The Chequered Life of A Christian
Having for about a week, at different times, found a desire to write upon a passage of Scripture, and seeing the leadings of providence without confusion in the attempt, I therefore proceed, begging the Lord to guide me into all truth; for He has made me know that without Him I can do nothing. May He be pleased to make it a blessing to His children that may read it; and may the glory be ascribed to Him from first to last, to whom alone it is due.
It has been remarked by some, that this chapter begins with no condemnation, and finishes with no separation; but all this is confined to them that are in Christ Jesus, not but what God's elect feel at times much condemnation; but the real meaning of the word is this, that there is no condemnation from God finally to them that are interested in the Lord Jesus, neither is there any condemnation felt, every time they are manifestly in Him: these things every experienced Christian of any establishment will know; and as there is nothing that finally can condemn, so there is nothing that can finally separate: hence the Saviour declares that none shall pluck them out of His hand, nor out of His Father's hand; and that He and His Father are one in essential divinity.
Paul goes on like a workman: he shows the source from whence all fruit will flow. He well knew that the tree must be made good before the fruit could be good, and therefore he tells us that those which are in Christ Jesus by election, and manifestly in Him by vital union, such walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit, and really it is so; for though such are in the body, and have the old man in them complete, yes, and are conscious of their many slips, falls, and backslidings from God, yet, through grace these things are not their element: hence arises close examination, and then honest confession, when their eyes are opened; nor can they be satisfied till they are again manifestly in Christ Jesus.
Now such walk after the Spirit, for it is He that testifies of Jesus; but I believe that Paul in a particular manner here by flesh means the moral Law, which every Pharisee that is in the flesh walks after. This Paul well knew by experience, as you may see in Philippians 3, and therefore the Apostle opposes the Spirit to the Law, and declares "that the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, had made him free from the Law of sin and death." Now the reason he calls the Law flesh, is not that he really believed it so, for he declares in the seventh chapter that "the Law is spiritual"; but it is in allusion to the characters that walk after it, and the legal influence that such are under; all which is flesh, and nothing else. Hence boasting is not excluded by the Law; "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh"; and none more so than all Pharisees, Arminians, and meritmongers; for poor illiterate creatures they chiefly attend to fleshly lusts: but here is the wisdom of the flesh, etc. These therefore mind the things of the flesh, but "they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit": which Paul in another Epistle calls fruits, "love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith," etc. (Gal. 5:22). He then tells us "that they that are in the flesh cannot please God." But you and I must not confine this to open profane characters, as many do, or else we bring every pretender to religion in as a pleaser of God; no, this will not do; and therefore God declares "that without faith it is impossible to please Him": and the Law is not of faith. Such then are in the flesh, and they walk after the flesh; and so far are they from pleasing Him, that He declares they "are a smoke in His nose, and a fire that burneth all day"; "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die." Now Paul was living after the flesh when he was so zealous in persecuting the saints; and he at that time lived after the flesh, but being a chosen vessel, God opened his eyes, and then what was gain to him, he counted loss for Christ: then being blessed with God's Spirit he was led to mortify the deeds of the body; for all human obedience, and walking in a legal spirit, working and striving to keep God's Law, is the deeds of the body, and it all arises from blindness of mind, and the pride of the heart: such are ignorant of God's strict righteousness in the Law, and they go about to establish their own righteousness; for the pride of their hearts will never let them submit to the righteousness of faith. This is the real truth. When he says, "If ye live after the flesh ye shall die," it will stand good two ways, either cleaving to the Law, as the Galatians did through false teachers, under a legal influence, or by indulging any secret sin. Now these things will bring a death on the soul; but if led to deny self, and take up our cross, mortifying the deeds of the body, we shall live to God, which he after this speaks of, as being led by the Spirit, and the Spirit bearing witness, crying, Abba, Father, in a manifest way, so that we feel we are "heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ"; and this is living indeed. He then speaks of the sufferings that are sure to come upon all such, and says, "It is not to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed," when the creature (the body) shall be purified by death, and raised to an immortal state, capable of bearing an eternal weight of glory. Hence it is not only raised with, but in power. After this he speaks of the Spirit helping our infirmities, which certainly is helping us against them, in that he emboldens us to cry to the Lord, as the [King] Hezekiah did, and Jacob, even in the face of all opposition, and "He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because He maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God"; and then comes in the words of our text, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."
I shall invert the order of the text, and
And lastly, the knowledge which we have of it - "We know that all things," etc.
The Chequered Life of a Christian
By purpose then, according to the Scriptures, I understand God's predestinating a certain number of the children of men (known only to Himself) to obtain eternal life, and this out of pure love in a sovereign way, according to His own will and pleasure. This is the whole and sole cause. Now Paul is plain upon this, "Having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (Eph. 1:5). And then he brings in the purpose, "In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will" (ver. 11). Now this is God's purpose, His decrees, and they stand fast; hence He says, "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure." And not only do we read of God's purpose and decree of election, but likewise also of reprobation; and if you deny the one, you must the other, for they stand or fall together; and the Word of God is plain upon this also: "It is hard therefore to kick against the pricks"; and therefore Paul says, "God hath not appointed us to wrath"; which implies that some are, and according also to God's purpose, as was the case with Pharaoh, who was a type of the devil; "Even for this purpose have I raised thee up" (Rom. 9:17).
"Therefore hath he mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth": and he speaks of vessels to honour, and vessels to dishonour. Now all this, as before observed, is after the counsel of God's own will. I might greatly enlarge on these things, and bring many passages of Scripture forward of the same kind, but there is no need for it; and therefore I shall dismiss this part of the subject, by bringing in a few remarks, whereby you and I may know that we are the elect of God. This is coming nigh home to the conscience, and this is what I like; for what is all our profession short of this? It is not our understanding truth, but our having an experience of truth that will secure our standing. Hence Peter says, "Giving all diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall."
Now there are six things which if we experience will prove clearly in time that we are the elect of God.
1. Then if you belong to God, you will in the worst calamity you ever can get into (at times) feel a cry in your heart to the Lord alone for help, as was the case with the woman of Canaan, and also Hezekiah, with many others; but not so the hypocrite - he cries not when God binds him, but they come after Him in chains. This very thing has often been an encouragement to me; and it is a proof of election, as you read, "Shall not God avenge His own elect which cry unto Him day and night."
2. If you are one of this number, you shall be blessed with saving faith; and that you may be sure that yours is the right faith you will prove as follows; for what God speaks of the human heart you will feel yourself in possession of. What He speaks of Adam's fall, and His judgments against sin, you (as an individual) will tremble at. And therefore real faith applies and brings home what it believes, with an application, and says, "Thou art the man!" Now this is faith in God's righteousness, holiness, and justice; such are troubled, they believe in God, and when this same faith is in exercise, they are enabled to lay hold of the Lord Jesus Christ. It applies all the promises, and brings them into the heart. This is a brief account of real faith, and is the faith of God's elect, "For as many as were ordained to eternal life believed."
3. Another mark of election is, the Word will (when preached) at times, be attended with power, and you will say what power? I answer as follows, power to bring us out of Satan's kingdom, out of the world - power to convince us of sin, righteousness, and judgment to come - power to hold us up in these storms - power to lead us to Jesus - and power to save our souls from Satan, sin, death, the Law, and the wrath of God. Hence the Gospel when brought home to the heart is "the power of God to salvation." Have these effects, reader, been produced in thee while hearing the Word, or through hearing the Word? If so, it is a proof of thy election; "Knowing, therefore, brethren beloved, your election of God; for our Gospel came not to you in Word only, but in power," etc.
4. If you are elected, you will have the Spirit of Christ in your heart; and He will quicken your soul that was once dead (Eph. 2:1). He will make you feel sin, and awaken all the powers of your soul; He will also regenerate you and renew you; He will testify of Jesus, and apply the benefits of His death; and He will shed abroad the Father's love in your heart; and lastly, show you the blessings of the new covenant. This is a proof of election; "I will pour My Spirit on thy seed."
5. If you are in God's purpose of election, you will know it by the hatred of this world; for as sure as ever you are chosen by God the Father in Christ Jesus, so sure Christ will choose you out of this world; and this will be sure to discover sooner or later the world's malice and enmity. Hence Christ says, "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world will hate you." The nearer you live to Jesus, the more this enmity is sure to work.
Lastly, If you are elected, God will bless you with peace: peace with Himself, peace with the Church, and peace at times in your own heart. We are predestinated to the adoption of sons, and such as are called sons of peace; and therefore Christ tells His disciples, "Into whatsoever house ye enter, say, peace be to this house; and if the son of peace be there, your peace shall come on it." Now, reader, have you got any or all of these things in any degree? Is there a cry put in thy heart? Have you a measure of this faith? Has the Word come with power? Have you received the Blessed Spirit? Does thy religion incur the displeasure of the world, whether we speak of the ungodly, Pharisee, or hypocrites in Zion; and are you blessed at times with this peace? If so, you are in God's purpose: yes, and if you have not as yet attained to these things, yet if your heart is after them, and nothing else will do, I will insist upon it that you are a vessel of mercy. Press on. Thus much for God's purpose.
I come now to treat of effectual calling. There is an outward or general call, and this is very common to the children of God, as when a man is alarmed by his natural conscience, which makes dreadful work in some, or by bodily, or family afflictions, or by afflictive providences, or by hearing an alarming preacher; these things may greatly shake a man, and bring him to reform, and into a profession. But this is not of itself effectual calling, though effectual calling very often begins this way. Now in this sense, "Many are called, but few chosen." But in order to make clear work of it, it will be needful first, to show where we are called from; and second, where we are called to, and who it is that calls us.
1. Then we are called out of this world - a separation begins to take place, which may be imperceptible at first. Various are the means God uses to bring this about; a word faithfully spoken by a friend, or from hearing the Word, or on a sick bed, or by a dream, or the death of a friend, it matters not how it is done, but it is the effects it is sure to produce, and it is the voice of Christ that speaks and secretly communicates power to the heart. Hence we read, "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God." This was wonderfully set forth to the Prophet Ezekiel in a vision, in which he saw a valley of dry bones, and God said to him, "Can these dry bones live? And he answered, Lord, Thou knowest: and He said, prophecy to these bones; and as I prophesied, bone came to his bone, and they stood on their feet an exceeding great army"; and then he was commanded to prophecy to the wind, etc. Now we are by nature in this state spiritually, till the voice of Christ reaches us, and calls us out of this world, saying to this effect, "Come out from amongst them, and be ye separate," etc. "Forsake the foolish and live." Now in this work there is light and life communicated to the soul, and we see more and more the state of this world, and what an awful end they will make, and ourselves also. Yes, and we feel wretched, and wonder what is the matter with us; and these wretched feelings sets us to work to alter our ways, to avoid what appears evil, and embrace what appears good; we therefore shun our former companions, and go to a place of worship, but it is ten to one we unite at first with formalists; however, in time God will have us out from these; and here He calls again, telling us to turn from them that have a form of godliness, without the power. But some go on long before this takes place; for it is not easy to believe that one who preaches the letter very sound is altogether destitute of the power; and therefore they hold us fast, and refuse to let us go; but God says, "My people shall know in that day that it is I that do speak; behold it is I!" How well do I remember running after these preachers, truly wretched and miserable, that my life was a burden to me! But I never found one to describe my state till God brought me under Mr. Huntington; neither could I believe that these preachers were only in the letter, but tried hard to unite them altogether, hearing him on the Tuesday night, and them on the Sunday; but the Lord called me in time from them.
Once more, we are called from Satan's service; hence Paul says, "He hath translated us out of the kingdom of Satan." We therefore cannot go on comfortably in the old way, but every step we attempt to take we pierce ourselves through with many sorrows, for our way is now hedged up with thorns. Then it is evident that we are called out of the world, out of darkness, out of the company of professors and letter-preachers, and out of the kingdom of Satan.
God calls us also to forsake everything that stands in competition with Him; hence you read, "He that will not forsake father, mother, houses, lands, wife, children, and his own life, cannot be My disciple." It is easy enough, reader, to begin to profess Christ as thousands do; but finally to persevere through thick and thin, and endure to the end is no easy thing; nothing but the almighty power of God can enable you and me to obey this call. The world, flesh, and the devil, are too strong powerful enemies; and so sure as we begin in the flesh, in the flesh we shall end. This I am at a point in, from what I have experienced of the path of tribulation. Many fair beginnings have ended very bad, fair in appearance; many have been called to lose their lives for Jesus; and if the real love of God is not in us, we never can lose our lives for Him. Talking is one thing, and doing is another.
Thus, then, some of these things we are sure to be called to, and we may be called for aught we know to them all; and if not outwardly in all, we may in the feeling experience of it, under sore inward conflicts of soul. Reader, examine thyself, whether thou art in the faith. It is not so easy, very likely, as you may think, when things go smooth and easy. Through head knowledge you may say, I could part with all for Christ; yes, and in some trials which you may have, you may still hold this confidence; but let them come heavier and heavier, sore conflicts, violent temptations, and if God does not hold you up (if not a vessel of mercy, if not the grace of God in you) you will never obey this call. Add to all this, the strong lusts of the flesh, which will day after day be calling for gratification - which believers in their nature love as well as the world; and they will work in all directions - in the world, and after the children of the flesh - in the house of God, and in a filthy way after God's children. An object takes the eye, and our corrupt part is all on a flame, which will work for days, weeks, months, and years after a forbidden object; and nothing will satisfy this wayfaring man but to do as we like with them, and to have our full swing; yes, all this will come under the Word while preaching, in company with them, in and at our work, and in dreams - too bad to mention! Now we are called to forsake all this, and much more; "Flee also youthful lusts," etc.
2. Having just hinted, and only hinted at what we are called from; let us take notice of the more pleasing part of this calling, namely, what we are called to. And if you and I can make it out that we are effectually called of God, well for us! For all things work together for our good. But here I must keep within bounds, and therefore shall confine myself to these nine things; and as the Lord shall assist, we will go through them as brief as we can.
1) Then we are called to repentance; hence our Lord says, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance"; and this repentance is a turn from this world, from sin, from self, and all fleshly religion - to God-hating, loathing, and abhorring everything of the flesh; it is attended with hatred to ourselves for all our abominations, and a love to God, His truth, His family, and His ways; and such as have real repentance, loath themselves in their own sight for their iniquities, and at the same time believing that God is pacified towards them. It was after Ephraim was turned that he repented, etc. When our Lord looked on Peter he was turned (not that this was his first turn, but after his backsliding) and he went out (out of self, out of the flesh) and wept bitterly. David found this also, and cries for mercy, confessing, "Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned." The turn took place afresh with him, when Nathan came to him, saying, "Thou art the man." I have sinned, says he, against the Lord. When the Lord turned Job's captivity, he says, "I abhor myself,. and repent in dust and ashes." Such feel for God's honour and for His cause, and look upon Him whom they have pierced, and mourn. I shall not enlarge here, having treated upon this repentance already in my other books. This, wherever it is found, proves that such are effectually called.
2) We are called to be saints; not to be sinners, to live in a course of sin; no - but to be saints (Rom. 1:7). Hence Peter says, "The time past of our life may suffice us, wherein we have wrought the will of the flesh," etc. If you ask what a saint is? I answer, he is one that is set apart for God and His service in God's eternal purpose; and therefore Jude says, "Sanctified by God the Father," etc., or set apart, as David says, "But know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for Himself." Take notice, that it is said "Him that is godly," in the present tense; for in God's eternal purpose they were all set apart, godly, cleansed, pardoned, and justified; hence God told Peter that He had cleansed all those creeping things that were in the sheet; and told him not to call them common nor unclean. But all this you and I are ignorant of, and therefore there is a threefold sanctification takes place.
Cleansing us from all sin in the blood of Jesus, as you read, "That He might sanctify the people with His own blood, He suffered without the gate"; and nothing short of this can manifest us to be saints. Various things have been invented by men to remove sin; but faith in the atonement of Christ is the only way. This is sanctification.
The Holy Spirit takes possession of our hearts; and though the old nature is not in the least altered, yet there is a grace put in the heart to oppose every corruption, and this will go on till death; and there is a constant work goes on, which is to wash away sin, and renew or raise up this crop of grace, "Of His mercy He saves us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost." And if you watch, you will find this work go on under the Word preached; "Then I thoroughly washed away thy blood, and I anointed thee with oil." Such are saints; and this work is done in none else. "I shall be anointed with fresh oil," says David.
Truth is put in the hidden parts of the heart. This truth is Christ; "I am the way, the truth, and the life." No man living has got truth in his heart but these saints; truth as it respects their fallen state - truth respecting God in His righteousness, holiness, and justice - and truth, as it respects the Lord Jesus being their Surety, and discharging their infinite debt, delivering them from the curse of a broken Law. This truth makes them free, and is their shield and buckler; "Sanctify them through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth." And what is written in the Word, that is essential to salvation, is engraven in their hearts, and this proves they are called of God, "called to be saints."
3) They are called to a feast of fat things full of marrow, and fatness and wines on the lees well refined. "A certain king made a marriage for his son, and said, my oxen and fatlings are killed, all things are ready," etc., and those that partook of it were the poor, halt, lame, maimed, and blind. Now God the Father is the King, His Son is the Lord Jesus - the provision He has made is His own Son, "God so loved the world, that He gave His Son," etc., "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, therefore let us keep the feast." The marriage consists in uniting souls to Jesus; and therefore He sends His ministers as instruments for this work. "I have espoused you to a good Husband, that I may present you as chaste virgins to Christ." The characters are the poor, they feel destitute of all good - the halt, they halt between the world and Christ; "How long halt ye between two opinions? If Baal be God, serve him; but if the Lord be God, serve Him." The lame are such as have a strong faith in the threatening, and not a proportion of faith in the promises, they limp - "The legs of the lame are not equal": the blind can see everything against them, but nothing for them -"Bring forth the blind people that have eyes." Now if you see and feel your wretched state, you are heartily welcome to this feast; "For the great (Gospel) trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come that were ready to perish." A sensible sinner knows well when he is at this feast; he believes that Jesus Christ died for his sin, and that His perfect righteousness is placed to his account: such are fully satisfied - "I will satisfy her poor with bread" - "I am the bread of God that came down from heaven, to give life to the world" - "I am the bread of life" - "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved" - "Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb."
4) They are called to liberty, which is as follows: we now delight in God's service; we choose it in preference to everything beneath the sun; we are not driven to prayer, reading, or hearing, with the lashes of conscience, to merit God's favour; but we are sure He loved us from everlasting, and that Christ suffered for us, and therefore we are willing servants; being delivered from a legal spirit, the curses of the Law, and the tyranny of Satan, so that we say, "How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the house of the Lord; my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God" - "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." These things I know for myself (that am writing) by blessed experience. Those that talk of liberty, who go on in sin, prove that they are not called of God; "For God has called us to liberty, only use it not for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another": and therefore to establish this liberty
5) Let us come to the next thing we are called to, which is holiness, and not uncleanness. Jesus Christ is not the minister of sin, no; "Let everyone that nameth the name of Christ, depart from iniquity." It is true we are plagued as Paul was, with a body of sin and death, but what is our plague cannot be called our element, no; glad should we be to be delivered from it altogether, but this will not be till death. Now holiness consists not in outside work only, this is at best nothing but the sheepskin, which skin when belonging to a sheep, is the fruits and effects of this holiness; but in others it is only a mock thing, appearing outwardly righteous, but within are ravenous wolves. Now real holiness principally consists in union to Christ, and being a partaker of His Spirit. Such have the same fear in them that was on Christ; and therefore Paul says, "Perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
To have that faith that He is the Author and Finisher of, as the Apostle Jude says, "Building yourselves up on your most holy faith," and lastly, to be "rooted and grounded in love"; for we are to be holy and without blame before Him in love. Now if you take these things altogether, union to Christ, the indwelling of His Spirit, fear, faith, and love, and then join them to that liberty which I treated of, you will see both together called to liberty, and also called unto holiness.
6) Jesus Christ calls us to Himself. This you may clearly see in Proverbs 8, it is the Saviour there speaking, called wisdom; and it is to the children of men that He calls - "Unto you, O men, do I call, and My voice is to the sons of men: for His delights were with them from everlasting." You know that literally if anyone calls you, the intention is that you may hear their voice; and so it is in this Divine call. There is nothing heard with the outward ear, but it is the ear of the soul, and power attends it: "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." So that if you and I are quickened, we are called, and this life makes us feel sin to be a sore burden. This life gives us an appetite for spiritual provision; and this life it is that makes us feed upon Jesus Christ. Now "Blessed is the man that heareth Me, watching daily at My gates, waiting at the posts of My door; for he that findeth Me, findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord." And this is not all, for He calls us to Him for rest "Come unto Me, all ye that labour (to please God, and to keep His Law) and are heavy laden (with the burden of sin and legal labour) and I will give you rest"; and by faith we enter into Him, and find rest: we cease from our works, and He works in us, and we rest satisfied.
He gives us living water - "Jesus stood and cried with a loud voice, saying, if any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." "He that believeth on Me, as the Scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water; which water shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life"; which I have proved times without number. Now then, reader, has this voice reached thy heart? For He speaks as one having authority. Has it brought life and rest to thee, and have you drank of this living water? If so, He has called you effectually to Himself, and you have come, for these things clearly prove it.
7) We are called to the fellowship of Christ. This is twofold; first, communion and fellowship, agreeable to what John says, "Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." This is sweet work; for we receive from His fullness every supply of grace; we are joint heirs, "That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee; that they all may be one in us." He leads us into the secret purposes of grace from everlasting, and shows us His covenant, and we are delighted with these blessed things, and conclude that we shall have sunshine all our journey through. But, alas! We are, in the second place, "To drink of the cup which He drank of," and thus have fellowship with Him in His sufferings. Oh, the scene of distress and afflictions I have waded through, both in soul and circumstances! For it is not only given in our behalf to believe, but also to suffer for His name sake. Nevertheless this fellowship is manifested in that He speaks a word in season to us when weary; props up our hearts in a storm, for He is a hiding place, a rock, a fortress, a high tower, and a deliverer; knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation-succours the tempted-is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, and in all our afflictions He is afflicted. Now this is fellowship, and we are called to it.
8) If you are called, you will know it by being justified freely from all things. Hence the golden chain runs thus, "Whom He did foreknow, them He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; whom He called, them He also justified." Thus justification proves our calling to a demonstration: and I will tell you how you may know this - before it takes place, you will find Satan, sin, Law, conscience, and the world, all accusing you; you will view God angry, feel terror, slavish fear, and bondage, and your soul will sink lower and lower; you will appear the vilest sinner that ever lived on the earth, and expect nothing but the execution of the sentence, the threatening part of God's Word will cut you off. Now in this state the Good Spirit puts a cry in your heart for mercy, testifies of Jesus to you, and works a confidence in the heart which ventures upon Him, and every accuser is gone directly. See Joshua, the high priest, and the publican in the temple; the one was clothed with change of raiment, and the other went down to his house justified: and this is what Paul calls being justified by faith. You will feel peace with God, quietness, rest, full assurance of faith, joy, love, and a witness which removes all condemnation.
But, lastly, we are called to fight in the field of battle all our days till death. Say you, some say they are called, and yet are not engaged in this war, and old standers too; yes, but they are not the elect of God, neither are they effectually called. Take it from Paul, "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, unto which thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses." No, no, as Mr. Hart says,
And therefore after we have been borne on Zion's side, and dandled on her knee, at which time we conclude that we shall die in our nest, God hides His face, and every enemy appears, the devil, corruption, the world with its smiles and frowns, hypocrites and the Law, and these will fight hard against us, so that we shall often expect to be overcome and give up all for lost again and again; and God will try some sorely in providence, that they shall at times expect a workhouse for them and their family, and damnation at last. O fellow traveller, you and I did not expect this some years back, when we were so indulged; but let this be our comfort, that all our enemies are conquered; and though we are to keep fighting till death, yet "we are more than conquerors through Him that hath loved us." The last enemy we shall have to encounter will be death; and the sting being removed, it cannot hurt us, but open a way for our everlasting felicity and happiness.
Having showed where we are called from, and where we are called to, and that by the voice of Christ, as also the Spirit, and the bride, the Lamb's wife - for the "Spirit and the bride say, come; and he that heareth, says come; and whosoever will (made willing in the day of God's power) let him take of the water of life freely."
Let us now come to the next general head, and that is, our loving God; "For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God; to them who are the called according to His purpose." We are sure of this, that when man came out of his Maker's hands he loved God; hence you read, "God made man upright." And the same penman says in the Song, "The upright love Thee." But "man being in honour (says David) abideth not, but became like the beasts that perish." Thus man lost the image of God in the fall, and received the image of Satan; so that he is now not only an enemy to God, but enmity itself to God, and to His Holy Law; and this is the state and case of every individual of mankind by nature, elect or reprobate. Here we all are, "By nature, children of wrath, even as others"; but God having chosen to Himself a peculiar people before the world was made, and set His eternal affection on them in Christ Jesus, entered into covenant with His coequal and coeternal Son in their behalf. Thus His goings forth were from of old, from everlasting; and in this covenant, God the Father gave these chosen ones to His Son, "Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me"; and the Lord Jesus undertook to magnify the Law, and make it honourable, and to suffer, bleed, and die for them; He engaged all the hosts of hell, and completely finished the whole work of man's redemption.
"I have finished the work Thou gavest Me to do"; this is the new and living way which He has consecrated through the veil, that is to say, His flesh; and therefore, in consequence of the Father's choice, and Christ's incarnation, the Holy Spirit is sent down into the hearts of these chosen vessels, to open their blind eyes, and to quicken their dead souls: and now they see all at once, or by degrees (just as God in a sovereign way pleases), and feel that the carnal mind is enmity against God, and is not subject to His Law, neither indeed can be - and that they are carnal, sold under sin. And this teaching will go on more or less all their days; they now know that the Law is spiritual; and all this is only a preparatory work done by God's Spirit in us, to bring about a real love in our hearts to that God, which by nature we hate. Our text says, "To them that love God"; but John says, "Not that we (by nature) loved God"; no. But, say you, seeing man is in such a dreadful state as this, what will bring him to love God? I answer six things.
1. Then being in this dreadful plight, sensible of his lost, ruined, and undone estate, the Holy Spirit puts a cry in his heart to the Lord for mercy, which at times will be attended with great fervour and earnestness, against sore temptations and strong oppositions: and though such are full of doubtings and fears, yet they cannot altogether give it up, but come after Him in chains - with supplications and bitter weeping He leads them. At times, they, under temptation, are on the verge of giving all up, but they go at it again (though they may restrain prayer before God) and the whole cause of it is this - they are the elect of God, and therefore the Blessed Spirit helps their infirmities. Now when God is pleased to hear and answer the groanings of their burdened hearts, this will be attended with a love to God; hence David says, "I love the Lord because He hath heard the voice of my supplication, because He hath inclined His ear; therefore will I call upon Him as long as I live."
2. All the time a man labours under the weight and burden of his sin, he cannot love God, it is impossible; but he will feel hard thoughts of God, slavish fear, terror, and enmity, for God appears to such in terrible majesty, as a consuming fire; but when the Holy Spirit is pleased to testify of Jesus as an able, willing, and all-sufficient Saviour to us, and works faith in our hearts to lay hold on Him, as a sacrifice for our sins, so that we feel a hope arise in our hearts, this draws forth love to God; and the stronger this confidence gets in the atonement of Christ for us, the more we shall feel this love; hence Christ told Mary Magdalene that "her sins that were many were all forgiven her"; and declared at the same time that she loved much. Thus, then, if God hears our prayer, and answers it - and if He pardons all our sins, and we feel it - these things will bring us to love God.
3. This love is to be experimentally known by a full persuasion in our souls of our election, and of God's choice of us in Christ Jesus. You may feel a little love to God in hoping this is the case; but when you are quite sure of this, then love to Him will flow out, as John expressly says, "We love Him, because He first loved us." This is a grand and glorious truth, which I have sweetly felt and enjoyed.
4. If you love God, you will at times be concerned about the honour and glory of His name; and you cannot connive at errors, either in principle or practice; you will hate yourself, because of this corrupt nature working within; and you will hate a form of godliness, destitute of the power - that is, you will hate pretenders to these things. You will also hate false doctrines, as soon as ever you are led to discover them; and God will make you fight hard in defence of the truth, "Contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints." Yes, at certain seasons you could as soon part with your life as with one truth essential to salvation; and therefore Christ says, "If any man love Me, he will keep My Word" - "Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" - "Buy the truth, and sell it not" - "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil."
5. If you love God, you will love His children. But here take notice, it is not everyone in the same profession that holds sound truth in the head only, or that hears a real minister of Christ, that I am bound to love. Again, it is not the old man in a believer that loves God's children. Do not forget these two things. Therefore Satan will often accuse you for these two things; but it is when I can discern the image of the Lord Jesus Christ, and when I am under the same influence which I can at that time discover: when these two meet, it is then we love Zion; and if I thus love Zion in heart, surely it will at times discover itself in actions. But what is the cause of this? I answer, or rather Paul, "Concerning brotherly love ye have no need that I write unto you, for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another"; and say you, does this prove that we love God? Yes, "He that loveth Him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of Him." "But if any man say he loves God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar," etc.
Lastly, If you love God, you must have an experimental knowledge of Him (not only in the Law, for this will never of itself bring you to love God) no; but you must experimentally know Him as a covenant God in Christ Jesus. You may set up idols, and call them God, or you may have an imaginary saviour, and call that Jesus Christ, as the Arminians do; but this is not the true God. It is the true God that we are to love, if "all things work together for our good, and we are the called according to His purpose." There are two ways of knowing God: first, in the Law; and second, in Christ Jesus. In the Law we are brought to know Him as a just, holy, righteous, immutable God, arrayed in terrible majesty: but this teaching will never bring a man to love God, no; for it discovers to us that we are quite opposite to Him. It discovers all our sins, and stirs up the enmity of the heart. But second, there is a knowledge of God in Christ Jesus; and here God appears well pleased with us, accepts us in Him, places His righteousness to our account, pardons our sins, gives us peace, rest, quietness; and having loved us with an everlasting love, with lovingkindness He draws us to Jesus; and the Good Spirit reveals Him to our hearts the hope of glory; leads us up to the ancient settlements of old; shows us that our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, and sheds abroad in our hearts the love of God, which casts out all fear and torment; bears His witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, and enables us to cry, Abba, Father.
Now this and much more will bring us to love God. Hence John says, "He that loveth, is born of God, and knows God." But we must, sooner or later, have both these teachings; the one is to humble us, to teach us our true state, that we may know our proper distance, and tremble, fearing our just deserts; and the other is to raise us up out of the dust, and from the dunghill; and such can sing both of mercy and of judgment. Now such really love God: (1) in that He hears their prayers; (2) having received the atonement; (3) knowing their election; (4) in hating evil; (5) in a love to His family; (6) in a saving knowledge of Him in Christ Jesus, which includes all the rest. (1) If I prevail with God, it must be through Him, the Mediator; (2) it is His blood which cleanseth from all sin; (3) if I know my election, I was chosen in Him; (4) if I hate evil, it is having His Spirit, and grace from His fullness; (5) if I love His family, it is having Christ's image and likeness. Thus as I said before, a knowledge of God in Christ Jesus takes in all the rest.
But I will now proceed to the next particular, which is to show that all things work together for the good of such. I am therefore to treat largely of these "all things working together for good." As the subject is however so copious, it is not to be supposed that I can do justice to the text; because all things, includes every circumstance that possibly can take place, which cannot be done; and if not done, how can it be all things - so that we must keep within some bounds. Here we will begin where God begins with His people. He finds them dead in trespasses and sins; and He quickens them or gives them life; He also enlightens them, so that here is light and life, and with these every other grace. Now it is that such discover their lost estate, their sinful hearts and lives, "That the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint; and that from the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, they are full of wounds, bruises, and putrefying sores." And do you go and tell such a one that this is one of the all things, and that it in time, yea, is now working for his good; he will not, nor he cannot believe it; no, says he, God is going to destroy me, and make me a public example to the whole world; but it is not so, for this teaching is to bring us manifestly into or under the commission of the Lord Jesus Christ, for "His blood cleanseth from all sin." So that seeing and feeling of sin, and receiving the atonement of Jesus Christ, these things work together for good. And be as highly favoured of God as ever you may, you will never lose the sight nor feeling sense of these two things. First, clearer and clearer discoveries of your sinful nature; and second, clearer and clearer discoveries of your interest in His precious blood. Nothing more painful than the one, and nothing more precious than the other. And this will go on till death (for that is what I mean by never). "All things work together for good," etc.
2. Another thing that I will mention, is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ-it is placed to our account when we feel ourselves (through this light and life) ungodly, which, in a word, is opposite to God in every sense of the word. Hence Paul tells us, that God "justifieth the ungodly." This silences every accuser; it is attended with peace, quietness, and assurance; much joy and the witness of God's Spirit; Satan is rebuked, and everything is clear and straight; for "it is God that justifieth." And now, say you, we shall have fair wind and weather; so that we shall sail comfortably to heaven, but I say no; for there are things connected with all this, and they are things very unpleasant to flesh and blood: and what are they, say you? Or how can it be? Is not the man a righteous man? Yes; is he not acquitted at God's bar, and in his own conscience? Yes. Then how can it be? Why take it from God's Word - "Many are the afflictions of the righteous"; which takes in bodily, family, soul, and circumstances, and also much more; for afflictions may come in all these, as was Job's case. Again, "Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness sake." Here is persecution, and that is by no means pleasing to our nature; and depend upon this as a grand truth, that though you are a justified person, and have had the sentence of it in your own conscience, you never will enjoy this no more than you will the pardon of sin, but by a manifest union with the Lord Jesus Christ; and when this is not enjoyed, you will soon find your enemies are yet alive-condemnation from sin, Satan, Law, conscience, etc., which will be painful work; for these will tread on our heels, and follow us up, except when we are manifestly in union with Christ; nevertheless these are among the all things, and they work together; yes, and for good too; for these things going on will keep Christ's righteousness high in our estimation, and we shall highly prize it, after feeling so much of the opposite: therefore they work together. But you will say, does not Paul tell us, that there is "no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus?" Yes; but Paul means (I believe), as I have said, "manifestly," and the experience of every child of God agrees with this; for if I say there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus by election, it is true, as it respects condemnation from God, there is none finally. But, alas! What a deal we feel. Whereas we feel none when we sensibly are in union with Him.
3. There is nothing more precious than charity, or the love of God; it casteth out all slavish fear and torment - proves a spiritual birth - delights in God, His people, His ways, and His truth - it never faileth; and with this charity we are without blame before God. But is this to go by itself? Is the happy recipient of it to have nothing but the sweet and blessed enjoyment of this love? Oh, no; charity is to suffer long; there are many waters to come, and though they cannot quench it, yet they are to try; and because iniquity will abound, this love in the enjoyment of it will wax cold. Now all this is painful to us. We shall often feel enmity rise high when the cross comes heavy, against God and His family, and then we shall feel cold to His ways, and backward in contending for truth: indeed at such times we shall be ashamed of our profession before the ungodly world. But still our text will stand good, for these things work together; and it is good even this, for it keeps us sensible how weak we are, and that we should soon deny Christ, if left to ourselves; and when we feel this love warm our hearts again, oh, what blessed work this is! And by these things we get established - that " neither life, nor death, angels, principalities, nor powers, things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature (though they may try), shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord"; "For all things work together for good," etc.
4. In every Christian there are two natures: flesh and spirit - the new man and the old - sin and grace - death and life; "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." Some people will tell us that there is a progressive holiness, and that the old man is made better and better; but I believe that I am a partaker of grace, and I feel no alteration in the old man, for I find it worse and worse, stronger and stronger, working in all directions, so that I am in continual fear of bringing a disgrace on the blessed cause of Christ.
There are seven things belonging to the flesh, which will till death oppose seven things belonging to the Spirit; and I feel this opposition strong even now. The Lord knows I find it hard work.
5. Faith is a most precious grace, "It works by love"
Yes, say you, and I know some of this sort who have got to such an establishment, that they have one fixed confidence, always comfortable, always happy, and they have been so for many years without a single doubt: yes, and God's Word calls such hypocrites, that you call established believers. No, no; they have no changes, they fear not God. Ahithophel was one of these, and their end is awful; for there must be the trial of faith, which is to work, as well as the triumph of it. And here it is that every believer finds out in time that his faith is genuine. How am I to know that my faith will stand fast in a storm, if I never get in one? It is impossible. Job had strong faith, "I know that my Redeemer liveth"; and did it stand fast in a storm? Yes, read his Book; lost all his children, his property, his friends, the devil let loose, smote with sore boils from head to foot, wife turns atheist, the ungodly all against him, God appears angry, he is tempted to blaspheme Him, and yet he says, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" - "The root of the matter is found in me." At last God turned the captivity of Job. Again, see Abraham, "Strong in faith, giving glory to God"; communing with God, and pleading in behalf of Sodom: but this faith was sorely tried in the delay of his promised son Isaac; and when he had him, and felt a strong affection for him, then he was to offer him up as a burnt offering. Hezekiah also, what sore work he had after enjoying a strong confidence, telling those about him not to fear their enemies, "With them is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord our God, to help us, and fight our battles for us." From all which, without enlarging, you may see that faith must be tried: "For it is not only given in our behalf to believe (that is sweet work), but also to suffer for His name sake." "All things work together for good"; and I will tell you how this is. Take it as follows: a child of God shall have been in these furnaces of affliction again and again, more or less. Now at times when his feet stand in an even place, he will consider thus. Well, I have been sorely exercised with many things for years together; I have felt all the corruptions of my heart worked up so strong that I have often concluded I had no grace; I have felt God angry with me for my base abominations, and His Word has cut me to the quick, both when preached and in meditation; Satan has suggested a thousand times that I was only a hypocrite, a deceiver, an impostor; God's hand has gone out against me in providence, that I have really expected to be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth; and yet for all this, and much more, with the opposition of the world and hypocrites, yet here I am, in the possession of the same grace, mercy, truth, and peace, and have lost nothing but what could well be spared, namely, my dross and tin; so that all things have worked together for my good. Now this is the way I have gone, and no small satisfaction arises from this quarter, when we can believe that we are in the footsteps of the flock.
6. The presence of God to His people is beyond everything that can be named. When we enjoy this, we are at home let us be wherever we may, and nothing is felt but misery when we lose this, as Dr. Watts says
I will mention six things which we feel when we enjoy His comfortable presence.
7. God's blessing. There are blessings of a temporal nature, which God bestows on all the human race in a greater or lesser degree; such as food, raiment, habitation, health, strength, preservation, riches, and honours; just as He in a sovereign way is pleased. But this is only in this life; and where there is no grace given, such blessings are sure to be abused, and no gratitude can arise from the heart to the donor of all good. Such never can thank Him, only with the lip, which is vain worship; "They honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me." But there are other blessings which are peculiar to God's elect, and to none else.
First, Then what a blessing it is for a man to experience the forgiveness of all his sin. What can come up to this? Say you, that is a thing that I have long wished to know, and nothing will satisfy me short of this. Well, now, there are four plain things that I will lay down, and may God make it a blessing to your soul.
Second, Another blessing is the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ wrought this righteousness out. The Holy Spirit makes us feel that we are destitute of all righteousness and He testifies of Jesus; takes of the things of Jesus, and shows them to us; and God the Father accepts us, as He did the prodigal in this best robe. Now this also is God's blessing, "Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputeth righteousness without works."
Third, Another blessing is life, I mean an eternal life with God in glory for ever more; which life is known in time by a keen appetite for the benefits of Christ's death, and also by a feeding upon Him as a sacrifice for our sins. Oh, this is sweet work! "The meek shall eat, and he satisfied" - "He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me" - "As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion, for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore."
I might mention many more blessings, which are so very precious and comfortable, but as they are all included in these three, let these suffice - pardon, justification, and life eternal. And now I will mention three more blessings which in themselves are very uncomfortable, but you must have both; for our text says, "All things work together for good."
First, Then "Blessed is the man whom Thou chasteneth, O Lord," etc. Say you, I do not like the rod; no, nor I neither; the flesh shrinks at this; but we shall have it. It is not left to you and me whether we like it or not-have it we shall - "Iniquity is bound in our hearts, and the rod of correction shall drive it out." This chastening is done various ways. Sometimes God does it by the Word preached, "Is not My Word like a hammer to break the rock in pieces?" Hence God smote Ephraim for his covetousness. Sometimes by ungodly men, and the venom of their tongue, "The wicked are a rod in Thine hand." Sometimes by God's own children, "Let the righteous smite me," etc. Sometimes in providence, see Naomi, who declares that God afflicted her, and testified against her. Sometimes by His Holy Law; "I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath"; and the Law worketh wrath. But, say you, what is all this for? I answer, it is for two things: first, for sin; and second, for the trial of faith: and, God requires of His children these four things.
Second, Another blessing is enduring temptation. Hence James says, "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation." It is God's way always to put His own work (and sometimes also, the pretended work of men) into the fire, that His children may see what this good work will cope with, and yet never give up altogether, as I have already showed you in Job and others.
Various temptations in this furnace work are sure to come on: in providence there may be very great trials; and many snares and traps God has suffered men to lay to try to make His children forsake Him, and give up all their religion for a portion in this life; and it is no small trial to be so kept forsaking all for Christ, even in the dark, when such have hardly a glimpse of hope that they have any part or lot in the matter; sometimes it shall go so hard that they really will expect to deny Him altogether. Again, there are temptations from cruel treatment which arises from the ungodly which we work with, jeering, laughing, mocking, traducing our characters, and speaking hard speeches, taking every advantage of us, etc., and under all this, God appearing angry, no assurance of our life, fearing we are volunteers in religion, and that now as the sun of persecution waxes hot, we shall in this time of temptation fall away.
Again, we are tempted by Satan. He suggests that we are hypocrites, and sets before us every hypocrite, and their dreadful end in God's Word, brings text after text against us, tempts us to blaspheme God, to speak against His children and ministers, so that we are daily expecting to take an offence, and oppose all that before we were valiant for, and this is sore work; and he will tempt us to laugh at Scripture-yes, and bring it in our mind on every foolish occasion, which terrifies us. He will tempt us to the great transgression, and we shall feel as if the next step would bring us into it. Oh, I never can describe my fears upon this head; hence you read-of the condemnation of the devil, the reproach of the devil, of the enemy coming in like a flood, of the snare of the fowler, of his being the accuser of the brethren, of his fiery darts, of his being a roaring lion, of Satan's sieve, etc., all of which shows the power he has. But it is all limited, and that is our mercy.
Now all these things work together for good, and in this way; for these things make us cry to the Lord Jesus. What should you and I know about the sufferings of the Saviour experimentally, if we were never tempted, when He was tempted in all points, yet without sin? Again, He has promised to succour such; but if not tempted, we need not succour. Again, the Blessed Spirit is to lift up Christ as a standard against him; but if not tempted, I do not need it, by no means. If not accused, I need not Christ as an advocate to plead my cause. Again, I am to overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb, and by the Word of my testimony. But if he never was against me, how can I find that faith in Christ will overcome him? And these temptations often follow upon the back of glorious visits or manifestations to the soul.
We may see it in the Saviour. "This is My beloved Son," said the Father; "Then was Jesus led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil"; and as we are to follow His steps, so it is in a measure with us. Hence after God declared that Job was a perfect and upright man, etc., then he is left for a while in Satan's hands. Peter also declares that Christ is the Son of the living God, which Christ says, was a revelation of the Father; and at the back of this, "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have thee, that he may sift thee as wheat," etc. Say you, it is hard work; true, it is. But let us see in these two men if it did not work for their good. Then observe, in Job what a glorious deliverance he got in soul, and twice as much in providence as before; and as for Peter what a blessed experience he found of godly sorrow and repentance, when the Lord looked on him. Truly, my fellow traveller, all things work together for good, and "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation," etc.
Lastly, Another blessing is this, "Blessed are ye when men shall persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you falsely for My name sake." Now this is hard work at times. It is true, that when the Lord is with us, it is very light; but when in darkness of soul it will try us to the very quick. I assure you I have many a time feared I should turn back in the day of battle, and I am sure I should long ago had I not been kept by an invisible power. But, say you, how is it possible that this can work for our good? I answer, it keeps us from the spirit of the world, separate from them, their spirit and practices we hate, and it makes us cleave to the Lord's family; hence the apostles, when they got out of prison, went to their own company, etc., and we can see that we have the same experience as Bible saints; see David, Paul, and others. And seeing there is in this day in which we live such fightings amongst real saints, I should not wonder if it does not bring on open persecution. May God prevent it, if consistent with His will; but things look very dark. Thus all things work together for our good.
Another thing that I shall mention, and may the Lord keep you and me from it, and that is, backsliding both in heart and openly; this is amongst the all things that really work together for good. And here before I begin, let me caution the presumptuous Antinomian; I am not writing to you to encourage you in your abominations, God forbid. Paul tells you, that your damnation is just; but still the children's bread is not to be kept back, because dogs will make a meal. Woe to you! If you pervert my meaning. But here let me speak to those that have backslidden; perhaps some may be ready to deny this, but I am sure they must deny God's Word, for does not that say, "My people are bent to backslide, and the backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways." Yes, and openly too; as you may see in David, Peter, Lot, and the incestuous person; all of which openly backslided. Then, say you, this gives us a license. God forbid. Now if you deny this, you cannot say that all things work together for good-but all things, except backsliding-whereas Paul makes no exception whatever. But now, how is it that this works for good? To this, I answer, as follows:
1. By asking what is backsliding? Why backsliding in heart is falling in with the workings of the old man-this is backsliding in heart. Now backsliding openly is publicly practicing what I first felt working within. Now we are sure that all this is far from good in and of itself; but God is pleased sometimes to let His children fall, to teach them their own weakness, and to strip them of fleshly confidence; it pulls down the great I; "Though all should forsake Thee, yet will not I." Again, it brings people off from a self-righteous spirit, and keeps them from bearing too hard upon others. Again, they learn that the devil would drive them to destruction altogether, if he could. And lastly, they discover the depths of sovereign mercy that ever should look upon such base abominable wretches, as they see and feel they have been, and that all their labour has been to damn their own souls. And the further a man is left to backslide openly, and after all reclaimed, the greater does he discover the love of Father, Son, and Spirit superabounding over all his sin and misery, and raising him from the mouth of hell up to the very heights of everlasting glory above. But such still shall surely smart for it, and find that it is an evil and bitter thing to sin against God; yet they never shall (as the elect of God) sink into black despair, for grace shall fetch them up. Again, God will grant them true repentance, and their repentance will be as public as their crime. Oh, how they will loath, hate, and abhor themselves; repenting in dust and ashes. How they will caution others from such proceedings! And wonder that God did not send them to hell at once; and never can they forget nor forgive themselves; see Mr. Hart, and read those precious hymns he wrote.
Thus I have wrote the truth, let what will be said; and if my reader has been preserved from falling openly, God has been his keeper and not himself, so that he has nothing to boast of; and if he has been kept from open backsliding, I am sure he does not stand acquitted from backsliding in heart, for this we all feel to our grief; then give God the glory; and do not forget this prayer, "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe"; for it entirely depends upon God and Him alone. Now as we are told to sow to the Spirit, it will not be amiss to exhort my brother or sister that may read this book to the following things, which are all to be found in God's Book, and under God are preventatives against this backsliding.
1. Love to God's children, and uniting with them. Now if Satan can, he will try to separate; yes, he will labour hard at this by evil surmisings, which when looked into are without a foundation. I am no stranger to this, and a little will do it; hence Christ says, "Love one another"; and John tells us, "That he that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him"; but the contrary conduct is (I believe) one of the first steps to backsliding.
2. It is good to search the Scriptures. Christ commands it, "Search the Scriptures, for in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they that testify of Me." This furnishes the mind for meditation, and will sometimes keep out vanity; "In Thy Law will I meditate day and night"; and "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way, by taking heed according to Thy Word." Now David tells us, that this is a preventative to evil, "Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee."
3. Constant prayer. Paul says, "Pray without ceasing." And seeing that God alone can keep us from backsliding, He is the only one to seek to, "Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling" - "The Lord is thy keeper," etc. Jabez prayed to be kept from evil, and God answered his prayer; and David, as before observed, says, "Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe." Peter says, "We are kept by the mighty power of God," etc.
4. It is good for us to be well exercised though so painful to bear, because it mortifies the old man, and cuts the pride of our hearts, which if not done continually by afflictions will grow upon us, and we shall be lifted up in one way or another; hence Peter says, "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God"; but if not, "A haughty spirit goes before a fall."
5. Sowing to the Spirit, and observing His leadings. Jonah going from the presence of God was going contrary to this, and therefore David in Psalm 139 calls God's Spirit His presence; not that we can go from His presence into a place He does not fill - no, for He fills all space; but it means going contrary to His will; so that we shall not find His comfortable presence and approbation in such a path; hence Jonah says, "They that observe lying vanities, forsake their own mercies"; and we are told not to "grieve the Holy Spirit of God, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption." This certainly is a preventative to evil; "Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh."
6. Constantly attending on the preaching of the Word as much as possible. See how Thomas' unbelief gained ground through being away, and it is by faith we stand. We are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together; faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word preached. This Satan will tempt us to - telling us that we know as much as the preacher; but this is a self-sufficient spirit, and a prelude to backsliding. Now you may call all this legal; but what says Paul, "I beseech you, brethren, suffer the Word of exhortation"; and if you despise it, let me tell you that you are high-minded; "Be not highminded, but fear, for by faith you stand." It is God's Word, and he that despiseth the Word shall be destroyed. All these things work together for good; and so you shall find it, if you are one that obeys the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus, then, it is plain, that these backslidings are so managed of God to work for good-that we may learn well our weakness, not lord it over others-learn our dependence on Him who has promised to water us every moment, and keep us night and day - walk more cautiously in future - not be above exhortation-and lastly, that we may bless Him for His superabounding grace in not taking an advantage of our folly, and that He should still say, "Return, ye backsliding children, I am married to you."
7. Every grace in our heart has got a corruption to oppose it; this every believer will find out sooner or later; and yet all this is very needful, and they work together for our good.
And thus I might go on, but let this suffice.
8. But how can all these wretched things work together for our good? Why, in various ways.
There is such a thing (and all God's elect experience it) as being in Christ not only by election, but by a manifest union, and this will be attended with many sufferings. But you will ask how shall I know that I am in Christ Jesus? To this I answer in ten particulars.
1. Then we are in Him by having His fear put in our hearts which we have not by nature, for "There is no fear of God before our eyes," and "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." But where this fear is, and when it is in exercise, we view ourselves under His narrow inspection, we hate evil and shun the ungodly. Now such are in Christ Jesus; hence Solomon says, "My son, be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long." But will this meet with opposition? Does it not make a man a good neighbour, a good husband, a good father, etc.? Does it not make him act upright in his dealings? And under its influence, does he not fear to take an advantage? Yes, it certainly does. But yet all this, and much more, will not keep him from the spite and malice of men; hence Solomon says, "For a good work a man is envied of his neighbour"; and Peter says, "Because you run not with them to the same excess of riot, they will speak evil of you"; and this, at times, is painful work; for a man may be under the influence of this fear, walking in darkness, and having no light or no comfort: such suffer for conscience sake. But really these things work together for good, for such can see that this fear is the same as Nehemiah had and Joseph; so that it proves they have the experience of Bible saints, and that they are hated the same as these good men were. Such can see how God has made them to differ.
2. We are said to be in Christ by faith. But faith is no easy thing, and therefore very many trials attend it. You read of the trial of faith; it is tried with conscience, Law, sin, Satan, the ungodly hypocrite, cross providences, and by the Lord Himself. But yet faith will work through all trials, because it is of Divine origin. It is born of God, and therefore it will lay hold again and again of the Lord Jesus and of His finished work, applying it all to the conscience. But oh, how this faith is hated; hence the apostles are called "men that turned the world upside down." But God says, "Behold ye despisers, and wonder and perish, for I work a work in your days, which you shall in no wise believe though a man declare it unto you." Now this work is faith, which they despise, and so Paul calls it, "God fulfil in you the good pleasure of His goodness, and the work of faith with power." (They cannot comprehend these things with their carnal reason, and therefore they hate it, and them that profess it.) Such are in Christ Jesus. "Martha, he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and he that liveth and believeth in Me, shall never die," etc. And it works together for good, inasmuch as we know (after it has been in the furnace, and come out again) that it will not give way in a storm. But this is a work of time; many ups and downs do we experience before we come to an establishment in this truth.
3. We are said to be in Christ Jesus, by having what Peter calls "the Divine nature." Paul calls it "the inner man." It is produced in the soul by the Holy Ghost. You have it in these words, "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit"; and where this is, there is nothing removed away as it respects the old man; but it is subdued and kept down, so that it cannot reign: and we are called ever after-not by the former, but by the latter name such as believers, righteous, holy people, saints, etc., taking our name from the new man in which we shall shine to all eternity. And it is no small part of real wisdom for a child of God to be enabled to distinguish and find out that he has this new man. How many of God's family, through legal teachers, are puzzled upon this head; they hear them cry up holiness continually, and set the Law of Moses before them; but say nothing about the old man and his wretched workings, which every child of God groans under. And, say you, what is the cause of it? I answer, such have only head knowledge, but no experience; so that they feel no such warfare. This is the real truth; such it is that rule over them, and make them to howl; but God says, "My people shall know in that day that it is I that do speak; behold it is I." Now this proves that we are in Christ, for "If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature."
4. We are to know that we are in Him by the forgiveness of our sins. This pardon is wholly owing to the sufferings and death of the Lord Jesus Christ; hence God the Father says, "My name is in Him." Gracious, merciful, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, upon honourable terms, and not at the expense of Divine justice; and therefore "Mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace kissed each other" in Him. And God pardons the sinner-past, present, and to come, all at once, which by the Prophet Isaiah is called "abundantly pardoning"; and this every soul believes, that has come to any establishment. There are five things enjoyed where this pardon comes.
Oh, with what delight have I gone years ago to hear Mr. Huntington when I believed that I was in a pardoned state. Lastly, you will find rest from that legal spirit of working to please conscience; and rest from the load which before you felt. David says, "There is no soundness in my flesh because of Thine anger, nor rest in my bones because of my sin." But when sin (the whole cause of this restlessness) is removed by pardon, then David says, "Return to thy rest, O my soul, for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee." "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Now this pardon or covenant name is in Christ Jesus; hence Paul says, "In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace." But this will meet with great opposition from the ungodly, and therefore we are to he hated of all men for His name sake; yes, say you, but many of them speak very fair-that may be. But this hatred lays under all their fair speech, and they hide it with a lying tongue; hence Solomon says, "When he speaketh fair, believe him not; for there are seven abominations in his heart." But these things work together for good; for here I learn that grace discriminates me from them, and makes me shun their company. But you must take this hatred with the pardon of sin, for they work together; and does not Christ say, "The servant is not greater than his lord; marvel not if the world hate you, it hated Me before it hated you; but all these things will they do unto you for My name sake." And is it not a comfort to you that you are hated as the Lord Jesus was; then they work together for good.
5. We know that we are in Him by the light of His countenance. This light is the beginning of everlasting day. It is this that discovers sin at first, and makes us so black as we are in our own eyes; and that God is privy to all we think and do. Hence David says (when pardoned), "Thou hast cast all our sins behind Thy back"; but before this, he says, "Our secret sins are in the light of Thy countenance." But this is only a preparatory work to bring us to the sweet enjoyment of His countenance or His favour; and when this is the case, the storm blows over, and God no longer contends; for as Mr. Huntington in writing to me, said, "He will kill thee with kindness," etc., and His love will superabound over all; so that, as David says, we shall "be crowned with lovingkindness and tender mercies." Aaron and his sons was ordered of God by Moses to bless the children of Israel in the following way: "The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace." Now it is worth your notice and mine, that if you take away the Lord Jesus Christ, all this falls to the ground; for He is the sum and substance of the whole of it.
Such feel the living water which Christ spake of to the woman at the well, for it will spring up. "In the light of the king's countenance is life, and his favour is like a cloud of the latter rain." This I know by experience; blessed be God! And there also is much joy, which is the overflowings of that love which casts out all fear and torment; hence David says, "My cup runneth over." "Thou hast made me full of joy with the light of Thy countenance." And can all this be hated by the seed of Satan? Yes, it certainly is; see Stephen that was full of this joy, with the light of the Lord's countenance: how desperate his enemies were at hearing him-they gnashed on him with their teeth, and stoned him to death. All of which worked for his good, for he left this miserable world to enjoy the presence of Him that he had been a witness for, in the face of such great opposition. But all this is union with Christ; "Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound; they shall walk, O Lord, in the light of Thy countenance."
6. We know that we are in Him by the strength which we have equal to our day. Only look back, if you have been anytime in God's ways, and see the difficulties you have surmounted. Has it not astonished you? It has me. The temptations, afflictions in soul, circumstances, and in family, etc., how is it that you and I have not given all up? I answer, with Paul, "We can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth us"; and the weaker you feel yourself the better, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness. It is the weak are to say, I am strong. So that these things do work together, and fit very well; for what is more suitable than strength to a person that has none. Then, says Paul, "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might." But, say you, it is painful work to feel our own weakness so; and to be always, more or less, tottering and fearing. I know it is, for I feel it continually. But have you not found strength equal to your day? Yes, say you; but I have not always felt it; true. Say you, I should like to feel strong; yes but this is not always to be. But strength shall secretly be communicated to you, though imperceptible by you, and this is to hide pride from you. Then all things work together for good; and really we are so exercised and tried that we prove the truth of these things. Only let the Lord withdraw, and lay no particular cross upon us, and we soon get light and trifling, joking, jesting, can mix with the world, take an advantage, overreach, set up idols, and our corrupt affections will run after every object that takes the eye, and such an uncommon inordinate affection will work, dressed up in a religious garb - a covetous, selfish spirit also - shut up against the Lord's family, as well as others. Pretend to what you may, this is the real truth; and all this, with much more, calls for the rod - for God will take vengeance of our inventions. But we need strength to hold us up under His chastening hand, or we certainly should sink in black despair; for when the Lord shows us our sins, the sight is terrible, and we fear His judgments; and Satan suggests that our spot is not the spot of God's children. In short, everything appears against us, and we never expect to lift up our heads more; and I know that when we get so entangled, we never should, without the strength of Christ - no, never; depend on it. But His Spirit helps our infirmities again, and this is increasing our strength. When we therefore feel this small gleam of hope arise, we wonder at it; and then we begin to examine our base hearts and lives, and honest confessions go out. Then we entreat and plead hard the promises; and the Good Spirit will bring them to the mind one after another - such as this, "From all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you"; and again, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin"; with various others. Now when we find the Lord incline to or attend to our cry, and answer us, this breaks the heart, "A soft word (says Solomon) breaks the bone." Then godly sorrow, repentance, and self-loathing takes place; we wonder at His long-suffering mercy toward us, and creep into nothing, taking the lowest room, and sitting in it with our mouths shut. "I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it." This is true humility before God, and honour comes after; for when we are thus humbled He lifts us up again, and restores to us the joys of His salvation, and the joy of the Lord is our strength. In all this you may see how things work together for good. But again, if the Lord favours us very much with His presence, so that we rise high above many of our friends, and we stand in this liberty some time - He gives us a door of utterance, and enables us to write as well as speak. Oh, what aspiring thoughts! What pride! What self-sufficiency, consequence, and high-mindedness there is! Which generally is succeeded with terrible work; and then we are led to look at the attainments of hypocrites - that a man may have all knowledge, etc., and yet be nothing - that a gift is not grace - that we only have got the one talent after all our talk, and that a prating fool shall fall, etc. But is not the strength of Christ needed under all this? Surely it is. How many under dreadful convictions have destroyed themselves - but the Lord keeps us from laying violent hands on ourselves; thus He give us strength, and when He brings us out it leaves such an impression, that we do not easily forget, and are not so soon puffed up. Thus all things work together for good.
7. We know that we are in Him by righteousness.
But my reader may say, you soar too high. Well, then, I will come a little lower, and ask you a few questions. Then, are you condemned in your conscience for want of righteousness, and also by the Word of God? Does the threatening part of Scripture come home to you, and do you tremble at it? Yes, say you (at times), I feel this. Very good. But again, do you not find in hearing or reading the Word at times a keen appetite for the righteousness of Christ? Do you not wish you could say, as some do, that He is the Lord your righteousness? Yes, say you, and I keep going to hear the Word, hoping that this or that time I shall be thus favoured; and I have done this for years, but seem as far off as ever. I do not doubt this, I know the path. But keep on, fellow traveller, for the promise is to such as you and none else. God declares they shall not be ashamed that wait for Him, and "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled." Take notice, you are already blessed, though you are not filled; and He is a faithful God: He is first letting you feel your deplorable state and condition, with the rest of mankind in the fall, and the life He has given you makes you feel it. The appetite which you have after Christ is the Spirit's work. Your being so long in this state is, that it may be well engraven on your soul; and you will find all these other things in His time (which is the best) that I have mentioned; for faithful is He that hath promised, who also will do it: and our unbelief shall not make the promise of God of none effect. Now in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory, saying, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength." But there are numberless straits and difficulties before you get to such a fixed establishment; everything you put your hand to there will be bitterness in; in the family everything will appear to be turned upside down - the wife against the husband, and the husband against the wife; and if both fear God, yet Satan will often stir up one against the other; the children will give you many an aching heart. Where you work also for the bread that perisheth, every advantage shall be taken of you, and you shall be despised; in your heart every corruption more or less will work, enmity to God and His saints, hardness of heart, pride, uncleanness, etc. And you will live daily in expectation of turning your back upon Jesus; and when you survey your life, and compare it, conduct and all, with a carnal professor, he, in outward things, will shine in your eyes like an angel; for he can (as you think) attend to all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. But you (in your own eyes) will really appear to be an Antinomian; for though your heart is fixed to act perfectly consistent in all things, you cannot do it if your salvation depended on it; and for this reason "the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary the one to the other, so that you cannot do the things which you would." You wish from your soul to keep family prayer up, but weariness of body, and the old man, with the disturbance of unruly disobedient children, will force you again and again to neglect this. You wish constantly to hear the Word; hard labour, a weak body, the old man, and temporal poverty, prevents this very often. You wish to feel a love to God's tried family, so as to assist them in temporals, but poverty or a covetous spirit will oppose you, that you will feel your heart like a stone. You wish to meet with them at their houses at times, to talk about God's work; but this is often prevented, for Satan suggests to you that you are a mumping hypocrite, and only like them for what you can get: this keeps you away for fear it should be a snare; God appears angry at it, while Satan laughs at you. Now all this, and much more, are the straits that attend a child of God. Nevertheless, says our Lord, "Strive to enter in at the strait (or difficult) gate." And where there are none of these straits, such (though they may appear in the way) are only like formality and hypocrisy in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, whom Christian saw tumbling over the wall, and could not produce a certificate. Now the gate is Christ Jesus, "I am the door, by Me if any man enter, he shall be saved"; and this righteousness is the garment of salvation, "Open to me the gates of righteousness," that gate into which the righteous enter. But it is no easy thing, "For strait is the gate, and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." But when you get in it will make up for all, and you will then say, truly my path has been a rough path; but bless the Lord it is scriptural, and the experience of all Bible saints. I would not have come any other way for all this world; and though I have waded through such scenes of misery, and often expected to fall quite away, yet here I am to the present moment, in the sweet enjoyment of pardon, peace, rest, and quietness, clothed in the perfect and spotless righteousness of the Son of God, my Surety, that wrought it out and discharged my infinite debt. To Him with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all the glory and praise of my salvation, forever and ever. And I believe that I shall shine like the sun in the glory of my Father's kingdom forever and ever. "Thou shalt call thy walls salvation, and thy gates praise." Now really, say you, all things work together for my good. The bitter must come before the sweet, and that makes the sweet the sweeter. Little did I think that I was an heir of righteousness, which is by faith, but thought that I should be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth. But God's thoughts were not my thoughts, nor His ways my ways; for He says, "I know the thoughts that I think towards you, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end."
8. We know that we are in Him, by the sweet uninterrupted peace which we now enjoy, and which before we were strangers to. For before this we were like the rest of the world, "Destruction and misery was in all our ways, and the way of peace we knew not." "The wicked are like the troubled sea, that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt - there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." This peace is not being insensible, nor is it carnal security; neither does it, in the smallest measure, arise from outward things, such as health, strength, good friends, rich relations, prosperity in business, good connections, etc. No, I repeat it again, these things have nothing to do with it, they neither can add, nor the want of them cannot in the smallest measure diminish it, if God is pleased to favour me with the rich enjoyment of it; hence Elihu tells Job, "When He giveth quietness, who then can make trouble," etc. (Job 34:29). Now this peace proves to us that we are in the possession of ten things.
Now at times we enjoy these things (longer or shorter) uninterrupted. But, alas! The scene changes; and, like Hezekiah, "For peace (or upon my peace) came great bitterness"; and now, instead of peace - Oh, what misery! How wretched! Full of confusion, restless, uneasy, and everything wrong - instead of pardon, we feel guilt - instead of righteousness, condemnation - instead of the kingdom of God, we feel as if we were led captive by devils - instead of the fruits of the Spirit, we feel the carnal lusts of the flesh working strong, and unbelief at the head of them - instead of union with God's children, hard thoughts and enmity, with evil surmisings - instead of reconciliation, we feel as if we were at war with God, and He with us - instead of delighting in His Law, we feel a dislike to it above all good books, for we see not our signs as formerly - instead of being sons, we fear we are vessels of wrath - instead of the Gospel coming with power, we go and come shut up; and really conclude, that God hath commanded these clouds of witnesses to rain no rain upon us - and instead of feeling a union with Christ, we feel so cold to Him and His cause, that we expect to be the first to deny Him, and that this will soon take place. Now you may see this change take place, if you read Isaiah 3:16 to the end - it is spoken to the daughters of Zion, read it carefully. "And it shall come to pass that instead of a sweet smell" - which is a savour of the knowledge of Christ, as Paul says, "Now thanks be to God which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of the knowledge of Him (experimentally) in every place": this is a sacrifice of a sweet smelling savour. But, alas! The scene changes-and there "is a stink"; for the corruptions of the heart work up, and they stink in our nostrils; hence David says, "My wounds stink and are corrupt." Instead of a girdle, or our having our loins girt about with truth, a rent. God is pleased to rend the caul of the heart; so that we discover the dreadful evils of it. Instead of well-set hair, by which we may understand witnesses, or Gilead (Song of Sol. 4:1), which was a great ornament to us - such as the witness of God's Spirit, our conscience, God's Word, and the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11, being of our side - we now feel baldness: and these all appear against us. Instead of a stomacher, or the breastplate of righteousness, a girding of sackcloth; for we now discover our own ragged righteousness; and burning, or the lusts of the flesh all stirred up. Instead of beauty, for our feet do not appear now beautiful with shoes, neither have we the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit; nor do we feel ourselves in the enjoyment of these very beautiful garments, which the Prophet Isaiah speaks of, "Put on thy beautiful garments," etc. No, nor do we rejoice in God's salvation, which He has promised to beautify the meek with. So that you see things appear turned upside down, and our harp is on the willows: what, for good, and all? No, blessed be God! We shall find all right again, after we have been well humbled, mortified, made heart sick of ourselves, brought to honest confession, etc. Then the Lord will visit us again, and we shall have a sweet smell, a girdle, well-set hair, a stomacher, and beauty - "For all things work together for good"; and we lose under this teaching much fleshly confidence, self-righteousness, spiritual pride, vain glory, and selfconceit; so that these changes are needful, that we may remember our base original. Yes, this is the path, as I can well witness; and be as highly favoured as you may, sooner or later, this will come on. "All thy garments smell of myrrh (that is, sweet) and aloes," that is, very bitter. The paschal lamb is to be eaten with bitter herbs. "All things work together for good."
9. We know that we are in Him by salvation. But who is it that needs this? I answer, the lost. Well are not all men lost in the fall? Yes; and did Jesus Christ come to save all? No. Who then did He come to save? His elect. What, and none else? No. How is this to be proved? By God's Words. "I lay down My life for My sheep." But some are called vipers, goats, serpents, etc., from all which the Gospel in the power of it is hid; hence Paul says, "If our Gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are (irrecoverably) lost." But lost in Scripture has another meaning; hence the Saviour came "to seek and to save them that are lost" (sensibly so). How are they brought to know this? I answer, by the teaching of God's Spirit, in consequence of their election. It is a preparatory work to make them feel their true state in the fall, and to bring them manifestly under the commission of the Lord Jesus Christ. The prodigal was one of these, "This my son was dead, but is alive again; he was lost, but is found." But, say you, what are the feelings of such when they are effectually convinced? Why, they really do take to themselves all the threatening part of God's Word; for it comes home to them, as Nathan did to David, saying, "Thou art the man!" And such tremble at God's Word; for they now believe it with an application, and expect the execution of the sentence; they no longer read or hear for others, but for themselves, saying, with the jailor, "What must I do to be saved?" Or with the publican, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" They cannot now put far away the evil day, but distant things are brought near - their guilty polluted state, God's righteousness in the Law, a naked soul exposed to the wrath and vengeance of heaven. This is the storm, the tempest, all false hopes give way here, and the soul keeps sinking, sinking, as it were, into black despair, but God holds them up, and at times secretly gives them a little respite, so that a small gleam of hope arises, but this soon goes, and before long they sink again. This is the life hanging in doubt; and thus they go up and down in the balances of the sanctuary, with no assurance of their life. Oh, it is dreadful work, and that my soul knoweth right well many dreadful passages of Scripture will come, and appear to cut them clean off, and sometimes the trouble will go off, and a light spirit come on, which when the trouble comes again will add to it. Satan will suggest these terrors and horrors are common to hypocrites, when God is making them manifest; and this will appear clear to us at such times, because we often slip into many things - secret besetting sins which we indulge, and stick close to us - neither can we alter ourselves in the least; then it will come "though wickedness be sweet in his mouth, though he hide it under his tongue, though he spare it, and forsake it not, but keep it still within his mouth, yet his meat in his bowels is turned; it is the gall of asps within him." Oh, how often does the soul slip, and fall into these constitutional sins; and when he attempts to come to the light, he feels terror, horror, and his hope giving way; yes, and though he knows the end of such things is death; and though he has suffered again and again for nibbling at these things; yet so very powerful is lust that it will drive him on against all his light and knowledge; yes, I believe that at such a time, if the soul was sure that he should perish for doing it, he could not in the least resist; many a sorrowful hour, day, month, and year, more or less, is felt on this account: he may resolve every time and secretly think it shall be the last, but let the temptation come, and it will carry him away. I am not writing about open sins-the man in this may be undeniably a good character, and yet be every day falling into these besetting sins.
Now all this, and much more, is teaching such that they are lost. And they have four lessons to learn, and it will take them all their life long to be well established in these truths.
I say, it is no easy thing to hold fast and to be well-grounded in these truths experimentally, for all other knowledge will give up the ghost in a storm, whether natural or acquired. It may well be called the strait gate, because of the great opposition and hard fighting which such have to encounter; hence it is called a resisting the devil, a wrestling with principalities and powers. Every ungodly man is an enemy, whether professor or profane, and will soon discover it when they get in power; yes, and our old man also will fight against our new man, and the new man of grace in another; so that there is plenty of war. But really all this is very needful, and does work together for our good. Here we learn the worth of our souls, and the real value of the salvation of Jesus, the worth of a good hope, the dreadful plight we are in, and what Satan would do if God gave us up, "For he goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour." We find out here also much pretended friendship, and also that real friends could do us no good, if God gave us up; and when we are brought manifestly into Christ, so as to rejoice in His salvation, we often shall find things of a similar nature in the hour of temptation, to try faith, and to keep down our proud hearts. "Israel (therefore) shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation; they shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end." Now this salvation you may take in these four particulars.
Then is not our text true, "That all things work together for good," etc.
Lastly, This union with Christ takes in a temporal supply for our poor bodies in this world. Some of God's family are so particularly tried this way, and compelled to watch the Lord's hand - it is so sanctified, that they really discover, that they are in Him, even this way. I know that some will be ready to raise an objection against this; and say, that no man knoweth love or hatred by all that is before him, and also of the providence of God that followed the Israelites for forty years together, and yet they were not (the greatest part of them) in Christ Jesus. All this I will readily admit abstractedly. I say, that it is impossible for any one living that never experienced anything but God's providence to find out by that only that they are in Christ Jesus; but God has made over to His children, the promise of the life that now is and that which is to come; and so great is His love to us, that with His dear Son He will freely give us all things. But it shall be a life of faith, which is opposed to sense; sense must see how to go on, but faith often ventures on a naked promise. I really remember one time being out of work, and greatly tried we were for temporals, and I came out not knowing which road to steer; and yet so comfortable in the belief of the truth that I once heard Mr. Huntington, now in glory, say, and that was, "That faith would bake bread, boil the pot, and pay debts," and God's Word proves all this; and I soon saw His delivering hand.
But we have this faith by virtue of union with Him, for "He is the Author and Finisher of it"; and though it appears at times so hard to the flesh, yet really it is sweet work too: yes, even when you have had one meal not to know where the next is to come from, but only under the influence of patience, meekness, and a laying passive in God's hand, believing that you have the better treasure, and that all will go on right as God is the whole and sole manager of both of your spiritual and temporal concerns; and depend on it, that if you are never tried in providence, you know but little of God as your temporal Provider; but in this respect you will savour much of the flesh, even though you are a partaker of grace.
Now there are six uses that these trials are of to God's family, and they never can properly know these six things without going into adverse circumstances.
1. Then they learn that God is the universal Provider for all the human race, and that promotion cometh not from the east, nor from the west - that God sets up one, and puts down another - that He maketh poor, and He maketh rich - that it is He that giveth power to get wealth - that the silver and gold are His, and the cattle upon a thousand hills; but though a good man may agree to all this, yet it can only be in judgment, if he never was tried.
2. Having learned that all his efforts can never alter this, he learns to cry to the Lord for help, not that this makes him careless in a proper use of means - no; but he knows the truth of this text, "Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?" And as God has declared that He will be enquired of by the house of Israel to do these things, such as multiplying the corn, wheat, etc., and that our Heavenly Father knows that we need what the Gentiles seek after; such being brought down to nothing, are compelled to cry to the Lord for what they sorely need in providence; and every temporal supply to the elect is secured in Christ Jesus, for He is heir of all things - all things are under Him, whether it be sheep or oxen, the fowls of heaven, the fishes of the sea, or whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea-and the (new) covenant is ordered in all things and sure.
3. He is led to watch God's hand after he has prayed, and if he feels a confidence in his heart that God has heard him, he then commits his way to God, and goes out begging the Lord to direct his every step for that day, that he may not go too fast nor too slow; and now he is on the lookout to see what this faith will do for him, and he is not without sore temptations and great fears at times, for every step he takes, unless faith is in exercise, appears wrong, so that he proceeds cautiously. Such a one hates a mumping life of ease, living upon other people, he is not lazy, nor does he wish (though often compelled) to eat other men's bread for nought; this he so detests that he often walks the streets hungry, though he might have food given him, for fear of giving occasion to them that desire occasion; and God often appears for such, and raises up a friend here and a friend there in the very nick of time, but still he is always reluctant to this way, and Satan tells him that he is walking in a snare. Oh, how such would rejoice to get their bread only by their labour, and for their hands to be sufficient for them; but they are crossed in all they do, nothing appears to prosper; and Satan suggests that they only follow Christ for the loaves and fishes.
4. Every token for good received by them (being well humbled and kept so) is not very easily forgotten, and therefore many tributes of praise go up to the Lord for His tender care in providing for them; and they often pray that God would abundantly bless the instruments that He raises up, both in soul and in body, and that they may never be the poorer.
5. They learn to feel for God's tried family in providence, for formerly they had hard thoughts of them, thinking it was a good deal their own faults; and if they cannot assist them any other way they commit them to the Lord, doing as the Apostle Paul exhorts, "Helping together by their prayers"; and, indeed, God's children that are very poor, may be instrumental of much good to others in providence, even in this way.
6. Lastly, It is of use to tie up the body mystically together. We are all naturally fond of an independent spirit; we should like much experience and plenty in providence; but this is not God's general way, "For He has chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith"; and declares, "That He will leave in the midst of the land an afflicted and poor people, and they shall trust in the name of the Lord." What name? Why "I am that I am; this is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations." Do we want bread? I am that. Water? I am that. And so on for every needful supply. Besides, the hand is not to say to the foot, I have no need of thee; why, I answer, to unite them together. Now it is sometimes the case, and has been known, that there shall be a very poor tried child of God in temporals, and he has gained much experience by being so sharply tried on all hands. Now God shall be pleased to begin a good work also in one that is pretty well off in these temporal things; but it is very shallow, and he walks in much darkness; and by some means, as God sees fit, these two are brought in company together. God opens the poor man's mouth, and the rich man feels the good; a light shines on the good work which unites him to this poor man; then God opens the heart of the rich one, and he gives him a little now, and a little then; and this may go on for some time, till at last the poor man leans on the other, not looking through him to his God, and he finds that he has been hewing out cisterns, yea, broken cisterns that can hold no water; and he wonders what is the cause of such shyness as his friend shows; why, the truth is, thou art making an idol god of thy friend, and the Lord is displeased at it; and when thou art well humbled, and brought to confession at His feet, thy friend may come around, or God will raise up another. But, say you, these things lay a poor saint under great obligations to man; yes, they think so themselves, and Satan tells them so; but God's Word does not. Hence Paul says, "If ye are partakers of our spiritual things, is it a great thing that we should partake of your carnal things"; no-it certainly is not. Yet such should and will under the influence of grace feel thankful for the kindness they receive.
Now two branches of pride are crippled under this teaching. It mortifies the rich man that he should find little or no comfort, or a light on his path, except it be in the company of this poor man-flesh and blood does not like this, but so it is; and spiritual pride is crippled in the poor man to be forced to be under such obligations. Thus God stains the pride of all human glory; "That he that glorieth, might glory in the Lord." Now does not all things work together for good to us, inasmuch as we learn all these lessons, and know that God alone is our Provider? I assure you, that the work of God in the souls of His children flourishes much in this soil, namely, in afflictive providences.
I feel my heart full of grief and sorrow at this time while writing, for everything has come on fit to crush me to pieces, and Satan has been let loose upon me, that I have been on the brink of apostasy, nor could I believe that in reality I ever loved God's children; such hardness of heart, such rebellion, such hatred to it all, and dreadful fears, as if I should break through all bounds, and fall into the great transgression. Indeed, my brother or sister, that may read this, I tell you but little of what I feel, but indeed I tell you the truth. And oh, at such times to feel the very smallest measure of meekness, brokenness of spirit, godly sorrows, and relentings, how highly it is prized, for indeed we appear to be given up of God. These are deep waters; and these afflictions in providence are so managed of God, that with them we are led in a small measure into the sufferings of the Lord Jesus; hence Peter says, "He has left us an example that we should follow His steps, and of which I hope to treat a little of in the last particular-which is this, the knowledge we have of it; "We know that all things work together," etc.
This I shall take up three ways.
1. And here it is that a field is open - there is much ground to go on; but as I already have in writing upon the all things, showed something of this knowledge, I intend here to confine myself to that particular part, and the highest branch of knowledge, namely, the sufferings of Jesus. This was what our great Apostle aimed at, "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, and be made conformable to His death." It is a very easy thing to say I could part with all for Christ, but it is no easy thing to put it in practice; saying is one thing, and doing is another. O my friend! When the trial comes, and much darkness is felt, it is hard work - it is the trial that makes manifest - and the more you and I are called to part with, and the more we do part with for His sake, the more we enter into His sufferings. He suffered hunger, "And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungered," etc. We suffered weariness and thirst, when He was wearied with His journey, and asked the woman water to drink; He was whole nights in the mountain praying to His Heavenly Father; He had not where to lay His head; He worked a miracle to pay the tribute money; they ministered to Him of their substance, so that our blessed Lord lived on alms; He was tempted in all points; despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with griefs; yea, He was abhorred by whole nations, "To Him whom the nations abhorred"; and without the least murmuring and repining He bore all our sins, the contradiction of sinners, and the malice and cruelty both of men and devils - the vindictive wrath of God due to us - the curse of God's righteous Law, etc. This is a very faint description of what He suffered; and He told the two brethren, "Ye shall indeed drink of the cup which I drink of"; and at last He was crucified between two thieves. Oh, who can tell what He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death. Now is My soul troubled - I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished - Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Thine be done."
Now, fellow traveller, whose face is turned Zionward, do not expect a smooth path, for more or less these things will overtake you; you are to drink of His cup, tread in His steps, and partake of His sufferings; and when you get in this path (though very painful), yet here it is at certain seasons you will have sweet fellowship with the Lord Jesus; we must go into deep waters to find these things out, I assure you.
I hope this little work may be useful to the tried and tempted, and I really believe it will, for Satan has strove hard at me in writing it. Now then you find it is to be a suffering path. Oh, the multiplicity of straits and difficulties that you and I are called to! To describe them is impossible; "But if we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him"; and if we are partakers of the sufferings of Christ, so we shall also of the consolations; and this is a little of this knowledge, and the way we are led to find it out. For after a long experience we can see that we are in the path, and that it is a chequered life, which at one time we did not expect; and therefore, says Paul, "We know that all things work together for good." For these afflictions yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby; and if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together. Such have their senses exercised to discern between good and evil.
2. We know it by God's Word; hence it was that everyone of which there is an account of in that Book travelled this path more or less. It was no small trial for Abraham to wait so long for Isaac; and then to offer him up to God for a burnt offering must have been sharp work; and yet in this fire he was brought to see and feel something of fellowship with Christ in His sufferings - that Jesus was to be the Lamb of God that should take away the sins of the world - that God the Father gave Him up; "He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all." "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day," etc. Isaiah saw Him with all our sins upon Him, bearing our grief, and carrying our sorrow; and says, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities," etc. Then saw Him glorified, "He shall see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied," etc. "These things, said Esaias, when he saw His glory, and spake of Him." Job had these sufferings to endure, and he declares, "I know that my Redeemer liveth." Paul tells us, "That for His sake we are killed all the day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." But, says he, "I am ready to die at Jerusalem, for the sake of the Lord Jesus." David saw them "piercing His hands and His feet, and parting His garments amongst them"; and therefore we are compassed about with a whole cloud of witnesses; and Paul calls all our sufferings light, and declares they are at best, only for a moment: read Hebrews 11, and remember this one thing, and that is this, that glory follows upon these sufferings; hence, as before observed, "If we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together"; and the Spirit of Jesus in all the prophets testified beforehand of His sufferings, and the glory that should follow. And how can we escape these sufferings and follow His steps? It is impossible. "The servant is not greater than his lord" - no; therefore, says He, "You shall be brought before rulers and kings for My sake." Again, "He that will save his life shall lose it, and he that will lose his life for My sake and the Gospel shall find it." Now are you in the path of tribulation; and do you find it hard work day after day to stand; and have you ever felt a fellowship with Jesus; and are you brought by these afflictions to know (at certain seasons) that they work together for good?
3. We know it by observation; and therefore in the circle of our acquaintance we find them to be the most savoury and unctuous, and know the most of Jesus that are the most tried; and this is said to be exalting or magnifying man. "What is man, that Thou shouldest magnify him, and set Thine heart upon him; that Thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment!" Oh, how sweet it is to hear a saint tell of his sore trials, and how the Lord did appear in the last moment, when heart and flesh failed.
But, say you, I feel it impossible that I can endure, for the trials crowd in upon me so fast, and I feel weaker and weaker; so that I expect that in one trial or another God will leave me to practice what I daily feel, and that I shall turn back in the day of battle. You cannot have more fears than I have of this sort, and have had for years, insomuch that I have trembled and expected some judgment, and I am sure that if it depended upon me, it would take place; but it depends wholly on the faithfulness of God; "God is faithful, that will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able, but will with the temptation make a way for your escape"; and if you watch, you will find your path shine brighter and brighter after these sore afflictions. I have found this myself. I can see it in the Word, and I have watched it going on in others; and that is a false faith, that is of long-standing, and yet never went into the fire. It does not matter how strong such may appear to be; they are like the king that Solomon speaks of, that walks boldly, against whom there is no rising up; corruption never rises up, Satan never rises up, neither does the world rise up; and there is no promise made to such for they do not need it: the promises are to the poor, needy, destitute, weak, fatherless, lost, helpless, thirsty, dry and parched. Press on then, fellow sufferer, and remember that they that are casting their crowns now at His feet, are those that came through great tribulation; but now they are singing "Salvation to God and the Lamb!" And in a little time you and I shall join them that are gone before, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
And thus I have gone through the subject, and shall finish with the words of our text:
"Now we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."