Tuesday, 3 February 2015

William Wilberforce: 1797 Book condensed: Ch IV Sect I (A)

Chapter IV
On the prevailing inadequate conceptions concerning the nature and the strictness of practical Christianity
Sect. I (A)

Strictness? That may surprise you. I emphasised that our salvation is “by grace alone” through Jesus' death. Does that mean I am soft on “works”? Not at all. And the people I criticised for having a scheme of salvation that rested chiefly on their own exertions and performance for acceptance with God – are they much more strict? Surprising as it may seem – No. Quite the opposite.

It is a Truth or Error thing. Those who believe the true Gospel of salvation through Christ also believe the rest of the Gospel – dying to sin and living for Christ alone. Those who are in error about the Author of our salvation go on into further error. They start by believing that we can somehow earn our way into heaven and they end up by setting the requirement low enough that anyone can do it. This means they water the moral demands of Christ down to almost nothing.

This watering down of the Gospel seems now (in 1797) to be the commonly received opinion.

If you doubt this, just ask a nominal Christian in what way they would act differently if you could prove to them that Christianity was a fraud.

Actually you don't even need to do that. Just look at how these so called “Christians” live. Are their lives much different to the professed non-believers they live amongst? No. Not really.

Is that the Christianity of the early disciples? Is that the faith they suffered hardship persecution and martyrdom for? I think not!

You may say I am wrong here. You may claim that in our Christian civilisation the moral tone has been so raised by generations of Christians that now even unbelievers act better – in fact they copy Christians in their moral behaviour so much that there is no discernible difference.

Nice try! But are you seriously claiming that the motivation required to live as a Christian is so small that someone who doesn't believe it at all can live as good a Christian life as someone who does believe?

but let it then be asked, are the motives of Christianity so little necessary to the practice of it, its principles to its conclusions, that the one may be spared yet the other remain in undiminished force? Still then, its doctrines are no more than a barren and inapplicable or at least unnecessary theory, the place of which, it may perhaps be added, would be well supplied by a more simple and less costly scheme.

But can it be? Is Christianity then reduced to a mere creed? Is its practical influence bounded within a few external plausibilities? Does its essence consist only of a few speculative opinions, and a few useless and unprofitable tenets?”

As If! Could anything that weak warrant what Scripture says is the difference between believing and rejecting it? “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on them” No indeed. Christianity is no mere creed!

The morality of the Gospel is strong stuff too! “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” “be holy for God is holy” “Be perfect therefore as your Heavenly Father is perfect”

No one who takes these seriously can be satisfied by low attainments! This is why the Bible describes becoming a real Christian as needing a radical change. “All who have this hope purify themselves even as he is pure” True Christians are said to be created anew in the image of God, to be “temples of the Holy Spirit” the effects of which must appear “in all goodness righteousness and truth”.

These verses - and the Bible has many more like them - vindicate the strictness of the Christian morality. I will say more later when discussing the Christian character.

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