You are here

Part II: The Service of God

Lecture XI: The Real Christian Life

(Art. 13)

Sa that the cause of gude warkis, we confesse to be not our free wil, bot the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, who dwelling in our hearts be trewe faith, bringis furth sik warkis, as God hes prepared for us to walke in. For this wee maist boldelie affirme, that blasphemy it is to say, that Christ abydes in the heartes of sik, as in whome there is no spirite of sanctification. And therefore we feir not to affirme, that murtherers, oppressers, cruell persecuters, adulterers, huremongers, filthy persouns, Idolaters, drunkards, thieves, and al workers of iniquity, have nether trew faith, nether ony portion of the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, so long as obstinatlie they continew in their wickednes. For how soone that ever the Spirit of the Lord Jesus, quhilk Gods elect children receive be trew faith, taks possession in the heart of ony man, so soone dois he regenerate and renew the same man. So that he beginnis to hait that quhilk before he loved, and begins to love that quhilk befoir he hated; and fra thine cummis that continuall battell, quhilk is betwixt the flesh and the Spirit in Gods children, till the flesh and natural man, according to the awin corruption, lustes for things pleisand and delectable unto the self, and grudges in adversity, is lyfted up in prosperity, and at every moment is prone and reddie to offend the majestie of God. Bot the spirite of God, quhilk gives witnessing to our spirite, that we are the sonnes of God, makis us to resist filthie plesures, and to groane in Gods presence, for deliverance fra this bondage of corruption; and finally to triumph over sin, that it reygne not in our mortal bodyis. This battell hes not the carnal men, being destitute of Gods Spirite, bot dois followe and obey sinne with greedines, and without repentance, even as the Devill, and their corrupt lustes do prick them. Bot the sonnes of God, as before wes said, dois fecht against sinne; dois sob and murne, when they perceive themselves tempted in iniquitie; and gif they fal, they rise againe with earnest and unfained repentance: And thir thingis they do not be their awin power, bot be the power of the Lord Jesus, without whom they were able to do nothing.


The task which lies before us in this second half of our lectures is as follows: to understand as the true service of God exactly what we became familiar with last year, under the guidance of the Scottish Confession, as the true knowledge of God, i.e. to understand Christian truth as identical with Christian life. Permit me to begin by repeating explicitly some of the most important sentences from our last lecture. According to Reformed teaching the knowledge of God and the Service of God do not merely belong together, but like two concentric circles with a common radius, they are one. Knowledge of God is obedience to God. Such knowledge becomes actual by man's becoming a new man through faith in Jesus Christ as his Lord. This newness, or, as we may say, faith, consists in man's relying upon his Lord and not upon himself any longer, and in his serving his Lord and not himself any longer, and this in the freedom of the Holy Spirit who awakens him to this obedience, and not in any freedom of his own. Thus the true knowledge of God is already itself service of God and the true service of God can only consist in the true knowledge of God. In tuo lumine videbimus lumen. Seen from this standpoint we can immediately understand the significance of the twofold delimitation and polemic with which the 13th Article of the Scottish Confession begins.

The Confession directs its attack in the first instance against the error, according to which the believer is free and able himself to decide to do good, to serve God and hence to live the Christian life. It attacks, that is to say, the error according to which knowledge of God is a theory, the contemplation of an object which imposes no obligation and does not affect our existence, a theory which must then be followed by practice, by the service of God as a matter for our own determining and willing. This opinion can only win a footing because of a failure on the part of faith to understand its own nature. Where God is truly known, man ceases to be lord over himself and his determining and willing take place no longer through his own freedom but in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. Hence there can be no question here of a special service of God which man himself must subsequently choose and perform. There is no service of God beyond and beside the knowledge of God.

The Confession directs its attacks, secondly, against the error according to which man can have faith without thereby doing what is good, serving God and hence living the Christian life. The error here attacked is fundamentally identical with the previous one. Note the “for this” with which the second sentence of our text begins. If the knowledge of God were a theory which must subsequently be followed by practice committed into human hands, the question arises why should this subsequent practice be the practice of “good works”? Why should it not equally well and infinitely more probably take the form of practice of some self-chosen and arbitrary kind which being arbitrary would certainly be evil? Once again the opinion that this is possible, that the knowledge of God is conceivable apart from the service of God, can only rest upon a failure of faith to understand its own nature. To repeat, where God is truly known, man ceases to be lord over himself and becomes a being who is himself sanctified through the Holy Spirit in whose freedom his determining and willing take place. There can therefore be no knowledge of God such as is not itself and as such service of God.

It is the life of the real man which gains a thoroughly definite meaning through this double delimitation—our life within the bounds of the time allotted to us by the goodness of God. This life can in no sense, good or bad, be lived in a manner arbitrarily chosen by ourselves, whether this arbitrary choice take the form of piety or of wickedness. It can and may and should be lived in faith, in the service of God which is none other than the knowledge of God, in the knowledge of God which is itself the service of God. To that end time is allotted to us and for this reason we have life. “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1, 17).


The Scottish Confession describes the new life of faith and consequently the sanctification of man by the Holy Spirit as a radical change in the nature of the objects towards which his affections of love and hate are directed. Man begins, says the Confession, “to hait that quhilk before he loved, and begins to love that quhilk befoir he hated.” That is a sober realistic description. We recognise immediately that man in becoming a Christian and entering the service of God has not thereby become an angel. He lives in the world and the world lives in him. He lives under ordinances and conditions and in conformity with manners and customs which are determined and given their character not by God but by revolt against God. Man himself in his whole being and action is a partaker in this revolt. He comes to know this in the manifest imperfection of his actions and in their questionable and dangerous nature. He will find himself at all times accused and condemned by the Word of God. He is no better than the others who do not believe. Like them he is a sinner and is distinguished from them only by the fact that he is beginning to love what he previously hated and to hate what he previously loved.

What is meant by “to love what we previously hated”? Previously, “before,” means: when we were without faith and therefore without the knowledge that God in Jesus Christ has graciously intervened on our behalf, that He Himself might make amends for the evil that we do. When we are without this knowledge, we hate to have a Lord and hate everything that could remind us of Him and of the fact that we ought to serve Him. The Heidelberg Catechism (Quest. 5) has expressed this with almost unbearable severity, “I am by nature inclined to hate God and my neighbour,” but the configuration of human life in matters great and small goes to show, and the Word of God tells us, that this is only too true. No education and no morality can alter this in any way. I am by nature inclined to hate God and my neighbour. But in the light of the knowledge of the grace of God we begin to love what we previously hated, because He is the Lord who first loved us, loved us when we still hated Him and were yet His enemies (Rom. 5, 10). When He becomes known to us in this love of His—and faith means that He does become known to us in this love of His—then we begin to be glad to have a Lord, namely this Lord, and to be glad to have everything which reminds us of Him and of the fact that we may serve Him. We must no longer own allegiance to our sin but we are free to own allegiance to the forgiving grace of God.

And what is meant by “to hate what we previously loved”? Previously we loved to be lords and to exercise lordship over ourselves and others, over things and ideas and even over God, or over what we took to be God. That is the love, the eros, which corresponds to the hate mentioned above. Plato was right when he described it as the most powerful of all the divinities in this world. Without the knowledge of the grace of God we shall be unable to love in any other way than this, or to love anything other than power, our own power. But in the light of this knowledge when Jesus Christ has made His Lordship and power dear to us, we begin to hate what we previously loved. We begin then to see the falsehood, the confusion, the strife and the death which that former love, the eros, has as its consequences. We begin to be terrified of our own power and of its capabilities. We let ourselves be told by the Word of God that our own power is evil. We would be glad to be rid of it. No practical philosophy will instil into us the power to hate what we by nature love with all our heart. But when Jesus Christ becomes known to us in faith as God Himself, who has given Himself for us, we begin to hate what we previously loved. To repeat, we must now own allegiance no longer to our sin but are now free to own allegiance to the grace which forgives it.

When we speak of the new life of faith, the sanctified Christian life, we are in the first instance concerned only with this change in our love and hatred, and it is of this change alone that the Confession speaks. And note that the Confession is sober and realistic in this respect also, that it speaks only of the beginning of this new loving and hating. The old love and the old hatred are still in action. They will continue in action in every human life right up to the end and in such a manner that one will never be able to speak of anything more than the beginning of new love and new hate. But this beginning, as a beginning, the fact of this change in the object of our affections, is decisive, be it even so small and weak to the very end. For though it is no total change, but probably only a minimum, yet it is a radical change in the object of our affections. It is the sign that the new life of faith has begun. How could we have faith without our faith itself signifying at once the existence of this change.


We shall not have the right to see in this change in our loving and hating more than a sign. And this is equally true of the conflict with ourselves, in which the change involves us. If we were asked whether our new love and new hatred were strong enough or whether we were successful in this conflict or simply whether we were struggling seriously enough, which of us could stand this test? Who in that case could call himself a Christian or who would have the right to do so? But that is not what we are asked. We are asked about our faith, and when we begin in faith to have new love and new hatred, here again we shall not look in our faith to our new love and hatred for help or salvation. So too, in the conflict with ourselves we shall as little look for help or salvation to the struggle which we are putting up, whether it be good or bad, victorious or unsuccessful, serious or half-hearted. On the contrary, when we have faith, we shall have the right to see in this change and in the conflict bound up with it only a sign—the sign of a crisis divine and not human, which has overtaken our existence. We may certainly see a sign of this salutary crisis in the change and conflict. “This battell,” says the Confession, “hes not the carnal men, being destitute of God's Spirite, . . . Bot the sonnes of God dois fecht against sinne; dois sob and murne, when they perceive themselves tempted in iniquitie.” But what helps and saves us is not this battle which we wage, but the battle which Jesus Christ has fought and in which He has already been victorious. And it is about this latter we are asked, when enquiry is made about our sanctification and our real Christian life and consequently about our faith. We are asked, namely, if Jesus Christ stands before us as the person He really is, and if we recognise and acknowledge Him as such. When that comes about, then there comes about the thing which helps and saves us and which makes our life in reality a Christian life and our works good works. What happens is this, man is found guilty of his sin, but also and to a far greater extent is assured of the grace of God. When this happens repeatedly and when it becomes true in our case that Jesus Christ has borne the wrath of God for us too, and has revealed God's love toward us, and when we continue to accept the fact that He has done this for us and on our behalf, and when through the daily decisions of our lives it is decided that this is what happens daily, and when we give God the glory by this being the meaning and content of our daily decisions, then we are involved in the real struggle of the Spirit, i.e. of the Holy Spirit, against the flesh, i.e. against ourselves in the totality of our existence, in our piety as well as in our godlessness. For this existence of ours is what the Bible calls flesh. We are involved in the struggle, which is also the true and effective struggle of God on our behalf. That we are the scene and the witnesses of this struggle is what constitutes the real Christian life, which is a life in which God intervenes on man's behalf. That other struggle which we have to carry on ourselves can be a sign but only a sign of this one, and so too the change in our love and hatred, which necessitates our personal struggle, can be such a sign, but only a sign.


We can now understand why the description of sanctification in the Scottish Confession ends with a reference to repentance. Repentance in the Biblical sense of the term is the turning back to God as the one and only helper and Saviour, in whose presence, i.e. in the presence of whose mercy, we shall always feel nothing but penitence, as we recall all we should like and are able to do for ourselves. By showing such repentance, our actions become good actions. We are not unfaithful to our text and we are certainly not unfaithful to Holy Scripture, if we add that here we are concerned with daily repentance, with that turning from all our own works to Jesus Christ, which must repeatedly occur. “gif they fal,” says the Confession, Christians may and should show repentance. “If they fall”—but we all fall every day. Seen from God's side our life is a continuous falling and therefore our repentance must also be a daily one. And it is just as legitimate to put thankfulness before repentance, because we thereby make clear what true repentance is. The Confession itself says expressly that the true and unfeigned repentance of the Christian only comes about through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact how would it be possible for us to come to Him daily except by His daily coming to us—and that is the work of the Holy Spirit? But if He does come to us, that through His own power He may lead us to repentance, i.e. may lead us away from our own works to Himself, as the one through whom everything had to happen for our good, how in that case can thankfulness be other than the first and decisive word by which we must describe our sanctification and therefore all good action and Christian living. To be sanctified, good, Christian, means to be thankful. We have not deserved His continual coming to us through the Holy Spirit that we might come to Him anew. We have every day deserved that He should come to us no more the next day. But if He comes for all that—and we have the promise He has given to His Church, “Lo I am with you alway” (Mt. 28, 20), then our repentance and thus our real Christian life will have not merely to end with thankfulness but always to begin with it. Thankfulness is the first, not merely the last, word in the Christian life.