A Letter to the Author
James Smith, 1864
Dear Pastor Smith,
I am one who is beset with doubts and fears. I, at times, earnestly desire to love Christ, to lie passive at the foot of the cross, and to grow in grace. I sit under the sound of a minister, who is a warm champion in the cause of truth. I have for some years been sighing for liberty; but I find in my heart such a cage of unclean birds, so many powerful foes to contend with, that I sometimes think, instead of making any advancement in the spiritual road — I shall sink in the slough of despond, and utterly perish. Now, notwithstanding you are like myself, the subject of evil passions, there are times when you can call God your Father, Christ your Brother, and the Holy Spirit your Comforter; while I can only say with the Poet, "If I love — why am I thus?"
I have thought much lately of two passages of Scripture, one in the twentieth chapter of Matthew, and the 10th verse, and the other in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel, and the 70th verse. Judas, it appears, was chosen with the other disciples — but Hell was his portion. Do you not think, that before he was tempted to betray Christ, he loved him? Do you not think he felt the same indignation that Peter did, when he said, "Though all men forsake you — yet will not I." I fear sometimes, I am like Judas; I often attend the means of blessing too others, delight in the society of God's own people, feel my spirits cheered after conversing with them, and feel my best moments to be those wherein I can trample the world beneath my feet. Yet this is, alas! so seldom the case, that I fear my hope is a false one! I cannot see such a character as mine in the Scriptures.
Do you suppose that Mary Magdalene, and others of whom we read as having their transgressions pardoned; after they were led to the feet of Christ, would sin as they formerly had done? No, no! But my heart tells me I am every moment rebelling against Omnipotence; and, although I am kept from outward, gross immoralities — yet, my inward foes are continually striving for the mastery!
You, my kind pastor, are traveling the road to Zion — but you find for your comfort, that "greater is he who is for you, than all those who are against you." My foes at present are the mightiest. Satan tempts me; and my wicked heart is opposed to every good desire; for when I would do good, evil is not only present with me — but it leads me from Christ, and I am carried away with one temptation and another, until I fear at last, I shall utterly fall.
REPLY TO "A PILGRIM"
My Dear Fellow-pilgrim,
Having read your address, I laid both it and your case before the Lord, entreating him to send you an answer of peace, and now I take my pen to offer a few remarks. You say you are beset with doubts and fears. This is nothing uncommon, the corruption of our nature is such, that it leads us to manifest the greatest enmity to Jehovah while in a state of nature — and to discover a mistrust of his sincerity, his love, and his designs even in a state of grace. It is no small matter in the present state of our nature, to give Jehovah credit for speaking the truth; to receive his word as infallible verity, and draw from it the consolation it is calculated to impart. To conceive, harbor, and indulge hard and dishonorable thoughts of God is no task; but the opposite requires the intervention and operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart.
If we could but receive God's word as infallible truth, and embrace its contents as directed to us — all our doubts and fears must very soon vanish. But there is in many, a secret love to doubting — and therefore they nurse their doubts, and seize upon everything that is calculated to strengthen and encourage them. But doubting is . . .
dishonoring to God,
distressing to the soul,
and only pleased Satan;
for any sinner made heartily willing to be saved by Jesus Christ, alone of free grace, to the glory of God — to doubt — is unscriptural, and highly sinful! Such characters cannot be rejected at the throne of grace, nor will they be condemned at the throne of judgment.
But you earnestly desire to love Christ, to lie passive at the foot of the cross, and to grow in grace. Whence do you think did these desires spring? Have you a nature so good, from which they could spontaneously grow? Or is there a devil so holy that he would produce them? The desires you speak of, are of Divine production, none but God could raise them in your heart, and he who raised them — will gratify them: for "he will fulfill the desire of those who fear him; he will also hear their cry, and will save them." Psalm 145:19. Is not this passage plain, positive, and to the point? Can God be true and you honest — and yet your desires end in confusion? "Let God be true, and every man a liar."
You have been sighing for liberty — but how did you come to feel your bondage and long for freedom? Do people in a state of nature feel or act thus? You know they do not. But have you ever heartily surrendered yourself to the Lord? Have you taken his word and pleaded it at his throne? Are you striving to enter in at the strait gate? Many people lie down in sloth — and then complain of bondage; they indulge in secret sin — and yet speak of sighing for liberty.
As to your heart it is just like mine: no man has a worse heart — and none have a better; for "as face answers to face in water, so does the heart of man to man." It is abominable and filthy, drinking in iniquity like water — by nature. Job 15:16. It is enmity against God, a stronghold of every foul spirit. You have one of the best hearts in the world — yet yours "is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked," Jeremiah 17:9.
As to your making no advancement in the spiritual road. Are you now exactly where you were — when your eyes were first opened? Surely you have seen greater things in self, in sin, in the world, in the church, in Jesus — since then! I cannot think you have been lying still, or going backwards all the time; but have you told out all the truth? Cannot you remember some seasons of light, of comfort, and holy peace; when . . .
Jesus was truly precious,
sin was peculiarly hateful,
holiness was unspeakably lovely, and
your soul felt sweet liberty before God?
I dare say, you know something of these things — let honest conscience give the answer.
As to your utterly perishing, I question if you seriously believe any such thing, and I dare say if anyone else was to say so to you, you would immediately begin to plead, argue, and ask on the ground of certain portions of the word of God, if it could be the case. I have met with many of your category who have done so; I have tried them on purpose, and have found they could plead manfully for their safety when brought to the test, notwithstanding all their fears.
The privileges I enjoy belong also to you; as many as receive Christ, it is their privilege to be the sons of God; and God himself says, "Come out from among them, and be separate — and I will receive you; and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." "Will you not from this time cry unto me, My Father, you are the guide of my youth?" John 1:12; 2 Corinthians 6:17, 18; Jeremiah 3:4.
Now I have received Christ as God's free gift to poor sinners; I have left the world in spirit and in truth — and I am warranted to call . . .
God my Father,
Jesus my Brother, and
the Holy Spirit my Comforter.
Hebrews 2:11, John 14:16, 17.
I do not say that I have no ether reason to use this language — but if I had not, my title would be indisputable, and would be admitted in the high court of Heaven, for Jehovah cannot deny himself.
You say, "If I love — why am I thus?" Many reasons may be assigned; perhaps you have never yet resigned yourself and your all unreservedly to Jesus — there may be some wedge of gold, some little one — some "idol" spared; if so, God will have a controversy with you, for only those who forsake in heart and affections all, and follow Christ — must expect to enjoy the comfort of knowing they are his disciples in peace and holy joy. Luke 14:33. He is jealous of his glory, and if he is not in our estimation more than all — he may as well be nothing at all. He must either be Christ — or a cipher! He never will be wedded with idols, or be satisfied with a divided heart. Hosea 10:1, 2. He says, "My son, give me your heart" — and the heart, the whole heart — he will have! I doubt not but that there is a controversy carried on in many, on this point for many years — until at last the soul agrees to the surrender — and then comfort and peace are enjoyed.
It may be you are looking into yourself, for something to warrant you to come and claim the blessings of the Gospel; and not finding what you suppose to be necessary — you are cast down; this is the case with many. But where does God direct you to do this introspection — or sanction such a proceeding? He says, "Come, all you who are thirsty — come to the waters; and you who have no money — come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost!" Isaiah 55:1. Jesus says, "If any man thirsts," no matter in what condition he may be in; if he thirsts, "let him come unto me, and drink." John 7:37. "Whoever is thirsty — let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life!" Rev. 21:17. And the Holy Spirit says, "To him who is thirsty — I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life!" Rev. 21:6.
Under the figures of wine, milk, and the water of life — are set forth all things that pertain to life and godliness; and all these are said to be for the thirsty, the poor or moneyless, and the willing.
Now, do you thirst?
Are you poor?
Are you willing?
If so, the God of truth says that YOU are heartily welcome to take all these things as your own! Can you have a better time — or a better warrant, than the Word, the faithful Word of Jehovah, Father, Son, and Spirit? The language is so plain, that a child may understand it! It is expressed in terms so positive and decisive, that it is a wonder that any people should be found looking into self for something to warrant them to claim the blessing of grace and salvation.
But may not a willing soul be refused? No! It is utterly impossible; for "every one who asks — receives; and he who seeks — finds; and to him that knocks — it shall be opened." Luke 11:10. Now if you are looking for something in yourself to bring with you to God, or to embolden you before him, or to encourage you to expect from him — then you are . . .
legalizing the Gospel,
insulting free grace, and
making the Word of God of no effect!
And it is then no wonder that you are doubting, fearing, and cast down!
But say you, Am I to come to God — when I feel my heart a nest of every evil, and experience the working of every God-dishonoring principle — and expect that God will receive me, bless me, and be a Father to me?
Yes! You are to come to him exactly that way! And that because he invites you to come thus, "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool!" Isaiah 1:18.
He expostulates with you about not coming, "Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you!" Isaiah 55:2-3
He promises what he will do, if you come, "Call upon me in the day of trouble — I will deliver you." Psalm 50:15
Another reason why you are thus in despair, may be your not receiving into your mind the truths . .
that "God is love;"
that he "is in Christ;"
that "fury is not in him;"
that "he delights in mercy,"
that he is "ready to forgive."
This is how he is revealed to you in the Gospel — and to such a God you are invited. He is love, pure, unmixed love — to every sinner who is willing and desirous to be saved by free grace, through Jesus Christ, by faith. Ephesians 2:1-8. You have nothing to do with his wrath, nothing to fear from his justice, there is nothing to be alarmed at in his holiness.
Now do you believe when approaching God, that he is love; that "like as a father pities his children; so the Lord pities those who fear him: for he knows our frame; and remembers that we are dust?" Psalm 103:13, 14. If not — you worship Jehovah in a mistaken character! O how often do the Lord's people array the glorious majesty of Heaven in fearful and dreadful attributes, the coinage of their own brain, or the vile misrepresentations of Satan — and then tremble before him as though he were a real tyrant — rather than a gracious God in Christ!
Many sincere but mistaken souls, complain of lack of love, and grieve because they cannot love God. But ask them what their conceptions of Jehovah are — and ten to one but you find that they are indulging wrong views of the Divine character.
Jesus is the visible representative of the invisible Jehovah. John 1:18. What Jesus did, preached, suffered, and displayed — exhibits Jehovah to our view exactly as he is to us under the Gospel. John 14:8, 9. Did Jesus ever . . .
frown away a sinner from him,
refuse to confer a needful favor, or
complain of a lack of preparation in any who came to him?
Never! The conduct and preaching of Jesus sets forth Jehovah in the most endearing, inviting, and amiable point of view possible; there is everything to encourage the sinner who seeks salvation at his feet — and to assure the suppliant who pleads at his throne. Until you receive into your mind right conceptions of Jehovah as revealed in the Gospel — you never will have . . . .
a steady confidence in his promises,
a warm love to his name, or
enjoy daily fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
But perhaps you are naturally of a melancholy turn of mind — always looking at the worst side of everything, and are guilty of feeding this dark disorder; this is the case with many of God's family. It befits you to ascertain whether this is your case — and if it is, it is your duty to watch against it, pray against it, and to the utmost of your power to resist it.
I have known some of the Lord's people who have been doubting and gloomy for years, the principle cause of which was found in their natural constitution, who have after they have been brought to discover it, confessed with shame — their weakness, folly, and sin. If this is your case — you will find your mind constantly reverting to things of a gloomy and distressing character, and putting away as unsuitable — whatever is calculated to comfort and cheer!
Satan will take great advantage of such a person, and be found constantly leading the mind to fearful and alarming portions of God's Word — which belongs only to hardened professors, open sinners, or sly hypocrites! The father of lies will open them to the mind in a sly, crafty, manner — and apply them as exactly describing the state, character, condition, and doom of the tender soul. This will . . .
bewilder the judgment,
harden the heart against God,
close the soul against the consolation of the Gospel,
and bind down the mind to the contemplation of terror!
Then prayer becomes a dry duty, a hard task, a heavy burden; the preached Word falls like a shower on a rock — and this state is often followed or attended with a host of temptations, not fit to be once named among the saints!
Then he comes as an accuser, sets these things before us in all their aggravated characters, insinuates that our case is singular, and then asks, "Are you a child of God? Do you think that God's people are infested with such awful thoughts, filled with such fearful rebellion against God, or experience such a hardened state? No, no! Your case is singular; you have sinned against light and knowledge! You have become Gospel hardened! It is in vain to attempt to pray — for God will not hear you! You have prayed again and again — but where are your answers? You know God has not given you your request — nor will he give his blessings to such a vile hardened, polluted wretch as you are! He gives to all his own children — but he does not give to you, which makes it clear you are not a child of God! Where is his tenderness towards you, where is his mercy, where is his love and favor? You know that you are a stranger to them — therefore your state is bad, your case is desperate — and your doom fearful!"
And, if he does not proceed so far as this, he often proceeds far enough to fill the mind with . . .
slavish fear, and
But I am going beyond all limits, I must conclude for the present; perhaps I may consider what remains of your address in a second paper, if the Lord wills. In the mean while — cheer up, Fellow-pilgrim, if you . . .
pant for holiness;
are tired of the vanities of the world;
and love the spiritual and holy of God's people —
then fear not — but look to Jesus, and rejoice in his dear name!
I now proceed to glance at the passages upon which your thoughts have been exercised.
In John 6:70, we read that our Lord said, "Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil," or a spy? You asked, "Do you not think that before Judas was tempted to betray Christ, he loved him?" I reply, perhaps the kindness of our Lord's disposition, and the many merciful miracles he wrought, may have occasionally called into exercise the natural affection of Judas: but that he perceived him to be the Messiah, and loved him as the Son of God, the Savior of men — I cannot for a moment believe. He was chosen to be an apostle, in accordance with Old Testament Scripture, Psalm 69; with Acts 1:16-21. But he was not chosen to eternal life in Christ Jesus, or predestined to sonship by him. He was called to accompany the Redeemer on earth, and occasionally to be a message-bearer for him; but he was not called with a holy calling according to God's purpose and grace given to his people in Christ before the world was. He was outwardly privileged — but not inwardly sanctified. He was numbered among "the covetous whom the Lord abhors."
Nor do I think he felt the same indignation as Peter did, when he injudiciously said, "Though all men forsake you — yet will not I." For what purpose Judas joined the Savior's little band, it is impossible positively to say; but it was most probably with a view to worldly aggrandizement, conceiving that our Lord was come to set up a temporal kingdom, and literally to take "the throne of his father David," he joined his party, hoping to fill some lucrative office of honor.
Peter knew Jesus was the Christ, and loved him sincerely, though at times he manifested both his weakness and his ignorance; yet he could not bear the idea of deserting his Lord, or forsaking his friends, therefore with warmth he exclaimed, "Yet I will not."
You add, "I fear sometimes, that I am like Judas." This makes you so much the less like him, shows the disposition of you mind, and if your fears are not inordinate — is but obedience to a Divine command, "You stand by faith, be not high-minded — but fear." "Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it," Romans 11:20; Hebrews 4:1. Hundreds now in glory, have been tormented by this fear — but it did not keep them out of glory — though it spoiled much of their comfort along the way. But that danger will never hurt you, nor that evil much injure you, of which you are prudently afraid. If fears lead to prayer, and prayer to watchfulness — the result is, that Satan is disappointed and the soul is preserved. You have least occasion to fear being that of which you are prayerfully afraid.
In the next lines you tell me, God gives you encouragement occasionally — but because you have not as much comfort as you wish, you are afraid your hope is a false one. Perhaps if you looked after comfort less — you would have more! I am persuaded that if our eyes were fixed on the glory of God, and if that was the object of our pursuit — we should neither lack evidences of grace, nor comfort in our way. He who hunts for comfort works for self — and serves a bad master! He who seeks the glory of God, labors for God, and shall be rewarded. Psalm 19:11; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Sam. 2:30.
Our hope is — as our faith is. If faith is rooted in the Gospel, and is busied about Divine things — then our hope will be strong and clear. But if faith loses her hold of the promises, or is weakened by being taken up with self, the world, or anything carnal — then hope flags, wavers, and wanes.
But you can see no such saved character as yourself in the Scripture. But suppose you cannot — would this make the promise of God of no effect? Where is it said that if you can find that you are like someone mentioned in the Scripture — then you shall be saved? At least you are not like Judas by your own confession — for you can see his character in the Scriptures; nor can you be like any of the apostates, formalists, or hypocrites there mentioned; I think you may draw some comfort from that.
But if you are a singular case — then surely the Lord will get singular glory in saving you; therefore cheer up. But there is too much self about all of this! Jesus says, and you dare not contradict him, "Whoever comes to me — I will never cast out." You have come to him, you are coming, you will come, you are determined you will come — and if you perish you will die at his feet. But how can you perish, when our Lord says, Heaven and earth shall pass away — but my Words shall never pass away? Scripture says more than once, "Whoever shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved." You have called, you do, and will call; what is the conclusion? You must be saved!
I remember once, I was exceedingly depressed in mind, I was going to visit a dying believer prior to going into the country to preach, I thought perhaps I would see her no more upon earth — but I shall meet her in Heaven. In a moment the suggestion was thrown into my soul, "What if I myself should be there, dying?" I felt a gloom, a darkness, I was distressed. I immediately turned in my mind to the book of God, I thought of the two passages just quoted, John 6:37; Romans 10:13. I considered, "I will never cast out" and "Shall be saved!" Why I have been to Jesus, I have called on the Lord.
But the enemy suggested, "You did not go aright — you called wrong." Go aright? Why I went as a sinner, I called for what God had promised: but I'll go again, I'll go now! I thought, I shall remember those texts at the day of judgment, I shall remember I went to Jesus, called on the Lord, and the Lord will remember it too; how then can I be condemned?
The snare was broken, the darkness fled, and my confidence in a faithful God was established. I have been many times reduced by sin, temptation, and the workings of my corrupt nature to this; but blessed be God — I have been enabled to hold fast the faithful Word of God, and in this I often take comfort!
What Christ has said must be Fulfilled,
On this firm rock believers build;
His truth must stand, his Word prevail,
And not one jot, one tittle fail.
I do not suppose that Mary Magdalene sinned as heinously as formerly, after her pardon had been pronounced by the lips of Jesus. Nor did any others who received a like favor — nor do you.
Your heart is the seat of every rebellious principle, which principles are continually striving for the mastery. Satan himself does not possess worse evils in his nature — than you do in yours — than I do in mine! But then we at the same time are possessed of opposite principles: the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other; so that we cannot do the things that we would. Galatians 5:17; Romans 7:14-25. These two opposite natures . . .
inhabit the same soul,
act upon the same faculties, and
are often both in action at the same time!
This makes it very difficult to distinguish what it is that influences us, or to come to a just conclusion. "What will you see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies." Song 6:13.
Two dear friends, or two kind relatives, or two families of sociable dispositions — may dwell comfortably together in the same house; but two different natures, two sworn foes, two active determined enemies — cannot! And this is the case in the Christian! Nature and grace, the new man and the old man — are as opposite as light and darkness, truth and falsehood, enmity and love! Both are vigorous, active, and determined — and hence the unceasing warfare.
Sin may gain a temporary advantage, and Satan may suggest many falsehoods upon the subject — but sin shall not have dominion over you; for you are not under the law but under grace. Romans 6:14. The strength of sin is the law — but we are delivered from it. Romans 7:4-6. We are married to Jesus, and he will make us more than conquerors. Romans 8:37. To be kept from outward sins, while we feel the powerful workings of inbred corruption — is a great mercy. To possess a nature that would lead into all sin — and yet to be preserved from the actual commission of sin — shows the love, power, and faithfulness of our heavenly Father; and will warrant the inference of the Psalmist; "By this I know that you favor me — because my enemies do not triumph over me." Psalm 41:11.
I think you speak incorrectly when you say, "My foes at present are mightiest." But if your inward foes were mightiest — you would be a prodigy of iniquity; Satan would so work upon your corrupt heart, that you would be a visible epistle of the devil! Or to use Scriptural language, he would take to himself seven other evil spirits, worse than the first, and they would enter your heart and dwell there, and your last state would be worse than the first! Matthew 12:45.
Satan may tempt, your evil heart may oppose all that is good, and you may seem to be carried away with one wind of temptation after another — but, like a feather firmly fastened to a rock — your safety is not affected. Comfort and safety — are separable. Your fears are all groundless — and your misgivings sinful. God is faithful: no temptation has overtaken you, but such as is common to men; and the Lord will make a way for your escape. 1 Corinthians 10:13. "Blessed is the man who endures temptation: for when he is tried — he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love him." James 1:12.
But I must CONCLUDE:
Never dwell upon your miseries — but upon your mercies.
Never indulge the idea that you are singular — it is founded either in pride or unbelief.
Remember that the blood of Christ is of infinite efficacy — it cleanses from all sin.
Remember that no praying soul ever perished — and no willing soul was ever eventually denied the salvation it desired! God may delay — but he will not deny!
You must suffer in the flesh as a sinner — but are justified in the spirit as a believer.
Simple faith is the evidence that you are entitled to all covenant blessings.
God delights to give to beggars — but will not trade with the self-righteous.
Your feelings will vary — but the word of promise is unchangeably the same.
You have always one plea left to use at God's throne — the name of Jesus; and to pleading that name, the promise is made, "If you shall ask anything in my name — I will do it." John 14:14. "Truly, truly, I say unto you, whatever you shall ask the Father in my name — he will give it to you." John 16:23.
The blessing sought (salvation) is certain — but when you shall enjoy it uncertain; the former is founded on divine faithfulness, the latter is guided by infinite wisdom. God will surely give it to you — because he is faithful; he will give it to you in the best time — because he is wise!
Ever remember that God in his Word speaks to sinners; that he invites us to come and receive — that we may be holy — but never bids us be holy, to entitle us to receive.
No case can be too bad for our great Physician! There are no denials at the Hospital of Free Grace!
None can go beyond God's uttermost; he is as willing to save, as he is able, therefore you may trust in him at all times. Psalm 62:8.
If you derive any light or comfort from this reply — be sure to give God all the praise.
Your affectionate friend,