Letters #1 - 8.
TO MR. M_____.
No. I. TO MR. M________.
Mr. M acknowledges himself unawakened — What is faith? — Interview with a Hicksite friend — Displeasure incurred — Doings and sayings at a class meeting — An unlikely subject of prayer presented — All things possible with God — Mrs. W.'s inquiry — The sinner condemned already — The culprit C_____; his agony when under condemnation, the effect of his faith in man — Mr. M_____ not a believer in the Bible as the word of God; otherwise not unawakened — Indescribable solicitude — Influential friends cannot save. Mr. M_____ under condemnation — Why the word of God has not the same effect as a voice from heaven.
MY DEAR MR. M _______ . You acknowledge yourself unawakened, but in this I think you are in part mistaken. In view of your inquiries after the way of life, I would hardly dare pronounce you wholly unawakened. You would not with so much sincerity desire instruction relative to that faith without which it is impossible to please God, unless you were in a degree aroused to an interest about your spiritual state.
By your inquiry, "What is faith?" I am reminded of an interesting incident in my religious history, which in all its bearings is to my mind signally illustrative of faith and its effects. As you have been religiously trained, and are not unused to rehearsals of Christian experience, you will know how to appreciate such intermixtures of my own experience as will be helpful toward illustrating the subject.
Some time since I invited a Hicksite friend to accompany me to meeting. You know of Elias Hicks — of his rejection of the atonement, the only foundation of the Christian's hope, and also of his light estimate of the Scriptures, designating them as the dead letter, &c. So you will not be astonished when I say that I could not think of my friend as a follower of Christ. Knowing that she regarded herself as a professor of religion, and that any approach to her which failed to recognize her as such might wound her feelings, I knew not in what form of expression to give vent to my unutterable yearnings for her. At length, after a little suspense, I said,
"Mrs. _______ , do you not sometimes feel that you would love to forsake all and follow Christ?"
She gave an evasive answer, and by her manner most clearly indicated that she was displeased. Finding her thus guarded. by a religious profession, which, if touched, gave displeasure, I ceased to approach her on the subject of her salvation.
About ten months after, in admonishing the members of my class, I said, "Too many mistake the mark, by absorbing themselves in their own experience, whereas the design of God in redeeming us unto himself seems to be this: — That we give ourselves at once wholly and for ever away to his service, in order that we may be unto him a peculiar people, zealous of good works, not living to ourselves, as we should do were we ever absorbing ourselves in perplexities about our own experience. Who would not dismiss a servant that was ever saying, 'I have about as much as I can do to serve myself?’” &c. Several members resolved to come up to the point of entire consecration, that is, to serve Christ wholly: we then covenanted together to begin at once to work for God. I suggested to them to single out some individual, not the most likely, by way of being religiously influenced, but the most unlikely, and to interest themselves, even as for their own souls, in the experience of such, until we should meet again on the coming week.
Pursuant to the advice I had given, I began to think, Who shall I take to labor for so absorbingly during the week? when it was suggested, You had better inquire of God. I did so. To my astonishment, the individual referred to, with whom my former efforts had seemingly been so fruitless, was presented. For a moment, I turned away with dismay. My thoughts ran thus: — Were the most vile, reckless sinner, suggested, or even a professed infidel, I might in some way know how to approach him with hope of success, but here is one whom I cannot meet with the Bible, for she regards it only as secondary authority, neither can I approach her as an acknowledged sinner, for she is wrapped in the cloak of a profession. An “unlikely” case indeed, my heart responded. But this current of thought was arrested by the chidings of the Spirit. The unbelieving lord of Samaria was brought to my remembrance, and I at once said, "Lord, I will not say if thou shouldst open windows in heaven, then might such a thing be, as that this person should be powerfully awakened to a sense of her condition as a sinner. But I will say, 'All things are possible with thee, and all things are possible to him that believeth.' Only teach' me how to approach her, and, 'behold, here am I.' "
It was suggested in return, All you are at present required to do, is to keep her continually before God in prayer. I did so, and most strikingly did God take the work into his own hands. He did not send me to her, but he sent her to me. An account of our interview will answer your question.
With a countenance which bespoke docility such as I had never before witnessed in her, she entered my room one morning, and said, "Mrs. P_______ , I have heard you speak of faith, and I should like to have you explain it to me."
In return I said, "I am speaking to you, Mrs. W_______, and you believe me." She nodded assent. "God hath spoken, and the BIBLE is his word. Just as truly so, as though you heard him audibly speaking from heaven, in the voice of mighty thunderings, as from Mount Sinai. God hath said, 'The soul that sinneth, it shall die.' Now, if the sinner should really believe God, he would see himself already condemned; not to mere temporal death, this were in comparison a light matter,' but the condemnation passed upon the sinner extends to soul and body, to all eternity. You remember the culprit C_______ . He had violated the laws of his country, and in obedience to those laws the sentence of death was passed upon him by a fellow-man.
How awful were his feelings while lying under condemnation! How were the sympathies of the public enlisted in his behalf! How energetic and ceaseless the efforts of his friends for the removal of this condemnation! But what is all the untold agony occasioned by this sentence, compared with what the distress of the sinner would be, if he only had as much faith in the word of God as this culprit had in the word of his fellow-man! He would see himself lying under a sentence which might be executed, not two or three months hence, but at any moment, "in such an hour as he thinks not," — a sentence which extends not only to the poor perishing body, but to the immortal spirit, which, after thousands on thousands of ages have past, will yet have not one day less to exist, where the worm dieth not, and the flre is not quenched.
I think, my dear Mr. M_______, you may now apprehend the kind of faith which the unawakened sinner is required to exercise. You have been in the habit of thinking that you believe the word of God. Should I tell you that you but partially believe it, and that you are in part infidel in principle, you would with abhorrence start from the suggestion, and doubtless would think me unkind. But you say you are unawakened. Could you remain so, if you verily believed that the sentence of eternal death had already been passed upon you — a sentence which may be executed even before you lay this paper from your hand?
Other inquiries connected with the awakening of my Hicksite friend were equally interesting and profitable; but my mind at present is so concerned about your perishing condition, that I cannot consent to say more, until you assure me that you are indeed aroused to a conviction of the wrath that abideth upon the sinner. "God out of Christ is a consuming fire." You are out of Christ! Do you imagine that your condition may not be so awful, so hazardous, as the foregoing conclusions imply? Ah, my dear Mr. M_______ , the Bible is the book from which, on examination, you will find these conclusions have been legitimately drawn. You say you believe the Bible. How can you believe it, and yet regard your condition as one of less peril than the Bible declares it to be?
And now, my dear friend, my feelings for you are those of indescribable solicitude. Shall I apologize for this inexpressible concern? No! As well might the friends of the poor culprit C_______ have ceremoniously accosted him thus: "Pardon the interest manifested by us in endeavoring to free you from the sentence which has been passed upon you by the laws of your country; this sentence we know must inevitably and speedily be executed, only as faint hopes are left that the strength of our influence and most energetic efforts may possibly prevail." But you will remember that neither the respectability nor most energetic efforts of his friends prevailed in his behalf; they only seemed to increase public indignation. "One with such a training, such associations, &c., ought to have known better," was the response of the popular voice. Just so, I fear with you, dear Mr. M_______ . If the prayerful sympathies and energetic efforts of your deeply pious friends could have been instrumental in the removal of the awful condemnation which now rests upon you, long since would it have been removed. 'Will the fact of your advantages for religious improvement stand in mitigation, when at the last it shall be asked, why sentence should not be executed?
O my dear friend, though circumstances forbid my further pleading with you at this time, it relieves my oppressed heart to know that I may go to my closet, and plead with God for the continued influences of that Spirit, which, alas! you have so much grieved by your delays. With yet another word of admonition, which I hope you will now take to your closet, I must leave you for the present. You have said, "The time does not seem to have come for me to begin in earnest to seek the Lord." If God should speak audibly from heaven to you, saying, “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation:" " To-day if ye will hear my voice, harden not your heart" — would you not conclude that the time had indeed come for you to begin in earnest? What is the reason that the voice of God, as sounding through the Bible, has not the same effect which you imagine a voice pealing from the heavens would produce? Is it not because you do not in heart receive the Bible as the WORD OF GOD?
From what has been said, I think you now apprehend something more about "faith and its effects.”
Yours, with most prayerful solicitude.
No. II. TO MR. M________.
Mr.M_____. inquires the way — Inquiries as to the effect of faith — Evidences of the in-being of faith — Perilous condition acknowledged — Hardness of heart confessed and bemoaned — Heart not impenitent — Not required to save ourselves — Sinful to stay away from the Saviour — A letter to a sincere inquirer — Difficulties in the way of salvation — Repentance known by its fruit; a gift from God, and must be acknowledged.
TO MR. M_____ . It gives me much satisfaction, my dear friend, to be permitted to address you as one inquiring the way to life. In your letter of inquiry, the effect of your faith in God is indeed most evident.
Though you have not yet exercised that faith, through which the unpardoned sinner is justified, yet you must not yield to the suggestion, that you have no faith. Though small in its beginning as a grain of mustard seed, yet let me for your encouragement say, that clearer demonstration could not be asked than that which your inquiries present, of the existence and workings of faith in your heart. You say, "I see my perilous state as a sinner already condemned, but I do not realize my undone condition. I hear others cry out from disquietude of soul; yet with an unmoved heart, and with tearless eyes, I am myself brooding over my hardness and impenitence."
Now, my friend, would you be disposed to bemoan your condition thus, were it not that you believe God will verily execute the sentence which he hath pronounced upon you? Here then is the step — the beginning of a life of faith — and if you do not go on you will surely perish. But there are other truths, which are in immediate connection with those which you have already believed. As you have now begun to believe God, O may you, without lingering, take the next step, which I will now endeavor to present to you.
Listen! Your Redeemer and your Saviour is now saying unto you, "Him that cometh unto me I will in nowise cast out." "But," say you, "have I not just been telling you of my hardness and impenitence, and can I expect the Saviour to receive me in such an emotionless condition?" You mistake, in speaking of your heart as impenitent. Impenitence implies absence of contrition, or sorrow for sin. If you are not sorry for sin, why do you so earnestly inquire the way to the Saviour? Why do you want salvation from sin? Is it not because you feel like saying,
“I hate the sins which made thee mourn!”
Then say no more that you are impenitent. It is indeed sinful to have a hard heart; but you are not required to save yourself from any of your sins. Christ alone can save you, and he now says, "Come unto me," Will you come now? or will you wait till you have made yourself worthy, by a longer continuance in groanings and lamentations?
Do you not perceive that you are by this course endeavoring to save yourself in part, before coming to Christ? O cease these vain endeavors! Now come to Jesus:
"If you tarry till you're better,
You will never come at all."
"Him that cometh unto me I will in nowise cast out." Will you not now comply with the condition, and come to the Saviour just as you are? He will not cast you out. The reasons you urge why you may be rejected, are the very reasons why you should come to the Saviour, and why he desires to save you. He came to save you from your sins; and is not this state of feeling, which you urge as a reason why you may not come just now to Christ, sinful? Can you be saved from this sin till you trust Christ to save you? It is sinful to stay away from the Saviour, and unless you intend to defer coming to him until you are yet more unworthy, you will come believingly now, assured that he will in nowise cast you out.
I have concluded to give you the reading of a letter which was addressed to one whose state of mind was very similar to your own; and may He who hath not said to the seed of Jacob, "Seek ye my face in vain," say to you speedily, "Lo, I am thy salvation."
TO A SINCERE INQUIRER.
MY DEAR FRIEND — You asked me to remember you in prayer. I have indeed been pleading for you, and am fully assured of the willingness of God to bless you with a knowledge of forgiveness and acceptance. Yet I see difficulties in the way of your receiving the desire of your heart. Not that I do not believe you are most earnestly, and sincerely, seeking salvation; not that you are unwilling to give up the world, and its vanities, and desirous to take upon you the cross of Christ, and come out as a self-denying follower of the Lord Jesus; or that you are not truly penitent. These difficulties in the way of your salvation I believe are removed.
But I know you are longing to hear what difficulties I would suggest. Yet I cannot hope to do much good by stating them, unless you consent to promise before God, that wherein you may see your error, you will in the strength of Jesus exercise that holy violence which the kingdom of heaven suffereth, relative to the removal of these difficulties.
1st. You say you cannot feel that you have repentance, and you give this as one reason why you cannot now come to Christ. What does this turning away from the vanities of the world mean? What this resolute looking Zion-ward? This coming out as a seeker of salvation? &c. Does not all this show fruit meet for repentance? Unless repentance were imparted, could you thus produce its fruits? You can no longer doubt, then, that you have repentance, without denying the work of the Spirit; for you could not have had this grace unless the Spirit had wrought it in your heart. Now, unless you acknowledge this to the praise of God, you will add to your former transgressions the sin of ingratitude.
You are called "to the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you by Christ Jesus;" and, unless you are thankful for this gift, God may take away even that which you have. O! bow just now before him who is exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance unto Israel and remission of sin. Thank him that he has given you the gift of repentance, and, through grace, promise no longer to grieve the Spirit by denying that this work hath been wrought in you. Make confession before God of this your error, and then it is your duty to expect that forgiveness will at once follow confession. "If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive," &c.
Next you say, "I see other convicted persons manifest much more feeling than myself." But this should not influence your conclusions relative to your state. Difference in constitutional temperament has much to do with the exhibition of the heart's internal movements, There are a diversity of operations, and it is not wise to measure yourself by others, or to mark out a way for God, as though he were to come to a standard which you have raised. Were it for the best, God could give you such a view of yourself out of Christ, as to sink your soul at once into eternal despair. In mercy to you, this view is withheld; but he gives you just such perceptions of your state as are appropriate to the end designed. That is, he gives you such perceptions of your condition as influence you to turn heartily away from the world and its vanities, to loathe sin in every form, and also to beget in you an ardent desire for salvation,
Shall I repeat what the Spirit hath often told you, —
"All the fitness he requireth
ls to feel your need of him."
But there are yet other difficulties. You say your heart is hard. Have you a right to expect other than a heart of stone, until you give yourself to the Saviour? He hath promised to take away the heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh. But you prevent him from doing this for you, because you do not resign yourself to him. You do not imagine that the Saviour needs your help in fitting that heart for his reception. Then why longer withhold, as though you were acting on this principle. He says, "I will take away the heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh." Do not let him say of you, "Ye will not come unto me that ye may have life,”
I knew a person who for hours continued in lamentation, (though without tears,) crying out, “O my hard heart — my hard heart!” It was said to her, "Why not give that hard heart to the Saviour? He has promised to give you a new heart — a heart of flesh." Up to this moment, she, instead of looking unto Jesus, had been looking at herself — brooding over her hard heart. Consequently; instead of rising, she had been sinking lower, and yet lower, in despair. But she now said, “I will give this heart which will not break to Jesus." At once the Saviour, true to his promise, gave her a new spirit. He took away the stony heart, and gave her indeed, a heart of flesh. And with tears of joy she now proclaimed his love. Will you not now go and do likewise?"
As you do not expect that salvation will in any degree come from within, cease to look for any good thing from yourself. "Look unto me and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth." Keep steadily looking unto Jesus; if you take your eye off from this one point of attraction you sink. You acknowledge yourself lost. Then you are precisely the character whom Jesus came to save: "For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Would you ever have set out to seek him, had he not first sought you? Yes, you are now the sought out of the Lord, and your precious Saviour will not upbraid you if you now rejoicingly sing, —
"Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wand'ring from the fold of God,
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed his precious blood."
Do I not hear you with gladness of heart saying, Saviour of sinners, thou art my Saviour? Yes! Hallelujah to Jesus! "Come and let us exalt his name together."
Your devoted friend.
No. III. TO MR. M________.
Mr. M_____ inquires whether the power to believe may not be withheld — The power to exercise faith never withheld from the truly sincere — Difficulty with one who had been seeking the Lord four years, — and how removed — Man possesses the awful power of pronouncing his own blessings and curses — Five individuals converted the same day on which they were awakened — Difficulty with Mr. S_____. — Of one who thought it was too late.
TO MY SIN-SICK FRIEND, MR. M_____ . "But," you ask, "does not the Lord in his sovereignty at times withhold the power to exercise faith from the seeking soul?" And further, "How is it that some for weeks and months, with so much sincerity and earnestness, go about as mourners in Zion, while others, perhaps, only in a few hours go through the process of awakening and conversion?"
I do not think we have any Scripture ground for the supposition, that God ever withholds the power to exercise faith from the sincere inquirer. It is true that there may be difficulties in the way of exercising faith with some who desire salvation. I once knelt beside a mourner, and said,
"How long since you first began to seek the Lord?"
"Four years!" I exclaimed; "what! seeking the Lord four years, and say that you have not yet found him! Surely this must be a mistake. God hath said, 'And ye shall seek me and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.' God cannot be unfaithful, and there must have been some mistake in your manner of seeking him."
I then began to inquire whether there had not been some reservation in her mind, relative to sacrificing all for Christ. "Perhaps," said I, "you may have had your eye upon some worldly minded professor, and thought, 'If I could get religion, and be or do like such a one, how gladly would I enjoy it.' Your mind may have been so enlightened as to see these things inconsistent with an entire surrender, but still you have persevered in endeavoring to bring God to your terms, instead of coming yourself to his."
She frankly acknowledged that this had indeed been precisely her case. I assured her that she might just as well give up all hope at once of ever being saved, as to continue to seek God with these reservations.
Though you might go on years longer as a professed seeker, you would come no nearer the point. But there is no probability that the Spirit of the Lord would strive with you thus long. What a mercy that your Saviour, grieved and insulted by your offers of half-hearted service, has not ceased to tender you his grace, and left you to utter hardness and impenitence! But you may be now receiving the last urgings of the Spirit; yet let me tell you, if you will now make confession of your sin, in not being willing to give up all for Christ, and will come, renouncing yourself and sin, he will now receive you. She made the resolve that she would yield; and the more powerful influences of the Spirit were immediately given to help her infirmities; and in perhaps less than five minutes she was filled with the joys of salvation.
In like manner is the faithfulness of God to the seeker ever exhibited. Though not often clearly perceivable to the eye of man, as in the case just stated, yet in the eye of Omniscience every case is undoubtedly equally marked. I cannot believe that there is any lingering on the part of God in fulfilling his promises to the seeking soul. When we come go him in the way of his requirements, we are met with his blessing; when unwilling to comply with the conditions upon which salvation is offered, we are rejected. God is not man that he should change, neither is he a respecter of persons. With Israel on Mount Ebal, and on Mount Gerizim, we pronounce our own blessings and curses; for, alike with them, the course which we pursue will draw down just such results as God hath pronounced on the characters we sustain.
But God is love; and it is my desire to encourage you in the assurance, that there will be no delay on his part in meeting you on the ground of the promises. Within a few days I have seen this exemplified in the experience of five persons, in whose awakening and conversion I have been most deeply interested. Neither of the five, I have reason to believe, were really awakened until the day on which I addressed them personally relative to their danger out of Christ. On the same day on which they were convicted they were converted. I believe one had previously attended church occasionally, but the others were habitual neglecters of God's house and worship. They were convinced of the necessity of seeking God with all the heart, if they would find him; and of the uselessness of expecting to find him, unless they came to this decision. I placed this view of the subject prominently before them, when they first promised to seek the Lord. "If you knew you were to die before twelve o' clock tonight, you would be very much in earnest, and feel that you had no time to lose," said I to one. "Yes," was the reply. I said, "You would not, in that case, seek God with more than all your heart, and unless you seek him just as earnestly now, you will not find; for he has not promised to be found of you until you seek him with all your heart." The same evening on which this conversation occurred she was converted.
I knew an individual who, for years, felt the need of salvation to a degree that embittered all earthly enjoyments. He was not only willing to come out from the world, but gave unequivocal demonstration of his unwillingness to be conformed to its Spirit. It was cause of much prayerful concern with me, that one so sincere, and in earnest, should so long remain in this state, and I sent for him to come and spend an evening with me, hoping that the hindrance might, in some way, be ascertained. Nothing seemed to throw light on the subject, until at the close of the interview I said, "Mr. S_____ , have you never felt it to be your duty to join the church?" With a decision of manner, which told just where his will was strongly fixed, he replied, "That I will never do, until I know I have religion; for there are backsliders enough in the church now."
"This," said I, "is just what I believe you will have to do, before you get the witness of your acceptance. Yes, you will have to do it; and then trust the Lord to keep you. To do otherwise implies a distrustfulness which must be displeasing to God," I added.
The next night he came out under circumstances of unusual publicity, and said, "Such and such were my views, but now I have made up my mind to unite with the church." This was on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning, Jesus, the resurrection and the life, raised his soul to the most joyful assurance of renovated nature, even the enjoyment of a life of faith on the Son of God.
A variety of cases might be given, illustrative of the faithfulness of God, and of the effects resulting from faith and obedience; but I must close with the relation of one which, I hope, may be suited to your case:
An individual, after various expedients in reading, fasting, and praying, at length came to the conclusion that it was too late for him to seek salvation; that he had sinned beyond the limits of mercy. While in heaviness he was thus reflecting upon his sins, the text, "My son, give me thine heart," came to his mind. Can it be, thought he, that God makes such a requisition of me as this? He knows what a heart I have, how hard, how polluted, how unfit for life or for death; and yet he says, "Give me thine heart." What can he want of my heart? He wants to make it good; create it anew; to wash it in the blood of Jesus, and to make it a temple meet for the residence of his Spirit. "I dropped my flail," said he, (for he was in his barn at work,) "and prostrating myself upon the straw, I said, ‘O Lord, if thou canst accept of such a heart as mine, here it is. I give myself to thee just as I am, a poor, vile sinner.'" Instantly he was saved; and so wonderful did the plan of salvation now appear to him — so new, so suited to the condition of the lost — that it seemed as if all his life had been spent in the dark; and he was affected to tears, that no one had ever thus explained to him the way of salvation.
Yours, in Christian love.
No. IV. TO MR. M________.
Sincerity and earnestness not sufficient to insure salvation — An illustration of how faith is the gift of God — How to show fruit meet for repentance — An error in presenting petitions for awakened persons — Lad on the roof of a building; he is saved — The man near a cataract; Not saved by doing nothing.
TO MY FRIEND MR. M_____.
"By faith I lay my hand
On that dear head of thine,
While like the penitent I stand,
And there confess my sin."
O that you might thus see all your sins on Jesus laid! It does seem to me. that all you now need is the exercise of simple faith; that faith which appropriates the merits of your Saviour to your own case. If sincerity, earnestness, or a willingness to come out and confess Christ before men, were sufficient to bring you into the enjoyment of the favor of God, without appropriating faith, such had been your happiness now. Though, without these, your efforts to exercise faith would be unavailing; yet these, though most fully developed, would utterly fail in securing the object without faith. But you ask, "Is not faith the gift of God? and can I have it, unless it be given me from above?" No! "Every good and perfect gift cometh down from the Father of lights." But does not God give you the faith now required? He is not a hard Master. The command, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." would be unreasonable, unless the power to be obedient were given with the command.
Imagine that you were embarrassed with pecuniary liabilities, hopelessly beyond your resources. Now suppose you have a friend of unbounded reputation and wealth. His name commands universal confidence; his uniform bearing toward you has been that of benevolence and love; he hears of your distress, and writes you word, "I have taken your liabilities upon myself. I knew of your inability to pay; I have therefore paid the debts contracted: and now I am not merely willing that you should reckon yourself free, but it is my pleasure that you should do so now. My name has already gone forth in promise to relieve all these alike distressed with yourself, who may apply to me, and the honor of my name requires that you acknowledgment of my faithfulness in fulfilling my word be at once made before the world."
I need not make the application; you cannot dishonor your Saviour more, than by doubting whether he will fulfill his promises. His name is FAITHFUL and TRUE. O how sinful must a distrustfulness, whether he will now fulfill his promises, appear in his sight, when he hath said, "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and amen, unto the glory of God." The Saviour is now looking upon you with an eye of infinite love, longing to fulfill his promises to you; but he cannot bless you in your unbelief. It is inconsistent with the principles upon which the government of his kingdom is established; unbelief is a sin, and you must renounce it; for the Saviour came so save you from your sins, not in your sins.
The best way to show fruits meet for repentance, is to pursue a course directly opposed to that which is now lamented. I have known persons to mourn over the sin of unbelief most piteously for months, and even years, and yet not renounce it. Does this exhibit to the eye of God fruit meet for repentance? To the eye of man, this course may indicate repentance, and his petitions to God in behalf of the suppliant may be drawn from conclusions thus begotten. Thus it is that we not infrequently hear petitions, framed in words which imply that the delay is on the part of God, as though the sinner were all ready for the reception of the blessing, and only waiting for God to become willing to bestow it. Approaching God thus in behalf of the awakened sinner, I conceive to be an error of great magnitude; its effect on the mind of that sinner is necessarily disastrous, inasmuch as it removes the cause of delay from himself, and casts it upon God: and how insulting is such a petition to that God who ever stands, with extended arms, calling upon the sinner, saying, "Come, for all things are now ready!"
I remember, my dear Mr. M_____ , once to have met an illustration of faith, which I think may be helpful to you. The relater gives it thus: — "I once saw a lad on the roof of a very high building, where several men were at work. He was gazing about with apparent unconcern, when suddenly his foot slipped, and he fell. In falling he caught by a rope, and hung suspended in mid air, where he could neither get up nor down, and where it was evident he could sustain himself but a short time. He perfectly knew his situation, and expected in a few minutes to be dashed on the rocks below. At this moment a kind and powerful man rushed out of the house, and, standing beneath him with extended arms, called out, 'Let go of the rope; I will receive you. I can do it. Let go of the rope, and I promise you shall escape unharmed.' The boy hesitated for a moment, and then, quitting his hold, dropped easily and safely into the arms of his deliverer." Here is an illustration of faith; here is a simple act of faith. The poor boy knew his danger; he saw his deliverer, and heard his voice. He believed in him — trusted him — and, letting go every other dependence and hope, he dropped into his arms.
Do you feel that you have done all you can? Let me take the language of another, and say, "Just stop doing, and begin to trust Christ to do all for you, and you are safe. A man is rowing a boat on a river, just above a dreadful cataract; the current begins to bear him downward; the spectators give him up for lost. 'He is gone,' they exclaim; but in another moment a rope is thrown toward the wretched man — it strikes the water near the boat: now how does the case stand? Do all the spectators call upon him to row? to try harder to reach the shore, when with every stroke of his arm the boat is evidently nearing the falls? O no! the eager and united cry is, 'Drop your oars! give up your desperate attempt! take hold of the rope!' But he chooses to row, and in a few moments he disappears, and perishes. All his hope lay, not in rowing, but in laying hold of the rope; for while he was rowing he could not grasp the rope. So the sinner's hope lies not in struggling to save himself, but in ceasing to struggle; for while he expects to accomplish the work of salvation himself, he will not look to Christ to do it for him."
But some abuse this doctrine of unmerited grace, and say, "If all I have to do is to cease from attempting to save myself, and to be willing that Christ should do the work of my salvation, why urge me to become a Christian, or to do anything? why not let me sit still, and wait till Christ shall come and pardon me?"
And what if the man in the boat had dropped his oars, and then folded his hands, and waited for the rope to save him? He might as well have died rowing as sitting still; and would as certainly have died in the latter as in the former case. But he must grasp the rope. So the sinner must lay hold of the hope set before him; not by waiting till he is better, but by first concluding that he never shall be any better in the way he is going on, and then looking to Christ. May I not believe that you are now trusting your all in the hands of your Saviour? I do not say that I hope you were doing it a few moments since, but that you are now doing it. O that this may be the work of every succeeding moment, until I hear from you.
"Venture on him, venture freely,
Let no other trust intrude;
None but Jesus
Can do helpless sinners good."
Your much interested friend.
No. V. TO MR. M________.
A matter of surprise with Mr. M_____ Reasons for delay wholly with the creature — Singular case of a lady where conviction followed conversion — Late Rev. S. M. Relates a similar case — God ever meets us on the ground of his word — How to keep a new heart — Progression required — The Bible; its excellence — The scheme of salvation conditional.
TO MY HAPPY BROTHER IN CHRIST, MR. M_____ . "Why did I not before venture on the Saviour?" you exclaim. Just so hundreds have with amazement asked before you. But the unrenewed mind cannot form proper perceptions of the power of faith. In reference to every stage of experience it may be said, "If any man will do his: will he shall know of the doctrine." In complying with the condition, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved," you have been brought to a blessed knowledge of the doctrine of justification by faith. Such effects must of necessity follow such acts of obedience and faith. I say must of necessity follow because the principles by which the kingdom grace is governed are unchangeable.
The reason why you were not before blessed, you now perceive, was not because God was unwilling to meet you, but wholly from delay on your part in complying with the conditions upon which you were to be received. The moment you complied with these, you found the Lord. Thus it Is that the Saviour ever stands waiting to save the sinner, and from no cause will he ever withhold salvation one moment after the sinner has complied with the conditions of salvation.
I have known some instances peculiarly illustrative of the fact, that God ever meets us thus, on the ground of his word. One is that of a lady whose solidity of Christian character is well known and appreciated. For one whose birth had been in a Christian land, she was surprisingly ignorant of her accountability to God. She had not been in the habit of reading the Bible, nor attending public worship; neither had she mingled with pious associates; and thus all her early years were spent, having no hope, and without God in the world. She fell in the way of a devoted Christian, who told her of the claims of her Redeemer. Her heart seemed at once won, with a view of his great love in dying to save her, and she quickly renounced the world, and gave her heart to God. Immediately she was made happy in the enjoyment of the Saviour's love. This sudden transition astonished her friends, as they had heard so little about her convictions for sin. But the fruits of conversion were so evident, that the most skeptical could not doubt the reality of the change.
In relating her experience some time afterward, she informed me, that she in reality had few of those deeply distressing perceptions of guilt spoken of by many previous to her conversion. She felt, indeed, that she needed a Saviour, and was told that Jesus received sinners. In accordance with what was told her, she verily believed that all the Lord required of her was to give up herself, as a sinner, into his hands. She at once believed, and according to her faith it was done unto her. Afterward, as she became better able to bear the view, the guilt of her former life, with powerful convictions of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and of the wrath awaiting her, had not the Saviour, "his own self, borne her sins in his own body on the tree," so appeared to her, that nature could scarce endure the sight. How this view endeared the Saviour to her, you can now form some conception.
Another case was related to me by that eminent minister, the late Rev. S. Merwin. It occurred where he was laboring, and I think under his own eye. The brothers of a certain young lady had been converted, but she as yet had resisted the influences of the Holy Spirit. One evening she accompanied some of her gay friends to a singing school, and on her return stopped at a meeting then in progress. Several kneeling penitents were at the altar, and presently she saw one, newly entered upon the joys of salvation, praising the Lord. "The same happiness is for you, if you will only renounce your sins, and give your heart to the Lord," was suggested. She counted the cost, and then deliberately decided on the surrender. The first intimation which her pious brothers had of her change, was conveyed in her joyful acclamations of praise for salvation through Christ. They had only thought of her as of one resisting the Holy Spirit, and now to witness her sudden triumph filled them with amazement, and for a moment they thought, "Has our sister become a scoffer? has she in her opposition come to ridicule the subject of religion?" But they were soon undeceived, and by her life were assured that she was truly converted.
My object in giving these narrations is to exhibit the faithfulness of God in meeting us at any moment on the ground of his word; and if you had come to the act of surrender and reliance on Christ, the first moment you saw yourself to be condemned sinner, pardon and acceptance would at once have followed. Only think how soon the jailer and his household were converted.
But now, my dear friend, you have only entered upon the heavenly way of a life of faith on the Son of God. In order to be sustained in this state, ceaseless reliance on your part, and the continued agency of the Holy Spirit, will be needful. You are required to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you. Though you are required to keep yourself in the love of God, yet you can be kept only through the power of the Holy Ghost, in answer to the ceaseless intercessions of Christ.
"You obtained a new heart, by giving it away to Jesus," said I to a very youthful disciple, "and the only way you can retain it is” — She caught the words from my lips, and said, "By giving it away, and giving it all the time." It is only by this act of ceaseless surrender that you can retain the ground gained. But while you retain, you must not think you are not gaining, for you cannot abide in Christ without becoming hourly more assimilated to his likeness.
As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him. This, as you will observe, implies ceaseless progression — "walk." Settle it in your mind now, at the commencement of your heavenward pilgrimage, that there is no standing still in religion. The Saviour says, "He that gathereth not with me, scattereth abroad; he that is not with me, is against me." Much that passes for religion is nothing, more than an empty profession. Though you may often be much benefited in looking at the example of devoted Christians, for Christ says of such, "Ye are the light of the world," yet it is not safe to have your mind too much absorbed, even in the contemplation of this. At best they shine but in borrowed rays; and it is possible to have your vision so filled with these lesser lights, as to draw the attention from those believing views of Christ which are ever transforming. And then there is danger here. The best human beings are, at least, liable to err; and if your eye is on them, instead of being fixed on the Sun of righteousness, most disastrous consequences might ensue.
Good books are often very helpful; but let the Bible be the book of books with you. Try to have one ever about your person, so that at any moment you may turn to it, as the man of your counsel. In this way you may often save moments for communing with God, and with David hide his word in your heart, so that you may not offend. The eminent Wesley, when he had nearly finished his earthly pilgrimage, in speaking of the Bible, says, "O give me that book! At any price give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be a man of one book." How unlike all other books is the Bible! Here the appetite never satiates. Here you may feast with increasing relish, until with unutterable longings the spirit cries, "Lord, evermore give me this bread."
But this is a subject on which I know not where to pause. My heart gathers inspiration whenever I speak of the excellence of the Scriptures Would that my lips or pen were empowered to give utterance to the sentiments which possess my soul, in reference to this wonderful book. O, it is in verity the WORD OF THE LORD! If the whole Christian world indeed believed this, then all perplexities about faith would be at an end. "God hath said it, and I believe it," would be the ready response from the lips of thousands, who are now groping their way in darkness, because of their unbelief; and the effect of faith would be most gloriously manifested in the lives of professors, by their entire renewal in the image of God.
I have much more that I wish to say on this, and on many other points. I greatly desire that you may know the full power of saving grace, and not step short of any state made possible for you through the death and present intercession of the Saviour. Fix your aim here; to apprehend that for which you have been apprehended of Christ. You have attained a state of justification before God. This is indeed a state of great blessedness; and when, in view of higher attainments, I have heard it spoken of disparagingly, I have been often greatly pained. But in order that you retain this state, there are duties which come in, link after link, forming one continuous chain of gospel privilege. The entire scheme of our salvation is conditional. "Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me," meets us at every point. Would you remain in this glorious state of justification? the condition at once meets you: "If ye will obey my voice indeed," &c. I am sure you will much desire to know more of the conditions upon which you may remain in this state, and of the obedience required, but I must defer what I would say on this point till my next.
Yours as ever.
No. VI. TO MR. M________.
To Mr. M____. Condemned and justified at the same moment impossible — Case of a young lady who mistook a state of condemnation for one of justification; she was not intentionally hypocritical — How the mistake may imperceptibly be made — Condition upon which a state of justification is retained — How soon may perfection be attained?
To My Friend In Jesus, Mr. M____. I said in my last, that there are conditions upon which a state of justification is retained. From the views of some persons, one might imagine that there is such a thing as being justified and condemned at the same moment. I once met a young professor, whose general lightness of character and frequent inadvertencies gave painful indication that she was a Christian only in name. I expostulated with her upon the hurtful tendency of a matter she had just been prosecuting. This, with her habitual course as a professor, was too questionable to admit of an attempt at justification, and she did not propose it. But my heart was yearning over the wounded cause of God, and I really wished to remove the foundations of a profession which so dishonored it. In view of this, I asked whether she did not think her course at variance with the requirements of Scripture. She admitted it to be so. I said, "Do you feel, then, that you can stand justified before God, in view of such conduct?"
"Why, the word of God condemns you, and this you acknowledge; how then can you stand justified? You surely cannot be justified and condemned at the same time!"
Now, I would not say that this person was hypocritical in her profession; no, she was only following in a path which hundreds of young professors pursue. At the commencement of her Christian career, she had doubtless joyfully said, "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." But unmindful at length of the character to whom it is said, "There is no condemnation," she perhaps, almost at unawares, began to walk after the flesh. Now, by walking after the flesh you will readily perceive she ceased to sustain the character to which the apostle says "there is no condemnation," &c.; and a stated justification was of course lost. These derelictions continued, would soon end in the loss of adoption also, and the soul be cast off as a withered branch.
I would not accuse such of intentional insincerity; but surely this mistake of calling a blessing by a name which the state of the individual professing it contradicts, tells disastrously upon the interests of experimental piety in the church.
You will now see that the condition upon which state of justification is retained, is, that you "walk after the Spirit." Walking implies going forward. By your surrender to God the foundation of your Christian character has been laid. The principles of the doctrine of Christ have now been learned. But do you stop here? No! As well might the child who has learned his alphabet say, "I have finished my education." It is true that many, very many, do stop at this point; and here was the error of our young friend, whose erratic course told so grievously on the cause of God: and more or less so will be the course of all who do not steadily purpose to "leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ, and go on unto perfection."
Do not imagine that you can retain the state which you now stand, unless you "go on." O may this, by the power of the Spirit, ever stand before your mind, in the form of living truth! Would that you could witness the fervor of my desires for you on this point. God commands it, and can I urge its importance more than by reminding you of this? You abhor a backslidden state, yet with all your abhorrence you will inevitably backslide, unless you obey the command, "Go on to perfection." There is no standing still in religion; and now, at the commencement of your Christian career, let me say, Deem that day worse than lost which is not in some way marked by religious progress.
But you may say, "If I keep going steadily on, how long before I may expect to arrive at a state of perfection? And if I arrive at this point, will not the summit of Christian attainment on earth be reached, and the command, 'Go on,' no more be needed?
Your inquiries are indeed most important, and as opportunity now permit, I would at once endeavor to answer. The Lord willing, you shall soon hear from me again.
In yet more tender Christian regards, yours.
No. VII. TO MR. M________.
The summit of Christian attainment may never be reached in time — Paul not perfect in attainment — He professes perfection, and in what sense — A state of perfection requiring progression urged — Christian, Not Adamic, perfection, the object — It already belongs to man as soon as the conditions upon which it is offered are met.
MY DEAR CHRISTIAN BROTHER, — In view of the admonition, "Go on unto perfection," you inquire, "Should I go steadily onward, how soon may I expect to arrive at a state of perfection? And when I arrive at this point, will not the summit of Christian attainment be reached?" Permit me to answer your latter inquiry first, and it will enable me more readily to meet the former.
The summit of Christian attainment reached? No, not in eternity itself, with receptive powers still growing, while immortality endures, will the attainments in love, knowledge, light, and power, which have been made possible through the atonement, be grasped. Paul says, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended, but this one thing I do: forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."
It is evident, as you perceive, on Scriptural authority, that a state of perfection which will not admit higher degrees is not to be expected. But that a state of perfection is attainable is most evident, and is proven upon the same premises. The apostle, in continuation of what I have already quoted, goes on to say, "Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded;" including, as you observe, both himself and a part of those addressed as being in a state of perfection. I am the more particular in speaking of this subject, because it is not uncommon for those who oppose the doctrine of Christian perfection to refer to this passage.
Just the state of perfection aimed at in these passages (Phil. iii, 8-15) is what I would now urge upon you: that is, a state of perfection which requires progression — a state which could not even be retained, without obedience to "this one thing — forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before." The perfection to which your attention is urged, does not imply perfection in knowledge or light, but a state of supreme love to God, where all the powers of body and mind are perfectly subject to love's control, and ceaselessly offered up to God through Christ. This is Christian perfection; not angelic perfection, neither Adamic perfection, but Christian perfection. To think disparagingly of Christian perfection, implies, to my mind, thinking lightly of the atonement. To undervalue the efficacy of the blood of Christ to cleanse is sinful. And it would be sinful to doubt whether the offering presented to God, through Christ, is holy and acceptable.
What you need, in order to bring you into this state, is an offering up of yourself through this purifying medium. Now do you still ask, How soon may I expect to arrive at this state of perfection? Just so soon as you come believingly, and make the required sacrifice, it will be done unto you according to your faith. Christ came to take away our sin, to destroy the works of the devil, and to purge us from all iniquity. The purpose of man's redemption is not accomplished until he is presented perfect in Christ Jesus. When the Saviour said, "It is finished!" then this full salvation was wrought out for you. All that remains is for you to come complying with the conditions, and claim it. As it has been purchased for you, it is already yours. If you do not now receive it, the delay will not be on the part of God, but wholly with yourself.
No. VIII. TO MR. M________.
Inquiries relative to the length of time intervening between a state of justification and entire sanctification — Mr. Wesley's views on the subject — How backslidings might be less frequent — Another inquiry from my Hicksite friend — Unreasonable not to be holy — How unholy professors encourage skepticism — The case of a young man whose friends were professing Christians — Salvation from all sin may be obtained now — How a housekeeper obtained it.
DEAR BROTHER M____. "But do not persons generally wait months, and even years, after justification, before they are brought into this state of entire sanctification?" Mr. Wesley, in speaking on this subject, says, "This we know: but we know likewise, that God may, with man's good leave, 'cut short his work' in whatever degree He pleases, and do the work of many years in a moment. He does so in many instances."
If believers from the hour of their justification, with all the ardor of early unquenched love, should walk after the Spirit, how soon would they be ushered into the highway of holiness! Would that this duty were simplified, and urged with point and power upon young professors! Then would backslidings in heart and life be far less frequent. If the way is so plain, that wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein, young converts surely may be brought to understand it. The truth is, the difficulties are not attributable to the intricacies of the subject, but to the want of simplicity. We do not need great powers of mind to reach it, but deep humility of spirit to come down to it.
I am again reminded of my Hicksite friend. In continuation of the conversation referred to when I first wrote you, she asked another question, almost as important in bearing as her first inquiry, which will illustrate what I would say on the momentous subject before us. As soon as I had answered her first question, "What is faith?" she said, "I have heard you speak of sanctification, and now I should love to have you explain that to me." My mind for a moment recoiled, and I thought, She does not yet understand the principles of the doctrine of Christ, and now, how can she be brought to understand the deeper things of God? I looked to the Lord to help me to simplify the matter, and then said,
"If you should purchase an article from me, you would expect to have it whole, entire, just as you bought it, would you not?"
"If I should keep back any part, it would be unreasonable, would it not?"
"Well, the Bible says, 'Ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body and spirit, which are God's.' Now, when we acknowledge the claim which God has upon us by the right of redemption, and set ourselves wholly apart for his service, he sets the seal upon us which proclaims us his, and we are sanctified — set apart for God."
While I was thus endeavoring to simplify the subject to her, it was suggested, What will she think of those professors whom she has heard from week to week say, "I know I am not wholly given up to God: I know there are things in my heart contrary to his will?" Will she not regard the unreasonableness of such professors in a light which will make their course inexplicable to her, and will not their evident inconsistency destroy her confidence in all religious professions?
And just so inexplicable doubtless is a halfhearted service in the eye of the world. O the harm thus inflicted on the cause of Christ! It is only to the degree that God's people are a peculiar people, zealous of good works, that the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom can be promoted, through their instrumentality. I have but little doubt that unawakened persons often cherish the idea that professors do not really believe what they profess to believe. I had been urging the necessity of an immediate turning to the Lord, and setting forth the danger of a moment's delay, upon a sinner. I told him, as you will remember I once told you, that the sinner is condemned already, and that the sentence might be executed at any moment, with other truths equally startling. He was much moved, and seemed about to yield to the force of truth, when, as if he had just thought of something to strengthen his unbelief, he said, "I have a brother who is a minister, also sisters who are members of the church, and they have never talked to me in this way; and I am sure if they thought my state so dangerous as you say it is, they would tell me of it, for if I thought that either of them were in such a state, I could not rest day nor night without warning them." Satan succeeded apparently with this well-circumstanced temptation in rendering his mind yet more impervious to the awakening influences of the Spirit, and, for aught I know, he is already doomed to everlasting burnings. At whose hand may God require his blood?
Let me still urge you, dear brother M____, in view of the perishing around you — your relatives and friends — who are fast passing away, to seek with earnestness to know what it is to have a perfect sympathy with the heart of Christ, in that love which induced him to die for a lost world. "Let that mind be in you which was in Christ." This is HOLINESS. If you have that mind which was in your Saviour, it will induce you to feel and to act just as your Redeemer would have felt and acted were he placed in circumstances similar to your own. You need this conformity to the divine image at the present hour, if you would be clean of the blood of all men. Perhaps the next hour may witness you in the society of some poor sinner who is already condemned, and unless you are all given up to Christ and have the power of his Spirit resting upon you, you may fail in giving him such a warning as his condition requires, and another hour may witness either his sentence executed, or you called to give an account of your stewardship.
But you may have tills full salvation now — just now. Let me give you the experience of a friend who received it under less favorable circumstances than those by which you are surrounded. I had spent the evening previous in company with her and other friends, and had especially urged upon her the duty of a present and entire reliance on Christ for salvation. But though she had commenced the evening with large expectations, she was still unwilling to make the venture just now. The next morning she waked later than usual. She was both a mother and a housekeeper, and everything seemed to shape toward a commotion. Husband's breakfast must be ready at an early hour — children both crying at once — no help, &c. "How well it was that you did not get the blessing last night, for if you had, you surely would have lost it amid these commotions this morning," suggested the enemy. Before being aware of the current her thoughts were taking, she began to congratulate herself rather than otherwise that such had not been the case, when this current was suddenly arrested by the chidings of the Holy Spirit. "You need the blessing of holiness this morning to keep you; for if you yield to this influence which is now brought to bear upon you, you will sin — and will you sin against God?" The idea of thus knowingly grieving her Saviour was most abhorrent to her heart, and she said; "No, I will not sin; I will this moment trust in Christ to save me from sin!" That moment she trusted, and felt that she was saved! She continued to trust, moment after moment, and continued to feel the power of Christ to save, and greatly did her heart rejoice in the knowledge of salvation. How sweetly was her heart now assured of the words, "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is staid on thee, because he trusteth in thee!" "Domestic duties never seemed so light and pleasant as they did that morning," she remarked; and she longed to get where she might pour out her soul alone in praises to God for salvation from all sin.
And now, my beloved brother M____, may you speedily be brought to an experimental knowledge of Christ, as your "Redeemer from all sin." My heart is inexpressibly desirous that you should fix your aim on knowing the full power of saving grace. May you now, in the strength of the Lord Jehovah, deliberately purpose that every motive of earthly ambition shall know no higher point than that of standing perfect and complete in all the will of God. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification." What can be more explicit, or more clearly exhibit your privilege, or more forcibly present your duty, than this declaration! Yes, it is not only your privilege, but your solemn duty, to be holy. God commands, "BE YE HOLY." Surely it is not optional with my dear brother whether he will obey this command or not. My great solicitude for your rapid progress in the divine life has induced me to gather from my portfolio several communications, which I hope may be helpful toward elucidating the principles, experience, and practice of holiness. Universal, symmetrical holiness, should be the first and absorbing aim of all who name the name of Christ; and that the papers which I now submit to your perusal may throw some light upon the heavenward way of my brother in Christ, shall be the prayer of
Your ever devoted sister in the Lord.