"That you. . . . may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge." Ephesians 3:17-19
You may wonder sometimes—and it is a wonder that will fill heaven itself with anthems of eternal praise—how such a glorious Jesus can ever look down from heaven upon such crawling reptiles, on such worms of earth—what is more, upon such sinners who have provoked Him over and over again by their misdeeds. Yes, how this exalted Christ, in the height of His glory, can look down from heaven on such poor, miserable, wretched creatures as we—this is the mystery that fills angels with astonishment! We feel we are such crawling reptiles—such undeserving creatures—and are so utterly unworthy of the least notice from Him, that we say, "Can Christ love one like me? Can the glorious Son of God cast an eye of pity and compassion, love and tenderness upon one like me—who can scarcely at times bear with myself—who sees and feels myself one of the vilest of the vile, and the worst of the worst? O, what must I be in the sight of the glorious Son of God?"
And yet, He has loved you with an everlasting love! His love has breadths, and lengths, and depths, and heights unknown! Its breadth exceeds all human span—its length outvies all creature line—its depth surpasses all finite measurement—its height excels even angelic computation! Because His love is so wondrous, so deep, so long, so broad, so high—it is so suitable to our every want and woe.
A woman's best ornament
"Let your beauty be not just the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on fine clothing; but in the hidden person of the heart, in the incorruptible adornment of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God very precious." 1 Peter 3:3, 4
This beauty that comes from within is that meekness, quietness, gentleness, brokenness of heart, contrition of spirit, humility of mind, tenderness of conscience, which are fitting to the children of God. A gentle and quiet spirit is a woman's best ornament. As to other gay and unbecoming ornaments, let those wear them, who wish to serve and to enjoy the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Let the "daughters of Zion" manifest they have other ornaments than what the world admires and approves. Let them covet the teachings of God, the smiles of His love, the whispers of His favor. The more they have of these, the less will they care for the adornments which the "daughters of Canaan" run so madly after—by which also they often impoverish themselves, and by opening a way for admiration, too often open a way for seduction and ruin.
O you filthy creature!
"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me out of the body of this death?" Romans 7:24
No doubt you have your enemies—and so have we all. But I will tell you where you have an enemy—and a greater enemy than ever you have found in others—yourself! I have often felt that I could do myself more harm in five minutes, than all my enemies could do me in fifty years! I need not fear what others may do or say—I fear myself more than them all—knowing what I am as a sinner—the strength of sin—and the power of temptation.
Be sure of this—that YOU are the worst enemy you ever had—your sin, your lust, your covetousness, your pride, your self-righteousness. God Himself will make you feel your enemy. You shall see something of his accursed designs—how sin has deceived you, betrayed you, brought guilt upon your conscience, and made you a burden to yourself. You shall be brought to feel, and say, "There is nothing I hate so much as my own vile heart—my own dreadfully corrupt nature. O what an enemy do I carry in my own bosom! Of all my enemies, he is surely the worst! Of all my foes, he is the most subtle and strong!"
Have you not sometimes felt as though you could take your lusts by the neck and dash their heads against a stone? Have you not felt you could take out of your breast this vile, damnable heart, lay it upon the ground, and stamp upon it? And when tempted with pride, or unbelief, or infidelity, or blasphemy, or any hateful lust, how you have cried out again and again with anguish of spirit, "O this heart of mine!" We hate our sins, and would, if possible, have no more to do with them, and would say to this lust, idol, or temptation, "O you filthy creature! What an enemy you are to my soul! O that I could forever be done with you! Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? Thanks be to God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!"
You never knew what real happiness was!
One false charge against the children of God, is that they are a poor, moping, miserable people, who know nothing of happiness—renounce all cheerfulness, mirth, and gladness—hang their heads down all their days like a bulrush—are full of groundless fears—nurse the gloomiest thoughts in a kind of melancholy—grudge others the least enjoyment of pleasure and happiness—and try to make everyone else as dull and as miserable as their dull and miserable selves.
Is not this a false charge? You know that you never had any real happiness in the things of time and sense—that under all your 'pretended gaiety' there was real gloom—that every 'sweet' was drenched with bitterness—that vexation was stamped upon all that is called pleasure and enjoyment. You never knew what real happiness was, until you knew the Lord, and were blessed with His presence, and some manifestation of His goodness and mercy!
Were it no bigger than a child's doll
"From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." Ezekiel 36:25
Idolatry takes a wide range. There are 'respectable' idols and 'vulgar' idols—just as there are marble statues, and other objects of worship made up of shells and feathers. And yet each will still be an idol. Respectable idols we can admire—vulgar idols we detest. But an idol is an idol—however respectable, or however vulgar—however admired, or however despised they may be.
But O how numerous are these respectable idols! Love of money, ambition, craving after human applause, desire to rise in the world—all these we may think are natural desires that may be lawfully gratified. But O, what idols may they turn out to be!
But there are more secret and more dangerous idols. You may have a husband, or wife, or child—whom you love almost as much as yourself—you bestow upon this idol of yours all the affections of your heart. Nothing is too good for it, nothing too dear for it. You don't see how this is an idol. But, whatever you love more than God, whatever you worship more than God, whatever you crave for more than God, is an idol. It may lurk in the chambers of imagery—you may scarcely know how fondly you love it. But let God take that idol out of your bosom—let Him pluck that idol from its niche—and you will then find how you have allowed your affections to wander after that idol and loved it more than God Himself.
It is when the idol is taken away—removed—dethroned—that we learn what an idol it has been. How we hug and embrace our idols! How we cleave to them! How we delight in them! How we bow down to them! How we seek gratification from them! How little are we aware what affections entwine around them—how little are we aware that they claim what God has reserved for Himself when He said, "My son, give me your heart."
Many a weeping widow learns for the first time that her husband was an idol. Many a mourning husband learns for the first time how too dearly, how too fondly, how too idolatrously he loved his wife. Many a man does not know how dearly he loves money until he incurs some serious loss. Many do not know how dearly they hold name, fame, and reputation until some slanderous blight seems to touch that tender spot. Few indeed seem to know how dear SELF is, until God takes it out of its niche and sets Himself there in its room. Self, pride, reputation, the love of money, the love of name and fame—these idols you cannot take with you into the courts of heaven. How would God be moved to jealousy if you could you carry an idol—were it no bigger than a child's doll—into the courts above! "From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you."
All your filthiness
"From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." Ezekiel 36:25
O, what loathsome monsters of iniquity—how polluted, filthy, and vile do we feel ourselves to be—when the guilt of our sin is charged home upon our conscience! Have you not sometimes loathed yourselves on account of your abominations? Has not the filth of your sin sometimes disgusted you—the opening up of that horrible, that ever-running sewer, which you daily carry about with you? We complain, and justly complain—of a reeking sewer which runs through a street—or of a ditch filled with everything disgusting. But do we feel as much—do we complain as often—of the foul sewer which is ever running in our soul—of the filthy ditch in our own bosom? As the sight of this open sewer meets our eyes—and its stench enters our nostrils, it fills us with self-loathing and self-abhorrence before the eyes of a holy God. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean. From all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you."
What things were gain to me
"But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." Philippians 3:7
This includes the loss of all your fancied holiness—of all your vaunted strength—of all your natural or acquired wisdom—of all your boasted knowledge—in a word, of everything in creature religion of which the heart is proud, and in which it takes delight. All, all must be counted loss for Christ's sake—all, all must be sacrificed to His bleeding, dying love. Our dearest joys—our fondest hopes—our most cherished idols—must all sink and give way to the grace, blood, and love of an incarnate God.
Looking down into a filthy pit!
"The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9
Sometimes we are so astonished—at what we are—at what we have been—or at what we are capable of. We stand sometimes and look at our heart, and see what a seething, boiling, and bubbling is there! And we look at it with indignant astonishment, as we would look into a pool of filthy black mud, all swarming and alive with every hideous creature! So when a man takes a view of his own heart—its dreadful hypocrisy, its vile rebellion, its alarming deceitfulness, its desperate wickedness, of what his heart is capable of plotting, of what evil it can conceive and imagine, it is as if he stood looking down into a filthy pit and saw with astonishment, mingled with self-abhorrence, what his heart is, as the fountain of all iniquity.
A man must have some knowledge of his own heart to understand such language as this. You that are so exceedingly 'pious' and so 'extra good,' and from whose heart the veil has never been taken away to show you what you are, will perhaps think that I am drawing a caricature of human nature, and painting it as the haunt of thieves and prostitutes. Could you but have the veil taken off your heart, you would see that you were capable of doing all that wickedness that others have done, or can do! By this sight of ourselves, we learn what a wonderful God we have to deal with! Surely none so highly prize the grace of God as those who are most led into a knowledge of the fall, and the havoc and ruin, and the guilt and misery which it has brought into our own hearts.
The largest slice of the well-sugared cake
"They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth." Hebrews 11:13
Many profess that they are strangers and pilgrims here below. But they take care to have as much of this world's comforts as they can scrape together by hook and by crook. They talk about being 'strangers,' yet can be in close friendship with men of the world. And could you see them at the exchange, at the market, behind the counter, or at home with their families—you would not find one mark to distinguish them from the ungodly! Yet they come to chapel—and if called upon to pray, they will tell the people they are "poor strangers and pilgrims in a valley of tears"—while all the time their hearts are in the world—and their eyes stand out with fatness—and they are as light and trifling as a comic actor—and have no concerns except to get the largest slice of the well-sugared cake that the world sets before them!
It is not the 'mere profession of the lips'—but 'grace in the heart,' that makes a man a stranger and a pilgrim. God's people are strangers and sojourners—the world is not their home—nor can they take pleasure in it. Sin is often a burden to them—guilt often lies as a heavy weight upon their conscience—a thousand troubles harass their minds—a thousand perplexities oppress their souls. They cannot bury their minds in business and derive all their happiness from their successes, for they feel that this earth is not their home. They are often cast down and exercised, because they have to live with such an ungodly heart in such an ungodly world. "They confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."
Can they beat back this monster to his filthy den?
"Hold me up, and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117
The Lord's people are a tempted people. Satan is ever waiting at their gate, constantly suggesting every hateful and improper thought—perpetually inflaming the rebellion and enmity of their carnal mind—and continually plaguing, harassing, and besieging them in a thousand ways! Can they repel him? Can they beat back this monster to his filthy den? Can they beat back this leviathan? They cannot—they feel they cannot. They know that nothing but the voice of Jesus, inwardly speaking with power to their souls, can beat back the lion of the bottomless pit! One whisper, one soft word from the lips of His gracious Majesty, can and will put every temptation to flight! "Hold me up, and I shall be safe!"
When it comes in the guise of a friend
"Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." John 16:33
Does not this verse show that the world is an enemy to the Lord—and to the Lord's people? and never so much an enemy—never to be so much dreaded—as when it comes in the guise of a friend. When it steals upon your heart, engrosses your thoughts, wins your affections, draws away your mind from God—then it is to be dreaded. When the world smites us as an enemy—its blows are not to be feared. It is when it smiles upon us as a friend—it is most to be dreaded. When our eyes begin to drink it in, when our ears begin to listen to its voice, when our hearts become entangled in its fascinations, when our minds get filled with its anxieties, when our affections depart from the Lord and cleave to the things of time and sense—then the world is to be dreaded.
Canaanitish idols & heathenish abominations
"You shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their engraved images with fire!" Deuteronomy 7:5
Our hearts are by nature full of Canaanitish idols and heathenish abominations, which must be destroyed! Lusts after evil things, adulterous images, idolatrous desires, strong hankerings after sin—along with evils which have the impudence to wear a religious garb—such as towering thoughts of our own ability, pleasing dreams of creature holiness, swellings up of pride—dressed out and painted in all the tawdry colors of Satanic delusion—how can these abominations be allowed to run rampant in the human heart?
The altars and religious rites of Canaanites were to be destroyed as much as their idols! And thus we may say of that very religious being—man—that his false worship and heathenish notions of God must be destroyed, as well as his more flagrant, though not more dangerous, lusts and abominations. The sentence against both is, "Destroy them!" They must not stand side by side with Immanuel, who is to have the preeminence in all things, and who is "the Alpha and the Omega—the first and the last." And O what a mercy it is to have both our fleshly and religious abominations both destroyed! For I am sure that God and self never can rule in the same heart—that Christ and the devil can never reign in the same bosom—each claiming the supremacy!
This inward conflict
"I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." Romans 7:18
Now it is this which makes the Lord's people such a burdened people—that makes them so oppressed in their souls as to cry out against themselves daily, and sometimes hourly—that they are what they are—that they would be spiritual, yet are carnal—that they would be holy, yet are unholy—that they would have sweet communion with Jesus, yet have such sensual alliance with the things of time and sense—that they would be Christians in word, thought, and deed—yet, in spite of all, they feel their carnal mind, their wretched depravity intertwining, interlacing, gushing forth—contaminating with its polluted stream everything without and within—so as to make them sigh, groan, and cry being burdened, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"
He would not be entangled in these snares for ten thousand worlds—he hates the evils of his heart, and mourns over the corruptions of his nature. They make the tear fall from his eye, and the sob to heave from his bosom—they make him a wretched man—and fill him day after day with sorrow, bitterness, and anguish. None but a saved soul, under divine teaching, can see this evil—and mourn and sigh under the depravity, the corruption, the unbelief, the carnality, the wickedness, and the deceitfulness of his evil heart. This inward conflict, this sore grief, this internal burden, that all the family of God are afflicted with—is an evidence that the life and grace of God are in their bosoms. "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin." Romans 7:25
"The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9
Without a knowledge of the corruptions and abounding evils of our deceitful and desperately wicked heart—unbelief, infidelity, pride, hypocrisy, worldly mindedness, carnality, sensuality, selfishness—there will be no humility, no self-loathing, no dread of falling, no desire to be kept, no knowledge of the superaboundings of grace, over the aboundings of sin.
So many truly sincere & religious people
"Cornelius. . . .a devout man, and one who feared God with all his house, who gave gifts for the needy generously to the people, and always prayed to God." Acts 10:1, 2
Yet Cornelius wasn't saved! (Acts 11:14). A generous centurion builds a synagogue (Luke 7:3-5). A young man keeps the commandments from his youth up (Luke 18:21). Balaam prophesies (Numbers 23:16). Saul weeps (1 Samuel 24:16). Judas preaches the gospel (Matthew 10:5-8). Yet none of these men were saved! It is at times, enough to fill one's heart with mingled astonishment and sorrow—to see so many truly sincere and religious people, whose religion will leave them short of eternal life—because they are destitute of saving grace. To see so much amiability, benevolence, devotedness, self-denial, liberality, loveliness of character, integrity, consistency of life—all inescapably dashed against the rock of inflexible justice, and there shattered and lost—swallowed up with its unhappy possessors in the raging billows beneath—such a sight, did we not know that the Judge of the whole earth cannot do wrong, would indeed stagger us to the very center of our being!
Sick of sin, sick of self, sick of the world
"Delight in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4
By nature we delight in SIN. It is the very element of our nature—and even after the Lord has called us by His grace and quickened us by his Spirit, there is the same love to sin in the heart as there was before. We delight in it—we would wallow in it—take our full enjoyment of it—and swim in it as a fish swims in the waters of the sea!
By nature we also are prone to IDOLATRY. Self is the grand object of all our sensual and carnal worship. Our own exaltation, our own amusement, our own pleasure, our own gratification. Something whereby SELF may be flattered, admired, adored, delighted—is the grand end and aim of man's natural worship. By nature we also delight in the WORLD. It is our element, our home, what our carnal hearts are intimately blended with.
From all these things, then, which are intrinsically evil—which a pure and holy God must hate with absolute abhorrence—we must be weaned and effectually divorced—we need to have these things embittered to us. All the time we are doing homage and worship to self—all the time we are loving the world—all the time we delight in sin—all the time we are setting up idols in the secret chambers of imagery—there is no delighting ourselves in the Lord. We cannot delight ourselves in the Lord until we are purged of creature love—until the idolatry of our hearts is not merely manifested, but hated and abhorred—until by cutting temptations, sharp exercises, painful perplexities, and various sorrows, we are brought to this state—to be sick of SIN, sick of SELF, sick of the WORLD.
Until we are brought to loathe ourselves, we are not brought to that spot where none but God Himself can comfort, please, or make the soul really happy. Now the very means that God employs to embitter the world to us are cutting and grievous dispensations—as unexpected reverses in fortune—or afflictions of body, of family, or of soul. But these very means the Lord employs to divorce our carnal union from the world, stir up the self-pity, the murmuring, the peevishness, and the rebelliousness of our nature, so that we think we are being very harshly dealt with, in being compelled to walk in this trying path.
But only by these cutting dispensations are we eventually brought to delight ourselves in Him, who will give us the desires of our heart. How long you shall be walking in this painful path—how heavy your trials—what their duration shall be—how deep you may have to sink—how cutting your afflictions may be in body or soul, God has not defined, and we cannot. But they must work until they have produced this result—weaned, divorced, and separated us from all that we naturally love and idolatrously cleave unto—and all that we adulterously roam after. If our trials have not done this, they must go on until they produce that effect. The burden must be laid upon the back, affliction must try the mind, perplexities must encumber the feet, until we are brought to this point—that none but the Lord Himself, with a taste of His dying love, can comfort our hearts, or give us that inward peace and joy which our soul is taught to crave after.
A hundred doctrines floating in the head
By five minutes real communion with the Lord—we learn more, we know more, we receive more, we feel more, and we experience more than by a thousand years of merely studying the Scriptures, or using external forms, rites, and ceremonies. One truth written by the Spirit in the heart, will bring forth more fruit in the life, than a hundred doctrines floating in the head.
However low we may sink
What a mercy it is to have a faithful, gracious, and compassionate High Priest who can sympathize with His poor, tried, tempted family—so that however low we may sink—His piteous eye can see us in our low estate—His gracious ear hear our cries—His loving heart melt over us—and His strong arm pluck us from our destructions! Oh, what would we do without such a gracious and most suitable Savior as our blessed Jesus! How He seems to rise more and more in our estimation, in our thoughts, in our desires, in our affections, as we see and feel what a wreck and ruin we are, what dreadful havoc sin has made with us, what miserable outcasts we are by nature. But oh, how needful it is, dear friend, to be brought down in our soul to be the chief of sinners, viler than the vilest, worse than the worst—that we may really and truly believe in, and cleave unto, this most precious and suitable Savior!
Nothing but a slave!
"You were the servants of sin." Romans 6:17
What a picture does this draw of our sad state, while walking in the darkness and death of unregeneracy! The Holy Spirit here sets forth Sin as a harsh master, exercising tyrannical dominion over his slaves! How this portrays our state and condition in a state of unregeneracy—slaves to sin! Just as a master commands his slave to go here and there—imposes on him certain tasks—and has entire and despotic authority over him—so sin had a complete mastery over us, used us at its arbitrary will and pleasure, drove us here and there on its commands. But in this point we differed from physical slaves—that we did not murmur under our yoke—but gladly and cheerfully obeyed all sin's commands—and never tired of doing the most servile drudgery!
Thus some have had sin as a very vulgar and tyrannical master, who drove them into open acts of drunkenness, uncleanness, and profligacy—yes, everything base, vile, and evil. Others have been preserved through education, through the watchfulness and example of parents, or other moral restraints, from going into such open lengths of iniquity, and outward breakings forth of evil. But still sin secretly reigned in their hearts—pride, worldliness, love of the things of time and sense, hatred to God and aversion to His holy will—selfishness and stubbornness, in all their various forms, had a complete mastery over them! And though sin ruled over them more as a gentleman—he kept them in a more refined, though not less real or absolute slavery! Whatever sin bade them do, that they did, as implicitly as the most abject slave ever obeyed a tyrannical master's command. What a picture does the Holy Spirit here draw of what a man is! Nothing but a slave!—and sin, as his master, first driving him upon God's sword, and then giving him eternal death as his wages!
A glory, a beauty & a sweetness
How sweet it is to trace the Lord's hand in providence—to look back on the chequered path that He has led us by—to see how His hand has been with us for good—what difficulties He has brought us through—in what straits He has appeared—how in things most trying He has wrought deliverance—and how He has sustained us to the present hour. How sweet are providential favors when they come stamped with this inscription, "This is from the Lord!" How precious every temporal mercy becomes—our very food, lodging, and clothing! How sweet is the least thing when it comes down to us as from God's hands! A man cannot know the sweetness of his daily bread until he sees that God gives it to him—nor the blessedness of any providential dealing until he can say, "God has done this for me—and given that to me." When a man sees the providence of God stamped on every action of life, it casts a glory, a beauty and a sweetness over every day of his life!
Having nothing—and yet possessing all things
"As having nothing, and yet possessing all things." 2 Corinthians 6:10
How can this apparent contradiction be reconciled? It is resolved thus—"having nothing" in self—"possessing all things" in Christ. And just in proportion as I have nothing in self experimentally—so I possess all things in Christ. My own beggary leads me out of self into His riches. My own unrighteousness leads me out of self into Christ's righteousness. My own defilement leads me out of self into Christ's sanctification. My own weakness leads me out of self into Christ's strength. My own misery leads me out of self into Christ's mercy.
Having nothing—and yet possessing all things. These two branches of divine truth, so far from clashing with each other—sweetly, gloriously, and blessedly harmonize. And just in proportion as we know spiritually, experimentally, and vitally of "having nothing" in self—just so much shall we know spiritually, experimentally, and vitally of "possessing all things" in Christ.
Riches, honors & comforts
"But we have this treasure in clay vessels." 2 Corinthians 4:7
How different is the estimate that the Christian makes of riches, honors and comforts—from that made by the world and the flesh! The world's idea of riches are only such as consist in gold and silver, in houses, lands, or other tangible property. The world's estimate of honors, are only such as man has to bestow. The world's notion of comfort, is "fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind." But the true Christian takes a different estimate of these matters, and feels that the only true riches are those of God's grace in the heart, the only real honor is that which comes from God, the only solid comfort is that which is imparted by the Holy Spirit to a broken and contrite spirit.
Now, just in proportion as we are filled by the Spirit of God, shall we take faith's estimate of riches, honors, and comforts. And just so much as we are imbued with the spirit of the world, shall we take the flesh's estimate of these things. When the eye of the world looked on the Apostles, it viewed them as a company of poor ignorant men—a set of wild enthusiasts, who traveled about the country preaching Jesus, who they said, had been crucified, and was risen from the dead. The natural eye saw no beauty, no power, no glory in the truths they brought forth. Nor did it see that the poor perishing bodies of these outcast men contained in them a heavenly treasure, and that they would one day shine as the stars forever and ever—while those who despised their word would sink into endless woe. The spirit of the world can never understand or love the things of eternity—it can only look to, and can only rest upon, the poor perishing things of time and sense.
The continued teachings of the Spirit
When once, by the operation of the Spirit on our conscience, we have been stripped of formality, superstition, self-righteousness, hypocrisy, presumption, and the other delusions of the flesh that hide themselves under the mask of religion—we have felt the difference between having a name to live while dead, and the power of vital godliness. And as a measure of divine life has flowed into the heart out of the fullness of the Son of God, we desire no other religion but that which stands in the power of God—by that alone can we live, and by that alone we feel that we can die.
And, at last, we are brought to this conviction and solemn conclusion—that there is no other true religion but that which consists in the continued teachings of the Spirit, and the communications of the life of God to the soul. And with the Spirit's teachings are connected all the actings of faith in the soul—all the anchorings of hope in the heart—all the flowings forth of love—every tear of genuine contrition that flows down the cheeks—every sigh of godly sorrow that heaves from the bosom—every cry and groan because of the body of sin—every breath of spiritual prayer that comes from the heart—every casting of our souls upon Christ—all submission to Him—all communion with Him—all enjoyment of Him—and all the inward embracements of Him in His suitability and preciousness.
It will come in at every chink & crevice!
"For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing." Romans 7:18
The world within us is ten thousand times worse than the world outside of us! We may shut and bar our doors, and exclude the outside world—but the world within cannot be so shut out! More—we might go and hide ourselves in a hermit's cave, and never see the face of man again—but even there we would be as carnal and worldly as if we lived in Vanity Fair!
We cannot shut out the world—it will come in at every chink and crevice! This wretched world will intrude itself into our every thought and imagination! I don't know how it may be with you, but I have no more power to keep out the workings of sin in my heart, than I have power by holding up my hand to stop the rain from coming down to the earth! Sin will come in at every crack and crevice, and manifest itself in the wretched workings of an evil heart! The seeds of every crime are in our nature—and therefore, could your flesh have its full swing, there would not be a viler wretch in London than you!
At last to cheat the devil!
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. It is not as though we could roam abroad in total liberty. We must have a master of one kind or another. And which is best? 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, 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 walk in imagined liberty, with sin in our heart, exercising dominion and mastery there—and 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 sweet union and communion with the Lord of life and glory—in reading His word with a believing heart—in finding access to His sacred presence—in knowing something of the droppings in 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 death-bed repentance—at last to cheat the devil!
Cursed is the man
"Thus says the Lord: Cursed is the man who trust in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from the Lord." Jeremiah 17:5
The Lord here does not lay down a man's moral or immoral character as a test of salvation. He does not say, "Cursed is the thief—the adulterer—the extortioner—the murderer—the man that lives in open profanity." He puts all that aside, and fixes His eye and lays His hand upon one mark, which may exist with the greatest morality and with the highest profession of religion. "I will tell you," the Lord says, "who are under My curse—the person who trusts in man—who depends on flesh for his strength—and in so doing, his heart turns away from Me."
That hideous idol self in his little shrine
"Neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, You are our gods." Hosea 14:3
The besetting sin of Israel was the worship of idols. Perhaps, if you have walked into the British Museum, and seen the idols that were worshiped in former days in the South Sea Islands, you have been amazed that rational beings could ever bow down before such ugly monsters. But does the heart of a South Sea Islander differ from the heart of an Englishman? Not a bit! The latter may have more civilization and cultivation—but his heart is the same! And though you have not bowed down to these monstrous objects and hideous figures—there may be as filthy an idol in your heart! Where is there a filthier idol than the lusts and passions of man's fallen nature? You need not go to the British Museum to see filthy idols and painted images. Look within! Where is there a more groveling idol than Mammon, and the covetousness of our heart? You need not wonder at heathens worshiping hideous idols—when you have pride, covetousness, and above all that hideous idol SELF in his little shrine, hiding himself from the eyes of man—but to which you are so often rendering your daily and hourly worship! If a person does not see that the root of all idolatry is SELF, he knows but little of his heart.
Such a perpetual & unceasing conflict?
"For the good which I desire, I don't do; but the evil which I don't desire, that I practice." Romans 7:19
What a picture of that which passes in a godly man's bosom! He has in him two distinct principles, two different natures—one holy, heavenly, spiritual, panting after the Lord, and finding the things of God its element. And yet in the same bosom a principle totally corrupt, thoroughly and entirely depraved, perpetually striving against the holy principle within, continually lusting after evil, opposed to every leading of the Spirit in the soul, and seeking to gratify its filthy desires at any cost!
Now, must there not be a feeling of misery in a man's bosom to have these two armies perpetually fighting? That when he desires to do good, evil is present with him—when he would be holy, heavenly minded, tender-hearted, loving, seeking God's glory, enjoying sweet communion with Jehovah, there is a base, sensual, earthly heart perpetually at work—infusing its baneful poison into every thought, counteracting every desire, and dragging him from the heaven to which he would mount, down to the very hell of carnality and filth?
There is a holy, heavenly principle in a man's bosom that knows, fears, loves, and delights in God. Yet he finds that sin in himself, which is altogether opposed to the mind of Christ, and lusts after that which he hates. Must there not be sorrow and grief in that man's bosom to feel such a perpetual and unceasing conflict? Is there ever this piteous cry forced by guilt, shame, and sorrow out of your bosom, "O wretched man that I am!" If not, be assured that you are dead in sin, or dead in a profession.
We need grace, free grace
"Graceand peace be multiplied to you." 2 Peter 1:2
When we see and feel how we need grace every moment in our lives, we at once perceive the beauty in asking for an abundant, overflowing measure of grace. We cannot walk the length of the street without sin. Our carnal minds, our vain imaginations, are all on the lookout for evil. Sin presents itself at every avenue, and lurks like the prowling night-thief for every opportunity of secret plunder. In fact, in ourselves, in our fallen nature, except as restrained and influenced by grace, we sin with well near every breath that we draw.
We need, therefore, grace upon grace, or, in the words of the text, grace to be "multiplied" in proportion to our sins. Shall I say in proportion? No! If sin abounds, as to our shame and sorrow we know it does, we need grace to much more abound! When the 'tide of sin' flows in with its muck and mire, we need the 'tide of grace' to flow higher still, to carry out the slime and filth into the depths of the ocean, so that when sought for, they may be found no more.
We need grace, free grace—grace today, grace tomorrow, grace this moment, grace the next, grace all the day long. We need grace, free grace—healing grace, reviving grace, restoring grace, saving grace, sanctifying grace. And all this multiplied by all our wants and woes, sins, slips, falls. and unceasing and aggravated backslidings. We need grace, free grace—grace to believe, grace to hope, grace to love, grace to fight, grace to conquer, grace to stand, grace to live, grace to die. Every moment of our lives we need keeping grace—supporting grace—upholding grace—withholding grace. May God's grace and peace be multiplied unto you.
We are not flogged into loving Him
"Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth." Colossians 3:2
Where are your affections to be set? Are they to be set on "things on the earth"—perishing toys, those polluting vanities, those carking cares, which must ever dampen the life of God in the soul? The expression, "things on the earth," takes in a wide scope. It embraces not only the vain toys, the ambitious hopes, the perishing pleasures in which a gay, unthinking world is sunk and lost—but even the legitimate calls of business, the claims of wife and home, family and friends, with every social tie that binds to earth.
Thus every object on which the eye can rest—every thought or desire that may spring up in the mind—every secret idol that lurks in the bosom—every care and anxiety that is not of grace—every fond anticipation of pleasure or profit that the world may hold out, or the worldly heart embrace—all, with a million pursuits in which man's fallen nature seeks employment or happiness—are "things on the earth" on which the affections are not to be set. We may love our wives and children. We should pursue our lawful callings with diligence and industry. We must provide for our families according to the good providence of God. But we may not so set our affections on these things, that they pull us down from heaven to earth. He who is worthy of all our affections claims them all for Himself. He who is the Bridegroom of the soul demands, as He has fairly won, the unrivaled love of His bride.
But how are we to do this? Can we do this great work by ourselves? No! it is only the Lord Himself, manifesting His beauty and blessedness to our soul, and letting down the golden cord of His love into our bosom, that draws up our affections, and fixes them on Himself. In order to do this, He captivates the heart by some look of love—some word of His grace—some sweet promise—or some divine truth spiritually applied. When He thus captivates the soul, and draws it up, then the affections flow unto Him as the source and fountain of all blessings.
We are not flogged into loving Him, but are drawn by love into love. Love cannot be bought or sold. It is an inward affection that flows naturally and necessarily towards its object, and all connected with it. And thus, as love flows out to Jesus, the affections instinctively and necessarily set themselves "on things above, and not on things on the earth." Jesus must be revealed to our soul by the power of God before we can see His beauty and blessedness—and so fall in love with Him as the chief among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely One! Then everything that speaks of Christ—savors of Christ—breathes of Christ—becomes inexpressibly sweet and precious!
In no other way can our affections be lifted up from earth to heaven. We cannot control our affections—they will run out of their own accord. If then our affections are earthly, they will run towards earthly objects. If they are carnal and sensual, they will flow towards carnal and sensual objects. But when the Lord Jesus Christ, by some manifestation of His glory and blessedness—or the Holy Spirit, by taking of the things of Christ and revealing them to the soul—sets Him before our eyes as the only object worthy of, and claiming every affection of our heart—then the affections flow out, I was going to say naturally, but most certainly spiritually, towards Him. And when this is the case, the affections are set on things above.
O what a company of lusts!
"We have no might against this great company that comes against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are on You." 2 Chronicles 20:12
There is no use fighting the battle in our own strength. We have none. O, when temptation creeps like a serpent into the carnal mind, it winds its secret way and coils around the heart. As the boa-constrictor is said to embrace its victim, entwining his coil around it, and crushing every bone without any previous warning—so does temptation often seize us suddenly in its powerful embrace. Have we in ourselves any more power to extricate our flesh from its slimy folds, than the poor animal has from the coils of the boa-constrictor?
So with the corruptions and lusts of our fallen nature. Can you always master them? Can you seize these serpents by the neck and wring off their heads? To examine our heart is something like examining by the microscope a drop of ditch-water—the more minutely it is looked into, the more hideous forms appear. All these strange monsters, too, are in constant motion, devouring or devoured. And, as more powerful lenses are put on the microscope, more and more loathsome creatures emerge into view, until eye and heart sicken at the sight. Such is our heart. Superficially viewed—passably fair. But examined by the spiritual microscope, hideous forms of every shape and size appear—lusts and desires in unceasing movement, devouring each other, and yet undiminished—and each successive examination bringing new monsters to light!
O what a company of lusts! How one seems to introduce and make way for the other! and how one, as among the insect tribe, is the father of a million! We must take these lusts and passions by the neck, and lay them down at the feet of God, and thus bring the omnipotence of Jehovah against what would destroy us—"Here are my lusts, I cannot manage them. Here are my temptations, I cannot overcome them. Here are my enemies, I cannot conquer them. Lord, I do not know what to do. Will You not subdue my enemies?" This is fighting against sin—not in the flesh, but in the Spirit. Not by the law, but by the gospel. Not by self, but by the grace of God. And if your soul has had many a tussle, and many a wrestle, and many a hand-to-hand conflict with sin, you will have found this out before now—that nothing but the grace, power, and Spirit of Christ ever gave you the victory, or the least hope of victory.
As if this beautiful viper had no poison fang!
"Deliver me from all my transgressions." Psalm 39:8
Ah! how rarely it is that we see sin in its true colors—that we feel what the apostle calls, "the exceeding sinfulness of sin!" O how much is the dreadful evil of sin for the most part veiled from our eyes! Our deceitful hearts so gloss it over, so excuse, palliate, and disguise it—that it is daily trifled, played, and dallied with—as if this beautiful viper had no poison fang! It is only as the Spirit is pleased to open the eyes to see, and awaken the conscience to feel "the exceeding sinfulness of sin," and thus discover its dreadful character, that we have any real sight or sense of its awful nature. Sins of heart, sins of lip, sins of life, sins of omission, sins of commission, sins of ingratitude, sins of unbelief, sins of rebellion, sins of lust, sins of pride, sins of worldliness! As all these transgressions, troop after troop, come in view, and rise up like spectres from the grave, well may we cry with stifled voice, "Deliver me, O deliver me from all my transgressions! Deliver me from the guilt of sin—the filth of sin—the love of sin—the power of sin—and the practice of sin!"
The very remedy for all the maladies which we groan under!
Grace only suits those who are altogether guilty and filthy. Grace is completely opposed to works in all its shapes and bearings. Thus no one can really desire to taste the sweetness and enjoy the preciousness of grace, who has not "seen an end of all perfection" in the creature, and is brought to know and feel in the conscience, that his good works would damn him as equally with his bad works. When grace is thus opened up to the soul, it sees that grace flows only through the Savior's blood—and that grace superabounds over all the aboundings of sin—heals all backslidings—covers all transgressions—lifts up out of darkness—pardons iniquity—and is just the very remedy for all the maladies which we groan under!
Weaned from feeding on husks & ashes
"I will satisfy her poor with bread." Psalm 132:15
The Lord has given a special promise to Zion's poor—"I will satisfy her poor with bread." Nothing else? Bread? Is that all? Yes! That is all God has promised—bread, the staff of life. But what does He mean by "bread"? The Lord Himself explains what bread is. He says, "I am the bread of life: he who comes to Me will not be hungry; and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty. I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if anyone eats of this bread he shall live forever." The bread, then, that God gives to Zion's poor is His own dear Son—fed upon by living faith, under the special operations of the Holy Spirit in the heart. "I will satisfy her poor with bread."
But must not we have an appetite before we can feed upon bread? The rich man who feasts continually upon juicy meat and savory sauces, would not live upon bread. To come down to live on such simple food as bread—why, one must be really hungry to be satisfied with that. So it is spiritually. A man fed upon 'mere notions' and a number of 'speculative doctrines' cannot descend to the simplicity of the gospel. To feed upon a crucified Christ, a bleeding Jesus!—he is not sufficiently brought down to the starving point, to relish such spiritual food as this!
Before, then, he can feed upon this Bread of life he must be made spiritually poor. And when he is brought to be nothing but a mass of wretchedness, filth, guilt, and misery—when he feels his soul sinking under the wrath of God, and has scarcely a hope to buoy up his poor tottering heart—when he finds the world embittered to him, and he has no one object from which he can reap any abiding consolation—then the Lord is pleased to open up in his conscience, and bring the sweet savor of the love of His dear Son into his heart—and he begins to taste gospel bread. Being weaned from feeding on husks and ashes, and sick "of the vines of Sodom and the fields of Gomorrah," and being brought to relish simple gospel food, he begins to taste a sweetness in 'Christ crucified' which he never could know—until he was made experimentally poor. The Lord has promised to satisfy such. "I will satisfy her poor with bread."
That secret loveliness
"I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love." Hosea 11:4
Where Christ is made in any measure experimentally known, He has gained the affections of the heart. He has, more or less, taken possession of the soul. He has, in some degree, endeared Himself as a bleeding, agonizing Savior to every one to whom He has in any way revealed Himself. And, thus, the strong cord of love and affection is powerfully wreathed around the tender spirit and broken heart. Therefore His name becomes as 'ointment poured forth'—there is a preciousness in His blood—there is a beauty in His Person—there is that secret loveliness in Him—which wins and attracts and draws out the tender affections of the soul. And thus this cord of love entwined round the heart, binds it fast and firm to the cross of the Lord Jesus. "I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love."
Lord, I feel my own utter helplessness!
"O send out Your light and Your truth. Let them lead me. Let them bring me to Your holy hill, to your tents." Psalm 43:3
The Christian is often dissatisfied with his state. He is well aware of the shallowness of his attainments in the divine life, as well as of the ignorance and the blindness that are in him. He cannot perceive the path of life. He sees and feels so powerfully the workings of sin and corruption, that he often staggers, and is perplexed in his mind. And therefore, laboring under the feeling of his own shortcomings for the past—his helplessness for the present—and his ignorance for the future—he wants to go forward wholly and solely in the strength of the Lord—to be led, guided, directed, kept—not by his own wisdom and power—but by the supernatural entrance of light and truth into his soul.
When thus harassed and perplexed, he will at times and seasons, as his heart is made soft, cry out with fervency and importunity, as a beggar that will not take a denial, "O send out Your light and Your truth. Let them bring me to Your holy hill, to Your tents." As though he would say, "Lord, I feel my own utter helplessness! I know I must go astray, if You do not condescend to guide me. I have been betrayed a thousand times when I have trusted my own heart. I have been entangled in my base lusts. I have been puffed up by presumption. I have been carried away by hypocrisy and pride. I have been drawn aside into the world. I have never taken a single step aright when left to myself. And therefore feeling how unable I am to guide myself a single step of the way, I come unto You, and ask You to send forth Your light and Your truth, that they may guide me, for I am utterly unable to lead myself." The child of God—feeling his own ignorance, darkness, blindness, and sinfulness—moans, and sighs, and cries unto God—that he might be led every step, kept every moment, guided every inch.
O what a way of learning religion!
"He was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." 2 Corinthians 12:4
Now, doubtless, the apostle Paul, after he had been thus favored—thus caught up into paradise—thought that he would retain the same frame of mind that he was in when he came down from this heavenly place—that the savor, the sweetness, the power, the unction, the dew, the heavenly feeling would continue in his soul. And no doubt he thought he would walk all through his life with a measure of the sweet enjoyments that he then experienced.
But this was not God's way of teaching religion! God had another way which Paul knew nothing of, and that was—if I may use the expression—to bring him from the third heaven, where his soul had been blessed with unspeakable ravishment—down to the very gates of hell. For he says, "And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure." The idea "buffeting" is that of a strong man beating a weak one with violent blows to his head and face—bruising him into a shapeless mass! O what a way of learning religion!
Now I want you to see the contrast we have here. The blessed apostle caught up into the third heavens, filled with light, life, and glory—enjoying the presence of Christ—and bathing his soul in the river of divine consolation. Now for a reverse—down he comes to the earth. A messenger of Satan is let loose upon him, who buffets, beats and pounds this blessed apostle into a shapeless mummy—no eyes, no nose, no mouth, no features—but one indistinguishable mass of black and blue!
Such is the mysterious way in which a man learns religion! But what was all this for? Does it not appear very cruel—does it not seem very unkind that, after the Lord had taken Paul up into the third heaven, He would let the devil buffet him? Does it not strike our natural reason to be as strange and as unheard of a thing, as if a mother who had been fondling her babe in her arms, suddenly were to put it down, and let a large savage dog ravage it—and look on, without interfering, while he was tearing the child which she had been a few minutes before dandling in her lap, and clasping to her bosom?
"And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure." Here we have this difficult enigma solved, this mysterious knot untied! We find that the object and end of all these severe dealings was to keep Paul from pride! Three times Paul besought his loving and sympathizing Redeemer, that the trial might be taken away, for it was too grievous to be borne. The Lord heard his prayer and answered it—but not in the way that Paul expected. His answer was, "My grace is sufficient for you." As though He would say, "Paul, beloved Paul, I am not going to take away your trial—it came from Me—it was given by Me. But My grace shall be sufficient for you, for My strength shall be made perfect in your weakness. There is a lesson to be learned, a path to be walked in, an experience to be passed through, wisdom to be obtained in this path—and therefore you must travel in it. Be content then with this promise from My own lips—My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in your weakness." The apostle was satisfied with this—he wanted no more, and therefore he burst forth, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." O what a way of learning religion!
Wrought with divine power
"Our gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance." 1 Thessalonians 1:5
Most men's religion is nothing else but 'a round of forms'—some have their 'doings'—some have their 'doctrines'—and others have their 'duties.' And when the one has performed his doings, the other learned his doctrines, and the third discharged his duties—why, he is as good a Christian, he thinks, as anybody. While all the time, the poor deceived creature is thoroughly ignorant of the kingdom of God, which stands not simply in word, but in power. But as the veil of ignorance is taken off the heart, we begin to see and feel that there is a power in vital godliness—a reality in the teachings of the Spirit—that religion is not to be put on and put off as a man puts on and off his Sunday clothes.
Where vital godliness is wrought with divine power in a man's heart, and preached by the Holy Spirit into his conscience—it mingles, daily and often hourly, with his thoughts—entwines itself with his feelings—and becomes the very food and drink of his soul. Now when a man comes to this spot—to see and feel what a reality there is in the things of God made manifest in the conscience by the power of the Holy Spirit—it effectually takes him out of dead churches, cuts him off from false ministers, winnows the chaff from the wheat, and brings him into close communion with the broken-hearted family of God.
The more lovely does Jesus appear!
The poor believer feels, "I continually find all kinds of evil working in my mind—every base corruption crawling in my heart—everything vile, sensual, and filthy rising up from its abominable deeps. Can I think that God can look down in love and mercy on such a wretch?" When we see our vileness—our baseness—our carnality—our sensuality—how our souls cleave to dust—how we grovel in evil and hateful things—how dark our minds—how earthly our affections—how depraved our hearts—how strong our lusts—how raging our passions—we feel ourselves, at times, no more fit for God than Satan himself!
"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." Christ does not justify those who are naturally righteous, holy, and religious. But He takes the sinner as he is, in all his filth and guilt—washes him in the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness—and clothes the naked shivering wretch, who has nothing to cover him but filthy rags, in His own robe of righteousness! The gospel of the grace of God brings glad tidings of pardon to the criminal—of mercy to the guilty—and of salvation to the lost! That the holy God should look down in love on wretches that deserve the damnation of hell—that the pure and spotless Jehovah should pity, save, and bless enemies and rebels, and make them endless partakers of His own glory—this indeed is a mystery, the depth of which eternity itself will not fathom! The deeper we sink in self-abasement under a sense of our vileness, the higher we rise in a knowledge of Christ. And the blacker we are in our own view, the more lovely does Jesus appear!
We bring affliction upon ourselves
"Haven't you procured this to yourself, in that you have forsaken the Lord your God, when He led you by the way?" Jeremiah 2:17
"Haven't you procured this to yourself?" says the Lord to His sinning Israel. Who dares say he has not by his sins—his carnality—his pride—his covetousness—his worldly-mindedness—his unbelief—his foolishness—his rebelliousness—procured to himself many things that have grieved and distressed his soul? If indeed we take no notice of the sin that dwells in us, and pay no regard to our thoughts, desires, words, and actions, and take our stand on our own righteousness—we may refuse to believe that we are such vile sinners. But if we are compelled to look within, and painfully feel that SIN is an indweller—a lodger, whom we are compelled to harbor—a serpent that will creep in and nestle in our heart, whether we will or not—a thief that will break through and steal, and whom no bolt nor bar can keep out—a traitor in the citadel who will work by force or fraud, and against whom no resolution of ours has any avail—if such be our inward experience and conviction, I believe there is not a man or woman here who will not confess, "Guilty, guilty! Unclean, unclean!"
We bring affliction upon ourselves. We procure suffering by our own iniquities. "Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted." "O!" says the fool—"my worldly-mindedness, my pride, my covetousness, my carnality, my neglect of divine things, my rebelliousness, my recklessness, the snares I entangled myself in, my various besetting sins—this it is which has provoked the Lord to afflict me so severely, and leave me, fool that I am, to reap the fruit of my own devices!"
A religious animal
"You men of Athens, I perceive that you are very religious in all things. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found an altar with this inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD." Acts 17:22, 23
Man has been called, and perhaps with some truth, a religious animal. Religion of some kind, at any rate, seems almost indispensable to his very existence—for from the most civilized nation, to the most barbarous tribe upon the face of the earth, we find some form of religion practiced. Whether this is ingrained into the very constitution of man, or whether it be received by custom or tradition, I will not pretend to decide. But that some kind of religion is almost universally prevalent, is a fact that cannot be denied.
We will always find these two kinds of religion—false and true—earthly and heavenly—fleshly and spiritual—natural and supernatural. Compare this vital, spiritual, heavenly, divine, supernatural religion—this work of grace upon the soul, this teaching of God in the heart, this life of faith within—with its flimsy counterfeit. Compare the actings of real faith, real hope, real love—the teachings, the dealings, the leadings, and the operations of the blessed Spirit in the soul—with rounds of duties, superstitious forms, empty ceremonies, and a notional religion, however puffed up and varnished. Compare the life of God in the heart of a true Christian, amid all his dejection, despondency, trials, temptations, and exercises—compare that precious treasure, Christ's own grace in the soul—with all mere external religion, superficial religion, notional religion. O, it is no more to be compared than a grain of dust with a diamond! No more to be compared than a criminal in a dungeon to the King on the throne! In fact, there is no comparison between them.
What a contrast!
"He who endures to the end, the same will be saved." Mark 13:13
Saved! Saved from what? Saved from hell! Saved from an eternity of endless misery and horror! Saved from the worm which never dies! Saved from the fire which is never quenched! Saved from the sulphurous flames! Saved from the companionship of devils and damned spirits! Saved from ever-rolling ages of ceaseless misery and horror!
Have you not thought sometimes about eternity? What must an eternity of misery be—when you can scarcely bear the pain of a toothache half an hour! O! to be in torment forever! How it racks the soul to think of it! What tongue, then, can express the mercy and blessedness of being saved from hell—from the billows of the sulphurous lake—from infinite despair! When a soul strikes upon the 'rock of perdition,' it is at once swallowed up in a dreadful eternity! Not only are believers saved from all this infinite and unending misery—but they are saved into unspeakable happiness and glory! They are saved into heaven—saved into eternal communion with the infinite God—saved into the eternal enjoyment of His blessed presence—saved into the perfect enjoyment of that perfect and everlasting love in those regions of endless bliss where tears are wiped from off all faces!
What a contrast! Heaven—hell! Eternal misery—eternal bliss! Ages of boundless joy—ages of infinite despair! But salvation includes not only what we may call future salvation—but present salvation. Thus, there is a being saved in the present—from the guilt, filth, love, power, and practice of sin—from the curse and bondage of the Law—from the spirit and love of the world—from inward condemnation—from the entanglements of Satan—from worldly anxieties and cares—from following after idols—from carelessness—from coldness—from carnality—from every evil way—from every delusive path.
"You are the wretched one, miserable, poor, blind, and naked; I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may become rich; and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed." Revelation 3:17, 18
The only qualification is a deep feeling of our necessity, our nakedness and our shame—and a feeling that there is no other covering for a needy, naked, guilty soul, but the robe of the Redeemer's spotless righteousness. And when the soul is led to His divine feet, full of guilt, shame, and fear—abhorring, loathing, and mourning over itself—and comes in the actings of a living faith—in the sighs and cries of a broken heart—in hungerings, thirstings, and longings—desiring that the Lord would bestow upon him that rich robe, then the blessed exchange takes place—then there is a 'buying'—then the Lord brings out of His treasure-house, where it has been locked up, the best robe—puts it upon the prodigal, and clothes him from head to foot with it!
Sweet buy! Blessed exchange! Our nakedness—for Christ's justifying robe! Our poverty—for Christ's riches! Our helplessness and insufficiency—for Christ's power, grace, and love!
God's perfect will
"That good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." Romans 12:2
God's will is "perfect." In it, there is no spot, no stain, no weakness, no error, no instability. It is and indeed must necessarily be as perfect as God Himself—for it emanates from Him who is all perfection, and is a discovery of His mind and character. But when God's perfect will sets itself against our flesh—thwarts our dearest hopes—overturns our fondest schemes—we cannot see that it is a perfect will, but rather, are much disposed to fret, murmur, and rebel against it.
God's perfect will may snatch a child from your bosom—strike down a dear husband—tear from your arms a beloved wife—strip you of all your worldly goods—put your feet into a path of suffering—lay you upon a bed of pain and languishing—cast you into hot furnaces or overwhelming floods—make your life almost a burden to yourself!
How can you, under circumstances so trying and distressing as these, acknowledge and submit to God's perfect will—and let it reign and rule in your heart without a murmur of resistance to it? Look back and see how God's perfect will has, in previous instances, reigned supreme in all points, for your good. It has ordered or overruled all circumstances and all events, amid a complication of difficulties in providence and grace. Nothing has happened to your injury—but all things have worked together for your good. Whatever we have lost, it was better for us that it was taken away. Whatever property, or comfort, or friends, or health, or earthly happiness we have been deprived of, it was better for us to lose, than to retain them.
Was your dear child taken away? It might be to teach you resignation to God's sacred will. Has a dear partner been snatched from your embrace? It was that God might be your better Partner and undying Friend. Was any portion of your worldly substance taken away? It was that you might be taught to live a life of faith in the providence of God. Have your fondest schemes been marred—your youthful hopes blighted—and you pierced in the warmest affections of your heart? It was to remove an idol, to dethrone a rival to Christ, to crucify the object of earthly love—so that a purer, holier, and more enduring affection might be enshrined in its stead. To tenderly embrace God's perfect will is the grand object of all gospel discipline. The ultimatum of gospel obedience is to lie passive in His hand, and know no will but His. "That good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God."
Which is the more obnoxious to God
"The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: 'God, I thank you, that I am not like the rest of men, extortioners, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.'" Luke 18:11, 12
Man unites in himself, what at first sight seem to be completely opposite things. He is the greatest of sinners—and yet the greatest of Pharisees. Now, what two things can be so opposed to each other as sin and self-righteousness? Yet the very same man who is a sinner from top to toe, with the whole head sick and the whole heart faint—who is spiritually nothing else but a leper throughout—how contradictory it appears that the same man has in his own heart a most stubborn self-righteousness!
Now, against these two evils God, so to speak, directs His whole artillery—He spares neither one nor the other. But it is hard to say which is the greatest rebellion against God—the existence of sin in man and what he is as a fallen sinner—or his Pharisaism, the lifting up his head in pride of self-righteousness. It is not easy to decide which is the more obnoxious to God—the drunkard who sins without shame—or the Pharisee puffed up with how pleasing he is to God. The one is abhorrent to our feelings—and, as far as decency and morality are concerned, we would rather see the Pharisee. But when we come to matters of true religion, the Pharisee seems the worst! At least our Lord intimated as much when He said the publicans and harlots would enter the kingdom of God before them. "But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn't even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner.' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone that exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." Luke 18:13, 14
As regards sin in its workings, we may say there are five devilisms from which we need to be saved—1. The guilt of sin. 2. The filth of sin. 3. The love of sin. 4. The dominion of sin. 5. The practice of sin.
1. We need the application of Christ's precious blood to our conscience, to take away the guilt of sin. 2. We need the Spirit of Christ to sanctify and to wash the soul in the fountain, to cleanse from the filth of sin. 3. We need the love of Christ shed abroad in our hearts, to take away the love of sin. 4. We need the power of Christ, to rescue us from the dominion of sin. 5. We need the grace of Christ, to preserve us from the practice of sin.
It is feeling sin in its various workings, which makes us value Christ! Strange mysterious way! O, strange path! that to be exercised with sin, is the path to the Savior! Very painful, very mysterious, very inexplicable—that the more you feel yourself a wretched, miserable sinner—the more you long after Jesus, who is able to save you to the uttermost! Thus, we shall find that we need all that Christ is. For we are no little sinners—and He is no little Savior! We are great sinners! He is a Savior—and a great one! "He is able also to save them to the uttermost." Hebrews 7:25
This is the struggle!
"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?" Romans 7:24
If a person were to tell me he did not love sin in his carnal mind, I would say with all mildness, "You do not speak the truth!" If your carnal mind does not love sin—Why do you think of it? Why do you secretly indulge it in your imagination? Why do you play with it? Why do you seek to extract a devilish sweetness out of it?
O, what a mercy it would be, if there were not this dreadful love of sin in our heart! This is the struggle—that there should be this traitor in the camp—that our carnal mind should be so devilish as to love that which made the blessed Jesus die—as to love that which crucified the Lord of glory, and to love it with a vehement love!
It is I
"Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid!" Mark 6:50
It is I who formed you in the womb, and brought you forth into your present existence. It is I, the Lord your God, who has fed you, and clothed you from that hour up to the present moment. It is I, the Lord your God, who has preserved you on every side. When you were upon a sick bed, it was I, the Lord your God, who visited your soul, raised up your body, and gave you that measure of health which you do now enjoy. It is I, the Lord your God, who placed you in the situation of life which you do now occupy. It is I, the Lord your God, who deals out to you every trial—who allots you every affliction—who brings upon you every cross—who works in you everything according to My own good pleasure.
When we can thus believe that the Lord our God is about our bed and our path, and spying out all our ways—when we can look up to Him, and feel that He is the Lord our God, there is no feeling more sweet, more blessed, more heavenly! "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid!"
That sweet grace
"Remember all the way which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you." Deuteronomy 8:2
We learn humility by a deep discovery of what we are—by an opening up of the corruption, the weakness, the wickedness, of our fallen nature. The Lord's way of teaching His people humility is by placing them first in one trying spot, and then in another—by allowing some temptation to arise—some stumbling block to be in their path—some besetting sin to work upon their corrupt affections—some idol to be embraced by their idolatrous heart—something to take place to draw out the sin which is in their heart—and thus make it manifest to their sight.
As a general rule, we learn humility, not by hearing ministers tell us what wicked creatures we are—nor by merely looking into our bosoms and seeing a whole swarm of evils working there—but from being compelled by painful necessity to believe that we are vile, through circumstances and events time after time bringing to light those hidden evils in our heart, which we once thought ourselves pretty free from. We learn humility, not merely by a discovery of what we are, but also by a discovery of what Jesus is. We need a glimpse of Jesus—of His love—of His grace—of His blood. When these two feelings meet together in our bosom—our shame, and the Lord's goodness—our guilt, and His forgiveness—our wickedness, and His superabounding mercy—they break us, humble us, and lay us, dissolved in tears of godly sorrow and contrition, at the footstool of mercy! And thus we learn humility—that sweet grace—that blessed fruit of the Spirit in real, vital, soul-experience.
Slaves of Satan!
"And they may recover themselves out of the devil's snare, having been taken captive by him to his will." 2 Timothy 2:26
In our natural state, we are all the slaves of Satan! We love our foul master, hug his chain, and delight in his servitude, little thinking what awful wages are to follow. This mighty conqueror has with him a numerous train of captives! This haughty master, the 'god of this world,' has in his fiendish retinue, a whole array of slaves who gladly do his behests. They obey him cheerfully, though he is leading them down to the bottomless pit! For though he amuses them while here in this world with a few toys and baubles, he will not pay them their wages until he has enticed and flattered them into that ghastly gulf of destruction, in which he himself has been weltering for ages. "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them." 2 Corinthians 4:4
Trials, temptations, sorrows, perplexities
"There was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, that I should not be exalted excessively. Concerning this thing I begged the Lord three times that it might depart from me. He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest on me." 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
Depend upon it, the Lord's family have to go through much tribulation on their way to heaven. So says the unerring word of truth, and so speaks the experience of every God-taught soul. Now, in these seasons of trouble, in these painful exercises, in these perplexing trials, the Lord's people need strength—yet the Lord sends these trials in order to drain and exhaust them of 'creature strength.' Such is the 'self-righteousness' of our heart—such the 'legality' intertwined with every fiber of our natural disposition—that we cleave to our own righteousness as long as there is a thread to cleave to—we stand in our own strength as long as there is a point to stand upon—we lean upon our own wisdom as long as a particle remains!
In order, then, to exhaust us, drain us, strip us, and purge us of this pharisaic leaven, the Lord sends trials, temptations, sorrows, perplexities. What is their effect? To teach us our weakness, and bring us to that one and only spot where God and the sinner meet—the spot of creature helplessness. In order, therefore, to bring us to this spot, to know experimentally the strength of Christ, and feel it to be more than a doctrine, a notion, or a speculation—to know it as an internal reality, tasted by the inward palate of our soul—to have this experience wrought into our hearts with divine power, we must be brought to this spot—to feel our own utter weakness.
Love not the world
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." 1 John 2:15
If the love of the Father is in us, we will not love the world—nor will the world love us! If your heart and spirit are still in the world—and you are not separated from its society, its amusements, its pursuits, its pleasures, its delights, its men, its maxims—you certainly lack any evidence of a divine change having been wrought in your soul. "Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world, makes himself an enemy of God."
Paul's highest attainment
"Though I am nothing." 2 Corinthians 12:11
This was Paul's highest attainment in the knowledge of self. To be a daily pauper living on alms is humbling to proud nature, which is always seeking to be something, and to do something. If this self-nothingness was wrought in us, we would be spared much pain, in wounded pride. People are building up religion all over the country, but there is not one of a thousand who has yet learned the first lesson—to be nothing. Of all this noisy crowd, how few lie at Jesus' feet, helpless and hopeless, and find help and hope in Him! If you can venture to be nothing, it will save you a world of anxiety and trouble! But proud, vain, conceited flesh wants to be something—to preach well, to make a name for one's self, and be admired as a preacher. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief." "[I am] less than the least of all the saints."
Let God but take the cover off
"The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9
It is our mercy, if we only feel and groan under corruption inwardly, without it breaking forth outwardly—to wound our own souls, grieve the people of God, and gladden our enemies. Let God but take the cover off the boiling cauldron of our corrupt nature, and the filthy scum would surface in the sight of all men! "Hold me up, and I shall be safe!
When the cold winds are whistling over your grave
"While we don't look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18
How really empty and worthless are all human cares and anxieties, as well as all human hopes and pleasures, when viewed in the light of a vast and endless eternity! In twenty years, today's price of oil will probably mean little to you. But it will matter much whether your soul is in heaven or hell. When the cold winds are whistling over your grave, or the warm sun resting on it—what will it matter whether sheep sold badly or well at the market? Could we realize eternal things more, we would be less anxious about temporal things. It is only our unbelief and carnality which fetter us down to the poor things of time and sense. This world is fading away, along with everything it craves. But if you do the will of God, you will live forever.
The art of preaching
We are overrun with a shallow, superficial ministry, which is destitute of all life, savor, and power. A dry, dead-letter scheme of doctrine, as mathematically correct as the squares of a chess-board, prevails, where what is called "truth" is preached. And to move Bible texts on the squares as pawns, is called "the art of preaching."
How simple is truth! Man's misery—God's mercy. The aboundings of sin—the superaboundings of grace. The depths of the fall—the heights of the recovery. The old man—the new man. The diseases of the soul—the balm of a Savior's blood. These lessons are learned in the furnace of inward experience. How different from the monkish austerity of the Ritualist—the lip service of the Pharisee—and the dry Calvinistic formulary! What a dreadful lack is there of true preaching now! I look round and see so few men qualified to feed the church of God. We are overrun with parsons, but, oh dear! what are they? I cannot but attribute much of the low state of the churches to the ministers! Ezekiel 34 is a true picture of the false shepherds.
My desire is
My desire is—
A great & inestimable mercy
It is a great and inestimable mercy when our various trials and troubles are made a means of driving us to the Lord, as our only hope and help. Those circumstances, outward or inward, temporal or spiritual, which stir up an earnest spirit of prayer—make us cease from the creature—beat us out of all false refuges—wean us from the world—show us the vileness and deceitfulness of our hearts—lead us up to Jesus—and make Him near, dear, and precious—must be considered blessings.
It is true, troubles rarely come to us as such, or at the time appear as such—no, they usually appear as if they would utterly swallow us up! But we must judge of them by their fruits and effects. Job could not see the hand of God in his troubles and afflictions. But it was made plain after he was brought to abhor himself and repent in dust and ashes. I am very sure, if we are in the right way, we shall find it a rough way, and have many trials and troubles. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Such monsters are more fit for a traveling circus
I have been much puzzled by those in the professing church. Most have a great assurance and unwavering confidence—unaccompanied by godly fear, and the other fruits and graces of the Spirit. I see this as presumption or delusion. Where the Holy Spirit works faith, He also works sorrow for sin, deadness to the world, tenderness of conscience, brokenness of spirit, humility, simplicity, sincerity, meekness, patience, spiritual affections, holy and heavenly desires, true hope, and love toward the Lord and His people. Where we see these fruits and graces of the Spirit lacking, or sadly deficient, there we must conclude that true faith, the root from which they all grow, is lacking or deficient likewise.
There are no 'freaks' in the kingdom of heaven. I mean such as have 'little hearts' and 'large heads'—active legs and withered hands—nimble tongues and crippled arms. Such monsters are more fit for a traveling circus than the Church of the living God. To fear God, to tremble at His word, to be little and lowly in our own eyes, to hate sin and ourselves as sinners, to pour out our hearts before the Lord, to seek His face continually, to lead a life of faith and prayer, to be dead to the world, to feel Jesus to be precious, to behold His dying love by the eyes of living faith—these realities are almost despised and overlooked by many 'great professors' in our day!
An apostolic face & a Judas heart
Many think that a minister is exempt from such coldness, deadness, and barrenness, as private Christians feel. And the hypocritical looks and words of many of Satan's ministers favor this delusion. Holiness is so much on their tongues, and on their faces, that their deluded hearers necessarily conclude that it is in their hearts. But, alas! nothing is easier or more common, than an apostolic face and a Judas heart.
Most pictures that I have seen of the "Last Supper" represent Judas with a ferocious countenance. Had painters drawn a holy, meek-looking face, I believe they would have given a truer resemblance. Many pass for angels in the pulpit, who if the truth were known, would be seen to be devils and beasts in heart, lip, and life at home. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." Matthew 23:25, 28
A languishing body
(Letter to a dying youth)
My dear friend,
May the Lord make all your bed in your sickness, give you
many testimonies of His special favor—and when He sees fit to take down your
earthly tabernacle, remove you to that happy country where the
inhabitant shall never say, "I am sick," where tears are wiped away from all
faces, and sorrow and sighing flee away. May the Lord speedily grant your
desires, and visit your soul with looks of love, rays of mercy, and beams of
tender kindness, so as to smile you into humility, resignation, patience,
gratitude, contrition, love, and godly sorrow.
A painted bauble
"Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, they have become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17
What a wonderful revolution is effected by divine teaching and heavenly visitations! The soul is brought to live in a new world and breathe a new element. Old things pass away, and behold, all things become new. New desires, feelings, hopes, fears, and exercises arise, and the soul becomes a new creature. The world appears in its true colors, as a painted bauble, and as its pleasures are valued at their due worth, so its good opinion is little cared for or desired. What is this poor vain world with all its gilded clay, deceptive honors and respectability, and soap-bubble charms—compared to one smile from our loving Savior? "And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves!" 1 John 2:17
The religion which I want
I am quite sick of modern religion—it is such a mixture, such a medley, such a compromise. I find much, indeed, of this religion in my own heart, for it suits the flesh well—but I would not have it so, and grieve it should be so. The religion which I want is that of the Holy Spirit. I know nothing but what He teaches me. I feel nothing but what He works in me. I believe nothing but what He shows me. I only mourn when He smites my rocky heart. I only rejoice when He reveals the Savior. This religion I am seeking after, though miles and miles from it—but no other will satisfy or content me. When the blessed Spirit is not at work in me, and with me, I fall back into all the darkness, unbelief, earthliness, idleness, carelessness, infidelity, and helplessness of my Adam nature. True religion is a supernatural and mysterious thing.
It will matter little when I lie in my coffin!
What does it really matter where we spend the few years of our pilgrimage here below? Life is short, vain, and transitory—and if I live in comfort and wealth, or in comparative poverty, it will matter little when I lie in my coffin! This life is soon passing away, and an eternal state fast coming on! It will greatly matter whether our religion was natural or spiritual—our faith human or divine—our hope a heavenly gift or a spider's web! But our blind, foolish hearts are so concerned about things which are but the dust of the balance, and so little anxious about our all in all. There is no greater inheritance than to be a son or daughter of the Lord Almighty. To have a saving interest in the electing love of the Father—the redeeming blood of the Son—and the sanctifying operations of the Holy Spirit—is worth a million of worlds! Without such, we must be eternally miserable—and with it eternally happy. "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!"
A little drop of purity in the midst of impurity
How mysterious is the life of God in the soul. It seems like a little drop of purity in the midst of impurity. We shall always find sin to be our worst enemy, and self our greatest foe. We need not fear anything but sin—nothing else can do us any real injury. Though the Lord in tender mercy forgives His erring wandering children, yet He makes them all deeply feel that indeed it is an evil and a bitter thing to sin against Him.
If Mr. Pride gets a wound in the head
"Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and envy and strife, and some also of good will." Philippians 1:15
I hope I can rejoice in the Lord's blessing the labors of other good men. It is indeed a sad spirit when ministers are jealous of each other, and would rather cavil and find fault with each other, instead of desiring that the blessing of God might rest upon them and their labors. Oh that miserable spirit of detraction and envy, which would gladly pull others down, that we might stand as it were, a little higher upon their bodies! Where is there any true humility of mind—simplicity of spirit—brotherly love—or an eye to God's glory when this wretched spirit is indulged? If Mr. Pride gets a wound in the head, it will not be the worse for the grace of humility.
Our greatest enemy
I am more afraid of myself—my lusts and passions, and strong and horrible corruptions—than of anybody in the whole world! SELF is and ever will be our greatest enemy. And all our enemies would be as weak as water against us, were we not such vile wretches in ourselves!
The end will make amends for all!
What a world it is of sin and sorrow! How everything serves to remind us that we are all passing away! I feel for you in your trials and afflictions—so various, painful, and multiplied. But dare I wish you free from what the all-wise, all-gracious Lord lays upon you? Could He not in a moment remove them all? Our Father sees fit in His wisdom and mercy to afflict His children, and we know that He would not do so unless it were for the good of their soul. What can we say then? All we can do is to beg of the Lord that He would support, comfort, and bless them.
It is in the furnace that we learn our need of realities, and our own helplessness and inability. The furnace also brings to our mind the shortness of life, and how vain all things are here below. Afflictions are sent to wean from this world—make life burdensome—and death desirable. I well know that the poor coward flesh is fretful and impatient under afflictions, and would gladly have a smoother, easier path. But we cannot choose our own trials, nor our own afflictions. All are appointed in fixed weight and measure—and the promise is that all things shall work together for good to those who love God.
Wherever we go, and wherever we are, we must expect trials to arise. But it will be our wisdom and mercy to submit to what we cannot alter, and not fret or repine under the trial—but accept it as sent for our good. We need trial upon trial, and stroke upon stroke to bring our soul out of carnality. We slip insensibly into carnal ease, but afflictions and trials of body and mind stir us up to some degree of earnestness in prayer—show us the emptiness and vanity of earthly things—make us feel the suitability and preciousness of the Lord Jesus. The path in which you have been led so many years is a safe way, though a rough and rugged way. The end will make amends for all!
We are no longer young
"My life is a breath." Job 7:7
"My days are swifter than a runner. They flee away!" Job 9:25
We are no longer young. Life is, as it were, slipping from under our feet! It is a poor life to live to sin, self, and the world—but it is a blessed life to live unto the Lord. I never expect to be free from trial, temptation, pain, and suffering of one kind or another, while in this valley of tears. It will be my mercy if these things are sanctified to my soul's eternal good. I cannot choose my own path, nor would I wish to do so, as I am sure it would be a wrong one. I desire to be led of the Lord Himself into the way of peace, and truth, and righteousness—to walk in His fear, live to His praise, and die in the sweet experience of His love. I have many enemies, but fear none so much as myself. O may I be kept from all evil and all error, and do the things which are pleasing in God's sight. Our days are hastening away swifter than a runner. Soon with us it will be time no longer, and therefore how we should desire to live to the Lord, and not to self!
The afflictions of the ungodly
"It is good for me that I have been afflicted." Psalm 119:71
There is a great difference between the afflictions of the godly, and the afflictions of the ungodly. To the godly afflictions are a blessing—but to the ungodly afflictions are a curse. Afflictions soften the heart of the godly—but they harden the heart of the ungodly. In the case of the godly, afflictions stir up the grace of prayer, wean the heart from the world, bring us to Word of God, make us consider our latter end, give power and reality to divine things, show us the emptiness of all creature religion, make us look more simply and believingly to the blessed Lord, to feel how suitable He is to every want and woe—and that in Him, and in Him alone, is pardon, acceptance, and peace. But the afflictions of the ungodly only produce sullenness, self-pity, and rebellion.
Like a little child in the arms of eternal love
How I see men deluded and put off with a vain show, and how few there are, whether ministers or people, who seem to know anything of the transforming efficacy of real religion and vital godliness. We desire to be more separated from the world in heart, spirit, and affection—to be spiritually-minded, and to know more of that holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. And though we find sin still working in us, and sometimes as bad as ever, yet our desire is to have it subdued in its power, as well as purged away in its guilt and filth. We have lived to see what the world can do for us—and found it can only entangle—and what sin can do—which is to please for a moment and then bite like an adder. And we have seen also a little of the Person and work, blood and righteousness, grace and glory, blessedness and suitability of the Son of God—and He has won our heart and affections, so as at times to be the chief among ten thousand and the altogether lovely One. May you experience the sweetness and blessedness of calmly relying on the faithfulness of God, and lying like a little child in the arms of eternal love.
The end of God in all His doings & dealings
Blessed are those chastenings and those teachings which bring us to the feet of Christ, and by which He is made precious to the soul. This is the end of God in all His doings and dealings with His people—to strip and empty them wholly of self, and to manifest and make His dear Son feelingly and experimentally their All in all. In Him and in Him alone can we, do we, find either rest or peace.
The only smile worth having
All the vain applause of mortals, and all that is called popularity, I think little of. It leaves an aching void, and often a guilty conscience. The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and all else is poverty, rags, and shame. Not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends. God's smile, not man's, is the only smile worth having.
Dead & dark seasons
All Christians, even the most eminent servants of God, have their dead and dark seasons—when the life of God seems sunk to so low an ebb as to be hardly visible—so hidden is the stream by the mud-banks of their fallen nature. By these very dark and dead seasons, the people of God are instructed. They see and feel what 'the flesh' really is—how alienated from the life of God. They learn in whom all their strength and sufficiency lie. They are taught that in them, that is, in their flesh, dwells no good thing—that no exertions of their own can maintain in strength and vigor the life of God—and that all they are, and have—all they believe, know, feel, and enjoy—with all their ability, usefulness, gifts, and grace—flow from the pure, sovereign grace—the rich, free, undeserved, yet unceasing goodness and mercy of God! They learn in this hard school of painful experience, their emptiness and nothingness—and that without Christ they can do nothing. They thus become clothed with humility—that rare, yet lovely garb—cease from their own strength and wisdom, and learn experimentally that Christ is, and ever must be, all in all to them, and all in all in them.
At the cross
Standing at the cross of our adorable Lord, we see the law thoroughly fulfilled—its curse fully endured—its penalties wholly removed—sin eternally put away—the justice of God amply satisfied—all His perfections gloriously harmonized—His holy will perfectly obeyed—reconciliation completely effected—redemption graciously accomplished—and the church everlastingly saved!
At the cross we see sin in its blackest colors—and holiness in its fairest beauties. At the cross we see the love of God in its tenderest form—and the anger of God in its deepest expression. At the cross we see the blessed Redeemer lifted up, as it were between heaven and earth, to show to angels and to men the spectacle of redeeming love, and to declare at one and the same moment, and by one and the same act of the suffering obedience and bleeding sacrifice of the Son of God—the eternal and unalterable displeasure of the Almighty against sin, and the rigid demands of His inflexible justice—and yet the tender compassion and boundless love of His heart to the elect.
At the cross, and here alone, are obtained pardon and peace. At the cross, and here alone, penitential grief and godly sorrow flow from heart and eyes. At the cross, and here alone, is sin subdued and mortified—holiness communicated—death vanquished—Satan put to flight—and happiness and heaven begun in the soul. O what heavenly blessings, what present grace, as well as what future glory, flow through the cross! What a holy meeting-place for repenting sinners and a sin-pardoning God! What a healing-place for guilty, yet repenting and returning backsliders! What a door of hope in the valley of Achor for the self-condemned and self-abhorred! What a blessed resting-place for the whole family of God in this valley of grief and sorrow!
How many, O how many
"These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips; but their heart is far from me." Matthew 15:8
How many, O how many of those who sit in our chapels amid the people of God are perishing in their sins with the Bible and hymn-book before their eyes—the sound of the gospel in their ears—the doctrines of grace on their lips—but the love of the world in their hearts! "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."
It has ruined him, body & soul
"In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." Ephesians 1:7
As no heart can sufficiently conceive, so no tongue can adequately express, the state of wretchedness and ruin into which sin has cast guilty, miserable man. In separating him from God, it has severed him from the only Source and fountain of all happiness and all holiness. It has ruined him, body and soul. The body it has filled with sickness and disease. The soul it has defaced, and destroyed the image of God in which it was created. It has shattered all his mental faculties—broken his judgment—polluted his imagination—alienated his affections. It has made him love sin—and hate God. It has filled him from top to toe with pride, lust, and cruelty, and has been the prolific parent of all those crimes and abominations under which earth groans, the bare recital of some of which has filled so many hearts with disgust and horror. These are the more visible fruits of the fall.
But nearer home, in our own hearts, in what we are or have been, we find and feel what wreck and ruin sin has made! There can be no greater mark of alienation from God than willfully and deliberately to seek pleasure and delight in things which His holiness abhors. But who of the family of God has not been guilty here? Every movement and inclination of our natural mind, every desire and lust of our carnal heart, was, in times past, to find pleasure and gratification in something abhorrent to the will and word of the living Jehovah.
There are few of us who, in the days of our flesh, have not sought pleasure in some of its varied but deceptive forms. The theater, the race-course, the dance, the sports, the card-table, the midnight revel, "the pleasures of sin" were resorted to by some of us. Our mad, feverish, thirst after excitement—the continued cry of our wicked flesh, "Give, give!"—our miserable recklessness or headlong, daring determination to 'enjoy ourselves,' as we called it, cost what it would, plunged us again and again into the sea of sin, where, but for sovereign grace, we would have sunk to rise no more!
Or, if the 'restraints of morality' put their check upon gross and sinful pleasures, there still was a seeking after such "allowable amusements" (as we deemed them), as change of scene and place, foreign travel, the reading of novels and works of fiction, fine dress, visiting, building up airy castles of love and romance, studying how to obtain human applause, devising plans of self-advancement and self-gratification, occupying the mind with cherished studies, and delighting ourselves in those pursuits for which we had a natural taste, as music, drawing, poetry, or, it might be, severer studies and scientific researches.
We have named these middle-class pursuits as less obvious sins, than such gross crimes as drunkenness and vile debauchery in the lower walks of life. But, viewed with a spiritual eye, all are equally stamped with the same fatal brand of death in sin. The moral and the immoral, the refined and the unrefined, the polished few or the crude many, are alike "without God and without hope in the world."
We are often met with this question—"What harm is there in this pursuit, or in that amusement?" The harm is, that the amusement is delighted in for its own sake—that it occupies the mind, and fills the thoughts, shutting God out—that it renders spiritual things distasteful—that it sets up an idol in the heart, and is made a substitute for God. Now this we never really know nor feel, until divine light illuminates the mind, and divine life quickens the soul. We then begin to see and feel into what a miserable state sin has cast us—how all our life long we have done nothing but what God abhors—that every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts has been evil, and only evil continually—that we have brought ourselves under the stroke of God's justice, under the curse of His righteous law, and now there appears nothing but death and destruction before our eyes, and unless we poor slaves of sin, Satan, and death were redeemed, we could not be reconciled to God. "In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace."