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What is it, then, to come to Christ? It is a spiritual act, not a mere natural deed. It is an act that proceeds from the heart, whence are the issues of life, not from the superficial and quickly changing emotions. It is an act of the whole man: with all his heart and mind and will and desires and strength, one comes to Jesus. It is an act, not of the natural man, but of the spiritual man; of the one who is heavy laden and weary with sin and seeks rest; of the one who hungers and thirsts after righteousness and seeks the Bread that never perishes and the Water of Life; of the one who bemoans his darkness and seeks the Light; of the one who cries out of the depths of death for the Resurrection. And being a spiritual act by a spiritual man, it does not condition grace, but is already the fruit of the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is an act, lastly, that is never finished. It is not as if a man could say that years ago he came to Christ and that is the end of it; but coming to Christ is the daily need and delight of the new man in Christ. To the various aspects of this act of coming to Christ I would like to call your attention.
Let us, then, try to analyze the act itself of coming to Jesus. What does a man do when he comes to the Christ of the Scriptures? I think that we may distinguish four elements or steps in this spiritual act, which I will call contrition, recognition, aspiration, and appropriation.
First of all, there is the element of contrition. This is a true sorrow after God, caused by the fact that man has obtained a true spiritual knowledge of sin as sin, and of himself as a sinner before the face of God. The meaning is not merely that one knows and acknowledges that there is something wrong with him; nor that he is sorrowing because of the evil and bitter results of sin for himself; nor that he is sorry because of certain bad habits. No, this sorrow of true contrition goes to the root of the matter. It means that the sinner consciously stands before the bar of divine justice; that the pure and penetrating light of the righteousness of God exposes him in his true worth as a sinner; that in the light of inexorable justice he beholds himself, his nature, his work, his imaginary goodness, his piety and religion, and he discovers that there is nothing good in him; that all is corruption, defilement, iniquity, rebellion, and violation of God’s law; that he hears the divine verdict of “Guilty” and the sentence of his condemnation. But it means more. It means (oh wonder!) that now he takes God’s side in this judgment against himself and in his own condemnation; that he hates his own sin, acknowledges the justice of God’s sentence, and prostrates himself before the bar of justice in dust and ashes. He sees that as a sinner he cannot enter into God’s fellowship, and he confesses that as far as he is concerned, there is no way out. He is filled with sorrow according to God!
Secondly, there is in the act of coming to Christ the element of recognition. By this I mean a true, spiritual knowledge of Jesus Christ as the revelation of the God of our salvation. I say “spiritual knowledge” in distinction from mere natural, intellectual knowledge. It is knowledge of the heart, rather than of the head. It is experimental rather than theoretical knowledge of the God of our salvation in Christ. It is personal rather than abstract. I do not make this distinction in order to disparage doctrinal knowledge of Christ. On the contrary, without intellectual knowledge of what God has revealed to us, spiritual knowledge is impossible. But mere theology is not sufficient for salvation. One may know all about Christ without knowing Him. Saving knowledge of Jesus is to behold Him as the fulness of our emptiness, as the true Water and Bread of Life that we need, as the Light in our darkness, as the Resurrection able to overcome our death. It is a personal knowledge of Him as the One who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. It is such a knowledge of the Christ as causes us to realize that we are deeply concerned with Him, and that to possess Him is a matter of life or death.
From this contrition, this sorrow according to God, this realization of our own condemnation in the judgment of God, and this true knowledge of the Savior as the revelation of the God of our salvation, arises the third element of which we spoke, that of aspiration, or longing. Seeing Him as the fulness of our emptiness, as the righteousness of God that is able to blot out all our unrighteousness, as the Light that can dispel our darkness, as the Life and the Resurrection that is able to vanquish our death, as the Bread that can satisfy our hunger and the Water that can quench our thirst, we long for Him and for all His benefits: forgiveness, the adoption unto children of God, knowledge of God, righteousness, and holiness. We hunger and thirst for Him. We want to possess Him. We cannot live without Him. We ask, we seek, and we knock, for we yearn to be delivered from the guilt and the dominion of sin in order that we may have peace with God and enter into His blessed fellowship. As the hart panteth after waterbrooks, so do our souls pant after God, after the living God as He reveals Himself in the riches of His grace in Jesus our Lord!
And this leads to the final step: appropriation of Christ and all His benefits and blessings of grace. This implies that I know with a certain knowledge that He is mine and that I belong to Him by God’s unfathomable grace over me. It means that I am confident that He died for me and that now I wash my garments in His precious blood by faith, laying hold of the forgiveness of sins and of the righteousness of God in Him. It means that by faith I live out of Him, as He lives in me, and that I draw out of Him grace for grace, that I eat and drink Him, and that through Him I draw near unto God and enter into the fellowship of His covenant. And now “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
Such are the implications of the spiritual act of coming to Jesus. The circumstances and the manner in which one comes to perform this spiritual act are not always the same. Sometimes one is suddenly called out of darkness, and he is very vividly conscious of the change whereby he is impelled to cast himself upon the mercies of the Lord. Thus it was with Paul on the way to Damascus. In a moment he turned about from persecuting the church to acknowledging the Jesus he persecuted as his Savior and Lord. More often one is gradually instructed and inducted into the knowledge of Christ from infancy, and when he comes to years of discretion, he cannot remember any particular moment when he came to Christ. Thus it must have been with Timothy, and thus it normally is with those who are born and brought up in the church. But whether in one way or another, always the act of coming to Jesus contains the elements of contrition, spiritual knowledge, aspiration, and appropriation. And the act is never finished. Always again we come in sorrow after God, in the acknowledgement of His fulness, with the longing and thirst in our souls for the God of our salvation in order that daily we may drink of the water of life freely.
Whosoever will may come! How a sinner can thus come to the Savior we must still consider. It ought now to be plain that the will to come to Jesus is motivated by true repentance and sorrow for sin, is enlightened and directed by the true spiritual knowledge of Christ as the God of our salvation, is impelled by the mighty longing after the living God and His grace, and is expressed in appropriating Christ and all His spiritual blessings. And he that so comes to Jesus shall never be ashamed. For He is included in the word of Christ: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
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God’s covenant is cosmic. It extends to, and brings into its compass, the entire creation of God and all creatures in the creation, organically considered. This is an aspect of the covenant that is of the greatest importance for Christian day-school education by virtue of the fact that the Christian school gives instruction concerning the whole of creation. The cosmic character of the covenant is a truth that is not sufficiently stressed, explained, or understood among us. Usually it comes up in an apologetic, negative way when we (rightly) argue that the “world” of John 3:16 is not “all men” and when we (rightly) argue that the covenant of Genesis 9 is not a covenant of “common grace.” There is need for a positive development of the truth of the cosmic covenant in its own right and for an application of it to the Reformed life in general and to Christian education in particular.