What solemn feelings are produced in the mind under a sense of God's presence! How the Lord's presence turns night into day—makes every crooked thing straight—and every rough place plain! How it banishes all the gloom, melancholy, and despondency which hang over the soul! How it clears up every difficulty—and like the shining sun, it drives away the damps and darkness of the night. If there is one thing to be coveted more than another, it is that the Lord's presence might be more felt in our hearts!
If I wash myself with snow
By nature, man knows nothing of the purity and perfection of God—or the deep sinfulness and corruption of the creature. There is a veil over man's heart—a veil of ignorance—of delusion—of unbelief—of self-deception as regards the nature of sin. No man is vitally and experimentally acquainted with—its hideous nature—its awful depths—its subtlety—its workings—its movements—its cravings—its lustings—the heights to which it rises—the depths to which it sinks.
But when the Lord the Spirit takes a man really and vitally in hand—and He truly begins His sovereign work of grace upon the soul—He commences by opening up to the astonished eyes of the sinner, something of the real nature of sin. He not only shows him the huge, high, wide-spreading branches of sin—but bids him look down and see how deeply-rooted sin is in his very being—that sin is not an accident—a faint blot that may soon be washed out—a something on the surface, like a skin disease that may be healed by a simple ointment. He shows him that sin is seated in his very bones—that this deep-rooted malady has taken possession of him—that he is a sinner to his very heart's core—that every thought, every word, every action of man's whole being—is one mass of sin, filth, and pollution.
And if he attempts, as most awakened sinners do attempt—to purify himself—to ease his guilt by lopping off a few external branches—if he attempts to wash himself clean from iniquity, the Spirit will teach him the meaning of Job's words, "If I wash myself with snow, and cleanse my hands with lye, yet You will plunge me in the ditch. My own clothes shall abhor me." (Job 9:30, 31). Until at last God brings him to this spot—that he is a sinner throughout—yes, that he is the chief of sinners—that every evil lodges in his heart—and the seed of every crime dwells in his fallen nature. When a man is brought here, he is brought to the place of the stopping of mouths—his own righteousness is effectually cut to pieces—his hopes of salvation by his works are completely removed from under him. Those rotten props are cut away by the hand of the Spirit from the sinking soul, that he may fall into himself one mass of confusion and ruin.
And until he is brought here, he really can know nothing—of a free-grace salvation—of the superaboundings of grace over the aboundings of sin—of God's electing love—of Christ's substitution and suretyship—of His atoning blood—of His justifying righteousness—of His dying love. He can know nothing of the rich provisions of almighty power and eternal mercy that are lodged in the fullness of Christ. He has—no eyes to see—no ears to hear—no heart to feel—no arms to embrace a whole Christ—a precious Christ, a Savior from the wrath to come—who has stood in the sinner's place and stead—made full atonement for sin—fulfilled the law—brought in everlasting righteousness—and justified the ungodly!
The unceasing conflict
"Why are you in despair, my soul? Why are you disturbed within me?" Psalm 42:5
One thing that casts down the souls of God's family is the unceasing conflict which they have to maintain—between those desires to live under God's leading—and those desires to live after the course of this world. In other words, the conflict between nature and grace—between the spirit and the flesh—will always cast down the soul in proportion to the intensity of the struggle. To be baffled, as we are hourly baffled, in all our attempts to do good—to find the carnality of our hearts perpetually obstructing every desire that rises in our bosom to be heavenly-minded, spiritual, enjoy God's word, feel His presence, and live to His honor and glory—thus to have the tide of carnality and pollution perpetually bearing down every spiritual desire in the heart—must not that cast down the soul which covets nothing so much as to live under a sense of God's presence and favor?
And that this conflict should be a perpetual and unceasing one—that we should have so little respite from it—that it should not be merely now and then, but more or less, in proportion to the depth of godly fear—always be going on in our soul—must not this cast down the poor soul which is the subject of it? I am sure it cast me down day after day, and sometimes hour after hour—to feel such an unceasing and perpetual conflict between that in us which is spiritual, heavenly, and holy—and that in us which is earthly, carnal, sensual, and devilish!
The Lord sends afflictions for a special purpose
"Why are you in despair, my soul? Why are you disturbed within me?" Psalm 42:5
The many afflictions that the Lord's people have to pass through, is one cause of their souls being cast down. And the Lord intends these things to cast them down. The Lord in sending afflictions means them to do a certain work. We are high—afflictions are sent to bring us low. We are proud—afflictions are meant to humble. We are worldly—afflictions are meant to purge out of us this worldly spirit. We are carnal—afflictions are sent to subdue this carnality. We are often straying from the Lord into bypaths—afflictions are meant to bring us into the strait and narrow path that leads to glory. Now the Lord sends afflictions for a special purpose—and this special purpose is to cast down the soul—that He Himself may have the honor of raising it up!
The greatest burden & trial
"Why are you in despair, my soul? Why are you disturbed within me?" Psalm 42:5
One of the greatest, if not the greatest burden and trial to the child of God, is the daily, hourly, minutely, momently workings of sin. The adulterous eye—the roving heart—the defiled imagination—the constant stream of iniquity polluting every word and thought, every feeling and desire—is and must be a burden to the soul—just in proportion as the fear of God lives and works in a man's conscience. And whenever sin gets the mastery over us, though it be but for a short time, (I am not speaking here necessarily of gross sins, or of outward falls—for sin in some shape or other is perpetually striving to rule within where it does not rule without), guilt will as surely follow it as the shadow does the sun.
But even where sin does not get the mastery, those whose consciences are tender in God's fear, continually feel the workings of pride, hypocrisy, presumption, self-righteousness, carnal desires, filthy lusts, worldly-mindedness—and of everything that is hateful and vile in the eyes of a holy God. Do we not continually find how, in spite of all our desires, and all the resolutions we make to the contrary, how instantaneously temptation sets fire to the combustible materials we carry within? And what a dreadful flame there is at times bursting forth in our carnal mind? These things, I am sure, will bring guilt, shame, and sorrow upon every conscience that is quickened to fear God. And just in proportion to the depth and working of godly fear in a man's soul will be the burden of sin from time to time upon his conscience.
Such a poor, blind, ignorant creature as I
He who knows himself by divine teaching, and has had a glimpse of future bliss and glory, will often reason with himself, "How is such a poor, blind, ignorant creature as I—surrounded by so many enemies—oppressed or beguiled by so many of Satan's temptations—beset by the workings of a depraved nature—how am I ever to enter the heavenly inheritance, and enjoy the promised rest?"
To get to heaven we must wade through difficulties, improbabilities, and impossibilities. We shall meet with hindrances, impediments, obstacles. And yet, for the Christian, grace superabounds over all the aboundings of sin, and lands him safe in glory!
A great deal of talk about religion
How many there are who are mistaking the 'form of religion' for the power of it—mistaking 'doctrines learned in the head' for the teachings of the Spirit in the soul! There is a great deal of talk about religion—but how few know anything of—what true religion is—the secret of vital godliness—the inward teachings and operations of the Spirit upon the heart! Many men speak fluently enough of doctrines, and of the blessed truths of the gospel. But what good can mere doctrines do for me—unless they are sealed on my heart, and applied with divine power to my conscience? Without this, the greatest truths can do me no good.
But when the Lord lays us low, puts us into the furnace, and drags us through the waters—He shows us that true religion, vital godliness, is something deeper, something more spiritual, something more supernatural, something that stands more in the teachings of God the Spirit and His operation on the heart, than ever we dreamt of before we entered upon the trial. We might have had the clearest views of doctrinal truth—and yet these were but 'dim notions floating in the head,' before we came into the furnace. But these things now are seen in a different light, and felt in a totally different manner. What before was but a doctrine—becomes now a most certain truth. And what before was but a sound sentiment—is now sealed as a living reality in experience.
As the Lord, then, brings us into the dust, He strips away our 'mere notional, doctrinal religion.' He begins to open up to our heart the real nature of vital godliness—that it is something deeper, something more spiritual, something more powerful, something more experimental than anything we have ever yet known—that it consists in the teachings and leadings of God the Spirit in the conscience. As soon as this is felt, it strips a man of everything he has learned in the flesh—and brings him down to the dust of death. And when brought there, the blessed Spirit opens up the truths of the gospel in a way he had never known before. Many people know the truth in the letter—but how few by the teachings and operations of God the Spirit in the heart! They have sound views of the way of salvation—but it has never been wrought out with a mighty power into their soul. They have clear heads—but their hearts are not broken into contrition and godly sorrow. Their minds are well-instructed in the truths of the gospel—but these truths have not been communicated by an unction from the Holy One.
Until a man is made to see the emptiness of a mere profession—to have his free-will stripped and purged away—and to be brought out of that empty religion so generally current—and is broken down into humility at the footstool of divine mercy—he will not feel the power, the reality, the sweetness, and the blessedness of the overwhelming love of God displayed in the gospel. Until the soul is thus stripped—until the vessel is thus emptied—these things cannot be known—nor is it in a condition to receive the glorious riches of free grace. Until the dross and tin is removed from the heart—the pure metal cannot shine. Until this chaff is blown away—the wheat lies heaped up in one confused mass on the threshing floor. The Lord, therefore, will test His work on the heart—for He is a jealous God, and He will not give His glory to another—but reserves to Himself, His prerogative of sovereign mercy, and of saving to the uttermost.
This sacred teaching
All God's people are sooner or later brought to this point in their experience—they are all brought to know their own sinfulness, ignorance, and helplessness. And when their eyes are thus anointed with eye-salve to discover their own wretchedness, the same unction from the Holy One reveals to them what Christ has done to save them from it! They learn by this sacred teaching, their own iniquity—and His atoning blood; their misery—and the bliss and blessedness which is secured up in Him! And when these two extremes meet in the quickened soul, it is brought in one and the same moment—while it debases itself—to exalt the Lord of life and glory! And while it thus sinks down in the depth of creature wretchedness—it learns to glory in the Lord Jesus alone, as its all in all.
When the eye is spiritually opened
When the eye is spiritually opened to see the glory of Jesus, it follows Him as a suffering Mediator to Calvary—there to view Him as a crucified Jesus—as the Lamb of God bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. And as the child of God looks by faith to the bleeding Lamb, he desires to have a spiritual revelation and manifestation of the mystery of the cross to his heart. And by this dying love entering into his soul, he is able to understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep the love of Jesus really is!
Only the dying love of Christ spiritually felt and realized, can wean the soul from the world, and make the things of time and sense to appear in their true light—as stamped with vanity and vexation of spirit. The dying love of Christ, also, revealed to the soul, is the only thing that can make us love Jesus, and cleave to Him with full purpose of heart. Nothing but the dying love of Jesus can make us willing to leave the world, and part with the things of time and sense, so that we may forever be with the Lord. As the Lord Jesus in His endearing relationships is presented to the eyes of the spiritual understanding, faith flows out towards, hope anchors in, and love clasps firm hold of Him as thus revealed—and thus ardent desires and fervent longings are kindled in the soul to know Him experimentally in all these relations—and inwardly realize their sweetness and power!
Every other object of desire & affection faded away
"I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ." Philippians 3:8
God, by a secret and powerful work in Paul's conscience, not only—cast down all his fleshly confidence—stripped him entirely of his natural religion—showed him the emptiness of every hope in which he had so fondly trusted—but also, He manifested to his understanding, and revealed in his soul a precious Savior—and thus drew forth all the affections of his heart, fixing them wholly and solely upon Jesus. Paul then saw, by the eye of faith, such loveliness and preciousness in Christ, that every other object of desire and affection faded away—and those aims and pursuits which once seemed his richest gain, he could now rejoice in and pursue no longer—they utterly sank in his esteem—vanity and emptiness were stamped upon them—and he counted them as absolute loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.
Holy longing & intense desires
"That I may know Him." Philippians 3:10
There can be no earnest desire to know Christ, nor any holy panting after a spiritual revelation of Him—while the heart is pursuing worldly objects. But he who is spiritually taught is at times panting with holy longing and intense desires to know Jesus—that He would come down in His heavenly power, in all His sweetness and suitability—and take up His abode in his soul, conforming it to His own image and likeness.
God will have all the glory!
"My glory will I not give to another." Isaiah 42:8
God will have all the glory to Himself! But you and I are such base wretches, that we would rob the Lord Himself of His glory—if He did not teach us otherwise. If He did not open up to us the depth of our corruption, and show us the depravity that lurks and works in our carnal minds—if He did not cover our faces with shame—if He did not put us in the furnace to burn out our pride—if He did not drag us through the water to drown our hypocrisy—if He did not humble us under a daily sense of our frailty and feebleness—we would soon want to sit down on the same throne with the Lord—and share the glory of salvation with Him!
Your greatest sweets
We often find that those very times when God's people think they are faring ill—are the seasons when they are really faring well. And again, at other times, when they think they are faring well—then they are really faring ill. For instance, when their souls are bowed down with trouble—it often seems to them that they are faring ill. God's hand appears gone out against them in trouble, sorrow, and affliction. These troubles wean them from the world. If their heart and affections were going out after idols—these troubles instrumentally bring them back. If they were hewing out broken cisterns—these troubles dash them all to pieces. If they were setting up, and bowing down to idols in the chambers of imagery—affliction and trouble smite them to pieces before their eyes—take away their gods—and leave them no refuge but the Lord God almighty.
If you can only look back, you will often see that your greatest sweets have sprung out of your greatest bitters, and the greatest blessings have flowed from the greatest miseries, and what at the time you thought your greatest sorrows—you will find that the brightest light has sprung up in the blackest darkness, and that the Lord never made Himself so precious as at the time when you were sunk lowest—so as to be without human help, wisdom, or strength. So that when a child of God thinks he is faring very ill, because burdened with sorrows, temptations, and afflictions—he is never faring so well.
Such a mystery
True religion is such a mystery. When we think we are faring well—we are often faring ill. When we think we are faring ill—we are often faring well. When we think that now we have got into an easy, smooth, and comfortable path—it is then leading us wrong. When we say, 'The path is so rugged and intricate; we are so perplexed, and so little able to see the way that we fear we are out of the track altogether'—that is the very time when the Lord is leading us in the right way!
Sometimes we feel, 'We are so black and polluted—such awful sinners—such horrible creatures—that the Lord cannot look on us!' That is the very moment when He may smile into the heart! When we may think we are getting on at a rapid pace in spirituality and holiness, making wonderful advances in the divine life, and getting almost to the pinnacle of 'creature perfection'—we discover through some terrible inward slip, that we are on the wrong path, and have been drawn aside by self-righteousness and pharisaical pride.
So that at last we seem brought to this point—to have no wisdom of our own to see the way—and to have no strength to walk in the way when seen—but that we must be guided every step by the Lord Himself. And thus we sink down into creature nothingness and creature emptiness, and feel no more merit in our heart, lip, or life, why God should save us, than there is in Satan himself. And thus we sink so low—that none but God Himself can lift us up. And this is the very time when God usually appears—and most singularly displays His mercy, love, and grace!
Now, it is by walking in this trying path that we learn our utter ruin—and learn to prize God's salvation. The power of saving truth is only prized by those whom God is thus teaching. Others are satisfied with 'shadows'—but those that are deeply exercised in their mind, must have the 'substance.' Those who have had their false refuges destroyed—their lying hopes broken—and a thousand difficulties and perplexities surrounding them—as the Lord opens the eyes, and brings His truth before them—want the power and application of this truth to their heart. Nothing suits or satisfies them but the unction of the Spirit—and the dew of God's power and presence resting on and felt in their souls. They can no longer be satisfied with the mere form—no longer rest for salvation on a few notions—no longer hang their eternal all upon the good opinion of the creature.
And thus, by this painful work in their souls, they learn—that they have no more religion than God works in them—that they can only know what God teaches them—that they can only have what He communicates to them—and that they are wholly and solely dependent upon Him to guide and keep them every moment of their lives!
Worldly men indeed despise them—mere professors hate them—the devil harasses them—their names are generally cast out as evil—and universal charity, which has a good opinion of all, has not a single, good word for them! That they are such a mystery to others is no wonder, when they are such a mystery to themselves. How they hold on they cannot tell—but they find they cannot move unless God moves them. How they pray is a mystery—yet at times they feel the spirit of prayer alive in their bosoms. How their souls are kept pleading and waiting for the Lord at the footstool of His mercy is a mystery—yet they cannot deny that this is the experience of their hearts. So that when they come to look at the way in which the Lord has led them, from first to last—it is all an unfathomable mystery!
Why God should have chosen them in Christ is a mystery. Why He should have quickened their souls when "dead in trespasses and sins," is a mystery. Why He should have wrought a sense of contrition in their hearts is a mystery. Why He should have given a sense of His love to them is a mystery. Why He should have preserved them from error, while thousands have been entangled in it, is a mystery. Why He should keep them day by day, and hour by hour—without allowing them to disgrace His cause, deny His truth, turn their back on Him, or go into the world, is a mystery. And yet they find that they have and are all these things—so that the greatest mystery of all is—that they are what they are!
Thus, do they fare well, because God takes care they shall fare well. He manages all their concerns—He watches over them by night and by day—He waters them continually—He guides and leads them until He brings them home to His heavenly kingdom!
Destitute of vital godliness
"Having a form of godliness, but denying the power." 2 Timothy 3:5
There is nothing so deceitful as having "a form of godliness," while the "power" of it is denied—nothing so delusive as having a "name to live," while the soul is dead before God. If there is one hypocritical character more than another, whom the man of God should point out—it is he who, with a profession, is destitute of vital godliness—he who has the 'form of doctrinal truth in the judgment,' but who never has experienced 'the power of that truth in his soul'—humbling him in the dust, and raising him up to a spiritual knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Our lost, ruined state
"My soul stays close to You." Psalm 63:8
Grace only suits those who are altogether guilty and filthy. Until we are divinely enlightened to see, and spiritually quickened to feel our lost, ruined state, we are satisfied with the things of time and sense—our hearts are in the world—our affections are fixed on the poor perishing vanities that must quickly pass away—and there is not one spiritual longing or heavenly craving in the soul.
"Let your beauty be not just the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on fine clothing; but in the hidden person of the heart, in the incorruptible adornment of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God very precious." 1 Peter 3:3, 4
O what wise instruction does the Apostle give to those wives and daughters that profess godliness! And how he warns them against attiring themselves like the daughters of Belial, and following the women of Canaan in their love of gay and fashionable apparel—while they slight the inward adornings of the Spirit, such as kindness, gentleness, meekness, and humility! But how far better are these inward ornaments which the Spirit of God puts into the heart! And how much more lovely do they look thus spiritually attired than if loaded with all the finery that the daughters of Belial array themselves in!
A precious, saving experience
A precious, saving experience springs out of the teaching of God in the soul, and the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart. Every conviction of sin that springs from the Spirit's inward convincing operations is precious as being the handiwork of God. Every sigh, every cry, every groan, every tear, every honest, humble confession before God of what we have been and are, is precious—because it is wrought by a divine power in the soul and the result of it, is salvation. Every sweet manifestation of the Son of God to the soul—every glimpse, glance, gleam, or view of His glorious Person by faith—every shining in of the light of His countenance—every application of His Word with power—every whisper of His heavenly love—every drawing of His divine grace—every application of His precious truth to the heart is precious. It comes from God—it leads to God—it is the work of the Holy Spirit—it prepares the soul for eternity—it is a jewel of God's own gift.
Even the humblings that we experience under the hand of God—the breaking down of a hard heart—the softening of an obdurate spirit, the melting of soul under the breath of the Lord—with the going forth of supplication, confession, and desire unto the God of all our mercies to look upon us and bless us—is precious, because it is His gift and work. Everything which—brings out of self—draws to the Lord—makes sin hateful—makes Jesus precious—puts the world under our feet—gives us the victory over sin—weans us from the love of self—and makes the Lord Jesus precious, should be called a precious experience!
They will not & cannot give it up
Grace calls us out of the world—out of the love and spirit of it. But where there is no regenerating grace, the world cleaves so fast to men's hearts that they will not and cannot give it up—they rest in the world and the satisfaction that the world gives. Others are hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. Satan spreads his snares for their feet—some base lust—some vile scheme—some covetous plan—some secret plan which he has baited with a bait exactly suitable to their fallen nature—he spreads for their feet—they are entangled, overcome, and become hardened through the deceitfulness of sin!
O visit me
"O visit me with Your salvation." Psalm 106:4
How is a man brought and taught to want to be "visited with" God's salvation? He must know something first of condemnation. Salvation only suits the condemned. "The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost," and therefore salvation only suits the lost. A man must be lost—utterly lost—before he can prize God's salvation. And how is he lost? By losing all his religion—losing all his righteousness—losing all his strength—losing all his confidence, losing all his hopes—losing all that is of the flesh—losing it by its being taken from him—and stripped away by the hand of God. A man who is brought into this state of utter beggary and complete bankruptcy—to be nothing—to have nothing—to know nothing—he is the man who in the midnight watches, in his lonely hours, by his fireside, and at times well-near night and day—is crying, groaning, begging, suing, seeking, and praying after the manifestation of God's salvation to his soul—O visit me with Your salvation!
He needs a visit from God! He wants God to—come and dwell with him—take up His abode in his heart—discover Himself to him—manifest and reveal Himself—sit down with him—eat with him—walk with him—and dwell in Him as his God. And a living soul can be satisfied with nothing short of this. He must have a visit. It profits him little to read in the Word of God what God did to His saints of old. He wants something for himself—something that shall do his soul good. He wants something that shall cheer, refresh, comfort, bless and profit him—remove his burdens—and settle his soul into peace. And therefore he wants a visitation—that the presence and power, the mercy and love of God should visit his soul.
The Word, in the hands of the Spirit
True and saving religion is the work of the Holy Spirit operating upon the heart through the Word—giving us faith by the application of the Word—raising up hope by the power of the Word—shedding abroad love by bringing the truth of the Word with power into the soul. The Word, in the hands of the Spirit, has—an enlightening power—a quickening influence—a penetrating energy—a divine force—an invincible power—which carries it into the inmost depths of the soul. This special and invincible power distinguishes the work of the Spirit from all and every work of the flesh. The work in those who merely believe for a time is superficial, shallow, external—there is no penetration with divine power, so as to change the man in the depths of his heart, to renew him in the spirit of his mind, and make him a new creature in Christ.
Free from its power & influence
"And you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free." John 8:32
We are by nature in bondage to the world. But a saving knowledge of the truth will bring a freedom from the world, and all its alluring charms—its vain attractions—its sensual pleasures—its carking cares—its toils and anxieties. It sets the soul free from being entangled in, overcome, and over-burdened by these things—as if they were our all. We still have to do with the world. We must be daily occupied with it. But the truth will give you sweet liberty from it. You will not—walk with the men of the world—love the company of the world—nor be entangled in the love of the world—because the truth in its purity and power applied to your heart, will make you free from its power and influence. There is no holy liberty but the freedom which springs from the blessed influence and operations of the Holy Spirit on the heart, applying the Word of God with power to the soul. This gives true freedom—brings into the soul real liberty—and relieves it from that bondage in which we have so often to walk.
It is hard work to have our filth removed
"From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." Ezekiel 36:25
It is hard work to have our filth removed, and often takes a long time to effect, and that, perhaps, amid much opposition and rebellion against such humbling dealings. But we shall be made, sooner or later, to pine after the Lord's sensible presence in our soul, and then we shall feel, that before we can realize it, there must be a solemn repenting and honest confession of sin—and that we must fall down before God as poor guilty sinners, condemned in our own conscience. We stand as long as we can upon our own legs—we rest as long as we can upon something in self.
But all this self-dependence and self-righteousness, sooner or later, must come down—must give way—though it may take years to do it—with trial upon trial—affliction after affliction—and temptation after temptation. The Lord brings us to fall flat before Him in the dust of self-abasement, having no hope but in Him. But when He has purged away the filth of pride, self-righteousness, creature strength, with all other evils—and there is nothing left in the soul but the ashes of self—we can fall flat before God, putting our mouth in the dust. Then He will come—gently and sweetly come over all the hills and mountains of our sin and shame—and manifest His sensible presence to our souls.
"You are not your own." 1 Corinthians 6:19
Your money is not your own. You may not spend it just as you please—without check of conscience—without restraint of godly fear—without putting to yourself any inquiry how far you are spending it aright. You should be like a miser who looks at every shilling before he parts with it. So should every shilling be looked at, carefully and narrowly, by a Christian, whether it is spent for the honor and glory of God or not. I grant that this may seem to tie us up very closely, and that is one reason, perhaps, why the people of God are kept, for the most part, so tight in hand, that they have very little loose money to spend as they like. But even if we have a competency, or perhaps more than a competency, if we are under divine influences and gospel obligations, although we may have the money, we cannot throw it here and there to please and gratify the flesh—adorning the body with costly clothing, either for ourselves or our children—and decorating the house with new and unnecessary furniture. This is not the obligation of gospel grace. Your money is not your own, if you are a Christian. You are but a steward. If you have much, the more responsible you are for the right use of it. If you have little, still you are a steward for that little.
A slavery too galling for our proud heart to bear!
"Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." John 8:34
Once we thought we were our own. We dreamed of liberty—when we really were in the hardest, cruelest bondage. We thought we had no master—when we were serving the hardest of all masters. We boasted of our freedom—that we could do what we liked, and say what we liked, without being called to account for it by anyone—that we could roam at will, like a bee, from flower to flower, sucking up the sweets of sin—and promising to ourselves as rich a feast on the morrow, as we were enjoying today. We little dreamt that all the time sin held us fast in fetters which—though they seemed made of silk—yet really were of iron! It is the greatest delusion to think and call ourselves free—when we are slaves to pride and lust!
Now during all this time of 'imagined freedom'—but real servitude, it seemed as if we were our own lord and master. The idea of independence was sweet to us, and to be dependent upon anyone, even upon the God who made us, was a slavery too galling for our proud heart to bear! But now assume that grace has made us free from this 'imagined independence'—but real slavery—that the gospel has been made the word of salvation to our souls—that we have been brought under new obligations—live under fresh constraints—are influenced by different motives—are led by another spirit—and are brought into a childlike dependence upon God, both in providence and in grace. We can now feel the force of the apostle's words—Ye are not your own.
Now you can look back upon a time when you served hard masters, and yet loved their service. The world had possession of your affections—sin domineered, rioted, and raged in your carnal heart. SELF was uppermost in all your thoughts and desires, and whatever line of conduct it prompted, or rather, 'commanded,' you willingly obeyed. Now when you were under these hard masters, though their servitude was sweet to you as long as you thought you were your own, you could do, to a certain extent, as you pleased with yourself. Your jailer, though he watched you narrowly as being able to pounce upon you at any moment, like a cat on a wounded mouse, yet gave you a certain latitude, as knowing thereby you would do more effectually his work and bind his chains more strongly round your neck. In this way, therefore, your time, your talents, your money, the members of your body, the faculties of your mind were your own. You could spend your time as you pleased—use your abilities as you thought most conducive to your worldly interests—do with your money as your inclination best prompted—and use the members of your body to minister to your natural desires. And in all this there was no one to check you, no one to call you to account for what you had said or done.
You did not, indeed, see that all this time sin was your master, and the love of the world deeply rooted in your heart ruled and governed you. Nor did you see what ignorance and blindness held your eyes in the grossest darkness. Thus you imagined you were free—when you were the greatest slave of sin and Satan! But now you have been brought out of all this miserable bondage, and having been convinced of sin by the law, and been brought in guilty, have found peace and pardon through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Now what is the effect of this blessing from on high? Has it not liberated you from that miserable bondage to sin, Satan, the world, and self—which I have described? Has it not set your feet, as it were, into a new track, opened before you a new field, laid upon you new obligations, and to crown all, in one word, brought you under the easy yoke of a new Master?
Romantic expectations of a little earthly paradise?
"You looked for much, and, behold, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away." Haggai 1:9
Have you found your airy dreams and cherished projects realized? Have your ambitious projects been crowned with success? Have you not had repeated disappointments—and have not others, who seemed inferior to you in ability or in promise, outstripped you in the race? Your fleshly projects—your carnal hopes—your airy castles—your dreams of happiness—your romantic expectations of a little earthly paradise—have all been cruelly—as you have thought in the bitterness of your soul, disappointed—the buds dropped off just when they began to promise flower, and a blight fell upon your whole life, so that you could not reap the harvest you had been indulging anticipations of.
God will take care to lay cross after cross, and trial after trial upon His people—until He brings them to submission. O how soon He can give this sweet and heavenly grace! How, in a moment, He can pour oil upon the troubled waves! How He can break to pieces that stubborn obstinacy and rebelliousness of which the heart is full—and give submission to His will! How He can humble and bend the proud spirit—fill the heart with humility and love—enable us to kiss the rod—and to fall prostrate before His dispensations—however severe they may be to the flesh!
Have we not tried the world? For how many years did we labor to glut our fleshly appetites with the dust and dirt that the world offered us. But did we ever reap any solid satisfaction from it? Have we not endeavored to satisfy ourselves with the pleasures of sin? And did they ever leave anything but pain and sorrow behind them? Have we not attempted to satisfy ourselves with a form of godliness, a name to live, a self-righteous religion? And was there not always something lacking? Have we not tried to satisfy ourselves with 'doctrines floating in the judgment,' and yet reaped no satisfaction—for there was always an aching void? Guilt was not purged away—sin was not pardoned—Christ not revealed—the love of God not shed abroad—salvation not known.
We have found that there was no satisfaction in anything—all was a blank—all is vanity and vexation of spirit—except the goodness of God to our souls. But when the Lord has fixed His choice upon a vessel of mercy, and when, in pursuance of that choice, cutting him off from the world, He causes him, by the internal teachings and drawing of His Spirit, to approach unto Himself, and shows him something of the beauty and glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ—that satisfies him—and there is no satisfaction until that is made known.
And what are we to be satisfied with? With a mere apprehension of Gospel truth? There is no satisfaction there. With our experience? Why, if we look at it, there are so many flaws and failings, so many ins and outs, so many things that stagger us, that we cannot be fully satisfied with all of that. Can we take the opinions of men concerning us? O, we think, they may all be deceived. Can we take our own opinion of ourselves? That is worse than the opinion of others—for he who trusts his own heart is a fool. With what, then, are we to be satisfied? In the goodness manifested in the Person of Christ. What grace and mercy, what favor and love are manifested in the Person of Jesus! And when we see and feel how good and kind, how gracious, favorable, and merciful He is—that brings satisfaction. There is in Him a righteousness and atoning blood to satisfy all the demands of the law, and all the cravings of a guilty conscience. There is a power that satisfies—a love that satisfies—a salvation that satisfies—and nothing else but these will satisfy.
The first step in the divine life
"They shall come with weeping." Jeremiah 31:9
Wherever God begins a gracious work in the soul, He takes away the heart of stone and gives the heart of flesh. Repentance, true repentance, is the first step in the divine life. True religion begins with a sorrowful heart and weeping eyes. Wherever there is a spiritual conviction of sin, there will be penitential grief and godly sorrow on account of it. And it is by—this godly sorrow—this brokenness of heart—this contrition of spirit—this penitential grief—that the true convictions wrought by the blessed Spirit are distinguished from those mere natural convictions under which the heart is as hard as adamant, and as full of rebellion as Satan himself. It is in this broken heart—broken up with the plough of convictions, that the seed of the word takes root; and the deeper, for the most part, the convictions, and the more pungent the grief and sorrow for sin—the deeper root will the word of grace strike into the soul.
The Christian's conscience
"Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience." Hebrews 10:22
Christ dwells in the Christian's conscience. He makes the conscience tender in His fear. He, when He has convinced it of the evil of sin, purges and cleanses it from guilt, filth, and dead works to serve the living God. He moves in it, and acts upon it, reveals to it His precious blood, bids it open to receive His word, and bids it close itself against all error. He makes it move in accordance with His precepts—softens it into contrition and godly sorrow for sin—heals it when wounded—binds it up when broken—comforts it when cast down—soothes it when, like a crying child, it would lie weeping in His arms, or upon His lap. Thus by making the conscience tender, and applying His precious blood to remove guilt and filth from it, He softens and conforms it to His own suffering image.
They were out of their minds!
Men often accuse those who profess the doctrines of grace of enthusiasm, of fanaticism, of embracing wild doctrines, and being led aside by visionary delusions. But the real fanatics and enthusiasts are those who dream of serving at the same time sin and God—who are looking for heaven as the reward of their works, when all those works are evil. And as to true sobriety of mind, and calm collectedness of judgment, I believe that none are so sober-minded as the real partakers of grace. Before the light of God's teaching illuminated their understanding, before the grace of God in its regenerating influence took possession of their hearts, they were out of their minds! There was no real sanity in them, for, like insane people, they were madly bent upon their own destruction! They spent their lives in insane hopes—in wild and visionary dreams of happiness—ever stretching forth their hands to grasp what always eluded their reach, and, like madmen, alternately laughed and wept, danced and sang as on the brink of a precipice, or the deck of a sinking ship.
But when grace came to illuminate their mind, regenerate their soul, and begin that work which should fit and prepare them for eternity, they became sober. They were awakened from that state of intoxication in which they had spent their former life—they were sobered out of that drunkenness, so to speak, in the indulgence of which they had drunk down large draughts of intoxicating pleasure—and became for the first time morally and spiritually sober.
How different might it have been with us!
"For God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Thessalonians 5:9
This is meant for our encouragement—to strengthen our faith and hope—and keep us sober and vigilant. How different might it have been with us! How just and righteous would God have been if His thoughts towards us had not been thoughts of peace—but of evil. And O, where might we even now have been if God had appointed us to wrath? Even now, instead of being in the house of prayer, we might have been lifting up our eyes in hell, being in torment. Thus a child of God sees what a mercy it is that God did not cut him down, as he deserved, when he was an open foe, and daily adding to the catalogue of his sins—nor abandoned him to utter impenitence, unbelief, and carelessness!
Some of the most amiable people
Some of the most amiable people in the world, have no grace at all.
Day by day
It seems as if we needed day by day to be taught over and over again our own sinfulness, weakness, and helplessness—and that none but Jesus can do us any real good. True religion is not like any art or science which, when once learned, is learned forever—but is a thing which we are ever forgetting—and ever learning over and over again.
Man's ways & God's ways
Man's ways and God's ways differ in well near every respect. Man's ways are hastily planned, and for the most part imperfectly executed. God's ways are designed with infinite wisdom, and performed with infinite power.
Man's aim is the aggrandizement of self in some shape or form. Pleasure or profit, of some kind or other, is the mainspring of all his actions. The aim of God is His own eternal glory.
Man, when bent upon any particular object, leaps hastily towards it, and cannot brook the slightest obstacle. God slowly brings about His own eternal purposes, in the face of every obstacle, and in spite of all opposition or contradiction from earth or hell. Man's purpose is to bring things to a rapid conclusion—no sooner does he scatter the seed, than he wants to reap the harvest. God's plans are carried out through a series of years; and, as they are planned with infinite wisdom, so they are brought to pass by a succession of apparently opposing and contradictory events.
A desperately wicked old man
"The old man, that grows corrupt after the lusts of deceit." Ephesians 4:22
O how deceitful is lust in every shape and form! Whether it be of the flesh, or of the eyes, or a lusting after money, worldly advantage, prosperous circumstances, rising in life, doing well for ourselves or our families—whatever shape it takes—for indeed it wears a thousand forms—how deceitful it is! How gradually, if indulged, will it lead us into everything which is vile. How it—blinds the eyes, hardens the conscience—perverts the judgment—entangles the affections—draws the feet aside from the strait and narrow path—suffocates the life of God in the soul, until one scarcely knows what he is, or where he is—and only knows that he is full of confusion, and burdened with guilt and fear and bondage.
How deceitful, too, lust is in ever promising what it never can perform! How it promises happiness and pleasure if we will but indulge and gratify it, and paints all sorts of pleasant pictures and charming prospects to entangle the thoughts and allure the affections! But if listened to and obeyed, what does lust give us in the end? Alas! we find that as we sow so we reap—and that if we sow to the flesh we shall of the flesh reap corruption.
Nor are these lusts few or small, for this old man of ours is full of them. There is—not a passion—nor an inclination—nor a desire—nor a craving after any earthly or sensual enjoyment—there is not a sin that ever has broken out in word or action in man or woman that is not deeply seated in our old man—for he is according to, in the measure of, and in proportion to our deceitful lusts.
You need not wonder, then, that whether—old or young—male or female—rich or poor—educated or uneducated—morally trained or immorally brought up—deceitful lusts are ever moving in your bosom. They were born with you—your family inheritance—and all that you can strictly call your own. You need not wonder, then, if the vilest thoughts, the basest ideas find a harbor, a resting place, and a nest in your corrupt bosom. I say this not to encourage you to cherish what should be your plague and torment—but as a word that may be suitable to some who are deeply exercised at finding in themselves such monstrous sins—and think that theirs is an unusual or exceptional case.
If the 'old man' is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts—if he is incurably depraved—and never can be anything else but a desperately wicked old man—need you wonder if he is continually manifesting his real character—showing his ugly face—and is to you a continual grief—a plague and a torment?
This 'old man' is the greatest plague a child of God has or can have! All our trials, afflictions, bereavements, and sorrows are not worthy to be compared with the trouble, sorrow and anguish, which have been caused by the plotting, the contriving, and the working of this wicked old man in the various deceitful lusts by means of which he has at various times, more or less, drawn us off the path of holiness and obedience—into some of his crooked ways.
It is your mercy if this depraved old man's presence is your grief—his temptations your trial—and his movements and workings your sorrow and your burden. He will never do you any real harm so long as he is your plague and torment. Mortify him, bind him, set your foot upon him, keep him down, and gag his mouth when he would vent his blasphemies and try to stir up deceitful lusts. He is to be put off. He is not to be cuddled, indulged, put in the best chair, fed with the best food, kept close and warm by the fireside, handsomely dressed, nor made the pet of the whole house!
Five particular points connected with sin
There are five particular points connected with sin, from all of which we need redemption. These are—the guilt of sin—the filth of sin, the power of sin—the love of sin—the practice of sin.
The guilt of sin we must be delivered from by the application of atoning blood to the conscience. The filth of sin we must be washed from by the sanctifying operations and influences of the Spirit. The power of sin we must have broken in us by the power of Christ's resurrection. The love of sin overcome by the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit. The practice of sin destroyed and broken up by the fear of God planted deep in the soul.
We can never understand what redemption is
Without a knowledge of man's state by nature and practice—without a living experience of the state of ruin, misery, and wretchedness, to which sin has personally reduced us—we can never understand what redemption is, either in doctrine or in experience.
You can do yourself more harm in five minutes
You can do yourself more harm in five minutes than all your foes in fifty years. One incautious word—one heedless footstep—one wrong action—may lay you crippled and wounded!
A snare, a mockery & a delusion
Doctrine is good, and sound doctrine the very foundation of faith, hope, and love. But the doctrine which does not lead to holiness of heart and life is a snare, a mockery and a delusion.
"From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." Ezekiel 36:25
We would greatly err if we think that idolatry is confined to setting up and bowing down to such idols as made by human hands—and as formed heathen worship. There are heart idols—bosom idols—and though not made of wood and stone, yet, if we pay them the secret worship of devotion and affection, and inflame ourselves secretly with them—they are as much idols in the sight of God who searches the heart, as if we bowed our knee to an image made with the fingers of men.
A mother sin
Unbelief is a mother sin—a breeding sin. It does not remain in the heart alone, but gives birth to thousands of sins, all springing up out of its prolific womb—like the fabled sea monsters. We see in the wilderness how all through all their journeyings the crying sin of the people of Israel was unbelief. It was the parent of all their fretfulness, murmuring, and rebellion—it lay at the root of everything done by them displeasing to God—gave birth to all their idolatry and all their other sins—and eventually shut out all but Caleb and Joshua from the promised land. Their carcasses fell in the wilderness through unbelief.
Believing a few doctrines
In the present day, many think that true religion consists in believing a few doctrines, and adopting a few set phrases—without any vital operation of the Holy Spirit upon the heart.
Reading the word under divine influence
Never, perhaps, was the Bible more read, and never, perhaps less understood—less felt—less tasted—less handled—less enjoyed—and above all—less acted on—than in our day. But if reading the word under divine influence is so blessed, how much more is it when the Holy Spirit applies it to the heart—when there is some sweet breaking up of the word of truth in some gracious promise—or the application of some part that speaks of Jesus—or that holds forth some encouragement to our languid faith.
He will turn again
"He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea." Micah 7:19
This turning again implies that He has for a time turned away, turned His back upon us—withdrawn Himself on account of the cruel and unkind way in which we have neglected Him, basely and shamefully treated Him—wickedly and wantonly wandered from Him, and, in the dreadful idolatry of our vile hearts, hewn out to ourselves cisterns which hold no water—and forsaken Him, the fountain of living waters.
But He turns again—He delights in mercy—He cannot bear to see His people afflicted, grieving, groaning, sighing, crying under their sins on account of His absence. And, therefore, moved and softened by His own mercy, influenced by the grace of His own heart—He turns again, as the Lord turned to Peter to give him a look to break, melt, soften his heart into repentance and love.
For a small moment He may hide His face from His people, as vexed and displeased with their sins and backslidings—but in the display of His infinite, sovereign, and superabounding grace, He will turn again to give them—one more look of love—one more discovery of the freeness of His grace—one more breaking in of the light of His countenance—one more softening touch of His gracious hand—one more whisper of His peace-speaking voice. If He did not thus turn again, our heart would grow harder and harder, colder and colder. Either sin would get stronger and stronger until it gained entire dominion, or despondency and despair would set in to leave us without hope.
Strangers & pilgrims
"Confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Hebrews 11:13
True religion is not a burdensome, painful, melancholy, wearisome, toilsome task—as many think. It has indeed its trials, temptations, afflictions, cutting griefs, and depressing sorrows. But it also has its sweetness, its peace, its delights, and its enjoyments. And it is the sweetness that we feel—the enjoyment that we have—and the delighting ourselves in the things of God—which encourage us still to persevere and travel on through the wilderness.
It is not all bondage—nor distress of mind—nor sorrow of heart—nor perplexity of soul—which the heirs of promise feel. There are—sips and tastes—drops and crumbs—and momentary enjoyments, if not long nor lasting, yet sweet when they come, sweet while they last, and sweet in the recollection when they are gone. The Lord gives that which encourages, strengthens, comforts, and delights, and enables us to see that there is that beauty, blessedness, and glory in Him which we have tasted, felt, and handled, and which we would not part with for a thousand worlds!
Now this is what they sought in desiring a heavenly country. They wanted something heavenly, something that tasted of God, savored of God, smelled of God, and was given by God—a heavenly religion, a spiritual faith—a gracious hope, and a love shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit—something which came from heaven and led to heaven—something which gave heavenly feelings—heavenly sensations—heavenly delights—and heavenly joys—whereby the heart was purified from the love of sin, carnality, and worldliness—by having something sweeter to taste, better to love, and more holy to enjoy. It is these heavenly visitations, droppings in of the favor, goodness, and mercy of God, which keep the soul alive in its many deaths—sweeten it amid its many bitters—hold it up amid its many sinkings.
A carnal mind has—no taste for heavenly things—no sweet delight in the word of God—no delight in the Lord Jesus—no delight in secret meditation. There must be a heavenly element in the soul to understand, realize, enjoy, and delight in heavenly things. The Holy Spirit must have wrought in us a new heart, a new nature, capable of understanding, enjoying, and delighting in heavenly realities—as containing in them that which is sweet and precious to the soul.
Our religious works
All the works which a man may do before he experimentally knows the grace of God, are dead works. He may work hard and long, and by his strenuous exertions work himself out of breath. But when he has done all that he can do in his own strength, wisdom, and righteousness—it is all but a dead work. His prayers are dead prayers—his services are dead services—his readings are dead readings—his duties are dead duties. Thus all that he does in the name of God, and as he thinks for the honor of God, are but dead works.
Now as spiritual light and life are communicated to our souls, our conscience gets loaded with dead works, and they become doubly burdensome; for there will always be in these dead works not only inherent imperfection, but actual sin mingled with them. Thus our works, our best works—what I may call our religious works—are not only dead in themselves, but they are so polluted by the dark and turbid stream of sin ever running over and through them, that they defile the conscience with guilt. It thus has to bear not only a heavy burden—but a guilty burden.
All these slips & falls
"How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience." Hebrews 9:14
How many of the dear family of God are troubled nearly all their days with a guilty conscience. And generally speaking, the more tender their conscience, the more they feel the burden of guilt for—the backsliding—the wandering eye—the roving mind—the foolish heart—the indifference—the coldness—the rebellion—the ingratitude—the worldliness—the carnality—the unbelief—the infidelity—the pride—the self-seeking. All these slips and falls—each mourning heart recollects—and each guilty conscience testifies against.
Where the conscience is tender and alive in the fear of God, guilt is very soon contracted; and when contracted it lies as a load which cannot be thrown off, for there it remains until taken away. It is this continually fresh contracted guilt which causes so much dejection on the part of the family of God—tries their mind and casts them down. Let them walk with the uttermost tenderness and carefulness, yet through the entanglements produced by the snares of sin and Satan—the workings of corruption in their carnal mind—the constant oozings up of a heart deceitful above all things and desperately wicked—they feel their conscience to be an evil conscience—under which they mourn and sigh, being burdened.
Until they get an application of the atoning blood—a manifestation of the pardoning love of God—and a sweet sense of reconciliation through the finished work of the Son of God experimentally enjoyed within—their conscience gets no real ease nor peace. Having obtained eternal redemption for us, His blood will never lose its efficacy, but will ever purge the conscience, until He presents all His ransomed saints faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy!
A tender, gracious, humble & godly spirit
It is the possession of a tender, gracious, humble and godly spirit which so particularly distinguishes the true children of God. That meek and lowly spirit of Christ in them, draws our heart towards them in admiration and affection, creating and cementing a love and union which cannot be explained, and yet is one of the firmest, strongest ties which can knit soul to soul. And do we not see in most others, a worldly, carnal, selfish, proud, unhumbled spirit?
A Pharisaical, self-righteous spirit
There are those, who, from natural temperament, general strictness of life and conduct, absence of powerful temptations, and having been shielded by various restraints from the commission of open evil, are secretly imbued with a strong spirit of self-righteousness.
These having been preserved from the corruptions of the world and the open sins of the flesh, frequently manifest in their religious profession a Pharisaical, self-righteous spirit, which is dangerous, and casts contempt upon salvation by grace.
What a dreadful explosion there would be!
"But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin; and the sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death." James 1:14, 15
Now what does temptation meet with in my bosom—but everything which is suitable to its nature? I am a heap of combustible material—I have everything in my nature alive to sin, yes, in itself nothing but sin. Temptation is the spark to the gunpowder—temptation is the torch to the dry sheaf—temptation is the midnight adulterer that enters into close embrace with the evils of my heart, and by their adulterous union, sin is begotten, conceived, and brought forth.
I am only speaking of the natural tendency of temptation, as meeting the evils of our heart. I am not saying that a child of God complies with, gives way to it, or is overcome by it. But he is tempted, which is more his misery, than his sin. Temptation would have no effect or influence, unless I had that in my bosom to which temptation was fully suitable. If I had—no pride—no unbelief—no infidelity—no covetousness—no lust—no presumption—no despondency; temptation to pride, to unbelief, to infidelity, to covetousness, to lust, to presumption, to despair—could have no influence upon my mind—and would not deserve the name of temptation. But my nature being a mass of combustible material, ready to go off with the faintest spark when temptation comes—unless God interposes, the spark and the gunpowder meet together, and what a dreadful explosion there would be unless the showers of heaven wet the powder, and prevent the catastrophe!
There may be true grace in the heart
There may be true grace in the heart, real faith and hope and love, even where there is much ignorance in the understanding. I have no doubt that there are now many people whose judgments are extremely weak and whose minds are on many points much uninstructed, who yet possess the fear of God and believe in His dear Son.
Felt helplessness & utter ruin
We have to be effectually stripped of all our own wisdom, strength, and righteousness, that Christ may be experimentally and feelingly our all in all. But O what stripping do we need to pull away the rags of self-righteousness which cleave so closely to us! What hard labor to wear us out of all our own strength, and exhaust us of our own wisdom! What discovery after discovery of our wretched and miserable inability is needed to bring us down to that spot of felt helplessness and utter ruin, in which Christ becomes our all in all.
A paradox & an apparent contradiction
A Christian is a paradox and an apparent contradiction both to himself and to others. At one time, none more earnest, more diligent, more active, more zealous, more bent upon every good word and work—and yet at another time, how slothful, how indifferent, how cold, lifeless, and dead—as if he had neither a grain of grace nor a spark of spiritual feeling. Sometimes he is as watchful as a sentinel in the face of an advancing enemy—and at another time drops asleep in the sentry box, overcome with weariness and listlessness. Sometimes so filled with the Spirit of prayer as if he would seize heaven by storm—and then at another time seeming scarcely to have a breath of prayer in his soul. Sometimes he loathes and abhors himself in dust and ashes as exceedingly vile, the very worst and basest of all sinners—then again is puffed up with a sense of his own importance as if there were no such saint as he; or if a minister, no minister like him for gifts and abilities, and usefulness. Sometimes his affections are so fixed on things above, that it seems as if he had no desire for anything but the presence, love, favor, and glory of God—then at another time his heart is as cold as ice and as dead as a stone. Sometimes the things of eternity lie so weightily and yet so warmly upon his bosom, that it seems as if nothing else were worth a single thought—and then come trooping in the cares and anxieties of this present life to engross his mind and carry him away to the very ends of the earth. Thus the Christian is a contradiction to himself.
We have to fight
The Christian's daily experience is one of conflict. We have to fight against—besetting sins—the snares and temptations laid every moment for our feet—the daily unceasing influence of an ungodly world—the very things that our carnal heart most fondly loves—the workings and arguments of our natural mind. All these things we have to fight against, and to resist even unto blood, striving against sin.
A sanctifying influence
Whenever the word of truth comes home with power to the heart, it carries with it a sanctifying influence. It draws the affections upwards—it fixes the heart upon heavenly things—Jesus is viewed by the eye of faith, and every tender desire of a loving bosom flows forth toward Him as "the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely One." This view of Christ, as the King in His beauty, has a sanctifying influence upon the soul—communicating holy and heavenly feelings—subduing the power of sin—separating from the world and worldly objects—and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. Thus Faith clasps to her bosom these glorious and heavenly truths, and says, "How suitable are they to all my sins and sorrows—how they distill consolation into my burdened spirit—how adapted they are to every season of darkness and distress!"
We are troubled on every side
"Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward." Job 5:7
Since the fall, trouble is the lot of every man. If there never had been sin, there never would have been sorrow. There is, therefore, nothing strange or peculiar that the children of God should be troubled—for that they have in common with their fellow sinners and fellow mortals. Poverty, bereavements, sickness, vexation, disappointment, misery, wretchedness, and death—are the common lot of all—from the wailing child to the aged father. Thus look where you will, let your eye range through every class of society, from the prince's palace to the pauper's hovel—you cannot find any one of the sons of men who can claim exemption from troubles. They gather round his head, like clouds on a mountaintop, under some form of—disappointed hopes—blighted expectations—family troubles—painful bereavements—or bodily afflictions.
"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair." Here, then, is the distinguishing blessing of those into whose hearts God has shone—that though trouble may be on every side, yet it never will be with them as with those who have no Father to bless them with His Fatherly love—no Savior to bedew them with His atoning blood—and no blessed Spirit to comfort them with His choice consolations.
"Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son." Colossians 1:13
By nature and practice we are slaves to sin and Satan. We are the sport of the Prince of the power of the air, who takes us captive at his will. We are also held down by many hurtful lusts; or, if free from gross sin, are slaves to pride, covetousness, or self-righteousness. Perhaps some idol is set up in the chambers of imagery, which defiles all the inner man—or some snare of Satan entangles our feet, and we are slaves to sin, without power to liberate ourselves from this cruel slavery. We groan under it, as the children of Israel under their burdens, but, like them, cannot deliver ourselves.
Some of the privileges of sonship
A daily cross—a path of trial and tribulation—a chastening rod for going astray—a furnace of affliction, purging away the dross and tin—producing true humility of mind—brokenness of heart—contrition of spirit—tenderness of conscience—with much self-loathing—self-abhorrence—godly sorrow for sin—and earnest desires for close and holy communion with God. These are some of the privileges of sonship, not indeed much prized or coveted by the professors of our day—but blessed marks of a heavenly birth.
A heavenly religion
True religion is a heavenly religion. It comes down from God—and ascends up to God. Do not be deceived! Do not think that a mere external religion or a profession of the truth will ever save you—without an experience of its life and power. Until the eyes of our understanding are spiritually enlightened, and our heart touched by regenerating grace, we see, we know, we feel nothing savingly or experimentally of the power of God in the salvation of the soul. We may be religious—very religious; serious—extremely serious; pious—decidedly pious. We may attend church or go to chapel—receive the sacrament or sit down to the ordinance—say our prayers—read the Scriptures and good books—and comparing our religious life with the profane conduct of many by whom we are surrounded, may please ourselves with the deceptive illusion that we are recommending ourselves to the favor of God—and when death shall close the scene, shall be rewarded with eternal life.
And yet all this time we may be as destitute of the power of God in saving the soul, as ignorant of law and gospel, of condemnation or salvation, of what we are as sinners or who the Lord Jesus is, as the very beasts which perish.
True religion must be wrought in the soul by the power of God. The grace that wrote our names in the Lamb's book of life, is the same grace that—quickens our soul into spiritual life—convinces us of sin—gives us repentance—brings us to the foot of the cross—reveals in us a precious Savior—and raises up a faith and hope and love which both save and sanctify us unto eternal life. Thus we are not saved by anything of a religious nature which we can communicate to ourselves, or others communicate to us—but we are saved by the grace of God, and by the grace of God alone!
If, then, that grace never visits our heart with its regenerating power and its sanctifying influences, we may have all the religion that the flesh can be possessed of—and yet die under the wrath of God and have our portion with the damned. An earthly religion may content a Pharisee. A carnal, formal worship may satisfy a dead professor. But it is living union with a living Lord, and receiving communications out of His fullness which alone can satisfy a living soul. A dead professor is satisfied with—an earthly religion—a round of forms—external ordinances—the flattering applause of dying creatures like himself. But the child of God, in whose heart the Spirit dwells and whom He teaches by His own heavenly grace, is from time to time looking up unto Jesus to receive out of His fullness. Into the bosom of Christ he pours out his sorrows—from that bosom he receives his joys.
We are not to set our affections on them
"Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Colossians 3:2
Naturally we have no affection for anything else. There is no such thing as a spiritual desire or a heavenly affection in our soul when we are in a state of unregeneracy. So fallen are we that we love—and cannot but love the world, and the things of the world. We have no heart for anything but the things of time and sense—no, rather, as our carnal mind is enmity against God, we hate everything which is spiritual, heavenly, and holy. One main part, therefore, of the work of God upon the soul is to take off our affections from these earthly things, and to fix them upon Jesus where He sits enthroned above—that we may love and hate those things which He loves and hates.
Our affections are not to be set upon things on the earth. Business, worldly cares, the interests of our family, the things of time and sense—in whatever form they come—whatever shape they may assume—must not so entwine themselves round our affections as to bind them down to the earth. We may use them for the support and sustentation of our life—but we must not abuse them. We are not to set our affections on them! Houses, gardens, land, property, friends, family—all these earthly things—we are not to set our affections on them, so that they become idols. Thus any lovely object may be foul—because turned to an idol. It may be but a flower—and yet be an idol. It may be a darling child whom everybody admires for its beauty and attractiveness—yet it may be a defiling idol. A cherished project may be an idol. A crop of wheat—a flock of sheep—a good farm—a thriving business—respect of the world—may all be defiling idols—for all these things, when eagerly pursued and loved, draw the soul away from God, and by drawing it insensibly from Him, bring pollution and guilt into the conscience. Now we are, or by grace in due time shall be, weaned and divorced from earth with all its charms and pleasures and all its polluting idols. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols. " 1 John 5:21
Defiled, loathsome & abominable
Sin has defiled us individually, and personally made us loathsome and abominable to God. Sin had brought us under the stroke of God's justice, opened to us the door of hell, and shut against us the gate of heaven. Sin also, as a polluted thing, has contaminated us from head to foot—clothed us in filthy garments, so as to render us unclean in body and soul, and, as such, unfit to enter into the pure courts of heavenly bliss. This one point of divine truth on which the Scriptures are very express and plain, and yet is most stoutly resisted by the pride and self-righteousness of man's heart—the completeness of the fall. This truth is unpalatable to man's self-righteous nature. How few are willing to admit that man is in such a state as the word of God describes him to be—"dead in trespasses and sins;" "alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him, because of the blindness of his heart;" "serving diverse lusts and pleasures;" "living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another," "having no hope, and without God in the world."
And yet these unquestionable and express declarations of Scripture are so opposed to that natural principle which exists in all of us, that we think we are not so thoroughly helpless as not to be able to do something to please God and obtain salvation. When this truth contained is brought forth and enforced—then it is that the enmity manifests itself. He hates God's Word, because it condemns him—and he knows if he were to live under its power and influence he must give up those practices which that Word condemns.
Deepest enmity of the profane & professing world
When the Lord is pleased first to deal with our soul, in those early days of our spiritual youth when we are but little acquainted with the evils of our own heart, or the evils that lodge in other men's—we are often astonished at the sudden burst of persecution that arises against us from most unexpected quarters—and frequently from some of our nearest and dearest friends and relatives. In those days, eternal realities usually lie with great weight and power upon our mind—they occupy our waking and sleeping thoughts; and the whole subject being new, it takes fast hold both of heart and tongue—for we cannot be silent, and as we are made honest and sincere we speak as we feel. The things of eternity pressing with serious and solemn weight upon our hearts, press words out of our mouth—we at the time little anticipating the effect which those words produce upon the minds of those to whom they are addressed.
What is that effect? What we little expect—enmity! We anticipate some conviction of the truth which we lay before them, or, at least, some kind and favorable reception of it. We speak it honestly and sincerely, meaning it for their good—but instead of receiving it as we intended, they rise up in enmity and rebellion against us.
Why is this? Because their carnal mind, and they can have no other, is enmity against God. A veil, too, of unbelief and ignorance is spread over their heart, so that our meaning is misunderstood—our actions misrepresented—and our kindest words and intentions perverted to evil.
The servants of God are especially liable to the manifestation of this enmity. The gospel they preach—the faithfulness they manifest—the holiness they display—the separating line which they draw when "they take forth the precious from the vile"—stir up the deepest enmity of the profane and professing world.
"There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1
Though I am not living in sin, I cannot live without sin. I have—sinful thoughts—sinful imaginations—sinful desires—sinful passions—and very sinful feelings. I cannot—look without sin—nor speak without sin—nor hear without sin—no, nor can I preach without sin. But if so, how can it be true that there is "no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus?" Why, because if I am in Christ Jesus, I am loved in Christ Jesus—I am chosen in Christ Jesus—I am justified in Christ Jesus—I am pardoned in Christ Jesus—and I am saved in Christ Jesus. If, therefore, my conscience condemns me, God is greater than my heart and knows all things.
So that though I have the daily condemnation of a guilty conscience, yet if all my sins are washed away by the blood of the Lamb and my conscience is purified from guilt and filth by the blood of sprinkling, I shall not be condemned at the great day—and even now, so far as the power of that blood is felt, I am free from all condemnation.
Sin will lurk & work
As long as we carry about with us a body of sin and death, a nature corrupt to the very core, sin will lurk and work in our bosom; and if we have a conscience made tender in God's fear, it will condemn us for the evils which thus daily and hourly manifest themselves; which may indeed be resisted and subdued, but are never eradicated.
What has enabled you to continue up to this day?
"Having therefore obtained the help that is from God, I continue to this day." Acts 26:22
It may be many years since the Lord first called you by His grace. What has enabled you to continue up to this day? How has your faith been preserved amid—so many temptations and trials—so much internal and external opposition—so many fightings without—so many fears within? You well know that it is not by your own exertions, your own striving—but by the pure grace of God that you still stand. "Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day" was Paul's language, and will be the language of all who have his faith and his continuance.
No reconciliation or regeneration in the grave
We come into the world alienated from God's image, for we lost it in the fall; we grow up still more and more alienated from it, and if we die thus alienated, what must that end be but eternal destruction from the presence of His glory? for there is no reconciliation or regeneration in the grave. There is no possibility of coming into a state of friendship with God when the breath has left the body. As the tree falls, so it lies. If we die alienated from God, we die under the wrath of God.
How utterly ruined, then, how wholly lost must that man's state and case be who lives and dies as he comes into the world—unchanged, unrenewed, unregenerated!
To poison the soul
To poison the soul is no less criminal or dangerous—than to poison the body!
This simple, this single, this sincere desire
"Draw me—and I will run after You! Let the King bring me into His chambers." Song of Solomon 1:4
There was raised up in the heart of the Bride this simple, this single, this sincere desire to follow Jesus wherever He goes—and that is the mark of a true follower of the Lamb. Through the flood, through the fire—through the wilderness—through the darkness—through temptation—through tribulation—through conflict—wherever the Lamb leads, His people follow. He is their Head, He is their Guide, He is their Lord, He is their Husband, He is their King—and Him they follow, Him they run after, and in His footsteps they desire to walk. Thus the Bride, under the blessed operations of the Holy Spirit, and from a simple, sincere, single breathing forth of love and affection to Jesus, as being perfectly suitable, and altogether lovely says, Draw me—and I will run after You!
O how cruel!
"Cruel as the grave." Song of Solomon 8:6
O how cruel the grave is, has been, and ever will be, as long as there is a grave left on earth to swallow up in its devouring throat the remains of a fondly loved object of affection! O how cruel the grave seems to be that swallows up the beloved husband or the fond, affectionate wife—or the blooming daughter in the flower of youth and beauty—or the brave, manly son in the very prime and vigor of life. O how cruel the grave that often separates lovers when perhaps the wedding day has been fixed. All is fond anticipation, but death comes—the cruel grave opens its mouth, and the intended bride or bridegroom is stretched in that gloomy abode. O how cruel the grave is—sparing no age or sex—pitying no relationship—divorcing the tenderest ties—and triumphing over all the claims of human affection.
My grace is sufficient
"My grace is sufficient for you: for My strength is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9
This grace the Lord puts forth in communicating secret supplies of strength. As, then, the grace of the Lord in the season of trial and temptation is found to be sufficient, it gives the soul a firm standing-place, a holy rest—and an all-sustaining prop for weakness to lean upon. And this grace of the Lord is thus given under trial and temptation—it is found to be sufficient—but not more than sufficient—enough but nothing to spare. No child of God will ever have too much grace. He will have enough to supply his need—enough to save and sanctify him—enough to support him under his afflictions—enough to make him live honorably and die happily, but not more than enough. As your days so shall your strength be.
Why are you now where and what you are? Who held you up in the trying hour? Who preserved you when your feet were almost gone, when your steps had nearly slipped? What but His grace?
Eternal life is a very sweet subject to a believer. The prospect of an eternity of bliss in the presence of God, where tears are wiped away from all faces, is a blessed consolation to the believing heart. When we think of what this life is, how short, how uncertain—when we feel burdened with its cares and troubled with its anxieties, and, above all, are loaded and weighted with a miserable body of sin and death—is it not enough to make us sigh and say, "What is there in this life really worth living for?"
But to look beyond the narrow isthmus of this wretched, dying world—to those eternal mansions in his Father's house which Jesus has gone to prepare for His people, seems to console the weary pilgrim as he travels through this valley of tears, burdened with sin and sorrow, in the sweet hope of reaching at last that heavenly shore!
Shall we then go back
"From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him. Then said Jesus to the twelve, Will you also go away?" John 6:66, 67
Shall we then go back to the WORLD? Have we not had enough of that? Were we not in it before the Lord was pleased to call us out of it by His grace? Was there any true happiness there—any real satisfaction, contentment, rest, peace, or quiet? Well may we answer, "No!" Even then, it was but one continued scene of—harassing turmoil—vain amusement—empty pleasure—the end of which we knew would be death. When we were in it there was no real happiness—and will there be happiness now when we have come out of it, to go back to it? Take it now at its best or at its worst. Do you find any comfort in worldly company, any happiness in carnal society? Do its maxims suit you, its customs, its pleasures, its vanities? Do you get any happiness from them? No! Then must you not at once reply, "Whatever I do, whatever becomes of me, I cannot go back into the world, because when I was in it I had no comfort from it, and to go back now would be but to redouble my misery and ensure my utter ruin."
But shall we go back to SIN? O, perish the thought! What! sin that was the cause of such guilt upon your conscience in times past! Sin that brought such a very hell into your soul! Sin that crucified a dear Redeemer! To go back to sin—to wallow in the base lusts of the flesh—to drink down iniquity—to work all uncleanness with greediness—and to spend health, strength, and life itself in those things the end of which we know is certain destruction—O, how can we for a single moment dare to entertain the thought that we can leave a holy Jesus, a heavenly Redeemer, the sweet company of God's family, the sacred communion with the Lord Himself—to wallow in sin, and thus to bring a certain hell into our conscience, death into our soul, and the dreadful end of all our profession to be banishment from the presence of the Lord into the blackness of darkness forever!
O Lord, whatever we do, wherever we go—we never can go back to sin! Lord, "to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!"
Only two grand classes
With all the social distinctions that exist in the world, of rank, class, and station, there are really in the sight of God only two grand classes. The righteous and the wicked—the godly and the ungodly—the saint and the sinner—the wheat and the tares—those who are Christ's, and those who are the wicked one's.
We need a high priest
"For we don't have a high priest who can't be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." Hebrews 4:15
"We have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens." Hebrews 8:1
We need a high priest, not merely one who offered a sacrifice upon the cross—not merely one who died and rose again—but one who now lives at the right hand of God on our behalf—and one with a tender, merciful, and compassionate heart, with whom we can carry on from time to time sacred communion—whom we can view with believing eyes as suitable to our case, and compassionating our wants and woes—in whom we can hope with expecting hearts, as one who will not turn away from us—and whom we can love, not only for His intrinsic beauty and blessedness, but as full of pity towards us.
We need a friend at the right hand of God at the present moment—an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, and yet a compassionate and loving Mediator between God and us—an interceding High Priest, Surety, and Representative in our nature in the courts of heaven, who can show mercy and compassion to us now upon earth—whose heart is touched with tenderness—whose affections melt with love!
Our needs make us feel this. Our sins and sorrows give us perpetual errands to the throne. This valley of tears is ever before our eyes, and thorns and briars are perpetually springing up in it that rip and tear our flesh. We need a real friend. Have you not sometimes tossed to and fro upon your weary couch, and almost cried aloud, "O that I had a friend!" You may have received bitter blows from one whom you regarded as a real friend—and you have been cruelly deceived. You feel now you have no one to take care of you or love you, and whom you can love in return—and your heart sighs for a friend who shall be a friend indeed. The widow, the orphan, the friendless, the deserted one, all keenly and deeply feel this.
But if grace has touched your heart, you feel that though all men forsake you, there is the friend of sinners—a brother born for adversity—a friend who loves at all times—who will never leave or forsake you. And how it cheers the troubled mind and supports the weary spirit to feel that there is a friend to whom we may go—whose eyes are ever open to see—whose ears are ever unclosed to hear—whose heart is ever touched with a feeling of pity and compassion towards us!
But we need this friend to be almighty, for no other can suit our case—he must be a divine friend. For who but God can see us wherever we are? What but a divine eye can read our thoughts? What but a divine ear can hear our petitions? And what but a divine hand can stretch itself forth and deliver? Thus the Deity of Christ is no dry, barren speculation—no mere Bible truth—but an experience wrought powerfully into a believer's inmost soul. Happy soul! happy season! when you can say, "This is my Beloved—and this is my Friend!" Thus the very desires of the soul instinctively teach us that a friend, to be a friend, must be a heavenly friend—that His heart and hand must be divine—or they are not the heart and hand for us. This friend, whose bitterest reproach on earth was that He was the friend of sinners—is the blessed Jesus, our great high priest in the courts above. We find Him at times to be very merciful, full of pity, and very compassionate. And I am sure that we need all the compassion of His loving bosom; for we are continually in states of mind when nothing but His pure mercy can suit, when nothing but His rich and boundless compassion is adapted to our case.
The consequences of death
"Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment." Hebrews 9:27
Gloom must dwell in "the valley of the shadow of death." When we consider what death really is—not merely as putting a final close, and that, perhaps, with a pang of mortal agony, to all that nature loves, but an opening gate into endless woe—our wonder is rather that men meet it with such stoical insensibility, instead of being more alarmed and terrified at its approach.
But what is death? Is it merely what we see with our bodily eyes when we view the corpse stretched upon the bed—or as we represent it to our imagination when we follow the coffin to the cemetery? Does death merely mean that pale corpse, that funeral hearse, those weeping mourners, those gasping sobs of wife or husband, with all the sights and sounds of woe as the heavy clods, amid the still silence, fall on the coffin? To most this is all they see or know of death. But death, in a scriptural sense, has a far wider and more extensive meaning than these mere outward trappings of sorrow.
It is not then so much death as the consequences of death, that makes it—to be so truly dreadful—to be the king of terrors—and invests it with that terrible visage which strikes gloom—to be cast into the lake of fire—to be forever under the dreadful wrath of God—to be eternally wallowing in the billows of sulphurous flame—to be shut up in that dreadful pit into which hope never penetrates.
Why should death be an object of fear? Because after death comes the judgment! And why should judgment be an object of terror? Because judgment implies condemnation, and condemnation implies an eternity of woe!
Errors abound on every side
Errors abound on every side. Few know and love the truth—few ministers preach it—few churches profess it—and few, very few, live under the power and in the practice of it.
"The leach has two daughters, crying, Give, give." Proverbs 30:15
Such is the world in its cravings for happiness. All the bounties of God in His kind providence cannot enrich the worldly heart. The craving desires of the carnal mind are like the two daughters of the leech, which are ever crying, "Give! Give!"
"Give! Give!" cries covetousness. "Give! Give!" cries pride. "Give! Give!" cries every carnal desire of the earthly mind as its various lusts and passions are stirred up. But could all be given that sin could lust after, the result would be still the same, "Give! Give!"
Sin is like a drunkard, who the more he drinks the more he wants to drink—ever craving—ever craving stronger and stronger drink, as if nothing but drink could cool his parched tongue or boost his sinking spirits. And so he drinks until he dies—a poor miserable, drunken suicide. Such is the natural heart of man!
Holy longings & spiritual breathings
"O God, You are my God; early will I seek You: my soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land, where there is no water." Psalm 63:1
Do carnal, unregenerate men know anything of these holy longings and spiritual breathings after an invisible God—or after a manifestation of the love of Christ? Depend upon this, that no unregenerated man ever longed truly and really for God. He might desire to have his sins pardoned—under the convictions and stingings of his natural conscience. He might even wish to go to heaven—that he might escape hell. But he never desired God for what He is in Himself. God is too pure and holy, too great and glorious a Being for a natural heart to love—or a carnal mind to desire. Every unregenerate sinner says unto God, "Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of Your ways!"
There must be a new nature raised up in the soul, a new heart and a new spirit, before God can be desired for His own sake. If you have similar longings, seekings, and thirstings, you have an indubitable evidence that God has done a work of grace upon your heart. If a man knows nothing of the power of God in his soul, he can know nothing of true religion or vital godliness.
"For what will it profit a man, if he will gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16:26
Put your soul in one side of the scale—and put all that the world calls good and great in the other side. Think of everything that the heart of man can desire—riches, honor, pleasure, power. Heap it up well! Fill one side of the scale until there is no room for more. Put in—all the gold of Australia—all the diamonds of India—all the delights of youthful love—all the pleasures of wife and home—of children and friends, of health and strength, of name and fame. Put in all that the natural mind of man deems the height of happiness, and everything that may weigh this side of the scale down.
Now, when you have filled this side of the scale, put your soul into the other side—the state of your soul for all eternity. Represent to yourself your deathbed—hold the scale with dying hands as lying just at the brink of eternity. See how the scale now hangs! What if you had the whole world that you have put into the scale, and could call it all your own—but at that solemn hour felt that your soul was forever lost—that you were dying under the wrath of God—and there was nothing before you but an eternity of misery! At such a moment as this, what could you put in the scale equal to the weight of your immortal soul?
Take the scale again. Put into one side, every affliction, trial, sorrow, and distress that imagination can conceive, or tongue express. Let them all be yours—distress of mind—pain of body—poverty of circumstances—contempt from man—assaults from Satan—Job's afflictions—Jacob's bereavements—David's persecutions—Jeremiah's prison—Hezekiah's sickness. Put into this side of the scale everything that makes life naturally miserable—and then put into the other side, a saved soul.
Surely, as in the case of worldly honors, and riches, and happiness—a lost soul must weigh them all down! So in the case of afflictions and sorrows and troubles—a saved soul must weigh them all down too!
When Jesus manifests Himself to the soul
When Jesus manifests Himself to the soul, He becomes its Lord—for He puts down all other rivals, and seats Himself on the throne of the affections. He then becomes in reality what before He was but in name—Christ Jesus our Lord. We then lie at His sacred feet—we embrace Him with the arms of faith—He sways the scepter over a willing heart, and we crown Him Lord of all.
A few minutes sweet communion
"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6
You may have read the Bible from childhood, and may know it almost by heart from end to end. You may be able to read the Hebrew text, and understand the Greek original. You may study commentator after commentator. And yet all your reading, and all your searching after the meaning of the Scripture, if continued until your eyes are worn out with fatigue, will never give you that spiritual and saving knowledge of the Person and work, grace and glory of the Lord Jesus which one five minutes of His manifested presence will discover to your soul. The light of His countenance, the shining in of His glory, and the shedding abroad of His love, will teach you more, in a few minutes sweet communion, who and what He is as the King in His beauty, than without this manifestation you could learn in a century.
"However, what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yes most assuredly, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ." Philippians 3:7, 8
Oh what grace must be in your hearts to enable you to renounce what the world so madly pursues and what your own nature so fondly loves! To see all these earthly delights spread, as if in a panorama, before your eyes—the pleasures, the amusements, the show and finery of the world presented to you—to carry within you a nature which loves and delights in them—and yet, by the power of grace and the teaching of the Holy Spirit, to regard them as far beneath your notice, as contemptible, and as polluting as the refuse in the street, over which you step in haste lest you defile your shoes or clothes—Oh what a deep and vital sense must the soul have of the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus its Lord, and what a view by faith of His beauty and glory to bring it to that state—to count all that earth can give or contribute to individual enjoyment as rubbish and dross!
There is no purgatory
There is no middle path to heaven. There is no intermediate state between hell and heaven. There is no purgatory for that numerous class who think themselves hardly good enough for heaven, yet hardly bad enough for hell. No! There is no intermediate road nor state. We must win Christ as our own most blessed Jesus, and with Him enjoy the happiness and glory of heaven—or sink down to hell with all our sins upon our head beneath His most dreadful frown.
The soul then that has been charmed with the beauty and blessedness of Jesus, longs to have Him, and that not for a day, month, or year, but for eternity—for in obtaining Him, it obtains all that God can give the soul of man to enjoy as created immortal and for immortality.
A miracle of grace
Every saved sinner is a miracle of grace. The Lord will make every vessel of mercy know, feel, and acknowledge this—for He will give him from time to time such deep discoveries of his sin, as will convince him beyond all question that nothing but the rich, sovereign, distinguishing, and superabounding grace of God can save his soul from the bottomless pit!
Strength in the time of trouble
"But the salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: He is their strength in the time of trouble." Psalm 37:39
The afflictions of the righteous are many. We can lay down no certain path of suffering. You may be called upon to pass through heavy trials in providence—bereavements of wife or child, or painful and peculiar family troubles, which may wound and lacerate your warmest affections and tenderest feelings. All the family of God have their allotted number and measure of griefs and sorrows, which, as they come upon them, form "times of trouble" which, with all our other times, are in the hands of the Lord—and are dealt out by Him with unerring wisdom and most faithful love. The Lord 'strengthens' His children by enabling them to bear the weighty cross—to sustain the heavy load of trial and affliction—to put their mouth in the dust as needing and deserving His chastising strokes, and to submit to His righteous dispensations and dealings as plainly sent by a gracious and loving hand. We walk by faith, not by sight. It must be a naked trust in an invisible God.
Heaven would be no heaven to you
Suppose you were taken to heaven, having no new heart—no inward element of holiness breathed into your soul by the Spirit of God. In such a case, heaven would be no heaven to you. You would want to get out of it—the presence of a holy God would appall you—the saints in bliss singing the praises of the Lamb would be so foreign to your every feeling, that you would say, "Send me to hell, for I have no heart to enjoy heaven. Let me go to hell, where I can curse and blaspheme, hate and howl. Hell, hell is the only fit place for me."
What would have been our gloomy case
"Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son." Colossians 1:13
None but the Holy Spirit, by His Almighty power, can thus take a poor sinner in all his guilt and filth, rags and ruin—in all his condemnation, misery, and wretchedness—and by applying the word of His grace with power to his soul, by sending a sweet promise home to his heart, by revealing Christ in His blood and righteousness, and shedding abroad His love—can bring him feelingly and experimentally into His kingdom. And this God is doing, has done, or will do for all who are really and truly His. No strength of the creature, no arm of the flesh can avail here. Mercy and grace do it all. Love and power combine, and reaching down, as it were, their arms from heaven, lift up the sinner from the power of darkness and bring him into the kingdom of light, and life, and liberty, where Jesus is all in all.
What would have been our gloomy case, even as regards this present world, and what would have been our still more gloomy case as regards our eternal condition—if God had not stretched forth His hand to rescue us from the power of darkness? We would have lived under the power of darkness, until we had sunk into the blackness of darkness forever! We would have loved and hugged and been proud of our darkness—and have fallen, as thousands fall, self-deceived and miserable victims to the ignorance, pride, and self-righteousness of our fallen nature!
But God was determined to break in upon our benighted souls—and when He broke in, darkness fled. And thus the Lord was pleased to rescue us from the dominion of darkness and bring us into the kingdom of His dear Son. And shall we not render thanks and praises, and adore His blessed Majesty for these acts of His grace, these manifestations of His mercy, goodness, and love?