Beware of One-Sided Truth

by Horatius Bonar

There are few things more dangerous or more likely to lead into open error. Take care, for instance, of misunderstanding what the Scripture says about the old man and the new man, the flesh and the spirit, and so making void your own personal responsibility for all you say and do, and also setting aside the necessity for the blood of Christ, as daily needed for our whole person, and the power of the Spirit, as needed constantly for our whole being, as long as we live.

Our Lord and His apostles use many figures to show the greatness of the change produced by being begotten again. They speak of this change as being an actual indwelling of Christ Himself personally. 'Christ in you, the hope of glory' (Col. 1:27); 'Christ liveth in me' (Gal. 2:20); that 'Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith' (Eph. 3:17). But this living and indwelling of Christ does not make us the same as Christ, or Christ the same as we; nor does it make the blood and the Spirit less necessary. It does not make Christ responsible for our sins, nor does it make us sinless. It does not lead us to say, You need not care what you do, for Christ dwells in you, and all you do is His doing. Again, on the other hand, Scripture speaks of our 'being in Christ' (2 Cor. 5:17; 1 Cor. 1:30). But our being in Christ does not mean that we (that is, our whole man, body, soul, and spirit) are actually put into Christ as water is put into a vessel. This would destroy the sense; and besides, it would either make us sinless, or it would make Christ the author of our sins, and the doer of all that we do. These figures do mean that there is such a wonderful nearness between Christ and us, such a living connection, that we receive His power and fulness; but they do not mean that we and Christ are no longer two persons, but one,—no longer two bodies, but one,—no longer two souls, but one. Again, in the Old Testament the Holy Spirit says, 'A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh' (Ezek. 36:26). This does not mean that an actual stone, whether of granite or marble, is taken out of us, and an actual piece of flesh (created in heaven) is inserted instead. Nor does it mean that the whole of our old nature is at once taken out of us, leaving no part behind, and that a complete new nature is substituted, so that there shall be absolutely nothing in us but what is perfect and divine. If this be the meaning of the figure, then every conversion must be the passing into instantaneous perfection, no fragment of the old nature being left behind, and no feature of the new nature being left unperfected or undeveloped. Thus there could be no conflict, no difficulty, no declension, no possibility of backsliding. The change thus figured to us is certainly a very great one, but it cannot mean the changing of one person into another, nor the transformation of a man into an angel. Again, our Lord says to Nicodemus, 'Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God' (John 3:3). Nicodemus took Him literally, and so destroyed the whole meaning of this divine symbol. Those in our day who maintain that actually and literally a new created thing is dropped into us at conversion, which they call the new man, are saying exactly what Nicodemus said, 'Can a man enter the second time into his mother's womb and be born?' The new birth does not mean a new person. Christ did not mean that Nicodemus was no longer to be Nicodemus, or that Peter was no longer to be Peter, after conversion; but that such a spiritual work was to take place as to change their whole spiritual nature and character, while leaving them still Nicodemus and Peter, with all their original and proper personalities and humanities. Our Lord does not say, Except a part of a man is born again; but, Except a man is born again. The change may not be perfect at first, but it affects the whole man: so that he cannot say of himself, A part of me is born again, and a part of me is not born again; but, I am born again. Connected with this there are the statements regarding the new creature: 'If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature' (or, 'there is a new creation'): 'old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new' (2 Cor. 5:17). It is not that a new creature has been put into a man, like new wine into old vessels; but the whole man is the new creature, and is regarded as such by God from the day of his being born again. That the transformation is perfect and complete from the outset, the figure does not imply; that it will one day be all that is thus symbolized, it assures us beyond a doubt. So with regard to the flesh and the spirit, the old man and the new. The flesh is the man (call him Peter or Paul), with the remnants of his former self about him; the spirit is the same man (it may be Peter or Paul), with the new life unfolding itself within him. The figure names two men, the old and the new; but we are not, like Nicodemus, to take the words in a carnal or ultra-literal sense; for, after all, the man is but one all the while. For thus the apostle speaks: 'I am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me' (Gal. 2:19, 20). He does not say here, My old man is dead, but, I myself am dead; not, My old man is crucified, but, I myself am crucified; and this same person (I myself) who is dead and crucified still liveth. He does not say, One section of me is dead, and another is living; but, I MYSELF am dead, and I myself am living: I, the same person, am both a dead and a living man. This is the real sense of the figure. This conflict, not between two persons, but between two parts (or conditions) of one person, is that which the apostle brings out in the 7th of the Romans: 'I was alive.… I died.… I am carnal, sold under sin.… That which I do I allow not: … what I would, that do I not; … what I hate, that do I.… In me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing: … to will is present with me; how to perform I find not.… The good that I would I do not: the evil which I would not, that I do.… It is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.… When I would do good, evil is present with me.… I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members.… Who shall deliver ME from the body of this death?' It is Paul himself, speaking for himself, speaking as one delighting in the law of God, that utters these strange things, these seeming contradictions. It is not a perfect part of Paul fighting against an imperfect part of Paul; but it is Paul himself fighting against Paul himself. The one Paul, the one person, has two conflicting elements within him, each striving for the mastery. 'The inward man,' says he, 'is renewed day by day' (2 Cor. 4:16). This process of daily renewal is that which goes on within him. The light and the darkness struggle together, but the light conquers, and shines more and more unto the perfect day.

Beware specially of this onesidedness in everything connected with Christ Himself. Faith connects us with the Person of Christ in all its parts and aspects. It connects us with the whole work of Christ from the cradle to the throne, from Bethlehem to the heaven of heavens. It connects us with His birth, His life, His death, His burial, His resurrection, His ascension and glory. Out of all these it draws life and strength. Life in a crucified Christ, life in a risen Christ, life in a glorified Christ,—this is the heritage of faith. Out of death, the death of that cross where He was crucified through weakness, come life and power to us; and down from the throne on which He now sits, the possessor and dispenser of that Spirit of promise, these same blessings come. In the cross is power. In the resurrection is power. In the throne of that glory there is power. It is as the glorified Christ (John 7:39) that He has received for us the Spirit with all His gifts (Ps. 68:18; Eph. 4:7–13). It is with the glorified Christ that we are linked by faith, for blessing, for power, for life, for consolation. 'Because I live, ye shall live also.'


From Follow the Lamb by Horatius Bonar

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