the Divine Life
A Series of Practical Christian Contemplations
By Thomas Sherman, 1680
PREFACE by William Maude, 1865
The little work which is here presented to the reader in a new dress, was originally published in the year 1680, under the following Title: "Divine Breathings: Or, a Manual of Practical Contemplations; Tending to Promote Gospel Principles, and a Holy Life in Christ".
As regards the book itself, if, as a clever writer has somewhere said, "great books, like large skulls, often have the least brains," it possesses the double recommendation of being small, and having brains beyond its size.
Our age is too busy for the large folios of our fathers. Like the railway train, rushing on with accelerated speed as it approaches the terminus, the world seems hurrying on as if it felt that it had but a short time in which to dispatch its remaining business. The ceaseless whirl of events, the bewildering illusions which each succeeding day presents to our notice, and the anxious necessities of business, sacred and secular—leave most of us scant time for reading or study. Here then is a book, in size small enough for the pocket; in arrangement divided into portions, short enough to be read at any leisure moment; and yet weighty enough in matter to supply much food for profitable meditation. Good old Thomas Fuller wrote 'Good Thoughts in Bad Times'; the reader may find in the following pages, "Brief Thoughts for Busy Times".
So far as the character of the work—to those who lack a spiritual palate—it will doubtless prove altogether uninteresting; but to such as, "by reason of use, have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil," it will, I think, be rejoiced over as the finding of great spoil.
I have only to add that in the present edition the archaic spelling has been modernized, and obsolete words and forms of expression updated, and the one hundred contemplations, of which the work originally consisted, digested under twenty-one general heads. It is hoped that, at all events, these alterations will not detract from the value of the work; no liberties having been taken with the sentiments of the author. And on the sure ground of the excellence of those sentiments, praying that the Divine blessing may once again accompany its publication, I commend this volume, small in size but not in value, to the prayerful perusal of the Christian reader.
The Author's Address to the Reader
To the reader,
As it should be our concern to get our judgments informed—so also our lives reformed; our heads filled with Gospel light—and our lives with Gospel holiness. We should hold fast and hold forth that which is good. Paul says of the Corinthians: "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts." (2 Corinthians 3:2-3.) And of the Thessalonians: "The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere." (1 Thess. 1:8.)
The commendation of a Christian is to have truth written in his heart—and read in his life. Of the Romans says the same Apostle: "But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed that form of doctrine which was delivered unto you." (Romans 6:17.) To have doctrine not only delivered to us, but to be delivered into that doctrine, so as to be framed and molded into the fashion of it—is what we should labor after. How far the following book tend to promote this work, I leave to be considered. But that our hearts may be so sanctified by truth, as that we may obey truth from the heart, is the prayer of your well-wisher,
Thomas Sherman, 1680
1. The Brazen Serpent
3. Coming to Christ
4. Christ Received
9. Spiritual Life
10. The Christian
11. Christian Duty
12. Indwelling Sin
13. Communion with God
14. Spiritual Darkness
19. The Promises
20. The Scriptures
THE BRAZEN SERPENT
As the serpent raised by Moses
Healed the burning serpent's bite,
Jesus thus Himself discloses
To the wounded sinner's sight!
Hear His gracious invitation—
"I have life and peace to give,
I have wrought out full salvation,
Sinner—look to Me and live!"
In the 21st chapter of the book of Numbers, we read that when the children of Israel murmured against God and Moses, the Lord sent fiery serpents among them, by the bite of which many died. But upon the acknowledgment of their sin, and the prayer of Moses for them, God commanded a serpent of brass to be made and set upon a pole, with a promise that every one who was bitten, by looking upon it—should be healed and live.
This serpent was a type of Christ, as He himself has taught us, saying: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up—that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life, (John 3:14, 15.) By looking to Him we shall be saved. Between the legal type and the gospel antitype—there is a parallel in several respects:
1. Everyone who was stung, the poor as well as the rich, the base as well as the great, might look to the brazen serpent and be healed. Just so, "whoever," without exception, believes in the name of the Lord Jesus, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.
2. Those who were most severely bitten, were as easily and as completely cured by looking at the brazen serpent—as those who were but slightly bitten. Just so, the greatest sinners, by looking to Jesus Christ, are as readily and as completely saved as less notorious sinners.
3. As Christ was lifted up in the type for those who murmured against Him, (for they are said to have tempted Christ, (1 Corinthians 9:9), so He was lifted up upon the cross for those who were His enemies! Yes, for those who were His betrayers and murderers; that, by looking unto Him—even such might be saved!
4. Those justly perished who would not look to the serpent; but either looked upon their sores as too great to be healed; or looked upon themselves as not bitten severely enough to need healing; or else turned aside to other fancied means of cure. Just so, those sinners justly perish who will not come to Christ, either because they think their sins too great to be pardoned, or do not see their need of pardon; or suppose that other means will do without Christ.
5. Those who looked upon the serpent with a dim eye were as perfectly healed—as those who looked upon it with a strong and clear sight. Just so, those who look upon Christ, though it be but with a weak faith, are as completely justified as those who look to Him with a strong faith.
6. The eye which beheld the brazen serpent, also beheld other things—but was only cured by beholding the brazen serpent. Just so, the same justifying faith believes all the truths that God has revealed—but for justification looks only to Christ.
7. Though the promise of healing was the warrant for those who were stung to do what they did; yet it was not the bare word of promise—but their actual looking upon the brazen serpent, that healed them. Just so, the promises of salvation by Christ are our warrant to go to Him; but it is our resting upon Christ in the promises by which we must be saved. " The object of faith," as one observes, "is not an evangelical maxim, or proposition—but the person of Christ."
8. It was the brazen serpent, lifted up upon the pole, to which those who were stung by the fiery serpents were to look. Just so, it is Christ, as lifted up upon the cross, and dying for sinners, to which justifying faith looks. Though a whole Christ is the object of justifying faith, yet it has a peculiar respect to a crucified Christ, as that which is peculiarly suitable to the condition of a distressed sinner. Are you, therefore, under this call of grace, "Look unto me—and be saved, all the ends of the earth"? (Isaiah 14:22.) Beg to be under the efficacy of this call, that He who has been lifted up—would draw you to himself, (John 12. 32.) Thus seeing the Son, may you believe on Him, and have everlasting life by Him! (John 6:40.)
"The most guilty man upon the whole earth has it yet in his own power to commit one sin more flagrant than any that he has yet committed, and that is—to despair of pardon."
1. God Pardoning Sin.
As it is the glory of a man to pass over a transgression, (Proverbs 19:2,) so God accounts it His glory to pardon sin. Moses besought the Lord to show him His glory, and accordingly God descended in a cloud, and passed before him, "and proclaimed the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin," (Exod. 33:18; 34:5-7.) The goodness, grace, and pardoning mercy of God—is His glory, and is called by Paul, "the riches of His glory," (Romans 9:23; Ephesians 3:16.) It is therefore both a sin and a shame for any man to say that his iniquity is greater than can be forgiven; for what are finite sins—compared to infinite mercy?
We read of "sin reigning unto death;" but we also read of "grace reigning through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord," (Romans 5:21.) We read of the "abounding" of sin—but also of the "superabounding" of grace, (verse 20.) The simple verb, says Zanchius, signifies, to overflow like a spring that runs forth plentifully, that all may partake of it; but a preposition is added which augments the force: it is, to "abound above measure," or "exceedingly to overflow." So it is said, "the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant," (1 Tim. 1:14.) It abounded, yes, it exceedingly abounded; and it must needs do so, being infinite. Would you therefore exalt the infinity of God's grace, and the virtue of Christ's blood, say not with Cain, "my iniquity is greater than that it may be forgiven," (Genesis 4:13, margin;) but plead with David, "For your name's sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great," (Psalm 25:2.)
2. God's Justice and Mercy Displayed in the Pardon of Sin.
There are some who separate between the mercy of God—and the mediation of Christ. Because God is gracious and merciful, they hope he will be so to them; whereas God is just—as well as merciful; and Justice must be satisfied—if ever Mercy is to be exercised. Justice must be our friend, as well as Mercy. If ever we are to be saved, we must have salvation from the throne of Justice—as well as from the seat of Mercy. "God did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus," (Romans 3:26.) God is not only gracious—but righteous in the pardon of sin; for Christ, having satisfied justice, obtained mercy, and opened a way for the dispensing of it; and God now appears righteous in justifying the believer. Do not deceive yourself, therefore, by hoping for mercy without Christ—or for Christ without faith. Some separate between the death of Christ—and his resurrection, between the benefit of the one and the power of the other; between what Christ has wrought for sinners—and what he works in sinners. But take heed; for if Christ has wrought out salvation for you, he will work out salvation in you. He who "died unto sin but lives unto God," will also make you "to be dead indeed unto sin—but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord," (Romans 6:10, 11.)
COMING TO CHRIST
"When you come to Christ—you must leave behind you:
all your own righteousness,
all your own holiness,
all your own sanctification,
all your own duties,
all your own tears,
all your own repentings, etc.
Oh, this is hard!
You must bring nothing but your sins and miseries to Him. Otherwise, Christ is not fit for you—nor you for Christ!" (Thomas Wilcox)
1. Man Lacks the WILL Rather than the POWER to Come to Christ. There are some who, when invited to come to Christ, tell you that they have no power; whereas, in fact, they have no will. He who was invited to the marriage feast, gave this as his answer, "I cannot come," (Luke 14:20.) But, if you attend to his reason, it will appear it was because he would not. Being invited, you say, "What would you have me do, I have no power?" Why, only do what is in your power. It is in your power to wait at wisdom's gates, at the posts of her doors—as much as to attend at any other place for your temporal advantage.
If you enjoy the means of grace, it is in your power to hear the Word as carefully and diligently—as you are industrious in your worldly business. It is as much in your power to meditate on what you hear, and frequently to retire within yourself and consider your spiritual state—as it is to withdraw and cast up your financial accounts. It is as much in your power to petition God to give you a penitent heart—as it is to solicit men for what you may need. Therefore use the means—lie at the pool; you know not how soon Christ may come and heal you!
Meditate much upon a crucified and exalted Savior; you know not how soon an attractive power may proceed from Him and draw you. With Zacchaeus, be in Christ's way; who knows but, while you are looking for Him, Jesus may say to you, as He said to him, "This day has salvation come to this house!" (Luke 19:9.) Until this is done, say not that you can not come to Christ—but that you will not. And, though you should find yourself to have no heart to come—yet come, that you may have the heart; come upon the encouragement of that blessed verse: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure," (Phil. 2:12, 13.)
2. Our Sinfulness No Excuse for Not Coming to Christ. How many urge that as a reason for their not going to Christ, which should be the great motive to hasten them to Him. They say they are sinners—great sinners—and therefore they dare not go! But this is as if a patient should say, "I am sick, yes, very sick, and therefore I dare not apply to the physician!" Whereas "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." (Matt. 9:12.) Consider: "Christ died for the ungodly," (Romans 5:6.) He has "received gifts for men; yes, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them," (Psalm 68:18.)
Are you a notorious and infamous sinner? Such were the "publicans and harlots," who found mercy;—such was Manasseh, who, by idolatry, enchantment, and shedding innocent blood, wrought much wickedness in the sight of the Lord; yet, when he humbled himself and prayed, the Lord "was entreated by him, and heard his supplication," (2 Chron. 33:12, 13.) Such also, before conversion, were some of the Corinthians. "Do not be deceived," says Paul, "Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were! But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God!" (1 Corinthians 6:9-11.)
Or, have you not only neglected—but rejected—not only despised and turned your back upon—but even opened your mouth against, God? Yet, see how Wisdom invites even scorners to accept of grace, saying, "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you!" (Proverbs 1:22, 23.)
Or, have you nothing but grievous sins, and yet have gone on stubbornly, and been stout against God, neither fearing His threatenings, nor regarding His judgments? Yet, hear what he says: "Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are far from righteousness. I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed." (Isaiah 46:12, 13.) Great sinners, yes, "the chief of sinners," (1 Tim. 1:15,) have obtained mercy: and to such, Christ sends His gospel, declaring, "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem," (Luke 24:47.) Mark, they were to begin to preach peace, where the Prince of Peace had lately been crucified—even at Jerusalem! And "at Jerusalem" he sends the gospel to his betrayers and murderers—and, among his murderers, to those who had been the chief—to Annas and Caiaphas, with their kindred, (Acts 4:5—12.) Yes, to the high priest, the chief priests, and the whole council, (Acts 5:29, 32.)
Say not, then, your sins are great, and therefore you do not dare to go to Christ: this is but to add to them the greatest of all sins, "unbelief". But say, rather, "because my sins are so great—therefore I have the more need to go to this great Savior!"
3. Election Is No Hindrance to Our Coming to Christ. Some people make the doctrine of election, a hindrance to their going to Christ; even though it is a means to further their application. "If," say they, "we are elected—we shall go; but, if not elected, it is in vain for us to try to go." But why should we deal worse with our souls—than we do with our bodies? If the body is sick we do not say, "I will take no medicine; for if it is decreed I shall live—I do not need it; and if it is decreed I shall die—it cannot help me." No! we use the means—in order to the end. And thus should we do in reference to our souls. Those whom God has elected unto life—he has also appointed to go to Christ—that they may have spiritual life. It is not your business first to examine whether God has chosen you—but to choose Him. "Make your calling and election sure," (2 Peter 1:10;) and the way to make our calling and election sure—is to make our calling so. Say not, therefore, "If I am not elected it is in vain to go." But, "through grace, I will go, so that I may know that I am elected!"
4. It Is Pride, Not Humility, Which Keeps Men from Christ. Many mistake that for humility—which is in fact pride. Such are they who, though they see their need of Christ, and would gladly have Christ; yet, because they cannot bring to Him a heart as humble and broken as they desire—dare not come at all. To be sensible of our unworthiness is good; but to look within ourselves for anything to render us worthy—is evil. This is pride—when men would bring something to Christ, instead of being willing to receive all from Him! And this is true humility—for a soul to be nothing in itself, and to come to Christ, according to that gracious invitation: ""Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost!" (Isaiah 55:1.) Come, then, empty of self—to a full Christ!
5. The Promises to Be Used in Coming to Christ. In going to Christ—we should plead the promises. But some assert that there is no right to a promise, before union with Christ; as the man has no right to the estate of an heiress, until he be married to her. And hence it may be inquired, what use can those make of the promises, who have not as yet a saving interest in Christ?
In answering this, we must distinguish between the invitation of the promise, and the benefit of the promise. Take, for instance, John 3:16, "Whoever believes in Him shall not perish—but have everlasting life." "Whoever believes"—there is the invitation of the promise, and it is to all people. But then there is the benefit of the promise "everlasting life," and that is only for those who believe. All have a right to the promise as a means to lead them to Christ; though no right to the benefits promised, until they do believe. Let, therefore, the invitation of the promise, which is to all, draw you. Let the warrant of the promise, which is: that those who believe shall not perish—but have everlasting life, encourage you to lay hold of Christ, who is Himself the thing promised; for that "eternal life" which God promises—is "in his Son," (1 John 5:11.)
"Yet to all who received Him . . . He gave the right to become children of God" John 1:12
1. What it Is to Receive Christ? True faith is called a receiving of Christ; "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on His name," (John 1:12.) A true receiving of Christ implies:
1. That we see ourselves to be naturally destitute of Him. We receive Him—because we are without Him.
2. Receiving Christ implies that we have a knowledge of Him. We could not receive Him—were He not presented to us. God holds out Christ in such a word of grace as this: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish—but have everlasting life," (John 3:16.)
3. Receiving Christ implies a sense of our need of Him. If anything is presented to us, and we have no need of it—we are no way concerned about receiving it. But Christ is so offered to us, that there is something usually added in the offer to convince us of our need of Him: "Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he who believes not shall be damned," (Mark 16:15,16.) How can this latter clause be termed the Gospel—but as it shows us the need a poor soul has of Christ, so that we may hasten to Him?
4. Receiving Christ is a laying aside all for Christ. We cannot receive—with a full hand. We lay aside what we have in hand—to receive that which is presented to us. So the soul that receives Christ—lays aside all for Christ. He empties his hand of sin, and the world, and self-righteousness, in order to receive Christ.
5. Receiving Christ is the receiving of Him upon His own terms. The donor has his terms, which the receiver must observe. Just so, the soul must receive Christ as offered by God—Christ, and Christ alone. A whole Christ—and the whole that comes with Christ. Christ with poverty, as well as Christ with riches. Christ with reproach—as well as Christ with all His blessings. Christ with the cross—as well as Christ with the crown.
6. Receiving implies an actual laying hold of what is presented. Just so, the soul actually closes with Christ in receiving Him. Would you then judge rightly concerning your faith? You may know how it is with you in point of believing, from what has been done by you in point of receiving.
Some sincere souls doubt whether they have rightly closed with Christ, because they cannot say whether it was the person of Christ—or the portion from Him; the good in Him—or the good by Him, which they have principally regarded. To raise our esteem of Him, our affection to Him, and our faith in Him—the Scripture holds forth both our necessity and Christ's excellency; both the good we shall get by Him, and the worth we shall find in Him. On this account, do not reject your faith. The prodigal was received blessing, even though he sought himself in coming to his father; and if you find that, in the first act of faith, Christ has not had from you that preference which He ought, then labor to mend it by further acts of love and obedience.
2. The Reception of Christ a Continuous Act. The soul that truly receives Christ—is continually receiving Him. Reception of Christ is not a transient, but a continuous act. The soul that has received Christ, and rests upon Him as the foundation, is continually coming to Him as to a living stone, (1 Peter 2:4.) As Christ is ever receiving the soul nearer and nearer to Himself—so the soul is ever receiving Christ. Our receiving Christ is but an impression made upon our hearts, because of Christ's receiving us. Besides His first reception of believers, we read of a further receiving of them, (2 Corinthians 6:17, 18.) He receives them to fuller manifestation and participation of His love; and they receive Him in fuller communications and emanations of His grace. Therefore, as Christ apprehends the soul—so the soul should apprehend Christ, so that it "may apprehend that for which also it is apprehended of Christ," (Phil. 3:12.)
3. A whole Christ must be received—with the whole heart. Some in their understanding, assent to the way of salvation—yet do not consent to it with their will. In judgment they are for Christ—but in affection for other things. There is only a part of their soul that is for Christ. Others would have the benefits that are from Christ—but have no love for the person of Christ.
Some would have Christ only as a Savior—but not as a Lord. They desire Him only as a Priest to offer a sacrifice for their sins—but not as a Prophet to instruct them, nor as a King to rule over them. So that it is but part of Christ, that they would receive.
But both of these courses are equally dangerous; for, if we would be saved, we must cleave to Christ with all the faculties of the soul—with will, judgment, affection, etc. And so, again, we must cleave to the whole of Christ—Christ in His natures, person, offices, etc. If, therefore, you would rightly receive Christ, see that your whole soul receives a whole Christ.
4. The Practical Effect Of A True Reception Of Christ. As the soul has received Christ, so it should walk in Him. For this we have an express command: "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him," (Col. 2:6.) We read also of "first love" and "first works," (Rev. 2:4, 5.) And we should be continually anxious that our love to Christ be as fervent, our desires after Christ as strong, our esteem of Him as high, our delight in Him as great, and our obedience to Him as full—as in the day of our espousals. We should have as deep a sense of sin, as true a value for Christ, as free a choice of Him, as firm a cleaving to Him, and as lively actings of the soul towards Him—as when we first embraced Him. This is to walk in Christ as we received Him. It was the failing of the Church of Ephesus, that they had fallen from their "first love" and their "first works." It was the commendation of Jehoshaphat, that he "walked in the first ways of his father, David," (2 Chron. 17:3.) And it was the glory of the Church of Thyatira, as it will be of all those who follow its example, that "their last works were more than their first," (Rev. 2:19.)
"Some are brought to Christ by fire, storms, and tempests; others by more easy and gentle gales of the Spirit. The Spirit is free in the work of conversion, and is as the wind, which blows when, where, and how it pleases. Thrice happy are those souls that are brought to Christ, whether it be in the winter's night or the summer's day." Thomas Brooks
1. Reflection Leads To Conversion.
Reflection is the first step towards reformation. When people run from God, they run likewise from themselves; they consider neither what they are doing—nor where they are going. In order to return to God, we must return to ourselves. The prodigal came to his senses—before he went to his father. "How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!" (Luke 15:17.) He considers there may be relief, in going; and nothing but ruin in staying. Thus reflection begets resolution, resolution begets returning, and returning meets with a gracious reception.
Who would undo himself—for lack of considering what he is doing; or shut his eyes—that he may not see the destruction coming upon him? It is said: "Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace." (Luke 14:31, 32.)
Man is naturally an enemy of God—and in actual war against Him. But what says God? "Can your heart endure, or can your hands be strong—in the day that I shall deal with you?" (Ezekiel 22:14.) If not, why will you oppose Him—when you can not withstand Him? "Fury," says he, "is not in me; If only there were briers and thorns confronting me! I would march against them in battle; I would set them all on fire. Or else let them come to me for refuge; let them make peace with me, yes, let them make peace with me!" (Isaiah 27:4, 5.) The King of kings and Lord of lords, sends to invite poor withered thorns and briers to peace, and holds out to them Almighty strength to take hold of. Sit down then, O sinner! and consider what you do; or rather, rise up and lay hold of this strength to make peace with God, and you shall have peace. Lest that strength which is, if accepted, mighty to save—be, if opposed, as mighty to destroy.
2. True Conversion.
In turning from sin, it is natural for poor sinners to turn to their own works. To that which was man's first righteousness, they are prone first to betake themselves. They would gladly DO something for life, rather than BELIEVE that they may have life. Whereas, true repentance is a turning from sin—to God in Christ; and not a turning from sin—to self and our own doings. This can neither make amends for sins past—as all we can do is but present duty; nor can it find acceptance for time to come, as it is only in the Beloved that our persons and services can be accepted. Take heed, therefore, either of staying in sinful self, or of turning to righteous self; but let it be your desire with the apostle Paul, "to be found in Christ, not having your own righteousness which is of the law—but that which is through the faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith," (Phil. 3:9.)
"In the act of justification, there is nothing else in man that has part or place—but faith alone; apprehending the object, which is Christ crucified, in whom is all the worthiness and fullness of our salvation." Patrick Hamilton.
1. Justification By Faith.
Justification by the righteousness of Christ, imputed to us of God, and received by faith without works—is a grand truth frequently asserted in the Scripture, (1 Corinthians 1:30; Romans 3:21-28.) That we are justified without works appears:
(1.) From the opposition shown to exist between the faith by which we are justified, and works, (Galatians 2:16.)
(2.) From the incongruity there is between the grace through which we are justified, and works, (Romans 4:4; 11:6.)
(3.) From the design of God, which is to take away all boasting from the creature, and to exalt His own grace, (Romans 3:27; Ephesians 2:8, 9.)
Further: we are justified not only without works done in compliance with the ceremonial law—but likewise without works done in obedience to the moral law. This appears from the Apostle's excluding in this case that law which was to abide, (Romans 3:21.) Besides, all our righteousness being imperfect, renders us liable to the curse of the law, that is, of the moral law, (Galatians 3:10; Deuteronomy 27:15-26.)
Nor are only moral works, performed by the power of nature before conversion, excluded in point of justification; but those also performed after conversion, through the aid of the Spirit. This the Apostle asserts in opposition to the Galatians, who were converted, and had received the Spirit through the hearing of faith. Neither are we justified by works in conjunction with the righteousness of Christ. For, either the righteousness and merit of Christ is perfect or not. If it is perfect, as indeed it is, (Hebrews 10:14; Col. 2:10,) then there is no need of our righteousness. If it is not perfect, our imperfect righteousness cannot make it complete.
Those who went about to seduce the Galatians, acknowledged the grace of God and the righteousness of Christ, for they were such as believed, (Acts 15:5.) The Galatians also, themselves, did the same; otherwise there would have been no force in that expression of the Apostle: "I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:21.) Certainly they at least gave Christ's merits and death some share in their justification, with their works: yet against such works does the Apostle argue.
Neither are we justified by faith as it is a habit; that is, as it is a holy quality infused into the soul by God, and abiding or dwelling in us. For in that case we should be justified by inherent righteousness, that is, by a righteousness within us. But the righteousness by which we are justified, is a righteousness outside of us, (Phil. 3:9.) Faith, as a grace implanted in the soul, is a part of sanctification; but our justification is distinct from our sanctification, (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 6:11.) The one is implanted in us; the other is imputed to us.
Nor are we justified by faith as a work; for works, not less of the Gospel than of the Law, are excluded, (Romans 11:5, 6.) And the righteousness by which we are justified is not a work of our own—but a righteousness wrought out by another. Nor yet are we justified by faith, as though it was accepted of God, in the place of fulfilling the law, and that either freely, or through the merit of Christ, as even faith itself is imperfect. We believe but in part; but God justifies in a way of righteousness, upon a valuable consideration, (Romans 3:25, 26.) Faith bears no proportion to the righteousness of the law; but the righteousness of Christ, by which we are justified, is such a righteousness as bears a full proportion to the righteousness of the law, (Romans 8:3.)
Take heed, therefore, lest by asserting or mixing works, either in whole or in part, in point of justification, you not only doctrinally but practically declare the grace of God to be useless, and the death of Christ to have been in vain—but eventually and experimentally find it to be so as regards yourself, (See Romans 9:31, 32.)
2. Justification Practically Considered.
Many who are clear in the doctrinal part of justification, fail in the practical part. They acknowledge justification not to be of works—but by grace—yet live as if they were to be justified by works. They do this:
1. When they find the chief ground of their acceptance with God in what they are and do—rather than in what Christ is and has done. True it is, that as God accepts the persons, so also the offerings of His people; yet both persons and services are accepted, not for any worthiness in them—but for the worthiness of Christ alone.
2. When they have recourse principally to the frame of their hearts, and the course of their lives, for peace and comfort—and not chiefly to Christ. True, the blessed fruits of justification in us, and held forth by us, are matters of comfort, so far as they bear testimony to the truth of our justification; but the spring of our rejoicing should be in Christ Jesus alone.
3. When they think that, according to the steadiness or unsteadiness of their walking—they are more or less justified. It is true, as to the manifestation of our justification to our own souls, that it clouded, or cleared, according to the frame of our hearts and the course of our lives; but in itself it is still the same. And though we are to be humbled for our own unsteady walking, and should make it our study to walk holily and live fruitfully; yet we should consider that neither the goodness of our works can add anything to our justification, nor the defects thereof impair it; because our works are not concerned therein. Our righteousness is outside of ourselves and in Christ—whose righteousness is everlastingly the same. If therefore you acknowledge justification to be of grace, see that you neither set up works in the place of Christ, nor in conjunction with Him. "And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace," (Romans 11:6.)
3. Faith Justifying and Justified.
When it is said that God "justifies the ungodly," (Romans 4:5,) it must be understood of such people as were ungodly, not of those who remain so. God justifies the ungodly objectively, not subjectively. Such were ungodly until they were justified—but being justified, they do not remain ungodly. Where righteousness is imputed—there holiness is imparted! For though these are separable in the point of justification, they are inseparable in the party justified. The Apostle reminds the Corinthians that they "were" ungodly; "but" now, he adds, "you are washed—but you are sanctified—but you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the spirit of our God," (1 Corinthians 6:11.) All those whom Christ justifies—He sanctifies. All who have His righteousness imputed to them—have also His Spirit imparted to them. Though by faith we are to look outside of ourselves for the justification of our persons—we are to look into ourselves for the justification of our faith.
"He who dares trust Christ with his soul upon the warrant of the Gospel, shall be saved forever. We have no more to do—but to take pen in hand, and say, 'Amen O Lord; it is a good bargain and a true word—and I will trust my soul with it.' This is believing." Robert Trail.
1. The Life of Faith.
As the Christian is made alive through faith—so he is to live by faith. For as it is that life which brings most glory to God, by laying the creature low in the sense of his indigence, and most highly exalts God from the sight of His all-sufficiency; so it is that life which is most in accordance with our present state. A Christian has many of his mercies in hope—not in hand; in promise—not in possession; and there before he has need to live in the exercise of faith, which gives a reality to unseen mercies, as if they were present.
In the eleventh chapter of Hebrews (verse 1) you have a description of faith as that grace by which we live. It is there called "the substance of things hoped for," as it gives a substantiality and present subsistence to things which exist as yet only in the promise; and it is "the evidence"—the clear demonstration and full conviction of the reality—"of things not seen."
The faith of Abraham so realized Christ's day, that he rejoiced at it as though he had lived in it, (John 8:56;) and, as our mercies lie outside of our hand—in the promise, so our life and grace are laid up in another—even in Christ. Adam had all his stock put into his hands at once; but, like a prodigal, he wasted all, and brought both himself and us to beggary and ruin! God has therefore laid up our life in Christ. "For," says the Apostle, "you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God," (Col. 3:3.) Our stock is in His hands—so that it may be sure; and Christ, in giving it forth, gives it in measure, together with the strength and ability to use it, so that it may not be lost. Let us therefore always live the life of faith, as being that excellent life which is most suitable to our state; so that, by the arms of faith—we may be continually embracing the good things promised to us, and by the hand of faith—we may be daily be receiving of the good things laid up for us.
2. The Acts of Faith.
To live by faith, is for the soul in the exercise thereof, through a promise, to be continually going forth, depending on and fetching in supplies, with respect to both our spiritual and temporal needs—from God in Christ; according to our necessities and with divine assistance, for the right improvement of the same. The faith by which we must live such a life, is the very same faith by which we were justified. "The just shall live by his faith," (Hab. 2:4.) By the same faith whereby he is justified—shall he live. It is not said merely that he lives because he is made a partaker of eternal life in his justification; but he lives also because he depends upon God for all his mercies.
Faith must here be considered in its different acts, exercised upon the same object—but under different conditions:
Faith, as it justifies, respects Christ and His death, Christ and his righteousness, and accordingly closes with Him.
Faith, as that grace by which we live, respects Christ and His fullness, Christ and His faithfulness, Christ and His all-sufficiency, and applies itself to him accordingly. Therefore, to live this life of faith upon Christ, three things are necessary:
(1.) To be well stored with promises—to warrant our going to Him with our particular needs.
(2.) To have clear views of Him—so as to act faith upon Him.
(3.) To lay hold on such suitable attributes as are ascribed to Him—so as to strengthen our faith in what we apply for, (1 Thess. 5:23; 1 Pet . 5:10.)
3. Faith Without Sense.
Believers are too often like Thomas, who would not believe unless he might have something of sense to assist his faith. From sense and feeling—he would ascend to believing; whereas we should believe—that we may attain to sense and feeling. "I have put my trust in the Lord—so that I may declare all your works," (Psalm 73:28.) He first trusts God—and then finds experiences to declare. "We walk by faith, not by sight;" and therefore we must believe in the absence of sense, not only natural but spiritual.
But how contrary do many walk to this! While God smiles—they believe He is their God. While they find their sin subdued—they believe their state to be good. While they find their grace flourishing—they believe it to be right and true. While they find Christ embracing them—they believe He is theirs. But, under frowns—you must believe that God may smile; under prevailing corruptions—you must believe that lust may be subdued, (Psalm 65:3;) under the languishing of grace—you must believe that grace may be strengthened; and under doubts of your interest in Christ—you must believe that He may be yours. We must not only say we taste and see that the Lord is good—and therefore we trust Him; but, in the lack of this, we will trust Him; so that we may taste and see His goodness.
4. Faith Without Assurance.
Some sincere souls fear they have no faith, because they have no comfort, especially while considering such passages as these: "Being justified by faith—we have peace with God," (Romans 5:1.) "He who believes—has the witness in himself," (1 John 5:10.) "If I had faith," says the poor soul, "I would have peace; if I were a believer, I would have the witness of it; but I have not." Let such consider, that though there cannot be true assurance without faith—yet there may be true faith without assurance. True faith in its exercise, may either be weak faith—or strong faith. So was it with David, Jonah, Job, and other worthies.
It is not said that, being justified by faith, we have peace in ourselves—the immediate comfort of it; but, being justified by faith, we have peace with God. We are no longer in a state of enmity—but in a state of peace.
There is the peace of reconciliation, and the peace of consolation. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God; we are under the peace of reconciliation; and what true peace of consolation a soul, has flows from faith. And whereas it is said, "he who believes has the witness in himself;" the meaning is not, that upon his believing it is always immediately witnessed to him that Jesus Christ is his; experience declares the contrary. But the meaning is, that by believing he witnesses the same that the Father does—that Christ is the Son of God, and that life and salvation are to be had by Him alone. Or, that he has that in himself by which the Spirit bears witness of an interest in Christ—he is justified, sanctified, and made partaker of those graces of the Spirit, by which, if diligently cultivated, he may grow up to assurance and attain comfort. Test not, therefore, your faith by your comfort—but your comfort by your faith. You may have true faith without comfort—but you cannot have true comfort without faith.
5. Faith and Doubts.
Satan is such an enemy to the saints, that if he cannot hinder their salvation, he will strive to hinder their consolation; so that he may weaken their hands and enfeeble their knees. One way is by filling them with doubts, and then leading them to question the goodness of their state before God, because of those doubts. Hence it often happens that gracious souls question whether they have any faith—because they have so many doubts. Whereas, on the contrary, if they had no doubts—they might well question whether they had faith. If all were in peace, it would be a strong argument that "the strong man" still had possession. But for doubts to be stirring in the heart, is a sign that there is a contrary principle—namely, faith—which these war against.
Regenerate people are partly flesh—and partly spirit; and faith and doubts, though opposite in themselves, may be in the same person with respect to each of those parts. Christ said to Peter, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt? (Matt. 14:31.) And again we read, "And the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help my unbelief," (Mark 9:24) In the midst of his unbelief, he asserts his belief; and Christ owns Peter's little faith in the midst of his great fears. Be careful, therefore, that you do not doubt your faith, though that faith is accompanied with doubts. Bemoan your doubts—but own your faith.
6. The Advantage of Strong Faith.
As growth in grace supplies a comfortable evidence of the reality of grace, so is it of great advantage, as to the use of it. The Church of Thessalonica was eminent for growth in grace, particularly the graces of faith, love, and patience; and therefore it was eminent in working, laboring, waiting, and suffering for Christ. On the contrary, in the Church of Sardis, as their graces were languid—so their works were imperfect, (Rev. 3:2.) Little grace is not equal to much work. Weak grace is not fit to encounter strong corruptions. Nor is small grace able to bear sharp trials. Nor is feeble grace fit to wait for promised mercies. We have need, therefore, to get all the grace we can; for we know not how soon we may need all the grace we can get!
7. Dying in Faith.
As it is the duty of the saints to live by faith—so also to die in faith. The Scripture speaking of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah, says, "These all died in faith," (Hebrews 11:13.) To die in faith, is to die resigning our spirits into the hands of Christ. Thus Stephen died: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," (Acts 7:59.) To die in faith, is to die believing the accomplishment of all the promises, as yet unfulfilled, relating either to ourselves or the church of God. Thus Jacob died: "Israel said to Joseph, Behold, I die—but God shall be with you, and bring you again into the land of your fathers," (Genesis 48:21.) Thus Joseph died: "God," said he, "will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from hence," (Genesis 50:25.) To die in faith, is to die believing that death is ours, as much as life or any of the good things we enjoy in it, (1 Corinthians 3:21, 22.) To die in faith, is to die in and to Christ. As to live by faith, is to live unto the Lord; so to die in faith is to die unto the Lord, (Romans 14:8.) To die in faith, is to die, not from necessity, but from duty.
Aaron was to go up to mount Hor and die there; and though in the sight of the people he was to be stripped of his priestly garments—yet he obeys. It is said: "And Aaron the priest went up into mount Hor at the commandment of the Lord—and died there," (Num. 33:38.) So Moses was to go up to mount Nebo, and die there, (Deuteronomy 32:50;) and this, being the commandment of the Lord, he obeys, (chap 34.) To die in faith, is to die not from force—but from choice. "I desire," says Paul, "to depart, and be with Christ; which is far better!" (Phil. 1:23.) If then you would die in faith—be dying daily by faith. Let that be done now in the frame of your heart—which is to be done at the close of your life.
1. The Grace of Repentance.
As sin is the greatest evil—so sorrow for sin is the greatest sorrow. Though shaving their heads was forbidden the people of God in sorrowing for the dead, (Deuteronomy 14:1;) yet this, or what is equivalent to it, is commanded in mourning for sin, (Isaiah 22:12.) And though many times God's people may find a greater flow of sorrow for temporal losses than they do for sin, (for nature helps us to mourn for the one—but hinders us in mourning for the other; and, moreover, natural evils lying nearer to us affect the senses;) yet godly sorrow in a saint is the greatest sorrow, being that which flows from faith, whereby we see sin to be the greatest evil, as exemplified in the crucified Savior.
It is also the greatest sorrow, if you consider the principle from which it flows. Worldly sorrow is like a land flood, which has no spring to feed it; but godly sorrow is a stream fed by a living spring. As every act of faith arises from a principle of faith, and every act of love arises from a principle of love; so every act of this mourning arises from a principle of mourning; namely, from the grace of godly sorrow which is preserved in the soul by the Spirit. And therefore godly sorrow must be the greatest, because what it lacks in present perfection, it makes up in perseverance. Worldly sorrow is a dying sorrow; but godly sorrow is an increasing sorrow. If, then, you would judge of the reality of godly sorrow, judge of it by the greatness thereof; and, if you would judge of the greatness of it, judge not of it by what it is in the sensitive faculty—but by what it is in the rational—not how the outward man is affected—but how the inward man stands affected— not by what it is in appearance—but by what it is in its principle and continuance.
2. Repentance Renewed.
True repentance is a continual work. So long as we have sin to repent of—so long we must be repenting of sin, and by after acts the work of repentance comes to be more distinctly, methodically, and evangelically carried on than it was at the first.
(1.) A child of God, from a continued experimental sense of the indwelling and working of sin—comes to be more thoroughly convinced of the root, nature, evil, and heinousness of sin; and to feel the weight, load, and pressure of it, more burdensome than previously. As David in Psalm 51, and Paul in Romans 7.
(2.) Again, the believer's sorrow for sin becomes more evangelical than formerly; for whereas, before there was much of self-love and fear of wrath and hell in his mourning; now, having a clear view of the love of God in pardoning him, and of the distinguishing grace and favor of God extended to him—he comes to mourn, loathe, and abase himself more deeply than before, and to melt with filial sorrow before the Lord, that he should act so unworthily and unthankfully towards such a gracious, tender, and loving Father. "Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed." (Ezekiel 16:63)
(3.) Again, by after acts the believer's hatred of sin becomes more refined. He hates sin on account of its defiling nature—as well as its damning nature! He hates sin for the evil that is IN it—as well as for the evil that comes BY it! He hates sin not only because it is ruinous—but because it is wicked! In turning from sin, as he turns from all sins, so he turns from them all as grievous to the Spirit, as well as injurious to his own peace; as what hinders his communion, as well as spoils his comfort. Nor does he only turn from sin—but also from his own righteousness. He feels himself to be undone, not only with respect to sinful self—but righteous self, (Isaiah 6:5.)
(4.) Once more, by these repeated acts, the believer becomes more spiritual in his returning to God. He turns more and more to Him as in Christ, and he turns to Him from a sight of His excellency, as well as from the sense of his own necessity. He turns to God as the Most High, (Hos. 7:16.) Not only the Most High in Himself—but the most high in his esteem. He turns to Him not only out of need—but out of choice; as the desire, delight, and center of his soul; and therefore he turns to Him with his whole soul. "Whom have I in heaven but You?" is his language; "and there is none upon earth I desire beside You," (Psalm 73:25.) Would you therefore improve your repentance as to the regulation and manifestation thereof? Then, according to Gospel light and love, be often in the renewed acts of it. Let that be frequently done, which is the better for being done frequently.
"Real religion is neither more nor less than the life of God in the soul of man." Richard Cecil.
1. Spiritual Life a Reality.
There is a great difference between professors acting from an indwelling principle of spiritual life, and those who act only from outward aid and assistance. The angels that appeared to Abraham, and likewise to Lot, in human shape, could not be called living men. Though in these assumed bodies they ate, drank, walked, discoursed, and reasoned as men; yet it was but from a form assumed, not quickened: there was no inward principle of human life. So many, through common helps, may act like children of God; they may pray, preach, give alms and the like—and yet they are not living saints, because they have no inward vital principle enlivening them.
Spiritual life is the result of the soul's union with Christ, whereby, through the indwelling of Christ's Spirit in the soul—such holy, saving qualities are diffused throughout all its faculties, that they are capacitated for, inclined to, and exercised in, spiritual operations. If, therefore, you would judge of your spiritual life, consider not only what you do—but from what principle you do it.
2. Christ Our Life.
A believer may be said to live—and yet not to live: "I live," says Paul; "yet not I—but Christ lives in me," (Galatians 2:20.) He may be said to live:
(1.) Because he is really made a partaker of a principle of life. "You has he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins," (Ephesians 2:1.) "God has given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son: he who has the Son has life," (1 John 5:12.). Not simply "life," but "the life,"—the life of Christ.
(2.) Because he is the seat and subject in which this life resides and abides. "That Christ may dwell in your heart by faith," (Ephesians 3:17.) It is the heart of the believer—in which Christ the fountain of life dwells.
(3.) Because God uses the natural faculties of the believer's soul in living this life. These faculties of the soul are essentially the same after conversion as before—but they are renewed, purified, and spiritualized. The understanding is quickened, being savingly enlightened in the knowledge of spiritual things. The will is enlivened, being savingly humbled to the will of God. The affections are rectified, being graciously called forth to right objects. And the conscience is regulated, being made pure and powerful in the execution of its office. But though thus rectified in a measure—they are all essentially the same.
But the believer may be said not to live, because it is Christ who lives in him. Christ is the principle, the spring, the root, and the fountain of his life.
Christ is the Author and Giver of all grace.
He maintains the grace He gives.
He quickens the grace He maintains.
He actuates the grace He quickens.
He perfects the grace He actuates.
Seeing, therefore, that you are in the hands of Christ, not as senseless matter in the hand of an artist—but as a living child in the hand of a father; seeing that He makes use of the faculties of your soul, at least instrumentally, for the carrying on of that which He himself works efficaciously: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you—both to will and to do of his good pleasure," (Phil. 2:12, 13.)
"Christ lives in me!" (Galatians 2:20). What Paul said of himself—that may every believer, the weak as well as the strong, say of himself. The same Christ who lived in Paul—lives in me! A right improvement of this truth, by faith, would conduce greatly to the edification of a saint.
You complain . . .
that your corruptions are strong,
that your temptations are many,
that your grace is weak, and
that your spiritual comforts are low.
But why should you sit down weeping with Hagar, because there is no water in the bottle; while there is enough in the fountain, and that fountain near you, yes, in you? For the Spirit of Christ in the soul is indeed "a well of water springing up into everlasting life!" (John 4:14)
The same Christ from whom . . .
the strongest saint has received all his strength,
the most fruitful saint all his fruitfulness,
the most active saint all his liveliness, and
the most successful saint all his victories—
that same Christ lives in you! Let your soul, then, live more on Christ—so that you may the more experience Christ's living in your soul.
3. The Excellency of the Spiritual Life.
The spiritual life, though a hidden, is a real life. Those only deny it—who are strangers to it. But that there is such a life, is manifest from its vigorous actings. When natural life is lowest, and the outward man perishing, there is the renewal of the inward man, (2 Corinthians 4:16.)
The reality of the spiritual life may be inferred:
(1.) From the high esteem the saints have of it; being willing to "bear in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in their mortal flesh," (2 Corinthians 4:10.) Not loving their natural lives unto the death—if so be that they may preserve their spiritual life.
(2.) From the care also that they take to nourish it, by feeding upon that living bread who came down from heaven, and gives life unto the world.
And as it is a real life—so is it also an excellent life—a life of the noblest extraction. Those who partake of it are born from above—born of the Spirit—born of God! It is also a life of the choicest endowments; giving light to the understanding, rectitude to the will, spirituality to the affections, and regularity to the whole soul.
It is a life also of the most exalted aims—having the enjoyment of God for its chief good—and the living to God as its great end.
In a word, it is a life of the highest perfection, being the life of God—the life of Christ; both head and members living one and the same life.
And as it is an excellent, so is it an enduring life; being "hid with Christ in God;" that is, laid up and secured "in Christ" the head of all divine influence; and "in God," the fountain of all spiritual life. If, therefore, God has set up in your soul the light of reason, bless Him for that—but rest not in it without the light of life, (John 8:12.) It is a mercy to be alive in the world as a rational creature; but herein lies your happiness: to be made "alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord," (Romans 6 11.) And though in the world you may, with Christ, be despised and rejected by men—yet, "when Christ who is your life shall appears—then shall you also appear with Him in glory!"
"He is but half a Christian who is an orthodox believer, if he is not a practical believer also. And he is but half a Christian who is practical, if he is not an orthodox believer."
1. The Christian's Way of Access.
Believers under the Gospel "have boldness, and access with confidence, through faith in Christ," (Ephesians 3:12.) Christ leads them as by the hand, into the presence of the Father, where they have freedom to make known all their needs, with confidence of success. Under the law, only the High Priest, and that once a year, was to enter into the Holy of Holies. But now the saints, who are priests unto God—may come with boldness into the holy place continually, "we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body," (Hebrews 10:20.) "A new way," the word signifies that which is newly slain; referring to the sacrifice of Christ as that which remains always in full force, as if He were but newly slain.
Christ, through the efficacy of His blood, has opened a way of access, and keeps it open for the saints, as though that blood were but newly shed. Again, it is called "a living way:" a way wherein the saints are quickened by the Spirit, and through which they are made more lively. "Your hearts shall live that seek God," (Psalm 69:32.) Let those, therefore, who have a saving interest in this privilege come, as with reverence, so with boldness, to the throne of grace, that they may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. As by the assistance of the Spirit—they will find it a living way; so through the blood of Christ—they will find it a prevailing way.
2. The Christian is a Child of Light.
When men would dignify people, it is customary to attribute such titles to them as are derived from light: as, "Most Splendid," "Most Serene," "Most Illustrious;" titles frequently misapplied, for how often are they ascribed to the sons of darkness! We read of Antiochus Epiphanes, or Antiochus the Illustrious; whereas the Holy Spirit, speaking of the same person, as some conclude, calls him "a vile person," (Dan. 11:21.) Such titles, therefore, declare what their owners should be, rather than what they are. If light then is so glorious, surely the righteous is more excellent than his neighbor; yes, the most excellent in all the earth, (Proverbs 12:26; Psalm 16:3.) They are, not in title only but in truth, said to be "light in the Lord," (Ephesians 5:8.) They are called by the Holy Spirit himself, "children of the light and of the day," (1 Thess. 5:5.) Let your dignity, therefore, engage you to your duty. Are you children of light? Then walk as children of light.
3. The Christian's Conduct.
It is one thing to have a good conduct in the world, and another to have a good conduct in Christ. Paul, while a Pharisee, had a good conduct in the account of the world, while he walked, according to the law, blameless; but it was not a good conduct in Christ, for he was then a persecutor of Him.
To have a good conduct in Christ requires:
(1.) Union with and implantation into Christ. The tree must be good—before the fruit can be good. There may be the doing of that which is materially good, upon the stock and root of old Adam; but we cannot do that which is spiritually good—until we are cut off from that stock, and grafted into Christ.
(2.) A good conduct in Christ is a conduct flowing from the regenerating work of Christ in the heart—a new spiritual man formed in our hearts. It must be a walking from a new principle wrought in the soul, called a "serving in the newness of the Spirit," (Romans 7:6.) There must be a new creation—before there can be a good conduct. We must be "created in Christ Jesus unto good works," before our works can be wrought in God, (Ephesians 2:10.)
(3.) A good conduct in Christ arises from a good conscience: "Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evil-doers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conduct in Christ," (1 Peter 3:16.) A good conscience is a conscience purged by the blood of Christ from the guilt of sin—and cleansed by the Spirit of Christ from the power of sin.
(4) To have a good conduct in Christ is, by faith, to be in and drawing virtue from Christ through the whole course of our lives. It is to be "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus," (2 Tim. 2:1.) Not in our own inherent strength, or in the strength of habitual grace received; but to be "strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might," (Ephesians 6:10;) deriving from Christ, as our vital Head and quickening principle—all life, motion, and renewing influences of grace, for the carrying on of this conduct.
(5.) A good conduct in Christ is to have our works wrought according to the rule of Christ—freely, cheerfully, and vigorously; from a sense of God's love to us, and from the outflowing of our love to Him, (1 Chron. 28:9; Psalm 40:8; 119:35; Romans 12:11; 2 Corinthians 5:14).
(6.) A good conduct in Christ is to do what we do in Christ's name. When in the best frame—we perform holy duties in the best manner, without relying on them in the least for acceptance with God—but only on Christ's mediation. "Whatever you do in word or deed—do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him," (Col. 3:17.)
(7.) A good conduct in Christ, is to direct all we do to a spiritual end. When our natural, civil, moral, relative, and religious actions are so directed, "that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ," (1 Peter 4:11.) Would you, therefore, order your conduct aright, so as to see the salvation of God? Look to it that your works are wrought in God; that is, in God's strength—and to God's glory. For, as without acting from Christ as the source of spiritual life; so, without acting to Christ as the object of loving service—all you do will avail you nothing! (John 15:5.)
4. The Christian Walking at Liberty.
The Spirit of God is a spirit of liberty: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is—there is liberty," (2 Corinthians 3:17.) Not liberty to sin—but from the dominating power of sin, (John 8:34-36.) And in reference to the law, not liberty from obedience—but to it, (Romans 6:17, 18.) And this the Spirit works by slaying the natural enmity of the heart against the law; by enlightening the understanding as to the holiness, spirituality, and excellency of it; and by renewing our nature, putting this law in our inward parts, and writing it in characters of love upon our hearts. Thus working dispositions, inclinations, qualities, and motions suitable to it, raising our affections to delight in it, and so framing the will to the observance of it—that thereby the soul becomes free to act righteousness, and is enlarged to run the way of God's commandments; going forth filially, readily, and heartily, as far as renewed, to observe the commandments of God—as those of a loving, gracious, tender Father, who has freed us from the terror, rigor, malediction, and condemnation of the law!
So that a believer, though dead to the law as a covenant of works, is yet to live according to the law as a rule of obedience. Though the law is useless, through the weakness of the flesh, as to our justification; yet through the Spirit it is useful as to our conduct. Though we are freed from its irritating and provoking power, so that it does not stir up and increase sin in us, as it does accidentally in unsaved men; yet we are under it as to its directing and regulating power.
Thus, though we are delivered from the curse of the law—yet not from its command; though freed from its rigor, not from its rule; though escaped from its condemnation, not from its observation. God's law is that which Christ has expounded and confirmed, (Matt. 5:17, 18;) which faith has set up and established, (Romans 3:31;) which the Spirit of God writes in the heart, and gives strength to obey, (Psalm 119:97;) and which the saints of God delight in and conform to, (Romans 7:22, 25.)
God's law is that which is holy, just, and good; and very useful to Gospel ends: to reveal the nature of God, that we may be holy as He is holy; to reveal the excellency of Christ, who has brought in everlasting righteousness, answerable to the perfection of the law, that we may value and esteem it; to reveal our sins and imperfections, that we may be humbled for them, and mortified to them; and thus live more in communion with the power and strength of Christ, without whom we can do nothing, and through whom we are enabled to do all things. In obedience to God's law, we are to testify our thankfulness for grace received, and by obedience to that grace—we are fitted for the glory to be revealed. Therefore, from a spirit of liberty as your principle—go forth to an evangelical observance of the law as your duty, (James 2:12.)
5. The Christian's Growth in Grace.
That grace is of a growing nature, is beyond all question; but how it grows—is the question. It may be said to grow:
(1.) By being more firmly rooted.
(2.) By addition of new measures and degrees.
(3.) In its liveliness and activity.
(1.) The growth of grace is evinced—by its being more firmly rooted. The apostle Paul, when writing to the Ephesians that they were partakers of the grace of love, and also of the saving knowledge of the love of God in Christ, exhorts them to be rooted and grounded therein; so that, by reason of this growth, they "might be filled with all the fullness of God," (Ephesians 3:17-19.) And the same Apostle, writing to the Colossians, who had faith in Christ, would yet have their faith established, so that they might abound, by being rooted in Christ, (Col. 2:7.) And Peter, also, prays for those to whom he wrote, that God would "make them perfect, strengthen, establish, settle them," (1 Peter 5:10.)
(2.) As to growth in grace by the addition of new measures and degrees thereof, we read of those that have faith and hope—but who are yet exhorted to press on to a full assurance, (Hebrews 6:11; 10:22.) The apostle Peter also stirs up the saints to whom he wrote, to "give all diligence to add to their faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience godliness," etc., (2 Peter 1:5-7.) Not as though they were destitute of any of these graces; for the new creature comes into the world, like all other creatures, with a perfection of parts, though not of degrees. Therefore, as they were to add one grace to another by the exercise of every grace. So, I strive for new degrees of the same grace; "for," it follows, "if these things are in you and abound, they make you neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ," (ver. 8.)
(3.) Grace grows when it is more lively, active, and operative. Grace grows—when faith becomes working faith; love, laboring love; hope, patient hope; and patience has its perfect work, (1 Thess. 1:3; James 1:4.) Would you then know whether you have the truth of grace? labor after growth in grace! And would you grow in grace? then be careful that the grace you have is strengthened and established, and those degrees that are lacking be supplied and perfected, and every grace be active and exercised.
6. The Christian's Righteousness.
"This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." Romans 3:22. As all believers are justified by one and the same righteousness—so all believers have an equal interest in that righteousness. The robe of Christ's righteousness is like His garment, which was without seam. It is not divided, part to one saint and part to another—but the same to all the saints, and the whole to each saint! It is imputed to all alike.
That hand of faith which receives Christ's righteousness, though weak—does as really receive it—as that hand which is strong. How great a consolation is it to a poor soul, laboring after high degrees of grace—and yet failing to attain them—to know that though many other saints may excel him in practical holiness—yet no other saint can excel him in imputed righteousness!
7. The Christian's Holiness.
Those who walk in the ways of holiness receive a reward, not only when they come to the end—but all along the way: "In keeping of (God's commandments) there is great reward," (Psalm 19:11.) Take the way of God, as it consists in the way of ordinances, or in the way of the exercise of grace, or in the way of obedience; and you will find a reward in the work as well as for it. In the way of ordinances, there is a reward in the careful attendance upon God in His public ordinances: "We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, even of Your holy temple," (Psalm 65:4) "They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Your house," (Psalm 36:8.)
And just so in private ordinances: In meditation, marrow and fatness flow into the soul, (Psalm 63:5, 6.) In prayer, strength and quickening is experienced, (Psalm 138:3; 22:26.)
Again, in the exercise of grace—there is a reward in the work. Hear what the Scripture says of the soul in the exercise of faith and love: "Whom having not seen, you love; in whom, though now you see Him not—yet believing, you rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory," (1 Peter 1:8.) It is a joy expressed by outward actions, as dancing and the like. While the soul is in the exercise of faith and love, it is filled with joy—great joy, unspeakable joy—a joy not to be declared by words—a joy the experience of which cannot be expressed. It is called a joy "full of glory," or a glorified joy, of the same kind with the joy of the glorified state!
By the exercise of faith and love, the soul has foretastes of that future joy which it shall have in glory: "Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls," (ver. 9.) This is a metaphor taken from wrestlers, who, after the victory, take and bring the prize out of the field. The soul, in the exercise of grace, rejoices as one who has won the prize, receiving even now that salvation in the first-fruits which shall be perfected in glory.
Once more, take the way of obedience, as it consists in doing the will of God, and you will find that, "he will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25.) Or take it as it consists in suffering the will of God, and of such you will find it said, "the spirit of glory and of God rests upon them," (1 Peter 4:14.) The glorious Spirit of God rests in a glorious manner—upon His suffering ones. Would you then be truly happy—labor to be thoroughly holy! Keep close to the ways of heaven—and so shall you find a heaven in those ways!
"Duties are ours: events are God's. This removes an infinite burden from the shoulders of a miserable, tempted, dying creature. On this consideration only, can he securely lay down his head and close his eyes." Richard Cecil.
1. Duty Promoting Duty.
The great duty of a saint is:
to trust in God's Word,
to keep in His way, and
to submit to His will.
These are duties which promote each other;
for he who rightly believes what God says,
will carefully observe what He commands,
and quietly rest in what He does.
Though there may be darkness in God's providences,
he will see light in God's promises,
and feel comfort in his duty.
On the contrary, he who lacks faith in the promises,
will soon fail in obedience to the precepts,
and be apt to quarrel with God's providences.
"The foolishness of man perverts his way, and his heart frets against the Lord," (Proverbs 19:3.) He who through weakness questions the promise, through foolishness will be prone to pervert his way; and, perverting his way, will be apt to murmur against God's dispensations. Trust, therefore, in the Lord and do good, if you would find all His dealings to be for good.
2. Duties and Graces.
As different seasons and various conditions demand the exercise of peculiar duties; so peculiar duties call for the exercise of corresponding graces. "In the day of prosperity be joyful—but in the day of adversity consider," (Eccl. 7:14.) Prosperity calls for rejoicing in God. Adversity calls for communing with our hearts and considering our ways.
When the people of Israel were to keep the day of atonement, they were in an especial manner to afflict their souls, and whatever soul was not afflicted in that day, was to be cut off, (Lev. 23:27-29.) Godly sorrow was the grace then to be peculiarly exercised. But when they were to feast before the Lord, they were to rejoice, (Deuteronomy 12:12,18; 16:10-14.) Spiritual joy was the grace then to be eminently exercised.
Consider, therefore, what duties are peculiar to the season and condition in which you are, and what graces to those duties, so that you may fill up your seasons with suitable duties, and your duties with suitable graces.
3. Duties and Talents. It should be the great concern with all who profess to be the servants of Christ—to consider what talents God has given them to improve, and what the special work is which God has appointed them to do. You may know your talents, by considering what are the inward gifts and graces, together with the outward circumstances and advantages, God has given you. You may also come to the knowledge of your work, by considering the abilities
with which you are furnished, the relations in which you stand, the providences under which you are, the opportunities you enjoy, and the place and time in which you live. We read of God's giving out His talents, appointing to each one his work, and of the strict account which must be given of both at the return of the great Lord and Master, (Matt. 25:15; Mark 13:34.) Wisely consider what God has done for you, and what you are to do for God; so that you may faithfully improve your talents, and carefully complete your work.
"Sin is a basiliske whose eyes are full of venom; if the eye of your soul sees her first, it reflects her own poison and kills her. If she sees your soul unseen, or seen too late—with her poison she kills you! Since therefore you can not escape your sin, let not your sin escape your observation." Francis Quarles
1. Sin Crucified.
Under long conflicts with strong corruptions, many are ready to say of their lusts as it was said of the sons of Anak: "Who can stand before the children of Anak?" (Deuteronomy 9:2;) "We are but as grasshoppers in their sight!" And therefore they are ready to cry out, "We shall one day perish by them!" Thus, when we should above all take the shield of faith—we are most ready to drop it.
But for your encouragement in this arduous warfare, consider:
(1.) That if you are a believer, all your lusts are already crucified in your Head, Christ: "All we like sheep have gone astray, and the Lord has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all," (Isaiah 53:6.) There is not one carnal affection, disorderly passion, or prevailing corruption stirring in you—but met upon Christ and was crucified in Him. He died for it—that we might die to it; and therefore in Christ we may reckon ourselves to be "dead indeed unto sin."
(2.) Consider that all your sins are crucified in the promise. Though they may be strong, impetuous, violent—yet God has promised to subdue them.
(3.) All your sins are crucified initially. There is a principle of grace implanted in you, that is crucifying them even now; and, though sin may sometimes prevail—yet you are crucified to the love and liking of it.
(4) All your sins shall be crucified totally. As they are now completely crucified in your Head, so they shall be perfectly crucified in your person. As they are initially crucified, so they shall be finally destroyed. Not only the motions of sin—but the very being of sin shall be rooted out. Be strong then in the Lord, and in the power of His might. Though the conflict may be sharp—the victory shall be sure!
2. Successful Mortification.
Many people have little success in attempting to mortify sin, either because they mistake the means—or else fail to exercise faith in the means.
Many mistake the means; betaking themselves to resolutions, vows, fastings, or some severe course of living, which may be useful in its right place—but forgetting that there is a more spiritual and evangelical way which we should first have recourse to; namely, the blood, Spirit, and word of Christ.
Others, though they do not mistake the means—yet miscarry for lack of exercising faith in those means. Faith must first apply the virtue of Christ's death, derive power from His Spirit, and efficacy from His Word—for the killing of sin. Faith takes a view of the love of Christ and of his example in dying, thus deriving motives from the one, and a pattern from the other—to die to sin—from His dying for it. (See Galatians 2:20; 1 Peter 2:21, 24; 4:1.) Faith views the end and merit of Christ's death, which was not only that sin might he pardoned—but that it might be mortified, (see 1 Tim. 2:14;) not only that guilt might be removed—but iniquity subdued: "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin," (Romans 6:6.)
Faith also has dependence upon the Spirit, as a Spirit of judgment and burning, (Isaiah 4:4,) for the consumption of corruption, that the heart may be filled with grace, and that grace employed for the crucifixion of sin.
Faith also helps the soul to mortify sin, by applying itself to the Word, and the Word to the soul. The Word, mixed with faith, has great efficacy in this: "Now you are clean through the Word which I have spoken unto you," (John 15:3.) "By the Words of Your lips I have kept from the paths of the destroyer," (Psalm 17:4.) "How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to Your Word," (Psalm 119:9.) The Word is that "sword of the Spirit" which faith makes use of in the slaying of sin. In fighting this good fight of faith, therefore, be careful that you lose not success—for lack of the right means; or the efficacy of those means—for lack of active faith.
Again: As, in mourning for sin—we are to consider it in its spring and fountain, and mourn over it there, as David did when he said: "Behold I am shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me," (Psalm 51:5:) so, in mortifying sin—we are to consider it in its root and strength—and strike at it there. For this shows that we hate sin—as sin; not only open sins—but secret sins; not only this and the other sin—but every sin; not only the acts and deeds of sin—but the love and liking of it. This, therefore, is the ready way to obtain victory over them. If the cause is taken away, the effect will cease. If you kill sin in the principle—you will destroy it in practice.
If, then, you would cut down the branches of sin—cut up its root! And if you would be the death of every sin, labor to destroy the whole body of death. Hence, as the way to put off the deeds of sin—is to put off the body of sin. It is said of the Colossians, that they "put off the old man with his deeds," (Col. 3:9;)—first the old man, then his deeds. And, as the way of putting off the old man is by putting on the new man; it is further added, "And you have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him," (verse 10.) The "old man" is the inbred corruption and indwelling sin of our old nature. The "new man" is the whole body of gracious habits and saving qualities, whereby we are made new.
Now both of these men are not only in the same subject, (the regenerate man,) but in the same faculties of the same subject. And they have a tendency to expel the other, as light has to expel darkness. Would you therefore put off the old man daily? Be putting on the new man continually. Growing and increasing in grace—sin will be also gradually weakening and wasting.
3. The Besetting Sin.
As in mortifying sin we must mortify every sin, since one sin unmortified will: break our peace, blot our evidences, harden our hearts, indispose for duty, make way for temptation, and incline to our sins; so we should especially keep ourselves from our own besetting iniquity. Though original sin be alike in all—yet it does not break forth in all alike. Therefore some sins are said to be more particularly our besetting sins than others. Thus David says: "I was also upright before Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity," (Psalm 18:23.) As in every human body, there is the principle of mortality—yet in some a proneness to one disease rather than to another. So is it in reference to sin: the temperament, constitution, or disposition of each man, may incline him to one sin more than to another. So likewise his station in life, the calling in which he is employed, the place where he lives, the times in which his lot is cast, the varied circumstances through which he passes, and the particular temptations he meets with—may each draw forth some particular sin.
Would you, then, have a testimony of the truth of grace and uprightness of your heart with God, make it your business to mortify every sin—but especially that which may be called your own besetting iniquity. One sin may seem to help you to fight against another sin—but it must be heart sincerity that helps you to fight against all sin.
4. Prevailing Sin.
Many sincere souls who by faith have truly closed with Christ, question their faith because they find corruption not only working—but sometimes prevailing. Whereas, say they, one sign of true faith is that it purifies the heart. But though true faith weakens sin, it does not abolish it. The indwelling of faith—does not annihilate the indwelling of sin. Sin will have a being in our nature—as long as we have a being in the flesh. Corruptions, sometimes prevailing corruptions, have been found, not only where faith has been in habit—but in exercise. Paul saw a law in his members not only warring—but sometimes conquering, yes, and at the very time that faith was acting on Christ's victory, "I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." (Romans 7:23-25.)
Under a sense of sin, David cried out: "Iniquities prevail against me!" at the very same time when he was lifting up his head by faith; for he adds, "as for our transgressions, you shall purge them away," (Psalm 65:3.) You complain and groant, you are burdened with, and fighting against, your sins. Whence is this—but from a contrary principle of grace? Say not, then, you have no faith, when indeed you are fighting the good fight of faith!
5. Crucified With Christ.
It is one thing to be crucified to sin—and another to be crucified with Christ. The Pharisee stood and prayed: "God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican," (Luke 18:11;) and yet he was but a Pharisee. The foolish virgins had escaped much of the pollution of the world, through the knowledge of Christ; and yet they were but foolish still (Matt. 25:2; 2 Peter 2:20.) To be crucified with Christ is, from union with Him—to have communion in the merit, virtue, and efficacy of His death.
Would you, therefore, die to sin from Christ's dying for sin? Look to it, that first by faith you be found in Him; and then, that by faith you improve your fellowship in His sufferings, so that you may be made conformable to His death, (Phi 3:10.)
Communion with God
1. Communion with God is a Reality.
As union with God is the fundamental ground of communion with God, so conformity to God is the actual ground of fellowship with God. "IF we walk in the light, as He is in the light—we have fellowship one with another," (1 John 1:7.) That is, God has fellowship with us, and we with God, as in the third verse. This fellowship, though a great mystery—yet is in Scripture clearly proved, and by the experience of the saints fully confirmed.
We read of God's drawing near to the soul—and the soul's drawing near to God, (James 4:8.) Of God's walking with the saints—and the saints with God, (2 Corinthians 6:16; Genesis 5:22.) Of God's speaking to the soul, and the soul's speaking to God, (Psalm 27:8.) And of Christ's supping with His people, and their supping with Him, (Eev. 3:20.) There is a sweet fellowship and loving converse between Christ and the soul, wherein He communicates His mind, love, and quickening influence to the soul; and the soul makes returns in vigorous acts of grace, warm affections, and lively duties to Christ.
This communion with God, the men of the world look upon as a dream, nor is it any wonder to hear them deny that which they have never enjoyed. Indeed it cannot be otherwise; for, as in the light of God—we must see light, so in the life of God—must we live this life. There can be no communion, where there is not the same life. Mere brute creatures cannot have fellowship with rational men. When Nebuchadnezzar lost his reason, he lost his fellowship with men, and was driven forth among the beasts. Neither can mere rational creatures have communion with God and Christ, unless they are made partakers of spiritual life. There must be conformity and agreement, where there is to be fellowship and converse. Has God, therefore, made you a partaker of this spiritual privilege? Then live in the admiration of His distinguishing grace, and say, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself unto us—and not unto the world?" (John 14:22.)
2. Communion must Be Cultivated.
We read of some as "having a form of godliness—but denying the power thereof," (2 Tim. 3:5.) The power of godliness consists in the end thereof; and the end of godliness is the enjoyment of communion with God. Now to make only a show, and not to pursue this end—is to deny the power. The power and perfection of grace and duty, lies in the end thereof: the end of faith—is to purify the heart; the end of fearing God—is to perfect holiness; the end of prayer—is to enjoy communion with God, and influence from Him; the end of hearing the preached Word—is to promote faith and obedience; and the end of fellowship with the saints—is growth and increase of grace. If, therefore, you would be under the influence of the godliness you profess, let "your fruit be unto holiness—and the end shall be everlasting life!" (Romans 6:22.)
1. Walking in Darkness.
With a sincere soul in its passage to heaven—it may be as with Paul on his voyage to Rome; we are told that he was, "exceedingly tossed with a tempest, neither sun nor stars in many days appearing, and all hope that he should be saved being taken away," (Acts 27:18, 20.) So the soul, by reason of desertion, temptation and affliction, may be exceedingly tossed; neither sun nor stars appearing; no light from graces, from experience, from God's countenance, or from the covenant of grace; so that all hope of salvation may seem to be taken away. But though it is so, you have this blessed word to direct you to a sure anchorage: "Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light—trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God." (Isaiah 50:10.) God is his God when He hides His face—as well as when He lifts up upon him the light of His countenance; and though he cannot see that God to is his, on whom he is exhorted to trust—yet this should be his encouragement, that he is to trust upon that God who acknowledges Himself to be his.
2. A Spirit of Bondage.
A sincere soul under fears and terrors, is sometimes apt to conclude against himself—as one who has not passed from death unto life, because he supposes himself to be under the spirit of bondage, while of the children of God it is said: "You have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear—but you have received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father," (Romans 8:15.) For although it is true that the Spirit of God in the work of conviction acts as a spirit of bondage, convincing the soul of sin and death, loading it with the curses of the law, and pressing it down with dreadful fears and terrors; yet the Spirit, having thereby rendered sin bitter and Christ desirable, and brought the soul to a saving closing with Him—acts no longer as a spirit of bondage.
If, therefore, after such a saving closing with Him, a person comes into bondage, as possibly he may, it is either from the withdrawing of the Holy Spirit from the darkness of his own spirit, or from some impressions of the evil spirit. The Spirit of God, being the Spirit of Truth, never declares to a justified person that he is in a state of wrath, though He may permit Satan or his own heart to work in him (especially if under sin) such misconceptions of himself. In such a condition, therefore, consider what is amiss; mourn over and amend it; deal wisely with yourself—but do not conclude rashly against yourself—for you may be as one under a spirit of bondage, and yet the bondage may not be of the Spirit.
3. A Languishing Frame.
We should distinguish between a dead frame—and a dead state. A child of God may be in a dead frame, though he shall never again be in a dead state. Christ says to the Church of Sardis, "You have a name that you live—and are dead," (Rev. 3:1;) that is, in a dead frame, for there was something still living, though languishing, which they were to strengthen: "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die," (verse 2.) Though a child of God shall not fall finally from grace—yet he may fall fearfully from the measure and degree of grace which he once possessed; from the vigor and activity of grace which he once exhibited; from the comfort and assurance of grace which he once enjoyed. He may fall under barrenness and deadness, he may be under darkness and blindness—so as "not to be able to see afar off, and to forget that he was purged from his old sins," (2 Peter 1:9.)
If he looks backward—he may not be able to see the pardon of his sins, or the change of his nature. If he looks forward—he may not be able to see his saving interest in heaven and future glory. And, if he looks inward—he may not be able to see the truth of his graces or the sincerity of his heart. Watch, therefore, against whatever may predispose to such a frame!
Of the wise virgins, as well as of the foolish, it is said, they all slumbered and slept. Take heed of slumbering, lest you fall to sleeping! Beware of drowsiness, if you would prevent decay! Daily have recourse to Christ, who came not only that we might "have life," but "that we might have it more abundantly," (John 10:10.) Do not content yourself with being a living Christian, unless you are a lively Christian.
4. Quenching The Spirit.
In Scripture the Spirit of God is compared to fire. Hence we are exhorted not to quench the Spirit, (1 Thess. 5:19;) that is, His gifts, graces, motions, and operations. Now, as fire may be quenched, checked, or extinguished several ways—so may the Spirit.
(1.) Fire may be quenched by throwing upon it a contrary element in greater proportions than it can bear. Thus the Spirit is quenched when we give way to the increase, growth, and breaking forth of lusts and corruptions. Of the children of Israel it is said, "Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So He turned and became their enemy and He Himself fought against them!" (Isaiah 63:10.)
(2.) Fire may be quenched by suffocation, through too much wood being thrown on, so that the draught of air is stopped. Even so the Spirit, in His holy motions and breathings, is quenched, when we heap up upon the soul—the cares, affairs, and concerns of this life, and thus choke and extinguish His gracious influences. Thus it was with the thorny-ground hearers, (Matthew 13:22.)
(3.) Fire may be quenched by withdrawing the fuel on which it feeds. The 'means of grace' are the fuel of the Spirit, through which He works. To neglect them, therefore, is a sure way of quenching the Spirit.
(4.) Fire may be quenched not only when fuel is removed—but when it is withheld. If we would keep alive the motions and operations of the Spirit—we must ever be resigning ourselves up to them, and using every means of promoting them.
(5.) Lastly; another way in which fire may be quenched is, by not stirring it up. So when people have gifts and graces, and will not by exercise stir them up—but allow them to continue in a dull, sleepy habit, this is another way of quenching the Spirit. Paul says to Timothy: "I put you in remembrance that you stir up the gift of God that is in you," (2 Tim. 1:6.) Some say the word signifies to revive and stir up fire that is buried under the ashes. Or, as one observes, there is a typical allusion to the priests under the Old Testament, by whose daily ministry the fire which came down from heaven was nourished, that it might not go out. Would you, therefore, not quench the Spirit—then let all his inclinations and operations be not only readily entertained and faithfully preserved—but carefully nourished and diligently improved.
1. Affliction From God.
Becomes a double curse;
Her chastening hand improves the good,
But makes the wicked worse!
Thus clay more obdurate becomes,
To the fierce flame consigned;
While gold in the red ordeal melts,
But melts to be refined!"
"I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me." Psalms 119:75
God is not only the author of affliction permissively—but efficiently. "Shall there be evil in a city—and the Lord has not done it?" (Amos 3:6.) "I form the light and create darkness. I make peace and create evil," (Isaiah 45:7.) Light and peace are put for a state of prosperity—darkness and evil for a state of adversity. So that afflictions are in a sense evil, though not simply and absolutely considered; for thus God cannot be the author of them. But they are evil:
(1.) As they are grievous to the flesh.
(2.) As they are the occasion of drawing out the corruptions that are in the heart, such as murmuring, repining, discontent, and the like, unless God overrules them by His grace.
(3.) As they give Satan opportunity to introduce his temptations. See, therefore, what great need there is to watch and pray—so that, under the evil of affliction, you may be kept from the evil of sin!
2. Affliction Prepared for and Improved.
"It was good for me to be afflicted—so that I might learn your decrees." Psalm 119:71
As it is the duty of God's children to prepare for affliction before it comes—so is it to improve affliction when it does come.
If we do not prepare for affliction—we shall be surprised by it;
and, if we do not improve it—we are likely to increase it.
He who would prepare for affliction, must beforehand:
(1.) resign all to God,
(2.) strengthen his graces,
(3.) store up divine promises,
(4.) and search out secret sins.
And he who would improve affliction when it does come, must labor to see:
sin more and more in its filthiness—so as to mortify it;
his heart in its deceitfulness—so as to watch over it;
the world in its emptiness—so as to be crucified to it;
grace in its amiableness—so as to prize it;
God in His holiness—so as to fear Him; and
heaven in its desirableness—so as to long after it.
He who takes more care to avoid afflictions—than to be fitted for them; or is more solicitous to be delivered from them—than to be bettered by them; is likely to come soonest into them—and to live longest under them!
"God disciplines us for our good—that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:10-11
3. Faults Under Affliction.
God's children under affliction are apt to let go that which they should hold fast—namely, their assurance; and to forget what they should particularly remember—namely, the exhortation which speaks to them as children, (Hebrews 12:5;) and to put themselves again under that law from which they are freed—as being under grace. For though their afflictions are the same in kind as those which the wicked experience; yet God does not deal with them as under the curse of the law, for the law is satisfied, Jesus Christ himself having been made a curse for them, (Galatians 3:13.) But God deals with them as under a covenant of grace, in which seasonable rebukes are promised, that his children may not be condemned with the world, (1 Corinthians 11:32.)
The afflictions of the wicked are punishments from God—as an angry Judge! But the afflictions of the godly are chastisements from God—as a gracious Father! The afflictions of the wicked, moreover, are preludes to their future misery! But the corrections of the godly, are preparations for their future glory!
"See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction!" (Isaiah 48:10.) Under all afflictive dispensations, therefore, hold fast upon God; call him 'Father' in the furnace, and keep up honorable thoughts of God as to His dealings; low thoughts of yourself as to your deservings. "Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good—that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:10-11
4. The Benefits of Affliction.
It is easier to see the righteousness of God under our affliction—than His goodness; yet God is gracious therein—as well as righteous. "All the paths of the Lord (in reference to His people) are mercy and truth," (Psalm 25:10.) In our affliction, God in mercy is fulfilling some of His truths, some faithful promise for our good; and not only so—but His very righteousness is displayed in goodness to His people. He will not allow His children to go on in the way of sin, without seasonable rebukes to bring them again to Himself. If you would, therefore, discern the goodness of God in your affliction, as well as His righteousness, consider not only wherein you deserve it—but also wherein you stand in need of it.
5. Tribulation Works Patience.
As in working for God we may do His will—and yet not immediately receive the promised good; so in suffering from God we may cleanse and purge ourselves, and yet His rod not immediately be removed. This was the Psalmist's complaint: "Truly, I have cleansed my heart in vain," says he, "and washed my hands in innocence; for all the day long I have been plagued, and chastened every morning," (Psalm 73:13, 14.) God would not only have our patience tried—but increased, strengthened, and perfected. He would have us to know that both ability to labor—and the reward for labor; the bestowing of good—and the removing of evil—are from grace. As, by waiting for mercy, God fits us for the enjoyment of mercy; so, by cleansing and purging under sufferings, He fits us to glorify Him by future sufferings. As, therefore, we have need of patience that, after we have done the will of God, we may receive the promise; so have we need of prudence that, having obtained good by affliction, we may glorify God with the good we have obtained.
1. Arguments for Prayer.
As we are to pray continually, so continually to pray in faith. We should therefore frequently be presenting to ourselves those manifold arguments which will raise our faith to a constant belief of this truth—that God will grant a favorable answer to the prayers of His people.
(1.) Arguments may be derived from the blessed attributes of God:
From His omniscience. He knows what things His children have need of before they ask, (Matt. 6:7, 8;) and, because He knows them, therefore He will give them, (ver. 32, 33.)
From His omnipotence, He is able to supply His people's needs, (Ephesians 3:20;) and, because able, therefore he will supply them, (2 Corinthians 9:8.)
From his faithfulness. The Apostle having prayed for great things for the Thessalonians, adds: "Faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it," (1 Thes. 5:24.)
God is also called a prayer-hearing God, (Psalm 65:2;) which sets forth the inclination of His nature, and His innate disposition to hear and answer prayer.
(2.) From God's common bounty to His creatures, we may conclude His readiness to hear prayers of His children. He who hears the cry of an Ishmael, will surely hear the request of an Isaac, (Genesis 21:17.) He who hears the ravens when they cry—ravens are unclean birds—and the young ravens, that have a slight cry—will surely listen to the cries of His children! (Psalm 148:9; Luke 12:24.)
(3.) From the covenant interest He has in His people, and His people in Him: "Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself; the Lord will hear when I call to Him!" (Psalm 4:3.) The covenant interest His people have in God, is also frequently urged by David in prayer.
(4.) From the love that God bears His people: "In that day you will ask in My name. I am not telling you that I will make requests to the Father on your behalf. For the Father Himself loves you!" (John 16:26, 27.) The God who has a pre-eminent love for His own children, will surely supply all that they need, "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" (Luke 11:11-13.)
(5.) From His inviting His children to this duty; calling on them, not only in His Word—but by His Spirit in their hearts—to seek His face, (Psalm 27:8.)
(6.) From His delight in the prayers of His people: "The prayer of the upright is His delight," (Proverbs 15:8.) "Let me see your countenance, let me hear your voice; for sweet is your voice, and your countenance is lovely," (Song 2:14.)
(7.) From His erecting a throne of grace for the very purpose—that He might thence give forth an answer to His people, (Hebrews 4:16.)
(8.) From His giving His Spirit to draw up the petitions of His people for them, so that, being framed according to His will, He might answer them (Romans 8:26, 27; Gal. 4:6.) He who has given us the Spirit of prayer—will certainly hear the prayers of His own Spirit.
(9.) From His having given to His people the greatest possible mercy— the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the Apostle's argument: "He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all—how shall He not also with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32.) He who gave us the greater mercy before we prayed—will not deny lesser mercies when we pray.
(10.) From His hearing Christ always, who intercedes for us in virtue of His infinite merits, whereby He has insured to us all needful mercies.
(11.) From His graciously anticipating the prayers of His children, giving the mercy it was in their hearts to beg. He who thus gives in mercy before they ask, will also give in mercy when they ask, (Isaiah 65:24; Dan 9:20-23.)
(12.) From His encouraging command to ask for great things, that their joy may be full. As if they had asked nothing, unless they asked great things, (John 16:24.)
(13.) Finally, from His own glory. God and Christ are glorified in answering prayer, (John 14:13.) God will answer prayer, so that His own glory may shine forth therein: "My God shall supply all your needs, according to His riches in glory, by Christ Jesus," (Phil. 4:13.) Observe: God is able to supply the need of His people, for He has "riches" by Him; riches of mercy, (Ephesians 2:4:) riches of grace, (Ephesians 3:7:) yes, "exceeding riches of grace," (Ephesians 2:7.)
He will also give to His people supplies suitable to His ability; or, as we say, 'according to His means'. He "will supply all their need according to His riches."
He will further abundantly supply the needs of His people, so as to speak forth His glory, "according to the riches of His glory." And, whereas it might be objected, I am unworthy of such rich mercy—it follows, "by Christ Jesus". That is, by virtue of the worthiness, merit, and obedience of Christ Jesus. Therefore, O believer! though in yourself you deserve less than the least of the mercies that you need; yet, through prayer, believe that you shall receive the greatest mercies that God has promised.
2. Praying in the Spirit.
Many cannot pray in the Spirit, because they lack the Spirit to pray with. But that this is the duty and privilege of the saints, the Scripture testifies. Jude exhorts us to pray "in the Holy Spirit," (verse 20.) And Paul tells us, "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father," (Galatians 4:6.) It is a sign you are no son—if you have not the Spirit of His Son. But where there is the Spirit of His Son—there will be praying in the Spirit.
The Apostle likewise acquaints us that "the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express," (Romans 8:26.)
In these Scriptures, you not only have the truth asserted, that there is such a thing as praying in the Spirit—but are also instructed what this praying in the Spirit is:
(1.) It implies a sense of our need of the Spirit to pray with: "We know not what we ought to pray for as we ought."
(2.) It implies a laying low in our own spirits, with the exalting of the Spirit of God in this work: "The Spirit helps our infirmities." We are not only ignorant what we should pray for—but have many infirmities cleaving to us, ready to hinder prayer, against which the Spirit helps us, by removing them or disposing us to our duty.
(3.) To pray in the Spirit, is to pray according to the dictates and directions of the Spirit: "The Spirit itself makes intercession for us." He makes intercession by helping us to intercede, and framing pertinent petitions for us.
(4.) To pray in the Spirit, is when there is a holy longing and groaning after the things we pray for. As the Spirit frames our petitions, so He raises affections suitable to the petitions He frames, whereby we are filled with "groanings that cannot be uttered."
(5.) To pray in the Spirit, is to have the heart engaged in prayer: He has sent forth the Spirit of His Son "into your heart."
(6.) To pray in the Spirit, is to pray with fervency and continuance, as it were, "crying."
(7.) To pray in the Spirit, is to pray in a child-like frame of heart; coming to God in faith as to a father, ready and willing to show mercy to His children, crying, "Abba, Father!"
Thus you have the Scripture both asserting and opening this great duty. Be careful, therefore, how you disown praying in the Spirit, lest God disown your prayers; as, without the Spirit, God takes no notice of Paul's prayers while he remained a Pharisee—but no sooner does he pray in the Spirit, than God sets a mark upon it: "Behold he prays!" (Acts 9:11.) It is said of Elijah, that "he prayed in prayer," (James 5:17, margin.) A person may say prayers who yet cannot be said to pray. It is only through the Spirit of prayer—that we come to "pray in prayer," and hence to prevail in prayer. For there can be no praying with gracious acceptance, without the Spirit of grace and supplication. Neither can you expect to hear the voice of God answering your prayers—unless God hears the voice of His Spirit in your prayers.
3. Reflex Action of Prayer.
Though without prayer God knows what we need—yet He will have us pray, that we may testify the sense we have of our needs. The spreading our cases before God, is not (in one sense) to inform Him—but to affect ourselves. Neither is prayer to be considered as a motive to make God more ready to give—but as a means to make us more fit to receive. It is a sign that the soul is sensible of the need and worth of mercy, and that God is the fountain and giver of every mercy to the soul that is fervent, frequent, and faithful in praying for mercy. Would you, then, obtain mercy by prayer? Then endeavor through prayer to be fitted for the mercy you would obtain.
4. Hindrances to Prayer.
Many sincere suppliants fear the success of their prayers, because of the weakness of their faith. They have their doubts—and therefore question whether they shall succeed; especially on considering such Scriptures as these: "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing," (1 Tim. 2:8.) "But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does," (James 1:6-8.)
But here consider: Though all kinds of doubts argue weakness—yet some kind of doubts may not shut out prayer; for then how should those pray who question God's love to them, and their interest in Him? Or, how should they pray without doubting, who have but a 'perhaps' to ground their faith upon? "Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the LORD's anger," (Zeph. 2:3.) Yet such are commanded to pray, and such have prayed with success. Thus Jonah: "I have been banished from Your sight, yet I will look once more toward Your holy temple," (Jonah 2:4) And David: "In my alarm I had said, 'I am cut off from Your sight.' But You heard the sound of my pleading when I cried to You for help," (Psalm 31:22.)
The doubts spoken of by James, are such doubts as arise from a double-minded man, whose mind is wavering and divided between two objects. Sometimes he is for depending upon God, at other times for resting upon creatures. Sometimes he looks upon prayer as a useful means, at other times not. For a person to doubt and dispute whether God be able to help, or be a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him; or whether prayer and attendance upon God is the means of obtaining mercy—these doubts directly militate against success in prayer. Take heed therefore of them, and be single-minded, cleaving to God alone in His own appointed way—as almighty, faithful, and gracious. And though, in other respects, you may have doubts about the success of your prayers—yet come, that through prayer you may have success against your doubts!
5. Answers to Prayer.
1. As we must pray fervently and believingly for our mercies—so we must diligently and prudently look for an answer after we have prayed. David says," In the morning will I direct my prayer unto You—and will look up," (Psalm 5:3.) "I will hear what God the Lord will speak," (Psalm 85:8.) And so must we—if we would have the Lord hear what we speak. We cannot expect that God will regard those petitions—which we do not regard ourselves! Many pray without success, because they are careless as to the success of their prayers.
Again: as we must carefully wait for an answer, so we must be able prudently to judge how God answers prayer. We cannot be rightly thankful—for those answers of which we are unmindful; or in which we are unskillful. Did we wisely consider God's dealings—how might our experience be increased, our faith strengthened, our heart enlarged, our communion with God promoted, and good thoughts of God preserved! "I have not said to Jacob's descendants: Seek Me in vain."
2. God may graciously answer prayer—though at present He does not give us what we prayed for. Or He may give at present what we prayed for—and yet not graciously answer prayer. God may graciously hear prayer—though He does not immediately give the particular mercy prayed for. He may at present delay answering our requests—so that we may be prepared for the mercy, and the mercy for us—and yet return a gracious answer to our prayers, by giving praying, believing, waiting strength, until the mercy comes.
Again, God may not only delay—but altogether deny, the mercy we pray for; and yet, by bestowing a greater mercy, return a gracious answer to prayer! David prays for the life of his child, (2 Samuel 12:15-23;) God denies it—but gives him a Solomon to sit upon his throne.
Or, in regard to a temporal mercy which we request, God may deny us, and in the place of it—give us a spiritual mercy! Thus, under a languishing body—we pray for health. God, in the place of it—gives us a prosperous soul, and soundness of spiritual constitution. Under restraint we pray for liberty; instead of it, God sets the soul at liberty to run in the way of His commandments. We pray to be freed from the hands of persecutors; in place of it, God grants the Spirit of glory to rest upon us. We pray to be delivered from the buffetings of Satan; instead of it, God gives a sufficiency of grace. We plead to be delivered from such a temptation; God continues the temptation—but "with it also makes a way of escape, that we may be able to bear it," (1 Corinthians 10:13.)
We pray for this or the other temporal mercy; in the place of it—God puts gladness into our hearts, by lifting up the light of His countenance upon us, revealing His love to us, or by working holy contentedness in the mind, sweet satisfaction in His good pleasure, and quiet submission to His will.
On the other hand, God may give what is prayed for, and yet not graciously answer prayer. Thus to the murmuring Israelites He gave quails—but it was in wrath. And again, upon their asking, He gave them a king—but it was in anger, (See Numb. 11:33; Hos. 13:11.)
God many times answers the desires of wicked men—by giving them prosperity in this world—but it is in judgment! Thereby they become more secure, proud, and hardened, and so are ripened for destruction!
Would you then judge rightly of the answers to your prayers, compare your mercies with your petitions, and consider whether the mercy received is the same in kind as that you prayed for—or whether it is a mercy of a better kind. Compare also your receipts with their effects, and see what influence the mercy has upon your heart and life. Consider not only what has been done for you—but what is wrought in you, and done by you. It is a sweet sign your mercy came as a gracious answer to prayer, and as the fruit of divine love—if you are made more gracious by it, and more fruitful under it.
6. Prayer and Means.
In prayer, we are apt either to neglect the means—as if God should do all; or in the use of the means to neglect prayer—as if we could do all. But though God has not tied Himself to means—yet has He tied us; but so tied us as in the means—to tie us to Himself. Thus, while David prayed, he also used the means: "One thing," says he, "have I desired of the Lord—that will I seek after," (Psalm 27:4.) The one thing in his desire—was the great thing in his endeavor. As Nehemiah and the people made their prayer to God, so they set a watch against the enemy, (Neh. 4:9.)
And as we must pray—so also must we use the means. Moses sets Joshua to fight against Amalak; but while he lifts up his hand against the enemy, Moses lifts up his hands in prayer on the mount, (Exod. 17:8-13.) As it is not enough to pray for a mercy—without using suitable means towards the obtaining of our prayer; so it is not enough to use the means—without praying for God's blessing upon what we use. Take heed, therefore, that you lose not your prayers—by the neglect of means; or lose the blessing upon the means—through the neglect of prayer.
"Ordinances have been often undervalued by those whose Christian path has been at all solitary. They have found the Lord gracious in caring for them; and they have the tendency to regard all care through pastors, or instruction through teachers—as though it were rather beneath communion with God, and that dependence on Him in which they have found true blessing. But the exceeding grace of the Lord, in special cases, must not be a ground for undervaluing His common modes of guidance and instruction." S. P. Thegelles
1. Ordinances Blessed.
God's ordinances are called His name. Jerusalem is said to be the city which the Lord chose out of all the tribes of Israel to put His name there, (1 Kings 14:21.) God therefore promises to be present with, and to bless His ordinances: "In all places where I record my name—I will come unto you and bless you," (Exod. 20. 24.)
Many are apt to complain that they have waited long, and have not attained this blessing; whereas, it may be, they overlook the blessing they have attained. Though you say you see not the glory of God in His ordinances—yet have you not felt something of God's power therein? Though you say you do not behold the movings of God in the sanctuary—yet have you not felt something of His workings in your soul? Is there no warmth of heart, no stirring of affection, no impression of holiness found in you—either in or after ordinances?
Though you feel no sensible approaches of God to your soul, do you not find God keeping your soul in a waiting, dependant frame upon Him, in His ordinances? Do you not say, "However God deals with me—yet will I wait upon Him; for, if I obtain not the blessing when He commands it, how can I expect it when He has not promised it? If I do not thrive in the enclosed garden—am I more likely to grow in the open field? If I do not flourish beside the living streams—am I more likely to prosper in the parched desert?" Does God keep you close to ordinances? Even this is a blessing: "Blessed is the man who hears me," says wisdom; "watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors," (Proverbs 8:34) Though at present you have not those mercies you wait for—yet is it a great blessing to be kept diligently waiting for the mercies you desire to have.
2. Ordinances Not to Be Neglected.
Some are prone to keep away from ordinances, because they cannot come with such a heart as they desire. But, take heed; he who is unfit today—may be more unfit tomorrow. The more we give way to our sloth—the more ground will be gained by our corruptions. If you can not find your heart fit—come, that it may be made fit. Though we should endeavor after a good frame of heart—yet God will have us know that the preparation of the heart is from Himself, (Proverbs 16:1.) Therefore, though you cannot bring such a heart as you would—yet come and beg for such a heart as you desire to bring.
3. Ordinances Not to Be Undervalued.
Some have too low thoughts, and others too high thoughts of ordinances. Some say of ordinances, as Naaman did of the Jordan; "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel; may I not wash in them and be clean?" (2 Kings 5:12.) Thus do many despise both ordinances and the wisdom and authority of God in them; and, not being satisfied with their plainness, endeavor to make them more pompous. But while they think in this way to put a glory on them—they only take away their efficacy; and, while laboring to gratify their senses—they hinder the benefit of their souls.
God commanded an altar of earth to be built by the children of Israel, on which they were to sacrifice to Him; and, if an altar of stone, then not of hewn stone. "For," says He, "if you lift up your tool upon it, you have polluted it," (Exod. 20:25.) That which men account polishing—God accounts polluting; and that which they call adorning—God calls defiling.
Another sort there are, who, pretending they have obtained the substance, therefore need not the shadow. They have the baptism of the Spirit, and need not the baptism of water. Christ has come unto them—so that they need not ordinances to remind them of His coming. The day has dawned, and the day-star risen; therefore they need not the Word. Thus they embrace a cloud for a star—and night for light. Whereas the primitive Christians, who were filled with the Spirit, kept close to ordinances. Stephen, who was "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit," (Acts 6:5,) is chosen a deacon. Those upon whom the Holy Spirit was poured out—were commanded to be baptized, (Acts 10:44, 47.) And God says, "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances," (Ezekiel 36:27.) The Spirit of God is not given to discharge from ordinances—but to fit us to walk with God in them.
On the other hand, as some have too low thoughts of ordinances—so others have too high thoughts of ordinances. They look for that from ordinances, which they can receive only from Christ. They expect that from Paul's "planting" and Apollos' "watering"—which they are to have from God alone, "who gives the increase," (1 Corinthians 3:6.)
In the sixth chapter of Numbers, Aaron and his sons were, by an ordinance, to pronounce a blessing upon the people; but it was God who was to give it: "And they shall put my name upon the children of Israel; and I will bless them," (verse 27.)
Therefore, highly esteem and diligently attend upon the plain and pure ordinances of Christ. But expect not that from the cistern—which you can only have from the fountain; or that from the presence-chamber, which you are to receive from the king.
"The ocean-depth of God's mercy—can never be sounded by the plummet of man's misery."
1. The Greatness of God's Mercies.
God, in distributing His favors to His children, does not deal with them after the manner of men. For, if men have previously given liberally, they use that as an argument for withholding any further gifts. But God gives more abundantly, because He has already given liberally! "For whoever has—will be given more, and he will have an abundance," (Matt. 13:12.) God makes one mercy—the pledge of another; yes, of many mercies. Spiritual mercies—He makes pledges of temporal mercies: "In the day when I cried you answered me, and strengthened me with strength in my soul," (Psalm 138:3.) From God's giving praying strength and spiritual strength, the Psalmist concludes that he shall be delivered from his enemies (verse 7), and that the Lord would perfect that which concerned him.
God also gives temporal mercies—as pledges of spiritual mercies: "The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and shall preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom," (2 Tim. 4:18.) From God's delivering Paul from Nero's cruelty, he concludes that he would "deliver him from every evil work, and preserve him to His heavenly kingdom." Oh, how sweet should every mercy be—to them who through grace have obtained mercy.
Consider, further, that although there may be many an earthly thing which a child of God may not have—yet there is not any good thing which a child of God shall lack; for He who has promised the greater, yes, the greatest mercy—will give the less. This inference the Scripture confirms: "The Lord will give grace and glory; no good thing will he withhold from those who walk uprightly," (Psalm 84:11.) If He has given us Christ, so "how shall He not with Him freely give us all things," (Romans 8:32.)
And though it is our duty to pray, and use endeavors to obtain what is promised, because He who has decreed the mercy—has also determined the means—yet having done so, we are quietly to cast our cares upon God; and though we may not have what we think good—yet we shall be sure to have what God knows to be best!
2. The Improvement of Divine Mercies.
Many partake of God's mercy in common Providence, who never knew what it was to enjoy a mercy out of spiritual favor. But how precious is that mercy which is handed in to us—through a precious promise. It comes to the soul not only as an effect of general bounty—but as the fruit of humble prayer. To such a mercy—we have a covenant right. We enjoy it not only as by God's permission—but as from His love.
Thus did Hannah receive a child from God; and if you have Hannah's frame of heart under your mercy—you may conclude that it comes to you as indeed a mercy. This is the case:
(1.) If you rejoice more in the God of your mercy—than in the mercy you have received from God. Thus Hannah did, (1 Sam. 2:1.)
(2.) If in the enjoyment of your mercy—you have gracious visits and admiring thoughts of the Giver of all your mercies. So Hannah, again: "There is no rock like our God!" (verse 2.) So Jacob, too, when in the face of Esau—he saw the face of God; and in his smiles, the smiles of God, (Genesis 33:10.)
(3.) If your affections are so spiritualized under your mercy, that you can receive a holy God, as well as with a gracious God. So Hannah did, (verse 4.)
(4.) If the enjoyment of your mercy tends to the increase of your faith. It did Hannah's—she believed not only for herself—but for others, even for all the people of God, (ver. 6-10.)
(5.) If your heart is enlarged to lay out for God, that which you have received from Him. Hannah dedicates her mercy to Him from whom it came—she gave her Samuel unto the Lord, (1 Sam. 1:24—28.) This should be the great care and endeavor of our souls in seeking mercy—not only that we may receive the blessing—but that we may receive it as a blessing.
3. The Appreciation of Divine Mercies.
Truly to prize every mercy, and in order to excite true thankfulness in the heart for every mercy—we should, upon the reception of the mercy, look both backward and forward.
If it is a spiritual mercy inseparable from the love of God, or a temporal mercy so sanctified that it cannot be severed from the same love, first look backward, and take occasion from the present mercy to revive in your heart the remembrance of all your former mercies. Yes, run up to the fountain-head, from whence it proceeds: "I was brought low, and the Lord helped me! What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me!" (Psalm 116:6, 12.) From this deliverance, the Psalmist renews upon his soul, the memorial of all former mercies. In Isaiah 38:17, Hezekiah thus runs his mercies up to the fountain-head: "You have in love to my soul, delivered it from the pit of corruption!"
Looking forward also, view your mercy as the pledge of future mercies—until you come to glory. Thus David, considering the greatness of the mercy he experienced, assures himself: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life!" (Psalm 23:6.) The way to excite a right esteem of our mercies, and a due thankfulness for them—is to view all our mercies as flowing from that love which is from everlasting, and carried on in a blessed connection by the same love which is to everlasting!
4. Special Mercies.
The Divine approbation or disapprobation cannot be known by providential dispensations, for, says the Preacher, "So I reflected on all this and concluded that even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God's hands—no one knows whether or not God will show them favor in this life," (Eccles. 9:1.) Yet by a humble walk under providential dispensations, and a good improvement of them—we may conclude that such mercies come to us not only of common bounty—but from especial love.
Do your mercies tend to raise within you a higher esteem of Christ, by whom they are procured, and through whom they are conveyed? Is it your endeavor to see God in them, to draw near to God by them, to enjoy God through them, to serve God with them, and to be thankful to God for them? This is a sign that your mercies flow from special love. Therefore, if you would have special evidence of distinguishing love from the general goodness of the Lord—then thank the Lord for His goodness!
1. Precious Promises.
The promises of the Gospel are "exceeding great and precious," (2 Peter 1:4.) They are "precious" because flowing from precious love, obtained with precious blood, carrying with them the precious Spirit, and conveying through them precious grace; they are "exceeding great and precious" since by them we are, as the Apostle tells us in the same Scripture, "made partakers of the Divine nature." It is therefore of unspeakable concern rightly to know, and diligently to improve them.
The promises are either absolute—or conditional; promises of grace—or promises to grace; and thus suited both to saints and sinners. Are you unconverted? You have recourse to Christ in an absolute promise, and beg grace of Him who gives grace without a condition. Are you converted? You have recourse to Christ in a conditional promise, and of Him who has wrought the condition, beg the grace promised to that condition. And if you can find but one saving condition in your soul, which claims right to any one promise—you may conclude thence that you have a right to every promise. For, as all saving graces are knit together—so all the promises go together. Hence, promises are called many in one Scripture, one in another Scripture, (Galatians 3:16, 17;) being all branches of the same covenant. Know, therefore, that though in this imperfect state you do not completely come up to the required condition—yet Christ has completely fulfilled that condition, not for Himself—but for all His people; so that the promise may be performed unto them—for His sake, in whom all the promises are "yes and amen."
2. The Promise of the Precept.
When you have a precept—bring it to a promise; and when you have a promise—plead it with God in prayer; and do not question whether the promise belongs to you, seeing you cannot deny that the precept does; though you are no more particularly mentioned in the one than in the other. If you think yourself under the word of command—then why not under the word of promise? You may as well claim the promise for your comfort—as the commandment for your duty. Or do you think yourself only under this or the other commandment, and not under every commandment? Then why not under this one—as well as the rest? "This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son, Jesus Christ," (1 John 3:23.) Beg of God, then, that as He has set forth His will in the precept which He requires you to obey—that He would also put forth His grace in the promise—that you may obey what He requires.
3. The Promise and Faith.
The promises of God to His children are free—and therefore firm. They are free, because He who promises them grace at first, finds no grace in them to which to make a promise. He who has made conditional promises, gives the conditions in the promise, (Ezekiel 36:26.) He who promises forgiveness on repentance; promises repentance also in order to forgiveness, (Acts 5:31.) And as by faith we receive the promise—so through the promise we receive faith: "Remember Your Word to Your servant; You have given me hope through it," (Psalm 119:49.) And because the promises are free—they are also firm; being founded not on the desert of the creature—but on the good pleasure of the Creator, "who will have mercy—because He will have mercy;" and "who loves—because He has loved," (Romans 9:15; Deuteronomy 7:7, 8.)
Let no unworthiness, therefore, suspend the actings of faith; for promises are not given because God's children are worthy of them—but because they need them. And they shall be fulfilled, being founded not on their mutable frames—but on His immutable grace. Not on what they are—but upon what Christ has done!
4. The Promise Sanctifying.
When grace is high, and corruptions are low—how ready are many sincere Christians steadfastly to look, with the eye of faith, upon the promise! But, on the contrary, when grace is low, and corruptions high—they turn away their eyes from them. This is, however, to neglect a special means appointed for the mortification of sin, and the perfecting of grace, (2 Corinthians 7:1.)
The Promises have a cleansing and quickening virtue in them:
(1.) As they lead to Christ, who is a fountain open for sin and all uncleanness, (Zech. 13:1;) and the vital head of life and influence.
(2.) As they are means of nourishing the graces of faith, love, hope, etc.; by which other graces are increased, and sin declines.
(3.) As they unfold to us the attributes of God, such as His great love, rich grace, and free bounty; which are His glory, and beholding which we "are changed from glory to glory," (2 Corinthians 3:18.)
(4.) As they take us off from things which defile, by presenting better things to us, and raising our affections to delight in them. Therefore, let not the motions of sin, or the weakness of grace—be the means of hindering you from looking upon the promises—but rather a motive to quicken you to improve them.
Only in this, and all like cases, abuse not the remedy—by being careless to prevent the malady. Make not that which is your relief under such a frame—an encouragement to fall into it!
5. Our Right to the Promise.
Some stand off from receiving a promise, because they know not whether it belongs to them. In this case, remember acceptance gives propriety. "Whoever will, let him take of the water of life freely," (Rev. 22:17.) What makes the water of life yours—but your taking it? When a man presents a gift to me, I do not stand questioning whether it belongs to me—but I accept it that it may be mine. So, would you know whether a promise belongs to you—receive the promise, or rather with Christ in it, who is virtually all the promises, and therefore called preeminently "the promise," (Hebrews 11:39.) Thus shall you clear your right, not alone to this or the other promise—but to every promise.
If you find a gracious qualification in your soul to which a promise is annexed, do not look upon it as that which deserves the good of the promise—but only as that which fits you for its enjoyment. Qualifications do not render us worthy of Christ—but Christ worthy to us. A precious Christ would not be precious to the soul without precious faith: "To you who believe—He is precious," (1 Peter 2:7.) Neither think of bringing any saving qualification to the promise, until you have received it from the Promiser. For He who has made promises to grace, gives also the grace to which He makes the promise. In applying a conditional promise, therefore, acknowledge the receipt of the good you bring to it—but disown your desert of that good you are encouraged to expect through it.
6. Christ in the Promises.
The right way of improving the promises—is through them, by faith, to apply your soul to Christ, and Christ in them to your soul. For all the promises lead to Christ, and center in Him, who is the great promise. Christ is the sun and substance of all the promises. As all the promises are summed up in the covenant of grace—so the whole covenant of grace is summed up in Christ, who is hence called "the covenant," (Isaiah 43:6.) Would you partake of all the good of the covenant? Then take hold of Christ, who was given for a covenant.
We should distinguish between receiving comfort from the promises—and receiving Christ in the promises. The Gospel presents unto us good things, and the natural belief of the heart may work a kind of faith in them, as it does respecting other things. Thus, from mistaken apprehensions of our interest in them, we may derive comfort, while we have not received Christ in them. The stony-ground hearers received the Word with joy—but afterwards fell away because they had no root in themselves, (Matt. 13:20, 21.) Take heed, therefore, of receiving comfort—while you have not received Christ.
"The Scripture has a body on the outside—and within it has a soul. It has a shell—but within it has pith, kernel, and marrow, and all sweetness for God's elect, whom He has chosen, to give them His Spirit; and to write His law, and faith in His Son—in their hearts." Tyndale.
1. Scripture Wrested.
There are many who wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction; and, among many others, this portion is woefully perverted: "Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved," (Romans 10:13.) How many have presumed to expect salvation, just because they cried "Lord, have mercy upon me!" and yet have perished forever. To guard you against this rock, permit me to hang out some beacon-lights.
First: One Scripture must be explained by another. In 1 John 1:9, it is said, "If we confess our sins—He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." This is a Scripture which many stumble at—as if a bare confession was enough. Whereas it is more fully explained in Proverbs 28:13, "If we confess and forsake our sins."
So this text, "whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall he saved," is thus qualified: "All who call upon Him in truth," (Psalm 145:18.)
Secondly: As all graces are knit together—so are all duties. And, therefore, life and salvation are sometimes annexed to one duty, sometimes to another. Thus—to seeking God, (Sam. 3:25;) to hearing the Word, (Proverbs 8:34;) and here, to calling upon God. So that where one duty is mentioned, to which blessedness is attached, every duty is implied.
Thirdly: This text must be understood by the scope of the subject, which is to prove that salvation is not by the righteousness that is of the law—but the righteousness which is of faith. It is not a righteousness that is to be obtained by doing, which will justify—but that which is obtained by believing, (see verse 11.) The Apostle says, "whoever believes" shall be saved, whether he he Jew or Gentile; and that which in verse 11 he calls believing, in verses 12 and 13—is expressed by "calling on the name of the Lord." There is no right calling upon the name of the Lord unto salvation, without faith; as it follows, "How shall they call on Him—in whom they have not believed?" (verse 14.)
Would you then savingly call upon the name of the Lord? First, call upon Him sincerely, subjecting yourself to His command. And, secondly, call upon Him believingly, submitting to His righteousness.
2. Scripture Harmonized.
Those Scriptures which seem to disagree, when rightly understood, sweetly harmonize. Though Paul asserts "that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law," (Romans 3:28,) and James affirms "that by works a man is justified, and not by faith alone," (James 2:24.) Yet both being from the same Spirit of Truth—there must be truth in both alike.
Paul speaks of faith as it justifies—and so is not a dead and barren—but a working and fruitful faith; such a faith as Abraham and Rahab had—a living faith, not such as the devils have, who believe and tremble.
Again, Paul speaks of faith as it justifies before God; James speaks of faith as it is justified before men, and in our own conscience. Paul speaks of the justification of our persons; James, of the justification of our faith itself. What is it that justifies our persons before God—but faith without works? What justifies our faith before men—but good works? "Show me your faith without your works—and I will show you my faith by my works," (James 2:18.)
And even the apostle Paul himself, who so frequently asserts justification to be by faith without works, would have it affirmed constantly, that those who have believed in God, might be careful to maintain good works," (Titus 3:8.) Not only that they should do good works—but that they should be exemplary therein. The word rendered "to maintain" is a military word, taken from those who place themselves in the front, marching manfully before the rest, to encourage them.
And they are not only to maintain good works—but to "be careful" to maintain them. The word signifies to study, to devise, to exercise thought. They are wisely and carefully to study how they may be most useful and fruitful; industriously and exemplarily to be forward in good works, so as to quicken, strengthen, and encourage others. Let faith and works, then, have each their proper place. As they are not to be joined in the matter of justification; so they are not to be separated in the matter of conduct.
3. Scripture Understood.
Light is not more pleasant to the eye—than knowledge to the mind; men therefore, according to their different inclinations, direct their studies to the increase of it. Many fix upon Divinity, and yet, after long study, remain ignorant of truths of the greatest importance. Others there are who attain clear notions of the principal heads and truths of revelation, hut remain ignorant of their power and influence. They have a speculative knowledge; not an operative knowledge; a common knowledge; not an experimental knowledge. With heads full of light—they have hearts devoid of life! And, while they earnestly covet knowledge, they do not really love truth. But what does it avail to have a notional knowledge of God—yet have no saving interest in Him? To have a general acquaintance with Christ—without a particular application of Him? To he able to discourse of the covenants of promise—and yet to be strangers to them? To have skill to open the nature of faith and repentance—and to lack the possession and power of both? In a word, to be like a sign set up in the way, to point out the city of refuge to others—and not to move at all towards it ourselves?
To be a good proficient in heavenly studies, your understanding must be enlivened, as well as enlightened. Receive the truth into your heart—as well as your head; and draw out your knowledge into practice, so through practice will you increase your knowledge. (See John 7:17; Psalm 119:99, 100.)
1. Convictions Resisted.
It is too frequently the case for people when under convictions—to evade them, either by unseasonable diversions or deceitful resolutions. The woman of Samaria, when charged by the Savior with her sin, evades it by asking a question about the place of worship, (See John 4:16, 20.) Thus many, instead of falling under the power of religion, fall disputing about religion. Others, instead of turning to the study of their hearts, turn aside to the cares and pleasures of the world, (Matt. 13:22.) I have heard of one who, upon his death-bed, acknowledged that he had experienced many convictions; and being asked how he had satisfied himself under them, or how he had got rid of them, answered, "I filled my hands with business from the one end of the week to the other, so that I might not think of them." But beware of stifling convictions, or checking the voice of conscience!
If convictions do not increase your humiliation—they will aggravate your condemnation! And, if conscience is not now regarded as your monitor—it will be heard elsewhere as your tormentor.
Others again evade their convictions by deceitful resolutions. When they see their sins, and the necessity of a change of life—they labor to quiet their consciences with resolutions to set to work hereafter, (Acts 24:25,) not considering that God may deny them their time—who deny Him his time. For they who in a sinful way strive against God's Spirit, may, in a judicial way, be denied the Spirit to strive any longer with them. Therefore attend speedily to this work. If you resolve hereafter to repent—why not now? God may deny you grace to repent hereafter.
2. Desires—True And Fictitious.
Many, hearing that the desire of grace—is grace, conclude that they have grace because they have desires. But it is to be feared that the desire of many is like that of the sluggard, of whom it is said, "The desire of the slothful kills him, for his hands refuse to labor," (Proverbs 21:25.) They content themselves with desires, and put forth no endeavors; they think their hearts right, though their hands are idle! And this slays them; for as "the soul of the sluggard desires—and has nothing," (Proverbs 13 4;) so it is a sign there is no grace—where there is nothing but bare desires.
True desires of grace are knowing desires; they spring from the knowledge of the worth and need of grace. They are restless desires, which cannot be satisfied in the lack of grace. They are extensive desires; for it is not small measures or degrees of it that will satisfy them. And they are laborious desires, taking pains and using means for the obtaining of grace. Take heed, therefore, that you neither perish for lack of desires after grace—nor miscarry for lack of joining endeavors to those desires.
3. The Soul Consigned to Christ.
Many would have Christ to receive them when they die—who care not to receive Christ while they live. Then they would resign themselves into His hands, though they will not now resign themselves unto His will. But how can you expect gracious entertainment from Him hereafter, when you will not give entertainment to Him now? That He should receive your spirit then, who would not receive His Spirit now; or, that He should keep that which you commit to Him, who never would commit it while you could keep it? This work of committing our spirits into God's hands, is not only to be done once—but often. David in his troubles cries out: "Into your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O Lord God of truth," (Psalm 31:5.) If, therefore, you would have it at last well done—be always committing your soul to Him in well doing, (1 Peter 4:19; 2 Tim. 1:12.)
4. Acceptable Praise.
As all the mercies of believers come through Christ—so must all their praise be rendered to God through Him. We must not suppose, because praise is a giving duty, that we have less need of the mediation of Christ for its acceptance than in prayer, which is a receiving duty. For, as prayer is to be put into the hand of the angel of the covenant that it may be perfumed with His increase, and as the sacrifices of old, though perfect in themselves, were to be put into the hands of the priest that they might be offered up with acceptance; so all our sacrifices of praise, though performed with the best frame of heart, in the liveliest manner, and out of the purest love to God—must be put into the hands of our Great High Priest, the Lord Jesus Christ, in order that they may be offered up acceptably to God! "By Him, therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually; that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name," (Hebrews 13:15.)
5. Human Inconsistency.
When the wise men came to Jerusalem and inquired, saying, "Where is He who is born King of the Jews?" it is said, "When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him," (Matt. 2:1-3.) That Herod, who was seated upon the throne, should be troubled at the birth of the King of the Jews, is no wonder; but that all Jerusalem should be troubled—those who expected the coming of the Messiah—prayed for his coming —and looked for deliverance from Him when He came—seems strange. Probably they remembered what was spoken by the last of their prophets, (Mal 3:2, 3;) and, being degenerate in their profession, that might occasion their trouble. Many pray, "May Your kingdom come," who would be greatly troubled at the coming of that kingdom, when they found the "woe" of Amos coming upon them, (Amos 5:18.) Balaam, speaking of that day, and the things to come to pass therein, says, "Alas, who shall live when God does this!" (Num. 24:23.) Be prepared, therefore, for what you pray for—if you would comfortably sustain the answer to your prayers.
6. Love Unchangeable.
In all His various dealings with believers, God still carries on the same design of grace. For, though He changes His dealings with them—He does not change His love; though He changes His providences—He does not change His purposes; though He hides His face—He does not withdraw His heart! Therefore, under all the changes we meet with here, whether from within or from without, let us not say God is changeable in His grace towards us—but let us know that we have been changeable in our conduct towards Him.
7. Grace for Grace.
The mistake of many Christians is, to spend that time in questioning whether they have grace, which should be spent in using the grace they have. To be disputing against themselves, they think is humility; but take heed that you do not bear false witness against yourself, and especially that you do not bear false witness against Christ, and the work of His Spirit in your soul. The Church, notwithstanding her blackness, owns her beauty: "I am black—but lovely," (Song 1:5.) She acknowledges what there is of grace, as well as what there is of corruption: "I sleep—but my heart wakes," (verse 2.) Take heed that you do not take part with the tempter against the Comforter, be refusing the comfortable hints and intimations of the Spirit, and closing with the unbelieving suggestions and insinuations of Satan!
Improve the exercise of grace, that you may attain to the knowledge of grace. For if grace is strong, as it possibly may be, though under a cloud of temptation or desertion at present—this is the way to cause it to break forth and shine clearly. Or, if grace is weak, it is still the way to increase and make it more discernible. But if, after all, your doubts return, and you fear you have no grace to exercise, take this advice: Spend less time in disputing against yourself, and more in addressing yourself to Christ. Beg of Him, either to clear up what you have—or to work in you what you have not.
8. False Foundations.
It is very difficult to be always resting on the true foundation. We are too prone to live a life of sense—when we should be living by faith.
Sometimes we live upon our resolutions. After seeking God, we have holy purposes in our souls of walking more circumspectly, and living more profitably; and in the strength of these we go forth to obey. Therefore God sometimes allows corruptions to prevail against our resolutions; our work proves too hard for our resolutions, because we rest too much on them. God may work the desire—and yet suspend the ability—to bring us to an entire dependence upon Himself.
Sometimes we live upon the grace we have received, and therefore it often proves too weak for the work. We would gladly be strong in the grace that is in us; whereas we are to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, from whom we receive continued supplies.
Sometimes we live upon our attainments. Because we are in a good frame, and find our hands and hearts enlarged for God, we are apt to conclude it will always be so. Hence we are left in straitness and barrenness—to teach us constant dependence upon Christ. After David and his princes had offered so largely and willingly for the building of the temple, he makes this prayer: "O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel—keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you," (1 Chron. 29:18.) As it is God who helps us with a heart to do good, so it is He who must establish our hearts in so doing. Therefore take heed of every false foundation; rest not upon anything wrought in you, or by you—for this is to rest short of Christ.
9. Grace and Means.
As we are to trust in God alone in the lack of means; so we are to trust in God only when we abound in means.
(1.) In the lack of means—we are to trust in God alone. Thus Habakkuk, (Hab. 3:17, 18;) yes, under the death of means. Thus Abraham: God in His providence had allowed the time for fulfilling the promise to run on so long, that Abraham "was about a hundred years old," and Sarah also, "old and well stricken in age;" yet in hope he believes against hope, (Romans 4:18.)
(2.) And as in the lack of means we are to trust alone in God; so in the enjoyment of means—we are to trust only in Him. Thus Jehoshaphat, when the Moabites and Ammonites came against him in battle, though he had good captains, and an army of mighty men of valor, numbering eleven hundred thousand men; yet he trusted in God—as though he had no force at all: "O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you!" (2 Chron. 20:12.)
This, then, is our duty, and should be our constant endeavor; even in the lack of means—to trust as much in God as though all means were present; and in the possession of means—to trust as much in God as if all means were absent. Blessed is the man who, in the lack of means—sees all in God; and under the abundance of means—expects all from God!
10. Love's Labor Easy.
If Christians would make their work easy, and their lives fruitful, they must see to it that the love of Christ be much in their hearts. Love is the commanding affection of the soul. All follow love—mind, heart, and action. Love sticks at no pains, labor, suffering. "Many waters," says Solomon, "cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it!" (Song 8 7.) Jacob had hard service under a hard master, who changed his wages ten times. But though he lived with him long years of toil, labor, and suffering: "through the scorching heat of the day and through cold and sleepless nights;" yet he patiently underwent all this—for the love he bore to Rachel; and all the time he served for her, seemed but a few days, (Genesis 29:20.) And thus, the love of Christ makes all the time we wait, work, or suffer—seem but little to us.
"This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous," (1 John 5:3.) Would you then be fruitful? Let the work of God be much upon your heart. The heart of Paul was so much upon his work for Christ—that he preferred it to his life, (Acts 20. 24) Yes, he was content to stay out of heaven for some time—that he might follow it. Though the fear of death was removed, and there was a desire to die and be with Christ and be completely happy; yet he is content to stay here under sufferings, fastings, and labors, that he might be useful in the work of Christ, (Phil. 1:21-25.) And what saint more useful and profitable than Paul? Would you then do much for God—and yet think all that you do too little? Then love your work, and work out of love!
11. Fear and Joy.
As it is the duty of the saints to walk holily, so to live comfortably. They should fear continually, yet always rejoice. In the ninth chapter of Acts it is said, that "the churches walked in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit," (verse 31.) If our fears were rightly exercised, we would not be afraid to rejoice. As in evangelical rejoicing—there is a rejoicing with trembling; so in Gospel fear—there is a fearing with rejoicing; these mutually promote each other. As the fear of God helps us to keep up good thoughts of God under all His dispensations, and those thoughts help us to rejoice in Him; so rejoicing in God helps us to entertain low thoughts of ourselves under all His dealings, and those thoughts tend to promote the fear of Him. Suspect, therefore, that fear which hinders comfort—or that comfort which hinders fear.
12. Lawful Cares.
The Christian, though he is to cast all his cares upon God, (1 Peter 5:7,) is not to be without care. There is a care of diligence—and a care of disturbance.
The care of diligence—is the care of the virtuous woman: "She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard," (Proverbs 31:16.) This care of diligence consists in an industrious endeavor to provide things honest in the sight of all men, (Romans 12:17.)
But there is also a care of disturbance, against which the disciples were cautioned, (Matt. 6:25.) This care of disturbance is a distracting, anxious care, both as to the pursuit and the event of things cared for. This is what we should avoid. But, though discharged from the care of anxiety—we are not discharged from the care of industry. Though we may cast off our burdens—yet not our business. God has promised to sustain us in casting our burdens upon Him, (Psalm 55:22;) but not to maintain us in casting off our work from ourselves. Therefore, as one advises, take as much pains as you can—and as little care as you may. Be careful in your duty—and then leave all care to God.
13. Christian Experience.
Great improvement is to be made of experience; for promises and experiences are the special food of faith. In promises, Christ is exhibited; in experiences, promises are exemplified. And though we are not to make experiences the ground of our faith—but Christ in the promise—yet we should use them as great encouragements to believing.
The experiences of a child of God in times past, should be improved for the strengthening of faith for time to come. Thus David, (See 1 Sam. 17:37;) and Paul, (2 Tim. 4:17, 18; 2 Corinthians 1:10.) And not only our own—but the experiences of others should be regarded. The experience of the Church in former ages, is held forth as matter of rejoicing to the Church for time to come, (Psalm 66:5, 6.) Yes, the experience of a single saint is matter of encouragement to the whole Church, (Hos. 12:4, 5; Psalm 65:4) And, as the experience of each single saint is matter of encouragement to the whole body, so the experience of the whole body is matter of encouragement to each of its members. Thus the Psalmist strengthens his faith of deliverance from a great trouble, from what God had wrought for His people of old, (Psalm 77:10, 15, 16, etc.)
Labor then to be rich in experiences, and free in the communication of them. And in the dark day, when you see not your own experience to derive confidence from it—have recourse to the experience of others.
14. Divine Teaching.
In order to a soul's coming to Christ, there is an absolute need of divine teaching. "They shall all be taught of God," (John 6:45.) So, likewise, in order to the soul's building up in Christ, there is the like necessity. Not as if there was no need of a Gospel ministry; for Christ has appointed that as long as any saint shall need edifying and perfecting, (Ephesians 4:12, 13.) Hence we are not to understand this inward teaching in opposition to outward teaching, as though it was to exclude it—but as that which does excel it. And, indeed, it is that which has a transcendent excellency in it; for God is such a teacher, that there is none like Him. This appears in divers respects:
(1.) Men, though they may be willing to teach—yet it often happens that they cannot make their scholars willing to learn. But it is otherwise with God; for, as He teaches what He would have us learn, so He makes us willing to learn that which He teaches, (Psalm 25:4; Psalm 143:10.)
(2.) Though men may have scholars who are willing to learn—yet they cannot give them an understanding to take in that learning to which they are inclined. But God not only presents rules to be understood by us—but gives understanding to apprehend those rules, (1 John 5:20; 2 Tim. 2:7.)
(3.) Though men may teach, and their scholars apprehend what is taught—yet they cannot give them hearts to close with what they apprehend. But God, as he gives an understanding to know the truth, so also a heart to affect and receive what is known. Thus the two disciples: "Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked with us by the way, and while He opened to us the Scriptures!" (Luke 24:32.) "The Lord opened the heart of Lydia to attend to the things which were spoken of Paul," (Acts 16:14)
(4.) Men, though they teach, and the hearts of their scholars close with what is taught—yet may lack ability to practice that with which they close. But God does not only open the heart to receive truth—but strengthens the soul to practice what it receives. As He puts His law in the inward parts, so likewise His Spirit, "and causes the soul to walk in His ways," (Ezekiel 36:27.) As you must, therefore, diligently attend upon the preaching of the Word, so you must earnestly pray to be taught of God. For it is only those who can profit by teaching—whom God teaches to profit.
15. God Is Our Portion.
As all the saints of God are His children, (Hebrews 12:23; Jer. 31:9; Exodus 4:22,) so they are all heirs; and this arises from the near union they have in Christ. For, being members of Him, they make but one body with Him, and so come to partake of the same love, and to be invested with the same privileges. Is He God's first-born? So are they His children, (Romans 8:29.) Is He an heir? So are they: "If children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ!" (ver. 17.)
God Himself is their inheritance. "I am your .... exceeding great reward," (Genesis 15:2.) He does not say, "I will give you a reward;" but, "I myself will be your reward." Thus He who is the supreme, pure, perfect, everlasting good—is the portion of His people! He who is the fountain, original good, from whence is all good—is their inheritance.
Neither does it lessen their inheritance because so many share in it; for every man enjoys as much of the sun, which is but a finite good, as if there were no more to enjoy it but himself. How much more shall each saint enjoy as much of God, who is an infinite good, as if no other saint were to inherit with him!
In this consideration of God being his portion, well might the Psalmist say: "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance!" (Psalm 16:6.) And so Jacob said to Esau, "I have all things," (Genesis 33:11 margin;) for he who inherits God, inherits all things, (Rev. 21:7.) Therefore, if God is your portion—you have unspeakable cause to be thankful to Him, to be satisfied with Him, and to rejoice in Him; for, if God Himself can make you happy—you shall be happy! Amen.