THE INNER LIFE  by Octavius Winslow

The Unsavory Salt

"The Inner Life in its Relapsed Influence"

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness (savor), how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men." Matthew 5:13

The more deeply the subject now engaging our attention- the spiritual life, its decay and recovery- unfolds itself to the mind, the more irresistible and overwhelming must be the conviction of its measureless importance and solemnity. All other considerations, in comparison, having their relation to the present, however important, interesting, and absorbing for the moment, dwindle into insignificance. The personal interests of an individual must, to that individual, be of greater moment and more precious than all other interests. It is a law of nature that we should love ourselves; and it is the law of revelation that we should love our neighbor as ourselves; thus, the word of God, while recognizing the law of self-love, divests it at the same time of its selfishness. Nowhere does this law find such proper and ample scope for its exercise, and in nothing is it more affectingly and strongly appealed to, than in the matter of personal salvation. "For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?"

The law of self-preservation, the law of his being, is here addressed in its most solemn relation- its relation to eternity. To this eternity we are hastening. We are passing from shadows to realities- from things that are seen and temporal, to things that are unseen and eternal. The inevitable and awful crisis is near, when all that now awakens so much interest, and creates so much excitement, and absorbs so much time, will be as the arrow winged through the air- leaving no impression and no trace. One moment's personal, actual contact with eternity, one drop of the cold moisture of death trembling upon the brow, one dim glimpse within the parting veil of the invisible world, will
dissipate the false, and invest with its true character everything that is real.

We are as much convinced of the truth, as we are conscious of the solemnity of the fact, that if the mind is not then beclouded, and the conscience is not then seared, and the heart is not then abandoned by God to the wedded idol, and the whole soul is not given over to judicial impenitence and unbelief- if indeed there be any spiritual sensibility, or the faintest apprehension of the awfulness of the position- the one question of that tremendous moment will be- "Is my soul in a prepared state to meet God? Am I safe for eternity?"

And yet will it be considered discrepant with this statement to affirm of individuals in general, that men die much as they have lived? It would seem to be the cherished delusion of many, that a kind of spiritual transformation transpires in death; that because death itself is a change of relation, around which gather new sensations, new feelings, new thoughts, new solemnities, new prospects, that therefore the soul passes through a kind of spiritual preparedness to meet its approaching destiny. But such is not the case. The character which time has for years been shaping, it yields to the demands of eternity in the precise mold in which it was formed. Death hands over the soul to the scrutiny and the decisions of the judgment, exactly as life relinquished it. The 'king of terrors' has received no commission and possesses no power to effect a spiritual change in the transit of the spirit to the God who gave it. Its office is to unlock the cell, and conduct the prisoner into court. It can furnish no plea, it can suggest no argument, it can correct no error, it can whisper no hope, to the pale and trembling being on his way to the bar. The jailer must present the criminal to the Judge, precisely as the officer delivered him to the jailer- with all the marks and evidences of criminality and guilt clinging to him as at the moment of arrest.

The supposition of multitudes seems to be, just what we have stated, that when the strange and mysterious, but unmistakable signs of death, are stealing upon them- when the summons to appear before the Judge admits of not a doubt, and allows of no delay, that then what has been held as truth, and now, in the mighty illumination of an unveiling eternity, is found to be error, may be with ease abandoned; and that, however negligent they who have lived all their lifetime without God, may have been of religion, while the last day appeared distant- and however careless they who had made a Christian profession, may have been of the ground of their confidence, and the reason of their hope, under an indefinite expectation of appearing in the presence of God- yet now that the footfall of death is heard approaching, and the invisible world becomes visible through the opening chinks of the earthly house of their tabernacle, they will be enabled to summon all the remainder of strength, and with the utmost strenuousness turn their undivided attention to the business of saving the soul.

But is it really so? Is not the whole course of experience against a supposition so false as this? Do not men die mostly as they have lived? The infidel dies in infidelity, the profligate dies in profligacy, the atheist dies in atheism, the careless die in indifference, and the formalist dies in formality. There are exceptions to this, undoubtedly, but the exceptions confirm rather than disprove the general fact, that men die as they lived. "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give to every man according as his work shall be."

In view, then, of this solemn statement, deeply affecting it must be to the Christian professor- we now turn to the great subject immediately before us. If it be thus that our death will derive much of its character and complexion from the present tenor of our life- that in proportion to the lack of spirituality and the undue influence which the world has had upon the mind- to the habitual distance of the walk with God, and the gradual separation from us of those holy, sanctifying influences which go to form the matured, influential, and useful Christian- will be the lack of that bright evidence, and full assured hope in death, which will give to the departing soul an "abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom," -then, of what great moment is it that every individual professing godliness, should know the exact state of his soul before God! We have endeavored to aid you in this examination by stating the nature of the inner spiritual life, by exhibiting some of the indications and evidences of a state of relapse, and then by portraying the character of the sincere and the false professor of religion.

The decay of Christian influence, under the figure of the unsavory salt, is a topic which seems naturally to follow. The words which suggest the state are taken from one of our Lord's graphic and awakening discourses, in which, with a skill he only was master of, he so dissects and individualizes human character and responsibility, in their relations to the high and paramount claims of God and eternity, as to turn the eye of each believer within upon himself. Addressing professing Christians, he says, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness (savor), how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men." The world- the salt- the unsavory salt, are the topics which these words suggest.

Our first remark bears upon THE WORLD AS CONSTITUTING THE PARTICULAR SPHERE OF THE CHRISTIAN'S INFLUENCE. "You are the salt of the earth." We bestow but little observation, it is feared, upon the spiritual state of the world at large, and upon that portion in particular where our influence is the most concentrated and felt. It is true we admire its beauty, can paint its scenery, are absorbed in its history, are excited by its antiquities, and are astonished by its wonders- but in its momentous relation to eternity, O how little interest does it awaken! I am not about to descant upon the unsatisfying nature of the world, nor upon its passing away. Your own experience of what the world really is- of how much it promises and of how little it performs- will compile a better volume for your study than that which any human pen could compose.

But I refer you to its deep, universal ungodliness. I speak of it as a world full of moral pollution, of anarchy, and of rebellion against God. A world crowded with all the present consequences of sin, poverty and suffering, disease and death. Who can read its statistics of crime, or glance at the journals which chronicle its daily history, and not feel the full force of the truth, that Satan is the supreme god of this world, and that "the whole world lies in wickedness" -literally, 'in the wicked one.' But how insensible are we of this! How faintly and imperfectly do we realize it! How little affected by the hatred- the bloodshed- the intemperance- the debauchery- the fraud- the grinding oppression- the gross injustice- the suffering- the misery- the death- which confront us at every step, and lift their wail of agony and cry of vengeance to heaven! How few of us sigh and cry for all these abominations that are done!

Nor yet of this alone, awful as it is. Equally insensible are we of the existence and progress of error in the world- truth-denying, God-dishonoring, Christ-supplanting, and soul-destroying error. We know and believe that no fallen child of Adam can be saved apart from the knowledge and experience of Divine and revealed truth- that the truth is the instrument of his renewal, and of his sanctification. Believing, then, that men are saved only by the truth, and are made holy only through the truth, how little concerned and alarmed are we by the fearful inroads of doctrinal errors, and popish practices, tending to mislead, and imperil the best interests of the multitudes, to whose blind understanding and sin-loving hearts, the error that rocks the cradle of their soul's deep slumber, is ever more welcome than the truth that disturbs their carnal security, and arouses them from their false repose, by portraying their present sinfulness, and testifying of the " judgment to come."

Such is the world in which Christ has placed his Church as the sphere of its influence, as the theater of its grace, and as the school of its graces. Such is the world of which all sincere believers in Jesus are declared by him to be, individually and collectively, "the salt of the earth."
We now proceed to illustrate and apply this interesting and important truth.

The metaphor of 'salt', from its frequent use in the word of God, has come to be a holy and expressive one. In the sacrifices offered under the Levitical law, God commanded the use of salt; "And every oblation of your meat-offering shall you season with salt; neither shall you allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your meat-offering: with all your offerings you shall offer salt." Salt was used in this relation as a symbol of holy sincerity in their service, and as expressive of communion in their worship. We find, too, that God employs salt as an emblem of his everlasting covenant: "All the heave-offerings of the holy things, which the children of Israel offer unto the Lord, have I given you, and your sons and your daughters with you, by a statute forever: it is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord unto you and to your seed with you." When the prophet Elisha was desired to purify the waters of the corrupt fountain of Jericho, he cast salt into them, saying, "Thus says the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed."

But it is under the gospel dispensation we find the richest and most expressive meaning of the figure. When our Lord reminds his people that they are "the salt of the earth," he describes the gracious state of all real believers. The grace of God is that "salt," apart from which all is moral corruption and spiritual decay. Where Divine grace exists not, there is nothing to stunt the growth, or to check the progress, or to restrain the power of the soul's depravity. The fountain pours out its streams of corruption and death, bidding defiance to all human efforts either to purify or restrain. Education cannot, public sentiment cannot, human law cannot, moral persuasion cannot, self-love cannot; all these instruments fail in the attempt. There is going on in the soul a process of moral decay, which, if not averted by grace, must terminate in the intolerable and interminable pangs of the second death- the soul departing into eternity, one mass of moral corruption.

What a spectacle for the eye of a holy God to behold! With all his natural loveliness and amiable instincts- admired, lauded, caressed by man- the being is yet an object of the Divine loathing and abhorrence. If God loves himself, if he delights in his own holiness, he must hate sin, while yet enduring with all patience the sinner, not willing that he should perish. But let one grain of the salt of God's grace fall into this corrupt fountain, and there is deposited a counteracting and transforming element, which at once commences a healing, purifying, and saving process. And, what parental restraint, and the long years of study, and human law, had failed to do, one hour's deep repentance of sin, one believing glance at a crucified Savior, one moment's realization of the love of God, have effectually accomplished.

O the intrinsic preciousness, the priceless value, the sovereign efficacy of this Divine salt- God's converting, sanctifying grace! Effecting a lodgement in the most debased and corrupt heart, it revolutionizes the whole soul, changing its principles, purifying its affections, ennobling its sentiments, and assimilating it to the Divine holiness. Be assured of this, my reader, that nothing short of the grace of God can renew and sanctify your nature, and fit you for the abodes of infinite holiness and bliss. You must become a subject of grace, before you can become an heir of glory.

Thus all true believers in Jesus, from their gracious character, are denominated the "salt of the earth." And why so? Because all that is Divine, and holy, and sanctifying, and precious, exists in them, and in them only. It is found in that nature which the Holy Spirit has renewed, in that heart which Divine grace has changed, in that soul humbled in the dust before God for sin, and now, in the exercise of faith which he has given, reposing on the atoning work of Jesus, exclaiming,
"Other refuge have I none,
Hangs my helpless soul on you."

There, where God's love is felt- there, where the Holy Spirit is possessed- there, where the Savior's atonement is received, and his image is reflected- there is found the precious "salt of the earth." The world does not know it, and even the lowly grace may be veiled from the eye of the church- few mark the silent tear, or see the deep prostration of the spirit before the Lord, or are cognizant of its hidden joy, or measure the extent of the holy influence, noiselessly, yet effectually exerted; but God, looking from his throne of glory through the ranks of pure intelligences that encircle him, beholds it; and in that humble mind, and in that believing heart, he sees the Divine and precious 'salt,' which beautifies, sanctifies, and preserves the world. He sees true holiness nowhere else; he recognizes his own moral image in no other. The Christian is emphatically, "the salt of the earth."

But here a view of the subject presents itself of a deeply interesting character. We allude to the moral and spiritual influence of the Christian as it is exerted. This undoubtedly was the leading thought in the mind of our Lord when he employed the metaphor in its application to his people, "You are the salt of the earth." But in describing this influence, where shall I commence, and where shall I terminate? I can easier place my hand upon its commencement than upon its termination, because it never terminates! Christian influence begins with the first grain of grace, the first throb of life, the first beam of light, the first tear of godly sorrow, the first glance of faith- but its impressions and its results are as lasting as eternity. Solemn thought! The holy, gracious influence of a good man, stretches far away into the invisible world.

But consider his present influence; his sphere, be it what it may, is just what God has made it, but in that sphere, be it limited or boundless, he is God's salt, designed to preserve and to transform, by the holy influence which he exerts, the community in which he dwells. What a blessing is that Christian! Be the relation what it may which binds him to society- a husband, a wife, a parent, a child, a brother, a sister, a friend- he is the salt of the circle in which he moves. That little spark which glows in his bosom, may light the steps of some benighted wanderer to eternity; that measure of grace, diffusing its fragrance through his soul, may cheer and invigorate some tried and drooping spirit; that degree of spiritual knowledge which he possesses, may confirm some waverer, or guide some anxious and perplexed seeker after truth. The holy and commanding influence which God has given him, may, with its power, awe and subdue the mightiest agent of evil; or with its smile, cheer and encourage the weakest and lowliest effort of good. Blessed of God, he is a blessing to man.

Of course it is understood that we are now speaking of the salt that has not lost its savor- the savory salt; we are describing the character and influence of a spiritually-minded Christian- of the influence exerted by one in whom the inner life is in a healthy, vigorous, active state. Such a believer is an incalculable blessing in any sphere in which he may move- he is truly "the salt of the earth:" there is a savoriness about him which reveals his inward grace; his example is savory, his prayers are savory, his conversation is savory; we feel, when we converse with him, that he has the Divine salt in his soul, that we are in the presence of a true Christian, that we are holding communion with one who is wont to hold communion with God, one who dwells near the cross, who lives beneath the anointing, who walks humbly with God, who lives as "beholding Him who is invisible."

There is that in him which bespeaks the gracious man- there is an echo to your voice, a response to your thought, a vibration to your touch, which rebounds upon your own soul with thrilling effect. You feel yourself, as it were, salted afresh by the salt that is in your brother; you have caught the contagion of his holiness- his example has rebuked you, his zeal has quickened you, his love has melted you, his faith has invigorated you, his grace has refreshed you, his smile has gilded the dark cloud that perhaps hung around your spirit, his word has fallen balmy and healing upon your sorrowing, bleeding heart- and the secret of all is, he is "a sweet savor of Christ " to your soul.

The same interpretation of the figure will equally apply to the church of God in its collective capacity. As the conservator of the truth, what a blessing is the Church to the world- the only depository of this Divine and precious treasure- the sole living, practical exhibition of it upon earth- the only Divinely appointed and proper agent for its propagation throughout the world! How solemn and responsible her position, how commanding and far-reaching her influence! The counteracting agent of error is, undoubtedly, its opposite- TRUTH. And who possesses the truth, and who experiences the truth, and who loves the truth, and who guards and disseminates the truth, but the "Church of God, the pillar and ground of the truth?"

And what a preservative of the world has been the truth of God, thus defended and diffused by the influence of the Christian Church! What but the truth, as held and maintained by the different sections of the Church of Christ, has arrested those fearful errors, the inroads of which have already worked such disasters in the world, and the unchecked progress of which must have proved its total destruction? Systems rose, flourished, and fell; schools existed, influenced, and died. Infidelity, popery, semi-popery, anti-Christian, Christ-denying errors, have in their turns, and in different ages, had their day; but the truth, for whose overthrow and destruction they all leagued, confederated, combined, and labored; still lives, and lives to bless and save its enemies.

When false doctrine has come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord has lifted up the standard of the gospel, and rolled it back. The pulpit and the press- those powerful agents in the hands of the Church of God- have scattered and broad-cast the salt of truth, and those precious grains have counteracted the influence and stayed the progress of schisms and of errors. What but the salt of truth cast into the fountain of public opinion, by the labors of the Christian Church, has on many occasions so purified and changed its character, that on great questions deeply involving the welfare of individuals, of communities, and of nations- it has sent abroad an influence so healthy, vigorous, and commanding, as to effect a complete revolution in the decisions of cabinets and in the histories of states?

But we proceed to speak of the decay of the inner life, as manifest in the impaired vigor of Christian influence, figuratively set forth by "the salt that has lost its savor," and its consequent unprofitableness. The indestructibility of the divine life in the soul of man, the imperishable nature of real grace, is a truth so deeply involving the holiness and happiness of the Christian- and what is of still greater moment- the glory of God, that we would place it in the foreground of the statement we are about to advance. In the most searching investigation we would make into the state of religion in the soul, we would never forget that where there exists real grace, that grace is as imperishable as the God who implanted it; that where true faith has led your trembling footsteps to Jesus, to receive him as all your salvation, that faith is as deathless as its Author.

But with this broad and emphatic statement of a great and holy truth, we must proceed to justify the affecting declaration of the Savior's words, that the salt may lose its savor! In what sense will this apply to the inner, spiritual life of the believer? Most clearly and indisputably in the sense of a declining state of grace, and of its consequent loss of vigorous influence. The first symptom of this state which appears, may be a change which the individual detects in his own soul as to his actual, personal enjoyment of religion. Propose to him the question- With all your observance of external religious duties and activities, what amount of spiritual enjoyment have you of vital religion in your soul? In other words, What real power does the spiritual life within you possess? Have you a heartfelt realization of the actuality and heavenliness of the divine things embodied in your creed, and avowed in your Christian profession? Do spiritual truths have that holy savor and sweetness to your taste which indicate a healthy state of soul? Do you know habitually what close, filial, and confidential communion with God is? -the purifying power of confession? -the frequent sprinkling of the atoning blood? -the meek, submissive temper of mind in trials sent by God, or under provocation received from man?

Were he to reply to these close, searching interrogations, as a man honest with himself and to his God, he would perhaps unhesitatingly answer- "Alas! the salt has lost its savor! There was a period when all this was the happy experience of my soul. There was then a savor in the very name of Jesus- but it is gone! There was a reality in divine truth- but it is gone! There was an attraction in the throne of grace- but it is gone! There was a bright ascending flame upon the altar of my heart, of love to Jesus, of communion with God- but it is gone! I once walked filially with my heavenly Father; I felt the power of godliness in my soul; I knew what heart-religion was, what secret, closet religion was- but alas! the salt has lost its savor!"

Trace another symptom of this 'unsavory religion' in the deterioration through which his graces have passed. His love has lost its fervor, his faith its vigor, his zeal its fire, his spirit its lowliness, his carriage and deportment its gentleness and simplicity. There seems not a grace of the Holy Spirit in his soul to have escaped the blighting influence which has swept over him- not one that has not lost something of its heavenly savor.

The feeble, if not the injurious influence which his religion exerts upon others is not the least marked and affecting evidence of the decay of spiritual life in his soul. His Christianity is of so sickly and doubtful a character, it produces no favorable impression. The world, keen-eyed, eager to discern the mote in the eye, and ever ready to detect the slightest discrepancy of principle and practice- knows him to be a professor of religion, and that is all of his Christianity that it does know. It is aware that he has passed through the solemn ritual of a Christian profession, that he is enrolled among the saints, and mingles in their hallowed services; but such are the glaring inconsistencies of his Christian walk, such is his worldliness, his lust of power, his thirst for wealth, his love of pleasure, the lightness of his spirit, his religion has become a proverb and a by-word among the immoral and profane, and produces no more winning, sanctifying effect upon others, than the salt that has lost its savor.

What is the church holier for his union with her? What is the world better for his religion? What moral darkness does he illumine? What evil does he correct? What misery does he alleviate? What raging vice does he check? What healthy impetus in the career of spiritual progress does his Christian profession give to society? Alas! in all these things he is but as the salt that has lost its savor. Melancholy spectacle! -to witness a professing man, who seemed for a time to run well, and whose Christian example was powerful and commanding, now faltering and pausing in his course, waning and deteriorating in his influence, his religion becoming tasteless and insipid. Yet such is the individual whose affecting character is portrayed by the expressive figure of the Savior.

But a solemn question is proposed- "How can it be made salty again?" In other words, how can such a relapsed state of the spiritual life be recovered? The question of the Savior would seem to imply an utter impossibility in the thing; and we admit that at first sight it would so appear. The case is indeed a trying and a desperate one. Spiritual relapse is easy; but spiritual recovery is difficult. It is easier, we all know, to imbibe a disease, than to counteract and arrest it- to plunge into difficulties than to escape from them. It is thus with the concerns of the soul. A case of 'conversion' would seem to demand less power than a case of 're-conversion'- to enkindle love in a rebel's heart, than to re-kindle it in the heart of a child- to bring a poor sinner to ground his arms, and prostrate himself a penitent suppliant before the cross, than to reclaim a wanderer to the feet of the Savior he had forsaken. Truths, motives, arguments, pleas, once so effective, have now lost their attraction and their power; and pride, shame, and hardness of heart, seem to have gained the ascendancy. The ashes of extinguished affection smother in the heart every fresh spark which each effort to bring back has re-kindled. "How can it be made salty again?"

But THE RECOVERY is not impossible, and the case, therefore, is not hopeless. The salt may again be salted; the inner life may be revived; the waning strength may be restored; and the salt of grace, now apparently worthless and lost, may yet again be recovered, and prove as sweet and savory as before. Let it be observed, that Jesus speaks of the salt being re-salted. Impossible as this may be to man, with God it is possible. By infusing a new life into the renewed nature, a fresh impartation of grace to the heart; by rekindling the smouldering embers in the soul; and thus by putting his hand again to the entire work of resuscitating, restoring, and reviving the whole inner man, the salt, re-salted, may regain its former sweetness and power.

The means by which this great and gracious recovery may be effected, are such as his wisdom will suggest and his sovereignty will adopt. But of this we may rest assured- all will be under the direction of unchangeable love. Whether it may be by the gentle gales of the Spirit, or by the severe tempest of trial, is but of little moment in comparison of the happy and glorious result. If the salt that has lost its savor be but re-salted, the mysterious process by which it is effected we will calmly and submissively leave in his hands. "This also comes forth from the Lord of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working."

We would suggest, in concluding this chapter, the Savior's injunction as supplying an effectual check to this tendency to relapsed influence in the spiritual life- "Have salt in yourselves." Adding to this the apostle's exhortation- "Let your speech be aways with grace, seasoned with salt." Repair constantly to Christ, where a sufficiency of grace for each day, and for each circumstance of each day, will keep your soul supplied and nourished; so that while restraining and upholding, sanctifying and comforting grace is abundantly vouchsafed for yourself, the influence of that same grace will make you a far-reaching and an untold blessing to others.