The great strength of sin consists in its subtle and secret influence pervading and permeating every thread and fiber of the human mind, and acting in a way that must be felt to be known. It is like a river, deep and rapid, but flowing along so quietly and noiselessly that, looking down upon it, you could scarcely believe there was any strength in the stream. Try it—get into it. As long as you let yourself float with it you will not perceive its force—but turn and swim or row against it—then you will soon find what strength there is in the stream that seemed to glide so quietly along.
So it is with the power of sin. As long as a man floats down the stream of sin, he is unconscious of the power that it is exercising over him. He gives way to it, and is therefore ignorant of its strength, though it is sweeping him along into an abyss of eternal woe. Let him oppose it. Or let a dam be made across the river that seemed to flow along so placidly. See how the stream begins to rise! See how it begins to rage and roar! And see how soon its force will sweep over or carry away the barrier that was thrown across it! So with the strength of sin. Serve sin—obey it—it seems to have no strength. Resist it—then you find its secret power, so that but for the strength of God, you would be utterly carried away by it.
A sound mind
"For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." 2 Timothy 1:7
What a mercy it is naturally to have a sound mind! It is one of the greatest temporal blessings that God can bestow upon a man. It is far better than intellect, imagination, poetical gift, or reasoning power. And how wretched it is to have an unsound mind! a mind in the least degree diseased, eccentric, or in any way tainted with those delusive fancies which mar all comfort and often lead to the worst of consequences. But however great be the blessing of a healthy body, a healthy mind as much exceeds it in value as it is superior to it in nature. How you see men ruining themselves every day for lack of a sound mind! What extravagance, what folly are they daily committing! What disorder they bring upon their families, upon their property, and upon others also. What havoc and ruin from being crazed with some fancy or wild delusion!
To possess, then, the spirit of a sound mind is to have a sound judgment in the things of God—not to be drawn aside by every passing opinion—not to be allured by every novel doctrine—not to be charmed by every fresh device of the wicked one—not to be caught by every one of his flesh-pleasing snares—but to have that sobriety of judgment and holy wisdom in the things of God, with that fixedness of heart upon the Lord Jesus, and that solid experience of His Spirit and grace, as shall keep us from errors and delusions on the right hand and on the left.
Unless we have this spiritual sobriety—this ripe and matured judgment—and this firm establishment in the truth of God—we are almost sure to be drawn aside into some error or other. Satan will somehow deceive us as an angel of light. He will puff us up with pride and presumption—he will entangle us in a maze of confusion and error—he will beguile our minds with some of his subtle deceits. But where there is a sound mind, there will be a sound faith—a sound hope—a sound love—a sound repentance—and a sound work of grace upon the heart from first to last. To have a sound mind is to have a mind deeply imbued and vitally impregnated with the truth of God. And as that truth is the only really solid and enduring substance under the sun, it follows that those who know it experimentally for themselves are the only people really possessed of soundness of mind—for they only take right and sound views of all things and all events, natural and spiritual, and have, as the apostle says, "the mind of Christ."
The soul melts at the sight!
"We love Him, because He first loved us." 1 John 4:19
Our affections never flow unto Jesus, until we have had some divine discovery of Him to our heart and conscience. We may try to love Him—we may think it our duty to do so—we may be secretly ashamed of our miserable coldness, and may lament our barrenness in love to Jesus. But no power of our own can raise up true love to Jesus. We cannot love the Lord until we know that the Lord loves us—nor can we love Him with all our heart and soul, until He tells us that He loves us with all His. When He says "I have loved you with an everlasting love," and sheds abroad His love in the soul—this gives power to love Him. When, too, He sets Himself before our eyes in His divine beauty and blessedness—this makes us fall in love with Him. For beauty kindles love. It is so often in natural love—and always so in divine love. Jesus has but to touch the heart and it softens. He has but to appear—and the soul melts at the sight!
Our best works?
"What is man, that he should be clean? He who is born of a woman, that he should be righteous? Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones; Yes, the heavens are not clean in His sight. How much less one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks iniquity like water?" Job 15:14-16
What are our works—our best works? Imperfect—tainted and defiled with sin. Has ever a good thought, a good word, or a good work, passed from you which sin has not, in the conception or in the execution, more or less defiled? Any man who knows the movements of sin in his own heart will bear me witness that he has never conceived a thought, spoken a word, or done an action, in which sin has not in some degree intermingled itself, and, by intermingling itself, has defiled and polluted that thought, word, or work.
Seducers & corrupters
"They have corrupted themselves. . . .they are a perverse and crooked generation." Deuteronomy 32:5
The Scripture does not spare the creature, or human pride, or self-righteousness—but boldly declares the corruption of man, and thus lays the axe to the very root of the tree. This doctrine—of human corruption—of the total fall of man—of the innate wickedness and perverseness of his heart—will always be acceptable to the child of God, because he has in his conscience an inward witness to its truth. He knows that he has corrupted himself—he feels that not only unclean thoughts lodge within him—but that he has given way to and indulged in them. Ever since he had light to see, life to feel, and a conscience to bear witness, he knows that in many flagrant instances he has corrupted himself. We speak of seducers and corrupters with just abhorrence—but a man's worst corrupter is his own heart! There is no greater source of inward condemnation and guilt, than when a man is obliged to confess he has corrupted himself—made his own heart worse than it really is, by pandering to its lusts and heaping fuel upon its smouldering flame!
Up from the wilderness
"Who is this who comes up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?" Song of Solomon 8:5
He is one made alive unto God by regenerating grace—one who knows something of the entrance of the word into his conscience, laying bare the secrets of his heart, and discovering the guilt, the filth, the evil, and the miserable consequences of sin. He is one who knows something of the deceitfulness, hypocrisy, and wickedness of his own fallen nature. He is one who is separated from the world, whether dead in sin or dead in a profession, by a sovereign work of grace upon his heart. He is one who has been led to see the emptiness of a mere 'notional knowledge' of the truth, without knowing experimentally, the healing power of Jesus' love and blood. He is one who has been stripped of creature wisdom, human strength, and a fig-leaf righteousness—and been made to see that unless he has a vital saving interest in the blood and obedience of Jesus, he must perish in his sins.
He is one whom God the Spirit has blessed with a living faith that works by love—purifies the heart—separates from the world—delivers from the power and practice of sin—overcomes the wicked one—receives grace and strength, life and power out of the fullness of Christ—and the end of which is the salvation of the soul. He is one who is blessed also with a good hope through grace—who has had some discovery of the Lord Jesus to his soul, so as to raise up in his heart a hope in His mercy, enabling him to cast forth that anchor which is both sure and steadfast, into that within the veil, where he rides secure from death and hell, and where, through upholding grace, he will outride every storm. He is one who is blessed with a vital union with the Lord Jesus—for he is said in the text to lean upon Him—which implies that he has such a union with Jesus as enables him to rest wholly and solely upon Him, and upon what He is made unto him.
He is one who is also blessed and favored at times with a measure of sweet and sacred communion with the Lord of life and glory—for to lean upon Jesus implies that he is favored with some such holy nearness as John had when he lay in His bosom. He is one, too, who is not ignorant of trial or temptation, for the wilderness finds him enough of both. Nor is he one who is ignorant of sufferings, afflictions, and sorrows—for this is the distinctive character of the present wilderness condition. He is not unacquainted with spiritual hungering and thirsting—for the wilderness in itself affords neither food nor water. Nor is he a stranger to the fiery flying serpents that haunt the wilderness—nor to the perils and dangers that encompass the traveler therein from the pestilential wind, the roving Arab, and the moving columns of sand.
Who is this?
"Who is this who comes up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?" Song of Solomon 8:5
A saved sinner is a spectacle for angels to contemplate! That a sinful man who deserves nothing but the eternal wrath of God, should be lifted out of justly merited perdition, into salvation to which he can have no claim—must indeed ever be a holy wonder! And that you or I should ever have been fixed on in the electing love of God—ever have been given to Jesus to redeem—ever quickened by the Spirit to feel our lost, ruined state—ever blessed with any discovery of the Lord Jesus Christ and of His saving grace—this is and ever must be a matter of holy astonishment here—and will be a theme for endless praise hereafter!
To see a man altogether so different from what he once was—once so careless, carnal, ignorant, unconcerned about his soul—to see that man now upon his knees begging for mercy, the tears streaming down his face, his bosom heaving with convulsive sighs, his eyes looking upward that pardon may reach him in his desperate state—is not that a man to be looked at with wonder and admiration? To see another who might have pushed his way in the busy, bustling scenes of life, who might have had honors, riches, and everything the world had to bestow heaped upon his head—abandon all for Jesus' sake, and esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt—is not that man a wonder?
To live while here on earth in union and communion with an invisible God—to talk to Jesus, whom the eye of sense has never seen, and whose voice the ear of sense has never heard—and yet to see Him as sensibly by the eye of faith as though the natural eye rested upon His glorious Person, and to hear His voice speaking into the inmost heart, as plainly and clearly as though the sound of His lips met the natural ear—is not that a wonder also? To see a man preferring one smile from the face of Jesus and one word from His peace-speaking lips—above all the titles, honors, pleasures, and power that the world can bestow—why surely if there be a wonder upon earth, that man is one!
May we not, then, say with admiring as well as wondering eyes, "Who is this? Why, this man I knew—worldly, proud, ambitious, self-seeking. That man I knew—given up to vanity and pride. Another man I knew—buried in politics, swallowed up in pleasure and gaiety, abandoned to everything vile and sensual. But he has now become prayerful, watchful, tender-hearted, choosing the company of God's people—giving up everything that his carnal mind once approved of and delighted in—and manifesting in his walk, conversation, and whole deportment that he is altogether a new creature."
Whenever we see any of those near and dear to us—touched by the finger of this all-conquering Lord—subdued by His grace—and wrought upon by His Spirit—then not only do we look upon such with holy wonder, but with the tenderest affection, mingled with the tears of thankful praise to the God of all our mercies. "Who is this who comes up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?"
"Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding. For the gaining of it is better than the gaining of silver, and the profit of it better than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies. None of the things you can desire are to be compared to her." Proverbs 3:13-15
Few, however, seem to know, few to prize this heavenly wisdom—this divine teaching—this unction or anointing from the Holy One which teaches all things. Forms and ceremonies content some—a name to live satisfies others—a sound creed, with a tolerably consistent life, is enough for this professor—the approbation of men, the flattery of his own heart, are sufficient for others. But O the insufficiency, the emptiness, the deceptiveness of all these forms and shadows, when we are made to see and feel who and what we are—when our spiritual poverty comes upon us like an armed man—when our miserable destitution, nakedness, beggary, and thorough insolvency, with all their attendant needs and woes, stare us in the face—when we stand before the throne of the Most High without a rag to cover us, a refuge to hide us, or a plea to avail us!
It is this view of ourselves within and without—this sinking down before God as the great Searcher of hearts—this deep and feeling sense of the pitiable state into which sin, original and actual, has brought us—which, in the hands of the blessed Spirit, opens our eyes to see what alone can profit us. One beam of divine light shining into the soul is enough to show us not only what we are—but what alone can do us any good. One drop of the unction from the Holy One falling upon the lids is enough to open the eyes to see in whom all salvation is, and from whom all salvation comes—and thus forever to chase away those idle dreams, those vain delusions, those deceptive hopes in which thousands trust.
We may have a sound creed
We may have a sound creed, a form of words perfectly consistent with the truth in the Scriptures—but this will neither sanctify nor save. Truth in the bare letter brings no deliverance from the guilt, filth, love, power, and practice of sin. It does not bring the soul near unto God—nor repel Satan—nor set up the kingdom of God with power in the heart. We need a better teaching than this! We need "the Spirit of truth," whose especial office is to take the truth of God, and to open up, reveal, make known, apply, and seal it with His own gracious operation, divine influence, and holy power, upon the heart and conscience.
Through rich and unspeakable mercy, there are times and seasons when a spiritual light seems to shine upon the sacred page. You read the Bible with enlightened eyes. Power and sweetness seem to stream, as it were, in rich unction through the Word of truth—and as you read it with softened heart and tearful eyes, the truth of God shines from it into your understanding as brightly and as clearly as the sun in the noonday sky. And why? Because the Spirit of truth is opening it up to your understanding and applying it with power to your heart! He is illuminating your mind—radiating light from the Scriptures into your soul—and opening up the truth of God with divine power to your heart!
They love to be deceived
We are surrounded with error—the carnal heart is full of it. For wherever truth is not—there error must be. A veil of ignorance is by nature spread thickly over the mind, through which not one ray of divine light penetrates. Men love error—religious error—for God's own testimony is that they love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. They love to be deceived—they hate the hand which would tear the delusion away. While then they are encompassed with the mists of error, how can they find the way to truth? The Spirit alone can dissipate these clouds, disperse these mists, and take away this veil of unbelief and ignorance spread over the heart—and this it is His sacred office to perform, for He is the "Spirit of truth."
Opened up in all its filth & gore
"And when He has come, He will convict the world in respect to sin." John 16:8
Under the Spirit's sacred and spiritual influence, there are times and seasons when your conscience seems in an especial manner wrought upon. The evil of sin is set before you as perhaps you have never seen it before. Your conscience bleeds with the guilt and weight of it. You see what a dreadful and an evil thing sin is—how loathsome—how detestable! You could almost weep tears of blood that you have been such a sinner. Your backslidings rise up to view as so many mountains of iniquity. The wickedness of your heart is laid bare, and you feel that there cannot be such another wretch on earth. Your corrupt nature is opened up in all its filth and gore—you wonder how the patience of God could have borne with you so many years. And not only so, but tears flow down your cheek—sobs of contrition heave from your bosom—you could almost weep your life away, because you have sinned so deeply against such redeeming love!
The infirmities of Christian brethren
"Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults in love." Ephesians 4:2
Learn to be patient, meekly bearing with the infirmities of Christian brethren. There is a time in our Christian life when we desire to set everybody right and make everything square. But we begin to find after a while that we cannot set our own selves right, nor make our own spirit and conduct square with the word of truth. This conviction, forced increasingly upon us, makes us less keen to see the mote in the eyes of others, and more willing to take out the beam out of our own eye—less desirous to condemn others, more willing to condemn ourselves—less sure of the sins of our friends, more certain of our own.
We sooner or later learn that it is one thing to wink at our brethren's sins—another to bear with our brethren's infirmities. We see that we naturally differ from one another, and that though grace changes the heart, the 'natural disposition' is rather subdued by grace, than radically altered. Thus our natural tempers, stations and occupations, education, and bringing up—modes of thought and feeling, views of men and things—family and business connections, prejudices and prepossessions—besetting sins and infirmities—our very knowledge and experience of the truth of God—our various stages in the divine life—our afflictions, trials, and temptations, and many other circumstances which we cannot now enumerate—all so widely differ that you can scarcely find two Christians alike—each having his own peculiar infirmities. As, then, we expect others to bear with our infirmities—let us learn to bear with theirs—loving them for the grace that we see in them.
Anticipate no easy road
"We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22
Expect a path of increasing, rather than diminishing tribulation. Don't be surprised at your daily cross within or without—with bodily afflictions, sharp trials, and painful conflicts. Anticipate no easy road in providence or in grace—in the church or in the world—in the family or in the business—in your dealings with sinners or in your dealings with saints.
God means to make us thoroughly sick of this world and of everything in it, that, wearied and worn out with trials, temptations, and conflicts—we may find all our rest in Himself. And thus, as through much tribulation we enter into His kingdom of grace—so through much tribulation we may enter into His kingdom of glory.
Our only preservation
Our only preservation against the winds of error which are blowing on every side—our only safety amid the perils and evils which daily beset us from without or from within—is a personal, experimental knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus!
Afflictions, crosses, losses, bereavements
If our afflictions, crosses, losses, bereavements, family troubles, and church trials have been a means of humbling our proud hearts—bringing us to honest confession of, and godly sorrow for our sins and backslidings—if they have instrumentally separated us more effectually from the world, its company, its ways, its maxims, and its spirit—if they have, in the good hand of God, stirred up prayer in our hearts—led us into portions of the word of truth before hidden from view—laid us more feelingly and continually at the footstool of mercy—made mercy more dear and grace more sweet—these trials and afflictions have been neither unprofitable or unseasonable.
The influence of worldly professors
"Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away." 2 Timothy 3:5
Nothing is more dangerous than a profession of the truth without an experience of its power—for nothing more hardens the heart and sears the conscience, than a wanton handling of sacred things. Let us dread the influence of worldly professors. The more we are in their company the more they rob us of every tender, humble, gracious, and spiritual feeling.
Dying men & women in a dying world
We are all poor dying men and women in a dying world, and in a few years at best, the praise or censure of men will be no more to us, than the sun which shines upon our tomb, or the storm that sweeps over our grave!
They must exert a daily & visible influence
Many hold to the inspiration of the Bible—more from tradition than any experience of its power. The mere fact of its inspiration may be held—and still be in the heart as a stone lies in a field. The Bible is widely read—but the veil remains over the heart of thousands of its readers. Religion was never more talked about—but was never less known as an inward spiritual reality. Profession was never greater—and practice never less. Bible knowledge was never more spread—and faith, and hope, and love less manifested.
But when Jesus comes with power into a sinner's heart, He cannot be hidden. His superabounding grace, His constraining love, His matchless beauty and blessedness, His heavenly glory—when experimentally seen and known—must be made manifest in the believing lip and life. When merely seen in the Word of God—when merely held as a creed—the most blessed truths are powerless and fruitless—as unhappily there are continual instances everywhere before our eyes. But as experimentally known and felt, they must exert a daily and visible influence.
Only Jesus can
"Without Me you can do nothing." John 15:5
Only Jesus can—support us under our trials—comfort us in our afflictions—deliver us out of our temptations—subdue our sins, smile away our fears—cheer us in life—bless us in death—and present us in eternity before His Father's throne, holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight!
We are all in the hospital
A sight and sense of the evils in ourselves and others, should teach us mutual forbearance. We are all in the hospital—and shall we quarrel with our fellow patients? Should we not rather sympathize with each other's infirmities—and be looking out for the arrival of the Physician who alone can cure each and all? But if we cannot keep out of contention, and desire a matter of strife with the brethren, let this be our ground of dispute—Who is the greater sinner? Who owes most to the Savior? Who shall live most to His glory?
When the children of God meet
When the children of God meetthere is little real spiritual conversation. Worldly subjects, the mere trifles of the day, the weather, the markets, and the crops, politics and gossip—thrust out the things of God. When religion is talked of, it is all at a distance—spiritual experience is lost in a cloud of generalities. The gifts and abilities, texts and sermons, changes and movements of ministers are a prevailing topic. Some controversial point is broached, on which the combatants fall tooth and nail—the contending parties lose their tempers—one harsh word produces another, until the whole degenerates into a squabble—and poor religion is as much trampled down in the vestry, as sobriety is in the bar-room!
All true religion flows out of the life of God in the soul. Wherever this divine life does not exist, there may be 'the name of religion'—but it will be—a shadow without substance—a form without power—an imitation without reality. Probe all false religion to the bottom—look into its heart and center—strip off its garments and trappings—and what will you find? SELF! False religion may assume a thousand shapes. It may run through all shades of profession. But hunt it down through all its turnings and windings, and you will find the creature at the end of the chase!
Our base ingratitude
Our base ingratitude is one of our most crying sins. What mercies and favors we have enjoyed! And what base returns have we rendered! Did we but see and feel how much we owe to the ever-watchful eye and ever-bountiful hand of Him in whom we live, move, and have our being—and did we compare His favors with our returns—we would be overwhelmed with shame and confusion of face!
Where sin abounded
"Where sin abounded, grace did abound much more exceedingly." Romans 5:20
Sin has abounded—fearfully abounded in thought, word, and deed—but grace does much more abound! Take your sins, then, with all their horrid and dreadful aggravations—sins against light, conscience, love, mercy, and blood. Examine them well—search thoroughly, as far as you can—their height, depth, length, and breadth—until your knees tremble, and your heart sinks with fear and dread. Must you perish? Must you sink to rise no more? Is all hope gone? Is hell your destined unavoidable place? Look, look, see this view of the gospel declaration concerning grace. Only get this brought by the Spirit into your heart, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound"—and your debts are at once liquidated.
The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin! "All sin!" How comprehensive! What sin does this not embrace? And take with it, too, this word from the Lord's own lips, "All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men." Then all vile, infidel, blasphemous thoughts and suggestions—all the pride, unbelief, infidelity, obscenity, and filth of a depraved, desperately depraved nature—all the dregs of that foul sewer which floods the imagination—all the hard, rebellious uprisings of a carnal mind at enmity with God—all the heavings and tossings of a heart bottomless as hell—with all the boilings-up, fermentings, and workings to and fro of an abyss of iniquity—all, all evil from within and from without—shall be forgiven—and is already forgiven to the repenting, believing children of God!
This secret anointing oil
"But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know the truth." 1 John 2:20
The anointing of the Holy One—the internal teaching and operation of the Spirit—penetrates into every heart to which it comes. It does not merely lie on the surface. It does not merely change the creed. It does not merely alter the life. It goes deeper than creed, lip, or life. The religion of God consists in the anointing of the Holy One which goes beneath the shell and the skin—which works down to the very bottom of man's heart and opens it up and lays it bare before the eyes of Him with whom he has to do.
It is by virtue of this anointing that our secret motives are discovered—and the pride, presumption, self-righteousness, self-seeking—and all that depravity which ferments in a man's heart, are laid open. It is by the penetrating effects of this divine light and life in a man's soul, that all the secret workings and inward movement of his heart are discovered and laid bare. A man can never loathe himself in dust and ashes—never abhor himself as the vilest of the vile—until this secret anointing oil touches his heart! He will be satisfied with a name to live—with an empty profession—until this teaching of the Spirit goes through every cloak and veil—and searches into the very vitals—so as to sink into the secret depths of a man's spirit before God!
The sins of devils
"Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord." Proverbs 16:5
There are sins which men commit, that devils cannot. Unbelief, infidelity, and atheism, are not sins of devils—for they believe and tremble, and feel too much of the wrath of God to doubt His threatenings or deny His existence. The love of money is a sin from which they are exempt—for gold and silver are confined to earth, and the men who live on it. The lusts of the flesh in all their bearings—whether gluttony, drunkenness, or sensuality, belong only to those who inhabit tabernacles of clay. But pride, malignity, falsehood, enmity, murder, deceitfulness, and all those sins of which spirits are capable in these crimes—devils as much exceed men as an angelic nature exceeds in depth, power, and capacity a human one.
The eye of man sees, for the most part, only the grosser offences against morality—it takes little or no cognisance of internal sins. Thus a man may be admired as a pattern of consistency, because free from the outbreaks of fleshly and more human sins—while his heart, as open to God's heart-searching eye, may be full of pride, malignity, enmity, and murder—the sins of devils. Such were the scribes and pharisees of old—models of correctness outwardly—but fiends of malice inwardly. So fearful were these 'holy men' of outward defilement, that they would not enter into Pilate's judgment-hall—when at the same moment their hearts were plotting the greatest crime that earth ever witnessed—the crucifixion of the Son of God!
The exceeding greatness of His power
"The exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to that working of the strength of His might." Ephesians 1:19
Consider, first, the difficulties which grace has to encounter in the quickening of a dead soul into spiritual life. View the depths of the fall. See the death of the soul in trespasses and sins—its thorough alienation from the life of God, through the darkness, blindness and ignorance of the understanding—the perverseness of the will—the hardness of the conscience—and the depravity of the affections.
View the obduracy, stubbornness and obstinacy of the soul—its pride, unbelief, infidelity and self-righteousness—its passionate love to, habitual practice of, and long inurement in sin. Consider the strong prejudices of the soul against everything godly and holy—the desperate, implacable enmity of the carnal mind against God Himself. Consider the soul's firm and deep-rooted love to the world in all its varied shapes and forms. Remember also how all its hopes, happiness and prospects are bound up in the things of time and sense. O what a complicated mass of difficulties do all these foes form in their firm combination—like a compact, well-armed, thoroughly trained army—against any power which would dislodge them from their position!
Consider, also, the sacrifices which must often be made by one who is to live godly in Christ Jesus—the tenderest ties, perhaps, to be broken—the lucrative or advantageous prospects which have to be abandoned—old friends to be renounced—family connections to be given up—position in life to be lost—and often the shame and contempt to be entailed on one's family and oneself! All, indeed, are not so hedged about with these peculiar difficulties which we have just named—but few are wholly free from them—and I have had much personal experience of them in my first setting my face Zionward.
Consider, also, the mighty power of God in maintaining divine life in our soul. See and feel what mountains of difficulty—what seas of temptation—what winds and storms of error—what assaults and snares of Satan, and the latter more dangerous than the former—what floods of vileness and ungodliness without and within—what strong lusts and passions—what secret slips and falls, backslidings and departures from the living God—what long seasons of darkness, barrenness and death—what opposition of the flesh to the strait and narrow way—what crafty hypocrites, pretended friends, but actual foes—false professors and erroneous characters, all striving to throw down or entangle our steps, we had to grapple with—what helplessness, inability and miserable impotency in ourselves to all that is good—what headlong proneness to all that is evil. All these things we have to pass in solemn review.
We have also to ponder over what we have been, and what we still are, since we professed to fear God—and how when left to ourselves, we have done nothing but sin against and provoke Him to His face from first to last—and yet still have divine life maintained within. And thus as we hold in our hands and read over article by article this long dark catalogue—still to have a sweet persuasion that the life of God is in our soul, and that because Jesus lives, we shall live also. Thus to realize, believe and feel, and bless God for His surpassing, superabounding grace—is to know the exceeding greatness of the power of God to us who believe—in maintaining divine life after it had been first communicated!
What a creature man is!
"I was enraged by his sinful greed; I punished him, and hid My face in anger, yet he kept on in his willful ways." Isaiah 57:17
What a creature man is! What an obstinate, perverse, rebellious wretch—that wrath and judgments will not mend him! The Lord tells us here why He smote His people. It was for the iniquity of their covetousness—the word "covetousness" pointing out what the human heart is chiefly engaged upon. For we must not limit the expression merely to avarice after money—but consider it as embracing the going out of the heart of man after the things of time and sense—the insatiable desire of the carnal mind after earthly and sensual gratification. This covetousness God speaks of as iniquity lies in this—that man loves everything earthly and sensual better than God—that he seeks pleasure from every object but the Lord—that he willfully and greedily runs into every base lust—making carnal things his delight and happiness.
Now the Lord, provoked by the iniquity of his covetousness, smote him—with stroke upon stroke—with disappointment upon disappointment—with affliction upon affliction—with trouble upon trouble. But His corrective measures were all thrown away! They did not raise up in him a spiritual work—nor bring him to the Lord's feet—nor change his will—nor renew him in the spirit of his mind. They left him as they found him—earthly, sensual, and dead. Or rather, they left him worse than they found him—for his heart became more hardened, and his conscience more stupefied than before!
So obstinate, rebellious, wayward, perverse a wretch is man, that no step which the Lord could take in a way of judgment or anger, (independent of the Spirit's operations, for that is the point I am endeavoring to enforce)—could ever have the least effect upon him. Now do not you parents often see this very thing in your children naturally? You sometimes cannot make anything of them—there is such a frowardness and perversity of disposition in them—that all your chastisements and every means you employ to make them better—only seem to make them worse. You cannot, with all the pains you take with them, make them one whit better!
Now what froward children often are to their parents, such are we toward God—His stripes—His frowns—His hiding Himself—His sharp afflictions—do not produce in us any spiritual good. But we go right on sinning—muttering perverseness, full of rebellion, peevishness, and discontent. And though we may feel the rod of God upon us, yet there is—no breaking down of heart—no submission of soul—no contrition of spirit before Him!
They make him mourn
"To all who mourn in Israel, He will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. For the Lord has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for His own glory." Isaiah 61:3
The child of God will be more or less a spiritual mourner on account of the evil that dwells in him. The more that he knows of his heart—the longer he walks in the divine life—and the more that sin is opened up to him as seen in the light of God's countenance—the more will he be a spiritual mourner. Sometimes he will mourn over the evils of his heart—that his lusts and corruptions are so strong—and he so weak against them. Sometimes over the temptations that Satan has laid for his feet, in which he has been entangled, and by which he has been cast down. Sometimes over the absence of God, and that he finds so little access to His blessed Majesty. Sometimes he will mourn as feeling how little grace he has. Sometimes he will mourn over his backslidings—how he has been entangled in, and given way to his lusts—how he has been overcome by his temper—how he has murmured and fretted against God's dealings with him, so as at times to have been almost ready to break forth into cursing, or do something desperate.
As these and a thousand other evils are felt in a man's heart, they make him mourn, and as the text speaks, have ashes for his covering. He mourns also over his lack of fruitfulness—and that he cannot be, do, or say what he would. He has strong desires to adorn the doctrine of God in all things—to have spirituality of mind and a tender conscience—and to lead a life of faith, prayer, and watchfulness. But he is obliged to confess with the apostle—"For the good that I would, I do not: but the evil that I would not, that I do." For his mind is often, very often, doing the exact contrary. All these things, combined with Satan's powerful temptations—and his many misgivings on account of the hidings of God's face from him on account of his sins—with his thorough inability to cast off the burdens that press him down—sink him very low.
In addition to all this, he may have also to experience persecution for the truth's sake from those, perhaps, near and dear to him. So that it is not one, but many sorrows, that he has to wade through, so as at times to make him, in his feelings, of all men most miserable!
I am full of confusion!
"I am full of confusion!" Job 10:15
God is the great Ruler, Director, and Controller of all things! We must not look on the varied events that are ever taking place in this world, as a mere matter of 'chance'—a confused medley—as though these multitudinous circumstances were all thrown like marbles into a bag, and thrown out without any order or arrangement. God is a God of order. In the natural world, the world of creation—all is in order. In the spiritual world, the world of grace—all is in order. And in the providential world, the world of providence—all is order also. To our mind, indeed, all often seems disorder. But this arises from our ignorance, and not seeing the whole as one definitely arranged plan.
If you were to see a weaver working at a loom, and saw nothing but the threads and needles jumping up in continual motion—you would see nothing but confusion—nor could you form the slightest conception of the pattern which was being worked. But when the whole was completed, and the silk taken off the roller, then you would see a pattern arranged in beautiful order—every thread concurring to form one harmonious design. But all this was known beforehand by the artist who designed the pattern, and every arrangement was made in strict subserviency to it.
But if this is the case as to God's appointments in providence, how much more is it true of His glorious designs in grace. Every trial, temptation, affliction, sorrow—are but the result of a definite plan in the eternal mind. Yet to us how often all seems confusion! This confusion is not so much in the things themselves—as in our mind. Job surrounded by trouble cried out, "I am full of confusion!" Yet we can see in reading his history that all his trials were working toward an appointed end. So every trial, sorrow, temptation or affliction, which has ever lain, or ever will lie, in your path—has been marked out by infinite, unerring wisdom!
Is not the commonest road laid out according to a definite plan, and does not the surveyor, when he lays it out, put every mile-stone in its proper place? So, does not the Lord lay out beforehand the road in which His people should walk? And does He not put a trial here and a sorrow there—an affliction at this turning, and a trouble at that corner? All is definitely planned in His infinite wisdom, to bring the traveler safely home to Zion!
My inward diabolism
"I have a daily cross, a daily burden, a daily affliction. It is my dreadful heart, my carnal mind, my corrupt nature—sin dwells in me—my unbelief, my infidelity, my worldly mindedness, my backsliding, my deceptive, adulterous, idolatrous heart—the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. My inward diabolism, with which I am filled, daily makes me deeply groan, draws forth many a sigh, and makes me mourn before God—that I have such a wicked hard heart. My sins, my backslidings afflict me, and deeply grieve me."
The afflictions the Lord sends on His people
"You have afflicted me with all Your waves." Psalm 88:7
Jesus was a man of sufferings—a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And His people, in their measure, must have the same. The Lord has appointed it should be so. He has chosen His Zion in the furnace of affliction. There is no escape. The afflictions the Lord sends on His people are of varied kinds. The Lord sees necessary to send afflictions suitable to the case, state and condition of each. What might be an affliction to one, might not be so to another. Each must carry his own affliction. Each must bear his own load—and each endure his own appointed lot.
Our wise God sees exactly what affliction to lay on each and all—when it shall come—where it shall come—why it shall come—how it shall come—how it shall work—what it shall work—how long it shall endure—when it shall be put on—and when taken off. In these matters, the Lord acts as a sovereign. We did not choose of what parents we would be born—nor our situation in life—nor had we any choice of our stature or skin color.
The Lord appointed all our afflictions for us—and when He puts them on—no human arm can take them off. He knows our constitution and troubles—our characteristics and the minutest things relating to our situation in life. The Lord knows all our concerns. Therefore He lays on each individual the very affliction He sees that individual needs—no greater, no less—exactly the very affliction which shall bring about the very appointed purpose intended by God to be brought about—which shall be for the soul's good and God's own glory!
Who are these men?
"To Him shall men come." Isaiah 45:24
Who are these men? Are they not regenerated men and women—redeemed of the Lord, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and made alive to God, by His special teaching in the conscience? These men belong to God's own blessed, redeemed, regenerated family. It is God's solemn, unalterable declaration, that "to Him shall men come." It does not rest, therefore, in the will of the creature—it hangs wholly and solely on the sovereign determination of God Himself. How does He bring it about? By a special work of grace in the heart. How do these men come? Under the teaching, drawing, and leading of the blessed Spirit of God in their soul. Where does the blessed Spirit find them? Does He find them willing to come, willing to leave all those things that men, by nature, love, and to which they cleave? No! It must be the special work of God Himself in the heart and conscience. He brings it about by showing us plainly, that in ourselves, we are lost.
Until a man feels in himself lost and undone, he will never come to Jesus Christ, for He is the Savior of the lost. Until we feel lost, He is no Savior to us. When we feel lost, all our righteousness opened up as filthy rags, see no way of escape from the horrible pit—and the Lord is pleased to open up to us the person of the Lord Jesus Christ—His atoning blood—His perfect obedience—His justifying righteousness, and dying love—laying these things with some degree of sweetness and power on the soul—we come. Why do we come? Because the blessed Spirit works in us to will and do of His good pleasure—He enables us to come, under His blessed teachings, leadings, and actings.
Self-esteem & self-exaltation?
"That no flesh should boast before God. . . .He who boasts, let him boast in the Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:29, 31
In order that we should glory in the Lord, it is absolutely necessary that we should cease to glory in SELF. By nature, we are all prone to glory in self through those cursed principles of self-esteem and self-exaltation. Nothing but the mighty power of God can put down these cursed principles. We are prone to this pride, and it is strengthened and matured in a fallen sinner's heart.
It is the work of the Spirit in the sinner's conscience—to pour contempt on all the pride of man—to open up the depth of the fall—to bring to light all his hidden corruptions—to unbosom and lay bare all the evils of his heart—to upturn the deep corruptions of his fallen nature before his astonished eyes—that he may learn with true humility of soul, brokenness of heart, and contrition of spirit before God—to loathe and abhor himself in dust and ashes, as a monster of iniquity.
If a man has not been taught by the strong hand of God in his soul to abhor, loathe, and cry out against himself as one of the vilest wretches that crawls on God's earth—he has never learned to glory in the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord Jesus Christ reveals to his soul a sense of His love, and unfolds a sight of His glory before his astonished eyes, he is brought to look out of himself, and from all he has—to the Lord Jesus Christ!
The highest privilege
The highest privilege, the greatest blessing, the richest favor that God can bestow upon any person is to make him His own dearly beloved child. For in so doing he not only advances him to the noblest dignity, but to the highest summit of glory and happiness that can be enjoyed in His own eternal, blissful presence. Our heavenly Father bestows upon us His children all those needful mercies and favors which—His wisdom can devise—His love prompt—and His power perform. "And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." What is it to be an heir of God? It is to have God for our eternal possession—for all the love, glory, bliss, and blessedness of the self-existent Jehovah to be given to us for our everlasting enjoyment. Whatever the love of God can give—whatever the grace of God bestow—whatever the glory of God reveal—whatever fullness of bliss there is in the eternal presence of the great and glorious Jehovah—all that is ours if we are the children of God!
A pilgrim & a stranger
The child of God is separated from the world as a pilgrim and a stranger—and is pressing onward through a thousand foes and fears, to a heavenly country.
They have done you good
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28
Have your trials humbled you? Have they made you meek and lowly? If so, they have done you good. Have they stirred up a spirit of prayer in your bosom—and made you sigh, cry, and groan for the Lord to appear, visit, or bless your soul? Then they have done you good. Have they opened up those parts of God's word which are full of mercy and comfort to His afflicted people? Then they have done you good. Have they made you more sincere, more earnest, more spiritual, more heavenly-minded, more convinced that the Lord Jesus can alone bless and comfort your soul? Then they have done you good. Have they made the Bible more precious to you, the promises more sweet, the dealings of God with your soul more prized? Then they have done you good.
Now this is the way that "all things work together for good." Not by puffing you up with pride—but by filling your heart with humility. Not by encouraging presumption—but by raising your affections to where Jesus sits at the right hand of God. Not by carrying us into the world—but by bringing us out of it. Not by covering us with a veil of ignorance and arrogance—but by stripping this veil off, and bringing light, life, and power into the soul!
God's divine appointment
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28
"All things!" Look at that! All that concerns our body and soul—everything in providence—everything in grace—everything you have passed through—everything you are passing through—everything you shall pass through. "All things!" What! is there not a single thing, however minute, however comparatively unimportant, that is not for my good, if I love God? No! Not one! If there were a single thing which befalls me, which is not working together for my good, if I am a child of God, I say it with reverence—that this verse would be a lie in God's book. And yet, when we consider the variety of things that affect us—to believe that all of them are working together for our good—how must we admire the wonderful wisdom, and power, and government of God!
Are we tried in our circumstances? This is according to God's divine appointment. Is it the Lord's will and pleasure to bring us down in the world, by sorrows and adversities in providence? This is still according to God's divine appointment. Have we afflictions in the family? It is still according to God's divine appointment. It comes from Him. Nothing can happen in body—in property—in family—that does not spring from God's divine appointment. Are children taken away? They are taken by the hand of God! The Lord gives—and the Lord takes away! Is wife or husband afflicted? The hand of God is in it. Is the body brought down with sickness? It comes from God. Is the mind tried with a thousand perplexities, anxieties, and cares? It is still the hand of God. All these matters spring from His divine appointment! Nothing can take place, either in providence or in grace—except as God in His infinite wisdom has decreed to perform—or decreed to allow!
"He will come and save you." Isaiah 35:3
To be saved! Who can fathom the depth of that word? Only in eternity will it be known what is implied in the word saved! For the glorified spirit must look down from the battlements of heaven into the dreadful pit of hell, before it can comprehend a millionth part of what is contained in the word saved. Saved from hell—saved from the pouring out of God's terrible wrath through countless ages—saved from eternal punishment with devils and lost spirits—and saved into that heaven which knows no end, but is ever opening up with richer manifestations of glory and bliss!
Merit? I know of only one merit that we have—hell. If salvation were of human merit—not a soul could be saved!
Applied with a divine power to the heart
"And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up." Acts 20:32
We are not built up—by fleshly holiness—by creature piety—by long and loud prayers—by the doings and duties of the flesh—nor even by sound doctrines floating in our brain. But we are built up by 'the word of God's grace,' applied with a divine power to the heart. In other words, by the sweet manifestation—unctuous application—and divine revelation of the gospel of the grace of God.
Have you suffered from temptation—and been delivered out of it? It was 'the word of God's grace' that built you up. Have you been in severe trial—and the Lord has blessed you in it, and brought you out of it? It was 'the word of God's grace' that built you up. Have you been entangled in some error—and the Lord snatched you out of that error by applying some portion of His truth to your soul? It was 'the word of God's grace' that built you up. Have you been entangled in the lusts of the flesh—or cast down by some snare of the devil—and the Lord has delivered you out of it? It was 'the word of His grace' that built you up.
If we deny Him
"If we deny Him, He also will deny us." 2 Timothy 2:12
Sometimes we deny Jesus our affections. The world gets hold of us; those whom we love entwine themselves around our hearts—the things of time and sense begin to be pleasant and sweet to us—we gradually get carnal, cold, and dead. Then He will deny us—that is, He will not drop His love into a soul that is preoccupied with an idol. If we are cold to Him, He will be shy with us—and if we are negligent of His favor and His grace, He will requite us by withholding them.
A continual snare to us
We feel the world, with all its charms—its attractions—its habits—its temptations—to be a continual snare to us. Our eyes are caught with every passing vanity. The glare and blaze of the things of time and sense attract our eyes. And as the moth flits around the candle until it burns its wings—so are we continually flitting around the glare and blaze of the world—and get often sadly singed!
We ask the Lord, then, that He would—separate us from the world, deliver us from these snares—lead us up into some sweet communion with Himself—bring us out of this carnal frame—and favor us with some blessed enlargement of soul. We ask the Lord that He would enable us to—look to Him—embrace Him in our affections—and love Him with a pure heart fervently. The Lord condescends to answer the prayer—but in a way that we little dream of.
Instead of answering it by bringing in some sweet manifestation of Christ—He lays guilt upon our consciences. Fresh temptations bring us into a state of conflict, until we are forced to cast ourselves at the foot of the cross—as guilty, filthy rebels. Now, when the Lord has brought the soul there, and enables it by faith to get sight of a crucified Savior—there is a power communicated which separates the heart from this world and all its vanities! And getting separated in affection from the world—there is a new and inexpressible pleasure, sweetness, and blessedness felt, in pouring out the heart before Him—which the world with all its vain charms never can produce within. When he is, in any measure, indulged with a sight of a dying Lord—when he gets, by faith, a view of Christ's cross—and faith, hope, and love, tenderness, sorrow, and contrition begin to rise up in his bosom—sin becomes hated—temptation is weakened—spirituality of mind produced—and the carnal mind for a while is deadened to those base desires which before were uppermost!
The heavenly runner
"Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith." Hebrews 12:1, 2
The heavenly runner looks wholly to the incarnate Son of God. Jesus draws him onward with His invincible grace—and as he runs and looks—and looks and runs—every fresh look gives renewed strength! And every time we view His beauty and glory we see more to believe, to admire, and to love Him. Every glance at His beauteous Person renews the flame of holy love! And every touch of His sacred finger melts the heart into conformity to His suffering image. This is the life of a Christian—daily to be running a race for eternity—and, as speeding onward to a heavenly goal, by continually breathing forth the yearnings of his soul after divine realities, and to be pressing forward more and more toward the Lord Jesus Christ as giving him a heavenly crown when he has finished his course with joy.
But as he runs he is bowed down with weights—many trials and sorrows—many cares and wearying anxieties—many powerful temptations—many bosom sins—many inward idols—many doubts and fears—many sinkings and tremblings—many hindrances from his felt coldness and darkness—hang upon him and press him down—so that at times he is utterly unable to move a single foot forward. But in spite of hindrances from without and within, every now and then he sees Jesus at the end of the race holding out the crown—and seeing Him, he is encouraged and enabled once more to run looking unto Him—that he may derive strength and virtue out of His fullness.
He cannot run the race with any hope of success but as he looks unto Jesus—and derives supplies of strength and power out of His fullness. Though faint, be still pursuing. Run on and run through every difficulty. The blessed Jesus, who is drawing you on by looks of love, will never let you go—nor cease His gracious work upon your heart! He will maintain the faith and hope He has given to you—and will never allow you to fall out of the race—but will certainly bring you off a winner, and crown you with eternal victory!
Comfort your hearts
"Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father, who has loved us, and has given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts." 2 Thessalonians 2:16, 17
Let this be ever borne in mind—that whatever affliction befalls the children of God, it is laid upon them by the hand of God—and that for the express purpose of putting them into a situation and making them capable of receiving those comforts which God only can bestow. All our trials and afflictions, whether temporal or spiritual, pave the way for what the apostle prays for so earnestly in our text—that the Lord Himself would comfort your hearts.
Observe that Paul makes no mention of earthly comfort. "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father. . . .comfort your hearts." O none but Jesus Himself and the Father can comfort a truly afflicted heart! But He can and does from time to time comfort His dear people—by a sense of His presence—by a word of power from His gracious lips—by the light of His countenance—by the balm of His atoning blood and dying love—by the work and witness of the Spirit within. And as they receive this consolation from the mouth of God—their hearts are comforted.
The hypocrite's hope
"The hypocrite's hope shall perish." Job 8:13
The hope of the hypocrite is any hope based upon self—whatever shape or form self may assume. The hope of the hypocrite is—any expectation that God will reward you for your good works—any hope that He will be merciful to you because you have not been so bad as others—any hope that by the exertion of your own strength and wisdom you may some day be in a better position to die than you are now—any hope based upon a mere profession of truth without a feeling experience of its power—any hope that stands upon the good opinion of others, and does not rest upon the testimony of the Spirit of God within. In a word, every hope which is not lodged by the breath of God in the heart, is the hope of the hypocrite.
Going to heaven?
"That those who don't see may see; and that those who see may become blind." John 9:39
Many who think themselves going to heaven—are going to hell. And many who fear they are going to hell—are going to heaven. Many who think themselves wise and in the light—are in ignorance and darkness; while many who feel themselves ignorant and foolish—have true knowledge and wisdom.
It was sovereign grace
The sovereignty of God is a great mystery—a mystery so profound as to be absolutely unfathomable by the human intellect. Unable, therefore, or unwilling to believe what they cannot comprehend—men have denied the sovereignty of God, and sought, with feeble hands, to wrest the scepter of omnipotence out of the grasp of the mighty Lord of heaven and earth—the great and glorious Arbiter of all events, and Disposer of all circumstances. But the child of grace, who is under divine teaching, whatever may have been his strong prejudices against, or his violent opposition to scripture truth in the days of his ignorance—is brought sooner or later to see and acknowledge the sovereignty of God. And when he is led into the mystery, he receives it as a most blessed truth.
As his eye is opened to see the sovereign hand of God in fixing and determining the circumstances of his earthly being—he sees how all was arranged by infinite wisdom and executed by infinite power. And when he comes to the department of grace, and can with believing eye trace out the dealings of God with his soul, then, in a more conspicuous manner still, does the sovereignty of God beam upon his heart. For well he knows that 'free will' had no place there—and that it was not of him who wills, or of him who runs—but of God who shows mercy. How plainly he sees and feels that it was sovereign grace—which first arrested him on his downward course—which made him feel the burden of sin—which put a cry and a sigh into his soul—which brought him to the footstool of mercy—which revealed the Savior—and applied the message of mercy and peace to his heart. Thus what some deny and others dispute—he is brought to receive in the simplicity of faith, as most glorifying to God and suitable to man—and as he receives it, he admires it, adores it, and submits to it!
Planted by Satan
"The tares are the children of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil." Matthew 13:38, 39
The Church is overrun with nominal professors, who are destitute of the fear of God, and who have nothing of the grace of God in their souls. They have been planted by Satan into the Church with a 'profession of religion,' while their hearts are utterly devoid of the power of vital godliness. This high, towering, lofty, soaring, presumptuous professor has his head thoroughly stored with the doctrines of grace, but he is destitute of the feeling power of vital godliness in his soul. He has never felt the powerful hand of God upon him to crush him into the dust—he has never fallen down before the throne of God's majesty and mercy as a ruined wretch without hope or help—he has never been brought in guilty before the Lord—he has never been reduced to complete beggary, poverty, and insolvency in self. He is but a 'natural man in a profession of religion,' and has experienced nothing of the sovereign teachings and Divine operations of God the Holy Spirit in his conscience.
Know nothing, have nothing, be nothing
In the beginning of my experience in the things of God, which is now more than twenty-nine years ago, I had this truth impressed upon my conscience, as I have reason to believe, very powerfully and very distinctly, by the finger of God—that I could know nothing—but by divine teaching; have nothing—but by divine giving; and be nothing—but by divine making.
There are many idols in the heart
There are many idols in the heart—many earthly joys, bosom toys, vile lusts, and creature things—all which take great hold upon our affections. These have to be torn asunder, and nothing short of the power of God can do it effectually.
With hell are we at agreement
"Because you have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come to us; for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves." Isaiah 28:15
How the Lord here lays bare the hypocrisy and deceitfulness of a religion which stands in creature righteousness, putting as it were into the mouths of its professors His own view of it. This then is their language, "We have made a covenant with death—and we have shaken hands, and are thorough good friends. Why need we fear it then as an enemy? We have a religion to die by. And with hell are we at agreement. Why then need we fear hell? Our religion will surely deliver us from going down to the pit; and our own righteousness will surely give us an entrance into the gate of heaven. Yes, though God Himself declares it to be a lying refuge, yet having once taken shelter in it we are well satisfied with it, and do not want to be driven out of it. And though under falsehood we have hidden ourselves, yet we would sooner take our chance and live and die in it than suffer the pain and annoyance to be beaten out of it."
Such is man, such the wisdom of the flesh—such all creature religion—such the pride and obstinacy of the human heart—such the deadly enmity of the carnal mind against salvation by grace—that it would sooner die and be damned in its own way—than live and be saved in God's way.
The joy of his heart & the theme of his tongue
Paul preached a free-grace gospel. The sovereign, free, superabounding grace of God, as revealed in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, was the joy of his heart and the theme of his tongue. And against nothing did the holy zeal that burned in his bosom flame forth more vehemently than against any perversion or adulteration of this pure gospel. It was with this gospel in his heart, and with this gospel in his mouth, that he went forth into different places, as he was led by the blessed Spirit, preaching Jesus Christ and salvation through His blood and righteousness. God owned his testimony—the Holy Spirit accompanied the word with divine power—and many Gentile sinners, formerly worshipers of idols, and abandoned to every lust—were brought to repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ.
He is a poor man
"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3
This spiritual poverty no man possesses by nature. But like the Laodicean church, every man thinks himself rich and increased in goods, and in need of nothing. But when God teaches him that he is "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked," then he is brought to feel himself really poor—that is, completely empty, totally destitute of all that deserves the name of riches. For he now learns that in God's account nothing deserves the name of riches but that which makes a soul rich for eternity—the treasures that are in Christ for the poor and needy—and that he who is not possessed of these riches, in God's sight is nothing, and has nothing but poverty and rags.
As, then, the Lord the Spirit works upon a sinner's conscience, He—opens up to him his evil heart—shows him his exceeding transgressions—lays bare the depths of iniquity that are in his corrupt nature—discovers to him what God requires in His holy law—and thus makes him feel how completely empty and destitute he is by nature of all good. Now, when a man is brought to see himself a poor, vile, lost, undone wretch, having nothing, and being nothing but a mass of filth and corruption, completely destitute of everything that God can look down upon with acceptance—he comes under the expression in the text—he is a poor man spiritually. He is now brought down—he is effectually laid low—he is made to feel real poverty of spirit before God.
Be merciful to me
"Look upon me, and be merciful to me." Psalm 119:132
Wherever there is any true love to the Lord—wherever there is any breathing of affection after Jesus—there always will be mixed with it, the deepest sense of our own undeservedness, weakness, worthlessness, and wickedness.
Pity & power
"Like a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. For He knows how we are made. He remembers that we are dust." Psalm 103:13, 14
God looks upon His people in pity. He looks down upon all His poor, laboring, struggling pilgrims here below—and views them with an eye of pity and compassion—out of His merciful and compassionate heart. The Lord looks upon His people with all the love and affection that dwells in His bosom. His love is perpetually flowing forth to the objects of His love, choice, and mercy.
We know something of this naturally. Does not the fond wife look sometimes upon her husband with eyes of tender affection? Does not the mother sometimes look upon her infant, lying in the cradle or sleeping in her lap, with eyes of tender love? So it is with God. There is that love in the bosom of God towards the objects of His eternal favor, that when He looks down upon them from the heights of His sanctuary, He looks upon them with the tenderest affection.
The God of heaven looks down upon His poor, tried family. Some He sees buffeted with sore temptations. Others, he sees plagued with an evil heart of unbelief. Others, he sees afflicted in circumstances. Others, wading amid deep temporal and providential trials. Others, mourning His absence. Others persecuted, cast out by men. Each heart knows its own bitterness, each has a tender spot that the eye of the Lord sees. And the Lord, as a God of grace, looks down upon them and pities them. When He sees them entangled in a snare—He pities them as being so entangled. When He sees them drawn aside by the idolatry and evil of their fallen nature—He pities them as wandering. When He views them assaulted and harassed by Satan—He looks upon them with compassion under his attacks.
Besides that, He looks down upon them in power—with a determination to render them help. The Lord has not only a mother's pity and a wife's love—but He has almighty power to relieve His poor suffering children, toiling and struggling through this vast howling wilderness.
The Lord is merciful to His people. He knew—the painful experience—what hearts they carry in their bosoms—what temptations beset their path—what snares Satan is laying for their feet—their weakness—their wickedness. Yet how merciful He is to them—how He bears with their evil behavior in the wilderness—how He multiplies pardons—how He forgives their iniquities—how He blots out their sins—how He shows mercy and compassion upon those who were by nature the vilest of the vile!
"Show me Your ways, O Lord. Teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth, and teach me." Psalm 25:4, 5
In the spirit of childlike simplicity the Psalmist wanted God to be his teacher—for indeed none teaches like Him. All other teaching leaves us where it found us. I dare say from hearing me so often you have gained some instruction, some knowledge of doctrine or experience whereby your judgment has been informed. But all this you may have gained—and yet not have been taught of God. You may have gathered information or instruction from my lips, and become established in a sound creed—and yet not have been led into the truth of God by the Holy Spirit—nor been taught by Him who is the only wise Teacher. All teaching of man, severed from the teaching of God, is profitless and valueless. It gives no faith or repentance—does not make sin hateful—or Christ precious. It leaves us just where it found us—carnal, worldly, proud, covetous, self-righteous—in all our sin, filth, and guilt—destitute of that operation of God in the soul. But God's teachings humble, soften, melt, comfort, bless, and save.
Nothing but the power of God
Nothing but the power of God is able to bring a soul so completely out of the shell and crust of self-righteousness—and so to lay open its spiritual nakedness before Him. Whenever we see such a coming out of self—such a renunciation of our own wisdom, strength, and righteousness—such a putting aside of all creature religion—and such a real spirit of humility before God—we must receive it as something beyond and above nature.
Carried away by sin
A child of God who has been carried away by sin, (I do not mean open, flagrant acts), but the daily workings of his heart—will go to the Lord sometimes with many sighs and tears, earnestly entreating Him that He would save him from the power of sin by putting His fear into his heart, and by making his conscience tender. And this the Lord answers sometimes by breathing a secret power into the soul, whereby He keeps the feet back from evil—sometimes by breaking down a temptation, so as to make it no longer a temptation—sometimes restraining him by His providence—and sometimes holding him back by His grace.
O how cruelly has sin reigned in the heart of man
How sin reigns in every worldly bosom! What little check is put upon thoughts or words or works, of whatever kind they be, by natural conscience. Or if it speaks, what little heed is paid to its voice! Whatever sin bids natural men do—they do it eagerly. Sin leads them captive at its will. They have no will of their own—but obey eagerly, obey submissively—whatever sin commands. Sin has but to issue the word, and they do what it bids. Sin has but to lead—and they follow in the path where it guides. Sin has but to show itself as king—and all knees bow before it. All hands are active to do its behests, and every foot is obedient to move in the directed path. O how cruelly has sin reigned in the heart of man! Hurrying him on to every vile abomination—plunging him into every depth of misery and crime—and then hurling him impenitent and unbelieving into an abyss of endless misery!
One of the greatest troubles a child of God can have
A backsliding heart and an idolatrous nature is one of the greatest troubles a child of God can have. All his worldly trials, heavy as they may be—are light compared to this. That he should daily, and sometimes hourly, seek pleasure and gratification in the things of time and sense; and should perpetually turn away from all spiritual and heavenly things—gives him more trouble than all his other trials put together. But what good comes out of all this soul exercise? What spiritual profit springs from a sense of our diseased nature and depraved appetite? Such need the Physician! And the deeper they sink into soul sickness, and the more sensible they are of the plague of their hearts—the more do they prize and want to realize the healing remedies which this great and good Physician has to bestow.
Wherever we go, wherever we turn our eyes
"But where sin abounded, grace did abound much more exceedingly." Romans 5:20
Wherever we go, wherever we turn our eyes, two objects meet our view—sin and misery. There is not a town—nor a village—nor a house—nor a family—no, nor a human heart—in which these two inseparable companions are not to be found. Sin the fountain—misery the stream. Sin the cause—misery the effect. Sin the parent—misery the offspring. But a question may arise, "How did sin and misery come into this world? What was the origin of sin?" That is a question I cannot answer. The origin of evil is a problem hidden from the eyes of man—and is probably unfathomable by human intellect. It is sufficient for us to know that sin is.
When, then, the deep-seated malady of sin is opened up to our view, and we begin to feel that there is no soundness in us, and nothing but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores—then arises the anxious inquiry, "Is there a cure?" Now, through God's unspeakable mercy, I can assure you, from His word and in His name—that there is a cure for the malady of sin—and that there is a remedy for the misery and distress which are the sure consequences of it! Yes, there is balm in Gilead—there is a physician there! There is One who says of Himself—I am the Lord who heals you! One to whom the soul can say, when the healing balm of a Savior's blood is made effectually known—"Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all His benefits--who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion." To unfold the malady and discover the remedy, is the grand purpose of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. What sin is and what grace is, are there indeed clearly depicted by the Holy Spirit, written by His unerring pen as with a ray of light. And it is a blessing of blessings—a blessing beyond all value—that we know also there is a cure for it!
Every fresh discovery of our vile nature
We usually know but little of our dreadful depravity, when the Lord first takes us in hand. The fountains of the great deep are not then broken up. The desperate unbelief, enmity, rebellion, perverseness, pride, hypocrisy, uncleanness—and all the other vile corruptions of our heart—are not at first opened up and brought to light. But as the Lord leads the soul on, He opens up by degrees the desperate corruption and depravity of our nature—and unfolds the hidden evils of our heart, which before were covered from our view.
It is with us as it was with the prophet Ezekiel. The Lord led him into one chamber after another; and when his astonishment increased at what he saw there, He said unto him—"Turn yet again, and you shall see greater abominations than these!" But as the Lord leads us into a knowledge of our depravity, He makes us to feel sick at heart, and thus we come into the state of feeling described by the prophet Isaiah—"The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment."
And as we are led into a knowledge of our sinfulness—and groan under it—we feel more and more a burden of shame and sorrow on account of it. And the more deeply and daily that this is felt—the more deeply and daily do we find our need of the great Physician. All the Lord's dealings with our souls are that He may exalt His dear Son in our hearts—that we may have all the shame—and Jesus all the glory! And therefore, all this deep and daily discovery of our depravity, is eventually to bring greater glory to the Son of God. The deeper we sink into shame and guilt, under the knowledge of the depravity of our nature—the more do we seek unto, feel the power, and prize the love, blood, grace, and preciousness of the Lord Jesus. Every fresh discovery of our vile nature—when the Lord is pleased to bring the savor of Jesus' name, like the ointment poured forth, into the conscience—serves only instrumentally to increase our faith and affection towards Him. And thus the deeper we sink in self—the higher the Lord Jesus rises in our soul's admiration and adoration!
And to make us more and more dependent upon Jesus, the Lord, by His teachings, usually leads us into a knowledge of our backsliding and idolatrous nature. And O, what a backsliding and idolatrous heart do we carry in our bosom—and how perpetually does it make us sigh and groan! Is there anything too vile for our depraved nature not to lust after? Is there anything too base which our hearts will not imagine? Are there any puddles, which, if God left us to ourselves, we would not grovel in? As we are brought more to feel the workings of this base backsliding heart, and have the burden of it more laid upon our conscience—the more sick are we at heart—and the more is the disease felt to be in the very vitals!
We sigh and groan because we are so vile—for we desire to be far otherwise. In our right mind, we would live in the fear of the Lord all the day long, and would never do a single thing inconsistent with the precepts of the gospel. We would never say a word that the Lord would disapprove of. We would always walk in faith, hope, and love. We would continually be spiritual and heavenly-minded. But alas, this is what we cannot attain unto. Our eye is caught by every passing vanity! Our carnal minds rove after forbidden things. And our vile heart will still commit villainy. And as the conscience is made tender—and as the soul is led into a deeper acquaintance with the spirituality of God's character and the purity of His nature—and as a deeper and clearer knowledge of Jesus in all His covenant relationship is gained—the more it is felt to be an evil and bitter thing to depart from the Fountain of living waters!
Has He ever erred?
"To God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen." Jude 25
God is infinitely and unspeakably wise. Can He err? Has He ever erred? In all the multiplicity and variety of circumstances that have distressed the children of God—has the Lord ever taken a wrong step? Though He has baffled nature—though He has disconcerted reason—though He has turned our plans upside down—though perhaps He has done the thing that we most feared—and thwarted every natural purpose and inclination of our heart—can we say that He has erred? That He has made a mistake? That He has acted unwisely? That He has not done that which is for our spiritual good? Murmuring, rebellious, unbelieving heart—hold your peace! Shall man, foolish man, a worm of the earth, a creature of a day—lift up his puny voice and say that God can make a mistake?
Your path is very dark, very intricate, very perplexed—you cannot see the hand of God in the trial that is now resting upon you—you cannot believe that it will work together for your good. But the time will come, when this dark path in which you are now walking, shall be seen full of radiancy and light—when you will prove the truth of those words—He brought "the blind by a way that they knew not." When we know God to be infinitely wise—that He cannot err—that all His dealings must be stamped with His own eternal wisdom—we are silenced, we hold our peace, we have nothing to say, we are where Aaron was. When his sons Nadab and Abihu were smitten by the Lord, Aaron knew that God could not err—he "held his peace." This is our right spot! If we know anything of the folly of the creature—if we know anything of the wisdom of God—this is our spot! When our dear Nadabs and Abihus are smitten before our face, our spot is to hold our peace, to put our mouth in the dust—for God is still accomplishing His object—in the face, and in spite of nature, sense, and reason!
Only one hand can ease the trouble
"The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble." Psalm 9:9
Do you not see how the scriptures always put together the malady and the remedy? How they unfold the promises as suitable to certain states and cases of soul? And how all the perfections of God are adapted to His people only so far as they are brought into peculiar circumstances? This vein runs through all the scripture. So here, the Lord is declared to be a refuge. But when? "In times of trouble." We do not need Him to be a refuge when there is no trouble. Shall I use the expression without irreverence—'We can do without Him then.' We can—love the world—amuse ourselves with the things of time and sense—let our heads go astray after the perishing, transitory vanities of a day—set up an idol in our heart—bow down before a 'golden god'—have our affections wholly fixed on those naturally dear to us—get up in the morning, pass through the day, and lie down at night—very well without God.
But when times of trouble come—when afflictions lie heavily upon us—when we are brought into those scenes of tribulation through which we must pass to arrive at the heavenly Canaan—then we need something more than flesh and blood—then we need something more than the perishing creature can unfold—then we need something more than this vain world can amuse us with! We then need God! We need the everlasting arms to be underneath our souls—we need His consolations—we need something from the Lord's own lips dropped with the Lord's own power into our hearts!
These times of 'soul trouble' make God's people know that the Lord is their refuge. If I am in soul trouble—if my heart is surcharged with guilt—if my conscience is lacerated with the pangs of inward remorse—can the creature give me relief? Can friends dry the briny tear? Can they still the convulsive sigh? Can they calm the troubled bosom? Can they pour oil and wine into the bleeding conscience? No! They are utterly powerless in the matter! They may increase our troubles, and they often, like Job's friends, do so. But they cannot alleviate it.
Only one hand can ease the trouble—the same hand that laid it on! Only one hand can heal the wound—the same that mercifully inflicted it! Now, in these times of soul trouble, if ever we have felt them—we shall make the Lord our refuge. There is no other to go to! We may try every arm but His—we may look every way but the right way—and we may lean upon every staff but the true one. But, sooner or later, we shall be brought to this spot—that none but the Lord God Almighty, who made heaven and earth, who brought our souls and bodies into being, who has kept and preserved us to the present hour, who is around our bed, and about our path, and spies out all our ways, and who has sent His dear Son to be a propitiation for our sin—that none but this eternal Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer, who made and upholds heaven and earth—can speak peace, pardon, and consolation to our hearts!
How sweet it is in these times of trouble—to have a God to go to—to feel that there are everlasting arms to lean upon—that there is a gracious ear into which we may pour our afflictions—that there is a heart, a sympathizing heart, in the bosom of the Lord of life and glory, which feels for us—to know that there is a hand to relieve, and to experience, at times, relief from that Almighty and gracious hand!
Feeding upon this vile garbage?
Who of us (with shame be it spoken), who of us has not secretly been indulging in trains of evil thoughts? Who has not been laying, in some manner, plans of sin? Who has not been feeding upon this vile garbage? Who has not felt the love of sin in the carnal mind in the secret cravings after it? And if God's grace did not powerfully work in the conscience—who of us would not have fallen headlong into some of those snares and baits and traps, by which we would have disgraced ourselves?
At times, God implants convictions in the conscience. He gives us discoveries of the evils of our heart—and of the pride, the hypocrisy, the self-righteousness, the carnality, and wickedness of our fallen nature. And why? Because through them we are made to look out of ourselves unto the Lord Jesus Christ, as able to save us unto the uttermost from every corruption of our fallen nature!
"Whereby He has granted to us His precious and exceedingly great promises." 2 Peter 1:4
God's promises, as received into a broken heart and contrite spirit—bring sweet and blessed peace into the soul—melt the heart with a sense of God's unceasing goodness and mercy—make our affections spiritual—lift us up out of trouble—bring us away from the world—and subdue the power of sin!
It is not our holiness
It is not our holiness, nor our purity, nor our piety which bring us near to the Lord—but our felt sinnership, our guilt, our filth, our condemnation, and our shame!
Oh that I knew where I might find Him!
"Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" Job 23:3
I can picture to myself a consultation of ministers on Job's case, with the various opinions they would give, and the various remedies they would propose. Here is the poor patient, and he keeps crying out, "O that I knew where I might find Him!" The chief Rabbi of the Pharisees would say, "Kneel down Job, and say your prayers—is not that sufficient?" The Catholic clergyman would urge, "Hear the voice of the only true Church—attend daily upon her admirable Liturgy—come to the altar, and partake of the flesh and blood of the Lord." The Wesleyan minister would cry, "Up and be doing—try your best—exert your free will, and shake off this gloom and despondency." The general Evangelical minister would advise "cheerful and active piety, to subscribe to Societies, and exert himself in the Lord's cause." And the dry doctrinal Calvinistic minister, with a look of contempt, would say, "Away with your doubts and fears, Job—this living upon frames and feelings, and poring over yourself. Do not gloat over your corruptions—look to Jesus—you are complete in Him—why should you fear? You are quite safe." But the sick patient would still groan out, "Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" He would say, "You may all be very wise men, but to me you are physicians of no value! Oh that I knew where I might find Him!"
What Job wanted
"Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" Job 23:3
What Job wanted was the sweet presence of the Lord in his soul—access unto Him by faith—some testimony from the Lord's lips—some sweet and precious discoveries of the Lord's grace, mercy and peace. But some might say, "Is there not a Bible to read! Can't you find Him there?" Another might say, "Is there not a mercy-seat! Can't you find Him there?" Another might say, "Is there not such and such a chapel! Can't you find Him there?" Another might say, "Is there not such a duty! Can't you find Him there?" Another might say, "Is there not such a doctrine! Can't you find Him there?" Another might say, "Is there not such an ordinance! Can't you find Him there?" Another might say, "Is there not such a gospel church! Can't you find Him there?"
But the poor soul still groans out, "Oh that I knew where I might find Him! For I have tried all these things; and I cannot find Him in these doctrines, duties, privileges, ordinances—in hearing, reading, or in talking."
"Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" says the poor sorrowing, groaning soul. "If I could but find the Lord in my heart and conscience, if I could but taste His blessed presence in my soul, I would want no more." That soul is safe which is here—for none ever breathed out these sighs, groanings and cries into the bosom of the Lord, and said, "Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" that did not find Him sooner or later, and embrace Him in the arms of faith and affection as the altogether lovely One!
What is repentance?
What is repentance? The conviction of sin produced by the operation of the Spirit upon the conscience—piercing and penetrating the soul with the guilt of transgression—and creating self-loathing and self-abhorrence on account of the manifested evils of our hearts, lips, and lives. Honest confessions of our sins at the footstool of mercy—a broken heart and a contrite spirit—a truly penitent soul, melted, dissolved, and laid low in tears of godly sorrow at the feet of Christ—will always accompany that repentance unto life, which is the gift of Jesus.
A man's greatest & worst enemy
"My deadly enemies, who compass me about." Psalm 17:9
How often are we defeated by our enemies! You may have many enemies; but there is no enemy—so subtle—so dangerous—so unwearied—and ever so close at hand—as that which you carry in your own bosom! The greatest enemy that we have to cope with, is that enemy self. A man may do himself more injury in five minutes than all his enemies put together could do in fifty years! Self, therefore, is and ever must be a man's greatest and worst enemy! And how often are we defeated by this enemy! Self gets the better of us—pride, covetousness, fleshly lusts, carnality, worldly-mindedness, unbelief—some indulged evil, some besetting sin for a time overcomes the soul, and we are defeated by this enemy!
Screwed into him by an Almighty hand
The humble man has a solemn sense of God's holiness—and of his own filthiness before Him. He who is really humble has had a true sight of himself—and carries about with him a deep and abiding sense of his vileness and filthiness. The base pride, presumption, and hypocrisy of his fallen nature, has been turned up by God's plough in his conscience. He therefore loathes himself in his own sight as a monster of iniquity—and feels that he has sin enough in his heart to damn a thousand worlds! He sees and feels himself one of the most abominable, carnal, sensual, earthly, and vile wretches, that can crawl on God's earth! He feels that he contains in himself the seeds and buddings of those crimes that have brought hundreds to the gallows! And these feelings he carries about with him—not as a theory floating in his brain—nor as a doctrine gathered from the Scriptures—but as a solemn reality, lodged and planted by God Himself in his soul—a conviction fastened and screwed into him by an Almighty hand. This is the way that a man learns humility—not as a cultivated religious duty—but as a lesson spiritually taught him. Now, he sees what a base, helpless, needy, naked wretch he really is.
The furnace of affliction
"I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction." Isaiah 48:10
The Lord's people are an afflicted people. The afflictions that the Lord's people have to pass through are not meant to be light ones. The Lord lays no light burdens on His people's shoulders. His purpose is to bring them to a certain point to work a certain work in their souls—to reduce them to that helplessness, weakness and powerlessness in which His strength is made manifest.
The nominal professor of religion
The children of God and the mere nominal professors hold the same truths—but they believe them in a different way. The nominal professor receives the doctrines because he sees them in God's Word. The child of God receives them because they are taken out of God's Word by the Holy Spirit—and are revealed with power to his soul. Thus the living family and the nominal professor of religion differ in the way they believe the truth. The one believing it spiritually—the other believing it naturally. The one believing it with his heart—the other believing it with his head. The one feeling it in his conscience—the other having it merely floating in his brain. A mere professor of religion may have the doctrines of grace in his head—but is devoid of the feeling power of truth in his soul.
We cannot help or deliver ourselves
Could the loving heart of Jesus sympathize with and deliver us, unless He saw and knew all that passes within us—and had all power, as well as all compassion, to exert on our behalf? We are continually in circumstances where no man can do us the least good, and where we cannot help or deliver ourselves. We are in snares, and cannot break them. We are in temptations—and cannot deliver ourselves out of them. We are in trouble—and cannot comfort ourselves. We are wandering sheep—and cannot find the way back to the fold. We are continually roving after idols, and hewing out 'broken cisterns'—and cannot return to 'the fountain of living waters.' How suitable, then, and sweet it is, to those who are thus exercised, to see that there is a gracious Immanuel at the right hand of the Father—whose heart is filled with love—whose affections move with compassion—who has shed His own precious blood that we might live—who has wrought out a glorious righteousness—and is able to save unto the uttermost all who come unto God by Him.
What is vital godliness?
What is vital godliness? To make myself good and holy? To make myself religious and serious, and a decidedly pious person? Such husks may satisfy swine—but they will not satisfy a living soul. What must I do, then, to make myself better? Nothing! Can I, by any exertion of creature-will or power, change my Ethiopian skin, or wash out my leopard spots? To feel day by day less and less in self—to become more foolish, weak, and powerless—and yet, as poor, needy, weak, and helpless, to be drawing supplies out of Christ's fullness, and to live a life of faith on the Son of God—to know something of this, is to know something of what true religion is. And to know a little of this, will make a man more outwardly and inwardly holy, than all the good works or pious resolutions in the world.
Who that knows himself and the idolatry of his fallen nature dares deny that he backslides perpetually in heart, lip, or life? Can any of us here deny that we have—backslidden from our first love—backslidden from simplicity and godly sincerity—backslidden from reverence and godly fear—backslidden from spirituality and heavenly-mindedness—backslidden from the breathings of affection and pouring forth of the heart into the bosom of the Lord? And if we have not been allowed to backslide into open sin, if the Lord has kept us, and not allowed us to be cast down into the mire—yet have we not committed the twofold evil which the Lord charges upon His people—"For My people have done two evil things: They have forsaken Me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!"
By the fall
By the fall, human nature became—thoroughly depraved—alienated from the life of God—subservient to Satan—madly in love with sin—opposed to God—and hostile to Him at every point.
"The entrance of Your words gives light." Psalm 119:130
The entrance of divine light into the conscience is needed for a man to know himself. He must be experimentally taught and made to feel that he is a poor, needy, naked, guilty, filthy wretch—that he is a complete mass of disease, corruption, and pollution—that by nature he is nothing and has nothing spiritually good—that there is no one thing is his heart that God can look upon with acceptance—but that he is a vile fallen creature, who must be saved by sovereign grace. No man can know anything of the horrible nature of sin, of the black pollution that lurks in his bosom, of the dreadful condition of his most depraved, diseased nature—no man can know them so as to feel what they really are—no man can shrink, as it were, into the very depths of self-abasement—except him into whose heart light has come—into whose soul there has been an 'entrance of God's words'—and into whose conscience the entrance of that word has communicated light as to who God is, and light as to what he himself is naturally, before Him.
When that heavenly Teacher writes His lesson of convictions in the conscience, the living soul is brought to groan and sigh, to lament and mourn as a polluted sinner before God—as a deeply infected wretch, a vile leper who has to stand with his clothes torn, and his head bare, crying—Unclean, unclean! It is the entrance of God's words into his conscience, which has given him light upon this inward leprosy.
It is no easy smooth path
The way to heaven is a rough and rugged road—encompassed with difficulties and beset with temptations. It is no easy smooth path—but one that requires a vigorous traveler, one strengthened and upheld by the power and grace of God to hold on to the end.
Overcome, beaten & defeated?
No man ever gained the victory over self, or overcame sin—who depended upon himself or trusted to his own strength. But when, after repeated and aggravated failures, almost in an agony of despair, he falls down before God, overcome, beaten and defeated, and with longing eyes looks to Him who sits upon the throne, and begs of Him to undertake His cause—then that victory which was impossible to nature, now becomes possible to grace—and that which he could never have done for himself, the Lord does for him in the twinkling of an eye!
It levels this idol prostrate in the dust
"I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children." Matthew 11:25
It is God's glory—to pour contempt upon human wisdom, and to bring it to nothing—to take the wise in their own craftiness—to lay low in the dust all that man idolizes, that man exalts himself in, and that man loves and adores. If there is one thing in our day more idolized than another, it is the 'wisdom of the creature.' If there is one idol which the world lying in wickedness and the world lying in profession, worship more than another (always excepting Mammon—the great idol before whom all fall down and worship), it is creature-wisdom. But this text of Scripture makes a direct stab at the vitals of creature-wisdom—it levels this idol prostrate in the dust—and as Dagon could not stand before the ark of the covenant, so human wisdom must fall prostrate before this declaration from the mouth of the Son of God, and become a stump. All human knowledge, and all human wisdom leave man just where they found him—carnal, sensual, worldly, dead in trespasses and sins!