We are pleased to present an updated version of Matthew Mead's book, The Almost Christian Discovered
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Matthew Mead's Almost Christian is a Puritan-era treatise on the need for a personal relationship with God and the importance of living a godly life. Mead argues that true Christianity is not just about outward conformity to religious practices, but rather a sincere and heartfelt love of God and a commitment to living according to His will. This is the difference between an "Almost Christian" and an "Altogether Christian".
In this book, Mead discusses the importance of repentance, faith, and charity and how these things are necessary for a true Christian life. He also warns against false teachers and false religions, and encourages readers to be discerning in their faith.
This may be one of the most important books you will read, especially if you have grown up in the church or a Christian family.
The Almost Christian Discovered
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To all who heard these sermons—may grace and peace be multiplied. Dear friends, the purpose of God's providence in calling me to serve among you this summer will be best seen in the effects it has had on your souls. The gracious growth of grace and holiness in your hearts and lives is the best evidence that it was done in mercy. Where this is not the result of the Word, it can become a judgment. The Word of God carries with it life or death, salvation or damnation—and it brings forth one or the other in every soul that hears it. I would not want, not even for the world (if I had the power to make the choice), that my efforts, which were meant and designed to promote your immortal souls to the glory of heaven, in the pursuit of peace—should be found to have been a ministration of death and condemnation, on the great day of Jesus Christ. Yet the Lord knows that this is too often the result of even the most straightforward and effective preaching of the gospel. "The waters of the sanctuary" don't always bring healing, for there are places that are so boggy and marshy that they are cursed with barrenness, even when the "waters of the sanctuary" overflow them.
It is certain that the gospel brings about a spiritual death, just as the law does. This is evidenced by the trees in Jude that are said to be "twice dead, and plucked up by the roots." Even though the gospel is the greatest mercy, it can become a great judgment when people's desires and unbelief get in the way. It's like the richest and most generous wine turning into the sharpest vinegar. Our Lord Christ himself, the greatest mercy God could bestow upon a dying world; he himself testified that his coming was to bring eternal life and blessings to the lost and cursed sons of Adam. Yet, how many were he a "stumbling block" and "cause of offense" to? Yes, he was a "trap" and a "snare" to both the houses of Israel, the only people of God at that time.
And is he not a stumbling block in the ministry of the gospel to many believers even today, causing them to stumble and fall? When Jesus says, "Blessed is the one who is not offended by me," he is implying that many people will be offended by him and his teachings. Not that this is the intention of Christ and the gospel—but it is the result of the sinful nature of mankind, which causes them to disregard Christ and reject the life and grace that the Lord Jesus bought with his blood and is freely offered through the preaching of the gospel. Refusing this offer will only lead to greater punishment, while accepting it will ensure our eternal salvation.
It is of utmost importance to consider how we conduct ourselves under the gospel and how we receive the grace of God with the right attitude and emotions. Taking this into account, we should be mindful that every ordinance we sit under brings us closer to either heaven or hell, to salvation or damnation. Therefore, let us not boast of the privileges we enjoy while neglecting the important duties that come with them. Let us remember the fate of Capernaum and be filled with fear.
As many are misled into believing they are saved, only to find themselves in hell - so more are misled into believing they are not saved, when in fact they are! The number of those who claim to be followers of Christ is greater than the number of those who are truly saved by Him.
Beloved, I know that the preaching of the gospel has inspired many of you to make a commitment to Christ; however, I am concerned that few of you have truly been united with the Lord Jesus for salvation. I plead with you to be patient with my concern, for it is born out of a deep love for your souls.
Most people believe they are good Christians; however, the law does not allow someone to be a witness in their own case, as their emotions can often cloud their judgment and self-interest can lead to a distortion of the truth. The human heart is the greatest deceiver and liar in the world! Even God himself acknowledges this - "The heart is deceitful above all things." In this Treatise, you will find some of the deceptions of the heart exposed, demonstrating that every virtue has its counterfeit, and that there can be the most fervent profession of faith without any true conversion.
The purpose of it is not to "crush the weak or extinguish the flickering flame of faith." The purpose of it is not to discourage the weakest believer, but to stir up those who have become complacent in their faith. I wouldn't want to cause distress to anyone whom God does not intend to be distressed; though I understand it can be difficult to reveal the perilous situation of a professing hypocrite. I'm sure the weaker Christian will feel that this is something they should be aware of. And so, as I preached a sermon on sincerity among you, to provide support and encouragement, I had intended to have it printed with this. But who can predict what will happen? That is, as I am subject to so many daily changes in circumstances, your kind acceptance of this will make me indebted to you.
This book is dedicated to you for two reasons: first, out of love for your souls, I felt compelled to preach it; and second, your persistent requests made it possible for it to be printed. And so, whatever reception it may find in the world, I hope you will give it a warm welcome, especially since it was born in your home. I hope you will find favor in your eyes and room in your hearts for it. I humbly ask you to accept this as a public recognition of the obligations I owe to you for your immense and, I believe, unparalleled kindness. I cannot repay you in any other way, but I can promise to pray for you. If that is enough for you, I will make sure to remember you in my prayers to God,
- Matthew Mead
To the Reader
I am aware of the usual practice of men taking to the public stage with apologies for the inadequacy and inadequacy of their efforts. This implies that their ambitions (for the benefit of others, their own reputation, or both) exceed their capabilities; and that they wish to present themselves to the world's judgment in a more favorable light than their own frailty would permit.
For my part, I can honestly say, like Gideon, that I am the least in my Father's house. My talents are the smallest and I am not here of my own volition. I would rather be doing something else, something that would be of more benefit to the world, or something that would be more organized and better received. But that would be looking out for my own interests, which, in matters like this, is no better than "sowing to the flesh" and the result of such an endeavor will be "in corruption."
You have here one of the most sobering thoughts imaginable: how far can someone go in their religious practice and still not be saved? This is a sad truth, but it is true. Our Lord Jesus Christ confirms this when He says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow gate, for many will try to enter but will not be able.”
My aim in writing this is to wake up the complacent and unmotivated Christian, and to expose the false believer; however, I worry that this may discourage those with weak faith, as it is difficult to demonstrate how far a true believer can fall into sin without losing their faith, and how far a hypocrite can rise in their profession without having true faith. This could lead to either presumption or despair. I have been careful to emphasize that although someone may appear to be a Christian, they may still fall short of this and be a true Christian. Therefore, don't judge your own state based on any one character of a false professor. Read the whole and then make a judgment. I have tried to be careful not to give children's bread to dogs, nor to use the dog's whip to scare the children. I hope this book will only reach those it is intended for - those who have a reputation of being alive, but are actually dead; they are busy with the form of godliness, but are strangers to its power. These are the topics this treatise will cover: may the Lord bless it wherever it goes, so that it may be a wake-up call to all, especially to the current generation of careless churchgoers. They think that if they attend church, bow their knee, say a few prayers, and receive the sacrament, they have done enough to secure their place in heaven, despite the fact that their hearts are full of sin and their words are poisonous. Their minds remain unconverted and their behavior is far from holy. If eternal life is so easy to attain and so inexpensive, why did Jesus tell us, “The gate is narrow and the road is difficult that leads to life, and few find it” (Matthew 7:14)? And why did the apostle urge us to “make every effort to confirm our calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10)? Clearly, then, salvation is not as easy as some make it out to be, as you will see in the following discussion. I have been brief in my application of it, so let me remind you of five important duties:
First, be careful not to rely on religious rituals as if they could automatically grant you grace. In the world today, lifeless formality is often held in high regard, just like how "cab of dove's dung" was sold for a high price during the famine in Samaria. Sadly, relying on religious practices alone is not a strong enough foundation to build your hope for an eternal soul on. Remember, the Lord Jesus Christ called the foolish builder who built his house on the sand "foolish", and the unfortunate event proved it to be true, "for it fell, and great was the fall of it." So, build your foundation on the rock of Christ Jesus; look to Him in all things and rely on Him in all things.
Secondly, we should strive to recognize the power of godliness and the beauty of Christ's life. If the means of grace have a certain attractiveness, then grace itself has even more. As it is written, “the goodness of the means lies in its suitableness and serviceableness to the end.” The form of godliness is only beneficial if it helps us to live a godly life. The life of holiness is the only life of true excellence; it is the life of saints and angels in heaven; indeed, it is the life of God Himself. It is a clear indication of the depravity and vileness of sin that sinners seek to conceal it; similarly, it is a testament to the greatness of godliness that so many pretend to it. Even the hypocrite's outwardly pious behavior speaks to the value of religion, even though the hypocrite is at their worst when they appear to be at their best.
Thirdly, we should remember that the things to come are the most important realities; for if we don't believe in them, they will have no effect on our emotions, just as if they didn't exist. This is why so many people allow their affections to be drawn to the world, putting the created things in the place of God in their hearts.
Most people judge the truth of things based on what they can see and touch; so it's understandable why that unfortunate cardinal chose to stay in Paris rather than go to Paradise. It's clear that whatever he had to gain in the former, he had little to gain in the latter. It's no wonder why greed is considered idolatry when it leads people to prioritize the world over God.
Oh, take into account that eternity is not a dream; hell and the worm that never dies are not just depressing thoughts. Heaven is not a made-up paradise; these things are real, even though they are spiritual and beyond our senses. As it says in the Bible, “Do not focus on what is seen, but focus on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Fourthly, value your soul highly. We tend to let go of things that we don't value much. Many people are willing to give up their souls for something as insignificant as a piece of bread; in fact, they are willing to give up their souls for something that is not even worth it in the eyes of the Holy Spirit. Take a moment to consider that your soul is the most precious and invaluable treasure in the world; it is the most beautiful piece of God's handiwork in all of creation; it is the one that bears the image of God, and was purchased with the blood of the Son of God. Shouldn't we value it and recognize its worth?
The apostle Peter speaks of three very precious things:
- A Precious Christ
- Precious Promises
- Precious Faith
The value of all of these lies in their benefit to the soul. Christ is invaluable - as He is the savior of precious souls. The Promises are invaluable - as they offer this invaluable Christ to precious souls. Faith is invaluable - as it brings a precious soul into a close relationship with the invaluable Christ, as He is presented in the invaluable promises. Be mindful not to place too much value on material possessions and too little on your soul. Should you lavish love and attention on your body, yet neglect your soul? That would be like feeding a dog and starving a child. "Food for the belly, and the belly for food; but God will destroy both it and them" (1 Corinthians 6:13). Do not let a decaying, dying body consume all of your attention and effort - as if the life and salvation of your soul were not worth the effort!
Lastly, Reflect deeply on the severity and suddenness of the Day of Judgment, when we will be called to account for our lives and enter our eternal state; where God, the impartial judge, will demand an exact accounting of all the gifts and blessings we have been given. We must take stock of our time - how we have used it; our resources - how we have utilized them; our strength - how we have expended it; our trials and blessings - how we have taken advantage of them; our roles in life - how we have fulfilled them; and our opportunities for spiritual growth - how we have taken advantage of them. Behold! What we sow on this earth will be reaped in eternity. "God has appointed a day in which He will judge the world with justice," (Acts 17:31). "Do not be fooled: God cannot be mocked. Whatever a person sows, they will also reap," (Galatians 6:7). "Keep in mind that each of us will stand before the judgment seat of God," (Romans 14:10).
Reader, these are things which above all others deserve our utmost care and attention, yet they are often overlooked by many. Consider how many people live as if God is not to be served, Christ is not to be sought, and lust is not to be mortified. They do not deny themselves, believe the Scripture, or think about the judgment day. They do not fear hell or desire heaven, nor do they value their souls. Instead, they have given themselves over to a worse than brutish sensuality, having lost all sensitivity and indulging in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more, as Ephesians 4:19 says; living without God in the world is heartbreaking. We should take a lesson from David, who was deeply grieved when he saw people not following God's laws (Psalm 119:158). His sorrow was so great that it was like rivers of water flowing from his eyes (Psalms 119:136).
The purpose of this treatise is to prevent and correct this soul-destroying affliction. The main benefit of this advice is to reduce and heal the cancer of hypocrisy, but with God's help, it can also be used as a salve for the plague of profaneness if it is thoughtfully considered and regularly prayed over.
Reader, don't expect anything extraordinary or out of the ordinary, for then I will disappoint you; but if you want a reliable measure of your spiritual condition, this may be of help. If you are unfamiliar with the Christian faith or are pretending to be a Christian, then read this and be afraid, for it is you who is being addressed. But if you have experienced the power of God's kingdom in your life; if Christ is living in you; if your heart is honest and true with God—then read and be filled with joy.
May the powerful God, who has the authority to teach us to benefit, whether through words or writing, speaking or writing—bless this tract, that it may be to you like a cloud of rain to the dry ground, providing nourishment to your soul, so that your life may be watered with the "dew of heaven," and you may "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." In whom I am your ally and devoted to your service,
London, October, 1661
"You almost persuade me to be a Christian." Acts 26:28
In this chapter, the Apostle Paul makes an apology and a defense for himself against the Jews who were persecuting him before Agrippa, Festus, Bernice, and the council. He mainly focuses on three points. He references scripture, saying, "I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth" (Acts 26:9).
- The way he lived before his conversion. He tells you how he lived before his conversion in verses 4-13.
- The way he was converted. He tells you how God worked on him to bring about his conversion, as written in verse 13-18.
- After his conversion, Paul describes how he lived his life, verses 19-23.
Before conversion, he was very pharisaical. The way he was converted was incredibly surprising. The results of his conversion were remarkable. Before conversion, he was against the gospel that others preached; after conversion, he was preaching the gospel that he had once opposed. When he was a persecutor of the gospel, the Jews liked him; but now that, by the grace of God, he had become a preacher of the gospel - the Jews hated him and wanted to kill him. He used to be an opponent of Christ, and then many people supported him; but now that he was a follower of Christ - everyone was against him; his opposition to Jesus had made others his friends, but when he started to profess Jesus, then they became his enemies. This was the main accusation they had against him, that he had gone from being a great opponent to being a great advocate. Because God had transformed him - this made them furious! As if they would be worse off - because God had made him better. God had worked on him through grace - and they seemed to begrudge him the grace of God. He preached no rebellion, nor stirred up any trouble; he only preached repentance, and faith in Christ, and the resurrection, and for this he was "questioned."
This is the conclusion of Paul's argument and plea for himself, which, as you can see in the following verses, had a different effect on his judges. Festus appears to criticize him in verse 24, while Agrippa seems to be persuaded by him in verse 28. The entire court appears to acquit him in verses 30 and 31. Festus thought Paul was out of his mind. Agrippa was almost convinced to believe in the same things as Paul. Festus thought Paul was crazy because he didn't understand the teachings of Christ and the resurrection, quoting "much learning has made you mad!" Paul's plea was so powerful that Agrippa seemed to be on the brink of accepting his religion. Paul argued so persuasively for his faith that Agrippa seemed to be on the verge of converting.
Then Agrippa said to Paul, "You have almost convinced me to become a Christian."
"Almost!" I take these words as we read them, and they demonstrate the powerful effect Paul's teachings had on Agrippa's conscience. Even though he refused to be converted, he could not deny that he was convinced; his conscience was stirred, even though his heart was not changed.
Observation: There is something inherent in genuine faith that speaks to the hearts of even the most unrighteous people.
"You've convinced me." The phrase implies that Paul's arguments had a strong effect on Agrippa. It appears that Paul was close to convincing Agrippa to become a Christian. "You almost have me convinced to become a Christian."
"A Christian." I'm sure you know what it means to be a Christian, though I'm sure many who call themselves Christians don't really understand what it means to live as one. A Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ, someone who believes in and adheres to His teachings. Just as someone who follows the teachings of Arminius is called an Arminian, and someone who follows the teachings of Luther is called a Lutheran, so someone who follows the teachings of Jesus Christ is a true Christian.
The term is used more broadly and more strictly.
More broadly, all who believe that Jesus has come in the flesh are referred to as Christians, in contrast to those who do not know Jesus, the Jews who do not accept him, and the Muslims who prefer Muhammad over Jesus.
But in the Bible, the term is used more specifically and narrowly to refer to true followers of Christ; "the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch." "If anyone suffers for being a Christian, they should not be ashamed;" that is, if they suffer for being a member and disciple of Christ. And so in the text, "You almost persuade me to be a Christian." The word "Christian" is used in three places throughout the New Testament, and in each instance it is used to refer to the same thing.
The Italians view the name "Christian" as an insult, often using it to describe someone as foolish. However, as the Apostle Paul wrote, "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing," so it is no surprise that those who follow Christ are seen as foolish by the world.
It is true that godliness is a mystery. We must accept that death is inevitable, and that in order to be full, we must first be empty. We must be willing to be lost in order to be found, and to have nothing in order to have all things; he must be blind - who would seek enlightenment; he must be condemned - who would seek redemption; just as he must be a fool - who would choose to be a Christian.
If anyone among you appears to be wise, let them become a fool, so that they may be truly wise. The true Christian is the one who is seen as a fool in the eyes of the world, but is wise in the eyes of God and is saved.
I hope that you will not only be almost Christians, but fully devoted to the faith. This is God's work to bring about, but it is our responsibility to encourage it. I pray that God will help me to present this topic in such a way that you will be able to say, "You have convinced me to be a Christian, not just almost, but altogether!"
I would like to discuss the following observation:
Doctrine: There are many people in the world who are almost Christians; they are close to heaven, but never quite make it. They are so close to salvation, yet they will never experience it. They can almost see heaven, but they will never see God.
There are two sorrowful statements in the Bible that I must address here. The first is about those who are truly righteous. The second is about those who appear to be righteous. The Bible tells us that it is difficult for the truly righteous to be saved, while those who appear to be righteous may be almost saved. Jesus said, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." The righteous will be saved with great difficulty; they will ascend to heaven despite many fears of hell. The hypocrite, however, will be saved with an almost; that is, they will descend to hell despite many false hopes of heaven.
It is worth considering two things from this. Firstly, how often a believer may stumble and yet still have true faith. Secondly, how far a hypocrite may get on the path to heaven and yet still have no faith. As the Bible says, "Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again" (Proverbs 24:16). And Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). The righteous person may be brought very close to the depths of despair - and yet never succumb to it; and the hypocrite may be brought very close to the heights of joy - and yet never reach it.
The righteous person may almost be lost - and yet be saved eternally; the hypocrite may almost be saved - and yet be lost forever. Proverbs 11:31 states, "If the righteous are rewarded on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!" For the saint at worst, they are still a believer; and the hypocrite at best, they are still an unconverted sinner.
Before I discuss this doctrine, I must first point out three things that can be helpful for those who have a weak faith, so that they will not be shaken or discouraged by it.
First, there is nothing in the doctrine of the gospel that should be a source of discouragement or stumbling for weak Christians. The gospel does not speak these things to hurt those who have truly believed, but rather to awaken those who are still unconverted and those who are just going through the motions. Weak believers often shy away from applying the promises and comforts of the gospel to themselves, even though they are meant for them. On the other hand, they are quick to apply the threats and severest things of the Word to themselves, even though they were never intended for them. As the disciples, when Christ told them, "One of you shall betray me," they who were innocent suspected themselves most - and therefore asked, "Lord, is it me?" In the same way, when weak Christians hear unconverted sinners being rebuked or the hypocrite exposed in the preaching of the Word, they often wonder, "Is it I?"
It is wrong for a hypocrite to sit in church and not pay attention to the teachings of the Word, and it is wrong for a weak Christian to draw negative conclusions about their spiritual state from things that don't apply to them.
There is certainly great benefit to be gained from this teaching for all believers:
- To help them understand their current situation and the basis of their hope, it is important to ensure that they are building on a solid foundation and not on shifting sand.
- It is humbling to consider the immense love of God in leading us to the path of eternal life, when so many are lost, and in inspiring us to a genuine conversion, when so many settle for a faithless existence.
- It encourages us to fulfill the excellent duty of self-reflection, so that we can honestly present ourselves to God.
4. This doctrine should encourage believers to be doubly diligent in their faith, so that they may not only believe, but also persevere in faith until the end. These duties should be embraced by all believers, and not be used as an obstacle to their peace and comfort.
My purpose in preaching on this subject is not to cause distress to those whom Christ does not intend to distress. I want to bring hope - not to extinguish the faint spark of faith, but to put out the false fire of the unconverted sinner's own making, so that they do not spend their lives guided by it, only to end up in sorrow. My goal is to break down the wall of false security that surrounds the unconverted sinner, not to undermine the faith and trust of those who already believe. My aim is to bring in those who are lost and secure in their sin—not to discourage those who are already weak in their faith.
Secondly, I would like to emphasize this: although many may make great strides on their journey to heaven, but still fall short, the soul that has even the smallest amount of true grace will never fall short. As the Bible says, "the righteous shall hold on his way." Even if some may do a lot in terms of their duty, as I will explain later, and still not make it, the soul that does their duty with the least amount of sincerity will never fail. As the Bible says, "for he saves the upright in heart." The smallest amount of God's grace is just as powerful as the greatest amount; it saves us just as surely, though not as comfortably. The least amount of grace gives us full access to the cleansing power of Christ's blood, and it gives us full access to the strength and power of Christ, ensuring our preservation. Christ remains faithful to our souls, and our faith in Him keeps our souls safe. Therefore, we are kept safe by God's power, through our faith, and are saved.
Thirdly, I would suggest this; those who can hear such truths as this without taking the time to seriously reflect and examine themselves, I must question the state of their spiritual health. You would assume that someone who never takes the time to review their finances is close to bankruptcy, and I similarly believe that someone who never takes the time to search and assess their own heart is a hypocrite. He who continues to fulfill his duties without any worry or doubt about his spiritual state - I have more doubts about his state than anyone else! When we see someone who is sick but not aware of it, we can assume that death is near. Similarly, when sinners have no awareness of their spiritual condition, it is clear that they are spiritually dead; the signs of eternal death are upon them!
Before we move forward, I want you to keep these things in mind. Let's take a closer look at the proposition we are discussing.
Doctrine: It is clear that there are many people in the world who are almost, but not quite, Christians. To prove this, I will provide evidence and then move on to a more detailed discussion.
I. I will prove the truth of this statement, and I will do so by citing scripture that speaks clearly and directly to the issue.
The rich young man in the gospel is a great example of this truth; he came to Jesus to ask how to get to heaven, saying, "Good Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?" (Matthew 19:16).
Our Lord Christ tells him, "If you want to enter into life, you must obey the commandments." When Christ said this, he replied, "Lord, I have kept all of these since I was a young man; what else do I need to do?"
Now just take a look at how far this man went.
1. He obeyed - he not only listened to God's commands, but he followed them; the Bible says, "Blessed is the one who hears the Word of God and obeys it."
2. He obeyed without exception - not just some of God's commands, but all of them. He didn't try to bargain with God or pick and choose which ones he wanted to follow. Instead, he followed them all, as he said, "I have kept all these things."
3. He was obedient at all times - not just in moments of enthusiasm - but in a continuous pattern of service; his righteousness was not fleeting like Ephraim's, "like the morning dew which passes away." No, "I have kept all these things since I was a youth."
4. He expresses his desire to do more and to improve his obedience. He turns to Christ for guidance, asking, "Lord, what else can I do?"
Would you not consider this man to be a good person? Unfortunately, very few people go this far! Even though he went as far as he did, he still didn't go far enough. He was almost a Christian, but not quite. He was a false hypocrite; he ultimately chose his desires over Christ. This is a clear demonstration of the truth of the doctrine.
A further demonstration of this teaching can be found in the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25. We can observe the progress they make and how far they go in their commitment to Christ.
1. They are referred to as "virgins." This is a title given in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New - to the followers of Christ, "The virgins love you!" So in the book of Revelation, the "one hundred forty and four thousand" who stood with the Lamb on Mount Zion, are referred to as "virgins." They are referred to as virgins, because they have not been tainted by the "immorality that is rampant in the world due to desire." It appears that these individuals fit this description, as they are referred to as virgins.
2. They take up their "lamps" - that is, they make a profession of faith in Christ.
3. They had "some oil" in their lamps. They had some convictions and some faith, though not the faith of God's elect, to maintain their commitment, to keep the lamp burning.
4. They "went" - their profession was not just a show; they did fulfill their obligations, attended religious services - and did many things that were commanded. They made progress - they moved forward.
5. They "went forth" - they departed from the many they had left behind; this is a sign of their detachment from the world.
6. The wise virgins went with them, having committed themselves to the Lord. They became companions of those who were companions of Christ.
7. They "went forth to meet the bridegroom" - this speaks to their commitment to Christ and their desire to be in relationship with Him.
8. When they heard the bridegroom's call, they got up and made sure their lamps were lit. They were expressing their faith in Christ, hoping to join him in the wedding.
9. The virgins sought for true grace. Can't we say that the longing for grace is grace itself? Absolutely, if it's genuine and timely; if it's sincere and appropriate. Look at the desire for grace in these virgins when they asked, "Give us some of your oil!" It was a desire for true grace, but it wasn't a genuine desire for grace. It was not accurate because it was not timely; it was not valid, as it was not timely. It was too late. They made a mistake by not taking oil when they took their lamps; they should have sought grace when they came to Christ; it was too late to seek it when Christ came to them. They should have sought God's grace when they began their journey of faith. It was too late to seek it when the bridegroom arrived. As a result, they were denied entrance. Even if they begged for entrance, saying "Lord, Lord, open to us!", Jesus would tell them, "I tell you the truth, I don't know you!"
You can see how devoted these virgins were to professing their faith in Jesus Christ - and how long they stayed true to it, even until the bridegroom arrived. They were so close to entering the gates of heaven - but, like the people of Sodom, they were denied the chance to enter and were lost in the end. They were almost Christians - so close to being saved - but in the end, they were not.
You who are teachers of the gospel of Christ, take heed! If those who have gone before us fail to reach heaven, what will become of us who fail to meet their standards? If those who are pure in heart, who profess faith in Christ, who have some evidence of their faith, who strive to live out their faith more than others who seek Christ, who grow in their faith, and strive to live in a way that reflects their faith; if even these are only almost Christians, Lord, what are we?
Third, if two witnesses are not enough to prove the truth and validate the proposition, let us turn to a third witness from the Old Testament. Isaiah 58:2 says, "They seek me daily, eager to learn my ways, like a nation that does what is right and does not forget the justice of their God. They ask me for just decisions; they delight in being close to me."
See what God has to say about those people; He gives them a very positive assessment, one would think! It's amazing how far they went! If God hadn't said they were corrupt and unreliable, we would have considered them among the most admirable. Observe,
1. They are devoted to seeking God. This is the hallmark of a true believer - to seek out God. True believers are often referred to as "seekers of God." As the Bible says, "This is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face." There is a generation of people who are devoted to seeking God; and are these not the saints of God? No, further,
2. They seek Him daily. This is a sign of dedication and perseverance; that is, every day, without fail. They do not seek Him only in times of difficulty and distress, as many do. "Lord, they have sought You in times of trouble; they have cried out to You when they were being disciplined.
Many people only turn to God when they are in desperate need. When God sends afflictions, they respond with prayers. This is how sailors often act when they are in a storm and have no other options. Many people don't seek God's help until they have exhausted all other possibilities. They don't come to God until they have no other choice.
But these whom God speaks of are more passionate in their faith; the others do what is required of them out of obligation - but these appear to be doing what is right out of a sense of duty; for, as God says, "they seek me day after day." This surely is a sign of genuine devotion! Job questions the hypocrite, "Will they ever turn to God?" The answer is no. However, this group of people are devoted to God, praying to Him every day. It's clear that they are not hypocrites.
3. God says, "They take pleasure in understanding my ways." This eliminates any doubts of them being insincere. They don't tell God, "Go away from us; we don't want to know your ways."
4. They are "a nation that does what is right." Not only a nation that speaks of righteousness, or knows of righteousness, or professes righteousness; but a nation that actually does what is right, that only practices what is just and right. They appear, to the world's judgment, to be as good as the best.
5. They remained true to their beliefs and stayed loyal to their faith. They were more devoted than many of us, who ignore our responsibilities and disregard God's teachings. But these people stayed strong in their faith; they never abandoned God's laws.
6. "They seek from me," says God, "guidance on what is just and right." They don't want to make their own desires the standard for morality - instead, they want to follow God's law and will: and so, in all their dealings with others, they look to God for direction and advice. "They seek from me guidance on what is just and right."
7. They take joy in drawing near to God. This cannot be the behavior of a hypocrite. "Will he take pleasure in the Almighty?" Job asks. No - he will not! Even though God should be the greatest joy of man, (having everything in Him to make Him desirable), the hypocrites will not take delight in God.
Until our hearts are filled with spiritual love, we cannot truly love spiritual things. God is a spiritual being, and so those who are insincere in their faith cannot truly love Him. But these people take joy in drawing near to God!
8. They were a people who were devoted to fasting, asking "Why have we fasted?" This is an obligation that requires not only truth of grace in the heart, but also strength of grace. As Jesus said, "No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the skins burst, and the wine is spilled." New wine is strong and old bottles weak; this is why Christ explains that his disciples, who had recently converted and were still weak, were not yet ready for such a strict discipline. However, the people mentioned here were those who fasted often, humbled themselves, and wore themselves out with practices of humility. This was "new wine in new bottles"; they were strong in grace, showing that there was not only truth, but also growth in their faith.
Despite all their efforts, they were nothing more than a generation of hypocrites. They made great strides, but not far enough to please God. I hope by now it's clear that a person can be almost a Christian, but not quite.
Now for a more detailed examination of this point.
- I will demonstrate to you, step by step, how far someone can go in their religious journey, what heights they can reach, and how impressive and unique their progress may seem - yet still be far from being a true Christian.
- I will explain why so many people come close to being Christians.
- Why have they only gone so far as to become almost Christians?
- It is unclear why some people who come close to being Christians do not take the final steps to fully commit to the faith.