I cannot, but I must. But I cannot. But I must. This is how I’ve heard someone describe the dilemma that people find themselves in once they realise they have to obey the gospel. As a sinner, I can’t believe. It’s something beyond achieving for someone who is dead in trespasses and sins. And yet, as a sinner, I must believe. It’s a command from God, and it’s the only way of salvation – believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.
It’s slightly similar to what the man in The Pilgrim’s Progress said when he stood in perplexity crying, What shall I do to be saved? – I am condemned to die, and after that to come to judgment; and I find that I am not willing to do the first, nor able to do the second.
The Evangelist’s direction to the man was to make for the wicket gate, keeping the shining light in his sights, and in the margin Mr Bunyan explains his allegory – you have to use the Word as a guide, and what you’re making for is Christ.
That was the same way out of the cannot-but-I-must dilemma. Rabbi Duncan called it “the gospel vice,” pressing in on either side. In the context where he used the term, it was to discourage people from attacking one or the other “limb” of the vice, as though the solution was to deny either that you are really unable believe or that you really are under the obligation of believing. But the person I first heard it from used the metaphor in this way – to say, When you’re hemmed in on every side and there’s no way of escape on either hand, then you have to look up instead, that is, look to Christ. I cannot, and yet I must: it’s too hard for me: but Christ himself is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. The gospel provides the very things it demands: by grace you are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.
“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”