Charles H. Spurgeon
This updated and revised manuscript is copyrighted ã 1999 by Tony Capoccia. All rights reserved
‘Faithful are the wounds of a friend’ (Proverbs 27:6).
The death in sin, which we lamented so much over in the last chapter, is now happily a thing of the past with us. Divine grace brought us to life; the power of heaven has preserved us; and faithful promises has secured our spiritual immortality. It is now our delightful duty to adore the love which, even when we were dead in sins, was still planning deeds of kindness towards us; and which in its own appointed time enlisted Omnipotence in our behalf, whereby we received life from the dead.
In order to raise our hearts towards heaven, and tune our lips to the song of praise, let us, by the Spirit’s gracious assistance, review the way in which the Lord led us to himself.
Like ourselves, many of our readers will admit that the first they ever knew of Jesus was in the character of a faithful friend wounding us for sin. Though at that time we were not aware that love was mixed with every blow, yet now we perceive it to have been the kind plan of a gracious Saviour to bring us to himself. The Roman Emperor conferred freedom on a slave by striking him on the ear: and Jesus sets us free by a blow upon our heart.
1. All saved persons have been wounded.
We shall dwell first upon the fact that all saved persons have been wounded. Neither in the Church on earth or in the triumphant redeemed host in heaven is there one who has received a new heart, and was reclaimed from sin, without a wound from Jesus. The pain may have been slight, and the healing may have been speedy; but in each case there has been a real bruise, which required a heavenly physician to heal it.
1. Some wounded early in life.
With some, this wounding began early in life; for as soon as infancy gave way to childhood, the rod was exercised on some of us. We can remember early convictions of sin, and apprehensions of the wrath of God on account of it. An awakened conscience in our most tender years drove us to the throne of mercy. Though we did not know the hand which chastened our spirit, yet we did ‘bear the yoke in our youth.’ Many times our ‘tender buds of hope’ were soon withered by youthful lusts. Often we were ‘scared by visions’ and terrified with dreams, while the reproof of a parent, the death of a playmate, or a solemn sermon made our hearts melt within us! Truly, our goodness was like the morning mist and the early dew that disappears; but who can tell how much each one of these separate woundings contributed toward that killing by the law, which proved to be the effectual work of God? In each of these arousings we discover a gracious purpose; we trace every one of these awakenings to his hand who watched over our path, determined to deliver us from our sins. The small end of that wedge which has since been driven home, was inserted during these youthful hours of inward strife; the ground of our heart was being ploughed in preparation for the planting of the seed.
Let no one despise the strivings of the Spirit in the hearts of the young; do not let boyish anxieties and juvenile repentances be lightly regarded. The person who stifles a tender conscience in a child promotes the aim of the Evil One and incurs a fearful amount of guilt. No one knows the age of the youngest child in hell; and therefore no one can guess at what age children become capable of conversion. We can at least bear testimony to the fact that grace operates on some minds at a period almost too early to remember. Nor let it be imagined that the feelings of the young are insignificant and superficial—frequently they are of the deepest character. The early woundings of the Saviour are made upon hearts that have not yet become hardened by worldliness and sensuality. The Christian whose lot it was to be wounded in his childhood, will well remember the deep searchings of heart and the sharp convictions of soul which he endured.
O beloved, how much we have to bless our Jesus for, and how much we need to reprove ourselves! Did we not suppress our conscience, and silence the voice of reproof? Were we not deaf to the warning voice of our glorious Jesus? When he struck us with pain, we did not returned to kiss his rod, but were as stubborn as the young bull unaccustomed to the yoke. Our most solemn vows were only made to be broken; our earnest prayers ceased when the outward pressure was removed; and our partial reformations passed away like dreams of the night. Blessed be his name, he finally gave us the effectual blow of grace; but we must forever stand in amazement at the patience which endured our stubbornness, and persevered in its plan of love.
2. Many of wounds were exceedingly painful
Many of the Lord's beloved ones have felt the wounds to be exceedingly painful. There are degrees in the bitterness of sorrow for sin; everyone does not have the same horrible apprehensions of destruction; but there are some who have drank the very bitterness and sourness of repentance. Usually, such persons have previously been great sinners, or become great saints later in life. They love much because they feel that much has been forgiven; their fearful bondage increases their gratitude for glorious liberty; and the wretchedness of their natural poverty enhances their estimation of the riches of Jesus. The painful process is thus a profitable one; but when it is endured it is indeed a great fiery furnace—an oven that burns with intense heat. He who has had his feet fastened in the stocks of conviction will never forget it till his dying day.
It is good when some of us remember the time when our true Friend wounded our heart, with what we then thought was a cruel hand. Our gladness was turned into mourning, our songs to sobbing, our laughter into moaning, and our joys to misery. Fearful thoughts haunted our unenlightened soul—dreary images of agony sat on the throne of our imagination—sounds like the wailings of hell were frequently heard in our ears, together making us so completely full of agony that it could be compared to nothing but the gates of hell. During this period, our prayers were truly earnest when we could pray; but at times a sense of tremendous guilt constrained our lips, and choked our speech. Now and then a faint gleam of hope lit up the scene for a moment, only to increase the gloom on its departure. The nearer we approached to our Lord, the more sternly (we thought) he repelled us; the more earnest our attempts at reformation, the more heavy the lash fell upon our shoulders. The law grabbed us with iron hand; and struck us with the scourge of vengeance; conscience washed the quivering flesh with salt water; and despondency furnished us with a bed of thorns, upon which our poor mangled body found a hard couch. At night we dreamed of torment, during the day we almost felt its beginnings. In vain we asked Moses to plead our case with an angry God; in vain we attempted by vows to move him to pity: ‘the one who breaks’ [Micah 2:13] broke our hearts with his heavy hammer, and seemed intent to make our agonies intolerable. We did not dare to touch the hem of his garment, for fear that ‘Depart from me!’ would be the only word he would speak to us. A fearful expectation of judgment and of fiery indignation caused us to be filled with fears, doubts, discouragements, hopelessness, and to tremble with anxiety.
Old Burton was correct when with words he painted the soul under the pressure of a burden of guilt: ‘Fear takes away their contentment, and dries the blood, destroys the marrow, changes their expression, “even in their greatest delights—singing, dancing, feasting—they are still (says Lemnius) tortured in their souls.” It consumes every part of them. “I am like a pelican of the wilderness (David says of himself, when temporarily afflicted); I am like an owl of the desert, because of Your indignation.” “My heart is severely pained within me, And the terrors of death have fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me,” and I am at the “gates of death.” “Their soul abhorred all manner of food.” [Psalm 102:6, 10; 55:4,5; 107:18] Their sleep is (if there is any) restless, and subject to fearful dreams and terrors. Peter, in his chains, slept secure, for he knew God protected him. Tully makes it an argument of Roscius Amerinus’ innocence (that he did not kill his father) because he slept so securely. Those martyrs in the ancient Church were most cheerful and merry in the midst of their persecutions; but it is quite different with these men: continually tossed in a sea, without rest or intermission, they can think of anything pleasant; “their conscience will not let them be at peace;” although they are not yet captured, they are still in perpetual fear and anxiety, because they still doubt that they will be ready to betray themselves. Just like Cain, he thinks every man will kill him; “and he groaned because of the turmoil of his heart,” [Psalm 38:8] just like David and Job did. “Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter of soul? They long for death, but it does not come, and they search for it more than hidden treasures; and rejoice exceedingly, and are glad when they can find the grave?” [Job 3:20-22] They are generally weary of their lives: they have a trembling heart, a sorrowful mind, and little or no rest. Terror ubique tremor, timor undique et undique terror: ‘tears, terrors, and great fears, in all places, at all times and seasons.’ Cibum et potum pertinaciter aversantur multi, nodum in scirpo quaeritantes, et culpam imaginantes ubi nulla est, as Wierus writes, (De Lamiis, lib. iii. c. 7.) “many of them refuse food and drink, and cannot rest because they are exasperated, and are sure of grievous offences where there are none.” God's heavy wrath is kindled in their souls, and, yet despite their continual prayers and supplications to Christ Jesus, they have no release or comfort at all, rather they have a most intolerable torment, and insufferable anguish of conscience; and that makes them, through impatience, to murmur against God many times, to think cruelly of him, and even, in some cases, seek to harm themselves. In the morning they wish for evening, and in the evening they wish for the morning; because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see.’ [Deuteronomy 28:67]
Hart felt the deep wounds of this faithful Friend; witness the following line:
‘The Lord, from whom I did long backslide,
First checked me with some gentle stings;
Turned on me, looked, and softly chide,
And commanded me to hope for greater things.
Soon to his judgment-seat he made me come
Arraigned, convicted, I stood,
Expecting from his mouth the doom
Of those who trample on his blood.
Pangs of remorse my conscience tore,
Hell opened hideous to my view;
And what I only heard before,
I found, by sad experience, true.
Oh! what a dismal state was this,
What horrors shook my feeble frame!
But, brethren, surely you can guess,
For you, perhaps, have felt the same.’
Doubtless, some of our readers will cry out against such a description, as being too harsh; our only answer is, we have felt these things in some measure, and we testify what we do know. We do not, for one moment, teach that all or that many are thus led in a path strewn with horrors, and shrouded in gloom; but we hope to be acknowledged, by those who have experienced the same, not to have uttered a strange thing, but the simple tale, unexaggerated and unadorned. We need no better evidences to convince all Christian men of our truthfulness than those with which our own pastorate has furnished us. We have seen many in this condition; and we hope that many have been, by our instrumentality, led into the liberty by which Christ makes men free.
Such terrible things are not necessary to true repentance, but they do at times accompany it. Let the man who is now floundering in the slough of Despond take heart, for the slough lies right in the middle of the way, and the best pilgrims have fallen into it. Your case, O soul under spiritual distress, is by no means singular; and if it were so, it would not be necessarily desperate, for Omnipotence knows nothing of impossibilities, and grace is not held back because of our faults. A dark cloud is no sign that the sun has lost its light; and dark black convictions are no arguments that God has laid aside his mercy. Destruction and wrath may thunder, but mercy can speak louder than both. One word from our Lord can still the waves and winds. Get yourself beneath the tree of life, and not a drop of the shower of wrath will fall on you. Do not be afraid to go, for the cherubims which you see are not guards to prevent your approach, but ministers who will welcome your coming. Oh! do not sit down in sullen despair, do not harden your heart, for it is a friend that wounds you. He has softened you in the furnace; he is now joining you to himself with his hammer. Let him kill you, but still trust in him. If he had meant to destroy you, he would not have showed you such things as these: love is in his heart when rebuke is on his lips; yes, his very words of reproof are really many ‘tokens for good.’ A father will not lift his hand against another man's child, but he exercises discipline on his own; even so the Lord your God chastens his own, but reserves retribution for the children of wrath in another state of being. Consider also, that it is no small mercy to be aware of your sin; this proves that there is no death in your body, but life is there. To feel is evidence of life; and spiritual sorrow is a clear proof of life in the soul. Moreover, there are thousands who would give worlds to be in the same condition as you are; they are grieving because they do not have those very feelings which are, in your case, your burden and plague. Multitudes envy your groans, your tears, and softening of heart; yes, some older saints look at you with admiration, and wish that their hearts were as tender as yours. Oh! take courage, the rough manner of treatment that you feel today is a promise of loving treatment in the future. It is in this manner that the sheep is brought into the fold by the barking of the dog; and it is in this fashion that the ship is compelled by the storm to make for the nearest haven. Fly to Jesus, and believe in his grace.
3. Some experience these wounds for a long time.
A portion of the redeemed have had this protracted season of wounding for a long time. It was not just one heavy stroke by the rod, but stroke after stroke, repeated for months, and even years, in continual succession. John Bunyan was for many years an anxious and desponding seeker of mercy; and thousands more have trodden the valley of darkness for just as long a time. Winters are not usually long in our favoured climate, but some years have seen the earth covered with snow and frozen in ice for many a dreary month; likewise, many souls are soon cheered by the light of God's face, but a few find, to their own sorrow, that at times the promise is delayed. When the sun sets we usually see it in the morning; but Paul, when in a tempest at sea, saw neither sun, moon, nor stars, for three days: many a tried soul has spent a longer time than this in finding light.
All ships do not make speedy voyages: the peculiar design of the vessel, the winds, the waves, and the mistakes of the captain, all affect the length of the journey. Some seeds send forth their sprouts in a few days; others stay long in the darkness, hidden under the clods. The Lord can, when it is his good pleasure, send conviction and comfort as rapidly in succession as the flash of lightning and the clap of thunder; but at times he delays it for purposes which, though we do not know now, we will know when we get to heaven. Men will not have an Easter until they have had Lent; but God's Lents are not all of the same duration. Let no one, then, foolishly imagine that they have entered a long road which will have no turnoffs; let them consider how long they were in sin, and they will have little cause to complain that they are spending so long a time in humiliation. When they remember their own ignorance, they will not think they are detained too long in the school of penitence. No man has any right to murmur because he is waiting a little for the King of mercy; for if he considers what he is waiting for, he will see it to be well worthy of a delay of a thousand years. God may say, ‘Today if anyone hears my voice;’ but you, O sinner, have no right to demand that he should hear yours at all, much less today. Great men often have petitioners in their halls, who will wait for hours, and come again and again to obtain some favour: surely, the God of heaven should be waited for by them that seek him. Extremely happy is he that gets an early interview, and doubly blessed is he who gets one at all. Yet it does at times seem hard to stand at a door which remains shut to repeated knocking—’hope deferred makes the heart sick:’ and it may be, some reader of this volume is driven to doubt the eventual result of his strivings and prayers; he may be crying,
‘My life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing!’
‘How often have these bare knees been bent to gain
The little relief of one poor smile in vain?
How often tired with the fastidious light
Have my faint lips implored the shades of night?
How often have my nightly torments prayed
For lingering twilight, glutted with the shade?
Day worse than night, night worse than day appears;
In fears I spend my nights, my days in tears:
I moan without pity, groan without relief,
There is no end or measure of my grief.
The branded slave, that tugs the weary oar,
Obtains the rest of a welcome shore;
His ransomed stripes are healed; his native soil
Sweetens the memory of his foreign toil:
But ah! my sorrows are not half so blest;
My labours find no point, my pains no rest:
I barter sighs for tears, and tears for groans,
Still vainly rolling Sisyphean stones.’
Cease your complaint, O mourner, the angel is on his way, and faith will expedite his flight; he hears while you are still speaking, yes, even before you call out again, he may answer you.
4. Divine sovereignty inflicts our wounds.
Divine sovereignty displays itself in the manner whereby souls are brought to Jesus; for while many, as we have said, are inflicted with deep wounds, there are perhaps a larger number whose sufferings are less severe, and their anguish far less acute. Let us never make apologies for the superficial religion all too common in the present day; above all, let us never lead others to mistake impulses for realities, and short-lived feelings for enduring workings of grace. We fear too many are deluded with a false religion, which will be utterly consumed when the fire will test all things; and we solemnly warn our readers to accept nothing less than a real experience of grace within, true repentance, deep self abhorrence, and complete subjection to salvation by grace. Yet we do believe and know that some of the Lord's family are, by his marvellous kindness, exempted from the many hardships of the terrors of Sinai, and the excessive griefs brought about by the working of the Law. God opens many hearts with a gentle picking of the lock, while with others he uses the crowbar of terrible judgments. The wind of the Spirit, which blows where it wishes, also blows how it pleases: it is oftentimes a gentle gale, not always a hurricane. When the lofty palm of Zeilan puts forth its flower, the sheath bursts open with an explosive noise which shakes the forest, but thousands of other flowers of equal value open in the morning, and the very dewdrops hear no sound; likewise many souls blossom in mercy, and the world hears neither whirlwind nor tempest. Showers frequently fall on this earth too gently to be heard, though truly at other seasons the loud rattling drops proclaim them; grace also ‘drops, like the gentle dew from heaven,’ on souls whom Jesus would favour, and they know nothing of heavy hail and drenching torrents.
Let no one doubt their calling because it did not come with the sound of the trumpet; let them not sit down and measure their own feelings by those of other men, and because they are not precisely the same, at once conclude that they are not children of the kingdom. No two leaves on a tree are precisely alike—variety is the rule of nature; the line of beauty does not run in one undeviating course; and in grace the same rule holds good. Do not, therefore, desire another man’s repentance, or your brother’s apprehensions of wrath. Do not wish to try the depth of the cavern of misery, but rather rejoice that you had a partial immunity from its glooms. Be concerned to flee for refuge to Jesus; but do not ask that the avenger of blood may almost overtake you. Be content to enter the ark like a sheep led by its shepherd; do not desire to come like an unruly young bull, which must be driven to the door with whips. Adore the power which is not restricted to one particular method, but which can open the blind eye by mud made with saliva, or by the simple touch of the finger. Jesus cried, with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ but the restoration was just as easily effected as when he gently said, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise!’ Zacchaeus was called from the tree with a voice that the crowd could hear; but it was a quiet voice which in the garden said, ‘Mary!’ Can any man deny that equal benefits flowed from these varied voices? It is arrogance for any man to map out the path of the Eternal, or dictate to Jesus the methods of his mercy. Let us be content with gentle wounds, and let us not seek heavy blows as a proof of his faithfulness.
Much more might have been spoken concerning the means used by Providence to break the hard heart. Bereavement, disappointment, sickness, poverty, have had their share of uses; the Word preached, Scriptures read or reproofs received, have all been acknowledged as a direct means of conversion. It would be interesting to list the various ways of Jehovah's dealings with sinners; and it would be found to be a valuable use of time for a gathering of Christians at an evening party, if the question is passed around to each person, and one acts as a recorder for the rest; thus interesting information may be obtained, and unprofitable talking avoided.
II. We now seek to justify our assertion that these wounds are inflicted by ‘the friend,’ Christ Jesus.
Our readers will observe that Jesus' name has not often been mentioned in the course of this chapter, but there was a reason for this; in order that our words might be somewhat in accordance with the state of the soul during the operation of conviction, for at that time it is not aware of Jesus, and knows nothing of his love. A faint idea of his saving power may arise, but it is only the hush between the succeeding gusts of wind. There is an atonement, but the examined conscience does not rejoice in it, since the blood has never been applied; HE is able to save to the uttermost, but since the man has not come to God by him, he still does not participate in the salvation. Nevertheless, an unseen Jesus is a true Jesus; and when we do not see him, he is none the less present, working all our works in us. We would insist strongly on this point, because a very large number of mourning sinners ascribe their sorrow to any source but the right one.
1. Sorrow ascribed to being tormented by the devil.
We know there are those who are presently in the prison-house of conviction, who believe they are tormented by the devil, and are haunted by the dreadful thought that he is about to devour them, since hell seems to have taken over their souls. May the sacred Comforter cause our words to be profitable to such a heart. It is not the evil one who convinces the soul of sin, although the troubled spirit is prone to ascribe its convictions to the schemes of the devil. It is never the policy of the Prince of darkness to disturb his subjects; he labours to make them self-satisfied and content with their position; he looks upon spiritual uneasiness with most crafty suspicion, since he sees in that the cause of desertion from his evil army. We do not assert that none of the terrors which accompany conviction are the works of the devil, for we believe they are; but we maintain that the inward disturbance which originates the turmoil is a work of love—an deed of divine compassion, and comes from no other fountain than eternal affection. The dust which surrounds the chariot may rise from beneath, but the chariot itself is covered with the love of heaven. The doubts, the depressions, and the hellish apprehensions may be the work of Diabolus, but the real attack is headed by Emmanuel, and it is the very fear, that the true assault may be successful, that Satan attempts another. Jesus sends an army to drive us to himself, and then the Prince of the powers of the air dispatches a host of his own to cut off our retreat to Calvary. So harassed is the mind when thus besieged, that like the warriors in old Troy, it mistakes friends for foes, not knowing how to discern them in the darkness and confusion. Let us labour a moment to point out the helmet of Jesus in the battle, that his blows may be distinguished from those of a cruel one.
The experience which we have pictured leads us to abhor sin. Can Satan be the author of this? Has he become a lover of purity, or can an unclean spirit be the father of such a godly feeling? Adept in sin himself, will he seek to reveal its vileness? If indeed it delights him to see an unhappy soul here on earth, would he not rather allow a present bliss, in the malicious prospect of a certain future woe for his victim? We believe Satan to be exceedingly wise, but he would be penny wise and pound foolish if he should inflict a temporary torment on the sinner here, and so by his haste lose his great object of ruining the man forever. Devils may drive swine down a steep place into the sea; but they never influenced swine to bemoan their condition, and beg to be made sheep. Satan might carry Jesus to a pinnacle of the Temple to tempt him; but he never carried a tax collector to the house of prayer to beat on his breast and cry, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ Nothing which leads to Jesus can be of the Evil One, by this we may judge whether our inward trouble is of God or not. That which draws us to Jesus has something of Jesus in it; the wagons which bring us to our Joseph in Egypt may have rumbling wheels, but they are sent by Him.
When our enemy cannot hinder the voice of God from being heard in the heart, he mingles it with such horrid screams and howlings that the coming sinner is in doubt whether the voice comes from heaven or hell; nevertheless, the question may be answered in this manner—if it is a harsh, reproving voice which is heard, then Satan is angry, and is but counterfeiting, to prevent the word of God from having effect; but if it is a sweet voice seeking to draw the soul away from making an earnest and thorough repentance, then it comes wholly from hell. O sinner, let a friend warn you of the enticing appeal of a smiling devil—it will be your eternal shipwreck if you do not close yours ears, and neglect his enchanting music; but, on the other hand, do not be afraid of the devil when he howls like Cerberus [the mythical three-headed dog], for he is simply seeking to frighten you away from the gate of heaven; do not pause for him, but be firmly persuaded that the inward goad which urges you forward is in the hand of Jesus, who desires to hurry you to the house of refuge which he has built. Do not think that your sharp pains are given to you by the old murderer, for they are the effects of the knife of ‘the beloved Physician.’ Many a man undergoing a surgical operation cries out as if he were about to he killed; but if patience had its perfect work, he would look to the end more than to the means. It is indeed hard to rejoice under the heavy hand of a chastising Jesus; but it will be somewhat easier for you if you bear in mind that Jesus, and not the devil, is now chastening you for your sins.
2. Sorrow ascribed to being nothing more than an awakened conscience.
It is also very common that there are cases where the genuineness of conviction is doubted, because it is conceived to be merely an awakened conscience, and not the real lasting work of Jesus by his Holy Spirit. This may well be a cause of anxiety, if we reflect that the mere awakenings of conscience so often prove to be of no avail. How many reformations have begun by the power of conscience, and have soon crumbled beneath temptation like an edifice of sand at the approach of the sea! How many prayers have been forced out like untimely figs by the warmth of a little natural feeling! But such prayers have been displaced by the old language of indifference or iniquity. It is only just, therefore, that the anxious inquirer should very honestly examine his feelings to determine whether they are of God.
Conscience is that portion of the soul upon which the Spirit works in convincing of sin; but conscience cannot of itself produce such a real death to sin which must be the experience of every Christian. It may, when stirred up by a powerful sermon or a solemn act of providence, alarm the whole town of Man‑soul; but the bursting of the gates and the breaking of the bars of iron must come from another hand.
Natural conscience may be distinguished from supernatural grace by its being far more easily appeased.
A small bribe will suffice to stop the mouth of a conscience which, with all its boasted impartiality, is yet as truly depraved as any other portion of the man. We marvel at the Christian minister when he speaks of conscience as ‘God's Administrative Deputy,’ calling it the judge who cannot be bribed, whereas the slightest observation would suffice to convince any man of the corruption of the conscience. How many commit acts of gross sins, yet their unenlightened conscience utters no threat; and even when this partial censor does pronounce sentence of condemnation, how easily will the slightest promise of reformation avert his wrath, and induce him to ‘sugar-coat’ the sin!
Conscience, when thoroughly aroused, will speak with a thundering voice; but even his voice cannot wake the dead—spiritual resurrection is the work of Deity alone. We have seen men swept with a very tornado of terrible thoughts and serious emotions; but the hot wind has passed away in an hour, and has left no blessing behind it. There is no healing beneath the wings of a merely natural repentance, and its worthlessness may be proved by its transitory existence.
Conscience will be content with reformation; true grace will never rest until it observes regeneration. Let us each be anxious to be possessors of nothing short of a real inward sorrow for sin, a deep sense of natural depravity, a true faith in the Lord Jesus, and actual possession of his Spirit; whatever falls short of this, lacks the vital elements of religion. If such is our feeling now—if we now pant for Jesus in all his glorious offices to be ours forever, then we need not fear but that He has wounded us in love, and is bringing us to his feet. If we now feel that nothing but the blood and righteousness of Christ Jesus can supply the desires we deplore, we may rejoice that grace has entered our heart, and will win the victory. A soul under the influence of the Holy Spirit will be insatiable in its longings for a Saviour; you might as well attempt to fill a ship with honour, or a house with water, as trying to fill a truly emptied soul with anything except the Lord Jesus. Is your soul hungering with such a hunger that husks will not satisfy you? Are you thirsting until ‘your tongue clings to the roof of your mouth’ for the living water of life? Do you hate abhor all counterfeits, and look only for the true gold of the kingdom? Are you determined to have Christ or die? Will nothing less than Jesus alleviate your fears? Then be of good cheer; arise, He calls you; cry to him, and he will assuredly hear you.
Again, we think an excellent test may be found in the length of time which these feelings have endured.
The awakenings of an unrenewed conscience soon pass away, and are not usually permanent in their character. Arising in a night, they also perish in a night. They are acute pains, but not chronic; they are not a part of the man, but simply incidents in his history. Many a man drops the compliment of a tear when justice is at work within him; but wiping that tear away, sunshine follows the shower, and all is over. Have you, my reader, been a seeker of the Lord for a little while? I beseech you not to take it for granted that you are under the influence of the Spirit, but plead with God that your own instability may not once more be manifest in again forgetting what manner of man you are. O you whose momentary warmth is but as the crackling of blazing thorns, this is not the fire from heaven; for that glorious flame is as eternal as its origin, being sustained by Omnipotence. O you ‘Pliables,’ who turn back at the first difficulty, crowns and kingdoms in the realms of the blessed are not intended for such a person as you! Unstable as water, you shall not excel! Your lying vows have been heard in heaven so often that justice frowns upon you. How you have lied to God, when you have promised in the hour of sickness to turn to him with a sincere heart? Your violated promises will be swift witnesses to condemn you, when God shall retrieve from the archives of the past the testimonies of your treachery!
What can be more worthy of your solemn consideration than the words of Solomon, ‘he who is often reproved, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy’ (Proverbs 29:1). It will be terrible for some of you, my readers, who have abounded with hypocritical repentances when the Lord shall bring you into judgment. You have no excuse for your ignorance; you cannot cloak your guilt with darkness; ‘you knew your master’s will, but you did not do it.’ You vowed in deceit; you prayed in mockery; you promised with falsehood. Surely, your own lips will say ‘Amen!’ to the vehement denunciation which shall call you ‘cursed;’ and the chambers of your memory will, from their sin stained walls, reverberate the sentence, ‘Cursed! cursed! cursed!’
But has the penitent reader been under the hand of God for some time? Have his convictions been lasting? Do they bring forth the fruits of a real longing after Jesus? Then let him be of good cheer. The river which never runs dry is the river of God; the lighthouse which endures the winds and waves is founded on a rock; and the plant which is not pulled up our heavenly Father has planted. The ‘stony ground’ hearer lost his growth when the sun had risen with burning heat; but if out of an honest and good heart you have received the word which remains forever, then you are one of those upon the good ground. When the light remains in one position for a long time, it is not likely to be an ignis fatuus [illusion]; but that which leaps continually from place to place, even the peasant knows to be the will‑o’‑the‑wisp, and nothing more. True stars do not fall; shooting stars are not stars at all, but various gases which have held together long enough, and now blaze at bursting. Rivers which, like Kishon, only flow with temporary torrents, may be useful to sweep away an invading army, but they cannot fertilize the surrounding country: so temporary conviction may bring destruction upon a host of sins, but it is not the river which makes glad the city of God. The works of God are abiding works; he does not build houses of sand which fall at the rise of the flood, or at the rushing of the wind. Have you, O convinced soul, been long under the hand of sorrow? then take heart, this is all the more likely to be the hand of the Lord. If you feel, at all appropriate hours, a strong desire to seek his face, and pour out your heart before him, then doubtless you are one of those who will be called—’sought out,’ and you shall dwell in ‘a city not forsaken’ (Isaiah 62:12). The morning cloud moves on because it is just a cloud; but the rain and the snow do not return to heaven void, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud: if your soul buds with desires, and brings forth prayers and tears, then we have hope for you that God has sent his word from above to dwell in your heart.
Best of all, when we despair of all of our accomplishments and capabilities; then indeed the Lord is there.
So long as we cling in the least degree to self, then we have ground to distrust the reality of the work within. The Spirit is a humbling spirit, and God sends him that he may humble us. Every wound given by the Saviour is accompanied by the voice, ‘This is against your self‑righteousness.’ Without this process of cutting and wounding, we would imagine ourselves to be something, whereas we are nothing; we should think our fig leaves to be as excellent as court robes, and our own filthy rags as white as the spotless robe of Jesus. Have you, my friend, been learning the lesson, that ‘whatever is woven of nature must be all unravelled before the righteousness of Christ is put on?’ (Thomas Wilcocks) Do you now perceive that ‘nature can provide no suitable ointment to cure your soul?’ Are you despairing of all healing from the waters of Abanah and Pharpar? (2Kings 5:12) And will you now gladly wash in the Jordan and be clean? If this is your case, then you are no stranger to the influences of Jesus' grace on your heart; but if not, then all your repentances, your tears, your sighs, your groans, are for nothing, being but dross and dung in the sight of the exacting Jehovah. Self is the fly which spoils the whole pot of ointment; but Jesus is the salt which makes the most poisonous river to become pure. To be weaned from our own works is the hardest weaning in the world. To die not only to all ideas of past merit, but to all hopes of future attainments, is a death which is as difficult as that of the old giant whom ‘Greatheart’ slew. And yet this death is an absolute requirement before salvation, for unless we die to everything but Christ, we can never live with Christ.
The carnal professor talks a lot about faith, sanctification, and perfection; but in all these things he offers sacrifice to himself as the great author of his own salvation: like the Pharaoh of old, he writes on the rocks, ‘I conquered these regions by these my shoulders.’ But this is not true for the person who has really been taught by the God of heaven; he bows his head, and ascribes his deliverance wholly to the grace of the covenant God of Israel. By this, then, can your state be tested—Is self annihilated, or not? Are you looking upward, or are you hoping that your own arm shall bring salvation? Thus you may best understand how your soul stands with regard to a work of grace. That which strips the creature of all attractiveness, which mars the beauty of pride, and stains the glory of self‑sufficiency, is from Jesus; but that which exalts man, even though it make you moral, gracious, and outwardly religious, is of the devil. Do not fear not the blow which strikes you to the ground—the lower you lie the better; but avoid that which puffs you up and lifts you to the skies. Remember the Lord has said, ‘And all the trees of the field shall know that I, the LORD, have brought down the high tree and exalted the low tree, dried up the green tree and made the dry tree flourish’ (Ezekiel 17:24). Always be one of the low trees, for then Jesus will exalt you. He brings down the mighty from their seats of honour, but he exalts the humble and meek. None are nearer mercy's door than those who are farthest from their own; none are more likely to get a good word from Jesus than they who have not one word to say for themselves. He that is clean has escaped from the hands of self, and does not have even one step between himself and acceptance. It is a good sign of a high tide of grace, when the sands of our own righteousness are covered. Take heart that Christ loves you, when you have no heart for the work of self‑saving. But never, never hope that a devout manner, a respectable demeanour, and upright conversation, will justify you before God—
‘For the love of grace
Do not put that flattering unction on your soul;
It will only hide and coat the ulcerous place,
While rank corruption, mining all within,
Once more: when our sorrowful feelings drive us to a thorough renunciation of sin, then we may hope.
How many there are who quickly talk of a deep experience, of corruption, and of indwelling sin, who never sincerely renounced their evil ways! But how vain is all their idle talk, while their lives show that they love sin, and delight in transgression! He that is sorry for past sin, will be doubly careful to avoid all present acts of it. He is a hypocrite before God who talks of a change on the inside when there is no change on the outside. Grace will enter a sinful heart, even though it is exceedingly vile; yet it will never make friends with sin, but will at once begin to drive it out. A person has entirely mistaken the nature of divine grace, who conceives it to be possible that he can be a partaker of it and yet be the slave of lust, or allow sin to reign in his mortal body. The promise is—’Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon;’ but we do not read of a single word of comfort to him who continues on in his iniquity. Though the high and lofty One will stoop over a wounded sinner, he will never do so while the weapons of rebellion are still in his hands.
‘There is no peace,’ says the LORD, ‘for the wicked.’ Justice will never remove the siege simply because of our cries, or promises, or vows: the heart will still be enshrouded with terrors as long as the traitors are harboured within its gates. The Spirit says, by the mouth of Paul, ‘Godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter’ (2 Corinthians 7:10, 11). There is no true repentance to eternal life which does not have such blessed companions as these. Isaiah said, ‘Therefore by this the iniquity of Jacob will be covered; and this is all the fruit of taking away his sin: when he makes all the stones of the altar like chalkstones that are beaten to dust, when wooden images and incense altars do not stand up’ (Isaiah 27:9). No sooner does repentance enter the heart than down goes every idol, and every idolatrous altar. He whom the Lord calls will, like Gideon (Judges 6:28), tear down the altar of Baal, cut down the wooden image, and burn the bull; like Phinehas (Numbers 25:7), his javelin will pierce through lusts; and, as the sons of Levi (Exodus 32:26-27) at the bidding of Moses, he will go through the camp, and kill his brother, his companion, and his neighbour—his hand will not spare, neither will his eye pity: right hands will be cut off, and right eyes plucked out; sin will be drowned in floods of godly sorrow, and the soul will desire to be free from that which it hates and detests. As Thomas Scott remarks, in his Treatise on Repentance,
‘This is the grand distinction between true repentance and all false appearances. Though men be abundant in shedding tears, and make the most humiliating confessions, or most ample restitution; though they openly retract their false principles, and are zealous in promoting true religion; though they relate the most plausible story of experiences, and profess to be favoured with the most glorious manifestations; though they have strong confidence, high affections, orthodox sentiments, exact judgment, and extensive knowledge: yet, except they “do works meet for repentance, all the rest is nothing”—they are still in their sins. For the tree is known by its fruit; and “every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Yea, though Cain)s terror, Judas's confession and restitution, Pharaoh's fair promises, Ahab's humiliation, Herod's reverencing the prophet, hearing him gladly, and doing many things—the stony‑ground hearer's joy—together with the tongue of men and angels, the gifts of miracles and prophecies, and the knowledge of all mysteries, were combined in one man, they would not prove him a true penitent, so long as the love of one lust remained unmortified in his heart, or the practice of it was allowed in his life.’
Ask yourself, then, this all‑important question, How is my soul affected by sin? Do I hate it? Do I avoid it? Do I shun its very shadow? Do I sincerely renounce it, even though by my weakness I fall into it? Rest assured if you cannot give a satisfactory answer to these questions then you are still very far from the kingdom; but if, with an honest heart, you can declare that sin and yourself are at an utter enmity, then ‘the seed of the woman’ is born in your heart, and there dwells the hope of glory.
Believer, the hour is fresh in our memory when the divorce was signed between ourselves and our lusts. We can rejoice that we have now dissolved our league with hell. But, oh how much we owe to sovereign grace! for we would have never left the garlic and fleshpots of Egypt if the Passover bad not been slain for us. Our inward man rejoices greatly at the recollection of the hour which proclaimed eternal war between ‘the new creature in Christ Jesus’ and the sin which reigned unto death. It was a night to be remembered: we crossed the Rubicon—peace was broken—old friendships ceased—the sword was unsheathed, and the scabbard thrown away. We were delivered from the power of darkness, and brought into ‘the kingdom of God's dear Son;’ and henceforth we no longer serve sin, but the life which we live in the flesh is a life of dependence on the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us. Let us testify that we never knew what it was to have peace with God until we had ceased to parley with sin. We did not receive one drop of true comfort until we had renounced forever the former lusts of our ignorance: till then our mouths were filled with wormwood and gall, until we had cast out our iniquities as loathsome and abominable; but now, having renounced the works of darkness, ‘we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand’ (Romans 5:1, 2)
If you, O reader, can satisfactorily answer the solemn inquiries proposed here to you, thy case is assuredly in the hands of Jesus the Lord; if you have continually grieve over your sin, have renounced yours own works, and escaped from your lusts, then you are none other than one called of God to grace and glory. You can be assured that natural conscience can never rise to such a height as this—it may skim the surface, but it cannot climb up into the air. Mere nature never poured contempt on human righteousness, and never severed man from his sins. It needs a mighty one to carry away the gates of the Gaza of our self‑sufficiency, or to lay our Philistine sins into heaps upon heaps. God alone can send the sun of our own excellency backward the needed degrees of humility, and he alone can command that our sins stand still forever. It is Jesus who has struck you down, for with one blow he has dethroned you, and with another disarmed you. He is accustomed to performing wonders; but such as these are his own peculiar miracles. No one but he can kill with one stone two such birds as our high‑soaring righteousness and low‑winged lust. If Goliath's head is taken from his shoulders, and his sword snatched from his hand, no doubt the conqueror is the Son of David. We give all glory and honour to the adorable name of Jesus, the Breaker, the Healer, our faithful Friend.
3. Doubt about the divine character of the wounds.
It frequently occurs that the circumstances of the person at the time of conversion afford grave cause to doubt the divine character of the woundings which are felt. It is well known that severe sickness and prospect of death will produce a repentance so much like genuine, godly sorrow, that the wisest Christians have been misled by it. We have seen many and heard who have expressed the deepest contrition for past guilt, and have vehemently cried out for mercy, with promises of change apparently as sincere as their confessions were truthful—who have conversed sweetly of pardon, of joy in the Spirit, and have even related ecstasies and marvellous manifestations; and yet, with all this, have proved to be hypocrites, by returning at the first opportunity to their old courses of sin and folly. It has happened to them according to the proverb, ‘But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit, and, a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire’ [2 Peter 2:22].
Pious Mr. Booth writes, ‘I pay more attention to people's lives than to their deaths. In all the visits I have paid to the sick during the course of a long ministry, I never met with one, who was not previously serious, that ever recovered from what he supposed the brink of death, who afterwards performed his vows and became religious, notwithstanding the very great appearance there was in their favour when they thought they could not recover.’ We also find, at our fingertips, in a valuable work, (Arvines’s Cyclopaedia of Anecdotes) the following facts, which are but specimens of a mass which might be given:—me ‘A certain American physician, whose piety led him to attend, not only to people's bodies, but to their souls, stated that he had known a hundred or more instances in his practice, of persons who, in prospect of death, had been apparently converted, but had subsequently been restored to health. Out of them all he did not know of more than three who devoted themselves to the service of Christ after their recovery, or gave any evidence of genuine conversion. If, therefore, they had died, as they expected, have we not reason to believe that their hopes of heaven would have proved terrible delusions? A pious English physician once stated that he had known some three hundred sick persons who, soon expecting to die, had been led, as they supposed, to repentance of their sins, and saving faith in Christ, but had eventually been restored to health again. Only ten of all this number, so far as he knew, gave any evidence of being really regenerated. Soon after their recovery they plunged, as a general thing, into the follies and vices of the world. Who would trust, then, in such conversions?
Such examples serve as a holy warning to us all, lest we too should only feel an excitement produced by terror, and should find the flame of piety utterly quenched when the cause of alarm is withdrawn. Some of us can trace our first serious thoughts to the bed of sickness, when, in the loneliness of our bedroom, ‘we thought about our ways, and turned our feet to your testimonies’ (Psalm 119:59). But this very circumstance was at the same time a source of doubt, for we said within ourselves, ‘Will this continue when my sickness is removed, or shall I not find that my apathy returns, when again I enter on the business of the world?’ Our great anxiety was not that we might die, but that if we lived, that we would find our holy feelings clearly gone, and our piety evaporated. Possibly our reader is now sick, and this is his trouble: let us help you through it. Of course, the best proof you can have of your own sincerity is that which you will receive when health returns, if you continue steadfast in the faith of Jesus, and follow on to know him.
Perseverance, when the pressure is removed, will discover the reality of your repentance. The natural wounds inflicted by Providence are healed soon after the removal of the rod, and therefore folly is not removed from the heart; but when Jesus strikes us for our sin, the wounds will smart even when the instrumental rod of correction is removed, while ‘Blows that hurt cleanse away evil’ (Proverbs 20:30). We, who had many mock repentances before we really turned to the living God, can now see the main spring of our error. Every thief loves honesty when he finds the jail uncomfortable; almost every murderer will regret that he killed a man when he is about to be executed for his crime: here is the first point of distinction which we beg our reader to observe.
That repentance which is
genuine arises not so much from dread of punishment as from fear of sin.
It is not fear of being damned, but the fear of sinning, which make the truly humbled cry out for grace. True, the fear of hell, prompted by the threatenings of the law, do work in the soul much horror and dismay; but it is not hell that appears so exceedingly dreadful, but sin becoming exceedingly sinful and abominable, which is the effectual work of grace. Any man in his right mind would tremble at everlasting burnings, and especially when by his nearness to the grave the heat of hell does, as it were, scorch him; but it is not every dying man that hates sin—no one does so unless the Lord has had dealings with their souls. Say then, Do you hate hell or hate sin most? for, truly, if there were no hell, the real penitent would love sin not one bit more, and hate evil not one speck less. Would you love to have your sin and heaven too? If you would, you do not have a single spark of divine life in your soul, for one spark would consume your love to sin. Sin to a sin‑sick soul is so desperate an evil that it would scarcely be straining the truth to say that a real penitent had rather suffer the pains of hell without his sins than enter the bliss of heaven with them, if such things were possible. Sin, sin, sin, is the accursed thing which the living soul hates.
Again: saving repentance will most easily manifest itself when the subjects of our thoughts are most heavenly.
By this we mean, if our sorrow only gushes forth when we are musing upon the doom of the wicked, and the wrath of God, we then have reason to suspect its evangelical character; but if contemplations of Jesus, of his cross, of heaven, of eternal love, of covenant grace, of pardoning blood and full redemption bring tears to our eyes, we may then rejoice that we sorrow after a godly sort. The sinner awakened by the Holy Spirit will find the source of his stream of sorrow not on the thorn‑clad sides of Sinai, but on the grassy mound of Calvary. His cry will be, ‘O sin, I hate you, for you murdered my Lord;’ and his mournful dirge over his crucified Redeemer will be in mournful words—
‘Twas you, my sins, my cruel sins,
His chief tormentors were;
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear;
'Twas you that pulled the vengeance down
Upon his guiltless head;
Break, break, my heart, oh burst mine eyes,
And let my sorrows bleed.’
You who love the Lord, give your approval to this our declaration, that love melted you more than wrath, that the wooing voice had more affect on you than the condemning sentence, and that hope impelled you more than fear. It was when viewing our Lord as crucified, dead, and buried that we most wept. He with his looks made us weep bitterly, while the stern face of Moses caused us to tremble, but never laid us prostrate confessing our transgression. We sorrow because our offence is against Him, against his love, his blood, his grace, his heart of affection. Jesus is the name which subdues the stubborn heart, if it is truly brought into subjection to the Gospel. He is the rod which brings waters out of the rock, he is the hammer which breaks the rock into pieces.
Furthermore, saving repentance will render the conscience exceedingly tender, so that it will be, pained to the core at the very recollection of the smallest sin.
Natural repentance cries out at a few great sins, which have been most glaring and heinous—and even more so if some visitor points them out as crimes of the blackest colour; but when it has executed one or two of these on the gallows of confession, it is content to let whole hosts of less notorious offenders escape without so much as a reprimand. Not so the man whose penitence is of divine origin—he hates the whole race of the Evil One; like Elijah he will cry, ‘Let no one escape;’ he will cut up to the best of his power every root of bitterness which may still remain, nor will he willingly harbour a single traitor in his breast. The secret sins, the everyday offences, the slight errors (as the world would say), the harmless follies, the little transgressions, the small faults, all these will be dragged forth to death when the Lord searches the heart with the candle of his Spirit.
Jesus never enters the soul of man to drive out one or two sins, nor even to overcome a band of vices to the exception of others; his work is perfect, not partial; his cleansings are complete baptisms; his purifyings tend to remove all our dross, and consume all our tin. He sweeps away from the heart its dust as well as its Dagons [false gods]; he does not allow even the most insignificant spider of lust to spin its cobweb on the walls of his temple. All heinous sins and private sins, youthful sins and manhood's sins, sins of omission and of commission, of word and of deed, of thought and of imagination, sins against God or against man, all will combine like a column of serpents in the desert to frighten the newborn child of heaven; and he will desire to see the head of every one of them broken beneath the heel of the destroyer of evil, Jesus, the seed of the woman. Do not believe yourself to be truly awakened unless you abhor sin in all its stages, from the embryo to the ripe fruit, and in all its shades, from the commonly allowed lust down to the open and detested crime. When Hannibal took an oath of perpetual hatred to the Romans, he included in that oath plebeians [working-class] as well as patricians [aristocrats]; so if you are indeed at enmity with evil, you will abhor all iniquity, even though it is of the very lowest degree. Beware that you do not hold to the fact that being fearful of one sin is the same as having repentance for all sins.
There are, doubtless, other forms and phases of doubt, but our space does not allow us to mention more, nor does the character of the volume require that we should dwell upon more of these than are the most usual causes of grief to the Lord’s people. We beseech the ever gracious Spirit to reveal the person of Jesus to every afflicted sinner; to anoint his eyes with eye salve, that he may see the heart of love which moves the hand of rebuke, and to guide every mourning seeker to the cross, where pardon and comfort ever flow. It is none other than Jesus who brings us to our senses by showing us his displeasure, and chastises so that we might think rightly; may the Holy Spirit lead every troubled one to believe this encouraging doctrine, then shall our heart's desire be granted.
We cannot, however, bring our remarks to a close until again we have urged the duty of self-examination, which is clearly the most important and most neglected of all religious exercises.
When we think how solemn is the alternative ‘saved’ or ‘damned,’ we cannot but demand that our readers, if they love their souls, to ‘examine themselves as to whether they are in the faith.’ Oh! remember that soon, it will be all too late to decide this question, since it will cease to be a question. The time will have passed for hopeful changes and gracious discoveries; the only changes will be to torments more excruciating, and discoveries then will but reveal horrors more and more terribly astounding. It is not any wonder that men should anxiously inquire concerning their position; we might marvel more that the most of them are so indifferent, so utterly careless about the things of the kingdom of heaven. It is not our body, our estate, our liberty, which we should be concerned about, rather it is a something of far weightier value—our eternal existence in heaven or hell. Let us carefully inspect our innermost feelings; let us search what manner of men we are; let us rigidly scrutinise our heart, and learn whether it is right with God or not. Do not let the good opinion of our fellowmen mislead us, but let us search for ourselves, lest we be found like the mariner who bought his bags of one who filled them not with food but with stones, and he, relying on the merchant's word, found himself in the broad ocean without a morsel of food. Yet if good men tell us we are wrong, let us not despise their opinion, for it is a lot easier to deceive ourselves than the elect. He was not far from the truth who said, ‘We strive as hard to hide our hearts from ourselves as from others, and always with more success; for, in deciding upon our own case, we are both judge, and jury, and executioner; and where sophistry cannot overcome the first, or flattery the second, self‑love is always ready to defeat the sentence by bribing the third—a bribe that in this case is never refused, because she always comes up to the price’ (Colton). Since we are liable to be self-deceived, let us be all the more vigilant, giving most earnest heed to every warning and reproof, lest the very warning which we slight should be that which might have shown us our danger.
Many tradesmen are ruined by neglecting their books; but he who frequently updates his accounts will know his own position, and avoid such things as would be hazardous or destructive. No ship was ever wrecked by the captain's over‑anxiety in checking his longitude and latitude; but the wailing sea bears sad witness to the fate of careless mariners, who forgot their chart, and recklessly steered onward to rocks which prudent foresight would easily have avoided. Let us not sleep as do others, but rouse ourselves to persevering watchfulness, by the solemn consideration that if we are, in the end, mistaken about our soul's condition, the error can never be amended. Here, if one battle is lost, a hopeful commander expects to retrieve his fortunes by future victory; but let us once fail to overcome in the struggle of life, our defeat is everlasting. The bankrupt merchant cheers his spirit with the prospect of commencing trade again—business may yet prosper, competence may yet bless him, and even wealth may consent to fill his house with her hidden treasures; but he who finds himself a bankrupt in another world, without God, without Christ, without hope, must abide for ever penniless, craving, with a beggar's lip, the hopeless gain of one poor drop of water to cool his burning tongue. When life is over for the unrighteous, all is over—where the tree falls there it must forever lie; death is the Medusa's head [a head covered with snakes for hair, horrifying our condition—he that is unholy, shall be unholy still, he that is unjust, must be unjust still. If there were the most remote possibility of rectifying our present errors in a future state of existence, we might have some excuse for superficial or infrequent investigation; this, however, is utterly out of the question, for grace is stopped by the grave. If we are in Christ, all that heaven knows of unimaginable bliss, of inconceivable glory, of unutterable ecstasy, shall be ours most richly to enjoy; but if death shall find us without Christ, horrors surpassing thought, terrors beyond the dreams of despair, and tortures above the guess of misery, must be our doleful, desperate doom. How full of trembling is the thought, that multitudes of those who professed Christ are now in hell: although they, like ourselves, once wore a goodly name, and hoped, as others said of them, that they were ripening for glory; whereas they were fattening themselves for the slaughter, and were drugged for execution with the cup of delusion, dreaming all the while that they were drinking the dregs of the wine.
Surely, among the damned, there are none more horribly tormented in the flame than those who looked forward to walking the golden streets, but found themselves cast into outer darkness, where there is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth. The higher the pinnacle from which we slip, the more fearful will be our fall; crownless kings, pauper princes, and starving nobles, are all the more pitiable because of their former condition of affluence and grandeur: so also will fallen professors of Christ have a sad pre-eminence of damnation, from the very fact that they were once esteemed rich and wealthy. When we consider the vast amount of unsound profession which prevails in this age, and which, like a smooth but shallow sea, scarcely conceals the rocks of hypocrisy—when we review the many deplorable falls which have lately occurred among the most eminent in the Church, we would lift up our voice like a trumpet, and with all our might entreat all men to be sure of their grounds of trust, lest it should come to pass that sandy foundations should be discovered when total destruction has rendered it too late for anything but despair.
O age of profession, put yourself in the crucible! O nation of formalists, take heed lest you receive the form and reject the Spirit! O reader, let us each commence a thorough trial of our own spirits!
‘Oh! what am I? My soul awake,
And an impartial survey take:
Does no dark sign, no ground of fear
In practice or in heart appear?
‘What image does my spirit bear?
Is Jesus formed and living there?
Say, do his characteristics divine
In thought, and word, and action, shine?
‘Searcher of hearts! oh search me still,
The secrets of my soul reveal;
My fears remove, let me appear
To God and my own conscience clear.
‘May I at that blessed world arrive,
Where Christ through all my soul shall live,
And give full proof that he is there,
Without one gloomy doubt or fear.’
III. We close our chapter by the third remark—the wounds of our Jesus were faithful.
Here proof will be entirely unnecessary, but we think meditation will be a profitable engagement. Ah! brethren, when we were groaning under the chastening hand of Jesus, we thought him cruel; do we think so ill of him now? We conceived that he was angry with us, and would be merciless; but how our surmises proved to be utterly unfounded!
The abundant benefit which we now reap from the deep ploughing of our heart is enough in itself to reconcile us to the severity of the process. Precious is that wine which is pressed in the winefat of conviction; pure is that gold which is dug from the mines of repentance; and bright are those pearls which are found in the caverns of deep distress. We might never have known such deep humility if He had not humbled us. We would have never been so separated from trusting in our flesh had He not by his rod revealed the corruption and disease of our heart. We would have never learned to comfort the feeble‑minded, and strengthen the weak, had he not made us ready to do so. If we have any power to console the weary, it is the result of our remembrance of what we once suffered—for here lies our power to sympathise. If we can now look down with scorn upon the boastings of vain, self-conceited man, it is because our own boastful strength has utterly failed us, and made us contemptible in our own eyes. If we can now plead with ardent desire for the souls of our fellowmen, and especially if we feel a more than common passion for the salvation of sinners, we must attribute it in no small decree to the fact that we have been chastised for sin, and therefore now know that the terrors of the Lord are constrained to persuade men.
The laborious pastor, the fervent minister, the ardent evangelist, the faithful teacher, the powerful intercessor, can all trace the birth of their zeal to the sufferings they endured for sin, and the knowledge they thereby attained of its evil nature. We have always drawn the sharpest arrows from the quiver of our own experience. We find no sword blades so true in metal as those which have been forged in the furnace of soul‑trouble. Aaron’s rod, that budded, did not bore half as much fruit as the rod of the covenant, which is laid upon the back of every chosen child of God; this alone may render us eternally grateful to the Saviour for his rebukes of love.
We may pause for a moment over another thought, if we call to mind our deep depravity. We find within us a strong and deep-seated attachment to the world and its sinful pleasures; our heart is still prone to wander, and our affections still cleave to things below. Can we wonder then that it required a sharp knife to sever us at first from our lusts, which were then as dear to us as the members of our body? so foul a disease could only be healed by frequent doses of bitter medicine. Let us detest the sin which rendered such rough dealing necessary, but let us adore the Saviour who did not spare the child because of his crying. If our sin had been like the hyssop, on the wall, our own hand might have gently snapped the roots; but having become lofty as a cedar of Lebanon, and firmly settled in its place, only the omnipotent voice of Jehovah could help to break it: we will therefore not complain of the loudness of the thunder, but rejoice at the overturning of our sin. Will the man who is asleep in a burning house murmur at his deliverer for shaking him too roughly in his bed? Would the traveller, tottering on the brink of a precipice, scold the friend who startled him from his daydream, and saved him from destruction. Would not the harshest words and the roughest usage be acknowledged most heartily as blows of love and warnings of affection. Best of all, when we view these matters in the light of eternity, how little are these slight and momentary afflictions compared with the doom they helped us escape, or the bliss attained afterwards! Standing where our ears can be filled with the wailings of the lost, where our eyes are grieved by sights of the hideous torments of the damned—contemplating for an instant the immeasurable depth of eternal misery, with all its deprivation, desperation, and aggravation—considering that we at this hour might have been personally enduring the doom we deplore—surely it is easy work to overlook the pain of our conviction, and bless with all sincerity ‘the hand which rescued us.’ O hammer which broke our shackles, how can we think ill of you! O angel which struck us on the side, and let us out of the prison, we do nothing but love you! O Jesus, our glorious deliverer, we want to love you, live for you, and die for you! seeing that you have loved us, and have proved that love in your life and in your death. Never can we think of you as being unmerciful, for you were mercifully severe. We are sure that not one stroke fell too heavily, nor was it too painful. You were faithful in all your dealings, and our songs shall exalt you in all your ways, even when you cause groans to proceed from our wounded spirits. And when our spirits shall fly toward your throne of light, though in their unceasing hallelujahs your tender mercies and lovingkindnesses shall claim the highest notes, yet, in the midst of the rapturous hosannahs, shall be heard the psalm ‘of remembrance’ sounding forth our praise for the rod of the covenant and the hand of affliction. While here on earth we hymn your praise in humbler strains, and thus adore your love‑
‘Long unafflicted, undismayed,
In pleasure's path secure 1 strayed,
You made me feel your chastening rod,
And straight I turned unto my God.
‘What though it pierced my fainting heart,
I bless the hand that caused the smart,
It taught my tears awhile to flow,
But saved me from eternal woe.
‘Oh! had you left me unchastised,
Your precepts I had still despised,
And still the snare, in secret laid,
Had my unwary feet betrayed.
I love you, therefore, O my God,
And breathe towards your dear abode,
Where, in your presence fully blest,
Your chosen saints forever rest.’
TO THE UNCONVERTED READER
In this chapter you have parted company with the Christian. You could join with him while he did not esteem Jesus, but now that Christ has begun to wound the conscience of his child, you bid him adieu, and proudly boast that you are not such a miserable character. Notwithstanding this, I am unwilling to part with you until I have again earnestly reasoned with you.
You think it is a blessing to be free from the sad feelings we have been describing, but let me tell you it is your curse—your greatest, deadliest curse that you are a stranger to such inward mourning for your guilt. In the day when the Judge of heaven and earth shall divide tares from wheat, you will see how terrible it is to be an unregenerate sinner. When the flames of hell get hold of you, you will wish in vain for that very experience which now you consider nothing. It will not go well for you; your hour of death is as sure as another man’s and then one better than I shall convince you of yours error.
Do not laugh at weeping souls, do not consider them to be in a pitiable plight; for sad as their condition appears, it is not half so sad as yours, and there is not one of all those moaning penitents who would change places with you for an hour. Their grief is greater joy than your bliss; your laughter is not so sweet as their groans; and your pleasant estate is despicable compared with their worst distress. Besides, remember those who are now in such darkness will soon see the light, but you shall soon walk in increasing and unceasing darkness. Their sorrows shall be ended; yours are not yet commenced, and when commenced shall never know a conclusion. Theirs is hopeful distress; yours will be hopeless agony. Their chastisement comes from a loving Jesus; yours will proceed from an angry God. Theirs has a certain end: ETERNAL SALVATION; your end will be: EVERLASTING DAMNATION. Oh! think for a moment, would you rather choose to have painless shame and so perish, than to feel soreness in your wounds and then receive a cure? Would you rather lie and rot in a dungeon than bruise yourself by climbing the wall to escape? Surely you would endure anything rather than be damned and I beg you to take this for truth, that you shall either repent or burn; you shall either shed tears of penitence here, or else shriek in vain for a drop of water in that pit which burns with unquenchable fire.
What do you say to this? Can you dwell with devouring flames? Can you put up with the eternal burnings? Ah! Do not be mad, I entreat you. Why should you destroy yourself? What good will come of it when your blood shall be laid at your own door? Have you not sinned? Why then do you think it foolish to repent? Has not God threatened his fierce wrath to him that goes on in his iniquity? Why then despise those whom grace has turned around, and who therefore are constrained to bid you to turn from the error of your sinful ways? May the Lord stop your madness in time, and give you repentance, otherwise, ‘Tophet was established of old, yes, for the king it is prepared. He has made it deep and large; its pyre is fire with much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, kindles it’ (Isaiah 30:33).
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