Quotes by John Gerstner
Sin is still here. It is just that people do not so willingly acknowledge that fact. A spade is no longer called a spade, but some euphemism. The little boy says to his mother, “Why is it whenever I do anything bad, it’s because I’m a bad boy; but whenever you do anything bad, it’s because you’re nervous?” It is nerves rather than sin. It is our glands rather than sin. It is what we eat, the environment, our biorhythm, rather than sin, it is anything but sin. Sin denies that it is sin.
We must either worship Christ as God or despise or pity Him as man.
The only thing that has happened to sin is that people now, rather than affirming it by affirming it, prefer to affirm it by denying it… When they call me a sinner because I ought to know better than to affirm sin, they are themselves affirming sin. Though sinning itself is bad enough, denying sin is an additional sin, so that those who deny sin are actually double sinners.
If there is such a thing as sin, there is such a thing as crime, a specific form of sin. And if we all agree that there is such a thing as crime, or sin, then it deserves punishment… [But] in the opinion of many, not only does crime not deserve punishment, but punishment is the crime.
Mercy even with us is an optional virtue; we do not have to be merciful. We usually admire people who are, but we do not say that people must be so. We say everybody must be just. We say, for example, an employer, if he agrees to pay a certain wage, must pay that particular wage. If he does not pay it, then he is unjust and is liable to a lawsuit. All our contracts are based on the integrity and honesty and justice of people with whom we do business. They are actually subject to trials and imprisonment and even execution if they violate their duty of man to man. What about mercy among men? We love it. We admire it. We encourage it. We sometimes practice it. But we do not say mercy is obligatory… If this is true even of human affairs, we can see immediately that God does not have to be merciful. He gave us life and conscience. He gave us intelligence to meet our obligations, and He has a right to hold us responsible for using them. He has no further obligation to forgive us if we do not. We say that the Judge of all the earth cannot do wrong, but we cannot say that the Judge of all the earth must be merciful.
We are outlaws; we are violators of God’s will; we are spurners of the light of nature and natural revelation which we do have. We are entitled to nothing but Hell. If God leaves us to that to which we are entitled, who will call Him unjust?
While we do not believe that personal freedom is the ultimate explanation of the origin of evil, we do believe that freedom was the means which sin did come into the world.
The tendency of modern times has been to take punishment out of eternity or eternity out of punishment.
If trifles are vital parts of divine providence, what of evil? Evil is often vastly significant. The most important event which ever occurred was, in one aspect, horribly evil. The crucifixion of Jesus from the standpoint of the crucifiers was grotesquely wicked. Yet, even though the killing of Christ was atrocity itself, what event was so vital and its effects so beneficial as the death of Christ? If God’s providence does not include evil, it does not include the most important event which has ever taken place.
This truth of God must be loved, must be embraced, and must be yielded to if the person who has saving knowledge is to be saved by it. One theologian has written that it is not enough to “understand” but you must also “stand under.”
If…a person feels peace and knows that it results from faith that Christ satisfied divine justice for him and converted his soul and united him to the Saviour, the peace he feels is genuine since it rests on the truth of God.
There is no comparison at all between God and any of His creatures. In fact, all our sins against our fellowman are ultimately sins only because God has forbidden these deeds. “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned,” cried David, after committing adultery and murder.
Jesus knew that if there had been any conceivable way whereby God could have redeemed the world other than by the horrible death of His Son, God would never have resorted to such an expedient. He knew that there never could be any other name given under Heaven whereby men must be saved. He knew there was none other good enough to pay the price of sin; none other could open the door and let us in. Jesus knew that if those dear ones whom He had left were to drink of the vine again with Him in the kingdom of God, there was but one way – He must drink of the cup of God’s wrath.
Every man who approaches Christ seems to feel the same thing – He is the ideal of that man. To the artist Christ is the One altogether lovely. To the educator He is the master teacher. To the philosopher He is the wisdom of God. To the lonely, He is a brother; to the sorrowful, a comforter; and to the bereaved, the resurrection and the life. To the sinner, He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
A.H. Strong uses the analogy of the coupling. The coupling joins a train of cars to a locomotive. The coupling has no power in itself. It cannot move a single car an inch. All the power is in the locomotive. But the coupling is the link by which the power of the locomotive is transmitted to the cars. Faith has no power in itself; it is not a ground of salvation; it is not a good work. It is merely that by which all the goodness and grace and glory of Christ comes to the sinner.
Justification has a positive and a negative element. It consists at once in the removal of guilt and the imputation, or granting, of righteousness. It rescues the sinner as a brand from the burning and at the same time gives him a title to Heaven. If it failed to do either of these, it would fail to do anything. For man, as a sinner against God, must have that enormous guilt somehow removed. But, at the same time, if he had the guilt removed, he would still be devoid of positive righteousness and with no title to Heaven and would also be certain to fall again into sin and condemnation. If Christ only cancelled out guilt, He would merely return the sinner to Adam’s original state without Adam’s original perfection of nature. There must be the “double cure.”
But why is faith the means of justification? Simply because it is the action of union with Jesus Christ. Faith is our coming to Him, our trusting Him, our resting in Him. The moment we are united to Him, we are immediately endowed with all that He has secured for us. We are immediately justified before we have done a single good deed, because we are His and He is God’s. Just as a very poor woman is a very poor woman until the very moment that she marries a wealthy man. But at the moment that she becomes his wife, she becomes a wealthy woman. It is by means of her acceptance that she becomes a wealthy woman, but her acceptance does not make her a wealthy woman; it is her husband’s wealth that makes her so. So faith does not justify; Christ justifies. But faith is the act of union with Christ.
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein He pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed unto us, and received by faith alone.
Secularism has so permeated Christian thinking in our time that it has foreshortened the gospel picture. Even many Christians are more absorbed in this world than the other.
In the Lord’s Prayer we are specifically instructed to ask God for the forgiveness of our debts, or sins. Paul counted himself not to have attained; he did not consider himself already perfect. The Apostle John, one of the most saintly men of all time, the beloved of the Lord, said that if any man said he had no sin he deceived himself and the truth was not in him. A preacher, commenting on the fact that the Christian who says he has no sin deceives himself, remarked that he does not deceive anyone but himself.
As the Lord says, He makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the unjust and the wicked as well as on the godly. And His followers are required to act accordingly. Christ commands us to love our enemies, and uses as His model the fact that God from heaven showers His blessings on the wicked. We see that God actually hates and is infinitely angry with persons upon whom He pours great blessings. We are not allowed to hate persons, but are commanded to love them. We cannot, of course, be pleased with persons who hate God and hate us, but we can behave lovingly toward them and pray for them. In so doing, we follow the model of God.
Perhaps the most blessed characteristic of this Christian experience of fellowship with God is its inalienability. It cannot be lost… When I realize that some joy will never come to an end, that realization in itself is a joy and accentuates the original joy, just as thinking that a present joy will come to an end is a disturbance and that disturbance detracts from the present joy itself.
[Based on a false premise] pain and suffering raise a dilemma. Philosophers commonly argue: “If God is good, then He is not all-powerful; and if He is all-powerful, then He is not good.” Suffering, they insist, is not compatible with an omnipotent, benevolent deity. If God were both good and omnipotent, He would never allow suffering. Since misery and suffering do occur, He is either not good or He is not all-powerful.
Christ Himself did not say so much about His death. He was making the sacrifice; He left to others the privilege of explaining it. For two thousand years now the church has been glorying in His cross and exploring its wondrous meaning.
Troubled by the non-problem of pain, most people do not feel the real problem. The real difficulty is the problem of pleasure. While in a sinful world, pain is to be expected, and pleasure is not to be expected. We should be constantly amazed at the presence of pleasure in a world such as ours.
A dilemma would exist only if there were no suffering in a sinful world. Then we would have to say there cannot be a true God. Were there no adversity in a sinful world, God either would not be good or would not be omnipotent. Either He would be unconcerned about sin’s being unpunished, and therefore not good, or He would be unable to punish sin, and therefore not omnipotent. That would be a real problem in our world, where sin obviously abounds.
The godly do suffer and complain about it at times. But the Bible teaches plainly that their suffering, even after their conversion and reconciliation to God, is not punishment any longer, but chastening. It is not the punishment of a God who is angry with them, but the chastening of a God who is reconciled to them. Whom God loves, the Scriptures says, He chastens. He makes all things, including pain, “work together for good for them that love God, and are called according to His purpose.” That should be the consolation and strength of the saints… That affliction is actually a blessing in disguise. At other times, the pain hurts so much that they cannot, through the tears, see the disguise. Momentarily they lament the heavy hand of God upon them, but when they are thinking in their most saintly character, they praise God. His rod and staff comfort them.
Laymen sometimes think they need not be theologians. That, however, is a very great mistake. They do need to be theologians; at least, they should be amateur theologians. In fact, that is the one vocation every man is obliged to follow. A layman does not need to be a plumber, a carpenter, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, a laborer, a housewife. These are all possibilities, not necessities. A layman may be one of these or the other as he chooses. But he must be a theologian. This is not an option with him but a requirement… A lay theologian is a person who has a true knowledge of God which he understands in nontechnical, nonprofessional, nonacademic terms… Is it not clear why a layman must necessarily be a theologian? Is there anyone, layman or otherwise, who does not need to know God? Does the Scripture not say, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou has sent” (John 17:3)? It is, then, no mere option with a layman whether he will be a theologian or not, whether he will have eternal life or not; it is no option with him whether he will know God or not. The knowledge of God is necessary to eternal life. And if eternal life is necessary for every man, then theology is also necessary for every man.
God has no obligation to sinful men except to condemn. He may or may not, as His wisdom dictates, exercise mercy upon them. But mercy is not something which God must offer anybody. He offered no mercy to the angels when they sinned. And He says with respect to fallen human creatures: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy” (Rom. 9:18). He strongly insists that mercy is optional with Him and a matter of His sovereign pleasure alone.
It is self-evident that if punishment is not painful, it is not punishment. The only point of punishment is the administration of pain. The person who does sin…deserves to be punished; he deserves to suffer. One hopes that suffering will cure him of his sinfulness. At least, it will correct his behavior. He will be “scared straight” in behavior, if not softened in spirit.
[We] may have knowledge of God and not be saved, but he can never be saved without knowledge of God.
We are allowed to “enjoy” ourselves while the wrath of God remains over us only until He is ready to pour it out (ultimately) upon us. God is not mocked. Sinners are not really prospering. What is pleasure now turns out to be only a time of gathering an even greater bundle of sticks for the sinner’s own burning. “Whatever a man sows that shall he reap.” The law of karma means an endless cycle of torments without any hope of nirvana. The Hindu religion senses this, but is afraid to say it. Most others religions sense it too, but try to whistle in the dark.
When pain is present it is difficult to bear; but when a Christian, even in anguish, realizes that this is the heavy hand of a loving God upon him, he blesses God in his sufferings and for His suffering, which he knows is for his own good and for his everlasting blessedness.
The true church is called “invisible.” This does not mean that true Christians are invisible but that their “trueness” or genuineness is invisible to man. For example, the true faith of the eleven apostles was not visible any more than the false faith of Judas was visible (until the betrayal and suicide following Christ’s rejection of him revealed it).
That every person should grow up and do evil can be no coincidence. It calls for an explanation.
If preachers insist on competing with psychiatrists as counselors, with physicians as healers, with politicians as statesmen and with philosophers as speculators, then these specialists have every right to tell them how to preach. If a minister’s message is not based on “Thus saith the Lord,” then as a sermon it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of the specialists in the department with which it deals.
This, then, is how Jesus made atonement – how He paid it all. The punishment which was due to us He voluntarily received. The death which was the wages of our sin He underwent. The stripes with which we deserved to be beaten fell upon His willing back. The chastisement which was owing us was borne by Him. The price we would have paid by endless suffering He paid by an infinite sacrifice. It should have been I who cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It should have been He who said: “I am persuaded that nothing shall separate me from the love of God.” Because Jesus paid it all, it was He who was forsaken and we who never shall be. Because He drank the full cup of divine wrath, we shall never taste it. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”
When Christ gave His cheek to the betrayer’s kiss He knew that He was putting the cup of wrath to His lips, the full dregs of which He would not taste until the morrow when He would cry out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” [That is,] “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
Why do men not accept the gospel? How can they refuse the tender overtures of the gracious Son of God? Why do they even take offense at the cross? Let us consider an analogy. An etiquette book is a very valuable accessory. It is useful on many important occasions. A good one costs considerable money. Who would not be glad to have one, if it were given him? You wouldn’t? Why wouldn’t you be glad to be given such a book? Because it would imply you needed it! That is the reason proud sinners do not come to Christ. Their coming would imply they needed Him. They are too proud and self-righteous in their natural state to admit that!
Only the Christian gospel presents….a way in which justice and mercy kiss each other… First, Christianity confirms the fact that justice must be satisfied. Sin must be condemned according to its demerit. This means eternal doom. The sinner must be damned because God must be inexorably holy and just. His all-powerful Being must vindicate His all-holy Being. Christianity never compromises the ever-blessed purity and excellency of the divine nature. Second, Christianity alone finds a way to satisfy infinite justice and provide infinite mercy at the same time. What no other religion has dreamed of, Jesus Christ has accomplished. He underwent the infinite wrath of God against sin and lived to bestow His mercy on the damned sinners for whom He died. The infinite Son of God took upon Himself a human nature in which He underwent the full fury of the divine wrath. The omnipotent God satisfied His violated holiness by punishing sin completely in His blessed Son, who “became sin” for His people. The justice of God was vindicated in full in the substitute, His own Son, our Saviour dear. He survived that awful vengeance and rose victor over the grave by the power of His own divinity. Now He offers to every sin-sick and “pleasure” – burdened soul an everlasting mercy. Perfect mercy and perfect justice in the gospel of the crucified.
What irony that sinners consider the greatest problem they face in this world to be the problem of pain. The ultimate insult against God is that man thinks he has a problem of pain. Man, who deserves to be plunged into hell at this moment, and is indescribably fortunate that he is breathing normally, complains about unhappiness. Instead of falling on his knees in the profoundest possible gratitude that God holds back His wrath and infinite fury, the sinner shakes his fist in heaven’s face and complains against what he calls “pain.” When he receives his due, he will look back on his present condition as paradisiacal. What he now calls misery, he will then consider exquisite pleasure. The most severe torment anyone has ever known in this life will seem like heaven in comparison with one moment of the full fury of the divine Being.
God really loves us and wants us to turn away from our sins. If He passed final judgment now, we would have no such opportunity; that would be the end of time for us. He has sufficient provocation to do so; that we recognize. We have sinned enough to deserve His infinite wrath at any moment, but we do not receive it. We have an opportunity, therefore, to turn away from our sin and to turn to God. Instead of continuing to offend Him, we can plead for forgiveness and seek to please Him. While there is yet life, that is possible.
So when we call pain a problem, we claim we do not deserve it. We are even prepared to scuttle God to maintain our own innocence. We will say that God is not able to do what He would like, or He would never permit persons such as ourselves to suffer. That puffs up our egos and soothes our griefs at the same time. “How could God do this to me?” is at once an admission of pain and a soporific for it. It reduces our personal grief by eradicating the deity. Drastic medicine, indeed, that only a human ego, run wild, could possibly imagine.
If we recognize degrees of heinousness between a crime against one human being and another, we can see that the difference between a crime against a human and against the divine Being as infinite, and requires an infinitely more severe punishment.
In this light, we see the problem of pleasure. Manifestly, as sinners against an infinitely glorious God, we deserve an immediate and infinite, condign, irremediable punishment from His holy, powerful hands. Nothing that we have ever received, that anyone has ever received, in all this world, has even approximated an adequate punishment for the crimes we commit in any one moment. How, therefore, do we continue to live? Why are we not plunged into eternal torment now, immediately?