The Anxious Inquirer
Whether it is assurance you seek, or the deep, foundational truths of God, you will find an introduction to both here.
Two weeks ago, when writing about how we are prone but not powerless to wander, we made reference to a small booklet published in 1834 by the Reverend John Angell James, titled, ‘The Anxious Inquirer.’
While you may not be familiar with the title, you more certainly will have heard the name Martin Lloyd Jones. It shall benefit you to know then that this book, Anxious Inquirer, is the very same one offered by Martyn Lloyd Jones to his own wife, when she came to him with concerns about her own salvation.
And I shall always remember Martyn saying, as he looked through his books, “Here, read this.” He gave me John Angell James’ The Anxious Inquirer Directed. I have never forgotten what I read in that book. It showed me how wrong was the idea that my sin could be greater than the merit of the blood of Christ. His death was well able to clear all my sins away. And there at last, I found release, and I was so happy.
-Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years, 1899–1939
In a sermon from 1996, Alistair Begg makes reference to this story of Jones’ wife, and pleads with his congregation to examine their own faith:
Some of you are just like Mrs. Lloyd-Jones, I am convinced of it. And you feel yourself trapped because you’re not honest enough to admit that you have never really come to personal faith in Jesus Christ, and you hear people give their testimonies in baptism, and you share their joy, but it closes down a piece of you, because you know that you have no such personal testimony to give. Wouldn’t you be bold enough tonight to acknowledge it—just where you sit, just as you listen to this scenario unfold, just as God grips your heart—and cry out to him and say, “Lord, I am just like that lady, and I need what she sought. I need you.”
In our letter today, I’ll be sharing an extended excerpt from The Anxious Inquirer for two reasons:
This book has profoundly impacted those who sought an assurance of salvation but had not yet found it. This is right in line with the focus of this newsletter, which is to make a weekly introduction to God and His kingdom.
Many of you are seeking the deeper things of God. The shallow, surface-level, platitudes are no longer satisfying the growing hunger you have for His truth. The excerpt below will give you an introduction into some of these deeper, doctrinal truths.
Words such as justification, propitiation, atonement, sanctification and glorification sound little more like religious jargon to most. Questions like, “Why did Jesus have to die? Who killed Him? What does this death truly say about our condition?” are called confusing, deemed to be stirring up unnecessary conflict, or believed to be irrelevant to the real needs of people in our communities.
Discipline yourself, therefore, to read this letter in order to understand, regardless of how long it takes you. Whether it is assurance you seek, or the deep, foundational truths of God, you will find an introduction to both here.
The Anxious Inquirer: Chapter Three, pages 62-70
Now let every anxious inquirer consider this; let him ask what it is he wants, as a fallen, sinful creature. Is it not the deliverance of his soul from the power as well as the punishment of sin?
Is he not painfully conscious to himself, not only of wrath coming down upon him from God for his sins, but of a spring of misery within himself in the existence of those very sins? And is it not for this he should look to Christ?
Could he be saved at all, if not saved from his body of flesh, his corrupt nature? And can any one save him from this but Christ? Poor troubled, tormented sinner, look to Christ; in Him is all you want: the Son of God will be ‘made unto you wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption,’ 1 Corinthians 1:30.
Connected with this is the momentous subject of the justification of a sinner in the sight of God.
You must soon be at the bar of God for judgment; and if you are not now justified, you must be then condemned. Yea, if you are not yet justified, which it is to be presumed you are not, you are now in a state of condemnation: ‘for he that believeth not is condemned already; the wrath of God abideth on him,’ John 3:18, 36.
Every one who has not yet received Christ is under the curse of the law; he is a dead man in law, a sinner doomed to die; condemned by God, condemned to death eternal. Well may you tremble at your situation; and like the man who, after condemnation at the bar of his country’s justice, has been removed to await in his cell the execution of his sentence, ask the question, ‘How shall I escape?’
At this stage of your experience, then, it is infinitely desirable you should be clearly instructed in the nature of justification. It is a subject of immense consequence to the sinner, and is therefore frequently mentioned and treated at great length in the Epistles to the Romans and Galatians.
Attend to the meaning of the word. Justification is the opposite of condemnation, as is evident from the following passages:
‘He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord,’ Proverbs 17:15
‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?’ Romans 8:33, 34
Fix this simple idea in your mind, that justification is the opposite of condemnation, for things are sometimes easily and impressively learnt by their contraries.
The justification of an innocent person is pronouncing him just, on the ground of his own conduct; but how can a sinner, who is confessedly guilty of innumerable transgressions, be justified? Now you will see at once that the term, in reference to him, is a little different, and signifies, not that he is righteous in himself, but is treated as if he had been, through the righteousness of Christ imputed to him.
‘Justification,’ says the Assembly’s larger Catechism, ‘is an act of God’s free grace unto sinners, in which He pardoneth all their sins, accepteth and accounteth their persons righteous in His sight, not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone.’
In justification, God acts as a judge, in absolving the sinner from punishment and restoring him to all the privileges of a citizen of the heavenly community.
Justification means not merely pardon, but something more. Pardon would only restore the sinner to the state of Adam before he fell, when he was not yet entitled to the reward of obedience, and which, indeed, he never obtained. Justification is pardon connected with a title to eternal life.
Justification takes place but once; pardon may be frequently repeated: justification is that great change which is made in the sinner’s relation to God, when he is delivered from condemnation, and is brought, from being an enemy, to be a child.
If a king were to save a condemned criminal, and immediately adopt him as a child, this would resemble our justification; and his frequent forgiveness of his after offenses, when standing in the relation of a son, would resemble God’s fatherly love in forgiving the sins of His children.
Justification, then, is God’s act in taking off the sentence of a sinner’s condemnation by the law, restoring him to His favour, and granting him a title to eternal life in heaven.
But how can a righteous God, who has respect for His holy law, justify a sinner? I answer, on the ground of Christ’s righteousness.
Thus the law is honored, because justification proceeds on the ground of a righteousness which meets and satisfies its demands. This is what is meant by the imputed righteousness of Christ, that the sinner is accepted to the Divine favour out of regard to what Christ did and suffered on his behalf.
This judicial act of God, in justifying the sinner, takes place when and as soon as he believes in Christ; because by that act of faith he is brought into union with the Saviour, and becomes legally one with Him, so as to receive the benefit of His mediatorial undertaking.
In connexion with this, it may be well to show the nature of sanctification, and how these two blessings are related to each other. Sanctification signifies our being set apart from the love and service of sin and the world, to the love and service of God; it is our being made holy; and a saint, or sanctified one, means a holy one.
Justification is the result of Christ’s work for us; sanctification is the Holy Spirit’s work in us.
Conceive of a criminal in jail under sentence of death, and at the same time infected with a dangerous disease; in order to his being said, he must be both pardoned and cured: for if he be only pardoned, he will soon die of his disease; or if he be only cured, he will soon be executed.
Such is the emblem of the sinner’s case: by actual sin he is condemned to die, by inherent depravity he is infected with a spiritual disease; in justification he is pardoned; in sanctification he is cured; and the two blessings, although distinct, are always united, and are both necessary to salvation.
Thus, you see:
Justification changes our relation to God
But sanctification changes our spiritual condition
And regeneration, or the new birth, means our first entrance upon a sanctified state
Reader, diligently attend to these things; fix your mind upon them; labour to understand them: a knowledge of these two blessings, justification and sanctification, is a key to the whole Bible.
Oh blessed, infinitely blessed state! To be delivered from the condemnation of our sins, and from their domineerings and defiling power! This is a present salvation.
You should also be well instructed in the nature and necessity of the work of the Holy Spirit in renewing and sanctifying the sinner’s heart.
It is an important lesson, and one that should be learnt at the very beginning of your religious course, that the work of the Holy Spirit in the sinner is as necessary to his salvation as the work of Christ for him. As we are all corrupt by nature, in consequence of our descent from Adam since his fall, we grow up and remain without any true religion, till it is implanted in the heart by Divine grace.
True holiness is something foreign from our corrupt nature; and the whole business of religion, from first to last, is carried on in the heart by the Spirit of God.
There is not, as I before remarked and now repeat, a truly pious thought, feeling, purpose, word or action, but what is the result of Divine influence upon the human mind. Our regeneration, or new birth, is ascribed by the Spirit: hence it is said, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,’ John 3:5.
Our right knowledge of God’s word is traced up to our Spirit; hence David prayed, ‘Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law,’ Psalm 119:18. Paul also prayed for the illumination of the Spirit, on behalf of the Ephesians, 1:17, 18.
Sanctification is entirely the work of the Spirit; see 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2. Believers are said to:
‘live in the Spirit’
‘walk in the Spirit’
‘walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit’
‘be led by the Spirit’
‘mortify the deeds of the body to the Spirit’
‘be sealed by the Spirit’
‘have the Spirit bearing witness with their spirit that they are the children of God’
‘enjoy the earnest of the Spirit’
and to ‘bring forth the fruits of the Spirit.’
Galatians 5:22-25, Romans 8:1-16, Ephesians 1:13-14.
Now from all these passages, and many more that might be quoted, it is evident that the work of genuine religion is, from first to last, carried on in the soul by the Holy Ghost: this is His department, so to speak, in the economy of our redemption.
The Father is represented as originating the scheme; the Son as executing it; the Spirit as applying it.
We cannot tell where man ends, and God begins, nor ought we to trouble or perplex ourselves about the matter…we are immediately to engage all our faculties, and, at the same time, engage them in a spirit of entire dependence upon God.
We are to fix our attention, to deliberate, to purpose, to resolve, to choose, just as we should in worldly matters; but we are to do all this with a feeling of reliance, and in the very spirit of prayer.
It is our obvious duty to repent and to believe, and also to do this at once, and not only merely to desire to do it, or attempt to do it: but such is the depravity of our nature, that we never shall do it till God influences us.
What we have to do, therefore, is immediately to obey the command to repent and believe; and to obey in the very language and feeling of that prayer, ‘Lord, help mine unbelief.’
We must obey, not only believing that it is our duty to obey, but believing also that we shall be assisted. Hence the very essence of religion seems to be a spirit of vigorous exertion, blended with a spirit of unlimited dependence and earnest prayer.
An illustration may be borrowed, as recorded Matthew 12:10-13, from the case of the man with the withered arm. Our Lord commanded him to stretch forth his hand, and he did not say, Lord, I cannot, it is dead; but, relying on His power who gave the injunction, and believing that the command implied a promise of help, if he were willing to receive it, he stretched it forth; that is, he willed to do it, and he was able.
So it must be with the sinner: he is commanded to repent and believe, and he is not to say, I cannot, for I am dead in sin; but he is to believe in the promised aid of grace, and to obey in a dependence upon Him who worketh in men to will and to do.