The God-Given Power of the Sons of God
by J. J. WEST
On Tuesday evening, July 3rd, 1860, in the Church of St. Barnabas, King Square, London
It was the saying of one of our Reformers, that every sermon ought to be a "thunderbolt." You know what a thunderbolt does. It shatters everything where it comes, and carries everything before it. So does every faithful sermon. For we say with the apostle "Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one savour of death unto death, and to the other the savour of life unto life." (2 Cor. 2:14-16) There is the thunderbolt! "And who is sufficient for these things?" The pulpit is an awful place! So I feel it now. And yet, Lord, if the "treasure" is now in an "earthen vessel," the people shall realize it, for "the excellency of the power is of thee and not of us," to thy honour and glory.
Now, my hearers, the subject I am to preach on, is the text you have heard me read; and in the context, in the opening verses of this chapter, we have set forth, the divinity, the humanity, and the office of Jesus Christ. We have here a "thunderbolt" against all the errors of Socinianism; and in my text we have a "thunderbolt" against all Arminianism. So that, as a sound churchman, from the text before me, I can preach the gospel, and also the essence and kernel of our own Articles. Now, are you all sound as to the person of the Son of God? A person asked me, the other day, if I was aware of an increasing heresy; the denying the eternal sonship of the Son of God. What does it signify what carnal people deny? Every man, untaught by the Holy Ghost, denies it. He can't understand it. But every child of God, taught by grace and schooled by the Holy Spirit, is sound upon the subject of the God-man. Consider this great doctrine by yourselves alone, when my preaching is over. I must now speak upon the subject in these two verses in my text, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God." Now, my hearers, no man can receive him, no man can have a desire after him, but by the Holy Ghost;" (1 Cor. 12:3) and no man can have any desire to receive him as a full and an entire Saviour, until he is entirely and thoroughly convinced of his own sinnership, and is brought to that spot where the publican was drawn to, "God be merciful to me, a sinner." The verse before the one I am speaking on says, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not." We know this! Didn't he come to his own when he sat at the well of Jacob, when "he must needs go through Samaria?" Didn't he come to one of his own elect when he talked with that wicked woman there? And she would not and could not then receive him. But mark! "he must needs go through Samaria." There was a needs be for that. One of his own elect was to be called in. She would not, she could not, receive him then! But when he began to convince her of her sin, when he began to show that he knew everything about her, though he never saw her before (in that sense) and she had never seen him, yet when he, by the arrow of his own grace, touched her soul and called her out of a state of nature, she dropped as a guilty sinner before him. Look at his own word, "Jesus answered and said unto her, if thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." But she did not know him then, and, therefore, she could not ask. But she did afterwards. Christ made her ask. He convinced her of her own sin, "He whom thou now hast is not thy husband." See how he knew all about her. Here was the arrow of conviction flashing into her heart. Before, she knew him not; she loved him not; she cared not for him. But when his own grace was put into her heart, then she received him. "Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he." (John 4) "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God."
Take, again, another splendid instance in the Bible, in the case of the notorious publican, Zacchaeus. "He climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus," who he was, of whom he had heard speak. And when Christ came to the foot of that tree he stopped, and, to the amazement of the sinner, said, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must abide at thy house." Isn't that a "thunderbolt?" Wasn't that a thunderbolt into the very heart of that notorious extortioner? But beautifully opened up in these words, "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:1-10) That is the point. Now, there are two instances that I have given you from the Word of God of two who did not and could not receive him. But into whose hearts he made a way for himself to come. Then they learned what it was to be one a daughter and the other a son of God by adoption. "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God." Now we have no power to come to Christ, of or in ourselves; we have no desire even to know anything about him naturally. My brother, you know that this is true. Man, in his blood, has no desire to seek after Jesus. It is not too strong a word when I say, that naturally we are all Christ-haters, and God deceivers. But when the great depths have been broken up, when the Holy Ghost has begun his work of irresistible power in man, when an entrance has been made by God's sovereign power and touch, then the case is all different. Mark the wonderful statement of the apostle, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14)
Look into your house, go amongst your own kindred, look at your own friends and old acquaintances. Is not the gospel which I am preaching, and which some of you love, is it not foolishness to a non-graced world? It is foolishness to them. Oh, look at the reason, "Neither can he know, because they are spiritually discerned." "But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man" or, as I must have before preached to you, as to the meaning of that word "judgeth" "he that is spiritual discerneth all things, discriminates, or, as in the text before me, "Born of God." This is one meaning of the word "judgeth," in Scripture. I do not intend to enter here on the great subject of "baptismal regeneration," nor to discuss it in any way; but I insist on this, that every man who receives Christ into his heart is born of God. And here is my authority. The text that I am preaching on, whether man believes this or not, this is the truth. But oh! what an unspeakable mercy to have received him. This is the point for me, for you. This is what I mean when I refer to the word "thunderbolt." "Thunderbolt," as generally understood, is a vulgarism. It means really, a ball of fire; and is it not said in God's word, "The fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is?" I know, years ago in my own parish, in a poor man's cottage there in a violent thunder storm I saw the fearful effects of what is commonly called a "thunderbolt." It cut through roof and all, shattering to pieces all before it. And now mark! can you say as Job did, "I was at ease, but he hath broken me asunder; he hath also taken me by my neck, and shaken me to pieces, and set me up for his mark." (Job 16:12)
Do you my hearers, know anything about that? Oh! it is a desperate thing to be a Christian. It tells us of a desperate disease. It tells us of a desperate remedy; even the blood and death of God's co-equal, co-eternal Son. But I would point out the doctrine of the reception of Christ into the heart, and the all-important point for you to grasp is this, whether God has given you power, whether you have received him. Whether he has made an entrance into your soul, and whether you are depending on him, and trusting in him by faith in his own word. Oh, beloved, in these days of so much profession, remember those words of Augustus Toplady
"Profession is not possession."
The point is, are we possessors? Can you say what you heard read in the word this evening from the desk? Words which I was all but taking as a text (instead of the one on which I am preaching) "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." (Phil. 3:3) Here is the one church described. We contend not about trifles. Here is the dignified position of every one of God's dear people. "We are the circumcision which worship God in spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." Oh, beloved, how blessed it is that this comes from such a man as the apostle Paul. You heard it read in the desk. It was what we, churchmen, call "a lesson." Did you hear it? Did you receive it? Are you schooled under it? Have you received a lesson? Did you catch the words? "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea, doubtless, and I count all things 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 dung, that I may win Christ." (Phil. 3:7,8)
Did you mark how emphatically Paul hangs as it were on these words "The knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord" how he claims him as his own Lord, how he had been made to receive him! And thus the once desperate Pharisee, "an Hebrew of the Hebrews," the Popish and persecuting Saul of Tarsus, subdued by grace, receives Christ into a broken heart, and, prostrate before God, "worships him in spirit and in truth." It is either one thing or the other; either Christ received or Christ not received; and this is the effect of his own power and grace, it is his own work in man. Long after I occupied a pulpit in the Church of England, I knew nothing of the Son of God except notionally. But a mere routine of notional theology won't do! But when, like Paul of Tarsus, I was "thunder-bolted" to earth, when I was made by the Holy Ghost to receive Christ crucified into my heart, then "those things that were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." Now, has it been the same with you, my hearers? Have you had power given to receive him? Has he come with power? Has he demanded entrance? "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" (oh! that passage, it comes to me with some power;) "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten; be zealous, therefore, and repent." "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." (Rev. 3:20) Arminianism has not got a leg to stand on there. I know they take it as one of their texts, as one of their favourite Scriptures. But it contradicts their own heresy. He comes first and demands an entrance, and knocks for admittance; and he then gives to his own family power to open the door, to let him in, and so we lay hold on him by faith. Now, the point is, have you received him? Have you had a reception? Has Christ Jesus been received into your heart by faith? You remember what the first lesson was "The preparations of the heart in man" (wasn't that the lesson?) "The preparations of the heart in man" (Look at that!) "And the answer of the tongue is from the Lord." Who can prepare his own heart? What nonsense the Arminian holds, "The preparations of the heart in man; and the answer of the tongue is from the Lord." So Toplady says
God is beforehand with each elect sinner, he preordains everything. Hence it is written in the Acts of the Apostles, "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48) And, again, another passage flows into my mind which is sweet to me" and the Lord added to the church daily the saved ones." It stands in our English version, "Such as should be saved;" but I think I am correct in saying that in the Greek it is, "The Lord added to the church daily the saved ones." Tonight it may be so! There may be some Zaccheus's, here some woman of Samaria here, for ought I know, and you have come here (it may be so) out of mere carnal curiosity. But, oh, there may have been a purpose of mercy toward you. Tonight may be the time! now, the very moment! This may be the hour, and this the place, that you are to be called to a knowledge of the truth, and so to be added, experimentally, practically, to the church, having been a hidden member of it before all worlds. Like the school-boys snowball, which gathers more and more as it is rolled along, so the "Lord adds to the church daily the saved ones;" and this is evidenced in the accession of every prodigal in the arresting of every sinner from the error of his ways, by the receiving of Christ Jesus into any heart "made willing in the day of God's power." (Ps. 110:3) Oh, what an encouragement is this to us to stand and proclaim from our pulpits the glorious gospel entrusted to our charge, and to sound forth, trumpet-tongued, that grace, and love, and mercy which saves and rescues the lost; to point you to Jesus Christ as the only salvation, and to declare that which the text sets forth "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to them which believe on his name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
Now, do we understand anything of the power of being a Son of God? Do we know anything of the privilege of being a Son of God? What says Paul to the church at Galatia?" "And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father", that is, because ye are elect. Now, don't say I am straining it. Don't say I am bringing in a particular or a favourite doctrine. Dare you say so? "Because ye are sons." Why, every schoolboy in a grammar school would tell you that that is in the present tense, and has the force of meaning", And, because ye have been sons, therefore God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father;" and this not for any merit nor creature deserving in them; not (as some say) because you are better than others, but simply and only on the ground of unmerited mercy of free, sovereign grace. For
The "power" to be a son of God; the power to know whether we are such; the power to have a feeling sense of sin; the power of a desire to seek Jesus; the power to repent, to be sorry for our sin!
What did we hear on Sunday morning in the second lesson, on repentance? "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish." But repentance does not save! Repentance is the effect, the fruit of being saved! Every sinner must repent, and every saved sinner shall repent; but he is not saved for his repentance! Repentance is the shame which every Christian feels because of sin. It is so with every brand plucked "out of the fire."
The family of God all know this, we can never separate faith and repentance!
Now, my hearers, do you know what it is to have power to be a son of God? What a mercy! what a privilege! to know the secrets of this, to be a son, not a servant. What a difference there is between a son and a servant, a son would obey and desire to love his father. And mark the ground of love! "We love him because he first loved us." And what, my hearers, is the token, test, evidence of Jehovah's love to us? Chastening, trials, troubles, crosses, "For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Heb. 12:6) Have you endured that chastening? Preachers can only point out the truth! "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us." (2 Cor. 4:7) Oh! what a tremendous place is the pulpit! the place in which is proclaimed the free, full pardon of all sin! Suppose you were now hearing these things for the first time. Remember! some of you may be gospel-hardened! I tell my home-hearers so sometimes! There is such a danger, and it is great; whereas, on the contrary, some poor prodigal may be arrested in the midst of all his sins and debaucheries, by the things we preach, and subdued by the power of the word! while the old professor, gospel-hardened, gets no blessing under the word! Take this hint! I say it all in love!
"Sons we are through God's election
(There is the origin)
"Does both grace and glory give." And in the Psalms we have "The Lord will give grace and glory; no good will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." (Ps. 84:11) "Them that walk uprightly." We know how crooked, and perverse, and sinful we are, how depraved and prone to err and go astray, but the walking "uprightly" is a grand word. Hence our very conflicts prove this; we feel it in our exercises, under every temptation; the battlings day by day prove this. Did not Paul walk "uprightly" when he said, "The good that I would I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do." What made him say that? He wanted to walk "uprightly," and therefore, he was ashamed of himself.
This is the gospel. "The upright in heart." The Christian is always, in one sense, "upright in heart." He may sin, as other men do. He may fall, as Christians sometimes do fall, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall; "but his desire is to walk in obedience to God's commandments as one of the "upright in heart." This won't suit legalists; but it suits women of Samaria, called to a knowledge of the truth. It suits Zaccheus's when commanded down and made to receive Jesus. And oh, see the practicality of the gospel; look at Zacchaeus after grace had touched his heart; mark the contrition and confession of his very soul: "And Zacchaeus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore fourfold." (Luke 19:8)
Here is seen the effect of grace, and, like another publican, he can only cry "God be merciful to me a sinner." Now, are you in trouble? in any trial, in the family, in circumstances, in soul exercise? God, and God alone, can relieve and succour you. Have you received Him? Do you feel that he is your Father in Christ? You can, you may confess to him what you cannot breathe out to any human being! "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) And that confession of sin is the evidence and proof that we are pardoned. Depend on it, when a sinner is brought really to confess his sins, it is the test of pardon. We confess our sins because we are saved, pardoned, sinners. "If we confess our sins", that is the evidence of, and not the condition of our pardon. God will bring every saved sinner to confess; and oh! how we often struggle on our knees against confessing; but grace rules, and we are made to pour out the whole secret and having done so, pardon and forgiveness is applied with power "I, I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins." (Isa. 43:25) We have all our trials, all our exercises in the family, in providence, in some way or other "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." God's people are all tried, all poor. If there is a duke before me, he is a poor man if he is a Christian. By "poor," I mean, "poor in spirit." But have we received Christ? have we had power given to be a son of God? then the world and the professor will cast you off. We must test our hearers, we must come close home. You may say, as some at Winchelsea, and who will not come and hear me, that I am "too personal," and so they go away; but every faithful minister must be personal. I wish to be so, I would be so tonight. Was not Nathan personal, when he faithfully declared "Thou art the man?"
But mark what followed! Oh! the blessed effects! David dropped under the charge! He confessed his sin and guilt! And then mark the declaration of Nathan "And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." (2 Sam. 12:13) Oh! what encouragement! what hope this affords to the poor and guilty, to the very worst of sinners "Thou shalt not die."
Now, has God given you power? Power to become a son of God? Power to feel your sin and guilt? Power to repent? Power to believe to the saving of your soul? Have you access as a son of God? But now I come to the other part of the text "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." This is an important part of my subject "Born not of blood" not by family descent, not from a long and a noble line of ancestry. The aristocracy of our land cannot claim this, on the ground of descent. Many of them may be, and some, I believe, are, the sons of God; but not because nobly born. Amongst the men now at this time ranged in the House of Peers, some may be the sons of God. The coronet never shines so brightly and so brilliantly as when we see it on the brow of one of God's elect! and you, poor ones, have none of the rank, or splendour, nor goods of this world, you who have in yourselves nothing, if you can but trace the work of God and the new birth in your soul, then you are a son "and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." Oh! that this preaching now may be with power, and that this church tonight may be a cradle for some new-born child of God, and then joy shall be in heaven "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."
If, in St. Barnabas Church tonight my tongue is made instrumental, if the arrow is shot into some heartif amongst this crowd before me, some man, or some woman, one of the very worst in all the city of London, is sitting, and now made to receive Christ, and to be "born of God" if, like the woman of Samaria, at that memorable well, you are now to have the gift bestowed and to be born from above; if, by one "less than the least of all," Christ is now about to manifest himself with power "I that speak unto thee am he" then you will understand the reality of the birth insisted on in this part of my text, that I am now preaching upon "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." The worldly man, high and well born, is proud of his aristocratic birth; and this is natural, but oh! what a mercy to be one of the aristocracy of heaven this humbles, while it makes glad the new-born sinner!
But mark the second statement in this part of my text "Nor of the will of the flesh" "nor of the will of man." And what do I deduce from these words? Why, that man has no free-will! This I insist on as a faithful minister in England's church. The Bible and the article of our church, both deny the heresy of free will.
My hearers, the pulpit and the desk must agree, there must be no jarring in these things. "Let God be true, and every may a liar. It is "not of the will of the flesh; it is not of the will of man, but of God." Grace makes one differ from another. Take a case! You may be anxious about some member of your own family, some whom you wish to see Christians; but nothing can effect this but God! Human efforts are quite powerless; and here I come to the climax of my text-listen to the word! "But of God!" "Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." And so Paul says "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." (Rom. 9:16) Man can do nothing; and here I may refer to a Scripture which I quoted here a month ago; "And Moses said unto the Lord, the people cannot come up to Mount Sinai." Do you catch that in all its fullness of meaning? Man cannot obey, man cannot fulfil the law. It demands implicit and perfect obedience. Its demands is "Pay me that thou owest." Every man is brought into condemnation who does not obey that law. But when we feel this and know this, how sweet is that Scripture "For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace." (Rom. 6:14) "Not under the law, but under grace!" under God's discriminating love and favour! How dignified then is the position of every newborn child of God!" "born of God." And then comes the solemn questionnaire you so born? Now, my hearers, you must die, and I must die! You may not have this solemn subject of death put pointedly often before you in London, but it is a most important one.
The other day, in my own parish at Winchelsea, I had buried a corpse; and after the service, as I was returning home and leaving the church, I heard the clods of earth thrown down into that grave, and the hollow sound, as they fell upon the coffin, was very striking. And, my hearers, you and I must one day die! We shall be gone! And mark me, unless "born of God," you will be, you must be, damned through all eternity. Works cannot save. I do not ask you whether you are good or whether you are bad, for we are all bad; but it is the receiving Christ, it is having power to be a son of God, it is by faith in his name, it is by that birth which is of God, according to his free and sovereign grace, that enables us to look to Christ as a Saviour, and to triumph over sin, and death, and Satan, and the world, and all enemies. You may be dead before I come in August. You may die before you get home tonight. Is it not, then, an all-important questionnaire you "born of God?" Is Christ your Saviour? Why does the Christian? why does the poor sinner come to church? Simply to hear the gospel, to worship God, to pick up a crumb. The time catches my eye, and I should stop; but oh! my hearers, I have not had time to dwell on that word in the text "To them that believe in his name."
Now this is the message I would leave amongst you. This is the word of truth! Salvation is in Christ alone. May the gospel be blest, may it be with power. Oh! to dying men and dying women, think what damnation is!
But salvation is a salvation from all sin, past sin, present sin, future sin, all sin
Christ has bought the church with his own blood. He has made the purchase. Can you read your own title clear? Examine that title. In purchasing an estate, would you not first instruct your attorney to examine and see whether the title was good? But the church has been bought and paid for by the blood of Christ and we, through him, have a title to the inheritance.
That blood has atoned for the sins of Mary Magdalene, and she is now without spot before him, so also Zacchaeus, so also the guilty woman of Samaria. They were made to receive Christ, they received power to become a son and daughters of God, and "born of God," they were brought as poor repenting sinners "to believe in his name." Oh! Is it so with us? Have you had that same power given to you? and are you resting simply, only, and fully in Christ Jesus, and believing in his name? I will now read the text, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, to them that believe on his name: which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" and finish this service, may God bless the gospel, for Christ's sake. Amen.