20. ON TWO COMMON
There are two fatal errors, which, it is to be feared, abound among
professing Christians. The one, which considers divine grace as disrobed of
its glory, by insisting upon the necessity of human endeavors in the great
work of salvation. The other, which declares as injurious to morality, the
emphasis that is laid upon the absolute necessity of divine grace to the
production of every thing that is spiritually good in any man.
The truth embraces both these propositions: that is, the absolute need of
divine grace, without which "nothing is holy;" and the absolute necessity of
human endeavors, since God works in us both to will and to do of his good
pleasure. Though salvation be all of grace, yet God is pleased to work by
means. A Paul must plant, an Apollos water, while God gives the increase.
The husbandman deposits his seed in the ground, yet God alone can crown his
labors with an abundant harvest. To depend upon the divine blessing, without
using the means which Infinite Wisdom has appointed, is enthusiasm. To use
the means appointed, without an entire dependence upon the promised
blessing, is impiety.
If a father, for instance, should pray for the conversion of his children,
and yet allow them to run wild, without presenting any checks to their
evils, under the impression that the Almighty in his good time will save
them, if they are to be saved; and that if they are not among the elect, no
blame can attach to him, should they finally perish; would he not, by such
erroneous views of the plan of salvation, be actually aiding the cause of
Satan, and the destruction of his unhappy offspring, under the false notion
of glorifying the sovereignty of God and the freeness of divine grace?
So, on the other hand, if a father should endeavor to train up his children
in virtuous habits, and be anxious to guard them against the seductions of
the world; and yet draw all his hopes of success from his own exertions and
paternal instructions, without once feeling the force of that all-important
declaration of the Savior, "Without me, you can do nothing;" would he not,
by such conduct, manifest great impiety? and might not the Almighty withhold
his spiritual blessing, to show how easily he can blight the most powerful
To trust God with all our hearts, in the diligent use of the appointed
means, is the path which Infinite Wisdom has marked out for man, as a moral
agent. To be enabled to do this in a right spirit, is the work of divine
grace, and the way to obtain the divine blessing.
The Bible, while it reveals the utter inability of man to do any thing that
is good, by any natural power of his own, addresses him as a creature endued
with rational powers, and of high responsibilities. Hence, the sacred volume
abounds with exhortations to diligence, motives to obedience, and promises
of grace and strength both to do and suffer the holy will.
Spiritual pride and spiritual sloth are alike condemned. He who says "I will
not," and he who says "I can not," may be equally under the influence of a
bad spirit. The latter, which has a show of humility, may spring from
spiritual sloth, as the former does from spiritual pride. When grace really
enlightens the mind and affects the heart, the sinner, though deeply
conscious of his utter inability to save himself; dares not make this an
excuse for continuing in sin. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, he
cries mightily to God, through Christ, for deliverance from the guilt and
power of sin; and is graciously helped by him who never said to the seed of
Jacob, "Seek me in vain."
The Antinomian, and the self-righteous error, are both reprobated in the
Scriptures of truth. While we would carefully avoid those metaphysical
niceties which darken the simplicity of the Gospel, we should pray to
discover those subtle webs which Satan weaves to catch the feet of the
unwary. Divine truth is beautiful in its own simplicity—and grand in its own
sublimity. Every human addition, like paint on the diamond, obscures its
luster. An honest heart, and a sincere intention to please God in all
things, will clear the path of duty from many a stumbling-block, which the
pride of human reason has cast up; "for if any man will do his will, he
shall know of the doctrine whether it be of God."
People, in general, are more ready to argue a point in theology, than to
crucify a beloved lust. Those who are much acquainted with the religious
world, will find many theological disputants for one self-denying follower
The apostle was compelled to say in his day: "there are many unruly and vain
talkers." And such characters have been found in every age of the church, to
the annoyance of the humble Christian.
The Bible is not given to us for disputation, but for edification; and its
doctrines are designed to have a practical tendency on the mind and heart.
If real Christians, who differ from each other on some abstruse points of
theology, were to meet on the ground of our common Christianity, they would
be surprised to find how nearly they approximate each other in genuine
experience and practice. They would, with delightful feeling of joy,
recognize a brother, where they expected to meet a foe. The weapons of
controversy being thus laid aside, and agreeing to differ on points
confessedly abstruse, and beyond the power of finite reason to solve, they
would cheerfully hold out the right hand of fellowship, and exhibit to the
world that charity which is the bond of perfectness, and the beauty of the
church of Christ.
This is a state of feeling devoutly to be wished. May this spirit of mutual
love and affection abound more and more among the true followers of the
Lamb. Then will each member of the church, by his holy walk and
conversation, prove his election of God; and all the members of the mystical
body, deriving daily nourishment and strength from their glorified head, be
growing in a fitness for the "general assembly of the first-born," however
they may differ in their views or some of those 'deep things of God' which
can only be unraveled in the world of light and glory. It is no small
craftiness of Satan to engage the mind about non-essentials, and to beget
among Christians a spirit of strife and contention.
This crafty enemy has succeeded too well in all ages, to the grief of good
men, to the weakening of the good cause, and to the joy of the enemies of
the Gospel of Christ. All this only tends to confirm the Scripture doctrine
of human corruption, and Satanical agency. It calls for great watchfulness,
circumspection, and prayer; as well as humility and dependence on the Spirit
The grand design of God, in his revelation of mercy, is the display of his
own perfections in the salvation of his fallen creatures. Hence, the command
to perishing sinners is: "Look unto me, all you ends of the earth, and be
saved; for I am God, and there is none else, and besides me there is no
Savior." While the exhortation to believers is: "Work out your own salvation
with fear and trembling, for it is God that works in you both to will and to
do of his good pleasure."
"Blessed Lord, give me that wisdom which is from above. Preserve me from
falling into those errors, which would excuse spiritual sloth, or feed
spiritual pride. Bestow upon me the spirit of prayer; and give me grace to
live in the spirit of my prayers. Cause me to walk before you with a humble,
loving, obedient heart; that, living a life of faith in your beloved Son, I
may work by you and for you, while it is called today, before the night
comes when no man can work."
Wherever I turn my eyes within,
What loads of guilt, what depths of sin,
Like oceans deep, like mountains high,
Call for the vengeance of the sky!
Deceit, ambition, lust, and pride,
Within the human heart reside;
There Satan, seated on his throne,
Claims the whole empire as his own.
But Jesus comes! the mighty Lord!
He wields the bright celestial sword;
The strong man armed is forced to fly,
While angels chant the victory.
Glory to God in heaven above,
On earth sweet peace and sacred love;
Good-will to men—the foe is foiled,
And God and sinners reconciled.
Come, mighty conqueror of the heart,
Subdue my soul in every part;
Ascend your long-usurped throne:
Oh, be my king, and reign alone.