2. Wherever saving faith is, it will show itself by leading the believer to an approbation of the whole law of God, not only as holy, just and spiritual, but as good. A stranger to the faith of God’s elect may approve of some of the commands of God. A temperate man may applaud highly the law that forbids drunkenness; the miser may approve the law that forbids prodigality. In a word, everyone may approve such precepts as do not strike against his own particular sin or sins, but the believer approves the whole revelation of God’s will concerning man’s holiness and obedience.
An unbeliever may be induced to own the law to be spiritual, just and holy. But never can he, nor will he, be induced practically to own it as good. It is only faith that can say that His commandments are not grievous, for “the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be”. The light of nature may oblige men to judge such and such things lawful or unlawful, just or unjust; but the unrenewed will can never be induced to bend towards the law of God as that which is good. Whatever it may be said to do as to some of God’s commands, yet it never can have an equal respect to them all; for an unrenewed will is not subject, nor can be subject, to the law of God.
It is faith that receives Christ as a King, and so subjects the soul to all His laws. It receives Him as the King of Salem, the King of peace, one that has framed all His laws so that they all concur to promote that great end of government, the peace of His subjects. And this engages the soul to love the law of the Lord and to delight in it. “O how love I thy law!” says the Psalmist, “It is my meditation all the day” (Ps 119:97). The righteous man’s “delight is in the law of the Lord” (Ps 1:2). And it is only the righteous man who can delight in the law of the Lord, for if we speak strictly, the ungodly, the unbeliever, cannot delight in or approve of any of God’s laws. Sometimes indeed, as has been said, the unrenewed man may reflect with delight on some of God’s precepts, but he has no regard to them as such. It is the things enjoined that pleases him rather than the precept enjoining them. It is not the congruity of the thing to the divine will, but to his own inclination, that gains his approbation.
Now what do you say to this evidence? Can you say that you approve of, and consent cheerfully to, the whole revelation of God’s will concerning that holiness and obedience which He requires of us in Scripture? Such as do indeed approve thus of the law of God may be perplexed about it, while others, who are alienated from the life of God, will boldly pretend unto it. To these bold pretenders I shall only say that, if they wilfully deceive themselves, they will one day smart for their folly. And if they hold fast this mistake, it will issue in another, irrecoverable one; it will make them stumble into hell instead of going to heaven. As for such who know not well whether they do thus approve of the law of God or not, I shall endeavour their relief by mentioning some of the ordinary ways whereby the soul is wont to express or discover its approbation of the whole of that obedience and holiness which God requires of us, even while it is at the lowest ebb of strength and comfort.
(1.) The believing soul looks at that change of its nature, and its renovation into a conformity to the law of God, with unspeakable satisfaction. None doubt, who know anything of the gospel, that all believers are renewed and changed, born again of water and the Spirit, renewed after the image of God, being created again in Christ Jesus to good works (Eph 2:10). I do moreover suppose that all who have undergone this change since they came to years are in some measure conscious of it. I do not say that everyone can see distinctly all the characteristics of the new creature, every particular law written upon the heart, or that everyone can even see so much of this change – can know its renovation so far – as to be sure he is a new creature, created in Christ Jesus to good works. But few if any of the persons named will be found who cannot say, and who do not say, that once they had no liking to holiness or to the law of God, but had an aversion from conformity to it; but now, if they see no more, yet they see a desire of being universally holy and they have no quarrel at it. Thus far they see and know. Now this change is satisfying, in some measure, to the believing soul; it looks back with delight to it and thereby discerns its love to the revelation of God’s will concerning holiness.
(2.) The believing soul discerns its liking to the law of God by cherishing and entertaining the motions that it finds in itself towards this law. In the renovation of our natures, we are made partakers of the divine nature: we have a principle of life, a new heart, implanted in us. And this, though it be not always discernible, yet is ever acting and exerting its power in motions and inclinations toward the law of God, and obedience thereto. Every believer cannot but feel these in himself if he observe carefully. Now the believing soul entertains and cherishes these and takes a peculiar delight in so doing; he has peace and rest while he does so, whereas he has none when he does otherwise. “Great peace have they which love Thy law.”
(3.) The believer finds particular satisfaction in such acts of obedience as carry in them any good degree of conformity to the law of God. When a believer attains to liveliness, spirituality and concern, joined with self-denial and dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ for acceptance in any duty or act of obedience, then he is pleased therewith. And herein he discovers a great love to the law, respecting both the matter and manner of the duty performed.
(4.) The believer discovers his delight in the law of the Lord by that sweet complacency and satisfaction which he will find in whatever measure of this holiness others have attained to. Faith looks at the holiness required by the law transcribed into the lives of fellow believers, and is highly pleased therewith. And the more of it that is transcribed into the walk and life of anyone, the higher value it will teach us to put upon them. It makes us look on such as have anything of this image of God as excellent and happy. If the believer cannot see himself conformed to this law, yet he is pleased to see others so conformed, and looks upon them as the excellent ones of the earth. If he cannot get his own heart so engaged as he would wish, yet he will look upon them as happy in whose hearts are the ways of God. This is a clear proof of the believer being pleased with, and delighting in, the revelation of the will of God concerning man’s holiness, when he is delighted with the picture of it, whenever he sees it, in himself or others.
(5.) The believer discovers his liking to God’s law, which enjoins holiness, in not entertaining the least dislike of it, even when he is under the greatest temptations to do so. When he falls under apprehensions that he shall be ruined for want of a due compliance with the law, he may well be displeased with himself, but he will not be so with the commandment. “The commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death . . . [but] the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rom 7:10-12). However it be with me, whatever becomes of me, though I die and perish, yet the law is good. The soul under the conduct of faith, though it cannot reach a full compliance with the will of God, it dislikes nothing in it. Though the law enjoins duties cross to its natural inclinations, attended with great difficulties and interfering with interests in the world – yea, and such as expose to great hazards – it will entertain no dislike of anything in this good law, or desire to have any alteration or abatement. Itself it would have changed and brought to a compliance with the will of God, but never will it desire any alteration in the law. It may sometimes desire some alteration in God’s providential disposal of its concerns, but as to the commands which respect our holiness and obedience, it wishes no change. And this is a sure proof of its high esteem of the law.
(6.) The soul that is under the conduct of faith will evidence its satisfaction with the law by its displeasure with itself upon every occasion wherein there is any new discovery of its own lack of conformity to the law in any notable instance. No sooner does it come to understand that it has fallen short of conformity to, or swerved from, the law in any notable instance, but it is filled with self-abhorrence. Holiness it would be clothed with, and likes; and therefore, when it gets a view of itself without holiness, in any eminent measure, it cannot be reconciled to itself.
(7.) Faith shows its approbation of the law by filling the soul with desires and longings after conformity to the law. It puts that prayer of the Psalmist in the soul’s mouth: “O that my ways were directed to keep Thy statutes” (Ps 119:5). That Psalm is full of such desires, which are so many illustrious proofs of the Psalmist’s faith.
(8.) To conclude, the soul under the conduct of faith shows its approbation of, and satisfaction with, the whole revelation of the will of God concerning that holiness He requires of man by refusing to be satisfied with any condition wherein it falls short of a full conformity to it. Tell such a soul that God is reconciled to it – nay, though God himself intimate to the believer’s soul that He is reconciled to him, that He has forgiven his sins, that He means to take him to heaven, that it shall pass the power of devils or men to disappoint him of heaven – yet all this will not make him satisfied till he obtain a full conformity to the law of God. The believer says with Haman in another case, “All this availeth me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai” (Est 5:13) – so long as I see any sin, nothing can satisfy fully. “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” (Ps 17:15). Never will I be satisfied till I be like Thee, says the believing soul. Now if you can say, that you do thus approve the whole revelation of the will of God concerning duty, then you do believe. If not, you do not believe.
1. A further slightly-edited extract from Faith and Salvation, volume 2 of the current edition of Halyburton’s Works. In this extract he gives his second mark of saving grace. The previous extract appeared last month.
This article is part 3 of a 3 part series