"And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ." Romans 8:17
This is the especial blessedness of being a child of God– that death, which puts a final extinguisher on all the hopes and happiness of all the unregenerate, gives him the fulfillment of all his hopes and the consummation of all his happiness; for it places him in possession of "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in heaven for those who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."
In this present earthly life, we have sometimes sips and tastes of sonship, feeble indeed and interrupted, so that it is with us as Mr. Deer speaks– "Though you here receive but little, scarce enough for the proof of your proper title;" yet are they so far pledges of an inheritance to come. But this life is only an introduction to a better. In this life we are but children, heirs indeed, but heirs in their minority; but in the life to come, if indeed we are what we profess to be, sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty, we shall be put into full possession of the eternal inheritance.
And what is this? Nothing less than God himself. "Heirs of God," says the Apostle. For as the Lord said to Abraham, "I am your shield and exceeding great reward;" as he said to the Levites, "I am their inheritance," so God himself is the inheritance of his people; yes, he himself in all his glorious perfections. All the love of God, the goodness of God, the holiness of God, all his happiness, bliss, and blessedness, all his might, majesty, and glory, as shining forth in the Person of his dear Son in all the blaze of one eternal, unclouded day--this is the saint's inheritance. Let us not then be weary in well-doing; nor faint and tire in running the race set before us, with this prize in view; but press on by faith and prayer to win this eternal and glorious crown.
"They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it. They will come and bind themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten." Jeremiah 50:5
Zion is the seat of all gospel blessings. In it is laid "the precious corner-stone" (Isaiah 28:16); in it is "placed salvation for Israel" (Isaiah 46:13); the Lamb of God stands upon it (Rev. 14:1); mercy, redemption, pardon, comfort, strength, deliverance, and glory come out of it. In turning the face then Zionwards, is implied the seeking of gospel blessings. The redeemed are therefore said "to seek the Lord their God," who is only to be found in Zion, his dwelling-place, and where praise waits for him (Psalm 65:1). But they ask the way to Zion with their faces there in no light and trifling spirit, and in no presumption that they shall ever arrive there. They have to ask the way step by step, often doubting and fearing whether they be in the way. Having been so often deceived and deluded, they dare no more trust their own hearts; but have to beg of the Lord to show them every inch of the road. They can no longer blindly follow every presumptuous guide, but have to cry to the Lord himself to teach and lead and quicken them in the way.
And as they go, they weep. They mourn over their base backslidings, over the many evils they have committed, over the levity of mind which they have indulged, over the worldliness of spirit, the pride, presumption, hypocrisy, carnality, carelessness, and obstinacy of their heart. They go and weep with a broken heart and softened spirit; not resting in their tears as evidences, but seeking the Lord their God; seeking the secret manifestations of his mercy, the visitations of his favor, the "lifting up of the light of his countenance;" seeking after a revelation of the love of Jesus; to know him by a spiritual discovery of himself. Being thus minded, they seek not to establish their own righteousness; they seek not the applause of the world; they seek not the good opinion of professors; they seek not the smiles of saints; they seek not to make themselves Christians by their own exertions. But "they seek the Lord their God," seek his face day and night, seek his favor, seek his mercy, seek his grace, seek his love, seek his glory, seek the sweet visitations of his presence and power, seek him wrestling with him until they find him to be their covenant God, who heals all their backslidings.
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit--a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." Psalm 51:17
The heart that feels the burden of, sin, that suffers under temptation, that groans beneath Satan's fiery assaults, that bleeds under the wounds inflicted by committed evil, is broken and contrite. This brokenness of heart and contrition of spirit is a thing which a child of God alone can feel. However hard his heart at times may seem to be, there will be seasons of spiritual reviving; however he may seem steeled against any sense of love and mercy, or even of misery and guilt, from time to time when he is least expecting and looking for it, there will be a breaking down of his soul before the Lord; there will be a bewailing of himself, a turning from the world to seek the Lord's favor, and a casting himself as a sinner once more on undeserved mercy, tears will flow down his cheeks, sighs burst from his bosom, and he will lie humble at the Savior's feet. If your soul has ever felt this, you have a better thing than any gift; for this brokenness of spirit is a thing that accompanies salvation, and is a sacrifice that God will not despise.
"Woe to those who are at ease in Zion." Amos 6:1
Bunyan says, in his plain, homely language– "A Christian man is never long at ease; when one fright's gone, another does him seize."
Sin will never let him rest long, nor Satan let him rest long, nor God let him rest long, nor his own fears let him rest long. He cannot be at ease until his conscience is purged with the blood of sprinkling; until his soul has been blessed with a feeling sense and enjoyment of the love of God; until he has sweet manifestations of pardoning mercy, blessed revelations of Christ to his soul, with the voice and witness of the Spirit in his breast. This is not the ease of Moab (Jer. 48:11), but the ease of which the Psalmist speaks when he says, "His soul shall dwell at ease" (Psalm 25:13). All ease but this is the sleep of the sluggard; carnal ease as opposed to spiritual. If then he drops into carnal ease, and for a time sin does not seem to plague, nor Satan tempt, nor the world persecute, the Christian man feels that he is getting wrong; he has lost a burden, but not in the right way, and would rather have the burden back than be left to have his portion among those who are at ease in Zion.
"For my people have committed two evils--they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." Jeremiah 2:13
There is nothing so piercing as the remembrance of backsliding against a good and holy God. There is nothing so wounding to a tender conscience as having sinned against manifested mercy and revealed salvation. It seems almost like doing despite to the Spirit of grace; almost like trampling under foot the blood of the covenant whereby we were sanctified, and treating our best Friend worse than his very enemies treated him. And as these things are brought to mind, and laid upon the conscience with weight and power, they will sometimes sink us very low into despondency and gloom so as almost to take away our very hope.
But the Lord is very merciful and compassionate to those who fear his name. He regards the prayer of the destitute, and will not despise their cry. He listens to the sighs and confessions of the penitent heart, and broken, contrite spirit; and thus, though he will ever abase him that is high, he will exalt him that is low. He will never give up his rightful claim to his people. If he has bought us with his precious blood, he will never allow that purchase to be annulled by the malice of Satan or by the wickedness of our own nature.
How striking are those words, "You have played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, says the Lord." And again, "Turn, O backsliding children, says the Lord, for I am married unto you." "Return, O backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." And shall we not answer, "Behold, we come unto you, for you are the Lord our God! Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains--truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel" (Jer. 3:23).
"And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night." Isaiah 4:5
There is an allusion here to the cloudy pillar which rested upon the tabernacle. It was as a cloud by day, but as a pillar of fire by night. The reason of this is evident. By day, the cloud and the smoke were sufficiently visible; but not so in the night season. In the night, therefore, it was a pillar of fire, that the presence of the Lord might be distinctly seen. Spiritually viewed, this night may signify dark seasons in the soul; for there is night as well as day in the experience of God's saints. Now when they are in these dark seasons, they need clearer and brighter manifestations of the Lord's presence than when they are walking in the light of day. Thus this "shining of a flaming fire by night" may represent the shining in of the Lord's clearer, fuller, and more manifested presence, the livelier and more powerful application of his word to the heart; the brighter evidences and clearer marks that he gives of his favor, which, compared with the cloud, are as the shining of a flaming fire. It is the same presence of God, and the same glory, as was the case with the cloudy pillar; but that presence and that glory are seen in a more conspicuous manner as giving light in seasons of darkness.
The shining of a flaming fire by night may also represent the shining light of the word of truth which is spoken of as "a light that shines in a dark place" (2 Peter 1:19). How often when the mind is dark, and evidences obscured, there is little else seen but the clear shining of the word of truth to which the soul turns its eyes as its only guiding light. "Your word," says David, "is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." We often get into spots where we have to look outside of ourselves to the clear shining of truth in the word of God; for there is darkness everywhere else; and to that light we have to look and wait, and sometimes at a great distance and for a long season, until that word comes near and begins to shine into the heart.
But with that shining light, as it draws near and gives forth its comforting rays and beams, comes in due time the presence and glory of God. So to fix our heart upon the word of promise, and wait for its fulfillment, is to walk by faith and not by sight. Thus to Abraham the word of promise was by day a cloud; but when "a horror of great darkness fell upon him," the same word of promise, as the word of a covenant God, was as a burning lamp that passed between the pieces of the offered sacrifices (Gen. 15:17).
"For upon all the glory shall be a defense." Isaiah 4:5
The glory of the Lord is his presence in the soul, for that is represented by the cloud, as it was when his glory filled the house of God, which Solomon built. Now this glory of the Lord in the cloud and smoke by day, and in the shining of a flaming fire by night, is to be a defense, both upon every dwelling-place of mount Zion and upon her assemblies. A defense against what? Chiefly against four things.
1. First, it is a defense against ERROR. No person can embrace error who knows anything of the presence and power of God in his soul, or has ever seen anything of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ; for all error is opposed not only to God's truth, as revealed in the word, but to God's presence, as revealed in the heart. And this is true both as regards individuals and churches. God will never sanction error as held by either. He will never bless with his manifested presence any erroneous man, be he minister or private individual, for he never honors or blesses anything but his own truth, and those only who believe and hold it. "Those who honor me I will honor." This is a very important point, for you will often hear erroneous men speak as if they knew spiritual things by divine teaching and by divine testimony, and will often boast confidently of their comforts and enjoyments, as if they had gotten their views from God himself, though they turn the truth of God into a lie.
But be not deceived by these men or their false pretensions. They have only kindled a fire to compass themselves about with sparks, that they may walk in the light of their fire, and in the sparks which they have kindled. The Spirit of truth guides into all truth, and cannot and will not countenance or bless error. The Lord's own prayer to his heavenly Father for his disciples was, "Sanctify them through your truth--your word is truth." The soul never was divinely sanctified by a lie, nor the heart truly comforted by error.
2. But this glory will also be a defense against all EVIL; for nothing makes sin so to be seen and abhorred as sin as the presence of the Lord. He is known and felt at such moments to be infinitely pure and holy, and a holy God must needs hate sin. If, then, his presence be felt in the soul as a cloud in which he manifests his glory in the face of Jesus Christ, it will be a defense against all the sins in which you might be entangled, when there is no such sensible presence to make you revere and adore his great and glorious Majesty.
3. It is, therefore, also a defense against all TEMPTATIONS, which would lead us into anything contrary to God and godliness.
4. And it will be a defense too against all ENEMIES. You may have many enemies, both without and within; but all their attempts to injure you will be unsuccessful if you have the cloud of the Lord's presence in your soul, and his glory in your midst. No enemy can hurt you if the Lord is your defense. He will watch very jealously over what he himself has communicated by his Spirit and grace to your heart, and his presence will be your best defense against every foe and against every fear.
"And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth." John 17:19
Christ is made to his people sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). What am I? What are you? Are we not filthy, polluted, and defiled? Do not some of us, more or less, daily feel altogether as an unclean thing? Is not every thought of our heart altogether vile? Does any holiness, any spirituality, any heavenly-mindedness, any purity, any resemblance to the divine image dwell in our hearts by nature? Not a grain! Not an atom! How then can I, a polluted sinner, ever see the face of a holy God? How can I, a worm of earth, corrupted within and without by indwelling and committed sin, ever hope to see a holy God without shrinking into destruction?
I cannot see him, except so far as the Lord of life and glory is made sanctification to me. Why should men start so at "imputed sanctification?" Why should not Christ's holiness be imputed to his people as well as Christ's righteousness? Why should they not stand sanctified in him, as well as justified? Why not? Is there anything in Jesus, as God-man Mediator, which he has not for his people? Has he any perfection, any attribute, any gift, any blessing, which is not for their use? Did he not sanctify himself that they might be sanctified by the truth? Is he not the holy Lamb of God, that they might be "holy, and without blame before him in love?" What is my holiness, even such as God may be pleased to impart to me? Is it not, to say the least, scanty? Is it not, to say the least, but little in measure? But when we view the pure and spotless holiness of Jesus imputed to his people, and view them holy in him, pure in him, without spot in him, how it does away with all the wrinkles of the creature, and makes them stand holy and spotless before God.
"Look unto me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth--for I am God, and there is no other." Isaiah 45:22
How often we seem not to have any real religion, or enjoy any solid comfort! How often are our evidences obscured and beclouded, and our minds covered with deep darkness! How often does the Lord hide himself, so that we cannot behold him, nor get near to him; and how often the ground on which we thought we stood is cut from under our feet, and we have no firm standing! What a painful path is this to walk in, but how profitable!
When we are reduced to poverty and beggary, we learn to value Christ's glorious riches; the worse opinion we have of our own heart, and the more deceitful and desperately wicked that we find it, the more we put our trust in his faithfulness. The more black we are in our own esteem, the more beautiful and lovely does he appear in our eyes. As we sink, Jesus rises. As we become feeble, he puts forth his strength. As we come into danger, he brings deliverance; as we get into temptation, he breaks the snare. As we are shut up in darkness and obscurity, he causes the light of his countenance to shine. Now it is by being led in this way, and walking in these paths, that we come rightly to know who Jesus is, and to see and feel how suitable and precious such a Savior is to our undone souls. We are needy, he has in himself all riches; we are hungry, he is the bread of life; we are thirsty, he says, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink;" we are naked, and he has clothing to bestow; we are fools, and he has wisdom to grant; we are lost, and he speaks, "Look unto me, and be saved." Thus, so far from our misery shutting us out from God's mercy, it is the only requisite for it; so far from our guilt excluding his pardon, it is the only thing needful for it; so far from our helplessness ruining our souls, it is the needful preparation for the manifestation of his power in our weakness; we cannot heal our own wounds and sores; that is the very reason why he should stretch forth his arm. It is because there is no salvation in ourselves, or in any other creature, that he says, "Look unto me, for I am God, and there is none else."
"For the word of God is quick and powerful." Hebrews 4:12
What is meant by the word of God being "quick?" That it moves with swiftness and velocity? It is certainly said of God's word (Psalm 147:15) that "it runs very swiftly;" but that is not the meaning of the word "quick" in the text. It there means "living," and corresponds with the expression (Acts 7:38) "living oracles." It is an old English word signifying "living;" as in the expression, "who shall judge the quick and the dead" (2 Timothy 4:1), that is, the living and the dead. So we read of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram "going down quick (that is, alive) into the pit" (Numbers 16:30). So the Lord is said to have "quickened (that is, made spiritually alive) those who were previously dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). The word "quick," then, does not mean moving with velocity, but "living", or rather "communicating life", and thus distinguished from the dead letter.
Truth, as it stands in the naked word of God, is lifeless and dead; and as such, has no power to communicate what it has not in itself, that is, life and power to the hearts of God's people. It stands there in so many letters and syllables, as lifeless as the types by which they were printed. But when the incarnate Word takes of the written word, and speaks it home into the heart and conscience of a vessel of mercy, whether in letter or substance, then he endues it with divine life, and it enters into the soul, communicating to it a life that can never die. As James speaks, "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth." And also Peter, "Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which lives and abides forever" (1 Peter 1:23). Eternal realities are brought into the soul, fixed and fastened by an Almighty hand. The conscience is made alive in the fear of God; and the soul is raised up from a death in sin, or a death in profession, to a life heavenly, new, and supernatural.
"Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect--but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12
The Apostle Paul, perhaps the greatest saint that ever lived upon earth, had to confess that even he had not attained. There was that in Christ more than he had ever seen, ever known, ever felt, ever tasted, ever handled, ever realized. There were heights in his glory, depths in his love, in his sufferings, in his bitter agonies in the garden and on the cross, which passed all apprehension and comprehension. Therefore he says, "Not as though I had already attained." I am a child still, a learner still, as weak as ever, as helpless as ever to obtain what I need. Though I follow on; though I forget the things which are behind and reach forward to the things before; though I know what I am aiming at, what I am seeking; though my eye is single, my heart earnest, yet it is not with me as if I had already attained.
Now just put yourself in that scale; and to measure yourself aright, look at these things. Are you following after? Do you see that there is something which is to be tasted, handled, felt, and realized of the precious things of God? Have you ever had any sips, tastes, drops, foretastes? Has your heart ever been melted, softened, warmed by the goodness and mercy of God, by the love of Christ? Did you ever feel that there was a sweetness, blessedness, and happiness in the things of God to which nothing else could be compared? Has your heart ever been opened and enlarged by the love of God, so that you felt that spirituality of mind which is life and peace; and could you have continued in that spot it would have been to you all that you needed to make you look death calmly in the face?
Now it is these sips, tastes, and drops, these sweet discoveries of what the Lord is to believing souls, which draw forth the desires of the heart and enable it to follow after.
But darkness intervenes--the Lord withdraws himself, sin works, Satan tempts, trials perplex your mind, unbelief rises up and begins to question everything. Then there is no following on. Everything looks so dark, so gloomy; divine things are so out of sight; doubts and fears so possess the mind; and it seems as if we came so short, so very short, that the question arises whether we may not come short at last; whether we may not have deceived ourselves; whether all we have felt may not have been a dreadful delusion.
And yet see how this works. How it stirs the mind up; how it makes us seek again and again to possess realities; how it seems to open the eyes afresh to see what true religion is, and that it consists in the teachings and operations of the Holy Spirit upon the heart. Thus our very short-comings, deficiencies, and complaints are blessedly overruled and made to work graciously to stir us up to run again the race set before us.
But depend upon it, the most highly-favored saint upon earth will have reason to say with Paul, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect," that is, matured and ripe. Not perfect in understanding, nor perfect in heart, nor perfect in lip, nor perfect in life. Every saint of God will have to confess imperfection--imperfection stamped upon all that he has and is--imperfection, imperfection upon everything but the work of the Son of God upon the cross and the work of God the Holy Spirit in the soul.
"I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love." Hosea 11:4
When God draws his people near unto himself, it is not done in a mechanical way. They are drawn, not with cords of iron, but with the cords of a man; the idea being of something feeling, human, tender, touching; not as if God laid an iron arm upon his people to drag them to himself, whether they wished to come or not. This would not be grace nor the work of the Spirit upon the heart. God does not so act in a way of mechanical force. We therefore read, "Your people shall be willing in the day of your power" (Psalm 110:3). He touches their heart with his gracious finger, like the band of men whom he thus inclined to follow Saul (1 Sam. 10:26); he communicates to their soul both faith and feeling; he melts, softens, and humbles their heart by a sense of his goodness and mercy; for it is his goodness, as experimentally felt and realized, which leads to repentance.
If you have ever felt any secret and sacred drawing of your soul upward to heaven, it was not compulsion, not violence, not a mechanical constraint, but an arm of pity and compassion let down into your very heart, which, touching your inmost spirit, drew it up into the bosom of God. It was some such gracious touch as that spoken of in the Song of Solomon, "My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my affections were moved for him." It was some view of his goodness, mercy, and love in the face of a Mediator, with some dropping into your spirit of his pity and compassion towards you, which softened, broke, and melted your heart. You were not driven onward by being flogged and scourged, but blessedly drawn with the cords of a man, which seemed to touch every tender feeling and enter into the very depths of your soul.
And why is this? Because it is as man that our blessed Lord is the Mediator; it is the man Christ Jesus, the man who groaned and sighed in the garden, the man that hung upon the cross, the man who lay in the sepulcher, who is now the man at the right hand of the Father, and yet God-man; for it is through his humanity that we draw near unto God. As his blood, which was the blood of humanity; and as his sufferings, which were the sufferings of humanity; and as his sacrifice, which was the sacrifice of the humanity; and as his death, which was the death of the humanity; as these are opened up with divine power, they form, so to speak, a medium whereby we may draw near unto God, without terror, without alarm, because God in Christ manifests himself as altogether love.
"Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works." Titus 2:14
How can any one who knows anything of the blessedness of atoning blood and redeeming love and the sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit continue in sin, that grace may abound? Doctrinal professors may do these things, for a mere 'letter knowledge' of the truth brings with it no deliverance from the power of sin.
But the living soul, in whom the God of all grace is carrying on his gracious work--can it trample under foot the cross of the suffering Son of God? It is impossible that a man who knows for himself the redeeming efficacy of Christ's atoning blood, and whose conscience is made tender in the fear of God, can, under the sweet influence of his love, deliberately crucify him again.
Not but what there is a falling under the power of sin and temptation, as David and Peter fell; but there will not be a willful sinning against him, when the blessed Spirit is bringing near his blood and grace and love. May we never forget that the suffering Son of God gave himself to purify unto himself a peculiar people--a people whose thoughts are peculiar, for their thoughts are the thoughts of God, as having the mind of Christ; a people whose affections are peculiar, for they are fixed on things above; whose prayers are peculiar, for they are wrought in their heart by the Spirit of grace and supplication; whose sorrows are peculiar, because they spring from a spiritual source; whose joys are peculiar, for they are joys which the stranger cannot understand; whose hopes are peculiar, as anchoring within the veil; and whose expectations are peculiar, as not expecting to reap a crop of happiness in this marred world, but looking for happiness in the kingdom of rest and peace in the bosom of God.
And if they are peculiar inwardly, they should be peculiar outwardly. They should make it manifest that they are a peculiar people by walking in the footsteps of the Lord the Lamb, taking up the cross, denying themselves, and living to the honor, praise, and glory of God.
"Jesus answered and said unto her, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that says to you, Give me to drink; you would have asked of him, and he would have given you living water." John 4:10
How blessed a thing is vital godliness! That is the thing I always wish to contend for. Not for forms and ceremonies, or doctrines floating in the brain, but for the life of God in the soul; the only thing worth knowing; the only thing to live by, and I am sure the only thing to die by. How different is vital godliness received into the heart and conscience, by the operation of God the Spirit, out of the fullness of Christ--how different is this fountain of living water from the stagnant, dead water of lip-service, formality, and hypocrisy!
And sure I am, if our souls have ever been baptized into a spiritual knowledge of this heavenly secret; if ever we have tasted the sweetness, felt the power, and experienced a measure of the enjoyment of vital godliness in the heart and conscience, we shall desire no other but living water. No, in all that we do for the Lord, or for those that fear his name, in every prayer, in every ordinance, we shall be, more or less, looking out for living water.
Are we, who profess to be in the wilderness, like the thirsty traveler in the deserts of Arabia, panting after the wells and the palm trees? Do we know what it is, after long seasons of drought, when the living water has sunk well-near out of sight, to find its streams again springing up in the conscience? How living souls thirst after these revivings! We cannot now be satisfied with lip religion, pharisaical religion, doctrinal religion, a name to live while dead, the form of godliness without the power. A living soul can no more satisfy his thirst with mere forms and ceremonies, than a man naturally thirsty can drink out of a pond of sand. He must have living water, something given by the Lord himself, springing up in his soul.
But, does not the Lord say, that he will give it to those that ask it? Shall we not ask, then, and seek for it? And will he deny us? Has he denied us in time past? Will he deny us in time to come? Has he not the same loving and compassionate heart now, as beat in his bosom towards this poor sinner at the well of Samaria? He still emboldens us to ask. He is now seated upon the throne of grace and mercy as the Mediator between God and man. And if, through mercy, we know something of the gift of God; and if, through divine teaching, we know something of the glorious Person of Jesus, and have enjoyed a measure of its sweetness in our heart, sure I am, we shall ask, and our souls will receive the testimony of God in our conscience, that he will not deny us, but give unto us "living water."
"And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now has come salvation." Revelation 12:10
"Salvation." WHAT "salvation?" Salvation by grace, full and free; salvation without any intermixture of creature righteousness; salvation gushing from the bosom of God; salvation flowing wholly and solely through the blood of the Lamb. But salvation can never be tasted without a previous foretaste of condemnation. Heaven can never be looked up into before there has been a looking down into the gate of hell. There must have been an experience of guilt, before there can be the enjoyment of pardon.
"Now has come salvation." FROM WHAT? From the accusations of Satan, the curses of the law, the fear of death, the terrors of hell, and sentence of damnation.
And HOW does salvation come? While the battle is going on, while the issue is doubtful, while hand to hand, foot to foot, and shoulder to shoulder, Satan and the soul are engaged in deadly strife, there is no felt experience of salvation. There may be hope, enabling the soldier to stand his ground; there is no shout of victory until the enemy is put to flight. But when Satan is defeated, his accusations silenced, and the soul liberated, then "has come salvation."
The sweetest song that heaven ever proclaimed, the most blessed note that ever melted the soul, is "salvation." To be saved--saved from death and hell; saved from "the worm which dies not, and the fire which is not quenched;" saved from the sulphurous flames of the bottomless pit; saved from the companionship of tormenting fiends, and of all the foul wretches under which earth has groaned; saved from blaspheming God in unutterable woe; saved from an eternity of misery without hope; and saved into heaven--the sight of Jesus as he is, perfect holiness and happiness, the blissful company of holy angels and glorified saints! And all this during the countless ages of a blessed eternity! What tongue of men or angels can describe the millionth part of what is contained in the word "salvation!"
"Show me your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths." Psalm 25:4
To lie with a broken heart and contrite spirit at the footstool of mercy beseeching God to teach us, is indeed a blessed spot to be in. It is the evidence of a childlike spirit, and shows such simplicity, reality, and genuineness that it bears stamped upon it the indubitable marks of true discipleship. Wherever we see such a coming out of SELF, with a renunciation of our own wisdom, strength, and righteousness, such a putting aside of all creature religion, and such a real spirit of humility before God, we must receive it as something beyond and above nature. Nothing but the power of God seems able to bring a soul so completely out of the shell and crust of self-righteousness, and so to lay open its spiritual nakedness before him.
Naturally there is something very sweet in seeing a docile, teachable disposition. And on the other hand, few things are more offensive than the pride of ignorance, the abominable conceit of people who think they know everything when really they know nothing, but are too proud to be taught.
The only road to knowledge is to possess a meek, teachable, inquiring spirit, a willingness to learn springing out of a consciousness of ignorance. This spirit is what we see sometimes in children, nor is there a more pleasant sight for parent or instructor than to see a child docile; earnestly seeking information, and glad to receive instruction. If anything can open the mouth to teach, it is finding such a disposition to learn.
So in grace; where there is a humble, quiet, docile spirit, it seems to draw forth out of the Lord's heart and mouth these secrets of heavenly wisdom which he hides from others; as he spoke in the days of his flesh, "I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes." The babes are those who are teachable and childlike, and to whom as such God reveals the treasures of his heavenly wisdom.
"And there I will meet with you, and I will commune with you from above the mercy seat." Exodus 25:22
After a child of God has enjoyed something of the goodness and mercy of God revealed in the face of his dear Son, he may wander from his mercies, stray away from these choice gospel pastures, and get into a waste-howling wilderness, where there is neither food nor water; and yet, though half-starved for poverty, has in himself no power to return. But what has brought him for the most part into this state? Forgetfulness of the mercy seat; and as the Lord meets his people only there, a gradual estrangement from him.
But in due time the Lord seeks out this wandering sheep, and the first place he brings him to is the mercy seat, confessing his sins and seeking mercy. Faithful to his own word, once more the Lord meets him there; and O what a meeting! A penitent backslider and a forgiving God! O what a meeting! A guilty wretch drowned in tears, and a loving Father falling upon his neck and kissing him! O what a meeting for a poor, self-condemned wretch, who can never mourn too deeply over his sins, and yet finds grace super-abounding over all its aboundings, and the love of God bursting through the cloud, like the sun upon an April day, and melting his heart into contrition and love!
But this is not all. The Lord is pleased sometimes to show his dear people the evils of their heart, to remove by his Spirit and grace that veil of pride and self-righteousness which hides so much of sinful SELF from our eyes, and to discover what is really in us--the deep corruptions which lurk in our depraved nature, the filth and folly which is part and parcel of ourselves, the unutterable baseness and vileness so involved in our very being. Now this in itself would drive us from the throne of grace. "Can God dwell here?" is the sinner's feeling. "Can I be possessed of the fear of God when such thoughts and feelings overflow my mind, and seem to fill me as if with the very dregs of hell?" Yet still he is drawn from time to time to the throne of grace to confess these sins before the mercy seat, for he cannot, dare not, stay away from it; and again God is true to his word--"There will I meet with you." There once more he reveals a sense of his mercy and goodness, and once more shows that, whatever the sinner be in himself, he is faithful to his own promise.
"But speaking the truth (margin, being sincere) in love." Ephesians 4:15
Sincerity lies at the root of all gracious profession. If a man is not sincere he is nothing. God makes a man sincere by planting his truth in his heart; and whenever God does make a man sincere, the truth which he has implanted will grow. Truth does not lie in a man's soul dead and motionless, like a stone in the street; it is a living, active, expansive principle. If the truth is in the soul, it will be ever pushing out error, because the two principles cannot exist together; and as Isaac thrust out Ishmael, and Jacob proved stronger than Esau, so will simplicity and godly sincerity be ever mightier than craft and deception.
The truth of God in the heart will not wither and die, but will be shined upon by the Sun of righteousness, and sunned into fruitfulness by the smiles of God; and as truth becomes day by day more and more precious, so will error and evil become day by day more and more hateful. A sincere soul stands "girt about with truth;" and truth forms its shield and shield.
But how does this Christian sincerity prove the soul's safeguard from error? By putting it ever on the watch tower, looking out and looking up for the teaching of God and the light of his countenance. A soul made spiritually sincere takes nothing upon trust; it requires the seal of God on all it receives, and the witness of the Spirit to all that it feels. He who is sincere sees the rocks ahead on which others concerning faith make shipwreck; and being well ballasted with temptations, afflictions, and trials, he is not easily tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine. His desire to be right keeps him right; his fear to be wrong preserves him from wrong. The light of God in his soul makes him see; the life of God in his heart makes him feel; the fear of God in his conscience makes him honest; the love of God in his affections makes him love; and all this gives truth such a firm place in him that there is no room for error.
The Apostle adds, therefore, "in love." It is not enough to be "sincere;" we must be "sincere in love." Mark that. It is not receiving God's truth as a certain orderly system; it is not furnishing our heads with a sound doctrinal creed and well-ordered Calvinistic scheme which will avail us in the trying hour; but it is to have the truth of God brought into our soul by a divine power, and realizing such unutterable sweetness in it as communicates a firm abiding love, both to the truth itself, and to Him of whom it testifies and from whom it comes. It is thus we are made "sincere in love."
The fear of God creates the sincerity, the application of the truth with power creates the love to it. And when we are thus made "sincere in love" we are brought out of the childish state in which we are carried about with every wind of doctrine, and in danger of being entrapped by the cunning craft of every deceiver. We know the truth, love the truth, and become established in the truth.
"You open your hand, and satisfy the desires of every living thing." Psalm 145:16
That word has been sweet to me sometimes, "Every living thing." How comprehensive it is! And how low it descends! How it comes down to the weakest and lowest and least of God's family, if he is only "a thing," only "a living thing!" if he cannot see himself "a man in Christ;" no, nor see himself a child of God; no, nor see himself a new-born babe! If he cannot see in himself the features of a child even, yet to be "a living thing!"
Now, perhaps, if you cannot trace the features of a grown-up man as stamped upon you, and are exercised with distressing doubts whether your experience even amounts to the new-born babe, you may yet come in here, as being "a living thing," a nondescript; a sort of person that cannot make yourself out, having an experience which you think nobody can fathom, having exercises which nobody else seems to be harassed with, and walking in a path where no other child of God seems ever to have walked before you.
Did not one say of old, (and have not you and I echoed his words?) he was "as a beast before you;" not a man, for "surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man" (Proverbs 30:2), but possessed of life still, breathing after God still, with that in the soul which cannot rest satisfied short of the manifestation and the presence of God.
But here is the mark of the "living thing"--the desire--"You satisfy the desire of every living thing," not natural desires; not "the desire of the sluggard, which has nothing," that is, nothing spiritual in the desire, or in the answer; but the spiritual desires that the Holy Spirit himself has kindled, desires after God, "as the deer pants after the water brooks," desires to know Christ by some sweet revelation of his glory, desires to be brought to the foot of the cross, and to have his image stamped upon our soul, desires to be led into the length and breadth and depth and height of that love of his which passes knowledge, desires to walk before God accepted in the Beloved, desires to feel that in our souls which shall sweetly satisfy us that we are eternally His.
This "living thing," though a nondescript in his own feelings, has that which marks the existence of life in him; and that is, living desires towards the living God, breathing affections after Jesus, a restless, dissatisfied heart, discontented with the things of time and sense, feeling no pleasure in what the world presents, and sighing to the Lord for the discoveries of his grace and his love.
"Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." 2 Corinthians 3:17
The gospel is "the perfect law of liberty," therefore the very perfection of liberty, and thus thoroughly and entirely free from the least taint of bondage, the slightest tincture of servitude. It is this perfect freedom which distinguishes it from the law which "works wrath" and "genders to bondage." It is, therefore, a freedom from sin; from its guilt, as having "the heart sprinkled from an evil conscience;" from its filth, by "the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit;" from its love, through "the love of God, shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit;" from its dominion, as "not being under the law but under grace;" and from its practice, by becoming "servants to God, so as to have our fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life."
How, then, can this pure, holy, and precious gospel be condemned as leading to licentiousness? It is because its power, its preciousness, its happy, holy, heavenly liberty have never been experimentally known by some who, like the Galatians, do all they can to "frustrate the grace of God," by "turning again to the weak and beggarly elements whereunto they desire to be in bondage;" while others, like those monsters of wickedness whom Jude and Peter denounce with such burning words, pervert and abuse the liberty of the gospel unto licentiousness, "sporting themselves with their own deceivings," and, "while they promise others liberty, are themselves the servants of corruption."
Now the liberty of the gospel, as revealed in the Scriptures, and made experimentally known to the soul, steers, so to speak, between these two extremes, and is as perfectly free from the least intermixture of legal bondage as from the least taint of Antinomian licentiousness. It is, indeed, this holy liberty, heavenly power, and gracious influence of the precious gospel, under the teaching and testimony of the Holy Spirit, which makes it so suitable to our case and state when first convinced of sin, and cast into prison under guilt and condemnation.
What release but a perfect release would suit our deplorable case as prisoners in the pit where there is no water, shut up under wrath and guilty fear through a condemning law and an accusing conscience? This pure and precious gospel, therefore, comes down to our pitiable state and condition as a message of pure mercy, revealing pardon and peace through a Savior's blood; and when, by grace, we can receive, embrace, and entertain it as a word from God to us, proclaiming liberty as with a jubilee trumpet through every court and ward of the soul.
What were we before this precious gospel reached our ears and hearts? Were we not bondslaves to sin, serving diverse lusts and pleasures, taken and led captive by Satan at his will--and while we talked about enjoying life, were, through fear of death, subject to bondage? When we saw the saints of God not daring to do what we did greedily, we thought that they were the slaves, and we the free men, not knowing that "to whom we yield ourselves servants to obey, his servants we are, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness;" not knowing that "whoever commits sin is the servant of sin," and that our boasted freedom was real servitude, while their apparent bondage was real freedom; for they had a saving interest in that precious declaration--"If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.
"I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal." Deuteronomy 32:39
The work of grace in the soul, in its very beginnings, penetrates deeply into its inmost substance. It wounds and lays open the conscience to the eye of infinite Purity and Holiness. "The entrance of your word (that is, the very first entrance) gives light." "The word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart."
All conviction to be true conviction must be thorough. The field must be ploughed, broken up, and furrowed, before the seed can find a home, a seed-bed for the seed to fall in so as to germinate and grow. There is much to be done in a sinner's heart before Christ can dwell in him by faith, or be formed in him the hope of glory. The heart is naturally very hard; thorns, thistles, and briars overspread its surface; the noxious weeds of pride and lust have taken deep root; much grubbing up of these bosom sins, as well as of our inbred self-righteousness and fleshly holiness, creature strength and sufficiency, is needed to--prepare us to receive a free grace salvation--separate us from the world and false professors--embitter to us the loved things of time and sense--and lay us suing for mercy at the foot of the cross.
The first work, therefore, of conviction must be deep, or at least thorough, in order to make room for Christ and his salvation. And so it is with any manifestation or discovery of the Lord Jesus Christ, any application of his blood, any visitation of his presence, or shedding abroad of his love; these divine realities do not float upon the surface, but sink deep, and penetrate into his heart of hearts, into a man's inmost and deepest soul. How soon is all lost and forgotten, but what the blessed Spirit writes himself in the heart! People say, "How well we have heard!" but all is lost and dropped before they get home from the house of prayer. They read a chapter, close the Bible, and with it, all they have read is closed too. Many have passing pangs of conviction, and passing desires, who give little proof of living under the Spirit's anointings. That divine Spirit does not let the saints of God off so easily. He holds them fast and firm to the work of conviction until he has slain them outright; and when he blesses he heals as deep as he wounds, and reveals the gospel as powerfully as he applies the law.
"But when the Comforter has come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father--he shall testify of me." John 15:26
The special work and office of the Holy Spirit is to testify of Jesus, to glorify him, to take of the things that are his, and to show them to the soul; and therefore without these teachings and testimonies of the Holy Spirit we have no true, no saving knowledge of Christ, no living faith in him, no sweet communion with him, no tender and affectionate love toward him. And are not these the marks which peculiarly distinguish the living family of God from those dead in sin, and those dead in profession?
A bare knowledge of the letter of truth--can communicate no such gracious affections as will warm, soften, melt, and animate the soul of a child of God, under the felt power and influence of the Holy Spirit--can create no such faith as gives him manifest union with Jesus--can inspire no such hope as carries every desire of his heart within the veil--can produce no such godly sorrow for sin as makes him loathe and abhor himself in dust and ashes--can shed abroad no such love as makes him love the Lord with a pure heart fervently.
But the same blessed and holy Teacher who takes of the things that are Christ's and reveals them to the soul, thus raising up faith, hope, and love, and bringing into living exercise every other spiritual gift and grace, first prepares the heart to receive him in all his gracious characters and covenant relationships by deeply and powerfully convincing us of our need of him as our all in all.
Is he a Priest? We need his atoning blood and his all-prevailing intercession that we may have peace with God, and that our prayers and supplications may rise up with acceptance into his ears.
Is he a Prophet? We need his heavenly instruction, that we may sit at his feet and hear his word, so as to believe his promises and obey his precepts.
Is he a King? We need his powerful and peaceful scepter to subdue every foe, calm every fear, subdue every lust, crucify the whole body of sin, and bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil." Hebrews 2:14
By his sufferings, blood shedding and death, our gracious Lord not only made a complete atonement for sin, fulfilled every demand of the law, washed his people from all their iniquities in the fountain of his precious blood, and wrought out and brought in a perfect and everlasting righteousness for their justification, but "through death destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." It was by the death of the cross that the gracious Lord "spoiled principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it." It is a point little considered, though one of much importance, that the Lord Jesus had, as if personally, to grapple with and overcome the prince of the power of the air, to hurl Satan from his usurped throne, to destroy his works, and overthrow his kingdom; and this not by an act of omnipotent power, but by an act of the lowest weakness, for "he was crucified through weakness."
According to our simple views, we might think that all that was needed to overthrow Satan was an act of omnipotent power. But this was not God's way. The king over all the children of pride, in the depths of infinite wisdom, was to be dethroned by an act of the deepest humility, of the most meek and submissive obedience, of the intensest suffering of God's own beloved Son, as standing in the place of those over whom Satan and death had triumphed through sin. We read that "the Son of God was manifested that he might destroy (literally, 'loosen' or 'untie') the works of the devil." Thus he came, not only to untie and undo all that Satan had fastened and done by traversing, as it were, the whole ground, from the first entrance of sin and death, and, by a course of holy and meritorious obedience, repair the wreck and ruin produced by the primary author of all disobedience, but, as the final stroke, to destroy and put down the disobedient and rebellious prince of darkness himself.
"Thus says the Lord; I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals, when you went after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown." Jeremiah 2:2
Salvation is a gift, the choicest and richest gift which the hands of a Triune God, whose name is Love, can bestow. It is a portion, an inheritance, an estate, a treasure, an eternal reality. The full possession, the entire enjoyment, the complete acquisition of this predestinated weight of glory, is indeed reserved until a future state; but the pledges, the firstfruits, the early ripe clusters, the first dew-drops of this eternal inheritance, are given to the elect while upon earth.
The everlasting enjoyment of the presence and glory of Christ is often compared in Scripture to a wedding. Thus we read (Rev. 19:7) of "the Lamb's wife," and of "the marriage of the Lamb." So the Church is said to be "brought unto the King in clothing of needlework," as the bride, in Eastern countries, was brought by the father to the bridegroom. But we read of "espousals" also, which always preceded the celebration of the marriage. "I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals." "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ." So Joseph was "espoused to the virgin Mary, before they came together," that is, before they became man and wife. Now this espousal was a necessary prelude to marriage, though it was not the same thing. And, therefore, a betrothed virgin was punished as an adulteress by the Levitical law, if she was unfaithful to her espoused husband. To be betrothed had the nature of marriage in it, though it was not the same thing as marriage. The parties did not live together, and were not put in possession of each other.
Thus, it is in this life that the spiritual betrothment takes place, and the spiritual marriage in the life to come. "I will betroth you unto me in righteousness and in judgment, and in loving-kindness and in mercies; I will even betroth you unto me in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord" (Hosea 2:19, 20).
"It is a faithful saying--For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him--if we suffer, we shall also reign with him." 2 Timothy 2:11, 12
To be partakers of Christ's crown, we must be partakers of Christ's cross. Union with him in suffering must precede union with him in glory. This is the express testimony of the Holy Spirit--"If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together." The flesh and the world are to be crucified to us, and we to them; and this can only be by virtue of a living union with a crucified Lord. This made the Apostle say, "I am crucified with Christ--nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me--and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." And again, "But God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world."
An experimental knowledge of crucifixion with his crucified Lord made Paul preach the cross, not only in its power to save, but in its power to sanctify. Through the cross, that is, through union and communion with him who suffered upon it, not only is there a fountain opened for all sin, but for all uncleanness (Zech. 13:1). Blood and water gushed from the side of Jesus when pierced by the Roman spear.
"This fountain so dear, he'll freely impart;
Unlocked by the spear, it gushed from his heart,
With blood and with water; the first to atone,
To cleanse us the latter; the fountain's but one."
"All my springs are in you," said the man after God's own heart; and well may we echo his words. All our springs, not only of pardon and peace, acceptance and justification, but of happiness and holiness, of wisdom and strength, of victory over the world, of mortification of a body of sin and death; of every fresh revival and renewal of hope and confidence; of all prayer and praise; of every new budding forth of the soul, as of Aaron's rod, in blossom and fruit; of every gracious feeling, spiritual desire, warm supplication, honest confession, melting contrition, and godly sorrow for sin--all these springs from that life which is hidden with Christ in God, are in a crucified Lord. Thus Christ crucified is, "to them who are saved, the power of God." And as he "of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption," at the cross alone can we be made wise unto salvation, become righteous by a free justification, receive of his Spirit to make us holy, and be redeemed and delivered by blood and power from sin, Satan, death, and hell.
"The dead are raised up." Matthew 11:5
"The dead are raised up." The "dead" are those who by nature are dead in sin. These dead are raised up when life from God visits their souls. They are raised up to faith in Jesus, raised up to hope in his name, raised up to a sense of his dying love to their souls, raised up from doubt and fear, raised up from the depths of despondency, to look unto him and be saved. What a mercy it is that the Lord of life and glory still puts forth the same power in the hearts of his people, that he once put forth in their bodies, and that he raises them up from their state of death and deadness!
Do we not often feel so dead, as though we had not a particle of the grace of God? So dead, that it seems scarcely possible to have a sensation of spiritual life again? So dead, that we almost fear whether the power of God was ever felt in our hearts? Now, the Lord raises up life and feeling in our souls, by putting forth the same power that called Lazarus out of the tomb. And every lifting up of the heart towards him, every panting desire to know him, and the power of his resurrection, every breathing of tender affection, every sigh, cry, and groan, yes, every feeling, however short, however transient, Godwards, is a proof that the Lord of life and glory is still putting forth his power in the hearts of his people.
"O that you would bless me indeed!" 1 Chronicles 4:10
An "indeed" blessing is what the soul is seeking after which has ever felt the misery and bitterness of sin, and ever tasted the sweetness of God's salvation. And these "indeed" blessings are seen to be spiritual and eternal. Compared with such blessings as these, it sees how vain and empty are all earthly things, what vain toys, what idle dreams, what passing shadows. It wonders at the folly of men in hunting after such vain shows, and spending time, health, money, life itself, in a pursuit of nothing but misery and destruction. Every passing funeral bell that it hears, every corpse borne slowly along to the grave that it sees, impresses it with solemn feelings as to the state of those who live and die in their sins. Thus it learns more and more to contrast time with eternity, earth with heaven, sinners with saints, and professors with possessors. By these things it is taught, with Baruch, not "to seek great things" for itself, but real things; things which will outlast time, and fit it for eternity. It is thus brought to care little for the opinion of men as to what is good or great, but much for what God has stamped his own approbation upon, such as a tender conscience, a broken heart, a contrite spirit, a humble mind, a separation from the world and everything worldly, a submission to his holy will, a meek endurance of the cross, a conformity to Christ's suffering image, and a living to God's glory.
As, then, the gracious Lord is pleased to indulge it with some discovery of himself, shedding abroad a sweet sense of his goodness and mercy, atoning blood, and dying love, it is made to long more and more for the manifestation of those blessings which alone are to be found in him. For his blessings are not like the mere temporal mercies which we enjoy at his hands, all of which perish in the using, but are forever and ever; and when once given are never taken away. They thus become pledges and foretastes of eternal joys, for they are absolutely irreversible.
When Isaac had once blessed Jacob in God's name, though the blessing had been obtained by deceit, yet having been once given, it could not be recalled. He said, therefore, to Esau, "I have blessed him, and he shall be blessed." So when the Lord has blessed his people with any of those spiritual blessings which are stored up in his inexhaustible fullness, these blessings are like himself, unchanging and unchangeable; for "he is in one mind and none can turn him;" "The same yesterday, today, and forever."
"And enlarge my coast." 1 Chronicles 4:10
A coast means a boundary line such as divides one territory from another, or terminates a country, as the sea coast is the boundary of our island. Every quickened soul has a coast; that is, a territory of inward experience, which is limited and bounded by the line that the Holy Spirit has drawn in his conscience. As the Lord divided the tribes, to cast their inheritance by line (Psalm 78:55), so has he cast the lot for every vessel of mercy, and his hand has divided it unto them by line (Isaiah 34:17). This is as it were the tether which fastens down every quickened soul to his own appointed portion of inward experience. Within this tether he may walk, feed, and lie down. It is "the food convenient for him," the strip of pasture allotted him. He cannot, he dare not break this tether, which is fastened round a tender conscience, and every stretching forth beyond his measure to boast in another man's line of things, cuts into and galls this tender conscience. But the living soul cannot but earnestly desire to have his coast enlarged. He wants more light, more life, more feeling, more liberty, more knowledge of God in Christ, more faith, hope, and love, and to have his narrow, contracted, shut-up heart enlarged in prayer, in meditation, in communion, in affection to the people of God.
He is not satisfied with the scanty pasture allotted him, but wants a larger measure of heavenly teaching, to be indulged with more filial confidence in, and access unto God, and be more delivered from that fear which has torment. "God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem" (Gen. 9:27). "I will run the way of your commandments, when you shall enlarge my heart" (Psalm 119:32).
This enlargement of their border the Lord had sworn to Israel, and to give them all the land which he had promised unto their fathers; and therefore when he had said, "Sing, O barren, you that did not bear," he adds, "enlarge the place of your tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of your habitations; spare not, lengthen your cords, and strengthen your stakes" (Isaiah 54:1, 2).
Have you any of these fervent desires after light, love, and liberty, that the world, pride, lust, unbelief, covetousness, and carnality may not shut up your heart, but that you may know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, so as to be filled with all the fullness of God? These are good desires, and very different from rushing presumptuously forward, and chattering about liberty while you are slaves of corruption. It is one thing to look through the park gates, and another to enjoy the estate; but it is far better to look through the gates with wishful desires, than to break down the fence as a trespasser. To look upon the coffer is not to be put into possession of the writings, but it is better to wait and cry for the key of David than break it open, and steal the deeds. And he that is kept in the narrow, narrow path between sloth and presumption will be at solemn seasons crying out with Jabez, "O that you would enlarge my coast!"
"Let my soul live, and it shall praise you; and let your judgments help me." Psalm 119:175
When we "live," we live by faith; as the Apostle says, "The life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God." We live by faith when the Lord is pleased to communicate true faith, the precious gift of faith to the heart. Then indeed we believe. We then believe in Jesus, believe in his blood, believe in his righteousness, believe in his Person, believe in his dying love; and as faith begins to lift up its drooping head in the soul, we begin to live a life of faith in the Son of God. And as we begin to live, we also begin to love. When we are in darkness, coldness, and barrenness, there is neither love to God nor man; the very ways of God are a thorough misery to us; the Bible is neglected, and prayer is little attended to; under preaching we are cold, dead, and listless; the company of God's people is forsaken, and the things of eternity seem to fade from our view.
But let the Lord revive his work upon the heart, let him bestow a gracious renewing, let him drop the unction of his Spirit, let the rain and dew of his grace fall, let him manifest himself with life and power; then the whole scene changes. It is like spring after a dreary winter; it is like the outpouring of the rain from heaven after a long season of drought, "You renew the face of the earth." There is a blessed change when the Lord himself is pleased to appear in the soul. Then it begins to live.
And this life will manifest itself in various ways. While we are dead, prayer is a burden; when we have life, prayer is our very breath. When we are dead, the very thoughts of God are grievous; when we are alive, the thoughts of God are sweet and pleasant. When we are dead, our affections cleave to the things of time and sense; when we are alive, our affections mount upward. When we are dead, the world is our home, though it is but a miserable one; when we are alive, we are looking upward to heaven as the home of the soul when time shall be no more.