2 Corinthians 5:16 & 17 “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
There must have been that very first occasion when the apostle Paul heard the name ‘Jesus’ and I suppose he never forgot that day. I can remember standing on a wide verandah in 1961 when the conversation had turned to music and my two companions talked earnestly of a composer whose name was Mahler. I can recall some students at a conference at Swanwick in the 1950s commending to me a Puritan called John Owen, and officers in a camp talking together in 1958 about a preacher named Lloyd-Jones – whom they referred to as the ‘Doctor.’ Their evident respect made me want to find out more about those men. Perhaps Saul of Tarsus was overhearing a group of men talking together quietly with unusual seriousness. They might have been questioning one man who had seen and heard some remarkable things. At first the men didn’t know whether he was pulling their legs or not, so they were smiling and dismissive, raising their eyebrows about everything that he was telling them. But the man’s face hardened and his eyes half-closed with earnestness as he stonily informed them about wonders he had seen with his own eyes, and the teaching which had blown his mind. The smiles disappeared from their faces.
Then Saul, observing this and getting drawn in, involved himself. “Who are you talking about?” “Jesus.” “Where does this ‘Jesus’ come from?” “Nazareth.” “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth,” he thought “He’s one of us?” “Sure,” they said, “descended from David; tribe of Judah.” “What school did he go to?” Maybe they mentioned a school for boys where they had been taught to read and write, but he had not been at any of the great rabbinical schools. He was technically ‘unlearned.’ “What’s his father do for a living?” “He’s a carpenter.” Then one of the other men joined in with a half smile, “If he is his father.” “What do you mean?” asked Saul. “Well, he and Mary were married pretty soon before Jesus was born, and people say that he doesn’t look like his father at all, and there were also some odd rumours going round about Mary’s pregnancy.” Well, that sort of thing happens… “Why all this excitement about him?” “He heals people.” “Another healer?” said Saul. “But he is different,” protested the man who had seen Jesus, “none of that fake stuff – the shrieking and the swooning – he sometimes doesn’t say a word to them and they are better. I’ve seen a man born blind who now sees perfectly – and he had his sight back months ago. Many others are like him.” “So, a better class of healer. Is that all he is?” “No,” says another man, “He is a wonderful rabbi. The people in their thousands go along and listen to him. They can’t get enough of his preaching. They down tools and away they trudge, some of them have walked from Beersheba, to the deserts … to the fields … by the side of the Lake, wherever they can find him. They follow him everywhere so he seems to keep to the villages, always moving on, rarely in the big towns of Galilee like Sepphoris over the hill from Nazareth, or Tiberias.”
“But he does mix with odd people,” someone objects. Saul raised an eyebrow, and the man went on, “in the low dives, and the back alleys, the shady, disreputable people, he goes into their homes and he eats with them at their parties. And women of the streets come right up to him and sit at his feet and fawn over him.” “Is he righteous?” “Oh yes, no hint of scandal at all.” “Is he sound?” asked Saul. “Oh yes. He believes the Scriptures … says that they can’t be broken. He doesn’t just tell people to be nice to each other. He’s no yawn-maker like the teacher in our synagogue,” “Ours too,” another interjected. “But he’s always speaking about the Kingship of God, that the Lord is sovereign, and that the Gentiles are going to benefit from that.” “But he claims to be the Messiah and the Son of the living God, and that he is going to die and rise again,” chirps in another man. “The Son of God?” said Paul, and when he heard that he dismissed everything else he’d heard. Clearly this Jesus was a blasphemer, a charlatan, another pseudo-messiah, a liar, and a rogue who was leading people astray. What if this movement took off and hundreds or even thousands of people started to shout, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord?” There would be another blood bath. Rome would send in her legions and great dishonour would be done to Jehovah God. So from then on Saul of Tarsus resolved to do all he could to nip this movement in the bud before more people would be led astray, and as the months went by he raged like a wild beast about the people spreading the lies about Christ. He sought to strangle the infant church in its crib.
What I have imagined might well have been something like the first contact Saul of Tarsus had with Jesus when he regarded him “from a worldly point of view.” Let us begin with this:-
1. THIS WORLD HAS WITNESSED THE SON OF GOD.
It is inconceivable that there could have been some anonymous figure hidden away in the Middle East 2000 years ago who wrote the Sermon on the Mount in the name of a fictional character he decided to call ‘Jesus’, and that he went on to write such discourses as John 14, 15 and 16. It is inconceivable that this imaginative genius of immense religious stature (or a group of geniuses) invented the whole life of Jesus, and the parables, plus the miracles, so that they are all a work of fiction and that, in fact, no such person as Jesus actually lived, or was crucified. What writer or team of writers could have invented that? Fishermen? Tax-collectors? Pharisees? Philosophers? Who has ever written stories about the supernatural without them being mildly entertaining – but utterly absurd?
This Jesus has transformed history. There are such medieval stories as George killing the dragon and David standing on the napkin and it rising up so that crowds could see him, but such tales made no impact on history. Yet Jesus Christ has changed the lives of hundreds of people whom we have personally know. Some of them once sat in this congregation but are speaking for him today not only across England and Wales but in Kenya, the south of France, Latvia, Austria, New Zealand, Benin, Nepal and Mississippi. Christ’s teaching is being heard today in more places on this planet than for the last 1900 years. The history of the world can only be understood if you bring into consideration the uninventable life of Jesus of Nazareth. Born in poverty. Lived only 33 years. Spent most of his time in obscurity. Never wrote a book. Never had any position in public life. Was crucified between two thieves. And yet, all these centuries later, millions follow him.
There was a time when people watching Jesus were bursting to ask him such basic questions as, What is the way to God? What is God like? They were puzzled and wanted answers, as do many today. “Do you really want to know the way to God?” Jesus asked. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6). Do you really want to see God? “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” (John 14:9). The writers of the New Testament say, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebs. 1:1&2). They also say this, “We proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,” (I Jn. 1:2&3).
We believe that here is the living God communicating to men in the most intimate and accessible of ways, not via a philosophy, or in an ethical system, or by hallucinatory trips and out of body experiences. God has added to himself a human life by a miraculous begetting in a virgin named Mary, and by the natural processes of embryonic development, thus uniting the human to his own divine life, so that there are two natures in this one person. He has lived under the gaze of ordinary folk for many years. The Word became flesh. Martin Luther said about Jesus, “He ate, drank, slept, walked; was weary, sorrowful, rejoicing. He wept and he laughed; he knew hunger and thirst, and sweat and tears. He talked, and prayed … so that there was no difference between him and other men, except in these alone, that he was God and he had no sin.” So here was God incarnate in three-dimensional transparent integrity, or, (as someone has described him), a synthesis of infinity and boundary. And who stands on that boundary? Who shares the infinite nature of God himself and yet is within reach? The Lord Jesus, said the apostles.
The God who has done this is not safe, but he has become meekly understandable and accessible to you and me. What grace! An orphan will get precious little comfort from a manual of child care; he or she needs a mother. A medical dictionary is no cure for the seriously ill. They need the healing touch of a doctor or nurse. The lonely may get some comfort from their television set or radio but in the end they need a friend. And the wonder of the gospel is that after God had sent prophets to speak to us he himself came in the person of God the Son, so close to us that people were able to come right up to him and debate, or put their babies in his arms for him to bless them, or touch the hem of his garment to be healed.
Some even fell before him and worshipped him, and he never said what every other sincere and humble man would say, “Get up! I am just a sinner too.” When a man bowed before him and said, “My Lord and my God,” the Lord Jesus accepted that designation. When Peter said to him, “You are the Christ the Son of the living God,” Jesus described him as a blessed man for making such a confession, and that it had been God himself who had enabled him to say those words. He spoke like this, “I am the Light of the World. I am the Resurrection and the Life. If you believe in me you will never die eternally. I have the authority to forgive sins. One day I am coming back to this world, and I will judge all the nations of the world. Your future will depend entirely on your personal response to me and to my words. If you believe in me you already have eternal life, but if you do not obey me you will not see life, and the wrath of God will rest upon you.”
Only God could speak like that! Not a good religious teacher. No way! You would never find a modest holy man acting like that. But the friends and close observers of Jesus who lived and ate and even slept in the same room as him for a few years said that his life was without a spot or a blemish. He was sympathetic, but never weak; strong but never insensitive; loving but never indulgent; single-minded but never ruthless. He was a man, not a woman, yet women as much as men find their perfect example in him. He was a Jew, not a European, or an African, or Chinese yet people of every tongue find in him all they most wish to be. He speaks about the greatest issues we have to face, who are we, what lies beyond the grave, what is wrong with us, who is God, what must I do to be saved. He gives his own authoritative answers to those questions: “Verily, verily, I say unto you.”
Jesus came to deal with the great problem of our failure to live as we know we should live. When he arrived on the public scene he was heralded as the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. He concurred with this announcement telling people that he had come to give his life as a ransom for many. We all know what a ransom is. It is the price paid for someone to be freed. All of us are slaves to our sinful natures and Jesus came in order to deliver us from that. Everyone has a sense of responsibility for how he has lived, because of conscience, and so a pervasive sense of failure and sadness. The Lord Jesus came to be the divine sin-bearer who lovingly would give his life in death. He would bear the judgment of our sins in his own body upon the cross, but the third day he rises from the dead – bodily resurrection! He is seen for weeks as he eats and drinks with his disciples, changing them utterly, making them a confident, affectionate and deeply believing people.
What am I saying in rehearsing these familiar events in your presence once again? That you should know that the good news of Christianity is not a fairy tale. It is grounded in history as real as that of your life or mine. The Lord Jesus is the promised Messiah authenticated by his great signs, his own resurrection, the gospels and letters of the New Testament and the lives of the millions who know him as their Lord. The gospel is about God who has acted in the empirical realm. For all of you to believe in God we must appeal to history, not to my own experience, or anyone else’s. If I should do that you would be tempted to brush it aside with the words, “Nice for you and them.”
Then immediately there is another question and it is this: during the years he lived in the world did the Lord Jesus Christ give us some inadequate demonstration of who he was and what he was doing? Did he fail to do enough miracles? Did he speak fully? Are we disappointed that he did not heal more sick or raise more dead or command other winds and waves to obey him? In other words, is there a paucity of evidence? Are we scratching with our finger tips trying to gather more pieces to fit into a jigsaw? Could God have done more? Should God? The answer is, Not at all. There are four gospels containing almost ninety chapters. I have never heard anyone say that if there were just another ninety he might believe. The problem is not the lack of evidence for a true comprehensive account of the life, teaching, works, claims, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The whole world has enough.
So this planet has witnessed the Son of God, and so unbelievers are without excuse. Some of Jesus’ sternest words were directed at those who ignored the truth that was staring them in the face. He told the citizens of Jerusalem: there will not be one stone left upon another because you did not know the things that belong to your peace; your enemies will bring you to destruction because you did not know God’s time is here. The Messiah, Jehovah Jesus, had been there. They should have known, but they didn’t want to know. They didn’t want to acknowledge that they were blind sinners who needed sight, deaf sinners who needed hearing, dead sinners who needed life. They didn’t want to repent and become as little children. They didn’t want to be born again. They didn’t want to come to him and find rest. They didn’t want to take up their own cross and deny themselves and follow him. It was all too inconvenient. Husbands didn’t persuade their wives that it was so, and parents failed to tell their children. They had a brief conversation about religion and then they dropped it. It was never to be raised again in that home. “Let’s talk about sport …”
There was a documentary series entitled, “The World at War,” and in one episode there’s German newsreel footage of Hitler in his bunker in the last days of the War surrounded by his generals, poring over a huge table-map of the Russian front. Hitler was moving symbols which represented German divisions from this point to that, and his generals stood by and watched in silence. Nobody dared tell the Fuhrer that none of those divisions existed. They had all been wiped out. Hitler couldn’t bare his illusory world being shattered. The heart of truth is this – listen – he that hath ears to hear let him hear – the Son of God has come, manifested his deity by many infallible proofs and redeemed a vast company of sinners by his precious blood. Yet you will never benefit from that redemption if you cling to your fantasies, as Saul of Tarsus did, because – listen – a worldly point of view is a fantasy. That the world came out of chance and has no purpose, and is going absolutely nowhere? Remember that pregnant phrase in the parable of the prodigal son – “when he came to himself he went home to his father.” When he faced up reality: “my life is an utter mess” – to the truth of his own need and the love of his father then the change began.
We are pleading with you to come to a true point of view and forsake the worldly point of view. One grandmother told her grandchildren that she attributed her long life and good health to the fact that she was born before germs were invented, and that’s not as daft as it sounds. One of her favourite sayings was, ‘What you don’t know won’t hurt you.’ In fact, what you don’t know can kill you as somebody discovered who forgot the new colour coding on electrical wiring and tried to change a plug. Paul and Silas cried to a suicidal jailer, “Don’t harm yourself because we have good news for you.” We evangelise so that men may be delivered from despair by having the truth.
In 1881, President James Garfield of the United Sates was shot. This was before the era of the X Ray and doctors could not agree on the location of the bullet. His personal physician, Dr Bliss said he was certain the bullet was in this spot; a specialist consultant they brought in for a second opinion, Dr Weiss, said no. Whilst the doctors argued, the patient died. A post mortem proved Dr Weiss right. Whereupon a Boston newspaper ran the headline: ‘Where ignorance is Bliss, tis folly to be Weiss.’ Surely we all believe that there is no area of human life where ignorance is bliss, but especially concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, who he was, what he taught, why he died, that he rose again, and his willingness to become our Saviour. This world has witnessed the Son of God. He is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of his person. Why, then, doesn’t everyone believe in the Saviour?
2. MEN JUDGE THE LORD JESUS FROM ‘A WORLDLY POINT OF VIEW.’
Paul acknowledges that “we once regarded Christ in this way … from a worldly point of view,” (v.16). In other words, our point of view was everybody’s. What the world believed we believed. The world doesn’t think much about Jesus and so we didn’t think much about him. Our peers had their own prejudices about the New Testament and we shared them. We were swept along by the current. What characterises this worldly point of view?
i] It is deeply biased against God. Sin has affected the worldview and removed from it any possibility of neutral and objective observation. Paul says these words in the great eighth chapter of Romans, “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor indeed can it do so” (Roms. 8:7). He further says that “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). The hostility is so bad that a man like Saul of Tarsus does not have the ability to come to Christ except the Father who sent Jesus draw Saul to Jesus (John 6:44). Saul was utterly unable to see the kingdom of God unless he were born again (John 3:3). What flows from that?
ii] The worldly point of view refuses to cry to God for help as it examines the evidence. It will study God without God, in a self-sufficient way. The apostle says this about unbelievers, that “the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their minds.” They don’t think deeply about things, especially about their souls, and death, and what lies beyond, and about God. They are moved by an icy detachment from their own predicament. The ordinary man of the world has the vaguest knowledge of Jesus. He uses human criteria – like the knowledge a typical Welshman has of the Buddha – superficial and rather pathetic. Mr. Average European never studies the New Testament. He has never read a complete gospel – though it can be done in about an hour. It is ‘religion’ so he doesn’t bother. He certainly knows about superannuation and inflation and investment portfolios. He knows about computers and car engines and installing central heating systems. But he doesn’t bother to find out about Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead.
Saul of Tarsus had been just like that, utterly dismissive about Jesus of Nazareth. He wouldn’t do what another religious leader called Nicodemus did, go one night to Jesus himself, and talk to him, ask him questions, see if there was something he could learn from the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul did not seek out Peter and listen humbly to the whole extraordinary story of the last three years. Paul was utterly prejudiced and didn’t bother inquiring. He wanted Peter dead. The claims of this man were so patently wrong that it was beyond contempt to think seriously about the life and works and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth. That is what Paul means by “a worldly point of view.” It was a worldview founded on ignorance and misinformation, but this is all too important to be treated in a superficial way, isn’t it?
One of my teachers at theological seminary was a man called John W. Sanderson Jr.. When he had come to his own final year at seminary his wife Pearl and himself were thinking about the place of their ministry. They had some interest in Peru and so they spent an afternoon with a missionary to that country. After discussing many of the opportunities and problems of Christian work in that land he said, “I’ll tell you what may help you. Why don’t you get Prescott’s two volumes on the history of Peru?” He went on: “Peru today is what its history has made it to be. If you understand its history, then you can talk to its people. You can understand something of their point of view. You can understand why they do what they do and why they react as they do.” If you were going to make this momentous decision to go on a journey to another continent you would seek to learn about that place first of all. How much more, we say, should you seek to learn about the kingdom of God? Who is this God? What is he like? Let me give you a Christian worldview – not a worldly point of view – in a sentence: “God the Father has reconciled his created but fallen world through the life and death of his Son, and newly creates it into a Kingdom of God by his Spirit.” Isn’t that a profound and mysterious theme, well worth studying? But that is what Saul of Tarsus refused to do. So, Paul’s worldly point of view rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and he remained an ignorant man, what the Bible terms a ‘fool.’
iii] It cannot answer the basic questions of life. What issues must a true worldview address? There are four simple matters facing everyone. (1) Who am I? Or, what is the nature, task and purpose of human beings? (2) Where am I? Or, what is the nature of the world and universe I live in? (3) What’s wrong? Or, what is the basic problem or obstacle that keeps me from attaining fulfilment? In other words, how do I overcome evil? And (4) What is the remedy? Or, how is it possible to overcome this hindrance to my fulfilment? In other words, how do I find salvation? When we’ve answered those questions, that is, when our faith is settled, then we begin to see reality in some sensible pattern. Saul of Tarsus began by saying that he could answer all four questions. (1) Who am I? A creature of Jehovah God, one of his chosen people. (2) Where am I? In the world which he made. (3) What’s wrong? Man is a sinner. He doesn’t keep the law of God. (4) What’s the remedy? Keeping the law of God is life. “I know all four,” he would boast. All very straightforward … until a certain time came during which Paul was twisting and turning with covetousness. In the night he lay awake and itched for a certain thing, and in the day his longings and desires turned to this same thing again and again. He ached for it. He had no peace with any of the other things that were his. He had to have this. Life was impossible without it. “Gimme, gimme, gimme …” He was restless and wretched when this thing was not his but someone else’s. And it was at that time that God took the tenth commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” like a sword and thrust it in this self-righteous man’s heart – and Saul of Tarsus died! His worldview collapsed. He didn’t have the answers. This is what he says as he remembers that time,
“I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death” (Roms. 7:7-11). So Paul did not have the remedy for sin. He just had a deep awareness of how inward and powerful sin was, and that God’s law made things worse, not better.
Now I don’t know what was the object of Paul’s covetousness, and I don’t know what is the object of your covetousness, whether it is another woman, or man, or money, or a house, or someone’s brain, or looks, or clothes, or style, or car, or whatever. I know that there are men who even itch to become women, and women who ache for plastic surgery to become a different shape, and black people who long to be white, and short people who agonise to be tall. I don’t know what your covetousness is, but I do know that if your worldview says, “My salvation lies in the fact that I’m keeping my standards,” then you are a lost man because everybody knows more than he practices. Salvation can’t be in what we do because we are all failures. Your worldview has let you down.
iv] The worldly point of view is wrong in the fundamentals and so it will be wrong in the details of life. When the Jehovah’s Witness denies that the Lord Jesus is God then the cross of Christ is no longer central and fundamental to his faith because that is not the God-man hanging there, and the Jehovah’s Witness’s chief desire is not to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven as the greatest of all blessings but to live in a fabulous new world, etc. He makes a fundamental mistake at the beginning and hundreds of other mistakes must follow in their train. When Paul determined that Jesus was a fake he ended up killing those who knew him to be the Messiah. A woman who puts the first button of her cardigan into the second button hole, and the second button into the third button hole, and so on for a dozen buttons is going to make a dozen mistakes because she made one fundamental mistake at first. Paul looked at everything in the whole world through his own shades, and they did not let the light of the Jesus of the Bible shine into his mind at all. For example, there was not one single fact which he acknowledged to be a Christ-created fact, and so his view of the whole of reality was affected. The Bible says that even “the plowing of the wicked is sin,” (Provs. 21:4 KJV). When Paul looked at any Gentile he saw him as a person beneath him, unfavoured, ignorant, a second class citizen, a man to be pitied, doomed to be an eternal also-ran. Saul considered himself and all the men who were just like him to be very fulfilled and mature men, who had got it all together. He once thought, “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phils. 3:4-6). That was what the blessed life was all about, so he believed. Nothing could beat that religion. He couldn’t see what a despicably self-righteous catalogue it all was. So Paul had got Jesus wrong. He had the whole Gentile world wrong. He even had himself and men like him wrong. He regarded everything from this “worldly point of view.” In other words, his whole worldview was distorted and he didn’t realise it. When we talk about a worldview we are talking about a guide to life and Paul had the wrong guide. It couldn’t explain the facticity of Jesus Christ the Son of God. It lacked a coherent view of the fulness of life – his answer to Christianity was the cry of the mythical Daleks, “Exterminate! Exterminate!” Butcher the lot if they wont change. That didn’t open life; it closed it down. He ended up kicking against the goads of his own conscience.
v] A worldly point of view survives in an appreciation of a sense of its own earnestness. The only satisfying worldviews are those that require zeal in serving them. Remember what Paul said: “as for zeal, persecuting the church.” No one doubts that Paul was sincere, but it was a misdirected and an ignorant zeal. The prophets of Baal on Carmel were sincere, but that was no defence of worshipping trees and the moon. The Mormon even with all the fantasies of the book of Mormon is sincere. Even the cannibal is sincere. He believes that if he can eat his enemy he will gain his enemy’s strength. Wasn’t the Nazi sincere? The communist is sincere. If you read Jung Chang’s “Wild Swans” you stand in admiration of the self-denial of her parents in China in the middle of the 20th century. They were heroic people from any perspective. In England there was a man like Douglas Hyde who was the news editor of the communist “Daily Worker” for many years. He was a member of the Communist Party for twenty years until he renounced Marxism and became a follower of Jesus Christ. How zealous he had been. What really guided his behaviour was class interests not beliefs. In his biography “Dedication and Leadership” (what a significant title) he describes a day in the life of a sincere Marxist. It made me think of some of the fathers of boys with me in school who were communists. They didn’t fool around. Let me read to you a day in the life of Douglas Hyde. It reflects his own worldview. You apply it to yourself and see if there are not many lessons that we Christians can learn from him. In other words I am saying, Christologise these words. Hyde says this,
“Do you remember what life was really like in the Party? You got up in the morning and as you shaved you were thinking of the jobs you would do for Communism that day. You went down to breakfast and read the Daily Worker to get the Party line – to get the shot and shell for a fight in which you were already involved. You read every item in the paper wondering how you might be able to use it for the cause.
“I had never been interested in sport but I read the sports pages in order to be able to discuss sport with others and to be able to say to them, ‘Have you read this in the Daily Worker?’ I would follow this through by giving them the paper in the hope that they might turn from the sports pages and read the political ones too.
“On the bus or train, on my way to work, I read the Daily Worker as ostentatiously as I could, holding it up so that others might read the headlines and perhaps be influenced by them. I took two copies of the paper with me; the second one I left on the seat in the hope that someone would pick it up and read it.
“When I got to work, I kept the Daily Worker circulating. One worker after another would take it outside, read it for a few minutes and bring it back to me again. At lunchtime, in the canteen or the restaurant, I would try to start conversations with those with whom I was eating. I made a practice of sitting with different groups in order to spread my influence as widely as I could. I did not thrust Communism down their throats but steered our conversations in such a way that they could be brought round to politics or, if possible, to the campaigns which the Party was conducting at the time.
“Before I left my place of work at night, there was a quick meeting of the factory group or cell. There we discussed in a few minutes the successes and failures of the day. And we discussed, too, what we hoped to be able to do on the following day.
“I dashed home, had a quick meal and then went out, maybe to attend classes, maybe to be a tutor, maybe to join some Communist campaign, going from door to door canvassing or standing at the side of the road selling Communist papers – doing something for Communism. And I went home at night and dreamed of the jobs I was going to do for Communism the next day …You know, life had some meaning and some purpose in those days. Life was good in the Communist Party.” (pp.22-24).
Hyde’s communism created a whole way of life, and in many ways it is the mirror image of an earnest evangelical Christian, isn’t it? We are acknowledging that those who are dedicated get more out of life than those who are not It is a far happier feeling to be intellectually certain about things than to live in doubt, but enjoyable feelings of certainty are no guarantee that what you believe is true. Douglas Hyde’s early years were those of a man with a mission. It is not surprising that he could look back at that time – even serving a bad cause – with a degree of nostalgia. Hyde had been a sincere man. Saul of Tarsus was sincere too but they had both been judging Jesus Christ from a worldly point of view, and both changed. Both came to say of their early muddled attitude, “we do so no longer” (v.16). So the Son of God has come, and men heard him preach, and saw his power. They talked with him and examined his life, but he was despised and rejected of men because they were regarding him from a worldly point of view. Does it matter if you have a wrong worldview? It mattered to Jesus because the wrong worldview crucified him.
3. GOD’S ANSWER IS TO MAKE MEN NEW CREATIONS IN CHRIST.
So God has sent his Son and given a complete and perfect revelation of himself, but men have their own agendas, their “worldly point of view.” Moreover, fallen man, the old unregenerate man, does not have the ability to receive unaided this Christ as his God and Saviour. He must change his mind completely about Christ, but, then he can’t. He must confess him as the living God, but, then, he can’t. Man must come to him, but no man can come. Then are we without hope? No. The God who has planned everything, has thought of everything, and provides everything. The God who sent his Son to deal with our condemnation sends his Spirit to deal with our corruption. The God who has dealt with our guilt by the cross of Christ deals with our depravity by the new birth. The God who has provided pardon has gone on to provide purification. The God who obtains for us forgiveness of sins through the Lord Jesus provides enabling through the Holy Spirit’s indwelling. You need a new record, and the gift of Christ provides that. But you also need a new mind, new thinking, new values, and the gift of the Holy Spirit provides that. He makes us walk in God’s judgments. We see and we accept the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Think of king David in Psalm 51, crushed by the guilt of his sin, and what words does he use to deal with his shame? “Create!” he cries. “Create in me a clean heart!” he cries. What a mighty word with which to address the God of Genesis 1:1. “Great Creator exert your almighty power and change my heart and spirit!” That is the only way a sinner can come to regard Christ in a proper way. He must first be recreated. The old man, the old worldly point of view, the old unbelief, the old laziness, the old heart must go, and the new must come. The Son of God does it. He sits on the throne of the universe and he cries, “Behold I make all things new!” (Rev. 21:5).
Every Christian is made a new creation, and then he changes his mind about Christ, he repents of his worldly point of view, and he confesses that Jesus Christ is God. Many people think that how sinners become a new creation is by believing and repenting. But true saving faith and repentance come out of and follow from God making us new creations. Joseph Hart says,
‘Tis Thine to cleanse the heart,
To sanctify the soul,
To pour fresh life in every part,
And new-create the whole.
God must first do that before a sinner can have a new attitude to Christ. The mighty power of God that formed Adam out of the dust of the ground and made him a living creation must also make the dead sinner live. We’ve heard an evangelist telling sinners how they can be born again. They must believe in Jesus Christ, he says, and then they will be born again. It is a good thing that that evangelist was not a farmer or he would be putting his carts before his horses. No man is born again because he trusts in Christ. Rather he trusts in Christ because he has been born again. Until he has been made a new creation he looks at everything from a worldly point of view. He is incapable of faith and incapable of repentance, but when the great change is wrought then God enables him to say, “Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God,” and we know that God has been at work in him, not flesh and blood. He has been made a new creation. What happened to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road? It was an intellectual re-creation that took place. God gave him a radically new point of view concerning Christ, concerning himself, and concerning Jews and Gentiles. That is the fruit of the new creation of God.
Do you understand what I am saying? God has sent me to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to all men. I am to tell them that he is the blessed Son of God and the only name under heaven given amongst men whereby we must be saved. I am to tell them to believe in him, and stretch out my hands to them and plead with them to trust in Christ. But even while I do that I am also conscious that they have no more natural ability to turn and believe than that pile of dust which was the unliving Adam could make itself a living organism. When Adam opened his eyes and saw the world it was because God had been at work and breathed his breath into him. So it is when men respond to my gospel entreaties then I know that God has had mercy on them and joined them to Christ and made them new creations. It is the new man, the man in Christ, the new creation who responds, and believes in his heart and confesses with his lips and is baptised. God has made him willing in the day of God’s power. Salvation is of the Lord. Preaching that can do no one any harm.
Let me judge that there are three categories of people here tonight.[i] There are those who are true believers who do not regard Christ from a worldly point of view but say to him, “My Lord and my God.” You have no objection to the fact that you owe your salvation to a work of God. You have an overflowing sense of gratitude that the Creator of the universe has done something for you that you could never have done for yourself. He has created new life within you, made you a new creation, and joined you to Jesus Christ his Son. Once you thought and acted like the men of the world but no more! Once you were dead in trespasses and sins, but no longer. Now you are alive for evermore. You actually want me to preach this truth because you know that it gives God all the glory for your salvation. There was a time when you were a novice and maybe all you thought of then was what you had done in order to be saved, but you have grown in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and now you never even think, let alone speak in those terms today. You give God all the glory for your salvation:
I sought the Lord and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Saviour true;
No, I was found by Thee.
The American preacher, Ichabod Spencer was once riding through a village, in which he was almost a stranger. He saw a number of young people entering a schoolhouse. The minister there recognised him and beckoned on him to come across. He told him he had appointed a meeting for spiritual inquiry, and had been surprised to find so many assembling. He wished Spencer to go in, and have some conversation with those who were there. Spencer asked to be excused, as he was on his way to fulfill a preaching engagement, but he refused, begging “Stop, if only for five minutes.” He took him into a room, where there were fifteen young women while he dealt with the men. “Say something,” said he, ” to every one of them.” and Spencer did, though he did not spend longer than ten minutes in the room.
This is what happened in his own words, “I passed from one to another, in this rapid conversation, I came to a young lady about twenty years of age, whose countenance indicated great agitation. Said I, ‘Do you feel that you are a sinner, unreconciled to God?’
‘Yes, I do; I am a lost sinner!’
‘Can you save yourself?’
‘None but Christ can save me!’
‘Why, then, don’t you come to him? He is willing to save you; he loves to save sinners like you’.
‘Indeed I do not know! My heart is hard and wicked; and I am afraid I never shall be saved! ‘ She burst into tears, which she seemed anxious to suppress, and buried her face in her handkerchief.
‘How long have you been in such deep trouble of mind?’
‘For three weeks,’ said she, sobbing aloud.
‘Then, for three weeks you have done nothing but resist the Holy Spirit!
I left her and passed to the next individual. Within ten minutes I had left the room, and gone on my way.”
The next week, as Spencer was riding in a carriage alone, a few miles from the same village, he saw a young woman in a carriage, riding in the opposite direction, and he was just meeting them. She appeared to be trying to induce her companion to stop, and he did not seem to understand what she wanted. She finally took hold of the reins herself, stopped the horse, and motioned to Spencer who also reined up. They sat in their carriages, face to face, and close together.
She said to him – her opening words – were “That was true – that was true, sir.”
“What was true?” said Spencer. For he did not know who she was, though he recognized her face as one that he had seen.
“What you told me at the inquiry meeting that morning – that I had done nothing for three weeks but resist the Holy Spirit. That expression pierced my very heart. I did not believe it. I thought I was yielding to the Holy Spirit, because I was anxious and had begun to seek the Lord; and I thought you was most cruel to speak to me so. I did not believe you, but I could not get the idea out of my mind. It clung to me night and day, ‘For three weeks you have done nothing but resist the Holy Spirit.’ That expression opened my eyes. And I could not let you pass us here, without stopping to tell you how much I thank you for it.”
Sinclair said that she said this very rapidly, her eyes swimming with tears, and her countenance beaming with joy. Her whole heart seemed to be embarked in what she was saying. Let me ask you if that is true for some of you too? That for the last months or years you have done nothing but resist the Holy Spirit?
Then there was another occasion when about seventy persons gathered, and Spencer was passing rapidly from one to another. He came to an individual who had never been there before. This is what happened in Spencer’s own words.
“Said I: ‘What is the state of your feelings on the subject of your salvation?’
‘I feel,’ said he, ‘that I have a very wicked heart.’
‘It is a great deal more wicked than you think it,’ said I; and immediately left him, and addressed myself to the next person.
“I thought no more of it till a few days afterwards, when he came to me with a new song in his mouth. He had found peace with God, as he thought, through faith in Jesus Christ. Said he: ‘I want to tell you how much good you did me. When I told you that I had a very wicked heart, and you answered that it was a great deal more wicked than I thought, and then said nothing more to me, I thought it a most cruel thing. I expected something different. I thought you would say more, and my soul was wonderfully cast down.
‘I did not believe you. I was angry at your treatment. I thought you did not care whether I was ever saved or not; and I did not believe you knew anything about my feelings. But the words rung in my ears, “A great deal more wicked than you think.” I could not get rid of them. They were in my mind the last thing when I went to sleep, and the first when I woke. And then I would be vexed at you for not saying something else. But that was the thing which drove me to Christ. I now know it was just what I needed. I thought, when I went to that meeting, my convictions were very deep. But I have found out they were very slight. You hit my case exactly. If you had talked to me, my burden would have been diminished. But you fastened one idea on my mind. You drove the arrow deeper, when I expected you to do just the contrary; and I could find no relief till I gave up all into the hands of Christ. I know you read my heart exactly.’ ”
Men and women of Aberystwyth have you seen the wickedness of your own hearts? Do you see that there is no hope for you at all unless you are found a divine creation in Christ. That is the only safe place in the world, and God can put you there and keep you there for ever. Your only hope is that the Power which made the creation should also recreate you. Cry mightily to him that he do that for you, and do not give up until you are sure that he has heard and answered your prayers. Then you will be able to cry with us, “The old has gone! The new has come!”
13 May 2001 GEOFF THOMAS