This is a book Doreen borrowed from Vicar Jon. The book deals with struggles that we all have understanding our sinful natures. This short excerpt is an excellent illustration of how only God's Grace can save us. This is an good evangelism tool for people we encounter who rely on works righteousness or who confuse law and Gospel. -----Special thanks to Samantha Hietsch for typing this excerpt.
To begin with, this struggle against sin is pure joy to the awakened soul. It is as when a home owner begins to clear the land around his new house. The stones fly and the spade digs happily. But when a person is at work on the field of his heart, he gradually makes the dismaying discovery that there are more stones the deeper he gets. He keeps discovering new sins right along, and they become more difficult to move the more deeply they are entrenched in his inner life. One might possibly break with drinking and profanity and desecration of the Sabbath in a single evening, But pride, that desire to talke about oneself, or to find fault with others are likely to remain still after many months of penitential struggle.
Then one day, when a man is battling sin and is trying to clear the stones from the heart’s field, sweating at the task yet hoping finally to get rid of the last ones so that he may really see the garden grow, his spade strikes solid rock. He digs and scrapes on every side; he tries again and again to budge the rock. Then the terrible realization draws; it is stony ground through and though. When he has hauled away load after load of stones and dumped them outside the fence, he still has not succeeded in making a garden that can begin to bear fruit for God. He has laid bare a ledge of granite, which never can support a living, fruit-bearing tree,
This is the rock foundation we know as the sinful corruption of our human nature, the sinful depravity that remains even after a man has separated himself from all his conscious sins. It is this stony ground that explains why a man is just as great a sinner before God after he has offered God the best he is able to give of obedience and commitment.
Standing on this rock foundation of sinful corruption, a man has three possible choices. He may depart from God in unbelief as Judas did. That road leads to death. He can make a show of clearing away the stones, as the Pharisees did. The stones that are visible to men may then be put away. One becomes temperate, honest, industrious. One may take a bit of this soil of the self-righteousness and plant therein such flowers as will be a sweet fragrance to one’s own nostril’s, such as kindness, helpfulness, support of missions, zealous activity for kingdom causes, witnessing, and preaching, or perhaps an extreme abstinence in respect to food and drink. And then one walks among these flowers and considers that the work is completed. But in the sight of God the rock foundation remains, and on Judgment Day the flowers have long since withered.
The most dangerous of all temptations is to tamper with the yardstick. God has sent His Holy Spirit to convince the world of sin. The Spirit dwells in the Word. Did not Jesus say to the words He spoke that they are spirit? He who strays from the Word will never be convicted of sin; in any case, he will never know the terrifying depths of sin. He never gets down to the rock foundation. It is with him as with the farmer in the legend, who was to build a bridge. He took a tapeline into the woods to measure with. But when he measured the longest poles they were nevertheless too short. Then he cut off a part of the measuring line and declared that the poles would be tall enough. Even the holiest and strictest adherents of the cult of absolute obedience are careless in the same way when they believe that they can stand in the test before God even for a moment by virtue of their works of the law. They have shortened the measure. They use a tapeline that is like a rubber band. It is called one’s feelings, one’s conscience, or one’s own perception of God’s will. These can all be stretched or pressed together, consciously or unconsciously, so that they fit most anything. There are two signs of falsifying the measure that are inescapably sure. One is that a person considers himself, his deeds and his life good enough to find acceptance with God; the other is that he calls that right which the Word of God calls wrong.
Only he who acknowledges God’s Word without objecting to it or seeking to reduce it, and who accepts it wholly as God’s Word, gets down to the rock foundation of the heart and discovers the law of sin that swells in his members. Only such a one understands that he needs not only repentance, but salvation. But when he understands that, if he is to be saved at all, he must be saved by grace, that is a work of God. It was to that place he wanted to lead the soul, when he laid bare the rock foundation.
At his point the speaker made a sudden shift in his line of thought and began to speak about something altogether different.
Outside Jerusalem, there is a hill of yellow, naked stone. Ugly and hard as a dead man’s skull. Long ago men bored a socket in this rocky hill and planted a cross there, and on that cross they hanged the only One of our race who was righteous and had perfectly fulfilled the law. God permitted this to happen because, although He had tolerated sin in former ages, He wanted once and for all to show that He was righteous and that sin is followed by condemnation and punishment, and the He will not countenance any tampering with His standards of holiness. But so wonderful is God that he let all the curse and penalty of sin fall upon the innocent One, who freely gave himself in death for us. He was made a curse for our sakes. Thus He redeemed us from the condemnation of the law. He was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, and by His stripes we are healed.
That is why the rocky hill of Golgotha is the most holy place in the world. The way of obedience leads to the foot of that cross. There one stands, a poor wretch, like Peter on that first Good Friday, full of shame and despair, looking upon his crucified Savior, whom he had been unable to follow. There it becomes apparent that the Lord’s best disciples are unworthy of Him. They are all betrayers and deniers, sharing in the guilt of His death. But there, at the cross, it also becomes clear that the Lord himself makes atonement for their sins. Where the way of obedience ends at Golgotha with judgment upon us, every one who believes may nevertheless stand on this Rock of Atonement. There are way of grace begins, the new and holy way through the veil, the way that is sanctified by His blood.
The stony soil of our hearts, the rock foundation of our corrupt human nature, needs not, therefore, be the basis for judgment upon us. It can be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, just as the hill of Golgotha was when drops of blood fell upon it and it was transformed from a place of execution to the Rock of Atonement. God marks the evil heart with the sign of the cross and makes a man righteous in Christ. The whole sinful rock of man’s natural heart is lifted and made to rest on the Rock of Atonement. It still remains flinty rock. Man, as he is in himself, remains a sinner. But the guilt is atoned for, the curse is lifted, and he can come confidently as a child into the presence of God and, thankful for the wonder of redemption, begin to live to the Savior’s glory. Then the fruits of faith begin to appear. A fertile soil now covers the rocky base. It is the good soil of faith, which is watered by grace. Gradually something begins to grow that would never grow there before. Thus the backsliding Peter, when he had experienced the great grace, the grace which the penitent thief received on Calvary, could become both an apostolic leader and a martyr witness to the faith. Yes, he then witnessed no longer concerning his faith, but concerning the Savior, and could finally make the supreme sacrifice of his own life with confidence, the sacrifice he was unable to make as long as he lived by his own resolutions and his own righteousness.
The rector made a momentary pause. Then he began a new line of thought. It was apparent that he was improvising.
The stone foundation of the heart and the Rock of Atonement of Golgotha are the two mountains on which a man’s destiny is determined. If he remains on the stone foundation of his natural fallen state, he is lost. Only one way leads from that stony foundation to the Rock of Atonement, a firm stone bridge built once and for all. It is the Word. Just as only the divine Word can convict man of sin and lat bare the soul to its rocky case, so nothing but the Word can reveal the truth about the Redeemer. The external Word is as inescapably necessary for the gospel as it is for the law. No one who is awakened in earnest would ever be able to believe in the forgiveness of his sins, if God has not built a bridge leading to the Rock of Atonement. The supports on which it rests are baptism, the Lord’s Supper and absolution; the archers are wrought by the holy Word with it’s message of redemption. On that bridge a sinner can pass from the stony ground the condemns to the Rock of Salvation. But should a single one of the arches be allowed to fall, then is man condemned to remain eternally under the law’s condemnation, either as a despairing sinner or as a self-righteous Pharisee.