There are three books which, if a man will read and study, he can dispense with most others.
1. The book of Providence—and this he reads to good purpose, when he sees written down line by line the providential dealings of God with him, and a ray of Divine light gilds every line.
2. The Word of God—and this he reads to profit, when the blessed Spirit applies it with power to his soul.
3. The book of his own heart—and this he studies with advantage, when he reads in the new man of grace the blessed dealings of God with his soul, and in the old man of sin and death, enough to fill him with shame and confusion of face, and make him loathe and abhor himself in dust and ashes.
The whole apparatus of religion
"I perceive that you are very religious in all things." Acts 17:22
Religion, in some shape or other, is indispensable to the very existence of civilized society. There is a natural religion—as well as a spiritual religion. Natural conscience is the seat of the former—a spiritual conscience the seat of the latter. One is of the flesh—the other of the Spirit. One for time—the other for eternity. One for the world—the other for the elect. One to animate and bind men together as component members of society—the other to animate and bind the children of God together as component members of the mystical body of Christ. True religion is what the world does not want—nor does true religion want the world. The two are as separate as Christ and Belial.
But some religion the world must have! And as it will not have, and cannot have the true—it will and must have the false. True religion is spiritual and experimental, heavenly and divine, the gift and work of God, the birthright and privilege of the elect, the peculiar possession of the heirs of God. This the world has not—for it is God's enemy, not His friend—walking in the broad way which leads to perdition, not in the narrow way which leads to eternal life.
Worldly religion cannot exist without an order of men to teach it and practice its ceremonies. Hence come clergy, forming a recognized priestly caste. And as these must, to avoid confusion, be governed, all large corporate bodies requiring a controlling power, thence come bishops and archbishops, ecclesiastical courts, archdeacons—and the whole apparatus of clerical government. The ceremonies and ordinances cannot be carried on without buildings set apart for the purpose—thence churches and cathedrals. As prayer is a part of all religious worship, and carnal men cannot, for lack of the Spirit, pray spiritually—they must have forms of devotion made ready to their hand, thence come prayer-books and liturgies. As there must be mutual points of agreement to hold men together, there must be written formulas of doctrine—thence come articles, creeds, and confessions of faith. And finally, as there are children to be instructed, and this cannot be safely left to oral teaching, for fear of ignorance in some and error in others, the very form of instruction must be drawn up in so many words—thence come catechisms.
People are puzzled sometimes to know why there is this and that thing in an established religion—why we have churches and clergy, tithes and prayer-books, universities and catechisms—and the whole apparatus of religion. They do not see that all these things have sprung, as it were, out of a moral necessity, and are based upon the very constitution of man—that this great and widespread tree of a human religion has its deep roots in the natural conscience—and that all these branches necessarily and naturally grow out of the broad and lofty stem. The attachment, then, of worldly people to a worldly religion is no great mystery. It is no riddle for a Samson to put forth—or requiring a Solomon to solve.
Things which the angels desire to look into
"Things which the angels desire to look into." 1 Peter 1:12
To the carnal, earthly, debased, degraded mind of man—the mystery of the Person of Christ, of the cross, of the sufferings, blood-shedding, and death of Jesus, whereby He put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself—is foolishness. He sees no beauty, blessedness, or glory in the Person of the Son of God—nor any wisdom or grace in atoning blood and dying love.
But not so with these bright and pure beings! They see in the Person and work of Christ not only the depths of infinite wisdom in the contrivance of the whole plan of redemption, and of power in its execution and full accomplishment—but they see such lengths, breadths, depths, and heights of love as fill their minds with holy wonder, admiration and praise. They see in His incarnation, humiliation, sufferings, blood-shedding, and death—such unspeakable treasures of mercy and grace as ever fill their minds with wonder and admiration.
What shame and confusion should cover our face that we should see so little beauty and glory in that redeeming blood and love, which fills the pure minds of the angelic beings with holy and unceasing admiration—and that they should be ever seeking and inquiring into this heavenly mystery, that they may discover in it ever new and opening treasures of the wisdom, grace, mercy, truth, and love of God—when we who profess to be redeemed by precious blood, are, for the most part, so cold and indifferent in the contemplation and admiration of it.
This most precious & suitable Savior!
"For we don't have a high priest who can't be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." Hebrews 4:15
What a mercy it is to have a faithful and gracious compassionate High Priest who can sympathize with His poor, tried, tempted family—so that however low they may sink, His pitiful eye can see them in their low estate—His gracious ear hear their cries—His loving heart melt over them—and His strong arm pluck them from their destructions! Oh what would we do without such a gracious and most suitable Savior as the 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 both body and soul, 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, and worse than the worst—that we may really and truly believe in, and cleave unto, this most precious and suitable Savior!
My path has been, and is, one mainly of trial and temptation, having a heart so evil, a tempter so subtle, and so many crosses and snares in which my feet are continually caught and entangled. All here on earth, is labor and sorrow. Our own sins, and the sins of others, will always make it a scene of trouble. Oh, you hideous monster, sin! What a mighty power it has—a power which grace alone can subdue. It seems sometimes subdued, and then rises up worse than before. Well may we cry out, "Oh, wretched man that I am! Hold me up Lord, and I shall be safe!"
The desires of the flesh & of the mind
"Among whom we also once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature children of wrath, even as others." Ephesians 2:3
We may observe here a distinction drawn by the Apostle between the desires of the flesh and the desires of the mind. Both are opposed to God and godliness, both are the fruits of our fallen nature. But the desires of the FLESH seem to be those grosser and more sensual lusts and passions which are connected, so to speak, with the lower part of our nature. The desires of the MIND are those which are connected with its higher qualities. Thus some are steeped up to the very lips in all manner of vile abominations of sensual lust, in the gratification of which they find all their pleasure. While others, who would scorn, or at least are not tempted to the baser lusts of the flesh, carry out with equal ardour the promptings of a more refined character and disposition. Ambition to rise in the world, thirsting after power over their fellow-men, a craving for fame and distinction in any particular branch of art or science, discontent with their present situation in life, envying everyone superior to them in birth, wealth, talent, accomplishments, position, or worldly happiness—attempts, more or less successful, to rise out of obscurity, poverty, and subjection, and to win for themselves name, fame, and prosperity—how wide a field does this open to our view, as embracing "the desires of the MIND!"
And observe how the Apostle puts upon a level the desires of the flesh and the desires of the mind, and stamps them both with the same black mark of disobedience and its consequences—the wrath of God. We look around us. We see the drunkard staggering in the street, we hear the oath of the common swearer, we view the sons and daughters of Belial manifesting in their very looks how sunk they are in deeds of shame. These we at once condemn. But what do we think of the aspiring tradesman—the energetic man of business—the active, untiring speculator—the man who, without scruple, puts into practice every scheme and plan to advance and aggrandize himself, careless who sinks if he rise? Is he equally guilty in our eyes? What do we think of the artist devoting days and nights to the cultivation of his skill as a painter, as an architect, as a sculptor—of the literary man, buried in his books—of the scientist, devoting years to the particular branch of study which he has selected to pursue—or similar examples of men, whose whole life and all whose energies are spent in fulfilling the desires of their mind?
As far as society, public welfare, the comfort of themselves and their families, and the progress of the world are concerned, there is a vast difference between these two classes—and we would do violence to right feeling to put them upon a level. But when we come to weigh the matter as before God, with eternity in view, and judge them by the word of truth, we see at once that there is no real difference between them—that the drunkard does but fulfill the desires of his flesh—and the scholar, the artist, the man of business, the literary man—in a word, the man of the world, whatever his world be, little or great—does but each fulfill the desires of his mind. Both are of the earth, earthy—both are sworn enemies to God and godliness, and could you look into the very bottom of his heart, you might find the man of intellect, refinement, and education to be a greater foe to God and His word than the drunkard or the profligate! The sin in both is one and the same, and consists in this, that in all they do they seek to gratify that carnal mind which is enmity against God, which is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. God is not in all, or indeed in any of their thoughts. Instead of living to and for Him in whom, as creatures of His hand, they live and move and have their being, they live wholly unto and for themselves—and thus are practical rebels against God, as rejecting His rightful claims upon their obedience!
If you are at home in the world
"We are here for only a moment, aliens and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a shadow, gone so soon without a trace!" 1 Chronicles 29:15
If you possess the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and, Jacob—you, like them, confess that you are a stranger—and your confession springs out of a believing heart and a sincere experience. You feel yourself a stranger in this ungodly world. It is not your element. It is not your home. You are in it during God's appointed time, but you wander up and down this world—a stranger to its company—a stranger to its maxims—a stranger to its fashions—a stranger to its principles—a stranger to its motives—a stranger to its lusts—a stranger to its inclinations—and all in which this world moves as in its native element.
Grace has separated you by God's sovereign power, that though you are in the world, you are not of it. I can tell you plainly—if you are at home in the world—if the things of time and sense are your element—if you feel one with—the company of the world—the maxims of the world—the fashions of the world—and the principles of the world—grace has not reached your heart—the faith of God's elect does not dwell in your bosom.
The first effect of grace is to separate. It was so in the case of Abraham. He was called by grace to leave the land of his fathers, and go out into a land that God would show him. And so God's own word to His people is still to come out from among them, and be separate. Separation, separation, separation from the world is the grand distinguishing mark of vital godliness. There may be indeed separation of body where there is no separation of heart. But what I mean is—separation of heart—separation of principle—separation of affection—separation of spirit. And if grace has touched your heart, and you are a partaker of the faith of God's elect, you are a stranger in the world, and will make it manifest by your life and conduct that you are such. "We are here for only a moment, aliens and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a shadow, gone so soon without a trace!"
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." Matthew 5:6
Thirst, as a feeling of the soul, in a spiritual sense, is certainly indicative of divine life. It is as impossible, spiritually viewed, for a man 'dead in sin' to thirst after a living God—as for a corpse in the graveyard to thirst after a draught of cold water from the well. Such a feeling as thirsting after God had no place in my bosom until the Lord was pleased to quicken my soul into spiritual life. I had heard of God by the hearing of the ear. I had seen Him—in creation—in the starry sky—in the roaring sea—in the teeming earth. I had read of Him in the Bible. I had learned His existence by education and tradition. I had some apprehensions of His holiness in my natural conscience. But as to any spiritual thirsting after Him—any earnest desire to fear Him, know Him, believe in Him, or love Him—no such experience or feeling ever dwelt in my bosom! I loved the world too dearly to look to Him who made it—and my self too warmly to seek Him who would bid me crucify and mortify it. A man must be made alive unto God by spiritual regeneration before he can experience any such sensation as is here conveyed by the figure 'thirst.' "If any man thirsts, let him come to Me, and drink."
All the devil's tricks!
"So that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are very familiar with his evil schemes." 2 Corinthians 2:11
Satan is so wily—his agents so surround us—their designs are so masked—their language so plausible—their manners so insinuating—their appearance often so imposing—their arguments so subtle—their activity so unwearied—their insight into our weaknesses so keen—their enmity against Christ and His gospel so implacable—their lack of all principle and all honesty so thorough—that the net may be drawing around us, before we have the slightest suspicion of these infernal plots being directed against us! Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against all the devil's tricks!
A natural religiosity
There is in some people a natural religiosity—that is, a disposition to be religious. If they had been born in Turkey, they would have been devout Muslims; if in Italy, they would have become priests, monks, or nuns, and as ready to burn a heretic as their fathers; if born and bred in England, they would be devout churchmen, pious dissenters, and so forth—just as the various circumstances of birth and education, habits and associations, might dispose or determine. Now to these naturally religious minds, when fully ripened and blended with a stern spirit of self-denial, which usually accompanies and grows up with it—no system so thoroughly adapts itself as that of Popery—for it just meets and gives full play to that habit of mind which yields, like clay, to every object of groveling, superstitious veneration.
A louder witness
"Be an example to those who believe, in word, in your way of life, in love, in spirit, in faith, and in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12
A godly life is a louder witness against the inconsistent conduct of loose professors, than scolding reproofs. There should be—a tenderness of spirit—a holy prudence—a godly awe of the word of truth—and a reverent walking before God—all of which speak plainly against the light, easy, loose, slip-shod profession of the day.
Precious & glorious
All that Jesus is and has, all that He says and does is precious and glorious—His miracles of mercy, while here below—His words so full of grace, wisdom, and truth—His going about doing good—His sweet example of patience, meekness and submission—His sufferings and sorrows in the garden and on the cross—His spotless holiness and purity—His tender compassion to poor lost sinners—His atoning blood and justifying obedience—His dying love, so strong and firm—His lowly, yet honorable burial—His glorious resurrection—His ascension and present reign and rule—His constant intercession for His people. What beauty and glory shine forth in all these divine realities! A view of His glory and a foretaste of the bliss and blessedness it communicates has a transforming effect upon the soul.
We are naturally proud, covetous, worldly—grievously entangled in various lusts and passions—prone to evil, averse to good—easily elated by prosperity—soon dejected by adversity—peevish under trials—rebellious under heavy strokes—unthankful for daily mercies of food and clothing—and in other ways ever manifesting our base nature. To be brought from under the power of these abounding evils, we need to be conformed to the image of Christ. Now, this can only be by beholding His glory by faith. "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." It is this believing view of the glory of Christ which supports under heavy trials, producing meekness and resignation to the will of God.
That was more than His holy soul could bear!
Thousands have died in greater bodily agony than the Lord, for He only suffered in body for six hours. But of all the generations of men, none have ever felt what the Lord endured in His soul—for He had to suffer in His soul what the elect would have had to suffer in hell, if He had not suffered it for them.
What is the body? That is not the chief seat of suffering. Martyrs have rejoiced in the flames. It is the soul that feels. It was so with Jesus. His body, it is true, was racked and torn—but it was the racking of His soul in which lay His chief agonies. And the greatest of all was the final stroke God reserved to His last moments—the last drop of the cup in all its bitterness—which was hiding His face from His Son. Nothing else but this last bitter drop extorted the cry of suffering from His lips!
But when, to crown all the scene of suffering, the Father hid His face from Him—that was more than His holy soul could bear! That extorted from Him the dolorous cry—such a cry as earth never before or since heard—a cry which made the sun to hide its face as if in sackcloth; the solid earth to shake; and the very graves to open their mouths as if they could no longer hold their dead! "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Matthew 27:46
The religion of man
To the mass of mankind nothing is so attractive in religion as outward beauty and magnificence. The spiritual worship of God—the glory of Jesus—the beauties of holiness—the still small voice of the Spirit—inward communion with the Lord—the consolations of His presence—meltings of heart under the beams of the Sun of Righteousness—all that gives power to vital godliness is beyond the reach of human nature in its highest flights of sensuous devotion! Denied the wings of faith, she must raise and sustain herself on artificial pinions. These, the Church of Rome furnishes for birds of every size, from the vulture to the wren. A religion of sight, sense, and touch is the religion of man. To this depraved religion, or rather superstition, the Church of Rome panders.
The wings of a butterfly
We are all desperate infidels in heart! Though all through the word of God we see His providence shine forth in the minutest events, though the Lord Himself tells us that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, and that a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without God's providence or permission—yet to believe that He is everywhere so present, and that He everywhere so directly lives, moves, and acts as to regulate and control the minutest circumstances of daily life—all this so surpasses all our natural credence that nothing can enable us to believe it but the faith of God's own giving and maintaining—and having had ourselves some personal experience of it, so as to set our own seal to its reality and truth.
Most have noticed the wings of a butterfly, and observed the uniformity and beauty of the pattern. Now to produce that beautiful uniformity of pattern, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of little feathers must combine. And were we to have to calculate the exact shape, situation, and tint of marking which every single plume of this countless feather-dust must have, to prevent the whole being a confused blotch, it would exceed all the powers of human mathematics, not to say all the faculties of the human mind! But we might as well believe that a group of boys, by throwing together stone after stone for a number of years, could build up a Westminster Palace—as that all these minute feathers came together by chance!
Now if in 'creation,' and this is but one instance out of a million, we are obliged to recognize a divine hand in so minute a circumstance as the marking of a butterfly's wing, why should we not see the same hand in the minutest events of 'providence' also? The grand difficulty is to see God at all—anywhere or in anything. If once by faith we see Him who is invisible, and feel the presence of a God at hand and not afar off, all other difficulties vanish! Be it our happy portion to be ever watching the hand of God in providence and grace, and surely we shall watch for neither in vain!
Yawning & lounging their time away
"Be diligent in these things; give yourself wholly to them, that your progress may be revealed to all." 1 Timothy 4:15
That their progress may be evident to all, ministers must give themselves wholly to their work. Every pursuit, therefore, however useful for other men as a part of their business or profession, which is not of the things of God, hinders the real and visible profit of a servant of Christ.
Now, we firmly believe that, if instead of yawning and lounging their time away in sloth and idleness, or gossiping from house to house, pastors would—apply their minds to reading, prayer, and meditation—live more alone—commune more with their own heart—be more separate from everything worldly and carnal—and give themselves more to the work, when out of it as well as in it, in the home as well as in the pulpit—they would find the benefit of it, not only in their own souls, but in the exercise of their ministry! A cold, lifeless, indifferent heart—though at various times, every servant of God has to mourn over his coldness and deadness—but a heart habitually cold, lifeless, and indifferent, and rarely otherwise, cannot be expected to warm up and cheer the drooping, desponding hearts of the family of God.
Pride, worldliness & covetousness
Pride, worldliness and covetousness may reign rampant—even where grosser sins are not committed—or kept hidden from observation.
The blind, three-headed idol
There is scarcely a truth of divine revelation which has not been at some time disputed, and against which a whole army of arguments has not been from some quarter arrayed. Some of these disputants have denied the Sovereignty of God, and have sought to snatch the reins of the government of the world out of the hands of the King of kings and the Lord of lords—that they might commit them to the blind, three-headed idol, "Luck, Chance, and Fortune" and thus reduce all events to that chaos of confusion, that wild and desolate region of uncertainties in which their own dark minds wander in endless mazes lost!
Overcoming the world
"Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" 1 John 5:5
A man must either overcome the world—or be overcome by it. To overcome the world is to be saved—to be overcome by it is to be lost. He, then, who does not believe that Jesus is the Son of God does not and cannot overcome the world—for he has not the faith of God's elect—he is not born of God—there is no divine life in his soul—and he has therefore no power to resist the allurements, endure the scorn, or rise superior to the frowns and smiles of the world—but is entangled, carried captive, and destroyed by it!
Where the world is loved, the heart is necessarily overcome by it—for in the love of the world, as in the love of sin, is all the strength of the world. Now unless the love of Christ in the soul be stronger than the love of the world, the weaker must give way to the stronger. Those who do not love Christ cannot overcome the world, for such are utter strangers to the faith which purifies the heart from the lust of it, to the hope which rises above it, and to the love which lifts up the soul beyond it.
We must be taught of God
"No man can come to Me, except the Father who sent Me draws him." John 6:44
Four things are absolutely necessary to be experimentally
known and felt before we can arrive at any saving or sanctifying knowledge
of the truth—
Without light we cannot see. Without faith we cannot believe. Without godly fear we cannot reverentially adore. Without love we cannot embrace Him who is the way, the truth, and the life. We must be taught of God and receive the kingdom of heaven as a little child—or we shall never enter therein.
This reptile heart
"The carnal mind is enmity against God." Romans 8:7
'Enmity against God' must not only include in its bosom the seeds of every other crime—but be in itself the worst of all crimes. To be an enemy to God must be a most dreadful position for a creature to be in—but to be enmity itself must be the concentrated essence of sin and misery! An enemy may be reconciled, appeased, turned into a friend—but enmity, never. Enmity knows no pity, feels no remorse, is subject to no control, is unappeasable and irreconcilable.
And when we think for a moment who and what the great and glorious God is, against whom this reptile heart bears an enmity so enduring and so wicked—when we view Him by the eye of faith as filling heaven and earth with His glory, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto, and yet day after day loading all His creatures with benefits, and to His people so full of the tenderest love and compassion—then to see a dying mortal, whom one frown can hurl from all the pride of health and vigor, into the lowest hell of misery and woe—spewing forth, like some miserable toad, his spit and venom against the glorious King of kings and Lord of lords—well may we stand amazed at the height of that presumption and the depth of that wickedness which can so arm a 'worm of earth' against the 'Majesty of heaven!'
What cold—what heartless work
What is religion without a living faith in, and a living love to the Lord Jesus Christ? How dull and dragging, how dry and heavy, what a burden to the mind, and a weariness to the flesh, is a round of forms, where the heart is not engaged and the affections not drawn forth! Reading, hearing, praying, meditation, conversation with the people of God—what cold, what heartless work where Jesus is not! But let Him appear, let His presence and grace be felt, and His blessed Spirit move upon the heart—then there is a holy sweetness, a sacred blessedness in the worship of God and in communion with the Lord Jesus that makes, while it lasts, a little heaven on earth.
Means are to be attended to, ordinances to be prized, the Bible to be read, preaching to be heard, the throne of grace to be resorted to, the company of Christian friends to be sought. But what are all these unless we find Christ in them? It is He who puts life and blessedness into all means and ordinances, into all prayer, preaching, hearing, reading, conversing, and everything that bears the name of religion. Without Him all is dark and dead, cold and dreary, barren and bare! Wandering thoughts at the throne—unbelief at the ordinance—deadness under the word—formality and lip service in family worship—carelessness over the open Bible—carnality in conversation—and a general coldness and stupidity over the whole frame—such is the state of the soul when Jesus does not appear, and when He leaves us to prove what we are, and what we can do without Him!
We are, most of us, so fettered down
We are, most of us, so fettered down—by the chains of time and sense—by the cares of life and daily business—by the weakness of our earthly frame—by the distracting claims of a family—by the miserable carnality and sensuality of our fallen nature—that we live at best a poor, dragging, dying life! We can take no pleasure in the world, nor mix with a good conscience in its pursuits and amusements. We are many of us poor, moping, dejected creatures—from a variety of trials and afflictions. We have a daily cross and the continual plague of an evil heart. We get little consolation from the family of God or the outward means of grace. We know enough of ourselves to know that in SELF there is neither help nor hope—and never expect a smoother path, a better, wiser, holier heart, or to be able to do tomorrow what we cannot do today.
As then the weary man seeks rest, the hungry food, the thirsty drink, and the sick health—so do we stretch forth our hearts and arms that we may embrace the Lord Jesus Christ, and sensibly realize communion with Him. From Him come both prayer and answer—both hunger and food—both desire and the tree of life. He discovers the evil and misery of sin—that we may seek pardon in His bleeding wounds and pierced side. He makes known to us our nakedness and shame, and, as such, our exposure to God's wrath—that we may hide ourselves under His justifying robe. He puts gall and wormwood into the world's choicest draughts—that we may have no sweetness but in and from Him. He keeps us long fasting to endear a crumb—and long waiting to make a word precious. He wants the whole heart, and will take no less; and as this we cannot give, He takes it to Himself by ravishing it with one of His eyes, with one chain of His neck. If we love Him it is because He first loved us; and if we seek communion with Him, it is because He will manifest Himself to us as He does not unto the world.
Forever swallowed up with His presence & love
Nothing distinguishes the divine religion of the child of God, not only from the dead profanity of the openly ungodly, but from the formal lip-service of the lifeless professor—so much as communion with God. God calls elect souls—out of the world—out of darkness—out of sin and death—out of formality and self-righteousness—out of a deceptive profession—to have fellowship with Himself, to be blessed with manifestations of His love and mercy. To this point all His dealings with their souls tend to bring them near to Himself—all their afflictions, trials, and sorrows are sent.
In giving them 'tastes' of holy fellowship here, He grants them foretastes of that eternity of bliss which will be theirs when time shall be no more—in being forever swallowed up with His presence and love! Even in the first awakenings of the Spirit, in the first quickenings of His grace, there is that in the living soul which eternally distinguishes it from all others, whatever be their profession, however in doctrine sound or unsound, however in practice consistent or inconsistent. There is, amid all its trouble, darkness, guilt, confusion, and self-condemnation—a striving after communion with God. There is a sense of His greatness and glory—a holy fear and godly awe of His great name—a trembling at His word—a brokenness—a contrition—a humility—a simplicity—a sincerity—a self-abasement—a distrust of self—a dread of hypocrisy and self-deception—a coming to the light—a laboring to enter the strait gate—a tenderness of conscience—a sense of helplessness and inability—a groaning under the guilt and burden of sin—a quickness to see sin's workings, and an alarm lest they should break forth—all which we never see in a dead, carnal professor—whether the highest Calvinist or the lowest Arminian.
They shall come with weeping
"They shall come with weeping." Jeremiah 31:9
O, how much is needed to bring the soul to its only Rest and Center. What trials and afflictions—what furnaces, floods, rods, and strokes—as well as smiles, promises, and gracious drawings! What pride and self to be brought out of! What love and blood to be brought unto! What lessons to learn of the freeness and fullness of salvation! What sinkings in self! What risings in Christ! What guilt and condemnation on account of sin! What self-loathing and self-abasement! What distrust of self! What fears of falling! What prayers and desires to be kept! What clinging to Christ! What looking up and unto His divine majesty! What desires never more to sin against Him—but to live, move, and act in the holy fear of God, do we find, more or less daily, in a living soul!
When the body sinks
When the body sinks under a load of pain and disease, and all sources of happiness and enjoyment from health and strength are cut off—when flesh and heart fail, and the eye-strings are breaking in death—what can support the soul or bear it safe through Jordan's swelling flood, but those discoveries of the glory of Christ that shall make it sick of earth, sin, and self; and willing to lay the poor body in the grave, that it may be forever ravished with His glory and His love! Thus we see how the glory of Christ is not only in heaven—but also the unspeakable delight of the saints here on earth, in their days of tribulation and sorrow.
Christ, as revealed to their hearts—supports and upholds their steps—draws them out of the world—delivers them from the power of sin—conforms them to His image—comforts them in death—and lands them in glory! We thus see Christ irradiating also the path of His people on earth, casting His blessed beams on all their troubles and sorrows, and lighting up the way wherein they follow Him from the suffering cross to the triumphant crown.
The general religion of the day
There are few things more sickening to us than this widespread profession of religion—without the vital power. Open profanity is bad. It is grievous to see the sin which runs down our streets like water. The scenes which meet the eye, especially in London, are grievous—but they carry with them their own condemnation, and do not intrude into the sacred precincts of truth and godliness. But a loud, noisy profession, with just enough 'truth in the letter' to salve over the convictions of the natural conscience—but not enough of life or power either to save or sanctify—to deliver from the dominion of sin or separate from the world—like the salt that has lost its savor, is good for nothing but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men. True religion differs as much from the general religion of the day as grace differs from nature, spirit from flesh, and the power of God from the wisdom of man!
Walking with God
"Do two walk together, unless they have agreed?" Amos 3:3
What God hates we must learn to hate. What God loves we must be taught to love. Sin is the especial object of God's hate—and it must be the special object of ours. Christ is the especial object of God's love—and He must be the object of our heart's warmest, tenderest affection. Pride, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, the lusts of the flesh, covetousness—in a word, everything worldly and wicked, earthly, sensual, and devilish—is and ever must be hateful and abominable in the eyes of infinite Purity and Holiness. If not made hateful to us, where is the agreement, where the walking with God?
Humility, brokenness, godly fear, tenderness of conscience, spirituality of mind, singleness of eye to God's glory, separation from the world; faith, hope, love, submission, resignation to the divine will, filial obedience, heavenly fruitfulness in every good word and work—if these, and all other graces and gifts of the Holy Spirit, are pleasing and acceptable to God, must they not be also to us, if we are to walk with Him in holy agreement?
If there were no furnace
"Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction." Isaiah 48:10
"And He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver." Malachi 3:3
If there were no furnace, there would be no fruits of the furnace—no taking away the dross and tin—no bringing forth the gold seven times refined in the fire—no meekness, submission, resignation, confession, self-abhorrence—no forsaking idols—no vomiting up the poisonous draughts of sin and folly!
Known to our hearts by a divine power
The only real knowledge which we can possess of the truth of God, or of any one branch of that truth, is from a vital, experimental, heartfelt acquaintance with it through the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Men, learned or unlearned, priest or people, may theorize and speculate, may think they see and understand, may reason and argue, preach and prate, talk and write—wisely and well upon this and that point of doctrine, or upon this or that portion of Scripture. But unless the sacred truth of God is made known to our hearts by a divine power, and laid hold of by a living faith, we have no true knowledge of, as we have no saving interest in it.
What good will the purest, clearest, soundest doctrines—even if preached by an apostle—do us, unless there be that living principle of divine faith in our hearts which mixes with the word, and so profits the soul? We see, then, that it is not truth—the purest and clearest, even when uttered by the Redeemer's own lips, that can save the soul—unless applied to the heart by the special power of God! But when the truth of God is made known to the heart by divine teaching and divine testimony, what a holy sweetness and heavenly savor are then tasted, felt, and realized in it! When thus favored to sit down under the shadow of its Beloved, and find His fruit sweet to its taste, the soul says, with Jeremiah, "Your words were found, and I ate them; and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart." Let us beware, then, of unsanctified knowledge, or unapplied truth!
A man who reads his eyes out!
"Which things also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches." 1 Corinthians 2:13
It is not reading, learning, or study that can make an able minister of the New Testament. If so, the academies would give us an ample supply. But the greatest readers and most laborious students are usually the most ignorant of the teaching of the Spirit, and the work of faith with power. This learning is not of the schools! A man who reads his eyes out may be most ignorant—for he may know nothing as he ought to know. And a man who reads nothing but his Bible may be most learned—for he may have the unctuous teachings of the Holy Spirit.
Holiness & truth
As a love of holiness necessarily includes as well as implies a hatred of, and a fleeing from sin—so will a love of truth contain in it a hatred of, and a fleeing from, error. People deny the truth, trifle with it, or are indifferent to it—because they feel no urgent personal need of it.
Such exceedingly religious people
Until the Blessed Spirit quickens the soul into spiritual life, we know nothing really or rightly of the truth as it is in Jesus. We may be strictly orthodox in doctrine—may abhor infidelity and error—may be shocked at profanity and irreverence—may be scrupulously attentive to every relative duty—may repeat, with undeviating regularity, our prayers and devotions—may seem to ourselves and to others exceedingly religious—when, in the sight of a heart-searching God, we are still dead in trespasses and sins!
The world is full of such exceedingly religious people! Every church and every chapel can produce samples in abundance of such "devout and honorable" men and women. We may have a form of godliness in a profession of truth—may have been suckled and bred up from childhood in a sound creed—may have learned the doctrines of grace in theory and as a religious system—may be convinced in our conscience of their substantial agreement with the Word of God—may contend for them in argument, and prove them by texts—may sit under the sound of the gospel with pleasure—or even preach it with eloquence and fervor; and yet know nothing of the truth savingly and experimentally, by divine teaching and divine testimony!
Does the Scripture afford us no example of these characters? Who more religious, more strict, scrupulous, and orthodox than the 'Pharisee' of old? He sat in Moses' seat, as the teacher of the people—he tithed his mint, anise, and cummin with the most scrupulous care—he strained his drinks, that no unclean gnat might unawares pollute him—he prayed and fasted rigidly and regularly—and seemed to himself and to others the prime favorite of heaven. But what was he really and truly? What was he in the sight of God? According to the Lord's own testimony—a hypocrite—a viper—a whited sepulcher, ripening himself for the damnation of hell!
Who were those against whom holy John, fervent Jude, and earnest Peter warned the churches so strongly? Who were those spots in their feasts of charity, feeding themselves without fear? Who were those clouds without water, carried about with winds—those trees whose fruit withered, twice dead, plucked up by the roots? Who else but graceless professors of the truth! It is not then, the form, the letter, the mere outside, the bare shell and husk of truth, that makes or manifests the Christian—but the vital possession of it as a divinely bestowed gift and treasure!
Hard as a stone, cold as ice, motionless as a corpse
Ministers of truth are thought sometimes to speak too strongly of the dreadful state of man through the fall—but, in fact, it is impossible to exaggerate the blindness and darkness of the human heart—nor can pen or tongue adequately set forth the misery and utter helplessness of the unregenerate man.
The Scriptures are much and widely read, it is true, but merely as a duty, a daily or weekly self-imposed task, a religious performance in which a certain amount of merit is invested. It thus becomes a mere sop for conscience in some, and in others amounts at best to a perusing with the eye a certain quantity of words and letters, chapters and verses, unwillingly taken up, badly laid down. The beauty and blessedness—divine sweetness and inexpressible power and savor—seen and felt in the Scriptures by a believing heart are, to the unbelieving multitude unknown, untasted, unfelt, uncared for! Whatever be the subject, however solemn or weighty—and what can be so solemn and weighty as the soul's eternal happiness or misery?—the word of truth, without a divine application, absolutely makes no impression on the conscience. The threatenings produce no terror or trembling—create no fear or conviction—draw out neither sigh nor groan—no, nor raise up one faint, feeble cry, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" The promises, the invitations, the portions that speak of Christ and His sufferings—neither melt nor move, touch nor soften their conscience. The unregenerate heart responds to neither judgment nor mercy. Nothing stirs it Godwards. Hard as a stone, cold as ice, motionless as a corpse—it lies dead in trespasses and sins!
But not so with the heart which the finger of God has touched. It fears, it trembles, it melts, it softens—it is lifted up, it is cast down—it sighs, it prays, it believes, it hopes, it loves, it mourns, it rejoices, it grieves, it repents—in a word, it lives the life of God, and breathes, acts, and moves just as the Blessed Spirit visits and works in it by His gracious power and influence. Under His teaching, the Scriptures become a new book—read, as it, were, with new eyes—heard with new ears—thought and pondered over with new feelings—understood with a new understanding—and felt in a new conscience.
When, then, we are favored with a spiritual, experimental knowledge of God's truth, it is putting into our hands a master-key to open cabinets closed against the wise and prudent—a clue to guide the feet amid the mazes, where learned doctors and studious theologians wander and are lost—a light penetrating and pervading the hidden depths of the sanctuary, on the threshold of which the scribe and the Pharisee stumble and fall.
Those divine & heavenly truths
How little do we, for the most part, realize—and daily, hourly, live and feed upon—those divine and heavenly truths which we, as Christians, profess to believe! For the most part, it is only at times and seasons that we so realize who and what Jesus is, as to obtain any sensible victory over—the evils of our heart—the strength of sin, the snares of the world—or the assaults of Satan!
The grand deceit of Satan
To our mind one of the greatest mysteries in religion is the difference between the power of truth on the natural conscience, and the power of truth on the spiritual conscience—between the faith produced in the natural mind by the 'letter of the word,' and the faith wrought in the heart by the Spirit of God through the word. And yet in this lies all the difference between a professor and a possessor—between the damned and the saved.
Here is the grand deceit of Satan as an angel of light—that a man may have the strongest and most unwavering faith in his natural mind, generated there by the 'mere letter of the word'—and yet live and die in his sins an unpardoned criminal, an unsanctified rebel—may obey the precept, and yet be damned for disobedience! This is the grand key of the cabinet—and he who holds not this key in his hand, be he preacher or writer that attempts to describe the work of the Spirit, will but fumble—for without it he cannot unlock one secret drawer of the heart, or penetrate into any one innermost recess of nature, or of grace!
Tremendous mystery, yet not more tremendous than true, that between a spiritual and a natural faith lay all the difference—between David and Saul—between John and Judas—and that on it hangs life or death, heaven or hell, unutterable bliss or eternal despair!
There are what we may call 'devotional writings' in Scripture. The Holy Spirit not only inspired men of God to breathe forth prayer and praise, not only taught them to sigh and groan, rejoice and sing—but instructed them to commit to writing those breathings of their soul after the living God. As these divine breathings were usually set to music and sung in the tabernacle worship, they were called "Psalms." What a manual of living experience—what a standing model and exemplar of vital communion with God—what a perpetual stream of consolation and edification to the church of Christ these divine compositions are and ever have been—it is unnecessary for us here to mention. From the lowest depths of trouble and sorrow to the loftiest heights of joy and praise, there is no state or stage, movement or feeling of divine life in the soul, which is not expressed in the simplest and sweetest language in the Psalms. They are thus not only a test and guide of Christian experience—a heavenly prayer-book—a daily devotional companion—a bosom friend in sorrow and joy—a sure chart for the heaven-bound voyager—and an infallible standard of divine teaching—but a treasury of strength and comfort, out of which the Holy Spirit blesses the waiting soul!
We will find eternity too short
We will find eternity too short—to see Christ's beauty—to behold Christ's glory—and to sing Christ's praise!
Shrouded in mystery
The ways of God and His dealings with His people in providence and in grace are usually at the outset shrouded in mystery—and yet in the end shine resplendently forth as stamped with the most perfect wisdom, mercy, and grace!
Composed out of dead men's brains!
We may have men who are clear in doctrine—but where can we find that life and power, that ardent zeal, that burning eloquence, that devotedness to the work, those astonishing labors, that self-denying life, that singleness of eye to the glory of God, that unwearied perseverance, and that flame of holy love—which is the life and power in the soul of a minister? Mere book learning is but a flickering flame, composed out of dead men's brains, too faint to illuminate, too cold to kindle. Sound views of truth are most valuable—no, indispensable. But there may be the soundest creed in the head, with death in the heart and sin in the life. Sound views without divine life merely charm the ear. A flow of words as unceasing as a babbling brook, a voice as musical as the evening nightingale, gestures as elegant as ever graced the stage, pathos as touching as ever bedewed female cheeks with tears, animation as vehement as ever stirred an audience, and eloquence as ardent as ever led men on to mount the breach or charge a battalion? Alas! what are they all, destitute of spiritual life?
The caged wolf
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." Jeremiah 13:23
The caged wolf does not lose his thirst for blood because it is fenced off in the zoo. Likewise, the sensual, depraved heart of man cannot be regenerated by the outward restraints of morality or religion.
We have no abiding city here
"For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down—when we die and leave these bodies—we will have a home in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself and not by human hands." 2 Corinthians 5:1
As then we see and feel that all is passing away, what a mercy it is if we can look beyond this vain scene to that which abides forever and ever! "We have no abiding city here," is a lesson which the Lord writes upon the heart of all His pilgrims. And as it is more deeply engraved upon their bosom, and cut into more legible characters, they look up and out of themselves, to that City which has foundations—of which the maker and builder is God.
It is very blessed when we can use the favors of God in providence without abusing them—when we can see His kind hand in the gift, and not make an idol of it—when we can bless Him for His providential mercies, and yet feel that without Himself they are not only worthless but miserable. How many have lived all their lives in beautiful houses—have never known a day's hunger—have eaten of the fat and drunk of the sweet all the days of their life—have lain down at night in a luxurious bed, where they have felt neither cold nor frost—and yet at last when their mortal existence has come to a close, have made their bed in hell!
A refuge from our sinful, vile & guilty selves!
When we take a review of all the temptations, trials, sins, backslidings, wanderings, and startings-aside that we have been guilty of—all the hard thoughts, peevish and rebellious uprisings, with all the sad unprofitableness, backwardness to good, proneness to evil, determination to have our own will and way—and all that mass of inconsistency which sometimes seems to frighten us in the retrospect—when we look over these things, what reason we have to cling close to the precious blood and righteousness of the Christ, that we may find in Him a refuge from our sinful, vile and guilty selves!
It seems sad that, after so many years experience of the goodness and mercy of God, and after all we have seen, known, tasted, felt, and handled—of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus—of His suitability, beauty, blessedness, grace, and glory—we should still find so much sin, carnality, unbelief, infidelity, and every other evil, alive and lively within! How it shows the depth of the Fall, and the incurable corruption of our nature, that neither time, nor advancing years, nor bodily infirmity, nor any other change of circumstances can alter this wretched heart, turn it into a right course, or make it obedient and fruitful—but that like the barren heath, no cultivation can bring out of it either flower or fruit! But what an unspeakable mercy it is for us, that the Lord views us—not as standing in all our rags and ruin, all our filth and folly—but in the Person of His dear Son, in whom He is ever well pleased!
A smooth easy path
The way of the cross is hateful to flesh and blood, and therefore a smooth easy path securing, as they think—the benefits and blessings of salvation, without self-denial, mortification of the flesh, painful exercises, and many trials—is eagerly embraced and substituted for the straight and narrow way which leads unto life. And by this, or some other deceit of the flesh or delusion of the devil, all would perish in their sins—unless the Lord had chosen a peculiar people in the furnace of affliction and predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His dear Son—here in suffering, and hereafter in glory. They, like all the rest, would gladly, as far as the flesh is concerned, thus make a covenant with death and hell that they might be disturbed by fears of neither.
Will not this make ample amends for all?
Oh, what is this wretched world, and this poor vain life of ours, which every day is shortening and bringing to its appointed close! Surely, well has it been said of it, that it is all "vanity and vexation of spirit." But to be able, in sweet hope and confidence, to look beyond this wretched life to a state of eternal bliss, where there is neither sin—the greatest of all ills; nor sickness, nor sorrow, will not this make ample amends for all?
To learn our religion in such a painful way
My dear friend, I was sorry to learn from your last kind letter that the Lord had again laid upon you His afflicting hand. But it was your mercy to find profit from the furnace, and that the painful trial was sanctified to your spiritual good. We are such poor, stupid, cold, lifeless wretches when things are smooth and easy with us, that we seem to need trial and affliction to stir us up, and bring us out of carnality and death.
The Word of God is written for an afflicted and poor people—and they alone understand it, believe it, feel it, and realize it. How often you had read the word, and yet did not enter into its sweetness, suitability, and blessedness—as you did in your late affliction. Luther used to say that, before he was afflicted, he never understood the Word of God. This witness is true. There is no real place for it in our conscience or affections. And yet how hard it seems, and trying to the flesh, to learn our religion in such a painful way—but any way is better than to miss the prize at last. And if we are favored to reach the heavenly shore, we shall forget all the perils and sufferings of the voyage!
The sum & substance of the Scriptures
If we read the early chapters of Leviticus with an enlightened eye, how much there is in them to illustrate the one great sacrifice of our gracious Lord. In Him we see the burnt offering as offering Himself without spot to God—the sin offering as bearing our sins in His own body on the tree—the trespass offering as especially applicable to sins of commission—and the grain offering as representing Him to be the food of our souls. CHRIST is the sum and substance of the Scriptures! Without Him they are a dead letter, full of darkness and obscurity. But in and with Him they are full of light and blessedness. "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly!"
Trials & afflictions
How various are the trials and afflictions of those who desire to fear God, and walk in His ways. But though they may differ in nature and degree, yet they are, for the most part—as much as they can well bear. The Lord indeed is very gracious in not laying upon them more than they can bear; but He will give them all enough to find and feel—that this world is full of sin and sorrow—that their own hearts are full of evil—that nothing but the pure, rich, superabounding, free grace of God can save or bless their souls!
A great lesson
"I am nothing." 2 Corinthians 12:11
It is a great lesson, and yet a painful one—to be made nothing—to feel one's self weaker than the weakest, and viler than the vilest—to be a pauper living upon daily alms—and to be made often to beg, and yet sensibly to get nothing. Where we err is, that we want to be something, when we are nothing. We want in some way to recommend ourselves to God, and do or be something that we can be pleased with, and which we think will therefore please Him. It is very hard to learn—the depth of our spiritual poverty—the greatness of our sin—our thoroughly lost, ruined, and helpless condition.
What a mercy it is to have any grace and divine life in the soul—to be made to see and feel—the emptiness of the world—the sinfulness of sin—the evils of the heart—and above all, to see and feel the preciousness of Christ in His bleeding, dying love!
If we were wholly left to ourselves
"My son, don't take lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him: For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives." Hebrews 12:5, 6
Our afflictions and trials strip, as it were, the world and worldly things off our backs—as well as all our own wisdom, and strength, and righteousness. The Lord Himself disciplines His children! The nature, season, duration, and all attending circumstances of all their trials, are—determined for them—selected by infinite wisdom—decreed by unalterable purpose—guided by eternal love, and brought to pass by almighty power. To believe less than this is secret infidelity, and will always result in murmuring, rebellion, self-righteousness, worldly sorrow, and self-pity. But with faith in exercise, there will be submission and resignation to the will of God.
When the Lord is carrying into execution His secret counsels, they are so contrary to the will of the flesh, and so opposed to our thoughts and ways—that we can hardly see His hand in them. Our flesh murmurs and rebels under the heavy strokes. It wants ease, indulgence, and self-gratification—not to be mortified and crucified. Our coward flesh shrinks from the trial of affliction through which the blessing comes. If we were wholly left to ourselves—we would greedily and eagerly choose the way of destruction!
When we are in the furnace
"Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have chosen you in the furnace of affliction." Isaiah 48:10
Trials, sufferings, afflictions, vexations, and disappointments are our appointed lot. And though grievous to the flesh, yet when they are sanctified to the soul's good—are made to be some of our choicest blessings! Levity, carelessness, and indifference, with a general hardness and deadness in the things of God, soon creep over the mind—unless it be well weighted with trials and afflictions.
But when we are in the furnace, we rarely see what benefit it is producing—or what profit is likely to arise to ourselves or to others out of it. Our coward flesh shrinks from the cross, and until submission and resignation are wrought in us by a divine power, and the peaceable fruits of the Spirit begin to show themselves, we cannot bless the Lord for the trial and affliction. Our trials vary as much as our outward circumstances or inward feelings, and each person perhaps, thinks his own trial the heaviest. But no doubt infinite wisdom appoints to each vessel of mercy, those peculiar trials in nature, or degree, which are required to work out God's hidden purposes.
Far better than living in this vain world
"For I am in a dilemma between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." Philippians 1:23
The Lord, for the most part, will make His people thoroughly weary of this life, before He takes them out of it. Sickness of body, trials in providence, afflictions in the family, and above all, the wearing conflict under a body of sin and death, with a blessed view of a glorious immortality—sooner or later will make them willing to depart and be with Christ, as far better than living in this vain world!
The charms of the world & the pleasures of sin
My dear friend, I could wish that your path were more free from perplexity, anxiety, and care—but no doubt He who sees the end from the beginning, and all whose ways are ways of mercy and truth to those who fear His name—sees that these cares and perplexities are for your spiritual good. This world is proverbially a valley of tears. Thorns and briers spring up on every side, because the very ground on which we tread is under the curse. And as followers of the Lord the Lamb—we may expect our portion of sorrow.
And indeed, though our weak flesh often staggers and sinks under the load, yet as the blessing of God for the most part only comes in this way, we are made willing to endure the affliction—from the benefit connected with it. I have no doubt, the longer we live, the more we shall find of trouble, anxiety, and sorrow, both to body and soul—so as to be made willing at last to lay down our poor, worn-out frames in the dust—as being only full of sin and corruption. This seems to be the conclusion to which the Lord usually brings all His redeemed people—to be willing to depart and be with Christ, as far better than continuing in a body of sin and death.
We need something to wean us from life, and to deaden and mortify us to the charms of the world and the pleasures of sin, which are but for a moment. Christ is not to be found in the path of carnal ease and worldly joy. It is in tribulation and trouble alone—that He is really sought and really found. We cannot choose for ourselves what that trouble shall be—but its fruits and effects must be good, if they lead us up to the Lord Jesus Christ, or bring down any measure of blessing from Him.
Trials & afflictions
Trials and afflictions are the appointed lot of the family of God—and if we belong to that favored number, we shall certainly have our share of them. Some of these afflictions are of the body—others of the mind—some are connected with the family—others with our circumstances in life—some come from the temptations of Satan—and others from our own evil hearts.
"Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness. According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions." Psalm 51:1
As our sins in thought, word, and deed are a countless multitude, of which every one deserves hell—we need the multitude of His most tender mercies to blot them out. If we could shed an ocean of tears, it would not wash away one sin—but the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. We may see—the stars in the sky—the sands on the sea-shore—the drops of dew on the grass—the waves rolling in upon the beach—but both our sins, and God's tender mercies exceed them all! How He showed these tender mercies in giving His dear Son to suffer, bleed, and die for miserable sinners—and how we need all these tender mercies to pity and pardon us and our transgressions!
The special & unceasing grace of God
It is a most rich and unspeakable mercy, that those whom Jesus loves, He loves to the end, and that His sheep shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck them out of His hand. This is the grand security of the saints of God; for—their inherent sinfulness and weakness are so great—Satan is so crafty and so strong—sin so powerful and deceptive, and—the world so entangling and alluring—that but for the special and unceasing grace of God, they must perish, and concerning faith make sure and awful shipwreck!
An adder would come out of every one of them!
What a paradox are we! What a bundle of contradictions! We love what we hate—and hate what we love. We follow what we flee—and flee what we follow. Sin is our sweetest delight—and sin is our bitterest morsel. God is our greatest friend—and most dreaded enemy. But I must not run on with my contradictions, or I shall fill up my sheet with them. You have got both the riddle and the key locked up in your heart. I cannot say what I would not do—or what I would not be—were I left to myself. For I never hear of evil or error committed by professor or profane which I do not find working within my heart—and a great deal worse too! For no man ever did, or ever could, carry out in word and act what our imagination can breed and sit upon until hatched, like a serpent upon its eggs. It is a mercy when our eggs are crushed before they are hatched, for, depend upon it—an adder would come out of every one of them!
A puzzle to myself
I am indeed very far from knowing what I desire to know, or being what I wish to be; and am often a puzzle to myself, seeing and feeling no more grace than the most carnal wretch who makes no profession; and yet having restraints and inward checks, breathings, and sighings of which I am persuaded such know nothing.
I feel so many evils daily, and sometimes hourly, working in my heart, and see so many traps and snares laid for my feet in every direction, that my wonder is, not that any fall, but that any stand! No, I am confident that all must fall were it not for everlasting love and almighty power—kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation. "Hold me up, and I shall be safe!"
I feel my ignorance in divine things
I see such sin in my wretched, fallen nature, and feel so much my weakness against temptation, and see at the same time what a horrible and dreadful thing sin is, that I am led from time to time earnestly to call upon the Lord to hold me up—that I shall be safe! I feel my ignorance in divine things—how dark my mind is when not enlightened by the Blessed Spirit—how unable I am to realize any portion of God's Word, to feed upon any one truth, or taste the sweetness of any one promise. And thus I feel myself led to look up for divine teaching, and that the Lord Himself would make His blessed truth known to my soul.
Continually haunting me
My own evil heart is more or less my daily burden—and hinders me in everything which I would think, say, or do for the Lord. Sin, in some shape or other, is continually haunting me—and I find the truth of what Paul says, "When I would do good, evil is present with me." But by this I am taught to prize the atonement which Jesus has made by shedding His own precious blood for my sin. A child of God can never rest satisfied with the knowledge of sin. He cannot rest in a spiritual discovery of the disease. No! he must have some experimental acquaintance with the remedy—the blood of Jesus, which cleanses from all sin. Sweet words, when any measure of their truth is experimentally felt. "All sin" is a very comprehensive word. The horrible aboundings of iniquity in our carnal mind—the vain imaginations, polluting thoughts, presumptuous workings, vile lusts—what can cleanse our consciences from the filth, guilt, and power of those hourly abominations? Only the precious blood of Christ—the Lamb without blemish and without spot!
Gently whispering to you
My dear friend, I have felt my mind moved to write you a few lines, not only to sympathize with you in your affliction, but also to express my affection for you, and my sincere pleasure that the blessed Lord has been with you to bless your soul with some melting sense of His mercy and love. If you can view it by the eye of living faith, you will see your present state of pain and bodily suffering—a million times preferable to all that the worldlings can covet! The things which are seen are temporal—but the things which are not seen are eternal. It is incalculably better to be afflicted and have Jesus in the affliction—than to have all the honors, pleasures, and riches that Satan can offer—or the world bestow.
But we do not voluntarily choose afflictions. The Lord takes care to choose them for us, and they are just such as are suitable to our condition and circumstances. You would not have chosen to have your leg and arm broken—but doubtless it was good for you to have them broken—or they would not have been so. There is no curse in this affliction—no vindictive punishment. It is rather the voice of a kind Father, gently whispering to you, "My son, give me your heart!" May the Lord make your bed in your sickness, and sweetly overshadow your soul with His love which passes knowledge.
Almighty, though gentle, fingers
I find true religion to be a very different thing from what I once thought it. There was a time when, in all apparent sincerity, I was looking to my spirituality and heavenly-mindedness as evidences of my salvation—instead of being a poor needy suppliant and starving petitioner for a word or a smile from the Lord Himself. It seemed more as if my spirituality were to take me to Christ—than that my miserable poverty and nakedness were qualifications to bring Christ down to me—but all these idols have tumbled into ruins! I am now in that state that Immanuel must have all the glory, by stooping down to save, bless, and teach an undone wretch, who has—neither spirituality—nor piety—nor religion—nor anything holy or heavenly in himself—and whose chief desire, when able to breathe it forth, is to be but the passive clay in the hands of the Divine Potter, and sensibly to feel the almighty, though gentle, fingers molding him into a vessel of honor fit for the Master's use!
"Where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly." Romans 5:20
I am sure that nothing but superabounding, victorious, overshadowing, and overpowering grace will subdue me to the feet of Jesus and slaughter my idols! Nothing suits my soul but sovereign, omnipotent, and superabounding grace. I am no common sinner—and must therefore have no common grace!
Snares of death
"The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning people from the snares of death." Proverbs 14:27
Snares of death surround and beset our path. Some arise from the world, some from Satan, some from the people of God—but far, far most from ourselves! The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life which detects and manifests these hidden snares—and by its bubbling up as a living spring in the heart it brings the soul into the presence of God—and thus strength, wisdom, and grace are communicated to flee them before fallen into them—or deliver our feet out of them when unhappily entangled.
That wonderful medicine!
"Who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases." Psalm 103:3
What a mass of—filth and folly—blindness and ignorance—deceit and hypocrisy—carnality, sensuality, and devilism are we! Prone to all that is bad—utterly averse to all that is good—bent upon sin—hating holiness, heavenly-mindedness, and spirituality—what earthly wretches, guilty monsters, abominable creature are we! And if our minds are sometimes drawn upwards in faith and affection, and we pant after the living God, how soon, how almost instantly, do we drop down again into our earthly self—whence we are utterly unable to rise until the Blessed Spirit lifts us out again! What fits of unbelief—shakings of infidelity—fevers of lust—plagues of carelessness—consumptions of faith, hope, love and zeal—yes, what a multitude of diseases dwell in our poor soul!
Well, then, the soul must have many—and I am inclined to think there is some analogy between the body and soul in their diseases, and that a scriptural and spiritual parallel might be drawn between them. Some I have hinted at above, and blindness, deafness, dumbness, paralysis, leprosy—are scriptural analogies. But they all admit of a twofold cure—that wonderful medicine which John saw run from the wounded side of the Redeemer—blood and water, the one to heal, the other to wash—the one to atone, the other to cleanse—justification by blood, and sanctification by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.
A living religion
"Every tree that doesn't grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire." Matthew 7:19
A religion that does nothing for a man's soul is worthless. And a religion that never manifests itself in a man's life, is as worthless as a religion that does nothing for the soul. Death is stamped upon both. Religion to be worth anything, must be a living religion—a religion that proceeds from a work of grace upon the heart—communicating life to the soul—and exercising an influence wherever it exists, and in whomever it resides. For where there is a springing up of spiritual life in a man's soul—it must be made manifest by his words and actions!
If there were no love of sin
If there were no love of sin—there would be no power in sin. Sin does not come with a strong hand, seize us by the throat, and say "Obey me!" But sin—insensibly creeps into our heart—catches hold of our carnal mind—insinuates itself into our vile affections—and thus entraps us!
These hideous monsters
Perhaps, when the Lord was pleased to save you, you thought you would walk happily from earth to heaven. Like the children of Israel, you saw your enemies dead upon the seashore, little thinking, little dreaming of the wilderness before you. But after a time sin, which seemed dead—began to revive—to lust—to crave—to work—to seek its objects!
There is one thing which has often harassed and puzzled many—that all the spiritual blessings they have experienced and enjoyed, has made no change in their carnal mind. This is a deep mystery. The "mystery of ungodliness," I may well call it—that the carnal mind, the old man, undergoes no change! He may be subdued, and withdraw himself into some dark recess—for the human heart is full of caves and grottos—and in these dens, hideous monsters sit! These hideous monsters withdraw themselves in the light of day. The human heart is very deep—and these grottos and caves lie so out of sight, that we know not what these monsters are about—but there they are, and creep forth when night comes on!
All our acts in babyhood
"For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son." Romans 5:10
See in what state the people of God are. What word does Paul use to point out their state by nature? ENEMIES! Enemies to whom? To that great, glorious, and ever-living God, in whom they live, and move, and have their being—the God of heaven and earth—who called them into existence—and upon whom they depend for every breath they draw. What a dreadful state must they be in to be "enemies" to such a God!
Enemies! Enemies of God, who could crush them with a frown into the dust—who by one look could hurl them into hell—who could trample upon them in His righteous wrath—as I might trample upon a helpless worm beneath my feet! They are born enemies to God. As a toad is born a toad, and as a viper is born a viper—so man is born an enemy to God. We are conceived in sin and shaped in iniquity—and therefore we come into the world, enemies to God. "The carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Our very nature is intrinsic, abstract, irreconcilable, enmity against God—hating Him, hating His ways, hating all that is God and Godlike. O, what a fearful condition! Not only to be born enemies—but to grow up enemies—to be woven throughout in enmity to God—full of enmity—every nerve—every fiber—every power—every principle—every faculty—every passion—at enmity with God—warring against the Most High!
We go astray, speaking lies from the womb. All our acts in babyhood—in childhood—in youth and manhood—are all acts of daring enmity against God. They all show forth the enmity of the human heart against the blessed Jehovah. O, how deeply dyed in enmity must man be when he is by birth, nature, and practice utterly alienated from the life of God! That every fiber of our nature should be steeped in enmity against God—that our carnal heart in all its constitution, in its very blood, should be one unmitigated mass of enmity to God—O it is a dreadful thought! "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son."
A mysterious thing
"I thank You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for so it was well-pleasing in Your sight." Luke 10:21
True religion is a mysterious thing. Now, this secret, mysterious religion is the sole work of God upon the soul. We have no more, and we have no less than He is pleased to impart. But when we come to look at the nature of this mysterious—yet the only true religion—we find it to consist chiefly of two branches—a knowledge of sin, and a knowledge of salvation—an experience of self, and an experience of Christ—an acquaintance with hell, and an acquaintance with heaven. However varied, deep, or diversified our experience may be, yet, as far as it is of God, we shall find it very much to be summed up in the knowledge of these two distinct things.
Now of these two distinct things, God has said that they are both alike unsearchable. Describing the human heart, God gives this testimony concerning it—"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" The Lord here gives a challenge, declaring that the wickedness and deceitfulness of the human heart are so deep, that no man can, that no man does, know it to the bottom.
And again, speaking of the love of Christ, which is the ultimatum—the sum and substance of the other branch of vital godliness—the Lord pronounces that also to be unsearchable. For Paul prayed that the Ephesian church might know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge. He also speaks of "the unsearchable riches of Christ." As we have no line sufficiently deep to sink to the bottom of human depravity, so we have no line sufficiently high to reach to the summit of the love of Christ! Thus, all our knowledge of self, as well as all our knowledge of Christ, must be, from the very nature of things, defective.
We are like truant children!
"Our Savior in times of trouble!" Jeremiah 14:8
For the most part, we do not need a Savior except "in time of trouble." We can do very well without God when we are—at ease—in health—in prosperity—and the carnal mind is uppermost. It is a sad thought, a dreadful thought—that we can often do so well without God—live without Him—think without Him—act without Him—speak without Him—walk without Him—work without Him—just as if there were no God. All this we can do when self, and sin, and the world are uppermost in our hearts and thoughts.
But when can we not live without God? When our soul gets into "trouble." And therefore, the Lord, so to speak, is obliged to send "trouble" to flog us home! We are like truant children! Here is a truant child playing about in the street—taking up with every dirty companion, forgetting all about home—unmindful of his mother, who is all anxiety about him, and his father who is all solicitude. The father and mother have then to go and flog him home!
So the Lord sees us, His truant children, wandering away from home, taking up with every foolish vanity, forgetting all we profess to know. He has to come with His rod and flog us home—and He does this by sending trouble! Thus, when we get into "trouble," we remember there is a God—we think once more of the Lord—we need Him to help us—He must come immediately, or we sink! We say, 'Lord come! come now! I cannot do without You—my soul is troubled—my mind distressed—Lord, you must come—come, Lord, and speak a word to my soul!'
Now what brings all these cries and desires, breathings and utterings unto the Lord? Why, the Lord taking the rod down, laying it on us, and flogging us with some "trouble," such as—affliction in the family—sickness in the body—trials in circumstances—chastisement in soul—lashes of conscience. And thus, the Lord by various "troubles" brings us to cry and sigh and feel our need of Him as a Savior.
And He is so kind and compassionate—He is not offended, because we only make use of Him when we need Him. Anybody else would be offended. I would not like to have you for a friend, if you only came to me when you needed me. I would not care much for your friendship, if you merely valued it for what you could get from me. Yet we are such base, rebellious wretches, as at times to treat the Lord in this way—a way in which we would be ashamed to treat our earthly friends—only coming to Him when we can get something from Him—only fleeing to Him when we cannot do without Him—only visiting Him when we are in some distress. When the world smiles, and things are prosperous, and all is pleasant and comfortable within, it seems (such wretches are we) that we can do without the Lord. But when "trouble" comes, then the Lord is pleased often to make us feel that none but He can do our souls good. Him we must now have—Him we cannot now do without—He must save now, and bless now—for there is none that can help but He!
What a wretched man I am!
"What a wretched man I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?" Romans 7:24
What causes despondency in the saved sinner's soul? Is it not because he finds so much in himself that is utterly opposed to God and godliness? If there were—no inward adulteries—no secret idolatries—no darkness of mind—no deadness of soul—no hardness of heart—no tempting devil—no alluring world—no body of sin and death—you would not feel despondency set in upon you as a flood. But this is it which causes despondency in a living soul—to find in himself so much of everything that is opposite to the work of God upon the heart—so much of everything that is the very opposite to what he desires to be, and what he believes every Christian should be.
But no sooner do the evils of his fallen nature manifest themselves, than despondency begins to work. It must be so. If I had—no sinful heart—no unbelief—no infidelity—no inward adultery—no internal idolatry—no pride—no hypocrisy—no covetousness—no powerful lusts—no boiling corruptions—no harassing enemy—no alluring world—no wicked heart—why would I despond? But it is because there is such opposition to vital godliness in his heart, because there is so much in him that he knows and feels to be contrary to grace, and the work of grace, that casts him down.
The grand bent of man's carnal heart
In our natural state, we are all the slaves of self. Self in its various forms—proud self—lustful self—covetous self—righteous self—self in some shape or other—is the idol before whom all carnal knees bow—the master whom all carnal hearts serve.
In our natural state, we are all the slaves of the world. What the world presents—we love. What the world offers—we delight in. To please the world—to get as large a portion as we can of its goods—to provide in it amply for ourselves and our children—to obtain and to maintain a respectable station in it—this is the grand bent of man's carnal heart.
When they feel leprous to the core
"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!" 1 Peter 1:4
Bringing the elect through every storm—setting all the ransomed before the throne of the Almighty forever—deliverance from every temptation—escape from every snare—and complete salvation from every foe—are all secured to the heirs of promise in the word of truth. How needful this promise of 'preservation to the end' is for the Lord's people to experience, when they discover what hearts they possess, and how perpetually they are departing from the Lord—when they see what they have to contend with from within and from without—when they know that an ever watchful enemy is perpetually endeavoring to ensnare, or to assail their souls—when they view the depth of nature's corruption—when the hidden evils of their heart are dissected by the keen anatomizing knife of the Spirit—when they feel leprous to the core—and know that they have no power and no strength to keep themselves from falling! How sweet, how precious, how suitable it is then to believe that they are written in the book of life, that their names are engraved on Jesus' hands, and worn on Jesus' shoulder—that He will preserve them to the end, and bring them home through every storm!
Your temporal trials are included
"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." Romans 8:28
This promise includes things providential—as well as things spiritual. If all things are to work together for your good, your temporal trials are included in the "all things." Every bodily affliction—every family trouble—everything that tries us in providence—everything that is bitter and cutting to our flesh—as well as everything spiritual and gracious is included in this comprehensive promise.
Don't leave my soul destitute
"For my eyes are on You, O God the Lord. In You I take refuge. Don't leave my soul destitute." Psalm 141:8
I am convinced that the Lord brings all His people to this spot, to know that they—have nothing spiritually but what He gives them—feel nothing but what He works in them, and—are nothing but what He makes them. They must be fully cut off from the creature, the arm of self-righteousness must be broken, the idol of fleshly wisdom must be dethroned!
Secret divine communications
"For my eyes are on You, O God the Lord. In You I take refuge. Don't leave my soul destitute." Psalm 141:8
Before we can savingly believe in Jesus—we must be thoroughly weaned from the creature—we must be cut off from an arm of flesh—our own righteousness must be dashed to a thousand splinters before our eyes—our wisdom must have become utter foolishness—our strength must have become thorough weakness—we must have felt the misery of our previous idolatries—we must have mourned over our perpetual and unceasing backslidings—and we must have seen in the Lord everything to draw forth the affections and desires of our soul.
Thus also before there can be trust in the Lord, there must be secret divine communications from Him. So that if there be trust in the Lord, there will be not only a going forth of the soul to Him, but there will be a coming down of that very Lord into the soul, enabling it to trust in Him. There will also be trials, and promises in those trials—temptations, and deliverances out of those temptations—afflictions, and consolations proportioned to those afflictions—miseries, and mercies suitable to those miseries. And these things being wrought in the heart, and brought into the conscience by a divine power, there will be strength to trust in God, such as He communicates only to those who truly and earnestly seek His face.
"We have this treasure in earthen vessels." 2 Corinthians 4:7
Each person at the best is but of the earth—earthy. Man was created out of the dust of the earth—his body, therefore, will always bear marks of that clayey origin. Some vessels may indeed be larger than others, made almost, as it would appear, of better, or at least more carefully wrought and tempered clay, and, may be more beautiful in shape—more decorated and adorned—and put to more honorable uses. For comparing man with man, as the world views them, one may be but a flowerpot hardly worth a penny—and another, a costly vase, worth thousands.
Rank and titles, honors and dignities, wealth, learning, education, may adorn some people—while ignorance, poverty, and rags debase others. Yet all are taken out of the same pit of clay—all are molded on the same potter's wheel, all baked in the same furnace, and all eventually come to the same end! How frail these bodies of ours are! How easily our earthen vessel may be broken to pieces, and become but a piece of lifeless clay!
The fruits of a godly life
"By their fruits you will know them." Matthew 7:20
Honesty and uprightness in all acts of business—simplicity, sincerity, and trustworthiness in word and deed—manifesting there is a power given to us to make us—good husbands—good wives—good children—good employees—good masters—these are all so many evidences of true salvation.
A tyrannical husband—a fretful discontented wife—an unkind father—a rebellious son—a harsh master—a fraudulent employee—those who walk inconsistently—and by their words and actions bring a reproach upon the truth of God—what right have these to call themselves children of God? Wherever the truth and power of saving religion come, there will be the fruits of a godly life attending it.
No sooner is divine life implanted in the soul, than it begins to bubble and spring up and thus to manifest its existence. When divine life is communicated, it immediately begins to manifest itself—for it is like a spring in a field, or out of a hillside, which breaks forth, as it were of itself, and cannot be kept back or pent up by putting your foot upon it. It is surprising what a change is created in the soul by the communication to it of divine life. It is truly, as the prophet speaks, that "in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert"—the wilderness heart of man—that parched ground of the soul—that dry and thirsty land in which there is neither food nor water—that habitation of dragons where each serpent lies coiled up in his den. But even there, the voice of the Lord "will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water." How soft—how tender, how simple and sincere—how full of life and feeling—how earnestly bent after God—how thoroughly changed from its former carnality and worldliness—is the soul made alive unto God by regenerating grace!
Dangerous & worst spots
One of the most dangerous and worst spots into which a child of God can fall, is when—we leave our first love—our heart grows cold and dead in the things of God—sin revives and begins again to manifest its hideous power—the world attracts and allures—our feet get entangled in the snares spread by Satan—and we wander, to our shame and sorrow, away from the Lord—leaving the fountain of living waters, and hewing out cisterns, broken cisterns, which hold no water.
But the Lord will not leave His people here. After a time we begin to see and feel the miserable consequences of not walking tenderly and conscientiously—and not acting consistently with our holy profession. Guilt falls upon our conscience—the Lord withdraws the light of His countenance—and much bondage falls upon our spirit. Now we begin to see that it is an exceedingly evil and bitter thing to sin against the Lord!
The sympathy of Christ
"For we don't have a high priest who can't be touched with the feeling of our infirmities." Hebrews 4:15
All who fear God have now a High Priest who is touched with a feeling of our infirmities—and so can sympathize with us in our temptations and afflictions. Jesus has a personal acquaintance with every trial, temptation, and form of suffering which any one of His people might go through—that He might sympathize feelingly with them—through Himself having personally experienced them. And thus He sits in heavenly bliss with a human heart—tender, affectionate, feeling—and sympathizing, as having Himself passed through every phase of suffering—known every trial—been exposed to every temptation—and having had a personal experience of everything that shall befall any of His living family.
This is a mysterious subject. I do not profess to understand or explain it—but I receive it upon the testimony of God's word, and as such, I see in it a great blessedness—mines of grace—treasures of encouragement—a rich source of divine consolation! If you and I are in a trial, there is a sympathizing High Priest for us at the right hand of the Father. The widow, the orphan, the poor, the needy, the distressed, and the exercised—whatever be their affliction, there is a merciful and faithful High Priest, who can feel for and with them—whose tender, loving, and affectionate heart is melted with a sympathizing sense of what they are suffering here below.
Now to believe this—and in trial, suffering, and exercise to go to a tender, sympathizing, affectionate, and loving High Priest, and thus realize His pity toward us—what strength and support it gives. Do we feel the burden of sin? He felt it. Are we crying under a sense of guilt? He felt it. He had indeed no personal guilt—but He felt all the guilt we can feel—by imputation. Does the world frown? It frowned upon Him. Do men persecute you? They persecuted Him. Are you oppressed? He was oppressed also. Are you scoffed at, mocked, jeered, insulted? He also endured all these things. Does God hide His face? Is your soul in darkness? Are you full of fear? He passed through all these things. This made Him sympathizing, tender-hearted, loving, kind, and affectionate.
But O what a sympathizing High Priest there is in the courts above—for poor sinners here below! We may tell Him all our cares. The secret sins that you are obliged to keep locked up in your own bosom—the painful temptations you are exercised with—the various things that cut deep into your conscience, which you cannot breathe into any one's ear—all are open to this sympathizing High Priest—all may be spread before that throne of grace, on which He ever sits!
A question which deeply interests
A question which deeply interests—and often painfully exercises every true child of God—is how the life of God is maintained in his bosom. If he is a partaker of the grace of God, he desires to know how shall that grace be kept in living exercise, that he may be brought through every trial, temptation, and affliction, and eventually landed safe in glory.
The love & worship of idols
The love and worship of idols is both the cause and consequence of all backsliding. Now nothing but a more spiritual worship can dethrone the worship of an idol. And nothing but a stronger love can overpower the love of an idol—for we must love something—and if we do not love the Lord Jesus, we shall love some idol-god of our own.
You have been an idolater—you have set up some idols, and perhaps many, in the secret chambers of imagery—you have been caught in some hidden snare set by Satan—you have gotten into the spirit of the world—your wife, children, business, occupation have been entanglements—these and other household idols have drawn aside your heart from God, and you have fallen into a very cold, barren state. Be honest with your own conscience and say whether it be so or not. Lay bare your inmost spirit before God. Have you not got into a cold, backsliding state? Has not pride, or covetousness, or worldly-mindedness laid sad hold of you? "Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backsliding." Jeremiah 3:22
If a man was left by God
So desperately wicked is the heart of man—so determined to have its fill of evil—that if a man was left by God, he would sin one moment—and jump into hell the next!
With bitter grief & mournful cry
We look at this sin and we look at that sin—we call to mind this and that slip or fall—and sometimes say with bitter grief and mournful cry, "O, that I had never committed that sin! O, that I had never broken out in this or that direction! O, that my lust, my pride, my covetousness, my angry temper, my foolish lightness, my carelessness, and carnality had never overcome me at that time! O, that I had never spoken that foolish word, done that sad thing, that I had never fallen into that snare of the flesh! O, that I had never got entangled in that awful trap of the devil!"
The cross is the only place where a guilty sinner can meet with a forgiving God—where all his sins are pardoned, and all his iniquities, so great, so black, so aggravated, are forgiven. "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin." 1 John 1:7
Seas of blood & love!
What depths of agony it cost Jesus to redeem us from the bottomless pit! What seas of blood and love He had to wade through! What conflicts with Satan! What hidings of His Father's face! What a weight of unutterable woe! What an indescribable pressure of imputed sin! And yet He suffered all this, when He bore our sins in His own body on the tree!
The sum & substance of all vital godliness
A profession of religion, without a real experimental knowledge of Christ—is but a deceit or a delusion. There is a solid reality and enduring substance in the divine teachings and gracious operations of the blessed Spirit in the heart. "Possession and enjoyment"—personal possession, and spiritual, experimental enjoyment—of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ—of the love of God—and of the communion of the Holy Spirit—is the peculiar privilege and supreme blessedness of the children of God. This is also the soul of all true religion—and the sum and substance of all vital godliness. I desire to know nothing in my own soul but what God is pleased to teach me out of the Scriptures by His blessed Spirit, that I may apprehend, firmly grasp, inwardly seize, blessedly realize, and experimentally enjoy Christ!
The mountaintop of pride
If a Christian ever gets upon the mountaintop of pride, God will be sure to bring him into the 'valley of humility.' We pray—to be humble, teachable, dependent—to know more of the grace, spirit, and presence of Christ—to have more fellowship and communion with Him—to be more conformed to His image and example—to walk more in His footsteps—to more know and do those things which are pleasing in His sight. But we cannot have these desires granted except through trial and affliction—for it is in these trials and afflictions that Christ manifests and makes Himself known and precious.
A boundless treasury of trials
Be assured that you have that very trial which is most adapted to your particular case and state. You think sometimes that you could bear any trial except that which is laid upon you. But depend upon it, God has selected out of the variety of trials—that very trial which shall most suit your state and circumstances. He has, as it were, a boundless treasury of trials—all ready for use. And He has taken out of it that peculiar trial which shall most suit your case. He has selected that yoke which shall fit most closely upon your neck, and fastened that burden upon your shoulders which is most for your good, and His glory, that you shall carry, even though you bear it down to the gates of death!
A world of deception & falsehood
We live in a lying world! The reason for this is not far to seek. Satan is its god and prince—and he is a liar, and the father lies! The present world, being by the permission of God under Satan's lordship and dominion, bears the impress which he has stamped upon it, and whereby he has made it a world of deception and falsehood. We ourselves went astray as soon as we were born, speaking lies. In lies we grew up. In lies we lived. And but for His grace, in lies we would have died—either as professors or profane—for there are thousands of both who live and die with a lie in their right hand!
Living then in a world of lies, there is little else to be heard or seen, but false words—false deeds—false doctrines—false professions. Living surrounded by an atmosphere of falsehood, if there is any truth in the world, or any truth in our hearts, lips, or lives—that truth must come from God, for He is the God of truth, as Satan is the father of lies. Until God the Spirit was pleased to work with a divine power upon your soul, you lived in lies, you loved lies. Your religion, if one you had, was a lying religion—for there was no truth in it, no reality, no power. For until our eyes are spiritually opened we see neither our nakedness nor our rags—neither know the truth nor care to know it—but as poor, self-deceived creatures you would have lived, and as such you would have died—but for the sovereign, distinguishing, superabounding grace of God, which plucked you as a brand from the fire made by the sparks of your own kindling!
Nothing but sovereign grace
As the Lord is pleased to open our eyes, we shall see more what grace is—how pure, how free, and how sovereign. We shall see our sins so great—that nothing but free grace can pardon them; our backslidings so aggravated—that nothing but free grace can heal them; our hearts so hard—that nothing but free grace can soften them; our path so rough—that nothing but free grace can help us over it; and our death so dreadful—that nothing but the grace of God can take away its sting, and make us shout, "Victory!" even in its very arms! We shall find nothing but sovereign grace can make us holy or happy either for time or eternity!
There is an outgoing of the single desire of the soul to the Lord Jesus Christ that His grace may be ever flowing forth into us, so as to dispel all doubt and fear—break to pieces all bonds and fetters—fill us with love and humility—conform us to His suffering image—produce in us every fruit that shall redound to His praise—be with us in life and death—and land us safe in eternity!