctrine the declaration that "God certainly chose us out of grace in Christ; but this took place according to his foresight of who would truly and constantly believe in Christ; and whom God foresaw that they would believe, those he predestined and elected to make blessed and glorious." The wonder-working grace of God which raises the dead that Luther so passionately proclaimed, was now put wholly at the disposal of that will of man which Luther declared to be utterly enslaved to sin and capable of moving in good part only as it is carried along and borne forward by grace.
Nor have things bettered with the passage of the years. It is one of the best esteemed Lutheran teachers of our own day Wilhelm Schmidt, Professor of Theology at Breslau, who tells us that "the divine purpose and love is able to realize itself only with and very precisely through the will of the being to whom it is directed;" and "in one word there exists over against God's holy decrees a freedom established by himself, against which they are often enough shattered, and may indeed in every individual case be shattered." Accordingly he is not content to reject the praedestinatio stricte dicta of the Calvin- ists, but equally repudiates the praedestinatio late dicta of the old Lutheran divines, that teaches a decree of God by which all men are designated to salvation by an antecedent will, while by a consequent will all those are set apart and ordained to salvation, who, God foresees, "will finally believe in Christ." For, says he, "with the divine, that is to say, the infallible foresight of them, the decisions of man cease to be free." Thus not only is the divine predestination but also the divine foresight sacrificed on the altar of human freedom, and the conclusion of the whole matter is enunciated in the words: "All men are, so far as concerns God, written in the Book of Life (benevolentia universalis) but who of them all stays written in it, is finally determined only at the end of the day." The result cannot be known beforehand, even by God. It is not enough that redemption should engage the will, so that we may say that there is no redemption "except the sinner very energetically cooperate with it," even if this be interpreted to mean, "permits himself to be redeemed. "We must go on and say that "redemption must fail of its end and remain without effect, however much the divine will of love and counsel of salvation might wish otherwise, if effect is not given it by man's inwardly bringing it to pass that, out of his own initiative, he grasps the rescuing hand and does repentance, breaks with his sin and leads a righteous life. "When Schmidt comes, therefore to speak of the Application of Salvation by the Holy Spirit, he is explicit in denying to the Holy Spirit any power to produce salvation in an unwilling soul. "Even the Holy Spirit," he tells us, "can in the presence of the free will that belongs to man as such by nature, compel no one to accept salvation. Even he can accomplish his saving purpose with us only if we do not obstruct, do not withdraw from, do not oppose his work for us. All this stands in our power and he is helpless (ohnmachtig) with respect to it if we misuse it. . . . He who wills not to be saved cannot be helped even by the Holy Spirit.
Self-assertion could scarcely go further; not even in those perhaps stirring but certainly somewhat blustering verses by W. E. Henley:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever Gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of may soul.
This is of course Pelagianism unashamed-unless we should prefer to call it sheer heathenism. And yet it is cited with warm approval by an esteemed minister of the Church of Scotland, writing in quite its spirit on the great subject of "Election." He uses it indeed immediately to support a cheerful assertion of the fundamental Pelagian principle that ability limits obligation: "That conscious life which speaks saying, 'Thou oughtest,' wakes a no less certain echo within, which says, 'Because I ought I can.' That 'can' abides forever, however enfeebled it may become. "Pelagius could ask nothing more.
It may be inferred from such a phenomenon as that which has been mentioned that the Reformed Churches, though retaining their Augustinian confession as the Lutheran could not, and sloughing off the Arminian Semi-pelagianism which rose in the early seventeenth century to vex them as the Lutherans could not their synergism, have yet in our own day become honeycombed with the same Pelagianizing conceptions. This is so far true that we are met on all hands to-day, even in the Reformed Churches, with the most unmeasured assertions of human independence, and of the uncontrollableness and indeed absolute unpredictableness of the action of the human will. The extremes to which this can go are fairly illustrated by certain, no doubt somewhat incidental, remarks made by Dr. David W. Forrest in the unhappy book which he calls, certainly very misleadingly, "The Authority of Christ" (1906). In his hands human freedom has grown so all-powerful as fairly to abolish not only the common principles of evangelical religion but all faith in divine providence itself. He has adopted in effect a view of free agency which reserves to man complete independence and excludes all divine control or even foresight of human action. Unable to govern the acts of free agents, God is reduced to the necessity of constantly adjusting himself to them. Accordingly God has to accept in his universe much that he would much prefer should not be there. There is, for example, the whole sphere of the accidental. If we cooperate with others in dangerous employments, or, say, go out seeking pleasure with a shooting party, we may be killed by an unskillful act of a fellow workman or by the random shot of a careless marksman. God is helpless in the matter, and there will be no use in appealing to him with regard to it. For, says
Dr. Forrest, God could only prevent the bad workman or marksman from causing death to others by depriving him of his freedom to shape his own course. There is in a word no providential control whatever of the acts of free agents. Accordingly, Dr. Forrest tells us, a wise man will not be surprised that tragic cruelties should occur in the world, which seem almost un-alleviatedly wrong: "he will recognize the possibilities of man's freedom in defying God's will, both by the infliction of suffering and by the refusal to be taught by suffering." Nor can God's grace intervene to cure the defects of his providence. Human free will interposes an effectual barrier to the working of his grace; and God has no power to overcome the opposition of the human heart. "There is no barrier to the entrance of the Holy Spirit into the heart," remarks Dr. Forrest with the air of making a great confession, "except that created by the refusal of the heart to welcome him," obviously only another way of saying that the heart's refusal is an insuperable barrier to the entrance of the Holy Spirit into it. Accordingly, the progress of his kingdom in the world could not be forecast in its details by our Lord, but lay in his mind only as outlined in its general features. "He saw," says Dr. Forrest, "that 'conversion' had its human factor as well as its divine; and that the mighty works of God might be rendered impossible by man's perversities of unbelief. Hence the detailed course of the kingdom in the world was an inscrutable thing. . . . "Even in the Church itself the divine purpose may fail, despite the presence in the Church of the Spirit of God promised to it: for, though the Spirit will not fail to guide the Church, the Church may fail to "fulfill the conditions under which it could avail itself of the Spirit's guidance. "So zealous, in a word, is Dr. Forrest to emanci- pate man from the dominion of God that he goes near to placing God under the dominion of man. The world God has created has escaped beyond its tether; there is nothing for God to do but to accept it as he finds it and adjust himself as best he may to it. It was told to Thomas Carlyle once that Margaret Fuller had announced in her solemn way, "I accept the universe," "Gad, she'd better," was the simple comment of the sage. Is the Lord God Almighty in the same case?
If this be in any degree the case with God, why, of course there can be no talk of God's saving man. If man is to be saved at all, though it is questionable whether "saving" is the right word to use here, it is clear that he must "save" himself. If we can still speak of a plan of salvation on God's part, that plan must be reduced just to keeping the way of salvation open, that man, who is the master of his own destiny, may meet with no hindrance when he chooses to walk in it. In very truth, this is the conception of "salvation" which in the widest circles is now confidently proclaimed. This is the hinge, indeed, on which turns the entire thought of that New Protes- tantism which has arisen in our day, repudiating the Reforma tion and all its works as mere medievalism, and attaching itself rather to the Enlightenment, as the birth of a new world, a new world in which rules just Man, the Lord of all. "Rationalism" we have been accustomed to call the whole movement, and as phase of it follows phase of it, in the Rationalismus Vulgaris of Wegscheider, we will say; in Kant and his followers; in the post-Kantian Schools; and now in our "New Protestantism" we must at least accord it the praise of breeding marvelously true to type.
Profound thinkers like Kant and perhaps we may say, even more, spiritually minded thinkers like Rudolf Eucken, may be incapable of the shallow estimate of human nature which sees in it nothing but good. But even the perception of the radical evil of human nature cannot deliver them out of the fixed circle of thought which asserts human ability for the whole sphere of human obligation, however that ability be construed. "How it is possible for a naturally bad man to make himself a good" man, exclaims Kant; "entirely baffles our thought, for how can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit?" But he is, despite the perceived impossibility of it, able to rest in the solution, or rather no solution, of the weak, "It must be possible for us to become better, even if that which we are able to do should be of itself insufficient, and all that we could do was to make ourselves receptive for a higher assistance of an inscrutable kind. "Beyond a similar appeal to an inscrutable mystical power flowing through the life of the man who strives to help himself, even a Rudolf Eucken does not get. And so our most modern thought only reproduces the ancient Pelagianism, with a less profound sense of the guilt and a little deeper sense of the difficulties which evil has brought upon man. Of expiation it will hear nothing; and while it makes a place for aid, it must be an aid which flows into the soul in response to and along the lines of its own creative efforts.
Outside the deeper philosophies even this falls away, and the shallowest forms of Pelagianism stalk abroad with utter freedom from all sense of insufficiency. The most characteris- tic expression of this general point of view is given, perhaps, in the current adduction of the parable of the Prodigal Son as embodying not merely the essence but the entirety of the gospel. Precious as this parable is for its great message that there is joy in heaven over one sinner that repents, when it is perverted from the purpose for which it was spoken and made to stand for the whole gospel (corruptio optimi pessima), it becomes the instrument for tearing down the entire fabric of Christianity. There is no atonement in this parable, and indeed no Christ in even the most attenuated function which could possibly be ascribed to a Christ. There is no creative grace in this parable; and indeed no Holy Spirit in any operation the most ineffective that could be attributed to him. There is no seeking love of God in this parable: the father in the parable pays absolutely no attention to his errant son, just lets him alone, and apparently feels no concern about him. Considered as a pictorial representation of the gospel, its teaching is just this, and nothing more: that when anyone, altogether of his own motion, chooses to get up and go back to God, he will be received with acclamation. It is certainly a very flattering gospel. It is flattering to be told that we can get up and go to God whenever we choose, and that nobody is going to pester us about it. It is flattering to be told that when we choose to go back to God we can command a handsome reception, and no questions asked. But is this the gospel of Jesus Christ? Is the whole teaching of Jesus Christ summed up in this: that the gates of heaven stand open and anybody can go in whenever he pleases? That is, however, what the entire body of modern Liberal theologians tell us: our Harnacks and Boussets and their innumerable disciples and imitators.
"Innumerable" disciples and imitators, I say: for surely this teaching has overspread the world. We are told by Erich Schader that during his professorial life no student has ever come before him on the mind of whom the presentation of the two parables of the Pharisee and the Publican praying in the temple and of the Lost Son, in the sense that the forgiveness of God is conditioned by nothing and no atonement is needed, has not made for a longer or shorter time a great and deep impression. It is a Pelagianism, you see, which out-pelagianizes Pelagius. For Pelagius had some recognition of the guilt of sin, and gave some acknowledgement of the atoning work of Christ in making expiation for this guilt. And this theology does neither. With no real sense of guilt, and without the least feeling for the disabilities which come from sin, it complacently puts God's forgiveness at the disposal of whosoever will deign to take it from his hands. The view of God which is involved, some one has not inaptly if a little bitingly called "the domestic animal conception of God." As you keep sheep to give you wool, and cows to give you milk, so you keep God to give you forgiveness. What is meant is grimly illustrated by the story of poor Heinrich Heine, writhing on his bed of agony, who, asked by an officious visitor if he had hope of the forgiveness of his sins, replied with a glance upwards of mocking bitterness," Why, yes, certainly: that's what God is for." That's what God is for! It is thus that our modern Liberal theology thinks of God. He has but one function and comes into contact with man at but one point: he exists to forgive sins.
In somewhat the same spirit we hear ringing up and down the land the passionate proclamation of what its adherents love to call a "whosoever will gospel." It is no doubt the univer- sality of the gospel-offer which is intended to be emphasized. But do we not shoot beyond the mark when we seem to hang salvation purely on the human will? And should we not stop to consider that, if so we seem to open salvation to "whosoever will" on the one hand, on the other we open it only to "whosoever will"? And who, in this world of death and sin, I do not say merely will, but can, will the good? Is it not forever true that grapes are not gathered from thorns, nor figs from thistles; that it is only the good tree which brings forth good fruit while the evil tree brings forth always and everywhere only evil fruit? It is not only Hannah More's Black Giles the Poacher who may haply "find it difficult to repent when he will." It is useless to talk of salvation being for "whosoever will" in a world of universal "won't." Here is the real point of difficulty: how, where, can we obtain the will? Let others rejoice in a "whosoever will gospel": for the sinner who knows himself to be a sinner, and knows what it is to be a sinner, only a "God will" gospel will suffice. If the gospel is to be committed to the dead wills of sinful men, and there is nothing above and beyond, who then can be saved?
As a recent writer, who makes no great claims to special orthodoxy but has some philosophical insight points out, "the self that is to determine is the same as the self that is to be determined"; "the self which according to Pelagius is to make one good is the bad self that needs to be made good." "The disease is in the will, not in some part of ourselves other than the will which the will can control. How can the diseased will provide the cure?" "The seat of the problem is our wills; we could be good if we would, but we won't; and we can't begin to will it, unless we will so to begin, that is, unless we already will it. 'Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank my God through Jesus Christ our Lord.' I am told to repent if I would be forgiven; but how can I repent? I only do what is wrong because I like it, and I can't stop liking it or like something else better because I am told to do so, nor even because it is proved that it would be better for me. If I am to be changed, something must lay hold of me and change me. " "Can peach renew lost bloom?" asks Christina G. Rossetti, more poetically, but with the same pungent point:
Can peach renew lost bloom,
Or violet lost perfume,
Or sullied snow tum white as over-night?
Man cannot compass it, yet never fear;
The leper Naaman
Shows what God will and can.
God who worked then is working here;
Wherefore let shame, not gloom, betinge thy brow.
God who worked then is working now.
It is only in the loving omnipotence and omnipotent love of God that a sinner can trust. "Christ" cries Charles H. Spurgeon, "is not 'mighty to save' those who repent, but is able to make men repent. He will carry those to heaven who believe; but he is moreover mighty to give men new hearts, and to work faith in them. He is mighty to make the man who hates holiness, love it, and to constrain the despiser of his name to bend the knee before him. Nay, this is not all the meaning, for the divine power is equally seen in the after- work. . . . He is mighty to keep his people holy after he has made them so, and to preserve them in fear and love, until he consummates their spiritual existence in heaven."
If it were not so, the case of the sinner were desperate. It is only in almighty
grace that a sinner can hope; for it is only almighty grace that can raise the
dead. What boots it to send the trumpeter crying amid the serried ranks of the
dead: "The gates of heaven stand open: whosoever will may enter in"?
The real question which presses is, Who will make these dry bones live? As over
against all teaching that would tempt man to trust in himself for any, even
the smallest part, of his salvation, Christianity casts him utterly on God.
It is God and God alone who saves, and that in every element of the saving process.
"If there be but one stitch," says Spurgeon aptly, "in the celestial
garment of our righteousness which we ourselves are to put in, we are lost."