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PART III. ON THE RELATION OF FAITH TO THE DIVINE GUIDANCE, OR THE OPERATION OF THE HOLY GHOST IN THE SOUL.

CHAPTER FIFTH.


ON SPECIAL SPIRITUAL BURDENS.


Every holy soul has something to do or to suffer. The burden of the Lord is one imposed, not one assumed. Of the duty of waiting upon God in connection with spiritual burdens. The burden of the Lord always an appropriate one Spiritual burdens often attended with specific faith. Remarks on the nature of this faith. Its dangers. Of praying for individuals on their request. Letter of Antonia Bourignon. Remarks upon it.

THE soul, which is fully animated by the life of faith, and which in being so is a soul wholly given to God, has no desire, as it certainly has no expectation, of leading an inactive, useless life. And as God has fitted it much more than souls, which are in a less advanced state, to bear its appropriate burden, we should naturally suppose, that he would correspond at proper times to the grace he has given by the trial or the duty he imposes. That burden, whatever it may be, and whether it come in the shape of something to be done or something to be endured, it is always ready to bear. Such a soul remembers, that its Master was a man afflicted: that he had something to do and something to suffer. And he himself has said; “It is enough for the disciple, that he be as his master, and the servant as his Lord.”

2.—In considering the interesting and somewhat difficult subject of special spiritual burdens, we proceed to remark, in the first place, that the burden of the Lord, (that which can properly and truly be called the
Lord’s burden,) is a burden imposed, not a burden assumed, a burden which we cheerfully take upon our shoulders when God places it there, and not a burden which we take without God. In this world of temptation and of trial, God has seen fit for wise reasons to plant our way with crosses, and it is our business, not to alter their number or to disarrange their position, but to meet and to bear them as they are. If, irrespective of God’s inward direction and grace, we undertake to place a load on our own shoulders, the usage of language would undoubtedly authorize us to speak of it as a burden; but we should distinctly understand, that it is our own burden, and not the Lord’s. On the determination of this question, namely, whether the burden which we bear comes from ourselves or from God, many things depend.

3.—The question naturally arises here, How shall we know, whether the burden, which we bear, is from ourselves, or from God? We determine this, in part, by the state of mind we were in, when it came upon us. There is a state of mind in his people, which God requires, which he regards with interest and kindness, and which, in connection with his providences, results in their being led into all necessary truth and duty. And accordingly we proceed to say, that in the first instance our true attitude is that of WAITING; that is to say, of confiding and watchful expectation. The unceasing language of the heart should be, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” We may be well assured, if God has inspired in the soul the truly acceptable and sanctifying principle, the principle which makes the soul like himself, that of a living and effective faith, he does not intend, it shall remain idle. In his own time and way he will so adjust his providences as to bring out its strength both of endurance and action, and thus to ascertain and test its true value. And, therefore, we assert it is our proper business, in the first instance, to be in the attitude of humble and quiet waiting, and in the distrust of ourselves to have our attention directed to him, who alike knows, and who alone knows, what is to be done, and who is to do it.

4.—We do not mean to imply, in saying that we must wait, that we are to remain intellectually inactive. Far from this. What we mean is this. We are to divest ourselves of all self-interested activity, of all inordinate and wrong passion, of all undue eagerness; and in great calmness and purity of spirit, to exercise the powers of perception and judgment which God has given us, looking to Him for assistance and guidance, and fully believing that He will so open his Providences as to make the path of action and of suffering plain before us. It is remarkable to what a degree of accuracy the operation of the human mind may in this way be brought, when exercised upon questions of morals and duty. The important principle is to keep our own mental action in subordination to the divine leading. And this we do by suppressing our own interested, prejudiced, and passionate activity, by permitting the perceptive and conscientious part of our nature to act without being biassed by those unholy influences; and by opening our hearts to receive, in the exercise of faith, the promised assistances of divine grace. This may properly be called waiting upon God. And when we thus wait, we may rely upon it, that He will peaceably but surely guide us; and that, in particular, He will lead us to a knowledge of that burden of duty or of suffering, whenever He sees fit to impose one upon us, which He has prepared us to bear.

5.—The burden of the Lord, whatever it may be, will always be a suitable or appropriate one. God never, in any case, acts either accidentally or arbitrarily; but always from principle and from the highest wisdom. For instance, He never will impose a burden upon a man, which it is impossible for him to bear. This would be inappropriate and unreasonable. He will never, by the operations of the Holy Spirit, produce a conviction in the mind of a person, who is physically disqualified for any such effort, that it is his duty, while he remains under this physical disqualification, to go to distant lands as a missionary to the heathen. This would be against reason; and we may add, it would be against right. Again, He will never impose a burden upon any one, which will conflict in any degree with other burdens, which He has already imposed. This principle goes very far; and is of frequent application. If, for instance, God sees fit to place us in situations of practical business, which demand great activity and effort, either physical or intellectual, he would not require that our minds should be agitated and borne down at the same moment, by fixing themselves with equal activity and power upon some other thing, even if it had the appearance of being more closely connected with religion. He does not, for instance, require us at one and the same time to till the soil, and to act the part of a public teacher. The two conditions of life, and the states of mind corresponding to them, especially when considered as existing at the same time, would be obviously inconsistent with each other and practically impossible. God knows this; and He always acts in accordance with what He knows to be the true state of things. Accordingly, illustrating the principle by another instance, we may very properly say, I suppose, that it is always a duty to promote either directly or indirectly the revival of God’s work in the hearts of men. But if it appear in view of the existing circumstances, that there are obvious and insuperable obstacles to a revival of religion in a particular place, He will direct the immediate and earnest attention of his people to these obstacles, rather than to the condition of those, needy and sinful though they be, who are ultimately to be benefitted by their removal. It is true, they will feel and feel deeply for sinning and impenitent persons. But they will perceive and feel also, that there is an antecedent duty. And this becomes to them the appropriate burden; the present and the agonizing business of the time and the place. So that the earnest and deep cry of their hearts will be, not that the end may come before the beginning, but that the obstacles, which stand in the way of the end, may be removed, and that a way may be opened for the entrance of the Lord, and for his mighty works. And so of all other cases. It will always be found, that the burden of the Lord will be characterized by wisdom, and will be appropriate to the time, the place, and the circumstances.

6.—The burden of the Lord, even when in consequence of distinctly involving religious considerations and feelings, it may properly be called a spiritual burden, may be described, looking at it in other points of view, as either physical or intellectual. If it is physical, then it is something either to be physically done or physically endured. If it is intellectual, it is frequently, perhaps we may say generally, in the form either of strong grief or of strong desire. Whatever may be the form, in which it appears, it is generally attended with faith in some of its modifications. Sometimes, when it appears in the form of desire, and when God has determined to bring the particular thing which is desired to pass, it is attended with specific faith. Specific faith, (a subject which in consequence of its relations and results is one not to be lightly passed by,) is different from general faith in this particular, that it not only implies a general confidence in God as the hearer of prayer but a specific confidence in Him as the hearer and answerer of the precise desire or request, which is now offered up to Him. In the exercise of this form of faith, we believe strongly, or perhaps it may be, that we believe beyond any doubt or question, that the precise thing, whatever it may be, which is the subject of our supplication, will be granted. There can hardly be a doubt, if we can rely upon the concurrent statement of many Christians, that specific faith, such as we have now represented it, sometimes exists. God is a sovereign in the dispensation of his gifts; and he may, from time to time, see reasons for imparting this form of faith, as well as any other.

7.—The exercises of mind in these cases are, in general, peculiar and striking; and they unquestionably require, if we would avoid mistakes and unhappy delusion, to be examined with great care. We have not reference in these remarks to those cases of specific faith, whatever they may be, which rest upon clear and precise declarations and promises of the Word of God. There are sometimes conjunctures in God’s providences so remarkable, so clear, and the promises apply to them so readily and appropriately, that our faith in respect to them naturally assumes a specific form. The specific communication of faith, of which we are now speaking, seems to be in some sense an independent and extraordinary communication; as when, for instance, a person realizes a heavy burden of desire and supplication for the conversion of a friend, attended by a full belief, of the origin of which he can give no account except that he supposes it to be the result of the special operations of the Holy Spirit, that this friend’s conversion will take place. Cases of this kind, although there is ground for regarding them as one of the forms of Christian experience, are not very frequent. More generally God imposes a heavy burden of desire, supplication, and effort upon his people, without attending it with this form of faith. All the faith He imparts, in ordinary cases, is a general belief in Him, that He is present; that he hears our prayer; and that He will answer it, never in violation of his promises, but yet always in the manner He thinks best.

8.—We have much reason to think, that specific faith, when it is not false in its origin but is from God, will be followed by the thing or the result, which is believed in. Without saying any thing of its relation to the promises, it is hardly reasonable to suppose, that God would inspire such a faith, without having the purpose of fulfilment. At the same time it is proper to say, that this form of faith is sometimes counterfeited, and that the subjects of it are especially exposed to inward and dangerous delusions. Sometimes God sees fit, in the exercise of that distributive justice, which he is authorized and is bound to dispense, to leave persons to the perils and the evils of a false faith, existing in this particular form. It is said of certain persons, who received not the love of the truth, that God would “send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” [2d Thess. CH 2:11.] This delusion is apt to exist in connection with that strong and almost unsubmissive desire, which is closely allied both in its character and its dangers to self-will. Every desire, which is not from God, is the fruitful birth-place of error and of evil. Persons, who are the subjects of such desire, are apt to believe, not because they are authorized to do it by the promises, but simply because they have a strong desire, and because it is unpleasant to them to anticipate the disappointment of their desire.


"Alas, we listen to our own fond hopes,
"E’en till they seem no more our fancy’s children;
"We put them on a prophet’s robe, endow them
"With prophet’s voices, and then Heaven speaks in them,
"And that, which we would have be, surely shall be."


Under the influence of a strong delusion, which had its origin in strong desire, they have ascribed that desire to God, which had its origin in themselves; and believing that to be of divine origin, which was not of divine origin, have had faith in a falsehood.

9.—Such cases, although not very frequent, are still not uncommon. Individuals, of some piety and of strong natural passions, have from time to time announced themselves, as being the subjects of a specific faith. And when this faith, whatever may be the origin of it, exists in a high degree, it indicates itself by specific and confident predictions of the certain result of the things believed in. Some of these cases have been characterized at first by apparent signatures and evidences of the truth, although the result has clearly shown, that they involved some delusion, or at least some misconception. Such cases do not necessarily imply a want of piety; they only show that there may be piety, and sometimes even great piety in connection with more or less of human passion and human or Satanic delusion.

10.—A soul, that is fully devoted to God, is always in a position promptly and heartily to receive whatever burden God imposes. In that burden, whatever may be its nature, it realizes the answer to its own earnest prayer, viz., What wilt thou have me to do? If it be to act, it acts promptly and believingly; if it be to suffer, it suffers patiently; if it be to pray, it prays with sincerity and faith. Among other things, such a soul will often be found offering its supplications specifically for others. I am aware, that specific supplications for others, especially when called forth by a particular request, have sometimes been objected to; as if there were too much of the human and too little of the divine in their origin. But this depends, independently of the supplicant’s state of mind, chiefly upon the circumstances of the case. God exists in his providences, as truly as he exists any where. And if God’s providences clearly bring before us a certain individual, and present him as the appropriate subject of our supplications, that combination of circumstances constitutes a call from God; and that call imposes a duty upon us, which, as God’s people, we can neither shake off nor evade. We will suppose, that the providential indication is nothing more than this. A person, (no matter who he is, he may be little known to us, he may be a friend or an enemy, he may be rich or poor,) meets us and requests us with every mark of sincerity to pray for him. Such a request, if there be nothing otherwise to sustain it, ought to be regarded as a call from God. And being so regarded, we are to look upon it as constituting the burden, which he then and there imposes. And we say this, because God has established humanity, all its facts, all its incidents, and all its relations; and he does not allow, and cannot allow any man to turn away with indifference or neglect from the humble and proper requests of his fellow man. If, therefore, a man asks us to pray for him, and does it with marks of sincerity, we must pray for him, and pray for him as an individual; otherwise we offend God, who can never see the claims, resulting from the mutual relationship of man with man, violated with impunity.

11.—And when we pray specifically for others under such circumstances, or under any other circumstances which indicate to us God’s will, we may always regard ourselves as praying with a degree of divine encouragement. God never calls us to duty, without promising, at least by implication, if not in a manner specific and express, that he will aid us in the discharge of it. If in the request of our fellow-men to pray for them specifically, we recognize the call of God speaking in his providences, as we always ought to recognize it, we may be assured, that God will not leave us; but will grant to us the aid of his Holy Spirit, if we feel our need of it and ask it. And if this be true, the difficulty, which exists in the minds of some persons, will be fully met. Our prayer becomes, what it ever ought to be, a gift of God, originated under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

12.—Perhaps the difficulty, to which we have had reference in some of these remarks, will be the better understood, if we introduce here one of the letters of Antonia Bourignon, which we do the more readily, because her writings, sometimes exceptionable but generally full of interest and instruction, are now but seldom met with. It is as follows.

Sir.—You would know, why I am not desirous, that any should recommend themselves to my prayers. The reason is, because the soul that would be united unto God, ought to forget all created things, and to have no image or remembrance of things perishing, but to empty and purify itself of all sorts of sensible and visible objects, that the Soul being pure and naked may genuinely receive the Ideas and Impressions which the Holy Spirit pleases to communicate and manifest unto it, without any operation of its own. For if the Memory offers to it persons for whom it should pray, then it is not empty to receive the Holy influences; these images and this remembrance proving hinderances and interruptions to it: However it can never be without charity for its neighbor: on the contrary the nearer it approaches unto God, the greater is the good-will it hath for Man; but this is of such a Nature as to be no interruption to its Union with God. For there being in the Soul an affection for the good of its Neighbor, and God when he enters finding this affection there, does second it, and grant all its desires; for He cannot refuse any thing to the Soul which loves him; the wishes of such a Soul are the desires of God, without any other Prayer but the motions that he sees in the Soul. He grants all its desires, moving them himself. I know not if you will understand me well, this being very inward. Leaving it unto your Meditations I remain, Sir,—Your most humble Servant, Antonia Bourignon. [Light risen in Darkness, Part. 1. Letter 12. ]


13.—There is undoubtedly important truth at the bottom of some of the remarks in this letter. The reader, who is acquainted with the history of ecclesiastical opinions, will probably recognize in them the old Mystic doctrine, that the soul must become a “TABULA RASA,” [See L’Esprit de La Vie par Anthoine de Rojas, Part II. ch. 17.] a tablet without inscription, a canvass without line or color upon it, in order to experience the divine union. That is to say, we must be divested of every thought, which is not of divine inspiration, and of every feeling, which is not in harmony with God, in order to be in God without any thing intervening or separating. And it is undoubtedly true, as a general doctrine, that, the freer the soul is from the images of human things and the more exempt from human prejudice and passion, the more direct, the more easy, and the more intimate and deep, will be its communion with the Infinite Mind. But it ought to be remembered, that God will meet us in his creatures, as well as in his own essence. He is not, as some would seem to regard him, a great Being, shut up in the idle seclusion of some distant locality; but a God every where present, and in a certain sense every where in-dwelling. If we think of his creatures, dwell upon them, and love them out of God, then they divide us from God. But this is not the case, if we see God in them. And so, if we regard events as events merely, and attach ourselves to them as such, they separate us from God; but if we regard them as providences, as occurrences having God in them, then, so far from having a tendency to separate, they may be made the means of uniting us to him. We say, therefore, in reference to the illustrations on this subject which we have already introduced, that it is God himself, who dwells in his providences, and who speaks in his providences, and who, by means of his providences, continually calls us to sympathize with himself, by sympathizing with the creatures he has made. And we may add further, that the highest communion with God is that, which implies the closest union with his will. And, accordingly, if God by his providences indicates to us, that we should take a special interest in the religious welfare of our fellowmen, we never can possess true communion with him, we never can enjoy the tokens of his approbation and love, without first complying with this requisition. The truth is, that no prayer for others, no labors in the spread of the Gospel, nothing which is done at his bidding, if it is done for the honor of his name, can ever, in itself considered, be at variance with the highest enjoyment of him.

14.—At the same time we may well rejoice in those seasons in his Providences, when he permits us to think of him and to rejoice in him, in himself considered. Seasons, when the world is withdrawn from our thoughts; when the objects of the world cease to entice and enlist our affections. No sight is seen, which catches away the eye of the mind; no sound is heard, which divides the attention of the mental ear; no object is present to the perceptions, and no image of any thing out of God remains upon the memory; but the soul, united with God in its separation from every thing else, knows him and rejoices in him alone. That is the day and the hour of great and good things, when the world is shut out, that heaven may be shut in; when all creatures, both as objects to be thought of, and as objects to be enjoyed, are absent, in order that God, entering into a habitation from which every evil and unpropitious thing is removed, may enter and dwell there as the one great object, which occupies the whole capacity of thought and the whole sphere of the affections.