"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28
The believer is heavily burdened with a daily conflict. This conflict between a body of sin and the holy, pure, and divine nature of which God's people are made partakers—lasts during the whole of our mortal span upon earth. Lasts, did I say? It increases in intensity. This internal warfare is more or less experienced by all God's family. But what a burden it is to have such a daily conflict with a body of sin! It is the greatest burden that we have on earth. We all have our trials—heavy trials. But of all the burdens that I am acquainted with—the daily conflict with the workings of my corrupt heart—my fallen and depraved nature perpetually lusting to evil entangling my eye, catching my affections, ensnaring my soul, dragging me, or drawing me into everything that is foul and filthy, base and vile, not externally, through mercy, but internally—forms the heaviest burden I have to carry. The conflict I daily and sometimes hourly feel with my wretched heart has been my trouble and grief continually.
Now when we are so laden with a body of sin and death—when we feel such vile sins perpetually struggling for the mastery—and such a depraved heart pouring forth its polluted streams—when we feel this common sewer of our depraved nature pouring forth this polluted stream—must it not make us grieve and groan? Yes, daily make a living soul grieve and groan—draw at times scalding tears from his eye—and force convulsive sobs from his burdened bosom—to feel that he is such a monster of depravity and iniquity—that though God keeps his feet so that he does not fall outwardly and manifestly—yet there is such a tide of iniquity flowing in his heart, polluting his conscience continually.
Jesus fixes His penetrating gaze, His sympathizing eye upon, and opens the tenderness and compassion of His loving bosom unto those who are weary and carry heavy burdens—to His poor, suffering, sorrowing, groaning, and mourning family—to those who have no one else to look to—those who are burdened in their consciences, troubled in their minds, and distressed in their souls. He says to such, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest."
Where else can I hide?
"For in the time of trouble He will hide me in His pavilion: in the secret of His tabernacle will He hide me; He will set me up upon a rock." Psalm 27:5
We have no refuge but Jesus where we can hide our guilty heads. Where else can I hide? In the law? That curses. In self? That is treacherous. In the world? That is under the curse of God. In my own righteousness? That is filthy rags. In my own strength? All is weakness. In my own resolutions of amendment? They will all issue in my falling more foully than before.
Take the lid off the boiling pot
All true sight and knowledge of our sinfulness flows from the teachings of the Spirit. As, therefore, we obtain light from on high, and feel spiritual life in our bosom, there is a deeper discovery of our own miserable state, until we are brought to see and feel, that in us, that is, in our flesh, dwells no good thing. Now this will ever be in a proportionate degree to the manifestation of the purity and holiness of the character of God, to the soul. This will effectually dispel all dreams of human purity and creature perfection. Let one ray of divine light shine into the soul out of the holiness of God—how it discovers and lays bare the hypocrisy and wickedness of the human heart! How it seems to take the lid off the boiling pot, and shows us human nature heaving, bubbling, boiling up with pride, unbelief, infidelity, enmity against God, peevishness, discontent—every hateful, foul, unclean lust—every base propensity and filthy desire. To know yourself, you must look below the lid to see how it steams, and hisses, and throws up its thick and filthy scum from the bottom of the cauldron. A calm may be on the face, but a boiling sea within.
It is this laying bare of our deep-seated malady that makes a soul under the first teachings of the Spirit feel itself lost. And oh, what a word! Lost! utterly lost! The purity of the divine image lost—and with it, utter loss of power to return to God. What a condition to be in! Without power, without will—an enemy and a rebel—by nature hating God and godliness—when we would do good, to find evil, horrid evil, present with us—to feel sin thrusting its hateful head into every thought, word, and action, so that when we would settle down and find rest in self, "all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean" Isaiah 28:8.
Where this is opened up in a man's soul, and a corresponding sense of the purity and holiness of God is manifested, he will see and feel himself too the vilest of the vile—and he will be glad to put his mouth in the dust, if so be there may be hope. Now in this melancholy state, what can such a poor lost wretch do? Condemned by the law—hunted by Satan—pursued by conscience—alarmed by fear of death—troubled with a dread of eternal perdition—what can he do to save himself? When, in the depth of his soul, he knows himself "lost, lost, lost!" and feels the inability of the creature to save—this is the man, this is the spot, unto whom and into which the Savior and salvation comes—and he, and he alone, will welcome and drink in with greedy ears the joyful sound of salvation by grace.
But oh, the tender mercy, heavenly grace, and sympathizing compassion of the Triune Jehovah! When man was sunk in the lowest depths of the fall—ruined and alienated from the life of God—that the Son of God should become the Son of Man, to suffer, bleed, and die for such wretches—and thus be a Mediator able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by Him!
The greatest attainment in religion
"But we glory in tribulations." Romans 5:3
What would you say was the greatest attainment in religion? If this question were put to different people, the answer might be different. One might say, "It is to be well established in the doctrines of the gospel—to be no longer a child tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine—but to be rooted and grounded in the truth as it is in Jesus." Another might answer, "It is to have much enjoyment of the Spirit, grace and presence of God in the soul—to have clear and blessed views of our interest in Jesus—and to experience a continual sense of that perfect love which casts out fear, and of that peace which passes all understanding." Another might reply, "It is to have a conscience very tender and alive to the evil of sin—to walk very humbly with God—to be kept very close at His footstool—and to be watchful and prayerful all the day long." Another might say, "It consists in having the mind and will of Christ stamped on the soul—in walking with the strictest regard to all the precepts of the gospel—and in having heart, lip and life perfectly conformed to the image and example of the Lord Jesus."
Now I do not say that all or any of these answers would be wrong—but I do say that none of them would precisely hit the mark. "Well, then," it may be asked, "what do you think to be the greatest attainment in religion?" I answer, "to glory in tribulations." That was certainly the mind of the Apostle Paul. "But we glory in tribulations."
Sail down the stream of a dead profession
Now here a living soul differs from all others, whether dead in sin, or dead in a religious profession—the persuasion that in God alone is true happiness. The feeling of misery and dissatisfaction with everything else but the Lord, and everything short of His manifested presence—is that which stamps the reality of the life of God in a man's soul. Mere 'professors of religion' feel no misery, dissatisfaction, or wretchedness, if God does not shine upon them. So long as the world smiles, and they have all that heart can wish, so long as they are buoyed up by the hypocrite's hope, and lulled asleep by the soft breezes of flattery—they are well satisfied to sail down the stream of a dead profession.
But it is not so with the living soul—he is at times panting after the smiles of God—he is thirsting after His manifested presence—he feels dissatisfied with the world, and all that it presents—if he cannot find the Lord, and does not enjoy the light of His countenance. Where this is experienced, it stamps a man as having the grace of God in his heart.
Have you ever felt the love of God in your souls?
"The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts." Romans 5:5
Have you ever felt the love of God in your souls? If you have felt it shed abroad there, I will tell you what it has done for you. It has made your soul burn with love to Him in return. It has drawn forth the affections of your heart to embrace Jesus as your all in all. It has deadened the world, and all that the world can offer, in your estimation. It has made you earnestly long to be with Christ, that you may bathe in His love, see Him as He is, and enjoy Him forever!
That eternal line which separates
The true believer can never be satisfied with 'doctrine in the mere letter'—nor can he ever rest until he has the manifestation and discovery of it with power to his heart by the Holy Spirit. And here is that eternal line which separates the living from the dead—here is that narrow, narrow path which distinguishes the heaven-born children, from those who are wrapped up in a nominal profession. The living family must have the power of the truth in their hearts—while others are satisfied with the mere form of truth in their heads. The living family must have heavenly teaching, while those who are dead in sin can be contented with seeing truth in the Scriptures—without a feeling application of it with dew and savor to their hearts.
Dipped in love
"Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord." Psalm 94:12
Until we are chastened, we make this present world our home—and a very pleasant paradise it is. Our children, friendships, pursuits, worldly ease, the many airy castles that we build up—are all very pleasant to us, until strokes of chastisement come, and the Lord begins to afflict us in body, in family, or in soul. Yet how kind it is, and all the kinder for being painful—for the Lord to chasten us back to our true home! He will not let us lie down in the green fields and flowery meadows, and sleep under the trees. His strokes are strokes dipped in love—and, however cutting to the flesh, if blessed by the Spirit, they are made instrumental in driving us home, bringing us to our right mind, and showing us where true rest is only to be found—in Christ, in His love, grace, and suitability—in all that He is and all that He has. What a wise and kind parent, then, He is to chasten us—though painful at the time!
The difference between a believer & an unbeliever
"Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord." Psalm 94:12
Nothing comes to a child of God as a matter of accident or chance. It all proceeds from God—and all is dealt out in measure and for certain purposes. If the Lord touches our bodies—it is for our spiritual good. If He brings affliction through our children—it is for our spiritual good. If He afflicts us in our circumstances—it is for our spiritual good. When the eye is opened to see—the ear to hear—the heart to believe—and the conscience made tender to feel—we know and confess that these things are sent from God.
Here is the difference between a believer and an unbeliever. The unbeliever says, 'it is chance!' for unbelief sees the hand of God in nothing. The believer says, 'it is the Lord!' for faith sees the hand of God in everything. There are many afflicted—but only few chastened. Many have abundance of worldly trouble—but only God's people are really chastened, so as to see and feel the hand of God in the rod, and submit to it as such. Here is all the difference between a believer and an unbeliever—between a child of God and an infidel.
Rods of different sizes
"Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord." Psalm 94:12
The Lord has various ways of chastising His people. But He generally selects such chastisement as is peculiarly adapted to the individual whom He chastens. What would be a very great chastisement for you—might not be so to me. And what on the other hand might be a very severe stroke to me—might not be so to you. Our dispositions, our constitutions, and our experiences may all differ—and therefore that chastening is selected which is suitable to the individual. It is as though the Lord has suspended in His heavenly closet, a number of rods of different sizes. And He takes out that very rod which is just adapted to the very child whom He intends to chastise—inflicting it in such a measure—at the precise time—and in such a way as is exactly fitted to the individual to be chastised. And here is the wisdom of God signally displayed.
The Lord, for instance, sees fit to chasten some in body. It is in sickness and affliction, oftentimes, that the Lord is pleased to—manifest Himself to our souls—bless us with His presence—and stir up in us a spirit of prayer. I myself am a living witness of it. The greatest blessings I have ever had—the sweetest manifestations of the Lord to my soul—have been upon a sick bed. Illness is often very profitable. When the Lord is pleased to manifest Himself in them, bodily afflictions—separate us from the world—set our hearts upon heavenly things—and draw our affections from the things of time and sense!
Fleeting, fluctuating opinions of worms
"Blessed is the man whom You discipline, O Lord." Psalm 94:12
What a different estimate men form of blessedness and happiness—from that which God has declared in His word to be such! If we listen to the opinions of men about happiness, would not their language be something like this, "Happiness consists in health and strength—in an abundance of the comforts, luxuries, and pleasures of life—in an amiable and affectionate partner—in children healthy, obedient, and well-provided for in the world—in a long and successful life, closed by an easy and tranquil death." I think a unsaved man would, if he did not use the very words, express his ideas of happiness pretty much in the substance of what I have just sketched out.
But when we come to what the Lord God Almighty has declared to be happiness—when we turn aside from the opinions of men, to the expressed words and revealed ways of the Lord, what do we find 'blessedness' to consist in? Who are the people that the unerring God of truth has pronounced to be blessed? "Blessed are—the poor in spirit—those who mourn—the meek—those who hunger and thirst after righteousness—the merciful—the pure in heart." And again, in the words of our text, "Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord." These are the unerring words of God—and by His words man will be tried. It is not the fleeting, fluctuating opinions of worms of the earth—but it is the unerring declaration of the only true God by which these matters are to be decided!
The two characters in the temple
Look at the two characters in the temple. See the proud Pharisee buoyed up with his own righteousness! Was that man, as he thought, near to God? But what set him so far from the Lord? His self-righteousness—it was that which set him far from God—the pride which he took in his doings and duties! Now, look at the tax collector, who in his own feelings was indeed far from God, for he dared not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven. But which was nearer to God—the broken-hearted tax collector—or the self-righteous Pharisee?
So when a man may think himself nearest to God by his doings and duties, by his obedience and consistency—by this very self-righteousness he thrusts himself away from God—for he secretly despises the gospel of Christ, makes himself his own savior—and, therefore, pours contempt on the blood and obedience of the Son of God. Thus, a poor guilty sinner, who in his own feelings is ready to perish, and but a miserable outcast, is brought near to God by the righteousness of the gospel—while the Pharisee is kept far from God by the wall of self-righteousness, which his own hands have built and plastered.
It is to the perishing and the outcast that the gospel makes such sweet melody. And why? Because it tells them the work of Christ is a finished work—that the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin—because it assures them that His righteousness is upon all who believe—because it proclaims mercy for the miserable—pardon for the guilty—salvation for the lost—and that where sin has abounded, there grace does much more abound!
The road to heaven
"But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it." Matthew 7:14
Man cannot obtain eternal life by any wisdom, any strength, any righteousness, or any goodness of his own. We are very slow learners in this school. The pride of our heart, our ignorance, and our unbelief—all conspire to make us diminish the difficulties of the way. But the Lord has to teach us by painful experience that the road to heaven is so difficult that a man can only walk in it as he is put in and kept in it by an almighty hand.
Think for a moment
"A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench." Matthew 12:20
When you think for a moment—how filthy and abominable your corruptions are—how strong and powerful your lusts and passions—how many and grievous your slips and falls—how carnal your mind—how cold and lifeless too often your frame—how wandering your prayers—how worldly your inclinations—how earthly and sensual your desires—is it not sometimes a wonder to you, that the Almighty God does not in righteous wrath put His foot upon you and crush you into hell, as we crush a spider? We deserve it every day that we live. I might almost say, that with well near every breath that we draw we deserve, deeply deserve—to be stamped out of life—and crushed into a never-ending hell.
But herein is manifested the tender condescending mercy and grace of the compassionate Redeemer—that He will not quench the smoking flax—but will keep the flame alive which He Himself so mercifully in the first instance kindled. The hand that brought the spark must keep alive the flame—for as no man can quicken, so no man can keep alive his own soul. How it is kept alive is indeed most mysterious—but kept alive it is.
Does it not sometimes seem to you as though you had no life of God in your soul—not a spark of grace in your heart? Where is your religion? Where is your faith and hope and love? Where your spirituality and tenderness of heart, conscience, and affections? Where your breathings after God? Gone, gone, gone! And all would be utterly, irrecoverably gone—if it were in your own hands—and consigned to your own keeping. But it is in better hands and better keeping than yours! Christ's sheep shall never perish—and none shall pluck them out of His hand! And thus it comes to pass, that the "smoking flax" is never quenched.
O how quickly would Satan throw water upon it! He would soon, if permitted, pour forth the flood of his temptations, to extinguish the holy flame that smoulders within. How sin, also, again and again pours forth a whole flood of corruption to overcome and extinguish the life of God in the soul! The world without, and the worse world within—would soon drown it in his destruction and perdition—were the Lord to keep back His protecting hand! Have you not wondered sometimes, that when you have been so cold, so dead, so stupid, so hardened—as if you had not one spark of true religion or one grain of real grace—yet all of a sudden you have found your heart softened, melted, moved, stirred, watered, blessed—and you have felt an inward persuasion that in spite of all your corruptions and sins and sorrows—there is the life of God within?
It is thus that the blessed Lord keeps alive the holy flame which He Himself has kindled. Otherwise, it would soon go out—no, it must go out—unless He keeps it alive! O how Satan would triumph if any saint ever fell out of the embraces of the good Shepherd—if he could point his derisive finger up to heaven's gate and to its risen King, and say, 'Your blood was shed in vain for this wretch—he is mine—he is mine!' Such a boast would fill hell with a yell of triumph. But no, no! it never will be so! The blood which cleanses from all sin never was, never can be shed in vain! Though the flax "smokes," it will never be extinguished!
Is there one temptation that you can master? Is there any one sin that you can, without divine help, crucify? Is there one lust that you can, without special grace, subdue? We are total weakness in this matter!
There is nothing which makes us feel our weakness so much
as an acquaintance with temptation. Temptation brings to light the evils of
the heart. These are, for the most part, unnoticed and unknown until
temptation discovers them. David's adulterous, murderous heart—Hezekiah's
pride—Job's peevishness—Jonah's rebellion—Peter's cowardice—all lay hidden
and concealed in their bosoms until temptation drew them forth. Temptation
did not put them there—but found them there. Two effects are
produced by temptations—
You perhaps get entangled in a sinful snare—you are overtaken by some stratagem of Satan—or some besetment from within. And what is the consequence? Guilt lies hard and heavy upon your conscience. This bruises it—makes it tender and sore—and often cuts deeply into it until it bleeds at well-near every pore!
When I am weak
"When I am weak, then am I strong." 2 Corinthians 12:10
A child of God in himself is all weakness. Others may boast of their strength—but he has none—and he feels he has none. But it is one thing to subscribe to this truth as a matter of doctrine—and another to be acquainted with it as a matter of inward, personal experience. It must be learned—painfully for the most part—inwardly learned under the teachings of the Spirit. Now it is this weakness—experimentally known and felt—that opens the way for a personal experience of the strength of Christ. For when Paul was groaning under the buffetings of Satan and the festering throbs of the thorn in the flesh, the Lord Himself said to him, "My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." If, therefore, we do not experimentally know what weakness is—we cannot know experimentally what it is to have the strength of Christ made perfect in that weakness!
A time to weep
"A time to weep." Ecclesiastes 3:4
Does a man only weep once in his life? Does not the time of weeping run, more or less, throughout a Christian's life? Does not mourning run parallel with his existence in this tabernacle of clay? for man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards. True Christians will know many times to weep—they will have often to sigh and cry over their base hearts—to mourn with tears of godly sorrow their backslidings from God—to weep over their broken idols, faded hopes, and marred prospects—to weep at having so grieved the Spirit of God by their disobedience, carnality, and worldliness.
But above all things will they have to weep over the inward idolatries of their filthy nature—to weep that they ever should have treated with such insult that God whom they desire to love and adore—that they should so neglect and turn their backs upon that Savior who crowns them with loving-kindness and tender mercies—and that they bear so little in mind, the instruction that has been communicated to them by the Holy Spirit.
Oh, how different is the weeping, chastened spirit of a living soul from the hardened, seared presumption of a proud professor! How different are the feelings of a broken-hearted child of God from the lightness, the frivolity, the emptiness, and the worldliness—of hundreds who stand in a profession of religion! How different is a mourning saint, weeping in his solitary corner over his base backslidings—from a reckless professor who justifies himself in every action, who thinks sin a light thing, and who, however inconsistently he acts—never feels conscience wounded thereby.
A time to mourn
"A time to mourn." Ecclesiastes 3:4
We need indeed to mourn over our wretched hearts—that we are so carnal, so stupid, and so earthly—that we have so little power to resist our evil passions. We need to mourn over our lightness—our frivolity—our emptiness—the things that drop from our lips—the unsteadiness of our walk in the strait and narrow path—our many declensions, backslidings, and secret departures from the Lord. "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted." Matthew 5:4
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh." John 3:6
There is no promise made that in this life, we shall be set free from the indwelling and the in-working of sin. Many think that their flesh is to become "progressively holier and holier"—that sin after sin is to be removed gradually out of the heart—until at last they are almost made perfect in the flesh. But this is an idle dream, and one which, sooner or later will be crudely and roughly broken to pieces.
The flesh will ever remain the same—and we shall ever find that the flesh will lust against the Spirit. Our fleshly nature is corrupt to the very core. It cannot be mended. It cannot be sanctified. It is the same at the last, as it was at the first—inherently evil, and as such will never cease to be corrupt until we put off mortality—and with it the body of sin and death.
All we can hope for, long after, expect, and pray for—is that this evil fleshly nature may be subdued, kept down, mortified, crucified, and held in subjection under the power of grace. But as to any such change passing upon the flesh—or taking place in the flesh as to make it holy—it is but a pharisaic delusion, which, promising a holiness in the flesh, leaves us still under the power of sin.
The true sanctification of the new man of grace—which is wrought by a divine power—is utterly distinct from any imagined holiness in the flesh—or any vain dream of its progressive sanctification.
Bought with a price
"For you are bought with a price." 1 Corinthians 6:20
How deep—how dreadful—of what dreadful magnitude—of how black a dye—of how ingrained a stamp must sin be—to need such an atonement—no less than the blood of the Son of God—to take it away! What a slave to sin and Satan—what a captive to the power of lust—how deeply sunk, how awfully degraded—how utterly lost and undone must guilty man be—to need a sacrifice like this!
Have you ever felt your bondage to sin, Satan, and the world? Have you ever groaned, cried, grieved, sorrowed, and lamented under your miserable captivity to the power of sin? Has the iron ever entered into your soul? Have you ever clanked your fetters, and as you did so, and tried to burst them, they seemed to bind round about you with a weight scarcely endurable?
You were slaves of sin and Satan—you were shut up in the dark cell, where all was gloom and despondency—there was little hope in your soul of ever being saved. But there was an entrance of gospel light into your dungeon—there was a coming out of the house of bondage—there was a being brought into the light of God's countenance, shining forth in His dear Son. Now, this is not only being bought with a price, but experiencing the blessed effects of it.
Laboring under temptations
Some of the Lord's family are laboring under temptations. And these temptations are so suitable to their fallen nature—and they are so unable in their own strength to overcome them—that they are afraid lest one day they should be awfully carried away by them. The lusts of their flesh—the evils and corruptions of their wicked heart—the daily, hourly snares that Satan spreads for their feet—their own thorough helplessness—their own proneness to fall into these very snares—all contribute to distress their souls. And thus, sometimes, in an agony of soul, the tears rolling down their cheeks, and heaving sobs gushing from their bosom—they are importunate with the Lord—to deliver them from this temptation—to break this snare—to set their soul free from this besetting sin in which they are so cruelly and grievously entangled.
What does God see in you?
Has it not sometimes surprised you that God ever heard your prayers? And what has been the reason of this surprise? Has it not been this? "My prayers are so polluted—my thoughts so wandering—my mind so carnal—my lusts so strong—my corruptions so powerful—my backslidings so innumerable! O, when I view these things I wonder that God can hear my prayers!" And well you may wonder—if you look at the matter in that way.
God does not hear your prayers because there is anything good in you! How could it be? What does God see in you? A mass of filth and folly! There is in you nothing else. Then why does God hear prayer—and answer it too? Only through Jesus. Prayer ascends through Jesus—and answers descend through Jesus. Groans through Jesus enter the ear of God Almighty—and through the same open gate of bleeding mercy, do answers drop into the soul.
Our poor self-righteous hearts can hardly comprehend this—and we think we must have a good frame, or bring a good deed, or a good heart to make our prayers acceptable to God. Perish the thought! This is nothing but the spawn of self-righteousness!
He cannot find real pleasure in the world
The human heart must be engaged upon something—its affections must be fixed upon some object—its thoughts and desires must be occupied with one thing or other. If his heart, then, is not set Godwards, if his affections are not fixed upon Christ, if his soul is not engaged on heavenly things—he may have the greatest profession of religion, but his heart is still worldly, his affections still earthly, and his soul still going out after idols.
But where the Lord has really touched the conscience with His finger, and made Himself precious to the soul—however a man may seem for a time to be buried in the world, and his affections going out after forbidden objects—however he may be hewing out cisterns, broken cisterns which can hold no water—however he may secretly backslide from the Lord—still he cannot break the hold that eternal things have upon his heart—he cannot find real pleasure in the world, though he may often seek it. Nor can he bury himself contentedly in its pursuits. There will be a restless dissatisfaction with the things of time and sense—an aching void—and a turning again to the stronghold—a seeking the Lord, who alone can really satisfy the soul, and make it happy for time and eternity!
Natural conviction for sin
Godly sorrow for sin differs much from natural conviction for sin. Powerful natural convictions, I believe, for the most part are not felt more than once or twice in a man's life—and when they have passed away—the conscience is more seared than it was before—the world more eagerly grasped—and sin more impetuously plunged into.
But 'godly sorrow' is produced by a supernatural work of grace on the heart. The eye of faith sees sin in the light of God's countenance—and thus the soul becomes alive to its dreadful evil and horrible character. The heart too is melted down into godly sorrow by beholding the Savior's sufferings—and viewing the Lord of life and glory as stooping and agonizing under the weight of sin—not only as imputed to Him—but as pressing Him down into anguish and distress. And thus, godly sorrow for sin is not a thing which a man feels once or twice in his life—but from time to time, as the Spirit works it in his heart, godly sorrow flows forth. If he has been—entangled in sin—overcome by temptation—slidden back into the world—or his heart has gone after idols—a living soul will not pass it by as a thing of no consequence. But, sooner or later, the Spirit touches his heart—godly sorrow flows out—and his soul is melted and moved by feeling what a base wretch he is in the sight of a holy God.
Objects of undeserved love
"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." Romans 9:15
God sooner or later brings every elect soul to this conclusion—that those who are saved are saved, because God will save them—that He has mercy on whom He will have mercy, and on them alone—that He saves them not for any foreseen goodness in them, but of His own discriminating, sovereign grace—that He loves them freely, eternally and unchangeably—and that they are redeemed, justified, quickened, sanctified, preserved, and glorified—only because they are the objects of the undeserved love of a Triune Jehovah!
Humility springs from a knowledge of God and a knowledge of one's self. It consists—in a spiritual acquaintance with the deceit and wickedness of the heart—in esteeming others better than ourselves—in feeling how little grace and real religion we possess—in confessions to God and man of our vileness—in sitting at Jesus' feet to be taught by Him—in taking the lowest room among the children of God—in feeling our helplessness, weakness, foolishness and nothingness!
Godly fear—realizes God's heart-searching presence—trembles at His frown—dreads His displeasure—is afraid of His judgments—feels His chastening hand—and seeks above all things His favor and the light of His countenance!
Conversion consists in—a change of heart—a change of affections—a change of feelings—a turning from formality to spirituality—from free-will to free-grace—from self-righteousness to self-abhorrence—from hypocrisy to honesty—from self-justification to self-condemnation—from profession to power!
Found in hypocrites, apostates & reprobates
If, then, we are asked what it is which saves a soul, we answer that it is not works of righteousness which we have done or can do—nor the use of our free-will, which is only free to choose and love evil—nor watchfulness, prayer and fasting—nor self-denial, austerity and outward sanctification—nor any duties and forms—nor, in a word, any one thing singly, or multitude of things collectively, which depend on the natural wisdom and strength of man. Nor, again, is it head-knowledge—nor firm conviction of truth in the judgment—nor such workings of natural conscience as compel us to assent to a free grace salvation—nor a life outwardly consistent with the gospel—nor membership in a gospel church—nor natural attachment to the children and to the ministers of God—nor zeal for experimental religion—nor sacrifices made to support truth.
Nor, again, does salvation consist in doubts and fears, tribulations, temptations, workings of inward corruption, legal terrors, fits of gloomy despondency and heart-rending despair. All these things "accompany salvation," and are to be found in all the heirs of glory—but some of them or all may equally be found in hypocrites, apostates and reprobates. Neither does salvation consist in outward gifts, as preaching and praying, as a man may taste of the heavenly gift—and yet his end be to be burned. Saul prophesied—Judas preached—and the sons of Sceva cast out demons by the name of Jesus.
Salvation consists of three parts
Salvation consists of three parts—salvation past—salvation present—and salvation future. Salvation past consists in having our names written in the Lamb's book of life before the foundation of the world. Salvation present consists in the manifestation of Jesus to the soul, whereby He betroths it to Himself. Salvation future consists in the eternal enjoyment of Christ, when the elect shall sit down to the marriage supper of the Lamb, and be forever with the Lord.
Now, as none will ever enjoy salvation future who have no interest in salvation past—in other words, as none will ever be with Christ in eternal glory whose names were not written in the book of life from all eternity—so none will enjoy salvation future who live and die without enjoying salvation present. In other words, none will live forever with Christ in glory, who are not betrothed to Him in this life by the manifestations of Himself to their soul.
Salvation as an internal reality
All doctrines, notions, forms, creeds, ordinances and ceremonies—short of experiential salvation—are as the dust in the balance, and as the driven stubble before the wind. What, for instance, is election—except it be revealed to my soul that I was elected before the foundation of the world? What is redemption to me—except the atoning blood of the Lamb be sprinkled on my conscience? What is the everlasting love of a Triune Jehovah—unless that eternal love be shed abroad in my heart by the Holy Spirit? What is the final perseverance of the saints—unless there is a blessed enjoyment of it in the conscience as a personal reality? To see these things revealed in the Bible is nothing. To hear them preached by one of God's ministers is nothing. To receive the truth of these into our judgment, and to yield to them an unwavering assent is nothing. Thousands have done all this, who are blaspheming God in hell.
But to have eternal election, personal redemption, imputed righteousness, unfailing love, and all the other blessed links of the golden chain let down into the soul from the throne of God—to have the beauty, glory and blessedness of salvation revealed to the heart and sealed upon the conscience—this is all in all. A man's soul must be damned or saved. And a man must have salvation as an internal reality—as a known, enjoyed, tasted, felt and handled possession—or he will never enter the kingdom of heaven. He may be Churchman or Dissenter, Calvinist or Arminian, Baptist or Independent, anything or everything—and yet all his profession is no more towards his salvation than the cut of his clothes, the height of his stature, or the color of his complexion. And thus all a man's—consistency of life—soundness of creed—walking in the ordinances—long and steady profession—and everything on which thousands are resting for salvation, of a merely external nature—can no more put away sin, satisfy the justice of God, and give the soul a title for heaven, than the lewd conversation of a harlot!
Man would teach religion as he teaches arithmetic or mathematics. This rule is to be learned—this sum is to be done—this problem is to be understood—this difficulty is to be overcome—and thus progress is to be made. Religion, according to the received creed—is something which a man must be urged into. He must be made religious somehow or other. He must either be—driven or drawn—wheedled or threatened—enticed or whipped into it—by human arguments or human persuasions. Religion is set before him as a river between his soul and heaven. Into this river he is persuaded, invited, exhorted, entreated to jump. He must leap in, or be pushed in. His feelings are wrought upon, and he takes the prescribed spring. He becomes a professor. He hears—he reads—he prays—he supports the cause—he attends the Sunday School—he models his garb according to the regimentals of the party to which he belongs—he furnishes his mind with the creed of the sect which he has joined. He talks as it talks—believes as it believes—and acts as it acts. And all this is called "conversion" and "decided piety," when all this time there is not—an atom of grace—a grain of spiritual faith—or a spark of divine life in the poor wretch's soul.
Man's religion is to put a stick here—and place a stone there—to fill up this corner with a brick and the other corner with a tile—and in this progressive way to build a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven!
This ceaseless conflict
Temptations are a source of spiritual affliction to God's people. They often, in passing through temptations, think themselves different from all others. They can scarcely believe that any other children of God are as tempted as they are—that such vile thoughts—such base desires—such carnal imaginations—such wicked lusts—should work in the minds of others, who appear to them to be holy and spiritual. They often write bitter things against themselves in consequence of these temptations—to infidelity—to blasphemy—to renounce the cause of God and truth—to commit the vilest sins painted in the imagination—to pride—to hypocrisy—to presumption—and despair. These various temptations lie heavy on a tender conscience, and cut deep just in proportion to the depth of godly fear within.
The daily conflict that we have to maintain in our souls against the world, the flesh, and the devil—the struggle of grace against nature, and of nature against grace—the sinkings of the one, and the risings of the other, that are perpetually going on in the souls of God's people—this ceaseless conflict is an affliction that the Lord's people are all called on to pass through.
What mysterious arithmetic!
"Count it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds." James 1:2
See the transmuting effect of grace enabling the tried and tempted family of God to count it pure joy, whenever they face trials of many kinds. We have here a problem in arithmetic. Take all your trials and mark them down. Now add them up, and what is the sum total? "Joy!" What mysterious arithmetic! How unlike the addition taught in schools! How different from the sums and problems in the lesson books! How different, also, a result does the Lord bring out from your own calculations when you looked at them one by one, without adding up the whole sum! Then "count it pure joy" whenever you face trials of many kinds, knowing that their effect is—to wean you from the world—to endear Christ—to render His truth precious—and to make you fit for your eternal inheritance. Are you satisfied with the solution of the problem? Can you write down your own name at the bottom of the sum and say, "It is proved—I carry the proof in my own bosom?"
The height of Christian maturity
What is the greatest height of grace to which the soul can arrive? To submit wholly to the will of God, and be lost and swallowed up in conformity to it—is the height of Christian maturity here below. There is more manifested grace in the heart of a child of God who, under trial, can say, "May Your will be done," and submit himself to the chastening rod of his Heavenly Father!
Our coward flesh shrinks from the flame
When the Lord puts us in the furnace, we go in kicking and rebelling. Our coward flesh shrinks from the flame! But when we have been some time in the furnace and find that we cannot kick ourselves out, and that our very struggling only makes the coals burn more fiercely—at last, by the grace of God working in us, we begin to lie still. It was so with Job. How he fought against God! How his carnal mind was stirred up in self-justification and rebellion until the Lord Himself appeared and spoke to his heart from heaven. Then he came to this point, "I had heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You."
Weighed, measured & timed by infinite love
"The Lord tries the righteous." Psalm 11:5
The Lord appoints to every one of His children the peculiar path which he has to tread—and the number and weight of the burdens which he has to carry. Whatever trial, therefore, comes, it is of the Lord. The trials with which God Himself tries His people are not only numerous and various—but for the most part of a very painful and perplexing nature—yet all precisely adapted to the nature of the case and exactly suited to the state of the person tried, as being planned by unerring wisdom—and weighed, measured and timed by infinite love!
Thus, as the God of providence—as the Maker of our bodies as well as the Creator of our souls—as the God of our families who gives and takes at will the fruit of the womb—some of His children He tries with poverty—others with sickness—others with taking away the desire of their eyes at a stroke—or cutting off the tender olive plants which have sprung up round about their table and entwined round every fiber of their heart.
How sudden also, how unexpected the trials! Heavy losses in business, a sweeping away of the little savings of a life—by some fraud or failure, trick or treachery, riches making themselves wings and flying away, and poverty and need coming in as an armed man to plunder the wreck! How suddenly do such strokes come! Sickness, also, and disease—how swift their attack! The saints of God are not exempt from their share in these afflictions—many are either themselves stretched on beds of languishing and pain—or are watching by the side of afflicted relatives and dying children. How suddenly, also, trials of various kinds come! In one day Job, "the greatest of all the men of the east," lost all the substance which God had given—and the father in the morning of ten living children sat in the evening in his lonely house childless and desolate! How labor pangs fell suddenly on Rachel, and the impatient mother who had cried out "Give me children or else I die," expired under the load of her coveted burden!
The discovery of what we are
"When He has tried me, I shall come forth like gold." Job 23:10
The Lord tries the righteous by laying bare, and thus discovering to them the secret iniquities of the heart. So the Lord—to strip us of our own pride—to crush our vain confidence—to show us that all our strength is weakness, and that grace must freely sanctify as well as fully save, subdue sin as well as pardon it—often leaves us to the discovery of what we are. As, then, sin after sin becomes discovered—and the teaching of the Spirit making the heart soft and the conscience tender—the soul is painfully and acutely tried by seeing and feeling these inward abominations.
How markedly we see this in Job! In the furnace what a discovery was made of the corruptions of his heart—which before were to himself unsuspected and unknown! They had not escaped the searching eye of Omniscience—but they had much escaped the eye of the most perfect and upright man who then dwelt upon the earth. When, however this eminent saint of God was tried by afflictions and desertions—pain of body and agony of mind—then the deep and foul corruptions of his heart become manifest—and the most rebellious and unfitting expressions found vent through his lips. You may think harshly of Job—but the greatest saint, the most highly favored Christian put into the same furnace—would behave no better than he. If the Lord withdraws His presence, and leaves us to the workings of our corrupt heart—what can be the outcome but fretfulness, rebellion, murmuring thoughts, unbelief, and self-pity?
They shall walk and not faint
"They shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:31
Walking implies—a steady, progressive pace—a calm, steady progression in the things of God—a sober persuasion of the truth as it is in Jesus—a calm movement in the ways of the Lord—a living in peace with God, and in peace with His people—a walking in the commandments of the Lord blameless—a going onward in that humility, integrity, godly fear, tenderness of conscience, wariness, and uprightness of heart which befit the true believer.
"But those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint." Isaiah 40:31
The very word wait implies perseverance and fixed determination in the soul—that to God alone will we look. The Lord by His mysterious dealings cuts us off from resting upon an arm of flesh. He will not allow us to lean upon any friend, however near or dear. He will not let us look to any one but Himself, for He is a jealous God—and therefore He keeps cutting off link after link, tie after tie, bond after bond—that not having any human comfort, we may seek consolation only in Him.
The soaring soul
"They shall mount up with wings as eagles." Isaiah 40:31
Sometimes we are so fastened down to this earth—this valley of tears—this waste-howling wilderness. We are so chained down to it, that we are like a bird with a broken wing, and cannot soar. We are swallowed up in the world—forgetting God and godliness. But are there not times and seasons when the soul is delivered from these chains and fetters—when earthly cares drop off from the mind—when the world and its temptations—sin and its snares—are left behind—and there is a sweet soaring up in the feelings of heavenly affection? The soaring soul never ceases to soar until it comes into the very presence of God!
The religion of a dead professor
How different the religion of a living soul is—from the religion of a dead professor! The religion of a dead professor begins in self—and ends in self; begins in his own wisdom—and ends in his own folly; begins in his own strength—and ends in his own weakness; begins in his own righteousness—and ends in his own damnation!
But the true child of God—though he is often faint, weary, and exhausted with many difficulties, burdens, and sorrows—yet when the Lord does show Himself, and renews his strength, he soars aloft, and never ceases to mount up on the wings of faith and love until he penetrates into the very sanctuary of the Most High!
All the things of time and sense leave a child of God unsatisfied. Nothing but vital union and communion with the Lord of life and glory, to—feel His presence—taste His love—enjoy His favor—see His glory—nothing but this will ever satisfy the desires of ransomed and regenerated souls!
He knows what is best for you!
Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God"? Isaiah 40:27
The path in which the family of God were then walking was exceedingly perplexing. Their "way"—that is, the path they were taking—the mode of the Lord's dealing with their soul—was so perplexing and obscure—that they could not believe it was a right way. The Lord had hidden His face from them, and did not show them the nature or reason of His dealings with them. With respect to this intricate path in which you are walking, He adds, "there is no searching of his understanding."
He knows what is best for you! And though your present path is dark and obscure in your eyes, it is bright and clear in His. He would, therefore, urge this upon the conscience of His exercised and complaining child, 'Your part is to sit still, and wait until the deliverance appear. In due time, I will explain to you the nature and reason of these mysterious dealings.'
Great barriers to receiving Christ
Self-righteousness and fleshly-holiness are as great barriers to receiving Christ into the heart—as sin and profanity.
The cause of all our misery
Now sin, horrible sin—this dreadful and damnable sin of ours—is the cause of all our misery! We not only inherited it from our first parents—but we have sinned ever since we came into being. Yes, we were conceived in sin and shaped in iniquity, and so ever since we came forth into this world until the present time, we have sinned in every thought, word and deed. Now when the Lord the Spirit begins His gracious work upon a sinner's heart and conscience, one of the first things He makes him to feel is that he is a captive to sin. He feels in a position from which he cannot extricate himself. He is tied and bound with the chain of his sins. Sin has cast around him a chain, from which he cannot extricate himself—and under the sense of sin he feels bound in captivity and bondage. How he hails the first gleam of light that shows him the way of escape out of his dungeon!
The authors of our own misery
Ever since the fall, sorrow and disappointment have been the decreed lot of man—for on that sad and evil day when Adam sinned and fell, God cursed the ground for his sake, and declared that in sorrow he would eat of it all the days of his life. Thorns also and thistles—emblems of vexation and disappointment—the ground was to bring forth to him, and in the sweat of his face he was to eat bread, until he returned unto the ground from whence he was taken. Dust you are—and to the dust you will return! Therefore, by God's decree, sorrow and disappointment are the determined lot of man. No exertion of human skill—or subtle contrivance of earthly wisdom—can possibly avert them.
It will be our wisdom, however fair may be our present sky—to anticipate stormy winds and rough seas before we reach our destined harbor. But of all sorrows, the most cutting is that which we bring upon ourselves. And of all disappointments, the most keen is that of which we feel ourselves to be the main and miserable authors. There is not a more true nor a more stinging reproof from the mouth of God to one under His chastening hand than this, "Have you not procured this to yourself, in that you have forsaken the Lord your God?" Jeremiah 2:17. There is no sorrow so keen—no disappointment so cutting—as to reflect that whatever we may suffer under God's chastening strokes—we ourselves have been the authors of our own misery!
If we are travelers Zionward
If we are travelers Zionward, we shall have our various evidences that mark us as children of God—the fear of God in a tender conscience—the spirit of grace and of supplications in their bosom—the cleaving to the people of God in warm affection—the love for the truth in its purity and power—the earnest desires—the budding hopes—the separation from the world—the humility, meekness, quietness—the general consistency of life.
The religious professor
You may take away almost anything from a man but his religion! To pronounce his faith a delusion—his hope a falsehood—and to sift his profession until nothing is left but presumption or hypocrisy—to withstand his false confidence, and declare it to be worse than the faith of devils—to analyze his religion, beginning, middle, and end, as thoroughly and unreservedly as a chemist analyzes a case of suspected poisoning—and declare the whole rotten, root and branch—can this be done without giving deadly offence? To faithfully discriminate between taking the 'mere lamp of profession' in the hand—and the vital necessity of possessing the 'oil of God's grace in the heart' if ever we are to enter heaven—will make one especially obnoxious to the professing religious world.
The religious professor receives doctrines because he sees them in the Bible. The true believer not only sees them in the Book—but he feels them in his heart—put there by the Holy Spirit. He comes to the cross because he is guilty and there is nowhere else to go. Thus the religionist and the believer (however they may resemble one another) have an eternal distinction which the hand of God has drawn between the living and the dead.
We do not know what is to come
"As your days, so shall your strength be." Deuteronomy 33:25
The year before our eyes may hold in its bosom events which may deeply concern us and affect us. We do not know what is to come. What personal trials—what family trials—what providential trials may await us—we do not know. Sickness may attack our bodies—death enter our families—difficulties beset our circumstances—trials and temptations exercise our minds—snares entangle our feet—and many dark and gloomy clouds, make our path one of heaviness and sorrow. Every year hitherto has brought its trials in its train—and how can we expect the coming year to be exempt? If, indeed, we are His, whatever our trials may be—His grace will be sufficient for us. He who has delivered—can and will deliver. And He who has brought us thus far on the road, who has so borne with our crooked manners in the wilderness, and never yet forsaken us, though we have so often forsaken Him—will still lead us along—will still guide and guard us, and be our God, our Father and our Friend—not only to the end of the next year, if spared to see it—but the end of our life.
Blessed with His presence—we need fear no evil. Favored with His smile—we need dread no foe. Upheld by His power—we need shrink from no trial. Strengthened by His grace—we need panic at no suffering. Knowing what we are and have been when left to ourselves—the slips that we have made—the snares that we have been entangled in—the shame and sorrow that we have procured to ourselves—well may we dread to go forth in the coming year alone. Well may we say—"If Your presence doesn't go with me, don't carry us up from here!"
The only true commentator
"Temptation, prayer, and meditation," says Luther, "make a minister." These, also, we may add, make the only true Commentary upon the Word of God. By temptation and conflict, the experience of the Bible saints is entered into and realized. By prayer, and in answer to it, its spiritual meaning is opened up. And by meditation it is turned into sweet and solid nutriment. The heavenly wisdom—the unspeakable majesty and beauty—the divine savor and power—the richness and fullness—the certainty and faithfulness—the suitability and blessedness—that are stamped upon the Scripture—these prints of the hand of God can only be felt and recognized as the Holy Spirit shines upon the sacred page! He is the only true Commentator—for He alone can reach and melt the heart. And He is the only true Preacher—because He alone can seal the truth upon the soul.
We may see so much evil in ourselves
We may see so much evil in ourselves as to see nothing else. We have our eyes so fixed and riveted on the malady as to lose all view of the remedy. We dwell so much and so long on Zion's sickness as to forget there is balm still in Gilead and a mighty Physician there!
A line chalked out by a worm!
"But our God is in the heavens. He does whatever He pleases." Psalm 115:3
Jehovah does not move in a line chalked out by a worm!
The secret of all preaching
Many ministers preach gospel truths, but are not blessed. Why not? Because they have not preached them under the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. Their thunders are mimic thunders—their preaching is rather 'acting' than preaching. The secret of all preaching is the power and influence of the Holy Spirit. If that is denied, the tongue is merely that of the actor on the stage!
Life is fast passing away
We see and feel how life is fast passing away—the things of time and sense slipping from under our feet—the world a scene of vanity and trouble—sin everywhere running down the streets like water—and, alas! what is worse, running through our own heart, ever grieving and defiling our conscience!
What a debt of gratitude
Take the Word of God out of our hands and heart, and we wander in shades of thickest night. What a debt of gratitude do we owe to the God of all grace for the gift of His holy Word—to be to us our light and guide! And how do we best show our appreciation of, our gratitude for, this divine gift? By binding it close to our heart—by searching it daily, as for hidden treasure—by studying it, and seeking to penetrate into its inmost mind and meaning, pith and marrow, spirit and power—not scuffling over it as a schoolboy over his task, or some drudge over her work—not reading it with a listless eye and wandering mind, glad enough to close its pages and put it back on the shelf. But feeding upon the milk and honey—the meat and marrow—and sipping the cheering wine with which the Lord of the house has furnished His table. The Word of God is written for a spiritually afflicted and poor people—and they alone understand it, believe it, feel it and realize it.
Allow it to embrace you
Entanglement in worldly matters beyond what is absolutely necessary, is one of the surest hindrances to the life of God in the soul. Some of the family of God are so circumstanced in business or in their daily employment that they must necessarily have much to do with the world. But this will be neither their temptation nor their sin, if they are not entangled in nor overcome by its spirit. Joseph in the court of Pharaoh, and Daniel who ruled over an empire, maintained not only their worldly position, but their divine grace. It is not then being IN the world, but OF the world in which the danger lies. Keep the world at arms length, and it will not hurt you. But if you allow it to embrace you—you will soon yield to its seductive influence!
One of the worst spots
"You have left your first love." Revelation 2:4
We leave our first love when—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 for them by Satan on every side—we wander from the Lord, leaving the fountain of living waters, and hewing out cisterns, broken cisterns, which hold no water. This is one of the most dangerous and one of the worst spots into which a child of God can fall.
What a mine of heavenly instruction!
O what treasures of mercy and grace are lodged in the Scriptures! What a mine of heavenly instruction! What a storehouse of precious promises, encouraging invitations, glorious truths, holy precepts, tender admonitions, wise counsels and loving directions! What a lamp to our feet and a light to our path! But O, how little we know, understand, believe, realize, feel and enjoy of the Word of life! For years have we read, studied, meditated and sought by faith to enter into the treasures of truth contained in the inspired Word. But O, how little do we understand it! How less do we believe and enjoy the heavenly mysteries—the treasures of grace and truth revealed in it! Only as our heart is brought not only unto, but into the Word of life, and only as faith feeds on the heavenly food there lodged by the infinite wisdom and goodness of God—can we be made fruitful in any good word or work.
We should seek, by the help and blessing of God—to drink more into the spirit of truth—to enter more deeply and vitally into the mind of Christ—to read the Word more under that same inspiration whereby it was written—to submit our heart more to its instruction—that it may drop like the rain and distill like the dew into the inmost depths of our soul, and thus, as it were, nourish the roots of our faith, and hope, and love.
True prayer is something very different from—a custom of prayer—a form of prayer—or even a gift of prayer. These are merely the fleshly imitations of the interceding breath of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the saints of God and, therefore, may and do exist without it. But that secret lifting up of the heart unto the Lord—that panting after Him as the deer pants after the water-brooks—that pouring out of the soul before Him—that sighing and groaning for—a word of His grace—a look of His eye—a touch of His hand—a smile of His face—that sweet and heavenly communion with Him on the mercy-seat which marks the Spirit's inward intercession—all this cannot be counterfeited. Such a close, private, inward, experimental work and walk is out of the reach and out of the taste of the most gifted professor. But in this path the Holy Spirit leads the living family of God—and as they walk in it under His teachings and anointings—they feel its sweetness and blessedness.
Throw it into the river!
As to a religion that knows nothing of sighs, nor cries, nor breathings, nor groans, nor longings, nor languishings, nor meltings, nor softenings—that feels no contrition, no tenderness, no godly sorrow, no desire to please God, no fear to offend Him—away with it! Throw it into the river! Bury it in the first ash-heap you come to! The sooner it is got rid of, the better!
Religion—without heavenly teaching—without the Spirit's secret operations—without a conscience made tender in the fear of the Lord—without the spirit of prayer in the bosom—without breathings after the Lord—without desires to experience His love, and enjoy a sense of His mercy and goodness—all such religion is a deception and a delusion! It begins in the flesh, and it will end in the flesh.
So dreadful, so hateful & abhorrent
Sin is an evil so dreadful, so hateful and abhorrent to God's righteous character—so provoking to His justice and holiness, that He could not pardon it unless an atonement were made adequate to its fearful magnitude. Thousands of rams, and ten thousand rivers of oil could not atone for sin! Did all men consent to give their firstborn for their transgression, the fruit of their body for the sin of their soul—all could not suffice to outweigh the magnitude of sin. Nothing short of the blood of the Son of God could be an atonement of sufficient worth, of equivalent value.
My soul is exceedingly sorrowful
"My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." Mark 14:34
What heart can conceive, what tongue express what His holy soul endured when the Father laid upon Him the iniquities of us all? In the Garden of Gethsemane—what a load of guilt—what a weight of sin—what an intolerable burden of the wrath of God—did that sacred humanity endure—until the pressure of sorrow and woe forced the drops of blood to fall as sweat from His brow! The human nature in its weakness recoiled, as it were, from the cup of anguish put into His hand. His body could scarcely bear the load that pressed Him down. His soul, under the waves and billows of God's wrath, sank in deep mire where there was no standing, and came into deep waters where the floods overflowed Him.
And how could it be otherwise when His sacred humanity was—enduring all the wrath of God—suffering the very pangs of hell—and wading in all the depths of guilt and terror? When the blessed Lord was made a sin offering for us, He endured in His holy soul all the pangs of distress, horror, alarm, misery, and guilt that the elect would have felt in hell forever! And not only as any one of them would have felt—but as the collective whole would have experienced under the outpouring of the everlasting wrath of God—the anguish, the distress, the darkness, the condemnation, the shame, the guilt, the unutterable horror.
He as the eternal Son of God, had lain in His bosom before all worlds, had known all the blessedness and happiness of the love and favor of the Father, His own Father, shining upon Him; for He was as one brought up with Him, and was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him. When, then, instead of love—He felt His displeasure; instead of the beams of His favor—He experienced the frowns and terrors of His wrath; instead of the light of His countenance—He tasted the gloom and darkness of desertion—what heart can conceive—what tongue express the bitter anguish which must have wrung the soul of our suffering Substitute under this agonizing experience?
Let us ever bear in mind that the sufferings of the holy soul of Jesus were as really felt as the sufferings of His sacred body—and a thousand times more intense and intolerable! Though beyond description painful and agonizing, yet the sufferings of the body were light indeed compared with the sufferings of the soul. Surely never was there such a pang since the foundations of the earth were laid, as that which rent and tore the soul of the Redeemer when the last drop of agony was poured into the already overflowing cup, and He cried out—"My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"
I admire and love the grace of God
"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 the rest. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:3, 8
View the jewels that grace has set in the Redeemer's crown—made out of the most depraved and abject materials! Who, for instance, were those Ephesians to whom Paul wrote that wonderful epistle? The most foolish and besotted of idolaters—men debased with every lust—ripe and ready for every crime. How rich, how marvelous the grace that changed worshipers of Diana—into worshipers of Jehovah; magicians, full of sorcery and Satanic witchcraft—into saints of God! I admire and love the grace of God—and the longer I live, the more do I love and admire it. My sins—my corruptions—my infirmities—make me feel my deep and daily need of grace—and as its freeness, fullness, suitability and inexpressible blessedness are more and more opened up to my heart and conscience—so do I more and more cleave to and delight in it!
In a lame state
"The lame walk." Matthew 11:5
When the Spirit begins a work of grace upon the heart, God's people are made sensible that they are in a lame state—that they are crippled, paralytic, bedridden—unable to lift up a leg or a finger. Man is dead in sin—his faculties are all crippled—he is utterly helpless in the things of God.
"The blind receive their sight." Matthew 11:5
In what state and condition are we by nature? Are we not—blind to our state as sinners before God? blind to the spirituality and condemning power of the law? blind to the majesty, greatness, holiness, and purity of God? blind to the beauty and preciousness of Immanuel? blind to the personality and operations of God the Spirit? And is not this blindness a feature that universally prevails? Are we not, in a spiritual sense, born blind? Do we not grow up in that blindness? And can any natural power remove it? Can any light in the judgment—can any doctrines received in the mind—can any profession of religion—can anything that nature has done or can do—remove that blindness? It cannot be removed by any power of man in himself.
It is the special work, the grand prerogative of the Son of God, to remove this blindness by communicating spiritual eyesight. And this is done in a moment. There was an instant, though we may not be enabled to recollect it, when divine light was brought into our dark minds—and the blind received sight. A child of God cannot understand how, or why it is—but he knows that he once was blind—but now he sees! There is in his soul an inward perception—and that this inward perception is attended with certain sensations—to which sensations he was a stranger in times past.
Whenever the blind receive sight, they see the purity and spirituality of God's character. Before the blind receive sight, they think that God is such a one as themselves. They have no idea of—no internal acquaintance with—the infinite purity, holiness, and spirituality of Jehovah. They therefore never bow down before Him—there is no trembling of heart at His great name—no bringing down of proud imaginations at His footstool—no inward shrinking into self before the loftiness of the Most High—no perception of His glory—no yielding up of the heart in subjection—no adoration nor admiration of His eternal Majesty! But wherever spiritual eyesight is given, and the purity and holiness of Jehovah are made known to the heart, there will be, as we find all through the Scripture—self-abasement. "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees You. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."
The purity, holiness, and spirituality of God's character, produced in the saints of old, this prostration of soul before Him. The Lord God Almighty reveals in the soul His purity, spirituality, and holiness—to bring guilt upon the soul—to drive it out of every lying refuge—and beat out of its grasp every hope, but that which He Himself implants. He beats us out of every false refuge—strips us of every natural hope—and removes every creature prop from under our souls. He displays His dreadful majesty—sets our secret sins before our eyes—and searches the very bottom of our hearts—to bring us near the Son of His love—to draw us to the bosom of the Lord of life and glory—and make Him dear and precious to our souls!
Such a sight
"We see Jesus." Hebrews 2:9
Did your eyes ever see Jesus? I do not mean your natural, your bodily eyes—but the eye of faith, the eye of the soul. I will tell you what you have felt—if you ever saw Jesus. Your heart was softened and melted—your affections drawn heavenward—your soul penetrated with thankfulness and praise—your mind lifted up above all earthly things to dwell and center in the bosom of the blessed Immanuel.
Do you think, then, you have seen Jesus by the eye of faith? Then you have seen—the perfection of beauty—the consummation of pure loveliness—the image of the invisible God—all the perfections and glorious character of the Godhead shining forth in Him who was nailed to Calvary's tree! I am sure such a sight as that must melt the most obdurate heart—and draw tears from the most flinty eyes! Such a sight of the beauty and glory of the Son of God must kindle the warmest, holiest stream of tender affection. It might not have lasted long. These feelings are often very transitory. The world, sin, temptation, and unbelief soon work—infidelity soon assails all—the things of time and sense soon draw aside—but while it lasted, such, in a greater or less degree, were the sensations produced.
Genuine soul humility
We do not have any humility—except as the Lord is pleased to teach the soul to be humble. And how does He produce genuine soul humility? By showing us what we are—opening up the secrets of the heart—discovering the desperate wickedness of our fallen nature—and convincing us that sin is intermingled with every thought, word, look, and action!
When the blessed Spirit takes us in hand
"He will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment." John 16:8
We may, by observing the workings of the natural mind, come to some conclusion that we and all men are naturally—very selfish—very proud—and very worldly. But this knowledge does not produce any sense of godly sorrow—or any self-loathing on account of indwelling sin. But when the blessed Spirit takes us in hand—strips away the veil of delusion from our hearts—and opening up the depths of our fallen nature, discovers the secret recesses where everything that is filthy and loathsome hides itself—then we begin to see and feel that we are sinners indeed—inwardly as well as outwardly—in thought and imagination—as well as by habit and practice. If any of us have ever learned to loathe ourselves before God—it is by having some special discovery of the purity and holiness of God—contrasted with our own vileness and filthiness!
"Happy are you, O Israel." Deuteronomy 33:29
What are the sources of the Christian's happiness? Are they such as the world accounts to be streams of perennial joy? No! The Lord for the most part dries up or embitters the streams of earthly happiness—that His people may not drink at them—and so forsake or neglect the fountain of living waters. The Lord, for His own gracious purposes, usually puts gall and wormwood into the streams of earthly happiness.
So why are the people of God happy? Happy because God has chosen them unto salvation in the Person of His dear Son! Happy because He has loved them with an everlasting love—and sometimes enables them to love Him in return! Happy because He has called them by His grace, that He may one day crown them with everlasting glory! Happy because mansions of eternal bliss are reserved for them in the skies—far beyond all the storms and waves of this troublous world! Happy because the Lord is their everlasting portion! Happy because God is their Father and friend—Jesus their Redeemer, husband, and elder brother—and the Holy Spirit their Comforter, teacher, and sanctifier.
Hard may be your lot here below, O suffering saints of the Most High, as regards external matters—painful may be the exercises which almost daily pass through the rebellion and desperate wickedness of your carnal mind—grievous temptations may be your continual portion—many a pricking thorn and sharp briar may lie in your path—and so rough and rugged may be the road, that at times you may feel yourself of all men to be the most miserable. And so indeed you would be—but for the grace of God in your heart now—and the glory prepared for you beyond the grave! Yet with it all, were your afflictions and sorrows a thousand times heavier, well may it be said of you, "Happy, thrice happy, are you, O Israel!"
Whom upon earth would you envy—if you have the grace of God in your heart? With whom would you change places—if ever the love of God has visited your soul? Look around you—fix your eyes upon the man or woman who seems surrounded with the greatest amount of earthly happiness—and then ask your own conscience, "Would I change places with you—you butterfly of fashion? Or with you—you painted dragonfly, who merely lives your little day, sunning yourself for a few hours beneath the summer sun—and then sinking into the dark and dismal pool which awaits you at evening?"
Then with all your cares at home and abroad—with all your woes and trials—sunk under which you feel yourself at times one of the most miserable beings that can crawl along in this valley of tears—would you change places with anybody, however healthy, or rich, or favored with the largest amount of family prosperity—if at the same time destitute of the grace of God?
Happy are you, O Israel! And O, that we might be even now enabled to realize this blessing—instead of poring over our sins and sorrows, our temptations and trials!
Which would you rather be?
"Who is like you, O people saved by the Lord!" Deuteronomy 33:29
Imagine yourself standing in the streets of Jerusalem, and looking into the banqueting hall of the rich man of whom the Lord speaks in the parable. Might you not say, "Who is like unto you, O man of wealth and substance? Who wears garments so deeply dyed in royal purple? Who is clothed in linen so white and so fine? Who has his table spread with such delicacies? Who has such rosy wine to flow in the cup in such abundance and of such flavor? Who is like unto you, O rich man, clothed in purple and fine linen, and dining sumptuously every day?"
And then you might have turned and seen another sight—a beggar at his gate—and you might have said, "Who is like unto you, O Lazarus? You have not a friend to put a rag on your diseased back. You have not wife, child, or relative to bring plaster or poultice for your ulcerous sores—and have to thank the very dogs for licking the gory matter off your bleeding face. You have no one to feed you even with a piece of bread—and are glad to hold out your hand to catch the crumbs as they fall from the rich man's table. Who is like unto you, rich man, in all your wealth and luxury? Who is like unto you, Lazarus, in all your poverty and sores?"
Let a few years pass—now look into the abyss beneath—what do you see there? The rich man in misery, crying in torment for a drop of water to cool his tongue! Who is like unto you, rich man, now, in the depths of hell—your tongue parched with flame and thirst, and an impassable gulf between you and Paradise? Turn away your eyes from this fearful sight—and look up into the courts of bliss. Who is like unto you now, poor beggar, whose sores the dogs once licked—who had not a friend on earth—and were thrust into your last resting place by the cold hand of grudging charity? You are in Paradise—enjoying the smiles of God—basking in the beams of the Sun of righteousness throughout an endless day! All this we see by the eye of faith.
But how does the world look upon the rich man? It says, "O you great and noble rich man—who is like unto you? I kiss your feet! I admire your wealth and luxury! I worship your rank! I bow to your fashion! You are rich, respectable, noble! I cannot but envy you—for you have all my heart is longing after. But what are you doing here, you poor diseased beggar—a nuisance under the very nose of the honorable rich man? Take away your rags and your sores out of his noble sight! You spoil his appetite, and remind him of death and the grave!" Is not this the language of the world—still admiring those whom God abhors—and hating those whom God loves?
Look beyond the ways and thoughts of men to the ways and thoughts of the Lord. Let a few years pass—now view the scene with a spiritual eye. Where are all the butterflies gone? They are all passed away—for the world passes away and the lusts thereof—darkness has covered them all—and down they have sunk into the chambers of death. But where now are the lepers and beggars—the martyrs, the sufferers, the mourners in Zion—the poor afflicted ones who loved Jesus—and whom Jesus loved? In the bosom of their God! Then may we not say of, and to every believer in Jesus, however poor or despised, "Who is like unto you?" Which would you rather be? A poor, despised, persecuted, afflicted child of God—or one that enjoys all the pleasures and honors that the world could pour into his bosom?
The grand delusion of our day
The grand delusion of our day—is that some from ignorance, some from self-righteousness, some from hypocrisy, and some from presumption—claim the promises of Scripture as their own—without any internal mark of His grace being in their hearts. May the Lord keep us from walking on such perilous ground and treading such dangerous paths!
Pluck out the peacock feathers
"There are many plans in a man's heart; but the Lord's counsel will prevail." Proverbs 19:21
"The counsel of the Lord" is that Christ should be all in all—that He should stand exalted upon the wreck and ruin of the creature. "The counsel of the Lord," then must stand, whatever be the devices in man's heart. And this counsel is to bring the creature low, that He may exalt Jesus high—to strip the creature of all its attainments—to pluck out the peacock feathers—that it may be poor and needy and naked and empty and bare. "The counsel of the Lord" is that the creature should learn its weakness—that 'creature helplessness' should not be a mere doctrine received into the judgment—but that it should be a solemn truth which is experienced in a man's soul.
This weakness a man can only learn by being placed in that position, where, when he would make use of his strength, he finds it is all gone, and has become total weakness. "The counsel of the Lord," is this—to exalt Christ upon the abasement of the creature—to make the strength of Christ perfect in our weakness—and the wisdom of Christ perfect in our folly—and to establish Christ's righteousness upon the ruin of the creature's righteousness.
The God of all grace
"The God of all grace." 1 Peter 5:10
As the Lord leads His people into a knowledge of themselves—as He removes the veil of deceit from their heart—as He discovers to them more plainly the deep corruption that lurks and works in their bosom—He shows them more and more not only their need of grace—but opens up more and more to them what grace is. When the Lord first begins His work on the conscience, and brings us to know a measure of the truth—we are but learners in the school of grace. It is only after we have traveled some years in the way, and have had repeated discoveries of our baseness, and of God's superabounding mercy—that we begin to enter a little into what grace really is. We learn the words first—and the meaning of them afterwards. We usually receive the doctrine of grace as it stands in the letter of truth first—and then, as the Lord leads us, we get into the experience of grace in the power of it. Thus we gradually learn what grace is by feeling its complete suitability to our pressing needs.
When, for instance, we feel what numerous and aggravated sins we are daily and hourly committing—we need grace—and not merely grace, but "all grace," to pardon and blot them out. When we painfully feel how we daily backslide from God—and are perpetually roving after idols—how our hearts get entangled in the world—and how little our affections are fixed on Jesus—we need "all grace" to heal these backslidings, and to bring the soul into the enjoyment of the mercy and love of God. And when we see what base returns we make to the Lord for all His kindness towards us—when our rebelliousness, fretfulness, impatience, and ingratitude are charged home upon the conscience, and we feel what wretches we are—how we have requited the Lord for all His goodness towards us—we experience our need of "all grace" to forgive such base ingratitude.
When we can scarcely bear ourselves—as if none were so vile—none so filthy—none so black as we—we are brought to see and feel it must be "all grace" that can bear with us! So that we see the sweetness and suitability of grace. Nothing, then, less than the God of all grace, could suit such vile wretches as we feel ourselves to be! None but the God of all grace could bear with us! None but He whose grace can never be exhausted—whose patience can never be worn out—whose lovingkindness can never be provoked beyond endurance—but who pardons all—loves through all, and is determined, in spite of all, to bring the objects of His love to the eternal enjoyment of Himself—none but the God of all grace could ever save such guilty and filthy wretches, as some of us see and feel ourselves to be!
The fruits of suffering
As the fruits and consequences of suffering, the believer is settled down into a deep persuasion of the misery, wretchedness, and emptiness of the creature—into the conviction that the world is but a shadow—and that the things of time and sense are but bubbles that burst the moment they are grasped—that of all things sin is most to be dreaded—and the favor of God above all things most to be coveted—that nothing is really worth knowing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified—that all things are passing away—and that he himself is rapidly hurrying down the stream of life, and into the boundless ocean of eternity!
These are the fruits of suffering. They are not to be learned by reading them in the Word of God—or by hearing ministers preach about them. Nor are they to be obtained from books, or from any source, but the teaching of the Spirit of God in the soul. Where God then teaches, He "teaches to profit"—He writes His truth with the point of a diamond on the heart—and engraves them as with an iron pen into the rock forever.
Nothing but this can really break the sinner's heart
To view mercy in its real character—we must go to Calvary. We must go by faith, under the secret teachings and leadings of the Holy Spirit, to see Immanuel, God with us—groveling in Gethsemane's garden. We must view Him naked upon the cross, groaning, bleeding, agonizing, dying! We must view that wondrous spectacle of love and suffering—and feel our eyes flowing down in streams of sorrow, humility, and contrition at the sight—in order to enter a little into the depths of the tender mercy of God. Nothing but this can really break the sinner's heart. Law terrors, death and judgment, infinite purity, and eternal vengeance will not soften or break a sinner's heart. But if he is led to view a suffering Immanuel—and a sweet testimony is raised up in his conscience that those sufferings were for him—this, and this alone will break his heart all to pieces!
That is idolatry, damnable idolatry!
How can I be saved? By making myself religious, becoming holy, subduing my lusts in my own strength? This sets me farther from God than I was before. This makes me a god to myself! If I am saved—by my own holiness—by my own strength—by my own righteousness—I worship myself. And in worshiping myself, I become my own god. That is idolatry, damnable idolatry! So that he who lives and dies in the worship of self—will live and die under the wrath of God as an idolater.
You cannot carry your own burdens
"Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you." Psalm 55:22
You cannot carry your own burdens without their breaking your back. But when you can cast your burden on the Lord, then you will surely find sweet relief!
He will subdue our iniquities
"He will subdue our iniquities." Micah 7:19
Sin subdued is the next greatest blessing to sin pardoned—and wherever God pardons sin, He subdues sin. For the same grace which saves sanctifies—the same grace which casts sin behind God's back, puts its foot upon the corruptions of the believer, and prevents iniquity from having dominion over him. "Sin shall not have dominion over you." Why? "Because you are not under the law," which gives sin its strength and power, "but under grace," which is able to subdue its dominion.
A child of God can never rest satisfied except by the subduing of his sins, as well as the pardoning of them. To have his unbelief, infidelity, worldly-mindedness, pride, and covetousness subdued by the grace of God—its power taken out of it—its dominion dethroned—its authority destroyed—and its strength weakened and diminished, that he may not be under the dominion of any lust, or carried away by the strength of any secret or open sin—but may walk before God in the light of His countenance, as desirous to know His will and do it—this is the desire and breathing of everyone that knows sin in its guilt, filth, and power. How gracious, then, is the promise—how sweet the favor—that the Lord has promised to subdue our iniquities by the same grace as that whereby He pardons them. So that we receive the grace of Christ to sanctify and renew the soul—and the strength of Christ to overcome all our inward and outward foes.
Why is flesh so weak?
"The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." Matthew 26:41
Why is flesh so weak? Because it is fallen—because it is sinful—because it has an alliance with the temptation which is presented to it. If we had—no inward lusting after evil—no pride—no rebelliousness—no fallen nature—no carnal mind—no vile affections—nothing in us earthly, sensual, or devilish—would we fear temptation? No! for then we would be armored against it—it would be like dipping a match in water. Here our weakness lies. If we could always resist—we would conquer. But we cannot resist—except by the special power of God. This is a lesson we all need to learn. The weakness of the flesh manifests itself continually in compliance, in non-resistance, in giving way, in yielding, often almost without a struggle, no, sometimes in acting a worse and more wicked part still.
Thus we learn the weakness of the flesh—weak to believe—weak to hope—weak to love—weak to fight—weak to resist—weak to overcome—weak to watch—weak to pray—weak to stand—weak to everything good—strong to everything evil. The flesh indeed is weak. What are all resolutions, all promises, all desires, all endeavors, all strugglings, all strivings—except the soul is held up by the mighty power of God?
The free grace of God!
"Where sin abounded, grace did abound much more exceedingly." Romans 5:20
What a balm—what a cordial—what a sweet reviving draught is the free grace of God! It is so pure, so free, and so superabounding over all the aboundings of sin, guilt, filth, and folly. If anything can—lift up a drooping sinner—restore a backslider—break a hard heart—soften a stony heart—draw forth songs of praise, and tears of contrition—produce repentance and godly sorrow for sin, and a humble mind and a tender conscience—it is a sweet experience of the superabounding grace of God. Can we then exalt it too much? No! Can we prize it too highly? No! Can we cleave to it too closely? No! In proportion as we feel our ruin and misery, we shall cleave to it with every desire of our soul—for it is all our salvation, as it is all our desire.
The black cloud of our vileness
We cannot do anything of a spiritual nature to bring ourselves near to God. Let all the shame and guilt be ours—all the grace and glory are God's. Every drop of felt mercy—every ray of gracious hope—every sweet application of truth to the heart—every sense of saving interest—every sweet indulgence—every heavenly smile—every tender desire—and every spiritual feeling—all, all are of God! If ever my heart is softened—if my spirit blessed—if my soul watered—if Christ is ever felt to be precious—it is all of His grace. It is all given freely, sovereignly—without money and without price.
But can it be denied that by our carnality, inconsistency, worldly-mindedness, negligence, ingratitude, and forsaking and forgetting the God of our mercies—we are continually bringing leanness and barrenness—deadness and darkness into our own souls? Thus we are forced to plead "Guilty, guilty!"—to put our mouth in the dust, to acknowledge ourselves to be vile. Yet thus does God, in His mysterious dealings, open up a way for His sovereign grace and mercy to visit the soul. The more we feel ourselves condemned, cut off, gashed, and wounded by a sense of sin and folly, backslidings and wanderings from God—the lower we shall lie—the more we shall put our mouth in the dust—the more freely we shall confess our baseness before Him. And if the Lord should be pleased, in these solemn moments—to open our poor blind eyes to see something of the precious blood of the Lamb—to apply some sweet promise to the soul—or to bring to the heart a sense of His goodness and mercy—how sweet and suitable is that grace, as coming over all the mountains and hills of our sin and shame! Thus is the goodness of God, as it were, reflected on and by our baseness and vileness, as we see the sun sometimes shining on and reflected by a black cloud. The black cloud of our vileness but serves to heighten the glory of the rays of free grace, and the bright beams of the Sun of righteousness!
How does the Lord humble?
"The lofty looks of man will be brought low, the haughtiness of men will be bowed down, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day." Isaiah 2:11
How does the Lord humble? By discovering to man what he is—by opening up the depth of his fall—by making him feel what a vile and guilty wretch he is before the footstool of mercy—by breaking him to pieces—by slaughtering and laying him low—by making him abhor himself in dust and ashes. There are many who cannot bear to hear the malady touched upon. They cannot bear to hear the corruptions of the heart even hinted at. But what real humility can a man have—except through a knowledge of himself? How can I be humbled except I feel that in myself which covers me with shame and confusion of face, and makes me loathe and abhor myself before the eyes of a heart-searching God? Therefore the more the glorious majesty of heaven is pleased to unfold itself in all its divine purity in my conscience—and the deeper discovery I have of what I am as a fallen wretch, a guilty sinner—the more will my heart be humbled—the more shall I be lowly and abased—the more shall I loathe myself in dust and ashes!
The steep hill
"No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly." Psalm 84:11
But what is it to walk uprightly? Oh! here is the grand difficulty in religion. We may talk—we may preach—we may hear—we may seem to believe—but it is when we come to act, to walk, and carry out into daily and hourly practice what we profess—that the main difficulty is felt and found. "The soul of religion," says Bunyan, "is the practical part"—and it is when we come to this "practical part" that the daily, hourly cross commences. The walk, the conversation, the daily, hourly conduct is, after all, the main difficulty, as it is the all-important fruit of a Christian profession.
To walk day after day, under all circumstances, and amid all the varied temptations that beset us, uprightly, tenderly, and sincerely in the fear of God—to feel continually that heart, lip, and life are all open before His all-penetrating eye—to do the things which He approves, and to flee from the things which He abhors—oh! this is the steep hill which it is such a struggle to climb! We can talk fast enough—but oh! to walk in the straight and narrow path—to be a Christian outwardly as well as inwardly, before God and man, before the Church and the world—and in all points to speak and act with undeviating consistency with our profession—this is what nature never has done, and what nature never can do. In thus acting, as much as in believing, do we need God's power and grace to work in, and be made manifest in us.
A more blessed appetite
"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4
This is the grand lesson which we have to learn in our wilderness journey—that man does not live by bread alone—that is, by those providential supplies which relieve our natural necessities. God has determined that His people shall not live by bread alone. They shall be separated from the mass of men who live in this carnal way only—who have no care beyond earthly possessions—and the sum of whose thoughts and desires is—what they shall eat, and what they shall drink, and with what they shall be clothed—who never look beyond the purse, the business, the daily occupation, the safe return, the profitable investment—and how to provide for themselves and their families.
God has planted in the bosom of His people a higher life—a nobler principle—a more blessed appetite than to live upon bread alone. We bless Him for His providence—but we love Him for His grace. We thank Him for daily food and clothing—but these mercies are but for time, perishing in their very use—and He has provided us with that which is for eternity.
What then does God mean the soul to live upon? Upon every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. But where do we find these words which proceed out of the mouth of God? In the Scriptures, which is the food of the Church—and especially in Scripture as applied to the heart, in the words that God is pleased to drop into the soul by a divine power—which we receive from His gracious mouth, and lay hold of with a believing hand. That is the food and nutriment of our soul—the truth of God applied to our heart and made life and spirit to our souls by His own teaching. How this should both stimulate and encourage us—to search the Scriptures as for hidden treasure—to read them constantly—to meditate upon them—to seek to enter into the mind of God as revealed in them—and thus to find them to be the food of our soul. If we were fully persuaded that every word of the Scripture came out of God's mouth, and was meant to feed our soul—how much more we would prize it, read, and study it!
More and more dependent on Him
When enabled, by the blessed Spirit's operations, to receive Jesus into our heart by faith—we are then taught to feel our need of continual supplies of grace and strength out of His fullness. For we have to learn something—of the depths of the fall—of the evils of our heart—of the temptations of Satan—of the strength of sin—of our own weakness and worthlessness. And as every fresh discovery of our helplessness and wretchedness makes a way for looking to and hanging upon Him—we become more and more dependent on Him as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption!
The first spot
The first spot to which the Holy Spirit takes the poor sinner, is the cross of Jesus! That is the first real saving view we get of the Lord of life and glory—the Holy Spirit taking the poor guilty sinner, laden with the weight of a thousand sins, to the foot of the cross—and opening his eyes to see the Son of God bleeding there as an atoning sacrifice for sin. To be brought there by the power of the Holy Spirit, and receive that blessed mystery of the bleeding, suffering, and agonizing Son of God into our hearts and consciences—is the first blessed discovery that God the Spirit favors us with.
The regenerating operations of the Holy Spirit
From the very nature of the fall, it is impossible for a dead soul to believe in God, know God, or love God. It must be quickened into spiritual life before it can savingly know the only true God. And thus there lies at the very threshold, in the very heart and core of the case—the absolute necessity of the regenerating operations of the Holy Spirit upon the soul. The very completeness and depth of the fall render the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit as necessary—and as indispensable—as the redeeming work of the Son of God.
A transforming effect
A view of Christ's 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 vile nature. To be brought from under the power of these abounding evils, and be made fit for heaven, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, and conformed to the image of Christ.