DIALOGUE THE THIRD.
On establishment in the Faith, wherein is exhibited, First, the causes of the weakness of faith, and of relapses into unbelief. Secondly, the means by which faith is increased and established.
Zion says: “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.”
God replies: “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,” Isaiah xlix. 14—16.
Pastor.—What is the state of your heart? Do you enjoy the grace of God? Is the Lord Jesus your dearest object? Have you his indwelling presence? Are you established and happy in the faith which is in him?
Disciple.—Alas, Sir, I cannot say that I now enjoy this great happiness. It is true I have experienced something of it. When the Lord granted me the gift of faith and the pardon of my sins, my heart was inundated with joy. During many weeks I may say, I leaped with gladness. I experienced such great delights internally as were impossible to express; but latterly my state is altered; I feel a certain inquietude, a something that pains and afflicts me. I no longer know where I am.
Pastor.—What you say is not at all surprising to me, my dear friend. The delights you have experienced were the sweets of first love. Those were the joyful days of your spiritual espousals: at present they are gone by, but you must not be less assured that the love of your faithful Saviour is always the same. Remember what he has said by the mouth of the Prophet; “The mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord, that hath mercy on thee,” Isa. liv. 10. In giving you to taste the sweetness of his grace, the Lord Jesus would convince you that there are in him greater blessings than the world can bestow upon you. Learn, then, to regard with indifference the grandeurs, riches, and pleasures of the earth, and desire earnestly those of heaven, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith,” Heb. xii. 2. If only a single drop of this living water is able to restore your soul, what will it be when you shall be filled with the river of its pleasures? I repeat to you, be careful of making light of these celestial comforts. It was the kiss of peace from the bridegroom of your soul; it was a grain of manna, a crumb of children’s bread that your heavenly Father let fall from his table. If you persevere in the faith and in the communion of the Lord Jesus, he will again bestow upon you some portions of this exquisite food. From time to time he will come and renew the bonds of reciprocal love. Profit by these precious moments, but be careful not to prescribe to him in any thing. Too great an attachment to these sensible pleasures is displeasing to him, and dangerous for you; for if you were to make them the foundation of your faith, and if your peace of mind were to consist in them, your happiness would always be wavering and inconstant. These experimental delights may cease, without your ceasing to be a child of God; but your faith, confidence, and assurance of pardon, your attachment to the Saviour, all should remain firm and constant. Remember that we walk by faith, not by sight; and this faith sometimes conducts us, like Abraham, through paths in which we do not always see alike clearly. Often we would like better to pitch our tents upon Mount Tabor, in the continual enjoyment of sensible comforts, than to go to Calvary and simply cling to Jesus crucified. Nevertheless we are called to follow Jesus everywhere and in every state through which he passed. Besides, you would not wish to deprive yourself of the return of these enjoyments by your own fault.
Disciple.—About a fortnight ago, in a moment of anger, there escaped me very improper expressions. They proceeded from an involuntary impulse, from which I immediately recovered myself. I was so much confused at it, that from that day I have not dared to present myself before the Lord.
Pastor.—Your fault is great; but the false shame which has kept you at a distance from God, is a sin that renders you much more culpable in his eyes. Your first offence did not properly consist in the bad expressions you made use of, nor in the passion that produced them; all this is but the natural result and the just punishment of the infidelity of your heart. Your sin consisted in living at a distance from the Lord, ceasing to look towards him, and walking in his presence, in dependance upon his grace, and under the discipline of his Spirit. Being insensibly fallen into this sad state, when the enemy assailed and the world tempted you, your corrupt nature was willing to listen to them; you were without strength or power to resist and conquer them: they found you out of your fortress; that is, separated from your Saviour, who says, “without me, ye can do nothing,” John xv. 5. The second fault you have committed is, that being secretly convinced of your unbelief, either through shame, repugnance, or vexation, you neglected to flee again to your good Master as soon as you had lost sight of him. The more you remain at a distance from him, the greater your misery will be, and the more will the power of his grace diminish in you. Instead of fleeing from the Lord Jesus, like Cain or Judas, you should, with David and Peter, have sought him immediately, confessed your sin, and implored his pardon. I know how kind and compassionate he is; I am persuaded he would have pardoned your fault, and you would have suffered no more than if it bad not been committed.
In such cases there are two evils to guard against; one is a levity of conduct, by which we are apt to allow of and pardon in ourselves faults, which ought to be sharply reproved; the other is carelessness or discouragement, which does not less offend the Saviour than the greatest sins, because he is our propitiation, and powerful “advocate with the Father,” 1 John ii. 1. When his children fall he will not cast them off; he does not on that account withhold his grace, nor the covenant of his peace, Isa. liv. 10.
Disciple.—I have something more than weakness to lament; frequently I discover within me an enmity, which should not, I think, exist in a converted soul.
Pastor.—All the children of God, having still a body of sin, are sensible of the motions of concupiscence, in spite of themselves. If they did not perceive them they would be spiritually dead, and not be in a state to “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts,” Gal. v. 24. To commit sin is natural to a man that knows not the Saviour; but to feel sin, and immediately to have recourse to the Physician, appertains only to a repentant sinner. Luther says, “A man arrived at such a degree of holiness as neither to have nor perceive sin in himself, would be a phenomenon so rare, that the bells of all the churches should ring to invite everybody to come and see him.”
The children of God have a twofold nature, the Old Man and the New. They are the two contrary principles spoken of by the Apostle, in writing to the Galatians, chap. v. 17. They are two plants, each producing its appropriate fruits. The unconverted man has only a corrupt nature, from which continually proceed evil words and actions, Gen. vi. 5: the converted man still possesses something of this old nature; but what remains of it is not the prevailing principle of his thoughts and actions: having become a new man in Christ, he has received, through faith, the seed of a new life; in his heart there is a fresh source, whose water is “springing up into everlasting life,” John iv. 14. He has obtained a new nature, a hidden treasure, from whence he “bringeth forth good things,” Matt. xii. 33. This principle, which is none other than the grace and life of Christ, becomes so predominant as to dry up the source of corruption, purify the heart, and stifle the disorderly inclinations of the flesh: but so soon as a child of God gets into remissness and carelessness, the instant he ceases to watch over himself and keep near the Lord, he feels his corrupt nature; it produces fresh fruits; from thence proceed the falls and sins into which he is insensibly drawn.
A frame essential to the children of God, is ever to preserve a feeling of their misery—a feeling by which the Holy Spirit keeps them in a state of humility, in order to conduct them, more thoroughly, into a knowledge of their impotence and corruption. In this the Holy Spirit does for us, as a good mother acts towards her children, to prevent their abandoning themselves to levity and negligence, which might degenerate into licentiousness. This is what the son of Sirach would teach us, when he says, “the fear of the Lord is wisdom and instruction,” Ecclus. i. 27. The fidelity of a good mother is such, that she neither spares education nor correction. “If ye endure chastening (says St. Paul,) God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards and not sons,” Heb. xii. 7, 8. This discipline causes us to cleave, by faith, to the Lord Jesus, that we may preserve the enjoyment of his grace and love, and renders us attentive to the least deviation from his commands, by which we might fall; confessing every such deviation with humility, intreating pardon for it, and desiring to be more circumspect in future.
Disciple.—I cannot believe there can be in me a real amendment of life, and a deliverance from sin, while I feel sin in me, and see that it still exists in my heart. Pray tell me what you think of it.
Pastor.—You have been delivered and washed from your sins in the blood of Jesus Christ, If henceforth sin would condemn you, Jesus is present with you, who died for you, Rom. viii. 34: besides which, if sin would force you to obey it, under pretext that you formerly were its slave, you are no longer obliged to submit to its dominion. Remember, you have shaken off its yoke, and that the Lord Jesus has ransomed and established you in the liberty of the children of God. You are no longer a slave, you are free; assert your rights. Sin neither can nor ought any longer to “reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lust thereof,” Rom. vi. 12. If the old serpent attack you, dare to place your foot on his head, in the name of the Lord. Behold Jesus upon the cross; it is there sin has been expiated and vanquished; it is there it will lose its power, as the venom of the fiery serpents did, when the bitten Israelites cast their eyes upon the brazen serpent. As for perfect deliverance from all sin, it does not take place here below; but the children of God wait for it. So no more doubts, no more mistrust; believe, and nothing will be able to destroy your peace.
Disciple.—I confess that I am still subject to many unbelieving thoughts. I imagined, when I had once received the gift of faith, that it would not be obscured by clouds of doubt and unbelief.
Pastor.—It is with unbelief as with every other sin; for it is the greatest of all sins, and the principle from which they all proceed. It will return from time to time; but we should not on that account submit to it. What would be your conduct if you were tempted to think that God would no longer grant you your daily bread, or if any other imagination still more criminal were to present itself to your mind? You would secretly groan under and be ashamed of it; you would implore the Lord’s forgiveness and deliverance from an enemy no loss dangerous than troublesome. Do the same when you feel disposed to doubt of the grace of God, and entertain distrustful suspicions of the Lord Jesus. Return to him immediately, humble yourself, groan, pray, weep; go, rekindle the smoking flax of your faith, and the flame of a love which is beginning to decline. He will manifest himself afresh to you, as a Saviour always faithful and pitiful. He will again arm you with the buckler of faith, and grant you grace to persevere, that you may not lose your confidence, but “strive for the faith of the Gospel,” Phil. i. 27; 2 Tim. iv. 7; Heb. x. 35; Jude i.
That you may be convinced that the truly faithful are not always exempt from the sad returns of doubt and unbelief, read Psalm xxxi. 22, and Matt. xiv. 31. Doctor Scriver says, that the feeling of our unbelief, when we groan under it, is a sign that we possess faith; and that he never knew a true believer who did not complain of the weakness of his faith. “Impenitent sinners,” says he, “imagine that they have true faith, and deceive themselves; repentant sinners, on the contrary, are sometimes tempted to think they do not possess it when they do.” In this respect experience confirms the testimony of all the pious men who have written on the subject. They observe, that the doctrines of faith are most earnestly contended for and insisted upon by those persons who complain most of the weakness of their own faith. Why so? Because man, in his state of natural blindness and security, is not sensible that he wants true faith; but when the truths of the Gospel are proclaimed to him in their simplicity and clearness; when Jesus Christ crucified, the great object of faith, is presented to his view, then only he perceives how great his unbelief is, how far from possessing that faith which is “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” Heb. xi. 1. In fine, the perception the children of God have of the weakness of their faith, constitutes part of the suffering they carry about with them all their days; and which, preserving in them humility, self-diffidence, and dependance upon grace, obliges them incessantly to have recourse to it: but they never permit unbelief and mistrust to prevail in their hearts; but, profiting by the counsel of godly men, as soon as any doubt or evil thought arises within them, without attempting, in their own strength, to overcome it, they turn their thoughts towards Jesus, and the instant they again apprehend him, the clouds disperse to make way for serenity, and they return into the bosom of peace.
Disciple.—I have, nevertheless, heard pious persons declare, that from the time a soul has received the assurance of pardon, it is for ever delivered from all such attacks of mistrust and unbelief.
Pastor.—The persons you allude to deceived themselves, or you have misunderstood them. No one is entirely freed from such attacks, but they cannot mislead the soul or stagger its faith. An unconverted man may persuade himself that he possesses true faith, and in that persuasion be lulled to sleep, notwithstanding the secret warnings by which the Spirit of God seeks to convince him of the contrary. But a man really converted receives a more certain assurance: “The Holy Spirit bears witness to his spirit,” (1 John v. 10,) dissipates all his doubts, and brings serenity and peace into his heart. Should the enemy of souls try to contest with him the grace of his adoption, he is not surprised, and is at no loss to silence him. He knows that the same thing happened to the Son of God. Hardly had he received this testimony from his Father, “this is my beloved Son,” (Matt. iii. 17,) than the tempter approached and disputed with him that title. This enemy, after having attacked the head, will also assault the members; but Jesus hath conquered; and “we are more than conquerors through him that loved us,” Rom. viii. 37. When a sinner has received by faith the seal of his pardon, the enemy is envious and the world is jealous of him. These two adversaries beset him with assault upon assault. They are never more to be feared than when they insinuate into the heart the poison of self-love, self-esteem, and spiritual pride; or when they try to allure by the attraction of the riches, honours, and pleasures of the world. He who suspects nothing, and thinks himself sufficiently strong to preserve himself, is in great danger of being seduced; but he who watches over himself and clings to the Saviour by faith, is protected from surprise and danger of falling.
Disciple.—I have experienced something of a like nature. Sometimes, I have been tempted to think that the work of my conversion was only a mere imagination; at other times that I had lost every thing I had received, and that it was necessary that I should begin afresh.
Pastor.—Your great business is to preserve yourself in the grace you have already received. If you should fall into any fault, do not suppose that you must begin anew on account of it; no, in order to receive fresh grace and pardon, it is enough that, impressed with a lively sorrow, you should throw yourself at the feet of Jesus. By prayer you will obtain every thing from him; and when he has granted you the joy of his salvation, receive it with humility and simplicity, as a renewed pledge of his love, and an additional motive to believe in and love him.
Disciple.—I firmly believe that God, has, for the sake of Jesus Christ, pardoned my sins; but I entertain a doubt whether he may have pardoned those I have committed since my conversion.
Pastor.—It is true that the faults, even the least, which we commit after our conversion, displease the Lord more than the greatest sins we have been guilty of in our state of blindness; notwithstanding, it is also true that the Lord is not weary of being gracious. Besides the pardon of all sin, without exception, solemnly granted in conversion, he has an abundance of daily pardons for his children. The Lord, who knows our weakness, is aware that we need every day forgiveness; or what would become of us, if after having remitted all the rest of our sins, there should still remain a single one he refused to pardon? It is not without reason the Saviour has permitted, nay commanded, us to pray for the remission of our sins as often as we ask for our daily bread. The Spirit of God assures us that the Saviour “has received gifts for men, yea, for the rebellious also,” Psalm lxviii. 18. Learn from thence not to doubt of the grace of the Lord, but to have recourse to it unceasingly, with a sincere confidence.
Disciple.—I am convinced of what you say; yet I am apt to complain of my misery.
Pastor.—No one can think it strange that a repentant sinner should groan under a feeling of his misery; but continual complaints, occasioned by mistrust and despondency, do not become a soul that knows its Saviour and has experienced the power of his grace. Nothing is more natural than to feel your misery, and nothing more profitable. Lament your misery; I do not object to it: but lament it to Jesus, with a filial confidence. Lament it, if you like, to a man enlightened and experienced in the ways of grace; lament it, if so disposed, to a poor afflicted timorous soul, whom you would console, in order that it may be assured that it is not the only one in the world burdened with sorrow; but be careful not to lament it to the children of this world, who have never known or felt their lost condition. Such people, instead of turning it to their own advantage, will take occasion from it to discover their malignity against you, and all the children of God. They will even scandalize Christianity, under pretext that it produces nothing in man but what is sad and grievous, which is absolutely false. I do not counsel you either to make known your griefs to false disciples, to self-righteous persons, who have only the shell and appearance of godliness, and would think it a scandal to be seated in Paradise by the side of poor sinners. Such would not fail to thrust you from them, and augment your inquietude. By spreading your complaints every where, you would fall into another evil; you would reflect upon your Lord; for to complain is in a manner to accuse him of being hard and inexorable. Besides, faith does not evidence itself by the consideration of ourselves alone; it makes Jesus its principal object. John the Baptist said to those he addressed, “Behold the Lamb of God!” To turn our regards from him, and fix them only upon our miseries, is to give place to unbelief, and to deprive ourselves of all strength and succour. Be upon your guard then, my dear friend, against this disposition, and let your dearest and only object be Jesus crucified.
Disciple.—The advice you give is indeed evangelical; but in following it, should I not risk falling into security?
Pastor.—It seems you have ill conceived my meaning. I do not advise you ever to lose sight of your misery, God protect you and me from so doing; but I am desirous that you should avoid those continual reflections upon your past sins, and those misplaced lamentations which are accompanied by inquietude and mistrust. Remember, there are two paths equally dangerous that cause us to err from the straight road the Gospel marks out. One is a legal and servile fear, always mixed with distrust; the other a proud security, which tends to levity of mind, and from thence to licentiousness. When we deviate from the simple path of the gospel, it is easy to get into one or the other of these two extremes. He who is desirous of continually feeling his misery and suffering, imagines he has need of such a counterpoise to preserve him from negligence and spiritual pride; on the contrary, a presumptuous spirit thinks he is well disposed, because he does not feel mistrust and despondency. The sure and right way is to walk in simplicity, accompanied by humility and poverty of spirit. Thus, let him become poor in spirit who presumes too much upon his own strength; and let him who sins by doubt and mistrust, supplicate the Lord for the assurance he stands in need of.
Disciple.—As you have mentioned these fatal relapses, have the goodness to point out the means of avoiding them.
Pastor.—The best and only way is to cleave by faith to him, who is the author of your salvation and the source of your felicity, and carry on with him a simple and continual intercourse of heart. By that you will prevent the wanderings that have a tendency to unhappy relapses, security, or false confidence, spiritual pride, and the abuse of evangelical liberty.
Security, parent of lukewarmness and remissness, is a most dangerous state, into which not only such as have been lightly affected by grace may fall, but also those who have obtained the gift of faith and the assurance of their reconciliation. Instead of the grace already received, serving as an incentive to our further advancement into the knowledge of the Lord, we too often fall into a hurtful security. This proceeds from poor souls ceasing to watch over themselves, and being negligent of a prayerful intercourse with God, and meditation upon his word. By degrees the Scriptures become insipid; they neglect other opportunities of instruction and edification, and unconsciously fall into lukewarmness and insensibility. If, from time to time, the Spirit of God touches their consciences by salutary reproofs, they oppose to these convictions, their knowledge, information, the long experience they have had of all that can be said to them; they despise the charitable warnings of the servants of God, and other good people; they are thus continually propelled down the precipice and sink lower and lower; and, as it is easier to descend than to rise, they come to the conclusion, that the blood of Christ is not sufficiently efficacious to “purge the conscience from dead works;” and that it is impossible that the peace of God should always be preserved in the heart. Thus faith is weakened, zeal abates, the heart becomes insensible, spiritual life decays, and in the end they attain to a state of drowsiness, not far removed from spiritual death. They are neither cold nor hot; they are not enemies to what is good, but they cannot say they love it: “Because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth,” Rev. iii. 16.
I counsel you, then, to cleave incessantly to the Lord Jesus; to attend as often as you can to reading of and meditation upon the Holy Scriptures. The word of God, says a prophet, is a fire, and no one can approach it with a heart properly disposed, without being warmed by its heat. Neglect no opportunity of edification, either public or private: avoid as much as possible, consistently with duty and decorum, intercourse with worldly men, and court the society of the children of God. You will know them by their fruits: “whosoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God,” and calls upon his name with sincerity of heart, “departs from iniquity.” Prayer and heart intercourse with the Lord are absolutely necessary. From them we always derive renewed strength and fresh blessings.
As for spiritual pride, it only exists in those who have never felt the greatness of their misery, nor experienced the lively compunction always attendant upon it. From thence proceeds the good opinion they entertain of themselves, and which is augmented by any gracious attractions they may have experienced. With much study they have not learned of the Saviour to become “meek and lowly in heart;” they deceive themselves, and, like the Pharisees, imagine themselves to be the first in the kingdom of God. This dangerous vice naturally leads to another—contempt of our neighbour, and that even of persons truly godly, whom we are prone to regard as new converts, while, with Diotrephes, we think ourselves pre-eminent. Like Peter, we forget our great weakness, and presume too much upon our own strength; in the greatest poverty we think ourselves rich, and fall into temerity.
Again, from thence proceed that false peace in which we are apt to lull ourselves, as if we had attained to the desired end; that spiritual blindness, which prevents our seeing in ourselves faults apparent to persons the least enlightened; that false liberty, by which we permit in ourselves things sinful, and consequently incompatible with the character of a child of God; in fine, that self-love, accompanied by self-sufficiency and haughtiness, which casts a veil over our own faults and causes us pitilessly to judge, blame and condemn others; and that, while we often proudly reject reproofs, well founded and urged in the spirit of meekness and charity. To what do all the monstrous evils tend that spiritual pride gives birth to? Solomon says, “before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honour is humility,” Prov. xviii. 12. Lucifer, for desiring to raise himself above the other angels, was precipitated into the bottomless pit. Those who tread in his steps expose themselves to a like danger. This danger is so much the greater, because it is not in the power of men to humble themselves; for that, nothing less will do than the omnipotent hand of God. Happy indeed if the thunder of his law should humble them in the season of grace, before they fall to rise no more!
Disciple.—I have known persons such as you describe, but they gave another name to their spiritual pride; they called it the assurance of faith.
Pastor.—Their pretended assurance is only a phantom of faith, which differs as much from true assurance as darkness from light. True faith is always accompanied by an entire renunciation of self, self-righteousness, self-glory—all confidence in self. The more faith, the more poverty of spirit. The man spiritually poor sees nothing in himself but weakness and misery; feels that he has nothing, knows nothing, and can do nothing of himself; but he is rich in faith, because he possesses in Jesus Christ an inexhaustible store of wisdom, righteousness, understanding, and strength. This is the foundation of true assurance and the source of true contentment. This is the security of a child of God, which prevents his being misled. As a tree which the Father has planted, and the Holy Spirit has grafted into Christ, he becomes more and more deeply rooted in the soil of humility, while he grows, flourishes, fructifies, and shoots his branches upwards towards heaven. Such is the description of him who is truly a man in Christ. Like Saint Paul, he knows “how to be abased” by humility, and “how to abound” by faith, Phill. iv. 2. “When thou wast little in thine own sight,” said Samuel to Saul, “wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel?” 1 Samuel xv. 17. Awakened souls have yet another evil to shun, which is the abuse of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. While some deviate from the right course, by being desirous of doing too much, others depart from it by doing too little. An efficacious and lively faith marks out a track between these two extremes. It says to us, “this is the way, walk ye in it,” Isaiah xxx. 31. We are not here speaking of natural men, who abuse the doctrines of the Gospel, that they may live in licentiousness, under the pretext that we are justified and saved by pure grace, without any works or merits of our own. The persons whom we would preserve from this abuse, are already really converted. To the extent they may attend to the reasonings of the flesh, they may argue thus: “Since our works and endeavours have no merit before God, what necessity can there be for vigilance so constant, application so serious, and fidelity so scrupulous? Since grace abounds over everything, we may conform to the customs of the world with impunity; we may indulge in many little things which have the appearance of evil, as our consciences do not tell us they are sinful.” Those who hold this language prove themselves to be again entangled in the snare of the enemy. In neglecting to watch over themselves, and walk in the presence of God, ever looking unto Jesus, they have insensibly withdrawn from the discipline of the Spirit of God and follow their own spirit. By degrees they have got into a false liberty; the old man has begun to revive and resume his former strength; the passions are awakened, and that which at first was only a spark, is become a fire which cannot be extinguished. Covetousness and concupiscence are generally the rocks on which such persons make shipwreck. Nothing can preserve us from them, nothing can quench the fire of the passions or dethrone the power of sin, but the virtue of the blood of Jesus Christ.
Let this warn us to be on our guard. We are not called to amass treasures, to be ambitious of honours, to feed upon worldly vanities, to live in luxury and sensuality. We are called to be children of God, and to demean ourselves as such in all things, to walk uprightly as becomes the Gospel of Christ. O my dear Friend, how dangerous it is to fall into remissness, and stop short in the ways of salvation! How many pillars, like Lot’s wife, are to be found between Sodom and Zoar? How many of these sad monuments of unbelief and love of the world are to be seen in Christendom! These examples prove the danger of looking back, after having “put the hand to the plough,” Luke ix. 62.
Disciple.—What you say makes me tremble; but pray tell me how I may be preserved from such evils?
Pastor.—I have already told you: the only and infallible means of avoiding these rocks, is to persevere in the faith by vigilance and prayer. Whoever cleaves constantly to the Lord Jesus, and carries on with this good Saviour a continual intercourse of the heart, is sure to make rapid progress in grace and sanctification. You know that the word of God ascribes to faith an invincible power, capable of doing and surmounting everything. Consider faith as a mystic plant, rooted in Christ, living upon his life, and nourished by his divine sap. The weaker this plant is the less fruit it bears, and the less able to resist the storms of temptations and the torrents of the passions; the stronger it is, the more fruitful and better able to withstand the tempest. Faith does not exempt us from the exposure to different trials, but it supports us under them. One of the principal advantages it procures us, is the preserving us from lukewarmness, mistrust, presumption, and self-glory. When the Saviour gives the believer the assurance of his love, the latter, far from being puffed up with it, feels and acknowledges that he is unworthy of it. In this frame he enjoys the peace of God and true contentment, and is then above the temptations of the world. The world appears too insignificant, its pleasures too insipid, its grandeur and riches, the idols of worldly men, too vile to attract his devotion. The precious pearl of the Gospel—the grace of God in Christ Jesus, the love of this faithful Saviour, the enjoyment of his merits, the assurance of his salvation—these are the treasures faith apprehends and possesses, and which cause the believer to contemn everything else. By faith we travel through this world as strangers and pilgrims, without meddling with its defiling allurements. Should the dust cleave to our feet we hasten to shake it off, and flee to him whose blood purifies from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.
Since, my dear friend, you appear disposed to profit by my advice, I counsel you to watch carefully over the misery and corruption your nature is infected with; and likewise over the work of grace the Lord has wrought in your heart, in order that you may clearly discern between the fruits of nature and the fruits of faith. Nature gives free course to worldly thoughts, it feeds upon ideas of grandeur, riches, and pleasures, and in this way generally insinuates a subtle poison into the heart. Grace is directly opposed to nature, and you will perceive that it dwells in you; that the new man is formed in your soul; that the Lord is advancing in you the work of grace, when your thoughts are constantly attracted towards Jesus; when they are accompanied by joy, consolation, confidence, love and gratitude for all God has done, and is still doing for you; when you lend an attentive ear to the instructions and admonitions the Lord addresses to you, externally by his word and internally by his spirit.
For your greater security, attentively watch over the disposition of your constitutional temperament; is it anger, avarice, pride, or voluptuousness that principally sways you? In a town, the weakest places are those on which a double guard is placed. In like manner, be most watchful over prevailing sins. Ever let these enemies find you near the Lord; then our faith has only, as it were, one step to make, one sigh, one leap towards the Saviour, and we find in him a sure retreat. “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safe,” Prov. xviii. 10. The Lord himself conducts our warfare, “he fights against them that fight against us,” (Ps. xxxv. 1,) and daily fulfils the promise made by Moses to the Israelites, “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace,” Ex. xiv. 4. With regard to this combat, remember it is not our natural strength that can maintain it and gain the victory: the Christian fights by faith and prayer. Saint Paul, writing to Timothy, says, “fight the good fight of faith.” As long as we try to maintain the conflict by our own power, the enemy mocks us and we are worsted. But if we be clad in the armour described by Saint Paul in Ephesians sixth, we come off conquerors.
We ought neither to fear nor despise too much the enemy of our souls. To consider the power of Satan and his complots as invincible, is mistrust and unbelief; it is to deliver ourselves into the enemy’s hands, bound hand and foot; while faith would enable us to tread upon the serpent and trample the dragon under our feet. To regard these enemies with contempt, as weak and little formidable, is imprudence, presumption, and temerity; what they cannot effect by force they will try to accomplish by stratagem. Therefore we should be continually on our guard: as soon as the least evil thought presents itself, let us not neglect to flee unto the Lord. Here I repeat what I have before said: instead of boldly attacking the enemy, it is safer to avoid every opportunity of sinning, and turn our eyes and thoughts from every seducing object towards a crucified Saviour. In this respect a prudent retreat is better than a vigorous attack. As the Prophet Micah says, “The breaker is come up before them, they have broken up and have passed through the gate and are gone out by it; and their king shall pass before them and the Lord on the head of them.”
Disciple.—You have touched upon a subject concerning which I am not a little solicitous; for I comprehend not only the necessity but also the difficulty of persevering to the end.
Pastor.—In this as in every other respect we must not depend upon ourselves, but upon the merits and fidelity of our all-sufficient Saviour. If we had no support but our own wisdom and strength, our fall would be inevitable. Besides, our faithfulness does not so much consist in constraining ourselves to be faithful, as in cleaving by faith unto the Lord and reposing entirely upon his fidelity. “He will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able;” and “his strength will be made perfect in our weakness.” But in order to experience the happy effects of his great fidelity, it is necessary that, in small matters as well as in great, we should remain under the salutary discipline of his Holy Spirit; it is his Spirit that must enlighten, conduct, and seal us “unto the day of redemption.” This discipline is the sacred bond that attaches us to Christ, and guides our feet unto his paths. Depend upon him, and “the power of God will keep you through faith unto salvation,” 1 Peter i. 5; “no man shall pluck you out of his hand,” John x. 28. He will accomplish in you this promise, “Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb; and even to your old age I am he, and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made and I will bear; even I will carry and will deliver you,” Isa. xlvi. 3, 4.
Disciple.—How consoling! These sweet words are spirit and life to my soul, and 1 never should be weary of hearing them.
Pastor.—For myself, I cannot think of the paternal kindness of our God towards such poor vile worms, without shedding tears. In Jesus we are blessed with every blessing, so that all things are ours. We are his, and he is ours, for he is given to us by the Father; in him we possess all things. Have we not now reason to say with Saint John. “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God; but it doth not yet appear what we shall be,” 1 John iii. 1, 2. As children of God we are absolved, sanctified, and blessed, so that there is no condemnation to us. The accuser’s mouth is stopped, because the Son of God in redeeming us has stripped him of all right and power over us. While we persevere in the faith, sin, death, the world, and the devil cannot hurt us. We enjoy the peace, grace, and love of God. His Word assures us of it, and his Spirit bears witness in our hearts to it. We are the children of God, citizens of heaven. True, in the eyes of the world we are mean despicable creatures; but the Bride of the King of kings is internally ornamented, and her clothing is the righteousness and holiness of Jesus. As to the spots and wrinkles that remain, his blood cleanses and effaces them. While yet below he impresses upon our foreheads the seal of the living God; he clothes us with the nuptial robe, and in covering us with this spotless raiment, which is washed in the blood of the Lamb, he adorns us with the spirit of meekness, patience, and love, that we may more and more resemble himself. On this account it does not grieve us to “forget our father’s house,” Psalm xlv. 10; that is to say, to renounce the pleasures and vanities of the world. We are amply recompensed for this sacrifice by the sweet consolations the Gospel bestows—consolations unknown to worldly men, and which faith alone procures the enjoyment of. The life of believers, the Apostle says, is a hidden life, enveloped in contempt, opprobrium, and suffering, accompanied by misery and weakness; but it is a “life hid with Christ in God” until the day of manifestation. The children of God know that the Son of God is their Saviour; that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is their Father, and that is sufficient. They can say with confidence, the Almighty and Eternal God is my Father; the sovereign Judge of every creature is my adorable Master, my faithful Friend, my tender Brother.
Henceforth to them death has lost all its terrors; though the shades of death should encompass them, the earth should fade away from under their feet, and the sky and the stars should fall, they would not be terrified; it would be the hour of their deliverance, the signal of the coming of their Redeemer. They would exclaim, Behold him, who for love of me died upon the cross! I know him by his wounds. “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.” “Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” Psalm cxviii. 26.
I am not willing to conclude this conversation without giving you some further advice. I am desirous of seeing you delivered from the spirit of bondage, the badge of those who live under the servitude of the law; and wish instead of this legal piety, it was given you to enter into what Saint James styles “the law of liberty;” to live in that intimate communion with the Saviour, in that simple, child-like, and continual intercourse of the heart which constitutes the happiness of the children of God and their paradise upon earth. This is the reign of God within us, which is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
These blessings are the portion of those who persevere in the communion of the Lord Jesus, and in the doctrines of the Gospel. In them they find, in prosperity and adversity, an inexhaustible source of life, strength, and happiness. The child of God possesses this advantage, that neither poverty, sickness, nor any external calamity can prevent his being happy. His clothing is the righteousness with which the Son of God has covered him; the balm which heals and restores his soul, the blood of Christ; his internal guide, the Holy Spirit; his consolation, the oil of gladness poured into his heart. The enjoyment of these precious gifts brings tranquillity into his soul, and sheds serenity over his countenance. In this state, he walks as a child of light in the midst of a perverse generation; and with a heart full of filial confidence, he dares continually to present himself before his God, and call upon him as his true and loving Father.
This blessed condition will likewise be yours, my dear Friend, if you cleave to the Lord. And when you are so established by grace, that this state of mind becomes fixed and habitual, you will readily regard with an eye of contempt all that is called great and pompous in the world. When the enemy points you to “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them,” to tempt you to desire them, your faith will give you the victory over him. Humbled as a poor sinner under the Omnipotent hand of God, and at the same time raised above the perishable things of this life, you will regard them as unworthy of your ambition. In fine, the inheritance of the children of God is a treasure so rich and inestimable, that he who has had the foretaste of it and hopes to enjoy it eternally, feels nothing but disgust for the husks on which the children of this world feed. He says, with the sage, “Cum coelum aspicio, sordent terrestria;” when I contemplate the heavens, all is vile upon the earth. Like Moses, he “esteems the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt,” Heb. xi. 26.
While the grace of adoption will cause you to despise the transitory things of this life, the great salvation of the Lord Jesus will attach you more firmly to the God of your salvation. The mercy he has shown to you, the chief of sinners; the support he unceasingly affords you; the daily favours he bestows upon you, will all operate as powerful motives to love him more and more; to praise him continually; to avoid carefully everything displeasing to him; and to proclaim to your brethren his goodness, and all the benefits he has clone unto your soul. You will have every day fresh cause for profitable meditation, and in giving yourself up to this sweet occupation, you will be preserved from the vain and evil thoughts to which a distracted mind is liable. Your faith will become more established, and your love for and gratitude to the Lord continually augment. To this end, nothing is more efficacious than the contemplation of the great love which led the Son of God to immolate himself in our room. In these views we exclaim, O Daughters of Sion, how amiable is Jesus in his passion! how touching, how ineffable is his love! the man of sorrows has ravished my heart!
Those who firmly believe that Jesus is their Lord and their God, their Friend and their Saviour, cannot be insensible to the love this tender and faithful Bridegroom of souls has manifested towards them; and the lively impression this stupendous love makes upon them, will necessarily have an influence over all their actions. They will say with David, “I will run the way of thy commandments when thou shalt enlarge my heart,” Psalm cxix. 32. The faith which apprehends the grace of God, and enables us continually to enjoy it, manifests itself in praises to the Author of our salvation: with the Psalmist we exclaim, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,” Psalm ciii. 2.
If, then, any sorrow should overtake you, either on account of some disastrous event, or from a view of your many miseries, seek your consolation only in the great love God has manifested towards you in Jesus Christ. When everything conspires against you, remember you have in heaven an Almighty and merciful God, a faithful Saviour who has elected you, received you by his grace, and sealed you with his Spirit. Can anything more be wanting to make you “rejoice in hope” and “patient in tribulation,” Rom. xii. 12.
If it be true, as I desire to believe, that you are in the enjoyment of the graces I have described, henceforth it only remains that you should determine, in the strength of the Lord, to cleave constantly and for ever to your Saviour whatever may happen to you. Yes, though you should be deprived of what you hold most dear in the world, and even of his internal consolations, nothing ought to shake your confidence in the promises of God. You should say with Job, “though he slay me, yet will I trust in him,” Job xiii. 15.
This, my dear Friend, is what I have earnestly desired to say to you, agreeably to the experience I have myself had in the ways of God, and according to the measure of grace dispensed to me. Perhaps I have unconsciously intermixed with it something of human science and reason. If so, I disavow it and condemn myself; my intention being to hold fast and conduct my brethren by the pure truth of the Gospel, and the simplicity which is in Christ Jesus. Upon him, upon his omnipotent grace, in my greatest weakness I rely. It is not lightly nor proudly, but in humble dependance upon his mercy that I say, if I had a thousand worlds, and a thousand lives, I would willingly sacrifice them all for him who has loved me more than his life. Nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus; I will not quit him, and he will not abandon me. Amen.
Amen, O Lord Jesus, adorable!
Thy precious blood redeem’d me;
Thou art my Saviour, amiable.
Amen, Amen, in verity!