The Way Made Plain

By James H. Brookes

Chapter 10



What, then, will you do? Go to the Church to save you? Poor sinner! how can the Church save you when it is nothing, as its name implies, but an assembly of sinners called out from the world to be the witness of the grace that has plucked them as brands from the burning? I verily believe that there is nothing about which there is such mischievous confusion of mind and such horrible darkness as concerning "The Church." If the Church saves, pray in what part of it is salvation found? Is it in the preacher, or the people, or the services? Do you not perceive at a glance that in going to the Church for salvation you are going back to the law and to this fatal principle of doing? Do you not see that you are guilty of blasphemy in transferring the perfections of Jehovah, whose high province and sole prerogative it is to save, to sinful creatures like yourself? Take heed, I beseech you, how you put your trust in the Church, lest you should be aroused by the terrors of the judgment to the frightful discovery that you have been building your hope of life on a foundation of sand. There is not a church organization on earth that has not departed from the simplicity and purity in doctrine and practice of the Gospel standard; and inasmuch as the Lord has plainly revealed that all these ecclesiastical systems are to perish amid the crash and wreck that will close the present dispensation, he who expects to be saved in virtue of his connection with any body of professing Christians will feel the ground on which he stands give way as with the throes of an earthquake, and no resting-place shall be found for his soul. God forbid that I should disparage the real Church, or the assembly of the saved which constitutes the mystical body, and by and by will be manifested as the beautiful bride, of the King of kings; but woe to him who hangs his hope of eternal life upon her impotent arm! He is ascribing to the creature the power and grace that belong only to the Creator and deludes himself with the vain confidence of the Jews, in the days of the apostles, when they lost sight of Christ to trust for salvation in circumcision and other appointed ordinances. The Church, however imposing her ceremonies and however exalted her dignitaries, is composed of sinners who, believing in Jesus, "are builded together for a habitation of God through the Spirit;"1 and it would be a strange thing indeed if the saved could become the Saviour in any other sense than to testify of His redeeming love and of the infinite merit of His atoning blood.

But I will go a step farther with my argument and assert that there could be no hope for the sinner, in the law or on the principle of doing, even if he were able to abstain entirely hereafter from the transgression of the commandments; and even if he were able to say truthfully that he has never in the past violated one of these precepts; and even if he were able to discover a Church exactly conformed in all respects to the apostolic standard, and should become the most prominent leader in its services. When you read this assertion, do not, I pray you, throw the book contemptuously down, but, however offensive it may be, at least consider what I have to say in its support. I would not thrust a bony and cold-blooded theology at you to haunt your dreams like a spectre, and I have as little relish as you can possibly have for those nice hair-splitting distinctions in doctrinal statement that are of no practical value to the soul. But, dear reader, I am dealing with a solemn truth and a tremendous fact when I repeat that if your outward life were perfectly blameless, and if you were a distinguished member of the only true Church on the face of the earth, could you find such a body, you would still need something else before obtaining a scriptural hope of salvation. My authority for this declaration is found in the oft-repeated testimony of the word of God that our very nature is sinful, and hence our Lord, as if addressing each person belonging to our race, distinctly affirms, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee"—I who can neither deceive nor be deceived—I who came down from heaven to die in the room and stead of lost men—"I say unto thee, Except a man [except any one, every one] be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."2

Those who reject the finished work of Christ as the only ground of their hope may cavil as much as they please at these words; but there they stand forever in the Sacred Scriptures, and no impious hand can tear them from the Bible, and no ingenious criticism can force them to signify mere reformation or the reception of rites and sacraments. When the blessed Saviour said, "Ye must be born again,"3 He obviously meant just what He said, and not something He did not say. We have been born once,—born of our earthly parents,—and now we must be born again, or we cannot see the kingdom of God. The way in which we are born again is very simple, and the Lord states it in language that cannot be misunderstood when He says, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life."4 Whosoever believeth, then, has eternal life, and whoso ever has eternal life surely sees and enters the kingdom of God: so that whosoever believeth is born again. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."5 God loved and gave, and we believe and have; and this is all of it in order to attain life and experience the new birth. To the same effect we read, ''As many as received him [Christ], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even 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."6 "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God."7 "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."8 "Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature,"9 or, as it might be rendered, he is an unimpaired, uncontaminated creation. In other words, he is born again; and no one has the right to say that we can be born only once. Indeed, unless we are born a second time, born from above, born of God, it is certain that we can never see heaven; for the old nature which we inherit from fallen Adam cannot be admitted into the presence of the Holy One of whom it is written, "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity."10 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh," says Jesus, "and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."11 The birth, then, is as real and literal in one case as in the other, and the one is no more mysterious than the other.

It is upon such statements as the last quoted I rest the important doctrine that there is no hope for the sinner in the law, even if he is and always has been perfectly conformed to its precepts in his outward life; and even if he faithfully goes through the whole round of religious observances required by the Church. *' That which is born of the flesh is flesh; "and our Saviour obviously designs to teach us that it can never be anything but flesh, while that which is born of the Spirit is spirit, and can never be anything but spirit. The word flesh, which is often used in the Bible to denote mankind, is also frequently employed to set forth the fact that man is corrupt and depraved; as it is written, "God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth."12 Keeping in view this universal corruption which is characteristic of the human race, it is easy to see why the Holy Ghost directed the inspired writers to describe our fallen, sinful nature, as we are born into the world, by the term flesh. The Apostle Paul says, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing."13 "With the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."14 "They that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded [or the minding of the flesh] is death; but to be spiritually minded [or the minding of the spirit] is life and peace."15 "Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof."16 "Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would."17 "The works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, reveilings, and such like."18 "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts."19 "He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."20

These quotations, taken from two of the Epistles, prove that the word flesh, very often, at least, indicates the depravity and sinfulness of our nature; and they still further prove that the nature we inherit from fallen Adam remains depraved and sinful to the end of life. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh," and do what you will with it, you can never make anything of it but flesh. Adorn it with all the charms of the most attractive morality, beautify it with all the graces of the most refined culture, and still it remains flesh. "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?"21 Can you by any amount of care and industry cause thorns to produce grapes or thistles to bring forth figs? This may be done just as soon as flesh can be turned into spirit, or that which is inherently and essentially sinful can be changed into holiness. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then," says the Lord, "may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil."22 In other words, neither in the case of the Ethiopian, nor the leopard, nor the sinner, can the nature be changed into another nature. A new nature may be imparted or a new creation wrought by the power of the almighty, but the old nature will be the old nature still. Hence the Bible in describing the way of salvation does not represent it as due to certain moral influences which God brings to bear upon the soul, but to "the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power [or the energy of the might of his power] which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places."23 Nothing short of the highest exercise of Divine power can avail to raise us out of the profound abyss of our misery, because our nature is helplessly sinful and hopelessly ruined. God's judgment of our state by nature is contained in His own solemn declaration, "the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;"24 and it will give the full force of this declaration to remember that the word translated "desperately "is rendered "incurable "and "fatal "when applied to a disease or a wound. Man's nature then is incurably wicked, it is fatally injured; and, therefore, in the promise of salvation which the Lord addresses to Israel, He says, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you."25 The psalmist, taught by the Holy Ghost, prays, "Create in me a clean heart, O God;"26 and neither he nor any other of the inspired writers ever use the unscriptural phrase, "a change of heart," which we so often hear in our pulpits and read in our religious books.

The phrase is objectionable because it implies that the new birth does not consist in the imparting of the new nature, but in the improvement or reformation of the old; and for this view I am satisfied there is no foundation whatever in the word of God or in Christian experience. On the other hand, it is written, "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be."27 Here we are told that the carnal mind, the fleshly mind, that which is born of the flesh, man's nature, is not only an enemy, but enmity itself against God, and that it cannot be subject to the law of God. "So, then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God."28 The carnal mind, or the flesh, or the old nature cannot, therefore, be changed or improved; for then it could become subject to the law of God and please Him, which is here declared to be impossible. Again: "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;"29 and if the natural man can neither receive nor know the things of the Spirit of God, it seems to be quite certain that the Spirit of God is not changing, improving and reforming the natural man or man's old nature. Again: "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other;"30 and if this perpetual conflict is going on between the two, how can it be said that the Spirit is gradually transforming the flesh or the old nature into His own likeness? Again: Christians are exhorted to "put off," not change or reform, but put off, "the old man, which is corrupt [mark it, is corrupt], according to the deceitful lusts; "and to "put on the new man which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."31 Again: "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature"32 (or new creation).

In the light of these clear statements, and of many others like them that could be quoted if necessary, we are compelled to see that the nature we have inherited from fallen Adam is totally ruined. There is not, according to the vain thought of many, a little good in man as he is born into the world, "for I know that in me (that is, m my flesh) dwelleth no good thing,"33 and in God's sight, "every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."34 He is not like a ship whose sails have been split by a storm and whose masts have been splintered by the lightning, so that it needs repair; but like a shattered wreck upon the shore. A new vessel must be built. He is not like a musical instrument whose strings have become discordant by the violence of some rude clashing hand, but like one broken to pieces. A new instrument must be constructed. He is not like a temple whose altar is desecrated, whose walls are defaced, and whose pillars have been dismantled of their beauty; but the magnificent edifice that once reflected the glory of the Godhead now lies a shapeless mass of worthless rubbish, the fit abode of unclean birds and venomous reptiles; and a new building must be reared. Our nature is like a human body full of "wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores; they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment:"35 and the Holy Ghost did not come down in witness of the ascension of Christ, to inhabit such a thing as this, and seek its improvement. It has been cast out as vile; and not only has the righteous sentence of its doom been pronounced, but it has been executed; for "God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh."36 Blessed be His name. He struck at the very root of the evil, at sin in the flesh or in our nature; and yet, in His adorable grace, the blow fell not upon us, but upon His own Son, "for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."37

Sin, then, in its broadest and deepest sense, including both actual transgressions and the depravity of our nature, has already been judged and condemned and punished, so far as the believer is concerned, in the person of Jesus Christ, "who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree;"38 who "appeared to put away sin [not sins only, but sin, the poisonous root down in our nature] by the sacrifice of himself;"39 and on the ground of that ample and atoning sacrifice, the Holy Ghost proceeds to impart a new nature, to give a new life, to form a new creation in Christ through faith in His name as He is made known to us in the Gospel. But, dear reader, you are laying up for yourself much sorrow and trouble if you fail to remember that the "flesh "in a Christian is no better than the "flesh" in an infidel. ''That which is born of the flesh is flesh," and on becoming "the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus," we do not cease to become the children of Adam. It is true that "ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you;"40 but it is equally true that the flesh is in you; and you will find it to be the same flesh that it was before you believed the testimony of the Gospel, and were thus "born again." Forgetfulness or ignorance of this fact has cast many young believers, and many old ones too, into the depths of despondency, and made them all their lifetime subject to bondage through fear of death. They have been taught to expect a gradual change and increasing sanctification of the old nature until, as I have heard eminent ministers express it, the Spirit puts the finishing touch on the Christian in his dying hour, who is thus made meet to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light.

Now the fact is, he was made meet the moment he was in Christ by faith; for the apostle, in behalf of all Christians alike, gives "thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light;"41 and as to the gradual change and improvement of the old nature, I boldly challenge the experience of every intelligent, thoughtful believer to testify whether it is not the merest delusion. Does he find that it is a whit better after ten, twenty or forty years than it was the day he confessed Christ? Kay, does he not find that it is precisely the same, except that there is a growing conviction of its exceeding sinfulness? True, he may be enabled through the indwelling Spirit to subdue it more thoroughly, but unless it is constantly "mortified "and "kept under," it will spring up in all its original deformity, and obscure the shining of the new nature. Careful observation also will convince you that a Christian carries with him, along the whole progress of his earthly journey, the same characteristics, the same peculiarities, the same nature he had previous to his conversion; and though it is now hated and held down, ever and anon it rises into view, and, when faith falters, extorts the cry, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?"42 If it is the fact that the old nature of the Christian must undergo this gradual and progressive change for the better, it is unaccountable that the most abandoned sinners, like the dying thief, sometimes pass in an hour from the lowest depths of iniquity into the paradise of God; and that the most devoted saints, like David, are guilty of fearful falls that leave a dark stain on the record of their lives; since, according to the theory that the old nature ceases to be what it was, there should not be found in it any power to lust, or to plan a murder, or to commit any other heinous sin. It is astonishing, therefore, that so many excellent ministers of the Gospel persist in speaking of regeneration as a change wrought in the old nature until it reaches perfection at the moment of death, when their views are not only directly in the face of the Scriptures, but flatly contradicted by the experience and observation of their hearers.

The preachers of a former age, when a sounder theology prevailed, spoke far otherwise, as did Ralph Erskine, who was in the habit of calling the Christian "half devil and half saint; "and as did Stilling fleet, bishop of Worcester, England, in the seventeenth century, who wrote, "In an unconverted person there is but one nature; in a real Christian there are two natures; the one is called the flesh; the other the Spirit." This I think expresses the precise difference between the unbeliever and the believer; the former has but one nature, while the latter has two natures; but of course I do not mean to say he has two souls. The second man, the Lord from heaven, has two natures in one person, dwelling together without admixture, change, or confusion, yet He has but one soul. "Webster defines the word nature as '' the essence, essential qualities, or attributes of a thing, which constitute it what it is; "and I affirm that "the essence, essential qualities, or attributes "which belong to man when he is born into the world continue with him unchanged to the end; and that when he is born again another thing is communicated to him, "the essence, essential qualities, or attributes "of which link him to God and constitute him truly a child of God. Of the one nature it is written, "he that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning."43 Of the other nature it is written, "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."44 Of the one it is written, "The old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts."45 Of the other it is written, "The new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."46 Of one it is written, "They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them."47 Of the other it is written, "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world."48

The sharp and unchanged contrast between the two natures as presented in the Bible might be continued at great length, but enough, probably, has been said to convince you that if you are looking for the gradual sanctification of the old nature, instead of trusting in the accomplished sacrifice of Christ, you will be woefully disappointed. You will find that the old nature remains the old nature in spite of all your struggles and tears and vows. "No man putteth a piece of new cloth into an old garment; for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved."49 If men are not guilty of the folly described here by the Saviour, neither is the Lord; for He just casts aside the old garment, the old bottles, the old nature, as condemned and worthless, and gives unto us '' exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature,"50 and "in Christ a new creation." It is all in Christ, for "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affection and lusts."51 "Knowing this, that our old man is [was] crucified with him."52 "I am [have been] crucified with Christ."53 The scene of this crucifixion is not in ourselves—as so many imagine, to their own perpetual discomfort and sorrow—but it was on Calvary, for when Christ was crucified the believer was crucified; when Christ died the believer died; when Christ was buried the believer was buried; when Christ was quickened the believer was quickened; when Christ arose the believer arose; when Christ was seated in the heavenly places the believer was seated together with Him, forever past condemnation, and judgment, and death, and standing in the light and glory of the new creation, an heir of God and joint-heir with Christ, saved now and saved forever.

This will come up again more fully hereafter, but for the present I ask you to consider that if you were perfectly obedient to the law in your outward life, and if you were the most prominent member of what is called by various denominations the only true Church, you would require something else as long as the old nature remains the old nature, and as long as it is true that "ye must be born again." The worst need nothing more than this, but the best can do with nothing less. Thanks to God, there is nothing, nothing whatever, between the worst of sinners and the gracious Saviour, as I shall now proceed to show.



1) Eph. ii. 22.

2) John iii. 3.

3) John iii. 7.

4) John iii. 14, 15,

5) John iii. 16.

6) John i. 12, 13.

7) 1 John v. 1.

8) Gal. iii. 26.

9) 2 Cor. v. 17.

10) Hab. i. 13.

11) John iii. 6.

12) Gen. vi. 12.

13) Rom. vii. 18.

14) Rom. vii. 25.

15) Rom. viii. 5, 6.

16) Rom, xiii. 14.

17) Gal. v. 16, 17.

18) Gal. v. 19-21.

19) Gal. v. 24.

20) Gal. vi. 8.

21) Matt. vii. 16.

22) Jer. xiii. 23.

23) Eph. i. 19, 20.

24) Jer. xvii. 9.

25) Ezek. xxxvi. 26.

26) Ps. li. 10.

27) Rom. viii. 7.

28) Rom. viii. 8.

29) 1 Cor. ii. 14.

30) Gal. v. 17.

31) Eph. iv. 22, 24.

32) Gal. vi. 15.

33) Rom. vii. 18.

34) Gen. vi. 5.

35) Isa. i. 6.

36) Rom viii. 3.

37) 2 Cor. v. 21.

38) 1 Pet. ii. 24.

39) Heb. ix. 26.

40) Rom. viii. 9.

41) Col. i. 12.

42) Rom. vii. 24.

43) 1 John iii. 8.

44) 1 John iii. 9.

45) Eph. iv. 22.

46) Eph. iv. 24.

47) 1 John iv. 5.

48) 1 John v. 4.

49) Matt. ix. 16, 17.

50) 2 Pet. i. 4.

51) Gal. v. 24.

52) Rom. vi. 6.

53) Gal. ii. 20.