"And He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation." Psalm 107:7
When the Lord leads, we can follow. The path may be rough, but if the Lord upholds us, we can walk in it without stumbling. Whatever the Lord bids, we can do—if we have but His presence. Whatever He calls upon us to suffer, we can bear—if we have but His approving smile. Oh, the wonders of sovereign grace! The cross is no cross—if the Lord gives strength to bear it. Affliction is no affliction—if the Lord supports under it. Trial is no trial—if sweetened by His smile. Sorrow no grief—if lightened by His love.
It is our fretfulness, unbelief, carnal reasoning, rebellion, and self-pity which make the rough way, a wrong way. But grace in its all-conquering power, not only subdues every difficulty without, but what is its greater triumph, subdues every difficulty within. God's right way is to lead us forth—out of the world—out of sin—out of self—out of pride—out of self-righteousness—out of evil in every form—into everything which is good, holy, gracious, acceptable, saving, and sanctifying—into everything that can conform us to the image of Christ.
And what is the end of all this leading and guiding? That they might go to that glorious city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. There we will dwell as citizens of that blessed city which is all of pure gold, like unto clear glass—a city which has no need of the sun, neither of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of the Lord enlightens it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. The Lord is leading forth each and all of His wilderness wanderers by the right way—that He may bring them into His eternal presence, and to the enjoyment of those pleasures which are at His right hand for evermore!
It has made him love sin & hate God
As no heart can sufficiently conceive, so no tongue can adequately express—the state of wretchedness and ruin into which sin has cast guilty, miserable man! In separating him from God, sin severed him from the only source of all happiness and holiness. Sin has ruined him body and soul. It has filled the body with sickness and disease! It has defaced and destroyed the image of God in the soul. It has made him love sin and hate God.
The following things are indispensably necessary to true salvation. A spiritual sense of our lost, ruined condition. A knowledge of Christ by a gracious discovery of His suitability, beauty, and blessedness. A faith in Him which—works by love—purifies the heart—overcomes the world—and delivers from death and hell.
The least religion of their own
They are the wisest—in whom creature wisdom has most ceased. They are the strongest—who have learned most experimentally their own weakness. They are the holiest—who have known most of their own filthiness. They are the most spiritual in a true sense—who have the least religion of their own.
What vain toys
Compared with spiritual and eternal blessings, we see how vain and empty are all earthly things—what vain toys—what idle dreams—what passing shadows! We wonder at the folly of men in hunting after such vain shows, and spending time, health, money, life itself, in a pursuit of nothing but misery and destruction. We care little for the opinion of men as to what is good or great—but much for what God has stamped His own approbation upon—such as—a tender conscience—a broken heart—a contrite spirit—a humble mind—a separation from the world and everything worldly—a submission to His holy will—a meek endurance of the cross—a conformity to Christ's suffering image—and a living to God's glory.
The evils of their heart
The Lord is pleased sometimes to show His dear people the evils of their heart—to remove that veil of pride and self-righteousness which hides so much of sinful SELF from our eyes—and to discover what is really in us—the deep corruptions which lurk in our depraved nature—the filth and folly which is part and parcel of ourselves—the unutterable baseness and vileness so involved in our very being.
Doctrines floating in the brain?
"He would have given you living water." John 4:10
How blessed a thing is vital godliness! That is the thing I always wish to contend for. Not for forms and ceremonies, or doctrines floating in the brain—but for the life of God in the soul. That is the only thing worth knowing—the only thing to live by—and the only thing to die by. How different is vital godliness received into the heart and conscience, by the operation of God the Spirit! How different is this fountain of living water from the 'stagnant, dead water' of lip service, formality, and hypocrisy! We cannot now be satisfied with lip religion, pharisaical religion, doctrinal religion, a name to live while dead, the form of godliness without the power. A living soul can no more satisfy his thirst with mere forms and ceremonies—than a man naturally thirsty can drink out of a pond of sand. He must have living water—something given by the Lord Himself, springing up in his soul.
True religion consists in the teachings and operations of the Holy Spirit upon the heart.
"Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." Hebrews 12:1
None can run this race but the children of God, for the ground itself is holy ground—of which we read that no unclean beast is to be found there. None but the redeemed walk there—and none have ever won the prize but those who have run this heavenly race. Now no sooner do we see by faith the race set before us, than we begin to run from the City of Destruction—our steps being winged with fear and apprehension. All this, especially in the outset, implies energy, movement, activity, pressing forward—running, as it were, for our life—escaping, as Lot, to the mountain—or as the manslayer fled to the city of refuge from the avenger of blood.
As, then, the runner stretches forward hands, and feet, and head, intent only on being first to reach the goal—so in the spiritual race there is a stretching forth of the faculties of the newborn soul to win the heavenly prize. There is a stretching forth of the understanding to become possessed of clear views of heavenly truth. There is a stretching forth of the affections of the heart after Jesus. So that when you look at the word "race" as emblematic of a Christian's path—you see that it is an inward movement of the soul—or rather of the grace that God has lodged in your bosom—and to which are communicated spiritual faculties—whereby it moves forward in the ways of God, under the influences of the blessed Spirit.
A divine power in my soul?
Has the Holy Spirit wrought anything with a divine power in my soul? The faith I profess—is it of God? The hope I enjoy—do I believe it came from the Lord Himself to support my soul in the trying storm? My repentance—is it genuine? My profession—is it sincere? My walk—is it consistent? My conscience—is it tender? My desires—are they spiritual? My prayers—are they fervent? My heart—is it honest? My soul—is it right before God? Do I hang all my hopes upon Christ as the Rock? Do I hang all my religion upon the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart?
Often sinking, often shaken, often cast down
"Confirming the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that through many afflictions we must enter into the kingdom of God." Acts 14:22
If there were—no temptations to try—no sharp sorrows to grieve—no painful afflictions to distress them; or if, on the other hand, there were—no sensible weakness of soul—no sinking of heart—no despondency of spirit—no giving way of faith and hope—no doubt or fear in the mind—how could the souls of the disciples be strengthened? The souls of God's people are not made of cast iron, against which arrow after arrow may be discharged and leave no dent, make no impression. The Lords people, who carry in their bosom broken hearts and contrite spirits, are—often sinking—often shaken—often cast down through the many trials they have to encounter. It is for this reason that they need confirming, supporting, strengthening—and that the Lord Himself—would lay His everlasting arms underneath them—lift them into His bosom—and make His strength perfect in their weakness.
He showers them in rich profusion
"I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever." Psalm 89:1
We are surrounded with mercies. Mercies for the body—and mercies for the soul. There are indeed times and seasons when all the mercies of God, both in providence and grace, seem hidden from our eyes, when—with the workings of sin, rebellion, and unbelief—with a thorny path in the world—and a rough, trying road in the soul—we see little of the mercies of God, though surrounded by them. We cannot see them—and at the very moment when God is already showering mercies upon us. We are filled, perhaps, with murmuring and rebellion, and cry, "Is His mercy clean gone forever, will He be favorable no more?" This is our infirmity, our weakness—but it no more arrests the shower of God’s mercies than the parched field arrests the falling rain.
The mercies of God, like Himself, are infinite—and He showers them in rich profusion upon His people. They come freely—as the beams of the sun shining in the sky—as the breezes of the air we breathe—as the river that never ceases to flow. Everything testifies of the mercy of God—to those whose eyes are anointed to see it, and are interested in it. To them all things in nature, in providence, and in grace, proclaim with one united harmonious voice—The mercies of the Lord endure forever!
Now, as these mercies of God are sensibly felt in the soul—they soften, meeken, and subdue the spirit—melt it into the obedience of faith—and raise up in it the tenderness of love. Only let my soul be favored with a sweet discovery of the mercies of God—let them reach my heart—soften and subdue my spirit—then there is no cross too heavy to be taken up—no trial too hard to be endured—no path of suffering and sorrow in which we cannot patiently, if not gladly, walk.
What shall she know?
The Church, speaking thus in the person of Ephraim, says, "Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord." Hosea 6:3 What shall she know? She shall know—that the Lord's hand supported her through all her temptations—that none of the devices of Satan against her have prospered—that all her temporal trials have worked together for her good—that God has made use of the things that seemed most against her that they might be most for her—that He has overruled every dispensation so as to make it a dispensation of mercy—that He held her up when she must otherwise have utterly fallen—that God was the Author and the Finisher of her faith, the source of her hope, and the fountain of her love. She shall know—that she has not had one trial too heavy—nor shed one tear too much—nor put up one groan too many. She shall know that all these things have in a most mysterious and inexplicable manner worked together for her spiritual good.
Now, friends, until we know something experimentally of the Lord—we cannot know all this. Until we know more or less of Jesus by His own sweet manifestations—the cloud is not taken up from our religion. But when the Lord brings the soul into some sweet communion with Jesus, and He is made experimentally known—then it sees that the Lord has led it all these years in the wilderness—then it knows how kindly, and gently, and mercifully, and wisely He has dealt with it—then it feels as a matter of personal, individual, practical experience, that all things work together for good to those who love God!
Those who followed Him
One noticeable feature in the Lord's ministry, is that He never sought to make proselytes by alluring the rich, the noble, or the learned to become His disciples—while concealing the difficulties of the way. He invariably set before all who professed any wish to follow Him, that it was a path of tribulation, self-denial, and crucifixion in which He walked—and that they, as His followers, must tread in the same footsteps. The Lord never allowed any to deceive themselves into a belief that they were His whole-hearted followers, when His all-seeing eye penetrated into the insincerity which reigned in them. Those who followed Him must take up the cross, and deny themselves.
That one sin
"Therefore, as sin entered into the world through one man, and death through sin; and so death passed to all men, because all sinned." Romans 5:12
What an amount of sorrow and misery beyond all calculation, and indeed beyond all conception, there is in this wretched world—this valley of tears, in which our present earthly lot is cast! Sin is the source of all the evil which, is now, or ever has been in the world, for that one sin introduced every other sin with it. Sin brought in its train every iniquity that has ever been—conceived by the imagination—uttered by the lips—or perpetrated by the hands of man. In a moment man's whole nature underwent a change—stricken down by sin as by palsy or leprosy. His understanding became darkened—his judgment corrupted—his conscience deadened—his affections alienated—and all that warm current of purity and innocency which once flowed in a clear stream towards God, became thickened and fouled with the sin that was poured into it from the mouth of Satan—and was thus diverted from its course of light, love, and life—to run into a channel of darkness, enmity, and death!
Thus the fountain was corrupted at its very source—and from this spring-head have all the streams of evil flowed which have made the world a very Aceldama—a field of blood. This is the fountain—whence have issued all that misery and wretchedness which in all ages and in all climates have pursued man from the cradle to the grave—which have wrung millions of hot tears from human eyes—which have broken, literally broken, thousands of human hearts—which have desolated home after home—and struck grief and sadness into countless breasts!
But, Oh! this fountain of sin in the heart of man has done worse than this! It has peopled hell! It has swept and is still sweeping thousands and tens of thousands into eternal perdition!
What human heart could have conceived such a thought—or what human tongue, if such a thought had been conceived, could have breathed the word up to the courts of bliss—"Let the Son of God come down and bleed for us vile polluted sinners!"
What! that God's equal and eternal Son—the brightness of His Father's glory and the express image of His Person—that He in whom the Father eternally delighted—He who was worshiped and adored by myriads of angels—that He should leave this glory, come down to earth, be treated as the vilest malefactor, have nails driven through His hands and feet—and expire on the cross in ignominy and shame! Could such a thought have entered angelic or human hearts?
When God looks upon His elect
When we look upon ourselves, we often see ourselves—the most stupid—the most ignorant—the most vile—the most unworthy—the most earthly and sensual wretches that God can permit to live! At least, that is the view we take of ourselves when we are really humbled in our own eyes. But when God looks upon His elect, He does not look upon them as they often look upon themselves—but as they stand in Christ—accepted in the beloved—without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing! He does not see His people as they often see themselves—full of wounds, and bruises and putrefying sores; but clothed in the perfection, beauty, and loveliness of their Head and Husband.
We love a smooth path
"Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain." Isaiah 40:4
We all want ease. We love a smooth path. We would like—to be carried to heaven in a flowery bed of ease—to enjoy every comfort that earth can give or heart desire—and then, dying without a pang of body or mind, find ourselves safe in heaven! But that is not God's way. If in your road heavenward, no valley ever sank before you—if no mountain and hill ever rose up in sight—if you encountered no crooked path through the dense forest, and no rough places, with many large stones and many a thorny brier in the tangled forest—it would not seem that you were treading the way which the saints of God have ever trod—nor would it appear as if you needed special help from the Lord—or any peculiar power to be put forth for your help and deliverance.
But being in this path, and that by God's own appointment, and finding right before your eyes—valleys of deep depression which you cannot raise up—mountains and hills of difficulty that you cannot lay low—crooked things which you cannot straighten—and rough places which you cannot make smooth—you are compelled, from felt necessity, to look for help from God. These perplexing difficulties, then, are the very things that make yours a case that the gospel of grace is thoroughly adapted. If you could at the present moment view these trials with spiritual eyes—and feel that they were all appointed by unerring wisdom and eternal love—and were designed for the good of your soul—you would rather bless God that your pathway was so planned, that you had—now a valley—now a mountain—now a crook—and now a thorn. These very difficulties in the road are all productive of so many errands to the throne of grace. They all called upon you, as with so many speaking voices, to beg of the Lord that He would manifest Himself in love to your heart!
"That no flesh should glory in His presence." 1 Corinthians 1:29
Man may glory in himself—but God has forever trampled man's glory under foot. God's purpose is to stain the pride of human glory. When Adam fell to the very depths of creature depravity, all his glory was forever lost—the pride of the creature was forever stained. No creature shall ever, in the sight of God, glory in itself! We must take the crown off of human pride—and set it upon the head of Him who alone is worthy to wear it!
Not a grain! Not an atom!
What am I? What are you? Are we not filthy, polluted, and defiled? Do not we, more or less, daily feel altogether as an unclean thing? Is not every thought of our heart altogether vile? Am I not an unholy, depraved, filthy wretch? Does not corruption work in my heart? Am I not a poor captive, entangled—by Satan—by the world—and by my own evil heart?
Does any holiness—any spirituality—any heavenly-mindedness—any purity—any resemblance to the divine image—dwell in our hearts by nature? Have I one grain of holiness in myself? Not one! Not a grain! not an atom! How then can I, a polluted sinner, ever see the face of a holy God? How can I, a worm of earth, corrupted within and without by indwelling and committed sin—ever hope to see a holy God without shrinking into destruction? When we view the pure and spotless holiness of Jesus imputed to His people, and view them—holy in Him—pure in Him—without spot in Him—how it does away with all the wrinkles of the creature, and makes them stand holy and spotless before God. I must see what I am. I must see what Christ is. I must feel that Christ is all this to me!
When, where & to whom it shall come
"Who covers the sky with clouds, who prepares the rain for the earth, who makes grass to grow on the mountains." Psalm 147:8
How powerless we are—as regards the rain that falls from the sky! Who can go forth when the sun is shining in its brightness and bid the rain to fall? Or when rain is falling, who can go forth and restrain the bottles of heaven? He who gives us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness, also turns a fruitful land into barrenness.
Equally sovereign is the blessing that God gives to the preached gospel. He holds the blessing in His own hand—it is His to give, and His to withhold. If He blesses, it is because He has promised it—but when, where and to whom it shall come—is at His own sovereign disposal.
Painful vicissitudes & changes
The children of God need strong consolation. Their afflictions are great—their trials heavy—their temptations numerous—their foes strong—and their fears often stronger than their foes. They have also, for the most part many painful vicissitudes and changes—reverses in providence—bereavements in family—afflictions in circumstances—trials of body—trials in the church—trials in the world. God often hides His face from them—Satan harasses them with his fiery darts—fears of death often bring them into bondage—besides all the guilt, which they bring upon their own consciences through their backslidings—and all the chastening strokes, which they procure for their own backs through their folly. Thus they need strong consolation that there may be—balm for their wounds—cordials to cheer their fainting spirits—wine to strengthen their heart—and oil to make them cheerful. God not only knows best what we are—but knows best also what we need, for His wisdom and His goodness are alike infinite.
Upheld by the sustaining grace of God
The one who feels the strength of his internal corruptions—and the overwhelming power of his lust, pride and covetousness—can only be upheld by the sustaining grace of God.
The soundest doctrines in his head
A man may have the soundest doctrines in his head—yet his life be worldly, inconsistent, and ungodly.
A thousand different shapes & colors
False religion takes on a thousand different shapes and colors. All false religion, just in proportion as it seizes hold of the mind—blinds it to the truth—fills it with prejudice—sears the conscience—hardens the heart—inflames it with party zeal—and makes every faculty boil over with hatred, fury and bigotry against all who don't see as it sees!
There is a brain religion, or head knowledge, or tongue work, or that miserable, dry, barren, marrowless, moonlight acquaintance with the doctrines of grace, which—hardens the heart—sears the conscience—and lifts up the soul with presumption, to dash it down into the blackness of darkness forever.
The road to heaven
The road to heaven may be compared to a narrow path that lies between two hedges. On the outer side of each hedge is a bottomless ditch. One of these ditches is 'despair,' and the other is 'presumption.' The hedge that keeps the soul from falling into the pit of despair is that of the promises. And the hedge that keeps the soul from sinking into the abyss of presumption is that of warnings, precepts and threatenings. Without the spiritual application of the promises—the soul would lie down in despair. And without the spiritual application of the precepts and warnings—it would be swollen with arrogance, puffed up with pride, and ready to burst with presumption.
Until we view eternal purity
The true child of God knows the inward feeling of guilt—and the sense of his exceeding vileness which always accompanies it. The same ray of divine light which manifests Jehovah to the soul, and raises up a spiritual fear of Him within—discovers to us also our inward depravity. Until we see heavenly light—we know not what darkness is. Until we view eternal purity—we are ignorant of our own vileness. Until we hear the voice of inflexible Justice—we feel no guilt. Until we behold a heart-searching God—we do not groan beneath our inward deceitfulness. Until we feel that He abhors evil—we do not abhor ourselves.
A constant clog to the soul
The body is slow and sluggish—a constant clog to the soul—chained down to the dull clods of clay among which it toils and labors—wearied with a few miles walk to chapel, or with sitting an hour on the same seat—with eyes, ears, mouth, all inlets and outlets to evil—tempting and tempted—galloping to evil—and crawling to good—with its shattered nerves, aching joints, panting lungs, throbbing head, and all the countless ills that flesh is heir to. What is this poor earthly body fit for—but to drop into the grave, and be buried out of sight until the glorious resurrection morn?
You were looking for happiness in the things of time and sense. Some bosom idol—some bright prospect—some well-planned scheme—some dream of love or ambition—was to be your paradise. You looked with eager delight upon the scene of happiness that you imagined lay outstretched before you, promising yourself days of health, and wealth, and comfort in this world. "You looked for much, and, behold, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away." Haggai 1:9
A poor bruised reed
"A bruised reed shall He not break." Matthew 12:20
Here, then, is a bruised reed, a poor child of God, ready to give up all hope, to sink beneath the wave no more to rise, expecting that the next blow will sever the stem, or suffocate and bury him in his native mire and mud. But O how graciously, how tenderly and gently does the Redeemer deal with this timid, tried member of His mystical body! He deals with him neither according to his merits nor his fears. The bruised reed deserves to be broken again and again—and it fears it because it deserves it. But the gracious, tender-hearted Redeemer, so far from breaking—gently binds. And how He can in a moment bind up the bruised reed! By one word, one look, one touch, one smile, He can in a moment raise up the drooping head. This is His blessed office. His holiness, His purity, His hatred of sin, His zeal for the glory of His Father, would indeed all lead Him to break. But His mercy, grace, compassion, and love, all lead Him to bind.
You may perhaps feel yourself a poor bruised reed, bruised—by afflictions—by temptations—by guilt—by Satan—ready to perish—ready to give up all hope—and droop away and die! O remember that this blessed Man of Sorrows, being touched with the feeling of our infirmities, can sympathize and support, and therefore will never, no, never break a bruised reed. If our poor soul is bruised—by affliction—by temptation—by doubt and fear—by Satan's suggestions—be it known for our comfort and encouragement, that the condescending and tender-hearted Redeemer will never, no, never break that bruised reed—but will most graciously, in His own time and way, bind it up.
Moab at ease
"Moab has been at ease from his youth." Jeremiah 48:11
Moab represents a professor in the church of God destitute of divine grace. Moab was always at ease—and that from his very youth. Nothing troubled him. Easy circumstances—good health—plenty of friends—and abundant prosperity—made him as happy as the day was long. Sin never troubled him—the world never opposed or persecuted him—and Satan never thrust hurtfully at him. He had, therefore everything to make him easy. He had no fears of God—no dread of hell—no trembling apprehensions of the wrath to come—no sense of the Majesty of the Almighty, against whom and before whom he had sinned—no tormenting, chilling convictions—no anxious thoughts. These Moabites are the very characters represented as proper and usual members of churches. They have got their religion they can scarcely tell how, scarcely tell when, scarcely tell where, and scarcely tell why.
In the sweetest cup of the ungodly
Natural human joy can never rise very high—nor last very long. It is of the earth, earthly—and therefore can never rise high, nor long endure. It is always marred by some check or disappointment. In the sweetest cup of the ungodly there is something secret that embitters all. All their mirth is madness—for even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness. God frowns upon all the worldling's pleasure—conscience condemns it—and the weary heart is often sick of it, even unto death. It cannot bear inspection or reflection. It has perpetual disappointment stamped upon it here—and eternal sorrow hereafter.
A solitary way
"They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in." Psalm 107:4
"They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way"—in a path in which each has to walk alone—a road where no company cheers him—and without landmarks to direct his course. This is a mark peculiar to the child of God—that the path by which he travels is a solitary way. His perplexities are such as he cannot believe any living soul is exercised with. The fiery darts which are cast into his mind by the wicked one are such as he thinks no child of God has ever experienced—the darkness of his soul—the unbelief and infidelity of his heart—and the workings of his powerful corruptions—are such as he supposes none ever knew but himself. To be without any comfort except what God gives—without any guidance but what the Lord affords—without any support but what springs from the everlasting arms laid underneath—in a word, to be in that state where the Lord alone must appear, and where He alone can deliver—is very painful.
But it is the very painful nature of the path that makes it so profitable. We need to be cut off from resting upon an arm of flesh—to be completely divorced from all props to support our souls—except that Almighty prop which cannot fail. And the Lord will take care that His people shall deal only with Himself—that they shall have no real comfort but that which springs from His presence. His object is—to draw us away from the creature—to take us off from leaning on human pity and compassion—and to bring us to trust implicitly on Himself—to lean wholly and solely upon Him, who is full of pity, and of tender mercy.
Hopeless, helpless, houseless, refugeless
"I will cry out to God Most High; to God who accomplishes my requests for me." Psalm 57:2
It is to "God most high" that prayers go up from broken hearts—in all parts of the world where the Lord has a saved people. "Unto God most high"—every eye is pointed—every heart is fixed—and every breath of living prayer flows. Jesus sits in glory as "God most high," hearing the sighs and cries of His broken-hearted family, where they dwell in the utmost corners of the earth. And He is not only sitting on high to hear their cries—but also to bestow upon them the blessings which He sees suitable to their case and state.
Now when shall we thus come "unto God most high?" When we are pleased and satisfied in SELF? When the world smiles? When all things are easy without and within? When we are in circumstances for which our own wisdom, strength, and righteousness are amply sufficient? We may, under such circumstances, appease our conscience by prayer, or rather its 'form'—but there is no "CRY unto God most high." Before there is a real, spiritual cry raised up, we must be brought to that spot, "Refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul." Here all the saints of old were brought—Job upon his ash-heap—Hezekiah upon his sick bed—Hannah by the temple gate. All were hopeless, helpless, houseless, refugeless—before they cried "unto God most high." And we must be equally refugeless and houseless before we can utter the same cry—and our prayers find entrance into the ears of the Lord Almighty. "Unto God who performs all things for me." If God did not perform some things for us; no, more—if God did not perform all things for us, it would be a mockery, a delusion to pray to Him at all. "The hope of Israel" would then be to us a dumb idol, like Ashtaroth or Baal, who could not hear the cries of His lancet-cutting worshipers—because He was asleep, and needed to be awakened. But the God of Israel is not like these dumb idols—these ash-heap gods—the work of men's hands—the figments of superstition and ignorance. The eternal Jehovah ever lives to hear and answer the prayers that His people offer up.
The prospect of eternal glory
"Father, I desire that they also whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am; that they may see My glory." John 17:24
It is the prospect of eternal glory which animates the Christian in all his battles against sin—and encourages him never to abandon the battle until victory crowns the strife. It nerves his heart in all the troubles and trials of this mortal state, still to press forward to win this immortal prize—that he may safely reach that land where tears are wiped from off all faces—and where the glory of God will be seen and enjoyed through the glorified humanity of Jesus without a cloud to dim its rays, or intercept its eternal luster.
Sufferings & sorrows of an incarnate God!
"Therefore He was obligated in all things to be made like His brothers, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest." Hebrews 2:17
What heart can conceive or tongue express, the infinite depths of the Redeemer's condescension in thus being made like unto His brethren—that the Son of God should assume a finite nature—that He should leave the bosom of His Father in which He had lain before all worlds—and should consent to become an inhabitant of this world of tears—to breathe earthly air—to share in human sorrows—to have before His eyes the daily spectacle of human sins—to be banished so long from His native home—to endure hunger, weariness, and thirst—to be subject to the persecutions of men, and the flight of all His disciples—not to hide His face from shame and spitting—but to be mocked, struck, buffeted, and scourged—and at last to die an agonizing death between two malefactors, amid scorn and infamy, and covered with disgrace! O what infinite condescension and mercy are displayed in these sufferings and sorrows of an incarnate God! The Lord give us faith to look to Him as suffering them for our sake!
The eye of God
"For His eyes are on the ways of man, and He sees all his goings." Job 34:21
Nothing escapes the eye of a just and holy God. He lays bare every secret thought—searches every hidden purpose—and scrutinizes every desire and every movement of the mind. He discovers and brings to light all the secret sins of the heart. Men in general take no notice of heart sins. If they can keep from overt sins in life—from open acts of immorality—they are satisfied. What passes in the secret chambers of imagery they neither see nor feel. Not so with the child of grace. He carries about with him the secret conviction that the eye of God reads every thought. Every inward movement of pride, self-righteousness, rebellion, discontent, peevishness, fretfulness lust, and extravagance, he inwardly feels that the eye of God reads all, marks all, condemns all—and because He is so intrinsically pure—hates and abhors all. He is indeed aware that many may have sinned more deeply and grossly as regards outward acts—but he feels that no one can have sinned inwardly more foully and continually than he—and this makes him say with Job, "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees You. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:5, 6
A perfect saint
"O wretched man that I am!" Romans 7:24
These feelings which the Apostle groaned under are experienced by all the quickened family. Blessed then be the name of God Almighty, that He inspired Paul to trace out and leave upon record his experience, that we might derive comfort and relief from it. What would we otherwise have thought? We would have reasoned thus—'Here is an apostle perfectly holy—perpetually heavenly-minded—having nothing but the image of Christ in him—continually living to the Lord's glory—and unceasingly enjoying communion with Him!' We would have viewed Paul as a perfect saint—if he had not told us what he was. And then, having viewed him as a perfect saint, we would have turned our desponding eyes into our own bosom, and seen such a dreadful contrast, that we would despair of ever being saved at all! But seeing the soul conflict which the Apostle passed through—and feeling a measure of the same in our own bosom—it encourages, supports, and leads the soul on to believe that this is the way in which the saints are called to travel—however rough, rugged, and perplexing it may be to them.
"The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Ephesians 6:17
There is only one weapon whereby we can fight Satan to any purpose—and that is the word of God. But observe, that it must not be merely the 'letter of the word.' It must be the sword of the Spirit—and therefore a spiritual sword—which can only be taken in hand when the word of God is applied with a divine power to your heart—and it is made 'life and spirit' to your soul. It is of no use my bringing forward a text to resist a temptation of Satan—unless I can make that text my own. In other words, unless I can handle that sword as one who knows how to wield it. To take up a text and not know the sweetness and power of it, would be like a child taking up a warrior's sword—without having the warrior's arm. He might play with the sword, but what is the sword of a giant in the hand of a child?
The sword of Scanderbeg, a famous Albanian warrior against the Turks, used to be shown at Vienna. A man who once looked at and handled it said, "Is this the sword which won so many victories? I see nothing in it—it is but a common sword." The answer was, "You should have seen the arm that wielded it!" So it is not merely taking a text—adopting scripture language—and quoting passages—which will beat back the fiery assaults of Satan. This is having Scanderbeg's sword—without having Scanderbeg's arm. But it is having the word of truth brought into our heart by the power of God—faith raised up to believe that God Himself speaks it to our heart—being thus enabled to wield it in the strength of the Spirit—and by the power of faith in living exercise, to resist every hellish thrust!
Love to Christ
Love to Christ can only spring from the teachings and operations of God upon the heart. Our carnal mind is enmity against God—nothing but implacable, irreconcilable enmity. But when the Lord is pleased to make Himself, in some measure, known to the soul—when He is pleased, in some degree, to unveil His lovely face, and to give a discovery of His grace and glory—immediately divine love springs up! He is so lovely an Object! As the Bride says, "He is altogether lovely." His beauty is so surpassing—His grace so rich—His mercy so free—all that He is and has is so unspeakably glorious—that no sooner does He unveil His lovely face, than He—wins over all the love of the heart—takes possession of the bosom—and draws every affection of the soul to center wholly and solely in Himself!
When, by faith, we can accompany the Man of Sorrows into the gloomy garden of Gethsemane—or behold Him groaning, bleeding, and dying on the cross—an object of ignominy and shame—O, what a view it gives us of the demerit and dreadful nature of SIN, that nothing short of the incarnation of God's only begotten Son—nothing short of such a tremendous sacrifice could put away sin—and bring the elect back unto God! Thus a believing sight of the Lord Jesus hanging upon Calvary's tree, not only shows us the dreadful nature of sin—but, also, how full, how complete, how glorious, and how effectual must that salvation be, of which the expiring Son of God could say—It is finished!
A living Savior
The children of God need a living Savior, one who can—hear and answer prayer—deliver out of soul trouble—speak a word with power to the heart when bowed down with grief and sorrow—sympathize with them under powerful temptations—support them under the trials and afflictions of the way—maintain under a thousand discouragements His own life in their soul—sustain under bereavements the mourning widow, and be a father to her fatherless children—appear again and again in providence as a Friend that loves at all times and a Brother born for adversity—smile upon them in death—and comforting them with His rod and staff as they walk through the valley of its dark shadow, land them at last safely in a happy eternity!
We by nature and practice are slaves to sin and Satan. We are the sport of the prince of the power of the air, who takes us captive at his will. We are held down also by many hurtful lusts. Or, if free from gross sin, are slaves to pride, covetousness, or self-righteousness. Perhaps some idol is set up in the chambers of imagery which defiles all the inner man. Or some snare of Satan entangles our feet, and we are slaves, without power to liberate ourselves from this cruel slavery. We groan under it, as the children of Israel under their burdens, but, like them, cannot deliver ourselves. "But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life."
He abhors that cruel tyrant
Every sincere child of God most earnestly longs to embrace Jesus—and be embraced by Him in the arms of love and affection. He hates sin, though it daily, hourly, momently works in him—and is ever seeking to regain its former mastery. He abhors that cruel tyrant who—set him to do his vilest drudgery—deceived and deluded him by a thousand lying promises—dragged him again and again into captivity—and but for sovereign grace would have sealed his eternal destruction!
Subdued by the scepter of mercy, he longs for the dominion of grace over every faculty of his soul and every member of his body. Thus, he who truly fears God looks to grace, and to grace alone—not merely to save, but to sanctify—not only to pardon sin, but to subdue it—not only to secure him an eternal inheritance, but to make him fit for it.
It is a mercy to be in the furnace
"And I will bring the third part through the fire and make them pure, just as gold and silver are refined and purified by fire." Zechariah 13:9
It is a mercy to be in the furnace. Some metals indeed are so stubborn, and the dross is so deeply ingrained into them—that they seem to require a hotter fire than others. It may be a furnace of trial, temptation, sickness, family affliction—straits in providence—persecution—deep discoveries of sin—or the hidings of the Lord's face—which seem to make up that trial. By these trials there is—a gradual weaning from the world—a humility, meekness, and brokenness of spirit—a greater simplicity and godly sincerity—a more willing obedience to the precepts of the gospel—a greater desire to know the will of God and do it.
What a wonder of wonders!
As the Spirit unfolds the mystery of the glorious Person of Christ, and reveals His beauty—the more does He become the object of the soul's admiration and adoration. That the Son of God, who lay in the bosom of the Father from all eternity, should condescend to take upon Him our nature—that He might groan, suffer, bleed, and die for guilty wretches—who, if permitted, would have ruined their souls a thousand times a day—what a wonder of wonders!
Has the Lord made sin your burden?
Has the Lord made sin your burden? Has He ever made you feel guilty before Him? Has He ever pressed down your conscience with a sight and sense of—your iniquities—your sins—your backslidings? And does the Lord draw, from time to time, honest, sincere, unreserved confession of those sins out of your lips? What does the Holy Spirit say to you? What has the blessed Spirit recorded for your instruction, and for your consolation? "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." God pardons, forgives, and sweetly blots out every iniquity and every transgression of a confessing penitent!
Heaven will make amends for all!
"For our light affliction, which is for the moment, works for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" 2 Corinthians 4:17
O suffering saints of God! Are you tried, tempted, afflicted? It is your mercy! God does not deal so with everyone. It is because you are His children, that He lays on you His chastening hand. He means to conform you to the image of His Son in glory—and therefore He now conforms you to the image of His Son in suffering. All will end well with the people of God. Their life here is a life of temptation, of suffering and trial. But heaven will make amends for all!
Time of trouble
"O Lord, be gracious to us; we have waited for You: be our arm every morning, our salvation also in the time of trouble." Isaiah 33:2
This time of trouble is when sin is laid as a heavy burden upon a man's conscience—when guilt presses him down into the dust of death—when his iniquities stare him in the face, and seem more in number than the hairs of his head—when he fears he shall be cast forever into the bottomless pit of hell, and have his portion with the hypocrites.
The only wise God deals out various measures of affliction to His people. All do not sink to the same depth—as all do not rise to the same height. All do not drink equally deep of the cup. Yet all, each in their measure, pass through this time of trouble, wherein—their fleshly religion is pulled to pieces—their self-righteousness marred—their presumptuous hopes crushed—and they brought into the state of the leper, to cry—Unclean, unclean! Until a man has passed through this time of trouble—until he has experienced more or less of these exercises of soul, and known guilt and condemnation in his conscience—until he has had his 'rags of creature righteousness' torn away from him—he can know nothing experimentally of the efficacy of Jesus' atoning blood.
Mere 'professors' of religion
The persuasion that in God alone is true happiness—the feeling of dissatisfaction with everything else but the Lord, and everything short of His manifested presence—is that which stamps the reality of the life of God in a man's soul. Mere 'professors' of religion feel no misery, dissatisfaction, or wretchedness—if God does not shine upon them. So long as the world smiles, and they have all that heart can wish—so long as they are buoyed up by the hypocrite's hope, and lulled asleep by the soft breezes of flattery—they are well satisfied to sail down the stream of a dead profession.
When He removes our rotten props
Are there not seasons in our experience when we can lay down our souls before God, and say, "Let Christ be precious to my soul—let Him come with power to my heart—let Him set up His throne as Lord and King—and let self be nothing before Him!" We utter these prayers in sincerity and simplicity—we desire their fulfillment. But oh, the struggle! the conflict!—when God answers these petitions! When our plans are frustrated—what a rebellion works up in the carnal mind! Self is a rebel, who has set up an idolatrous temple. When self is cast down—what a rising up of the fretful, peevish impatience of the creature! When the Lord does answer our prayers—when He strips off all false confidence—when He removes our rotten props—when He dashes to pieces our broken cisterns—what a storm!—what a conflict then takes place in the soul!
"I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me." Jeremiah 32:40
If we examine the movements of godly fear in our hearts, we shall see that all its tendencies are—toward hatred of sin and love of holiness—toward a desire after the enjoyment of heavenly realities—toward a deadness to the things of time and sense—toward a knowledge of Christ in the manifestation of Himself—toward a longing to live more to His praise, to walk more in His footsteps, and to be more conformed to His suffering image.
Obeyed & lived
The gospel must be obeyed and lived—as well as received and believed. There is a constraining power in the love of Christ under which we experience a holy and sacred pleasure in no longer living unto ourselves—but unto Him who died and rose again for us.
Pilgrims & strangers on this earthly ball
"Pass the time of your living as strangers here in reverent fear." 1 Peter 1:17
Our life here is but a vapor. We are but pilgrims and strangers on this earthly ball—mere sojourners, without fixed or settled habitation—and passing through this world as not our home or resting place. Peter, therefore, bids us pass this time, whether long or short, of our earthly sojourn, under the influence and in the exercise of godly fear. We are surrounded with enemies, all seeking, as it were, our life—and therefore we are called upon to move with great caution—knowing how soon we may slip and fall, and thus bring upon ourselves a cloud of darkness which may long hover over our souls.
Our life here below is not one of ease and quiet—but a warfare—a conflict—a race—a wrestling not with flesh and blood alone—but with principalities and powers and spiritual wickedness in high places. We have to dread ourselves more than anything or anybody else—and to view our flesh as our greatest enemy! How needful, then, is it to pass the time of our sojourning here in the exercise of this godly, reverential fear!
The same Jesus
"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever." Hebrews 13:8
The eye of our faith must be ever fixed on Jesus. Is He not the same Jesus now in heaven—which He was when He was on earth? He is exalted, it is true, to an inconceivable height of glory. But He is the same Jesus now—as when He was the man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And as He wears the same human body—so He has the same tender, compassionate heart. All that He was upon earth as Jesus—He is in heaven still. All that tenderness and gentleness—all that pity to poor sensitive sinners—all that compassion on the ignorant and on those who are out of the way—all that grace and truth—all that bleeding, dying love—all that sympathy with the afflicted and tempted—all that power to heal—all that surpassing beauty and blessedness as the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely One—He retains in the highest heavens!
One drop of solid joy
If ever, as we pass through this wilderness, we feel one drop of solid joy—of true happiness—it must flow, it can flow only from one source—the manifestation of Christ to our souls. We can find true joy and peace in Him alone. Sin, the world, the things of time and sense, business, amusement, pleasure so-called—afford no lasting joy. There is an aching void—a feeling of dreariness and misery connected with them. One smile from the Lord—one word from His lips—one gracious breaking in of the light of His countenance—does, while it lasts, communicate joy. And from no other quarter, from no other source can a moment's real joy be drawn.
Laid upon them by the hand of God
"Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction." Isaiah 48:10
According to God's own testimony, it is through much tribulation that we are to enter into the kingdom—and therefore there is no entering into the kingdom of grace here, or the kingdom of glory hereafter, without it. But let this be ever borne in mind, that whatever affliction befalls the saints—it is laid upon them by the hand of God—and that for the express purpose of putting them into a situation and of making them capable of receiving those comforts which God alone can bestow. None but Jesus Himself can comfort a truly afflicted heart. And He can and does from time to time comfort His dear people—by a sense of His presence—by a word of power from His gracious lips—by the light of His countenance—by the balm of His atoning blood and dying love—and by the work and witness of the Spirit within. And as they receive this consolation from the mouth of God—their hearts are comforted. How good the Lord is of His own free grace to bestow such blessings upon His redeemed family! May He comfort our hearts as we journey through this valley of tears—and may our consolations be neither few nor small.
Until our eyes are divinely opened
"And their eyes were opened, and they knew Him." Luke 24:31
What we know savingly, experimentally, feelingly—we know only by divine teaching. We cannot see Jesus until our eyes are divinely opened. The sun may shine in all its glory—does that communicate light to the eyes of the blind? or warm the corpse lying in the coffin? The blind see not—the dead hear not. The living, the living alone see and know the Son of God.
When I am weak
"When I am weak, then am I strong." 2 Corinthians 12:10
The more wise and spiritual God's people become—the more foolish and carnal they appear in their own eyes. The stronger they are in the Lord and in the power of His might—the more sensibly do they feel the weakness of their flesh. The more they are enabled to walk closely with the Lord—the more they discover the wretched wanderings of their base and sinful hearts!
What we were
"At that time you were without Christ. . . .having no hope, and without God in the world." Ephesians 2:12
Let us never forget what we were, before we were called by grace. Let the remembrance of our sins and of the whole bent and current of our lives be bitter to us—that we may all the more prize and admire the riches of that sovereign grace which stooped to us in our low and lost estate. The remembrance of 'Egyptian bondage' should ever accompany the enjoyment of gospel liberty.
The ultimatum of gospel obedience
The ultimatum of gospel obedience is, "to lie passive in His hand, and know no will but His." Only then can we fully enter into the beauty and blessedness of gospel truth; here alone can we—submit to the weight of a daily cross—glory in tribulation—patiently endure afflictions—feel the sweetness of the promises—walk in obedience to the precepts—and tread the path that leads to endless glory!
A remedy for every disease
"He will turn again, He will have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities." Micah 7:19
How does God heal the soul-diseases of His people? He heals them chiefly by subduing them—for in this life they are never thoroughly healed. To subdue them is to restrain their power. Thus He sees one suffering under the power of unbelief—He gives him faith, and this subdues his unbelief. Here is another poor languid patient, dying of exhaustion—He gives him strength. Here is a third mourning under his corruptions—He gives a drop of His blood to purge his conscience, and a taste of His love to warm his heart. He sees a fourth crying under the strong assaults of Satan—with one look from Him, Satan flies and the soul is set free. Thus with infinite wisdom blended with infinite love and power—He passes on from bed to bed of every sick patient—administering health wherever He goes.
This blessed Physician has a remedy for every disease—and the remedy is always felt to be exactly suitable to the exigency of the case. It goes, so to speak—at once to the right spot. It heals the malady—wherever it is—and whatever it is—just in the right way—and just at the right time! O then how good it is to bring all our soul-diseases before the Lord! In a case of bodily sickness or painful illness, we uncover freely our malady to a physician whom we can trust—we tell him every circumstance and disclose every symptom. So should we go to the Lord with all our soul-diseases—tell Him all our complaints—unfold to Him all our sorrows—and fully and freely lay before Him everything that—burdens the conscience—pains the mind—and distresses the soul—looking and waiting until He speaks the word, and every malady is healed.
To starve them in a waste-howling wilderness
"God is faithful, by whom you were called to the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." 1 Corinthians 1:9
When God calls His people by His grace—it is to make them partakers of the highest bliss and the greatest glory. When the Lord calls His people out of earthly pleasures—is it for no other purpose than to lead them into paths of affliction and sorrow? Does He make them leave the fleshpots of Egypt—to starve them in a waste-howling wilderness? Does He take them from earthly delights—to abandon them to misery and despair? O no! He calls them to the greatest privilege and highest favor that His everlasting love could confer upon them—which is no less than "the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord"—that they may have union and communion with the Son of God by grace here—and be partakers of His glory hereafter!
Whatever you may have in this world
"To an incorruptible and undefiled inheritance, and that doesn't fade away, reserved in heaven for you." 1 Peter 1:4
Whatever you may have in this world, be it much or little—you must leave! And if you have no other inheritance than earth gives—where will be your portion in death and to all eternity? We imagine sometimes how happy we would be—if we had this man's fine estate—or that man's large property. But do you think that these men are happy with all their possessions—and that you would be happier or better if you had them? These rich men have a canker which eats up all their happiness. With 'possession' come all the anxieties and cares connected with it.
But our eternal inheritance does not fade away! The sweetest flowers fade and are thrown away as they become nauseous to sight and smell. But there is—an abiding freshness—a constant verdure—a perpetual bloom—an unceasing fragrance—a permanent sweetness—in this eternal inheritance—so that it is never insipid or stale—but remains ever the same, or rather is ever increasing in beauty and blessedness—as it is more known, believed in, hoped unto, and loved.
How shall they reach the heavenly shore?
"But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who was made to us wisdom from God, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." 1 Corinthians 1:30
Consider what heavenly blessings there are for those who have a living union with the Son of God. Everything is provided for them, that shall be for their salvation and their sanctification. Not a single blessing has God withheld that shall be for their eternal good. View them as foolish and ignorant—unable to see the way—puzzled and perplexed by a thousand difficulties—harassed by sin—tempted by Satan—far off upon the sea. How shall they reach the heavenly shore?
God, by an infinite act of sovereign love, has made His dear Son to be their "wisdom," so that none shall err so as to err fatally—none shall miss the road for lack of heavenly direction to find it or walk in it. Their glorious Head will bring them to their heavenly inheritance. He opens up His word to their heart—He sends down a ray of light into their bosom, illuminating the sacred page and guiding their feet into the way of truth and peace. If they wander—He brings them back. If they stumble—He raises them up. And whatever be the difficulties that beset their path, sooner or later some kind direction or heavenly admonition comes from His gracious Majesty. Thus his gracious Lord leads him safely along through every difficulty—until He sets him before His face in glory!
Then they have done you good
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28
Have your trials humbled you, and made you meek and lowly? Then they have done you good. Have they stirred up a spirit of prayer in your bosom, and made you sigh, cry, and groan for the Lord to appear, visit, or bless your soul? Then they have done you good. Have they opened up those parts of God's word which are full of mercy and comfort to His afflicted people? Have they made you more sincere, more earnest, more spiritual, more heavenly-minded—more convinced that the Lord Jesus can alone bless and comfort your soul? Then they have done you good. Have they made the Bible more precious to you—the promises more sweet—the dealings of God with your soul more prized? Then they have done you good.
"Then He opened their minds, that they might understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
All our talk has been but vain babbling; our prayers—but lip service; our preaching—but wind and vanity; our profession—but hypocrisy; our knowledge—the worst kind of ignorance; and all our religion—but carnality or delusion—if they have not been divinely communicated.
God does not argue
The Gospel of God's grace is not a thing to be proved—but truth to be believed. It is not submitted to our reasoning powers as a subject for critical examination. The gospel is a message from God—addressed to the conscience, feelings, and affections. For this reason, men fond of argument and proving everything by strictly logical deduction generally make very poor preachers. In the Scriptures, God does not argue—He proclaims!
His effectual instrument
It is by the power of God's Word upon our heart, that the whole work of grace upon our soul is carried on from first to last—by its promises we are drawn—by its precepts we are guided—by its warnings we are admonished—by its reproofs we are rebuked—by its rod we are chastened—by its support we are upheld—in its light we walk—by its teachings are made wise—by its revivings are renewed—and by its truth are sanctified. Under circumstances the most trying to flesh and blood, where nature stands aghast and reason fails—there the Word of God will come in as a counselor to drop in friendly advice—as a companion to cheer and support the mind by its tender sympathy—and as a friend to speak to the heart with a loving, affectionate voice.
We need not wonder, then, how the Word of God has been prized in all ages by the family of God. For it is written with such infinite wisdom, that it—meets every case—suits every circumstance—fills up every aching void—and is adapted to every condition of life, and every state both of body and soul. Not that the Word of God can of itself do all—or any—of these things in us and for us. But in the hands of the Spirit, who works in and by it as His effectual instrument—all these gracious operations are carried on in the soul.
O my soul
"Why are you in despair, O my soul? and why are you disturbed within me?" Psalm 42:11
Observe the tender and familiar way in which David converses with his own soul—as a tender and sympathizing 'bosom companion.' But how few, speaking comparatively, know that they have a soul which they can thus talk to? Indeed, I may say, that it is really a very great discovery when a man discovers, for the first time, that he has a soul in his bosom. The great bulk of mankind, all who are destitute of divine life—do not really and truly know that they have a soul. This may seem harsh doctrine—but at any rate they act as if they had none. We must judge men from their actions—and if they act as if they had no soul to be saved or lost—and as if there were no God who would bring them into judgment—we must conclude that they do not really believe they have a soul—though they may not boldly and positively deny it in lip.
But a man never knows really and truly that he has a soul until there is spiritual life put into it—for a dead soul makes no movement in his bosom—and is therefore not known to be there. We never know really that we have a soul until it is made alive unto God and cries unto Him. Then we begin find for the first time, that we have a soul—by the cry of life. And then our soul becomes a matter of the deepest interest to us—for we find that, according to the word of God—it must either be eternally saved or lost. This becomes to us the most important thing that we have ever had to deal with.
His omnipotent power can execute
"Having been foreordained according to the purpose of Him who works all things after the counsel of His will." Ephesians 1:11
Next to a believing view of the purposes of God's grace, and a sweet persuasion of our interest in them—nothing is more strengthening and encouraging than a realizing apprehension of the power of God to carry them into full execution. As we behold—sovereign grace in His heart—and infinite wisdom in His mind—and almighty strength in His arm; we become sweetly persuaded that all which His loving heart feels—and His infinite wisdom directs—His omnipotent power can execute!
Continual supplies of His grace
"I the Lord am its keeper; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day." Isaiah 27:3
The Lord Jesus Christ has to send down supplies of His grace continually to keep your soul alive. Without your spiritual life being kept up and maintained by these continual supplies of His grace—you cannot pray, or read, or hear the word, or meditate with any feeling or profit. You cannot love the Lord and His blessed ways—you cannot submit to His righteous dealings—or hear the rod and Him who appointed it. You may approach His throne—but your heart is cold, clouded, and unfeeling—your spirit sinks under the weight and burden of the trials and difficulties that are spread in your path. Nor are you able to do anything that satisfies yourself—or that you think can satisfy God. By these painful but profitable lessons—you are experimentally taught that you need Christ as an ever-living, ever-gracious, ever-glorious Mediator—to send down supplies of His love and power into your soul—as much as you needed Him to die upon the cross for your redemption!
"Come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you." 2 Corinthians 6:17
If we are entangled in the love of the world—or fast bound and fettered with worldly anxieties—and the spirit of the world is rife in our bosom—all our profession will be vapid, if not worthless. We may use the language of prayer—but the heart is not in earnest. We may still manage to hold our head high in a profession of the truth—but its power and blessedness are neither known nor felt. To enjoy any measure of communion with the Lord—we must go forth from a world which is at enmity against Him. We must also go forth out of self—for to deny it, renounce it, and go forth out of it—lies at the very foundation of vital godliness.
Sweet spirituality of mind
"For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." Romans 8:6
Without this spirituality of mind, religion is but—a mere name—an empty mask—a delusion—a snare. Just in proportion as our heart and affections are engaged on heavenly objects—shall we feel a sweet savor of heaven resting upon our spirit. Preparedness for heaven much consists in that sweet spirituality of mind whereby heavenly things become our only happiness—and an inward delight is felt in them, that—enlarges the heart—ennobles the mind—softens the spirit—and lifts the whole soul, as it were, up into a holy atmosphere in which it bathes as its choice element!
A secret yet sacred power
Wherever Jesus is graciously and experimentally manifested to the soul, and made known by any sweet revelation of His glorious Person, atoning blood, and finished work—a secret yet sacred power is put forth, whereby we are drawn unto Him—and every grace of the Spirit flows toward Him as towards its attractive center.
Shall we quarrel with—these doubts and fears—these temptations and trials—these assaults from Satan—these workings-up of inward corruption—when they are, in God's mercy and in God's providence, such blessed helpers? If they drive us to a throne of grace—if by them we are brought out of lying refuges—if by them all false hopes are stripped off from us—if by them we are made honest and sincere before God—if by them we turn away from all human help, and come wholly and solely to the Lord—shall we quarrel with these things, which are, if I may use the expression—such friendly enemies—that are so changed from curses into blessings—that in God's overruling providence are made so mysteriously to work for our good?
Shall we not rather bless God—for every trial that brings us to His footstool—for every temptation that has stripped away creature righteousness—for every blow that has cut us off from the world—for every affliction that has embittered the things of time and sense—for everything, however painful to the flesh, which has brought us nearer to Himself—and made us feel more love towards Him, and more desire after Him? Surely, when we sum up God's mercies, we must include in the number—things painful to the flesh—and which at one time we could only look upon as miseries. No, in summing up the rich total, we must catalogue in the list—every pang of guilt—every stroke of conviction—every agonizing doubt—every painful fear—every secret temptation—everything that has most disturbed us.
And could we assign a more prominent place to one of God's mercies—we would give the most distinguished place to the deepest trial. We would say, "Of all mercies, the greatest have been our troubles, trials, exercises, and temptations—for we now see that their blessed effect has been to cut us clean out of fleshly religion, and out of those delusions which, had we continued in them, would have been our destruction. These trials eventually brought us into more sweet and special communion with God Himself!"
A fleshly religion
"Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:13
The flesh, however high it may rise, can never rise above itself. It begins in hypocrisy—it goes on in hypocrisy—and it never can end but in hypocrisy. Whatever various shapes it puts on—a fleshly religion never can rise above itself. There is—no brokenness of heart—no contrition of spirit—no godly sorrow—no genuine humility—no living faith—no spiritual hope—no heavenly love shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit—in those that are "born after the will of the flesh." No abasing views of self—no tender feelings of reverence towards God—no filial fear of His great name—no melting of heart—no softening of spirit—no deadness to the world—no sweet communion with the Lord of life and glory—ever dwelt in their bosoms!
The flesh, with all its workings, and all its subtle deceit and hypocrisy—never sank so low as self abhorrence and godly sorrow—and never mounted so high as into communion with God. The depth of the one is too deep—and the height of the other too high for any but those who are "born of God." This birth by "the will of the flesh," leaves a man just where it found him—dead in sin—destitute of the fear of God—and utterly ignorant of that divine teaching, which alone can save his soul from eternal wrath.
Madly enamored with his own righteousness
One reason why people don't receive Christ is their self-righteousness. Until self-righteousness is in a measure broken down in a man's heart, he never can see any beauty nor loveliness in a bleeding Jesus. Being madly enamored with his own righteousness, and not seeing it in the light of God's countenance as "filthy rags," he has—no eyes to see—no ears to hear—no heart to receive that glorious robe of righteousness, which the Son of God wrought out, and which is imputed to all that believe on His name.
This work of grace
"And you has He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." Ephesians 2:1
Until God by His Spirit quickens the soul into spiritual life, there must be a determined rejection of Christ. However a man may receive Him into his judgment, the inward bias of his heart and the secret speech of his soul is, "Not this Man, but Barabbas!" If, then, there are any who do believe in Him, receive Him, love Him, and have a blessed union with Him—it all springs from the quickening Spirit of God working with power in their souls. Wherever the quickening power of God's Spirit has passed upon a man's conscience, he is invariably brought to see and feel himself to be a sinner. This inward sight of self cuts him off, sooner or later, from—all self-righteousness—all false refuges—and all vain confidences with which he may seek to prop up his soul. The Lord will convince all His people of their lost state before Him—and cast them as ruined wretches into the dust—without hope, strength, wisdom, help, or righteousness—except that which is given to them, as a free gift, by sovereign grace.
This work of grace in the conscience, pulling down all a man's false refuges, stripping him of every lying hope, and thrusting him down into self-abasement and self-abhorrence—is indispensable to a true reception of Christ. Whatever a man may have learned in his head, or however far he may be informed in his judgment—he never will receive Christ spiritually into his heart and affections, until he has been broken down by the hand of God in his soul, to be a ruined wretch. When a man is effectually brought here, the Lord is pleased, for the most part, to open up to his astonished view, and to bring into his soul, some saving knowledge of the Lord of life and glory. He casts into the mind a light, and He brings into the heart a power, whereby the glorious Person of Christ, His atoning blood, dying love, finished work, and justifying righteousness—are looked upon by spiritual eyes—touched by spiritual hands—and received into a spiritual and believing heart.
A secret, soft, gentle going forth of love & affection
There will be from time to time, in saved souls, a flowing forth of affection towards Jesus. From time to time He gives the soul a glimpse of His Person—He shows Himself, as the Scripture speaks, "through the lattice"—passing, perhaps, hastily by, but giving such a transient glimpse of the beauty of His Person, the excellency of His finished work, dying love, and atoning blood—as ravishes the heart, and secretly draws forth the affections of the soul—so that there is a following hard after Him, and a going out of the desires of the soul towards Him. Thus, sometimes the Lord is pleased secretly to work in the heart, and there is a melting down at the feet of Jesus—or a secret, soft, gentle going forth of love and affection towards Him, whereby the soul prefers Him before thousands of gold and silver—and desires nothing so much as the inward manifestations of His love, grace, and blood.
And thus a soul receives Christ—not merely as driven by necessity—but also as drawn by affection. He does not receive Christ merely as a way of escape from the wrath to come—merely as something to save a soul from the unquenchable fire and never-dying worm—but mingled with necessity, sweetly and powerfully combined with it, and intimately and intricately working with it—there is the flowing forth of genuine affection and sincere love, that goes out to Him as the only object really worthy of—our heart's affection—our spirit's worship—and our soul's desire.
This is a very different thing from receiving Christ merely into our judgment, or into our understanding in a doctrinal manner. Saving faith is to receive Him in the depths of a broken heart—as the only Savior for our guilty soul—as our only hope for eternity—as the only Lord of our heart's worship—and the only object of our pure affection—so that in secret, when no eye sees but the eye of God, and only the ear of Jehovah hears the pantings of our pleading heart—there is the breathing out of the spirit after the enjoyment of His love, grace, and blood.
What a pretty looking thing!
The man in the fable found a dead viper—at least dead to all appearance through the cold. What a pretty looking thing! He puts it into his bosom and warms it—then it revives and bites him! So it is with a man who plays with his lusts—indulging them—his carnal heart goes out after them—until at last, like the torpid viper, it turns to a living adder and stings him!
The spider & the fly
See the spider watching a fly. The poor little fly has just been caught in the edge of the web—the spider lies in its hole. As soon as he sees the web shake, down he runs, and draws the threads around his victim, kills him, sucks his carcass, and leaves it. Thus the devil may be compared to the spider working in his web—waiting, lurking, in reality to suck the very bones and blood of a child of God and cast him into hell—and so he would, were it not for preserving grace.
Growth in grace
No one who reads the Word of God with an enlightened eye can deny that there is contained in it such a doctrine as growth in grace. The very idea indeed of 'life' implies advance, growth, progress, increase. Lambs grow up into sheep—vine buds into vine branches—sons into fathers. Their grand distinguishing mark of living things, is that they grow. And, therefore, absence of growth implies absence of life. Hypocrites, indeed, may grow in hypocrisy—Pharisees may grow in self-righteousness—Arminians may grow in fleshly performances—dead Calvinists may grow in head knowledge—proud professors may grow in presumption—self deceivers may grow in delusion—and the untried may grow in vain confidence. But the dead never grow in the divine life, for "the root of the matter" is not in them.
A damnable thing
Sin is a damnable thing—and every one of God's people is made, has been made, or will be made, to feel it so. And the more that they see of sin, know of sin, feel of sin—the more damnable will sin appear in their eyes—and with greater weight and power will its dreadful guilt and filth lie upon their conscience. Now there are but few, comparatively speaking, who have any clear sight or any deep feeling of what sin really is—and the reason, for the most part, is because they have such a slight, shallow, superficial knowledge of who and what God is. But let them once see the purity of God by the eye of faith—let them once have a manifestation of His justice and holiness, majesty and greatness to their soul—and let them have a corresponding sight and sense of the deep and desperate state in which they are as fallen children of a fallen parent—then will they no longer have slight, superficial feelings of the nature and evil of sin—but will so see and feel its hideous and damnable character as to make them cry out with Isaiah in the temple, "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." Isaiah 6:5
O what work does sin then make in the conscience, when it is opened up by the Spirit of God! Whatever superficial or shallow views we may have had of sin before, it is only as its 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. It is this sword of the Spirit which cuts and wounds—it is this entrance of life and light that gashes the conscience—it is this divine work which lacerates the heart and inflicts those deep wounds, which nothing but the "balm in Gilead" can heal.
But the voice soon comes
There are many times when it seems as if this present world could satisfy us—when we build up our earthly paradises, and seek as it were ease and rest here below. But the voice soon comes, "Arise, and depart; for this is not your rest: because it is polluted." Micah 2:10
Keep me from evil
"And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that. . . .You would keep me from evil, that it may not grieve me! And God granted him that which he requested." 1 Chronicles 4:10
Jabez was a poor burdened sinner who could not keep himself. If he could keep himself, this petition would be an idle mockery. He need not to have fallen outwardly to teach him this. There are inward falls—slips of the tongue—glances of the eye—filthy desires—roving imaginations—covetous projects—proud desires—idolatrous lustings—secret backslidings into carnality and worldliness.
A blessing indeed
"And Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, Oh that You would bless me indeed." 1 Chronicles 4:10
To be—weaned from idols—delivered from broken cisterns—separated in spirit and affection from the world—and have our heart fixed on things above—is a blessing indeed. To feel an appetite after God's Word—to receive the truth in the love of it—to have sweet and holy communion with Jehovah—and to live under the solemn anointings of the blessed Spirit—is a blessing indeed. That such a wretch and filthy monster of iniquity should have a smile from the great and holy Jehovah, seems a blessing too great—but would be a blessing indeed!
What makes them cry?
"Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses." Psalm 107:6
Not before, not after, but in it. When they were in the midst of it—when trouble was wrapped round their head, as the weeds were wrapped round the head of Jonah—when they were surrounded by it, and could see no way out of it—when, like a person in a mist, they saw no way of escape before or behind—when nothing but a dark cloud of trouble surrounded their souls, and they did not know that ever that cloud would be dispersed—then it was that they cried.
But what makes them cry? It is this solemn feeling in their hearts—that they have no other refuge but God. The Lord brings all His people here—to have no other refuge but Himself. Friends, counselors, acquaintances—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 bring 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 communications from God to support him under, and bring him out of his trouble.
If a man is not brought to this point by his troubles—they have done him no good. They have been like the clouds that have passed over the desert, and transmitted to it neither fertility nor fruitfulness—they have been like the rain that drops upon the pavement, and is evaporated by the sun, producing neither fruit nor flower. But the troubles that God sends into the hearts of His people are like the rain that falls upon the fertile soil—causing them to bring forth fruit, and every grace of the Spirit to deepen and fructify in their soul.
The believer's path
The believer's path is indeed a mysterious one—full of harmonious contradictions and heavenly paradoxes. He is never easy when at ease—nor without a burden when he has none. He is never satisfied without doing something—and yet is never satisfied with anything that he does. He is never so strong as when he sits still—never so fruitful as when he does nothing—and never so active as when he makes the least haste. He wins—pardon through guilt—hope through despair—deliverance through temptation—comfort through affliction—and a robe of righteousness through filthy rags. Though a worm and no man—he overcomes Omnipotence itself through violence. And though less than vanity and nothing—he takes heaven itself by force. Thus amid the strange contradictions which meet in a believing heart, he is—never so prayerful as when he says nothing—never so wise as when he is the greatest fool—never so much alone as when most in company—and never so much under the power of an inward religion as when most separated from an outward one.
The burden may still remain
"Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you." Psalm 55:22
The burden may still remain—but strength is given to bear it. The trials may not be lessened—but power to endure them is increased. The evils of the heart are not removed—but grace is communicated to subdue them. "My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness."