How far reaching is the commandment to believe?
It’s pleasing to God that we believe in Jesus Christ. It’s also the only way to obtain eternal life. Something that’s so much in our interest is also what God presses us to do – not just by giving us the basic information about the Lord Jesus but both inviting and commanding us to come to Him for life. According to John, “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (1 John 3:23). What does this actually involve though? In the following updated extract from a sermon on this text, Hugh Binning explains how far-reaching this commandment is. It takes in all of God’s commands, and it views them as broken by sinners, fulfilled by Christ, and obeyed by believers.
The Lord both invites and commands us to believe
People have different temperaments. Some who cannot be constrained by fear may be persuaded by love. With some a request will more prevail than a command. Others again are only emboldened by love and condescension, and therefore they must be restrained with authority.
In the administration of the gospel, the Lord accommodates Himself to people’s diverse dispositions.
God sometimes stoops down to invite and affectionately beseech sinners to come to His Son for life. He has prepared a marriage and banquet for us in Christ. He has made all things ready for receiving guests and for eating, and He sends His servants to entreat and invite to this wedding those who have no bread and clothing, and are poor and lame. He gives a hearty invitation to all who stand at an infinite distance from Him, and so are feeding on empty vanities outside of Him, to come and enjoy the riches of His grace, which runs as a river in Christ between these two golden banks, the pardon of sin, and the purification of our soul from its pollution.
And He comes yet lower, to request and plead with poor sinners, as if He could have advantage by it. He does not refuse to be a supplicant at any one’s door, to beseech him to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:14, 19, 20). As if we could do Him a favour, He requests us most earnestly. Truly it is strange that this does not melt the heart, and make it fall down into the belief and obedience of the truth!
But because the heart of man is desperately wicked, and is now become stubborn and froward, like a wild ass, or as a swift dromedary traversing her ways, therefore the Lord also gives out his royal statute, backed with majesty and authority. “This is his command.” He hedges in our way with threatenings as well as promises annexed to the commandment: “He that believeth has everlasting life, but he that believeth not is condemned already, and shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
Truly it is a wonder that there should be any need either of an invitation, or a request, or a command, or a threatening. Why should we need to be invited, or requested, or commanded, or threatened to accept our own happiness? Might not a bare and simple proposal of Jesus Christ, His nature and offices, and of the redemption and salvation purchased by Him, suffice? What more should be needed, but to declare to us that we are lost and utterly undone by nature, and that there is a refuge and remedy provided in Christ? We would seek no other persuasion to go and dig for a treasure of gold, beyond someone showing us where it is hidden. How strange is the rebellious and perverse disposition of man’s heart!
In the text, this command of believing in Jesus is comprehensive, because it takes in all precepts, under a threefold consideration. It takes them all in (1) as broken and transgressed by men, (2) as fulfilled by Christ, and also (3) as a rule of righteousness, according to which the believer ought to walk.
Believe that we have broken all God’s commandments
The command to believe in Christ first of all means that a sinner should examine himself according to the law of God. We should lay out our whole life and course, our heart and ways, before the perfect and holy commandments. We should stop our own mouth with shame and silence, and find ourselves guilty before God.
Some speak of the work of the law as being preparatory to the gospel. But I conceive it would be more fitly expressed if it was put like this instead – that one of the essential ingredients in the bosom of believing, is that all sinners acknowledge their sin and misery, and discern their own abounding iniquity and danger of perishing by it, how guilty they are before God, and how subject to his judgment, that so finding themselves undone, they may have recourse to a Saviour.
Truly the Spirit’s work is to convince of sin, and then of righteousness, and when we are commanded to believe, the first part of our believing is crediting the law, and the justice and righteousness of God against us, and then believing and acknowledging the gospel. “Ye believe in God, believe also in me.” But it only breeds misapprehensions, when the law is seen as a condition without which we shall not be welcome to the gospel. Truly, I think, both are proposed as essentials of saving faith; not in such a way as one procures a warrant to the other, but only in an order that is suitable to any reasonable nature, and that is all. In other words, conviction of sin is only required of you because fleeing for refuge to a Saviour is a rational action which necessarily includes the sense of misery without Him. But the sense of sin and misery is not a thing which you should go about to prepare, so as to fit yourselves for a greater welcome at Christ’s hand.
Here it is easy to understand how the command of believing belongs to all who hear it, even the vilest and grossest sinners, who are yet stout-hearted, hard-hearted, and far from righteousness (Isa. 46:12), those who are spending their money for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which satisfies not, and those whose hearts are uncircumcised, and their lives profane. The commandment of coming to the Son and believing on Him for life, is extended to them all. All are invited, requested, commanded, and threatened to this duty. All are instructed to believe in Christ, that is, out of a sense of their own lost estate, to embrace a Saviour for righteousness and strength.
Neither is there any fear that people can come too soon to Christ. We need not set down exclusions, for if they are not conscious of sin and misery, they will certainly not come to Him at all. The command that enjoins them to believe on the Son, requires them also to believe that they are lost without him. If even the most presumptuous sinners would once give obedience to this commandment, really there would be no fear of presumption in coming to Jesus too soon.
A sense of sin is not set as a porter, to keep out any who are willing to come in, but rather to open the door, and constrain those who are unwilling to enter in, so that if the least measure of the sense of sin can do this, we are not to wait till we have more, but to come to the Prince exalted to get remission of sins, and more true gospel sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation from dead works. You should not therefore understand any promises in the scriptures as if there were any conditions set down to exclude any from coming, who are willing to come. The promises only declare the nature and manner of what they are invited to, so that no one may misunderstand what it is to believe, and take their own empty presumptions or fancies, which embolden them to sin more, for that true faith which is full of good fruits.
Believe that Jesus Christ has kept all God’s commandments
Once anyone has acknowledged the guilt and curse of all the commandments by believing the law, they also look on the Son, Jesus Christ, and find the law fulfilled, the curse removed, all satisfied in Him. Then you find all the commandments obeyed in Christ’s person, all the wrath due for the breach of the commandments quenched by His sufferings. And you give a cheerful and cordial approbation of all this.
We should rest on Christ’s obedience and suffering as that which pacifies the Father’s wrath to the full. This is what gives the answer of a good conscience, and pacifies every penitent soul, and secures their title to heaven. This presents God with a full atonement and obedience to all the law, and He accepts this from a believer as if it were the believer’s own.
Faith takes in its arms, as it were, in one bundle, all the precepts and curses, and gives them over to Christ, putting them in His able hand, and then takes them all, as satisfied and fulfilled by Him, and holds them up in one bundle to the Father.
Believe that all God’s commandments direct us how to live
So, thirdly, believing on the Son includes all the commandments again, this time as the rule of walking and the mark to aim at. Finding such a perfect exoneration of bygones in Christ and standing in such favour with God, the soul is sweetly constrained to love and delight in the divine laws. And truly this is the natural result of faith.
I want you to rightly observe this conjunction, that what is inseparably knit with faith is love to God and others, delight to do His will, to love Him, and live to Him. Do not deceive yourselves with vain words. If you do not find the smartness of the gospel and the doctrine of grace laying this restraint on your heart, you are yet in your sins. This is the reasoning of a believing soul: “Shall I, who am dead unto sin, live any longer therein? Shall I not delight in those commandments, when Christ hath delivered me from the curse of the law?” The believer may fall, and come short, yet the pressure of their heart is that way inclined.
But then observe the order. You must first believe on the Son, and then love him, and live to Him. You must first flee to His righteousness, and then the righteousness of the law shall be wrought in you. Therefore do not weary yourselves to no purpose. Do not wrong your own souls by seeking to reverse this order, which was established for your joy and salvation. Know that you must first meet with satisfaction in all the commands of Christ, before obedience to any of them be accepted, and having met with that, know that the sincere endeavour of your soul, and the affectionate impulse of your heart to your duty, is accepted.
If you then find yourselves afterwards oppressed with guilt and an inadequate walk, know that the way is to begin at this again, to believe in the Son. This is the round you must walk, as long as you are in the body. When you are defiled, run into the fountain, and when you are washed, study to keep your garments clean, but if defiled again, get your hearts washed from wickedness. “These things,” says John, “I write to you, that ye (who believe) sin not,” but if any sin who desire not to transgress, you have a propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
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