DIALOGUE THE SECOND.
“Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” Acts iv. 12.
In this second Dialogue we have chiefly in view those weak and distressed persons who consider themselves lost creatures; and being cast down under a sense of their impotency, after many unsuccessful efforts to overcome evil, and practise what is right, faint and lose courage. We likewise address ourselves to those souls who desire to have faith, and are anxious to live a godly life and be happy, but do not know how to attain to it; also to those who dare not receive the Gospel, or apply to themselves the benefits it offers, so unworthy do they feel themselves of the grace promised to them that believe: in general, the instruction contained in it has respect to all those who think the magnitude of their sins surpasses that of the grace of God.
The misery of every one of these arises from their being yet under the law, that is to say, they would convert themselves, and in order to attain this object, weary themselves with all kinds of devout exercises, and neglect the essential thing, which is to flee to Jesus Christ, that they may receive, above all things, the pardon of their sins, and the assurance of their reconciliation to God. See a faithful portraiture of their condition in Rom. vii. 14 — 25; and Luke x.
Let the Priests and Levites of the law of Moses, beholding these poor souls, pass on the other side: the true servant of the Gospel of God will be touched with compassion towards them; and endeavouring to strip them of the filthy rags of their own righteousness, will present them with a better garment — the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ: for such are the people our Divine Master has resolved to honour; it is for them he says (Luke xv. 22), as Ahasuerus formerly, “make haste, and take the apparel, as thou hast said, and do even to Mordecai the Jew, that sitteth at the king’s gate, and let nothing fail of all thou hast spoken,” Esther vi. 10. These are timorous consciences, that one should be careful not to strike with the cudgel of the law. Ah! “lift up, lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees,” Heb. xii. 12. Say to these fearful hearts, take courage, fear not, Jesus is God who “will himself come to save you,” Isa. xxxv. 4. Repeat to them that “the kingdom of heaven is theirs;” that “blessed are they that mourn,” Matt. v. 4, because there shall be given unto them “beauty for ashes, and the oil of joy for mourning,” Isa. Ixi. 3.
In order, then, that the persons of whom we speak, may obtain true peace, we do not here preach to them faith as a duty the law commands us to perform, as a work it enjoins us to do, but we strive, under the Divine blessing, to inspire them with that faith by the preaching of the Gospel. Neither do we require that these persons should, at the commencement, lead a godly life; for we well know they cannot do it before they have received faith. We direct them to Jesus, who knows how to teach them to live soberly, righteously, and godly, and who will give them the will, inclination, and power necessary to a Christian life. As to the voluntary slaves of sin, who would abuse our words, it is in another tone we must address them.
Disciple.—Alas! how much am I to be pitied! Since our last conversation I have had no repose: I have even passed whole nights without sleep. It is only now I see how grossly I have deceived myself in relying upon my own works, and trusting in my own strength. A vain confidence and a life morally good have inflated me with a stupid pride. I have experienced a pharisaical delight in being able, when an opportunity offered, to talk about religion, particularly when in the company of those less virtuously inclined than myself: I thought myself much above them in every respect, and it arose from a desire to be considered among them a good man, or from other motives equally criminal. More than once I have rejected and rashly condemned others, who were abundantly replenished with grace, whilst I myself was entirely destitute of it. I now begin to perceive how much I have been, and still am, blind, impotent, and covered with sins and corruption. The thick veil that had hitherto covered my eyes prevented my seeing what I now do; and when the Holy Spirit began to awaken my conscience, I soon found out the unhappy consequence of a sleepy one, in having appropriated to myself consolatory passages in the word of God, which were not applicable to my situation. Now that my conscience is awakened, the sins I have committed without scruple, appear to my imagination in the most hideous shape, terrifying and condemning me. A great number of gross sins rise up in judgment against me. At this moment I comprehend how the sight of sin is accompanied with the anguish which certain of my acquaintance have been so distressed with on account of it. I cannot now, as formerly, have recourse to false consolations. When I lie down to sleep, it seems as if I was going to appear before the tribunal of God, and receive the sentence of my condemnation. Good God! when I think of it I shudder. Sometimes, it is true, I have a little repose, but after short intervals of hope, the agony returns as acutely as ever. Oh! shall I ever be delivered from these fears that overwhelm me? Is there, Sir, is there grace for me?
Pastor.—I bless God with all my heart, and thank the faithful Shepherd of souls, who has deigned to lay hold of his poor wandering sheep. I will not yet say to you, what the kind Saviour did to the widow of Nain: “weep not.” I will rather say, as he did to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep for yourselves.” Yes, weep, give free course to your tears; but at the same time be assured that your case is not desperate; that your “sickness is not unto death;” that your sorrow is a “godly sorrow;” and that the hour is not far distant, when your Saviour will draw nigh to pardon and console yon.
Disciple.—You cannot imagine how great my distress is. It is as though God, in the rigour of his judgments, had already rejected me. What wounds me the most, is my having so often despised his grace, and now, perhaps, it is too late to have recourse to it.
Pastor.— By no means, my friend; a proof that you are not excluded from grace is, that the Lord Jesus is now working in you a sense of your misery. He would save you as a “brand plucked out of the fire.” You would, indeed, have had much greater reason to despair, had he suffered you to remain in security and hardness of heart; but since he has awakened your sleepy conscience, it is a proof that he will not abandon you.
Disciple.—I well understand all that, but I am nearly in the same state that Jacob was, when they assured him his son Joseph was yet alive; that is to say, my heart can hardly be persuaded of these things, and notwithstanding I begin to believe them to be true.
Pastor.—What do you think of doing then? Where will you go with your misery? How do you hope to be delivered from it?
Disciple.—I think the best way will be to correct and amend myself.
Pastor.—See, you have already returned to a confidence in your own works. You are yet without faith, and you would amend yourself! You would invert the order according to which grace constantly acts, that is to say, you are desirous it should sanctify, before it justifies you. You expect to find that in the law which is only to be found in the Gospel, or rather in Jesus Christ himself. In thus acting, you are yourself the principal obstacle to your advancement: you will never attain to a full assurance of faith, and will continually remain without the necessary strength to lead a good life. The first grace you should aspire after is justification by faith; so soon as you shall have obtained it, your light will dawn as the break of day, and your cure, that is your sanctification, will bud forth immediately.
Before having received from on high the power to believe in the Lord Jesus, all that you can do, in your present situation, is to desire to be delivered from the sad condition sin has brought you into. By yourself you cannot go beyond that, the Saviour must set you free, “and if the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed,” John viii. 36. But if you have it not at heart to be truly delivered from condemnation and the dominion of sin, and are willing that only one sin should reign in you, however small it may appear in your eyes, you may believe for certain, that a single sin will be a wall of separation between you and Jesus. Deliverance from sin is the consequence and effect of faith; but to obtain this faith go to him who gives it, and resolve to renounce all that can be called sin. Would you not call those senseless who, being sick, should send for a physician without a sincere desire to be cured? Would you esteem those to have been wiser, of whom the Gospel speaks, if they had deferred going to the Saviour till they had been healed by themselves, under a pretext that it was not proper to approach him in the condition they were then in? If, then, you feel the weight of your sins, and desire to obtain deliverance from them, flee to Jesus such as you are, and seek pardon of them from him by faith. The moment in which the leprous, the blind, and the other sick, believed in the Saviour, was usually that of their cure. It is in vain that a man, by all kinds of irksome exercises and by his own free will, strives to deliver himself from his prevailing sins, and the inquietude they occasion him; it is in vain to that end, that he multiplies his reading, hears the word, weeps, fasts, gives alms, and lives in solitude. He only augments his misery, and alienates himself further from God; because, instead of depending solely upon the work of redemption, and giving al the glory of it to the Son of God, he still relies upon his own works. The more a person is rooted in Christ, the more he perceives that he is incapable of helping himself, and he cleaves more simply to Jesus, in whose name alone he can be saved.
Disciple.—I have more than once experienced the truth of what you say. I have frequently resolved to amend myself, and all my endeavours to that end did but aggravate my misery. What I built one day, tumbled into ruins the next, and my hopes vanished as a shadow.
Pastor.—What you state is not uncommon with persons newly affected by grace. Many, after their first awakening, remain in the same state. If they fall into any sin, instead of going humbly to the Saviour for pardon and deliverance from it, they make useless efforts to amend themselves, and not succeeding in overcoming their bad habits, they resume the attempt again and again. What is the consequence? Some fall by little and little into negligence; and others, though more sincere and serious, return to the false opinion, that they possess the power in themselves to correct and amend their lives; so true it is, “that the way of man is not in himself, and it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps,” Jer. x. 23. How happy would such souls be, if, from the commencement of their being awakened, they were immediately to go to Jesus, and implore of him, the life and power they are in want of! Certainly they would be heard, and receive from him what they in vain look for in themselves or elsewhere. But man by nature is unhappily prone to reverse the order of salvation which God has established. This disposition is also yours, my dear friend, inasmuch as you expect that sanctification and amendment of life, should precede faith and a change of heart.
Disciple.—It is precisely what I have done before the Lord awakened me from the sleepy security I was in.
Pastor.—Know, then, that so long as you remain without being united to the Saviour by faith, you will be destitute of life and power, and as unable to amend yourself, as a dead person is to rise up, or a sick one to work. What plants can the heart produce, what fruit bring forth, before it has received the seed of the Gospel?
Disciple.—You draw a faithful picture of my sad condition.
Pastor.—It is nearly the same, when not having a thorough experience of our misery, and without being animated by the spirit of Christ, (who alone can enable us to live like him, and for him) we pretend to have true faith. This pretended faith, or rather this shadow of faith, is without foundation and without life; without foundation, because not preceded by sincere repentance; and without life, because unaccompanied by sanctification. The faith which is really the work of God, is to be found in him alone, who approaches the Saviour as a lost sinner, in order to obtain pardon through his blood; and who follows him that he may live in him and for him. This faith has root and alone bears fruit.
Disciple.—I have had, however, a sincere desire to amend myself; but when I could not succeed, I was so distressed as to lose all courage.
Pastor.—It is the unalterable will of the Lord, who being a God jealous of his glory, is pleased to confound the works of men, done in their own strength, in order to compel them to go to Jesus, that they may draw life and power from the blood of reconciliation. Therefore, I do not wish that, by your own power, you could succeed in amending yourself; for, supposing it to be possible, you would never know the Saviour, never feel how precious and efficacious his blood is; never experience the pardon of sin, and the joy it produces. Yes, my dear friend, he that is desirous of reclaiming and saving himself, by his own means, is ignorant of the worth of a Saviour. While he confesses Jesus with his mouth, in the bottom of his heart, he regards himself as his own saviour, and never can attain to true peace of mind.
Disciple.—God has, however, informed me in his word, what things are good, and what are not so; that I ought to do this, and avoid that. This our clergy also teach us, in their sermons, in order that we may lead a Christian life. Do you not think I ought to follow the path the Gospel traces?
Pastor.—It is true the law of God shows you what is good and what is not so; not that it expects, in the state of impotency and death in which you still are, that you can do all it commands, or avoid all it forbids, but that you may learn to know yourself to be poor, miserable, and corrupt; that you may feel your own inability to do good, and that as such you may go to Jesus, who will grant you life and power, which neither nature or the law can. It was for this reason St. Paul said, “The law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ,” Gal. iii. 24.
In the first place, you must be convinced that you are spiritually blind, miserable, poor, and naked; and when you shall have learnt and felt this, the Saviour will apply to you these reviving words, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee. Arise and walk.” Before he shall have freed you from the bonds of Satan, in granting you the remission of your sins, you will never be able to walk in his ways; and he will say to you, as heretofore to Peter, “Thou canst not follow me now, but thou shalt follow me afterwards;” that is to say, when thou hast found life, by my bloody death, and art endowed with a new spirit, “then thou shalt follow me,” John xiii. 36.
Disciple.—But tell me, I intreat you, why God does not bestow upon me the strength I desire, that I may lead a good life?
Pastor.—The succour of God is not manifested till we despair of the assistance of every creature. Such are his ways in temporal as well as in spiritual deliverances.
Disciple.—It is, likewise, necessary I should tell you, that I have often endeavoured to combat my sins, but have always had the misfortune to yield to them.
Pastor.—It was because you strove against them alone, without Jesus, and was not armed with the buckler of faith; for without that, it is impossible to stand against the enemy: thus to be attacked is to be vanquished. It is only love armed with faith that renders us more than conquerors. Before every thing, then, pray importunately for true faith, and an assurance of your reconciliation; when you shall have obtained them, you will easily triumph over your enemies. In fact, this is not the time for you to combat, but to acquire faith in, and feed upon the word of the Gospel, to the end that your inner man may be nourished up, and one day become a soldier of Christ. The moment you perceive any enemy or temptation approaching, whether within or without, imitate little frightened children, who run quickly to hide themselves in the bosom of their mother; that is to say, hasten in spirit and by faith to take refuge in the bosom of Jesus, for it is there you will be in safety. In your present state of spiritual infancy and weakness, you must studiously avoid every opportunity of sinning. When you shall have arrived at a riper age, and become a man in Christ, you will be able to resist, conflict, and overcome. The love and faithfulness of our dear Saviour towards newborn and weak believers are so great, that he carries them in his arms, hides them in his bosom, and drives the enemy from them, so that as yet they are unacquainted with his craft and his power; but when the time of their trial arrives, the enemy is permitted to approach nearer, and then they learn to resist him and overcome his temptations.
Disciple.—I have often combatted in vain, which makes me despair of success.
Pastor.—If you were so cowardly as to be discouraged in the sequel, and suffer yourself to be again drawn away by the world, you would be of the number of those fearful and unbelieving persons who will have their part “in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone,” Rev. xxi. 8, and of those who lose patience and depart from the right way.
Disciple.—I can assure you that I desire, with all my heart, to be changed.
Pastor.—This desire is a proof of your sincerity; but as I have already told you, your wishes, resolutions, and promises of amendment are vain and useless, if you do not go as a miserable sinner to Jesus to implore your cure from him, Matt. xv. 30. How many times have you made a determination to live better? How often have you endeavoured to convert and amend yourself? Yet, to this moment, you have done nothing towards it. Why? Because you still secretly confide in your own strength. Do you really desire pardon and remission of your sins? Go to Jesus; but go as a sinner, who can neither promise nor perform any thing.
Disciple.—I confess that I have need of being seriously and entirely converted, without which I can neither possess faith, nor obtain the grace of God.
Pastor.—You are right; but remember, faith must precede amendment and sanctification. When one talks of conversion, the entire work of the change and renewal of man is often meant, that is, repentance, faith, and an alteration of life. Here we use the term conversion in a sense less extensive, and mean a change of heart and mind: or, as St. Paul expresses it, “repentance from dead works,” Heb. vi. 1. Conversion, in this signification, consists in knowing not only the sinful acts we have committed, but also the depth of misery, corruption, and depravity there is in our hearts; in a lively sorrow on account of our state, accompanied by a sincere detestation of, and ardent supplication for, deliverance from it. To this grace, the Lord adds that of faith in Jesus, and confidence in his merits; then we may apply ourselves successfully to the work of sanctification. A true and entire conversion is always attended by faith and a dependance upon grace. It is simply by faith that we renounce all and cleave to Jesus Christ; so, likewise, it is only to a true believer that the Lord grants a sincere desire to depart from evil and the necessary strength to do so; from whence may be concluded, that without true faith there can be no real and entire conversion. Thus, the part you have to take is to apply to the Lord Jesus, to bestow upon you grace and pardon. It is not imagined that you can save yourself: Christ alone is our Saviour and Deliverer. He has already purchased us, paid our ransom, and obtained grace for us. It remains on our part to accept this grace by faith, and cleave to him, that we may be found in Christ, as in an impregnable fortress. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower. The righteous runneth into it, and is safe,” Prov. xviii. 10.
Disciple.—I understand and believe all this; but tell me, sir, what do-you think of me! Do you believe that the Lord Jesus will receive such a sinner as I am, and pardon my sins?
Pastor.—Yes; without doubt I believe it, and you may go to him in full confidence of it. He knows that no one can help you but himself; and he has already waited a long time, that you might turn to him. Read the Gospel, and see who were they that were received by Jesus; they were the sick, the miserable, publicans, people who had led a bad life? in a word, sinners. The servants of the king were commanded to bring in the poor, who had no righteousness to produce; the lame and the impotent, who were incapable of acting or doing any thing; the blind, who, not seeing their way clearly, abandoned themselves to the pity of those willing to conduct them. As for such as were unconscious of their misery and necessities, they refused to go to the Saviour, and so excluded themselves from his grace, Luke xiv.
Disciple.—You do not know all the evil that is in me. In the first place, I have a heart so corrupt that it must be changed.
Pastor.—It is good that you should know the evil of your heart; but it is precisely because it is so bad that you have need to apply to the Saviour. Go to him then—go, such as you are; place all your confidence in him, and you will find in him the change you desire; for it is he who will cleanse and sanctify your heart, and prepare a place in it for himself to dwell.
Disciple.—I have great difficulty in believing that the Lord Jesus will draw nigh to a heart defiled like mine, and dwell in it by his grace.
Pastor.—But the light he has communicated to you, proves that he has commenced his work of grace in you; without it you could not know yourself so well, or feel so painfully your malady. In fact the Lord “looks to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit;” and “dwelleth with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit,” Isaiah Ixvi. 2, and lvii. 15.
As soon as you are enabled to believe in the Lord Jesus, with all your heart, you will be washed in his blood from all sin, and delivered from all condemnation; purified from dead works and freed from the servitude of sin, that you may serve the living God, Rom. viii. 1; Heb. ix. 14. A new spirit will be given you, a clean heart and a will inclined to good. You have received already the earnest of these graces. Your will is pure since you entertain sincere desires after sanctification, and are fearful of contracting the least pollution. If the germ of original sin is yet alive in you, know that the most advanced in sanctification are not entirely exempt from its motions; but the course these faithful souls take is to go daily to the fountain of salvation, to implore they may be washed afresh in the blood of the Lamb, and absolved from their faults; and that they may be enabled to strip themselves, more and more, of their sinful rags, and of every stain of the flesh and spirit. Here you must be on your guard against two rocks equally dangerous. One consists in believing ourselves to be so pure and holy, as to be exempt from sin, weaknesses, and imperfections. This is the character of the hypocrite, in whose mouth the truth is not, 1 John i. 8; Luke xvi. 15; Prov. xxx. 12. This is the language of the proud Pharisee. The other rock consists in extenuating our faults, and allowing ourselves to live after the flesh, under pretext that it is impossible to be entirely perfect; that the most pious are not without failings; that the Saviour is not so particular, and we need not be so scrupulous. This is the language of the Old Serpent, and if ever so little attended to, will insensibly lead us into the paths of remissness and death. The right and sure way is, after having obtained by faith the purification of our hearts, to aspire, more and more, to be “cleansed from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord,” 2 Cor. vii. 1; 1 John iii. 3. We should continually seek fresh applications of the blood of Jesus Christ, become more sensibly united to him, more sincere, more serious, more upright, more faithful; in a word, more established in the grace of justification as well as in that of sanctification, Ephes. iii. and Heb. xii.
Disciple.—I easily conceive that there is no concord between Christ and Belial.
Pastor.—Assuredly none. Jesus cannot dwell in a heart that loves sin, and rests satisfied under its dominion; but the compassionate Saviour does not disdain to draw nigh to poor sinners, who groan under the weight of their misery. These miseries, when sensibly felt and acknowledged with grief, are the maladies that move his compassion, and of which he is the physician.
Disciple.—If I were better, I should have more confidence in the Saviour; but I feel myself so unworthy that I dare not approach him.
Pastor.—That is to say, you are not willing to go to him, as an ungodly and sinful creature to be justified, but as a saint. Observe what St. Paul says upon the subject: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness,” Rom. iv. 5. This humility accompanied by fear, proceeds from spiritual pride: yet there is nothing so truly pitiable as a proud person. You desire to stand before God in your own merits, whilst neither in heaven nor on earth has there been found any one sufficiently holy but the Lamb of God, Rev. v. 4. As for you, you merit nothing but hell; that is the sum of your deservings: and the more you imagine of yourself, or appropriate to yourself any thing better, the further you are from that free grace, which has been obtained and is intended for sinners. As for holiness, there is now none in the nature of man; it has been destroyed by original sin: but in our extreme unworthiness, our consolation is, that “worthy is the Lamb that was slain,” Rev. v. 12. It is in his blood that we are washed from our sins: such is the road to justification. When the Saviour calls to him those that are burdened and heavy laden, you are comprehended in the invitation. Draw nigh then, only believe: all is yours; do not deprive yourself of the proffered grace by unbelief and mistrust. Be assured that the Lord Jesus will effect the conquest of your heart; not because it is good, but that he may make it so. Pride prevents your going as a poor sinner to him, so that you must not be surprised if he hides himself and keeps at a distance from you; for he resisteth the proud. Your soul is in a miserable condition, but he will make it his spouse if it suffer itself to be stripped of its sinful tatters, that it may accept of and be clothed with the robe of the righteousness of God. Cease, then, to complain that you have no good to offer; be content to appear before him such as you are, and to receive of him, as unmerited grace, all you have need of.
Disciple.—I thought, on the contrary, that it was pride to aspire after the grace I am so unworthy of, and true humility not to dare to pretend to it.
Pastor.—It is an error. Souls, however well disposed, are susceptible of a false humility; first, as it regards justification, when they refuse to receive, as poor sinners, the grace that is granted and offered freely to them; secondly, as it respects sanctification, when they do not perform all the good they ought and can, under pretence that it would render them proud.
Disciple.—When I find myself so often in fault, I am quite discouraged, and the spark of faith, which was beginning to lighten up in my heart, is ready to expire.
Pastor.—It is right that you should be more and more divested of every good opinion of yourself, and of all confidence in your own strength; but let not the spark of faith grace hath kindled in you be extinguished: rather return to the Saviour with fresh confidence. Know, likewise, the difference is great between perceiving, with sorrow, the existence of sin within us, and willingly committing sin. Natural men, who live in security and impenitence, call the gross sins that reign within them by the name of infirmities, while fearful and repentant souls regard their weaknesses and involuntary faults, as enormous and prevailing sins. Both deceive themselves. If you think lightly of your faults, and feel no scruple in committing them, you can never obtain the grace of God, nor preserve it after it has been received; but when your miseries and faults are involuntary, and produce in you self-abasement, they are no impediment to your receiving this grace, or to its preservation. You must not suppose that you only are in this condition. There is not a single child of God, who does not still groan under the feeling of his remaining corruption, and sigh after entire deliverance from it. The moment you perceive your misery, go immediately, in simplicity, to the Saviour, make a sincere confession to him of every thing, supplicate for pardon, and accept it as soon as offered. The more you exercise your faith, the more the evil you are burdened with will lose its strength, and the more likewise you will advance in sanctification.
Disciple.—It has often occurred to me that, perhaps, I have not yet sufficiently felt my misery, and that I ought to experience more sorrow and grief on account of it than I have done, as a necessary preparative for my applying to the Saviour and obtaining the assurance of his grace.
Pastor.—You are not entirely wrong. There are too many persons who wish to pass over every thing quickly, and do not sufficiently enter into the discovery of their misery, but go to the Saviour with too much levity; it is dangerous the Lord desires serious and sedate hearts—
He deeply digs, and removes the sand,
That on his foundation we may stand.
There are, however, other persons who render the matter more difficult than it really is. Judge for yourself: would it be reasonable for a sick person to desire to be still more indisposed, before he send for a doctor? If you feel yourself miserable, it is a sufficient reason to induce you to apply to the Physician of souls.
Disciple.—During how long a time, and to what degree, ought I to feel my misery, and the grief it occasions me?
Pastor.—Until you conceive an utter aversion to every thing that can be called sin and vanity; until you despair of help from yourself and every other creature; until, driven by your misery, you go and prostrate yourself at the feet of Jesus, that you may embrace his merits, apprehend his righteousness, and receive grace and salvation from him. This consciousness of your misery, and feeling of heart-compunction, should continue all your life. It unhappily occurs to many sensible souls to lose, too soon, this feeling; and that, because they have not seriously renounced the world and sin, and because they still find a certain satisfaction in them, and try to excuse and justify their secret attachment to evil. Again, it happens when a man endeavours to heal himself of the malady of sin, drives away the thought of it, and expects to calm his troubled conscience, before it has been healed and consoled by faith and the virtue of the blood of Jesus; for in fact
Our corruptions had remain’d for ever,
Our polluted souls ne’er been heal’d;
But for the wounds of that dear Saviour,
Who with his blood our pardon seal’d.
When pious Bunyan perceived that the humbling and painful feeling of his corruption had ceased, he prayed to God that he might not be cured of this frame of mind by any other means than the blood of Jesus Christ. Unhappy those who have recourse to any other remedy, and who, weary of this salutary compunction of heart, insensibly fall into levity and security. Observe here, that the moment wherein we feel ourselves most burdened and distressed with the weight of our misery, is the fittest opportunity to flee to the Saviour; for it is the design of the Father, in thus straitening us, to draw us to his Son. What we should then do, is to abase ourselves, weep and sigh at his feet to obtain pardon, and if we persevere in our supplications, he will not long delay to grant it. The Saviour only waits this moment to be gracious. If we neglect this opportunity, or if we approach him in another frame, or endeavour to pacify ourselves, whether by good actions or worldly enjoyments, we may, perhaps, deaden the grief of our souls for some time; but it will be only in the end to experience greater distress, if we do not find out the fatal method of hardening ourselves, which is the greatest of all evils.
Disciple.—I have often thought myself to be a man more corrupt and wicked than others, regarding it as an insurmountable obstacle to my attainment of a true and entire change. At other times, it has occurred to me that God had abandoned me, and that, after having resisted the first influences of his grace, it was useless for me to appeal to his mercy. Again, I have thought myself too young, and sin too powerful in me, but when I became older, my conversion would be more easy, and come, as it were, of itself; then I have imagined it was too late, and that not having been converted in my youth, evil had become so deeply rooted in me, there was now no remedy for it.
Pastor.—All these, and other similar thoughts, are so many suggestions of the spirit of unbelief, and only tend to retard our salvation. In fact they do so, when we listen to them, and above all, when we do not well understand the economy of the Gospel: but when we become acquainted with the tender heart of our compassionate and faithful Saviour, we think quite differently. We then say to ourselves, “Thou hast a long time desired and sought for pardon: it cannot be but the Lord Jesus will one day grant it to thee. Good and merciful as he is, he has foreseen and fixed the time of grace, wherein he that sincerely seeks shall find it. What do I say? It is not I that have been first to desire it: it is he that hath loved me, and drawn me by the attractions of his grace:
For, if I had not felt his love
My worthless heart renew;
Surely I ne’er had look’d above,
His matchless grace to view.
Why, then, shouldest thou cease to desire, seek, and pray? Perhaps thou art approaching the happy moment when he will be gracious to thee; and what would be thy regrets in time and eternity, if thou shouldest now be discouraged, and suffer the enemy to turn thee from the ways of salvation. Why art thou cast down, O my soul! hope thou in God (Ps. xlii. 5,) for he is thy deliverer. If he waits to display the power of his grace, the day will come when thou shalt see the salvation of God.”
Disciple. — It is precisely for that happy moment that I am impatient; and my sorrow proceeds from my not having yet had the enjoyment of those sweet consolations, experienced by those whom Jesus has been gracious to.
Pastor.—If you do not yet enjoy the peace of God, you have yourself hitherto prevented it, by following your erroneous ideas and walking in your own strength. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus, who knows how to bring light out of darkness, will render your errors profitable to you. In vainly endeavouring to find righteousness and salvation by the works of the law, you have learned how great your blindness, poverty, and impotency are; and likewise, how great compassion you should have for poor wandering misled souls, and that you should do all in your power to benefit and bring them back by kindness. Now you ought to know what the mind of Christ is; and because his love is unbounded, you should have an unlimited confidence in him. He has, already, pardoned your sins; he loves you, and will perfect in you the work of grace he has commenced.
Disciple.—When I reflect how often I have been unfaithful to the grace of my God, I fear lest I should be deprived of it, on account of my having too long despised it.
Pastor.—It is true, infidelity is a crime of the blackest die, because there is nothing so precious as grace, nor anything so blessed as its influences; but there is, nevertheless, a remedy for it in Jesus. Have recourse to him the moment you perceive the approach of unbelief, and pray him to subdue it. Regard every distrustful thought, which prevents your going to Jesus to implore pardon and deliverance, as a snare of the enemy. The longer you delay going to him, the worse your malady will become, and more difficult to cure, Take for example a child, who having committed a fault, is ashamed to confess it—what is the consequence? Instead of humbling himself and asking pardon, he runs away from his father’s house; the father follows and severely punishes him. But when a child, of his own accord, turns towards his father, confesses his fault, and with tears humbly begs pardon, he finds a tender parent, willing to pardon and receive him. In a word, it is faith that does all, and obtains all; and to possess this faith and confidence in the Saviour, it is only necessary to know him. The moment he manifests himself to us, he gains our heart: we love him, because convinced by his Spirit that he loves us. Presuming to expect all from his bounty, we vow a constant fidelity to him. Cease not then to sigh, seek and pray at his feet; but, at the same time, let not your conscious unworthiness be an hindrance to your acceptance of what he is willing to impart out of pure grace.
Disciple.—Your advice is good; but when I attempt to pray, a voice appears to say to me, that the Lord will not hearken to my prayers. If I endeavour to approach him with confidence, I am impeded by a secret apprehension, lest my faith should be presumptuous and ill founded; if I try to apply his gracious promises to myself, I am restrained by an impression that I am unworthy of them.
Pastor.—This does not surprise me. As you have often built upon a dead and imaginary faith, it is not astonishing that you should be fearful of deceiving yourself. If you would be preserved from every deceit and delusion of the enemy, you must not listen to what your blind reason may suggest; but depend, solely and simply, upon the gracious and suitable promises made by our kind and faithful Saviour to every sinner that calls upon him. Since you have been taught by his Holy Spirit the knowledge of your misery by nature, and have truly felt and confessed it, you may be certain, that whatever prevents your drawing nigh to him, is a device of Satan. Nothing ought to hinder; on the contrary, every thing should urge you to go to Jesus—your sins, your wants, your fears, your anguish, and even the rigour and condemnation of the law. If you attend to the voice of reason, which is that of the flesh, or rather of the enemy of souls, it will say, “Return, the enterprise is too difficult for thee; it is in vain that thou thinkest to convert thyself; thou hast attempted it many times, without success, but thou art still unchanged; and if to be saved thou must become a new man, thy condemnation is certain.” Instead of giving ear to this seducing language of Satan, you should say, “It is precisely because the work of my conversion is difficult; because I am defiled, corrupt, depraved, laden with miseries and sins, and, moreover, weak, and incapable of any good; in a word, worthy of curse and condemnation; that I have need of a Saviour, and am determined to flee to him: he alone can deliver me. What can he not do, when willing to manifest his strength in our weakness!” This, I say, is the language you ought to hold; and believe, yes believe, with an entire and firm confidence, that Jesus is merciful towards poor sinners; that there is no heart so tender and compassionate as his, and that he pities, loves, and is willing to save us, at any price, in spite of every opposition.
Disciple.—Alas, miserable that I am! I perceive that I have tormented myself with many useless difficulties. I see how much the enemy has deceived me by false reasonings; how many good impressions and gracious attractions he has stifled in me, while he has been keeping me in a state of unbelief and mistrust.
Pastor. — It is thus the enemy labours to smother the good seed the Lord has sown in us. The attractions of grace, the good dispositions, the hunger and thirst; those desires you sometimes feel, which press you to draw nigh to the Saviour, that you may find in him righteousness and life; the feeling of confusion which leads you to abase yourself at his feet, under a sense of your innumerable miseries; the remembrance of his great love for sinful men, of his sufferings and death upon the cross, which invite you to fix your regards and thoughts upon him; all these are not of yourself, but proceed from the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit of Jesus who, by these means, is conducting you to the knowledge of your Saviour, that you may enter into his blessed communion and the enjoyment of his great salvation. Thus, every time you have similar experiences, receive them as invitations coming from the Lord Jesus, by which he is drawing you to himself. Approach him in full confidence; a repentant sinner dares expect every thing from him.
Disciple.—I feel a disposition to such a confidence; but am distracted and disquieted by the objects that surround me.
Pastor.—That proceeds, partly, from remaining unbelief, and the doubts your carnal reason suggests. The more we attend to our own reasonings, the less we advance in faith. It is, likewise, occasioned by your still having too great an attachment for the things of this world. It appears to me that you yet take pleasure in them, and seek in them a certain satisfaction, which deprives you of many happy moments, that you might otherwise enjoy in communion with the Lord. But as he is faithful, and jealous of his right over your soul, he permits you to find nothing but bitterness and distaste in worldly things; and that, because he loves you, and would himself be your sole joy. Profit by this salutary dispensation. Acknowledge, with shame, how dangerous the vain, foolish, and transitory things of this world are; and that you may be more weaned from them, seek the purification of your heart, and an entire deliverance from the vanities of time, in the blood of Jesus. Thus you will extract sweetness from bitterness itself; and that, which has hitherto abated your faith, will serve to fortify and strengthen it.
I will further remark: when in your occupations you experience distractions and vain thoughts, do not attack them in your own strength, as if you were able to dissipate and force them to disappear; but the instant you perceive them, fix your mind upon your Saviour, as a sinner who feels the continual need of his grace. While Martha is “careful and troubled about many things,” nothing is more profitable or necessary than to sit, with Mary, at the feet of Jesus. He has often presented himself at the door of your heart, that he might enter in and sup with you; that is, to bless and communicate fresh graces to you. But you were absent, your heart was preoccupied by other things, and you lost the fruit of his gracious visitation. In future, if you wish to profit by them, set more value upon such moments of grace; be more upon your guard, less inattentive to the voice of the faithful friend of your soul, that when he knocks at the door of your heart, you may not suffer him to depart, but open to him directly. All the internal reproaches, intimations, and attractions you feel, from time to time, are so many calls, which say, as heretofore to Mary, “The master is come and calleth for thee; arise, quit all and fly to him; believe, and thou shalt see the glory of God.”
Disciple.—Among my great and innumerable infirmities, there is one I would particularly notice. When I think of God, or would present myself before him, it is with trembling; I am often so full of fear, that I can say with David “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee, and I am afraid of thy judgments,” Ps. cxix. 120.
Pastor.—Alas! it is thus we are fallen from happy communion with our God. The fire of his love is so extinguished in our hearts, who of children are become strangers; who instead of drawing nigh to him with confidence, tremble to appear before his face. What has it not cost him to bring us back to himself, that we may recover this confidence, this child-like liberty, this familiar intercourse that we ought to have with our heavenly Father? The reason you still have so much fear and mistrust is, that you do not yet know his tender heart, his great love for his poor creatures. You look at him only in the glass of the law, which represents him as a terrible and jealous God, a severe judge armed with thunders, ever ready to hurl at transgressors. Contemplate him rather in the mirror of the Gospel. There you will behold a God, manifest in the flesh, drawing nigh to man in the person of Jesus Christ. There you will discover in him nothing bat clemency, mercy, tenderness, and paternal love. Though our fathers and mothers should give us up, he will never forget nor abandon us; he pities our miseries. This Saviour-God is moved with compassion for poor sinners; their afflictions touch him; he melts at their distresses. Why do you not consider the thoughts of peace he entertains towards you, to what a degree he loves you, and all the benefits he intends you? Instead of trembling with fear, you should leap for joy, and shed tears of tenderness and gratitude. Dismiss then your apprehensions; it is not your destruction, but your eternal happiness he designs. His word assures you of it, and it well deserves your credence. Fully convinced that he loves you, believe in him; open your heart to him; cleave to and embrace him, as your sovereign good and your all. In him is grace, salvation and succour for every poor sinner.
Disciple.—You speak of his succour: I have long supplicated and waited for it; but his help is slow in coming, and I much fear Jesus will not grant it me.
Pastor.—Upon that head there are four things to be observed. First, Do not judge of God’s intentions by your own ideas of them, but according to what he has revealed in his word; it is in his gracious promises we learn his truly paternal heart. All we read in the Prophets, Psalms, and the New Testament, breathe nothing but grace, love, and peace; every thing written therein is for your consolation. He says, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, yea, I will rejoice over them to do them good,” Jer. xxxii. 40, 41. Secondly, Never contemplate the Divinity but in the person of Jesus Christ. Out of Christ God is a consuming fire; look at him in the face of Jesus, who is the express image of his person, for all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus Christ; “As thou Father art in me, and I in thee,” John xvii. 21. “He that acknowledgeth the Son, hath the Father also,” 1 John ii. 23. “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” John xiv. 9. Behold Jesus upon the cross; meditate upon his martyrdom, griefs, wounds, agonies, and death. Reflect that it was for men, and for you among others, that he suffered all those things, as his word testifies. Are you convinced that he has done so, in the serious and sincere intention of redeeming you and making you happy? In short, do you not believe that, when affixed to the cross, he had in view your miseries, your unbelief, your enmity against him, your indifferency to and your ingratitude for his surpassing love? All this did not prevent his dying for you; do not hesitate then to place your entire confidence in him. Thirdly, Your own experience ought to teach you to know the heart of your heavenly Father. Reflect with what infinite patience he has supported you in your state of impenitence and perversity. Now, where is the man, who, having the right and power to punish his enemy, waits till he repents, that he may have the pleasure of forgiving him? Yet this is what the great lover of souls does in respect of men who are his enemies; it is what he has done towards you. You were in his hands; he could have ruined and destroyed you; he has not done so, because he would preserve you for the time of grace, for the day of salvation. O prodigy of long suffering! O riches of patience! how great, incomprehensible, infinite! What ought to render his care of you so much more admirable and astonishing is, that instead of punishing and damning you, as he possessed the power and the right to do, every time you have provoked him, he has heaped upon and surrounded you with benefits; and that, to soften the hardness of your heart, win your affections, and convince you that he was resolved to save you at any price. Fourthly, Call to mind how many times he has acted towards you, as the Father with the Prodigal Son. He has gone a thousand times after his lost sheep; he has employed a thousand means to touch your heart, to warn you of the dangers that menaced you, to allure you to himself. In spite of your many slights and resistances, he has not been weary of offering you grace, nay soliciting your acceptance of it: and after all these proofs of love, dare you imagine that he will refuse you grace, now he beholds you humbled and importunately supplicating for it at his feet? What then? will he refuse you what he has so solemnly promised, and offered so many times? No, no, it is impossible: “The gifts and callings of God are without repentance.” Be persuaded then that he desires your salvation now as much as ever. Let nothing prevent your drawing nigh to this kind and merciful Saviour with an entire confidence, well assured that he only waits the moment when you shall feel the whole weight of your sins, and the urgent need of deliverance from them, to be gracious to you. Is this your present condition? Go, go in full assurance to Jesus our propitiation; go, draw out of the plenitude of his merits grace for grace, according to the promises made to you in the Gospel. Finally, I exhort you to attend assiduously to prayer. The oftener we approach the Saviour, the more we increase in the knowledge of him; and the more he is known the sweeter intercourse with him becomes. By that your confidence in him will augment; and since you are so weak in faith, implore him unceasingly and earnestly to confirm it. By frequent prayer, you will learn to pray well; in exercising your faith, it will be strengthened daily. By this intercourse of the heart, your love for the Saviour will continually increase, and your union with him become more intimate and perfect. Conversation with the children of God will also be of great use to you; but above all things, apply yourself to the reading of and meditating upon the word of God, contained in the holy Gospel. It will open your eyes to see how much the heart of Jesus is disposed towards poor sinners, who, under a sense of their misery, sigh after him, and shed at his feet their tears and complaints.
Disciple.—By the grace of God, I begin to recover my sight, to discover the enormity of my sins, and my extreme misery; but, like Mary Magdalen in the garden, and the two disciples, on their way to Emmaus, my eyes are yet held, so that I do not distinctly know the Lord Jesus.
Pastor. — When you were enabled, by the grace of God, to perceive the depth of unbelief and sin that was in your heart, you were like a man starting out of a sound sleep, and were astonished at not having known before what you then discovered; but that was only the beginning of your awakening. When by faith you see and apprehend the great salvation wrought out by the Lord Jesus; when you are able to confide in his perfect merits, then you will be truly awakened.
Then you will “behold his face in righteousness,” and you will “be satisfied, when you awake, with his likeness.” Give ear then to the voice of the Gospel; pray the Lord to open your eyes, and unstop your ears. In seeking from him the pardon of your sins, supplicate for the gift of faith. This gift comprehends all others; for every Christian virtue, as humility, meekness, charity, &c. are its natural consequences and necessary fruits.
Disciple.—I am convinced that the greatest evil, and the sin that most burdens me, is unbelief; and I indeed desire to have faith, for I know how great must be the happiness to be able to believe, but I cannot yet.
Pastor.—It is a work and gift which the Holy Spirit must operate in you, by the word of the Gospel. For the rest, I see with pleasure that you are aware of your impotence with respect to it, and sigh after the gift of faith. The Lord, who helps your unbelief, says to you, as he did formerly to the father of the lunatic, “If thou canst believe; all things are possible to him that believeth,” Mark ix. 23. Thus then boldly fix all your confidence in his mercy and faithfulness. It is in the salvation of Jesus you will find quietness and peace, the pardon of your sins, deliverance from your enemies, a new heart, with the inclination and necessary strength to lead a new life.
Disciple.—I begin to believe that my Saviour will carry on in me his work of grace, and that he has, already by his divine virtue, produced some change in my heart. Formerly, when any one spoke of him, his Gospel, his great love for souls, the efficacy of his blood, and the fruits of faith, I listened to them with a kind of indifferency; but now I cannot hear these things spoken of without my heart being sensibly affected, rejoiced, and encouraged.
Pastor.—I also believe that the Lord has touched your heart, and that he disposes you to believe in him, in order that you may receive, by faith, the pardon of your sins; but that you may not stray from the path traced out in the Gospel, it is expedient that I should give you the following instructions:
First: The grace of reconciliation is the fruit of the meritorious death of Jesus, on which account alone God is propitious to sinners. According to the irrevocable sentence of the law of God, every man as a sinner is condemned, and subject to eternal death; but it having proceeded from the envy and seduction of Satan that man fell into sin, the Son of God, full of compassion and touched with their misery, has willingly become their Mediator. In order to reconcile them to God, he took their nature. He became a man like us; he bore the curse due to our sins, and shed his blood to expiate them. This was infinitely more than if every sinner had died; than if we had all suffered the rigour of the punishment due to our sins; than if we had paid all that divine justice had a right to demand of us. On Good Friday, the day of the great reconciliation, the suit of sinners was tried and decided; it was then, once and for ever, closed, and we may say, with truth, “it is finished,” John xix. 30. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the seal of the absolution of the human nature. Thus, “as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so, by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life,” Rom. v. 18. Thus, “the iniquity of the laud was removed in one day,” Zech. iii. 9. By one only oblation, in his own person, the Saviour has abolished sin, and sat down on the right hand of the Father, “to reign for ever and ever,” Heb. x. 12. Behold, then, how the Son of God has done, what all men together, with all their efforts and all their sufferings, could never have effected. Their works, their repentance, their toils, their torments, all would have ended in nothing. It required the martyrdom of the God-man. His sacrifice could alone be available. Thus sinners, who implore his merits, need not join their righteousness to his. The Mediator has done all; he has reconciled God to them; he has presented his blood to his heavenly Father, who is fully satisfied with it. Sinners then have only to flee to Jesus, and cleave to him by faith: but you must well observe, that they have no access to him but when they approach him as poor sinners; that is, when they acknowledge their sins and feel their misery. With such dispositions they dare draw nigh to him, believe, pray, and hope to find grace in his sight. The Son of man, who has paid our debts, has a right to remit them to us; for he has “blotted out the hand-writing that was against us, nailing it to his cross;” and he has replaced that obligation by millions of pardons, sealed with his blood, to be distributed to every poor repentant sinner who supplicates his mercy. From thence it arises, that God neither will nor can condemn a sinner who is in Christ Jesus. His justice, no more than his mercy, can refuse pardon to a sinner who asks it in the name of Jesus. The heritage we have lost in Adam we recover by Jesus Christ, even with a glory infinitely greater than that of our first Father; for we can say, in a sense far superior of the Saviour, what the sacred history did of David, “David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken away: the Israelites found that nothing was wanting of all that had been taken from them; David recovered all.” 1 Sam. xxx. 18, 19. Herein is the whole of the Gospel.
Disciple.—If the Son of God has obtained grace and salvation for mankind, why are there so great a number that perish?
Pastor.—Because they will not believe the Gospel of Christ; It is assuredly sad that so many souls reject the counsel of God; for his will is, that no one should perish, but that all should be saved. Among those who deprive themselves of the salvation of God, there are several kinds. Some are impenitent sinners, hardened in vice, and insensible to their spiritual miseries, who love sin, and pass their lives in security: others are unbelievers—heathens, or what are called infidels, who, seduced by a false philosophy, and pretending to submit the revelation of Jehovah to the judgment of their blind and carnal reason, reject or despise the mystery of godliness, which they regard as a scandal and a folly. Again, there are hypocritical pharisees, ancient and modern, self-righteous persons, who, founding their hope of salvation upon their false virtues, natural or acquired, or upon their pretended good works, disown Jesus Christ and his righteousness, alone available and perfect. Persons of this description being unwilling to be convinced, by the Spirit of God, of their total state of corruption and impotency, as to any goodness, feel not their need of being saved freely, through the merits of Jesus Christ, and being purified by his blood. Pretending to be able to convert and sanctify themselves, they refuse to go, as poor miserable and naked sinners, to draw out of the fulness of the merits of Jesus, the grace he has acquired and designed for sinners. But I do not rank among these unbelievers, those timid souls, who, however much they may sigh after the Saviour, are weak and wavering, though still desirous of believing firmly. The germ of faith is in them, but opposed by doubts and mistrust; nevertheless the Lord will not quench the smoking flax, nor destroy the spark of faith he has kindled in them.
Disciple.—You tell me many things of which I have hitherto been quite ignorant; and had I heard them before, I should have been unable to comprehend them.
Pastor.—It is because (as Isaiah says, xxix. 11) the Gospel is a sealed book. To comprehend and truly receive it, and the mysteries of God contained it, the Holy Spirit must illuminate the understandings and touch the hearts of men. When the Gospel is proclaimed, and either by preaching, reading, or meditating upon it, the grace of God in Jesus Christ is offered to us, his Spirit accompanies it with his divine virtue, in order to our feeling the efficacy of it. Those who do not resist his operations are enlightened and quickened; they are conducted into the knowledge of sin, a sense of their misery, and the need they have of divine grace; and in this way they are drawn to Christ Jesus. If like St. John (Rev. v.) you weep because the seals of the book are not yet opened to you; “the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Lamb that is seated on the throne,” will loose the seals and open the book, so that you may read the act of your reconciliation and pardon, and see your name written in the Book of Life.
Learn, secondly, how grace in Jesus Christ is offered by the word of the Gospel. All our hopes of salvation should be founded upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ, which is offered us in the Gospel, according to the exhortation of St. Peter, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober and hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” 1 Pet. i. 13. The work of man’s salvation, properly speaking, consists in his being reconciled to God. Now salvation has been obtained by the blood of Jesus, God is the first to present to man the hand of reconciliation; and, not content with offering us pardon, assures us that it is already granted, and that no one can bring any accusation against a sinner whom God justifies. This compassionate God knows that, like our father Adam, we cannot appear before him without shame and fear, nevertheless is willing to encourage us to approach unto him with confidence, and has made us the most solemn and comforting promises. That you may be convinced of it, read the following passages in the Holy Scriptures: Isaiah xxx. 18, 19; xxxv. 4; xl. 1, 2; xli. 14, 17; xliv. 2, 3, 4; xlv. 1, 2, 3, 4; lxi. 1, 2; Luke i. 33; Psalms xxii. 26, 27; lxviii. 18, 19; cxlix. 4; Zech. ix. 11. “All the promises of God are yea and amen in Christ Jesus,” 2 Cor. i. 20. His own declaration is, “according to your faith be it unto you,” Matt. ix. 29; 1 John v. 10, 11. What do I say? the witness of the Holy Trinity is herein unanimous. The Father, speaking of the Son, declares that it is in him that we must seek for and find eternal life; and the operations of the Holy Ghost chiefly consist in bearing testimony to us of the Saviour, and revealing him in us. The Lord himself comes “by water and blood,” 1 John v. 6; that is to say, he offers himself to us in person, in baptism and the sacramental supper, in order to encourage fearful souls, and to convince sinners that there is pardon in him. And when a man, like Thomas, “is slow to believe,” (John xx. 24,25) the gracious Saviour shows him, in the Spirit, his bleeding wounds, and entreats him to believe in him. Reject not then the promises of God, but give him glory, by believing them. Do not the Scriptures declare that God has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live,” Ezek. xxxiii. 11; that the Son of man, your friend and Saviour, hath “power on earth to forgive sins,” Matt. ix. 6. Disconsolate and sorrowful heart, take comfort then, and believe the Gospel, which is proclaimed to you by my mouth. Do not imagine that I am so rash as to speak peace where there is no peace. No, I am not a person to flatter the ungodly, or to offer false consolations to the impenitent sinner; for I have learned of my Master not to “cast pearls before swine, nor to give that which is holy to the dogs,” Matt. vii. 6. But I see you are a burdened sinner, and that the weight of your misery causes you to heave a thousand sighs, and shed bitter tears at the feet of Jesus, waiting for the assurance of pardon. Convinced that you abhor sin, that mortal poison of the soul, which has caused the cruel death of the Sou of God, I do not hesitate to declare to you, what the Lord has commanded me; and I think I cannot better obey his will, than by conducting his poor thirsty sheep to the fountain of living waters. I repeat to you then, believe that the Lord Jesus has pardoned all your sins; that the remission of your sins has been already obtained by the death of the Son of God; that from the moment your heart sighed for its possession, it was solemnly granted you in heaven, in presence of the holy angels, who have rejoiced at it; and in order that you may have the assurance of it, it only remains that you should believe. Thus believe the Gospel, Mark vi 36; ix. 23, 24.; xi. 24.
Disciple.—Ah, my gracious God, how is my heart affected by what I hear! Joy, mixed with shame and astonishment, has taken possession of my soul. O how compassionate and faithful is the Lord Jesus; how great is his love for poor sinners! he is never weary of offering them his grace, nor does he cease till they accept of it.
Pastor.—I have long desired to see you come to this point. That I may finish what I have to say on the subject of reconciliation, I must, thirdly, make some remarks concerning the acceptance of grace by faith. This acceptance is so much the more necessary, as the assurance and enjoyment of salvation depend upon it. Although salvation has been obtained for us by Jesus Christ, and proclaimed in the Gospel, we can have no part in it, unless we accept of it by faith. We are in the condition of those unbelieving and rebellious, of whom it is said, “the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it,” Heb. iv. 2. When the Saviour calls you to him by the Gospel, it is as though he offered you his hand in sign of reconciliation. If you believe in him, give him your heart, and, by faith, accept the redemption obtained by his blood; it is as if you returned your hand as a pledge of an eternal alliance with him. The covenant is reciprocal; and such your God is willing to enter into with you, and only waits for a yes on your part, that it may be ratified, and your pardon registered in heaven.
Disciple.—I have still a secret apprehension; it is, lest I should fall into a delusion such as I have before experienced. I try to console and assure myself, but in vain, because I can discover no change in my heart or conduct.
Pastor.—Hold by the word of the Lord, which says, “Be not afraid, only believe,” Mark v. 36. So long as a man loves sin and excuses it; so long as his heart continues unaffected by a sincere compunction, and yet finds the means of consoling and promising himself salvation, he is deceived, or rather deceives himself; but from the moment I discovered in you quite opposite dispositions, I have entertained but one fear, namely, lest you should remain at a distance from the Saviour, and, through mistrust, not accept the pardon and peace he offers.
Disciple.—I confess that I have great apprehension of appropriating to myself those things which may not belong to me. Tell me, how can I be certain of not making a false application of the grace of our Lord?
Pastor.—I intreat you to remark, that it is necessary for you to possess the three following dispositions: first, a deep experience of your misery, accompanied by sorrow on account of your sinful state; secondly, a sincere desire to obtain pardon and deliverance from it; thirdly, a hunger and ardent thirst after grace, reconciliation, and sanctification. If, under such impressions, you can believe the Saviour died for you; if he assures you, by his Spirit, that he loves you, and will receive you, and is yours; that he accepts the offering you have made him of your heart, your life, your all, then the application you may make of his grace and merits will not be false, but in conformity to the will of God. I must enlarge on the subject of the forementioned dispositions. As to the first, we have considered in our former conversation the knowledge or experience of our misery. Observe, further, that this misery consists in two particulars; one is the total depravation of our nature, the other, actual sin. Thus to know our misery is, in the first place, to be convinced that our soul, with all its faculties, and our body, with all its members, our whole nature is ruined, polluted, and inclined to every evil, principally to unbelief, pride, and hypocrisy; incapable of any good, and averse to every thing spiritual. To know our misery, secondly, is to feel ourselves laden with all kinds of sin and transgression against the holy law of God, which subjects us to eternal condemnation. This burden of sin, combined with the malediction that attends it, is an overwhelming weight, which oppresses the conscience, wounds the heart, and, like David, “causes us to sigh, weep, and groan, night and day,” Ps. xxxviii. A soul, taught by the Holy Spirit thus to know its misery, cannot long exist in such a state, without ardently desiring to find the pardon of its sins and deliverance from its distresses.
Again, in offering you pardon and deliverance, the Lord expects that you should renounce all your sins, small and great, without exception; that you should hold them in horror, and consider liberation from the servitude of sin, a pure grace and the greatest of all happiness. It is not supposed that we can, in our own strength, overcome evil or make ourselves better. In vain do we form the firmest resolutions, and make the greatest efforts. To be free, the Son of God must himself enfranchise us. Without that, sin will ever be our master, and continually exercise its power and dominion over us. No means of effectual resistance, but through faith, by which we have recourse to the Saviour, and implore him to absolve us from it, and deliver as from its dominion: “whom resist, stedfast in the faith,” 1 Pet. v. 9.
Newly awakened souls have great need to be on their guard against the dangerous allurements the world is ever presenting to them. It is still more destructive to endeavour to tranquilize their internal disquietude by amusements. Nothing but the grace of the Lord Jesus, apprehended by faith, can effect it: every other remedy is poison. Observe, likewise, that there is great difference between the desire of being free, and freedom itself. Every truly repentant person wishes to be liberated; but actual deliverance is only experienced by those who surrender themselves, without reserve, to the Saviour, and are received by him and sealed with his seal. I have yet another remark to make, which applies to those who aspire after the liberty of the children of God; it is, that they not only should renounce every attachment to the world, but also every good opinion of themselves, their wisdom, virtues, piety, and good works; they must say of all these, as the Apostle did of his legal and pharisaical righteousness, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,” Phil. iii. 8.
Disciple.—I find in myself some of the dispositions you describe. I know my misery, and groan under it; I sincerely desire the pardon of and deliverance from my sins; but I still hesitate to apply to myself the word of reconciliation, fearing such application may be my own work, instead of the actings of a lively faith, and the operation of the Holy Spirit. In this uncertainty, I think it best to wait till the Lord shall have given me stronger assurance that he will grant me grace, and I am in a proper state to receive it.
Pastor.—After all that the Lord has done for you, nothing should inspire a doubt in your mind. The perception of your misery is the means God employs to draw you to his Son, John vi. 44. You desire the grace which is in Jesus Christ; well, that is the commencement of faith; it is the work of the Holy Spirit, conducting you to the Son, that you may find absolution through his blood, and justification in his perfect merits. Take heed of falling into ingratitude and resisting this preventing grace. Be on your guard also against the expectation of or desire after extraordinary signs. It is “by faith and not by sight” that we must walk, 2 Cor. v. 7. The word of God is the only foundation of our faith; and he commands us to believe: “This is the will of him that sent me, that every one that seeth the Son and believeth on him, may have everlasting life, and I will raise him up at the last day,” John vi. 40. “This is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ,” 1 John iii. 23. “Repent ye and believe the Gospel,” Mark i. 15. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” Acts xvi. 31. It is upon these promises, and, among others that blessed invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matt.xi. 28.) that you should depend, in going to and placing your entire confidence in the Lord; for, in Scripture language, going to Jesus and believing in him are the same thing: “I am the bread of life, he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst,” John vi. 35. After so many assurances, whoever hesitates to go to the Saviour, deserves the reproach formerly made to his disciples, on account of their unbelief and hardness of heart, Mark xvi. 14.
Disciple.—Unworthy creature that I am! it is too true that I have often required a sign that I might believe. I imagined that I ought to expect a voice from heaven, or see, with my eyes, the Lord Jesus in person, saying to me, “Thy sins are forgiven,” Luke vii. 48. How senseless I have been! is it not enough that he has so clearly and repeatedly promised it in his holy word?
Pastor.—Sometimes, perhaps, the Lord is so condescending towards particular individuals, as to give them sensible and extraordinary assurances of his grace and pardon of sin; however, it may be considered temerity to expect such communications. It should be sufficient that we have his word; and it ought to be said of us, as St. John said of the nobleman, “And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him,” John iv. 50. This word respects all who approach the Lord with a contrite heart. Observe how St. Paul censures those who desire to obtain faith by extraordinary means: “Say not in thine heart, who shall ascend into heaven, that is, to bring Christ down from above,” but “the word is nigh thee,” Rom. x. 6—8; and what is this word? It is “the word of faith which we preach;” for “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Rom, x. 8—17. It is thus concerning faith, that the Holy Spirit directs us to the word and written testimony. To look for any other evidence is to give access to the spirit of seduction, who desires nothing more than to turn us out of the sure and right way into tho illusive paths of error. External signs may be the production of a heated imagination, or the delusions of the enemy; but “the foundation of God standeth sure,” (2 Tim. ii. 19) and his word is alone infallible.
Disciple.—I am well persuaded the word of God is true, and that it offers pardon to every poor sinner that implores it. I do indeed esteem those happy who partake of this grace; but it is not yet given me to believe my sins are forgiven.
Pastor.—It is nevertheless true, that you are one of those trembling sinners, who feeling themselves to be such, desire to be absolved, and sigh after grace; consequently all the gracious invitations of God, all the consoling promises of the Gospel, respect you and appertain to you. Are you the only one in the world, in whose favour the word of God is not to be realized and accomplished? Are you the only sinner famishing for grace, to whom the Saviour will refuse his succour? Believe me, if you do not already enjoy the peace of God, it is not because the Saviour refuses it; it is your mistrust that deprives you of it, and the remains of secret incredulity that prevent his granting you the joy of his salvation, Mark vi. 5, 6. You torment yourself unreasonably, with all kinds of doubts and imaginary difficulties—sad productions of unbelief. Notwithstanding, you have a sincere desire, which is a spark of faith, and this spark the Lord Jesus will not quench. If, such as you are, you draw nigh to him, the fire of his love will relumine “the smoking flax,” and his hand will bind up “the bruised reed,” Isaiah xlii. 3. You ought to regard these involuntary doubts, and mistrust, as a mariner does the waves that cross his course: he surmounts them and urges towards his port. Such kind of thoughts not only impair your spiritual strength, but are greatly injurious to the Saviour, who would have us place an unbounded confidence in him.
Disciple.—The conversation of certain pious acquaintances may have contributed to inspire this mistrust and discouragement. They professed to have the enjoyment of the full and complete assurance of their reconciliation. Others have even given me to understand, that I was still in a state of condemnation, because I had not this assurance.
Pastor.—The persons who have held this language to you have acted in an evangelical manner. When those to whom we speak are in a state of fatal security, it is well to expose to them the danger they are in; but when they are, poor souls, sensible of their misery, it is no less proper to encourage them. Such is the method the Gospel prescribes: “Say ye unto your brethren they are my people, and to your sisters there is pardon for them,” Hosea ii. 1. Saint Paul says, “him that is weak in the faith receive ye,” (Rom. xiv. 1,) and “to the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak,” I Cor. ix. 22. As for the rest, although faith and the assurance of salvation be susceptible of different degrees of certainty, I would not, my dear friend, have you continue in a state of incertitude, without knowing where you are. On the contrary, I exhort you not to rest satisfied until you are confirmed in the faith and enjoy the assurance of being reconciled to God. We have that assurance, when we are in possession of the grace of our Lord, Heb. xiii. 9. “Wherefore the rather give diligence to make your calling and election sure,” (2 Peter i. 10,) by the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Disciple.—Tell me, I pray, how I may be enabled to apprehend the Saviour, so as to appropriate to myself what he has done for me, and possess the enjoyment of it.
Pastor.—Receive with faith, as a poor sinner, the word of reconciliation. Supplicate for that faith, by the operation of which you may embrace the salvation of God; appropriate it to yourself and enjoy it, as a benefit that belongs to you. In such a frame of mind, you will say to yourself, “O that it would please God that the word of reconciliation might be thus proclaimed to me! O that the Lord Jesus would assure me that he died for me; that he pities, loves, and pardons me; that he will be gracious to me; that I am one of the elect! Why have I not that salutary hunger, that ardent thirst, that lively faith, whereby I could apprehend and embrace my Saviour? I would cleave to him, serve him with all my heart, and remain for ever devoted to him.” If these be the desires of your soul, you will experience that the Lord Jesus has given himself to you, and he will assure you of your acceptance through his grace. Then you will have found the pearl of great price, contained in the Gospel—the salvation of God, hidden in Jesus, Matt. xiii. 46; Do you still doubt of being able to obtain this treasure? Put yourself in the place of those burdened sinners who seek rest at the feet of the Saviour; of those parched souls, who implore him to quench their thirst. In such a condition, listen to the gracious promises of your God. He assures you, that if you are “converted” to him “your sins shall be blotted out,” Acts iii. 19; that if you “hunger and thirst after righteousness” you shall “be filled,” Matt. v. 6. To dissipate all your doubts, as to the certainty of these promises, he has sealed them by his oath, (2 Cor. i. 20,) and it is thus, “God willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us, which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast,” Heb. vi. 17—19. All the promises of God are so many solemn assurances. Take care, then, not to raise an obstacle to his work, by doubt and mistrust, but believe: for it is by faith we receive the witness of God, and “he that hath received his testimony, hath set to his seal that God is true,” John iii. 33. On the contrary, “he that believeth not God hath made him a liar, because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son,” 1 John v. 10. In what does this record consist? It is that God grants the sinner, through grace, remission of sins and “eternal life” which is in his Son,” 1 John v. 11. It was “by faith the Elders obtained a good report” even when “they saw the promises afar off,” Heb. xi. 2, 13. Every thing, then, is resolved into the necessity of faith in the Lord Jesus. It is to the believer that the “Spirit beareth witness that he is a child of God,” Rom. viii In such confidence, go to the compassionate and faithful Saviour and he will give himself to you. If you receive him as your best friend, as the only and eternal bridegroom of your soul, he will grant you pardon, and give you the privilege, the “power to become a child of God,” John i. 12; for, “It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” 1 Tim. i. 15. Consider that the term save comprehends every thing: reception by grace, pardon, free justification, being made happy in this world and the next. It is this great salvation that you are to accept and appropriate to yourself, by cleaving to Jesus, as Jacob did, and not ceasing to pray and weep till he has blessed you, Hosea xii. 4.
As to the assurance of your reconciliation, it is not upon the progress you have made in piety that it should be founded; no, if your heart tells you, from the testimony of the Lord, that you are a child of God, absolved and pardoned, it is not on account of your being virtuous, devout, just, or charitable. The foundation of this assurance is the blood of propitiation shed by Jesus for you, and which he sprinkled upon your conscience when you believed in him. It is on that account that you can say with Saint Paul, by pure grace, and solely through the merits of Jesus Christ my Saviour, “I have obtained mercy as the chief of sinners,” l Tim. i. 15, 16. Yes, it is only in virtue of the merits of the Saviour, that a repentant sinner receives salvation, and experiences the joy of hearing these words: “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee.” Works, even those that are the fruits of faith, pass for nothing in the matter of justification; all is pure grace, Ephes. ii. 8. Justification is neither the consequence nor reward of sanctification: in justification man is considered only as a sinner and incapable of any good; and it is in this character that he is pronounced just, and “his faith is counted for righteousness,” Romans iv. 5. Justification then precedes sanctification, and we are received into a state of grace before we are actually godly. If we were to found the assurance of our salvation upon the progress we may have made in sanctification, we never should be assured of it, because our best works are defective. It is necessary that the foundation be immoveable upon which we establish the assurance of our salvation; and this foundation is Jesus and his death: there is no other.
Disciple.—But ought not a Christian to examine himself carefully, whether he possesses the evidences of faith or not?
Pastor.—Every child of God ought to, and can assure himself, that he is in the faith, either by the witness of the Spirit in his conscience, or by the fruits of grace produced in him. He has need, then, to examine himself lest he should have “believed in vain,” 1 Cor. xv. 2. For himself, that which assures him that he is in the faith, is the internal witness of the Spirit of God. For others, and particularly the children of God, he proves his faith to them by those works which are distinguishingly the consequences of it. Thus before men he is justified by his works: “by works his faith is made perfect,” James ii. 22.
To return to the subject of the assurance of salvation; I know no other means of obtaining it than by applying to the Lord Jesus. Therefore, since he invites you, go to him, pray, knock, seek. Seek his grace, not in the performance of the works of the law, but through the merits and death of Christ. Supplicate for it, as a poor beggar does for a morsel of bread; as one languishing on a bed of sickness desires relief; as a criminal arrived on the scaffold sues for a reprieve. Already this grace is obtained for you; Jesus designs it for you; he says to you, “Come. And let him that heareth say, come; and let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely,” Rev. xxii. 17.
This is the Gospel Jesus Christ himself preached, and which all his faithful servants should proclaim. This is that light which should be raised “upon a candlestick;” this is the bread which belongs to children. It is their consolation, their life, their felicity. Receive, embrace this Gospel—it belongs to you; neither Satan, nor your own heart, can contend against the grace offered you. By refusing, you would offend your Saviour; you would imitate a miserable creature, who casts upon the ground the rich present of a powerful benefactor, and tramples upon it in his presence. It only remains for you to receive the gift of salvation: nothing more sweet or easy.
Do not expect a particular revelation; it is very rarely the Lord gives any one such extraordinary evidences of his grace; yet they sometimes occur. The Apostle Thomas was an example of it, as were some other children of God; but “blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed,” John xx. 29. Even those who have been favoured with such kind of assurances, which may be called miraculous, instead of being elated by them, must still rest all their dependance upon the word of God. The word is the great means God employs to bring men into the faith. The word, publicly preached by Peter on one occasion, converted three thousand persons, and five thousand on another, Acts ii. 41; iv. 4. And observe these converts possessed what David terms “the joy of salvation,” Psalm Ii. 12; for they praised God in the simplicity of their hearts. Such, also, was the happy state of the Philippian jailer, who “rejoiced with all his house,” the moment he had the felicity of being brought into the faith which is in the Lord Jesus.
Like them, receive the Gospel with simplicity. The Saviour declares, that “whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein,” Mark x. 15. What is the conduct of a little child? He is informed there is something good for him; what does he do? he prays, solicits, cries, and importunes, till it is shown to him. As soon as it is offered, he extends his little hand, and the moment he has got it, rejoices and holds it fast, lest it should be taken from him. This is a faithful portrait of a simple heart, which by faith apprehends the grace of the Lord Jesus. Some author has rightly said, that “faith possesses whatever good it can embrace.” In fact, the Lord fulfills to every believer, the promise formerly made to the children of Israel by the mouth of Joshua: ”every place that the sole of your feet shall tread upon, that have I given unto you,” Jos. i. 3.
Disciple.—Wretched unbelief! which I cannot sufficiently deplore, since it has so long deprived me of the enjoyment of the salvation of my God. Henceforth, nothing shall turn me from the dear and sole object of my affections. Notwithstanding my unworthiness, I will accept of all his grace may bestow upon me. I will embrace the Author of my life and salvation, and ever cleave to him. Yes, Lord Jesus! thou art the only true and eternal friend of my sinful soul; to thee will I join myself in bands that nothing can sever; it is in thee, source of every grace, in thy holy sacrifice I seek reconciliation; it is in thy perfect merits I find righteousness, life, and salvation.
Pastor.—I bless God that you now consent to receive, as a pure grace, whatever he may be pleased to bestow upon you. It is what you have a long time refused to do. At first, you had great repugnance to acknowledge yourself to be a sinner; you were unwilling to suffer yourself to be stript of the filthy rags of your own righteousness; to take them from you was to deprive you of life; and while you gloried in them you refused to accept a better righteousness, the only true and acceptable in the sight of God.
Disciple.—Yes, Lord, since thou art so good to thy poor unworthy creature, I accept with humility and gratitude what thou art pleased to bestow upon me; and far from repelling the merciful hand that would bless, protect, heal, and save me, I will embrace it with tears of joy and tenderness. Now, my Saviour, I believe, I feel that thou lovest me. It is in this firm assurance that I lay at thy feet my sins, my pretended virtues, my imaginary good works, my self-righteousness, and all the honours, pleasures, grandeur, and riches of this world, which I now regard as vanity, dung, and dross. What immensity of grace I discover in the word and work of my God! How great has my blindness been, when I could not see clearly in a path so luminous! Often has the Saviour drawn nigh to me in such a manner, that I had only to receive the grace he freely offered, but my unbelief and self righteousness prevented me. O grace, grace, infinitely rich towards a worthless worm, I am confounded at thee; Lord, I am ashamed of the mistrust and sottish pride that have hitherto been an obstruction to my drawing out of the inexhaustible source of life, thou hast opened for poor sinners! O my compassionate Saviour! why do I not possess the power to love and bless thee as thou deservest? Why cannot my tongue express how sweet thou art to my soul, and convince all the world of the felicity enjoyed by a heart that believes in and possesses thee?
Pastor.—You are indeed happy in thus believing. Henceforth the inhabitants of heaven will rejoice on account of you. No one will envy or murmur at your happy lot but the Pharisees, who suppose themselves to be the sole children of the kingdom, and exclude every body else, whilst it is only against themselves the door is shut. The world also will assail you with mockery and calumny. What do I say? Satan, the mortal enemy of souls, will roar like a lion, and hell itself will be moved at your conversion; but do not fear their anger; rather rejoice: it is enough for you that God loves you, and that your name is written in heaven. Be faithful and humble; persevere in the faith, and follow the Lamb wheresoever he leads you.
Disciple.—My happiness is inexpressible, and I cannot sufficiently rejoice in my experience of the great salvation of my God. My heart is satiated with grace, so that I no longer feel any desire after the perishable things of this world; the greatest treasures of the earth are nothing in my eyes compared with the “unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Pastor.—The happy epoch at which you have arrived is the time of spiritual betrothing, in which the bridegroom of your soul communicates to you the spirit of joy, peace, and consolation, as the pledge of his love. It is, therefore, very natural that you should “rejoice in God your Saviour,” (Luke i. 47,) while the heavenly bridegroom so sensibly affords you his presence. I, as “friend of the bridegroom,” (John Hi. 29,) partake of your joy; but it is necessary for me to tell you, that you have not yet arrived at the blessed period of the marriage of the Lamb. The time will come, in which you will have need to be instructed in many things at the school of the Holy Spirit. In measure, as he conducts you more thoroughly into a knowledge of yourself, you will discover in your heart many sad and humbling things, many vices yet unknown, many hidden miseries, many spiritual maladies to heal, many pollutions to wash, many wounds to cleanse, secret pride to abase, infirmities to strengthen, and sins to pardon. The time will come, that you will even feel yourself so full of corruption, so devoid of all good, so miserable and unworthy, that you will hardly believe it possible that the Lord Jesus can love and acknowledge you for his disciple. This mass of corruption and accumulation of misery, may perhaps form such a cloud as will prevent your seeing, with open face, the amiable lineaments of your great Friend. The sense of your misery will weaken that of your peace and love. Then, like the Disciples, deprived of the bodily presence of their Master, you will weep and lament; you will almost be tempted with the Daughters of Zion to say, “the Lord hath forsaken me.” But remember then the Lord’s answer: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me,” Isaiah xlix. 14—16. Yes, you have in your possession contained in his word, the treaty of alliance between him and yourself; the marriage contract with the eternal Bridegroom of your soul, expressed in these terms: “I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the Lord,” Hos. ii. 19, 20. This promise has been sealed by the sprinkling of the blood of the Lord Jesus upon your conscience, and confirmed in your heart by his Spirit: nothing should stagger your faith. He has become the bridegroom of your soul: he espoused it when sinful, poor, naked, and “lying in its blood:” he has espoused it for ever. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever;” always powerful, always wise, always faithful, and always good.
The alliance he has contracted with you, was ratified before his supreme tribunal, the moment you delivered yourself up and was consecrated to him in conversion. There, in the presence of many millions of witnesses, the Lord Jesus obtained for your sinful soul, by the merit of his death and intercession, an entire deliverance from death eternal: more than that, he has received your soul as a gift from the hands of his heavenly Father, and after having clothed it with his righteousness, has adopted it for his bride.
For the rest, you should constantly keep in mind, that the interval between the betrothing and the marriage, is not a time of mere speculation and contemplation, but of enjoyment; and at the same time, of exercise and preparation. During this period the soul walks no longer by sight but by faith. In order that you may persevere in faith, he will give you the spirit of understanding, power, and consolation. By these precious pledges of his love you will recognize his faithfulness; and they will render your life peaceable and happy.
Disciple.—Amen, Lord Jesus! may it be done unto me according to thy word.
Pastor.—Amen. May it be done unto you according to your faith. Amen.