The following paper was written by C.H. Mackintosh (1820-1896). From time to time, we may share something that was written many years ago from a book that most of our readers probably do not possess. I found this short paper to be edifying, and I trust that you will also.
There are few things less understood than the real nature of exhortation. We are apt to attach an idea of legal effort to that word which is quite foreign to it. Divine exhortation, always assumes that a certain relationship exists, that a certain standing is enjoyed, that certain privileges are apprehended. The Spirit never exhorts save on a divine basis. For example, “I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God” (Rom. 12:1). Here we have a fine instance of divine exhortation. “The mercies of God” are first put before us, in all their fullness, brightness, and preciousness, ere we are called to hear the voice of exhortation.
Again, “grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). Here we are exhorted on the settled ground of our being sealed. He does not say, “Grieve not the Spirit, lest you be eternally lost.” Such would not be in keeping with the true character of divine exhortation. We are sealed not so long as we behave ourselves, but until the day of redemption. It is absolutely done, and this is the powerful reason why we are not to grieve the Holy Spirit. If that which is the eternal seal of God, set upon us until the day of redemption, be the Holy Spirit, how careful should we be not to grieve Him.
Again, “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above” (Col. 3:1). As those who are risen, what should we seek but things above? We do not seek these things in order to be risen but because we are. In other words, the solid basis of our standing is laid down, by the Spirit of grace, before ever the voice of exhortation falls on the ear. This is divine. Aught else would be mere legality. To call upon a man to set his affections upon things above, before he knows, upon divine authority, that he is risen with Christ, is to begin at the wrong end, and to lose your labor. It is only when I believe that precious emancipating truth that when Christ died, I died; when he was buried, I was buried; when he rose, I rose; it is only when this grand reality takes possession of my soul that I can lend an open ear, and an understanding heart to exhortation’s heavenly voice.
It is well for my reader to understand this thoroughly. There is no need whatever for a multitude of words. Let him simply take his New Testament, and beginning with the epistle to the Romans, trace, throughout, the exhortations of the Spirit of God; and he will find, without a single exception, that they are as completely divested of the legal element as are the promises which glitter like gems on the page of inspiration. This subject is not fully understood. Exhortation in the hands of man is widely different from what is in the hands of the Holy Ghost. How often do we hear men exhorting us to a certain line of action in order that we may reach certain privileges. The way of the Spirit is the reverse of this. He sets before us our standing in Christ, in the first place, and then he unfolds the walk. He speaks of privilege – free, unconditional, inalienable privilege, and then he sets forth the holy responsibility connected therewith. He first presents the settled and unalterable relationship in which free grace has set us, and then dwells upon the affections belonging thereto.
There is nothing so hateful to the Spirit of God as legality, that hateful system which casts us as doers back upon self, instead of casting us as lost sinners over upon Christ. Man would fain do something; but he must be brought to the end of himself, and to the end of all beside, and then as a lost sinner, find his rest in Christ – a full, precious, all-sufficient Christ. In this way alone can he ever expect solid peace and true happiness; and only then will he ever be able to yield an intelligent response to the Spirit’s “word of exhortation.”