FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 16, number 19, May 11, 2017
“Agrippa replied to Paul,’“In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.’” -Acts 26:28.
The Almost Christian, Illustrated
Jean Jacques Rousseau, one of the two greatest and most influential writers of the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment (the other being Francois-Marie Voltaire), the one who ushered in the Romantic period of literature with his Julie, ou La Novelle Heloise, published in 1761, was born in Geneva in 1712. He, therefore, was a contemporary of Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and George Whitefield. He was reared in a Calvinistic home (his grandfather was a Calvinist pastor) and attended church regularly as a child. He no doubt knew his Calvinistic doctrine well. As he grew into adulthood, however, he became sexually promiscuous, living for many years with his mistress, Therese Lavasseur. He had other women as well. He abandoned, to an asylum, all five of his children born to him by his mistress, saying that he was much too important and busy writing books and composing music to care adequately for them. He left the Calvinistic faith, moved to Paris, and became a Roman Catholic. In the 1750’s, as the French philosophes met weekly in the salon of Mme. Geoffrin and other women of society, and discussed their faith in nature and reason, Rousseau stood against them. He wrote an essay in 1750 entitled Discours sur les arts et les sciences that challenged the prevailing view of the arts and sciences which rejected the Christian faith in place of reason. He was mocked for declaring that he believed literally in the book of Genesis, that God existed, and that heaven must also exist because he had suffered so much in this life and he expected God to take him to heaven when he died. Rousseau later came back to Geneva and renewed his citizenship and membership in the Protestant Church there. During this time he wrote a strong condemnation of Voltaire’s desire to see the theatre brought to Geneva, saying that it would certainly corrupt Geneva as it had Paris. He was mocked for his call to virtue. In the end, however, it became clear that Rousseau rejected the doctrine of original sin, the deity of Christ, His atonement, and the Old Testament as inspired and authoritative and was, therefore, no true Christian at all. Rousseau came so close, but from everything I have read about him, it appears that he did not make heaven. He was incapable of following through on morality and virtue because he was not born again.
How terribly sad! King Agrippa likewise came so close to heaven, but in the end, he appears also to have missed it. Paul, in making his defense before Agrippa, telling him that he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision given him by the Lord Jesus, preached Christ and Him crucified to this powerful man. Agrippa’s knees buckled momentarily but in the end, he stayed his course to perdition.
What are the characteristics of the almost Christian? Like Agrippa, they experience some fleeting sense of danger and conviction of sin and judgment. It, however, does not last. They are even intrigued, momentarily interested in the gospel, but simply cannot commit themselves to it. To some degree, the Calvinistic teaching from which Rousseau imbibed gave him a sense of morality and virtue. His romantic novel Heloise certainly shows the virtue of Wolmar, a Russian atheist, married to Julie, who forgives her of her one time affair with Saint Preux, and even allows Saint Preux to live in their home and tutor their children. Rousseau wrote about virtue but did not practice it himself. The major difference between the real Christian and the almost Christian is regeneration. Jesus told Nicodemus that unless he was born again he would not see the kingdom of God (John 3:3). Paul says that God saves His people through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:4-5). The prophet Ezekiel says that God will give us His heart, removing the heart of stone and replacing it with the heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Without the miraculous work of regeneration even the very best, the most moral and well intentioned people, will miss heaven. All are born into sin by virtue of Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12-14, Psalm 51:5). All have a rebellious heart that loves sin and hates God. None are righteous. All have turned aside from the true and living God. They are like cobras which can kill (Psalm 58:4). All people, even the most virtuous, who do not know Jesus Christ personally, are blind rebels, hell bound adulterers, and sons of the devil.
One of the crowning points of the Eighteenth Century Great Awakening was recapturing the doctrine of regeneration. While the Reformers of the Sixteenth Century and the Puritans of the Seventeenth Century believed in the doctrine of regeneration, their focus tended to be on justification to the exclusion of regeneration. So, when George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards preached, “You must be born again,” the Holy Spirit used the message powerfully to awaken millions from their deathly slumber of religious formalism. Millions were brought to an awareness of their unsettled state before God.
The emphasis today on “justification only” in evangelistic work has caused us many problems in the church. On the one hand, the Hyper-grace Movement, in a desire to draw people to Christ, tends to “lower the bar” on what is expected of believers. In other words, one can continue, for example, as an addict to pornography and still call himself a Christian, even though Paul says no immoral person shall inherit the kingdom of God (Ephesians 5:5). On the other hand, those who embrace “Federal Vision” (that infant baptism assumes a covenant child is a believer until or unless he apostasizes from the faith), though rightly concerned about the prevailing “easy believeism” in today’s evangelical church, seem also to miss the necessity of regeneration. Unless their children are born again by the Holy Spirit, they too will not see the kingdom of God.
The appeal, therefore, is to preach the full gospel to unbelievers, to the moral and upright in our society, to the immoral, moral, and religious sinners; lest we continue to find many almost Christians. So, are you sure, my dear friend, that you are born again? Do you give evidence of spiritual fruit—a love for God’s word, a changed life in which you are becoming more and more like Jesus Christ, a desire to pray and fellowship with God’s people in an evangelical, gospel preaching church? Are you one who speaks of his faith to unbelievers, telling them how, though he was blind, now he sees? We must constantly press upon people everywhere the vital necessity, “You must be born again.”