PART I. ON THE INWARD LIFE IN ITS CONNECTION WITH FAITH AND LOVE.
Consecration to be followed by the faith of acceptance.
IT would seem from what has been said, that the sanctification of the heart and all those various blessings which are involved in sanctification, depend, if not exclusively, yet certainly in a great degree, upon two leading principles; FIRST, an entire consecration of ourselves to God, and, SECONDLY, a full and unwavering belief that the consecration is accepted.
Upon this second principle, which has already been briefly referred to on a former occasion, we propose to say something further in the present chapter. In making a consecration to God in the manner which has been indicated, we take a step, which, considered in any point of view, may be regarded as absolutely necessary. It is not enough, however, to offer all. In the same spirit of reliance on God, we must also BELIEVE THAT ALL IS ACCEPTED.
It is the belief that God is faithful to his word; and that, in accordance with his word, he will receive and does now receive all that unreservedly lay themselves upon his altar, which seems especially to secure the presence of a sanctifying efficacy. On the contrary, he who consecrates himself to God, however sincere he may be in the act of consecration, but who greatly dishonors the veracity of God by remaining without the faith of ACCEPTANCE, deprives himself of that mighty power, which faith alone is capable of imparting, and necessarily lies prostrate and exposed to all the dreadful attacks of the adversary.
It is in connection with this view, as it seems to me, that we are enabled to appreciate and correctly understand certain passages of Scripture, which are frequently mentioned in connection with the subject of present sanctification; such as the following. "Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them." Mark 11: 94. "And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us. And if we know, [that is, have full faith or confidence in him,] that he heareth us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." 1 John v: 14.
The doctrine of these important passages is this. In consecrating ourselves to God, and in praying sincerely for those things which are agreeable to the will of God, such as our sanctification and those Christian graces which are implied in sanctification, we may be certain that they will be given to us, and that they are now given to us, if we have no doubt in God's word. The certainty of the result, when the condition on which it depends is fulfilled, viz. a full belief of the truth of the divine declaration, is necessarily involved in the veracity of God; and not as is sometimes supposed, in the mere fact of believing. This is an important distinction. It is God's everlasting TRUTH, and nothing but his truth, which is the real foundation of the great principle involved in these passages. Nevertheless, it must be admitted, that the result cannot take place without the specific act of faith; because the defect or want of such faith necessarily makes a separation between God and our souls, and especially because the promise of God, which is the true and effective source of the renovating power, is made only upon the condition of the act of faith. As soon, therefore, as God, in aid of our own unavailing efforts, takes away the remains of unbelief and gives us perfect faith in the promise, which by implication involves perfect faith in all the divine declarations, he necessarily gives us the victory. "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God even to them THAT BELIEVE ON HIS NAME." From that memorable moment, whether our emotions are more or less strong, and whether we have had special inward signs and manifestations or not, we truly feel the purifying energy. The principle of faith, perhaps after a long inward strife, has become ascendant. We have now assumed a new position. We are now become like little children. It can now be said of us in the significant language of scripture, we are "careful for nothing" living in perfect simplicity of spirit; receiving our daily bread without disquieting thoughts of the morrow; folded and protected in the arms of infinite love.
(1) — There are one or two inferences, which flow out of the views which have been expressed. And the first is, that there is in reality, no need, as a preparation for sanctification, of much mental excitement, of protracted sighing and lamentation, of long fastings, and macerations and mighty strugglings of body. It is true, that some of these things may exist to a certain extent, without being altogether profitless. But what we mean to say, is, that they do not appear to be absolutely necessary; and there is sometimes danger, especially when there is a disposition to trust in them, of their being decidedly injurious. The process, as it really takes place, may probably be all embraced in a single sentence. "Give all, and take all." Lay all upon the altar, and believe that God, in accordance with his word, receives it; and always continue in that state of present and entire consecration, and of present and entire faith, and all is done. If God is true, it cannot be otherwise.
And we may properly add here, that the experience of very many persons is found to coincide with this statement. They have labored; they have prayed earnestly, so far as a man can pray without the requisite faith; they have fasted for a great length of time; they have endured physical and mental suffering in various ways, but all without securing the great object of their desires; till at length wearied with this apparently fruitless method of pursuit, they have simply left themselves in the hands of God without reserve; and have believed, in accordance with his own declaration, that he did now accept them. And thus ceasing from their own unavailing efforts, to which perhaps they were secretly but wickedly inclined to attach some personal merit, they have entered, by simple faith alone, into the favor and the rest of God. They are from that moment cut off from the fatal system, which demands a sign or manifestation, either inward or outward, additional to the mere word of God and confirmatory of it, and from all preconceived and self-originated notions of what they should like to have and what they should not like to have; and have become, as already remarked, like little children; willing to let their heavenly Father guide them without imposing upon him any conditions, willing to have much or little, to be wise or to be ignorant, to go or to stay, to sit down or rise up, to speak or be silent, to be honored or dishonored, to be on the mount of joy or in the valley of temptation and sorrow, to be any thing or nothing, just as God wills.
(2) — It is proper to remark further, that the principle, which has been laid down in its general form is applicable also in particular cases. That is to say, it is not only in this manner, that we may be led to experience the genuine sanctification of the heart in the more general sense of the terms; but it is in this manner also, that we are to receive the particular graces, appropriate to particular occasions, which are involved, in sanctification.
It is well understood, I suppose, that the exercises of a sanctified heart are not always the same; but will vary more or less with the occasions, which call them into exercise. The grace of patience is especially appropriate to one occasion; the grace of gratitude to another. And these and all other christian graces come from the same great fountain, viz. God himself; and they will come, with the exception perhaps of very extraordinary cases, all in the same way, and in connection with the same great principles. If, for instance, I need especial wisdom and prudence, appropriate to a particular trying crisis, I must go to God and ask for it, just as I had done before in relation to the general object of sanctification: FIRST, in the spirit of entire consecration, and SECOND in the exercise of simple faith. And by faith here, it is hardly necessary to repeat, after what has been said, we mean a faith, which, fully believes that God will do, and that, if the present is in his view the appropriate time, he does even NOW accomplish that which he has promised. I recollect to have heard a Congregational minister assert on some public occasion, that TO PRAY ARIGHT IS TO RECEIVE. This declaration obviously embodies the great principle now under consideration. Many persons go to God and ask earnestly for the things they need, and which they know it is agreeable to his will to give; but they appear to have no faith that God will hear them, or that he does now hear them, unless they have a sign, a manifestation, a visible outward sight or an inward audible voice, or the definite experience of some preconceived feeling, or something, (it makes but little difference what it is,) which they expect to use and which they do use AS A PROP FOR THEIR FAITH TO REST UPON instead of letting it rest upon the sure and blessed Word of God. O, the unutterable blindness of the human mind, when left to itself! To look at any thing but the simple declaration of God, and to require anything but that as a ground of belief, is to go directly out of the true path. It is, as it seems to us, deliberately and of choice to throw away those precious gifts which faith imparts. It is made known throughout the Scriptures, deliberately, repeatedly, and with the clearness of a sunbeam, that the life of God in the soul is, and must be, a LIFE OF SIMPLE FAITH. And in the exercise of this faith, accompanied with the indispensable condition of entire consecration, it may be regarded as certain, that, when we pray for those spiritual gifts and exercises which we know to be agreeable to the will of God, we shall not only have them, but if, in God's view the present time is really the appropriate time for them, WE DO HAVE THEM NOW. We do not say, that the specific blessing for which we ask either comes now or will come hereafter, in precise accordance with our preconceived opinions; but that makes no difference as to the fact. If there is really and absolutely no failure in the consecration and faith, there will be no failure in the fact and promptness of the divine answer. The answer, God's answer and not ours, will certainly come, in accordance with the reality of God' s knowledge and goodness; however, it may fail to come in accordance with the fallibility of our own previous conceptions.
And we may add here, it is the uniform testimony of those who have been enabled to live the life of faith, that they have always found God faithful to his word; they have had wisdom, and humility, and gratitude, and peace of spirit, and purity of heart, just as they have asked for it, when they have fully committed themselves into God's hands, and have asked fully believing in God's promise, and in the actual bestowment of the blessing in its proper time and place, according to the promise.
[The following is an extract from a letter, which I had the pleasure of receiving some years since from a pious young man, a member of the Baptist church, now no longer living. I introduce it here, as illustrating, to some extent, the practical application of the doctrines of this chapter.]
After speaking of his deliverance from his former bondage to sin, the writer adds; "I humbly trust that God has in some measure taught me how to live, from moment to moment, by simple faith. A truly blessed and glorious way. This is the highway of holiness, cast up for the ransomed of the Lord to walk in. JESUS is now a charming name. JESUS is now all, and in all, to me. I can now say 'God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I am crucified unto the world.' I found all my prayers, tears, and earnest desires unavailing. I spent days in fasting and prayer. At the midnight hour and at early dawn I prayed for holiness. But still I found my soul destitute of holiness, the pearl of great price. I found this [course of proceeding,] however, blessed to me; at times greatly so. And the power of sin was in a great measure broken. At length God was pleased to show me that I must believe, that I do receive the things that I ask for. In a moment I saw my error. I had long been convinced, that I staggered at faith; that unbelief was my great sin; and accordingly would direct all my forces to this point. I tried to believe. I prayed for faith. I sought for faith earnestly. Sometimes it seemed that Christ was near me, and the prize almost within my reach; and I would say in my heart and aloud, 'Lord, I do believe and then I would watch my heart to see what the effect was. But at this time, [after having made these various efforts,] it was clearly revealed to me, that I was waiting for EVIDENCE, the evidence of sight before I would believe; and that I was unwilling to take the evidence God had afforded, viz. his inviolable word and promise. I saw now, instead of praying for faith, [without exercising it,] instead of seeking for it, looking for and expecting it, [without having it,] I must believe. It appeared to me a reasonable command, 'Reckon yourselves dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord; and I resolved, that I would obey this command; for it was my imperative duty. I would believe, because God had commanded it. It seemed a fearful step to take. It was an hour of conflict, but Jesus triumphed. I saw that all other means had failed.; and this was my only resource. I accordingly entered into an engagement with God, that henceforth, until faith should be exchanged for sight, I would never doubt; I would live in the entire surrender of my whole being to God, believeing that he accepted the sacrifice, and that I was wholly the Lord's. I have found my God a FAITHFUL GOD. And my whole soul exclaims, glory, glory be to Thee, Oh God, for this living way of salvation through faith in Christ. May a humble, holy life praise my Redeemer for his unspeakable goodness to me, and an eternity complete and perfect what time begins."
"Jesus, the life, the truth, the way,
"In whom I now believe;
"As taught by Thee, in FAITH I pray,
"Expecting to receive.
"Forgive, and make my nature whole,
"My inbred malady remove;
"To perfect health restore my soul,
"To perfect holiness and love."