The Christian's Great Interest - Part Three
4. When a man is thus in hazard of miscarrying, the Lord uses a work of
preventing mercy towards him, quietly and underhand supporting him; and this is
by infusing into his mind the possibility of his salvation, leading him to the
remembrance of numerous proofs of God's free and rich grace, in pardoning gross
transgressors, such as Manasseh, who was a bloody idolatrous man, and had
correspondence with the devil, and yet obtained mercy (2 Chron. 33: 11, 13);
and other scriptures bearing offers of grace and favour indifferently to all
who will yield to Christ, whatsoever they have been formerly; so that the man
is brought again to this,-'What shall I do to be saved' which supposes
that he apprehends a possibility of being saved, else he would not propound the
question. He applies that or the like word to himself, 'It may be ye shall
be hid in the day of the Lord's anger.' (Zeph. 2: 3.) He finds nothing
excluding him from mercy now, if he have a heart for the thing. The man does
not, it may be, here perceive that it is the Lord who upholdeth him, yet
afterwards he can say that, 'when his foot was slipping, God's mercy held
him up,' as the Psalmist speaks in another case. (Psa. 94: 17, 18.) And he
will afterwards say, when he 'was as a beast, and a fool, in many respects,
God held him by the hand.' (Psa. 73: 22, 23.) 5. After this discovery of a
possibility to be saved, there is a work of desire quickened in the soul; which
is clear from that same expression, 'What shall I do to be saved?' But
sometimes this desire is expressed amiss, whilst it goes out thus, 'What
shall I do that I may work the works of God?' (John 6: 28.) In this case
the man, formerly perplexed with fear and care about his salvation, would be at
some work of his own to extricate himself; and here he suddenly resolves to do
all is commanded, and to forego every evil way (yet much misunderstanding
Christ Jesus), and so begins to take some courage to himself, 'going about
to establish his own righteousness, but not submitting unto the righteousness
of God.' (Rom. 10: 3.) Whereupon the Lord makes a new assault upon him,
intending the discovery of his absolutely fallen state in himself, that so room
may be made for the Surety: as Joshua did to the people, when he found them so
bold in their undertakings: 'Ye cannot serve the Lord,' saith he, 'for He is
a holy God, a jealous God.' (Josh. 24) In this new assault the Lord-
1. Shows the man the spirituality of the law; the commandment cometh with a new charge in the spiritual meaning of it. (Rom. 7: 9.) The law came, saith Paul, that is, in the spiritual meaning of it. Paul had never entertained such a view of the law before.
2. God most holily looseth the restraining bonds which he had laid upon the man's corruption, and suffereth it not only to boil and swell within, but to threaten to break out in all the outward members. Thus sin grows bold, and spurns at the law, becoming exceedingly sinful. 'But sin taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law, sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once; but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. Was then that which is good made death into me? God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me by that which is good; that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.' (Rom. 7:8-13)
3. The Lord discovers to the man, more than ever, the uncleanness of his righteousness, and the spots of his best things. These things kill the man, and he dies in his own conceit (Rom.7:0), and despairs of relief in himself, if it come not from another source.
4. After many ups and downs, here ordinarily the man resolves on retirement; he desires to be like those in a besieged city, who, when they see they cannot hold out, and would be glad of any good condition from the besieging enemy, go to a council, that they may resolve on something; so the man here retires that he may speak with himself. This is like that 'communing with our own heart.' (Psa. 4: 4.) Thus God leadeth into the wilderness, that He may speak to the heart. (Hos. 2: 14.) When the person is retired, the thoughts of his heart, which were scattered in former steps of the exercise, do more observably throng in here. We shall reduce them to this method:-
1. The man thinks of his unhappy folly in bearing arms against God; and here he dwells at large on his former ways, with a blushing countenance and self-loathing: 'Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight' (Ezek. 36: 31); like that of Psalm 51: 3, 'His sin is ever before him.'
2. Then he remembers how many fair opportunities of yielding to God he has basely lost; his spirit is like to faint when he remembereth that, as is said in another case 'When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me. O my God, my soul is cast down within me. Deep calleth unto deep, all thy waves are gone over me.' (Psa. 42: 1-7.)
3. He now thinks of many Christians whom he mocked and despised in his heart, persuading himself now that they are happy, as having chosen the better part; he thinks of the condition of those who wait on Christ, as the queen of Sheba did of Solomon's servants: 'Happy are thy servants,' saith she, 'who stand continually before thee, and that hear thy wisdom.' (1 Kings 10: 8.) 'Blessed are they that dwell in Thy house.' (Psa. 94: 4.) He wishes to be one of the meanest who have any relation to God; as the prodigal son speaks, he would be as 'one of his father's hired servants.' (Luke 15: 7, 19.)
4. Then he calls to mind the good report that is going abroad of God, according to that testimony of the prophet, who knew that God was a 'gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness. (Jonah 4: 2.) The free and large promises and offers of grace come in here; and the gracious dealings of God with sinners of all sorts, as recorded in Scripture.
5. He thinks with himself, 'Why has God spared me so longs and why have I got such a sight of my sin? And why has He kept me from breaking prison at my own hand? Why has He made this strange change in me? It may be it is in His heart to do me good; O that it may be so!' Although all these thoughts be not in the preparatory work of every one, yet they are with many, and very promising where they are.
6. Upon all these thoughts and meditations the man, more seriously than ever before, resolveth to pray, and to make some attempt with God, upon life and death; he concludes, 'It can be no worse with him; for if he sit still he perisheth;' as the lepers speak. (2 Kings 7: 3, 4.) He considers, with the perishing prodigal son, 'that there is bread enough in his father's house and to spare, whilst he perisheth for want;' so he goes to God, for he knows not what else to make of his condition, as the prodigal son does. And it may be, here he resolves what to speak; but things soon vary when he is present before God, as the prodigal son forgot some of his premeditated prayers. 'I will arise, and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose and came unto his father, and said unto him, Father, I have sinned against Heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.' (Luke 15: 17-21.) And now, when he comes before God, more observable than ever before--
1. He beginneth, with the publican, afar of, with many thorough confessions and self-condemnings, in which he is very liberal, as (Luke 15: 21)--'I have sinned against Heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy,' etc.
2. Now his thoughts are occupied as to the hearing of his prayers, which he was not wont to question much: he now knows what those expressions of the saints concerning the hearing of their prayers do import.
3. It is observable in this address, that there are many broken sentences, like that of Psa. 6: 3--'But Thou, O Lord, how long?' supplied with sighs and 'groanings which cannot be uttered,' and anxiously looking upward, thereby speaking more than can be well expressed by words.
4. There are ordinarily some interruptions, and, as it were, diversions; the man speaking sometimes to the enemy, sometimes to his own heart, sometimes to the multitudes in the world, as David does in other cases' O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end.' (Psa. 9: 6.) 'Why art thou cast down, O my souls and why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him, who is the help of my countenance.' (Psa. 42: 6.) 'O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame?' (Psa. 4: 2.)
5. It is observable here that sometimes the man will halt, and be silent, to hear some indistinct whisperings of a joyful sound glancing on the mind, or some news in some broken word of Scripture, which, it may be, the man scarcely knoweth to be Scripture, or whether it is come from God, or whether an insinuation from Satan to delude him; yet this he has resolved, only to 'hear what God the Lord will speak,' as upon another occasion. (Psa. 85: 8.)
6. More distinct promises come into the man's mind, on which he attempts to lay hold, but is beaten off with objections, as in another case the Psalmist is--'But thou art holy--But I am a worm.' (Psa. 22 3, 6.) Now it is about the dawning of the day with the man, and faith will stir as soon as the Lord imparteth 'the joyful sound.' (Psa. 84: 15.) This is the substance of the covenant, which may be shortly summed up in these words, 'Christ Jesus is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.' (Matt. 17: 5.) We can speak no further of the man's exercise as a preparatory work; for what followeth is more than preparatory; yet that the exercise may appear complete and full, we shall add here, that after all these things, the Lord, it may be, after many answers of divers sorts, mightily conveyeth the knowledge of His covenant into the heart, and determines the heart to close with it; and God now draweth his soul so to Christ (John 6: 44), and so layeth out the heart for Him, that the work cannot miscarry; for now the heart is so enlarged for Him, as that less cannot satisfy, and more is not desired; like that of Psa. 73: 25--'Whom have I in heaven but Thee? Or whom have I desired on earth beside Thee?' The soul now resolves to die if He shall so command, yet at His door, and looking towards Him. We have stated this preparatory work at some length, not tying any man to such particular circumstances: only we say, the Lord dealeth so with some; and where He so convinceth of sin, corruption, and self-emptiness, and makes a man take salvation to beset as the one thing necessary, and sets him to work in the use of the means which God has appointed for relief; I say, such a work rarely shall be found to fail of a good issue and gracious result.
V. Objections and difficulties considered
(1) Object. Hypocrites and reprobates have great stirrings of conscience, and deep convictions about sin, setting them to work sometimes; and I do suspect any preparatory work of the law I ever had, to be but such as they have.
Ans. It will be hard to give sure essential differences between the preparatory work in those in whom afterwards Christ is formed, and those legal stirrings which are sometimes in reprobates. If there were not some gracious result of these convictions and awakenings of conscience in the Lord's people, and other marks, of which we shall speak afterwards, it were hard to adventure upon any difference that is clear in these legal stirrings. Yet, for answer to the objection, I shall offer some things, which rarely will be found in the stirrings of reprobates, and which are ordinarily found in that law-work which has a gracious issue.
1. The convictions of hypocrites and reprobates are usually confined to some few very gross transgressions. Saul grants no more but the persecuting of David. (1 Sam. 26: 21.) Judas grants only the betraying of innocent blood (Matt. 7: 4); but usually those convictions by which the Lord prepareth His own way in the soul, although they may begin at one or more gross particular transgression, yet they stop not; but man is led on to see many breaches of the law, and 'innumerable evils compassing Him' (Psa. 40: 12), as David speaketh in the sight of his sin. And withal, that universal conviction, if I may call it so, is not general, as usually we hear senseless men saying, 'that in all things they sin;' but it is particular and condescending, as Paul afterwards spoke of himself: He not only is the chief of sinners, but particularly, he was a blasphemer, a persecutor. (1 Tim. 1: 13.)
2. The convictions which hypocrites have, do seldom reach their corruption, and that body of death which works an aversion to what is good, and strongly inclines to what is evil. Ordinarily where we find hypocrites speaking of themselves in Scripture, they speak loftily, and with some self-conceit, as to their freedom from corruption. The Pharisees say to the poor man, 'Thou west altogether born in sin, and dost thou teach us?' (John 9: 34); as if they themselves were not as corrupt by nature as he. They speak of great sins, as Hazael did--'Am I a dog, that I should do this great thing?' (2 Kings 8: 13); and also in their undertakings of duty, as that scribe spoke, 'Master, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest.' (Matt. 8: 19.) See how the people speak: 'Then they said to Jeremiah, The Lord be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not even according to all things for the which the Lord thy God shall send thee to us. Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the Lord our God.' (Jer. 42: 5, 6.) They undertake to do all that God will command them: so that they still 'go about,' in any case, 'to establish their own righteousness, not submitting unto the righteousness of God.' (Rom. 10: 3.) But I may say, that convictions and exercise about corruption, and that body of death, inclining them to evil, and disabling for good, is not the least part of the work where the Lord is preparing His own way. They judge themselves very wretched because of the body of sin, and are at their wits' end how to be delivered as Paul speaks when he is under the exercise of it afterwards-'O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death.' (Rom. 7: 24.)
3. It will generally be found, that the convictions which are in hypocrites either are not so serious, as that some other business will not put them out of mind before any satisfaction is gotten; as in Cain, who went and built a city, and we hear no more of his conviction (Gen. 4); Felix went away until a more convenient time, and we hear no more of his trembling (Acts 14: 25); or, if that work becomes very serious, then it runneth to the other extremity, even despair of relief, leaving no room for escape. So we find Judas very serious in his convictions, yet he grew desperate, and hanged himself. (Matt. 27: 4, 5.) But where the Lord prepares His own way, the work is both so serious, that the person cannot be put off it, until he find some satisfaction, and yet under that very seriousness he lies open for relief; both which are clear from the jailer's words, 'What must I do to be saved' (Acts 16: 30.) This serious inquiry after relief is a very observable thing in the preparatory work which leadeth on to Christ. Yet we desire none to lay too much weight on these things, since God has allowed clear differences between the precious and the vile.
(2) Object. I still fear I have not had so thorough a sight of my sin and misery as the Lord giveth to many whom He effectually calleth, especially to great transgressors such as I am. Ans. It is true, the Lord discovereth to some clear views of their sin and misery, and they are thereby put under great legal terrors; but as all are not brought in by that sensible preparatory work of the law, as we showed before, so even those who are dealt with after that way are very differently and variously exercised in regard of the degrees of terror, and of the continuance of that work. The jailer had a violent work of very short continuance; Paul had a work continuing three days; some persons are 'in bondage through fear of death all their lives.' (Heb. 2: 15.) So that we must not limit the Lord to one way of working here. The main thing we are to look unto in these legal awakenings and convictions of sin and misery is, if the Lord reach those ends in us for which usually these stirrings and convictions are sent into the soul; and if those ends be reached, it is well; we are not to vex ourselves about any preparatory work further. Now, those ends which God seeks to accomplish with sinners by these legal terrors and awakenings of conscience are four.
First, The Lord discovers a sight of men's sin and misery to them, to chase them out of themselves, and to put them out of conceit of their own righteousness. Men naturally have high thoughts of themselves, and incline much to the covenant of works; the Lord therefore discovers to them so much of their sin and corruption, even in their best things, that they are made to loathe themselves, and despair of relief in themselves; and so they are forced to flee out of themselves, and from the covenant of works, to seek refuge elsewhere. (Heb. 6: 18.) 'They become dead to themselves, and the law,' as to the point of justification. (Rom. 7: 4.) Then 'have they no more confidence in the flesh' (Phil. 3: 3.) This is supposed in the offers of Christ 'coming to seek and save that which is lost' (Luke 19: 10); and 'to be a physician to those who are sick.' (Matt. 9: 12.)
The second great end is, to commend Christ Jesus to men's hearts above all things, that so they may fall in love with Him, and betake themselves to that treasure and jewel which only enricheth (Matt. 13: 14); and by so doing may serve the Lord's design in the contrivance of the gospel, which was the manifestation of His free grace through Christ Jesus in the salvation of men. The sight of a man's own misery and lost estate by nature is a ready way to make him prize Christ highly, who alone can set such a wretch at liberty; yea, it not only leadeth a man to a high esteem of Christ, but also of all things that relate to that way of salvation, as grace, the new covenant, faith, etc., and maketh him carefully gather and treasure up his Michtams, or golden scriptures, for the confirmation of his interest in these things.
The third great end is, to deter and frighten people from sin, and make them quarrel with it, and consent to put their neck under Christ's yoke. God kindles some sparks of hell in men's bosoms by the discovery of their sin, as a ready means to make them henceforth stand in awe, knowing 'how bitter a thing it is to depart from the Lord.' (Jer. 2: 19.) So we find rest offered to the weary, upon condition they will take Christ's yoke: 'Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.' (Matt. 11: 29.) And God offereth to own men as their God and Father, upon condition they will allow no peaceable abode to Belial: 'What fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness and what communion has light with darkness and what concord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has he that believeth with an infidel? Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord almighty.' (2 Cor. 6: 14-18.)
The fourth great end is, to work in men a patient and thankful submission to all the Master's pleasure. This is a singular piece of work: 'Then shalt thou remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth anymore, because of thy shame, when I am pacified towards thee, for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord.' (Ezek. 16: 63.) The sight of a man's own vileness and deserving makes him silent, and constrains him to lay his hand on his mouth, whatsoever God does unto him: 'I was dumb and opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it.' (Psa. 39: 9.) 'God has punished us less than our iniquities.' (Ezra 9: 13.) 'I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned.' (Mic. 7: 9.) The man carets not what God does to him, or how He deal with him, if only He save him from the deserved wrath to come: also any mercy is great mercy to him who has seen such a sight of himself; 'he is less than the least of mercies.' (Gen. 32: 10.) 'Any crumb falling from the Master's table' is welcome. (Matt. 15: 27.) He thinks it 'rich mercy that he is not consumed.' (Lam. 3: 22.) This is the thing that marvelously maketh God's poor afflicted people so silent under and satisfied with their lot; nay, they think he deserveth hell who openeth his mouth at anything God does to him, since he has pardoned his transgressions. So then, for satisfying the objection, I say, if the Lord have driven thee out of thyself, and commended Christ to thy heart above all things, and made thee resolve, in His strength, to wage war with every known transgression, and thou art in some measure as a weaned child, acquiescing in what He does unto thee, desiring to lay thy hand on thy mouth thankfully; then thy convictions of sin and misery, and whatsoever thou dost plead as a preparatory work, is sufficient, and thou art to debate no more concerning it. Only be advised so to study new discoveries of the sense of thy lost condition every day, because of thy old and new sins; and also to seek fresh help in Christ, who is a priest forever to make intercession; and to have the work of sanctification and patience with thankfulness renewed and quickened often: for somewhat of that work, which abaseth thee, exalteth Christ, and renders thee conformed to His will, must accompany thee throughout all thy lifetime in this world.
Chapter III.--Evidences of a Believing State
We come now to speak of some more clear and sure marks by which men may discover their gracious state and interest in Christ.
The first thing whereby men may know it is, their closing with Christ in the gospel wherein He is held forth. This is believing, or faith, which is the condition of the covenant: 'It is of faith, that it might be by grace.' (Rom. 4: 19.) Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.' (Acts 26: 31.) Now, although, in propriety of speech, it is hard to prove an interest by faith, it being one very interest in Him; yet the heart's closing with Christ Jesus is so discernible in itself, that we may well place it amongst the marks of a gracious state: and if a man can make out this, that he believeth on and in Christ Jesus, he thereby proves a very true interest in Him.
I. Mistakes as to what faith is
Many object to this as a mark, upon one of these three grounds:
1. Some conceive faith to be a difficult, mysterious thing, hardly attainable. To these I say, Do not mistake: faith is not so difficult as many apprehend it to be. I grant true faith in the lowest degree is the gift of God, and above the power of flesh and blood; for God must draw men to Christ. 'No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him.' (John 6: 44.) 'Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ to believe on Him.' (Phil. 1: 29.) Yet it were a reflection upon Christ, and all He has done, to say it were a matter of insuperable difficulty; as is clear: 'The righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? that is, to bring Christ down from above; or, Who shall descend into the deep? that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead. But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart; that is, the word of faith which we preach, That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God has raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed.' (Rom. 10: 6-11.) It were, according to that Scriptures as much upon the matter as to say, Christ came not from heaven, is not risen from the dead, nor ascended victorious to heaven. I say, He has made the way to heaven most easy; and faith, which is the condition required on our part, more easy than men do imagine. For the better understanding of this, consider that justifying faith is not to believe that I am elected, or to believe that God loveth me, or that Christ died for me, or the like: these things are indeed very difficult, and almost impossible to be attained at the first by those who are serious; whilst natural atheists and deluded hypocrites find no difficulty in asserting all those things: I say, true justifying faith is not any of the aforesaid things; neither is it simply the believing of any sentence that is written, or that can be thought upon. I grant, he that believeth on Christ Jesus, believeth what God has said concerning man's sinful, miserable condition by nature; and he believeth that to be true, that 'there is life in the Son, who was slain, and is risen again from the dead,' etc.: but none of these, nor the believing of many such truths, evinces justifying faith, or that believing on the Son of God spoken of in Scripture; for then it were simply an act of the understanding; but true justifying faith, which we now seek after, as a good mark of an interest in Christ, is chiefly and principally an act or work of the heart and will; having presupposed sundry things about truth in the understanding--'With the heart man believeth unto righteousness.' (Rom. 10: 10.) And although it seem (verse 9), that a man is saved upon condition that he believes this truth, namely, that 'God raised Christ from the dead,' yet we must understand another thing there, and verse 10, than the believing the truth of that proposition; for besides that all devils have that faith, whereby they believe that God raised Christ from the dead; so the Scripture has clearly resolved justifying faith into a receiving of Christ: 'as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.' (John 1: 12.) The receiving of Christ is there explained to be the believing on His name. It is also called a staying on the Lord (Isa. 26: 3); a trusting in God, often mentioned in the Psalms, and the word is a leaning on Him. It is a believing on Christ: 'This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He has sent' (John 6: 29), and often so expressed in the New Testament.
When God maketh men believe savingly, He is said to draw them unto Christ; and when the Lord inviteth them to believe, He calleth them to come to Him. 'All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me; and him that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out. No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him.' (John 6: 37, 44.) The kingdom of heaven is like a man finding a jewel, with which he falleth in love: 'The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hid in a field; the which when a man has found, he hideth, and for joy thereof, goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.' (Matt. 13: 44-46.) Now, I say, this acting of the heart on Christ Jesus is not so difficult a thing as is conceived. Shall that be judged a mysterious difficult thing which does consist much in desire? If men have but an appetite, they have it; for they are 'blessed that hunger after righteousness.' (Matt. 5: 6.) 'If you will,' you are welcome. (Rev. 22: 17.) Is it a matter of such intricacy and insuperable difficulty, earnestly to look to that exalted Saviour: 'Look unto me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.' (Isa. 45: 22.) And to receive a thing that is offered, held forth, and declared to be mine, if I will but accept and take it, and in a manner 'open my mouth,' and give way to it? 'Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.' (Psa. 81:10.) Such a thing is faith, if not less. Oh, if I could persuade people what justifying faith is, which appropriateth Christ to me! We often drive people from their just rest and quiet, by making them apprehend faith to be some deep, mysterious thing, and by exciting unnecessary doubts about it, whereby it is needlessly darkened.
2. Some make no use of this mark, as judging it a high presumptuous crime to pretend to so excellent a thing as is the very condition of the new covenant. To these I say, you need not startle so much at it, as if it were high pride to pretend to it; for whatsoever true faith be, men must resolve to have it, or nothing at all: all other marks are in vain without it: a thousand things besides will not do the business: unless a man believe, he abideth in the state of condemnation. 'He that believeth not is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. He that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.' (John 3: 18, 36.)
3. Others do not meddle with this noble mark of faith, because they judge it a work of the greatest difficulty to find out where faith is. To these I say, it is not so difficult to find it out, since 'he that believeth, has the witness in himself.' (1 John 5: 10.) It is a thing which by some serious search may be known. Not only may we do much to find it out by the preparatory work going before it in many, as the apprehending and believing of a man's lost estate, and that he cannot work out his own salvation, and that there is a satisfying fulness in Christ, very desirable if he could obtain it;- a serious minding of this, with a heart laid open for relief; as also by the ordinary companions and concomitants of it, namely, the liking of Christ's dominion, His kingly and prophetical office, a desire to resign myself wholly up to Him, to be as His disposing; as also by the native consequences of it, namely, the acquitting of the word, the acquitting of my own conscience according to the word, a heart purifying work, a working by love, etc.; I say, not only may we know faith by these things, but it is discernible by itself and of its own nature.
Although I deny not but there must be some help of God's Spirit, 'by which we know what is freely given unto us of God' (1 Cor. 2: 12); as also, that God has allowed many evidences and marks as precious helps, whereby men may clear up faith more fully to themselves-- 'These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God that ye may know that ye have eternal life; (1 John 5: 13); yet I still say that faith, or believing, which is some acting of the heart upon Christ in the gospel, and the transacting with Him there, is discernible of itself, and by itself, to a judicious understanding person, with an ordinary influence of the Spirit: unless the Lord, for reasons known to Himself, overcloud a man's reflex light, by which he should perceive what is in him.
II. True saving faith described
This justifying faith, which we assert to be so discernible, is, in the Lord's deep wisdom and gracious condescension, variously expressed in Scripture, according to the different actings of it upon God, and outgoings after Him; so that every one who has it may find and take it up in his own mould. It sometimes acts by a desire of union with Him in Christ; this is that looking to Him in Isaiah--'Look unto Me and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.' (Isa. 45: 22.) This seems to be a weak act of faith, and far below other acting of it at other times perhaps in that same person. Men will look to what they dare not approach (in their apprehension), which they dare not touch or embrace; they may look to one to whom they dare not speak: yet God has made the promise to faith in that acting, as the fore-cited Scripture shows: and this He has done mercifully and wisely; for this is the only discernible way of the acting of faith in some. Such are the actings or outgoings of faith expressed in Scripture by 'hungering and thirsting after righteousness' (Matt. 5: 6), and that expressed by willing--'And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.' (Rev. 22: 17.) Again, this faith goes out sometimes in the act of recumbency, or leaning on the Lord, the soul taking up Christ then as a resting stone, and God has so held him out, although he be a stumbling-stone to others. (Rom. 9: 33.) This acting of it is hinted in the expressions of trusting and staying on God, so often mentioned in Scripture; and precious promises are made to this acting of faith--'God will keep them in perfect peace whose minds are stayed on Him; because such do trust in Him. Trust in the Lord: for with Him is everlasting strength.' (Isa. 26: 3, 4.) 'They that trust in the lord shall be as Mount Zion, which abideth for ever.' (Psa. 125: 1.) I say, the Lord has made promises to this way of faith's acting, as knowing it will often go out after Him in this way with many persons; and this way of its acting will be most discernible to them. It goes out after God sometimes by an act of waiting. When the soul has somewhat depending before God, and has not clearly discovered his mind concerning it, then faith does wait; and so it has the promise- 'They shall not be ashamed that wait for me.' (Isa. 49: 23.)
Sometimes it acteth in a wilful way upon the Lord, when the soul apprehendeth God thrusting it away, and threatening its ruin -'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.' (Job 13: 15.) The faith of that poor woman of Canaan (Matt. 15.), so highly commended by Christ, went out in this way of wilful acting over difficulties: and the Lord speaketh much good of it, and to it, because some will be at times called upon to exercise faith in that way, and so they have that for their encouragement. It were tedious to instance all the several ways of the acting of faith upon, and its exercise about, and outgoings after Christ,- I may say, according to the various conditions of man. And accordingly, faith, which God has appointed to traffic and travel between Christ and man, as the instrument of conveyance of His fulness unto man, and of maintaining union and communion with Him, acteth variously and differently upon God in Christ: for faith is the very shaping out of a man's heart according to God's device of salvation by Christ Jesus, in whom it pleased the Father that all fulness should dwell' (Col. 1: 16); so that, let Christ turn what way He will, faith turneth and pointeth that way. Now He turns all ways in which He can be useful to poor man; and therefore faith acts accordingly on Him for drawing out of that fulness, according to a man's case and condition. As for example, The soul is naked, destitute of a covering to keep it from the storm of God's wrath; Christ is fine raiment (Rev. 3: 17, 18); then accordingly faith's work here is to 'put on the Lord Jesus.' (Rom. 13: 14.)
The soul is hungry and thirsty after somewhat that may everlastingly satisfy; Christ Jesus is 'milk, wine, water, the bread of life, and the true manna.' (Isa. 40: 1, 2; John 6: 48, 51.) He is 'the feast of fat things, and of wines on the lees well refined' (Isa. 25: 6): then the work and exercise of faith is to 'go, buy, eat, and drink abundantly.' (John 6: 53, 57; Isa. 40: 1.) The soul is pursued for guilt more or less, and is not able to withstand the charge: Christ Jesus is the city of refuge, and the high-priest there, during whose priesthood, that is, forever, the poor man who escapes thither is safe; then the work and exercise of faith is 'to flee thither for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before us.' (Heb. 6: 18.)
In a word, whatsoever way He may benefit poor man, He declares Himself able to do. And as He holdeth out Himself in the Scriptures, so faith does point towards Him. If He be a Bridegroom, faith will go out in a marriage relation; if He be a Father, faith pleadeth the man to be a child; if He be a Shepherd, faith pleads the man may be one of His sheep; if He be a Lord, faith calleth Him so, which none can do but by the Spirit of Jesus; if He be dead, and risen again for our justification, faith 'believeth God has raised Him' on that account. (Rom. 10: 9.) Wheresoever He be, there would faith be; and whatsoever He is, faith would be somewhat like Him.
(continued in part 4...)
Home | Links | Literature | Biography | Photos.