"That no flesh should glory in His presence." 1 Cor. 1:29
Man's religion is to build up the creature. God's religion is to throw the creature down in the dust of self-abasement, and to glorify Christ.
A mystery to yourself
"I find then, the law that, to me, while I desire to do good, evil is present." Romans 7:21
Are you not often a mystery to yourself? Warm one moment—cold the next! Abasing yourself one hour—exalting yourself the following! Loving the world, full of it, steeped up to your head in it today—crying, groaning, and sighing for a sweet manifestation of the love of God tomorrow! Brought down to nothingness, covered with shame and confusion, on your knees before you leave your room—filled with pride and self-importance before you have got down stairs! Despising the world, and willing to give it all up for one taste of the love of Jesus when in solitude—trying to grasp it with both hands when in business!
What a mystery are you! Touched by love—and stung with hatred! Possessing a little wisdom—and a great deal of folly! Earthly-minded—and yet having the affections in heaven! Pressing forward—and lagging behind! Full of sloth—and yet taking the kingdom with violence! And thus the Spirit, by a process which we may feel but cannot adequately describe—leads us into the mystery of the two natures perpetually struggling and striving against each other in the same bosom—so that one man cannot more differ from another, than the same man differs from himself.
But the mystery of the kingdom of heaven is this—that our carnal mind undergoes no alteration, but maintains a perpetual war with grace. And thus, the deeper we sink in self-abasement under a sense of our vileness, the higher we rise in a knowledge of Christ, and the blacker we are in our own view—the more lovely does Jesus appear.
O, what slow learners!
"So Jesus said, Do you also still not understand?" Matthew 15:16
What lessons we need day by day to teach us anything aright, and how it is for the most part, "line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little." O, what slow learners!—what dull, forgetful scholars!—what ignoramuses!—what stupid blockheads!—what stubborn pupils! Surely no scholar at a school, old or young, could learn so little of natural things as we seem to have learned of spiritual things after so many years instruction—so many chapters read—so many sermons heard—so many prayers put up—so much talking about religion. How small, how weak is the amount of growth, compared with all we have read and heard and talked about! But it is a mercy that the Lord saves whom He will save—and that we are saved by free grace—and free grace alone!
Take me as I am
"Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved." Jeremiah 17:14
Here is this sin—Save me from it! Here is this snare—Break it to pieces! Here is this lust—Lord, subdue it! Here is this temptation—Deliver me out of it! Here is my proud heart—Lord, humble it! Here is my unbelieving heart—Take it away, and give me faith—give me submission to Your mind and will. Take me as I am with all my sin and shame and work in me everything well pleasing in Your sight!
Nothing but a huge clod of dust
"Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Colossians 3:2
Everything upon earth, as viewed by the eyes of the Majesty of heaven—is base and paltry. Earth is after all, nothing but a huge clod of dust, and as such, as insignificant in the eyes of its Maker as the small dust of the balance, or the drop of the bucket. What, then, are its highest objects—its loftiest aims—its grandest pursuits—its noblest employments—in the sight of Him who inhabits eternity, but base and worthless? Vanity is stamped on all earth's attainments. All earthly pursuits and high accomplishments—wealth, rank, learning, power, or pleasure—end in death! The breath of God's displeasure soon lays low in the grave all that is rich and mighty, high and proud. But that effectual work of grace on the heart, whereby the chosen vessels of mercy are delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son, calls them out of those low, groveling pursuits—those earthly toys—those base and sensual lusts—in which other men seek at once their happiness and their ruin.
How can they escape?
"He will keep the feet of His saints." 1 Samuel 2:9
The Lord sees His poor scattered pilgrims traveling through a valley of tears, journeying through a waste-howling wilderness—a path beset with baits, traps, and snares in every direction. How can they escape? Why, the Lord 'keeps their feet.' He carries them through every rough place—as a tender parent carries a little child. When about to fall—He graciously lays His everlasting arms underneath them. And when tottering and stumbling, and their feet ready to slip—He mercifully upholds them from falling altogether.
But do you think that He has not different ways for different feet? The God of creation has not made two flowers, nor two leaves upon a tree alike—and will He cause all His people to walk in precisely the same path? No. We have each our path—each our troubles—each our trials—each peculiar traps and snares laid for our feet. And the wisdom of the all-wise God is shown by His eyes being in every place—marking the footsteps of every pilgrim—suiting His remedies to meet their individual case and necessity—appearing for them when nobody else could do them any good—watching so tenderly over them, as though the eyes of His affection were bent on one individual—and carefully noting the goings of each, as though all the powers of the Godhead were concentrated on that one person to keep him from harm!
God shall supply
"And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19
Until we are brought into the depths of poverty, we shall never know nor value Christ's riches. If, then, you are a child of God, a poor and needy soul, a tempted and tried believer in Christ—God shall supply all your needs! They may be very great. It may seem to you, sometimes, as though there were not upon all the face of the earth such a wretch as you—as though there never could be a child of God in your state—so dark, so stupid, so blind and ignorant, so proud and worldly, so presumptuous and hypocritical, so continually backsliding after idols, so continually doing things that you know are hateful in God's sight. But whatever your need be—it is not beyond the reach of divine supply! And the deeper your need, the more is Jesus glorified in supplying it.
Do not say then, that your case is too bad—your needs are too many—your perplexities too great—your temptations too powerful. No case can be too bad! No temptations can be too powerful! No sin can be too black! No perplexity can be too hard! No state in which the soul can get, is beyond the reach of the almighty and compassionate love, that burns in the bosom of the Redeemer!
"For we don't have a high priest who can't be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." Hebrews 4:15
The child of God, spiritually taught and convinced, is deeply sensible of his infirmities. Yes, that he is encompassed with infirmities—that he is nothing else but infirmities. And therefore the great High Priest to whom he comes as a burdened sinner—to whom he has recourse in the depth of his extremity—and at whose feet he falls overwhelmed with a sense of his helplessness, sin, misery, and guilt—is so suitable to him as one able to sympathize with his infirmities.
We would, if left to our own conceptions, naturally imagine that Jesus is too holy to look down in compassion on a filthy, guilty wretch like ourselves. Surely, surely, He will spurn us from His feet. Surely, surely, His holy eyes cannot look upon us in our blood, guilt, filth, wretchedness, misery and shame. Surely, surely, He cannot bestow one heart's thought—one moment's sympathy—or feel one spark of love towards those who are so unlike Him. Nature, sense, and reason would thus argue, "I must be holy, perfectly holy—for Jesus to love—I must be pure, perfectly pure—spotless and sinless, for Jesus to think of. But that I, a sinful, guilty, defiled wretch—that I, encompassed with infirmities—that I, whose heart is a cage of unclean birds—that I, stained and polluted with a thousand iniquities—that I can have any inheritance in Him—or that He can have any love or compassion towards me—nature, sense, reason, and human religion in all its shapes and forms, revolts from the idea."
It is as though Jesus specially address Himself to the poor, burdened child of God who feels his infirmities, who cannot boast of his own wisdom, strength, righteousness, and consistency—but is all weakness and helplessness. It seems as if He would address Himself to the case of such a helpless wretch—and pour a sweet cordial into his bleeding conscience. We, the children of God—we, who each know our own plague and our own sore—we, who carry about with us day by day a body of sin and death, that makes us lament, sigh, and groan—we, who know painfully what it is to be encompassed with infirmities—we, who come to His feet as being nothing and having nothing but sin and woe—we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our infirmities, but One who carries in His bosom that sympathizing, merciful, feeling, tender, and compassionate heart!
Why are you in despair?
"Why are you in despair, O my soul? Why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God! For I shall still praise Him, the saving help of my countenance, and my God." Psalm 42:11
Do you forget, O soul, that the way to heaven is a very strait and narrow path—too narrow for you to carry your sins in it with you? God sees it good that you should be cast down. You were getting very proud, O soul. The world had gotten hold of your heart. You were seeking great things for yourself. You were secretly roving away from the Lord. You were too much lifted up in SELF. The Lord has sent you these trials and difficulties and allowed these temptations to fall upon you, to bring you down from your state of false security.
There is reason therefore, even to praise God for being cast down, and for being so disturbed. How this opens up parts of God's Word which you never read before with any feeling. How it gives you sympathy and communion with the tried and troubled children of God. How it weans and separates you from dead professors. How it brings you in heart and affection, out of the world that lies in wickedness. And how it engages your thoughts, time after time, upon the solemn matters of eternity—instead of being a prey to every idle thought and imagination, and tossed up and down upon a sea of vanity and folly. But, above all, when there is a sweet response from the Lord, and the power of divine things is inwardly felt, in enabling us to hope in God, and to praise His blessed name—then we see the benefit of being cast down and so repeatedly and continually disturbed.
Treasure in earthen vessels
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels." 2 Corinthians 4:7
Do not be surprised if you feel that in yourself you are but an earthen vessel—if you are made deeply and daily sensible of your frail body. Do not be surprised if your clay house is often tottering—if sickness sometimes assails your mortal tabernacle—if in your flesh there dwells no good thing; if your soul often cleaves to the dust—and if you are unable to retain a sweet sense of God's goodness and love. Do not be surprised nor startled at the corruptions of your depraved nature—at the depth of sin in your carnal mind—at the vile abominations which lurk and work in your deceitful and desperately wicked heart. Bear in mind that it is the will of God that this heavenly treasure which makes you rich for eternity, should be lodged in an earthen vessel.
We have ever to feel our native weakness—and that without Christ we can do nothing—that we may be clothed with humility, and feel ourselves the chief of sinners, and less than the least of all saints. We thus learn to prize the heights, breadths, lengths, and depths of the love of Christ, who stooped so low to raise us up so high!
Trials, temptations, strippings, emptyings
The very trials and afflictions, and the sore temptations through which God's family pass, all eventually endear Christ to them. And depend upon it, if you are a child of God, you will sooner or later, in your travels through this wilderness, find your need of Jesus as "able to save to the uttermost." There will be such things in your heart, and such feelings in your mind—the temptations you will meet with will be such—that nothing short of a Savior that is able to save to the uttermost can save you out of your desperate case and felt circumstances as utterly lost and helpless.
This a great point to come to. All trials, all temptations, all strippings, all emptyings that do not end here are valueless—because they lead the soul away from God. But the convictions, the trials, the temptations, the strippings, the emptyings, that bring us to this spot—that we have nothing, and can do nothing, but the Lord alone must do it all—these have a blessed effect, because they eventually make Jesus very near and dear unto us.
"There is no fear of God before their eyes." Romans 3:18
Those who have every reason to fear as to their eternal state before God, have for the most part, no fear at all. They are secure, and free from doubt and fear. The depths of human hypocrisy—the dreadful lengths to which profession may go—the deceit of the carnal heart—the snares spread for the unwary feet—the fearful danger of being deceived at the last—these traps and pitfalls are not objects of anxiety to those dead in sin.
As long as they can pacify natural conscience, and do something to soothe any transient conviction—they are glad to be deceived! God does not see fit to disturb their quiet. He has no purpose of mercy towards them—they are not subjects of His kingdom—they are not objects of His love. He therefore leaves them carnally secure, as in a dream—from which they will not awake until the day of judgment.
"From all your idols will I cleanse you." Ezekiel 36:25
When there are no crosses, temptations, or trials, a man is sure to go out after and cleave to idols. It matters not what experience he has had. If once he ceases to be plagued and tried, he will be setting up his household gods in the secret chambers of his heart. Profit or pleasure, self-indulgence or self-gratification, will surely, in one form or another, engross his thoughts, and steal away his heart. Nor is there anything too trifling or insignificant to become an idol. Whatever is meditated on preferably to God—whatever is desired more than He—whatever more interests us, pleases us, occupies our waking hours, or is more constantly in our mind—becomes an idol, and a source of sin. It is not the magnitude of the idol, but its existence as an object of worship—that constitutes idolatry. I have seen some 'Burmese idols' not much larger than my hand—and I have seen some 'Egyptian idols' weighing many tons. But both were equally idols—and the comparative size had nothing to do with the question.
So spiritually, an idol is not to be measured by its size, or its relative importance or non-importance. A flower may be as much an idol to one man, as a chest full of gold to another. If you watch your heart, you will see idols rising and setting all day long, nearly as thickly as the stars by night. But God sends trials, difficulties, temptations, besetments, losses, afflictions, to pull down these idols—or rather to pull away our hearts from them. These difficulties pull us out of fleshly ease—make us cry for mercy—pull down all rotten props—hunt us out of false refuges—and strip us of vain hopes and delusive expectations.
"You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God." 1 Thessalonians 1:9
Nothing is too small or too insignificant which, at times, may not be an idol. What is an idol? Something my carnal mind loves. How may I know whether my carnal mind loves it? When we think of it, and are very much pleased with it. We pet it, love and fondle it, dallying and playing with it, like a mother with her babe. See how she takes the little thing and gazes at it. Her eyes are fixed on it—she dotes upon it because she loves it. Thus we may know an idol if we examine our own hearts—by what our imagination, desires and secret thoughts are going out after. Instead of being spiritually-minded, having his heart and affections in heaven, he has something in his mind which it is going out after—something or other laying hold of the affections.
The child of God has, more or less, all these evil propensities working within. There is idolatry in every man's heart. How deep this idolatry is rooted in a man's heart! How it steals upon his soul! Whatever is indulged in—how it creeps over him, until it gets such power that it becomes master. A man does not know himself if he does not know what power this idolatry has over him. None but God can make the man know it—and when the Lord delivers him, he then turns to God and says, "What a vile wretch I have been! What a monster to go after these idols, loving this thing, and that. A wretch—a monster of iniquity, the vilest wretch that ever crawled on the face of God's earth—for my wicked heart to go out after these idols!" When the soul is brought down to a sense of its vileness and loathsomeness—and God's patience and forbearance—it turns to God from idols, to serve the only living and true God, who pardons the idolater.
Through the inward conflicts, secret workings, mysterious changes, and ever-varying exercises of his soul, the true Christian becomes established in a deep experience of his own folly and God's wisdom—his own weakness and Christ's strength—his own sinfulness and the Lord's goodness—his own backslidings and the Spirit's recoveries—his own base ingratitude and Jehovah's patience—the aboundings of sin and the superaboundings of grace. He thus becomes daily more and more confirmed in the vanity of the creature—the utter helplessness of man—the deceitfulness and hypocrisy of the human heart—the sovereignty of distinguishing grace—the fewness of heaven-taught ministers—the scanty number of living souls—and the great rareness of true religion.
Wounds, bruises, putrefying sores
"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 soothed with ointment." Isaiah 1:5, 6
Every thought, word, and action is polluted by sin. Every mental faculty is depraved. The will chooses evil. The affections cleave to earthly things. The memory, like a broken sieve, retains the bad and lets fall the good. The judgment, like a bribed or drunken judge, pronounces mindless or wrong decisions. The conscience, like an opium eater, lies asleep and drugged in stupefied silence.
When all these 'master faculties of the mind' are so drunken and disorderly—need we wonder that the bodily members are a godless, rebellious crew? Lusts call out for gratification. Unbelief and infidelity murmur. Tempers growl and mutter. Every bad passion strives hard for the mastery. O the evils of the human heart, which, let loose, have filled earth with misery, and hell with victims—which deluged the world with the flood—burnt Sodom and Gomorrah with fire from heaven—and are ripening the world for the final conflagration! Every sin—which has made this fair earth a 'present hell' has filled the air with groans, and has drenched the ground with blood—dwells in your heart and mine!
Now, as this is opened up to the conscience by the Spirit of God, we feel indeed to be of all men most sinful and miserable—and of all most guilty, polluted, and vile. But it is this—and nothing but this—which cuts to pieces our 'fleshly righteousness, wisdom, and strength'—which slays our delusive hopes—and lays us low at the footstool of mercy—without one good thought, word, or action to propitiate an angry Judge. It is this which brings the soul to this point—that if saved, it can only be saved by the free grace, sovereign mercy, and tender compassion of Almighty God!
The wilderness wanderer
"They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in." Psalm 107:4
The true Christian finds this world to be a wilderness. There is no change in the world itself. The change is in the man's heart. The wilderness wanderer thinks it altered—a different world from what he has hitherto known—his friends, his own family, the employment in which he is daily engaged, the general pursuits of men—their cares and anxieties, their hopes and prospects, their amusements and pleasures, and what I may call 'the general din and whirl of life'—all seem to him different to what they were—and for a time perhaps he can scarcely tell whether the change is in them, or in himself.
This however is the prominent and uppermost feeling in his mind—that he finds himself, to his surprise—a wanderer in a world which has changed altogether its appearance to him. The fair, beautiful world, in which was all his happiness and all his home—has become to him a dreary wilderness. Sin has been fastened in its conviction on his conscience. The Holy Spirit has taken the veil of unbelief and ignorance off his heart. He now sees the world in a wholly different light—and instead of a paradise it has become a wilderness—for sin, dreadful sin, has marred all its beauty and happiness.
It is not because the world itself has changed that the Christian feels it to be a wilderness—but because he himself has changed. There is nothing in this world which can really gratify or satisfy the true Christian. What once was to him a happy and joyous world has now become a barren wilderness. The scene of his former pursuits, pleasures, habits, delights, prospects, hopes, anticipations of profit or happiness—is now turned into a barren wasteland. He cannot perhaps tell how or why the change has taken place, but he feels it—deeply feels it. He may try to shake off his trouble and be a little cheerful and happy as he was before—but if he gets a little imaginary relief, all his guilty pangs come back upon him with renewed strength and increased violence. God means to make the world a wilderness to every child of His, that he may not find his happiness in it, but be a stranger and a pilgrim upon earth.
"The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation." 2 Peter 2:9
Few will sincerely and spiritually go to the Lord, and cry from their hearts to be delivered from the power of a temptation—until it presses so weightily upon their conscience, and lies so heavy a burden upon their soul, that none but God can remove it. But when we really feel the burden of a temptation—when, though our flesh may love it, our spirit hates it—when, though there may be in our carnal mind a cleaving to it, our conscience bleeds under it, and we are brought spiritually to loathe it and to loathe ourselves for it—when we are enabled to go to the Lord in real sincerity of soul and honesty of heart, beseeching Him to deliver us from it—I believe, that the Lord will, sooner or later, either remove that temptation entirely in His providence or by His grace, or so weaken its power that it shall cease to be what it was before, drawing our feet into paths of darkness and evil.
As long, however, as we are in that state of which the prophet speaks, "Their heart is divided—now shall they be found faulty" (Hosea 10:2)—as long as we are in that carnal, wavering mind, which James describes—"A double minded man is unstable in all his ways"—as long as we are hankering after the temptation—casting longing, lingering side glances after it, rolling it as a sweet morsel under our tongue—and though conscience may testify against it, yet not willing to have it taken away, there is no hearty cry—nor sigh—nor spiritual breathing of our soul—that God would remove it from us.
But when we are brought, as in the presence of a heart-searching God, to hate the evil to which we are tempted—and cry to Him that He would—for His honor and for our soul's good—take the temptation away, or dull and deaden its power—sooner or later the Lord will hear the cry of those who groan to be delivered from those temptations, which are so powerfully pressing them down to the dust.
Idling life away like an idiot or a madman
When one is spiritually reborn, he sees at one and the same moment God and self—justice and guilt—power and helplessness—a holy law and a broken commandment—eternity and time—the purity of the Creator, and the filthiness of the creature. And these things he sees—not merely as declared in the Bible—but as revealed in himself as personal realities, involving all his happiness or all his misery in time and in eternity.
Thus it is with him as though a new existence had been communicated, and as if for the first time he had found there was a God! It is as though all his days he had been asleep, and were now awakened—asleep upon the top of a mast, with the raging waves beneath—as if all his past life were a dream, and the dream were now at an end. He has been hunting butterflies—blowing soap bubbles—fishing for minnows—picking daisies—building houses of cards—and idling life away like an idiot or a madman. He had been perhaps wrapped up in a religious profession—advanced even to the office of a deacon, or mounted in a pulpit. He had learned to talk about Christ, and election, and grace, and fill his mouth with the language of Zion. But what did he experimentally know of these things? Nothing, absolutely nothing! Ignorant of his own ignorance (of all kinds of ignorance the worst)—he thought himself rich, and increased with goods, and to have need of nothing—and knew not that he was wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
This wily devil!
What a foe to one's peace is one's own spirit! What shall I call it? It is often an infernal spirit. Why? Because it bears the mark of Satan upon it. The pride of our spirit, the presumption of our spirit, the hypocrisy of our spirit, the intense selfishness of our spirit, are often hidden from us. This wily devil, SELF, can wear such masks and assume such forms! This serpent, SELF, can so creep and crawl, can so twist and turn, and can disguise itself under such false appearances—that it is often hidden from ourselves.
Who is the greatest enemy we have to fear? We all have our enemies. But who is our greatest enemy? He whom you carry in your own bosom—your daily, hourly, and unmovable companion, who entwines himself in nearly every thought of your heart—who sometimes puffs up with pride, sometimes inflames with lust, sometimes inflates with presumption, and sometimes works under pretended humility and fleshly holiness. God is determined to stain the pride of human glory. He will never let SELF, (which is but another word for the creature,) wear the crown of victory. It must be crucified, denied, and mortified!
To bathe in the ocean of endless bliss!
"Passing through the Valley of Weeping." Psalm 84:6
Every living soul that has been experimentally taught his lost condition—that has known something of a resting place in Christ—that has turned his back upon both the world and the professing church—and gone weeping Zionward, that he may live in Jesus, feel His power, taste His love, know His blood, rejoice in His grace—every such soul shall, like Israel of old, be borne safely through this waste-howling wilderness—shall be carried through this valley of tears—and taken to enjoy eternal bliss and glory in the presence of Jesus—to bathe in the ocean of endless bliss!
The King in His beauty
"Your eyes shall see the King in His beauty." Isaiah 33:17
Where in heaven or on earth can there be found such a lovely Object as the Son of God? If you have never seen any beauty in Jesus you have never seen Jesus—He has never revealed Himself to you—you never had a glimpse of His lovely face—nor a sense of His presence—nor a word from His lips—nor a touch from His hand. But if you have seen Him by the eye of faith—and He has revealed Himself to you even in a small measure—you have seen a beauty in Him beyond all other beauties, for it is a holy beauty, a divine beauty, the beauty of His heavenly grace, the beauty of His uncreated and eternal glory.
How beautiful and glorious does He show Himself to be in His atoning blood and dying love. Even as sweating great drops of blood in Gethsemane's gloomy garden, and as hanging in torture and agony upon Calvary's cross—faith can see a beauty in the glorious Redeemer, even in the lowest depths of ignominy and shame! How is your Beloved better than others? My Beloved is dark and dazzling, better than ten thousand others!
Can the Ethiopian change his skin?
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." Jeremiah 13:23
Before the soul can know anything about salvation, it must learn deeply and experimentally the nature of sin—and of itself, as stained and polluted by sin. The soul is proud—and needs to be humbled. The soul is careless—and needs to be awakened. The soul is alive—and needs to be killed. The soul is full—and requires to be emptied. The soul is whole—and needs to be wounded. The soul is clothed—and requires to be stripped. The soul is, by nature, self-righteous, self-seeking, buried deep in worldliness and carnality, utterly blind and ignorant—filled with presumption, arrogance, conceit, and enmity. It hates all that is heavenly and spiritual.
Sin, in all its various forms, is its natural element. To make man the direct opposite of what he originally is—to make him love God instead of hating Him—to make him fear God instead of mocking Him—to make him obey God instead of rebelling against Him—to make him to tremble at His dreadful majesty instead of defiantly charging against Him—to do this mighty work, and to effect this wonderful change requires the implantation of a new nature by the immediate hand of God Himself! Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to doing evil.
That heavenly Teacher
We do not learn that we are sinners merely by reading it in the Bible. It must be wrought—I might say, burnt into us. Nor will anyone sincerely and spiritually cry for mercy—until sin is spiritually felt and known—in its misery, in its dominion, in its guilt, in its entanglements, in its wiles and allurements, in its filth and pollution, and in its condemnation. Where the Holy Spirit works, He kindles sighs, groans, supplications, wrestlings, and pleadings to know Christ—feel His love—taste the efficacy of His atoning blood—and embrace Him as all our salvation and all our desire. And though there may, and doubtless will be, much barrenness, hardness, deadness, and apparent carelessness often felt—still that heavenly Teacher will revive His work, though often by painful methods—nor will He let the quickened soul rest short of a personal and experimental enjoyment of Christ and His glorious salvation.
Preserving grace before regeneration
"To those who are called, sanctified by God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ." Jude 1
What a mercy it is for God's people that before they have a 'vital union' with Christ—before they are grafted into Him experimentally—they have an 'eternal, immanent union' with Him before all worlds. It is by virtue of this eternal union that they come into the world—at such a time, at such a place, from such parents, under such circumstances—as God has appointed.
It is by virtue of this eternal union that the circumstances of their lives are ordained. By virtue of this eternal union they are preserved in Christ before they are effectually called. They cannot die until God has brought about a vital union with Christ! Whatever sickness they may pass through—whatever injuries they may be exposed to—whatever perils assault them on sea or land—die they will not, die they cannot—until God's purposes are executed in bringing them into a vital union with the Son of His love.
Thus, this eternal union watched over every circumstance of their birth—watched over their childhood—watched over their manhood—watched over them until the appointed time and spot, when "the God of all grace," according to His eternal purpose, was pleased to quicken their souls, and thus bring about an experimental union with the Lord of life and glory.
"If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:36
To be made free implies a liberty from the WORLD and the spirit of covetousness in the heart. If we were to follow into their shops some who talk much of 'gospel liberty,' we might find that the world's fetter had not been struck off their heart—that they had a 'golden' chain, though invisible to their own eyes, very closely wrapped round their heart.
And there is a being made free from the power of SIN. I greatly fear, if we could follow into their holes and corners, and secret chambers, many who prattle about gospel liberty, we would find that sin had not yet lost its hold upon them, that there was some secret or open sin that entangled them, that there was some lust—some passion—some evil temper—some wretched pride or other—that wound its fetters very close round their heart.
And also there is a being made free from SELF—proud self, presumptuous self, self-exalting self, flesh-pleasing self, hypocritical self—self in all its various shapes and turns—self in all its crooked hypocrisy and windings. If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!
These fugitive, transitory things
"The world is passing away with its lusts, but he who does God's will remains forever." 1 John 2:17
There is a reality in true religion, and indeed, rightly viewed, a reality in nothing else. For every other thing passes away like a dream of the night, and comes to an end like a tale that is told. Now you cannot say of a thing that passes away and comes to an end that it is real. It may have the appearance of reality—when in fact it is but a shadow. Money, jewels, pictures, books, furniture, securities—are transitory. Money may be spent, jewels be lost, books be burnt, furniture decay, pictures vanish by time and age, securities be stolen. Nothing is real but that which has an abiding substance. Health decays, strength diminishes, beauty flees the cheek, sight and hearing grow dim, the mind itself gets feeble, riches make to themselves wings and flee away, children die, friends depart, old age creeps on—and life itself comes to a close.
These fugitive, transitory things are then mere shadows. There is no substance, no enduring substance in them. They are for time, and are useful for a time. Like our daily food and clothing, house and home—they support and solace us in our journey through life. But there they stop—when life ends they end with it. But real religion—and by this I understand the work of God upon the soul—abides in death and after death, goes with us through the dark valley, and lands us safe in a blessed eternity. It is, therefore, the only thing in this world of which we can say that it is real! "The world is passing away with its lusts, but he who does the will of God will remain forever."
A sad motley mixture
(The following is an excerpt from Philpot's letter to a church which desired him to come as their pastor)
"To me, the very least of all saints." Ephesians 3:8
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." 1 Timothy 1:15
Many are foolishly apt to think that a minister is more spiritual than anyone else. But I am daily more and more sensible of the desperate wickedness of my deceitful heart, and my miserable ruined state as a sinner by nature and by practice. I feel utterly unworthy of the name of a Christian, and to be ranked among the followers of the Lamb. I have no desire to palm myself off on any church, as though I were anything. I am willing to take a low place.
The more you see of me, you will be sure to find out more of my infirmities, failings, waywardness, selfishness, obstinacy, and evil temper. I am carnal, very proud, very foolish in imagination, very slothful, very worldly, dark, stupid, blind, unbelieving and ignorant. I cannot but confess that I am a strange compound—a sad motley mixture of all the most hateful and abominable vices that rise up within me, and face me at every turn.
Enlarge my heart
"I will run the way of Your commandments, when You shall enlarge my heart." Psalm 119:32
The Word of God is full of precepts—but we are totally unable to perform them in our own strength. We cannot, without divine assistance, perform the precept with a single eye to the glory of God—from heavenly motives—and in a way acceptable to the Lord, without special power from on high. We need an extraordinary power to be put forth in our hearts—a special work of the Spirit upon the conscience, in order to spiritually fulfill in the slightest degree, the least of God's commandments.
None but the Lord Himself can enlarge the heart of His people. None but the Lord can expand their hearts Godwards, and remove that narrowedness and contractedness in divine things which is the plague and burden of a God-fearing soul. When the Lord is absent—when He hides His lovely face—when He does not draw near to visit and bless—the heart contracts in its own narrow compass. But when the Lord is pleased to favor the soul with His own gracious presence, and bring Himself near to the heart, His felt presence opens, enlarges, and expands the soul—so as to receive Him in all His love and grace.
"The Lord is my rock, and my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield, and the horn of my salvation—my stronghold." Psalm 18:2
On every side are hosts of enemies ever invading our souls—trampling down every good thing in our hearts—accompanied by a flying troop of temptations, doubts, fears, guilt and bondage sweeping over our soul. And we, as regards our own strength, are helpless against them. But there is a refuge set before us in the gospel of the grace of God. The Lord Jesus Christ, as King in Zion, is there held up before our eyes—as the Rock of our refuge—our strong Tower—our impregnable Fortress—and we are encouraged by every precious promise and every gospel invitation when we are overrun and distressed by these wandering, ravaging, plundering tribes—to flee unto and find a safe refuge in Him.
Keep me safe, O God, for in You I take refuge. O Lord my God, I take refuge in You—save and deliver me from all who pursue me.
"For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6
Until, then, this supernatural light of God enters into the soul, a man has no saving knowledge of Jehovah. He may say his prayers—read his Bible—attend preaching—observe ordinances—bestow all his goods to feed the poor—or give his body to be burned—but he is as ignorant of God as the cattle that graze in the fields! He may call himself a Christian, and be thought such by others—talk much about Jesus Christ—hold a sound creed—maintain a consistent profession—pray at a prayer meeting with fluency and apparent feeling—stand up in a pulpit and contend earnestly for the doctrines of grace—excel hundreds of God's children in zeal, knowledge and conversation. And yet, if this ray of supernatural light has never shone into his soul—he is only twofold more the child of hell than those who make no profession!
(from Philpot's biography, written by his son)
There was nothing my father mistrusted more than 'childhood piety.' He insisted that children should never be taught or allowed to use the language of 'personal possession' in reference to God. To sing, for instance, "Rock of Ages, cleft for ME" or, "MY Jesus." Herein he was most logical. For by early influence and example you can train up a child to be a little patriot—a little Catholic—a little Calvinist—or a little Bolshevist. But no power on earth can make him a child of God. He took great care that we, his children, attended the means of grace, and never missed chapel or family prayers. But he never expected us to be anything but little heathen. We had, it is true, to be well behaved little heathen. If not, we got "the stick," or its equivalent.
Wearied, torn & half expiring
The poor sheep has gone astray—and having once left the fold, it is pretty sure to have gotten into some strange place or other. It has fallen down a rock—or has rolled into a ditch—or is hidden beneath a bush—or has crept into a cave—or is lying in some deep, distant ravine, where none but an experienced eye and hand can find it out.
Just so with the Lord's lost sheep. They get into strange places. They fall off rocks—slip into holes—hide among the bushes—and sometimes creep off to die in caverns. When the sheep has gone astray, the shepherd goes after it to find it. Here he sees a footprint—there a little lock of wool torn off by the thorns. Every nook he searches—into every corner he looks—until at last he finds the poor sheep wearied, torn and half expiring, with scarcely strength enough to groan forth its misery. The shepherd does not beat it home, nor thrust the goad into its back—but he gently takes it up, lays it upon his shoulder, and brings it home rejoicing.
I am weak & ignorant, full of sin
I am weak and ignorant, full of sin and compassed with infirmity. But I bless God that He has in some measure shown me the power of eternal things, and by free and sovereign grace stopped me in that career of vanity and sin in which, to all outward appearance, I was fast hurrying down to the chambers of death.
By the grace of God
"By the grace of God I am what I am." 1 Corinthians 15:10
What but sovereign grace—rich, free and superabounding grace—has made the difference between you and the world who cannot receive Him? But for His divine operations upon your soul, you would still be of the world, hardening your heart against everything good and godlike, walking on in the pride and ignorance of unbelief and self-righteousness, until you sank down into the chambers of death!
"But the anointing which you have received from Him remains in you." 1 John 2:27
All the powers of earth and hell are combined against this holy anointing, with which the children of God are so highly favored. But if God has locked up in the bosom of a saint one drop of this divine unction, that one drop is armor against all the assaults of sin—all the attacks of Satan—all the enmity of self—and all the charms, pleasures, and amusements of the world. Waves and billows of affliction may roll over the soul—but they cannot wash away this holy drop of anointing oil. Satan may shoot a thousand fiery darts to inflame all the combustible material of our carnal mind—but all his fiery darts cannot burn up that one drop of oil which God has laid up in the depths of a broken spirit. The world, with all its charms and pleasures, and its deadly opposition to the truth of God, may stir up waves of ungodliness against this holy anointing—but all the powers of earth combined can never extinguish that one drop which God has Himself lodged in the depths of a believer's heart.
And so it has been with all the dear saints of God. Not all their sorrows, backslidings, slips, falls, miseries, and wretchedness, have ever—all combined—drunk up the anointing that God has bestowed upon them. If sin could have done it—we would have sinned ourselves into hell long ago—and if the world or Satan could have destroyed it or us—they would long ago have destroyed both. If our carnal mind could have done it—it would have swept us away into floods of destruction. But the anointing abides sure, and cannot be destroyed—and where once lodged in the soul, it is secure against all the assaults of earth, sin, and hell. But the anointing which you have received from Him remains in you.
Can I be a child of God, and be thus?
Perhaps you are a poor, tempted creature—and your daily sorrow, your continual trouble is that you are so soon overcome—that your temper, your lusts, your pride, your worldliness, and your carnal, corrupt heart are perpetually getting the mastery. And from this you sometimes draw bitter conclusions. You say, in the depth of your heart, "Can I be a child of God, and be thus? What mark have I of being in favor with God when I am so easily—so continually overcome?" But the Spirit reveals Christ—taking of the things of Christ, and showing them unto us—applying the word with power to our hearts, and bringing the sweetness, reality, and blessedness of divine things into our soul. It is only in this way that He overcomes all unbelief and infidelity, doubt and fear, and sweetly assures us that all is well between God and the soul. Faith keeps eyeing the atonement—faith looks not so much to sin, as to salvation from sin—at the way whereby sin is pardoned, overcome, and subdued.
The truth shall make you free!
"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32
To a spiritual mind, sweet and self-rewarding is the task, if task it can be called, of searching the Word as for hidden treasure. No sweeter, no better employment can engage heart and hands than, in the spirit of prayer and meditation—of separation from the world—of holy fear—of a desire to know the will of God and do it—of humility, simplicity, and godly sincerity—to seek to enter into those heavenly mysteries which are stored up in the Scriptures—and this, not to furnish the head with notions, but to feed the soul with the bread of life.
Truth—received in the love and power of it, informs and establishes the judgment, softens and melts the heart, warms and draws upward the affections, makes and keeps the conscience alive and tender—is the food of faith—is the strength of hope—is the main-spring of love. To know the truth is to be made blessedly free—free from error—free from the vile heresies which everywhere abound—free from presumption—free from self-righteousness—free from the curse and bondage of the law—free from the condemnation of a guilty conscience—free from a slavish fear of the opinion of men—free from the contempt of the world—free from the scorn of worldly professors—free from following a multitude to do evil—free from companionship with those who have a name to live, but are dead. You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free!
Sin cannot be subdued in any other way
"The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God." Galatians 2:20
There is no way except by being spiritually immersed into Christ's death and life—that we can ever get a victory over our besetting sins. If, on the one hand, we have a view of a suffering Christ, and thus become immersed into His sufferings and death—the feeling, while it lasts, will subdue the power of sin. Or, on the other hand, if we get a believing view of a risen Christ, and receive supplies of grace out of His fullness—that will lift us above sin's dominion.
If sin is powerfully working in us, we need one of these two things to subdue it. When there is a view of the sufferings and sorrows, agonies and death of the Son of God, power comes down to the soul in its struggles against sin and gives it a measure of holy resistance and subduing strength against it. So, when there is a coming in of the grace and love of Christ—it lifts up the soul from the love and power of sin into a purer and holier atmosphere.
Sin cannot be subdued in any other way. You must either be immersed into Christ's sufferings and death—or you must be immersed into Christ's resurrection and life. A sight of Him as a suffering God—or a view of Him as a risen Jesus—must be connected with every successful attempt to get the victory over sin, death, hell, and the grave. You may strive, vow, and repent—and what does it all amount to? You sink deeper and deeper into sin than before. Pride, lust, and covetousness come in like a flood—and you are swamped and carried away almost before you are aware! But if you get a view of a suffering Christ, or of a risen Christ—if you get a taste of His dying love—a drop of His atoning blood—or any manifestation of His beauty and blessedness—there comes from this spiritual immersion into His death or His life a subduing power—and this gives a victory over temptation and sin which nothing else can or will give.
Yet I believe we are often many years learning this divine secret—striving to repent and reform, and cannot—until at last by divine teaching we come to learn a little of what the Apostle meant when he said, "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God." And when we can get into this life of faith—this hidden life, then our affections are set on things above. There is no use setting to work by 'legal strivings'—they only plunge you deeper in the ditch. You must get Christ into your soul by the power of God—and then He will subdue—by His smiles, blood, love, and presence—every internal foe.
Two kinds of repentance
"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret—but worldly sorrow brings death." 2 Corinthians 7:10
There are two kinds of repentance which need to be carefully distinguished from each other, though they are often sadly confounded—evangelical repentance, and legal repentance. Cain, Esau, Saul, Ahab, Judas, all repented—but their repentance was the remorse of natural conscience—not the godly sorrow of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. They trembled before God as an angry judge—but were not melted into contrition before Him as a forgiving Father. They neither hated their sins nor forsook them—they neither loved holiness nor sought it. Cain went out from the presence of the Lord—Esau plotted Jacob's death—Saul consulted the witch of Endor—Ahab put honest Micaiah into prison—and Judas hanged himself.
How different from this forced and false repentance of a reprobate, is the repentance of a child of God—that true repentance for sin, that godly sorrow, that holy mourning which flows from the Spirit's gracious operations. This repentance does not spring from a sense of the wrath of God in a broken law—but from His mercy in a blessed gospel—from a view by faith of the sufferings of Christ in the garden and on the cross—from a manifestation of pardoning love—and is always attended with self-loathing and self-abhorrence, with deep and unreserved confession of sin and forsaking it, with most hearty, sincere, and earnest petitions to be kept from all evil, and a holy longing to live to the praise and glory of God.
Have we nothing to give to Christ?
Have we nothing to give to Christ? Yes! Our sins—our sorrows—our burdens—our trials—and above all, the salvation and sanctification of our souls. And what has He to give us? What? Why—everything worth having—everything worth a moment's anxious thought—everything for time and eternity!
"But the God of all grace, who has called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while—make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you." 1 Peter 5:10
There is no divine establishment, no spiritual strength, no solid settlement—except by suffering. But after the soul has suffered, after it has felt God's chastising hand, the effect is to perfect—to establish—to strengthen—and to settle it. By suffering, a man becomes settled into a solemn conviction of the character of Jehovah as revealed in the Scripture, and in a measure made experimentally manifest in his conscience. He is settled in the persuasion that "all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose"—in the firm conviction that everything comes to pass according to God's eternal purpose—and are all tending to the good of the Church, and to God's eternal glory. His soul, too, is settled down into a deep persuasion of the misery, wretchedness, and emptiness of the creature—into the conviction that the world is but a shadow—and that the things of time and sense are but bubbles that burst the moment they are grasped—that of all things sin is most to be dreaded—and the favor of God above all things most to be coveted—that nothing is really worth knowing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified—that all things are passing away—and that he himself is rapidly hurrying down the stream of life, and into the boundless ocean of eternity. Thus he becomes settled in a knowledge of the truth, and his soul remains at anchor, looking to the Lord to preserve him here, and bring him in peace and safety to his eternal home.
In this scene of confusion & distraction
"In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for—but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Romans 8:26
We don't know what we ought to pray for. How often do we find and feel this to be our case—darkness covers our mind—ignorance pervades our soul—unbelief vexes our spirit—guilt troubles our conscience—a crowd of evil imaginations, or foolish or worse than foolish wanderings distract our thoughts—Satan hurls in thick and fast his fiery darts—a dense cloud is spread over the mercy-seat—infidelity whispers its vile suggestions—until, amid all this rabble throng, such confusion and bondage prevail that words seem idle breath, and prayer to the God of heaven but empty mockery.
In this scene of confusion and distraction, when all seems going to the wreck—how kind, how gracious is it in the blessed Spirit to come, as it were, to the rescue of the poor bewildered saint, and to teach him how to pray and what to pray for. He is therefore said to help our weaknesses, for these evils of which we have been speaking are not willful, deliberate sins, but wretched infirmities of the flesh. He helps, then, our infirmities—by subduing the power and prevalence of unbelief—by commanding in the mind a solemn calm—by rebuking and chasing away Satan and his fiery darts—by awing the soul with a reverential sense of the power and presence of God—by presenting Jesus before our eyes as the Mediator at the right hand of the Father—by raising up and drawing forth faith upon His Person and work, blood and righteousness—and, above all, by Himself interceding for us and in us with groans that words cannot express.
His own sore
"When a prayer or plea is made by any of Your people Israel—each one aware of his own sore and his own afflictions, and spreading out his hands toward this Temple—then hear from heaven, Your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since You know his heart, for You alone know the hearts of men." 2 Chronicles 6:29, 30
The man for whom Solomon prays is he who knows and feels, painfully feels, his "own sore" and his "own afflictions"—whose heart is indeed a grief to him—whose sins do indeed trouble him. How painful this sore often is! How it runs night and day! How full of ulcerous matter! How it shrinks from the probe! Most of the Lord's family have a "sore"—each some tender spot—something perhaps known to himself and to God alone—the cause of his greatest grief. It may be some secret slip he has made—some sin he has committed—some word he has spoken—or some evil thing he has done. He has been entangled, and entrapped, and cast down—and this is his grief and his sore which he feels—and that at times deeply before God. For such Solomon prays, Then hear from heaven, Your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with each man according to all he does, since You know his heart, for You alone know the hearts of men. Yes—God alone knows the heart—He knows it completely—and sees to its very bottom!
What are we, when we have no trials?
The Lord has appointed the path of sorrow for the redeemed to walk in. Why? One purpose is to wean them from the world—another purpose is to show them the weakness of the creature—a third purpose is to make them feel the liberty and vitality of genuine godliness made manifest in their soul's experience.
What are we, when we have no trials? Light, frothy, worldly-minded, carnal, frivolous. We may talk of the things of God, but they are at a distance—there are no solemn feelings—no melting sensations—no real brokenness—no genuine contrition—no weeping at the divine feet—no embracing of Christ in the arms of affection. What can bring a man here? A few dry notions floating to and fro in his brain? That will never bring the life and power of vital godliness into a man's heart. It must be by being 'experimentally acquainted with trouble.' When he is led into the path of tribulation, he then begins to long after, and, in God's own time and way, he begins to drink into, the sweetness of vital godliness, made manifest in his heart by the power of God. When affliction brings a man down, it empties him of all his high thoughts, and lays him low in his own eyes.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit." Matthew 5:3
Spiritual poverty is a miserable feeling of soul-emptiness before God, an inward sinking sensation that there is nothing in our hearts spiritually good, nothing which can deliver us from the justly merited wrath of God, or save us from the lowest hell. To be poor in spirit, then, is to have this wretched emptiness of spirit, this nakedness and destitution of soul before God. He who has never thus known what it is to groan before the Lord with breakings forth of heart as a needy, naked wretch—he who has never felt his miserable destitution and emptiness before the eyes of a heart-searching God—has not yet experienced what it is to be spiritually poor.
The religion of a dead professor
How different the religion of a child of God is, from the religion of a dead professor! The religion of a dead professor—begins in self, and ends in self—begins in his own wisdom, and ends in his own folly—begins in his own strength, and ends in his own weakness—begins in his own righteousness, and ends in his own damnation! There is in him never any going out of soul after God, no secret dealings with the Lord.
But the child of God, though he is often faint, weary, and exhausted with many difficulties, burdens and sorrows—yet he never can be satisfied except in living union and communion with the Lord of life and glory. Everything short of that leaves him empty. All the things of time and sense leave a child of God unsatisfied. Nothing but vital union and communion with the Lord of life, to feel His presence, taste His love, enjoy His favor, see His glory—nothing but this will ever satisfy the desires of ransomed and regenerated souls. This the Lord indulges His people with.
Have we not leaned upon a thousand things?
"Behold, you trust on the staff of this bruised reed, even on Egypt; whereon if a man lean, it will go into his hand, and pierce it." Isaiah 36:6
Have we not leaned upon a thousand things? And what have they proved? Broken reeds that have run into our hands, and pierced us. Our own strength and resolutions—the world and the church—sinners and saints—friends and enemies—have they not all proved, more or less, broken reeds? The more we have leaned upon them, like a man leaning upon a sword, the more have they pierced our souls. The Lord Himself has to wean us—from the world—from friends—from enemies—from self—in order to bring us to lean upon Himself—and every prop He will remove, sooner or later, that we may lean wholly and solely upon His Person, love, blood, and righteousness.
No sight, short of this
"He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree." 1 Peter 2:24
We beg of the Lord, sometimes, to give us a broken heart—a contrite spirit—a tender conscience—and a humble mind. But it is only a view by faith of what the gracious Redeemer endured upon the cross, when He bore our sins in his own body with all their weight and pressure, and with all the anger of God due to them, that can really melt a hard, and break a stony heart. No sight, short of this, can make sin felt to be hateful—bring tears of godly sorrow out of the eyes, sobs of true repentance out of the bosom, and the deepest, humblest confessions before God as to what dreadful sinners and base backsliders we have been before the eyes of His infinite Purity, Majesty, and Holiness.
Oh, what hope is there for our guilty souls—what refuge from the wrath of God so justly our due—what shelter from the curse of a fiery law, except it be in the cross of Jesus? O for a view of Him revealed to the eyes of our enlightened understanding, as bearing our sins in His own body on the tree!
The penetrating light of the spirit
"For God . . . . has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." 2 Corinthians 4:6
"But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things." 1 John 2:20
The only saving light is the light of God shining into the soul—giving us to see and know "the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent." A man may have the clearest light in his judgment, and yet never have the penetrating light of the Spirit producing conviction in his soul. He may have the soundest knowledge of the doctrines of grace, and see the harmonious scheme of salvation—and yet never have by divine teaching, seen a holy God, nor have ever felt the spirituality of God's righteous law condemning him as a transgressor. If we do not have this penetrating light of the Spirit, we shall be sure to go astray. We shall be entangled in some error—plunge into some heresy—imbibe some doctrine of devils—drink into some dreadful delusion—or fall into some dreadful sin—and have our faith shipwrecked forever.
A false light can but wreck us on the rocks of presumption or despair. But the light of divine life in the soul is accompanied with all the graces of the Spirit. It is the light of the glory of God—the light of Jesus' countenance—and the light of the Spirit's teaching—and therefore an infallible guide and guard. And this infallible pilot will guide the soul to whom it is given safe into the harbor of endless rest and peace.
All true religion
Jesus is our sun, and without Him all is darkness—our life, and without Him all is death—the beginner and finisher of our faith—the substance of our hope—the object of our love. It is the Spirit who quickens us to feel our need of Christ—to seek all our supplies in Him and from Him—to believe in Him unto everlasting life, and thus live a life of faith upon Him. By His secret teachings, inward touches, gracious smiles, soft whispers, sweet promises, manifestations of Christ's glorious Person and work, Christ's agonizing sufferings and dying love—the Holy Spirit draws the heart up to Christ. He thus wins our affections, and setting Christ before our eyes as "the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely One," draws out that love and affection towards Jesus which puts the world under our feet.
All true religion flows from the Spirit's grace, presence and power.
The regenerating operations of the Holy Spirit
From the very nature of the fall, it is impossible for a dead soul to believe in God—know God—or love God. It must be quickened into spiritual life before it can savingly know the only true God. And thus there lies at the very threshold—in the very heart and core of the case—the absolute necessity of the regenerating operations of the Holy Spirit upon the soul. The very completeness and depth of the fall render the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit as necessary, as indispensable as the redeeming work of the Son of God.
This hard school of painful experience
In times of trial and darkness, the saints and servants of God are instructed. They see and feel what the flesh really is, how alienated from the life of God—they learn in whom all their strength and sufficiency lie—they are taught that in them, that is, in their flesh, dwells no good thing—that no exertions of their own can maintain in strength and vigor the life of God—and that all they are and have, all they believe, know, feel, and enjoy—with all their ability, usefulness, gifts, and grace—flow from the pure, sovereign grace—the rich, free, undeserved, yet unceasing goodness and mercy of God. They learn in this hard school of painful experience their emptiness and nothingness—and that without Christ indeed they can do nothing. They thus become clothed with humility, that lovely, becoming garb—cease from their own strength and wisdom—and learn experimentally that Christ is, and ever must be, all in all to them, and all in all in them.
Difficulties, obstacles & hindrances
"Then shall we know, if we press on to know the Lord." Hosea 6:3
The expression, "press on," implies that there are many difficulties, obstacles and hindrances in a man's way, which keep him back from "knowing the Lord." Now the work of the Spirit in his soul is to carry him on in spite of all these obstacles—to lead him forward—to keep alive in him the fear of God—to strengthen him in his inner man—to drop in those hopes—to communicate that inward grace—so that he is compelled to press on. Sometimes he seems driven, sometimes drawn, sometimes led, and sometimes carried, but in one way or another the Spirit of God so works upon him that, though he scarcely knows how—he still "presses on." His very burdens make him groan for deliverance—his very temptations cause him to cry for help—the very difficulty and ruggedness of the road make him want to be carried every step—the very intricacy of the path compels him to cry out for a guide—so that the Spirit working in the midst of, and under, and through every difficulty and discouragement, still bears him through, and carries him on—and thus brings him through every trial and trouble and temptation and obstacle, until He sets him in glory.
It is astonishing to me how our souls are kept alive. The Christian is a marvel to himself. Carried on, and yet so secretly—worked upon, and yet so mysteriously—and yet led on, guided, and supported through so many difficulties and obstacles—that he is a miracle of mercy as he is carried on amid all difficulties, obstacles, trials, and temptations.
The poison fang of sin!
"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 soothed with ointment." Isaiah 1:6
We must go down into the depths of the fall to know what our hearts are, and what they are capable of—we must have the keen knife of God to cut deep gashes in our conscience and lay bare the evil that lies so deeply imbedded in our carnal mind, before we can enter into and experience the beauty and blessedness of salvation by grace.
When the Church of God fell in Adam, she fell with a crash which broke every bone and bruised her flesh with wounds which are ulcerated from head to toe. Her understanding, her conscience, and her affections were all fearfully maimed—her understanding was blinded, her conscience stupefied, her affections alienated. Every mental faculty thus became perverted and distorted.
When Adam fell into sin and temptation, sin rushed into every faculty of body and soul and penetrated into the inmost recesses of his being. As when a man is bitten by a poisonous serpent, the venom courses through every artery and vein, and he dies a corrupted mass from head to foot—so did the poison fang of sin penetrate into Adam's inmost soul and body, and infect him with its venom from the sole to the crown. But it is only as sin's desperate and malignant character is opened up by the Holy Spirit that it is really seen, felt, grieved under, and mourned over as indeed a most dreadful and fearful reality.
The whole head is sick—and the whole heart faint! Every thought, word, and action is polluted by sin. Every mental faculty is depraved. The will chooses evil—the affections cleave to earthly things—the memory, like a broken sieve, retains the bad and lets fall the good—the judgment, like a bribed or drunken judge, pronounces heedless or wrong decisions—the conscience, like an opium eater, lies asleep and drugged in stupefied silence.
A penitent backslider & a forgiving God!
"And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him." Luke 15:20
After a child of God has enjoyed something of the goodness and mercy of God revealed in the face of His dear Son, he may wander from his mercies—stray away from these choice gospel pastures—and get into a waste-howling wilderness, where there is neither food nor water—and yet, though half starved for poverty, has in himself no power to return. But in due time the Lord seeks out this wandering sheep, and the first place He brings him to is the mercy seat, confessing his sins and seeking mercy.
O what a meeting! A penitent backslider and a forgiving God! O what a meeting! A guilty wretch drowned in tears—and a loving Father falling upon his neck and kissing him! O what a meeting for a poor, self-condemned wretch, who can never mourn too deeply over his sins, and yet finds grace superabounding over all his abounding sins—and the love of God bursting through the cloud, like the sun upon an April day—and melting his heart into contrition and love!
"I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, Now is come the salvation." Revelation 12:10
The sweetest song that heaven ever proclaimed, the most blessed note that ever melted the soul, is "salvation." To be saved from—death and hell—the worm which dies not—the fire which is not quenched—the sulphurous flames of the bottomless pit—the companionship of tormenting fiends—all the foul wretches under which earth has groaned—blaspheming God in unutterable woe—an eternity of misery without hope—and saved into—heaven—the sight of Jesus as He is—perfect holiness and happiness—the blissful company of holy angels and glorified saints! And all this during the countless ages of a blessed eternity! What tongue of men or angels can describe the millionth part of what is contained in the word salvation!
A peculiar people
"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people." 1 Peter 2:9
May we never forget that the suffering Son of God gave Himself to purify unto Himself a peculiar people—a people whose thoughts are peculiar, for their thoughts are the thoughts of God, as having the mind of Christ—a people whose affections are peculiar, for they are fixed on things above—a people whose prayers are peculiar, for they are wrought in their heart by the Spirit of grace and supplication—a people whose sorrows are peculiar, because they spring from a spiritual source—a people whose joys are peculiar, for they are joys which the stranger cannot understand—a people whose hopes are peculiar, as anchoring within the veil—a people whose expectations are peculiar, as not expecting to reap a crop of happiness in this marred world—but are looking for happiness in the kingdom of rest and peace in the bosom of God. They make it manifest that they are a peculiar people by walking in the footsteps of the Lord the Lamb—taking up the cross—denying themselves—and living to the honor, praise, and glory of God.
Softened, broke & melted your heart
"I drew them with cords of a man, with ties of love." Hosea 11:4
When God draws His people near unto Himself, it is not done in a mechanical way. They are drawn, not with cords of iron, but with the cords of kindness—not as if God laid an iron arm upon His people to drag them to Himself, whether they wished to come or not. God does not so act in a way of mechanical force. We therefore read, "Your people shall be willing in the day of Your power." He touches their heart with His gracious finger, and He communicates to their soul both faith and feeling. He melts, softens, and humbles their heart by a sense of His goodness and mercy—for it is His goodness, as experimentally felt and realized, which leads to repentance.
If you have ever felt any secret and sacred drawing of your soul upward to heaven, it was not compulsion—not violence—not a mechanical constraint—but an arm of pity and compassion let down into your very heart, which, touching your inmost spirit, drew it up into the bosom of God. It was some view of His goodness, mercy, and love, with some dropping into your spirit of His pity and compassion towards you, which softened, broke and melted your heart. You were not driven onward by being flogged and scourged, but blessedly drawn with the cords of kindness, which seemed to touch every tender feeling and enter into the very depths of your soul.
Fixed & fastened by an Almighty hand
Truth, as it stands in the naked word of God, is lifeless and dead—and as such, has no power to communicate what it has not in itself—that is, life and power to the hearts of God's people. It stands there in so many letters and syllables, as lifeless as the types by which they were printed. But when the incarnate Word takes of the written word, and speaks it home into the heart and conscience of a vessel of mercy, whether in letter or substance, then He endues it with divine life—and it enters into the soul, communicating to it a life that can never die. Eternal realities are then brought into the soul, fixed and fastened by an Almighty hand. The conscience is made alive in the fear of God—and the soul is raised up from a death in sin, to a heavenly, new, and supernatural life.
When we are reduced to poverty & beggary
How often we seem not to have any real religion, or enjoy any solid comfort! How often are our minds covered with deep darkness! How often does the Lord hide Himself, so that we cannot behold Him, nor get near to Him! What a painful path is this to walk in, but how profitable!
When we are reduced to poverty and beggary, we learn to value Christ's glorious riches. The worse opinion we have of our own heart, and the more deceitful and desperately wicked that we find it—the more we put our trust in His faithfulness. The more black we are in our own esteem—the more beautiful and lovely does He appear in our eyes. As we sink—Jesus rises. As we become feeble—He puts forth His strength. As we come into danger—He brings deliverance. As we get into temptation—He breaks the snare. As we are shut up in darkness and obscurity—He causes the light of His countenance to shine.
Now it is by being led in this way, and walking in these paths, that we come rightly to know who Jesus is, and to see and feel how suitable and precious such a Savior is to our undone souls! We are needy—He has in Himself all riches. We are hungry—He is the bread of life. We are thirsty—He says, 'If any man thirst, let him come to Me, and drink.' We are naked—and He has clothing to bestow. We are fools—and He has wisdom to grant. We are lost, and He speaks—'Look to me, and be saved!'
Thus, so far from our misery shutting us out from God's mercy—it is the only requisite for it. So far from our guilt excluding His pardon—it is the only thing needful for it. So far from our helplessness ruining our souls—it is the needful preparation for the manifestation of His power in our weakness. We cannot heal our own wounds and sores. That is the very reason why He should stretch forth His arm. It is because there is no salvation in ourselves, or in any other creature, that He says, "Look unto Me, for I am God, and there is no other."
As they come, they weep
"They shall come with weeping, and with petitions will I lead them." Jeremiah 31:9
As they come, they weep. They mourn over their base backslidings—over the many evils they have committed—over the levity of mind which they have indulged—over the worldliness of spirit—over the pride, presumption, hypocrisy, carnality, carelessness, and obstinacy of their heart. They go and weep with a broken heart and softened spirit—seeking the Lord their God—seeking the secret manifestations of His mercy, the visitations of His favor, the "lifting up of the light of His countenance"—seeking after a revelation of the love of Jesus—to know Him by a spiritual discovery of Himself.
Being thus minded they seek not to establish their own righteousness—they seek not the applause of the world—they seek not the good opinion of professors—they seek not the smiles of saints. But they seek the Lord their God—seek His face day and night—seek His favor—seek His mercy—seek His grace—seek His love—seek His glory—seek the sweet visitations of His presence and power—seek Him until they find Him to be their covenant God, who heals all their backslidings.
This is the saint's inheritance!
"And if children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified with Him." Romans 8:17
This is the especial blessedness of being a child of God—that death, which puts a final extinguisher on all the hopes and happiness of all the unregenerate—gives him the fulfillment of all his hopes and the consummation of all his happiness—for it places him in possession of the priceless inheritance God has reserved for His children—which is kept in heaven for them—pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay!
In this present earthly life, we have sometimes sips and tastes of sonship, feeble indeed and interrupted—yet are they so far pledges of an inheritance to come. But this life is only an introduction to a better. In this life we are but children—but in the life to come, we shall be put into full possession of the eternal inheritance. And what is this? Nothing less than God Himself. "Heirs of God!" says the Apostle. God Himself is the inheritance of His people—yes, He Himself in all His glorious perfections—all the love of God—all the goodness of God—all the holiness of God—all His happiness, bliss, and blessedness—all His might, majesty, and glory—in all the blaze of one eternal, unclouded day! This is the saint's inheritance! Let us press on by faith and prayer to win this eternal and glorious crown!
Savory food such as their soul loves
"For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed." John 6:55
This food is specially for the elect—blood shed for their sins, and for their sins only—righteousness brought in for them, and for them only—love bestowed upon them, and upon them only—promises revealed for their comfort, and for their comfort only—an eternal inheritance reserved in heaven for them, and for them only. The elect are the only people who hunger after it—who have an appetite for it—who have a mouth to feed upon it—who have a stomach to digest it. They are the only people whose eyes are really open to see what "food" is. All others feed upon shadows—they know nothing of the savory food of the gospel.
"I have food to eat that you don't know about." Jesus' food was—the hidden communications of God's love—the visitations of His Father's presence—the divine communion that He enjoyed with His Father. So, for the children of God, there is food in Christ—and this food the Lord gives them a hunger after. He not only sets before their eyes what the food is, but He kindles inexpressible longings in their soul to be fed with it. God's people cannot feed upon husks—nor upon ashes—nor upon chaff—nor upon the wind—nor upon grapes of gall and the bitter clusters of Gomorrah. They must have real food—savory food such as their soul loves—that which God Himself communicates, and which His hand alone can bring down and give unto them—so that they may receive it from Him as their soul-satisfying portion.
A smoother way to glory?
"Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many afflictions we must enter into the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22
The Lord has chosen that His people should pass through deep and cutting afflictions, for it is "through many afflictions" they are to enter the Kingdom of God above, and into the sweetness and power of the Kingdom of God below. But every man will resent this doctrine, except God has led him experimentally into it. It is such a rough and rugged path—it is so contrary to flesh and blood—it is so inexplicable to nature and reason—that man, proud, rebellious man, will never believe that he must enter into the Kingdom of God through many afflictions.
And this is the reason why so many find, or seek to find, a smoother way to glory than the Lord has appointed His saints to walk in. But shall the Head travel in one path—and the members in another? Shall the Bridegroom walk and wade through seas of sorrow—and the bride never so much as wet her feet with the water? Shall the Bridegroom be crucified in weakness and suffering—and there be no inward crucifixion for the dearly beloved of His heart? Shall the Head suffer, grieve, agonize, groan, and die—and the members dance down a flowery road, without inward sorrow or outward suffering?
But, perhaps, there are some who say in their heart, "I am well convinced of this—but my coward flesh shrinks from it. I know if I am to reach the Canaan above, I must pass through the appointed portion of tribulation. But my coward flesh shrinks back!" It does! it does! Who would willingly bring trials upon himself? Therefore the Lord does not leave these trials in our hands—but He Himself appoints a certain measure of tribulation for each of His people to pass through. They will come soon enough—you need not anticipate them—you need not wish for them. God will bring them—in His own time and in His own way. And what is more, God will not merely bring you into them, but God will bring you through them, and God will bring you out of them! It will be our mercy if enabled to ask the Lord to bless us with faith and patience under tribulation—to give us strength to bear the storm—to lie as clay in His hands—to conform us to the image of His Son—to guide us through this valley of tears below—and eventually to take us to be with Him above!
Seek real things
"Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not!" Jeremiah 45:5
Ministers often seek great gifts—great eloquence—great congregations—great popularity. They are wrong in seeking these so-called great things. Let them rather seek real things, gracious things, things that will make their souls blessed here and hereafter.
We stand upon slippery places!
"The Lord bless you and keep you." Numbers 6:24
How we need the Lord to keep us! We stand upon slippery places! Snares and traps are laid for us in every direction. Every employment, every profession in life, from the highest to the lowest—has its special temptations. Snares are spread for the feet of the most illiterate as well as the most highly cultivated minds. Nor is there anyone, whatever his position in life may be, who has not a snare laid for him—and such a snare as will surely prove his downfall if God does not keep him.
Well, then, may it be the desire of our soul—"Lord, keep me! Keep me in Your providence, keep me by Your grace—keep me by planting Your fear deep in my soul, and maintaining that fear alive and effectual in my heart. Keep me waking, keep me sleeping—keep me by night, keep me by day—keep me at home, keep me abroad—keep me with my family, keep me with my friends—keep me in the world, and keep me in the church. Lord, keep me every moment—keep me by Your Spirit and grace with all the tenderness implied in Your promise—"Keep me as the apple of the eye!"
My friends, you can know little of your own heart—little of Satan's devices—little of the snares spread for your feet—unless you feel how deeply you need the Lord's keeping. And He will keep all His people, for we read of the righteous, that they are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. He will keep the feet of His saints.
One grain of holiness
Have I one grain of holiness in myself? Not one. Can all the men in the world, by all their united exertions, raise up a grain of spiritual holiness in their hearts? Not an atom, with all their efforts. If all the preachers in the world were to unite together for the purpose of working a grain of holiness in one man's soul, they might strive to all eternity—they could no more by their preaching create holiness, than by their preaching they could create a lump of gold.
But Jesus imparts a measure of His own holiness to His people. He sends the Holy Spirit, to raise up holy desires. He communicates a heavenly, spiritual, and divine nature which bathes in eternal things as its element, and enjoys spiritual things as sweet and precious. It may indeed be small in measure—and he that has it is often troubled because he has so little of it—yet he has enough to know what it is.
Has not your soul, though you feel to be a defiled wretch, though every iniquity is at times working in your heart, though every worm of obscenity and corruption is too often trailing its filthy slime upon your carnal mind—has it not felt, does it not sometimes feel—a measure of holiness Godwards? Do you ever feel a breathing forth of your soul into the bosom of a holy God—heavenly desires, pure affections, singleness of eye, simplicity of purpose—a heart that longs to have the mind, image, and likeness of Jesus stamped upon it? This is a holiness such as the Lord of life and glory imparts out of His fullness to His poor and needy family.
"To him who overcomes, to him will I give of the hidden manna." Revelation 2:17
What is this hidden manna? Is it not God's Word applied with power to the heart? What does the prophet Jeremiah say? "Your words were found, and I ate them; and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart." When the Lord is pleased to drop a word into the heart from his own lips—to apply some promise—to open up some precious portion of his Word—to whisper softly some blessed Scripture into the heart—is not this manna?
Whence did the manna flow? Was it cultivated by the hand of man? No—it fell from heaven. And is not this true of the Word of the Lord applied with power to the heart? It is not our searching the Scriptures, though it is good to search the Scriptures—but it is the Lord Himself being pleased to apply some precious portion of truth to our hearts—and when this takes place, it is "manna"—it is sweet, refreshing, strengthening, comforting, encouraging—yes, it is angels' food—the very flesh and blood of the Lamb with which the Lord is pleased from time to time to feed and favor hungry souls.
But, in the text it is called "hidden." Why "hidden"? Because hidden from the eyes of the wise and prudent. Hidden from the eyes of self-righteous pharisees—hidden from those who fight in their own strength, and seek to gain the victory by their own brawny arm—hidden from all but God's tried and tempted family—hidden from all but those who know the plague of their own hearts—hidden from all but those who have learned the secret of overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of His testimony.
When the Lord leads us to sink down into weakness, and in weakness to find his strength made perfect—to fall down all guilty—and then to feel the application of atoning blood—this is manna. The children of Israel had to endure hunger in the wilderness before manna fell—and thus the Lord's people learn the value of the hidden manna—the sweet communications from above—by hungering and thirsting in a waste-howling wilderness. This is hidden from all eyes except those that are anointed by the Spirit to see it—and hidden from all hearts except those that are prepared to receive and feed upon it. "I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever." John 6:51
Entangled, perplexed & distressed
How many of the Lord's people are continually under bondage to evil! What power the lusts of the flesh have over some—how perpetually they are entangled with everything sensual and carnal! What power the pride of the heart has over another! And what strength covetousness exercises over a third! What power the love of the world and the things of time and sense exercise over a fourth!
How then are they to overcome sin? By making resolutions? By endeavoring to overcome it in their own strength? No! Sin will always break through man's strength. It will always be stronger than any resolution we can make not to be overcome by it. The Lord allows His people to be so long and often entangled, perplexed and distressed, that they may learn this secret—which is hidden from all but God's living family—that the strength of Christ is made perfect in their weakness.
Have not some of you had to learn this lesson very painfully? There was a time when you thought you would get better and better, holier and holier—that you would not only not walk in open sin as before, but would not be entangled by temptation—overcome by besetting lusts—or cast down by hidden snares. There was a time when you thought you were going forward—attaining some more strength—some better wisdom than you believed you once possessed. How has it been with you? Have these expectations ever been realized? Have you ever attained these fond hopes? Has sin become weaker? Has the world become less alluring? Have your lusts become tamer? Has your temper become milder? Have the corruptions of your heart become feebler and feebler?
If I can read the heart of some poor tried, tempted soul here present, he would say, "No! To my shame and sorrow, be it spoken, I find on the contrary that sin is stronger and stronger—that the evils of my heart are more and more powerful than ever I knew them in my life—and as to my own endeavors to overcome them, I find indeed that they are fainter and fainter, and weaker and weaker. This it is that casts me down. If I could have more strength against sin—if I could stand more boldly against Satan—if I could overcome my besetting lusts—live more to God's glory—and be holier and holier—then, then, I could have some comfort. But to feel myself so continually baffled, so perpetually disconcerted, so incessantly cast down by the workings of my corrupt nature—it is this, it is this that cuts so keenly—it is this, it is this that tries me so deeply!"
My friend, you are on the high road to victory. This is the very way by which you are to overcome. When you feel weaker and weaker—poorer and poorer—guiltier and guiltier—viler and viler—so that really through painful experience you are compelled to call yourself, not in the language of mock humility, but in the language of self abhorrence—the chief of sinners—then you are on the high road to victory. Then the blood of the Lamb is applied to the sinner's conscience, and the Word of God's testimony comes with power into his soul—it gives him the victory over those lusts with which he was before entangled—it brings him out of the world that had so allured him—and breaks to pieces the dominion of sin under which he had been so long laboring.
Lifeless, barren head knowledge
"And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true." 1 John 5:20
There is a difference between a gracious, enlightened understanding of the truth of God which springs out of the teaching of the Spirit, and what is commonly called "head knowledge." There is such a thing—and a most dangerous, delusive thing it is—as "mere head knowledge"—and it is widely prevalent in the churches.
You may say, "How am I to distinguish between mere head knowledge and this spiritual understanding?" I will tell you. When a special light is cast into your mind—when the Word is opened up in its spiritual, experimental meaning—when the Holy Spirit seals it with sweetness and power upon your heart—and you not only understand what you read but receive it in faith, feel its savor, and enjoy its blessedness. Is not this a very different thing from lifeless, barren head knowledge?
Poor in spirit
"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3
None are really poor in spirit, but those whom the hand of God has stripped—whom He has brought down—and made to abhor themselves in dust and ashes—and to see and feel themselves destitute of everything good, holy, heavenly, and pleasing in His pure and heart-searching eyes. The heart must be stripped and emptied, and laid bare effectually—by a work of grace that goes to the very bottom, and penetrates into the recesses of the soul, so as to detect all the corruption that lurks and festers within.
The really "poor" man is one who has had everything taken from him—who has had not merely his dim views of a merciful God (such as natural men have) taken from him—not merely his legal righteousness stripped away—but all that kind of notional, traditional religion, which is so rife in the present day, taken from him also—and who has been brought in guilty before God, naked, in the dust, having nothing whereby to conciliate Him, or gain His favor.
"Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." Romans 1:22
What am I by nature? A fool! All my wisdom, outside of Christ, is nothing but the height of foolishness—and all my knowledge nothing but the depth of ignorance! Left to ourselves we are utter fools! We have no wisdom whatever to direct our feet. We are blind—ignorant—weak—helpless—and utterly unable to find our way to God.
All wisdom which does not come down from the Father is folly. All strength not divinely wrought in the soul is weakness. All knowledge that does not spring from the Lord's own teaching in the conscience is the depth of ignorance.
We must know the value of the gem before we can really prize it. When diamonds were first discovered in Brazil, nobody knew that they were diamonds. They were handed about as pretty, shining pebbles. But as soon it was discovered they were diamonds, they were eagerly sought, and their value rose a thousandfold. So spiritually. Until we can distinguish between the "pebble of man's teaching" and the "diamond of divine illumination" we shall neglect, we shall despise, we shall not value divine wisdom.
The heart of God's child
There is much presumption, pride, hypocrisy, deceit, delusion, formality, superstition, will-worship, and self-righteousness to be purged out of the heart of God's child. But all these things keep him low—mar his pride—crush his self-righteousness—cut the locks of his presumption—stain his self-conceit—stop his boasting—preserve him from despising others—make him take the lowest room—teach him to esteem others better than himself—drive him to earnest prayer—fit him as an object of mercy—break to pieces his free-will—and lay him low at the feet of the Redeemer, as one to be saved by sovereign grace alone!
A spirit of delusion
A spirit of delusion seems to us widely prevalent—a carnal confidence—a dead assurance—a presumptuous claim—a daring mimicry of the spirit of adoption. Who that has eyes or heart does not see and feel the wide spread of this gigantic evil? No brokenness of heart—no tenderness of conscience—no spirituality of mind—no heavenly affections—no prayerfulness and watchfulness—no godly devotedness of life—no self denial and crucifixion—no humility or contrition—no separation from the world—no communion with the Lord of life and glory. In a word, none of the blessed graces and fruits of the Spirit attend this carnal confidence. On the contrary—levity, jesting, pride, covetousness, self-exaltation, and often gross self-indulgence—are evidently stamped upon many, if not most, of these hardened professors.
Husks which the swine eat
All forms, opinions, rites, ceremonies and notions to me are nothing—and worse than nothing. They are the husks which the swine eat—not the food of the living soul. To have the heart deeply penetrated with the fear of Jehovah—to be melted and filled with a sweet sense of Jesus' dying love—to have the affections warmed and drawn forth under the anointings of the Eternal Comforter—this is the only religion that can suit and satisfy a regenerate soul!
Then they cried
"They wandered in the wilderness in a desert way; they found no city to live in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses." Psalm 107:4-6
Until they wandered in the wilderness—until they felt it to be a solitary way—until they found no city to dwell in—until hungry and thirsty their soul fainted in them—there was no cry. There might have been a prayer, a desire, a feeble wish, and now and then a sigh or a groan. But this was not enough. Something more was needed to draw forth loving-kindness out of the bosom of the compassionate Head of the Church. A cry was needed—a cry of distress, a cry of soul trouble, a cry forced out of their hearts by heavy burdens. A cry implies urgent need—a perishing without an answer to the cry. It is this solemn feeling in the heart that there is no other refuge but God. The Lord brings all His people here—to have no other refuge but Himself. Friends, counselors, acquaintance—these may sympathize, but they cannot afford relief. There is no refuge—nor shelter—nor harbor—nor home into which they can fly—except the Lord.
Thus troubles force us to deal with God in a personal manner. They chase away that half-hearted religion of which we have so much—and they drive out that notional experience and dry profession that we are so often satisfied with. They chase them away as a strong north wind chases away the mists, and they bring a man to this solemn spot—that he must have God to support him, and bring him out of his trouble. But what a mercy it is when there is a cry! And when the Lord sends a cry in the trouble, He is sure in his own time and way to send deliverance out of it.
O what painful work it is!
"You also, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house." 1 Peter 2:5
God's people require many severe afflictions—many harassing temptations—and many powerful trials to hew them into any good shape, to chisel them into any conformity to Christ's image. For they are not like the passive marble under the hands of the sculptor, which will submit without murmuring, and indeed without feeling, to have this corner chipped off, and that jutting angle rounded by the chisel. But God's people are living stones, and therefore, they feel every stroke. We are so tender skinned that we cannot bear a 'thread of trouble' to lie upon us—we shrink from even the touch of the chisel. To be hewed, then, and squared, and chiseled by the hand of God into such shapes and forms as please Him—O what painful work it is!
If the Lord, then, is at work upon our souls—we have not had—we are not now having—we shall never have—one stroke too much, one stroke too little, one stroke in the wrong direction. But there shall be just sufficient to work in us that which is pleasing in God's sight—and to make us that which He would have us to be. What a great deal of trouble would we be spared if we could only patiently submit to the Lord's afflicting stroke—and know no will but His.