Interestingly, the answer to this question is often presented as an absolute yes or an absolute no. If you answered with an absolute no then congratulations for being an antinomian (google it, somewhat to my own surprise I spelt this right first attempt), you're also wrong. And if you answered with an absolute yes then you're probably a Catholic or legalist and likewise wrong. The answer to the question is probably best summed up as a qualified yes (or even a qualified no but I think I prefer the emphasis on the doing of good). It requires a nuanced understanding of salvation and if you're wondering what on earth I'm going on about, please stay with me, at least until I've gone through the arguments.
Of course, one of the cornerstone principles of the Christian faith is salvation through faith alone. Happily, I'm not denying this. But salvation is much broader than we often conceive it to be. Let's spilt salvation into its parts then, sorry if you are put off with the '-ations' but it's good to learn the theological terms involved.
This entire blog post is copied word for word from Justin Taylor's blog. The structure is Mr Taylor's work and the actual poem Mr Hart's work. Very obviously then - this work is not my own. It is worth copying as it is both greatly encouraging and a wonderful depiction of preaching the gospel to yourself day after day. The author gets the Christian life and the continual contrast between the beauty of Christ and the ugliness of our own lives.
The words to “The Grieved Soul,” by Joseph Hart (1712-1768):
1. Come, my soul and let us try
For a little season,
Ev’ry burden to lay by;
Come and let us reason.
What is this that casts you down?
Who are those that grieve you?
Speak and let the worst be known;
Speaking may relieve thee.
2. O, I sink beneath the load
Of my nature’s evil!
Full of enmity to God;
Captived by the devil!
Restless as the troubled seas,
Feeble, faint and fearful;
Plagued with ev’ry sore disease,
How can I be cheerful?
The Christian Union weekend away has come and gone and it gives me pause for thought and reflection as it marks the anniversary of my conversion three years ago. In 2009 then God took the question: “Are you living a distinctive life for Christ?” and used it to open my eyes to the truth that I wasn’t and that I should be. That evening I came to Christ, aware for the first time of the hopelessness of my condition without him and that in him lay the only way to salvation.
It’s been quite a ride since then, time has flown by and it feels like I’ve lived a lifetime as a Christian not just one thousand and ninety six days. It’s a misconception to think that conversation is the be all and end all of the Christian experience. Far from it! Conversion grants us immediate and compulsory enrollment in year 1 of the School of Christ with a set of courses and lessons perfectly tailored to our weaknesses and needs. For God is not unconcerned with his people, he loves us too much for that and he sets about completing the good work he has started.
This School has one main goal for all its students: holiness, being like Christ and growing in love for both God and man. The only graduation students see is the graduation of moving from this life to the next. It is without question the best and hardest school in all the world.
I should probably add that though I can highlight a lot of lessons I’ve learnt they are in the same breath a lot of lessons I am still learning. After all, the first rule of the School of Christ is that there is no end to the School of Christ!
Potentially to my shame, there are only a few Christian books which have ever had a profound effect on my faith: The Love of Christ by Richard Sibbes is one of them. If you are tired and weary of the fight of faith, downhearted and struggling, stagnating and cold, discontent and untrusting, spiritually miserable, longing in anyway to be so much more than you, feeling that you stuck in a rut and going nowhere; if you are going through hard times, tests of faith, trials and afflictions of any kind or if you are abounding in every way and knowing blessing upon blessing then this book is for you for the topic it covers is medicine to any soul and Sibbes is for good reason called the heavenly doctor.
He does not content himself with merely pointing the reader to Christ, no, he goes out of his way to win the reader to the lavish affection of Christ for his people. Mainly using chapters 4 and 5 of the Songs of Solomon he goes through the process of a Christian who is asleep to and his love Christ (“I slept but my heart was awake.” Songs 5v2) and how that Christian awakes and finds Christ again. For Sibbes Songs of Solomon was all about Christ and his Church and he applies it excellently in this regard. One of my favourite quotes was:
“Sometimes she [the Church] is all compounded of joy, vehemently desiring kisses of her beloved. She holds her beloved fast, and will not let him go; and sometimes, again, she is gone, hath lost her beloved, is in a sea of troubles, seeks and cannot find him, becomes sluggish, negligent, overtaken with self love, after which she has smarted in her omissions, as here again, she is all fire for Christ,”
Part of me wanted to write as the title: ‘want to know Christ more? Read the Puritans.’ It’s equally sound advice and this entire post is courtesy of the two Puritans: Richard Sibbes and John Owen and their respective books: The Love of Christ and Communion with God. If you want a love feast, if you want a rich meal of teaching on Christ’s love, if you in any way want to grasp the height, width, length and breath of Christ’s love then please, read their books.
What struck me as I read them was that when dealing with Christ and his love for believers then they both instinctively turned to The Songs of Solomon. Many of you will know this Bible book as the one about marriage, and it is, but to understand it as being about a human marriage is only a tiny, insignificant part of its full richness. Primarily, as with all Scripture, Songs of Solomon is about the marriage between Christ and his bride: the church. Using language overflowing with romantic imagery it conveys a glimpse into the deep depths of the love of Jesus Christ. As such it is medicine for any soul, soul food of the best type, and if you are troubled, weary and sorrowful then you can do no better than feasting yourselves on this book.