"Accepted in the Beloved." Ephesians 1:6
We are ever looking for something in SELF to make ourselves acceptable to God. We are often sadly cast down and discouraged when we cannot find in ourselves—that holiness—that obedience—that calm submission to the will of God—that serenity of soul—that spirituality—that heavenly-mindedness—which we believe to be acceptable in His sight!
Our crooked tempers—our fretful, peevish minds—our rebellious thoughts—our coldness and barrenness—our alienation from good—our headlong proneness to evil—with the daily feeling that we get no better, but rather worse—make us think that God views us just as we view ourselves! And this brings on great darkness of mind and bondage of spirit—until we seem to lose sight of our acceptance in Christ—and get into the miserable dregs of self—almost ready to quarrel with God because we are so vile, and only get worse as we get older!
Now the more we get into these dregs of self—and the more we keep looking at the dreadful scenes of wreck and ruin which our heart presents to daily view—the farther do we get from the grace of the gospel—and the more do we lose sight of the only ground of our acceptance with God. It is "in the Beloved" that we are accepted—and not for any good words—good works—good thoughts—good hearts—or good intentions of our own!
If our acceptance with God depended on anything in ourselves, we would have to believe we might be children of God today—and children of the devil tomorrow! What, then, is to keep us from sinking altogether into despair, without hope or help? Why, a knowledge of our acceptance "in the Beloved"—independent of everything in us—good or bad!
Blundering & stumbling on in darkness
After the Lord has quickened our souls, for a time we often go blundering on, not knowing there is a Jesus. We think that the way of life is to keep God's commandments—obey the law—cleanse ourselves from sin—reform our lives—cultivate universal holiness in thought, word, and action—and so we go—blundering and stumbling on in darkness—and all the while never get a single step forward.
But when the Lord has allowed us to weary ourselves to find the door, and let us sink lower and lower into the pit of guilt and ruin, from feeling that all our attempts to extricate ourselves have only plunged us deeper and deeper—and when the Spirit of God opens up to the understanding and brings into the soul some spiritual discovery of Jesus, and thus makes known that there is a Savior, a Mediator, and a way of escape—this is the grand turning point in our lives, the first opening in the valley of Achor (trouble), of the door of hope.
When you are in the wilderness
"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her." Hosea 2:14
When you are in the wilderness, you have no friend—no creature help—no worldly comfort—these have all abandoned you. God has led you into the wilderness to bereave you of these earthly ties, of these 'creature refuges and vain hopes,' that He may Himself speak to your soul.
If, then, you are separated from the world by being brought into the wilderness—if you are passing through trials and afflictions—if you are exercised with a variety of temptations—and are brought into that spot where the creature yields neither help nor hope—then you are made to see and feel that nothing but God's voice speaking with power to your soul can give you any solid grounds of rest or peace. But is not this profitable? It may be painful—it is painful—but it is profitable, because by it we learn to look to the Lord and the Lord alone—and this must ever be a blessed lesson to learn for every child of God.
O what crowds of pitiable objects
"Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:16
What heart can conceive or tongue recount the daily, hourly triumphs of the Lord Jesus Christ's all-conquering grace? We see scarcely a millionth part of what He, as a King on his throne, is daily doing. What a crowd of needy petitioners every moment surrounds His throne! What urgent needs and woes to answer—what cutting griefs and sorrows to assuage—what broken hearts to bind up—what wounded consciences to heal—what countless prayers to hear—what earnest petitions to grant—what stubborn foes to subdue—what guilty fears to quell! What grace, what kindness, what patience, what compassion, what mercy, what love, what power, what authority, does this Almighty Sovereign display! No circumstance is too trifling—no petitioner too insignificant—no case too hard—no difficulty too great—no seeker too importunate—no beggar too ragged—no bankrupt too penniless—no debtor too insolvent—for Him not to notice and not to relieve.
Sitting on His throne of grace His all-seeing eye views all—His almighty hand grasps all—and His loving heart embraces all whom the Father chose—whom He Himself redeemed by His blood—and whom the blessed Spirit has quickened into life by His invincible power. The hopeless—the helpless—the outcasts whom no man cares for—the tossed with tempest and not comforted—the ready to perish—the mourners in Zion—the bereaved widow—the wailing orphan—the sick in body—and still more sick in heart—the racked with hourly pain—the fevered consumptive—the wrestler with death's last struggle.
O what crowds of pitiable objects surround His throne—and all needing a look from His eye—a word from His lips—a smile from His face—a touch from His hand! O could we but see what His grace is—what His grace has—what His grace does—and could we but feel more what it is doing in and for ourselves, we would have more exalted views of the reign of grace now exercised on high by Zion's enthroned King!
Trouble, sorrow & affliction
"And He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation." Psalm 107:7
Those very times when God's people think they are faring ill, may be the seasons when they are really faring well. For instance, when their souls are bowed down with trouble, it often seems to them that they are faring ill. God's hand appears to be gone out against them. Yet perhaps they never fare better than when under these circumstances of trouble, sorrow and affliction. These things wean them from the world. If their heart and affections were going out after idols—they instrumentally bring them back. If they were hewing out broken cisterns—they dash them all to pieces. If they were setting up, and bowing down to idols in the chambers of imagery, affliction and trouble smite them to pieces before their eyes—take away their gods—and leave them no refuge but the Lord God of hosts.
So that when a child of God thinks he is faring very ill, because burdened with sorrows, temptations, and afflictions—he is never faring so well. The darkest clouds in due time will break, the most puzzling enigmas will sooner or later be unriddled by the blessed Spirit interpreting them—and the darkest providences cleared up—and we shall see that God is in them all—leading and guiding us by the right way, that we may go to a city of habitation.
From a burning hell—to a blissful heaven!
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed toward us." Romans 8:18
What is to be compared with the salvation of the soul? What are riches, honors, health, long life? What are all the pleasures which the world can offer, sin promise, or the flesh enjoy? What is all that men call good or great? What is everything which the eye has seen, or the ear heard, or has entered into the carnal heart of man—put side by side with being saved in the Lord Jesus Christ with an everlasting salvation?
For consider what we are saved FROM, as well as what we are saved UNTO. From a burning hell—to a blissful heaven! From endless wrath—to eternal glory! From the dreadful company of devils and damned spirits, mutually tormenting and tormented—to the blessed companionship of the glorified saints, all perfectly conformed in body and soul to the image of Christ, with thousands and tens of thousands of holy angels—and, above all, to seeing the glorious Son of God as he is, in all the perfection of His beauty, and all the ravishments of His presence and love. To be done forever with all the sorrows, troubles, and afflictions of this life—all the pains and aches of the present clay tabernacle—all the darkness, bondage, and misery of the body of sin and death. To be perfectly holy in body and soul, being in both without spot, or blemish, or any such thing, and ever to enjoy uninterrupted communion with God!
Our own wisdom, righteousness & strength
"Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seems to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise." 1 Corinthians 3:18
The fruit and effect of divine teaching is to cut in pieces, and root up all our fleshly wisdom, strength, and righteousness. God never means to patch a new piece upon an old garment. All our wisdom, our strength, our righteousness must be torn to pieces! It must all be plucked up by the roots—that a new wisdom, a new strength, and a new righteousness may arise upon its ruins.
But until the Lord is pleased to teach us, we never can part with our own righteousness—never give up our own wisdom—never abandon our own strength. These things are a part and parcel of ourselves—so ingrained within us—so innate in us—so growing with our growth—that we cannot willingly part with an atom of them until the Lord Himself breaks them up, and plucks them away. Then, as He brings into our souls some spiritual knowledge of our own dreadful corruptions and horrible wickedness—our righteousness crumbles away at the divine touch. As He leads us to see and feel our ignorance and folly in a thousand instances, and how unable we are to understand anything aright but by divine teaching—our wisdom fades away. As He shows us our inability to resist temptation and overcome sin, by any exertion of our own—our strength gradually departs, and we become like Samson, when his locks were cut off.
Upon the ruins, then, of our own wisdom, righteousness and strength, does God build up Christ's wisdom, Christ's righteousness, and Christ's strength. But only so far as we are favored with this special teaching are we brought to pass a solemn sentence of condemnation upon our own wisdom, strength, and righteousness—and sincerely seek after the Lord's.
Oh! Sweet grace, blessed grace!
"For by grace are you saved." Ephesians 2:8
We are saved by grace—free grace, rich grace, sovereign grace, distinguishing grace—without one atom of works, without one grain of creature merit, without anything of the flesh. Oh! sweet grace, blessed grace! Oh! what a help—what a strength—what a rest for a poor toiling, striving, laboring soul—to find that grace has done all the work—to feel that grace has triumphed in the cross of Christ—to find that nothing is required, nothing is needed, nothing is to be done!
"As dying, and, behold, we live." 2 Corinthians 6:9
Though we die, and die daily—yet, behold, we live. And in a sense, the more we die, the more we live. The more we die to self—the more we die to sin. The more we die to pride and self-righteousness—the more we die to creature strength. The more we die to sinful nature—the more we live to grace. This runs all the way through the life and experience of a Christian.
Nature must die, that grace may live. The weeds must be plucked up, that the crop may grow. The flesh must be starved, that the spirit may be fed. The old man must be put off, that the new man may be put on. The deeds of the body must be mortified, that the soul may live unto God. As then we die—we live. The more we die to our own strength, the more we live to Christ's strength. The more we die to creature hope, the more we live to a good hope through grace. The more we die to our own righteousness, the more we live to Christ's righteousness. The more we die to the world, the more we live to and for heaven. This is the grand mystery—that the Christian is always dying, yet always living—and the more he dies, the more he lives. The death of the flesh, is the life of the spirit. The death of sin, is the life of righteousness. The death of the creature, is the very life of God in the soul. "As dying, and, behold, we live."
Which is better?
"You are not your own." 1 Corinthians 6:19
Remember that you must belong to someone. If God is not your master—the devil will be. If grace does not rule—sin will reign. If Christ is not your all in all—the world will be. We must have a master of one kind or another. Which is better—a bounteous benevolent Benefactor—a merciful, loving, and tender Parent—a kind, forgiving Father and Friend—a tender-hearted, compassionate Redeemer? or a cruel devil, a miserable world, and a wicked, vile, abominable heart? Which is better—to live under the sweet constraints of the dying love of a dear Redeemer—under gospel influences—gospel principles—gospel promises—and gospel encouragements? or to live with sin in our heart, binding us in iron chains to the judgment of the great day?
Even taking the 'present life'—there is more real pleasure, satisfaction, and solid happiness in half an hour with God—in reading his Word with a believing heart, in finding access to His sacred presence, in knowing something of His favor and mercy—than in all the delights of sin, all the lusts of the flesh, all the pride of life, and all the amusements that the world has ever devised to kill time and cheat self—thinking, by a deathbed repentance, at last to cheat the devil.
There must be continual trials
"The Lord tries the righteous." Psalm 11:5
To keep water fresh, it must be perpetually running. And to keep the life of God up in the soul, there must be continual trials. This is the reason why the Lord's people have so many conflicts, trials, painful exercises, sharp sorrows, and deep temptations—to keep them alive unto God—to bring them out of, and to keep them out of that slothful, sluggish, wretched state of carnal security. The Lord, therefore, tries the righteous. He will not allow His people to be at ease in Zion—to be settled on their lees—and get into a wretched Moabitish state. He therefore sends upon them afflictions, tribulations, and trials—and allows Satan to tempt and harass them.
Personal, spiritual, experimental knowledge
It is our dim, scanty, and imperfect knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ in His eternal love—and in His grace and glory—which leaves us so often cold, lifeless, and dead in our affections towards Him. If there were more blessed revelations to our soul of the Person and work, grace and glory, beauty and blessedness of the Lord Jesus Christ—it is impossible but that we would more and more warmly and tenderly fall in love with Him—for He is the most glorious object that the eyes of faith can see! He fills heaven with the resplendent beams of His glorious majesty—and has ravished the hearts of thousands of His dear family upon earth by the manifestations of His bleeding, dying love. Just in proportion to our personal, spiritual, experimental knowledge of Him, will be our love to Him.
Help from the sanctuary
"May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble. May the name of the God of Jacob set you up on high, send you help from the sanctuary, grant you support from Zion." Psalm 20:1, 2
When the soul has to pass through the trying hour of temptation, it needs help from the sanctuary. All other help leaves the soul just where it found it. Help is sent from the sanctuary because his name has been from all eternity, registered in the Lamb's book of life—engraved upon the palms of His hands—borne on His shoulder—and worn on His heart. Communications of life and grace from the sanctuary produce spirituality and heavenly-mindedness. The breath of heaven in his soul draws his affections upward—weans him from earth—and makes him a pilgrim and a sojourner here below, looking for a city with eternal foundations—a city designed and built by God!
Wherever the Lord brings trials upon the soul, He pours out upon it the spirit of grace and supplication. If the child of God has a burden—if he is laboring under a strong temptation—if his soul is passing through some pressing trial—he is not satisfied with merely going through a 'form of prayer.' There is at such times and seasons, a holy wrestling—there are fervent desires—there are unceasing groans—there is a laboring to enter into rest—there is a struggling after deliverance—there is a crying unto the Lord—until He appears and manifests Himself in the soul.
A disciple of Jesus
A disciple of Jesus is one who is admitted by the Lord Jesus into His school—whom He Himself condescends personally to instruct—and who therefore learns of Him to be meek and lowly of heart. A disciple of Jesus is one who sits meekly at the Redeemer's feet—receiving into his heart the gracious words which fall from His lips.
But a true and sincere disciple not only listens to his Master's instructions, but acts as He bids. So a disciple of Jesus is one who copies his Master's example—and is conformed to his Master's image. A disciple of Jesus is also characterized by the love which he bears to his Master. He is one who treasures up the words of Christ in his heart—ponders over His precious promises—and delights in His glorious Person, love, and blood. A disciple of Jesus is one who bears some reflection to the image of his heavenly Master. He carries it about with him wherever he goes, that men may take knowledge of him, that he has been with Jesus. The true disciple shines before men with some sparkles of the glory of the Son of God.
To have some of these divine features stamped upon the heart, lip, and life is to be a disciple of Jesus. To be much with Jesus is to be made like unto Jesus—to sit at Jesus' feet is to drink in Jesus' words—to lean upon Jesus' bosom is to feel the warm heart of Jesus pulsating with love—and to feel this pulsation, causes the heart of the disciple to beat in tender and affectionate unison. To look up to Jesus, is to see a face more marred than the sons of men—yet a face beaming with heavenly beauty, dignity, and glory. To be a disciple of Jesus, is to copy His example—to do the things pleasing in His sight—and to avoid the things which He abhors. To be a disciple of Jesus, is to be as meek as He was—humble as He was—lowly as He was—self-denying as He was—separate from the world as He was—living a life of communion with God, as He lived when He walked here below.
To take a worm of the earth and make him a disciple of Jesus is the greatest privilege God can bestow upon man! To select an obstinate, ungodly, perverse rebel, and place him in the school of Christ and at the feet of Jesus—is the highest favor God can bestow upon any child of the dust. How unsurpassingly great must be that kindness whereby the Lord condescends to bestow His grace on an enemy—and to soften and meeken him by His Spirit—and thus cause him to grow up into the image and likeness of His own dear Son. Compared with this high privilege, all earthly honors, titles and robes sink into utter insignificance!
Sovereign, supreme disposal
"He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things." Ephesians 1:22
God has put all things, events, and circumstances under the authority of Christ! How vast—how numerous—how complicated are the various events and circumstances which attend the Christian here below, as he travels onward to his heavenly home! But if all things are put under Jesus' feet, there cannot be a single circumstance over which He has not supreme control. Everything in providence and everything in grace are alike subject to His disposal. There is not a trial—a temptation—an affliction of body or soul—a loss—a cross—a painful bereavement—a vexation—a grief—a disappointment—a case, state or condition—which is not put under Jesus' feet.
He has sovereign, supreme disposal over all events and circumstances. As possessed of infinite knowledge He sees them—as possessed of infinite wisdom He can manage them—and as possessed of infinite power He can dispose and direct them for our good and His own glory. How much trouble and anxiety would we save ourselves, could we firmly believe, realize, and act on this! If we could see by the eye of faith that every foe and every fear—every difficulty and perplexity—every trying or painful circumstance—every looked-for or unlooked-for event—every source of care, whether at present or in prospect—are all put under His feet at His sovereign disposal—what a load of anxiety and care would be often taken off our shoulders!
You must not love one of these glittering baubles
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world." 1 John 2:15
This is a very wide sentence. It stretches forth a hand of vast grasp. It places us, as it were, upon a high mountain, and it says to us, "Look around you—there is not one of these things which you must love." It takes us, again, to the streets of a crowded city—it shows us shop windows filled with objects of beauty and ornament—it points us to all the wealth and grandeur of the rich and noble, and everything that the human heart admires and loves. And having thus set before us, it says, "None of these things are for you. You must not love one of these glittering baubles—you must not touch one of them, or scarcely look at them, lest, as with Achan, the golden wedge and the Babylonish garment should tempt you to take them and hide them in your tent."
The precept takes us through the world as a mother takes a child through a bazaar with playthings and ornaments on every side, and says—"You must not touch one of these things." In some such similar way the precept would, as it were, take us through the world—and when we had looked at all its playthings and its ornaments, it would sound in our ears—"Don't touch any one of them—they are not yours—not for you to enjoy—not for you even to covet!" Can anything less than this be intended by those words which should be ever sounding in the ears of the children of God—Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world?
One unmingled scene of happiness & pleasure
"In My Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you." John 14:2
O that we could lift our eyes to those blessed abodes—those mansions of heavenly bliss where no sorrow intrudes, where sin is unknown, where tears are wiped from off all faces, where there is no languishing body, no wasting sickness, no pining soul, no doubt, no fear, no darkness, no distress—but one unmingled scene of happiness and pleasure—and the whole soul and body are engaged in singing the praises of the Lamb!
And what crowns the whole—there is the eternal enjoyment of those pleasures which are at the right hand of God forevermore! But how lost are we in the contemplation of these things—and though our imagination may seem to stretch itself beyond the utmost conception of the mind, into the countless ages of a never-ending eternity, yet are we baffled with the thought—though faith embraces the blessed truth. But in that happy land, the immortal soul and the immortal body will combine their powers and faculties to enjoy to the uttermost all that God has prepared for those who love Him.
The rod was dipped in love
"I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him." Micah 7:9
It is a view of our sins against God that enables us to bear the indignation of the Lord against us and them. As long as we are left to a spirit of pride and self-righteousness, we murmur at the Lord's dealings when His hand lies heavy upon us. But let us only truly feel what we rightly deserve—that will silence at once all murmuring. You may murmur and rebel sometimes at your hard lot in providence. But if you feel what you deserve—it will make you water with 'tears of repentance' the hardest cross.
So in grace, if you feel the weight of your sins, and mourn and sigh because you have sinned against God, you can lift up your hands sometimes with holy wonder at God's patient mercy that He has borne with you so long—that He has not smitten you to the earth, or sent your guilty soul to hell. You will see, also, that the heaviest strokes were but fatherly chastenings—that the rod was dipped in love—and that it was for your good and His glory that it was laid on you. When this sense of merited indignation comes into the soul, then meekness and submission come with it, and it can say with the prophet—"I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him." You would not escape the rod if you might.
The best teacher
"Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." John 1:17
The way to learn truth is to be much in prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ. Beg of Him to teach you Himself—for He is the best teacher. The words which He speaks, they are spirit and life. What He writes upon our hearts is written in characters which will stand every storm and live at last. We forget what we learn from 'man'—but we never forget what we learn from Jesus. 'Men' may deceive—Christ cannot.
Though you may receive truth from a minister's lips, it is always mixed with human infirmity. But what you get from the lips of Jesus, you get in all its purity and power. It comes warm from Him—it comes cold from 'men.' It drops like the rain and distills like the dew from His mouth—it comes only second-hand from men. If I preach to you the truth, I preach indeed as the Lord enables me to speak. But it is He who must speak with power to your souls to do you any real good. Look then away from me—look beyond me—to Him who alone can teach us both. By looking to Jesus in the inmost feelings of your soul, you will draw living truth from out of His bosom into your own—from His heart into your heart—and thus will come feelingly and experimentally to know the blessedness of His own declaration—'I am the truth.'
Buried in the grave of carnality & worldliness
"If then you were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God." Colossians 3:1
How many there are even of those who desire to fear God who are kept down by the world, and to whom it has not lost its attractive power. They are held fast, at least for a time, by worldly business, or entangled by worldly people or worldly engagements—their partners in business or their partners in life—their carnal relatives or their worldly children—their numerous connections or their social habits—their strong passions or their deep-rooted prejudices—all bind and fetter them down to earth.
There they grovel and lie amid the smoke and stir of this dim spot which men call earth—and so bound are they with the cords of their sins, that they scarcely seek deliverance from them, or ever desire to rise beyond the mists and fogs of this dim spot into a purer air so as to breathe a heavenly atmosphere, and rise up with Jesus from the grave of their corruptions. But they shall never be buried in the grave of carnality and worldliness.
A solitary drop of this holy anointing oil
"The anointing which you received from Him remains in you, and you don't need for anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is no lie, and even as it taught you, you will remain in Him." 1 John 2:27
Have you ever had a solitary drop of this holy anointing oil fall upon your heart? One drop, if it be but a drop, will sanctify you forever to the service of God. There was not much of the holy anointing oil used for the service of the tabernacle, when we consider the size and quantity of what had to be consecrated. When he went through the sacred work, he touched one vessel after another with a drop of oil—for one drop sanctified the vessel to the service of the tabernacle. There was no repetition of the consecration needed—it abode. So if you ever had a drop of God's love shed abroad in your heart—a drop of the anointing to teach you the truth as it is in Jesus—a drop to penetrate, to soften, to heal, to feed, and give light, life, and power to your soul—you have the unction from the Holy One—you know all things which are for your salvation, and by that same holy oil you have been sanctified and made fit for an eternal inheritance.
We profess to believe in an All-mighty, All-present, All-seeing God. But we would be highly offended if a person said to us, "You do not really believe that God sees everything—that He is everywhere present—that He is an Almighty Jehovah." We would almost think that he was taking us for an atheist! And yet 'practical atheists,' we daily prove ourselves to be. For instance, we profess to believe that God sees everything. And yet we are plotting and planning as though He saw nothing. We profess to know that God can do everything. And yet we are always cutting out schemes, and carving out contrivances, as though He were like the gods of the heathen, looking on and taking no notice. We profess to believe that God is everywhere present to relieve every difficulty and bring His people out of every trial. And yet when we get into the difficulty and into the trial—we speak, think, and act, as though there were no such omnipresent God, who knows the circumstances of our case, and can stretch forth His hand to bring us out of it.
Thus the Lord is obliged to thrust us into trials and afflictions, because we are such blind fools, that we cannot learn what a God we have to deal with, until we come experimentally into those spots of difficulty and trial, out of which none but such a God can deliver us. This, then, is one reason why the Lord often plunges His people so deeply into a sense of sin. It is to show them what a wonderful salvation from the guilt, filth, and power of sin, there is in the Lord Jesus Christ. For the same reason, too, they walk in such scenes of temptation. It is in order to show them what a wonder-working God He is, in bringing them out. This too is the reason why many of them are so harassed and plagued. It is that they may not live and act as though there were no God to go to—no Almighty friend to consult—no kind Jesus to rest their weary heads upon.
It is in order to teach them experimentally and inwardly those lessons of grace and truth which they never would know until the Lord, as it were, thus compels them to learn—and actually forces them to believe what they profess to believe. Such pains is He obliged to take with us—such poor scholars, such dull creatures we are. No child at a school ever gave his master a thousandth part of the trouble that we have given the Lord to teach us. In order, then, to teach us what a merciful and compassionate God He is—in order to open up the heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths of His love—He is compelled to treat, at times, His people very roughly—and handle them very sharply. He is obliged to make very great use of His rod, because He sees that foolishness is so bound up in the hearts of His children—that nothing but the repeated rod of correction will ever drive it far from them!
Dead in sin
"You were made alive when you were dead in trespasses and sins." Ephesians 2:1
To be dead in sin is to have no present part or lot with God—no knowledge of Him—no faith, no trust, no hope in Him—no sense of His presence—no reverence of His awesome Majesty—no desire after Him or inclination toward Him—no trembling at His word—no longing for His grace—no care or concern for His glory. To be dead in sin is to be as a beast before Him, intent like a brute on satisfying the cravings of lust, or the movements of mere animal passion—without any thought or concern what shall be the outcome, and to be bent upon carrying out into action every selfish purpose, as if we were self creators—our own judge—our own lord—and our own god. O what a terrible state is it to be thus dead in sin, and not to know it—not to feel it—to be in no way sensible of its present danger and certain end—unless delivered from it by a mighty act of sovereign power! It is this lack of all sense and feeling which makes the death of the soul to be but the prelude to that second death which stretches through a boundless eternity.
"I cried unto You; save me, and I will keep Your testimonies." Psalm 119:146
If you know anything for yourself, inwardly and experimentally of the evils of your heart—the power of sin—the strength of temptation—the subtlety of your unwearied foe—and that daily conflict between nature and grace, the flesh and the spirit, which is the peculiar mark of the living family of heaven—you will find and feel your need of salvation as a daily reality. There is present salvation—an inward, experimental, and continual salvation communicated out of the fullness of Christ as a risen Mediator. You need to be daily and almost hourly saved from the guilt, filth, power, love, and practice of indwelling sin. "I cried unto You; save me, and I will keep Your testimonies."
The fatal mistake of thousands
The fatal mistake of thousands is to offer unto God the fruits of the flesh—instead of the fruits of the Spirit. Fleshly holiness, fleshly exertions, fleshly prayers, fleshly duties, fleshly religious forms, fleshly zeal—these are what men consider good works, and present them as such to God. But well may He who is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity, say to all such fleshly workers, 'And if you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? and if you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil?' All that the flesh can do is evil, for every imagination of man's heart is only evil continually—and to present the fruits of this filthy heart to the Lord Almighty, is to offer defiled food upon His altar!
A broken heart—a contrite spirit—a tender conscience—a filial fear of God—a desire to please Him—a dread to offend the great God of heaven—a sense of the evil of sin—a desire to be delivered from sin's dominion—a mourning over our repeated backslidings—grief at being so often entangled in our lusts and passions—an acquaintance with our helplessness and weakness, simplicity and godly sincerity—a hanging upon grace for daily supplies—watching the hand of Providence—a singleness of eye to the glory of God—these are a few of the fruits of the Spirit.
The great secret of vital godliness
The great secret of vital godliness is to be nothing—that Christ may be all in all. Every stripping, sifting, and emptying—every trial, exercise and temptation that the soul passes through, has but one object—to beat out of man's heart that cursed spirit of independence which the devil breathed into him when he said, "You shall be as gods." A man must well near be bled to death before this venom can be drained out of his veins!
If the devil ever feels joy
If the devil ever feels joy—it is in making souls miserable. The cries of the damned are his music. Their curses and blasphemies are his songs of triumph. Their anguish and despair are his wretched feast.
"Tell those who are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God will. . . .come and save you." Isaiah 35:4
"Fear not!" "Ah! but Lord," the soul says, "I do fear. I fear myself more than anybody. I fear—my base, wicked heart—my strong lusts and passions—my numerous inward enemies—the snares of Satan—the temptations of the world. I do fear. I cannot help but fear." Still the Lord says, "Fear not!" Here is a child trembling before a large mastiff dog—but the father says, "Do not fear, he will not hurt you, only keep close to me." Who is that dog but Satan, that huge mastiff, whose jaws are reeking with blood? If the Lord says, "Fear not!" why need we fear him? He is a chained enemy. But how the timid soul needs the divine "Fear nots!" For without Him, it is all weakness—with Him, all strength; without Him, all trembling—with Him, all boldness.
The desire of our soul
"The desire of our soul is to Your name, and to the remembrance of You." Isaiah 26:8
How sweet and expressive is the phrase, "The desire of our soul." How it seems to carry our feelings with it! How it seems to describe the longings and utterings of a soul into which God has breathed the spirit of grace and mercy! "The desire of our soul"—the breathing of our heart, the longing of our inmost being, the cry, the sigh, the panting of our new nature, the heavings, gaspings, lookings, longings, pantings, hungerings, thirstings, and ventings forth of the new man of grace—all are expressed in those sweet and blessed words—"The desire of our soul."
And what a mercy it is, that there should ever be in us "the desire" of a living soul—that though the righteous dealings of God are painful and severe, running contrary to everything nature loves—yet that with all these, there should be dropped into the heart that mercy, love, and grace, which draw forth the desire of the soul toward the Name of God. This is expressed in the words that follow—"With my soul have I desired You in the night; yes, with my spirit within me I will seek You early." Is your soul longing after the Lord Jesus Christ? Is it ever, in the night season, panting after the manifestation of His presence? hungering and thirsting after the dropping of some word from His lips—some sweet whisper of His love to your soul? These are marks of saving grace. The carnal, the unregenerate, the ungodly, have no such desires and feelings as these!
O Self! Self!
Oh, to be kept from myself—my vile, proud, lustful, hypocritical, worldly, covetous, presumptuous, obscene self. O Self! Self! Your desperate wickedness, your depravity, your love of sin, your abominable pollutions, your monstrous heart-wickedness, your wretched deadness, hardness, blindness, and indifference. You are a treacherous villain, and, I fear, always will be such!
That dear, idolized creature
"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live." Galatians 2:20
The crucifixion of self is indispensable to following Christ. What is so dear to a man as himself? Yet this beloved self is to be crucified. Whether it be proud self—or ambitious self—or selfish self—or covetous self—or, what is harder still—religious self—that dear, idolized creature, which has been the subject of so much fondling, petting, pampering, nursing—this fondly loved self has to be taken out of our bosom by the hand of God, and nailed to Christ's cross! The same grace which pardons sin also subdues it! To be crucified with Christ! To have everything that the flesh loves and idolizes put to death! How can a man survive such a process? "Nevertheless I live!" As the world, sin, and self are crucified, subdued, and subjugated by the power of the cross, the life of God springs up with new vigor in the soul. Here, then, is the great secret of vital godliness—that the more that sin and self, and the world are mortified, the more do holiness and spirituality of mind, heavenly affections and gracious desires spring up and flourish in the soul. O! blessed death! O! still more blessed life! I have been crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live.
Unquenched and unquenchable!
"Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it." Song of Solomon 8:7
The bride uses a figure which shall express the insuperable strength of divine love against all opposition—and she therefore compares it to a fire which burns and burns unquenched and unquenchable, whatever be the amount of water poured upon it. Thus the figure expresses the flame of holy love which burned in the heart of the Redeemer as unquenchable by any opposition made to it.
How soon is earthly love cooled by opposition! A little ingratitude, a few hard speeches, cold words or even cold looks, seem often almost sufficient to quench love that once shone warm and bright. And how often, too, even without these cold waters thrown upon it, does it appear as if ready to die out by itself. But the love of Christ was unquenchable by all those waters. Not all the ingratitude, unbelief, or coldness of His people could quench His eternal love to them! He knew what the Church was in herself, and ever would be—how cold and wandering her affections—how roving her desires—how backsliding her heart! But all these waters could not extinguish His love! It still burnt as a holy flame in His bosom, unquenched, unquenchable! "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it." Song of Solomon 8:7
Crawl like a serpent, roar like a lion
"That no advantage may be gained over us by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes." 2 Corinthians 2:11
Satan well knows both how to allure and how to attack—for he can crawl like a serpent, and he can roar like a lion! He has snares whereby he entangles, and fiery darts whereby he impales. Most men are easily led captive by him at his will, ensnared without the least difficulty in the traps that he lays for their feet—for they are as ready to be caught as he is to catch them! Why would Satan need to roar against them as a lion, if he can wind himself around them and bite them as a serpent?
If you want to see what sin really is
To cast the sinning angels out of heaven—to banish Adam from Paradise—to destroy the old world by a flood—to burn Sodom and Gomorrah with fire from heaven—these examples of God's displeasure against sin were not sufficient to express His condemnation of it. He would therefore take another way of making it manifest. And what was this? By sending His own Son out of His bosom, and offering Him as a sacrifice for sin upon the tree at Calvary, He would make it manifest how He abhorred sin, and how His righteous character must forever condemn it. See here the love of God to poor guilty man in not sparing His own Son—and yet the hatred of God against sin, in condemning it in the death of Jesus.
It is almost as if God said, "If you want to see what sin really is, you cannot see it in the depths of hell. I will show you sin in blacker colors still—you shall see it in the sufferings of My dear Son—in His agonies of body and soul—and in what He as a holy, innocent Lamb endured under My wrath, when He consented to take the sinner's place." What wondrous wisdom—what depths of love—what treasures of mercy—what heights of grace—were thus revealed and brought to light in God's unsparing condemnation of sin, and yet in His full and free pardon of the sinner!
If you have ever had a view by faith of the suffering Son of God in the garden and upon the cross—if you have ever seen the wrath of God due to you, falling upon the head of the God-Man—and viewed a bleeding, agonizing Immanuel—then you have seen and felt in the depths of your conscience what a dreadful thing sin is. Then the broken-hearted child of God looks unto Him whom he has pierced, and mourns and grieves bitterly for Him, as for a firstborn son who has died. Under this sight he feels what a dreadful thing sin is. "Oh," he says, "did God afflict His dear Son? Did Jesus, the darling of God, endure all these sufferings and sorrows to save my soul from the bottomless pit? O, can I ever hate sin enough? Can I ever grieve and mourn over it enough? Can my stony heart ever be dissolved into contrition enough, when by faith I see the agonies, and hear the groans of the suffering, bleeding Lamb of God?"
Christians hate their sins. They hate that sinful, that dreadfully sinful flesh of theirs which has so often, which has so continually, betrayed them into sin. And thus they join with God in passing condemnation upon the whole of their flesh—upon all its actings and workings—upon all its thoughts and words and deeds—and hate it as the prolific parent of that sin which crucified Christ, and torments and plagues them.
Hard-hearted, cold-blooded, wise-headed
We are surrounded with snares. Temptations lie spread every moment in our path. These snares and these temptations are so suitable to the lusts of our flesh, that we would certainly fall into them, and be overcome by them, but for the restraining providence or the preserving grace of God. The Christian sees this—the Christian feels this. The hard-hearted, cold-blooded, wise-headed professor sees no snares. He is entangled in them, he falls by them, and not repenting of his sins or forsaking them, he makes utter shipwreck concerning the faith.
The child of God sees the snare—feels the temptation—knows the evil of his heart—and is conscious that if God does not hold him up, he shall stumble and fall. As then a burnt child dreads the fire, so he dreads the consequence of being left for a moment to himself—and the more is he afraid that he shall fall. If his eyes are more widely opened to see the purity of God—the blessedness of Christ—the efficacy of atoning blood—and the beauties of holiness—the more also does he see the evil of sin, the dreadful consequences of being entangled therein. And not only so, but his own helplessness and weakness and inability to stand against temptation in his own strength. And all these feelings combine to raise up a more earnest cry—Hold me up, and I shall be safe!
"Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come." Ezekiel 11:16
Every place in which the Lord manifests Himself, is a sanctuary to a child of God. Jesus is now our sanctuary, for He is the true place of worship that was built by the Lord and not by human hands. We see the power and glory of God, in the face of Jesus Christ.
Every place is a sanctuary, where God manifests Himself in power and glory to the soul. Moses, doubtless, had often passed by the bush which grew in Horeb—it was but a common thorn bush, in no way distinguished from the other bushes of the thicket. But on one solemn occasion it was all in a flame of fire, for the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst—and though it burned with fire, it was not consumed. God being in the bush, the ground round about was holy, and Moses was bidden to take off his shoes from his feet. Was not this a sanctuary to Moses? It was—for a holy God was there!
Thus wherever God manifests Himself, that becomes a sanctuary to a believing soul. We don't need places made holy by the ceremonies of man—but places made holy by the presence of God! Then a stable, a hovel, a hedge, any unadorned corner may be, and is a sanctuary, when God fills your heart with His sacred presence, and causes every holy feeling and gracious affection to spring up in your soul.
Poor, miserable, paltry works of a polluted worm!
"We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Isaiah 64:6
We once thought that we could gain heaven by our own righteousness. We strictly attended to our religious duties, and sought by these and various other means to recommend ourselves to the favor of God, and induce Him to reward us with heaven for our sincere attempts to obey His commandments. And by these religious performances we thought we would surely be able to make a ladder whereby we could climb up to heaven.
This was our tower of Babel, whose top was to reach unto heaven, and by mounting which, we thought to scale the stars. But the same Lord who stopped the further building of the tower of Babel, by confounding their speech and scattering them abroad on the face of the earth—began to confound our speech, so that we could not pray, or talk, or boast as before—and to scatter all our religion like the chaff of the threshing floor. Our mouths were stopped—we became guilty before God—and our bricks and mortar became a pile of confusion!
When, then, the Lord was pleased to discover to our souls by faith, His being, majesty, greatness, holiness, and purity—and thus gave us a corresponding sense of our filthiness and folly—then all our creature religion and natural piety which we once counted as gain, we began to see was but loss—that our very religious duties and observances, so far from being for us, were actually against us—and instead of pleading for us before God as so many deeds of righteousness, were so polluted and defiled by sin perpetually mixed with them, that our very prayers were enough to sink us into hell, had we no other iniquities to answer for in heart, lip or life.
But when we had a view by faith of the Person, work, love, and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ—then we began more plainly and clearly to see, with what religious toys we had been so long amusing ourselves—and what is far worse, mocking God by them! We had been secretly despising Jesus and His sufferings—Jesus and His death—Jesus and His righteousness—and setting up the poor, miserable, paltry works of a polluted worm in the place of the finished work of the Son of God.
Mere toys & baubles
True religion must be everything or nothing with us. In religion, indifference is ruin—neglect is destruction. Of all losses, the loss of the soul is the only one that is utterly irreparable and irremediable. You may lose property, but you may recover the whole or a portion of it—you may lose health, but you may be restored to a larger measure of bodily strength than before your illness—you may lose friends, but you may obtain new ones, and those more sincere and valuable than any whom you have lost. But if you lose your soul, what is to make up for that loss?
Do you ever feel what a tremendous stake heaven or hell is? Have you ever felt that to gain heaven is to gain everything that can make the soul eternally happy—and to lose heaven is not only to lose eternal bliss, but to sink down into unfathomable, everlasting, unutterable woe? It is this believing sight and pressing sense of eternal things—it is this weighty, at times overpowering, feeling that they carry in their bosom an immortal soul, which often makes the children of God view the things of time and sense as mere toys and baubles, trifles lighter than vanity, and pursuits empty as air, and gives them to feel that the things of eternity are the only solid, enduring realities.
"My doctrine shall drop as the rain; My speech shall condense as the dew." Deuteronomy 32:2
The dew falls imperceptibly. No man can see it fall. Yet its effects are visible in the morning. So it is with the blessing of God upon His Word. It penetrates the heart without noise—it sinks deep into the conscience without anything visible going on. And as the dew opens the pores of the earth and refreshes the ground after the heat of a burning day, making vegetation lift up its drooping head, so it is with the blessing of God resting upon the soul.
Heavenly dew comes imperceptibly, falls quietly, and is manifested chiefly by its effects, as softening, opening, penetrating, and secretly causing every grace of the Spirit to lift up its drooping head. Whenever the Lord may have been pleased to bless our souls, either in hearing, in reading, or in private meditation, have not these been some of the effects? Silent, quiet, imperceptible, yet producing an evident impression—softening the heart when hard—refreshing it when dry—melting it when obdurate—secretly keeping the soul alive—so that it neither withers up by the burning sun of temptation, nor dies for lack of grace. May God give you the dew of heaven!
Coming up from the wilderness
"Who is this who comes up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?" Song of Solomon 8:5
To come up from the wilderness, is to come up out of OURSELVES—for we are ourselves the wilderness! It is our wilderness heart that makes the world what it is to us—our own barren frames—our own bewildered minds—our own worthlessness and inability—our own lack of spiritual fruitfulness—our own trials, temptations, and exercises—our own hungering and thirsting after righteousness. In a word, it is what passes in our own bosom that makes the world to us a dreary desert.
Carnal people find the world no wilderness. It is an Eden to them! Or at least they try hard to make it so. They seek all their pleasure from, and build all their happiness upon it. Nor do they dream of any other harvest of joy and delight, but what may be repaid in this 'happy valley,' where youth, health, and good spirits are ever imagining new scenes of gratification.
But the child of grace, exercised with a thousand difficulties, passing through many temporal and spiritual sorrows, and inwardly grieved with his own lack of heavenly fruitfulness, finds the wilderness within. But he still comes up out of it, and this he does by looking upward with believing eyes to Him who alone can bring him out. He comes up out of his own righteousness, and shelters himself under Christ's righteousness. He comes up out of his own strength, and trusts to Christ's strength. He comes up out of his own wisdom, and hangs upon Jesus' wisdom. He comes up out of his own tempted, tried, bewildered, and perplexed condition, to find rest and peace in the finished work of the Son of God.
And thus he comes up out of the wilderness of self, not actually, but experimentally. Every desire of his soul is to be delivered from his 'wilderness sickening sight' that he has of sin and of himself as a sinner. Every aspiration after Jesus, every longing look, earnest sigh, piteous cry, or laboring groan—all are a coming up from the wilderness. His turning his back upon an ungodly world—renouncing its pleasures, its honors, its pride, and its ambition—seeking communion with Jesus as his chief delight—and accounting all things but loss and rubbish for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus his Lord as revealed to his soul by the power of God—this, also, is coming up from the wilderness.
When we gaze upon the lifeless corpse
From the cradle to the coffin, affliction and sorrow are the appointed lot of man. He comes into the world with a wailing cry, and he often leaves it with an agonizing groan! Rightly is this earth called "a valley of tears," for it is wet with them in infancy, youth, manhood, and old age. In every land, in every climate, scenes of misery and wretchedness everywhere meet the eye, besides those deeper griefs and heart-rending sorrows which lie concealed from all observation. So that we may well say of the life of man that, like Ezekiel's scroll, it is "written with lamentations, and mourning and woe."
But this is not all. The scene does not end here! We see up to death, but we do not see beyond death. To see a man die without Christ is like standing at a distance, and seeing a man fall from a lofty cliff—we see him fall, but we do not see the crash on the rocks below. So we see an unsaved man die, but when we gaze upon the lifeless corpse, we do not see how his soul falls with a mighty crash upon the rock of God's eternal justice! When his temporal trials come to a close—his eternal sorrows only begin! After weeks or months of sickness and pain, the pale, cold face may lie in calm repose under the coffin lid—when the soul is only just entering upon an eternity of woe!
But is it all thus dark and gloomy both in life and death? Is heaven always hung with a canopy of black? Are there no beams of light, no rays of gladness, that shine through these dark clouds of affliction, misery, and woe that are spread over the human race? Yes! there is one point in this dark scene out of which beams of light and rays of glory shine! God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
There, on the other side, is my solitary soul
"For what will it profit a man, if he will gain the whole world, and forfeit his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16:26
Here is my scale of profit and loss. I have a soul to be saved or lost. What then shall I give in exchange for my soul? What am I profited if I gain the whole world and lose my soul? This deep conviction of a soul to be saved or lost lies at the root of all our religion. Here, on one side, is the WORLD and all its profits—its pleasures—its charms—its smiles—its winning ways—its comforts—its luxuries—its honors—to gain which is the grand struggle of human life. There, on the other side, is my solitary SOUL—to live after death, forever and ever, when the world and all its pleasures and profits will sink under the wrath of the Almighty. And this dear soul of mine—my very self, my only self, my all—must be lost or saved!
Even your own relatives think you are almost insane
"The Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him." John 14:17
The world—that is, the world dead in sin, and the world dead in profession—men destitute of the life and power of God—must have something that it can see. And, as heavenly things can only be seen by heavenly eyes, they cannot receive the things which are invisible.
Now this explains why a religion that presents itself with a degree of beauty and grandeur to the natural eye will always be received by the world—while a spiritual, internal, heartfelt and experimental religion will always be rejected. The world can receive a religion that consists of forms, rites, and ceremonies. These are things seen. Beautiful buildings, painted windows, pealing organs, melodious choirs, the pomp and parade of an earthly priesthood, and a whole apparatus of 'religious ceremony,' carry with them something that the natural eye can see and admire. The world receives all this 'external religion' because it is suitable to the natural mind and intelligible to the reasoning faculties.
But the quiet—inward—experimental—divine religion—which presents no attractions to the outward eye, but is wrought in the heart by a divine operation—the world cannot receive this—because it presents nothing that the natural eye can rest upon with pleasure, or is adapted to gratify their general idea of what religion is or should be. Do not marvel, then, that worldly professors despise a religion wrought in the soul by the power of God. Do not be surprised if even your own relatives think you are almost insane, when you speak of the consolations of the Spirit, or of the teachings of God in your soul. They cannot receive these things, for they have no experience of them—and being such as are altogether opposed to the carnal mind, they reject them with enmity and scorn.
"Make straight paths for your feet." Hebrews 12:13
Surrounded as we are with a crooked generation, professing and profane, whose ways we are but too apt to learn—beset on every hand by temptations—to turn aside into some crooked path, to feed our pride, to indulge our lusts, to gratify our covetousness—blinded and seduced sometimes by the god of this world—hardened at other times by the deceitfulness of sin—here misled by the example, and there bewitched by the flattery of some friend or companion—at one time confused and bewildered in our judgment of right and wrong—at another time entangled, half resisting, half complying, in some snare of the wicked one—what a struggle have some of us had to make straight paths for our feet—and what pain and grief that we should ever have made crooked ones. "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had nearly slipped." "He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay. He set my feet upon a rock, and gave me a firm place to stand."
Have nothing to do with them
"But mixed themselves with the nations, and learned their works. They served their idols, which became a snare to them." Psalm 106:35, 36
The 'carnal professors' of the day see nothing wrong, nothing amiss, nothing inconsistent in their conduct or spirit—though they are sunk in worldliness, carnality or covetousness! But where there is divine life, where the blessed Spirit moves upon the heart with His sacred operations and secret influences, there will be light to see, and a conscience to feel, what is wrong, sinful, inconsistent, and improper.
It is but too evident that we cannot be mixed up with the professors of the day without drinking, in some measure, into their spirit and being more or less influenced by their example. We can scarcely escape the influence of those with whom we come much and frequently into contact. If they are dead, they will often benumb us with their corpse-like coldness. If they are light and trifling, they will often entangle us in their carnal levity. If they are worldly and covetous, they may afford us a shelter and an excuse for our own worldliness and covetousness.
Abhor that loose profession—that ready compliance with everything which feeds the pride, worldliness, covetousness, and lusts of our depraved nature—which so stamps the present day with some of its most perilous and dreadful characters. They have a mere form of godliness, but deny the power. Have nothing to do with them!
The foulest filth under the cleanest cloak
"Take heed therefore to yourselves!" Acts 20:28
There are few Christians who have not ever found SELF to be their greatest enemy. The pride, unbelief, hardness, and impenitence of a man's own heart—the deceitfulness, hypocrisy, and wickedness of his own fallen nature—the lusts and passions, filth and folly of his own carnal mind—will not only ever be his greatest burden, but will ever prove his most dreaded foe!
Enemies we shall have from outside, and we may at times keenly feel their bitter speeches and cruel words and actions. But no enemy can injure us like ourselves! In five minutes a man may do himself more real harm, than all his enemies united could do to injure him in fifty years! To yourself you can be the most insidious enemy and the greatest foe! In all its forms, SELF in its inmost spirit is still a deceitful—subtle—restless—proud—and impatient creature—masking its real character in a thousand ways, and concealing its destructive designs by countless devices. We have but to look on the professing church to find the highest pride under the lowest humility—the greatest ignorance under the vainest self-conceit—the basest treachery under the warmest profession—the vilest sensuality under the most heavenly piety—and the foulest filth under the cleanest cloak. Take heed unto yourselves!
Familiarity with sacred things
"Take heed therefore to yourselves!" Acts 20:28
This was Paul's public warning to the elders of the church at Ephesus. It was Paul's private warning to his friend and disciple, his beloved son, Timothy. And do not all who write or speak in the name of the Lord need the same warning?
Familiarity with sacred things has a natural tendency to harden the conscience, where grace does not soften and make it tender. Men may preach and pray until both become a mere mechanical habit—and they may talk about Christ and His sufferings until they feel as little touched by them as a 'tragic actor' on the stage, of the sorrows which he impersonates. Well, then, may the Holy Spirit sound this note of warning, as with trumpet voice, in the ears of the servants of Christ. Take heed unto yourselves!
Pride, self-conceit & self-exaltation
Pride, self-conceit and self-exaltation, are both the chief temptations, and the main besetting sins, of those who occupy any public position in the church. Therefore, where these sins are not mortified by the Spirit, and subdued by His grace—instead of being, as they should be, the humblest of men—they are, with rare exceptions, the proudest. Did we bear in constant remembrance our slips, falls, and grievous backslidings—and had we, with all this, a believing sight of the holiness and purity of God, of the sufferings and sorrows of His dear Son, and what it cost Him to redeem us from the lowest hell, we would be—we must be—clothed with humility, and would, under feelings of the deepest self-abasement, take the lowest place among the family of God, as the chief of sinners, and less than the least of all the saints. This should be the feeling of every child of God. Until this pride is in some measure crucified—until we hate it, and hate ourselves for it—the glory of God will not be our main object.
What? Will He forgive us all sins?
"He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9
What? Will He forgive us all sins? Every sin that we have committed? Do we not sin with every breath that we draw? Is not every lustful desire sin? And is not every proud thought sin? And is not every wicked imagination sin? And is not every unkind suspicion sin? Every act of unbelief sin? And every working of a depraved nature sin? We committed sin when we sucked our mother's breast! We committed sin as soon as we were able to stammer out a word. And as we grew in body, we grew in sinfulness. Will He forgive sins of thought—sins of look—sins of action—sins of omission—sins of commission—sins in infancy—sins in childhood—sins in youth—sins in old age? Will He forgive all the base lusts—all the filthy workings—all the vile actions—all the pride—all the hypocrisy—all the covetousness—all the envy, hatred, and malice—all the aboundings of inward iniquity? The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
This sacred anointing
"You have an anointing from the Holy One." 1 John 2:20
Wherever the anointing of the Holy One touches a man's heart it spreads itself, widening and extending its operations. It thus communicates divine gifts and graces wherever it comes. It bestows and draws out faith—gives repentance and godly sorrow—causes secret self-loathing and separation from the world—draws the affections upwards—makes sin hated—and Jesus and His salvation loved.
Wherever the anointing of the Holy Spirit touches a man's heart it diffuses itself through his whole soul, and makes him wholly a new creature. It gives new motives—communicates new feelings—enlarges and melts the heart—and spiritualizes and draws the affections upwards. Without this sacred anointing all our religion is a bubble—all our profession a lie—and all our hopes will end in despair. O what a mercy to have one drop of this heavenly anointing! To enjoy one heavenly feeling! To taste the least measure of Christ's love shed abroad in the heart! What an unspeakable mercy to have one touch—one glimpse—one glance—one communication out of the fullness of Him who fills all in all!
By this anointing from the Holy One, the children of God are supported under afflictions, perplexities, and sorrows. By this anointing from the Holy One, they see the hand of God in every chastisement—in every providence—in every trial—in every grief—and in every burden. By this anointing from the Holy One they can bear chastisement with meekness, and put their mouth in the dust, humbling themselves under the mighty hand of God. Every good word, every good work, every gracious thought, every holy desire, every spiritual feeling do we owe to this one thing—the anointing of the Holy One. "You have an anointing from the Holy One."
What makes the children of God so strange?
"To the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." 1 Peter 1:1, 2
Strangers! What makes the children of God so strange? The grace of God which calls them out of this wretched world. Every man who carries the grace of God in his bosom is necessarily, as regards the world, a stranger in heart, as well as in profession, and life. As Abraham was a stranger in the land of Canaan—as Joseph was a stranger in the palace of Pharaoh—as Moses was a stranger in the land of Egypt—as Daniel was a stranger in the court of Babylon—so every child of God is separated by grace, to be a stranger in this ungodly world. And if indeed we are to come out from it and to be separate, the world must be as much a strange place to us—for we are strangers to its views, its thoughts, its desires, its prospects, its anticipations—in our daily walk, in our speech, in our mind, in our spirit, in our judgment, in our affections. We will be strangers from the world's company—the world's maxims—the world's fashions—the world's spirit. "They were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Hebrews 11:13
With His stripes we are healed
Sin has thoroughly diseased us, and poisoned our very blood. Sin has diseased our understanding, so as to disable it from receiving the truth. Sin has diseased our conscience, so as to make it dull and heavy, and undiscerning of right and wrong. Sin has diseased our imagination, polluting it with every idle, foolish, and licentious fancy. Sin has diseased our memory, making it swift to retain what is evil, slow to retain what is good. Sin has diseased our affections, perverting them from all that is heavenly and holy, and fixing them on all that is earthly and vile. "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed." Isaiah 53:5
Strangle & suffocate it!
"O Israel, you have destroyed yourself; but in Me is your help." Hosea 13:9
Is not this a true charge? Does not your conscience agree with it, as a well-founded accusation? Have you not willingly with your eyes open, run into some sin, which, but for God's mercy and upholding hand, would have proved your certain destruction? Have you not stood upon the very brink of some deep pit, down into which one more step would have plunged you?
As you realize the evils of your heart, you see what a marvel it is, that grace is kept alive in your bosom! You see yourself surrounded on every side with that which would inevitably destroy it—but for the mighty power of God! You look back and wonder how the life of God in your soul has been preserved so many years. Sometimes you have been sunk into such carnality. You have felt such emptiness of all good, and such proneness to all evil, that you wonder how you have not been swallowed up, overcome, and carried away into the pit of destruction! David said, "I am as a wonder to many." But you can say, "I am a wonder to myself!"
The world, the devil, and your own evil heart, have been for years all aiming to destroy the precious life of God in your soul—all stretching out their hands to strangle and suffocate it! And yet, in His mysterious wisdom, unspeakable grace, and tender compassion, He has kept the holy principle alive in your soul. O, the mystery of redeeming love! O, the blessedness of preserving grace! We have been preserved, upheld, and kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation! "O Lord, You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit!" Psalm 30:3
They shall never perish!
"For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for His children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And God, in His mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation." 1 Peter 1:4, 5
The elect are preserved in Christ, BEFORE they are called by grace. They are kept by the power of God from perishing in their unregeneracy. Have not you been almost miraculously preserved in the midst of dangers, and escaped when others perished by your side—or been raised up as it were, from the very brink of destruction and the very borders of the grave? Besides some striking escapes from what are called 'accidents,' three times in my life—once in infancy, once in boyhood, and once in manhood—I have been raised up from the borders of the grave, when almost everyone who surrounded my bed thought I would not survive the violence of the attack. Were not these instances of being kept by the power of God? I could not die until God had manifested His purposes of electing grace and mercy to my soul.
But the elect are also kept by the mighty power of God AFTER they are called by grace—for they are in the hollow of His hand, and are kept as the apple of His eye. I will not say they are kept from all sins. Yet I will say that they are kept from damning sins. They are kept especially from three things—from the dominion of sin, from daring and final presumption, from lasting and damnable error. They are never drowned in the sins and evils of the present life so as to be swallowed up in them—for it is impossible that they can ever be lost! They are therefore preserved in hours of temptation, for they are guarded by all the power of Omnipotence, shielded by the unceasing care and watchfulness of Him who can neither slumber nor sleep.
Looking back through a long vista of years, can you not see how the hand of God has been with you—how He has held you up, and brought you through many a storm, and preserved you under powerful temptations? How gently He sometimes drew you on, or sometimes kept you back? "I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand!" Having chosen us, God begets us with His word, regenerates us by a divine influence, and makes us new creatures by the power and influence of the Holy Spirit.
"You crowned Him with glory and honor, . . .You have put all things in subjection under His feet. For in that He subjected all things to Him, He left nothing that is not subject to Him." Hebrews 2:7, 8
See the sovereign supremacy of Jesus! There may be circumstances in your earthly lot which at this moment are peculiarly trying. You look around and wonder how this or that circumstance will terminate. At present it looks very dark—clouds and mists hang over it, and you fear lest these clouds may break, not in showers upon your head, but burst forth in the lightning flash and the thunder stroke! But all things are put in subjection under Christ's feet! That which you dread cannot take place except by His sovereign will—nor can it move any further except by His supreme disposal. Then make yourself quiet. He will not allow you to be harmed. That frowning providence shall only execute His sovereign purposes, and it shall be among those all things which, according to His promise, shall work together for your good.
None of our trials come upon us by chance! They are all appointed in weight and measure—are all designed to fulfill a certain end. And however painful they may at present be, yet they are intended for your good. When the trial comes upon you, what a help it would be for you if you could view it thus—"This trial is sent for my good. It does not spring out of the dust. The Lord Himself is the supreme disposer of it. It is very painful to bear—but let me believe that He has appointed me this peculiar trial, along with every other circumstance. He will bring about His own will therein, and either remove the trial, or give me patience under it, and submission to it."
You may be afflicted by sickness. It is not by chance that such or such sickness visits your body—that the Lord sees fit to afflict head, heart, chest, liver, hand, foot, or any other part of your body. All things are put in subjection under Him, and He has not exempted sickness and disease! Whatever you suffer in bodily disease, He appoints and arranges it for your good. Be resigned to His holy and almighty will.
All your afflictions are put under the feet of Jesus! You may think at times how harshly you are dealt with—mourning, it may be, under family bereavements, sorrowing after the loss of your 'household treasures'—a beloved husband, wife, or child. But O that you could bear in mind that all your afflictions, be they what they may, are put under the feet of Jesus, so that, so to speak, not one can crawl from under His feet but by His permission—and, like scolded hounds, they crawl again beneath them at a word of command from His lips! Let us then hold fast this truth, for on it depends so much of our comfort.
Without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish!
"Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it; That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." Ephesians 5:25, 27
What are we ourselves as viewed by our own eyes? Full of spots, wrinkles, and blemishes! And what do we see in ourselves every day, but sin and filth and folly? What evil is there in the world that is not in us, and in our hearts? It is true others cannot read our hearts. But we read them—yes, we are every day, and sometimes all the day reading them. And what do we read there? Like Ezekiel's scroll, it is "written within and without"—and we may well add, if we rightly read what is there written, we have every reason to say it is "full of lamentations, and mourning, and woe." For I am sure that there is nothing that we see there every day and every hour, but would cover us with shame and confusion of face, and make us blush to lift up our eyes before God, or almost to appear in the presence of our fellow man!
But neither others, nor we ourselves, now see what the church one day will be, and what she ever was in the eyes of Jesus! He could look through all the sins and sorrows of this intermediate period, and fix His eye upon the bridal day—the day when before assembled angels, in the courts of heaven, in the realms of eternal bliss, He would present her to Himself a glorious church, without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy, and without fault. O what a day will that be, when the Son of God shall openly wed His espoused bride—when there shall be heard in heaven, "as the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready." Revelation 19:6, 7
Bitten by this serpent's tooth
No man has ever sounded the depths of the fall. The children of God have indeed discoveries of the evil of sin. And they have such views at times of the desperate wickedness and awful depravity of human nature, that they seem as if filled with unspeakable horror at the hideous enormity of the corruption that works in their carnal mind.
But no man has ever seen, as no man ever can see, in this time-state, what sin is to its full extent, and as it will be hereafter developed in the depths of hell. We may indeed in our own experience see something of its commencement—but we can form little idea of its progress, and still less of its termination. For sin has this peculiar feature attending it, that it ever spreads and spreads until it involves everything that it touches in utter ruin. We may compare it in this point of view to the venom-fang of a serpent. There are serpents of so venomous a kind, as for instance the Cobra de Capello, or hooded snake, that the introduction of the minutest portion of venom from their poison tooth will in a few hours convert all the fluids of the body into a mass of putrefaction. A man shall be in perfect health one hour, and, bitten by this serpent's tooth, shall in the next, be a loathsome mass of rottenness and corruption.
Such is sin. The introduction of sin into the nature of Adam at the fall was like the introduction of poison from the fang of a deadly serpent into the human body. It at once penetrated into his soul and body, and filled both with death and corruption. Or, to use a more scriptural figure, sin may be compared to the disease of leprosy, which usually began with a "bright spot," or "rising in the skin," scarcely perceptible, and yet spread and spread until it enveloped every member, and the whole body becoming a mass of putrefying hideous corruption. Or sin may be compared to a cancer, which begins perhaps with a little lump causing a slight itching, but goes on feeding upon the part which it attacks, until the patient dies worn out with pain and suffering.
Now if sin be this venom fang, this spreading leprosy, this loathsome cancer—if its destructive power be so great that, unless arrested and healed, it will destroy body and soul alike in hell, the remedy for it, if remedy there be, must be as great as the malady. Thus if there be a cure for sin—a remedy for the fall—a deliverance from the wrath to come—it must be at least as full and as complete as the ruin which sin has entailed upon us.
The man who has slight, superficial views and feelings of sin will have equally slight and superficial views of the atonement made for sin. The groans of Christ will never sound in his ears as the dolorous groans of an agonizing Lord—the sufferings of Christ will never be opened up to his soul as the sorrows of Immanuel, God with us—the death of Christ will never be viewed by him, as the blood-shedding of the darling Son of God.
While he has such slight, superficial views of the malady, his views of the remedy will be equally slight and superficial. As we are led down into a spiritual knowledge of self and sin, so we are led up into a gracious knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. By suffering all the penalties of our sin, Jesus redeems us from the lowest hell and raises us up to the highest heaven—empowering poor worms of earth to soar above the skies and live forever in the presence of Him who is a consuming fire! "He will save His people from their sins." Matthew 1:21
The sin of pride
"I hate pride and arrogance!" Proverbs 8:13
Our hearts are desperately proud. If there is one sin which God hates more than another, and more sets Himself against, it is the sin of pride. Like a weed upon a dung-heap, pride grows more profusely in some soils, especially when well fertilized by rank, riches, praise, flattery, our own ignorance, and the ignorance of others. We all inherit pride from our fallen ancestor Adam—who got it from Satan, that "king over all the children of pride."
Those, perhaps, who think they possess the least pride,
and view themselves with wonderful self-admiration as the humblest of
mortals, may have more pride than those who feel and confess it. It may only
be more deeply hidden in the dark recesses of their carnal mind. As God then
sees all hearts, and knows every movement of pride, whether we see it or
not, His purpose is to humble us! When I look back upon my
life, and see all my sins, all my follies, all my slips,
all my falls—my conscience testifies of the many things I have
thought, said, and done, which grieve my soul, make me hang my head before
God, put my mouth in the dust, and confess my sins unto Him. When I contrast
my own exceeding sinfulness with God's greatness, God's majesty, God's
holiness, and God's purity—I fall down, humbly and meekly before Him—I put
my mouth in the dust—I acknowledge I am vile.
They need a mighty God
"My eyes are ever on the Lord; for He will pluck my feet out of the net." Psalm 25:15
"Give us help from the adversary: for the help of man is vain." Psalm 60:11
What a mighty God we have to deal with! And what would suit our case but a mighty God? Have we not mighty sins? Have we not mighty trials? Have we not mighty temptations? Have we not mighty foes and mighty fears? And who is to deliver us from all this mighty army, except the mighty God? It is not a 'little God' (if I may use the expression) that will do for God's people. They need a mighty God—because they are in circumstances where none but a mighty God can intervene in their behalf. And it is well worth our notice that the Lord puts His people purposely into circumstances where they may avail themselves, so to speak, of His omnipotent power, and thus know from living personal experience, that He is a mighty God, not in mere doctrine and theory, but a mighty God in their special and particular behalf.
Why, if you did not feelingly and experimentally know your mighty sins—your mighty trials—your mighty temptations—your mighty fears—you would not need a mighty God. O how this brings together the strength of God and the weakness of man! How it unites poor helpless creatures with the Majesty of heaven! How it conveys to feeble, worthless worms the very might of the Omnipotent Jehovah! This sense of our weakness and His power—our misery and His mercy—our ruin and His recovery—the aboundings of our sin and the superaboundings of His grace—a feeling sense of these opposite yet harmonious things, brings us to have personal, experimental dealings with God. And it is in these personal dealings with God that the life of all religion consists. "The righteous cry, and the Lord hears, and delivers them out of all their trouble." Psalm 34:17
The Lord sometimes flogs His children home!
"As chastened, and not killed." 2 Corinthians 6:9
The Lord does not see fit to lay the same chastisements upon all His people. He has rods of different sizes and different descriptions—though all are felt to be rods when God brings them upon the back. The Lord chastises with one hand, and upholds with the other. In your spiritual experience, you may have passed under many chastising strokes. And when they fell upon you, they seemed to come as a killing sentence from God's lips. You feared your illness might end in death. Under your bereavement, you felt as if you could never hold up your head again. You thought your providential losses might prove to be your earthly ruin. Your family afflictions seemed to be so heavy, as to be radically incurable. All these were killing strokes. But though chastened, you were not killed. You lost no divine life thereby—but you lost much that pleased the flesh—much that gratified the creature—much that looked well for days of prosperity, but would not abide the storm. But you lost nothing that was for your real good. If you lost bodily health—you gained spiritual health. If you lost a dear husband or child—God filled up the void in your heart by making Christ more precious. If you had troubles in your family—the Lord made it up by giving more manifestations of His love and grace. Your very losses in providence were for your good—for God either made them up, or what you lost in providence He doubled in grace. So that though chastened—you are not killed!
Has anything that has happened to you quenched or extinguished the life of God in your soul? As the dross and tin were more separated—has not the gold shone more brightly? Have you not held spiritual things with a tighter grasp? When God chastens His people, it is not to kill them—it is to make them partakers of His holiness, to revive their drooping graces, to make them more sincere, upright and tender in conscience, to make them more separate from the world, to make them seek more His glory, to make them have a more single eye to His praise, to make them live more a life of faith.
Here is the blessedness—that when God chastises His people, it is not for their injury, but for their profit—not for their destruction, but for their salvation—not to treat them with the unkindness of an enemy, but with the love of a friend! Look at the afflictions, chastenings and grievous sorrows that you have passed through. Have they been friends to you—or enemies? instruments of helping you—or hindrances? ladders whereby you have climbed up to heaven—or steps whereby you have descended into hell? means of taking you nearer to Christ—or means of carrying you more into the world?
If you know anything of God's chastening, you will say, "Every stroke has brought me nearer to God! He has flogged me home!" As a father will seize his truant boy out of a horde of other children and flog him home, so the Lord sometimes flogs His children home! Every stroke laid upon their back brings them a step nearer to their home in the mansions above! In your own experience, you know that God's chastenings have not killed you. But rather they have been the means of reviving and keeping alive the work of grace upon your heart! As chastened, yet not killed.
Talk like an angel—and live like a devil
There is "a knowledge of the things of God" which a man may possess without a personal experience of the new birth—without any divine operation upon his soul whatever, or any participation of the grace of God. From reading the scriptures and hearing the Gospel preached, many attain to a carnal, intellectual, barren head knowledge of the truth—who, as to any experimental, vital, saving acquaintance with it, are still in the very gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity. A man may have the 'knowledge of an apostle'—and the 'worldliness of a Demas.' He may be clear in head—and rotten in heart. He may talk like an angel—and live like a devil. He may understand all mysteries and all knowledge—and be nothing but a hypocrite and an impostor. In our day such characters abound in the churches.
But distinct from this "head knowledge," as distinct from it as heaven from hell, there is a most blessed "spiritual knowledge" of the things of God, with which the people of God are favored. "Then He opened their understanding that they might understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
This idol-making, idol-loving world
"You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself." Exodus 19:4
The idea here, is of snatching His people out of Egypt as an eagle would snatch her young away from the hands of the spoiler of her nest, and bear them away and aloft on her outstretched wings. Deliverance—from idolatry, from bondage, from a state of degradation and abject slavery—is the leading idea of bringing His people out of Egypt. So, spiritually, the Lord bears us out of a worse Egypt by His Almighty power. Has He given you some deliverance from the world and the spirit of it, and brought you to Himself by the power of His grace? Has He carried you up out of sin—its open commission, its secret practice, its inward indulgence—and broken in some measure the love and the power of it?
Has He carried you not only out of the grosser iniquities of Egypt, but its more 'refined and acceptable sins,' such as creature idolatry, religious lip-service, self-righteousness, and mocking God by superstition, tradition, and vain ceremony? Has He carried you, as on eagles' wings, out of all the idols of Egypt? For Egypt was a land teeming with idolatry, and therefore an apt emblem of this idol-making, idol-loving world. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you forth out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their bondmen." Leviticus 26:13 "Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians." Exodus 18:10
The pulpit, as well as the playhouse, has its accomplished actors!
Many hard lessons
"He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drunken with wormwood." Lamentations 3:15
The Lord's people have many hard lessons which they have to learn in the 'school of Christ.' Each one has to carry a daily cross, and are burdened and pressed down under its weight. This daily cross may and does differ in individuals. But every child of God has his own cross, which laid upon his shoulders by an invincible hand, he has, for the most part, to carry down to the very grave.
Thus, some of God's people are afflicted in body from the very time the Lord begins His work of grace upon their heart. Or if exempt from disease, are shattered in nerve, depressed in spirits, and weighed down by lassitude and languor, often harder to bear than disease itself. Some are tied to ungodly partners, meeting with opposition and persecution at every step. Others have nothing but trouble in their family, either from the invasion of death into their circle, or what sometimes is worse than death—disgrace, shame, and ungodliness. Others have little else but one continual series of losses and crosses in their circumstances, wave after wave rolling over their heads.
O, view the family of God toiling homeward—some dragging along an afflicted body—others a wounded spirit—others carrying upon their shoulders dying children—others with scarcely a rag to their back or a crust in their hand—footsore, fearful in heart, trembling at a rustling leaf—a deep river to pass, and a furious enemy in sight.
"Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains." Habakkuk 3:17-19
Were we left wholly in its hands!
"No temptation has taken you but such as man can bear." 1 Corinthians 10:13
There is not a single sin ever perpetrated by man which does not lie deeply hidden in the recesses of our fallen nature! But these sins do not stir into activity until temptation draws them forth. Temptation is to the corruptions of the heart, what fire is to stubble. Sin lies quiet in our carnal mind until temptation comes to set it on fire. Temptation is to our corrupt nature, what the spark is to gunpowder. Have you not found this sad truth—how easily by temptation are the corruptions of our wretched heart set on fire, and burst into every kind of daring and dreadful iniquity? In temptation, we learn what sin is—its dreadful nature, its aggravated character, its fearful workings, its mad, its desperate upheavings against God—and what we are or would be—were we left wholly in its hands! "Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation." Matthew 26:41 "Hold me up, and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117
Romantic dreams of pleasure & earthly joy?
"The removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made—so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain." Hebrews 12:27
Man is always seeking happiness in some shape or other, in the things of this world. He does not see or feel that outside of God, happiness is impossible—and that to seek it in 'the creature' is to add sin to sin. But look at this vain attempt in a variety of instances. Look at people young in life. What romantic prospects dance before their eyes! "What dreams of love and home by flowery streams!" But what a crude shock do these 'dreams of earthly happiness' usually experience! This is true of most, if not all, who build their hopes of happiness on 'the creature.' But particularly so in the case of the family of God. How jealous is He of all such schemes of earthly bliss—and how, sooner or later, He shatters them all by His mighty hand!
Look, for instance, at health, that indispensable element of all earthly happiness! What a crude shock many of the dear family of God have experienced in their earthly tabernacle, even in their youthful days, by accident or disease, so as to mar all earthly happiness almost before the race of life was begun! Look again at wedded happiness—that "perpetual fountain of domestic sweets"—how bitter a drop often falls from the hands of God into that honeyed cup! Why does that mourning widow sigh? Why does her heart swell, and her eye run over? What does that scalding drop on her cheek mean? How many a blooming daughter has faded away in consumption before a mother's eye! How many a fine strong son has been cut down by an accident—or sudden illness has borne him away to the cold grave, in the very pride and prospect of life!
But apart from these elements of shattered and broken creature happiness, what disappointment, what vexation, what sorrow and care we find in everything we put our hands to! Even with health and home unbroken, wife and child untouched by death's cold hand, there is sin and misery enough in a man's own bosom to fill his heart with continual sorrow! Thus wisely and mercifully, all our attempts to grasp earthly happiness fail and come to nothing. Child of grace, do not murmur at the hand of the Lord which has broken your 'dreams of creature happiness.' God does not intend that you should have your heaven here on earth, nor live after the fashion of this world. It is a kind hand, though a rough one—which blasts all your schemes of creature happiness—which breaks your body into pieces with sickness—which blights all your prospects of wealth, and fame, and reputation, and ambition—and pours bitter gall into each honeyed cup!
Why does the Lord break all your earthly schemes of human happiness? Why does He blight all your prospects—your plans of ambition and of success in life—your romantic dreams of pleasure and earthly joy? That they may all be removed out of your hearts' affections—and give you happiness which shall endure forever and ever! Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.
The love of the truth
"They didn't receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved." 2 Thessalonians 2:10
There is a receiving of 'the truth,' and a receiving of 'the love of the truth.' These two things widely differ. To receive the truth will not necessarily save—for many who receive the truth, never receive 'the love of the truth.' Professors by thousands receive the truth into their judgment, and adopt the plan of salvation as their creed—but are neither saved nor sanctified thereby. But to receive 'the love of the truth' by Jesus being made sweet and precious to the soul, is to receive salvation itself. "Unto you therefore who believe He is precious." 1 Peter 2:7
These lovers of ours
"I will go after my lovers, who gave me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink." Hosea 2:5
Here is the opening up of what we are by nature, what our carnal mind is ever bent upon, what we do or are capable of doing, except as held back by the watchful providence and unceasing grace and goodness of the Lord. These lovers of ours are our old sins and former lusts which still crave for gratification. To these sometimes the carnal mind looks back and says, "Where are my lovers that gave me my food and drink? Where are those former delights that so pleased my vile passions, and so gratified my base desires?" These lovers, then, are the lust of the flesh—the lust of the eyes—and the pride of life—all which, unless subdued by sovereign grace, still work in our depraved nature, and seek to regain their former sway.
But the Lord, for the most part, mercifully interposes, nor will He usually let His children do what they gladly would do—or be what they gladly would be. He says, "therefore, behold, I will hedge up your way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, that she can't find her way." (Hosea 2:6) The Lord, in His providence or in His grace, prevents our carnal mind from carrying out its base desires—hedges up our way with thorns—by which we may spiritually understand prickings of conscience, stings of remorse, pangs of penitence—which are so many thorny and briery hedges that fence up the way of transgression, and thus prevent our carnal mind from breaking forth into its old paths, and going after these former lovers to renew its ungodly alliance with them. A hedge of thorns being set up by the grace of God, our soul is unable to break through this strong fence, because the moment that it seeks to get through it, or over it, every part of it presents a pricking brier or a sharp and strong thorn, which wounds and pierces our conscience. What infinite mercy, what surpassing grace, are hereby manifested! Were our conscience not made thus tender so as to feel the pricking brier, we can hardly tell what might be the fearful consequence, or into what a miserable abyss of sin and transgression our soul would fall.
But these lacerating briers produce remorse of soul before God—for finding, as the Lord speaks, "she shall follow after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them; and she shall seek them, but shall not find them," there comes a longing in her mind for purer pleasures and holier delights than her adulterous lovers could give her. And thus a change in her feelings is produced, a revolution in her desires. "Then shall she say, I will go and return to my first husband; for then it was better with me than now." The idea is of an adulterous wife contrasting the innocent enjoyments of her first wedded love with the state of misery into which she had been betrayed by base seducers. And thus the soul spiritually contrasts its former enjoyment of the Lord's presence and power, with its present state of darkness and desertion. "Where," she would say, "are my former delights, my first joys, and the sweetness I had in days now passed, in knowing, serving, and worshiping the Lord? Ah! He was a kind and loving Husband to me in those days. I will return to Him if He will graciously permit me, for it was better with me when I could walk in the light of His countenance, than since I have been seeking for my lovers, and reaping nothing but guilt, death, and condemnation."
It is in these storms
"When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever!" Proverbs 10:25
The very storms through which the believer passes, will only strengthen him to take a firmer hold of Christ. As the same wind that blows down the shallow-rooted tree, only establishes the deep-rooted tree, so the same storms which uproot the 'shallow professor,' only establish the 'true believer' more firmly in Christ. Though these storms may shake off some of his 'leaves,' or break off some of the 'rotten boughs' at the end of the branch, they do not uproot the believer's faith, but rather strengthen it.
It is in these storms that he learns more of his own weakness—and of Christ's strength; more of his own misery—and of Christ's mercy; more of his own sinfulness—and of superabounding grace; more of his own poverty—and of Christ's riches; more of his own desert of hell—and of his own title to heaven.
It is in these storms that the same blessed Spirit who began the work carries it on—and goes on to engrave the image of Christ in deeper characters upon his heart—and to teach him more and more experimentally the truth as it is in Jesus. "Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me: for my soul takes refuge in You. Yes, in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge, until disaster has passed." Psalm 57:1